By Hieromonk Makarios of Simonopetra
Saint Barsanuphios was an Egyptian and embraced the ascetic life in his youth. One day he was passing by the hippodrome during a race which was provoking high excitement in the spectators. "See how keenly the children of the devil vie with one another!" he said to himself. "All the more reason why we children of the Kingdom should hasten to carry off the victory!" He made his way to Palestine, where he put himself under the direction of an Elder named Marcellus; then, climbing the ladder of perfection step by step, he withdrew far from mankind in order to devote himself to contemplative prayer. When Saint Barsanuphios had attained purity of heart and complete impassibility (apatheia) he went to the Monastery of Abba Seridus near Gaza (Aug. 13). He settled a short distance from the monastery in a cell to which no one had access except Abba Seridus, who once a week brought him the Holy Mysteries and his ration of three loaves and some water. The Holy Elder was often so inebriated by sweet tears and so rapt in blessed contemplations that it was a whole week before he thought of eating and drinking. In the manner of Saint Paul, he said of himself: "I know a man, the Son of God is my witness, here in this monastery, who is able to subsist without food, drink or raiment until the coming of the Lord. He lacks none of these things, for his food, his drink and his raiment is the Holy Spirit." The teachings of Barsanuphios, dictated to Seridus during his weekly visits, were addressed to his spiritual children, both monastic and lay, in answer to their letters, in which they sought his counsel on topics as various as the spiritual life, what to do in their social relations, obscure points in Scripture, the holy doctrines, or even incidents in daily life. When Barsanuphios first began dictating these letters, Seridus had no writing materials with him and was worried by the thought that he would be unable to remember such a stream of words; but, perceiving what was on his mind the Elder said to him: "Go back to your cell and write without fear, for the Spirit of God will not allow you to write a single word more or less but, under His guidance you will write everything in order."
He was established on the rock of humility and, through never-ending remembrance of God, he possessed perfect serenity of heart, whence divine love, like unto God the Father's, brimmed over and covered all those who sought his help. He encouraged, comforted and reproved them, shared their joys and sorrows, covered their faults and took them upon himself with the loving-kindness of God Himself, for it was from no lack of regard for mankind that he had gone into retirement. "I look upon the gains and the profit of all men and of every soul as my own," he wrote. "Willingly and gladly I offer myself in sacrifice for your souls" (Letter 111). Through his prayer and his teaching Saint Barsanuphios gave true life to his sons as God the Father gives life to His Son, and he promised them that on the Last Day he would present them with full confidence before the judgment seat of God and would announce in a resounding voice to the amazement of the Angels: "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me" (Is. 8:18 and Letter 117). This godlike man showed the same assurance in forgiving in God's name the sins of those who confessed to him, even though he was not a priest. He also prophesied what would befall, and healed the illness of his disciples. Many of them recovered their health or were freed from the assaults of passions by covering themselves with his monastic cloak or by touching things he had sent as presents. But the greatest of all the charismata that he received from the Holy Spirit was discernment and spiritual instruction, whereby, through the centuries and even until now, he remains active for all those who read with piety his collected Letters of spiritual guidance.
Saint Barsanuphios conveys to his disciples the spirit of the "law of liberty" (James 1:25) which is acquired by detachment from all worldly cares, by dying to oneself and to all mankind, in order to devote oneself entirely to the remembrance of God with joy and trust. Moreover he taught them to avoid all self-assessment (apsiphiston) but to resort at all times to thanksgiving, pleading thereby with God on behalf of our weakness.
He was not ashamed to tell his disciples of the wars he had to wage before entering into complete rest but he was always very reticent as to the graces granted to him by God. Sometimes however, he would let fall a word about his visions or his ecstasies, saying for instance that he knew a man who had attained the seventh heaven, or, when he wrote: "I know a servant of God in this blessed place who can raise the dead, drive out demons, heal the incurable, stop wars, and shut and open the heavens like Elias" (Letter 90).
In 542 and 543, when the Roman Empire was ravaged by a terrible plague, the Great Elder was entreated to intercede for the endangered world. He indicated at that time in a veiled way that he was one of three men "perfect in the sight of God who have surpassed human nature and have received the power to bind and to loose. They stand in the gap to prevent the entire world from being annihilated at one blow, and thanks to their prayer God will chastise with mercy" (Letter 569).
Notwithstanding so many disclosures of the grace of God, there were some lax monks who suspected that the recluse was a figment of Abba Seridus' imagination, invented to back up his authority. That was the one and only occasion on which Barsanuphios threw open the door of his cell. He received all the brethren with affability, and after washing their feet he withdrew again.
When some years had passed, Barsanuphios left his cell to the "other Elder", his faithful and perfect disciple John, of whom he said: "Concerning the life of my blessed, humble and obedient child, who is entirely one with me and who has utterly renounced his own will in everything, what is to be said? The Lord has said, 'He who has seen me has seen the Father' (John 14:9) and He has said of the disciple that 'he can know his master' (Luke 6:40)." And indeed, Saint John took the way of life of Barsanuphios as his model in everything. Reaching forth for God with his whole being, he was granted the gift of insight and of prophecy in full measure, so that he communicated with his spiritual father and shared all his thoughts without needing to see or write to him. For this reason he is known as "John the Prophet". Like Barsanuphios, he communicated with his disciples by letters which were passed on, at first by Abba Seridus and later by Saint Dortheos of Gaza (Aug. 13). John, like the Great Elder, preserved an unalterable peace founded on blessed humility and continuous tears. He taught under the overshadowing of the Great Elder with the sole purpose of adding practical details to the latter's answers and instructions, or in order to encourage faint-hearted disciples saying: "It is good for you that two are praying for you, for two have more strength than one" (Letter 783).
If, as sometimes happened, shameless people put the discernment of the Elders to the test by addressing the same question to them both, John would remain silent or would recommend them to follow whatever Barsanuphios advised, while the latter would answer, "Do as brother John has told you; the God of Barsanuphios and John is one and the same" (Letter 224).
In the eighteenth year of John's eremitic life, Abba Seridus died, leaving the direction of the community to the brethren in succession in order of seniority. Saint Barsanuphios then withdrew into absolute silence and John made known that he would complete his earthly sojourn within a week. Competing with one another in humility, none of the monks from the oldest to the most junior would accept the abbacy. In the end, a monk named Elian, who had just left the world, was appointed with universal approval on the instructions of John, confirming a prediction of Barsanuphios. Overwhelmed by the responsibility laid upon him, he begged John to remain for two weeks at least in order to teach him all the details of monastic governance. The Prophet acquiesced and remained two weeks longer in this life (Letters 576-598). At the end of the fortnight, he called all the brethren to him, embraced each one and, having sent them away in peace, he gave back his soul to God in solitude.
It is unknown when and how Saint Barsanuphios ended his earthly sojourn. He was thought to be still alive fifty years later, but when the Patriarch of Jerusalem ordered his cell to be opened, fire darted out that bid fair to consume all who had gathered there.
From The Synaxarion (vol. 3), translated by Christopher Hookway, 2001, pp. 430-434.
