Monday, June 13, 2011
Its history goes back centuries, beginning from the first apostolic years. For this reason it is one of the most significant monuments of the island and the only monastery still in residence.
Tradition says that the place where the monastery was built was originally a Temple dedicated to Artemis, made of fine marble. Aquila, Herodion and Sosion, companions of the Apostle Paul, arrived first on the island, gathering the inhabitants and preaching the Gospel. They created the first church and Sosion became Lefkada’s first Bishop ordained by the Apostle Paul. It is said that one day Herodion knelt in prayer and the Temple of Artemis demolished, over which local Christians built a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
According to sources, in 332 A.D. five monks arrived in Lefkada together with the Bishop of Lefkada Agatharchos. Two of them settled around the church of the Panagia and three of them in the Hermitage of the Holy Fathers outside Alexandros village. The Fathers constructed the first cells, extended the church and organized the monasticism of Lefkada.
Another tradition says that the first icon of the Panagia was ordered to be done by the Hieromonk Kallistos of Constantinople in the fifth century. Kallistos was the priest of Hagia Sophia and a hagiographer. After praying and fasting he began to paint the icon, but the image of the Panagia had already appeared; the only thing left for him to do was add the colors. Thus the icon was revealed as an “Icon-Made-Without-Hands”. For this reason, the monastery was named "Faneromeni" ("the Revealed").
The monastery took its final shape during the Venetian domination in 1734 after being destroyed and rebuilt many times. The church was rebuilt in the 19th century again after a fire in 1886 destroyed the entire katholikon and original icon, and its current features reveal the strong influence of Zakinthos architecture.
The current icon of Panagia Faneromeni is a copy of the old miraculous icon of Faneromeni and was made by Monk Benjamin Kontrakis from Mount Athos in 1887. The iconostasis was made after 1887, a work of Efstathios Prosalentis Jr. Its icons are works of brothers Christodoulos and Thomas Zografos from Chionades of Epiros from 1919.
Also, to the front of the iconostasis, you will find the works of Leonidas Sideris, featuring scenes from the New Testament. The monastery was renovated recently, with the initiative of the abbot. A new wing of cells was constructed together with the abbot's apartment, the gathering area, the library and a chapel dedicated to Saint Silouan the Athonite. In the modern building is the new Ecclesiastical Museum of the monastery with ecclesiastical art and traditional exhibits: icons, vestments, vessels and books exhibited on three floors characterizing Lefkada’s cultural development.
The monastery sells Christian books and has a small guestroom for the pilgrims. Panagia Faneromeni stands for centuries on the holy rock gathering many pilgrims every year. She is the patron of Lefkada and is widely celebrated on the Monday of Holy Spirit, the day after Pentecost. Before 1887 the feast of the monastery was the Saturday of the Akathist Hymn.
Ἀπολυτίκιον Ἦχος πλ. δ΄.
[Ποίημα Δανιήλ ἐπισκόπου Βονίτζης (+1852), Πρωτεύοντος ἐν τῇ Ἱερᾷ Μονῇ τῆς Πεφανερωμένης]
Ἐν τῇ Μονῇ σου Παρθένε πόθῳ προστρέχοντες καί προσκυνοῦντες τήν θαυμαστήν σου Εἰκόνα, μετ'εὐλαβείας ἀντλοῦμεν τάς χάριτας· καί δι'αὐτῆς ἔκ τε σεισμοῦ, λιμοῦ, λοιμοῦ, αὐχμοῦ καί νόσων, ταῖς πρεσβείαις σου σωζόμεθα.
Ῥῦσαι ὀλεθρίου Κόρη σεισμοῦ, καί πάσης ἀνάγκης, καί κινδύνων ἐπαγωγῆς, ταύτην σου τήν νῆσον, Ἁγνή Φανερωμένη, τῇ θείᾳ σου Εἰκόνι ἀεί προσπίπτουσαν.
Χαίροις ὁ χριστώνυμος ὁ λαός, τῆς νήσου Λευκάδος ἀσπαζόμενος εὐλαβῶς, τήν θείαν Εἰκόνα τῆς Πεφανερωμένης· ἀεί γάρ διασώζει ἡμᾶς ἡ ἄχραντος.
By Fr. George Anthis
At the Monastery of Saint Onouphrios near Gardelades in Corfu (northwest of Livadi Ropa, 17 km from the city of Kerkyra) there is to be found an icon dating back to 1783. The icon was done by the famous painter Spyridon Speranza, and it is heavily damaged due to it falling on the ground over thirty years ago. The central theme of the icon is the coronation of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Trinity, a theme clearly of the Latin West (such as that in the 13th century Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, and the paintings of Giovanni, Bellini, Raphael, and Velasquez), yet the icon itself is unknown in the West. At the three corners of the icon are depictions of three historical miracles of St. Onouphrios, of which only one scene survives today at the lower right corner. These miracles took place at the Monastery dedicated to St. Onouphrios in Kerkyra, and depict interventions of the Saint to save the monks and the Monastery.
In the scene that survives we see at the bottom a horse loaded with bags half submerged in the waters of the lake, while the driver is on shore giving a gesture as if there is a hopeless situation. At the highest point of the scene to the left we see the Monastery and the bell tower and a few houses to the right amid trees and shrubs. Hills with soft contours decorate the landscape, and at the very top of the scene we see St. Onouphrios depicted to his waist above a white cloud. In front of the Monastery complex is a monk, probably the abbot, turning towards the Saint with extended hands showing fervent prayer.
According to tradition, which is still remembered by the elderly, the driver was a trader of oil and, after having purchased a quantity of oil from the Monastery, took the opportunity to put even more oil in his bag than that which he purchased. Leaving the Monastery he came to the adjacent lake (Kavrolimni), and his horse dashed into the lake and was in danger of drowning. The abbot heard the screaming of the driver and went to the lake. Having asked the driver why this happened, the man confessed taking the extra oil, and immediately the horse emerged from the lake and continued along its path.
While the central image of the icon together with the saints preserve a traditional solemnity, the scene of the miracle of St. Onouphrios was worked in a much freer way. The soft modest colors with which the landscape is depicted give the impression of watercolors and remind us of the simple and charming atmosphere which we admire in the works of the French "naive" painters. Perhaps this is because the artist wanted to express here his personal style in a simple and direct way, using visual language and an indivual's sensitivity.
There are traditions of other miraculous signs of St. Onouphrios which we intend to distribute, if God wills, "lest they fade over time", as old Herodotus would have said.
Source: "Kerkyriaki Alitheia". Translated by John Sanidopoulos
Discovery of public structure in north Israel city is a breakthrough. For the first time a Christian structure has been unearthed in Acre, a city said to have been highly influential in early years of Christianity.
June 12, 2011
The Israel Antiquities Authority has had a breakthrough discovery, unearthing a public structure from the time of the Byzantine Empire in the northern Israeli city of Acre.
The structure is about 1,500 years-old and it is believed to have served as a church. The structure was uncovered during a rescue excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority following an unauthorized dig in the area that uncovered the structure.
The excavation was done approximately 100 meters west of a mound located in the eastern part of Acre, close to the area in which the future Azrieli shopping mall is being built.
Nurit Page, head of the excavations in the area under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority said that the city's bishop was known in Christian writings as someone who was extremely influential in the development of Christianity as a religion.
This discovery is the first concrete proof of Acre's role in early Christianity. "This is an important discovery for the study of Acre," Page said, adding that it is of particular significance "considering no remnants from the Byzantine Period had been found other than living quarters near the [Mediterranean] sea."
