Sunday, July 31, 2011

Saint Panteleimon Monastery In Kalymnos


For over 200 years the miraculous icon of Saint Panteleimon has been kept at the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon in western Kalymnos, where it was discovered in a cave.

The Monastery was once a metochion of Panagia Hotzevitissas in Amorgos. In 1780 Hieromonk Gerasimos Gerasimou came to the Monastery and founded a secret school (κρυφό σχολειό) to educate the Orthodox population who were under the Turks. According to historian John Zervos, this Monastery is the oldest in Kalymnos, and goes by the name "Holy Monastery". It functions as a male monastery till today and celebrates its feast on July 27th, which is the principle feast of Kalymnos in the summer.












Holy Cross Monastery In Omodos, Cyprus


The ornament and true pride and joy of Omodos is the Monastery of the Holy and Life-giving Cross, built at the heart of the community. It rises majestically and with its imposing presence it becomes a significant part of Cyprus's cultural heritage. The Monastery of the Holy Cross is one of the oldest and most historic monasteries of the island.

History of the Monastery

According to tradition, one night the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages Pano (Upper) and Kato (Lower) Koupetra, which do not exist today, observed a fire in some bushes at the area where the monastery stands today. When it dawned they went to the spot where the fire was seen but there was no sign. This phenomenon repeated for several nights. So they started to dig the earth, discovering a small cave in which they found the Cross. In order to thank the Lord, they constructed a chapel over the cave and kept their precious treasure there, which became a sacred place of adoration for them. With the passage of time the chapel expanded and was converted into a Monastery with many monks and a vast fortune - not only in Cyprus but also abroad - maintaining a grange (monastery dependency) in Constantinople (Istanbul) and real estate in Russia.

According to tradition, the Monastery was established before St. Helen's arrival in Cyprus in 327 AD. The exact date of establishment is unknown. Perhaps it existed before the village and Omodos was later established around the monastery. Various historians of Cyprus such as Neophytos Rodinos, the Russian monk and traveller Barsky, the abbot Kyprianos and others, refer to St. Helen's visit to Cyprus and to the fact that she left a part of the Holy Rope and the Holy Rood in the Monastery. This rope, with which the Romans bound Christ to the Cross, is described as red colored and "stained by the blood of Christ".

After several miracles by the Cross, the Monastery gained substantial reputation and evolved to a great place of adoration. The historical Monastery of Omodos has gone through various phases as the aeons went by. During the harsh centuries of Turkish domination, the Monastery managed to sustain itself and achieve great things. Around 1700 it secured a sultan's "firman" (decree) of impunity and immunity. In 1757 water was transferred to the monastery and the cistern and fountain, found in the south-west end of the monastery, were built by the priest-monk Germanos. In 1917 the entire property of the monastery was given to Omodos's inhabitants. A few years later it was deprived of its last monks and was converted to a parish.


Renovation

The Bishop of Paphos, Chrysanthos, did a full renovation of the Monastery in the second decade of the 19th century, in collaboration with the Steward of the Monastery, Dositheos, who served as a church Steward from 1810 until 1821. In 1816, according to the sign found over the entrance of the monastery's Synodicon, the west wing and the west part of the north wing were constructed. The height of the rooms and the arches of the two-level gallery is greater than that of the north wing. The west wing is the most important one. According to the sign, the reconstruction was done "through the charitableness of the pious and very laborious Steward Dositheos ". In 1817 the - inlaid with gold - icon screen of the church was made. The great Synodicon and the other halls and corridors of the Monastery were decorated with woodcut items that are splendid woodcraft examples of the Rococo style. Especially interesting is the window of the Synodicon's entrance that is found in the ceiling, in the north end of the west wing. Both the line of arches' parapets and the windows are made out of small bits of wood, adjusted in such a manner so as to form elaborate gratings. The leafs also are made out of small pieces of wood with chisels so as to leave the impression of elaborate relief.

However, the most important specimen of woodcraft is the ceiling of the synodicon, the -so called -Throne of the Cross, which covers the eastern wall of the synodicon. These fretwork items are the most important ones that are extant in Cyprus. The bell that is preserved until today is a gift by Dositheos from 1812 and is the first bell that rang in Cyprus during the years of Turkish enslavement. The aid, however, that the Monastery offered to the "Filiki Heteria" (Society of Friends) for the Great Greek Uprising of 1821 proved fatal for the Monastery and for Dositheos. The Turks decapitated the Steward Dositheos, along with other clergymen and laymen, on the 10th of July 1821 in Nicosia.

In 1850 a renovation of the Church, which expanded on its two sides taking its present form, took place.

The Monastery's architecture

The Monastery's architecture is characteristic. It is a huge, two-levels complex in the shape of (the Greek letter) Π that encircles the church in the north, west, and south with its tall cells and the vaulted arches.

One can enter the yard through a vaulted entrance, the so-called "kamaroporta" (arched door), which is found in the north side. Tradition reports that the arched door, which resembles that of a fortress, with its heavy, double crossbars, would not open when Turks who intended to harm the monastery would arrive. The west entrance that today exists in the part of the plaza was opened recently.

The complex is consisted of many stone-made cells, cellars, and hostels/hospices. The lace-like balusters under the arches of the roofed verandas, in the interior side of the constructions, have a very picturesque quality.

In the fenced yard a marble-made fountain refreshes the visitors. Upon a plate, dating back to 1763, the words "come to me you that are thirsty, like Siloam the fountain I will also quench your thirst" are inscribed. The large temple with three aisles of the Monastery, which is of the Basilica type, is built - according to local tradition - precisely above the cave where the holy Cross was found.

Noteworthy elements of the Monastery

The golden & chiseled icon screen of the Church, created in 1817, with the case of the Holy Cross and the ancient icons of Russian style, is of great importance.

A special work of art are the wooden ceilings, which decorate the corridors and the halls of the Monastery. They are amazing specimens of -Rococo style -woodcraft, made with admirable artistry out of thousands of very small pieces of wood that are harmonically matched.

Even more remarkable is the Synodicon with its wonderful ceiling and the throne of the Holy Cross, which is chiseled upon walnut wood and come into view as a true masterpiece. With the two-headed eagle towering above, the throne also serves as a crypt for the Holy Cross. Even the four couches that are preserved, made out of woodcut walnut, present a special beauty.

Today the hall of the Synodicon is an ancient monument. The other halls today house the Museum of Byzantine icons, the Museum of Folkloric Art, the picture gallery, a photo exhibition with old and new photos, and the 1955-1959 Struggle Museum -the first one to be made after the Epic Struggle. In it are kept many materials, personal items, uniforms, documents, and photographs of the fighters.


Invaluable relics

There are invaluable relics in the Monastery of the Holy Cross that have made it reputable throughout the world. Some of them are:

• The Great Cross with the Holy Rope. It is a wooden Cross with a gold & silver-plated cover, placed in a special canopy at the icon screen of the temple. Its surface is decorated by various depictions from the life of Christ. In the four ends of the Cross are the four Evangelists. At the centre of the Cross, within an area sheltered by a golden wicket that opens and closes, the "AGIOS CANNAVOS" (Holy Hemp-made Rope), which is also called "AGIO SCHINIO" (Holy Rope). It is a piece from the rope that the Romans used to fasten Christ upon the Cross and it is the only extant one in the world.

• A second Cross that - according to Costas Nicolaides - in it "is the little Cross enclosed", which is the one originally found inside the cave.

• The Cross of the "Panaretos" (the all virtuous one). This is the old Cross of Anogyra. This Cross is very old and was kept in the mediaeval monastery of the Holy Cross outside the village Anogyra. During troublesome times the Cross was transferred to the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Omodos, where it is still kept until today, for safekeeping.

• The skull of Apostle Philip is kept in a gold and silver-plated case that is shaped like a pyramid. The authenticity of the skull is witnessed by the seals of the Byzantine Emperors Theodosius the Great and Heraclius. The Holy Relic of Orthodoxy was kept in Constantinople until July 31st, 1204. After the city's capture by the Franks it was transferred for safekeeping to the village Arsinoe of the Paphos district. A little after 1735 the case was stolen and in 1770 it was replaced by the one that is extant until today, at the expenditure of the then Metropolitan Bishop of Paphos, Panaretos. For greater safety the case with the Apostle's skull was transferred to the Holy Temple of the Holy Cross in Omodos before 1788.

• Wooden Cross with a height of 15 centimetres and decorated with precious stones. The excellent joinery artistry that it presents causes admiration.

• Fragment of a stone from the horrid Golgotha (Calvary) that was secured after an initiative of church steward Kallistrates Papademas.