Counsels of Sts. Barsanuphius the Great and John the Prophet
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Divine and tuneful harps of the Holy Spirit's myst'ries, sounding forth sweet hymns of discernment which soothe all those in sorrows: ye moved men to cast off passion's yoke and trample upon Satan's loathsome head. Wherefore, Godlike Barsanuphius and wise John, deliver us who now cry out: Glory to Him that hath given you grace. Glory to Him that hath blessed you. Glory to Him that hath saved many through your sacred words of counsel.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
O Great Barsanuphius and John, thou marvellous Prophet, all the hidden secrets of men and God's dispensation brightly shone in the clear mirrors of your most pure hearts; and with beams of grace divine, ye cast out sin's shadows from the souls of men; O Fathers, lights of discernment, entreat the Lord for us all.
The relics of St. Barsanuphios were brought in the ninth century to Oria, near Siponto in Italy.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
By Hieromonk Makarios of Simonopetra
By Hieromonk Makarios of Simonopetra
Our Holy Father Photios the Great was born into one of the great families of Constantinople in 810. His father, the spatharios Sergios, was the brother of the Holy Patriarch Tarasios (Feb. 25) and his mother Irene's brother had married the sister of the Empress Theodora. His parents loved the monks and were martyred during the iconoclast persecution, bequeathing their son a more precious legacy than wealth and high rank, namely, love of the true Faith unto death. He received the best possible education in every branch of learning, both sacred and secular. He spent whole nights in study and, possessing exceptional intellectual ability, there was no field of contemporary knowledge in which he did not become proficient. In breadth and depth of learning, he was the greatest scholar of his time and a central figure in the intellectual renaissance of Byzantium after the turmoil of iconoclasm. He occupied a professorial chair at the Imperial School established in the Megnaura Palace, where he taught the philosophy of Aristotle and theology. In the course of an embassy to the Caliph at Baghdad, he composed from memory, for the benefit of his brother, a critical summary of around 280 books of all kinds - his Myriobiblos (Library), a proof of the extent of his knowledge. On his return from Baghdad with his mission accomplished, he was appointed chief secretary to the imperial chancellery (protasecretis), but he still had time for his academic duties and for his beloved studies.
In 857 Bardas, the uncle of Emperor Michael III, assumed power with the title of Caesar. He forced the resignation of the Holy Patriarch Ignatios (Oct. 23), who had denounced his immoral behavior, and prevailed on the clergy to elect the wise and pious Photios as his successor. Photios held out against his election as strongly as he could, since he regarded death itself as preferable to that perilous office in those troubled times; but, in the face of injunctions and threats he at last gave way, and agreed to give up the peace of his study and philosophical discussions with like-minded friends. He was consecrated Patriarch of Constantinople on 25 December 858, having been raised through all the degrees of the priesthood in the previous six days. In a letter to Caesar Bardas, he wrote: "Our promotion has not been willed by us and we are enthroned as a prisoner...." The more extreme supporters of Ignatios then used every means to oppose and discredit the new hierarch, alleging the irregularity of his sudden elevation from layman to Patriarch. Photios sought to avoid confrontation and did all in his power to re-establish unity and peace in the Church by strengthening Her in love, the "bond of perfection". He took firm action against the remaining Manichean and Iconoclast heretics, and took in hand the restoration of the many churches, monasteries and charitable foundations damaged by the Iconoclasts, and took a special interest in missions to spread the Gospel among the barbarians. But his attempts to appease the supporters of Ignatios failed; and, while expressing disapproval of the violent measures taken against them by the government, he was obliged to summon a Council in 859, which confirmed the deposition of Ignatios and exiled him to Mytilene and then to Terebinthus. Agitation against Photios continued however and, in 861, another Council, known as the "First-Second", assembled in the Church of the Holy Apostles with the official purpose of approving the restoration of Orthodoxy and of pronouncing the definitive condemnation of iconoclasm. In addition, the Council recognized the validity of the nomination of Photios, with the full agreement of the papal legates there present, who, although acting contrary to the Pope's instructions, thought that they had thus achieved the triumph of papal authority.
The arrogant and ambitious Pope Nicholas I (858-68), who supported Ignatios, took the opportunity of the controversy to assert openly for the first time the pretension of the Popes of Rome to jurisdiction "over the whole earth and over the universal Church". To the primacy of honor of the Roman Church and her authority as arbiter in matters of dogma, which had always been acknowledged by the other Churches - especially when the Arian, Monothelite and Iconoclast heresies were being promoted by Emperors in Constantinople - the Papacy now ascribed to itself the hegemonic claims which the Frankish Empire, after the death of Charlemagne and the Treaty of Verdun (843), could no longer sustain. On the initiative of authoritarian Popes, the Papacy sought to exercise a supremacy over the whole Church that was supposed to have been granted by Christ Himself and to have given the Popes the right to intervene in the domestic affairs of other Churches, and to impose on them all the usages of the Roman Church, such as clerical celibacy, Saturday fasting and unleavened bread for the Eucharist.
The opposition of Pope Nicholas I and his interference in the internal affairs of the Byzantine Church, when he had only been requested to pronounce decisively on Iconoclasm, drove Saint Photios to condemn the novel usages of the Roman Church. "Abolition of small things which have been received through tradition". he wrote, "will lead to complete contempt for the dogmas." Incensed by this response, the Pope wrote to all the bishops of the East accusing Photios of adultery as being in illicit possession of another's See, and he decreed on his own initiative the deposition of the Patriarch of Constantinople - a thing never before heard of. Moreover, asserting the right of Popes to judge Councils, he declared that the decisions of the "First-Second" were invalid. Nor did he stop there, but summoned to Rome a Council of Western bishops, which declared Photios deposed and excommunicated all the clergy ordained by him. When Emperor Michael III objected to these proceedings, the Pope informed him (in 865) that he derived his supremacy over the Universal Church from Christ Himself. Then, in successive letters, he subjected Photios to a litany of insults, to which that true disciple of the Savior made no reply.
The Holy Patriarch did not allow these conflicts and cares to hamper his apostolic activity. With the support of the Emperor, he promoted the evangelization of the Slav peoples, engaging his learned friend and colleague Constantine (whom we venerate as Saint Cyril) and his brother Methodios, an ascetic from Mount Olympus, to undertake a preliminary mission to the Khazars of Southern Russia in 860. Three years later, at the request of the Prince of Moravia, he sent the two brothers on that great missionary endeavor which marked the beginning of the conversion of the Slav peoples of the Balkans.
At about the same time, Boris (Michael) the Khan of Bulgaria, who had recently been baptized by Photios with the Emperor Michael as his godfather, bringing his whole nation into the Christian fold, turned away from Constantinople, which had refused to grant him a patriarch, and looked to Rome for support (866). Seizing his opportunity, the Pope immediately sent Latin missionaries to Bulgaria with instructions to spread their innovations in this young Church which the Byzantines had evangelized, especially the addition of the Filioque to the Creed. Seeing the peril of an innovation which touched on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Saint Photios estimated that it was time "for the meek to become a warrior" (Joel 4:9 LXX) and that he would have to break his silence and issue a rejoinder. He addressed an Encyclical Letter to all the bishops of the East in which he vigorously condemned the errors of the Latins, especially the Filoque. He summoned a great Council to Constantinople, which in 867 proclaimed the victory of Orthodox doctrine over all the heresies, and anathematized Pope Nicholas and his missionaries in Bulgaria. The two Churches were thus separated by a formal schism, which was a precursor of the final break in 1054.
