During the reign of Emperor Domition (81-96 AD) St. John the Theologian was exiled to the island of Patmos for casting down the temple and idols at Ephesus, and during his sojourn there he succeeded in converting almost the entire island to Christ. When Christianity became the state religion in the fifth century, the elaborate temple to Diana was pulled down, and in its place a magnificent basilica was dedicated to St. John. Many churches were subsequently built throughout the island. For six hundred years after Christ, the island's towns and commercial endeavors prospered until the island was despoiled by Arab pirates and other invaders. The beautiful basilica of St. John was destroyed and Patmos left uninhabited.
It was God's providence, however, not to leave the holy island deserted, and He chose a righteous abbot from Asia Minor named Christodoulos to be the instrument of its revival. Repeated Ottoman-Arab invasions had already forced the abbot into exile more than once, and by the late eleventh century, the abbot had left a trail of monasteries and libraries in his wake.
Born in Bythynia, in Asia Minor, Christodoulos, whose original name was John prior to being a monastic, first lived as a hermit on his native Mount Olympus and later in the Palestinian desert, finally returning to Asia Minor to serve as abbot of the Mount Lamos Monastery near Caria. In 1085, the monks of Mt. Lamos fled from the Turks and the abbot took refuge in the island of Kos, not far from Patmos, where he founded a monastery dedicated to the Mother of God.
Abbot Christodoulos soon made the acquaintance of Fr. Arsenios, an ascetic hermit who was the son of wealthy Kosian landowners and heir to their estate. Arsenios became the abbot's spiritual son, and together they dreamt of reestablishing monastic life on Patmos. Father Christodoulos later wrote of his disciple: "He was a benevolent and pious man, of noble birth and a native of this land, held in high esteem by all islanders, of mild manners, with integrity of character, morally upright, a monk by devotion, called Arsenios, surnamed Skinouris, wholeheartedly given to our service."
In the year 1088, after founding a second monastery on the island of Leros (dedicated to St. John the Theologian), Fr. Christodoulos presented himself at the court of the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos in Byzantium, where he unfolded his plan to reinhabit Patmos with monastics. The emperor granted his request, and he was given sovereignty over the entire island in exchange for lucrative holdings on Kos that were tied to Arsenios' inheritance. In August of that same year, Fr. Christodoulos took possession of the "deserted and uninhabited island of Patmos".
He is described at this time by a contemporary as "a forceful hermit, with profound knowledge of people and the world he lived in, a pious monk, and an able abbot." Although born a peasant, Fr. Christodoulos had a passionate love of books. He was a self-taught man who had benefited much from his reading, acquiring both rock-like faith and sound judgment. His love of learning and solid common sense are revealed in an extant copy of his plans for the monastery, where he set down detailed procedures for the copying, care and safe-keeping of the library's books. Its first donations were his won. Today, he is not only remembered as a scholar and a monastery builder, but has been given the title of "wonderworker", as a testimony to his effectual prayers.
In 1091, Fr. Christodoulos drafted plans for the building of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the construction of its defensive enclosure, which he called "the fortress". On his return from Constantinople he brought masons and craftsmen with him, and they set to work. The monastery he designed still crowns the hilltop above the island's main port, over the ruins of the original fourth century Basilica of Saint John and the earlier temple dedicated to Diana.
In 1093, only two years after beginning construction, the monks were forced to flee Patmos in the face of pirate raids instigated by Emir Dzaha, and Fr. Christodoulos took refuge on Evia, where he reposed on May 16, 1093.
The monks soon returned, however, and by 1100 the Monastery of the Theologian numbered one hundred souls. Until the seventeenth century, Patmos was governed spiritually and administratively by the monastery, which provided for both the economy of the island and the defense of its inhabitants. Fr. Christodoulos had originally envisaged Patmos as a monastic enclave exclusive of women, and it was with difficulty that the craftsmen had been able to induce him to set aside a small piece of land at the far end of the peninsula where they could build a village and settle their wives while the monastery was being constructed.
Inside the katholikon of the monastery is a small chapel in the narthex dedicated to St. Christodoulos. There his relics are enshrined, having been brought back to Patmos after his death. Originally placed in a marble sarcophagus, the relics now rest in a gold and silver plated wooden chest that sits atop the sepulchre for veneration.
From Evlogeite! A Pilgrim's Guide To Greece by Mother Nectaria McLees, pp. 663-668.
The Hermitage of Saint Christodoulos at Alykes
The entire area on the north side of the harbor of Stavros is named Alyki or Alykes. This area was always used by the monks to collect salt. The monk who supervised this job was called ‘Alykaris.’
In the Brevium in the monastery, a documentary book, it is mentioned that in 1568 “Matthew, a Cretan, who was an Alykar died” and in 1603 “on August 2, the monk Nektarios died at Alykes".
A little church honoring Saint Christodoulos is located at Alykes. It measures 5.05x2.95 meters, and is domed, with narthex and an attached cell. On the iconostasis is a miraculous icon which was found near the caves. It seems that a monk lived in the cave and among the other icons, there was one of Saint Christodoulos. Later, another monk built the little church and brought the icon from the cave and put it on the iconostasis. The icon depicts Saint Christodoulos offering the monastery of Saint John the Theologian as written in the book which he holds.
From the very old man, John Gamberakis, a farmer who worked for the monastery at Alykes (his grandfather, Dimitrios Grillakis, lived there as a farmer for the monastery 100 years ago), we learn about the monk Germanos Skopelitis who lived at Alykes for many years. Gamberakis has many memories of the priceless counsels given to him by the monk from the bottom of his heart. As he tells us, he had heard that a young girl had come to do laundry at Alykes. Suddenly she saw a sweet old man who frightened her so much that she never returned to Alykes to do laundry. It must have been Saint Christodoulos who protected the hermitage.
The Gardens of Saint Christodoulos
The oral tradition concerning the Gardens of Saint Christodoulos is as follows: When Saint Christodoulos was living in Patmos, he planted a garden to supply vegetables for the monks. The monks who had worked very hard building the Monastery were very tired. They refused when Saint Christodoulos asked them to dig for water. Saint Christodoulos then fell to his knees and prayed all night long for God’s intervention. His prayer was so warm that at the place where he had dug, which was in the shape of a cross, a clear, pure spring emerged. The monks then realized their bad behavior and acknowledged the Holiness of Saint Christodoulos. The garden has been kept up since the 11th century and is named the “Kipos of the Saint” The spring was covered with an arch and since then it has been called “Holy Water” or “Water of Saint” or “Water of the Holy Father”.
Today, only the foundation from the time of Saint Christodoulos remains. The upper part was reconstructed at a later date. Besides the Spring of the Saint, other springs have come up near the first one. These are still in existence from those days. Near each spring, a reservoir was built to store the extra water. Once there was a huge boulder on the side of the cliff overlooking the “Kipi” which rolled down threatening the destruction of the garden. Saint Christodoulos again prayed warmly and deeply and this prayer was able to stop the boulder and made it so secure that it remains in the same place today. This was truly another miracle.
During the times when people were more pious and believing, they would go to the boulder and lean on it for healing purposes on the same spot where Saint Christodoulos had leaned on it to stop it from rolling down to the gardens.
There is another story that once a Byzantine Princess lived in Patmos and that she had hidden a treasure near the boulder. It has never been found, or if it was found, it was never reported.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Let us, O brethren, honour godly Christodoulos, offspring of Nicea, protector of Patmos and boast of monks. Let us venerate his relics and so receive healing of soul and body, and cry out with hymns, Glory to Him Who has strengthened you; glory to Him Who has crowned you; glory to Him Who through you works healings for all.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Since we possess your relics as a holy place of healing for all our diseases and afflictions, we are redeemed and cry aloud to you, Rejoice, O Christodoulos.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
During the reign of Emperor Domition (81-96 AD) St. John the Theologian was exiled to the island of Patmos for casting down the temple and idols at Ephesus, and during his sojourn there he succeeded in converting almost the entire island to Christ. When Christianity became the state religion in the fifth century, the elaborate temple to Diana was pulled down, and in its place a magnificent basilica was dedicated to St. John. Many churches were subsequently built throughout the island. For six hundred years after Christ, the island's towns and commercial endeavors prospered until the island was despoiled by Arab pirates and other invaders. The beautiful basilica of St. John was destroyed and Patmos left uninhabited.
March 16, 2011
A joint meeting of representatives of the Inter-Orthodox Relations with the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece was held today, Wednesday March 16, in the Synodal Hall.