The Antiquities Authority says that the size of the building and its impressive style show that this was a public building that was used in the bishop's city of Acre during the Byzantine Period. Archaeologists have pointed to other indicators that the excavations are in fact of Christian origin, including the roofing tiles used on the structure, the bits of ornate marble and the shards and rings they found nearby.
Underneath the walls archaeologists have found clay pipes and one of the rooms has a mosaic floor. The building received its water supply from a nearby well.
Acre during the Byzantine Empire is mentioned on multiple occasions in Christian writings. Bishops from both Acre and Caesarea were said to have participated in international councils focusing on the establishment of core Christian principles.
Their participation in these formative gatherings is testimony to the centrality of Acre in Christianity of the time.
An anonymous Italian pilgrim wrote of the wealth and beauty of Acre in the year 570, praising the beautiful monasteries in the city.
The majority of the Byzantine antiquities unearthed in Acre until this breakthrough can be traced back to the destruction that took place when the Muslim Arabs conquered the area during the seventh century.
Beneath the foundation of the newly discovered church, archaeologists found earlier structures from the Hellenistic Period, holding imported vessels from the Mediterranean Basin. They found amphoras which they have determined to be from the Island of Rhodes based on their imprinted with the names of the Greek island's leaders.
Little is known of St. Onouphrios exept that which has been handed down from local tradition in the small island of Koronisia off Epirus, Greece, which is under the Metropolis of Nikopolis.
He was pious and humble and lived as a monk in the Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Koronisia. His humility was so great that his fellow monks would laugh at him. Yet two miracles changed their perception of him.
First, he was seen to return from a nearby dry island to the Monastery using his monastic rason as a boat.
Second, after praying about it, his beard grew to reach the ground, like his patron St. Onouphrios the Egyptian.
It is unknown when exactly he died, though it is estimated to the 17th or 18th century, and he was recognized for his holiness and considered a saint. Over his grave a church was built in his honor.
His feastday is celebrated on June 12th together with his patron St. Onouphrios the Egyptian.
The Chapel of St. Onouphrios is very small and contains the relics of St. Onouphrios. It was likely built over a more ancient church structure from Byzantine times. The iconography dates to Ottoman times. Near the church is a well dug by St. Onouphrios which is still used by the islanders today. He is the only patron of the island.
Monday of the Holy Spirit
On this day, the Monday of Pentecost, we celebrate the All-Holy and Life-Creating and Omnipotent Spirit, Who is God, and One of the Trinity, and of one Honor and one Essence and one Glory with the Father and the Son.
O every breath, glorify the Spirit of the Lord,
Through Whom the impudence of evil spirits is put to flight.
When the day of Pentecost came, while the Disciples were waiting in the upper room around the third hour of the day, it suddenly thundered from heaven, to such an extent that it resounded throughout the inhabited earth; and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of fiery tongues to each one of them, and not only to the Twelve, but also to the Seventy, and they spoke in foreign tongues, that is, each of the Apostles spoke the languages of all the nations. However, it was not so much that a foreigner heard an Apostle speaking his own language, but rather, that the Apostle heard and spoke the language of each nation; hence, to those who had gathered they appeared to be drunk; for, not understanding how each Apostle could be conversing with them all individually, they supposed that he was drunk. Others were amazed, saying: “What is the meaning of this?” These latter had assembled from all parts of the earth for the Feast — Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, who had some time previously been taken captive by Antiochos.
At any rate, the Holy Spirit descended after the Ascension, ten days having elapsed, and not immediately after the Ascension, so that the Lord might make the Disciples more fervent as they awaited the Spirit. Some say that on each of these days each of the Angelic Orders approached and adored that deified flesh of the Lord. Therefore, after nine days were fulfilled, the Holy Spirit descended, when reconciliation had taken place through the Son, fifty days after Pascha, in commemoration of the old Law; for, Israel received the Decalogue fifty days after crossing the Red Sea. Consider also the symbols: there a mountain, here the upper room; there fire, here tongues of fire; instead of thunder and darkness, here there is a mighty wind.
The Holy Spirit descended in the form of tongues, because this shows His affinity with the living Word; or because the Apostles were going to teach and convert the nations through the tongue; tongues of fire, because God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and also because fire has the property of cleansing; they were divided because of the different gifts of the Spirit. And just as at one time He divided into many languages and confounded those who knew one language, so also now He divided into many languages those who knew one language, in order to gather together those who were scattered by those languages into the ends of the inhabited earth. The descent of the Spirit took place on the Feast in order that, with many people gathered together, the event might be recounted everywhere, and in order that those who happened to be there at the Passover and who saw what happened to Christ might be able to marvel. It occurred on Pentecost, because it was necessary that the Grace of the Spirit be poured out at the same time that the Law was given of old, just as Christ did on the Judaic Passover when He celebrated the proper Passover, the true Passover.
The Holy Spirit did not sit in the mouths of the Apostles, but upon their heads, encompassing the nous itself, the principal part of the soul, and one which is superior to the body, from which the tongue derives the power of speech; or because the Spirit somehow emitted a sound through the tongues of fire when He Ordained the Apostles by touching their heads to be teachers of the entire world; for the laying on of hands is performed upon the head.
The sound and the fire were manifested because these things occurred on Mount Sinai, so as to show that it was the same Spirit both then and now that gave the Law and appointed all things. The multitude was confounded by the sound of the wind, because they thought that all the predictions which Christ had made to the Jews about their destruction had come to pass. St. Luke said “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3), lest anyone should think about the Holy Spirit in corporeal terms.
The Apostles were condemned for drunkenness. But Peter stood up and spoke in the midst of the crowd and exposed the falsity of this claim, citing the prophecy of Joel in his speech, and he converted about three thousand of them (Acts 2:41).
The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, since He is able to comfort and refresh us, and because in His love for mankind He intercedes before God for us with unutterable sounds (Romans 8:26), as our Advocate, just as Christ also does. For He, too, is called a Comforter or Advocate; for this reason, the Holy Spirit is said to be another Comforter. The Apostle says: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (I St. John 2:1). The Holy Spirit is called “another” Comforter because He is co-essential with the Father and the Son; for the adjective “another” (in the masculine gender) is applied to things of the same essence and nature, whereas we are accustomed to apply “different” (in the neuter gender) to different natures. The Holy Spirit is in both the Father and the Son in every respect. Hence, together with Them He creates the universe and the future resurrection, and He does whatever He wills; He sanctifies, appoints, renews, sends out, makes wise, and anoints the Prophets. To put it simply, He does all things, possessing sovereignty of will and being almighty, good, upright, and governing. Through Him come all wisdom, life, and movement, whatever participates in holiness and life of any kind; in short, He has whatever the Father and the Son have, except for ingenerateness and generation, for He proceeds from the Father.
When the Spirit was poured out upon all flesh, the world was filled with spiritual gifts of every kind, and through Him all the nations were guided to the knowledge of God, and every disease and infirmity was banished. Three times was the Holy Spirit given by Christ to the Apostles: before the Passion very indistinctly; more manifestly after the Resurrection, through insufflation; and now Christ sent Him down in concrete form; or rather, He descended, illuminating and sanctifying the Apostles more perfectly; and through them He reclaims the ends of the earth.
By the visitation of the Holy Spirit and the intercessions of the Apostles, O Christ God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them didst draw the world into Thy net. O Befriender of man, glory be to Thee.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Once, when He descended and confounded the tongues, the Most High divided the nations; and when He divided the tongues of fire, He called all men into unity; and with one accord we glorify the All-Holy Spirit.