Michael III was assassinated at the end of 867 and Basil I, the founder of the Macedonian Dynasty, became Emperor. He immediately deposed Saint Photios, whom he imprisoned in the Monastery of the Protection, and recalled Saint Ignatios. In spite of the irenic efforts of Ignatios, the enemies of Photios then began a regular persecution of all the clergy ordained by him. In view of the continuing disturbance, the Emperor decided to refer the case of the two claimants to the Patriarchal throne to Rome for judgement, which was a godsend for the Papacy. Hadrian II, Nicholas' successor, assembled a Council in 869, which once again condemned Photios, declared the Council of 867 invalid, publicly burnt its Acts and ordered that a new Council should meet in Constantinople. The bishops, few in number, who attended this false Council - called the "Eighth Ecumenical Council" (870) by the Latins - were overawed by the Emperor and, in their cowardice, condemned the Beacon of the Church and exiled his supporters to the boundaries of the Empire. More than 200 bishops were then deposed and many priests were deprived of their orders. Haled like a criminal before the synod and summoned to answer the accusations made against him, Saint Photios, after a long silence, replied: "God hears the voice of him who keeps silent. For Jesus Himself by keeping silent did not escape condemnation." As they insisted that he answer, he replied: "My justification is not of this world." As a worthy imitator of the Passion of the meek and long-suffering Jesus, Saint Photios, in spite of illness, bore for three years the pain of harsh imprisonment, deprivation of books and company without a word of complaint. Imputing no responsibility to the blameless Ignatios for these cruelties, he encouraged his suffering friends by letter and prayed for the Emperor and his persecutors.
Meanwhile, the bishops took cognizance of the fact that their cowardly opportunism had led them to submit their Church to the dictates of Rome; and they persuaded the Emperor to declare invalid the decrees of the Council of 870 and to release Photios. The Saint was then received at court with great honor, and Basil appointed him as his children's tutor. Photios lost no time in making his peace with Ignatios. The two Saints, victims of the rivalry of contrary parties which had made use of their names, embraced warmly, and Photios gave his entire support to the aged and infirm Patriarch, whom he visited daily. On the death of Saint Ignatios on 23 October 877, the Church unanimously placed Photios once again on the Patriarchal throne. Veneration of the memory of Saint Ignatios was introduced not long after by Photios himself, and the Church thus befittingly eulogizes them together in the Synodikon read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy: "Eternal memory to the very blessed, very Orthodox and very illustrious Patriarchs Ignatios and Photios!" A Council was convoked at Constantinople in 879-880 attended by 383 Fathers under the presidency of Photios and in the presence of legates from the Pope. The Council confirmed the rehabilitation of Photios, annulled the Council of 870 and restored communion between the two Churches, anathematizing all innovation and especially the heretical innovation of the Filoque to the Symbol of Faith. With the restoration of peace and unity in the Church, the greatest desire of the hierarch was fulfilled. He immediately set about the task of peacemaking, seeking reconciliation with his enemies and showing a fatherly care devoid of bitterness for the former partisans of Ignatios.
When Leo VI (886-912) succeeded his father Basil I, he summarily deposed the Holy Patriarch, holding him indirectly responsible for making known to his father a plot which Leo had hatched against him. Saint Photios was imprisoned as an evildoer in the Monastery of the Armenians and was confined there for five years, lacking all human consolation but shining like gold tried in the furnace of manifold temptations (1 Pet. 6-7). This was the period which, without books of his own, he wrote the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit - a systematic refutation of the Filioque heresy, in which he shows that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Person of the Father, the "Source of the Divinity", and is sent to us by the Son in order to make us "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). Leaving this treatise as his testament to the Holy Church in view of conflicts to come, he departed to join the choir of Holy Fathers and Doctors on 6 February 893. The miracles which soon took place in plenty at his tomb helped to convert even his inveterate enemies.
Humble, serene and long-suffering in tribulations, this true Confessor of the Faith, unjustly called a fanatic by his enemies, remains one of the great luminaries of Orthodoxy and a wholly trustworthy witness to the spirit of the Gospel.*
* The calumnies spread about St. Photios by the extreme partisans of St. Ignatios, accepted for centuries by historians and Western apologists alike without serious examination, made him responsible for all the discord and division which paved the way for the Great Schism of 1054. Fortunately, the researchers of modern Roman Catholic historians (notably F. Dvornik, The Photian Schism, Cambridge 1970) have reestablished the facts of the matter, which in all respects corroborate the tradition of the Orthodox Faith.
From The Synaxarion (vol. 3), translated by Christopher Hookway, 2001, pp. 422-429.
Critique of Francis Dvornik's "The Photian Schism"
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
As a teacher to the world, being one with the Apostles, intercede with the Lord of all, O Photius, that He may grant the world peace, and to our souls His great mercy.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Far-reaching beacon of the Church and God, inspired Guide of the Orthodox, you are now crowned with the flowers of song. You are the divine words of the Spirit's harp, the strong adversary of heresy and to whom we cry, "Hail all-honorable Photius."
By Hieromonk Makarios of Simonopetra
Devoted in his youth to cleansing himself of the passions and of the stains of the world, our Holy Father Boukolos became a fit dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, so that when the Holy Apostle John the Theologian founded the Church of Smyrna, he left him as bishop of that great city. Guided by grace, Saint Boukolos enlightened the benighted pagans by his word and example, making them sons of the light through Holy Baptism, and delivering them from the demons by the strength of his prayer.
When he realized that the time had come for him to meet the Lord, he consecrated Saint Polycarp (Feb. 23) as his successor, entrusting him with the care of his spiritual flock, and he then fell asleep in peace. After his burial, God caused a tree with healing properties to grow from his tomb, whereby many who came to it with faith were restored to health in the course of the centuries.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Boukolos, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
We all acclaim thee as a hierarch of the Church of Christ and a disciple of His ven'rable disciples' choir, but especially of him that was His belov'd one. O wise Father, pray the Saviour for us lauding thee, that He save us from all need and all adversity; for we cry to thee: Rejoice, O thrice-blessed Boukolos.
A sacrilegious robbery took place at Prophet Elias Monastery in the village of Agion Pneuma in Serres, Greece.
According to Romfea.gr, during Sunday services this morning (02/06/2011), while the nuns were worshipping in the church, unknowns broke into the east-wing of the convent, in which is the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary. They broke the protective glass covering the icon and damaged the frame in order to steal the valuable tributes posted on the icon by the faithful in gratitude for answered prayers.
The nuns immediately noticed the theft and informed police officers who were in attendance at the Divine Liturgy. The Holy Metropolis of Serres was also informed.
This is an ongoing investigation, though suspects are currently in custody.
Among the tributes stolen were three hierarchical amulets dedicated by Metropolitan Maximos of Serres on the day a presidential decree was issued to establish the monastery, as well as a hierarchical cross given by Archimandrite Chrysostomos of Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos who helped establish the monastery.
The miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary has been housed in the monastery for the past two decades. It is the work of painter George Karpontinis and decorated with the care of Archimandrite Chrysostomos Katsoulieris in 1982. Since 1990 she has been the patron of the village of Agion Pneuma and been the source of many answered prayers and miraculous healings. In thanksgiving for this, the faithful have poured in tributes which the thieves have now taken advantage of.
A great feast of the monastery is celebrated on September 24th in which thousands of faithful from around the world gather, including the sick, the childless, and the hurting, in order to partake of the grace of the Holy Virgin Theotokos.
More than 2500 Greek clergy, monastics and simple lay people (Old and New Calendarists and a few dozen members of far right groups) gathered today in Constitution Square in Athens to protest the new Citizen's Card.
