By Monk Moses the Athonite
In the world he was known as Alexi and born of Alexi Amvrosif in 1846 in Orenburg in the Urals. After the death of his wife in 1876 he departed for the Holy Mountain of Athos and entered the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon.
On March 12, 1880 he became a monk and took his name Aristokles. In 1884 he was ordained deacon and a priest, and in 1886 he became a great-schema monk. In 1887 he was sent to the metochion of his monastery in Moscow, where he appeared as a new founder and was a spiritual father of many souls. Staying in the dependency from 1891-1894 created around him a great spiritual work. From 1895-1909 he returned to his monastery. From 1909-1918 he went and stayed again at the metochion of Moscow.
He was adorned with the gifts of foresight and wonderworking, with which he helped many souls. His sacrificial love and merciful heart softened the hardest of hearts. Countless needy people found salvation near him. Rightly he is called the Elder of Moscow.
His blessed repose occurred on August 24, 1918 in his cell in the Metochion of Saint Panteleimon. He made three times the sign of the cross while looking at the icon of Gorgoepikoos, for which he had a special reverence and to whom he had built a church, and quietly surrendered his spirit to the Creator. His body was buried beneath the Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos. In 1923, in order for his body to not be desecrated by atheists, he was transferred to the Monastery of St. Daniel, as was foretold by St. Aristokles. In 2001 the Patriarchate of Moscow placed him in the Russian Book of Saints. In 2004 the translation of his honorable relics took place and they were moved to the church of his metochion, where they continue to work wonders and give off a beautiful fragrance.
Source: The Saints of Mount Athos. Translated by John Sanidopoulos
Prophecies of St. Aristokles
"An evil will soon conquer Russia, where it goes bad rivers of blood will flow. This is not the soul of Russia, but an opposite. It is not an ideology or philosophy, but a spirit from hell. In recent days, Germany will be divided. France will be nothing. Italy will suffer from natural disasters. Britain will lose the Empire and all its colonies, and reach almost to total destruction, but saved by the prayers of enthroned women. The U.S. will feed the world but in the end will collapse. Russia and China will destroy each other. Eventually, Russia will be free and the faithful will go ahead and turn many of the nations to God."
"Now we pass the time before Antichrist. But Russia will ultimately be saved. There will be a great misery and suffering of many tortures. All Russia will become a prison, and each will strongly beg the Lord for forgiveness. Each one will have to repent of their sins and to tremble to do even the slightest sin, but must strive to do good, even the smallest. Because even the wing of a fly has weight, and the scales of God are accurate. And when even the smallest good container tilts the scales, then God will reveal His mercy to Russia."
"The end will come from China. There will be a tremendous outburst and a miracle from God will be revealed. And then there will be a completely different life, but this will not last long."
"God will remove all the leaders, so the Russians can look only to Him. Everyone will turn away from Russia, others will leave, leaving it to itself, so that Russians would only expect help from the Lord. You will hear in other states that have started riots similar to those in Russia. We hear about war, and there will be wars. But wait until the Germans take up arms because they have been elected as the weapon of God to punish Russia, but also as a weapon later to release. The Cross of Christ will shine throughout the world and our country will be glorified and become like a beacon in the darkness of all. "
For more details about St. Aristokles, read Ch. 2 of Living Theology: Russian Spirituality in the 20th Century by Serafim Gascoigne, titled "Starets Aristokles of the St. Panteleimon Chapel In Moscow (1838-1919)", which can be read here.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
By Monk Moses the Athonite
With today being the feast of the translation of the sacred relics of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos from Strofadon Monastery to Zakynthos, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos gave the following moving homily describing his relationship with St. Dionysios from his infant years till the present, and the many amazing miracles he has seen the Saint perform before his very eyes over the years.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
The village of Vuno in southern Albania is situated in the hills, ascending to about 300 meters (980 ft), which is why it likely derives its name from the Greek word vouno, which means "mountain". It has many churches scattered throughout the village.
St. Kosmas Aitolos, the Equal to the Apostles, came to this village in 1778 to teach Orthodox Christianity to the people, establish a church which would unite the scattered Orthodox Christians, and build a school for their education. It was the wish of the Saint to have this church dedicated to St. Spyridon the Wonderworker, and for all the Christians to gather here every Sunday for the Divine Liturgy. Following this proposal, the people complained to the Saint that they didn't have the funds to build a church, being burdened by the heavy taxes imposed on all Christians by the Ottomans. Fr. Kosmas told the people to go to the sea in Jali the next morning where they would find all the material needed to build the church. They did this and returned with the necessary materials, and undertook the task with joy and obedience.
Next to the church a school was built for the education of the village children, and a cypress tree was planted which still stands today.
The Greek school of Vuno in 1909
The story goes back a thousand years to the time when the heresy against the holy icons, Iconoclasm, was raging all over the Christian world. The Byzantine Emperor Theophilos had ordered, all holy icons be removed from the churches and burned. The Orthodox people were protecting and hiding the holy icons. They put themselves at risk of exile and even death for those icons.
In the year 829 this Holy Icon of the Theotokos, which according to tradition was painted by the hand of St. Luke the Evangelist, was kept in a beautiful church in the renowned city of Prousa. Today the church still stands in the city named Brusa, which is in Turkey near Constantinople. Many miracles have taken place in this Church.
As soon as the decree of the Emperor reached the city of Proussa, a godly man, the son of an officer of the royal court, decided to disobey the Emperor's order. He took the Holy Icon and fled to the mainland of Greece, because the persecution was less violent there. The young man was on his way to the city of Callipolis (today Gallipoli or Gelibolu). On his way to the city he lost the Holy Icon. His sorrow was great. “Alas, to me the wretched one”, he wailed. “The Lady Theotokos left me because of my sins”. However, he wouldn't turn back. He could not endure living amongst the enemies of the icons. He continued his journey and settled in the city of New Patra, near the northwest end of Peloponnesus. Time went by, and then one day he heard news about some miraculous events, which happened in an area of Aitola, Greece.
