Wednesday, February 2, 2011

6 Orthodox Churches Which Celebrate on February 2nd

1. Panagia Chrysaliniotissa in Nicosia, Cyprus

The small church of Panagia Chrysaliniotissa (or Aliniotissa) is the oldest Orthodox Church which lies within the early Frankish and later Venetian walls of Nicosia in Cyprus. It owes its name to the miraculous finding of the icon of the Theotokos inside dense thorny bushes (alinies). It was built in the mid-15th century AD by the wife of the Frankish king John II, Helen Palaiologina, to serve the spiritual needs of Orthodox residents of the capital, which until then there only existed Catholic churches and monasteries in the area. The church over the years received numerous reconstructions to get the current form. One radical change was during the Ottoman occupation, when a substantial reconstruction towards a Byzantine architecture took place around 1735.

The church once housed the western-style image of Madonna della Consolazione, which today is found in the Byzantine Museum of Nicosia.

2. Panagia Goumenissa in Goumenissa, Greece

The Monastery of Panagia Goumenissa is in the small town of the same name which is also the seat of the Metropolitan of the newly established Metropolis of Goumenissa, Axioupolis and Polykastron (established in 1991).

The first report with the name Goumenissa comes from the year 1346, during the era of the Palaiologos Dynasty. In an Imperial Act of this year, the region of Goumenissa was granted to the Holy Monastery of Iveron of Mount Athos and it eventually became an important spiritual centre of central Macedonia because of the Monastery of the Virgin Mary. Next to the Monastery existed a settlement that a little later with the union of small agro-pastoral settlements created a dynamic town that was named Goumenissa. Since the Virgin Mary is the Abbess (Igoumenissa) of Athonite monasteries, the name stuck for this monastic dependency and the town. In 1931 the Monastery became independent.

The Monastery has its origins from the various ascetics who had settled on the slopes of Mount Paiko in the 14th century. It is thought that the ruins found at the Church of Saint Paraskevi Pentalofou were once monastic cells. These monastics especially venerated an icon of the Theotokos, which one day vanished from its place and settled 7 km further down where Panagia Goumenissa is found today. When the icon moved they brought it back, but after three times of it miraculously moving away, they realized that it was the will of the Panagia for the icon to settle there.

During the Ottoman occupation (1430-1912), the Monastery acquired great wealth and land because of it spiritual importance in the area. In the 19th century, because the monks resisted the Turks, bandits from Turkey and Albania looted the Monastery and hanged the Abbot in the woods of the Monastery, which is today's central square. It was in memory of his sacrifice that the town acquired the name of the Monastery - Goumenissa. Since then the town and the Monastery have been inextricably tied.

The current katholikon of the Monastery is not the original church, but was built in the end of the 17th century. Many renovations were done in 1802, 1837 and in the middle of the 19th century as well. In 1924 many Greek refugees from Asia Minor settled in the area. In 1931 Iveron Monastery gave over their metochion to the State and the local Church. The sacred vessels and holy relics were returned to Iveron and the Monastery was occupied by the refugees. In 1951 the Monastery of Panagia Goumenissa was re-established (12/17/1951). Because the Monastery lacked monks, Metropolitan Ambrose of Kilkisios and Polyani made it into a shrine while preserving the monastic regime. In 1991 the monastic community revived with the establishment of the new Metropolis as a male monastery.

The Monastery has four feast days:

- February 2 (with vigil)
- First Sunday of March (with procession)
- The third day of Pascha (with procession)
- A three day feast beginning on August 15th

3. Panagia Marouliani in Oia, Santorini

In the village of Finikia next to the village of Oia in Santorini there is a large church called Panagia Marouliani dedicated to the Reception of Christ in the Temple and is celebrated with much festivity annually on February 2nd.

The origin of the name "Marouliani" is rumored to have stemmed from Asia Minor where many years ago (around 1800 AD) in a rural suburb of Smyrna, a Greek farmer found buried in his field under roots of lettuce (μαρουλιών or maroulion) a small wooden icon of the Reception of Christ. Later, with the establishment of the Greek State, there arrived refugees from Asia Minor in Santorini (ca. 1840 AD) and they built the church that stands today to house the icon.

4. Panagia Thalassitra in Kastro, Milos

Panagia Thalassitra Church, renowned patron of sailors, is located in Kastro, just above Plaka, in one of the most beautiful spots of Milos. The church dates to the thirteenth century. Over its side door are the arms of Giovanni IV Crispo (r. 1517-1564), the last duke of Naxos to rule over the Cyclades before they fell to the Turks. It was reconstructed in 1738, and later on renovated and united with the small chapel of Panagia Eleousa. Thalassitra means "of the sea". The church houses fine icons by Emmanuel Skordilis and his students.

5. Panagia of Holy Obedience in Kostos, Paros

The Church of Panagia of Holy Obedience (oi Agia Ypakoe or η Αγία Υπακοή) is also known by locals as Agia Pakou (Αγία Πακού) or Panagia oi Pakou (Παναγιά η Πακού). It is dedicated to the Reception of Christ and was formerly a dependency of the Monastery of Chozoviotissa in Amorgos and renovated in 1609 AD. They gave her the nickname "Holy Obedience" honoring the Virgin Mary's obedience to God's will in giving birth to the Son of God, and in accordance with this the people ought to obey the will of God as well.

6. Panagia of the Wicked Bees in Levadi, Kythera

The icon of the Theotokos of the Wicked Bees (Θεοτόκου Κακιάς Μέλισσας) is found in the village of Levadi in Kythera. It received its name because at one time certain pirates invaded the island in order to plunder the monastery. Suddenly there appeared a swarm of bees which attacked the pirates and forced them to retreat.

Feast of the Reception of Our Lord In the Temple

The Reception of Christ In the Temple (Feast Day - February 2)

Today the Church commemorates an important event in the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 2:22-40). Forty days after His birth the God-Infant was taken to the Jerusalem Temple, the center of the nation's religious life. According to the Law of Moses (Lev. 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a male child was forbidden to enter the Temple of God for forty days. At the end of this time the mother came to the Temple with the child, to offer a young lamb or pigeon to the Lord as a purification sacrifice. The Most Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, had no need of purification, since she had given birth to the Source of purity and sanctity without defilement. However, she humbly fulfilled the requirements of the Law.

At this time the righteous Elder Symeon (February 3) was living in Jerusalem. It had been revealed to him that he would not die until he should behold the promised Messiah. By inspiration from above, St Symeon went to the Temple at the very moment when the Most Holy Theotokos and St Joseph had brought the Infant Jesus to fulfill the Law.

The God-Receiver Symeon took the divine Child in his arms, and giving thanks to God, he spoke the words repeated by the Church each evening at Vespers: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32). St Symeon said to the Most Holy Virgin: "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against. Yea, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).

At the Temple was the 84-year-old widow Anna the Prophetess, daughter of Phanuel (February 3), "who did not leave the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day. She arrived just when St Symeon met the divine Child. She also gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:37-38). In the icon of the Feast she holds a scroll which reads: "This Child has established Heaven and earth."