The Associated Press has dubbed these protesters "Orthodox Christian fundamentalists" and explained that "the protest has been peaceful except for a brief altercation with motorists when the protesters tried to block traffic."
Protesters were seen holding signs reading "No To the Citizen's Card" and "Orthodoxy or Death", while others were holding the Greek flag or the Byzantine two-headed eagle.
As for well-known ecclesiastical personalities in attendance, there was Fr. Nektarios Moulatsiotis who is the Abbot of the St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Seraphim of Sarov Monastery (who insists there were 10,000 faithful in attendance), Fr. Sarantis Sarantou (who speaks in the video below), the Abbot of the Great Meteoron at Meteora and the Abbot of the old and schismatic Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos.
It is believed by the protesters that the reception of the Greek Citizen's Card could pose dangers to their identity as Orthodox Christians in Greece and that it may lead to the reception of the mark of the Antichrist since it is erroneously believed the bar code of the Card contains the number 666.
Read more here and here with photos of the gathering.
The fire which broke out at noon on Saturday 5 February 2011 at Saint Panteleimon Monastery on Mount Athos is under control after firefighters extinguished the flames. Six fire trucks and eighteen firemen were on the scene. Firemen will remain in the area till Monday lest any other fires break out.
According to reports, the fire destroyed part (approximately 250 sqm) of the last two-stories (4th and 5th floors) of the old building located outside the walls of the monastery. As of right now, there is no extensive damage on the other stories.
The building that was damaged contained rooms (cells) for workers at the monastery, and sources say it is currently unoccupied as it has not been fully restored.
Russian Athonite Monastery of St. Panteleimon Currently In Flames
The paschal season of the Church is preceded by the season of Great Lent, which is also preceded by its own liturgical preparation. The first sign of the approach of Great Lent comes five Sundays before its beginning. On this Sunday the Gospel reading is about Zacchaeus the tax-collector. It tells how Christ brought salvation to the sinful man, and how his life was changed simply because he "sought to see who Jesus was" (Luke 19:3). The desire and effort to see Jesus begins the entire movement through Lent towards Pascha. It is the first movement of salvation.
Our lenten journey begins with a recognition of our own sinfulness, just as Zacchaeus recognized his. He promised to make restitution by giving half of his wealth to the poor, and by paying to those he had falsely accused four times as much as they had lost. In this, he went beyond the requirements of the Law (Ex. 22:3-12).
The example of Zacchaeus teaches us that we should turn away from our sins, and atone for them. The real proof of our sorrow and repentance is not just a verbal apology, but when we correct ourselves and try to make amends for the consequences of our evil actions.
We are also assured of God's mercy and compassion by Christ's words to Zacchaeus, "Today salvation is come to this house" (Luke 19:9). After the Great Doxology at Sunday Matins (when the Tone of the week is Tone 1, 3, 5, 7) we sing the Dismissal Hymn of the Resurrection "Today salvation has come to the world," which echoes the Lord's words to Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus was short, so he climbed a tree in order to see the Lord. All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We are also short in our spiritual stature, therefore we must climb the ladder of the virtues. In other words, we must prepare for spiritual effort and growth.
St Zacchaeus is also commemorated on April 20.
Zacchaeus Of Little Stature
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"Today, salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9).
Thus it was spoken by the One Whose word is life and joy and restoration of the righteous. Just as the bleak forest clothes itself into greenery and flowers from the breath of spring, so does every man, regardless of how arid and darkened by sin, becomes fresh and youthful from the nearness of Christ. For the nearness of Christ is as the nearness of some life-giving and fragrant balsam which restores health, increases life, give fragrance to the soul, to the thoughts and to the words of man. In other words, distance from Christ means decay and death and His nearness means salvation and life.
"Today, salvation has come to this house" said the Lord upon entering the house of Zacchaeus the sinner. Christ was the salvation that came and Zacchaeus was the house into which He entered. Brethren, each one of us is a house in which sin dwells as long as Christ is distant and to which salvation comes when Christ approaches it. Nevertheless, will Christ approach my house and your house? That depends on us. Behold, He did not arbitrarily enter the house of the sinner Zacchaeus, rather He entered as a most desired guest. Zacchaeus of little stature climbed into a tree in order to see the Lord Jesus with his own eyes. Zacchaeus, therefore, sought him; Zacchaeus desired Him. We must also seek Him in order to find Him and desire Him in order that He would draw nearer to us and, with our spirit, to climb high in order to encounter His glance. Then He will visit our house as He visited the house of Zacchaeus and with Him salvation will come.
Draw near to us O Lord, draw near and bring to us Your eternal salvation. To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Agatha, this glorious virgin and martyr for Christ, was born in the Sicilian town of Palermo of noble and wealthy parents. When Emperor Decius began a persecution against Christians, St. Agatha was arrested and brought to trial before Judge Quintian. The judge, seeing Agatha beautiful in countenance, desired to have her for his wife. When he suggested this, Agatha answered that she is the bride of Christ and cannot be unfaithful to her Betrothed. Quintian subjected her to cruel tortures. Agatha was ridiculed, whipped, bound to a tree and flogged until blood flowed. After that, the judge again tried to persuade her to deny Christ and to avoid any further torture and suffering. To that the bride of Christ replied: "These tortures are very beneficial for me; just as wheat cannot arrive at the granary before it is cleansed from the chaff, so my soul cannot enter into Paradise if my body, beforehand, is not humbled by tortures." Then, the torturer ordered that her breasts be cut off and that she be cast into prison. St. Peter appeared to Agatha in prison and restored her to health and wholeness of body. Again, Agatha was led out for torture and again, cast into prison where she gave up her soul to God in the year 251 A.D. in the town of Catania during the reign of Emperor Decius. After her death, the torturer Quintian departed for Palermo to usurp her estate. However, along the way, his horse and the horses of his soldiers became wild with rage. Quintian was bitten on the face, thrown to the ground and trampled to death. Swift was the punishment of God that reached out for this savage crime perpetrated against St. Agatha.
HYMN OF PRAISE: SAINT AGATHA
Dark is the dungeon; radiant is the martyr,
In the darkness, Saint Agatha glows,
Over the courtyard of the dungeon, drenched with light,
There the tormentor lives, covered with shame,
Thinking up new tortures for the virgin Agatha,
Torments himself and contemplates, darkened in the midst of light,
Who is wedded to Christ, the dungeon is bright,
The palace, a place of despair, to the enemy of justice!
Miracle of St. Agatha
Etna is the largest volcano in Europe, the highest mountain in Italy, and located in Catania, Sicily. St. Gregory the Dialogist once commented, figuratively, that Etna was one of the mouths of Hades.
One year after the repose of St. Agatha, Etna erupted and gushed forth lava as a fiery river. As it approached Catania it burned and destroyed all that lay in its path. Both pagans and Christians, in fear, ran to the tomb of St. Agatha (Sant' Agata). The silk mantle that draped her tomb was placed on a pole, and everyone, clergy and laity, left. Then the wonder occurred, when the grace emanating from the mantle caused the lava to cease in its path and turn back towards the mountain.
As a result of this miracle the esteem of St. Agatha grew among both pagans and Christians. In fact, many pagans became Christians as a result.