This area was completely unknown and inaccessible at that time. The terrain was very rugged, with steep rocky mountains and deep chasms and abysses between them. Not even a small village was there, except for a couple of shelters for the shepherds. The area was not suitable to build villages. Even domesticated animals survived with difficulty. However, Christians sometimes would hide in these remote mountains trying to escape persecution by heretics or oppression by Emperors and Kings.
According to the news, a child of one of the above-mentioned shepherds was keeping watch over his father's flock. One night the child was sleeping opposite the place where the cemetery of the monastery is now located (see photo above). Suddenly solemn and sweet chanting woke him. The chanting came from a cave that was behind him. Fearful, he looked around and saw a pillar of light coming out of the cave and reaching up to heaven. At first he thought that this could be a rainbow. By God's Providence it came to him that he would not die of fear or go out of his mind. He thought that this couldn't be a rainbow because it was straight and also it hadn't rained. In great fear he went and told his father what he had witnessed. His father thought it was the child's imagination. He told him not to be afraid of things that weren't real and not to be frightened by his own shadow. The child insisted that what he had heard and seen was real.
Therefore, the next night, the child took his Christian father to the same place he had seen the pillar of light, to verify and confirm the vision. There, he saw what the child had told him, but would not dare go and see what was in the cave. The next day he took with him some other people and returned again. All saw the vision. Afterwards they searched the area and found the Holy Icon in the cave, radiant and shinning. They then venerated the Icon, and being joyful on finding this treasure, they arranged the area in order to keep the Icon there as a blessing. Everyday they brought candles and incense. How the icon came there is known only to him who took Prophet Avvacum from Jerusalem to Babylon, where Prophet Daniel was, and then brought him back. This is the first great miracle of the Lady Theotokos, the finding of Her Holy Icon.
Soon, the young man who had lost the Icon, and was now living in New Patra, heard that an Icon of the Theotokos was discovered by the vision of a pillar of light. Not wasting time he took his servants and after two days arrived at the cave of the Icon. Upon seeing the Icon he knew it was the one he had lost. After kissing and venerating the Icon, he gave gifts to the shepherds and headed back to New Patre with The Holy Icon. The shepherds’ joy turned to sorrow because of this deprivation and they pleaded with the young man to leave the Holy Icon behind. He explained that the Icon belonged to him, and that he had given them rich gifts. He also told them that the area was unsuitable to build a church and accommodate pilgrims Having said this, he took the Icon and left. When he and his company were tired and needed to rest from their long journey they stopped in a certain place. They soon fell asleep and when they woke, they couldn't find the Icon. Thinking that the shepherds stole it while they slept, they turned back. Arriving at a narrow spot near the river, the young man heard a voice,
Oh young man, be saved, go in peace and do not toil any more. I am pleased to remain here in this rugged wilderness with the shepherds and peasants and not to be in the cities with people who preach heresies: and if you wish to stay with me come where you had found me. This will be good for you.
Only the young man heard the voice. Obedient to the divine calling, he freed his servants, abandoned all his possessions, and with one of his servants, who decided to stay with him, went back to the cave where he had found the Holy Icon. He was certain that the will of the Lady Theotokos was that she lives there. The young man built a chapel in the cave for the Holy Icon. He and his servants were both tonsured monks by the Priest monk Raphael who was from the nearby hermitage of St. Demetrios. He received the name Demetrios and his servant received the name Timothy. Afterward he built a cell opposite the chapel in a quiet place away from the noisy pilgrims. He peacefully reposed there having lived a life pleasing to God. His disciple Timothy in the church he had built buried his body, and his blessed soul flew to heaven. This was the beginning of the Monastery of the All-Holy Mother of God of Prousa (or Prousiotissa).
The Monastery has existed for one thousand years and still stands today. It has withstood the ravages of natural and manmade disasters. The main church, dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos, is in the cave. The ancient and incense-darkened Icon remains in the inner cave, surrounded by countless precious offerings. The offerings are truthful witnesses to innumerable miracles of times past and present. The village of Proussos has been built near the Monastery.
The Icon awaits the crowds of pilgrims who flock there from the 15th to the 22nd of August, which are the days of the feast. In olden times the quiet of the mountains was disturbed by the voices of groups of people going to the feast. They had to walk on goat paths, among ancient chestnut, fir and plane trees. The journey was 15 hours long and the people carried baskets of food and bundles of blankets balanced on their heads. Riding on horseback was reserved for the old and the infirm. Some of them could be seen walking barefoot or crawling on their knees, fulfilling a promise given for a miraculous healing. The pilgrims would go there, light their candles of faith and stay overnight in the monastery's guesthouse or out in the open. In the morning people would attend a very early church service and then depart hoping to return next year.
Today the monastery is accessible by car. The car inches patiently along the winding dirt road, which is carved on the steep mountain slope. The road from the south comes to an elevated area called Stavros, from there the monastery can be seen perched on a recess of a precipice at the northwest corner of a narrow valley surrounded by mountain peaks. The pilgrim's patience is rewarded with a great blessing, the veneration of the Icon of the All-Holy Mother of God of Prousa.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
By thine icon of Prousa thou art shown forth as the great protectress of Greece and a worker of dread wonders All-Pure Virgin Mariam; for thou grantest sight unto the blind, thou dost cast out wicked demons and healest all that flee unto thee while crying: Glory unto thy childbirth without seed. Glory to Him that hath made thee wondrous. Glory to Him that worketh such manner of marvels through thee.
Παναγία Προυσιώτισσα by xristianosgr
"Το κορμί σας ας σας το καύσουν, ας σας το τηγανίσουν, τα πράγματά σας ας σας τα πάρουν, μη σας μέλη, δώστε τα, δεν είναι εδικά σας. Ψυχή και Χριστός σας χρειάζεται."
"Let them burn your body, let them fry it. Let them take your possessions, do not cling, but give them, they are not yours. Soul and Christ is what you need."
Officially referred to as Gökçeada since July 29, 1970 (older name in Turkish: İmroz; Greek: Ίμβρος – Imvros), it is an island in the Aegean Sea and the largest island of Turkey, part of Çanakkale Province.