Before Christ was born, righteous men and women lived by faith in the promised Messiah, and awaited His coming. The Righteous Symeon and the Prophetess Anna, the last righteous people of the Old Testament, were deemed worthy to meet the Savior in the Temple.

The Feast of the Reception of the Lord is among the most ancient feasts of the Christian Church. We have sermons on the Feast by the holy bishops Methodius of Patara (+ 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (+ 360), Gregory the Theologian (+ 389), Amphilocius of Iconium (+ 394), Gregory of Nyssa (+ 400), and John Chrysostom (+ 407). Despite its early origin, this Feast was not celebrated so splendidly until the sixth century.

In 528, during the reign of Justinian, an earthquake killed many people in Antioch. Other misfortunes followed this one. In 541 a terrible plague broke out in Constantinople, carrying off several thousand people each day. During this time of widespread suffering, a solemn prayer service (Litia) for deliverence from evils was celebrated on the Feast of the Reception of the Lord, and the plague ceased. In thanksgiving to God, the Church established a more solemn celebration of this Feast.

Church hymnographers have adorned this Feast with their hymns: St Andrew of Crete in the seventh century; St Cosmas Bishop of Maium, St John of Damascus, and St Germanus Patriarch of Constantinople in the eighth century; and St Joseph, Archbishop of Thessalonica in the ninth century.

On this day we also commemorate the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos known as "the Softening of Evil Hearts" or "Symeon's Prophecy." The Mother of God is depicted without Her Child, with seven swords piercing her breast: three from the left side, three from the right, and one from below.

A similar icon, "Of the Seven Swords" (August 13) shows three swords on the left side and four from the right.

The icon "Symeon's Prophecy" symbolizes the fulfillment of the prophecy of the righteous Elder Symeon: "a sword shall pierce through your own soul" (Luke 2:35).


By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

The fortieth day after His birth, the All-Holy Virgin brought her Divine Son into the Temple of Jerusalem, in accordance with the Law, to dedicate Him to God and to purify herself.

"Consecrate to me every first-born that opens the womb among the Israelites both of man and beast, for it belongs to me" (Exodus 13:2).

"Tell the Israelites: when a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy's foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled. If she gives birth to a girl, for fourteen days she shall be as unclean as at her menstruation, after which she shall spend sixty-six days in becoming purified of her blood. When the days of her purification for a son or for a daughter are fulfilled, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the meeting tent a yearling lamb for a holocaust and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. The priest shall offer them up before the Lord to make atonement for her, and thus she will be clean again after her flow of blood. Such is the law for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl child" (Leviticus 12:2-7).

Even though neither the one nor the other was necessary, nevertheless the Lawgiver did not, in anyway, want to transgress His own Law which He had given through Moses, His servant and prophet.

At that time, the high-priest Zacharias, the father of John the Forerunner, was on duty in the Temple ["serving as a priest before God in the order of his division" Luke 1:8]. Zacharias placed the Virgin, not in the temple area reserved for women but rather in the area reserved for virgins.

On this occasion, two unusual persons appeared in the Temple: the Elder Symeon and Anna, the daughter of Phanuel. The righteous Symeon took the Messiah in his arms and said: "Now, Master, You may let Your servant go in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation" (Luke 2: 29-30). Symeon also spoke the following words about the Christ-child: "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel" (Luke 2:34). Then Anna, who from her youth served God in the Temple by fasting and prayers, recognized the Messiah and glorified God and proclaimed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem about the coming of the long-awaited One.

The Pharisees present in the Temple, who having seen and heard all, became angry with Zacharias because he placed the Virgin Mary in the area reserved for virgins and reported this to King Herod. Convinced that this is the new king about whom the Magi from the east spoke, Herod immediately sent his soldiers to kill Jesus. In the meantime the Holy Family had already left the city and set out for Egypt under the guidance of an angel of God.

The Feast of the Reception of our Lord in the Temple was celebrated from earliest times but the solemn celebration of this day was established in the year 544 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Justinian.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Hail Virgin Theotokos full of Grace, for Christ our God, the Sun of Righteousness, has dawned from you, granting light to those in darkness. And you, O Righteous Elder, rejoice, taking in your arms, the Deliverance of our souls, who grants us Resurrection.

Kontakion in the First Tone
Your birth sanctified a Virgin's womb and properly blessed the hands of Symeon. Having now come and saved us O Christ our God, give peace to Your commonwealth in troubled times and strengthen those in authority, whom You love, as only the loving One.

Byzantine Church Found In Israel May Be Tomb of Prophet Zechariah

Matti Friedman
February 2, 2011
Associated Press

Israeli archaeologists presented a newly uncovered 1,500-year-old church in the Judean hills on Wednesday, including an unusually well-preserved mosaic floor with images of lions, foxes, fish and peacocks.

The Byzantine church located southwest of Jerusalem, excavated over the last two months, will be visible only for another week before archaeologists cover it again with soil for its own protection.

The small basilica with an exquisitely decorated floor was active between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D., said the dig's leader, Amir Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. He said the floor was "one of the most beautiful mosaics to be uncovered in Israel in recent years."

"It is unique in its craftsmanship and level of preservation," he said.

Archaeologists began digging at the site, known as Hirbet Madras, in December. The Antiquities Authority discovered several months earlier that antiquities thieves had begun plundering the ruins, which sit on an uninhabited hill not far from an Israeli farming community.

Though an initial survey suggested the building was a synagogue, the excavation revealed stones carved with crosses, identifying it as a church. The building had been built atop another structure around 500 years older, dating to Roman times, when scholars believe the settlement was inhabited by Jews.

Hewn into the rock underneath that structure is a network of tunnels that archaeologists believe were used by Jewish rebels fighting Roman armies in the second century A.D.

Stone steps lead down from the floor of church to a small burial cave, which scholars suggest might have been venerated as the burial place of the Old Testament prophet Zachariah.

Ganor said the church would remain covered until funding was obtained to open it as a tourist site.

Israel boasts an exceptionally high concentration of archaeological sites, including Crusader, Islamic, Byzantine, Roman, ancient Jewish and prehistoric ruins.

Related posts:

Video of the Possible Tomb of Zechariah the Prophet

Church Unearthed May Hold Zechariah Tomb

Antiquities Theft Leads Archaelogists To Discovery of Ancient Church and Tunnels

Megalynaria of the Reception of Christ

In the video above the Hellenic Byzantine Choir lead by Protopsaltis Lykourgos Aggelopoulos chant the Megalynaria of the Reception of Christ in a version composed by Peter Lambadarios (1730-1815).

Below is the original Greek text together with an English translation under it:

Ωδή θ’. Εν ή ψάλλονται τα επόμενα Μεγαλυνάρια. (Ήχος γ΄.)

Ακατάληπτον εστί, το τελούμενον εν σοί, και αγγέλοις και βροτοίς, Μητροπάρθενε αγνή.

