Saint Nicholas the New was born of pious and virtuous parents. When he came of age he joined the Imperial Army, and with the rank of Duke he trained his soldiers to be brave and fearless warriors. His primary training however was to teach his soldiers to have faith in God, to pray, to not be unfair with anyone, and to seek strength in Christ in their battles against their enemies.
Saint Nicholas was sent by either the Iconoclast Emperor Leo the Isaurian in the 8th century or by the Orthodox Emperor Leo the Great in the 9th century to Larissa with his soldiers to fight against the Avars. When the Avars arrived in Thessaly they spread death and destruction in their barbaric wake. Fearing that he may lose his life and even more his soul, Nicholas withdrew to Vounena of Thessaly with twelve of his soldiers. In this area lived many ascetics with whom they lived ascetically in unceasing prayer, fasting and vigils. Eventually they were arrested by the Avars and Nicholas with his soldiers were massacred.
With promises and flattery they tried to persuade Nicholas to renounce his faith, but were unable to do so. After piercing him many times with his own spear, eventually they beheaded him. The Avars abandoned his body where they slaughtered him, but it was not discovered until many years later by a Duke Euphymianos of Thessaloniki and it was both fragrant and incorrupt. Euphymianos was a leper and had sought healing from many doctors, but in vain. He began to pray to many saints and gave much to the poor and needy hoping in God's mercy. He went to St. Demetrios in Thessaloniki and prayed there, then he went to St. Achilles in Larissa. In Larissa St. Achilles appeared to him and told him to go to Vounena to find the body of the martyr Nicholas, to wash in a nearby well, and to believe after this that he would receive his healing. Upon the discovery and washing, his leprosy was healed and he buried the holy body of the martyr. The same also built a chapel on this spot and named it after the Holy Martyr Nicholas.
The trees on which the Holy Martyr was tied and tortured give off a red liquid which is called by the faithful "Blood". This liquid has healing properties, especially working many wonders for those with skin problems and severe headaches. It begins to flow on the 8th of May every year, the day before the feast of the Saint, until the morning of the 9th (reports also indicate the liquid flows on May 22nd, which is the feast of the Saint according to the Old Calendar). The faithful gather there early on the 8th with bottles to gather this holy liquid. An all-night vigil takes place for the feast, and at 5:00 AM every year a buzz sound can be heard from the trees for about ten minutes. The gold and silver offerings surrounding his holy icon are a testimony to the many miracles this Saint has worked for the faithful. It should be noted also that the holy water near the church does not flow except on the feast of the Saint.
The relic of the Saint is kept devoutly in the Holy Church of Saint Nicholas the New in Thebes (of the district Tichi), in a silver inlaid chest. Even today his holy relic is fragrant and the grace of God remains on his body for the strengthening and healing of the faithful. Every Wednesday a Supplication Service is chanted to the Saint. The treasure chest was given by the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Mazarakis Vagion by the Abbess Eupraxia in a modest celebration on 10 December 2000. The skull of the Saint is in the church dedicated to his name on the island of Andros.
A Miracle of the Saint In 1943
It was October of 1943. The Germans were determined to spread death before leaving Thebes, leaving the district of Tachi deserted. They had been informed that hidden ammunition was there which insurgents were going to use against them. This was true. In the area where the bell tower is today, a storage space was filled with weapons and ammunition. The Germans ordered everyone to gather outside the church, especially requesting a list of men 16 years old and over, and anyone not present was to be executed on the spot.
Across from the unfortunate inhabitants, the firing squad was ready for the signal to send a hot bullet through the skulls of hungry bodies. Screening was done everywhere: in homes, warehouses and even underground. They even checked the church for ammunition. It should be noted that the massacres of Distomo (June 1943) and Prodromou (August 1943) had already taken place by the Germans, and they were ready to do the same here.
The entrance of the room where the ammunition was hidden was shut with a wooden door, which opened and closed with the smallest blow from the wind, prolonging the agony of the hopeless men. They watched the bloodthirsty officer reach that spot two and three times, but neither military intuition nor human curiosity made him look through the door.
Soon after the Nazi's left empty-handed. Tears of emotion poured from the eyes of all. The people lit candles, knelt and prayed, thanking Saint Nicholas for preventing the German officer from identifying the cluster and saving them from certain death. If it wasn't for this miracle, the last Sunday of October would not be a celebration in Thebes of a miracle, but a commemoration of a massacre.
The Service of Praise to St. Nicholas can be viewed here. From p. 81-100 many photos and icons can be seen.
The Supplication Service can be viewed here.
Απολυτίκιον. Ήχος α΄. Της ερήμου πολίτης.
Εξ Εώας εκλάμψας ως αστήρ ουρανόφωτος, Νικόλαε παμμάκαρ εν Βουνένοις ενήθλησας· διό και δοξασθείς παρά Χριστού, θαυμάτων αναβλύζεις δωρεάς, τοίς προστρέχουσι τη θεία σου αρωγή, Οσιομάρτυς ένδοξε. Δόξα τώ δεδωκότι σοι ισχύν, δόξα τώ σε στεφανώσαντι, δόξα τώ ενεργούντι διά σού, πάσιν ιάματα.
The "blood" which flows from the trees can be seen in this video:
Monday, May 9, 2011
Saint Nicholas the New was born of pious and virtuous parents. When he came of age he joined the Imperial Army, and with the rank of Duke he trained his soldiers to be brave and fearless warriors. His primary training however was to teach his soldiers to have faith in God, to pray, to not be unfair with anyone, and to seek strength in Christ in their battles against their enemies.
Saint Christopher the Martyr is the patron saint of Agrinio, where there are two churches built in his honor. The old church was founded in 1847 and the new one was founded in 1920 and consecrated in 1937.
The old church is found east of the city choked by the grove. This was the first parish of the village of Vrachori near Agrinio, as is evidenced by the location of the first cemetery of Agrinio near the church. The people of Vrachori chose to name their church after St. Christopher for the following reason.
Vrachori was known for producing an excellent quality tobacco. Most families lived off of tobacco. For this reason they greatly feared the hail which would fall in the Spring which would always come from the east and destroy the crops. For this reason they had to "shield" themselves from these eastern storms, hence the position of the old church.
But why St. Christopher?
In an eleventh century Life of St. Christopher, it is written that as the Saint was being led to his martyrdom, he lifted his hands and eyes to heaven and prayed: "Lord, since many sought me from the city or the country or the fields or whatever type of land, I pray Master that no disaster befall them, neither hail, nor anger, nor barren vine...protect their land."
This is how St. Christopher became the patron of Agrinio.
Years later, as people moved towards the center of the city, the old church on the outskirts of the city seemed remote, and it was too small to fit the needs of the growing population. For this reason a location was chosen for a new church in the city, in Triantafyllia, on three acres of land donated by Anastasios Rokas.
Work on the new church began in September of 1920 and the church was consecrated on 20 March 1938. A great feast to Saint Christopher is celebrated on May 9 annually.
The video below is from the feast in 2011. The first two photos below that are of the old church, while the two photos below that are of the new church.
May 8, 2011
Scotland Yard has identified the alleged mastermind behind a ring that has been stealing religious icons from churches and monasteries in Epirus and Thessaly which subsequently ended up at European auction houses.
According to the Greek authorities, police in Athens were informed of the identity of the mastermind, who is from Thessaly, by their British counterparts. The person has yet to be taken into custody, however, as his or her whereabouts are currently unknown.