August 22, 2011
Hurriyet Daily News
Each August Gökçeada witnesses a series of celebrations for the Assumption of Mary, drawing many former Greek residents and their descendents. The participation in the commemorations is part of a larger revival of Greek culture on the island that accepts the island’s new reality, says the head of an association.
The descendents of Greeks who were forced to leave Gökçeada in Çanakkale in the 1960s are slowly reviving their culture and presence there, even as they recognize the altered reality of the island, according to the president of the Gökçeada Association of Athens.
Symbolic of this revival is the increasing numbers of Greeks coming to commemorate the Assumption of Mary, which is celebrated throughout the Orthodox world on Aug. 15, including Gökçeada, known as Imvros in Greek.
The celebration attracted greater attention this year with the attendance of Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis, the highest-ranking official yet to visit the island, the home town of Phanar Greek Patriarch Bartholomew I. Lambrinidis was followed by the mayor of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris, who attended the same ceremony.
The presence of the high dignitaries, days before their feast of the Assumption of Mary in Tepeköy, is very important, said Kostas Hristoforidis, president of the Gökçeada Association of Athens.
Hristoforidis said the feast contributed to the younger generations’ refraining from transforming “their identity into an ideology” and added that this was important because it had prevented the island’s Greeks, many of whom left in difficult circumstances due to tensions surround Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s, from resorting to revenge or hate.
While some members of the older generation have refused to set foot on the island again due to their past traumatic experiences, the younger generation has shown fewer inhibitions about coming to the island, holding their Aug. 15 feast and having fun.
According to Hristoforidis, the feast of the Assumption of Mary is part of the revival of Greek culture on the island and demonstrates the different experience of the Gökçeada Greeks, who were not subject to the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey as Anatolian Greeks were.
Despite a big exodus from the island, Greeks have continued to live there and their villages have never been totally abandoned.
With the present revival, roughly 600 houses belonging to “fathers and grandfathers” have been repaired even though the correct legal, political and economic conditions to undertake them never fully materialized. For instance, many of those repairing buildings were the original inhabitants’ grandchildren and held foreign passports depriving them of the right to inherit the property in which they were investing their money.
Despite past problems, Hristoforidis said the community retained many things, such as their property, chapels, churches and traditions.
Greeks pushed out with restrictive measures
When asked about the difficulties of the past, Hristoforidis pointed to 1964, when systematic policies depriving the area Greeks from economic and other opportunities essentially forced them to emigrate to Greece.
During the 1960s, thousands of hectares of land were expropriated for various reasons while fishing was also forbidden to a certain extent, he said, adding that the most difficult measure was the closing down of the minority schools, an event which forced Greek children to attend Turkish schools. Many, in turn, could not even afford to send their children to schools in Istanbul.
As a result of all these policies, people started to leave the island in droves, often crossing illegally at night with boats to the Limni and Samothraki islands of Greece because they could not afford to emigrate through proper legal channels.
There were 6,500 Greeks on the island in 1964, but by 1990, only 300 people were left in six villages of the island. A seventh village Kastro, or Kaleköy, was evacuated on the day Turkey intervened into the Cyprus conflict in 1974; the experience was reportedly so traumatic that none of the villagers have ever returned for a visit.
During these times of tension between Turkey and Greece, each country’s respective minority – whether Turks in Greece or Greeks in Turkey – were effectively held hostage to the prevailing raisons d’état.
While some have said the present relations are “the best since 1964,” problems such as inheritance issues remain for non-Turkish citizens. Many islanders, upon leaving the island, migrated to different countries and over time, obtained citizenship there; some males then lost their Turkish citizenship by not completing their military service.
Similarly, the reality of the island today meant that some people’s property was occupied for years by those who migrated to the island. These properties have now been transferred to their occupiers due to the statute of limitations. Also, schools have been rented out to investors by the government as hotels or restaurants.
Hopes for the future
Asked about fears of another downturn in Greek-Turkish relations, Hristoforidis said they were attempting to think positively. The revival has moved beyond house renovations, he said, but added that the community recognizes the new reality on the island and that there is now a Turkish community that needs support.
The relationship between the two communities could further develop, especially as the Greek economic crisis has spurred investment opportunities between the communities and countries. By next year, a sea connection could be established with Greece, an idea supported by the high dignitaries visiting the island.
Furthermore, Turkey has not only been encouraging Gökçeada Greeks to return and invest on the island, it was also acknowledging their existence, accepting them as a counterpart and inviting them to Ankara for the resolution of their problems.
In his most recent visit to Athens, Ahmet Davutoğlu even said the Gökçeada Greeks “constituted the diaspora of Turkey in Athens.”
In other words, Turkey now accepts them as part of itself – something the people of Gökçeada have long felt already.
August 23, 2011
For a time, about 2,700 years ago, the ancient city of Nineveh ruled the Middle East. Today, it is among the world's most endangered archaeological sites, in need of an urgent rescue plan.
After 2,700 years, the walls and gates of ancient Nineveh can still be seen near the banks of the Tigris river just opposite the modern city of Mosul in Iraq. In ancient times, it was the capital of the great Assyrian empire, a city of more than 100,000 people, and it was a subject of a supreme being's attention throughout the books of the Old and New Testaments in the biblical account. "Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Ammittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me." The prophet Jonah's efforts there were rewarded. Nineveh, at least for a time, was saved from destruction. But the city of Nineveh today will require a different kind of saving. There are comparatively few people living there now. It features mostly ruins. Even the ruins, however, will disappear unless, according to the Global Heritage Network's early warning system, urgent steps are taken to arrest the elements that endanger it and to restore and protect what is left.
Not an easy thing to do these days in a war-torn country. War has distracted and preoccupied the energies of a people who otherwise could be identifying and procuring the necessary resources needed to save and protect the city.
But long before war, it has been plagued by looting and vandalism. Artifacts have appeared on international markets for sale, reliefs have been marred by vandalism, and chamber floors have seen holes dug into them by looters hoping to find anything that will yield cash for their needs. The expanding suburbs of adjacent Mosul, too, threaten it with encroachment, with sewer and water lines having already been dug and new settlements already established within the area once occupied by the ancient city.