Αγκαλίζεται χερσίν, ο πρεσβύτης Συμεών, τον του νόμου Ποιητήν, και Δεσπότην του παντός.

Βουληθείς ο Πλαστουργός, ίνα σὠση τον Αδάμ, μήτραν ώκησε την σήν, της Παρθένου και αγνής.

Γένος άπαν των βροτών, μακαρίζει σε Αγνή, και δοξάζει σε πιστώς, ως Μητέρα του Θεού.

Δεύτε, ίδετε Χριστόν, τον Δεσπότην του παντός, όν βαστάζει Συμεών, σήμερον εν τω ναώ.

Επιβλέπεις προς την γην, και ποιείς τρέμειν αυτήν, και πώς γέρων κεκμηκώς, σε κατέχει εν χερσί;

Ζήσας έτη Συμεών, έως είδε τον Χριστόν, και εβόα προς αυτόν· Νυν απόλυσιν ζητώ.

Η λαβίς η μυστική, η τον άνθρακα Χριστόν, συλλαβούσα εν γαστρί, συ υπάρχεις Μαριάμ.

Θέλων ενηνθρώπησας, ο προάναρχος Θεός, και ναώ προσφέρεσαι, τεσσαρακονθήμερος.

Κατελθόντ’ εξ ουρανού, τον Δεσπότην του παντός, υπεδέξατο αυτόν, Συμεών ο ιερεύς.

Λάμπρυνόν μου την ψυχήν, και το φως το αισθητόν, όπως ίδω καθαρώς, και κηρύξω σε Θεόν.

Ο Ειρμός

Εν νόμω σκιά και γράμματι, τύπον κατίδωμεν οι πιστοί· πάν άρσεν το την μήτραν διανοίγον, άγιον Θεω· διό πρωτότοκον Λόγον, Πατρός Ανάρχου Υιόν, πρωτοτοκούμενον Μητρί, απειράνδρω μεγαλύνωμεν.

Μητροπάρθενε αγνή, τί προσφέρεις τω ναώ, νέον βρέφος αποδούσ’ εν αγκάλαις Συμεών;

Εν νόμω σκιά και γράμματι…

Νυν απόλυσιν ζητώ, από σού του Πλαστουργού, ότι είδον σε Χριστέ, το σωτήριόν μου φως.

Τοις πριν νεογνών τρυγόνων ζεύγος, δυάς τε ην νεοσσών, ανθ’ ών ο θείος Πρέσβυς, και σώφρων Άννα προφήτις, τω εκ Παρθένου τεχθέντι, και οίω γόνω Πατρός, εν τω ναώ προσιόντι, λειτουργούντες εμεγάλυνον.

Όν οι άνω λειτουργοί, τρόμω λιτανεύουσι, κάτω νυν ο Συμεών, αγκαλίζεται χερσί.

Τοις πριν νεογνών τρυγόνων ζεύγος…

Δόξα Πατρί και Υιώ και Αγίω Πνεύματι.

Η τη φύσει μεν Μονάς, τοις προσώποις δε Τριάς, φύλαττε τους δούλους σου, τους πιστεύοντας εις σε.

Απέδωκάς μοι εβόα Συμεών, του Σωτηρίου σου Χριστέ αγαλλίασιν, απόλαβέ σου τον λάτριν, τον τη σκιά κεκμηκότα, νέον της χάριτος, ιεροκήρυκα μύστην, εν αινέσει μεγαλύνοντα.

Και νυν και αεί, και εις τους αιώνας των αιώνων· αμήν.

Θεοτόκε η ελπίς, πάντων των Χριστιανών, σκέπε φρούρει φύλαττε, τους ελπίζοντας εις σέ.

Ιεροπρεπώς ανθωμολογείτο, Άννα υποφητεύουσα, η σώφρων και Οσία, και πρέσβυρα τω Δεσπότη, εν τω ναώ διαρρήδην, την Θεοτόκον δε ανακηρύττουσα, πάσι τοις παρούσιν εμεγάλυνεν.

Ode 9 in Tone 3 From Matins For the Feast of the Presentation of Christ

That which was fulfilled in thee is beyond the understanding of Angels and mortal men, O Pure Virgin Mother.

Symeon the Elder takes in his arms the Maker of the Law and Master of all.

The Creator, wishing to save Adam, took up His dwelling in thy pure and virgin womb.

All mankind blesses thee, O Pure Virgin, and in faith glorifies thee as Theotokos.

Come ye and behold Christ the Master of all, Whom Symeon carries today in the Temple.

Thou looketh down upon the earth and maketh it tremble: how then can I, aged and weary, hold Thee in mine arms?

Symeon had lived for many years when he beheld Christ and cried aloud to him: "Now do I seek my release."

Mary, thou art the mystic tongs, who hast conceived in thy womb Christ the live Coal.

O God Who wast before all things began, of Thine own will hast Thou become man and art carried, a Child forty days old, into the Temple.

Symeon the Priest received the Lord of all, come down from heaven.

Illuminate my soul and the light of my senses, that I may see Thee in purity: and I will proclaim that Thou art God.


In the shadow and the letter of the Law, let us, the faithful, discern a figure: every male child that opens the womb shall be sanctified to God. Therefore do we magnify the First Born Word and Son of the Father without beginning, the First Born Child of a mother who had not known man.

O Pure Virgin Mother, why dost thou bring into the Temple a Newborn Babe and commit Him into the hands of Symeon?

In the shadow and the letter of the Law, let us, the faithful, discern a figure: every male child that opens the womb shall be sanctified to God. Therefore do we magnify the First Born Word and Son of the Father without beginning, the First Born Child of a mother who had not known man.

From thee, the Creator, I now see release: for I have seen Thee, O Christ, my Salvation and my Light.

Of old the people offered a pair of doves and two young pigeons. In their stead the godly Elder and Anna the Prophetess, sober in spirit, ministered and gave glory to the Child of the Virgin, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, as He was brought into the Temple.

Him Whom the Ministers at the Liturgy on High entreat with trembling, here below Symeon now takes in his arms.

Of old the people offered a pair of doves and two young pigeons. In their stead the godly Elder and Anna the Prophetess, sober in spirit, ministered and gave glory to the Child of the Virgin, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, as He was brought into the Temple.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

O Thou by Nature One but in Persons Three, watch over Thy servants who put their faith in Thee.

"Thou hast committed to me the exceeding joy of Thy salvation, O Christ," cried Symeon. "Take Thy servant, who is weary of the shadow, and make him a new preacher of the mystery of Grace, as he magnifies Thee in praise!"

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O Theotokos, thou hope of all Christians, protect, watch over and guard all those who put their hope in thee.

Holy Anna, sober in spirit and venerable in years, with reverence confessed the Master freely and openly in the Temple; and proclaiming the Theotokos, she magnified her before all who were present.