• Many other items including holy vessels, remains of 26 Saints, precious jewels and other offerings.

Source


See also an indoor panoramic view of the main church of the Monastery here.


Saint Panteleimon and the Complaining Monk


By Elder Paisios the Athonite

Close to Karyes, there were two Romanians living as ascetics in the same Cell. One of them fell gravely ill at one time and the other, unfortunately, could hardly be bothered to look after him. Thus he kept begging Saint Panteleimon either to cure the invalid quickly, or to take him from this life, in order to be spared the small amount of trouble involved in looking after him.

One day, while he was again begging Saint Panteleimon, the Saint appeared to him and said:

"What are you begging for? You are devoid of virtues. Take care of your brother and you will get a trivial reward from God."

The words of Saint Panteleimon startled the monk. From then on he looked after the invalid with the utmost willingness and asked God to keep him alive for many years, so that he could continue to take care of him in his old age.

From Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters, pp. 147-148.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Prince Charles Hosts Reception For Hilandari Monastery Appeal


Aimilios Polygenis
July 30, 2011
Romfea.gr

A fundraising reception for the reconstruction of the Serbian Hilandari Monastery on Mount Athos was held on July 28th at the official home of the family of the Prince of Wales and was hosted by Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Specifically, on Thursday afternoon, about 100 guests from the United Kingdom, Europe, the U.S. and prominent members of the Serbian Diaspora, gathered to raise money for lab equipment to maintain icons and manuscripts, which are part of the priceless treasures of Hilandari Monastery.

It should be noted that the Head of the Foundation of Hilandari Monastery, Milinots Radic, said the charity event was organized by Prince Charles to support the Monastery.

"We also had two other charity events in London, and the money received was for the rehabilitation of bakery equipment and and library of the Monastery," added Mr. Radic.

Prince Charles regularly visits Mount Athos and Hilandari Monastery, during which he saw up close the size of the destruction caused by the fire on 4 March 2004.


It is true that Prince Charles and his father the Duke of Edinburgh, honorary members of the Friends of Mount Athos in the United Kingdom, contributed actively to Mount Athos and the Monastery (see here, here, and here).

The Abbot of the Monastery, Archimandrite Methodios, in his statement said that the Prince of Wales cares for the course of the reconstruction of the Monastery, but the work has been affected by the economic crisis, as the Serbian and the Greek Government is unable to contribute.

It is worth noting that the abbot of Hilandari, Methodios, met with Prince Charles, where he was briefed on the rehabilitation work and especially for the restoration of the west wing.


Prince Charles reported on the sustainable development of the Monastery and told the abbot that some money will be invested in vineyards and olive trees, which will contribute to the normal life of the Monastery.

Finally, the abbot of Hilandari during his stay in the United Kingdom visited the Church of St. Sava in London, and the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex.

Read more in Serbian here.

Translated and edited by John Sanidopoulos

An Interview With Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem


The Greek Orthodox Church and the Future of Jerusalem

By Anna Koulouris
Vol.17 No.12 2011
Palestine-Israel Journal

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, was interviewed by Palestine-Israel Journal intern/journalist Anna Koulouris.

Politically speaking, Jerusalem is often discussed in terms of only two sides — Israeli and Palestinian. This fact does not imply denying or ignoring the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which insisted in its peace agreement with Israel on being a major partner when the status of Jerusalem is decided between Israel and the Palestinians. The religious significance of Jerusalem is kept a separate matter — it is simply a city of the utmost importance for the three Abrahamic faiths. The Greek Orthodox Christians, or “Rum Orthodox” as they are historically called, have had a history in Jerusalem for more than 2,000 years. As the inheritor of tradition, property and leadership, the Greek Orthodox Church aspires to play a significant role in the political future of this city. The jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which includes more than 150,000 Christians, stretches across Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA), including Jerusalem, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. By default, the patriarch takes on a role as a political leader whose voice is considered integral in many local and international matters. As a local institution, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Israeli government rely on cooperation in order to carry out many of their respective functions. At the same time, any newly elected Greek Orthodox patriarch has to seek the approval of his nomination by the three parties: Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Members of the synods should have Jordanian citizenship. The primary function of the patriarchate is to preserve and protect the holiest sites in Christendom, as it has done since the birth of Christianity.

The 141st Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, discusses the Greek Orthodox Church’s current and future role in Jerusalem and the peace process, responds to criticisms and shares personal opinions.

Palestine-Israel Journal: What is the significance of the Greek Orthodox Church for Jerusalem?

Patriarch Theophilos III: The role of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the church is extremely important for the current and future status of Jerusalem. Its history cannot be dissociated from the political and cultural-religious history of Jerusalem. It has an unbreakable historical presence for 2,000 years and is the only religious institution that has been here throughout the ages. Its purpose and mission continues to be crystal clear and purely religious and spiritual; it does not promote any other interests. Today, if Jerusalem enjoys a certain status and cultural and religious character, it is due to the presence of the patriarchate, which is the inheritor of the spiritual heritage, but also the natural heritage. By natural heritage I mean churches, basilicas, places of worship, holy places that have been handed over to the patriarchate by the Byzantines who left Palestine in the 7th century with the coming of Omar ibn al-Khattab. It was at this time that the Patriarch of Jerusalem became both the spiritual and ethnic leader of the Greek Orthodox community.

Speaking of heritage, there have been accusations by some local Arab Orthodox residents that the Greeks have maintained cultural dominance and that Arabs have not been promoted to certain official positions in the church to the same degree as the Greeks have. Is this true?

There is a bigger question here. The name of the patriarchate and all Eastern Orthodox Christians locally here is “Rum.” This is how they are recognized and identified by the Muslim Arabs and Palestinians, in general. It is a matter of cultural identity or identity crisis that many people have difficulties understanding the meaning of “Rum.” The West has also brought them confusion about their identity, which could be remedied with education and [an] understanding [of] history. And you have to refer back to your roots. You cannot disregard the Byzantine presence that was here. The stones are talking — everything is talking. I have prepared an academic study which gives a very thorough and complete analysis of the meaning of “Rum” and what it means to be a member of that church.

Although the Greek Orthodox Church has had a presence in Jerusalem since its existence, looking forward, there is a political agenda on the part of Israel. No one can deny they would like to gain property that the patriarchate owns, especially in the Jaffa Gate area. Has this put pressure on the church?

You have touched upon a very delicate issue, the core of the importance and significance of the patriarchate’s presence and role concerning Jerusalem and the greater area. From the religious point of view, many of the holy places under the charge of the patriarchate have remained accessible to all pilgrims and visitors without any discrimination whatsoever. It is due to the presence of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. What has been acknowledged by everybody locally, regionally and internationally is that if it were not for the presence of the patriarchate here, most of the holy places would have been destroyed, or at the end of the day, turned into museums or archeological sites and tourist attractions. But so far, the holy places have been maintained as places of blessedness and worship.

In terms of culture and even politics, the patriarchate is very important, first of all because it gives legitimacy to the historical claims that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the PA have over the holy places — because they both have claims from the Muslim Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, when the Muslims took over the city of Jerusalem from the then-Patriarch of Jerusalem Sophronius, and it is well known that they made a peace covenant known as “the Covenant of Omar.” This fundamental agreement has been the basis of all the legal transactions or legal agreements that have taken place so far between the patriarchate and the states and their respective authorities. The other thing is that the patriarchate has been the inheritor of the natural heritage, that is to say, churches, monasteries and other properties, which later were augmented. This is what makes the patriarchate important for the natural, the physical and the demographic [aspects] of Jerusalem. The patriarchate continues to hold properties within and around the Old City — within politically strategic places.

Is any of this, the strength of the patriarchate, a source of tension with the Israeli government today?

Jerusalem is [at] the heart of the political developments here, so it is natural that the patriarchate is part and parcel of the political conflict and interests. But the mission of the patriarchate remains spiritual and religious. Unlike the other Christian churches here — and they do have a lot of properties as well — the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate is the only church institution that is independent, autonomous and autocephalous. This means the properties of the patriarchate are properties of the country here, the land here — they belong here.

As for the properties belonging to the other churches, for example, those belonging to the Roman Catholic Church or to the Russian Church, these are state properties. They do not belong here to the locality, but to the respective states. Some time ago, if you visited Notre Dame you could see written [there] “Vatican Property.” The same happened recently, the Russians asked for some properties to be restored and returned to their proper owners. But who is dealing with the state about these properties, or with the Palestinian Authority? It is the state, not the church.