The committee consists of the Metropolitans Meletios of Nicopolis (Chairman), Ignatius of Dimitriados, Chrysostomos of Messinia, Bishop John of Thermopylae and Prof. Martzelos.
Information from "Romfea.gr" indicates that after thorough discussion, they decided that the Church of Greece will continue participating in the World Council of Churches and other inter-Christian forums.
Please note that, despite recent statements by the Metropolitans of the Church of Greece to withdraw from the WCC, it was finally decided to have more comprehensive information from the Hierarchs and the fullness of the Church.
Lastly, at this time the Holy Synod is meeting with teachers of the Theological Schools.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
By Sergei V. Bulgakov
During this week the holy Church continues to exhort us to fasting, prayer, penance, charity and other efforts of virtue, opening also to the true self these ascetic efforts.
In the hymns for this week the holy Church chants:
“Prayer and fasting are a marvelous weapon: this Moses points out to us as the writer of the Law and Elijah shows us in zealous sacrifices”,
“When the men of Nineveh repented, Thou didst deliver them from wrath”,
“Fasting bore Samuel as fruit;”
“Through fasting Samson grew up brave”,
“Elisha after fasting brought the dead child back to life”;
“Through fasting priests and prophets were made perfect”.
“As Christ has taught us in the scriptures, a pure fast means the putting away of sin, the rejection of the passions, love for God, attentiveness in prayer, tears of compunction, and acts of mercy to the poor."
Thus the holy church also appeals to us:
“Let us keep a true fast before the Lord: let us abstain not only from food but from angry speech and lying, and from every other passion”,
“Let us keep a spiritual fast: let us loose every bond; let us avoid the stumbling blocks of sin; let us absolve our brothers from their debts, that we too may be forgiven our transgressions.”
“Come let us cleanse ourselves with mercies and compassions for the poor, not trumpeting them, nor revealing our good deeds, but let us not hang on the left hand the right hand business, let us not squander with vanity the fruit of mercies”;
“In this season of repentance, let us stretch out our hands in works of mercy; and then the ascetic struggles of the Fast will bring us to eternal life. For nothing saves the soul so much as generosity to those in need, and almsgiving combined with fasting will deliver a man from death. Let us do all this with gladness, for there is no better way, and it will bring salvation to our souls.”
To read more about the context and real origins of this controversy, read the latest here.
March 15, 2011
"Civil War" has broken out in the Church of Greece between the self-proclaimed traditional Orthodox hierarchs and those hierarchs engaged in dialogues with other Christian Churches.
The battle has assumed such proportions that some believers signed a "Declaration and Confession of Walling-Off" which among other things warns Bishops that "to remain in the Orthodox Faith and Truth, we will abstain from ecclesiastical Sacraments and Acts performed by clergy who commune and mention heretics and heretical bishops, and we will request bishops and priests who do not commemorate them and who renounce Ecumenism."
The "Declaration and Confession of Walling-Off" is only one of the neoconservative movements in recent years who voice in the most resounding way their views and positions on the Internet.
According to information from almost all over the country, there is being conducted a "guerrilla war" against hierarchs expressing a different position from their own views. It is indicative of the dominating climate which is said to have unfolded in the Church of Thessaloniki, where a well-known clergyman, having anathematized the Pope and urged the faithful to follow him, then criticized the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece to hold dialogues with Roman Catholics and other Christians as well as their participation in the World Council of Churches.
Piraeus Strikes Again
Two bishops, the Metropolitan's Seraphim of Piraeus and Seraphim of Kythera, have boosted the rebellion.
The Metropolitan of Piraeus requested the withdrawal of the Church of Greece from the World Council of Churches and reportedly managed with his position in the 12-member Holy Synod, on Monday morning, to spark an intense debate about the possibility of continued participation in dialogues by the Church of Greece.
And the whole issue will be discussed again on Wednesday morning when at the Holy Synod meeting there will also be the members of the Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian relations.
At the same time Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythera on the Sunday of Orthodoxy stated among other things:
"This pan-heresy of Ecumenism is undisturbed today even in the Orthodox world, since Orthodox Bishops consider those not in communion with the Orthodox in communion, against the Holy Canons; heterodox and heretics sometimes jointly-pray during the Divine Liturgy, dressed in the vestments of the Hierarchy."
Translated by John Sanidopoulos
March 15, 2011
Official Website Patriarchate of Alexandria
On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, March 13th, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa Theodoros II, after the Divine Liturgy, accompanied by His Eminence Metropolitan of Kampala Mr. Jonah, the Clergy, the Egyptian Ambassador, the Muslim religious worker in the area and many visitors went to an adjacent area of the Parish of Anthony the Great Monte and held the ceremony to found the first Orthodox Monastery in Africa dedicated to Saint Mary of Egypt.
The Sisterhood that will inhabit the monastery, by the grace of God, after its completion consists of three native Nuns - Maria, Taboria, Theosemni - who lived for two years at the Monastery of Panagia Chrysopigi in Chania, Crete and they were taught the Greek language, ecclesiastical music and monastic handiwork.
Welcoming the commencement of construction of the monastic habitat, the Archbishop spoke of the importance of monasticism in the Orthodox Church and expressed the feelings of hope and joy generated by the establishment of a monastic Sisterhood in Africa.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos
March 15, 2011
The Church of the Entrance of the Theotokos located in the district of Pera in Constantinople (Istanbul) and had suffered severely in November 2003 by a bomb placed at the British consulate and in the nearby HSBC Bank leaving behind 27 dead and 460 wounded, has been restored. It cost nearly € 1,000,000.
Since 2003 the church was closed. Restorations began in 2006. There are 93 churches in Constantinople, the largest being that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The second largest was this Church of the Entrance of the Theotokos.
The Church of the Entrance of the Theotokos was built by a firman of Selim III in June 1804 by architect Hajji Comnenus, who repaired the burnt Holy Sepulchre. In fact, according to tradition, this church was said to have been built in one night by the faithful.
This is a huge, imposing, five-aisled basilica with a baroque altar and illustrations with themes borrowed from the Palaiologan period of the Monastery of Chora.
Read more here.
Adelle M. Banks
March 14, 2011
It's been proclaimed from pulpits and blogs for years — Christians divorce as much as everyone else in America.
But some scholars and family activists are questioning the oft-cited statistics, saying Christians who attend church regularly are more likely to remain wed.
"It's a useful myth," said Bradley Wright, a University of Connecticut sociologist who recently wrote "Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites ... and Other Lies You've Been Told."
"Because if a pastor wants to preach about how Christians should take their marriages more seriously, he or she can trot out this statistic to get them to listen to him or her."
The various findings on religion and divorce hinge on what kind of Christians are being discussed.
Wright combed through the General Social Survey, a vast demographic study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and found that Christians, like adherents of other religions, have a divorce rate of about 42%. The rate among religiously unaffiliated Americans is 50%.
When Wright examined the statistics on evangelicals, he found worship attendance has a big influence on the numbers. Six in 10 evangelicals who never attend had been divorced or separated, compared to just 38% of weekly attendees.
Wright questions the approach of The Barna Group, evangelical pollsters based in Ventura, Calif.
Barna's latest published divorce statistics say one-third of all adults, including "non-evangelical born again Christians," have ended a marriage
Barna's statistics are tied to its highly specific — and controversial — definitions of born-again Christians and evangelicals.
For instance, Barna labels Christians "born-again" if they have made a personal commitment to Jesus and believe they will go to heaven because they have accepted him as their savior.
Evangelicals, on the other hand, are those who fit the born-again definition but also meet seven other conditions, including sharing their beliefs with non-Christians and agreeing that the Bible is completely accurate.
David Kinnaman, Barna's president, said the statistical differences reflect varied approaches, with Wright looking more at attendance and his research firm dwelling on theological commitments.
"We've tried to measure it based on theological perspective, not merely their church attendance or whether they call themselves Catholic or mainline," Kinnaman said.
Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family wrote a recent column in Baptist Press highlighting Wright's interpretation of the state of divorce for Christians.
"The divorce rates of Christian believers are not identical to the general population — not even close," he wrote. "Being a committed, faithful believer makes a measurable difference in marriage."
Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agrees there's been some confusion.
"You do hear, both in Christian and non-Christian circles, that Christians are no different from anyone else when it comes to divorce and that is not true if you are focusing on Christians who are regular church attendees," he said.
Wilcox's analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households has found that Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35% less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.