4th Century Church Discovered in Laodicea

January 31, 2011
Hurriyet Daily News

An ancient church mentioned in the Bible has been discovered in western Turkey, according to the head of the excavation.

Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay visited the ancient city of Laodicea on Sunday in Denizli province and was briefed by Professor Celal Şimşek, head of the excavation team. The professor said they have discovered the Laodicea Church, one of the seven mentioned in the Bible. Şimşek said the church from the fourth century A.D. was found by underground radar search, a system they have tried this year for the first time. “The major part of the church, which is built on an area of 2,000 square meters, has kept its original [status].”

Minister Günay said he is very excited about the discovery, adding that archeology in Turkey developed greatly recently and the ministry is supporting academics fully. The minister said the excavations have been running nonstop since the site was transferred to the municipality of Denizli. “This summer we may invite the foreign press and organize a gathering after important steps are taken for renovation and the building is fully unearthed.” The minister said the church added to the already present historical richness of the ancient city and said he was happy that important sites other than Ephesus are coming into the spotlight. According to the minister, the baptismal pool at the Laodicea Church is even more exciting than the one at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

At a very early period, the city of Laodicea became one of the chief seats of Christianity, and the see of a bishop. Laodicea receives passing mention in the epistle to the Colossians and is one of the seven churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelations. The Laodicean church is thought to have been founded by the Colossian Epaphras, a Christian preacher who spread the Gospel to his fellow Colossian citizens.

Front-Loading and Theistic Evolution

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When A Christian Attains Purity of Heart...

When A Christian attains to purity of heart, then he fulfills all the commands of the Lord, and then "he sees God" (Matt. 5:7), that is, he beholds clearly in his heart the workings of the Holy Spirit, from which he is enlightened to become an unwavering guide of others, and understands the hidden sayings of the divine Scriptures, and the nature not only of beings, but also the nature of truth; and in consequence he arrives at clear-sightedness, foresight, and dispassion, from which comes the action of divine revelations and miracles.

- Elder Daniel Katounakiotis (+ 1929)

Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos (vol. 1), by Archimandrite Cherubim, p. 314.

Holy Martyr Tryphon of Phrygia

St. Tryphon the Martyr (Feast Day - February 1)

                                                            By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Tryphon was born of poor parents in the village of Lampsakos in Phrygia. In his childhood he tended geese. Also from his childhood he was able to cure illnesses that afflicted people and livestock and was able to expel evil spirits.

The Roman Empire at that time was ruled by Emperor Gordian whose daughter Gordiana went insane and this caused her father great sorrow. All the physicians were unable to help Gordiana. The evil spirit spoke through Gordiana and said that no one can cast him out except Tryphon. After many who were named Tryphon in the empire were summoned, by Divine Providence young Tryphon was also summoned. He was brought to Rome and he healed the emperor's daughter. The emperor lavished upon him many gifts all of which Tryphon, upon his return, distributed to the poor.

In his village this holy youngster continued to tend geese and to pray to God. When Decius, the Christ-persecutor, was crowned emperor, Saint Tryphon was tortured and cruelly tormented for Christ. He endured all tortures with great joy, saying: "Oh! If only I could be made worthy to die by fire and pain for the name of the Lord and God, Jesus Christ!" All sufferings did him no harm and finally the tormentors sentenced him to be beheaded. Before his death Tryphon prayed to God, and he gave up his soul to his Creator in the year 250 A.D.

The Prayer of Saint Tryphon before his death:

"O Lord, God of gods and King of kings, the Most Holy of all holies, I thank You that You made me worthy to complete my mortification without faltering. And now, I pray to You that the hand of the invisible demon does not touch me; that the demon not drag me into the abyss of destruction. Rather, let Your holy angels lead me into Your beautiful dwelling place and make me an heir of Your desired kingdom. Receive my soul and harken to the prayer of all those who would offer sacrifices to You in my remembrance. Gaze upon them from Your holy dwelling place and grant them abundant and incorruptible gifts. For You are the only good and merciful Gift-giver unto the ages of ages. Amen."

Since Tryphon suffered in Nicaea and since many miracles occurred over his lifeless body, the citizens of Nicaea wanted to bury Tryphon in their cemetery. But, the Saint appeared in a vision and expressed his desire that he be translated to his village of Lampsakos where he once tended geese, and to be buried there.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thy Martyr, 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.

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
By the might of the Trinity thou didst destroy throughout the earth polytheism, O all-renowned Trypho, wherefore thou art precious in the Lord. In Christ Saviour prevailing over tyrants, thou hast now received thy martyr's crown and gifts of Godlike healings, since thou truly art invincible.

Saint Tryphon, Patron Saint of Birds In Russia

In Russia, St Tryphon (Feb. 1) is regarded as the patron saint of birds. There is a story that when Tsar Ivan the Terrible was out hunting, his falconer carelessly allowed the Tsar's favorite falcon to fly away. The Tsar ordered the falconer Tryphon Patrikeiev to find the bird within three days, or else he would be put to death. Tryphon searched all through the forest, but without luck.

On the third day, exhausted by long searching, he returned to Moscow to the place called Marinaya Grove. Overcome with weariness, he lay down to rest, fervently praying to his patron saint, the Martyr Tryphon, for help.

In a dream he saw a youth on a white horse, holding the Tsar's falcon on his hand. The youth said, "Take the lost bird, go to the Tsar and do not grieve." When he awakened, the falconer actually spotted the falcon on a pine tree. He took it to the Tsar and told him about the miraculous help he received from the holy Martyr Tryphon. Grateful to St Tryphon for saving his life, Tryphon Patrikeiev built a chapel on the spot where the saint appeared. Later on, he also built a church dedicated to the holy Martyr Tryphon in Moscow.

The holy martyr is greatly venerated in the Russian Orthodox Church as the heavenly protector of Moscow. Many Russian icons depict the saint holding a falcon on his arm.


Saint Tryphon Cultural Celebration In Bulgaria

February 1st is the professional holiday of Bulgarian wine producers - the Day of St. Tryphon. On this day is the traditional cutting in the vineyards - one of the most important agricultural activities.

Proper pruning allows the vine to get maximum sunlight, good contact with air, but also to regulate the yield of grapes.

St. Tryphon is known as a patron of vineyards only in the Balkans, mainly where Bulgarians and Greeks live. St. Tryphon’s day is also considered for a celebration of gardeners and tavern-keepers who are under the patronage of the saint.

The beginnings of the holiday must be sought in the famous Dionysian festivals in ancient Greece. In the images of Dionysus, he is presented as a god with a wreath of ivy and vine on the head. The Bulgarians image of Saint Tryphon is enriched by different legends. The most famous of all is associated with the saint, who cut off his nose when cutting twigs on the vineyard, then he received the name Snub-nosed Tryphon.