The other thing is that all the other churches have their point of reference far away from Jerusalem. The appointments of the leaders of the other Christian churches and institutions are coming from abroad, from outside — not from within. So you understand the importance of the patriarchate; it is a local institution.

How is the relationship now between Jordan, Palestine and Israel, the states within the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem?

The relationship today is excellent. After the crisis that the patriarchate passed through, and [when] I assumed my responsibilities as the head of the church here, of course there were all sorts of problems, difficulties and misunderstandings. But eventually everybody realized that my task is to give what is due unto God and what is due unto Caesar.

How much of a role does the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate play in speaking about Palestinian rights, especially with its close proximity to areas like Silwan? Does the church feel a responsibility to take a political stance on the issue?

We try not to interfere or turn ourselves into politicians, but at the same time this does not mean that we do not have compassion for the suffering and the affliction through which the people are passing here. And this is why the churches here have established a kind of council to discuss issues of common concern. We are addressing issues like the recent shooting in Silwan and others. Our purpose is to try, from our position, to contribute to mutual respect and understanding and to peaceful coexistence and symbiosis. This is the duty of the church. This is why we as churches have officially and repeatedly made statements and expressed our position over the status of Jerusalem.

Our position on Jerusalem is that we want it to be an open city, to be accessible to everybody, and that Jerusalem has enough space to accommodate all religious communities. We say it is enough for us to be allowed to visit and venerate the places that are commonly holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Even if we do not have claims over the site itself, we have claims to the holiness and sanctity of the place. The Temple Mount is an example. Another example is King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion. When we have our holy day of Pentecost, which we celebrate in our monastery and at the school on Mount Zion, after the service we go in our liturgical vestments in a procession to King David’s Tomb, which is a synagogue. There we go for worship, to say our prayers and leave. This is what we want. This is our understanding of the holy places. This is why I have said Jerusalem has enough space to accommodate everybody.

Politically speaking, everybody has claims over Jerusalem and everybody wants Jerusalem to be his or her own capital. But from the religious point of view, Jerusalem is the capital of God. And my personal position is that Jerusalem breathes with three lungs: a Christian lung, a Jewish lung and an Islamic lung. And those lungs, they breathe harmoniously. This is how we see the future of Jerusalem.

What is your opinion about the ongoing negotiations of a taxation agreement between the Israeli government and the Vatican, which could mean that church institutions would have to pay income, property and municipal taxes? Does this Orthodox Church feel sidelined knowing that if an agreement is reached, it will set a precedent for the other churches?

The situation with the Vatican negotiations is far more complex. The Greek Orthodox Church is not sidelined because the legal status of the patriarchate differs from the Vatican’s. It is the only church institution with Jordanian law. The patriarchate is a local institution. The Vatican is a spiritual and political entity, so its representatives cannot speak on behalf of the local Christians here.

There are many videos online of infighting that takes place between the Greeks and Armenians in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They seem shameful, and it is hard to understand how such clashes occur in holy places. How would you explain the dynamic here to an observer?

I understand your question, but people try to limit those religious conflicts and fights to certain events that have taken place between Franciscans, between Greeks and Armenians, Armenians and Syrians, Copts and Ethiopians, and so on. But, in fact, we must think a bit deeper and ask ourselves what the entire conflict is about between Palestinian Muslims and Jewish Israelis. Is it not about religion? It is about religion. What is the importance of Jerusalem, politically speaking? Is Jerusalem important for military or strategic purposes? It is purely religious, nothing else. The conflict here is religious. When you see clashes in Jerusalem, especially over the Temple Mount and al-Haram al-Sharif, what is it all about? Is it not about religious areas? So they focus on a particular point in the Holy Sepulcher; that makes sense; it is natural. But they cannot focus on the broader picture of what is going on here in the Holy Land.

Now, there is another thing that we should not forget; we have to take into consideration our human predicament. Actually, all the fights and clashes in the past were in the name of God. The Crusades, what were they all about? Were they not in the name of God? And there are so many others. Today, it is not called “in the name of God,” but in this game, in one way or another, religion is involved.

In the World Council of Churches, how does the Greek Orthodox Church view its need to be there or to be a participant?

The Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem were among the pioneers, the founders of the World Council of Churches. It was established at the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and then all the other churches followed. The council plays an important role in bringing together all the Christian denominations and has done great work because all sorts of prejudices have been dissipated.

The problem is this: During its inception years, the council focused on the unity of the Christian churches and denominations, but then the focus was diverted from a theological discussion to social matters because of the influence of the Protestant churches. Later on, in many cases, it got involved in political matters. Today, the council still plays an important role, but not as prominent as in the past because of many political changes and developments.

Still, the Orthodox Church is committed to the mission of the World Council of Churches. This is why we participate. I myself was the first representative of the patriarchate to become a member of the central committee of the council. Now we have our current representative, and we have recently welcomed the new secretary-general of the World Council of Churches. We are trying to contribute as much as possible because today this is important, especially for our religion. It can help in the peace process and reconciliation, and to bring peace and justice as well.

After the contact you had with the Greek prime minister recently when he visited Israel, what does the patriarchate expect from the Greek government? Do you believe Mr. George Papandreou will help to better relations in the area? Will you and he act as middlemen in political matters here?

The visit of Mr. Papandreou was really very important because he made it clear that his mission is to strengthen this initiative of the peace process. It is a well-known fact that he enjoys respect from both the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership. It is known that his father was a great supporter of the Palestinians during the time of President Yasser Arafat. And to come here to the patriarchate, it is another sign that everybody realizes the importance of the patriarchate, not only in the religious but also in the political sphere. Since the conflict, as I said, is religious, all those leaders are slowly realizing that without the assistance or advice of the religious leadership, not only Christian but also Muslim and Jewish, they cannot succeed in their efforts to bring peace and reconciliation to the area.

Your position is one of great importance and very demanding, yet you seem to have a low profile and live simply. From where do you draw strength on a daily basis?

It is a very hard question. I think all the strength is from above; it is from the church, from prayer. That is it.

What kind of advice would you give to people in the world today who may be struggling with the current economic state of affairs and other challenges that modernity and globalization present?

To people I would say that the exit and refuge from this world’s complexities is faith in God.

The Philistines of Gath and Their Temple


Michelle Morris and Oren Kessler
July 14, 2011
The Jerusalem Post

Excavation where David slew Goliath sheds light on a people remembered as uncultured.

The word Philistine has come to denote boorishness, an underdeveloped sense of beauty and sophistication, and vulgar materialism.

But remnants of an ancient Philistine hub now being excavated in the ancient city of Gath tell a different story: one of an advanced society boasting sophisticated architecture and an advanced political life.

Excavators of Tell es-Safi/Gath, one of Israel’s largest archeological sites, resume work this week in search of further remnants of a Philistine temple believed to have been toppled by an earthquake in 8th century BCE – an event familiar to millions the world over through the biblical story of Samson.

The temple was discovered a year ago by a team led by Prof.

Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan’s University’s Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology. Dating back to the Iron Age (10th century BCE), it features two central pillars in accordance with the image described in the story of Samson in the Book of Judges: “He pulled the two pillars together, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it.”

The team has also uncovered collapsed walls that appear to date from an earthquake in the 8th century BCE – an event that could be identical to the earthquake prophesied by the prophet Amos.

“What we do illuminates various aspects of the Bible,” Maeir said.

“We don’t set out to prove or disprove it. We’re just studying the periods that it was written in and bring color and flesh to the story.”

In its 15th year, experts at the Tell es-Safi /Gath Archaeological Project (situated in the Tel Tzafit National Park between Beit Shemesh and Ashdod) hope to discover more finds from the various stages of the Canaanite, Philistine and Judahite cultures.

Now their efforts have been bolstered by some 100 students of archaeology, anthropology and theology – from North America, Europe, South Korea and Australia – hoping to unearth more insights into Philistine history.

In the Bible the Philistines are portrayed as the archetypal enemy – all brawn and no brain – exemplified by the hulking, thick-headed Goliath who falls victim to the wily King David.

A 2005 dig at Gath made headlines when excavators found a small ceramic shard bearing two names similar to that of Goliath, whom the Bible says lived in Gath. The find marked the earliest decipherable Philistine inscription to date.

The Philistines’ origins lie in Crete, from which they embarked around 1175 BCE for the southern coastal plain of present-day Israel.

They swiftly conquered Gath from the Canaanites and in time they built up a five-city confederation, the Pentapolis – including Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gaza.

Information of the lives of the Philistines in the 11th and 12th century BCE is well known from excavations in Ashdod and Ashkelon conducted since the 1960s. But Seymour Gitin, director of the WF Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem and an expert on the Philistines, told the Associated Press the excavation at Gath could “fill a very important gap in our understanding of the Philistines in 9th century BCE.”