The information that led to the ring leader’s identification was provided by a London gallery following the online identification of six Byzantine icons that the gallery was planning to sell. The icons were recently returned to the monasteries they belong to in the area of Ioannina, northern Greece. It is believed that the alleged ring leader had claimed the icons were family heirlooms from his father’s personal collection.
Besides the aforementioned relics, the London gallery has also handed over another 10 icons to the Greek Embassy in the British capital which have also been identified through photographs as having been stolen from monasteries in Epirus and Western Macedonia. Meanwhile, the gallery has removed another 60 icons from its Internet site that had been heading for auction and had been supplied by the illicit Greek dealer.
It appears, however, that the smuggling ring had been supplying various art spaces around Europe. Another nine Byzantine icons, all taken from churches and monasteries in Epirus and Grevena, were identified and seized at two auction houses based in Amsterdam.
The international search for the icons began after an electronic database of stolen Byzantine treasures was posted online by the former Ioannina prefecture.
Initially, Greek police located a number of works at secondhand stores in Athens, before extensive investigation in collaboration with Interpol led them to Berlin, London and Amsterdam.
According to sources, the police are confident that the information they have gathered will help them to smash the ring, which is believed to be behind the disappearance of hundreds of Byzantine icons and other religious objects, including pieces of icon screens and communion cups.
This is what makes the article posted below so interesting. It is written by a Protestant who is supporting a well-known and vocal atheist for his critique of Orthodox Christian theologian David Bentley Hart. Though the Orthodoxy of Hart is questionable based on his theology alone in his other writings, in this article is revealed his profound ignorance of the Old Testament with a reading of it that I have personally heard in a similar way by many an Orthodox theologian. It reveals the intellectual laziness many Orthodox demonstrate when confronted with difficult questions, and in the case of the Old Testament they dissect texts to make something literal into pure allegory. And a shameful, inconsistent and anti-patristic reading it is.
Read the post here.
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in a speech at the opening ceremony of the Church of St. Nicholas in Havana, Cuba (25 January 2004), stressed that the Orthodox Church has always highlighted their Saints. Having said several names who were declared saints recently, he went on to say:
"There are even those who through the unanimity of the Church are recognized as saints, even though the work of official recognition of their holiness has not yet been issued, such as Elders Paisios, Porphyrios and Ephraim, the compatriot of St. Nicholas the elder Iakovos of Evia, Philotheos Zervakos and so on. Around such personalities as these thousands of souls found peace, sweetness, joy and life. The elements of nature obeyed them. The animals reverenced them. Everyone and everything felt the love and the grace of the Holy Spirit residing in them. To gaze at them was to gaze at Christ. Their hands were hands of philanthropy. Their hearts were full of sacrificial love. Their minds were peaceful. Their phronema was holy. Their daily life was 'love, joy, peace, longsuffering, uprightness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance'. Many have benefitted from these genuine people of God a lot. They are our greatest benefactors. Their prayers dispelled the wills of Nations, brought the mercy and the help of God to the world, expelled unclean spirits, restored to health the sick, and solved insoluble problems of humanity."
Translated by John Sanidopoulos
- "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man." (Jesus in Matthew 15:19-20)
- "Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win." (Stephen King)
- "In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are." (Robert Louis Stevenson in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde")
- "The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There also is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there." (St. Macarius the Great in Homilies 43:7)
- "Within the heart is an unfathomable depth. There are reception rooms and bedchambers in it, doors and porches, and many offices and passages. In it is the workshop of righteousness and of wickedness. In it is death, in it is life.... The heart is Christ's palace... There Christ the King comes to take His rest, with the angels and the spirits of the saints, and He dwells there, walking within it and placing His kingdom there." (St. Macarius the Great in Homilies 15:32-33)
Sunday, May 8, 2011
By Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos
SUNDAY of THE MYRRH-BEARERS
On this day, the third Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Myrrh-Bearing women; and we also commemorate Joseph of Arimathæa, who was a secret disciple, and also Nicodemos, who was a disciple by night.
The women disciples bring myrrh unto Christ.
And I bring a hymn as it were myrrh unto them?
Of these Saints, the women were the first and unerring witnesses of the Resurrection of Christ, while Joseph and Nicodemos were witnesses of His burial, which are the primary and most essential elements of our dogmatic teaching. For Nicodemos was expelled from the synagogue as soon as he decided to part company with the Jews, while Joseph, after burying the Lord’s body, was cast by the Jews into a pit, from which he was snatched up by Divine power and brought to Arimathæa, his homeland. After arising, Christ appeared to him while he was still in fetters, and gave him greater assurance of the mystery of the Resurrection. Although Joseph suffered greatly at the hands of the Jews, he was no longer able to keep silent about this mystery, but boldly recounted to everyone what had happened. It is said of Nicodemos that, by virtue of his writings, he was the first to explain in detail the events surrounding the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, because, coming from the synagogue, he was better informed about the schemes and deliberations of the Jews, and, in short, he knew everything about them. And because, as we have said, Joseph and Nicodemos were reliable witnesses of the Lord’s burial, they were ranked together with the women who beheld the Resurrection.
These women were the first to behold the Resurrection, and it was they who announced the glad tidings to the Disciples; for it was fitting that the sex which had first fallen to sin and had inherited the curse should be the first to behold the Resurrection and to hear the joyous greeting, having formerly heard the words: “in pain thou shalt bring forth children.” They were called Myrrh-Bearers, because Joseph and Nicodemos, being in a hurry to bury the body of the Lord on the Friday, since the next day was the great day of the Sabbath, anointed it according to Jewish custom, but not as they ought to have done; they only anointed it with aloes and spices, wrapped it in a winding-sheet, and committed it to the grave; for this reason, having an ardent love for Christ, as disciples of His, these women purchased costly myrrh and came by night, both for fear of the Jews and because the Law permitted them to mourn earlier in the day and to anoint the body, thereby making up for a deficiency that had been due to pressure of time. When they arrived at the tomb, they saw different sights: the two shining Angels inside the tomb, and the other sitting on the stone; after this, they beheld Christ and worshipped Him; St. Mary Magdalene asked Him about Himself as if He were the gardener.
Many were the Myrrh-Bearers, but the Evangelists mentioned only the important ones, leaving the others aside. First of them all was Mary Magdalene, from whom Christ had cast out seven demons; after the Ascension of Christ, she went to Rome, as the story has it, and delivered Pilate and the High Priests to an evil death, after relating to the Emperor Tiberius the events surrounding Christ; she later reposed in Ephesus and was buried by St. John the Theologian; her Relics were translated to Constantinople by Emperor Leo the Wise. The second was Salome, who was a daughter of St. Joseph the Betrothed and whose husband was Zebedee; she gave birth to St. John the Evangelist and St. James. For Joseph had begotten four sons: James, called the Less, Joses, Simon, and Jude; and three daughters: Esther, Thamar, and Salome, the wife of Zebedee. Hence, when you hear in the Gospel about Mary, the mother of James the Less and Joses, keep in mind that she is the Theotokos; for the Theotokos was reckoned to be the mother of the sons of Joseph, and, as it turns out, St. John the Evangelist was a nephew of Christ, since he was the son of a sister. The third of the Myrrh-Bearers was Joanna, the wife of Chuza, the administrator and steward of King Herod’s household. The fourth and the fifth were Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. The sixth was Mary, the wife of Clopas, whom some call Cleopas. The seventh was Susanna. And there were very many others, as the Divine Luke records, who supported Christ and His Disciples from their own resources.