The virgin-martyr is also invoked against any outbreak of fire.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O Lord Jesus, unto Thee Thy lamb doth cry with a great voice: O my Bridegroom, Thee I love; and seeking Thee, I now contest, and with Thy baptism am crucified and buried. I suffer for Thy sake, that I may reign with Thee; for Thy sake I die, that I may live in Thee: accept me offered out of longing to Thee as a spotless sacrifice. Lord, save our souls through her intercessions, since Thou art great in mercy.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Let the Church be clad today with royal purple in a splendid covering dyed in the chaste and hallowed blood of Martyr Agatha, and let it now cry: Rejoice, O thou boast of Catania.
February 4, 2011
Romanian Orthodox Church plan to erect a 120-metre-high cathedral in Bucharest draws criticism for alleged extravagance.
Work on the Cathedral of the Redeemer is to start this year in the capital, Bucharest, at an estimated cost of around 400 million euro.
The future cathedral will be the tallest in southeast Europe. Currently, the tallest is St Peter and Paul, in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is 107.20 metres high.
The Orthodox Church plans to borrow half the money from banks and the loan is to be guaranteed by the Church's forests, churches and other properties. Money will be reimbursed also from collection plates and private donations.
But the Church has drawn criticism for also seeking help from the cash-strapped state. By law, the state has to provide support for church construction and dilapidation.
Last December, the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Daniel, asked the government to stump up 20 million lei [4.7 million euro] this year alone for building the cathedral.
Critics see the demand as inappropriate at a time of economic hardship. "This project is too much extravagant and a new cathedral is not a priority for Romania," journalist Laurentiu Mihu said.
“Instead, the Church should do something real for the redemption and development of society by putting these enormous sums into a huge nationwide social projects," he added.
More than 85 percent of Romania's 21.5 million population belong to the Orthodox church. Many politicians court Church initiatives as a way of attracting sympathy from the electorate.
But some criticize the Orthodox Church for having taken an ambivalent stance towards the former Communist regime, when many bishops adopted a servile attitude, lauding former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, supporting his policies and applauding his ideas about peace.
The construction of the future cathedral is scheduled for completion in 2013. Bucharest already hosts the second-largest building after the Washington Pentagon, the largest hotel and the largest shopping mall in Southeast Europe.
February 4, 2011
Authorities in the Belgorod Region of Southern Russia have canceled public celebrations of St. Valentine's Day due to its negative influence on young people, a regional government spokesman said on Friday.
Deputy Governor Oleg Polukhin last year signed an order on measures to "ensure spiritual security in the Belgorod Region," the spokesman said.
Under the decree, which was blessed by the Orthodox archbishop of Belgorod, local authorities should not allow celebrations of St. Valentine's Day and Halloween at educational, cultural and other institutions.
"The atmosphere of these holidays does not help young people to develop spiritual and moral values," the spokesman said. "Their celebration is first of all beneficial to commercial organizations."
He added that these instructions were not a direct ban but a recommendation.
"If a school principal organized a disco or a contest on February 14, nobody will fire or rebuke him but we hope that people will consciously give up celebrations of this holiday," the spokesman said.
However, local media were ordered to explain to their audience that Halloween and St. Valentine's Day contradict traditional Russian values and many organizations, including the Belgorod zoo and even night clubs, canceled themed events.
Belgorod University decided to replace the western holiday with a day of Orthodox youth, which will be marked on February 15 with a classical music concert, competitions and even a ball.
In 2008, Russia, which is a secular state under the constitution, introduced an alternative to St. Valentine's in a move to revive a pre-revolutionary tradition. The Day of Family, Love and Faithfulness, also known as the Day of Sts. Peter and Fevronia, the Orthodox patrons of marriage, is marked on July 8 with a daisy being its symbol instead of a red heart.
Meanwhile, this is not the first attempt of the Belgorod authorities to impose restrictions on social activities.
Back in 2004, Governor Yevgeny Savchenko ordered that all DJs should undergo training at the local administration and that special commissions should keep tabs on discos and night clubs. The governor also said no "immoral" music should be played, although no list of banned bands was produced.
In 2010, heavy metal concerts were prohibited at night clubs and restaurants in the Belgorod region.
The Divnogorsk-Sicilian Icon of the Mother of God received the first part of its title from where it was enshrined when it was glorified: the Dormition Monastery of Divnogorsk, in the former Ostrogozhsk district in Voronezh governance. Its title of "Sicilian" comes from its place of origin, since by tradition this icon at Diva (i.e. "Wondrous Heights") was brought from Sicily by the pious monastic Elders Xenophon and Joasaph. They suggest that these saints were Orthodox Greeks by birth, and that they had arrived there not earlier than the end of the fifteenth century. Xenophon and Joasaph founded a monastery at a scenic spot above the River Don, near the confluence of the River Tikha Sosna [Quiet Pine River]. The place was called Wondrous Heights by those struck by the form of the chalk columns throughout the hills.
It is said that Xenophon and Joasaph lived in a cave (where later the Church of St John the Forerunner was built), and that they carved out the first church in a chalk column, into which also they put the Sicilian Icon of the Mother of God which they had brought with them. Here is where they found their eternal repose.
On the Divnogorsk-Sicilian Icon of the Mother of God, the Theotokos is depicted sitting in the clouds. In Her right hand is a white lily blossom, and with Her left arm She supports the Divine Infant, Who sits upright upon Her knees. The Savior holds a lily blossom in His left hand, and blesses with His right hand. Around the face of the Mother of God are eight angels. The two beneath are shown on bended knee and with hands upraised in prayer. Over the head of the Theotokos is the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
The special glorification of the icon began in the year 1831, when cholera was raging. At Korotoyak, 7-8 versts from the monastery, the Most Holy Virgin appeared (as She is depicted in the Divnogorsk Icon) to a certain elderly woman, Ekaterina Kolomenska, in a dream. She commanded that Her icon be brought and a Molieben be served before it. The wonderworking icon was brought to Korotoyak, and after a Molieben before the holy icon, the cholera ceased.
By the intercession of the Mother of God, the city of Ostrogozhsk also was saved from cholera. The people of Korotoyak and Ostrogozhsk were also saved from cholera in 1847 and 1848 through the miraculous intercession of the Mother of God, which occurred after a church procession around these towns with the holy icon.
According to Tradition, the feastday of the wonderworking icon on February 5 was established already at its original habitation by Xenophon and Joasaph.
According to Romfea.gr, the building of St. Panteleimon's Monastery on Mount Athos is currently on fire. The report as of a few hours ago stated that fire trucks were on the way to the Monastery.
According to Salonica News, six fire fighters with two trucks were notified. Another four vehicles with twelve firefighters were also notified.
Nothing else is reported at this time.
It should be noted that the Monastery of St. Panteleimon has repeatedly been the victim of fires, most famously in 1307 (when Catalan mercenaries set it aflame) and in 1968.
Read more about the Monastery here.
Two current photos below of the fire were provided by ΑΓΙΟΡΕΙΤΙΚΕΣ ΜΝΗΜΕΣ. This source tells us that the fire is contained and has no danger of harming the katholikon or the Sacred Vessels of the Monastery. The two fire trucks came from the Monasteries of Simonopetra and Xeropotamou which were brought to St. Panteleimon by the ferry named "Saint Anna".
February 4, 2011
Pope Benedict has a soft spot in his heart for organ donations but his body parts can't be donated to save lives after he dies, the Vatican says.
A doctor in Germany had been using the fact that the pope possessed an organ donors' card from a medical association to advocate the practice. The Vatican asked him to stop but he did not.
To settle the matter, the pope's secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, sent a letter to the doctor and the missive was reported in the German program of Vatican Radio.