American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi made up a guru character and a phony religion, then filmed a documentary as he developed a following. The result raises questions about undiscriminated belief.
While in solitude with a puffed up ego, a demon appeared to him in the guise of an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). He told Iakovos that Christ was very pleased by his labors and that he was an equal of the Apostle Paul, and therefore he would come that night to reward him. "Clean your cell," the demon said, "and make ready by lighting the lamps and burning incense."
The foolish Iakovos, in his delusion, accepted all of this without question. When Satan came at midnight, Iakovos opened his door and fell down in worship before him. Satan mocked him and struck him on the head, then vanished after Iakovos made the sign of the Cross.
Iakovos fell into despair and at dawn went to visit a certain Elder to tell him what had happened. Before Iakovos could speak a single word, the Elder said, "You must leave this place, for you have been deceived by Satan."
Iakovos was heartbroken and wept bitter tears. The Elder also advised him to go to a cenobitic monastery, which he did. There he fulfilled his obedience in the trapeza with great humility and obedience. Then for seven years he sat in his cell working at some handicraft, and fulfilling his Rule of prayer.
St. Iakovos acquired the gift of discernment, learned the straight and narrow path of God, and became a great wonderworker for being an example of humility. He completed the course of his life in peace.
Thousands gathered Pentecost Sunday to celebrate with Patriarch Kirill at the Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. The Patriarch, following his veneration of the relics of St. Sergius and the Divine Liturgy, spoke about the feast of Pentecost and the energies of the Holy Spirit. He also said from the balcony to thousands of worshippers outside: "The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church of God.... The Holy Spirit shall not forsake us. We must have faith and must distance ourselves as much as possible from sin." Photos can be seen here.
Of particular interest about this Monastery for this feast, the greatest icon painters of medieval Russia, Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chyorny, were summoned to decorate the cathedral with frescoes. Rublev's icon The Trinity is the central piece of the Trinity Cathedral's iconostasis.
Also, in 1476, Ivan III invited several Pskovian masters to build the Church of the Holy Spirit. This graceful structure is one of the few remaining examples of a Russian church topped with a belltower.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
By Bishop Kallistos Ware
My grandmother long ago once wondered, “Why is the Holy Spirit never mentioned in sermons? Hearing of Him is like hearing news of an old friend one hasn’t heard of in a long time.” We will hear of news of this old friend today. St Symeon the New Theologian wrote this invocation to the Holy Spirit:
Come, true light.
Come, life eternal.
Come, hidden mystery.
Come, treasure without name.
Come, reality beyond all words.
Come, person beyond all understanding.
Come, rejoicing without end.
Come, light that knows no evening.
Come, unfailing expectation of the saved.
Come, raising of the fallen.
Come, resurrection of the dead.
Come, all-powerful, for unceasingly you create, refashion and change all things by your will alone.
Come, invisible whom none may touch and handle.
Come, for you continue always unmoved, yet at every instant you are wholly in movement; you draw near to us who lie in hell, yet you remain higher than the heavens.
Come, for your name fills our hearts with longing and is ever on our lips; yet who you are and what your nature is, we cannot say or know.
Come, Alone to the alone.
Come, for you are yourself the desire that is within me.
Come, my breath and my life.
Come, the consolation of my humble soul.
Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight.
Notice three things (keeping to my archbishop’s advice that every sermon have three points!) that St Symeon says regarding the Holy Spirit:
1.) Symeon speaks of the Spirit as light, joy, glory, endless delight, rejoicing without end, and so on. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said that the Holy Spirit fills with joy whatever he touches.
2.) The Spirit is also full of hope, for he looks forward to the age to come.
3.) There is also the nearness yet otherness of the Spirit. He is “everywhere present” [from the prayer, O Heavenly King] yet mysterious and elusive.
Symeon calls him “my breath and my life,” “hidden mystery,” “beyond all words,” “beyond all understanding.” We know him, but we do not see his face, for he always shows us the face of Christ. Like the air around us, which enables us to see and be seen, he is transparent and enables us to see and hear Christ. He is not to be classified, baffling our computers and filing cabinets. As the Lord said, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes” [Jn 3:8]. As C. S. Lewis wrote in the first of his Narnia Chronicles books, Aslan “is not a tame lion.” The Holy Spirit is not a tame spirit, either. The Spirit makes Christ close to us, establishing that relationship. The Sistine Chapel image of creation depicts Adam just after his creation, with the finger of God and that of Adam just touching — an accurate depiction of the Holy Spirit who puts us in touch with God and with one another. The writer J. V. Taylor called the Holy Spirit “the go-between God.” The current Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius IV, wrote, “Without the Holy Spirit God is far away. Christ stays in the past. The Gospel is simply an organisation. Authority is a matter of propaganda. The Liturgy is no more than an evocation. Christian loving is a slave mentality. But in the Holy Spirit, the cosmos is resurrected and grows with the birth pangs of the kingdom. The Risen Christ is there. The Gospel is the power of life. The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity. Authority is a liberating service. Mission is a Pentecost. The Liturgy is both renewal and anticipation. Human action is deified.”
The Spirit makes what is far to be near, the past present. Christ without the Holy Spirit is merely an historical figure in the distant past; with the Spirit, he is present. Without the Spirit, the Gospel is only words; with the Spirit, they have life-giving power. Without the Spirit, the Church is only an organization; with the Spirit, it is Communion. Without the Spirit, authority is slavish rule-following; with the Spirit, it is sharing in divine life, divinization. Without the Spirit, mission is propaganda; with the Spirit, it is Pentecostal tongues of fire. Without the Spirit, liturgy is merely recollection; with the Spirit, it is present reality. Through the Spirit, clock and calendar time is turned to sacred time: once upon a time becomes today. Note in our services in Holy Week approaching Pascha, how often “today” is used. “Today, I rise in your resurrection.” The devil says “yesterday,” and wants us to feel regret or nostalgia; and “future,” so that we might feel anxiety. But the Spirit says “today.” The Patriarch’s speech can be summed up in one word: Zoōpoion — the Life-giver who makes things alive for us.
There are two fundamental things about the Holy Spirit:
1.) He is understood in Scripture and Tradition as a Person, not just an impersonal force. Christ is obviously a person. It is not as obvious with the Holy Spirit, but he is a person in the experience of the Church. Note Ephesians 4.30: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." Impersonal forces do not feel grief, do not feel love. You may love your computer, but your computer does not love you. Our sins, selfishness, and lack of love cause the Holy Spirit grief. He weeps over it.
2.) The Holy Spirit is equal to the other two Persons of the Trinity. From the Creed: “Worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son.” Together, not below. Also, “Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” all on the same level.
Gregory of Nyssa said, “Never think of Christ without the Holy Spirit.” We could reverse that too: never think of the Holy Spirit without Christ. Irenaeus described the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father, who always uses both hands together. To better understand the Holy Spirit’s work, look at the cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Son. In the Creed: “Incarnate by the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary.” In the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit sends Christ into the world. The Troparion for Theophany: “When you, O Lord, were baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. For the voice of the Father bore witness unto you, calling you the beloved Son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed His word as sure and true.” The Spirit descends from the Father and rests on the Son, the same relationship as in the Incarnation. The Holy Spirit sends the Son into public ministry. In the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ as a cloud of light, as understood by the Fathers. In the Resurrection, Christ is raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul in Romans [1:4] calls Christ “the Son of God in power according to the Spirit.” In the Incarnation and Baptism, the Holy Spirit sends Christ into the world. In Pentecost, Christ sends the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and thence into the world. In the First Gospel reading on Holy Thursday evening [Jn 13:31-38; 14:1-31; 15:1-27; 16:1-33; 17:1-26; 18:1] we hear “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. He will bear witness to me. He will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you" [Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14]. The Holy Spirit testifies not to himself but to Christ, in a natural diakonia. Christology and Pneumatology are inseparable. The Holy Spirit, the "go-between" God, establishes the relationship between us and Christ. He shows us not his own face, but the face of Christ.