Nominal conservative Protestants, on the other hand, were 20% more likely to divorce than the religiously unaffiliated.
"There's something about being a nominal 'Christian' that is linked to a lot of negative outcomes when it comes to family life," Wilcox said.
The Greek theological journal ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΑ has devoted its most recent issue (Vol. 4, 2010) to Fr. George Florovsky. The volume is in Greek, though there is a 40-page bibliography of secondary sources in English that is the most complete and up-to-date.
To view it, click here for the title page. Then click on where it says "Τεύχη ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΑΣ". Under "Τόμος 81/2010" click on the issue that says "Τεύχος 4o". The title with the bibliography says "Secondary Bibliography of Scholarly Literature and Conferences on Florovsky".
Here is the introductory information about the bibliography:
In this section, attempt has been made by the authors to present an exhaustive list of secondary literature treating Florovsky’s life and work, including PhD dissertations, Masters theses, full-length monographs, essays, and articles in a wide variety of languages. Unpublished conference papers and presentations have also been listed. This collection represents the cumulative fruit of numerous years of bibliographical searching. At that same time, most especially with the conference papers, acknowledgment must be made of the gracious help of the following scholars and friends: Prof. Pavel Pavlov at the Theological School of Sofia University “Saint Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgary; Prof. Stoyan Tanev at the South Denmark University; Prof. (Emeritus) A. Blane of Russian History at the City University – New York and secretary of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation and Prof. Alexis Klimoff at the Vassar University. In addition, we have included as an appendix a brief chronology and description of symposia and conferences dedicated to Florovsky.
March 12, 2011
John Horgan, a blogger for Scientific American, wanted to use this headline 20 years ago, but the editor didn’t let him. Now that editor is gone, so Horgan let the cat out of the bag: “Pssst! Don’t tell the creationists, but scientists don't have a clue how life began.” Well, he just did.
Horgan lamented that the situation is even more lamentable today. Based on Dennis Overbye’s “romp into theories of the cradle of life” published in the New York Times last month, Horgan concluded, “Geologists, chemists, astronomers and biologists are as stumped as ever by the riddle of life.” You name it: protein-first, DNA-first, metabolism-first, RNA World (an erstwhile leading contender) – they’re all stumping the scientists with insurmountable problems.
“The RNA world is so dissatisfying that some frustrated scientists are resorting to much more far out—literally—speculation,” Horgan continued. By that he means panspermia. He realizes that Crick’s old escape route doesn’t solve anything: “Of course, panspermia theories merely push the problem of life’s origin into outer space. If life didn’t begin here, how did it begin out there?”
Horgan ended by comforting himself with the argument that creationists have a similar problem, how to explain the origin of God. “And at least scientists are making an honest effort to solve life’s mystery instead of blaming it all on God.”
But Creationists don’t blame God; they thank Him and worship Him for the marvel of life. Do you see the anti-Creator hysteria that leads evolutionists to frantic rants of desperation to keep from admitting the obvious — that life was created? Thanks to John for being honest enough to admit the problem (something the snooze media almost never do), but then he played dog in the manger: “We might be clueless, frustrated, desperate, empty-handed and broke, but nobody else gets to play the origins game.” Let’s fix his last sentence: “At least we clueless power-hungry pseudo-scientific demagogues can blame God instead of making an honest effort to follow the evidence where it leads.”
For a response to Horgan’s old chestnut about who created the Creator, watch sabretooth Sarfati pounce on CMI titled "If God created the universe, then who created God?".
March 11, 2011
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has noted that Turkmen government controls on importing religious material for use in their parishes in Turkmenistan have been lifted, yet confiscation of religious literature from residents returning to the country continues, members of a variety of faiths told Forum 18 News Service. Although isolated instances of confiscations of such literature on leaving Turkmenistan have also occurred earlier, this has stepped up in recent months. Patriarch Kirill also said discussions with the Foreign Ministry are underway over building a new Orthodox cathedral in Ashgabad. Planned in the 1990s, it was never built and the site was later used for another building. Bayram Samuradov, chief architect of Ashgabad, told Forum 18 that a provisional new site has been earmarked for the cathedral. "It is more beautiful and appropriate than the old site, and is located in an area with a large European population," he told Forum 18. He refused to discuss why other faiths cannot build places of worship in Ashgabad. "That's not a question for me."
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has noted that Turkmen government controls on importing religious material for use in the dozen Russian Orthodox parishes in Turkmenistan have been lifted. "Until recently, a major problem was the import into the country of church articles and religious literature," he told the Archbishops' Council in Moscow on 2 February in a speech published in full on the Patriarchate website. "However, with the help of the Lord, this problem has at present been resolved positively." Members of many other religious communities have complained to Forum 18 News Service of continuing confiscations of religious literature both inside the country and from travellers entering or leaving Turkmenistan.
Religious literature is still routinely confiscated at the border. Tight control of the country's borders includes frequent, often thorough searches for religious literature (see F18 religious freedom survey of Turkmenistan http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1512).
Any traveller with more than a handful of books is almost certain to have them confiscated, religious believers from Turkmenistan of a variety of faiths have told Forum 18 in early 2011. No more then one copy of any one title is likely to be allowed through, as officials believe any extra copies are for distribution, which is illegal.
Nearly a dozen people Forum 18 has spoken to between November 2010 and the end of February 2011 who passed through Ashgabad [Ashgabat] airport – both Turkmen residents and foreign visitors, even those invited by the Turkmen government – have said that almost the first question customs officers ask is whether they have religious literature with them.
Searches and confiscations are conducted by border guards, customs officers and officers of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police. "It's difficult to say which officer is from which agency," one individual who has had religious literature confiscated told Forum 18.
Confiscations on exit too
In what some local religious believers say is a new development, border guards and MSS secret police officers at Ashgabad airport searched the luggage of known religious believers leaving the country in early 2011. A number had religious literature confiscated from them, sources who asked not to the identified told Forum 18. "This is a definite turn for the worse, if we cannot even take religious materials out of the country now," one complained.
Only occasionally in the past have religious believers complained to Forum 18 of confiscation of religious literature on departure from Turkmenistan.
The duty officer at the Border Service headquarters in Ashgabad referred all enquiries on the confiscation of religious literature to the duty officer at the airport. However, each time Forum 18 called on 11 March the telephones were engaged or went unanswered. Telephones at the State Customs Service went unanswered the same day, while the MSS secret police refused to answer any questions.
Also unwilling to answer questions was the government's Gengesh (Committee) for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad. The man who on 9 March answered the telephone of Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, the Deputy Chair, put the phone down as soon as Forum 18 began asking questions.
Religious publishing barely exists within Turkmenistan, and the little religious literature that is occasionally published requires prior approval from the government's Gengesh for Religious Affairs. Religious literature, audio recordings and DVDs are often confiscated during raids, and possession of such materials can lead to further harassment, as reportedly happened to two Muslim students in Ashgabad in February.
Confiscation of Orthodox books, baptismal crosses and incense at an end?
In his Moscow speech, Patriarch Kirill did not specify what difficulties there had been for the Church to import literature and church objects. However, Russian Orthodox clergy have complained for some years to Forum 18 that importing religious literature, copies of the Church's official Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, baptismal crosses and incense has been restricted or impossible. Russian Orthodox books have been confiscated at customs, along with other Christian, as well as Muslim literature and publications of other faiths.
However, if Russian Orthodox priests can now import religious literature and church objects, it remains unclear if Russian Orthodox laypeople have the same possibility.
Asked whether the Turkmen government's apparent lifting of some controls on Russian Orthodox literature imports would also allow the Church to print literature within Turkmenistan, an official of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations insisted that it does not need to. "There's a large enough number of Orthodox publishers in Russia which produce the quantities of Orthodox literature needed," the official told Forum 18 from Moscow on 9 March. "This can then be shipped to Russian Orthodox parishes around the world."
The small Seventh-day Adventist Church in Turkmenistan have long asked their fellow Adventists around the world to pray for the opening up of the country for religious materials. They noted in February that not only is the import of any literature "including of the Bible" banned, but "this ban also extends to programmes and films of a religious nature".
Among other Adventist prayer requests was for the possibility for fellow Adventists to be able to visit communities in Turkmenistan. They noted in February that this has not been possible for the past two years. The government allowed a handful of such Adventist visits from September 2008, but they stopped soon after (see F18News 19 November 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1219).
Expelled from Institute for Koran recordings?