Even without looting, vandalism and suburban encroachment, however, Nineveh will crumble and succumb to the natural elements. Reports the Global Heritage Fund (GHF)*, a non-profit organization that specializes in saving and restoring archaeological sites, "without proper roofing for protection, Nineveh' s ancient walls and reliefs are becoming more and more damaged by natural elements every day. Exploration of the city is an important objective at this time, but preservation measures would go a long way as well".
Historically, the site of ancient Nineveh, which consists of two large mounds, Kouyunjik and Nab+ Yknus ("Prophet Jonah"), has been the subject of numerous excavations and exploratory expeditions since the mid-19th century. Beginning with French Consul General at Mosul, Paul-Émile Botta in 1842, and most notably through the excavations of famous British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard (pictured right) and many others thereafter, the remains of Nineveh became one of the sensational archaeological revelations of modern times. Before that, Nineveh, unlike the clearly visible remains of other well-known sites such as Palmyra, Persepolis, and Thebes, was invisible, hidden beneath unexplored mounds. Even historical knowledge of the Assyrian Empire and its capital city was sparse in the beginning, changed primarily by the great archaeological discoveries that followed Botta's initial attempts. One palace after another was discovered, including the lost palace of Sennacherib with its 71 rooms and enormous bas-reliefs, the palace and library of Ashurbanipal, which included 22,000 cuneiform tablets. Fragments of prisms were discovered, recording the annals of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal, including one almost complete prism of Esarhaddon. Massive gates and mudbrick ramparts and walls were unearthed. The walls encompassed an area within a 12-kilometer circumference. Many unburied skeletons were found, evidencing violent deaths and attesting to the final battle and siege of Nineveh that destroyed the city and soon brought an end to the Assyrian Empire.
Despite its long history of excavation, the ancient site of Nineveh leaves much to be explored. But conservationists and others are arguing that further excavation and exploration would be pointless without a concerted, meaningful plan and efforts to preserve the finds for posterity, beginning first with what has already been uncovered. "Nineveh has already been heavily attacked by looters, and now development pressures from nearby Mosul have begun to take their toll as well," reiterates GHF. "If this encroachment continues, Nineveh' s ancient remains could again be buried forever."
In an October 2010 report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage, Global Heritage Fund designated Nineveh among the top 12 sites in the world most "on the verge" of irreparable loss as a result of looting, development encroachment, and insufficient management of its cultural resources.
 Jonah 1: 1-2
[2} Nineveh, Iraq: Ancient Jewel of the Assyrian Empire, Heritage on the Wire, Global Heritage Fund, October 26, 2010.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Two kilometers east of Old Skioni, on the way to Loutra, is the Chapel of the Panagia Faneromeni in Nea Skioni in Halkidiki. It celebrates its feast annually on August 23rd.
Local tradition says that in the 16th century one of the villagers saw a light coming from the sea. He thought there were pirates so he ran to the village to inform the villagers. In the morning, when the light came closer, they saw that it was a big marble slab with the depiction of the Virgin Mary on it, floating on the surface of the sea! The villagers were said to be impressed from the miracle of marble floating on the sea and so they asked the Turk who was in charge to let them build a church. He denied the request, threw down the icon, and stepped on the marble. Then the marble became soft and trapped the Turk's feet in it. The Turk then apologised and let the villagers build the church. The villagers decided to build it on the hilltop so as to be safe from the pirates, but every night the church would be destroyed and the marble icon was found near the sea. Thus they built the church next to the sea where they found the marble icon, according to the desire of the Panagia.
The white-washed chapel with a tiled roof belonged to the Flamouri Monastery in Thessalia, but when Thessalia was set free from the Turks in 1881 they gave the chapel to the Theological School of Halki, to which it still belongs today.
On the walls of the church the visitor can still see the frescoes of the 16th century. When one observes the holy icon of the Panagia made from marble, one could still see the marks of feet said to be impressed by the Turk, though it more likely belonged to the base of a pagan statue which was removed and sanctified with an image of the Panagia.
Locals say that the icon weeps every time something bad is going to happen. It's been said that the icon wept before World War II, before the Turkish invasion in Cyprus in 1975, and recently when the issue with Skopia and their name arose.
The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early Church, the Fathers, the Middle Ages, the Reformers, and even the nineteenth century. I want to explain what it is that makes me skeptical about this authority. Ignorantly skeptical, as you will all too easily see. But the skepticism is the father of the ignorance. It is hard to persevere in a close study when you can work up no prima facie confidence in your teachers.
First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading. It sounds a strange charge to bring against men who have been steeped in those books all their lives. But that might be just the trouble. A man who has spent his youth and manhood in the minute study of New Testament texts and of other people's studies of them, whose literary experiences of those texts lacks any standard of comparison such as can only grow from a wide and deep and genial experience of literature in general, is, I should think, very likely to miss the obvious things about them. If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel. But I had better turn to examples.
In what is already a very old commentary I read that the Fourth Gospel is regarded by one school as a 'spiritual romance', 'a poem not a history', to be judged by the same canons as Nathan's parable, the Book of Jonah, Paradise Lost 'or, more exactly, Pilgrim's Progress'. After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? Note that he regards Pilgrim's Progress, a story which professes to be a dream and flaunts its allegorical nature by every single proper name it uses, as the closest parallel. Note that the whole epic panoply of Milton goes for nothing. But even if we leave out the grosser absurdities and keep to Jonah, the insensitiveness is crass -- Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humour. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable en de nux (xiii, 30) . I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage -- though it may no doubt contain errors -- pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn't see this has simply not learned to read.