By St. Theodore the Studite
By the grace of the Most Holy Spirit, we have been vouchsafed to celebrate Holy Pentecost — the descent of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ said of this descent: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter (that is, the Holy Spirit), will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth" (Jn. 16:7-13). This, His promise and benefit, is so great that we cannot even comprehend it: for the Lord promised to send not an Angel, not a man, but the Holy Spirit Himself.
Thus, having fulfilled the will of His Father, the Only-Begotten Son ascends to heaven, and the Holy Spirit descends: not another God (never!), but another Comforter, as it is written. O, the unutterable love for mankind! God Himself has become our Comforter. Thus, He Himself comforts those who are weighed down by misfortune, prevents them from becoming exhausted in spirit, as the Holy Apostle testifies, saying: "Our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us" (2 Cor. 7:5–6). He comforts the heart frightened by demonic fear, raising it up to invincible courage through bold hope, as the Prophet David testifies: "For Thou, O Lord, hast helped me and comforted me" (Ps. 85:17). He comforts, encouraging the troubled mind, as it has been given a feast with God and rest, as the Apostle testifies, saying: "As though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20); that is, have peace, with God.
Do you see the unsearchable condescension? Do you see the incomparable gift? On high, in the Heavens, the Only-Begotten Son intercedes for us before the Father, as it is written: "Who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom. 8:34). Below, on the earth, the Holy Spirit comforts us in many ways.
"What shall I render unto the Lord, for all that He has rendered unto me?" (Ps. 115:4). Is it not true, what the Psalm says: "All my bones shall say, Lord, O Lord, who is like unto Thee? Delivering the beggar from the hand of them that are stronger than he, yea, poor man and pauper from them that despoil him" (Ps. 34:11). And again, "My help cometh from the Lord, Who hath made heaven and the earth" (Ps. 120:2). "Unless the Lord had brought me up, my soul had well nigh sojourned in hades" (Ps. 93:17). "The Lord is my helper, and I shall not fear what man shall do unto me" (Ps. 117:6).
Having such a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Invincible Power, Great Defender, God and Co-fighter, we shall not be afraid of the enemy and shall not be frightened by opposing powers, but shall courageously and steadfastly hasten to the struggle and feat, experiencing them day after day, not being deluded by the deceptions of the snake, and not growing weary from his ceaseless attacks. Sinful desire is not pleasure and joy, a dangerous and fearsome sickness is not sweetness, but rather are delirium and wicked darkening of the mind. They know this, who have tamed the fury of the flesh, cleansed its defilement, and cleaved with all their hearts to the One God. This manner of life is the most pleasant and happy; for in it, although a man be in the flesh in the world, in spirit he abides in the unseen, resting in spirit through the grace-filled breath of the Holy Spirit.
Why do we allow love of pleasure to conquer us, to so debase us, and by such deviations to cause us who, brought low to the earth, to flesh and blood, to be completely alienated from our Most Good God? Let us flee, brothers, from all the passions. Let us flee love of money, which is the root of all evil; let us flee every other passion that enslaves our soul — anger, envy, hatred, vanity, self-will; so that death may not find us unprepared and distance us from God. Alienation from God is alienation also from the Kingdom of Heaven. Condemnation and punishment will come to those who do not do works pleasing to God. There is no flesh that can endure this condemnation, for the mere thought of it, even before consignment to torments, is already a torment.
In order that we might escape the wrath of God, which comes upon the children of disobedience (Eph. 5:6), let us do good works, that the Lord may rejoice in His works (Ps. 103:33).
Let us begin unfailingly to please God, to purify ourselves, and renew our souls. Take courage: "The Lord is nigh unto all that call upon Him, to all that call on Him in truth" (Ps. 144:19). Let us repent daily, and God will forgive us our sins, comfort us, and grant us eternal life — which may we receive in Christ the Lord Himself; to Him is due glory and sovereignty, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
SUNDAY of Pentecost
On this day, the eighth Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate Holy Pentecost.
In a mighty wind doth Christ distribute the Divine Spirit
In the form of fiery tongues unto the Apostles.
In one great day, the Spirit was poured forth upon the Fishermen.
We have received this Feast from the Hebrew Bible; for, just as the Hebrews celebrate their own Pentecost, honoring the number seven, and because they received the Law fifty days after the Passover, so also do we, celebrating fifty days after Pascha, receive, instead of the Law, the All-Holy Spirit, Who gives us laws, guides us into all truth, and decrees what is pleasing to God.
It should be known that among the Hebrews there were three great Feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They observed Passover in commemoration of their deliverance from Egypt and their passage across the Red Sea; for “Pascha,” in the Hebrew language, means “passage.” This Feast signifies our own passage and return from the darkness of sin to Paradise.
They celebrated Pentecost in commemoration of the hardships they endured in the desert, where they received the Law, and of the way in which they were brought through many afflictions into the Promised Land, for then it was that they enjoyed fruit, wheat, and wine. It also signifies the hardship that we suffer from unbelief and our entry into the Church; for then it is that we partake of the Body and Blood of the Master.
The third Feast is that of Tabernacles, celebrated after the harvesting of fruits, that is, five months after the Feast of Passover. This Feast was celebrated in memory of the day on which Moses first pitched the Tabernacle that he saw on Mount Sinai in the cloud and which was constructed by the architect Beseleel. Fashioning tabernacles themselves, the Hebrews would celebrate the same Feast: living in the fields and giving thanks to God, they would reap the fruits of their labors. This Feast is a type of our resurrection from the dead, when, after our bodily tabernacles have been dissolved and reconstituted, we will enjoy the fruits of our labors, keeping festival in the eternal tabernacles.
It should be known that on this same day of Pentecost that we are celebrating, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Disciples. Since the Holy Fathers decided to divide up the Feast on account of the majesty of the All-Holy and Life-Creating Spirit, because He is One of the Holy and Life-Originating Trinity, we will speak tomorrow about the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
By the intercessions of Thy Holy Apostles, O Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who made fishermen all-wise, sending upon them the Holy Spirit and, through them, netting the world. O Loving One, glory to You.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations; but when He distributed the tongues of fire He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-Holy Spirit!
The oldest surviving reference made about Saint Barnabas the Ascetic, who lived as a hermit at the village of Vasa, is found in the writings of the chronicler Leontios Machairas, who states: "At Vasa there is Saint Barnabas the monk. The Saint is one of the 'Three Hundred' refugees - clergy, monks and laymen - who fled to Cyprus during the persecution of the Arabs." However, according to his Doxastikon written shortly after his death, reference is given that Barnabas was in actuality a native of Vasa, Cyprus. Furthermore, his name indicates that he was a native of Cyprus, since we have four other saints bearing that name from Cyprus, including the Apostle himself who founded the Church of Cyprus. Essentially, we do not know for sure the origins of the ascetic Barnabas whom we commemorate today nor the exact time of when he lived.