On St. Tryphon’s day the ritual cutting of the vines takes place. It prompts for the approaching spring and the beginning of agricultural activity. Trimming is mainly done by men, but the housewife has kneaded and baked warm bread from early morning. The bread is decorated with a trellis vine, heavy with fruit – grapes, which have been modeled from the paste. She has prepared a chicken stuffed with manna croup and all this is placed into colorful new bag. Early in the morning she gives it to the householder with wooden wine vessels full of wine and sends him to the gate. After the traditional church service the men head to the vineyards, leaded by a piper.

Actions performed here are similar throughout the country. Each farmer as soon as he arrives at his vineyard, turns towards the sun and makes the sign of the cross three times. Then they cut the root of three bars and water the place with red wine, holy water and ashes saved from the Christmas Eve fireplace. Trimming is accompanied by the blessings of a rich yield. They roll the fresh cut sticks into a whorls and put it on their fur hats, carrying wooden wine vessels on shoulders, and some bring them home and put them on the icon. Then the men gather in the vineyards at a common table and place the meals they have brought with them. The feast is accompanied by traditional songs and dances.

Villa Vinifera wine cellar reserves and continues reviving the tradition. For the feast of St. Tryphon the cellar has its own custom - fifty mummers chase evil spirits from the vineyard and winery with dancing and ringing of bells, a king of the vineyard is elected with skillful hands, owning property, healthy, with warm heart and of course with a good attitude to wine. Trimming is accompanied by the blessing of prosperity. After the ritual is over the feast continues in the cellar with plenty of wine, songs and dances.


The Chapel of Saint Tryphon at Mount Sinai

The Chapel of Saint Tryphon occupies the upper storey of the structure standing in the midst of the monastery garden. It was constructed in 1888, and is distinguished by its simplicity and neoclassical profile. The masonry is crowned by a horizontal cornice and parapet, while the western and eastern ends are adorned by decorative gables in the form of inverted keels. Saint Tryphon is the patron saint of gardens, and on his feast day every year, February 1, a priest blesses holy water and reads the Prayer of Saint Tryphon, which invokes the protection and blessing of God upon the garden for the coming year.

The area below the chapel contains the monastery ossuary. Outside are six graves, and when a member of the community passes away, the bones that have been in the cemetery the longest are taken up and placed in the ossuary, to clear the grave for another burial.


Was Saint John Chrysostom An Antisemite?

Some modern readers have claimed that, based on a reading of St. John's Orations Against the Judaizers, the saint was an Anti-Semite. Indeed, a glance over these writings could lead one to believe as such. Many Anti-Semitic groups throughout history have certainly tried to justify their beliefs and actions by using the writings of St. John.

What is unfortunate is that this misuse of the saint's words is based significantly on a mistranslation of the title of the sermons, translated as Against the Jews, rather than Against the Judaizers, which is the rendering the most up to date translations are now using. By this adjustment, sermons intended by the saint to be polemics against those in 4th century Antioch who would try to Judaize the Christians are being read as racist invective.

Because of this misunderstanding, I am working to compile information to show that Anti-Semites who wish to justify their hate will have to look elsewhere -- the Golden-Mouthed saint did not hate Jews, but in fact in many other sermons overlooked by such racists (and often anti-racists who want to discredit St. John as a racist!), the saint is "quite admiring of the local Jewish community and their religious devotion and stamina," in the words of one Roman Catholic patristics scholar quoted on a webpage of debate and commentary concerning this matter.

In the meantime, I am offering the following references for your use:


- Robert Louis Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: rhetoric and reality in the late fourth century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) -- "...very convincingly demonstrates not only that St. John Chrysostomos was not an anti-Semite, but that his supposed writings against the Jews are actually against the 'Judaizers,' a terrible mistranslation which convicts him unfairly of racism, when in fact his words are addressed to a theological element in the Christian Church. This work was published in 1983 and is a 'must' for anyone wishing to understand the issue at hand." (Quote from "an anonymous Orthodox scholar.")

- Eugene J. Fisher (ed.), Interwoven Destinies: Jews and Christians Through the Ages (Paulist Press, 1993) -- contains "a series of articles by Jewish and Christian writers providing contrasting views of the slow separation of the two communities over time, including both a Jewish and a Christian look at Chrysostom's 'Against the Judaizers'. (Both agree that, while Chrysostom's bombastic rhetoric is pretty offensive to modern ears, he's not coming down on the Jews out of a clear blue sky - he's primarily rebuking Judaizing Christians who attend Synagogue on Saturday and Church on Sunday, still trying to live in both worlds, and who teach others to do the same.)" (Quote from Silouan Thompson)

- John Chrysostom, Discourses against Judaizing Christians, translated by Paul W. Harkins. The Fathers of the Church; v. 68 (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1979) -- "This is apparently the most up to date translation, and should be used by anyone wanting to comment on these texts in written work." (Quote from Paul Halsall)


- Medieval Sourcebook: Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies Against the [Judaizers] -- contains the full text of an older translation of the first six of the eight orations. Also contains some scholarly commentary.

- Medieval Sourcebook: Notes on Reaction to the Posting of the Chrysostom Text on the Jews -- contains quite a bit of useful commentary, information and historical background to these orations. Well worth the read.

- Real Questions, Real Answers!: St. John Chrysostom and the Jews -- a brief "Ask Father" sort of column containing some useful information in response to this very question.

- Was St. John Chrysostom Anti-Semitic? -- some off-the-cuff remarks about this issue by an "anonymous Orthodox scholar," hosted by an Orthodox website identifying itself as "traditionalist."

- Orthodoxy and Antisemitism -- an article by South African missiologist Steve Hayes giving a sober and reasoned analysis of the alleged antisemitism inherent in Orthodox Christianity.


Video: The Martyrdom of Saint Perpetua

The narrator of the video above makes the martyrdom of St. Perpetua to sound a bit more like a suicide than a martyrdom. However, according to the principal source on her martyrdom, "Perpetua, that she might have some taste of pain, was pierced between the bones and shrieked out; and when the swordsman's hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain had she not herself so willed it."

For $1.99 you can also rent a one-hour documentary about the martyrdom of St. Perpetua and those with her at this link.

Read more about St. Perpetua here.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Are We Living In The End Times?

January 30, 2011

By Monk Moses the Athonite

In our difficult and turbulent times there is generally a small powerful group of people with certain metaphysical pursuits. Some find God as a necessity, as an armchair, and as a raft. Usually people find what they are looking for and what interests them. They do not want to get tired and toil much. They are satisfied with rough and easy solutions. In this way, sometimes religiosity exhausts them as formal obligations without any return. Sometimes they are lured by unscrupulous teachers who exploit their divine desire by offering them liberation, joyfulness, relaxation and rest.

In this pursuit there is a strong demonology, antichristology and eschatology, which unfortunately is established on a false foundation. Extremism, setting dates for the end of the world, reports about the birth of the Antichrist and so on, create terror and fear in the souls of Christians, which is improper and undesirable. Some talk more about the Antichrist and less about Christ. Their permanent occupation is the interpretation of the times. Many who are wise and prudent are concerned for the great concerns of the people. Every news story which confirms their suspicions becomes their permanent concern. We do not consider this overreaction normal.