Because these women proclaimed the Resurrection and contributed greatly to assuring us, with utter certainty, of Christ’s Resurrection, the Church of God received the tradition of celebrating them after St. Thomas, for they were the first to see Christ risen from the dead, preached the message of salvation to all, and most excellently pursued the life according to Christ and as befitted women who were disciples of Christ.
By the intercessions of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers, O God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Apolytikion in the Second Tone
When Thou didst descend unto death, O Life Immortal, then didst Thou slay Hades with the lightning of Thy Divinity. And when Thou didst also raise the dead out of the nethermost depths, all the powers in the Heavens cried out: O Life-giver, Christ our God, glory be to Thee. Glory... The noble Joseph, taking Thine immaculate Body down from the Tree, and having wrapped It in pure linen and spices, laid It for burial in a new tomb. But on the third day Thou didst arise, O Lord, granting great mercy to the world. Both now... Unto the myrrh-bearing women did the Angel cry out as he stood by the grave: Myrrh oils are meet for the dead, but Christ hath proved to be a stranger to corruption. But cry out: The Lord is risen, granting great mercy to the world.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
When you said to the Myrrh-bearers, "Rejoice!", O Christ our God, You ended, by Your Resurrection, the lament of Eve, the first mother. And, You commanded Your Apostles to proclaim, "The Savior has risen from the grave."
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Written By Saint Anthusa For Her Son, Saint John Chrysostom
'A faithful friend is an elixir of life' (Ecclesiasticus 6.16).
'A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter' (Ecclesiasticus 6.14).
For what would a genuine friend not do? what pleasure would he not create for us? what benefit? what safety?2 Though you were to name a thousand treasures, there is nothing comparable to a real friend.
First let us say how much pleasure friendship brings. A friend is bright with joy, and overflows when he sees his friend. He is united to him in a union having a certain ineffable pleasure of the soul. If he merely thinks of him, he rises and is carried upwards in his mind. I speak of genuine friends, who are of one accord, of those who would choose to die for their friends, of those who love warmly. Do not imagine that you can refute what I say with the example of those who love lightly, or who lunch with you, [lit. 'who are sharers of your table', Ecclesiasticus 6.10], or with whom you have a nodding acquaintance. If any one has a friend such as I describe, he will understand my words; and, though he should see his friend every day, it is not often enough for him. He makes the same prayers for his friend as for himself. I know a certain man, who, when asking for the prayers of a holy man on behalf of his friend, asks him to pray first for the friend and then for himself.
A true friend is such that places and times are loved on his account. For, as shining objects shed a lustre upon the adjoining places, even so friends impart their own grace to the places they have been. And oftentimes, when standing in those places without our friends, we have wept and groaned, remembering the days when we were there together.
It is not possible to express in language the pleasure which the presence of friends causes, but only those who have experienced it know. One can ask a favour, and receive a favour, from a friend without suspicion. When they make a request of us, we are grateful to them; but when they are slow to ask, then we are sad. We have nothing which is not theirs. Often, though despising all earthly things, nevertheless, on their account, we do not wish to depart from this life; and they are more desirable to us than the light. Yes, indeed, a friend is more desirable than the light itself. (I speak of the genuine friend.) And do not object; for it would be better for us for the sun to be extinguished than to be deprived of friends. It would be better to live in darkness than to be without friends. And how can I say this? Because many who see the sun are in darkness. But those who are rich in friends could never be in tribulation. I speak of the spiritual friends who set nothing above friendship. Such was Paul, who would willingly have given his own soul, without having been asked, and would have willingly fallen into Hell for his brethren (Romans 9.3). With so burning an affection is it proper to love. Take this as an example of friendship. Friends surpass fathers and sons, that is, friends according to Christ.
Friendship is a great thing, and how great, no one could learn by study, nor by any words of explanation, but only by the experience itself. For the absence of love has brought heresies, it causes the heathens to be heathens. He who loves does not wish to command nor to rule, but he feels more grateful being subject and being commanded. He wishes to confer favours rather than to receive them, for he loves, and feels as if he had not gratified his desire. He is not so much delighted at experiencing kindness as at doing kindness. For he prefers to hold his friend bound to him, rather than he should be indebted to his friend: or, rather, he wishes to be indebted to him, and also to have him as a debtor. He wishes to confer favours, and not to seem to confer favours, but to be his debtor.
When friendship does not exist, we embarrass with our services those whom we serve, and we exaggerate small things. But when friendship does exist, we conceal the services and we also wish to make great things appear small, in order that we may not seem to have our friend as a debtor, but that we ourselves may appear to be debtors to him while actually he is our debtor. I know that many do not understand this, but the reason is that I discourse of a heavenly thing. It is as if I spoke of some plant growing in India, of which no one had experience. Language could not represent it, although I were to utter ten thousand words. Even so now; whatever I may say, I shall speak in vain. For no one will be able to represent it. This plant has been planted in Heaven, having its branches loaded, not with pearls, but with abundant life, which is much more pleasing than pearls.
But what kind of pleasure do you wish to speak of? Is it of disgraceful pleasure, or of virtuous pleasure? Now the sweetness of friendship exceeds all other pleasures. You might mention the sweetness of honey, except that honey can become cloying, and a friend never does (so long as he is a friend); the desire is rather increased the more it is gratified, and this pleasure can never leave us sated. A friend is sweeter than the present life. Therefore, many have not wished to live any longer after the death of their friends. With a friend anyone could willingly endure banishment; but without a friend no one would choose to inhabit even his own country. With a friend even poverty is bearable, but without him health and wealth are unbearable.
To have a friend is to have another self; it is concord and harmony, which nothing can equal. In this, one is the equivalent of many. For if two, or ten, are united, none of them is merely one any longer, but each of them has the ability and value of ten; and you will find the one in the ten, and the ten in the one. If they have an enemy, attacking not one, but ten, he is defeated, for he is struck, not by one, but by ten . Has one fallen into want? Still he is not desolate; for he prospers in his greater part; that is to say in the nine, and the needy part is protected; that is, the smaller part by that which prospers. Each one of them has twenty hands, and twenty eyes, and as many feet. For he sees not with his own eyes alone, but with those of others; he walks not with his own feet, but with those of others; he works not with his own hands, but with those of others. He has ten souls, for he alone is not concerned about himself, but those other nine souls are concerned about him. And if they are a hundred, the same thing will take place again, power will be increased.
See the excellence of godly love! How it causes one individual to be unconquerable and equal to many. How the one person can be in different places. How the same person may thus be in Persia and in Rome, and how what nature cannot do, love can do. For one part of the man will be there, and one part here; or rather, he will be altogether there and altogether here. Or if he have a thousand friends, or two thousand, think to what a pitch his power will advance. Do you see how productive a thing love is? For this is a wonderful thing: to make the individual a thousand-fold. So the question is, why do we not take possession of this strength, and place ourselves in safety? This is better than all power and virtue. This is more than health, more than the light of day itself. And it is a joy. How long shall we confine our love to one or two?