According to local tradition and the hymns written in his honor, St. Barnabas lived as an ascetic in a cave west of the village of Vasa at the base of a stone cliff of white watery rocks. The cave is 28 feet in length, 18 feet in width and 8 feet in height.
We are told that in his youth he was full of piety and goodness, and he was admired for his modesty. At some point he decided to dedicate himself to the Lord with complete self-denial through continuous prayer, fasting, study and repentance by becoming an ascetic in the aforementioned cave.
Over time he was purified of all his passions and became illumined with the Holy Spirit, becoming a bearer of many divine gifts. Locals came to him for advice and to seek his prayers. He even had the grace to work miracles, both before and after his death. According to the hymns written in his honor, at his death his face was illuminated by divine grace as bright as the sun, so that all who saw him from Vasa were astounded.
Today only few portions of his relics are preserved at Vasa, together with his cave, as many portions have been given to other churches for a blessing. In Vasa there existed until 1897 a domed church dedicated to Saint Barnabas, however the residents of the village demolished it in order to replace it with a "magnificent" church which is dedicated to Panagia Evangelistria. It is in this church that bones from the pelvis, the bottom edge of the spine, a thigh bone, the skull and a few others of the Saint are preserved. There are also two icons of the Saint, one old and one newer, which bear the inscription: "The memory of Jesus illumines the nous and dispels the demons." In imitation of St. Barnabas, we also should always invoke the name of Jesus that we may not be the prey of demonic activity and influence.
The memory of Saint Barnabas is celebrated on June 11, the day on which is also celebrated the memory of Saint Barnabas the Apostle, the founder of the Church of Cyprus.
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
The village of Vasa rejoices, in having the divine larnax of your relics, as a well-spring of healings, and a salvation for all those in sorrow, to all those who flee to you, Father, with faith. Rightous Barnabas, entreat Christ God, to grant us great mercy.
Απολυτίκιο Ήχος γ'
Χαίρει έχουσα Βάσεων πόλις, θείαν λάρνακα των σων λειψάνων, αναβρύουσαν πηγάς των ιάσεων, και διασώζουσαν παν τας εκ θλίψεων, τους σοι προστρέχοντας, πάτερ, εκ πίστεως Βαρνάβα όσιε, Χριστόν τον Θεόν ικέτευε, δωρήσασθαι ημίν το μέγα έλεος.
Εκ της Ακολουθείας του Οσίου
Πάσα η Βασέων πληθύς, συναχθείσα, ως έβλεψεν άπνουν εν κλίνη σε, ρήμασι γοεροίς εβόα: δος τελευταίον λόγον τοις δούλοις σου, Άγιε' δίδαξον που καταλείπεις τα τέκνα σου, πάτερ' όμως καν ώδε τω τάφω καλύπτη, άνω σε πάντες πλουτούμεν προστάτην και πρεσβευτήν των ψυχών ημών.
Πάτερ Βαρνάβα Θεόπνευστε, ως κεκρυμμένος ημίν, θησαυρός πεφανέρωσαι εν σπηλαίω κείμενος και σημείοις και τέρασιν ευωδιάζων ψυχής των πίστει σοι προσερχομένων, Θεομακάριστε, όθεν βοώμέν σοι και ημάς εξάρπασον των δυσχερών σου ταις παρακλήσεσιν ανευφημούντας σε.
The Revelation of the Hymn "Axion Estin" by the Archangel Gabriel
Miracles of the Icon of "Axion Estin"
The Cell "Axion Estin" on Mount Athos
Paschal Litany on Mount Athos for Bright Week
It is the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for “all the nations” (Matthew 28:19) to believe, to share in His gifts, and to be saved in His Kingdom. Countless people, indeed since Apostolic times, have come to the light of the knowledge of God and have offered choice fruits of sanctification to “Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith” (Hebrews 12:2). These fruits of the Faith are particularly wondrous and fragrant when dyed purple with the blood of sacrifice and martyrdom out of love for the First Martyr, Christ.
This year marks a hundred years since a vast and populous faraway country was drenched with the blood of its own Martyrs: China.
The seed of the Faith fell there a very long time ago. An Orthodox presence entered the country via Russia in the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, but in a systematic and organized form only in the nineteenth century. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church showed interest in this enterprise and sent capable laborers to China for the Vineyard of the Lord. Thus, after 1860, Holy Scripture and liturgical and spiritual books were translated into Chinese and the number of native Chinese Orthodox Christians began to increase.
In 1897, Archimandrite Innocent (Figurovsky) was sent to China, where he expanded the Mission with brilliant results.
During precisely that same period, however, the native Chinese reacted strongly not against only the economic, but also the “spiritual” infiltration of “foreigners” in their country. A rising tide of public discontent, initially with the toleration and later with the support of the state, assumed immense proportions and developed into a rebel movement. Westerners called these rebels “Boxers,” perhaps owing to their widespread preoccupation with their traditional martial arts and rituals, whereby—so they believed—they became invulnerable to their enemies.
They were, in fact, Chinese warriors who had passed from “defense” to “offense,” actuated by mysticism, extreme nationalism, xenophobia, and overt anti-Christianity, on account of the excesses and extremes of the Western merchants and “missionaries,” which were clearly offensive to the natives.
This revolt, known as the “Boxer Rebellion,” with its anti-Christian fury, began in 1899 and reached its climax in 1900. Assaults against all “foreigners”
reached an incredible degree of cruelty and brutality. The small, yet vigorous Orthodox Mission in Peking, which was directed by the Russians, was naturally not able to escape the notice of the rebels, even though it was unrelated to the “dangerous” Western versions of Christianity. In the mind of the “Boxers,” all of their Chinese countrymen who had become Christians had renounced their ancestral religion and had, consequently, become traitors, which is why it was necessary for them either to return to their former religion or be savagely murdered.
On 1 June 1900, the building belonging to the Orthodox Mission in Peking was burnt down along with all of its printing and other equipment, and also the Orthodox Church of the Theotokos. The same fate befell all but one of the Orthodox Churches in other parts of the country as well. The few Russian missionaries managed to escape in time.
On 11 June, the Orthodox Chinese in Peking were perfected in martyrdom. The frenzied rebels set fire to the houses of the Orthodox, assembled the inhabitants, and murdered them in a deplorable manner. A few lost heart, out of fear of torture and death, and sacrificed to idols. The majority, however, preferred glorious martyrdom.
Men, women, and children were ruthlessly tortured: they were dismembered; they were disemboweled; they were strangled; they were burnt; they were beheaded. Many were led out of the city to the temples of the idolaters, where they were ritually burnt to death.
Dramatic indeed was the attack on the family of the first and only Chinese Priest, Father Mitrophan Tsi-Chung. Many Orthodox Christians had fled to him to find solace and support. The idolaters seized Father Mitrophan, slew his twenty-three-year-old son, Isaiah, like a sheep and, before his very eyes, tortured his Presbytera, Tatiana, and his younger son, John, who was barely eight years old. Afterwards, they slaughtered the Priest as well, since they were unable to make him revert to idolatry.
“Do you deny Christ?” they asked the Priest’s son and child Martyr, John. When he boldly replied that he would never deny Him, they cut off his nose, ears, and toes. The eight-year-old child Martyr endured with astounding self-denial and calmness: “It is not difficult to suffer for Christ!” he confessed in exaltation, to the astonishment of the onlookers.