“It doesn’t mean that we’re one day going to find a skull with a hole in its head from the stone that David slung at him,” Maeir added, speaking of Goliath. “But it nevertheless tells that this reflects a cultural milieu that was actually there at the time.”

Read also:

Search for Biblical Philistines Attracts 100 Archaeologists

Gath, Gaza, and Goliath

Aren Maeir's Daily Updates On the Excavation

Proposal: City of David (Almost) Never in Jerusalem

The Pool Tower, near the Gihon Spring, built in the Middle Bronze period.


In a new article in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (11/12), Israel Finkelstein, Ido Koch, and Oded Lipschits propose that the city of Jerusalem only rarely included the “City of David” ridge south of the Temple Mount. The article, available in pdf format, begins with these paragraphs:

The conventional wisdom regards the City of David ridge as the original mound of Jerusalem. Yet, intensive archaeological research in the last century—with excavations in many parts of the ca. six hectares ridge (see Fig. 1), has proven that between the Middle Bronze Age and Roman times, this site was fully occupied only in two relatively short periods: in the Iron Age IIB-C (between ca. the mid-eighth century and 586 B.C.E.) and in the late Hellenistic period (starting in the second half of the second century B.C.E.). Occupation in other periods was partial and sparse—and concentrated mainly in the central sector of the ridge, near and above the Gihon spring. This presented scholars with a problem regarding periods for which there is either textual documentation or circumstantial evidence for significant occupation in Jerusalem; we refer mainly to the Late Bronze Age, the Iron IIA and the Persian and early Hellenistic periods.

Scholars attempted to address this problem in regard to a specific period. Na'aman (2010a) argued that the Late Bronze city-states are underrepresented in the archaeological record also in other places; A. Mazar (2006; 2010) advocated the “glass half full” approach, according to which with all difficulties, the fragmentary evidence in the City of David is enough to attest to a meaningful settlement even in periods of weak activity; one of us (Lipschits 2009) argued for enough spots with Persian Period finds on the ridge; another author of this paper (Finkelstein 2008) maintained that the weak archaeological signal from the late Iron I—early Iron IIA (the tenth century B.C.E.) and the Persian and early Hellenistic periods reflects the actual situation in Jerusalem—which was only sparsely populated in these periods. Still one must admit that the bigger problem—of many centuries in the history of Jerusalem with only meager finds—has not been resolved.

In what follows we wish to put forward a solution to this riddle. Following the suggestion of Knauf (2000) regarding the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I, we raise the possibility that similar to other hilly sites, the mound of Jerusalem was located on the summit of the ridge, in the center of the area that was boxed-in under the Herodian platform in the late first century B.C.E. Accordingly, in most periods until the second century B.C.E. the City of David ridge was outside the city. Remains representing the Late Bronze, Iron I, Iron IIA, and the Persian and early Hellenistic periods were found mainly in the central part of this ridge. They include scatters of sherds but seldom the remains of buildings, and hence seem to represent no more than (usually ephemeral) activity near the spring. In two periods—in the second half of the eighth century and in the second half of the second century B.C.E.—the settlement rapidly (and simultaneously) expanded from the mound on the Temple Mount to both the southeastern ridge (the City of David) and the southwestern hill (today’s Jewish and Armenian quarters).

The theory of “the mound on the Mount” cannot be proven without excavations on the Temple Mount or its eastern slope—something that is not feasible in the foreseen future....In other words, for clear reasons—the inability to check our hypothesis in the field—we cannot present a well-based solution for the “problem with Jerusalem.” Rather, our goal in this paper is to put this theory on the table of scholarly discussion.


Three objections come immediately to mind: (1) the biblical problem is that 2 Samuel and 1 Kings indicate that the city was near the Gihon spring and later expanded to include the Temple Mount (2 Sam 5:8; 24:18-25; 1 Kgs 1:33-45); (2) the logical problem is that such a proposed city would not have included a water source; (3) the archaeological problem is that the Gihon Spring is surrounded by massive fortifications. The authors dismiss these finds as a “riddle,” but in fact they are compelling evidence against the thesis of this article. The traditional view that the City of David was the original core of Jerusalem explains all of the evidence in a more satisfactory way.

Source

The Uniqueness of the Earth Still A Mystery and Enigma


Our earth seems special – maybe because it is. Some astronomers are seriously considering that life might be rare or unique on our rare (or unique) planet. If so, hopes for finding sentient aliens on the celestial radio dial drop accordingly. The 50th anniversary of the first SETI search came, unfortunately for search enthusiasts, at a time when funding is harder to get.

New Scientist has been running a series called “Existence” for the purpose of examining big questions about the origin of the universe, life, and consciousness. Most of the articles try to give atheist answers to arguments of intelligent design. In “Why is the universe just right for us?” for instance, Marcus Chown tried to explain away fine-tuning arguments with responses that physical constants might be interconnected, or are not as finely tuned as they seem, or that the multiverse hypothesis provides a way out. Even so, he could not explain away the incredibly “fortuitous” dark energy parameter.

In “Where did we come from?” Stephen Hawking presented the standard big bang scenario with inflation, but admitted at the end that “many huge mysteries remain,” leaving the solution in the future.

In “Why is there a universe?” Amanda Gefter tried to explain how something can come from nothing via quantum fluctuations.

MacGregor Campbell posted a cartoony animation trying to convince puzzled readers that “nothing” and “something” might be one and the same – i.e., that our physical universe, including us, might really be nothing. At the end, though, Gefter realized this is not a satisfactory answer:

None of this really gets us off the hook, however. Our understanding of creation relies on the validity of the laws of physics, particularly quantum uncertainty. But that implies that the laws of physics were somehow encoded into the fabric of our universe before it existed. How can physical laws exist outside of space and time and without a cause of their own? Or, to put it another way, why is there something rather than nothing?

Readers of these articles might well ask how nothing could know anything.

Live Science put forth a new idea by David Spiegel [Princeton U] and Edwin Turner [U of Tokyo] that allows for sentient life being so rare that we might be alone in the universe. Using Bayesian analysis, they showed mathematically that there is no way to prefer the belief life is common over the belief life is rare, even using the famous Drake equation. When you have only one data point, “Our own existence implies very little about how many other times life has arisen.” Accordingly, it is just as scientifically reasonable to believe life is unique in the universe as to argue it must be common.

In a Nature News article, M. Mitchell Waldrop announced royally, “SETI Is dead – Long live SETI.” By that he meant that “The closure of the Allen Telescope Array shifts the search for extraterrestrial intelligence away from big science.” California’s budget crisis has shut down hopes at the Hat Creek site to scan the skies for intelligent signals. With that comes the graying of the true believers:

The melancholy vista at Hat Creek makes it easy to entertain equally melancholy thoughts about the SETI enterprise itself. It's the ultimate in high-risk, high-payoff science, pursued by only a handful of passionate researchers. In 50 years of searching, they have turned up nothing — and they can't quite shake an association in the public mind with flying-saucer sightings and Hollywood science fiction, all of which is so easy for cost-cutting politicians to ridicule that any substantial federal funding for SETI is impossible. Private support for the search is getting tighter because of the global recession. And many of the pioneers who have championed the search are now well into their 60s, 70s or 80s.

SETI Institute research head Jill Tarter remains optimistic, however, because smaller, cheaper searches are still continuing, and all searches over the past half century have only represented a tiny sample of space. Bottom line, though, is that nothing has been found, and even the most optimistic proponents cannot provide any reasonable estimate of the chances of success, despite the self-reinforcing opinions of those whose reputations depend on high hopes (see Space.com).

Source

Russian Church Against Becoming A State Religion


July 15, 2011
Interfax

The Moscow Patriarchate's position on what relations between the state and the Church should be is invariable, it said.

"We do not want the (Church) to become part of the state apparatus, state machinery, to assume secular functions," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations, said.

He was commenting on a poll conducted by the Sreda agency along with the Public Opinion foundation of 1,500 people across 44 Russian regions, 100 towns and villages. According to the poll, 30% of Russians want Orthodoxy to become the state religion, 48% are against it and 23% did not have an opinion about it.

The system of Church-State relations in Russia has not changed over the past decade, both from the point of view of secular laws and the Church's decisions, the priest said.

"The fact that the Church is growing and becoming more active by no means implies a review in its position on relations between the state and religion," he said, adding that the Church is not trying to substitute some state or form some politicized ideology.