Learn from considering the opposite. Suppose there were someone who had no friend -- a thing which is of the utmost folly. ("A fool will say, 'I have no friend'" [Ecclesiasticus 20.16].) What kind of life does such a person live? For even if he were rich a thousand times over; even if he were to live in abundance and luxury, and possess a multitude of good things, he is absolutely destitute and naked. But in the case of friends this is not so; but even if they are poor, they are better provided than the rich; and what a man will not venture to say for himself, a friend will say for him. And the things which he is unable to grant by himself, those he can grant through another, and much more, and thus he will be to us a cause of all pleasure and enjoyment. For it is impossible that he should suffer hurt, being protected by so many bodyguards. Not even the Emperor's bodyguards are as careful as one's friends; for the former guard through fear of discipline, but the latter through love. And love is much more commanding than fear. Indeed, a king may fear his guards; but the friend trusts to them more than to himself and, because of them, fears none of those who plot against him.
Let us, therefore, procure for ourselves this commodity -- the poor man, that he may have a consolation of his poverty; the rich man, in order that he may possess his riches in safety; the ruler that he may rule with safety; the subject, that he may have well-disposed rulers.
Friendship is an occasion of benevolence and a source of clemency. Even among beasts, the most savage and intractable are those which do not herd together. Therefore we inhabit cities and we hold markets, that we may have intercourse with each other. This also Paul commanded, when he forbade 'neglecting to meet together' (Hebrews 10.25). For there is nothing so bad as solitude, and the absence of society and of access to others.
What about monks, then, one might ask, and those who live as hermits on tops of mountains? They are not without friends. They have fled from the tumult of the marketplace, but they have many of one accord with them, and are closely bound to each other in Christ. And it was in order that they might accomplish this that they withdrew. For, since the zeal of business leads to many disputes, they have left the world to cultivate godly love with great strictness. The sceptic then might say: What? If a man is alone, may he also have friends? I, indeed, would wish, if it were possible, that we were all able to live together; but, in the meantime, let friendship remain unmoved. For it is not the place that makes the friend. Furthermore, the monks have many who admire them; but no one would admire unless they loved. Also, the monks pray for the entire world, which is the greatest evidence of friendship.
For the same reason we embrace each other in the Divine Liturgy; in order that being many, we may become one. And we make common prayer for the uninitiated, for the sick, for the fruits of the earth, and for travellers by land and by sea. Behold the strength of love in the prayers, in the holy mysteries, in the preaching. This is the cause of all good things. If we apply ourselves with due care to these precepts, we shall both administer present things well and obtain the Kingdom.
The ardor and continual love of the Holy Myrrhbearers for the Lord also serves as an example for our love for Him. By the example of the holy women, we also should strengthen in our hearts the true self-denying love for our Savior. Even the strength of our love for Him should be like those, as the holy Apostle says, that nothing could separate us from Him, neither things present nor things to come, neither life nor death, neither angels nor men (Rom. 8:38-39). Besides this, in the example of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women the Holy Church presents a spiritual healing for all Christians tempted with sorrows, leading to depression. Like the holy women, wounded with fierce grief during the scene of their Lord and Savior, crucified on the cross and buried in a tomb, however searched for unique comfort in that tomb where all their happiness and life were hidden and found this desired comfort, so it is that each Christian soul should seek consolation in the sorrows and grief at the tomb and cross of the Savior.
Together with this, the life and labors of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women themselves represent an example of the true-Christian pursuit of the Christian woman. Her calling on earth is to privilege a life of the heart in all its lawful displays. An example of the Holy Myrrhbearers and the contemporary Christian woman is likewise called to serve the indigent from their means, to ease the situation of the disabled by their labor, comfort the sorrowful and the sick and, to care "not for the beauty of the body, not for the external braiding of the hair, not about gold finery and elegance in clothes, but about the secret heart of the person in the incorruptible beauty of the gentle and taciturn spirit, that is precious before God" (l Pet. 3:З-4; 1 Tim. 2:9-12), i.e. about the development and improvement in the Christian spirit of internal spiritual qualities, especially of the good and loving heart.
Source: Rukovodstvo dlia Seljskikh Pastirej (Manual for Village Pastors) 1892, 15; Smolenskiia Eparkhialniia Vestnik (Smolensk Diocesan Messenger), 1891, 9).
The Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God appeared in the year 1470 in the vicinity of Zhirovits on the Grodnensk frontier. In the forest, belonging to the Orthodox Lithuanian dignitary Alexander Solton, shepherds beheld an extraordinarily bright light, while peering through the branches of a pear tree that stood over a brook at the foot of a hill. The shepherds came closer and saw a radiant icon of the Mother of God on the tree. With reverence, the shepherds took the icon to Alexander Solton. Alexander Solton did not pay any attention to the report of the shepherds, but he took the icon and placed it in a chest.
On the following day Solton had guests, and he wanted to show them what had been found. To his amazement, he did not find the icon in the chest, although he had seen it shortly before this. After a certain time the shepherds again found the icon in the same place, and again they brought it to Alexander Solton. This time, however, he received the icon with great reverence and vowed to build a church in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos at the place of the icon's discovery. Around the wooden church a settlement soon gathered and a parish was formed.
Around the year 1520 the church was completely burned, despite the efforts of the inhabitants to extinguish the blaze and save the icon. Everyone thought that the icon had been destroyed. However, some peasant children returning from school beheld a miraculous vision. The Virgin, extraordinarily beautiful and radiant, sat upon a stone at the burned church, and in Her hands was the icon which everyone believed had been destroyed. The children did not dare approach Her, but they hastened to tell their relatives and acquaintances about the vision.
Everyone accepted the story about the vision as a divine revelation and they went to the hill with the priest.The Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God, totally unharmed by the fire, stood on a stone with a burning candle before it. For awhile they placed the icon in the priest's house, and the stone was fenced in. When they built a stone church, they placed the wonderworking icon there. A men's monastery later grew up around the church. Its brethren headed the struggle for Orthodoxy against the Unia and Latinism.
In 1609, the monastery was seized by the Uniates and remained in their hands until 1839. During this time the Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God was venerated by both Uniates and Catholics. In 1839, the monastery was returned to the Orthodox and became the first place where Orthodox services were restored on the West Russian frontier.
During the First World War, they brought the Zhirovits Icon of the Mother of God to Moscow, and at the beginning of the 1920s it was returned to the monastery. At present it is in the Dormition cathedral of the Zhirovits monastery, Minsk diocese, and it is deeply revered for its grace-filled help. The icon was carved in stone and measured 43x56 cm.
May 7, 2011
The Times Leader
St. Alexis brought the power of communication to the Wyoming Valley when he became the first priest of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre more than a century ago.
The 102nd anniversary of the Repose (death) of St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre will be observed today, with Bishop Tikhon, of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania of the Orthodox Church in America, as a main celebrant.
It was the power of the written word that helped bring St. Alexis’ Austrian-Hungarian people, who came to the Wyoming Valley to find work in the mines and mills, together to a religious welcoming not only in the Wyoming Valley but also in North America.
“He came to America, and there was no bishop for the Eastern Rite,” said the Rev. Martin Browne, of St. John’s Orthodox Church, Edwardsville, who will lecture on the life and history of St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre at today’s service. “This was the late 1870s, and at that time people were talking about how American the church shall be.”
At this point, St. Alexis was working with immigrants in Minneapolis, Minn. Browne said this was the first step in St. Alexis’ duties in America, known officially as Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, Confessor and Defender of Orthodoxy in America.
“The consensus is, by his efforts, 15,000 people came into the Orthodox Church in 18 years. That’s nearly 1,000 new members a year,” said Rev. Browne.