"It's true that the pope owns an organ donor card ... but contrary to public opinion, the card issued back in the 1970s became de facto invalid with Cardinal Ratzinger's election to the papacy," Vatican Radio quoted from the letter.
In 1999, six years before he was elected to the papacy, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger disclosed that he always carried an organ donor's card with him and encouraged the practice as "an act of love."
Vatican officials say that after a pope dies, his body belongs to the entire Church and must be buried intact. Furthermore, if papal organs were donated, they would become relics in other bodies if he were eventually made a saint.
Friday, February 4, 2011
St Isidore's spiritual wisdom and strict asceticism, combined with his broad learning and innate knowledge of the human soul, enabled him to win the respect and love of his fellow monks in a short time. They chose him as their head and had him ordained a priest (The earliest sources for his life, however, say nothing of him being an igumen).
Following the example of St John Chrysostom, whom he had managed to see and hear during a trip to Constantinople, St Isidore devoted himself primarily to Christian preaching, that "practical wisdom" which, in his own words, is both "the foundation of the edifice and the edifice itself", while logic is "its embellishment, and contemplation its crown."
He was a teacher and a willingly provided counsel for anyone who turned to him for spiritual encouragement, whether it was a simple man, a dignitary, a bishop, the Patriarch of Alexandria, or even the emperor. He left behind about 10,000 letters, of which 2,090 have survived. A large portion of these letters reveal profound theological thought and contain morally edifying interpretations of Holy Scripture. St Photius (February 6) calls Isidore a model of priestly and ascetical life, and also a master of style.
St Isidore's love for St John Chrysostom resulted in his support of St John when he was persecuted by the empress Eudoxia and Archbishop Theophilus. After the death of St John, St Isidore persuaded Theophilus' successor St Cyril to inscribe the name of St John Chrysostom into the Church diptychs as a confessor. Through the initiative of St Isidore the Third Ecumenical Council was convened at Ephesus (431), at which the false teaching of Nestorius concerning the person of Jesus Christ was condemned.
St Isidore lived into old age and died around the year 436. The Church historian Evagrius (sixth century) writes of St Isidore, "his life seemed to everyone the life of an angel upon the earth." Another historian, Nicephorus Callistus (ninth century), praises St Isidore thus, "He was a vital and inspired pillar of monastic rules and divine vision, and as such he presented a very lofty image of most fervent example and spiritual teaching."
St. Isidore of Pelusium: On Evil Thoughts
Three Epistles on Monasticism and Virginity
14 Letters of Isidore of Pelusium
The Letters of Isidore of Pelusium: a table of letters and edition numbers
The Writings of Saint Isidore of Pelusium
Saint Isidore wrote many epistles, even to emperors (Theodosius II, 408-450) and those in authority, summoning them to be mindful of their duties. He commented on many books of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. He shredded Jewish arguments and errors of interpretation. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were abundantly present in him. The practical philosophy of the disciples of Christ he upheld. He advocated withdrawal from the world, voluntary poverty, and abstinence. He felt that the soul could not discern God in the bustle of everyday life; only in the utmost emancipation from worldly wants could the soul approach divine freedom. He believed, however, that asceticism and flight from the world did not alone suffice: the garland of the virtues must be woven into the monastic conduct. Although our holy father had retired from the world, still he participated in the current needs and perils of the Orthodox. He did not fail in his duty to support and exhort the flock, wherever he could reach with his written words.
Father Isidore, the ascetic and writer, wrote more than three thousand commentaries on theology, dogma, philosophy, Sacred Scripture, and monasticism. He also was not timid to put in writing the specific abuses of each of the clerical ranks. He was instrumental in bringing forth reforms in the Church. He was revered by his contemporaries as a standard of spiritual perfection. Prelates, including Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, his kinsman, esteemed him as their father. We have two thousand and twelve of his letters,* which reveal the godly Isidore to be a vessel of the Spirit and of great theological learning. His writings are in such eloquent Greek that some enthusiasts wished to have his writings replace the classics in the study of the Greek language. Saint Photios the Great also commends Isidore's style and erudition. Despite all the acclaim and reverence that surround him during his lifetime, he maintained his prudence and humility. Most of Father Isidore's writings were collected at the Monastery of the Akoimetoi or Unsleeping Ones at Constantinople. Father Isidore also wrote Patriarch Cyril regarding the hypostatic union, and warned him against contemporary tendencies toward Monophysitism. His epistles were also translated into Church Slavonic. In 433, following the condemnation of Nestorius at the Ephesian Synod, Father Isidore noted a sharp manner in Cyril's talks with John, Patriarch of Antioch. Isidore counseled his kinsman to make reasonable allowances for the sake of peace in the Church: "As your father," he wrote, "since you are pleased to address me with this name, or rather as your son, I adjure you to halt the dissension, lest there should result a lasting schism under the pretext of piety." In his epistles - mostly brief notes, but frequently of great length - it is evident that he was a highly esteemed spiritual counselor, thoroughly enlightened by God. He manifested himself a shepherd of souls and a teacher versed in Scripture.
* Over 2,000 of them are preserved in Volume 78 of Migne's Patrologia Graeca (PG 78:177-1646); according to some, he wrote over 3,000 epistles, according to others, 10,000. According to the statements of Nicephorus the historian, St. Isidore wrote more than 10,000 letters to various individuals in which he reproached some, counseled some, and comforted and instructed others. In one letter St. Isidore writes: "It is more important to teach by a life of doing good than to preach in eloquent terms." In another, he says: "If one desires that his virtues appear great, let him consider them small and they will surely manifest themselves as great." The first and basic rule for St. Isidore was this: "First do, then teach according to the example of our Lord Jesus."
From The Great Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church (February), translated by Holy Apostles Convent, pp. 119-120.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Isidore, your soul rejoices with the angels.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
O All-Blessed Isidore, the Church hath found thee as another morning star; and with the lightning of thy words she is illumined and crieth out: Rejoice, O ven'rable Father of godly mind.
Saint Cyril of New Lake was born into a pious family. The Lord marked him as one of the chosen even before he was born. Cyril's mother was praying in church during the Divine Liturgy, and the infant in her womb cried out, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth!"
From the time of his childhood the saint was fond of solitude and prayer, and he dreamt of monastic life. At fifteen years of age Cyril secretly left his parental home, intending to enter the Pskov Caves monastery. He did not know the way to the monastery, and took nothing from home for the journey. He went his way, putting all his trust in the Lord and His All-Pure Mother. Twenty versts from the city the youth met a magnificent monastic Elder, who led him to the monastery. As he left, he blessed him with the words, "May God bless you, my child, and grant you the angelic schema, and may you be a chosen vessel of the Divine Spirit." Having said this, the Elder became invisible. The boy realized that this had been a messenger from God, and he gave thanks to the Lord.
The igumen St Cornelius (February 20) saw with his clairvoyant eye the grace manifest in the young man. He provided him with much guidance and tonsured him into the monastic schema with the name Cyril. The fifteen-year-old monk astonished the brethren with his efforts. He emaciated the flesh through fasting and prayer, and zealously fulfilled obediences. Day and night he was ready to study the Word of God. Even then he thought to end his days in solitude in the wilderness.
The boy's parents mourned him as one dead, but once an Elder of the monastery of St Cornelius came to them and told them about their son and his life at the monastery. The joyful news confirmed in Cyril's mother her love for God. She spoke with her husband about leaving to the monastery her portion of the inheritance, then left the world and became a nun with the name Elena (Helen). She died in peace a short time later.