The next day, he was slain along with his mother, Presbytera Tatiana, and Maria, the nineteen-year-old fiancée of his brother, the Martyr Isaiah. Maria had been allowed to leave in order to save herself, but she preferred to remain in the house of her martyred father-in-law, Father Mitrophan, and of her martyred fiancé, Isaiah, in order to be glorified together with them: “I was born here, near the Church of the All-Holy Theotokos, and here I will die!” she replied, with courage and determination.
The small Orthodox Mission in Peking, which had numbered approximately one thousand members, offered to the Lord of Glory 222 brave and victorious Martyrs: “This is the glory of the Church, this the wealth of the Kingdom!” Only a few of them are known by name; apart from those already mentioned, there are also: the catechist, Paul Wan, the Mission’s teacher, Ia Wen, Clement Kui-Kin, Matthew Hai-Tsuan, his brother Vitus, Anna Chui.... All, however, are written “in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3) and rejoice in the Church of the Firstborn, who are “written in Heaven” (Hebrews 12:23)!
A few months later, the rebellion was put down by troops from the Western powers. Bishop Innocent (Figurovsky) of Peking, who had been Consecrated in the meantime, built the Church of All the Holy Martyrs in 1902 on the site of the sacrifice of the Chinese New Martyrs, after gathering up and reverently placing their remaining holy Relics in the crypt of this Church.
The Saints immediately began to be honored locally, and in 1903 a special service to them was chanted and their holy Icon was painted.
The Mission in China continued its activities for nearly fifty more years, at which point it ceased to exist because of the Communist domination in the country. In 1956, the last Russian clergyman departed.
May the prayers of the Holy New Martyrs of China restore the light of Orthodoxy in their country and strengthen us on the path to salvation. Amen!
Read also: The Feast of the Chinese Martyrs
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Let us the flock of Christ with love and piety now glorify with hymns and truly joyous odes the faithful Martyrs of the truth who suffered for Christ in China. For having confessed the Faith, they all bravely went unto death as lambs which were sacrificed for our Shepherd and Master Christ. And therefore to the Martyrs we cry out: Remember us all, who sing your praises.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The divine Metrophanes, the martyred shepherd, with his great and faithful flock, have hallowed China with their blood; wherefore we praise them with sacred hymns, for they were faithful to Christ even unto death.
Friday, June 10, 2011
By St. John, Metropolitan of Tobolsk
Thankfulness during grief distinguishes the good from the evil and clearly shows who is who. Bells, prior to being lifted to their height, are tested by blows from a hammer and when they give out an unpleasant sound they are discarded. Such is the will of God: He does not lift His chosen ones to the heights prior to testing them with frequent crosses and grief in order to see the fulfillment of their endurance and what kind of and how pleasant a sound they emit. At one time God tested His great “bell” Job. The hand of God touched him. Would you like to know the tool He used? The hammer of the world, that is, the devil. But what sound did this “bell” emit? "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Job 1:21). What a pleasant sound! But Job was still further subjected to beating. He came under the power of the devil, and his whole body was struck down; from head to toe pus and worms covered him, and he sat in his discharge. Do you hear what blows he received? But now hear what his voice gave forth: "Shall we not receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). Oh, what a strong voice! Oh, what a sweet sound! Who, being asleep, is not awakened by it? (Blessed Augustine, Discussion on Psalm 97). Blessed be this “bell” emitting such a blessed sound! This is the indication of a good man, a man grateful to God. And here is the sign of an ungrateful man: if some misfortune comes upon him, he complains, laments, opposes, grieves excessively, praises his own deeds and proves his innocence (St. Antioch, Discussion 117). What more is there to say? The good and the evil are like two full dishes, one filled with precious aromas, the other with evil-smelling matter (Blessed Augustine, Letter 111: To Theodorus). Thus the good and the evil are being frequented by misfortune without distinction, but by this affliction itself, one is being separated from the other by the all-wise providence of God. The good, when any misfortune befalls them, offer their thanks to God Who deigns to punish them; but the arrogant, sensual and money-loving blaspheme and grumble at God saying, “O God, what evil did we do that we are suffering so?”
Source: The Royal Way of the Cross of Our Lord Leading to Eternal Life, trans. Vera Kencis (Wildwood, AB: Monastery Press, 2002), pp. 149-150.
The great Caves Monastery of Kiev was, from the earliest years of Orthodox Christianity in Russia, a fount of sanctity for the whole of the Russian land. The Monastery was destroyed in the Tartar invasion of the 13th century; but it was later restored, and again in the 17th century it entered upon a period of spiritual blossoming that produced a whole series of holy hierarchs. Among them, to name only the closest contemporaries and associates of St. John, were St. Dimitry of Rostov (1651-1709), St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1630-1696), and Blessed Philotheus of Tobolsk (d. 1727); slightly later there were such holy men as St. Innocent of Irkutsk (1680-1731), St. Ioasaph of Belgorod (1705-1754), and St. Paul of Tobolsk (1705-1770). In this company of hierarch-saints, St. John of Tobolsk occupies his own significant place.
A member of the noble family of Maximovitch, which enjoyed high favor with the Russian Tsars, St. John was born, one of six brothers, in the year 1651 in the city of Nezhin in central Russia. Already in his childhood he was particularly fond of reading the word of God and the writings of the Holy Fathers, and he loved to attend the services of the Church. This strong religious inclination in his early youth determined the whole of his later life.
* * *
The future hierarch was educated in the Kievan College of Metropolitan Peter Mogila, which was later transformed into a Theological Academy. There he learned to love theological studies, to which he gave himself with all the ardor of youth, and he finished the course brilliantly. He remained to teach there for eight years, showing himself an industrious scholar and a deeply religious man. At the same time, from his visits to the Caves Monastery in Kiev, there was planted in him a burning desire for the monastic life, and it was there that he became a monk. In the Lavra the young ascetic revealed himself as highly gifted in letters and in the art of oratory. When in 1677 the Turks were threatening to attack the Ukraine, the then Hieromonk John was chosen by the monks, despite his youth, as their envoy to Tsar Feodor Alexeyevich to ask for help in the face of the threatened destruction of the Lavra. The Tsar sent a strong detachment and designated Svensky Monastery near Bryansk to be the place of refuge for the monks of the Lavra in case of attack, and Hieromonk John was appointed its abbot. This brought out the humble ascetic from the holy caves of Kiev and placed him high on the Church candlestick to shine before men.
For the next twenty years Fr. John was placed at the head of various monasteries in southern Russia, inspiring the monks by his personal example and great ascetic endeavor. The holy life and great talents of Abbot John soon came to the attention of St. Theodosius, Archbishop of Chernigov. St. Theodosius (Ouglitsky) was a model hierarch and Orthodox enlightener full of flaming love and devotion to his flock. After his death he manifested his greatness before God with an abundance of miraculous intercessions coming from his incorruptible relics. He called St. John with the idea of making him his successor in Chernigov. In 1695 he made him Archimandrite of Eletsky Monastery, of which he had himself once been the head.
In the next year, 1696, St. Theodosius died, but his closeness to his chosen successor did not end with his death; for St. John himself received the first miraculous healing by the prayers of St. Theodosius. To St. John, who was seriously ill with influenza and apparently on his deathbed, St. Theodosius appeared and said:
Do not sorrow, brother; the Lord has heard your prayers, and you will be well. Rise from your bed and prepare to serve the Divine Liturgy; this will be a sign to you.
Awakening after the vision, the Saint had his vicar informed that he would serve on the following day. Because of his condition, these words were ascribed to delirium.