Here, from Bultmann's Theology of the New Testament (p. 30) is another: 'Observe in what unassimilated fashion the prediction of the parousia  (Mk. viii, 38) follows upon the prediction of the passion (viii, 31).' What can he mean? Unassimilated? Bultmann therefore wants to believe -- and no doubt does believe -- that when they occur in the same passage some discrepancy or 'unassimilation' must be perceptible between them. But surely he foists this on the text with shocking lack of perception. Peter has confessed Jesus to be the Anointed One. That flash of glory is hardly over before the dark prophecy begins -- that the Son of Man must suffer and die. Then this contrast is repeated. Peter, raised for a moment by his confession, makes his false step; the crushing rebuff 'Get thee behind me' follows. Then, across that momentary ruin which Peter (as so often) becomes, the voice of the Master, turning to the crowd, generalizes the moral. All His followers must take up the cross. This avoidance of suffering, this self-martyrdom. You must stand to your tackling. If you disown Christ here and now, He will disown you later. Logically, emotionally, imaginatively, the sequence is perfect. Only a Bultmann could think otherwise.
Finally, from the same Bultmann: 'The personality of Jesus has no importance for the kerygma  either of Paul or of John ... Indeed the tradition of the earliest Church did not even unconsciously preserve a picture of his personality. Every attempt to reconstruct one remains a play of subjective imagination.'
So there is no personality of Our Lord presented in the New Testament. Through what strange process has this learned German gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a personality if it were there? For it is Bultmann contra mundum . If anything whatever is common to all believers, and even to many unbelievers, it is the sense that in the Gospels they have met a personality. There are characters whom we know to be historical but of whom we do not feel that we have any personal knowledge -- knowledge by acquaintance; such are Alexander, Attila, or William of Orange. There are others who make no claim to historical reality but whom, none the less, we know as we know real people: Falstaff, Uncle Toby, Mr. Pickwick. But there are only three characters who, claiming the first sort of reality, also actually have the second. And surely everyone knows who they are: Plato's Socrates, the Jesus of the Gospel, and Boswell's Johnson. Our acquaintance with them shows itself in a dozen ways. When we look into the Apocryphal gospels, we find ourselves constantly saying of this or that logion , 'No. It's a fine saying, but not His. That wasn't how He talked.' -- just as we do with all pseudo-Johnsoniana.
So strong is the flavour of the personality that, even while He says things which, on any other assumption than that of Divine Incarnation in the fullest sense, would be appallingly arrogant, yet we -- and many unbelievers too -- accept Him at His own valuation when He says 'I am meek and lowly of heart.' Even those passages in the New Testament which superficially, and in intention, are most concerned with the Divine, and least with the Human Nature, bring us face to face with the personality. I am not sure that they don't do this more than any others. 'We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of graciousness and reality ... which we have looked upon and our hands have handled.' What is gained by trying to evade or dissipate this shattering immediacy of personal contact by talk about 'that significance which the early church found that it was impelled to attribute to the Master'? This hits us in the face. Not what they were impelled to do but what impelled them. I begin to fear that by personality Dr. Bultmann means what I should call impersonality: what you'd get in a D.N.B.  article or an obituary or a Victorian Life and Letters of Yeshua Bar-Yosef  in three volumes with photographs.
That then is my first bleat. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can't see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.
Now for my second bleat. All theology of the liberal type involves at some point -- and often involves throughout -- the claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by His followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars. Now long before I became interested in theology I had met this kind of theory elsewhere. The tradition of Jowett still dominated the study of ancient philosophy when I was reading Greats. One was brought up to believe that the real meaning of Plato had been misunderstood by Aristotle and wildly travestied by the neo-Platonists, only to be recovered by the moderns. When recovered, it turned out (most fortunately) that Plato had really all along been an English Hegelian, rather like T.H. Green. I have met it a third time in my own professional studies; every week a clever undergraduate, every quarter a dull American don, discovers for the first time what some Shakespearian play really meant. But in this third instance I am a privileged person. The revolution in thought and sentiment which has occurred in my own lifetime is so great that I belong, mentally, to Shakespeare's world far more than to that of these recent interpreters. I see -- I feel it in my bones -- I know beyond argument -- that most of their interpretations are merely impossible; they involve a way of looking at things which was not known in 1914, much less in the Jacobean period. This daily confirms my suspicion of the same approach to Plato or the New Testament. The idea that any man or writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance.
Thirdly, I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur. Thus any statement put into Our Lord's mouth by the old texts, which, if He had really made it, would constitute a prediction of the future, is taken to have been put in after the occurrence which it seemed to predict. This is very sensible if we start by knowing that inspired prediction can never occur. Similarly in general, the rejection as unhistorical of all passages which narrate miracles is sensible if we start by knowing that the miraculous in general never occurs. Now I do not here want to discuss whether the miraculous is possible. I only want to point out that this is a purely philosophical question. Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else. The canon 'If miraculous, unhistorical' is one they bring to their study of the texts, not one they have learned from it. If one is speaking of authority, the united authority of all the Biblical critics in the world counts here for nothing. On this they speak simply as men; men obviously influenced by, and perhaps insufficiently critical of, the spirit of the age they grew up in.
But my fourth bleat -- which is also my loudest and longest -- is still to come.
All this sort of criticism attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts it studies; what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, with what purposes, under what influences -- the whole Sitz im Leben  of the text. This is done with immense erudition and great ingenuity. And at first sight it is very convincing. I think I should be convinced by it myself, but that I carry about with me a charm – the herb moly  -- against it. You must excuse me if I now speak for a while of myself. The value of what I say depends on its being first-hand evidence.
What forearms me against all these reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way.
Until you come to be reviewed yourself you would never believe how little of an ordinary review is taken up by criticism in the strict sense: by evaluation, praise, or censure, of the book actually written. Most of it is taken up with imaginary histories of the process by which you wrote it. The very terms which the reviewers use in praising or dispraising often imply such a history. They praise a passage as 'spontaneous' and censure another as 'laboured'; that is, they think they know that you wrote the one currente calamo  and the other invita Minerva .
What the value of such reconstructions is I learned very early in my career. I had published a book of essays; and the one into which I had put most of my heart, the one I really cared about and in which I discharged a keen enthusiasm, was on William Morris. And in almost the first review I was told that this was obviously the only one in the book in which I had felt no interest. Now don't mistake. The critic was, I now believe, quite right in thinking it the worst essay in the book; at least everyone agreed with him. Where he was totally wrong was in his imaginary history of the causes which produced its dullness.