Two students were reportedly expelled from the National Institute of Sports and Tourism in Ashgabad after Education Ministry inspectors discovered audio recordings of suras (verses) of the Koran on their computers, a blogger who goes by the name voxclamantis_tm declared on the livejournal website on 17 February. Officials justified the expulsions by claiming that the two students were propagating "religious extremism".
The blogger said the two were identified after Education Ministry inspectors made "unexpected inspections" at night in early to mid-February in student accommodation at "several universities" in Ashgabad and "thoroughly inspected personal belongings". "Students say that their mobile phones, personal laptops were examined by specialists who had software to restore deleted content." The blogger notes that "in Turkmenistan there is no such thing as privacy, and these violations are usual things for Turkmen people."
The blogger – who posts anonymously - appears to be based in Ashgabad. Forum 18 has been unable to confirm the expulsions. However, Ashgabad residents and other sources – such as the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights – have reported extensive state searches of student accommodation in February in the wake of a murder of a student, allegedly by other students.
Aver Handurdiev, Deputy Rector of the National Institute of Sports and Tourism, appeared aware of recent check-ups in student accommodation in Ashgabad. However, he denied absolutely that anyone had searched the property of students of his Institute or that any students had been expelled for having audio recordings of the Koran in their computers. "No such things happened," he told Forum 18 from Ashgabad on 23 February. "No one was excluded for that reason. I guarantee it 100 percent before God."
Will Russian Orthodox be allowed to build cathedral?
Patriarch Kirill also told the Archbishops' Council that the head of the Church's Turkmen deanery, Bishop Feofilakt of Smolensk, has been able to discuss with Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov the possibility of building a new cathedral and educational centre in Ashgabad. "At present this is being discussed at a governmental level," Patriarch Kirill said, apparently referring to the Turkmen government.
The authorities have up till now refused to allow the Church to build the new Resurrection Cathedral in Ashgabad, planned in the mid-1990s. The then President Saparmurat Niyazov allocated the Church a five hectare plot of land in the centre of the city, later described by Bishop Vladimir of Tashkent (who had care of the Church in Turkmenistan until 2007) as "one of the most beautiful sites in Ashgabad". The Russian Orthodox Church held a high-profile design competition which was won in September 1996 by the Moscow architect Igor Voskresensky and the cathedral was to be completed by 2000. The cathedral was never built and the allocated plot in central Ashgabad remained vacant for many years (see F18News 10 February 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=725). However, the state later built the Ruhnama University on the site.
Bayram Samuradov, chief architect of Ashgabad, told Forum 18 that a provisional site in the Parahat suburb in the south of the city has been earmarked as the new location for the cathedral. "It is more beautiful and appropriate than the old site, and is located in an area with a large European population," he told Forum 18 from Ashgabad on 11 March. He said the Cabinet of Ministers has given provisional approval for the General Plan, which is due to run until 2050, on which the cathedral site is marked.
Samuradov said the land has been allocated by the state, but the Russian Orthodox will pay for construction. He said Voskresensky's plan is still the current plan, but added that he could not say when construction will start.
Ata, an aide to Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov who would not give his surname, insisted that the Foreign Ministry is not involved in the issue of allocating a new site or building the new cathedral. "The Patriarch gets in touch with relevant officials, for example at the Gengesh for Religious Affairs," he told Forum 18 from Ashgabad on 9 March. Asked what progress Meredov and Bishop Feofilakt had achieved in their discussions, Ata admitted that they had held discussions, but responded to Forum 18: "You're not competent to interfere in these issues." He declined to discuss the new cathedral further.
Orthodox priests in Ashgabad referred Forum 18 to Fr Andrei Sapunov, a priest who is also a veteran Deputy Chair of the Gengesh. "He is responsible for the issue of building the new cathedral, as he handles relations between the Orthodox Church and the state," one priest told Forum 18 on 11 March. However, the man who answered Fr Sapunov's phone at the Gengesh the same day told Forum 18 he was not in the office, and declined to answer any other questions.
"Discussions are now underway on [the government] providing a new site for the construction of the cathedral," the official of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations told Forum 18. "We have every reason to believe that by the end of this year, with God's help, this issue will be resolved."
Although the Russian Orthodox Church was one of only two faiths officially allowed to function in Turkmenistan between 1997 and 2003, its life has not been easy. Its parishes applied for the compulsory re-registration in the wake of the 2003 revisions to the Religion Law, but officials deliberately dragged their feet. They gained re-registration only in November 2005. The second parish in the eastern town of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjew) had to wait until January 2006 for registration (see F18News 19 October 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1037).
Building new places of worship is almost impossible for other faiths, members of other religious communities have complained to Forum 18. Using other properties for worship is also difficult (see F18 religious freedom survey of Turkmenistan http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1512).
Chief architect Samuradov refused to discuss why other faiths cannot build places of worship in Ashgabad. "That's not a question for me," he told Forum 18.
Meetings against religious minorities
Members of a Protestant church away from Ashgabad have been especially closely monitored since the beginning of the year, Protestants who asked not to be identified told Forum 18. Muslim leaders met in a local mosque to discuss what action to take against the church, with some arguing that action should be taken to halt their activity and others arguing that church members were "true people of God" who should be allowed to continue their activity. No action was taken against the church, but it remains under close scrutiny.
Members of another Protestant church elsewhere in Turkmenistan have faced serious threats since the beginning of the year, including at public meetings, Protestants who likewise asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. However, such threats have died down.
Monday, March 14, 2011
By Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol
The New Age means so many different things. A great deal that goes by the name "New Age" is very contrary to Orthodoxy. There is a kind of neopaganism in much of the New Age that we should be deeply suspicious of. But I am unhappy when people make a global denial of the New Age. I say this because in what is called the New Age there is a genuine searching for a spiritual meaning in life. Many people are attracted to New Age groups precisely because they are dissatisfied with modern materialism. The institutional churches, including the Orthodox Church, have failed these people. We have presented Christianity in a way that doesn't interest them. We have made Christianity seem to be nothing more than moralistic teaching; often we say little more than what a sociologist might say. But people don't want to hear from us what they could hear elsewhere, often much better expressed. They don't want to come to church simply to listen to our views about social issues and politics. Often we Christians have failed to bear witness to the transcendent reality of the living God and to the divine kingdom hidden within the heart. At how many Orthodox churches in America, I wonder, do you hear a Sunday sermon about the Jesus Prayer or the Sacrament of Confession? All too often you hear the kind of things that could be said better by a liberal humanist. So, I think the New Age has behind it a real seeking for spiritual truth that institutional Christianity has failed to satisfy. The movement may have gotten into very dubious side alleys, but there is also a sincere quest that we should not simply dismiss.
From Gifts of the Desert: The Forgotten Path of Christian Spirituality by Kyriacos C. Markides, pp. 173-174.
The strongest earthquakes have repeated several times in Japan these days. There was an explosion at a nuclear power plant, after which the authorities started a massive evacuation of the nearby areas. There are said to be more than 1700 victims; more than 10 thousand people missing.
Immediately after the explosion at the nuclear power plant, “Orthodoxy and the World” websites’s journalist had contacted Father Nicholas Katsuban, a Russian Orthodox Church priest in Japan.
We did not stop worship
When the earthquake started, we were in the church, worship had just began, and in spite of strong aftershocks we continued to serve, to pray more fervently, although we understood what was happening. For the first time a natural disaster of such scale occurred in this country, one could not keep footing, our church was shaking. But something even more terrible happened: according to unofficial sources, a nuclear reactor in Fukushima exploded. The shocks passed along the territory of several reactors, the roof of one of them was blown down, all the constructions collapsed and an explosion occurred.
The ground went from under our feet
What the people have survived through these days is awful. Sendai suffered the most, many territories of this city are practically wiped out, there are many victims and wounded, and thousands of people made homeless. I’m in Tokio, the city was almost not hurt, but the shocks we felt were the most powerful ever. The ground went from under our feet, though damage in the capital is not great, and there were no human losses.
The recent tsunami greatly aggravated the situation. A giant wave took away many people and caused considerable damage. For a long time communication has been down, the electricity was damaged, and transportation also stopped.
Our main task is to help those in need
Now we are trying to keep close contact with our congregation and the representative offices’ staff. I have not received message that any of our faithful was hurt, or that churches were destroyed. Our main task now is to help those who need help and to avoid mass panic. The people worry, the people are afraid, but everybody tries to take a hold of oneself, there is no panic or hysteria.