Karl Marx Monument Dismantled, To Be Replaced By Church


July 14, 2011
Interfax

The monument to Karl Marx at Sovetskaya Square in downtown Penza was dismantled as a cathedral will be erected instead of it, the Penza Diocese told Interfax.

"A part of the Savior Cathedral will occupy this part of the square; its construction is underway," the interviewee of the agency said.

A foundation pit for the church building will soon be excavated.

The decision to move the monument was taken by the city administration. It was planned to transfer it to Karl Marx Street.

The world's first monument to Marx was set up in Penza on May 1, 1918, but it broke down as it was made of clay. In November 1960, a new monument was erected here: it was a two-meter bronze bust on a six-meter granite stand.

The new cathedral complex will be built on the place of the old church built in 1800-1824 and blown up in 1934. [The bronze two-meter bust was established on the six-meter granite pedestal on that place where there was an altar of the Spassky Cathedral which was blown up in 1934.]

Read more about this story and see photos of the dismantling here.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Invincible and Victorious Grace of God


By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

"My Grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The Lord did not even spare His apostles from temptations. That is why He gave them Grace! When Satan himself began to malign the Apostle Paul, Paul prayed to God that Satan depart from him. To that, the Lord replied: "My Grace is sufficient for you!" That is, if you need to withstand Satan, for your endurance "My Grace is sufficient for you!" If you need to struggle with Satan, again "My Grace is sufficient for you!" If you wish to defeat Satan, again "My Grace is sufficient for you!" Grace is an all-inclusive weapon. Grace is stronger than all opposition, than all assaults, than all the powers of darkness. Grace is invincible and victorious.

Brethren, that is why we should pray to the Lord to give us His All-powerful Grace. Grace is God within us. Grace is the kingdom of God within us. When the Grace of God is within us, then day is within our souls. And day signifies light, knowledge and fearlessness.

Brethren, we cannot here on earth implore a greater good from God than the Grace of God. If we were to receive the entire universe as a gift, that gift would be less than the Grace of God.

O most abundant Lord, the inexhaustible source of the omnipotent Grace, sprinkle our hardened hearts with Your Grace that we might weep before Your most great goodness and our horrendous ingratitude.

"That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His Grace" (Ephesians 2:7).

With the prophetic gift, the Apostle Paul prophesied about the riches of the Grace which, throughout the ages, will be poured out on the generations of mankind. We who live nearly twenty centuries separated from the apostle can attest to that which the apostle prophesied in ages past. Just as beehives are filled with valuable and honey-bearing bees, so all the centuries from Christ until today are filled with praiseworthy men, virgins and women.

O how abundantly the richness of the Grace of God manifested itself on countless souls who, at first, were sinful and later became holy!

O how abundantly the richness of the Grace of God manifested itself on men and women who were, at first, weak and fearful and after that heroically confessed Christ the Lord and joyfully suffered for Him!

O how abundantly the richness of the Grace of God manifested itself throughout the centuries on the simple and illiterate who, after that, became true wisemen and spiritual generals of the faithful armies of Christ!

Brethren, just think how much more hidden holiness, unrevealed sacrificing, unrecorded heroism, unsung virtues lay hidden in the depths of twenty centuries of Christianity! When all of that is made known, all that which was in the past centuries and in those centuries which will come until the end of time, then will the angels and men be astonished before the unspeakable riches of the Grace of God. Then the Apostle Paul himself will have to cry out: "Even though I was an apostle, nevertheless, my word was too weak to express all the immeasurable richness of the Grace of God which, out of love for man, was proclaimed in the world."

O Most Holy Trinity, our mankind-loving God, uplift our hearts that we continually glorify and praise the exceeding great richness of Your Grace.

New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism


Further proof, if any more is needed, of a collapsing theory. So much for the anti-science belief in “consensus” used to bully people away from the facts in order to establish alarmist ideologies.

James Taylor
July 27, 2011
Forbes

NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth's atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.

Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA's Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA's Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.

"The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show," Spencer said in a July 26 University of Alabama press release. "There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans."

In addition to finding that far less heat is being trapped than alarmist computer models have predicted, the NASA satellite data show the atmosphere begins shedding heat into space long before United Nations computer models predicted.

The new findings are extremely important and should dramatically alter the global warming debate.

Scientists on all sides of the global warming debate are in general agreement about how much heat is being directly trapped by human emissions of carbon dioxide (the answer is "not much"). However, the single most important issue in the global warming debate is whether carbon dioxide emissions will indirectly trap far more heat by causing large increases in atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds. Alarmist computer models assume human carbon dioxide emissions indirectly cause substantial increases in atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds (each of which are very effective at trapping heat), but real-world data have long shown that carbon dioxide emissions are not causing as much atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds as the alarmist computer models have predicted.

The new NASA Terra satellite data are consistent with long-term NOAA and NASA data indicating atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds are not increasing in the manner predicted by alarmist computer models. The Terra satellite data also support data collected by NASA's ERBS satellite showing far more longwave radiation (and thus, heat) escaped into space between 1985 and 1999 than alarmist computer models had predicted. Together, the NASA ERBS and Terra satellite data show that for 25 years and counting, carbon dioxide emissions have directly and indirectly trapped far less heat than alarmist computer models have predicted.

In short, the central premise of alarmist global warming theory is that carbon dioxide emissions should be directly and indirectly trapping a certain amount of heat in the earth's atmosphere and preventing it from escaping into space. Real-world measurements, however, show far less heat is being trapped in the earth's atmosphere than the alarmist computer models predict, and far more heat is escaping into space than the alarmist computer models predict.

When objective NASA satellite data, reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, show a "huge discrepancy" between alarmist climate models and real-world facts, climate scientists, the media and our elected officials would be wise to take notice. Whether or not they do so will tell us a great deal about how honest the purveyors of global warming alarmism truly are.

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Five Miracles of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou


Below are a few of the thousands of miracles attributed to St. Irene Chrysovalantou which the recipients responded to with thankful letters addressed to the Saint and published in the bi-monthly periodical "Saint Irene Chrysovalantou" distributed by the Monastery dedicated to this Saint in Lykovrisi (read more here). These were published in the September-October 2009 issue.

1. Healing of Leukemia

Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, I thank you for hearing my prayers and healing my daughter of fifteen years old who was admitted to a hospital in Vancouver because the doctors diagnosed her with leukemia.

We prayed to Saint Irene Chrysovalantou to cure our child and she worked her miracle. I went to the hospital and gave my daughter the icon of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou to have next to her and pray for her health. I also gave her a piece of holy apple to eat. As soon as she ate it she felt a weight lifting from her.

The same night she dreamt that she was thirsty and she asked for water. She saw Saint Irene holding an apple in her hand coming near to her to give her some apple. The next morning when she woke up she felt completely well and the doctors were amazed with the progress in her health.

May Saint Irene give to all health and peace and have us under her protection.

The parents,
Konstantinos and Aikaterini Agriomitrou
Vancouver, Canada

2. The Childless Receive A Child

Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, thousands of thanks for the miracle which you worked for me.

After thirteen whole years of marriage full of pain, worry, sadness and a big emptiness in my life because I did not have a child, you came to give me an adorable little boy, my Chrysovalanti. You gave me so much joy and happiness that I cannot describe it.

I prayed to you day and night to help me feel the joy of motherhood and you helped me. I had vowed that if I had a child I would call it by your name.

One night, when I thought I was asleep, a door suddenly opened from the east (there was not a door there normally). I saw a woman coming in dressed in black. I was very frightened and I started to call for my husband and mother. Then I saw the woman coming close to me and standing at my bedside. She said three times: "Do not be afraid".

I continued to shout because I did not realize it was Saint Irene Chrysovalantou. Then I heard my mother saying: "Do not be afraid, it is Saint Irene Chrysovalantou and she has come to tell you that you will have a child." Emotionally I turned around to see you, but you had gone.

After that I was certain that Saint Irene would help me and finally I was pregnant. Every day I smeared holy oil on my tummy and thank God I had my baby with no problems.

Thank you Saint Irene Chrysovalantou from deep in our hearts and please always protect everyone and us.

Please protect our Chrysovalanti. I am sending a photograph of him too.

With love and respect,
Maria Charilaou
Lemesos, Cyprus


3. Healing Of An Unconscious Man Following An Accident

I too want to thank you, Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, for the miracle which you worked for us.

My husband after a car accident remained unconscious in big shock. At the hospital where he was for two weeks fighting for his life the doctors, in spite of their efforts, did not give us much hope of survival. They said that if his heart could cope he would live.