Well, this made me prick up my ears. Since then I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends whose real history I knew. Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his over-all intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why -- and when -- he did everything.
Now I must first record my impression; then distinct from it, what I can say with certainty. My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as they miss. But it is my impression that they do no such thing. I can't remember a single hit. But as I have not kept a careful record my mere impression may be mistaken. What I think I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong.
And yet they would often sound -- if you didn't know the truth -- extremely convincing. Many reviewers said that the Ring in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was suggested by the atom bomb. What could be more plausible? Here is a book published when everyone was preoccupied by that sinister invention; here in the centre of the book is a weapon which it seems madness to throw away yet fatal to use. Yet in fact, the chronology of the book's composition makes the theory impossible. Only the other week a reviewer said that a fairy tale by my friend roger Lancelyn Green was influenced by fairy tales of mine. Nothing could be more probable. I have an imaginary country with a beneficent lion in it: Green, one with a beneficent tiger. Green and I can be proved to read one another's works; to be indeed in various ways closely associated. The case for an affiliation is far stronger than many which we accept as conclusive when dead authors are concerned. But it's all untrue nevertheless. I know the genesis of that Tiger and that Lion and they are quite independent.
Now this surely ought to give us pause. The reconstruction of the history of a text, when the text is ancient, sounds very convincing. But one is after all sailing by dead reckoning; the results cannot be checked by fact. In order to decide how reliable the method is, what more could you ask than to be shown an instance where the same method is at work and we have the facts to check it by? Well, that is what I have done. And we find, that when this check is available, the results are either always, or else nearly always, wrong. The 'assured results of modern scholarship', as to the way in which an old book was written, are 'assured', we may conclude, only because the men who knew the facts are dead and can't blow the gaff. The huge essays in my own field which reconstruct the history of Piers Plowman or The Faerie Queene are most unlikely to be anything but sheer illusions.
Am I then venturing to compare every whipster who writes a review in a modern weekly with these great scholars who have devoted their whole lives to the detailed study of the New Testament? If the former are always wrong, does it follow that the latter must fare no better?
There are two answers to this. First, while I respect the learning of the great Biblical critics, I am not yet persuaded that their judgment is equally to be respected. But, secondly, consider with what overwhelming advantages the mere reviewers start. They reconstruct the history of a book written by someone whose mother-tongue is the same as theirs; a contemporary, educated like themselves, living in something like the same mental and spiritual climate. They have everything to help them. The superiority in judgment and diligence which you are going to attribute to the Biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race-characteristics, a religious background, habits of composition, and basic assumptions, which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely and intimately and instinctively as the reviewer can know mine. And for the very same reason, remember, the Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter there will be more pressing matters to discuss.
You may say, of course, that such reviewers are foolish in so far as they guess how a sort of book they never wrote themselves was written by another. They assume that you wrote a story as they would try to write a story; the fact that they would so try, explains why they have not produced any stories. But are the Biblical critics in this way much better off? Dr. Bultmann never wrote a gospel. Has the experience of his learned, specialized, and no doubt meritorious, life really given him any power of seeing into the minds of those long dead men who were caught up into what, on any view, must be regarded a the central religious experience of the whole human race? It is no incivility to say -- he himself would admit -- that he must in every way be divided from the evangelists by far more formidable barriers -- spiritual as well as intellectual -- than any that could exist between my reviewers and me.
1. En de nux: Gr., "and it was night" (John 13:30).
2. Parousia: Gr., "arrival," meaning the Second Advent of Christ.
3. Kerygma: Gr., "proclamation," meaning the proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ.
4. Contra mundum: Lat., "against the world."
5. Logion: Gr., "saying."
6. D.N.B.: Dictionary of National Biography.
7. Yeshua Bar-Yosef: Heb., "Jesus son of Joseph."
8. Sitz-im-Leben: Ger., "situation in life."
9. Moly: herb Odysseus received from Hermes to protect him from the enchantments of the sorceress, Circe.
10. Currente calamo: Lat., "with a running pen," "fluently," or "offhandedly."
11. Invita Minerva: Lat., "Minerva being unwilling," "artistic or literary inspiration being lacking."
12. Walter Hooper observes: "Lewis corrected this error in the following letter, 'Books for Children', in The Times Literary Supplement (28 November 1958), p. 689: 'Sir,--A review of Mr. R.L. Green's Land of the Lord High Tiger in your issue of 21 November spoke of myself (in passing) with so much kindness that I am reluctant to cavil at anything it contained: but in justice to Mr. Green I must. The critic suggested that Mr. Green's Tiger owed something to my fairy-tales. In reality this is not so and is chronologically impossible. The Tiger was an old inhabitant, and his land a familiar haunt, of Mr. Green's imagination long before I began writing. There is a moral here for all of us as critics. I wonder how much Quellenforschung in our studies of older literature seems solid only because those who knew the facts are dead and cannot contradict it?'" (editor's note, C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, p. 169).
Sunday, August 21, 2011
On the first Sunday following the 15th of August, the local Church of Lefkada in Greece honors all of its Saints whom it recognizes as benefactors in difficult times and intercessors before the Throne of Grace.
The holy icon, which is titled "The Saints of the Island of Lefkados", is the work of the monks of the Holy Monastery of Panachrantou in Megara, and housed in a special shrine in the Holy Metropolitan Church of the Annunciation. This is an original composition of iconography and at the same time a great work of art. It does not depart from the rules of Orthodox iconography, yet it depicts the form of the Saints in bright colors. The icon also depicts holy shrines and significant historical moments from hagiography and ecclesiastical history associated with the island.
The center of the icon depicts the patron of the island of Lefkados - Panagia Faneromeni (First Monday of Pentecost). To her left and right are angels in reverence towards the Theotokos and Christ on her lap. A little further below the Theotokos is the patron saint of the city of Lefkada, St. Mavra (May 3), with hands raised imploring that the city entrusted to her protection may be saved. Thus the Theotokos sits on the mountains of the island while St. Mavra stands over the city entrusted to her.