On the whole, the city tries to live its normal life, there is no food supply shortage, but the traffic jams are huge. In the places where the tragedy occurred there is quite a different situation. There people suffer. Mass evacuation of people from the afflicted areas is going on, and from Fukushima some 30 000 people have been evacuated.
The most terrible is the explosion at the nuclear plant
We are ready at any moment to start providing active help, but nothing is clear now and everyone is at a loss, so we have to realize what has happened and what steps are to be taken. I think that further on it will become clear what to do and who is to be given necessary assistance. Honestly, is it the explosion at the nuclear plant that causes the most alarm, and the evacuation as far as 20 km away won’t be enough. The problem of the safety of the whole country is still uncertain, and the first few days after explosion are going to be the most dangerous ones.
One should have one’s heart in prayer
Nobody knows what will happen next. I know one thing, one is to have one’s heart in prayer, and I’m asking you, dear brothers and sisters, compatriots, do pray altogether for us sinners.
Prayers against earthquakes and for the salvation of the suffering
Pray to the Lord, pray to Our Merciful Mother Theotokos, pray to all the saints of God and the angels of heaven for calming of the elements. Now is the Triumph of Orthodoxy Sunday, so may Orthodox Christian prayer triumph in the heart of everyone lifting up their supplication to the throne of God.
Matushka Maria Matsushima reports from Japan:
Nagoya, where I live is all fine. But northern Japan suffered much.
Vladika Seraphim of Sendai called our Tokyo office by his cell phone and said that the cathedral in Sendai is safe, but he cannot contact the parishioners or find out what is the situation and damage of his diocese, as telephone and electricity stopped. There are many small churches and chapels there, and many brothers and sisters. Fr. Vasili is old and sick, living near coast.
The TV says that the Tsunami is still coming to the coasts. And earthquakes happen in the other areas. A nuclear power station has trouble, and people worry about the effects of radiation.
In Tokyo, Fr. John says in the Cathedral [Nikolaido], damage is not so big, some lampada glass and other items were broken. Still, aftershocks still continues.
Please add in your prayer the people who suffered in this disaster.
Donate to IOCC Japanese Relief here.
Brothers, divine Scripture calls to us saying: "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11; 18:14). In saying this, therefore, it shows us that every exaltation is a kind of pride, which the Prophet indicates he has shunned, saying, "Lord, my heart is not exalted; my eyes are not lifted up and I have not walked in the ways of the great nor gone after marvels beyond me" (Ps 130 :1). And why? "If I had not a humble spirit, but were exalted instead, then you would treat me like a weaned child on it’s mothers lap" (Ps 130 :2).
Accordingly, brothers, if we want to reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily that exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder on which Jacob in a dream saw "angels descending and ascending" (Gen 28:12). Without doubt, this descent and ascent can signify only that we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility. Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and if we humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven. We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine vocation has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend.
The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the "fear of God always before his eyes" (Ps 35 :2) and never forgets it. He must constantly remember everything God has commanded, keeping in mind that all who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and all who fear God have everlasting life awaiting them. While he guards himself at every moment from sins and vices of thought or tongue, of hand or foot, of self-will or bodily desire, let him recall that he is always seen by God in heaven, that his actions everywhere are in God’s sight and are reported by angels at every hour.
The Prophet indicates this to us when he shows that our thoughts are always present to God, saying: "God searches hearts and minds" (Ps 7:10); again he says: "The Lord knows the thoughts of men" (Ps 93 :11); likewise, "From afar you know my thoughts (Ps 138 :3); and The thought of man shall give you praise" (Ps 75 :11). That he may take care to avoid sinful thoughts, the virtuous brother must always say to himself: "I shall be blameless in his sight if I guard myself from my own wickedness" (Ps 17 :24).
Truly, we are forbidden to do our own will, for Scripture tells us: "Turn away from your desires" (Sir 18:30). And in the Prayer too we ask God that his "will be done" in us (Matt 6:10). We are rightly taught not to do our own will, since we dread what Scripture says: "There are ways which men call right that in the end plunge into the depths of hell" (Prov 16:25). Moreover, we fear what is said of those who ignore this: "They are corrupt and have become depraved in their desires" (Ps 13 :1).
As for the desires of the body, we must believe that God is always with us, for "All my desires are known to you" (Ps 37 :10), as the Prophet tells the Lord. We must ten be on guard against any base desire, because death is stationed near the gateway of pleasure. For this reason Scripture warns us, "Pursue not your lust" (Sir 18:30).
Accordingly, if "the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked" (Prov 15:3), if at all times "the Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see whether any understand and seek God" (Ps 13 :2); and if every day angels assigned to us report our deeds to the Lord day and night, then, brothers, we must be vigilant every hour or, as the Prophet says in the psalm, "God may observe us falling at some time into evil and so made worthless" (Ps 13 :2). After sparing us for a while because he is a loving father who waits for us to improve, he may tell us later, "This you did, and I said nothing" (Ps 49 :21).
The second step of humility is that a man loves not his own will nor takes pleasure in the satisfaction of his desires; rather he shall imitate by his actions that saying of the Lord: "I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me" (John 6:38). Similarly we read, “Consent merits punishment; constraint wins a crown.”
The third step of humility is that a man submits to his superior in all obedience for the love of God, imitating the Lord of whom the Apostle says: "He become obedient even to death" (Phil 2:8).
The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape. For Scripture has it: "Anyone who perseveres to the end will be saved" (Matt 10:22), and again, "Be brave of heart and rely on the Lord" (Ps 26 :14). Another passage shows how the faithful must endure everything, even contradiction, for the Lord’s sake, saying in the person of those who suffer, "For your sake we are put to death continually; we are regarded as sheep marked for slaughter" (Rom 8:36; Ps 43 :22). They are so confident in their expectation of reward from God that they continue joyfully and say, "But in all this we overcome because of him who so greatly loved us" (Rom 8:37). Elsewhere Scripture says: "O God, you have tested us, you have led us into a snare, you have placed afflictions on our backs" (Ps 65 :10-11). Then, to show that we ought to be under a superior, it adds: "You have placed men over our heads" (Ps 65 :12).
In truth, those who are patient amid hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling the Lord’s command: "When struck on one cheek, they turn the other; when deprived of their coat, they off their cloak also; when pressed into service for one mile, they go two" (Matt 5:39-41). With the Apostle Paul, they bear with false brothers, endure persecution and bless those who curse them (2 Cor 11:26; 1 Cor 4:12).
The fifth step of humility is that a man does not conceal from his abbot any sinful thoughts entering his heart, or any wrongs committed in secret, but confesses them humbly. Concerning this, Scripture exhorts us: "Make known your way to the Lord and hope in him" (Ps 36 :5). And again, "Confess to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy is forever" (Ps 105 :1; Ps 117 :1). So too the Prophet: "To you I have acknowledge my offense; my faults I have not concealed. I have said: Against myself I will report my faults to the Lord, and you have forgiven the wickedness of my heart" (Ps 31 :5).
The sixth step of humility is that a monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment, and regards himself as a poor and worthless workman in whatever task he is given, saying to himself with the Prophet: "I am insignificant and ignorant, no better than a beast before you, yet I am with you always" (Ps 72 :22-23).
The seventh step of humility is that a man not only admits with his tongue but is also convinced in his heart that he is inferior to all and of less value, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: "I am truly a worm, not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people" (Ps 21 :7). "I was exalted, then I was humbled and overcome with confusion" (Ps 87 :16). And again, "It is a blessing that you have humbled me so that I can learn your commandments" (Ps 118 :71, 73).
The eighth step of humility is that a monk does only what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery and the example set by his superiors.
The ninth step of humility is that a monk controls his tongue and remains silent, not speaking unless asked a question, for Scripture warns, "In a flood of words, you will not avoid sinning" (Prov 10:19), and, "A talkative man goes about aimlessly on earth" (Ps 139 :12).
The tenth step of humility is that he is not given to ready laughter, for it is written: "Only a fool raises his voice in laughter" (Sir 21:23).
The eleventh step of humility is that a monk speaks gently and without laughter, seriously and with becoming modesty, briefly and reasonably, but without raising his voice, as it is written: “A wise man is known by his few words.”
The twelfth step of humility is that a monk always manifests humility in his bearing no less than in his heart, so that it is evident at the Work of God, in the oratory, the monastery or the garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else. Whether he sits, walks or stands, his head must be bowed and his eyes cast down. Judging himself always guilty on account of his sins, he should consider that he is already at the fearful judgment, and constantly say in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said with downcast eyes: "Lord, I am a sinner, not worthy to look up to heaven" (Luke 18:13). And with the Prophet: "I am bowed down and humbled in every way" (Ps 37 :7-9; Ps 118 :107).