The saint's father came to the monastery, and Igumen Cornelius told Cyril to meet with him. The saint was troubled, but not daring to disobey the igumen, he fell down at his father's feet, imploring forgiveness for secretly leaving home. The father forgave his son, and he himself remained at the monastery. St Cornelius tonsured him into monasticism with the name Barsanuphius, and gave him to his son for instruction.
Three years later, he peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His son continued to toil more fervently for the Lord, disdaining his own will, and in was obedient not only to the igumen, but also to the brethren. He thirsted to go about all the Russian land, venerating its holy shrines and to find for himself a wilderness place for a life of silence.
With the blessing of St Cornelius, St Cyril left the monastery in which he had grown strong spiritually, and he went to the coastal regions, roaming through the forests and the wild places, eating tree roots and berries. The saint spent about twenty years in this difficult exploit of wanderer, and he went to the outskirts of Moscow, Novgorod and Pskov, but he never entered any house nor did he accept alms. He wandered about during the day, and spent his nights at prayer on church porches, and he attended the church services.
Once while at prayer, St Cyril saw a heavenly light indicating the direction where he should found a monastery. He set off on his way at once, and having reached the Tikhvin monastery, he spent three days and three nights there in ceaseless prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos. The Mother of God appeared to him in a dream. Showing Her approval of him, She said, "My servant Cyril, pleaser of the Most Holy Trinity, go to the Eastern region of White Lake, and the Lord My Son will show you the place of rest for your old age."
The saint proceeded to White Lake, weeping copious tears at the miraculous vision. On the lake he saw a small island, from which a pillar of fire rose up to the sky. There, beneath a centuries old spruce tree, St Cyril built a hut, and then set up two cells: one for himself, the other for future brethren. The hermit also constructed two small churches, one in honor of the Resurrection of Christ and the other in honor of the Mother of God Hodigitria. He underwent many temptations from invisible enemies, and from idlers roving about, but he overcame everything by brave endurance and constant prayer. News of his holy life spread everywhere, and brethren gathered around him.
There were many instances of healing through his prayers, and the Lord also granted His saint the gift of foresight. Sensing his impending end, St Cyril summoned the brethren. With tears of humility the saint instructed his spiritual children one last time, until his voice gave out. For a long time then he was silent, but suddenly he cried out with loud sobbing, "I go to the Lord into life eternal, but I entrust you to God the Word and His Grace, bestowing an inheritance and sanctification upon all. May it help you. But I beseech you, do not become lax in fasting and prayers, guard yourself from the snares of the Enemy, and the Lord in His ineffable mercy will not condemn your humility."
Having said this, the saint gave a final kiss to the brethren, received the Holy Mysteries, signed himself with the Sign of the Cross, and with the words "Glory to God for everything!" he gave up his pure soul to the Lord on February 4, 1532.
February 4, 2011
Las Cruces Sun News
The overall focus of American churches shifted dramatically in the last 50 years. I've been in ordained ministry for 45 of those years, and I have experienced these changes in a close, personal and sometimes painful way. Here's how I see it from my perch.
This shift has two parts. I will consider only the first one this week. This is the shift of focus from spiritual growth to social concern. That's a broad stroke, but I think it is accurate. This shift is subtle and tricky to deal with because we are entranced by the idea that the church is in business to "help people." Many friends I had in ministry in the 1960s thought they could better serve God by leaving the church and becoming social workers.
I think this shift is not only wrong, but it has so beguiled the churches that it has now become an uphill battle to oppose it. Once you allow the world to write the agenda for the church everything else becomes a rear-guard action. The world has won; active opposition to the church can end. The so-called "new Atheism" is not needed. Someone tell Sam Harris.
Many churches focus on political or social concerns, not spiritual growth or struggle; social concerns are what you see and hear when you come through the door. People chose churches on the basis of social positions. So long as I agree with the positions of the church, it's OK. If not I'll continue shopping around. Doesn't anyone notice that this means you're making up your own faith agenda as you go along? You're not being challenged to live up to a faith that is hard and edgy and demanding, a faith that precedes any ideas you might bring to it. Once the mask comes off, and you recognize that this is a self-made faith not much remains. It's another form of entertainment, only on a spiritual plane.
Today some churches endorse popular social or political positions and then scramble to invent a theological posture to substantiate the positions. In any sensible world, this would be called pandering. It has also proven a losing strategy. You can't fool all the people all of the time; they see through this ruse.
Perhaps some churches are so fearful of losing members in this era of Christian diminution that they kowtow to positions unthinkable a mere 75 years ago. Look at abortion as a key example. Not one Christian church would have supported an open position on abortion, even 50 years ago. Jesus' path was never easy. It led to a cross, on a rather direct route. After the end of his earthly life, the church followed that pathway as faithfully as it could until recently. No wonder the idea of spiritual struggle was quietly laid aside. It's too difficult, and it's too austere, in a society that has made its peace with materialism and greed covered with a veneer of religiosity. Movements like "the prosperity gospel," for example, are an abomination. Someone tell Joel Osteen.
Don't misunderstand: Christian faith has social implications. No question about it. But the implications grow from the faith; the implications do not determine the faith. Much less do our wishes and fantasies determine our faith. Historically the church's social positions were hammered out of spiritual and theological contemplation. Once it was grounded, the church focused on teaching the faith and becoming a community that would be compelling and inviting so that people would come in, one by one. These dramatically changed persons would, in turn, change society. This is true Christian conservatism.
Fr. Gabriel Rochelle is priest of St. Anthony of the Desert Orthodox Mission. See the web site at http://stanthonylc.org. He also teaches New Testament Studies at St. Sophia Orthodox Seminary, South Bound Brook, N.J.
In court, the Turks gave false testimony that he had said that he would become Muslim but he refused at the end. As soon as the judge saw him, he said to Joseph: "Come on man become a Muslim and depart from the false Christian religion that you have, and come to the true one. I will keep you near me and you will become a great ruler."
When the Saint heard all these, he replied with great courage: "Behold, what kind of religion is this that you adhere to, and you want others to believe in it? You miserable and wretched people! Where do you find faith and you have even turned it out as being the true one? You miserable people! You don't even know when is your fasting time nor when is your Ramadan. You just sit and wait for the time when you can see the moon in order to begin your fasting, or better, your excessive eating. Then, you sit all night and eat until sunrise and then you fall asleep all day, as if dead in the grave. And when you wake up, you look forward for the time when the sun will go down, so that you can start filling up your stomachs again! Then you again watch out to see the moon, in order to have your Ramadan. And if it happens to be a cloudy night, others have it earlier and others more late, and everybody laughs at you. Is this your faith that you are telling me to believe in? Besides all these, how can I describe your other feeble and unholy beliefs? That God eats and drinks, that in Heaven, as you have imagined, you can enjoy food and drink and make more sexual indulgences than you already do here on earth.
He told them much more about their religion. When they heard all these, they began to grind their teeth with anger against him, and the court issued its decision for him to be beheaded. While beating him up, they led him to the place of executions. There, the Saint knelt down and accepted with joy the crown of martyrdom. He became a Martyr on February 4, 1686.
The above photo is the exterior view of the Church of Saints Basil and Demetrios in Zambia. The video below is an interior view of the church with a picture of how they have incorporated a unique cultural devotional practice as they approach to receive the Precious Body and Divine Blood of Christ.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
During the reign of the Egyptian Emperor Ptolemy Philadelphus, Symeon was chosen as one of the prominent Seventy to whom was entrusted the task of translating the Bible from the Hebrew language into the Greek language [The Septuagint].