To the left for the viewer and to the right of the Panagia Faneromeni in the first row are the enlighteners of the island - St. Paul the Apostle (June 29), St. Aquila the Apostle (February 13) and St. Herodion (March 28).
To the right for the viewer and to the left of the Panagia Faneromeni in the first row are the successors of the Apostles and first bishops of the island - St. Sosion (July 14) who was the companion of St. Herodion, and three bishops who represented the island during various Ecumenical Synods: St. Agatharchos of the First Ecumenical Synod (Sixth Sunday After Pascha), St. Zacharias of the Second Ecumenical Synod (July 25), and St. Pelagios of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod (September 14).
Behind the successors of the Apostles in the second row are five anonymous Holy Fathers who accompanied St. Agatharchos to and from the First Ecumenical Synod. Two of the anonymous saints became monastics where today the Monastery of Panagia Faneromeni now stands, and the other three became monastics at a Hermitage in Alexandrou.
In the second and third row behind the enlighteners of the island stand five saints associated with the island of Lefkada: St. Nicholas of Myra (December 6) and St. Donatos of Evria (April 30) whose relics passed through the island when the Crusaders transferred them from Bari to Venice; St. Bessarion of Larissa (September 15) who miraculously spared the island from plague in 1743 following the translation of his Sacred Skull; St. Dionysios of Zakynthos (December 17) who saved the island from a terrible earthquake on 16 and 17 December 1869; and St. Nikitas of Chalcedon (May 28) who is an important father from the time of Iconoclasm and whose sacred icon was miraculously discovered in Lefkada in a village which today bears his name and for which he is a patron.
On the same side of the icon the iconographers included St. Kosmas Aitolos (August 24) who passed through Lefkada a little prior to his martyrdom, St. Luke of Mount Steiris (February 7) whose relics also came through the island via the Crusaders, St. Gerasimos of Kefallonia (August 16) to whom Lefkadians attribute their salvation from the terrible siege of Ali Pasha in 1807 on the day before the feast of the translation of his relics, and the Russian St. Theodore Ushakov (October 14) who as admiral of the Russian fleet liberated the island from the French in 1799 and towards the end of his life became a monk at Sanaxar Monastery in Ukraine.
On the opposite side of the icon there is also depicted three martyrs who celebrate on November 11 - Saints Menas, Victor and Vincent - who were all martyred in various times and places, but together they saved the island of Lefkada from a terrible earthquake on November 11, 1704 according to the testimony of the locals and the Venetian Upper Proveditore of Lefkada. Behind them are two female martyrs of the first Christian centuries: St. Barbara (December 4) who freed the island from a small-pox epidemic in 1922; and St. Kyriaki (July 7) whose sacred icon was discovered in a miraculous manner among the coastal rocks of the Geni peninsula, opposite current Nidri.
In the water are also two boats heading for the island. To the left for the viewer are the enlighteners of the island as mentioned before. To the right are important personages associated with the ecclesiastical history of the island: the Serbian born Byzantine Empress Helen Palaiologos (who later became known as St. Ipomoni - May 28) and her daughter Militsa who was brought to the island as a bride candidate, and George Sphrantzes who was a historian during the Fall of Constantinople and accompanied the two to the island. Empress Helen built various monasteries and churches on the island with the help of her son-in-law, the ruler of the island, Leonardo Tokkos. She also holds in her hand an icon of St. Mavra, who saved the boat and royal escort from sinking.
Often Lefkada is the forgotten island among the Ionian islands regarding its holy shrines and history, often overshadowed by its neighbors most of which have Saints with incorrupt bodies. This feast and icon reminds us that Lefkada also has a rich history of sanctity and importance for Orthodoxy for those who have eyes to see its glory and beauty.
Αληθινά Σενάρια ΕΤ3,Μονή Αγίου Ιωάννη Βαζελώνα... by aggelisss
Following the second Divine Liturgy at Panagia Soumela on August 15, 2011, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, accompanied by Archbishop Demetrios of America and others, visited many of the holy shrines of Pontus, and even chanted "Christ is risen!" at the Monastery of Saint John Vazelonas (see photo below), one of the oldest monasteries in Christendom. Read more about this historic pilgrimage and see the photos here.
By St. Kosmas Aitolos
A man named John was defeated and he became a thief. He became the captain of a band of one hundred thieves, but he had great reverence for the Theotokos. Each morning and evening he read the service of Supplication to the Theotokos.
Wishing to save him because of the great reverence he had for the Theotokos, the gracious God sent a holy monk who was immediately captured by the thieves.
The monk said to them: "I beg you to take me to your captain because I have something to tell you for your own good."
They took him to the captain and he said: "Ask all the men to come so that I can tell you something."
The captain called them and they came. The monk said: "Aren't there any more?"
"I have a cook," the captain replied.
"Ask him to come." But when he came, the cook was unable to look at the monk and turned his face aside.
The monk then said to the cook: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I command you to tell me who you are, who sent you, and what you are doing here."
The cook replied and said: "I'm a liar and I always speak falsely. But since you have bound me with the name of Christ, I can't but tell you the truth. I'm the devil and I was sent by my superior to work for the captain and to wait for the day when he wouldn't read the service of Supplication to the Theotokos to put him into hell. I have been watching him now for fourteen years and I have never found a day when he hasn't read the service."
The monk said: "I command you in the name of the Holy Trinity to disappear and no longer tempt Christians." And immediately the devil disappeared like smoke.
The monk then taught the thieves. Some became monks, others married and did good works and were saved. This is why I advise you all, men and women, to learn the service of Supplication and to use it in your prayers. And if you wish, take the book The Salvation of Sinners, which contains the seventy miracles of the Theotokos, of which I told you one so that you might understand.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
The Author of the Life of St. Demetrios of Samarina
François Pouqueville (1770-1838) was a French diplomat, writer, explorer, physician and historian, who became a prominent architect of the Philhellenism movement throughout Europe, and contributed eminently to the liberation of the Greeks, and to the rebirth of the Greek Nation. First as the Turkish Sultan's hostage, then as Napoleon Bonaparte's general consul at the court of Ali Pasha of Ioannina, he travelled extensively throughout Ottoman occupied Greece from 1798 to 1820. He applied himself especially in denouncing the state of oppression crushing the Greeks under Turkish domination, and more specifically stood as witness of "the crimes and abominations perpetrated by Ali Pasha and his bands of assassins with the complicity of the Turkish Sultan and his allies". All along, he described the daily life, the usages and customs, and the traditions of the Greeks of the Peloponnese surviving under their appalling economic and political conditions.