Now, therefore, after ascending all these steps of humility, the monk will quickly arrive at that "perfect love of God which casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). Through this love, all that he once performed with dread, he will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue. All this the Lord will by the Holy Spirit graciously manifest in his workman now cleansed of vices and sins.
– St. Benedict of Nursia, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English and Latin, Chapter 7.
March 12, 2011
The Church News Agency "Romfea.gr", spoke a moment ago to the former Metropolitan Atanasije of Herzegovina (Jevtic) of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The former Metropolitan Atanasije of Herzegovina through "Romfea.gr" replied to Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythera, who, in his message on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, wrote among other things:
"In the sensational 20th century there raged along with other heresies and falsehoods the pan-heresy of Ecumenism, which was criticized and condemned by the modern saint of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who was recently proclaimed a saint, St. Justin Popovich.
But unfortunately, today a variety of spiritual children of St. Justin - who proclaimed that the fall of humanity focuses on three individuals: Adam, Judas, and the Pope - not only do not embrace opposition to the pan-heresy of Ecumenism according to the remarks of their holy Spiritual Father, but will tolerate the defenestration and demotion of their virtuous confessor and Brother Bishop, who wars against Ecumenism, the Canonical Bishop of Raska and Prizren Artemije, without indictment, trial and defense, proceeding to joint prayers during the time of the Divine Liturgy and the Service of Artoklasia with the Papal Archbishop and Nuncio, who presumptuously comes forward with Orthodox bishops and clergy to bread blessed by the Patriarch of Serbs! What else shall we see ...."
Mr. Atanasije talking to the director of "Romfea.gr" Mr. Aimilio Polygeni, said: "Greetings Mr. Polygeni, good Sunday of Orthodoxy to you! I received the news that His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythera in his message for the Sunday of Orthodoxy refers to the lies of the defrocked Archimandrite Simeon Vilovski and the former Metropolitan Artemije of Raskoprizrenis."
"To what do you refer Your Eminence?"
"I refer to what Metropolitan Seraphim writes concerning Artemije being convicted and deposed without trial. These lies are spread by that defrocked one Simeon Vilovksi.
But Artemios shunned for four years to appear before the court of the Holy Synod. The Church does not force our government to force him to come to court. Canonically according to the 74th Apostolic Canon, after rejecting three committees he suffered the legal consequences for economic and other offenses.
Artemios spreads that he was not tried as he awaited trial in a State court. Now he has sued me on charges of falsehood and slander, but I will bring forward all the data that he lied."
"Your Eminence, are you talking about money? What do you mean?"
"Currently he has 38 monks and twelve nuns and he has formed a conventicle! With the money he took and has in banks in Greece, Switzerland and Serbia, he lead the Metropolis of Raska to be indebted one million euro.
With this money he buys land, apartments and houses, as in Belgrade he bought a floor and has a chapel, and the tenants complain.
The same was done in a village in the Metropolis of Zikis and he is now trying to invade Kosovo. Is man God to not forgive a brother, but he lies because he is not prosecuted for being an anti-ecumenist. We have other more serious problems.
Also, the Holy One of Kythera says St. Justin was betrayed by us his students, but I have to say that we have not betrayed him but he was betrayed by Artemije.
Father Justin criticized the Ecumenism between Rome and Geneva, but supported the Orthodox theanthropic Ecumenism which is the truth of Christ's Universality of the Church.
Artemije lies because Father Justin condemned pseudo-Ecumenism which he called a pan-heresy according to what Patriarch Germanos II (1230) said. We conduct a dialogue in truth as the then Patriarch.
The lies spread by the Holy One of Kythira does not serve Orthodoxy, and I am really sorry to say this on the Sunday of Orthodoxy!
Orthodoxy is truth and honesty, not lies and hypocrisy. Artemije does not know the Canons and he compares himself to St. John Chrysostom, which is megalomania unprecedented."
"Your Eminence, I was in Geneva and briefed by the Metropolitan of Montenegro that there will come to Greece a delegation of the Patriarchate to inform the people?"
"Absolutely, there will come to Greece a delegation of the Serbian Church to inform the people concerning the conviction of Artemije.
We cannot celebrate tomorrow the Sunday of Orthodoxy with lies. The Metropolitan of Kythera is a victim of the lies of Vilovksi, a fatal man of Artemije.
We spoke to him, we wrote him, even the late Patriarch Pavle spoke with him. Since 2006 we struggled to put things in order and nothing was accepted.
Artemije is not aware of the sacred Canons, he is not aware of the tradition and he raises the flag of pseudo-Orthodoxy like the zealots of Esphigmenou, unfortunately."
Translated by John Sanidopoulos
Abandoning true sacrifice cheapens Christianity.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald
March 13, 2011
This past Wednesday marked the start of Lent, the 40-day Christian season of fasting and sacrifice in preparation for Easter. Lent resembles the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, though with one big difference: Muslims actually take Ramadan seriously. American Christians talk about fasting and deprivation, but most practice nothing of the sort. For Christians in this country, self-denial makes life less pleasurable. So why do it?
The question goes to the heart of what’s happening to Christianity in America. Practitioners are purging the tradition of its sacrificial dimensions. We’re remaking it as a type of spiritual self-help whose effectiveness is measured by how well it entertains us and affirms what we already believe. Since Americans love parties and hate to do without, Christianity is evolving to deliver. The diminution of Lenten practices illustrates the trend and highlights what’s lost when religion becomes a consumer commodity.
To see how far we’ve come, let’s recall our roots. Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and other biblical figures used 40-day periods of self-denial to cultivate humility as they prepared to face major challenges. Lent itself began in the early fourth century during a time when Christians were being fiercely persecuted. Seeking divine strength in discipline, some ancient communities would fast during daylight hours for weeks. Others would eat a minimal diet – no meat, no dairy, scant oils – as the Orthodox still do today. Repentant prayer and alms-giving became other hallmarks of a serious season for pondering and practicing the costs of discipleship.
Today Lent is widely ignored in Christian America. Seasonal sacrifices, if observed at all, tend to be token. For Catholics, “abstaining” can now consist of sumptuous fish dinners on Fridays; even a Good Friday “fast” can include two small meals. Some Protestants conveniently eschew sacrifice altogether – if no one can earn divine favor, why bother? Still others bring a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, marked by promises to exercise daily or do without sweets for a few weeks. True deprivation is rare. As a pastor I know once told me, giving up something for Lent “is kind of a big joke.”
How did Christianity’s most serious season become a joke in this supposedly religious country? We let desire become our master, and desire has no use for sacrifice. For centuries, Christianity sought to temper primitive desire for addictive pleasures, dominance of neighbors, hoarding of resources, and other idols that ruin lives. But the broader culture has persuaded us to cut loose, to obey our lowest passions, lest they fester into perpetual frustration.
Now religion is desire’s handmaiden. Americans routinely quit churches that fail to please them. And churches, anxious to survive, vie to offer what congregations want: happy, clappy celebrations; entertaining multimedia shows; supportive gatherings of like-minded people. Meanwhile, they jettison the harder and more edifying parts of Christianity, such as practicing repentance, sharing in others’ sufferings, and observing Lent.
In purging self-denial from the tradition, American Christians play into the hands of corporate merchandisers, who hope we’ll spend more and more year-round to quench unquenchable desires. Yet the highest price we pay is spiritual. Self-denial for a season fosters humility. It blunts the insidious delusion of entitlement. It shapes compassion for the poor and hungry by raising at least a measure of awareness of their circumstances. It breeds courage as we tell our lowest desires: No, you are not my master. I answer to a higher authority. With God’s help, it opens a way for higher desires to take root – for the creation of a new heart, in biblical parlance. To trade the inherited wisdom of this way for the cheap platitudes of self-help therapy is costly indeed.
Strangely, Americans recognize the value of sacrifice in pursuing material goals, such as prosperity via education. Yet we tell ourselves that spiritual growth can be cost-free.
It’s time for American Christians to reclaim the power of their tradition. Lent is the right time to start. The season beckons Christians to grow in character and compassion by walking in their ancestors’ footprints. Sure, we have no desire to fast, pray, or give alms this month. But that’s exactly why we should.
Swampscott-based G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a minister and the author of "Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul".