I, who was expecting my second child, put all my hopes in you Saint Irene Chrysovalantou and I smeared some holy oil from your oil lamp on my husband which I always have in the house.

After two weeks one morning my five year old daughter woke up and said: "Mummy, Saint Irene Chrysovalantou came to our house and she told me not to cry because my daddy would get better. He will wake up from being unconscious and speak to you."

The next day he recovered and we asked him what he would like, and he said he wanted Saint Irene Chrysovalantou's holy apple and to see his daughter. I fasted for three days and I gave the holy apple to my husband to eat.

In the morning when he woke up the doctors examined him and they told my husband that he had fluid in the brain and they would have to operate in a week. When the time came for the operation there was a test to be done and they found nothing. They were amazed how it had happened. I knew it was a miracle from you and he did not have to go through the inconvenience of an operation.

I vowed to come to your Monastery to pray when we were on leave from our work and to thank you from near. Now my husband is at home and we are happily waiting for the birth of our second child. We shall always thank you for as long as we live.

With faith and respect,
Kate Rosenli
Germany

4. Healing of Painful Kidney Stones

Thank you Saint Irene Chrysovalantou from deep in my soul for the miracle which you worked for me.

I had bad pains in my right side and I was admitted to the hospital for tests which showed I had a stone in my kidneys. They had me often under observation because the pains continued to torment me.

One night when I went to bed I read one of your magazines which my wife had brought to me in the hospital to read of your miracles. After I read them my eyes filled with tears and with true faith I prayed that you would work for me a miracle too to avoid the pain and operation I would go through.

Your miracle did not take long to work Saint Irene Chrysovalantou.

That same day at midnight I woke up afraid, thinking that something was cut inside me and the pain I felt inside me was unbearable. I went back to sleep without any painkiller.

In the morning when they x-rayed me your miracle had worked. The x-rays were clear. There was no stone on the kidney.

After a while the doctor came and he said smiling: "You are lucky and you don't need the operation. There is nothing wrong with you." So I left the hospital completely well thanks to your miraculous intervention, Saint Irene Chrysovalantou.

I thank you from deep in my soul and pray that you will have us always keep us under your protection and we will always call on you when in difficulty.

Your humble servant,
Savvas Orphanidis
Germany


5. A Mother Prays For the Health of Her Children

I thank you wholeheartedly Saint Irene Chrysovalantou for the miracles which you worked for me too.

My child was just nine months when he had problems with his kidneys. We took him to a very good hospital in Athens where after many tests they told us that for a year he must take antibiotics and if things did not improve then he must have an operation.

When we returned home and talked to someone I know, she told me that for a young child to take antibiotics over such a long period was disastrous for my child's health. So I decided to stop the antibiotics and instead three times a day I put three drops of oil from your oil lamp in his milk which he drank, and I also smeared some holy oil on his kidneys.

You worked your great miracle sweet Saint Irene, as a year later, after many tests, my little Nicholas was completely healthy and today he is a young man aged 27.

After that miracle you enabled me to hold in my arms a second child who bears your name Chrysovalantou, as after having my first child I was unable to have a second child which I so much wanted.

For nine whole years I waited for this joy and my faith in you gave me hope. I visited your Monastery at Lykovrisi and I got some holy apple and holy oil which I drank regularly and smeared some on me.

After some tests which I had for other reasons I found out I was five months pregnant. You protected me Saint Irene and I gave birth very well to my little Chrysovalantou who today is 18 years old.

Thank you sweet Saint Irene Chrysovalantou for your help towards me, and please always protect my family and all those who call on your miraculous power.

Theodora Noula
Mesologgi, Greece

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saint Panteleimon and the Irreverent Doctor


Our presvytera had a tumor and had surgery. As soon as they removed the tumor, they gave a piece to her husband, Father Evangelos, to go for a biopsy and bring back the results immediately. After receiving the results of the examination the doctors did not give even six months to the afflicted. The daughter of Papa-Vangeli fainted, while he himself lost it. In his hands however he squeezed the hand of Saint Panteleimon, which he brought with him, and prayed.

Presvytera returned from surgery. With longing Father Evangelos placed on top of the bandages where the breast surgery of presvytera took place the hand of the Saint, and he knelt down in prayer. At that time the surgeon entered with his mask on. Beholding the scene, he began to yell:

"What is this bone, my Father? Get it out of here and head on home."

The poor priest was dizzy; he gathered the holy relic and sought the door. Though he was dizzy, he heard the nurse call the doctor on the telephone saying that his wife was asking for him.

In the evening a car stopped outside the home of the priest. Surprised, Papa-Vangeli saw the doctor emerge. "My! My!", he thought, "the doctor is even chasing me to my house!" With horror, however, he also sees emerge from the car a young disfigured boy; his mouth went all the way to his ear.

The doctor approached the priest and said:

"My Father, that bone, do you have it? Forgive me, I got carried away. At the moment I kicked you out my wife called me saying that my child, as he was taking an exam, came down suddenly with the palsy you see. I realized that I was to blame, which is why I beg you much to read for us a prayer. Your presvytera gave me your address to the village."

Father Evangelos replied: "Gladly my child. Come to the small church. My son, hold the hand of the Saint and kneel."

Father Evangelos then explained what happened next, saying: "I lay my stole on the head of the youth and I began to read the prayer. As I read I heard a noise, crack! crack! I thought, what is going on? I finished, and when the child got up, what did we see, but the mouth of the child came back in place! Father and son threw themselves on me."

"My Father, how can I thank you?" asked the father of the child.

"Not me, my child," replied the priest, "but thank God and the Saint."

From that time and for a very long time they would come to venerate and to bring oil for the oil lamp of the Saint.

As for the presvytera, it is now more than twenty years since she became perfectly well without any more therapy. She raised her children and lives in the village, taking care of the small church with its many relics, since Father Evangelos is no longer around.

The doctor would often say to Papa-Vangeli: "We, my Father, must burn our books."

Source: Σταχυολογήματα από την θαυμαστή ζωή του π.Ευαγγέλου Χαλκίδη εφημέριου Αγ.Βασιλείου Λαγκαδά (Gleanings From the Wondrous Life of Fr. Evangelos Halkidi, Parish Priest of Saint Basil's in Langada) by Orthodoxos Kypseli. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Tomb of the Apostle Philip Discovered In Hierapolis


The tomb of St. Philip, one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus, was unearthed in a great discovery in the Denizli province of Turkey.

The discovery took place at the Hierapolis (Pamukkale) ancient excavation site of Denizli in western Turkey on Tuesday 26 July 2011. The excavation has been going on in the area for some 32 years led by the Italian Prof. Francesco D’Andria. Prof D’Andria gave the news of the great discovery on Tuesday, saying: “The discovery of the tomb of St Philip, who is a very important figure for Christianity, will make a tremendous impression in the world,” shortly after the great success of his team.

Up till now, people believed that the tomb of St. Philip was in the back hill of Hierapolis known as Martyr's Hill, but Italian Archaeologist Francesco D’Andria and his team discovered a new unknown church 40 meters of Martyr's Hill and the real tomb of St. Philip the Apostle is in this church.

“St. Philip is considered a martyr. In fact, the church built in his name on the Martyr's Hill is, for this reason, also called Martyrion, despite the fact there were no traces of the grave of St. Philip. As we were cleaning out the new church we discovered a month ago, we finally found the grave. With close examination, we determined that the grave had been moved from its previous location in the St. Philip Church to this new church in the fifth century, during the Byzantine era. We are extremely happy and proud to have discovered the grave of a saint whose name appears in the Bible – this surely is an important discovery for religious tourism, archaeology and Christendom,” the professor said.


Read also:

The Fate of the Relics of the Apostle Philip

Conversion, Crucifixion and Celebration





The Tomb of Saint Paraskevi in Pounta


According to the tradition of the people of Epirus, St. Paraskevi was not martyred in Rome as mentioned in her traditional hagiography, but in Thesprotia where the Monastery of Saint Paraskevi of Pounta stands today. According to this tradition strongly held by the locals, the headless body of St. Paraskevi was entombed here and her tomb can still be venerated today.

It is said that the persecutors of St. Paraskevi dragged her to the edge of the river Acheron to behead her. As the sword was raised over her head, she grabbed a stone pillar that she held so tightly that the print of her hands melted into it leaving an indelible mark. A church was eventually erected here by the faithful in her honor and housed her holy relics. Her skull was eventually placed in the walls of the church, though today it is kept in Moni Petraki in Athens (skull is pictured below).

This tradition is reinforced for the following reasons:

1. According to St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, through St. Paraskevi "many Greeks returned to the knowledge of God".