He didn’t just do his duties in Wilkes-Barre. From the Midwest states through the New England states, he spread and professed the faith at “a great personal cost.”
“He suffered by virtue of becoming. There was a lot of name-calling and accusations made against him, and that gave him the title of confessor after suffering for his faith,” said Browne. “He defended the church, therefore giving him the name ‘defender’ of the faith in his name.”
The service will start at the main altar, where the liturgy is celebrated, and reliquary that holds a relic of St. Alexis will be used during a song or prayer. He was a mitered arch priest, which was the highest level of priesthood before becoming a bishop.
“They (his altar and relic) provide a physical connection and manifest his connection in a physical way. As a sign of respect and love, the hymn will be sung before his essence.” Browne said.
“This event is a way to localize the day of prayer for saints, but because he is one who is here in our midst, this is a special feast.”
St. Alexis was canonized in 1994. Every year since, the church has celebrated this day as its feast day. To Browne’s knowledge, St. Alexis is the only Orthodox saint from Wilkes-Barre.
From Russia, with Love
Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion offers evangelicals more than an olive branch.
Timothy C. Morgan
May 5, 2011
Hilarion Alfeyev, the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, located 80 miles northwest of Moscow, has a very big job. As head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion is responsible for talking to global Christianity on behalf of the 150 million people in Russian Orthodoxy worldwide.
Given his gift for languages, Hilarion arose as an easy pick for the job by Russian Patriarch Kirill. This year, the Russian-American Institute, a faith-based educational and support organization (formerly the Russian-American Christian University), helped Hilarion interact with a cross-section of evangelicals around the United States for the first time. Christianity Today deputy managing editor Timothy C. Morgan interviewed Hilarion while he was in Washington, D.C.
What's the purpose of your trip?
To establish contacts and to find common positions. Often we are in circles in our own ecclesiastical environment and don't communicate with those who might be our allies.
With regard to evangelical leaders, until recently we didn't have any systematic collaboration or dialogue or conversation. Many evangelicals share conservative positions with us on such issues as abortion, the family, and marriage.
Do you want vigorous grassroots engagement between Orthodox and evangelicals?
Yes, on problems, for example, like the destruction of the family. Many marriages are split. Many families have either one child or no child.
There are many incomplete families, not to speak of various homosexual unions, which are equated with the family. This completely changes the whole picture of human relationships. It directly affects the future of many nations. The sign of a spiritually healthy nation is that it expands—it grows. If it shrinks, it is a very clear sign of unhealthiness.
There is a perception that religious freedom is declining in Russia. Is the perception true?
It's a completely wrong perception. We have to ask what we mean by religious freedom. If it's a freedom for the sects, including dangerous sects, to buy time on television and to propagate their ideas, then I think we no longer have the freedom that existed in the beginning of the 1990s. But I think freedom was sometimes not used in a proper way. For example, I remember how every morning Shoka Asahara would preach on Russian television. He was later condemned to death in Japan for organizing a terrorist attack in the Tokyo underground.
With regards to traditional churches and religions: They have complete freedom of action. There is the law on the freedom of conscience, which makes a subtle distinction between traditional churches and religions that never existed in Russia. Religious communities are given a 15-year probationary period precisely for the reasons I described. They can act freely during this period. They can organize services. They can publish literature. They can do missionary activities. But they are not registered with the juridical status. After 15 years, they can be registered.
Is it the government's role to regulate minority groups like Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Scientology? Or should the Russian Orthodox Church have influence there?
We should have some influence in this process, and we have a mechanism of dialogue within our government. For example, there is the interreligious advisory council to the Russian president. This includes representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Protestants, Islamic leaders, Jews, Buddhists, and others, who gather on a regular basis. One of their tasks is to monitor the development of religious freedom. They can give advice, if asked, to the president or to the government about how to deal with various sectarian movements and so-called new religious movements. Of course, they have only advisory status.
What about the activity of Christian groups coming into Russia, setting up shop, and trying to reach people who have not heard the gospel?
In many cases, the activity of foreign missionaries in Russia might be profitable to people, because there are many social problems. But whoever comes with missionary purposes to our country must first learn our history, our tradition, and see how to correlate with the existing Christian churches. We distinguish between mission and proselytism. Mission, for example, is when you go to a foreign country where Christianity was not preached and you preach Christ. But when you come to a country where there is an established church that has existed for centuries, then you have to respect it. Ideally you have to come into contact with her and work together with her. Such work brings very positive fruits.
Generally after the election of Patriarch Kirill, the ecumenical climate and inter-Orthodox climate changed drastically. He made a direct appeal to the Patriarch of Constantinople to come to work together on various issues that are still dividing us, to come to a new type of relationship built on mutual trust rather than competition. And I think so far it's worked well.
How do you describe the model for church-state relations in Russia, and how could it be improved?
I don't represent the Russian Federation. I represent the Russian Orthodox Church, which includes other countries—Ukraine, Moldova, Belorussia, Kazakhstan. And in each of these states, the model of coexistence between the church and the state differs.
Our relations with the Russian political authorities are now based on two principles.
One principle is the separation of the church from the state, a mutual noninterference in internal affairs. This means that the government doesn't interfere with our life. And, we do not interfere with political processes. For example, we do not and cannot support one particular party against another party; we cannot say that this party is ours and this party is not ours, because we have to be inclusive. We are prepared to include members of all political orientations, except for extremists. And this is why, for example, some members of the Communist Party are Orthodox believers. This was not possible 20 or 30 years ago.
The other basic principle is collaboration. We build our relationship with the state to collaborate in those areas that are related to people's lives, and where such collaboration is necessary and welcome. For example, on all the issues I mentioned—family, demographics, education—we have a constant dialogue with the government in order to assist each other and people in their daily lives.
For example, the demographic crises cannot be addressed only from an economic or social point of view. They have to be addressed also from the spiritual point of view; we cannot change the declining demographic unless we address it from different angles, unless the whole society and all healthy forces of the society are involved. And this includes the government. If we succeed in creating an alliance between at least four pillars of society—politics, education, the church, and mass media—then we can change this tendency.
Do you believe the government is staying within the boundaries?
Yes. We don't feel any pressure coming from the political authorities.
How do you view Russia's Soviet period? Some say church leaders made the wrong choices in that difficult time.
Well, when I became a priest, the Soviet Union was still in existence. I didn't live in the time of the severe persecutions, when the church was being exterminated, when priests and bishops were killed or imprisoned or sent into exile, when churches were ruined, monasteries closed. But I started my ministry in the time when the church was still under very strict control by the state, and I remember how difficult it was for Christians to be Christians on a daily basis. Many were hidden Christians.
What insight do you draw from that period?
Some people say that the church made wrong choices. I don't think this was the case, because the church had to exist under the conditions that were set without consulting her.
This was the same situation that existed in the first centuries of Christianity. For example, we read how the early fathers tried to prove that they were loyal citizens of the Roman Empire in spite of its pagan character. Addressing the pagans, they said, "We do not bow to the emperor's statues, because this is not allowed by our tradition, but we pay honor to him in all other respects, and we are loyal citizens of the state." This is what the Russian Orthodox Church from the time of Patriarch Tikhon on tried to tell the Soviet authorities, that a person can be a believer and at the same time be a loyal citizen of the state. Of course, the situation of total control of church life by the Communist regime was a very unhealthy situation. But this was the only situation in which the church could live.