People have abandoned the war against the unnatural passions and the cultivation of the natural virtues to engage all day with fantasies, fears, superstitions and the possibility of any magic performed on them, worrying if perhaps they acquired a certain number. They have forgotten study, prayer, good works, repentance, and the sacramental life of the Church in their struggle with subjective explanations and outlandish theories. These topics distance one from the essence, from the basis, and from the joy of spiritual life and lead people in a dark demonic labyrinth.

In saying this, we do not mean to say that there is nothing going on. We are not talking in favor of unhealthy complacency, or laziness, or being mislead, or indifference. There is definitely a need for wakefulness, for standing up, for upliftment, for courage, and for resistance to what is unholy, untrue and dishonest. The freedom of the human person is very important and should always and everywhere be defended in every way. All our attention should turn to what is essential, vital and true in themselves. Unfortunately many people are afraid to embrace truth, to see their internal nakedness. This is why they want to deal with what has personal benefits.

People today are anxious that perhaps they may not be able to use their spoons and forks, because they will not have anything to eat. They gather food for the difficult days ahead. Even without a date for the end? With what joy will they eat when their brethren around them are dying of hunger? Did not Christ teach the "Our Father"? Does it not say "give us this day"? In other words, even Christians are interested only in chewing? It is important to carefully see where the militancy of our Christians goes. Do not give these ironic lurkers who do not fear God, who lately have increased, the occasion to laugh.

We are judged by our choices. We have a responsibility for our choices. There is a necessary need for study, knowledge, experience, enlightenment and advice. Let me say it again. We all need sincere repentance, a healthy change, a change of mind, a new way of life, a new culture, another destination, a different goal, a higher aim, a meaningful life. Honorableness, righteousness, and honesty can return to this wretched place.

If the much debated citizenship card deprives us of our freedoms, then of course we should not receive it, obeying the decisions of the Church. But we should not ever have to live with suspicion, fantasies, exaggerations, fanaticism, extremism and factions. Fear, terror, panic and reactionary uprising against everything is not the proper way of spiritual life.

Are we in the end times? Have the signs of the times come? Has the Antichrist set his seal? Has the end of the world come? All will be done according to God's will. The ancient Saint Silouan said: "Even if heaven and earth unite, I will not be afraid." Christ gives believers fearlessness, calmness, hope, optimism and joy. Defeatism, gloom, pessimism and disorder never belongs to Christians.

May the celebrated saints, the Three Hierarchs, illuminate for us the path of discernment.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

8th Century Church Beneath the 'Atlantis' of Lake Kremasta

Lake Kremasta (Λίμνη Κρεμαστών) is the largest artificial lake in Greece begun in 1965. The construction of the dam of Kremasta was completed in 1969 concentrating waters from four rivers: Acheloos, Agrafiotis, Tavropos and Trikeriotis.

The lake covered areas where prior to 1965 there existed twenty villages and dozens of churches and monasteries. 90,000 acres drowned and changed the lives of 2,000 inhabitants of the area.

Today people call this place the "Atlantis" of Evrytania for what lies beneath these waters. What stands out among the ruins is an 8th century Byzantine church called "Panagia of Episkopi" (Παναγία της Επισκοπής) which is being examined now by amateur divers 45 years later, according to Βήμα (01/28/2011).

The mission of these divers began in May of 2008 when they sought to uncover what lay beneath the lake. They encountered much difficulty however as the lake has a depth of 30 meters to 400 meters with high levels of red soil and debri that make everything look submerged in mud. After 15 meters visibility is complete dakness, and they faced the dangers of bitter cold and underground streams. The divers accepted defeat, howevers the locals had much hope in this mission of theirs to find the church they loved and remembered. They didn't give up.

According to Christos Euthymiou, board member of the Association of Amateur Divers 'Tithys', they were not looking for the church but just came upon it. It was discovered at a depth of 40 meters; at 32 meters they could touch the dome. They were amazed to find the church still standing! After conducting research and talking to the locals who knew the area prior to the flooding, they found out more about it.

The church before it was covered by the lake and after.

According to Maria Salomidi: "Even though I don't believe in God, this experience had an almost religious mystique. After so much effort and suffering, with all the emotions that we brought, for us to see the dome we were filled with joy, especially because we were sharing it with the people."

Archimandrite Damaskinos Vasilopoulos, a former resident of Episkopi, stated: "I was six years old when the waters covered everything and I still have memories of the violent uprooting and flight of the residents. For all of us, the fact that the church is still intact is of great importance."

Read more: Μια Ατλαντίδα στα βουνά της Ευρυτανίας

Saint Nikitas of the Kiev Caves and Bishop of Novgorod

St. Nikitas (Nicetas) of the Kiev Caves (Feast Day - January 31 and April 30)

"Those whose life is passed in small and modest efforts become free of dangers and have no need of special precautions. By always conquering desires they readily find the way leading to God." - St. Anthony the Great

"Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." (II Cor. 11:14)

In this age of widespread spiritual indifference, a soul zealous to ascend the ladder of perfection is indeed worthy of praise. Zeal, however, must be accompanied by a profound sobriety and humility, else the soul - instead of rising to heavenly heights - will fall into a pit of vainglory, for the cunning enemy of our salvation is able to use our strengths, as well as our weaknesses, in trying to bring us to perdition. The lives of two monks, Isaac (Feb. 14) and Nikita, from the early history of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, are often cited as examples of the spiritual deception which can blind a soul whose zeal lacks the safeguards of sobriety and humility.

St. Nikita was tonsured in the Kiev-Caves Lavra. Very early in his monastic life he secluded himself in a cave. His decision to become a recluse was based on inexperience and was contrary to the will of the saintly abbot Nikon who refused to bless such an undertaking:

"My son! at your age such a life will not benefit you. You would do much better to remain with the brethren. In laboring together with them you will surely gain your reward. You yourself saw how our brother Isaac was seduced by the demons in his seclusion and would have perished had he not been saved by the grace of God through the prayers of our holy fathers Anthony and Theodosius."

"Never, my father," replied Nikita, "will I be deceived. I am resolved firmly to withstand the demonic temptations, and I shall pray to the man-loving God that He grant me the gift of working miracles as He did to the recluse Isaac who, to this day, continues to perform many miracles through his prayers."

"Your desire exceeds your powers. Take heed, my son, that you do not fall on account of your high-mindedness. I would enjoin you rather to serve the brethren, and God will crown you for your obedience."

The abbot's wise counsel could not tame Nikita's ambitious desire to be a recluse. The monastery's elders, however, did not forsake the headstrong novice in his foolishness; they continued to keep an eye on him and to pray for him.

It was not long before the recluse's cave became filled with a sweet fragrance and he heard a voice joining his in prayer. He reasoned to himself: If this were not an angel, he would not be praying with me, nor would I sense the fragrance of the Holy Spirit. The undiscerning recluse began to pray still more fervently: "Lord," he cried out, "appear to me that I might see Thee face to face!" The voice answered: "I shall send you an angel. Follow his will in everything you do."