In his book Histoire de la régénération de la Grèce (Paris, 1824, 4 vol.), Pouqueville describes his meeting with a monk named Demetrios, a disciple of St. Kosmas Aitolos, and Papa-Euthymios Vlahavas who inspired an insurrection in the Pindos region in 1808. He further describes the capture, trial and eventual martyrdom of St. Demetrios, all of which he was an eye-witness.
The Life and Martyrdom of St. Demetrios
Demetrios was from the Vlach village of Samarina in the Pindos region of Greece, and was born towards the end of the 18th century. At a young age he entered the nearby Monastery of Saint Paraskevi where he was tonsured a monk.
After the outbreak of the insurrection inspired by Papa-Euthymios Vlahavas in 1808, which was ruthlessly suppressed by Ali Pasha, the ruler of the area, Monk Demetrios left his monastery and toured the neighboring villages with the purpose of quiting and comforting his fellow Orthodox Christians and giving them some hope in their troubles. This drew the attention of some Muslims however, who accused Demetrios of preaching rebellion.
Demetrios was arrested and brought before Ali Pasha in chains. Demetrios explained that his purpose was to strengthen the faith of his fellow Christians in Jesus Christ, and that his preaching was based on love and obedience to the law.
Ali Pasha was not satisfied with these answers, and the following dialogue is recorded between him and Demetrios:
Ali Pasha: "You announced the kingdom of Jesus Christ and consequently the fall of our leader [sultan]."
Demetrios: "My God reigns eternally and for eternity and I respect the teaching He gave us."
Ali Pasha: "What do you have on your chest?"
Demetrios: "The venerable icon of His Mother."
Ali Pasha: "I want to see it."
Demetrios: "It cannot be dishonored. Order one of my arms cut off and then I will present it to you."
Ali Pasha: "Is this the way you stir up trouble? Are we therefore desecrators? I recognize in your words the leader of the bishops who are inviting the Russians to subjugate us. Name your fellow conspirators."
Demetrios: "My fellow conspirators are my conscience and my duty, which oblige me to comfort the Orthodox Christians and to help them be obedient to your laws."
Ali Pasha: "You mean to your laws."
Demetrios: "This name glorifies me."
Ali Pasha: "Do you carry the icon of the Virgin which is said to carry great charms?"
Demetrios: "Say miracles. The Mother of our Savior is our intercessor before her eternal Son and God. The Theotokos performs her miracles daily among us and we call upon her daily."
Ali Pasha: "Let us see if she will protect you. Executioners, torture him."
The executioners immediately set upon Demetrios, spit on his face, forcibly removed the icon from his hands, and placed bamboo sticks under his finger and toe nails. With nails they pierced his arms and legs. During all this Pouqueville records the following words heard from the tortured lips of Demetrios: "Lord, have mercy on Your servant. Queen of heaven pray for us."
Then an iron band was placed around his forehead which was tightened and inflicted excruciating pain on Demetrios. With each twist they called upon him to name his fellow conspirators. Demetrios remained silent, and was thrown into a prison cell.
Later the tortures resumed. First he was hanged upside down with a fire placed under his head. This was done in order to burn his scalp and to be tortured by the smoke of the flame. Having failed at this fruitless attempt and not wanting to kill him, the torturers then decided to lay Demetrios down and place weighted boards on him, on which the torturers even jumped in order to break his bones. Finally they enclosed Demetrios within a wall with only his head showing. His head was free in order for him to breathe and eat, wanting to keep him alive until he confessed. Demetrios however remained steadfast in his Orthodox Christian faith.
After ten days of the torture of being enclosed by this wall, Demetrios gave up his spirit to the Lord. His last words were those of St. Babylas of Antioch: "Soul, return to your rest, for the Lord will bless you."
St. Demetrios, the monk from Samarina, offered his life in the city of Ioannina for the love of Jesus Christ on August 18, in the year 1808.
Pouqueville goes on to describe that the martyrdom of St. Demetrios inspired a Muslim to abandon Islam and embrace Orthodox Christianity. He was baptized and received the name of George. In Agrinio he was arrested by men of Ali Pasha, and received such a frightening death that Pouqueville refused to describe it.
In 1984 the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece authorized the Service of Praise in honor of the Saint, which was written by Elder Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis. Aristotle Valaoritis, one of Greece's foremost modern poets, also wrote a poem in honor of St. Demetrios and Papa-Vlahava, titled "The Memorials".
The last statement of Piers Morgan in this video is worth watching it. Penn Jillette is so full of contradictions by feigning intellectual humility that he eventually gets stumped.
The One Wood Monastery (Dintr Un Lemn Manastirea) in Frincesti, Romania seems tiny and fairly unimpressive, until you realize it was constructed out of the wood from just one Oak tree.
In the early 16th century, a monk made an interesting discovery inside a hollowed oak while walking in the Romanian countryside. To his amazement, an icon of the Virgin Mary was carved into the interior. The Theotokos then spoke to the monk, telling him to raise a church using only the wood from the icon-emblazoned Oak tree.
Another version of the story has a shepherd finding the icon and acting accordingly.
Even the icon itself has been victim to strict scrutiny as to its age and origin, with some claiming that it was a creation of Constantinople era Christian artists or 4th century Greek craftsman.
Despite the holy origins of the church, today's church is in fact a recreation of the older building originally constructed. In the 17th century, a fire ravaged the church completely destroying the original Oak building and sparing the icon.
A monastery was soon built up around the area. Today, 50 nuns have dedicated their lives to the holy site. The icon is now housed in a stone church on the premises and is considered the most valuable of the monastery's collections, which also include other icons and old books.