Sometimes official representatives of the church had to pay the price in order for the church to exist. For example, in the 1960s and '70s, the church was heavily involved in ecumenical activities, in what were called peacemaking activities. Representatives of the church went abroad. They engaged in various meetings, for example, dedicated to disarmament. If asked whether there were persecutions of the church in Russia, they strongly denied it. But in exchange, the church had the possibility to exist. Theological seminaries functioned. Monasteries functioned.
A choice between two evils—is that how you would describe it?
It was a choice between two evils.
What role can the Russian Orthodox Church play in world evangelization?
Christ created his church not just for private use but also for missionary purposes, and the church has a missionary imperative that must be embodied in the concrete forms of preaching and evangelizing.
Some say you can be a practicing Christian in your home and your family, but you should in no way exhibit your Christian commitments in your public life, especially if you are a politician. I believe that a Christian should be a Christian everywhere. And if he is a Christian and a politician at the same time, then his political agenda should be motivated by Christian values.
In our country, some people say the church exists in order to provide certain services to people when they need them: to baptize children, to marry couples, to organize funerals, and to do services in the church.
I believe that the role of the church is much more inclusive. For example, very often nowadays our church will publicly express positions on what's happening in the country.
Some people ask, "Why does the church interfere? It's not their business." We believe that the church can express its opinion on all aspects of human life. We do not impose our opinions on the people, but we should be free to express them. And people will have to choose whether to follow or not to follow, whether to listen to what we say or to ignore it.
Church leaders worldwide are challenged by secularism and Islam. Which do you see as a greater threat to global Christianity?
If we speak about Islam (and of course if we mean moderate Islam), then I believe there is the possibility of peaceful coexistence between Islam and Christianity. This is what we have had in Russia for centuries, because Russian Islam has a very long tradition. But we never had religious wars. Nowadays we have a good system of collaboration between Christian denominations and Islam.
The picture is different in many other countries, and recently, even the European Parliament publicly recognized that Christians are persecuted and discriminated against in many countries, including in Islamic countries. This is a problem we have to address. Yet I believe that on many essential points, especially in many aspects of moral teaching, Christianity and Islam are allies, and we can cooperate in those fields.
Secularism is dangerous because it destroys human life. It destroys essential notions related to human life, such as the family. One can argue about the role of the church. One can even argue about the existence of God; we cannot prove that God exists to those who don't want to believe that God exists. But when the difference in the world outlook touches very basic notions such as family, it no longer has to do with theological truths; it has to do with anthropological issues. And our debate with secularism is not about theology; it's about anthropology. It's about the present and the future of the human race. And here we disagree with atheist secularism in some areas very strongly, and we believe that it destroys something very essential about human life.
What is the way forward to address secularism?
We should be engaged in a very honest and direct conversation with representatives of secular ideology. And of course when I speak of secular ideology, I mean here primarily atheist ideology.
Of course, one has to distinguish between those representatives of secularism who are atheists and those who are believers, because some of them are believers. And here there is another problem: the influence of secularism on contemporary Christianity, the problem of liberalization of theological and moral standards within many Protestant communities.
But if we speak about atheist secularism, we must have a dialogue with these people, and we must say to them that of course you have the right to believe in what you believe, but we also have the right to believe in what we believe. And we have the right to teach people and to openly proclaim our system of values. There should be no ideological monopoly of secularism in contemporary society. This is one of the themes, maybe the main theme, of our dialogue with the European political structures.
Saint Ephraim the Newly-Revealed was celebrated on May 5th for the first time officially at his monastery in Nea Makri, which is the place he was martyred centuries ago and revealed himself only 60 years ago. When St. Ephraim was a monk at this ancient monastery, it was known as the Monastery of the Annunciation of the Theotokos of Amomon Mountain.
Metropolitan Eusebios of Samos gave a homily, and said: "Saint Ephraim, by his wondrous appearance, assures us that the Lord God lives." He went on to say: "Let us have Saint Ephraim as a model for our own lives and example to follow. Let us be jealous of his faith, walk the path of his confession, and establish within us a pure heart, that we may struggle with vigor."
See photos here and the video below of the celebration.
As protection of Orthodox churches and monasteries shifts from NATO to Kosovo Police, many in the Serbian community complain that their cultural and religious monuments are not in safe hands.
May 4, 2011
The theft last month of lead roofing from a UNESCO world heritage site church in Prizren has reignited the row over protection of Serbian patrimony in Kosovo.
While Pristina officials argue that the sites will be safe under the watch of the Kosovo Police, Serbian Church and political leaders disagree.
Kosovo is home to many of the Orthodox Church’s holiest sites, leading off with the Patriarchal church complex in Pec/Peja, official seat of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the monastery churches of Decani and Gracanica.
Six years after riots left dozens of churches and monasteries badly damaged, following days of ethnically motivated violence, NATO’s Kosovo force, KFOR, last year began handing over control of 10 protected sites of importance to Serbs to Kosovo Police.
The first was Gazimestan, the site of the legendary Battle of Kosovo of 1389 between the Ottoman and Serbian armies as well as the location of one of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s most notorious speeches, marking the battle’s 600th anniversary.
Since then, Kosovo Police has taken over protection of the Gracanica monastery, another world heritage site, as well as the churches of Zociste, Budicavci and Gorioc.
KFOR remains responsible for the safety of four other monasteries: Holy Archangels in Prizren, Devic, Decani and the Pec Patriarchate. But it intends to hand over protection of them as well, as it reduces troop numbers.
The move has raised hackles in Belgrade, and despite a reduction in tension since KFOR’s decision was announced, Serbia continues to protest.
Serbia’s President, Boris Tadic, was quoted in the Belgrade media in April as saying that he did not want to see Serbian monasteries “in the hands of Albanian extremists”.
The remarks came during a visit to the Serbia by a senior member of the Russian Orthodox Church, a key foreign backer of Serbia’s hard-line policy towards Kosovo.
Soon after the meeting, news emerged that thieves had stolen part of the lead roof of the Church of the Mother of God of Ljevis in Prizren, known as the Bogorodica Ljeviska, in Serbian.
Although it is not one of the sites protected by KFOR, Belgrade officials quickly protested over the Kosovo Police’s failure to protect the building.
According to Church experts, 20 square metres of roof have disappeared, allowing in damp, which will damage the UNESCO-protected frescos.
The Church says it is the third time in five years that bits of the roof have been stolen.
Oliver Ivanovic, Belgrade’s minister for Kosovo, told Balkan Insight that Serbia had opposed the transfer of responsibilities from KFOR to Kosovo Police from the start.
“Here we see the consequences of this,” he said. “The international community urgently needs to change its approach and not allow Kosovo Police to protect the Serbian monasteries,” he said.
Marko Jaksic, a hard-line Serb representative in the divided northern town of Mitrovica, said the incident showed that ethnic Albanians did not want to protect the Serbian nation’s historic sites.
“We are in contact with the Serbian government and we believe that very soon there will be a solution for the Serbian monasteries in Kosovo, because in the hands of the Kosovo police they are always threatened,” Jaksic said.
According to a report last year by the International Crisis Group, ICG, a think tank, some Serbian Church officials would like to see a small force looking after their religious sites, modelled on the Swiss Guards who protect the Vatican.
According to the same to ICG report, Belgrade officials agree, hoping to force Pristina to grant Orthodox monasteries the same extraterritorial status that the Vatican enjoys from Italy.