Presently a demon appeared in the guise of an angel. First he told the novice to stop praying, that he himself would pray and that the recluse was to occupy himself with reading the Old Testament, and the Old Testament alone. The unfortunate novice was obedient to the demon: he stopped praying, falsely reassured by the constant presence of the "angel" praying at his side. The Old Testament he learned by heart.

The demon began telling Nikita all that was going on in the world, and on this basis the recluse began to prophesy. Laymen would come to his cave to listen to him. The monastery elders, however, noticed that the recluse never cited the New Testament, only the Old, and they understood that he had fallen into a state of prelest (spiritual deception). They broke into the cave, chased out the demon by their prayers, and dragged the recluse from his place of seclusion.

No sooner was Nikita parted from the demon than he forgot all he had learned of the Old Testament; he was convinced that he had never read it. Indeed, it appeared that he had even forgotten how to read, and when he came round he had to be taught all over again, like a child.

Nikita understood his error and wept bitterly in repentance. He began to struggle on the true path of humility and obedience. And the Lord, seeing his fervor, forgave him, in token of which He made Nikita a shepherd of His rational flock. Elevated in 1096 to the episcopal throne of Great Novgorod, Nikita was granted grace to work miracles. The Lord thereby assured the faithful that their archpastor had been fully cleansed of his delusion and that his labors of repentance had found favor with God. Once, for example, during a severe drought, God answered his prayer for rain; another time, a fire in the city was extinguished by his prayers. For thirteen years St. Nikita skillfully guided his flock before leaving this world on January 30, 1108 to enter into eternal and blessed repose with the saints.

St. Nikita was buried in Novgorod's St. Sophia's Cathedral which was frescoed according to plans he had designed. In 1551 the earthly remains of the holy hierarch were discovered to be incorrupt and he was officially canonized. On the eve of his glorification, a priest saw the Bishop in a dream: he was vested and censing the holy icons. When his coffin was opened, everyone was struck by the light which emanated from his face. Today his relics - encased in a large, intricately carved reliquary - are located in the church of the Holy Apostle Philip, the only church in Novgorod which remains open for worship.

St. Nikita had no beard and so he is depicted on his icons.

Source: Based on a translation from 1000 Years of Russian Sanctity compiled by Nun Taisia; Jordanville, 1983.


By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Nikitas, to the Creator, prayed,
That the Creator make him worthy,
That he, the Creator, may be able to see.
"Appear to me, O God, O God!"

O Nikitas, sin is pursuing you,
That this, from God, you implore!
Make yourself worthy and you will see
The All-eternal One in eternity.

The Immortal God does not allow
That mortal eye upon Him gaze;
Even to the celestial world, it is frightful
To gaze at the Almighty.

To us is given this life,
That, by it, to prepare ourselves,
That worthy, only after death
To gaze upon the eternal light.

But, Nikitas asks and prays,
That the Creator make him worthy,
That he, the Creator, may be able to see:
"Appear to me, O God Most High."

Then, to him the devil appeared:
"Bow down before me!" said he,
And Nikitas, the faster, the better,
Before him, on his knees he knelt!

For he thought it was an angel:
It was the devil all in glow,
With the glow of falsehood,
Filled Nikita's entire cell.

O, my brother, God, do not tempt;
This age is the age of preparation;
In this age is faith;

In that age however, is vision;
First the battle, then the victory;
First the pain, then satisfaction;
All occurs in its own time.

Metropolitan Hilarion: Unbelief Is Spiritual Blindness

January 31, 2011

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Church Relations, celebrated on 30 January 2011 the Divine Liturgy at the Church of Our Lady the Sign to All the Afflicted-in-Bolshaya-Ordynka in Moscow.

After the liturgy he addressed himself to the congregation with the following archpastoral homily:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, today we heard during the Gospel’s Reading the story of how the Lord Jesus Christ healed a blind man who was sitting at roadside, asking for salvation and healing. The Lord said to him, "Go, your faith has healed you" (Mk. 10:51-52).

“These words of our Saviour point to the direct relationship between spiritual vision and faith, between spiritual blindness and lack of faith. Unbelief is spiritual blindness that obturates God and the reality of the spiritual world. A non-believer is incapable of seeing the spiritual reality behind the phenomena of the visible world, which is present and co-exists with the material world. Spiritual blindness is the inability of man to see the hand of God in his life. A spiritually blind one ascribes all the good things in one’s life to oneself and thinks that if one succeeded in anything it happened thanks to one’s own talents, abilities and resources or through a coincidence. And when a temptation or trial or sorrow or suffering comes, such a person loses heart and falls into despair because this experience does not fit in his idea of happiness, success and prosperous life. Such a person does not see the causes of either positive or negative developments taking place in his life. It seems to him that all this is a chance, a good or bad luck.

“A spiritually blind man normally does not see his shortcomings. It seems to him that everything is all right in his life, that he always acts as appropriate, and if some problems arise in his relations with others, these others themselves are to blame because they underestimated, misunderstood something or did something wrong. He is certain: ‘I did everything in the right way, but all those around me did it wrong’.

“A spiritually sighted person, to whom the Lord has opened his eyes, sees the hand of God in everything, understanding that life is not a coincidence and that the Lord guides him like a mother fond of her children on the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. Such a person understands that if difficulties and problems arise in his relations with others, he has to ask himself: did I do it in the right way? Perhaps I have overlooked something or did or said something wrong? A spiritually sighted person is aware that the cause of many of his troubles and sufferings lies in himself.

“But if he scores a success, he first of all thanks God because he knows: He is the One from Whom all good things come. And even if a person himself achieves much through his own efforts, isn’t it the Lord Who has given him talents, health and strength to do it?

“This is the difference between the spiritual blind and spiritually sighted. Such people live next to us, in the same world, and move in the same circle. They can sit in the same office, live in the same flat, but they look at things quite differently. One of them is sighted while the other is blind; one believes, while the other does not. One, seeing a miracle, says, ‘It is a miracle of God which has happened so that my faith may be stronger’, whereas the other, witnessing a miracle, is sure that ‘It is a coincidence, there is no miracle’.

“The Lord has opened for us, believers, our spiritual eyes so that we may contemplate His beauty, be guided in our actions by His divine commandments and help those whose spiritual sight is still closed to see His presence in their life and to feel the hand of God in various life circumstances. We should in the first place show by our own example that God exists, that He is not somewhere far but here, among us, that God is not indifferent to our life but participates in it, helping us in every good task, preventing many troubles and sorrows and guiding us on the way to the Heavenly Kingdom.