But in fact, on the following day the Saint, already well, served the Liturgy. After this healing St. John ordered the cave opened where St. Theodosius was buried, and he hung there a large portrait of his healer, himself composing some verses for an inscription.
* * *
St. John being the logical successor to St. Theodosius, he was unanimously elected Archbishop of Chernigov by the local clergy and officials, and sent to Moscow with a request of the Tsar and Patriarch to consecrate him for Chernigov. The consecration took place on January 10, 1697.
Chernigov was a flourishing city not far from Kiev. St. Theodosius had seen well to the Orthodox enlightenment and education of his diocese, and St. John, his worthy successor, took up this task where that great Saint had left off. St. John understood well that for fruitful results in Church life more was needed than his own personal efforts, and so he worked to educate the clergy. For this purpose he established a diocesan college, similar to the Kievan Academy, which was to become, according to the Saint’s idea, a “Chernigovan Athens” of enlightened piety. The high level of its theological education and its instruction in the rules of Christian living made this school widely known. It became a pattern, in imitation of which seminaries began to be opened in other dioceses.
St. John strove always to live the life of his flock. He taught the truths of Christian faith and life in a form accessible to the simplest of his listeners, and he pointed to the grace-bestowing powers of the Holy Church, which aid one to stand firmly on the path of salvation.
The high virtues with which the life of St. John was radiant were reflected also in his many writings, a list of which follows:
1. The Mirror of Moral Instruction, 1703 and 1707;
2. Alphabet of Saints (in verse), 1705;
3. O Mother of God, Virgin (also in verse), 1707;
4. Commentary on the 50th Psalm, 1708;
5. A Meditation on the Prayer “Our Father” (in verse), 1709;
6. The Eight Beatitudes of the Gospel (in verse), 1709;
7. The Royal Way of the Cross, 1709;
8. Religious Reflections, 1710-11;
9. Iliotropion, 1714
(all published in Chernigov).
His most important work, Iliotropion, was begun by St John while he was still a teacher in the Academy of Peter Mogila. He published it in Latin, and only later, in Tobolsk, when he had completed it in its final form, did he publish it in Slavonic. The title is the Greek word for helianthus (sunflower). The image of the sunflower, dear to the Saint even from his youth, was for him an analogy which helps to explain the agreement of the human will with the will of God. The sunflower has the particular characteristic of daily turning its face from one side to the other following the movement of the sun. Sunflowers are a common sight in the rural landscape of southern Russia, and St. John could not but be attracted by the natural symbolism they afford. The book Iliotropion, in fact, treats of the Divine and human wills:
The only true means for attaining our happiness in this life and in the next is the constant turning of our attention within ourselves, to our own conscience, to our thoughts, words, and deeds, so as to raise them to passionlessness: this will reveal to us our mistakes in life and indicate the only path to salvation. This path is the entire devotion of our whole being, of our whole self with all the circumstances of our life, to the will of God. As a symbol of this our turning to God we may take the growth of the sunflower; let it be ever before our eyes.
Christian! Observe once and for all how the sunflower even on gloomy days pursues its circular course, following the sun with the unchanging love and attraction natural to it. Our sun, illuminating our path through this world, is the will of God; it does not always illuminate our path in life without clouds; often clear days are followed by gloomy ones: rain, wind, storms arise... But let our love for our Sun, the will of God, be so strong that we may continue, inseparably from it, even in days of misfortune and sorrow, like the sunflower on gloomy days, to navigate faultlessly on the sea of life, following theindications of the ‘barometer’ and ‘compass’ of the will of God, which leads us into the safe harbor of eternity.
In the words of this ascetic of faith there is placed before us the spiritually transfigured man, filled with the determination to accept in all things the will, good and perfect, of the Heavenly Father.
It will seem to us that we are deprived of everything; even if we have a great abundance in everything, we will always be in fear, despondent, agitated, faint-hearted, every hour full of cares and various anxieties, sorrow and vain sighing, until we sincerely return to God and devote ourselves and each other completely to the will of God, as the sunflower strives toward the sun. Let us begin diligently to examine the visible signs of God’s will in events and conform our will to them. Let the will of God be for us the guiding star in life, and let each of us engrave and hold forever in his heart this one thing: 'Blessed be the Name of the Lord!' (Job, ch. 1.)
* * *
In 1700 Tsar Peter I ordered the Metropolitan of Kiev to select a suitable candidate for the mission of preaching the Gospel to the pagan peoples of the vast Siberian lands. Two of St. John’s close schoolmates were chosen for this task, being assigned to the rapidly-growing Siberian diocese of Tobolsk. The first choice was St. Dimitry Tuptulo, who, however, due to his frail health was never sent to Tobolsk but to Rostov; in his place Blessed Philotheus Leschinsky was made Metropolitan and sent to Tobolsk, and his zeal, his ascetic life, and his love for the natives earned for him recognition as one of Russia’s greatest missionaries. In 1709 Metropolitan Philotheus became sick and, thinking his end near, took the skhima and retired to private ascetic labors. His friend St. John was called to succeed him in the Tobolsk cathedra.
In Chernigov St. John had by this time earned the unquestioning respect and love of his flock, being known as a great man of prayer and an outstanding prince of the Church. He was adorned also with supernatural gifts, such as the ability to see the future; he predicted Tsar Peter’s victory over the Swedes, and in the Tobolsk Chronicles it is recorded that he foresaw the Napoleonic invasion a century in advance.
In the middle of the year 1711 St. John left Chernigov with its culture to bring the light of Christianity to the cold and primitive Siberian frontier. For his protection he took with him a copy of a miraculous Chernigov Icon of the Mother of God, that of Ilyin, which only several decades before had manifested the rare miracle of tears, and had granted since then numerous miraculous healings. He arrived in the middle of August in the same year with a great suite: church singers, educated clergymen, episcopal vestments, service books, together with many trunks. He at once gained the respect and admiration of all and was able without difficulties to apply himself to missionary endeavors.
Always a friend of education, St. John took loving care of the Slavano-Latin [sic] School established by his predecessor. He established courses in icon painting. He took charge of local missionary work, freeing the Skhima-Metropolitan Philotheus to preach Christ to the wild tribes farther away. He sent a well-equipped mission to Peking.1
St. John loved to do good in secret; he sent money and various objects through trustworthy persons to poorhouses and the homes of poor people, especially widows. He would go to a window, knock, and say: “Accept this in the Name of Jesus Christ”—and quickly leave. He grieved especially over impoverished clergymen. He was drawn with his whole soul to wherever there were sorrow and need. He loved to go to prisons; he comforted, taught, and likewise diverted the prisoners with gifts. He never went out just to visit, and he never stepped into the houses of the rich.
Even while occupied with his many pastoral cares, St. John managed to lead also a life of the strictest asceticism. In his personal life he was quiet, humble, compassionate, and very strict with himself. Possessing a great capacity for work, he was never idle; he was always reading or writing, teaching or thinking. Above all he prayed; shutting himself up in his cell, he would pray for hours on his knees.
* * *
For his God-pleasing deeds, St. John was granted a righteous death that revealed the sanctity of his earthly life. Foreseeing his approaching death, he prepared for it: the evening before, he went to confession, and the next day, June 10, 1715, he solemnly celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Afterwards, as was his custom on major feast days, he held a dinner in his quarters for the city clergymen and the poor. He himself waited on the latter, thus literally obeying the Gospel injunction: “When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (St. Luke 14:13-14).