Under the Ahtisaari Package, the blueprint for Kosovo’s independence, which is enshrined in the constitution, important Orthodox sites enjoy special status and a degree of autonomy - but not extra-territorial status.
KFOR told Balkan Insight that it sees the Kosovo Police as capable of protecting the sites, and it intend to continue to hand over responsibilities to Kosovo’s institutions.
“The task of guarding four monasteries and one monument has been handed over [already] to Kosovo Police,” Alexander Feja, deputy chief of public affairs in KFOR, said.
“Depending on the security situation on the ground, KFOR intends to hand over responsibilities [for the rest] to the respective institutions of Kosovo,” he added.
Feja said he understood the concerns felt by many Serbs: “In Kosovo, following the destruction and damage of some of the most valuable sites in 2004, the Church is understandably sensitive to potential threats to these cultural treasures.”
Kosovo’s government said that the incident in Prizren did not mean that Serbian Orthodox churches generally were under threat.
“Kosovo police are diligently protecting these monasteries,” Hajredin Kuci, the deputy prime minister, said. “The latest case [in Prizren] doesn’t mean that Albanians are extremists – we don’t even know yet who was responsible.”
The Interior Minister, Bajram Rexhepi, said that Serbia was using the plight of the church for it own political capital.
“Serbia is using these monasteries to make Kosovo appear extremist in its policies,” he said. “But Serbia should know that Kosovo protects not only Serbian monasteries but also other religious objects.”
The minister said that Kosovo would not allow Serbia to make acts of theft as an excuse to intervene in Kosovo’s internal affairs.
Behxhet Shala, director of the Council for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms in Kosovo, a civil society group, said Serbian churches, monasteries and monuments were a wing of Serbian foreign policy.
“Gazimestan was a centre of [Serbian] political empowerment at the time of Slobodan Milosevic, and now it is protected by Kosovo Police,” Shala noted.
“On the other hand, at Decani monastery, people living there are not allowed onto their own private property [because of security measures] and don’t even dare to speak out about it,” he said.
The idea that monasteries were being handed over to “Albanian extremists” was nonsense, he added. In the 1999 conflict in Kosovo, Serbian churches were routinely used to store weapons for Serbian forces, he claimed.
“Yet now those churches are proclaimed as protected areas and Serbia uses them to present Kosovo as an extremist country,” he scoffed. Serbia was “playing a terrible game”, he concluded.
A letter from the first Taiwanese Orthodox missionary Pelagia Yu to the Greek people.
I am Chinese, born in Taiwan and my Christian name is Pelagia. I was a Protestant Christian, and it took me five years to become Orthodox. I love to read the Holy Bible and have all of its publications in the Chinese language.
I have visited Greece and discovered that it is a truly unique country. While travelling in your country, even before I arrived, on the plane I saw how different in temperament Greek people were, how cheerfully they conversed with each other, how they laughed and how they applauded the pilot after the landing, something unheard of for us Asians, who are more conservative and do not easily display emotion. I learnt after this experience that the expression of freedom requires passion and liveliness.
In Greece, I visited many churches, I participated in the Divine Liturgy, and when I received Holy Communion it reduced me to tears even though I did not understand the Greek language, because the Orthodox faith is the same, no matter what the language.
I would have liked to be born Greek, to have been born Orthodox, to have received Holy Communion and venerated holy icons from my years of infancy right up until my death.
I cry for me and my compatriots, because instead of Holy Communion, we eat and drink food sacrificed to idols.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so my ears may be filled with holy hymns.
I cry for me and my compatriots, whose ears are filled with the noise of sutras and the screeches of those who worship the idols.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may smell the sweet aroma of incense.
I cry for me and my compatriots, who are constantly assaulted by the pungent smell of the smoke rising up from the sacrifices offered up to the idols.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that my hands could touch the holy icons, the holy relics of the Saints and be filled with the love of Christ.
I cry for me and my compatriots, whose hands touch the idols and the things sacrificed to them, but who in reality are holding on to nothing.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may light candles to Christ – not like here, where we burn money as an offering to the spirits.
I was searching for the Truth, using more than 30 different publications of the Holy Bible, which unfortunately, were all full of errors (translated by non-Orthodox).
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may read the Holy Bible in its original form!
I cry for me and my compatriots, because, although we have eyes, we are blind.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may be able to see the grace of God all around me.
I cry for me and my compatriots, who are surrounded by temples dedicated to false gods.
Yes, I am Orthodox, but living in Taiwan, I have very limited opportunities to experience the Orthodox Christian way of life.
I cry for me, because I do not have the ability to show my compatriots the greatness of our faith. The people here want to see signs and miracles.
I cry for me and my compatriots, because we do not have the gift of hearing of and seeing so many miracles, so many holy words that you have seen and heard over 2000 years in Greece, and which you still see. Taiwan is not an Orthodox country, our feast days and holy days do not look at all like yours.
I am disappointed that in Greece, although you have so many beautiful mountains, you do not look after them, you burn them down. However, I am amazed that practically every mountain in Greece has at least one monastery. We have mountains filled with Buddhist temples and monasteries.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may go and pray at an Orthodox monastery easily.
I cry for me and my compatriots. For the first time, I visited an Orthodox monastery dedicated to St John the Forerunner in Pelion. I travelled to Greece from Taiwan - 16 hours on the plane, a few hours on the train to Larisa and another hour with the monastery car, that was driven by one of the nuns.
I saw the ancient ruins of the Holy Monastery, I saw so many other places in Greece that have been abandoned and my heart bled. In Taiwan, we do not have such a wealth of archaeological artefacts, holy and beautiful places, but you do not appreciate them.
I cry that we do not have beautiful icons. I cry because I feel like Christ is weak and naked here.
Greeks, you think you are poor due to the economic crisis you are going through, but you do not know how truly rich you are.
Taiwan is a country with a huge amount of material development and progress, and yet it remains in the darkness of Satan and our spiritual life is empty.
In Greece, I saw a lot of people, especially on Sundays, drinking and celebrating and not going to church. But here in Taiwan our fellow citizens, mainly young people, even if they wanted to, find it impossible to come to church, because the only Orthodox church in the entire country is a small room on the 4th floor of a huge apartment building on the outskirts of Taipei. Many times, people cannot fit into the church and remain outside for the duration of the services.
My brothers and sisters in Greece, even though I am spiritually handicapped, I still have my legs active so that I can kneel before you and beg.
I pray that you consider me like the poor man Lazarus, so that you may throw to me some crumbs from the spiritual treasures you have, of the gifts you give to your churches, of the many little churches you build on all corners of your homeland.
Our Orthodox flock in Taiwan, as you know, is small - less than 100 people. We are not wealthy. We do not have the means to buy a decent place in the city that will be able to meet our needs for worship, catechism and teaching. Fr. Ionas conducts lessons on a regular basis, targeted mainly at the young people of our city and of course, open to whomever wants to come and meet us in person; those people that up until now have only had the opportunity to see the Orthodox Church in Taiwan through the Internet.
We do not ask for help to build an Orthodox church building here. It would cost millions. Please help us to buy a bigger place in the city centre, which we will convert into a church, for the sake of our nation, our brothers and sisters, who have never had the opportunity to hear about and know our Christ. We are a country of 23 million people! And yet we have need of your help.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if the need arises, I will do whatever is in my power to repay a little of your love. I will do whatever is needed with all my heart and for the duration of my life.