“May the Lord give us all to be spiritually sighted, not to fall into spiritual blindness and remember that if the Lord has opened our eyes we should be especially attentive to ourselves, to each other and to our neighbours. If there is a spiritual blind person next to us, we should remember that we cannot heal him as the Lord did – with a wave of His hand, but we should help such a person to gradually heal himself from spiritual blindness. May God give that as many as possible people around us may see the presence of God and turn from non-believers to believers, that the Lord may make the Church grow and bring more and more new people to the faith, that people may turn from spiritually blind into sighted. Amen”.

Christianity: A Faith For The Simple

Christianity's founding ideals are anti-elitist – so should we be surprised if its followers are less educated than average?

Nick Spencer
January 31, 2011

In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins makes great play of the fact that so few "elite" scientists apparently believe in God. A more recent US study, by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, surveying 1,700 scientists and speaking to 275 of them, found that "nearly 50% of elite scientists [in the US] are religious in the traditional sense and over 20% … though eschewing religion, still see themselves as spiritual".

Ecklund's study aims to correct the idea that scientists are overwhelmingly atheistic, although it refuses to shy away from the overwhelmingly atheistic feelings of some, such as physicist Arik who "proudly" told Ecklund that his children "have been thoroughly and successfully indoctrinated to believe as I do that belief in God is a form of mental weakness".

For all that it tries to correct the picture of widespread scientific atheism, however, the study can't escape the fact that, although elite scientists in the US are more religious/spiritual than they are generally thought to be, they are still rather less religious/spiritual than the population as a whole.

Should we read anything into this? One over-hasty conclusion, a good example of what Sir Sir Humphrey Appleby called "minister's logic", is that it hammers another nail into God's coffin. Thus: 1) Elite scientists know more about the way the world works than other people. 2) A disproportionate number of elite scientists don't believe in God. 3) Therefore God (probably) doesn't exist.

What is interesting about this argument is not so much the questionable inference, as the questionable first premise. Our conviction that scientists, elite or otherwise, are somehow better qualified to discern the nature of reality is dubious. Elite scientists undoubtedly know vastly more about their subject than other people. But to imagine that that makes them somehow better qualified to adjudicate on big-picture questions is like saying because I know my home town like the back of my hand, I am well-equipped to lecture on European geography.

Beyond the fray of who believes what and whether it means anything, there is a wider and perhaps more interesting question of whether we should expect any correlation at all between a/theism and intelligence. If all intelligent people clustered at one end of the a/theistic pole, that would be highly suggestive.

But they don't. John Carey observed in the introduction to his Faber Book of Science that "when a scientist of James Clerk Maxwell's eminence uses molecular structure as an argument for the existence of God, few will feel qualified to laugh", before going on to remark, "of course, atheistical scientists are plentiful too". In as far as there is a correlation between a/theism and intelligence, it is far subtler than that.

Odd as it may be to admit, there is some reason within the Christian tradition to think that Christian believers should, on average, be less intelligent, or at least less well-educated, than their opponents. Before atheists get too exited by this, it isn't an admission that Christians are naturally stupid, though no doubt some will choose to read it that way.

Rather it is the recognition that there is a long-standing theme within Christian thought that sees the Christian message as having a particular appeal to the underclass, not only those socially and politically alienated, but also those the intellectually and educationally excluded.

Christ often remarked with particular relish, and disappointment, on the inability of the educated elite of his time to get what he was about. There is a distinct anti-elitist strand in his teaching, which reaches a peculiar, parenthetical climax half way through Luke's gospel when the evangelist observes: "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children'." It was a theme that St Paul took up with enthusiasm: "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise … the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

It was thus a fundamental tenet of Christianity that not only was the gospel for all, no matter how they were disenfranchised, but that it had a particular simplicity to it. It was this idea that led 17th-century radicals to assert, against their educated peers, that although learning was useful to lawyers and gentlemen, the pulpit was better suited to uneducated persons as they were more open to the Spirit's teaching. It was this idea that inspired early Chartists to seize upon the Bible as their justification. "What is [the Sermon on the Mount] but a manual of Chartism – a manual for Chartists?" asked the Northern Star rhetorically in 1842.

Nor was this simply a self-serving attitude, peddled by the ill-educated because they had most to gain from it. It was this idea that drove the exceptional linguist and Oxford scholar William Tyndale to risk and eventually lose his life so the ploughboy might read the Bible in his own language. It was this idea that inspired John Locke's doctrine of equality, which he justified not only by the creation stories of Genesis 1-3 but also by the accessibility of the gospel itself.

Christianity, he observed in The Reasonableness of Christianity, "is a religion suited to vulgar capacities". Both Christ and St Paul implied, sometimes none too subtly, that the philosophically sophisticated were "shut out from the simplicity of the gospel; to make way for those poor, ignorant, [and] illiterate". Given the long track record of this idea – that the gospel was simple because it had to appeal to the simple – it should not perhaps surprise us if the Christian community were indeed, en masse, a little less intelligent than the national average. Indeed, if Christianity is true to its founding ideals, that is precisely what we should expect.

Christians 'Indispensible' To Middle East Societies

January 29, 2011

A leading commentator on Middle East issues has said that faith and civic leaders in the region have a responsibility to challenge "regimes that muzzle and polarise their peoples" along with the "religious totalitarianism" that fuels violence, discrimination and hatred towards minorities.

Writing on the website of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which promotes nonviolence and conflict transformation, Dr Harry Hagopian says ( that the Middle East as a whole "stands on shifting sands" because of the interconnected growth in toxic religiosity and rejectionist politics.

But although the situation is serious, with murderous attacks against Christians and others, Dr Hagopian says that a fragile hope remains. "The overwhelming majority of ordinary Arab men and women of all persuasions - Christians, Sunnis, Shi’is, Kurds, Druze, Baha’is and others - are inherently decent people who simply wish to earn their daily bread and are eager to co-exist with their neighbours."

This is why, he suggests, popular movements to challenge top-down political rule and concerted efforts by faith communities "to educate their peoples to accept and respect the other, rather than kill or ostracise" are both vital.

In his research essay, 'Politics, Religion and the Middle East', Dr Hagopian (an ecumenical, legal and political consultant who is a former executive secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches) unpacks eight factors which are exacerbating the drift towards violent exclusionism and the marginalisation of minority communities in the region.

These are the decay of secular Arab nationalism, the brutal suppression of freedom and dissent, the feeding of regressive religious radicalism, the distorted and hegemonic policies of some Western countries, the failure to address the Israel-Palestine question justly, an inhospitable environment that alienates Arab Christians from others, wrangling and abuses of power within religious communities, and the aim of movements such as al-Qa’eda in provoking a confrontation between the Arab world and the West.

It is the combination of these factors, rather than blaming any one in isolation, which is so important, says Dr Hagopian. "Middle East Christians remain an indispensable alloy in the fabric of Arab societies. Historically predating Islam, they have as much claim to the region as any other religion, ethnicity or belief. They are co-equal citizens with their Muslim compatriots, with Jews in Israel and with those in the occupied Palestinian lands."

The true diversity of the region needs to be acknowledged, celebrated and protected by law, Dr Hagopian concludes.

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