Sunday, March 13, 2011
March 8, 2010
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
We will consider the difference between the Orthodox-Byzantine icon and the Western icon according to two specific models found in the West and in the East.
The western style of the icon, such as prevailed in the West during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, is best expressed in the paintings of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, which was painted in the 15th century by great artists, the most important of whom was Michelangelo.
Recently there was published a book which gives a new interpretation of the whole iconography of this church. This book is written by Professor Heinrich Pfeiffer, who tried to arrive at a theological interpretation of the iconography of the Sistine Chapel, the basis of which were the doctrines of Catholicism. It argues that in this work the choice of subjects, the details of the murals, the unity and harmony seen in the iconographic program, were not designed by the artists themselves, but by papal theologians at the time. On the subject of the Triune God, the iconography was based on the teachings of divine Augustine on the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.
It is remarkable that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel as a sculptor and painted biblical personages as statues, founding "spontaneously anthropocentrism and the rule of classical antiquity."
Characteristic is the appearance of Judgement, which was painted by Michelangelo. Christ is presented with his right hand raised in a movement of rage and the entire performance is affected by the movement of the right hand of the Judge. And as a researcher has noted, "for the first time an artist appointed by the Pope of the Roman Church gives an image of Christ that departs from the standard iconographic type and refers to a pagan deity." Perhaps here he wanted to express the absolute power of the pope throughout the world, being the vicar of Christ on earth.
Elder Sophronios, an Orthodox iconographer himself, when he visited the Sistine Chapel, wrote: "The soul is not available at all for prayer, but only for various artistic and philosophical reflections." Regarding the representation of Christ as Judge, he specifically wrote: "It's as if he is a 'champion athlete' hurling into the abyss of hell all those who dared to resist him. The gesture is 'vindictive', raw ... And I'm certain that it is not the authentic evangelical Christ."
How different things are in Orthodox iconography, as shown in the icon of the Second Coming of Christ, but also in the image of the Transfiguration of Christ and the Resurrection. Inside the Sistine Chapel they could not fit in the images of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection, and this is characteristic.
Let us reflect on the hagiography of another Michael, Michael Panselinos, in the Protaton of Mount Athos. These paintings have caught the attention of all scholars of art, but also of ordinary people. The Holy Community of Mount Athos has said that "the frescoes of the 'Great Church of Protaton' is the fruit and essence of the internal monastic and liturgical life of the Holy Mountain. In this visual treasure of our holy land, theological profundity, spiritual depth and a classical aesthetic, are a fruitful harmony of the compositions, the beauty of the forms and the brilliance of the colors." According to an expert opinion on art: "The murals of Protaton reflect a conscious shift and renewed interest in the Byzantine world in the classic ideal of the harmonious, however, it is coupled with the spirituality of the Christian society it represents."
Archimandrite Sophronios writes that Orthodox icon painters act on the basis of their personal experience. Some of them eliminate analogies and disfigure the human form in order to distract the praying mind from the earthly and lead it to heaven, and others with the icon want to express the union of created and uncreated. This latest case presupposes a theoptic experience.
The differences between Byzantine and Western icons are clear. The Byzantine icons show Christ in glory, but with a deep peace, approaching man with philanthropic and kenotic love. They are images of love, affection, tenderness. At the same time, Orthodox icons reflect the inwardness of man, the union of uncreated and created, the transfiguration of man from the uncreated Light which entered into human existence and issues out of the body into all creation. It surrounds the man who sees this with tenderness, affection and love. At the same time the cheerful Light issues out of Christ and sanctifies the whole creation.
Antithetically, there can be observed in the religious icons of the Western Renaissance the anthropocentric worldview of ancient Greek civilization, the confidence of man in himself, the rule of logic, power and pleasure, and the challenge of traditional values in that the art has an anti-metaphysical realistic character. In the West there is created a plastic icon based on humanistic experience and knowledge, which translates into a form that signals a renewal of faith in human powers and his mundane destiny. Western religious art which is naturalistic and humanistic is the humanization of dogma and has human passions in its sacred scenes.
Source: Excerpt translated by John Sanidopoulos
By Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos
FIRST SUNDAY of LENT
On the same day, the First Sunday of the Fast, we commemorate the restoration of the Holy and Precious Icons, which was brought about by the ever-memorable Emperors of Constantinople, Michael and his mother Theodora, during the Patriarchate of the Holy Confessor Methodios.
I rejoice, on seeing the Icons that were unworthily
Banished being accorded fitting veneration.
When Leo the Isaurian, from being a donkey-driver and a peasant, gained the scepters of the Empire, by God’s permission, our Father among the Saints Germanos, who governed the Church at that time, was immediately summoned by him and was told: “In my opinion, Master, the holy Icons do not differ in any way from idols; command, therefore, that they be removed from our midst; if they are true images of the Saints, let them be hung higher up, lest we who ever wallow in sins defile them by kissing them.” The Patriarch tried to dissuade the Emperor from such hatred, saying: “Do not do such a thing, O Emperor; for I hear that someone by the name of Conon is going to rage against the holy Icons.” “When I was still a child,” the Emperor replied, “that was my name.”
Since the Patriarch could not be persuaded to agree to the Emperor’s policy, he was sent into exile and replaced by Anastasios, who shared Leo’s views; thus was the latter emboldened to make war at that time against the holy Icons. It is said that this hatred for the Icons was first suggested to him by Jews; when he was poor and was making a living from donkey-driving with them, they had foretold by sorcery that he would ascend the imperial throne. After Leo died an evil death, Constantine Copronymos, the still more savage whelp that sprang from him, succeeded him as ruler, and even more, in his maniacal opposition to the holy Icons. And what need have we to say how many and what kind of evils the iniquitous man perpetrated? When Constantine died a still more horrible death, his son, Leo the Khazar, became his successor as Emperor. When he, too, died an evil death, his consort Irene and their son Constantine inherited the Empire. Guided by the most holy Patriarch Tarasios, they convened the Seventh OEcumenical Synod, and the Church of Christ received back the holy Icons. When they ceased to rule, Nikephoros, the Logothete of the Treasury, ascended to the throne, and then his son Stavrakios; after him reigned Michael Rangabe, and they both venerated the Divine Icons. Michael was succeeded by the bestial Leo the Armenian, who, corrupted through trickery by a certain impious recluse, stirred up the second wave of Iconoclasm, and once again the Church of God was deprived of her finery. Leo was succeeded by Michael the Amorian, and he in turn by his son Theophilos, who left the other devotees of Iconoclastic madness in second place.
It is said of this Theophilos, who had given many of the Holy Fathers over to outrageous torments and chastisements on account of the precious Icons, was keenly concerned about justice, that at one time he inquired whether there was anyone in the city who had harassed one of his fellow-citizens, and that, after many days had gone by, no one of this description was found.
After an autocratic reign of twelve years, he succumbed to dysentery, and, when he was about to die, his mouth opened up to such an extent that his entrails were visible deep inside. The Empress Theodora was greatly distressed over this incident; no sooner had she fallen asleep, than she beheld in a dream the immaculate Theotokos, holding the pre-eternal Infant in her arms, surrounded by shining Angels, and Theophilos, her husband, being scourged and rebuked by the Angels. When she awoke, Theophilos, recovering slightly, cried out: “Woe is me, the wretched one! I am being scourged on account of the holy Icons!” The Empress immediately placed the Icon of the Theotokos on him, beseeching her with tears. As for Theophilos, although he was in such a condition, when he saw one of those standing around wearing an Enkolpion, he grabbed it and kissed it, and at once, the mouth which had insolently raged against the Icons and the throat which was lying so wantonly open returned to their natural state. Theophilos, gaining respite from the violent pain that had gripped him, fell asleep, confessing that it is a good thing to honor and venerate the holy Icons. The Empress brought out the precious and holy Icons from her coffers and made Theophilos kiss and honor them wholeheartedly. After a short while, Theophilos reposed. Recalling all who were in exile or in prisons, Theodora bade them live in freedom, and John Grammatikos, nicknamed Jannes, who was more a mantiarch and demoniarch than a Patriarch, was deposed from the Patriarchal throne. Saint Methodios, the Confessor of Christ, who had previously suffered much and been confined alive in a tomb, ascended the throne.
