Sunday, April 15, 2012

What Pascha Isn't and What Pascha Is

Pascha isn't the lamb, nor the red egg, nor the tsoureki bread, nor the candle, nor the new clothes, nor is it our presence in the church ten minutes before the "Christ is Risen!" and a minute after. Pascha is not the worship of food, the festival, nor dance and drink. Pascha is not the spits in the street, nor the exchange of greetings, nor returning to the village. Or at least, that's not all it is.

Pascha is above all the taste of the Kingdom of God, the voice of heaven within us that comes when we receive at the Divine Liturgy. Then our soul, albeit briefly, is transformed, is calm, it feels something of forgiveness and love that rises from within the tomb. Then we feel we are brothers with the world, because we partake of the cup of Life together. Pascha is our change of life, our resurrection from our passions and vices which scar us. It is not worth saying that Pascha came and we were not reconciled with God, our fellow man, neighbor, ourselves, and that we feel more free from the bondage of evil and death. Pascha is also the defeat of the last enemy of human nature, that is death: He has trampled death by death ....

Pascha is the occasion for unity, unity between peoples and societies. We can not say that we celebrate the Resurrection while war and discord prevails in our souls. We can not say that we believe in the messages of Christ and to invoke this capacity to crush our people, reputations, conscience, fellows, neighbor, our brothers. We can not do Pascha with malice for others, whoever they are, what they have done us!

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

The Priest Who Translates the Gospel Into Sign Language

Once a year, during the Agape Vespers on Pascha, Archimandrite John Karamouzis exits the Holy Altar through the Royal Gate and gives the Gospel in sign language so the deaf could understand the text. Papa-John, as he is known, has spent the last few years ministering to the deaf and hard of hearing and is only one of four priests in Greece that knows sign language.

"My involvement began 11 years ago when the mother of a deaf child approached me and asked me to deal with him because he had finished high school for the deaf, and upon his return home to Halkida he could not communicate with anyone who could hear. I thought this was a message from God to deal with deaf people and to give them all my interest and energy," said Fr. John to Sunday Democracy.

For Fr. John this opened a new path in life and he decided to deal with this not only pastorally but also scientifically.


Fr. John studied Greek sign language, which he knows in the capacity of teaching and interpretation, while he did his thesis on the pastoral care of the deaf at Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki. He is a preacher of the Holy Metropolis of Halkida and he cooperates with Inter-Christian relations for the Holy Synod. "The last Sunday of every month at All Saints parish in Kallithea the Divine Liturgy is celebrated with simultaneous interpretation in sign language from the laity. Deaf come from all parts of Athens in this important initiative," says Father John, and adds: "At the same time in several Metropolis' there are liturgical gatherings and there are revealed the degree of needs, perhaps not at the level we wanted, but even so it's a significant offering."

Approaching the deaf is an extremely difficult task. You need expertise, patience and unconditional love. "It is necessary for more to learn sign language," says Father John, adding: "It could be done today to 'translate' the entire Divine Liturgy in sign language by priests, because science gives us the 'weapons'. The deaf community is not a disabled people, but a 'cultural minority' according to the latest medical opinions. This minority has its own language, and we must learn to approach her. Probably it will take many years to do this, but its worth a try."

A Closed Community

The deaf community is very closed and guarded. "When approaching a deaf person one should know how to deal with them to become acceptable. For example, if a deaf person has turned his attention somewhere and one who hears comes and hits them on the back, the deaf considers it hostile and not friendly energy. These 'codes' you ought to know and this is done only when socializing with them," says Father John. The priest is to understand the particular temperament of the deaf. These are people socially isolated and suspicious. They also have a fear of not being able to communicate and be disappointed.

Father John scientifically studied all this data to implement, but also to teach other priests. Prejudices are indeed many. "Previously there were scientists who said that sign language should not be used because it is mimetic. In France in the 60's to prevent deaf people from using their hands, they tied them to focus on 'reading' of the lips. This scientifically collapsed as inhuman. Then they said sign language degrades them mentally. Just in 2000 was sign language officially recognized," says Fr John.

In Greece, the first clergyman who was deaf and dedicated to them was the late Metropolitan of Thebes Nicodemos, who learned sign language and communicated with them from the 50's, and gave part of his personal fortune to buy the first building of the club where he worked pastorally with the deaf.

The most difficult moment for Papa John is confession. "Every man has his own emotions and the need to express it in such a way as to show repentance," he says, adding: "The pastor who hears the confession must be fluent in sign language, emotionally to be present and know that the reactions of the deaf may be more intense because they can not express in words what they have in them".

Unknown sin

"The pastor needs to know all aspects of the life of a deaf person. The most important of all is that the deaf do not have the perceptions of being deaf and are more prone to commit sin, because no one explained what is sin and what is not. The clergyman is often at odds with an entire worldview of the deaf. For example, I have confessions by deaf people who do not consider abortion a sin because no one had said it to them. When I explained it was, it was very difficult to convince them. I felt the difficulty to convince a man that what all his life he did, thinking he is right, is in fact a sin and must be changed. Basically when you come in contact with a deaf person who has no special relationship with the Church it is like facing a small child whom you must teach."