2. The Roman Martyrology omits this.

3. Many villages in Thesprotia located near the location of the martyrdom of St. Paraskevi celebrate their primary feast on July 26th in honor of St. Paraskevi, such as Valanidia, Kerasovo, Agia Kyriaki (Popovo), Tsangario, and Karamachi.

4. Portions of the skull and relics of St. Paraskevi remain throughout Greece. Petraki Monastery of the Bodiless Powers (Moni Petraki) in the center of Athens treasures part of the miraculous, myrrh-flowing skull of St. Paraskevi (along with relics of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas and Irene). Every Friday evening after Vespers, they serve Paraklesis to St. Paraskevi, and her relics are available for veneration. Also, Koutloumousiou Monastery of Mount Athos preserves a portion of her holy skull. Dionysiou Monastery of Mount Athos and the Monastery of Prophet Elias on Thira also have relics of St. Paraskevi, among others in Greece.

Today many faithful come to venerate the tomb of St. Paraskevi in Pounta and on July 26th a great feast is held in her honor.

According to the author and novelist Spyros Mouselimis, in his article "The Monastery of Pountas and the Feast of Saint Paraskevi" (Ηπειρωτική Εστία, 10, pp. 638-641, 1961), Pountas Monastery was known for its healing waters and numerous miracles. The pilgrims would cut off portions of the stone pillar of St. Paraskevi as a talisman, to the point that in 1960 the size of the stone was half its original size. He further writes:

"Lame and blind people come here to her tomb on her feast and leave strong. It was not too long ago (1952) where a crazy girl came here and the next day left reasonable and well. Out of her tomb there once flowed water through which the sick were healed. However a Turk came here to bathe his skin diseased bloodhound, and the water stopped, though the dog was healed."

According to the testimonies of soldiers during the Albanian war of 1940 St. Paraskevi appeared to many soldiers and saved them in miraculous ways.

The property of the Monastery at one time was very great. According to Lambridis, at the end of the 19th century the annual revenue of the Monastery was 20,000 piastres, from which a boarding school was supported on its premises until 1913. After the population exchange of 1923 the Monastery was abandoned and did not operate again until 1975. Only the eastern side of the original Holy Altar area of the Katholikon survives today, while the rest of the church was restored in 1989 together with the inscription for the tomb of St. Paraskevi.

Today the Monastery operates as a female convent.




Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Critique of Visions of Heaven and Hell


I have a general opinion regarding alleged visions of heaven and hell - never believe them when someone else tells you about them and pray you never receive one. Do I believe a vision of heaven and hell is possible? Yes I do, for with God all things are possible. What I look for is its fruits to see if they are authentic/revelation or a hoax/delusion. An authentic vision of heaven and hell can only possibly lead towards one path for the visionary - a life of extreme ascetical self-deprivation and repentance coupled with an over-abundance of humility and love. A hoax on the other hand does one of two things - it either self-glorifies the visionary giving him an exalted spiritual status to himself and others or it promotes views with good or evil intentions through lies to manipulate the hearer to accept the words of the visionary. 99.9% of all visions of heaven and hell one reads about usually falls into the latter category of being a hoax/delusion, whether conjured up in one's imagination or through demonic influence.

To demonstrate, I will briefly evaluate a popular "vision" of heaven and hell which is being distributed among the Orthodox Christian faithful in the United States, especially through certain monasteries, which gives it an extra ounce of credibility and believability, unfortunately. It is titled "My Spiritual Rebirth" by Dushan Yovanovich (Dusan Jovanovic) of Kragujevac, Serbia. I was given this small booklet a little over ten years ago by a married couple from outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania whom I was friends with through my wife. They received it trough the Greek Orthodox monastery in Saxonburg. The husband whole-heartedly believed in its authenticity, while the wife asked I read it for an evaluation knowing that I have a background in evaluating such material. Having read dozens upon dozens of such visions even by that time, I could pretty much predict its content and structure before even looking at it, and when I did read it I was not disappointed by my assumptions. I emailed this couple back with my negative evaluation, and I received no response and have never heard back from them since.

I don't have any particular background knowledge of the visionary or the publication of the text, but this is not necessary to evaluate it. It is not available anywhere online in either English or Serbian, though a false prophet/wacko named William Tapley, a self-proclaimed "prophet" of the end times, has uploaded it on YouTube, showing us what kind of mentality this stuff attracts. It can be seen in five parts here, here, here, here, and here. I will divide up my evaluation according to the five videos.

Part One

A first sign of delusion is when one actually puts their vision into writing, and if it is an authentic vision they have a high standard of life to follow thereafter. We know from Scripture that only one who is called to be a prophet can record their revelations, so in essence what we read about in the first video is Dushan's calling to be a prophet of God, though he doesn't come out and say it.

Dushan says he received this revelation in 1976 when he was 48 years old, following a Memorial Service he attended in his hometown on July 10th. Leaving the Memorial Service Dushan was returning to a famous Serbian spa where he was receiving therapy and along the way a bus accident caused a traffic jam. Among the passengers of the bus were a monk and nun who were trying to hitchhike their way to Zica Monastery. Since no one would pull over for the monk and nun, Dushan decided to pick them up and take them to the Monastery. While the monk and nun were sitting in the back seat they began to reveal secret things about Dushan's life.

The conversation between Dushan and the monastics is questionable. First of all, one wonders why a monk and nun are traveling alone together. We are immediately lead to assume that these monastics are in fact Saints not of this world. The questioning of Dushan by the monk and nun also resemble psychological games one never encounters in the Lives of the Saints. There is also a contradiction in the text when Dushan comes out and says he was an atheist, and then a few lines later the monk tells him he is not an atheist since he doesn't believe in the theory of evolution. While it is true that an atheist that doesn't believe in the theory of evolution is "intellectually unfulfilled" as Richard Dawkins would put it, it does not mean that one is not an atheist. The argument seems a bit over-simplistic. The monk and nun then try to prove their prophetic credibility, and it seems also like something one would see a psychic do on television to prove their credibility. And as all these things are being said we are supposed to assume that Dushan is still driving safely within the traffic lane. Anyone that is of normal mind would have stopped the car at some point and tried to figure out what was going on, especially when he looked back through the rear-view mirror and saw bright halos over their head. An overall evaluation of this conversation in the car is that it is very odd, unreliable, unique in Orthodox Christian history if true, awkward, and very dramatic as if it were a script to a very bad movie. It also sets the tone for the rest of the vision - just like the people who passed by the monk and nun when they were hitchhiking and supposedly "spat" on them, so also will those who do not believe in the contents of this book receive a harsh punishment from God to the point where it would be better off if we weren't born. At this point we can safely assume that the author of this book is a deluded man. His reactions clearly are not from a man with a normal mind, if authentic. I was left wondering what kind of therapy this man was actually getting in the spa.

As they pull into the Monastery the nun tells Dushan that everything he was told, in this the most incredible car ride ever, should not be revealed for three months, and then only to friends and family. After he parks and goes to open the door of the monk and nun (surprise surprise) the backseat is empty and the monastics had disappeared. Like I said, this "vision" is a typical and predictable B-movie script. Almost laughable actually if people didn't take it so seriously. It is only when the monastics disappear, who never reveal who they are, that Dushan goes a bit insane. He says: "I was afraid I was losing my mind, so I bit my hands, pulled my hair and slapped my face." Sorry, but God doesn't leave His prophets with signs of demonic possession after he makes a revelation to them through the saints.

Part Two

Obviously Dushan is not in the right state of mind to go through any more revelations in his fragile state, but sure enough when he goes back to his hotel room and tries to get some rest the relentless vision continues. The story is still sounding like a movie script that is not grounded in reality, and it only gets worse as we proceed with the text.

We are supposed to assume as he is lying down in bed that he dies and is taken to heaven by an angel wearing a pony tail. As they are walking to a hill where a cloud would take them to heaven, the angel reveals that the monk in the car was the Apostle Peter and the nun was St. Paraskevi, the two patron saints of his family. The moral of the story - never leave a hitchhiker behind. Could be very dangerous advice though.

As the cloud carries Dushan and the angel to heaven, the angel reveals why he of all people were chosen for this special vision - basically its because he loves justice and honesty. When one reads the Lives of the Saints, these are precisely the type of things demons say to delude people in visions. Furthermore, Dushan then reveals something that is just impossible to be true. He says that as the cloud is carrying them to heaven the angel stops the cloud and tells him to look at the earth from a distance one is to assume is very high. But from this high distance he says that not only could he see the "entire" earth and every detail on it, but he could even recognize every face. As one who has been to the top of the Empire State Building in New York City, I can testify that not only could I not see the entire earth even from that distance, but I surely could not distinguish any face from that height on the ground. This gives us yet another reason to find the whole thing questionable.