After the dinner the Saint touchingly bade farewell to his clergy, and then detained for a short time two of his best-loved priests. What he said to them was never divulged. Having dismissed them, he closed himself into his inner quarters. Before vespers, when it was customary to ask the Metropolitan’s blessing for the ringing of the bells, his house servants came many times to his quarters, knocked and called him; but the door was not opened, and they heard no voice. The residents of Tobolsk, who deeply revered and loved the Metropolitan, did not hear the vesper bells at the usual time; and having been thrown into perplexity by the tales that quickly spread through the city about the entirely extraordinary farewell of St. John with his clergy, they gathered in large numbers in the enclosure before the bishop’s house.
Finally the Siberian governor, Prince Gagarin, arrived and, after renewed vain attempts to call the Metropolitan, he took the responsibility upon himself and ordered the door broken in. And they beheld: Metropolitan John, in an attitude of prayer, was on his knees before the holy Icon of the Chernigov Mother of God—already long dead.
His death was supernaturally revealed to his beloved brother in Christ. On the same day Blessed Philotheus, being miles away in the wild regions of the Konda River, said to those who surrounded him: “Our brother John has passed away. Let us go from here”; and he at once returned to Tobolsk.
The Saint was buried in his cathedral to the great lamentation of his flock. But immediately a series of visions and miraculous intercessions followed, so that there was no doubt of his sanctity; and Tobolsk patiently waited for the day of his canonization. This took, however, 200 years, and even then it was almost postponed because of the First World War. It took the ardent intercession of the local Bishop Varnava, the future Patriarch Tikhon, and the Martyr-Tsar Nicholas II to bring about the long expected canonization, which took place on June 10, 1916, in the presence of all the Siberian hierarchs and tens of thousands of Orthodox believers from all over Holy Russia. It was the last canonization before the Satanic Revolutionary storm broke.
The incorruptible relics of St. John are said to be still preserved in Tobolsk today.
By the holy intercessions of the Holy Hierarch John, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!
1. Interestingly enough, the largest and most active center of Orthodoxy in China two centuries later was headed by the Saint’s relative, [St.] John Maximovitch, Bishop of Shanghai, whose life and activity strikingly resemble St. John’s.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Guide of piety, provider for orphans, helper of the afflicted, and unmercenary physician of the sick, swift succor of suffering souls and fervent intercessor with the Lord for all: O Father and Hierarch John, intercede with Christ God that He save our souls.
Source: The Orthodox Word, Vol. II, No. 5 (11) (November-December 1966), pp. 158-165.
June 10, 2011
Senior figures in the Serbian Orthodox Church are to be questioned over allegations that the former general Ratko Mladic, who is suspected of war crimes, was sheltered by the Church during his nearly 16 years on the run.
General Mladic is currently in prison at The Hague, facing charges of orchestrating the massacre of 8000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995 — the worst civilian massacre in Europe since the Second World War.
The President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, has said that Church officials will be questioned as part of the investigation, after reports in the Serbian press suggested that General Mladic was nursed by nuns through a stroke while he was supposed to be on the run.
The St Melania Convent, which is 40 miles north of Belgrade, is said to have been one of a number of secret refuges provided by the Orthodox Church.
The Church has not made any comment on the allegations, or on the arrest of General Mladic.
Drasko Djenovic, who runs Centaur 9, an organisation set up to monitor religious freedom in Serbia, said that there was, as yet, no proof that General Mladic had been harboured by the Church, as Radovan Karadzic had been. He said that priests had joined in demonstrations against Mladic’s arrest, however, and a demonstration in Lazarevo, the village where the General was arrested, was led by the local priest.
Mr Djenovic said: “For most believers, priests, and bishops, he is still a national hero, and his extradition to Hague court will just mean that more people will vote against pro-European parties in favour of nationalist parties.”
The Very Revd Aleksandar Zebic, of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St Lazar in Bourneville, Birmingham, told Premier Christian Radio this week that General Mladic was now “answerable to God”.
The Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, has welcomed the arrest and trial. On his blog, he contrasted General Mladic’s treatment with the discovery and shooting of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
“Putting someone on trial matters because the truth matters. Trial is not about revenge but about justice. There may have been very good reasons why Osama Bin Laden, too, could not have been arrested and put on trial for his crimes, but we are not told them in any clear or persuasive way.”
The feast of the Synaxis of All Saints of Siberia was established under Patriarch Pimen of Moscow and All Russia in 1984. It is celebrated annually on June 10th. Below are a list of some of these Saints:
Andrew, Igumen of Raphael (Tobolsk). He is commemorated on May 14 (+ 1820)
Anthony, Metropolitan of Tobolsk. He is commemorated on March 27. (+ 1740)
Arethas of Valaam & Verkhoturye. He is commemorated on May 15 (+ 1910)
Barlaam, Archbishop of Tobolsk. He is commemorated on December 27 (+ 1802)
Barlaam, desert-dweller of Chikoysk. He is commemorated on October 5 (+ 1846)
Basil of Mangazea. He is commemorated on March 22 (+1602), May 10 (Translation of his relics in 1670), May 23 (All Saints of Rostov and of Yaroslavl).
Cosmas of Verkhoturye. He is commemorated on November 1 (+ 1706)
Daniel of Achinsk. He is commemorated on April 15 (+ 1843)
Demetrius, Metropolitan of Rostov. He is commemorated on October 28 (+1709) and on September 21 (The uncovering of his relics in 1752)
Domna of Tomsk, Eldress, fool-for-Christ. She is commemorated on December 16 (+ 1872)
Gerasimus, Bishop of Astrakhan and Enotaeva. He is commemorated on June 24 (+1880)
Herman of Alaska. He is commemorated on December 13 (+ 1837) and on July 27/Aug. 9 (His Glorification in 1970)
Innocent, first Bishop of Irkutsk. He is commemorated on November 26 (+ 1731) and on February 9 (The uncovering of his relics in 1805)
Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of Alaska & Siberia. He is commemorated on March 31 (+ 1879), on Sept. 23 /Oct. 6 (His glorification in 1977), and on the Sunday before August 26 (All Saints of Moscow)
John, Metropolitan of Tobolsk, wonderworker. He is commemorated on June 10 (+ 1715)
John of Verkhoturye, fool-for-Christ. He is commemorated on April 16 (+ 1701)
Macarius of Altai. He is commemorated on May 16 (+ 1847)
Meletius, Bishop of Kharkov. He is commemorated on February 12 (+ 1840)
Meletius, Bishop of Ryazan. He is commemorated on January 14 (+ 1900)
Misael of Abalatsk, Hieromonk. He is commemorated on December 17 (+ 1797)
Nectarius, Archbishop of Tobolsk. (+ 1666)
Peter, Metropolitan of Tobolsk. He is commemorated on March 4 (+ 1820)
Philaret, Metropolitan of Kiev. He is commemorated on December 2 (+ 1857)
Philotheus, Metropoltian of Tobolsk. He is commemorated on May 31 (+ 1727)
Simeon, Metropolitan of Smolensk. He is commemorated on January 4 (+ 1699)
Simeon of Verkhoturye. He is commemorated on September 12 (The transfer of his relics in 1704), and on December 18 (His glorification in 1694)
Sinesius of Irkutsk. He is commemorated on May 10 (+ 1787)
Sophronius, Bishop & wonderworker of Smolensk. He is commemorated on March 30 (+ 1771) and on June 30 (His glorification in 1918)
Stephen of Omsk. He is commemorated on June 30 (+ 1876)
Theodore Kuzmich, Elder of Tomsk. He is commemorated on January 20 (+ 1864)