I thank you. Forgive me.
Source: Translated by P.S.Z. This article was originally published in Greek in the Periodicαl “Agios Kosmas o Aitolos” (Issue 84 - first quarter 2011) and online at http://www.iersyn.gr/pelagias_letter.php (Tuesday 22nd February 2011).
A self-styled Greek Orthodox "holy man" has been jailed in Australia for 15 years after he was found guilty of tricking two women into having sex with him by claiming it would lift black magic curses placed on their families.
May 6, 2011
Tony Golossian, 63, was considered to have special spiritual powers, including the ability to talk to angels, by some members of Sydney's Greek community.
But in his trial last year a court heard that he used his respected position in the community to "brainwash" two women, repeatedly raping them during "prayer sessions" over the course of seven years and telling them that if they resisted one of their family members would fall ill or die.
During the rapes, which his co-accused Arthur Psichogios also took part, he would blindfold the women and tell them that they were dreaming.
Despite maintaining his innocence throughout the trial, Golossian, 63, was found guilty of 24 charges relating to rape of the two women in December and was on Friday sentenced to a minimum of 15 years. Psichogios, 41, was jailed for at least 12 years and his wife Frances Psichogios, 38, who was convicted over the drugging and assault of one victim, was sent to prison for five years.
After a highly-charged trial, during which the officer in charge of the case was allegedly attacked by a relative of one of the defendants, riot police were stationed outside the court for the sentencing.
Judge Penelope Hock said the men had carried out a calculated plan to take advantage of the women's vulnerability, causing them both "substantial" harm, the Australian Associated Press reported.
"I am continually haunted by what has happened and what seems like a never-ending nightmare," one of the women said in her victim impact statement.
The other said: "Bit by bit, day by day, month by month, year by year, they chipped away at my soul and broke me down."
While the prosecution called for the strongest sentence available, Golossian's lawyer argued that the offences were below "the mid-line of seriousness".
May 4, 2011
The New York Times
Knapsacks shouldered and bibles in hand, a group of Christian pilgrims from Indonesia, China and the United States trooped into the remains of a fourth-century church in ancient Philadelphia last month. Gazing up at the columns that tower over what is today the Turkish market town of Alasehir, the pilgrims listened as their Australian guide read from the Apostle John’s letter to the early Christians of this city, one of the biblical Seven Churches of Revelation.
“It makes you see the Bible in 3-D and color,” the guide, Dan Fennell, said of his tour of historical Christian sites around western Turkey.
Mr. Fennell, who is based in Jakarta, has been leading pilgrimages to Anatolia for close to a decade. But these visits have become richer and more rewarding, he said, because Turkey has been cultivating the historical sites of Christianity.
“In Laodicea, for example, where we are headed next, you can now see things you could not see five years ago,” Mr. Fennell said of the ruins of the seventh city addressed by the Apostle John.
A Muslim nation long ill at ease with its pre-Ottoman history, Turkey has discovered Anatolia’s Christian heritage as a way of drawing visitors and of cultivating an image as a meeting-point and arbiter of civilizations.
“We have recognized this as a special field of tourism and as a special cultural wealth,” the Turkish culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay, said in an interview in Ankara. By next year, his ministry aims to increase the number of religious tourists to Turkey to more than three million, from 1.3 million last year.
“Until now, our concept of faith tourism was limited” to Muslim shrines “like the Mevlana tomb in Konya or the Halil-Ur Rahman mosque in Urfa,” Mr. Gunay said, “even though Anatolia is the home of important shrines of Christianity and Judaism as well.”
“Now,” he added, “we are working to care for all of these sites, Muslim, Christian and Jewish, without discrimination, to restore them and maintain them and to open them up to the public to visit.”
A case in point is the ancient metropolis of Laodicea, in southwestern Turkey, where Turkish archaeologists unearthed a spectacular church dating to the early fourth century.
“This is one of the oldest churches in the world to survive in its original state,” said Celal Simsek, the archaeologist who is leading the excavation team that has worked through the winter to reveal the huge church that was first spotted underground last year on a radar scan. “When the 10 most important archaeological discoveries of the 21st century are totted up one day, this church will definitely be on the list.”
Mr. Simsek dates the construction of the church to between 313 and 320 A.D., immediately after the Edict of Milan, by which Emperor Constantine I of Rome legalized Christianity in the year 313.
Scrambling around the church, which has 10 towering pillars on a floor area of 2,000 square meters, or 21,500 square feet, flawlessly preserved mosaic floors and a walk-in baptismal fountain for mass christenings, Mr. Simsek said he was hoping to invite the pope to the official unveiling of the restored church, tentatively planned for next year.
“I expect an onslaught of visitors in the coming years,” Mr. Simsek said.
Pilgrims have already begun pouring in, on the last leg of a tour through the sites of the seven biblical churches, all of which are in western Turkey. Tourism to the site increased tenfold in the first months of this year, to 1,000 visitors a day, Mr. Simsek said, adding that “90 percent of visitors are pilgrims.”
Mindful of the revenue that tourists provide, the nearby town of Denizli, in a first for Turkey, is now supporting the Laodicea digs financially, adding a million dollars year to financing from the local university and the Culture Ministry.
It is a vein of tourism that other towns in heritage-rich Anatolia have begun to invest in as well. The small northwestern town of Iznik, which has long marketed itself on the fine tiles produced there in Ottoman times, now evokes its former incarnation as Nicaea, site of two of the seven Ecumenical Councils that shaped the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
All seven councils were held on what is now Turkish soil — the two in Nicaea, three in Constantinople, now Istanbul, one in Ephesus in western Turkey and one in Chalcedon, the modern-day Kadikoy district of Istanbul on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus. Last year, Iznik invited historians from the Vatican to join a search for the exact location of the first Council of Nicaea, at which bishops from all over the Roman Empire gathered in 325 to draft the creed that is recited by Christians around the world to this day.
The Nicaean church in which the seventh Council dispatched iconoclasm in the year 787 has been roofed and restored, and plans to build new hotels in the town are under way.
The local authorities are also working on a project to pair Iznik with the Spanish city of Córdoba, historical seat of the Islamic caliphate that ruled Iberia and northern Africa in the 10th century, in a “bridge of civilizations” that is to emphasize the shared historical heritages of Christians and Muslims and to promote intercultural exchange.
The partnership is to be sponsored by the Alliance of Civilizations, a United Nations initiative that is co-sponsored by the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his Spanish counterpart, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and aims to fight extremism by fostering understanding and cooperation across cultures and religions.
“As the venue of two Ecumenical Councils, Iznik really has the potential to draw a lot of interest from all over the world,” said Mr. Gunay, the culture minister. “So we are trying to promote Iznik and to restore it.”
He said the government had also granted permission for annual religious services to be held in several historical churches that are otherwise classified as museums, which makes it illegal to worship there. One is the Church of Saint Nicholas in Demre, ancient Myra, which is visited by 400,000 tourists a year.
Another is the Orthodox monastery of Sumela, which is near Trabzon on the Black Sea, had been closed since 1923 and was re-opened last summer for its first religious service in 88 years, drawing thousands of Orthodox pilgrims.
Mr. Gunay vowed that more buildings would be opened to pilgrims, and local Christians, for worship. Islam, Christianity and Judaism had all left their imprints on Anatolia, he said. “We want people to know this. We want them to come and see it and to pray here.”