Even more questionable is when this angel tries to impress Dushan with visions of many angels holding trumpets and an illusion of what it will look like when all the dead will rise for Judgment Day. If Dushan isn't trying to show himself to be a great prophet here, then I don't know how it could be more obvious.

What we are seeing in the entire text so far and as we proceed is something common among hoax stories. The author is first trying to show why God chose him for these revelations, then proceeds to push his agenda by showing that God is revealing to him the answers to controversial issues. One issue we encountered already is atheism and the theory of evolution. The vision of the resurrection of the dead is supposed to answer the issue of what will happen to those who died while out at sea or perished through fire. How will their bodies resurrect? There is a clear agenda here that even though it sounds Orthodox it is still very unusual, since doctrinal issues are matters for the Church to evaluate and not individuals in heavenly and questionable visions that show signs of demonic possession or insanity in the least.

Dushan then sees these resurrected people with pieces of paper on their forehead, some with more writing on them than others. These are a list of sins and thoughts, which again sounds very odd since I can personally attest that my own sins and thoughts could not fully be listed on a small paper on the forehead. In my fictional tales, I prefer the chains of Jacob Marley conjured by Charles Dickens, but this author is clearly no Dickens.

Also, one would think that when one sees their entire family resurrected that he would have had a much more dramatic reaction, but do I really need to go into how lame of a story teller this author is again and how ungrounded he is in reality.

Another questionable instance in the text is when the angel tells Dushan that for 40 days following death the soul of a person relives their entire earthly experience. Such a belief is a common folk belief among simplistic Orthodox that contradicts reality and tries to give a special interpretation for why we have a 40 day Memorial Service for the dead.

Interestingly, in his travels through the Cosmos, he describes the glowing spirits of the dead, but never encounters demons which Scripture says are the spirits of the air. Could the angel here, who is probably in fact a demon, be hiding from Dushan the reality that these human souls are in facts demons? Interesting also that when Dushan starts asking questions, the angel shuts him up and tells him that he could not endure the answers if given to him. Why reveal it then in a vision? Clearly this angel is showing demonic tendencies.

Part Three

The vision then starts to get even weirder when he enters a gate with a cross on it. Within this gate are ever-narrowing roads cut off by even narrower gates guarded by angels and containing also demons. At one point Dushan even enters a gate no wider than his foot, and from here the story starts sounding a lot like Alice in Wonderland. Basically we are to assume here that Dushan went through all seven heavens and enters finally into the dwelling-place of God beyond the firmament. Clearly this is a bad version of what we find in the apocryphal literature of heretics. And what do you know, there is actually a literal river of milk and honey in heaven. Now we get to a story that sounds like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where the angel also prevents Dushan from touching anything. Why? Could they be a demonic illusion?

In the vision of heaven Dushan is told certain trees bear fruit twelve time a year. Dushan is obviously not being consistent here. Are we to assume that in heaven there are years, that souls eat fruit, and that trees in heaven actually go through a period when they are fruitless? He also sees old people with grey hair and beards that actually look like young people, and children who were like the angels. They even play games in heaven. One wonders what kind of games. Games entail competition and losing and are usually not fun for everyone. Even if Dushan were to question the angel on these things, the angel would not answer. Something just keeps getting more and more fishy. The more questions this vision is trying to answer, the more questions it brings up. But we are supposed to leave with the impression that heaven is beautiful and lots of fun.

Dushan then is revealed all the saints and ranks of angels, as is typical in these stories, and even meets his car passengers from that day, the Apostle Peter and St. Paraskevi, who offer him some words of advice. We are also told that it is the angel Gabriel that is leading Dushan. Interestingly when Gabriel introduces him to the Prophets and Martyrs, they bow to Dushan. One would think it would be the other way around at this point.

Dushan also explains the contradiction at this point why he could see in far distances the most minor details - God gave him these super powers. And yet, he does not go into more detail about it as a normal person would who experiences something so extraordinary, but only explains it as to not to appear to be fabricating a story.

As he walks with the Archangel Gabriel they turn West and come into a realm of thick darkness with a stinky smell. Then he begins to describe something from out of Dante's Inferno while trying to remain faithful to a literal interpretaion of the Orthodox icon of the Last Judgment where a large dragon brings souls to hell. At first all he sees are viscious animals and the carcases of dead bodies while they terrified human souls. From this we are to assume that in hell animals eat the bodies of the damned, yet bodies and souls sound very confused and you don't know which is which. The author does a pretty good job here of showing that hell is populated by vampiric like animals that feed off humans. Not Scriptural, but this would actually make a pretty good scene in a movie.

I find it sort of odd that the angel thinks that by answering Dushan's questions it would not be bearable for him, but to see the sight of such horros is bearable. Very weird.

Part Four

Part four continues the vivid description of hell and gets into certain morals that are behind the obvious agenda of this book. Clearly this book is written by an Orthodox Christian who may have the right intentions, but is using a vivid story one reads in many other sources and with his own particular twist to bring people to repentance through fear. Such tales were often seen by heretical groups as a persuasive means of getting their points across with a certain level of authority, but Orthodox Christians should be wiser to avoid such things since rarely are they of any benefit to anyone. For example, what is the point of describing a promiscuous person in the following way:

"The promiscuous, like other sinners, were disfigured with large swellings and open wounds. Their enlarged sex organs reached the ground and upon them, in the pus, crawled snakes and worms."

Can you imagine going on a date and explaining to someone that you wish to remain a virgin until marriage lest you go to hell and your sex organs reach down to the ground with pus on them and snakes and worms crawl on them. That would probably be the end of the date right there. There are much better ways to persuade a person towards a life of virtue than such vivid horrific means. One would think an angel and God would know better, and how impractical such methods are. But of course they do know, which is why we know God does not use such methods to teach a moral tale, as Jesus revealed in His much more persuasive and wise parables. These tales are more in the tradition of the Brother's Grimm than the Prophets and Apostles.

Of course, you cannot have a vision of heaven and hell without seeing the clergy in hell. It is odd that not one clergyman was seen in heaven, but a lot of them are seen in hell. But of course, this serves the agenda of the author very well. Its a great way to teach clergy to not shorten services, or else they will live forever in a vampiric lair chewed upon by wild animals.

The vision eventually and finally comes to an end. After the angel again explains why Dushan is alone worthy of such visions, he sums up everything he should have learned in this lesson. It basically is reduced to doing this and that, while not doing this or that...or else. It is a very basic exposition of what a Christian ought and ought not to do that has been repeated many times over and better said without the need to get into a vision of heaven and hell.

Part Five

Now six hours have passed since his vision began, and Dushan wakes up. He gets up with joy and goes to Zica Monastery to get the books he was told to get by the angel. After being rude to the monk from whom he purchased the books, he gives a list of the books he bought by recommendation of the the Archangel Gabriel. He stays quiet about his experience for the next three months, but has a dramatic change in how he lives his life. His wife asks him about this two days before the three months are up and asks her to wait two days more before he explains. Two days later he reveals everything to his family and then goes to a priest for confession. Everyone he seems to tell believes his story and all live happily ever after. The end.

Two questions are then immediately raised in the readers mind. First, why did he have to wait three months before explaining anything? Possible answers could be brought up, such as for people to see his change in order to believe his vision, but the question remains. Even more odd is that the angel clearly tells Dushan to not tell anyone about the vision except for family and a few friends, and he goes and writes a book for the whole world to read without indicating any change in revelation to him from the angel to do so. This is clear disobedience.

Conclusion

I can get into the dangers and warnings given throughout the Orthodox Christian tradition concerning believing in such visions described above, but I don't think its necessary if one actually examines the vision itself. And such fantastic tales are not all that rare in Orthodox tradition, which are usually evaluated as demonic delusions by the saints. They always contain questionable material and serve a particular agenda either to serve a greater good or maybe even a greater evil. A similar vision circulating among Orthodox today is that of a young Catholic girl from Ecuador who claimed to see Michael Jackson and Pope John Paul II in hell, which can be similarly refuted as above when examined (one could read a Catholic critique of this vision here). The point is to never accept such visions. They are pointless and often do more spiritual harm than good. It makes Christians look very ridiculous also to believe in such tales often used in the medieval West as moral tales for the simple and illiterate. They never say anything more true than what has already been revealed, and often exagerate folk traditions to make them look as credible as the word of God. Let my evaluation above serve as an example of how such things should be read.



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