Symeon was performing his task conscientiously, but when he was translating the book of the Prophet Isaiah and came upon the prophecy: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and will give birth to a son" (Isaiah 7:14), he became confused and took a knife to remove the word "virgin" and to replace it with the words, "young woman," and as such to translate it into Greek. At that moment, however, an angel of God appeared to Symeon and restrained him from his intention, explaining to him that the prophecy is true; that the prophecy is correctly written. The messenger of God also said that Symeon would be convinced of it personally for, according to the Will of God, he will not die until he sees the Messiah born of the Virgin. The righteous Symeon rejoiced to hear such a voice from heaven, left the prophecy unchanged and thanked God Who was making him worthy to live and to see the Promised One.
When the young Child Jesus was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem by the Virgin Mary, the Spirit of God appeared to Symeon who was very old and as "white as a swan." Symeon quickly entered the Temple and there recognized both the Virgin and the young Child by the light that shone around their heads as an aureal. The joyful Symeon took Christ into his hands and prayed to God to release him from this life: "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).
Anna the Prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, was also there, who recognized the Messiah and proclaimed Him to the people. "And coming forward at that very moment, she gave thanks to God, and spoke about the Child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). At that time, Anna was eighty-four years old.
St. Symeon died shortly after that. This righteous Elder Simeon is considered to be the Protector of young children.
Read also: A Miracle of St. Symeon the God-Receiver
HYMN OF PRAISE: SAINT SYMEON THE GOD-RECEIVER
When winter encounters spring,
The aged Symeon was of good fortune:
He encountered the long-awaited One,
Who, by the prophets, was foretold,
Him, the mine of all heavenly riches -
As naked, he [Symeon] the young child saw,
And in this manner, Symeon prophesied:
"The evening has descended upon my life;
This One, lay down to conquer many
Or to raise many. Thus the spirit speaks."
The Prophecy of old was fulfilled:
Jesus became the measure and the standard,
The source of happiness, peace and joy,
But also the target of disputes and maliciousness.
One He uplifts, the other He overturns
And Paradise and Hades He opens to men.
Let everyone choose whatever their hearts speak,
In Paradise with Christ! Our heart desires.
A PRAYER FOR A SMALL CHILD
O Powerful Lord, have mercy and save,
Do not extinguish this small flame with death!
This child is like the small flame of a candle,
And the winds of the world are terrible, even to the stars;
A weak fire is banked beneath the ashes
And beneath Your hand, the soul of man.
When the water rises and reaches the throat,
And the flame becomes smaller and the fire becomes damp,
O Lord, save, have mercy and alleviate!
Thus, David the Prophet, prayed to You
Even though he was a huge torch.
And a weak child at the base of heaven
And from sinful thoughts his head began to ache.
Every wind of malice weakened him.
It would be extinguished quickly from the tumultuous winds,
If you do not save, O Helper, hurry,
O Lord, have mercy and save us even now,
And this small flame do not extinguish with death!
Through the prayers, O God, of Your favorite Elder,
Holy Saint Symeon, the wonderful receiver of God.
The Relics of Saint Symeon the God-Receiver
The sacred relics of St. Symeon were kept in the Constantinopolitan Church of Saint James the Brother of the Lord, which was raised by Emperor Justin, near Hagia Sophia. In 1273 the relics were being transferred to Venice, but due to a storm in the Adriatic Sea, they were brought to Zadar in Croatia and remained there.
The relics of St. Symeon today also lie in Jerusalem in the Monastery bearing his name in the western part of the new city near the Monastery of the Holy Cross. The Abbot of the Monastery, Fr. Theodoritos, has served there for thirty years and one of his main goals was to acquire the relic of their patron. The relic was previously located in the city of Zadar in Croatia. With much persistence he was able to acquire a portion of the relic. This was approved on 12 January 2010 and the transfer occurred with much celebration on Sunday 4/17 October 2010. It was received by Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem.
More can be read here and here with photos.
Who Really Was St. Symeon the God-Receiver?
By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite
There are many commentaries on Saint Symeon the God-Receiver. Saint Joseph the Hymnographer, in the Orthros Canon for the day, identifies Symeon as a ministering priest: 'O blessed priest, thou didst offer up the sacrifices of the law, the lamb, for ineffable mercy, showing forth beforehand the blood of the Savior; and receiving Him incarnate, O Symeon, thou wast shown to be more glorious than Moses and all the prophets' [Feb. 3rd, Orthros Canon of the Saint, Ode Eight, Mode Four, by Saint Joseph]. Saint Photios, in his Amphilochia, writes that Symeon was not a priest, but higher and more than a priest. Others maintain that the venerable Symeon was one of the Seventy translators of the Old Testament during the time of Ptolemy II. That Symeon lived long beyond the normal life expectancy is mentioned by George Kedrinos [Synopsis], Meletios of Athens, Euthymios Zygadenos or Zygabenos [Commentary on Luke, ch. 2), and others. This means that the Elder Symeon was at least two hundred and seventy years old when he received the Christ Child in his arms. There are scholars of genealogies that believe he was the son of the Hebrew patriarch Hillel, the father of the famous Gamaliel mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. There are others who say he presided in the first place over the assembly of the Jews. The inviolate testimony of Sacred Scripture states: 'Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Symeon, and this man was just and pious, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been divinely revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he should see the Christ of the Lord' [Lk. 2:25, 26].
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.
On the evening of 17 April 2004 during Bright Week, a fire in Susana Monastery, which is located in the Romanian county of Prahova, destroyed two monastic cells and some of the warehouses. In the midst of the fire, a picture of Elder Cleopas remained intact.
Sister G., whose cell burned, tells us: "When it caught fire I was away. The firefighters began extinguishing the fires in the cells near the church first and no one tried to extinguish the fire in my cell. Everything burned: my bed, wardrobe, and the roof had just been repaired."
As Sister G. said this, not a trace of sadness could be seen in her eyes. "There was ash in the cell reaching my knees", she continued. "I had never met Elder Cleopas personally, but I had a reverence for him after reading his books. The Elder would say that as the grasshopper jumps, so also does the monastic rush towards salvation. I believe these words of the Elder encouraged me to embrace the monastic life (in 1999). Before Pascha I posted his photograph (it is a laminated photo) above my bed. While looking at it, I said: 'When you are canonized, I will place you on the eastern wall'. After the fire, when I returned to the monastery, I met Sister I. whose cell had burned. 'That's alright sister, such was God's will', I told her. I then asked her: 'Has anything of mine been preserved?' Sister V. then answered me: 'Nothing. You have been left only with Fr. Cleopa.' I didn't understand what she meant at the moment. Later I learned the photograph had been untouched by the fire! The firefighters noticed this also. I cannot explain how he was not burned. It was only a cardboard hanging above the bed. I didn't even have a picture frame for it. The bed had a mattress and a quilt of wool, which burned with the bed. An icon of the Virgin Mary also was not burned, which also was made of cardboard, though this was framed. I later found this among the ashes."
The Abbess was later asked to say a few words about this: "Sister G. has great reverence for Elder Cleopa which is why I believe it is a sign of divine mercy. It could have burned, but God said: 'Do you See?' The evil is not that we should rebuild from the beginning what burned - this is the monastic life - but if there should be a lack of spiritual progress."