This being the situation, a Divine visitation was made to Saint Ioannikios the Great, who dwelt on Mount Olympos; for the great ascetic Arsakios came to him, saying: “God sent me to you, so that we may go together to the most holy recluse Isaiah in Nicomedia and learn from him what is pleasing to God and fitting for His Church.” And indeed, they went to the most holy Isaiah and heard from him the following: “Thus says the Lord: Lo, the end has come for the enemies of Mine Icon; go, therefore, to the Empress Theodora and also to Patriarch Methodios and tell them this: ‘Curb all of the ungodly, and may you thus offer Me a sacrifice, together with the Angels, venerating the Icon of My countenance and that of the Cross.’”
On hearing this, they went straight to Constantinople and reported what they had been told to Patriarch Methodios and all the elect of God. After gathering together, they went to the Empress, and found her amenable in every way, for from her childhood she had been pious and God-loving. At once the Empress took out the Icon of the Theotokos that was hanging round her neck and kissed it in the sight of all, saying: “If anyone does not venerate and kiss these Icons out of love, according them relative honor, not worshipping them, and honoring them not as gods, but as Icons of their archetypes, let him be anathema.” They all rejoiced greatly. She in turn asked them to make supplication for her husband Theophilos. On seeing her faith, although they disowned Theophilos, they were nonetheless convinced. Saint Methodios assembled all the people, all the clergy, and the Hierarchs in the Great Church, and went there himself. Leading figures from Olympos, Saint Ioannikios the Great, Arsakios, and Navkratios, and also the disciples of Saint Theodore the Studite, the Confessor Theophanes the Branded, Michael Synkellos from the Holy City of Jerusalem, and very many others, made supplication to God all night long for Theophilos, all praying with tears and fervent entreaty; and they did this throughout the first week of the Fast. Empress Theodora did the same together with the women of the court and rest of the people.
This being so, Empress Theodora fell asleep at dawn on Friday, and it seemed to her that she was standing beside a large Cross and that certain men were traversing the road and creating a tumult, carrying various instruments of torture; in the midst of them, the Emperor Theophilos was being led in fetters, with his hands tied behind his back. On recognizing him, she followed after those who were leading him. When they reached the Bronze Gate, she saw there a Man of magnificent appearance, seated in front of the Icon of Christ, before Whom they placed Theophilos. Grasping His feet, the Empress entreated Him on behalf of the Emperor. Opening His mouth with reluctance, He said: “Great is your faith, O Lady; know, therefore, that on account of your tears and your faith, and also on account of the supplication and entreaty of My servants and My Priests, I am granting forgiveness to your husband, Theophilos.” He then said to those who were leading him away: “Release him and hand him over to his wife.” After receiving him, she departed, rejoicing; and at once she awoke. Such was the vision of Empress Theodora.
After the prayers and supplications for her husband had finished, Patriarch Methodios took a clean piece of parchment, and wrote on it the names of the heretical emperors, inserting that of Theophilos also, and placed them all beneath the Holy Table. On Friday, he, too, saw an awesome Angel entering the Great Church, who said to him: “Your entreaty has been heard, O Bishop, and Emperor Theophilos has obtained forgiveness. Henceforth, therefore, cease to trouble God about him.” Wishing to find out whether what he had seen in the vision was true, he descended from his throne. Taking the scroll, he unrolled it and—O the judgments of God!—found that the name of Theophilos had been completely erased by God.
On learning of this, the Empress rejoiced exceedingly and sent a message to the Patriarch that he should assemble all the people, with Relics of the Precious Cross and holy Icons, in the Great Church, so that the adornment of the holy Icons might be restored to the Church and that the wondrous miracle might be made known to all. And indeed, almost everyone assembled in the Church with candles, and the Empress arrived with her son. Starting from there, they all processed with the holy Icons, the Relics of the Precious Cross, and the Holy Gospel, until they reached a place called Milion, crying out: “Lord, have mercy.” Thereafter, they returned to the Church and celebrated the Divine Liturgy, the holy and venerable Icons having been put back in place by the aforementioned holy men. Those who were pious and right-believing were acclaimed, while the impious enemies of the Faith, who did not accept the veneration of the holy Icons, were denounced and consigned to anathema. These holy Confessors appointed that this sacred solemnity thenceforth be celebrated annually, lest we should ever fall again into such impiety.
O Thou Who art the exact Image of the Father, by the intercessions of Thy holy Confessors, have mercy on us. Amen.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
O Christ our God, begging forgiveness of our sins, we venerate your pure image O Good One. Of Your own will You condescended to ascend upon the Cross in the flesh and delivered those you created from the bondage of the enemy. Wherefore, thankfully we cry out: When You came to save the world You filled all things with joy, O our Savior.
Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The undepictable Word of the Father became depictable when He took flesh of you, O Theotokos; and when He had restored the defiled image to its ancient state, He suffused it with divine beauty. As for us, confessing our salvation, we record it in deed and word.
The first Sunday of Great Lent, since the 9th century, has been called “The Sunday of Orthodoxy.” This is due to the fact that on the first Sunday of Great Lent in the year 843, (a purely historical coincidence, having little to do with our journey to Pascha per se) the icons, frescoes, mosaics and other liturgical graphic art as well as relics were restored to the churches after nearly 95 years of iconoclasm between 730 and 843 (there was a respite of about 25 years in the middle).
Prior to the ninth century, Great Lent was primarily used for catechesis, especially for the preparation of catechumens for baptism. Sundays would present themes for their benefit and these themes were reflected in the Epistle and Gospel readings for the day. The first Sunday commemorated the Prophets, especially Moses, Aaron and Samuel; on this day, the catechumen would learn how they foreshadowed the coming of Christ.
Today, the Divine Liturgy contains elements of this tradition, especially in the readings chosen for the day: both the Epistle and the Gospel suggest that Christians, living in the time when the words of the prophets have been fulfilled, have access to greater things than the prophets could ever have imagined.
After speaking of the faith and sacrifices of the Old Testament righteous, the author of Hebrews concludes: “And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39-40).
The Alleluia verses are then chanted in Tone 4 (from Psalms 99:6; 34:17): "Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among them that call upon His Name." "They called upon the Lord, and He hearkened unto them."
The Gospel makes this real clear: it presents Jesus as the expectation of the prophets, the Messiah:
At that time, Jesus decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:45 -51).
At the deepest level, the focus of Great Lent was (and should still be) catechetical preparation of the catechumen for the Paschal Mystery of Baptism. Thus, the first and essential theme of the first Sunday of Great Lent is the proclamation that New Life in Christ comes after a long period of preparation. The Epistle and Gospel reading for Liturgy that day affirms — even promises — that the catechumens who are preparing themselves for Baptism at Pascha will behold great things: they will lay aside the Old Creation and embrace the New Creation; they will leave behind the Old Aeon and enter into the New Age; they will give up the kingdom of this world, replacing it with the Kingdom of which the Old Testament Righteous, by faith, experienced only as a foreshadowing. The catechumens (and all the faithful) will experience not in shadow but in truth. We are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses who urge us to throw off everything that weighs us down and clings to us. We will see the heavens open up and we will behold the Lord Jesus.
Now, when most Orthodox Christians are baptized as infants, and Christianity has entered the mainstream, the time of Great Lent means something else. Certainly the educational practice remains – it is, of course, always helpful to remind ourselves of the truths of our faith, because each time we encounter them, the more they penetrate our lives. But the themes have changed, they are now emphasizing different aspects of the Christian faith - as we find, for example, with the first Sunday of the Great Fast. It’s now the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and it celebrates the restoration of the icons in Hagia Sophia on Feb. 19, 842, issued by the Synod of Constantinople in 842 on that date, and declared, by that Synod, to be remembered every First Sunday of Lent. It was seen as the triumph of the true faith over heresy, because the veneration of images was not only allowed, but proclaimed, and those who wanted to explain why the practice is in accord with the Christian faith could do so without without fear of persecution. The veneration of the images became, itself, an image of Orthodoxy, for orthopraxis and orthodoxy are intricately linked: when one is rejected, how it is explained entails a rejection of the other. Unorthoprax iconoclasm was fueled by unorthodox Christology and Soteriology. It sponsored a gnostic understanding, not only of the incarnation, but of the Christian life, because, by its dictates, the physical could no longer be seen as united with the spiritual.
No one could describe the Word of the Father; but when he took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described, and restored the fallen image to its former beauty. We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and images (Kontakion, Sunday of Orthodoxy).
1. The Epistle and Gospel readings are done at the point in the Divine Liturgy prior to the dismissal prayers for the catechumens. This ended the Liturgy of the Word in which the catechumens could participate, while the Liturgy of the Faithful was exclusively for the baptized Christians.