"Very much effort and dedication is needed for deaf ministry," says the Archimandrite. For nine years in the Halkis Metropolis they offer sign language courses. The course lasts two years and in each cycle about 30 people who hear learn how to communicate with the deaf. One has also been ordained a Reader by the Metropolitan Demetrios Bouleros of Halkis, who is the first deaf person placed in a position in the Church of Greece.

Every Sunday Father John gathers all deaf people in the region and discusses with them their problems. Mostly, however, he is always ready to help a deaf person with transactions with the State, and services in emergency situations. "There are cases where a deaf person gets sick and is taken to the hospital. There he can not explain what he suffers, or learn what tests and what treatment the doctors give for him to do. You understand that he is in panic. Think of someone who should be operated on and does not know whether or not they are in danger. In these cases, I hasten to restore the voice and hearing, and especially offer psychological support," said Father John.

They feel anger at God

Father John is making two important scientific investigations that are underway. In the first study whether religiosity affects deaf people and sociability. With special questionnaires he studied whether deafness affects their faith and relationship with God. The results so far show that the deaf community is largely away from Christ because most grew up in families that had not spoken on the subject, because the parents did not know sign language. About 99% of deaf people are born into families that hear and are deaf to adulthood and do not communicate with people around. "Many say they feel anger at God because of their problem. Many say that God is not interested and others (fewer) say they believe because they hope that God will heal them. Anyway, as a Church we need to see these findings carefully to better understand the problem," concludes Father John.

The second survey is of a sample of about 500 people studying those who hear and their religious views on the subject to show the treatment of deaf people who have a spiritual background. Here, the first results are concerning, largely because there seems to be indifference, while many say they would consider it a punishment of God to bring into the world a deaf child. "Many who are cosidered believers do not consider a deaf child as a blessing from God and that's frustrating," says Fr John.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

"Christ Is Risen" in Pomak

On February 3, 2007 a Pomak from Sminthi visited Mount Athos. At the Monastery of Simonopetra a monk asked him to translate "Christ Is Risen" in his native language. He translated the hymn and the monk in turn put it to Byzantine notation. On April 8, 2007 the monks of Simonopetra Monastery sang for the first time "Christ Is Risen" in Pomak.

Hristσs si azhοvβ at umrβtene
Sas umνranye nastσpi umνranyeto
Harνsal ye zhοvσta zhιmne so bϊli
Faf grσbyeno.

Χριστός σι αζιβά ατ ουμράτενε
Σας ουμίρανιε ναστόπι ουμίρανιετο
Χαρίσαλ γιε ζιβότα ζέμνε σο μπούλι
Φαφ γκρόμπιενο.

Below is the transcription of the hymn in Byzantine notation:

On March 4, 2007 the same Pomak man translated from the Gospel of John (John 20:19-31) the passage which is read every year during the Agape Vespers on Pascha Sunday. Now every year at Simonopetra this passage is read also in Pomak:

19 Agξna ye stαnalo akshαm le faf inσk dιne, na pσrvanek dιne ad Sσbatono natsξi, i vratαna so bϊlο zatvσrenο itαm kadιna so bϊli zbrαtο talebιne ad Yahudiαtskokne strαha, dashlσl ye Isα i ustayαl so ye faf sredσno i reklσl mi ye: "Mirιnye vαmi!"
20 I agξ ye reklσl inazν, prikαzal ye tδm tσgavοne rσkο i strαno. Drαgo mi ye pαnnalo talebτmne, agξna so vνdili Kνriono.
21 I reklσl mi ye pak Isα: "Mirιnye vαmi. Kαksa mo ye prevσdil mσne Bubαyko i ya prevαdom vαmi".
22 I agξna ye reklσl inazν, dϊinal ye ur tδh i reklσl mi ye: "Zτmite Evliyσsko Vαzdaho.
23 Akϊ banβm stσrite af grαhovene, she mi so af, akϊ gi banβm darzhξte, she so udarzhσnο".
24 'Ala Thomαs, ad on ikνno adνn, zhσkne so zavαlο "Bliznαk", ne ye bul sas tδh, agξna ye dashlσl Isβ.
25 Vνkali mu so drϊgοne talebι: "Vνdihme Kνriono!" Tσy mi ye reklσl: "Akϊ na vνdem faf rakοne mu belβgono ad shαykevene i akϊ na klam pσrstase na belαgono ad shαykevene i akϊ na klam rakσso na stranσto mu, nιma da izvβravom".

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

"Christ Is Risen" In Latin

Christus resurrexit a mortuis, mortem morte calcavit, et mortuis in sepulchris vitam donavit!

The Pontifical Russian College in Rome (the “Russicum”) is joined by the “Romanos der Melode Chor” to sing "Christ Is Risen!" in Latin. This arrangement is the work of Fr. Ludwig Pichler, S.J., who was the director of the “Russicum” choir for many years.

Pascha on Mount Athos, Valaam and Sarov

By Monk Herman (Pascha 1974)

Many are the monastic citadels of Orthodoxy in Greece, Russia, and other lands, and in all of them the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated with special solemnity and festivity, undimmed by the worldly views that usually greet the worshipper in a city parish the moment he leaves the church building on Pascha. Here are three views of Pascha in Orthodox monasteries as it was lived in the 19th century and even up to our own times.

Pascha on Mount Athos

A description by Constantine Leontiev, a l9th century Russian intellectual and philosopher who was awakened spiritually by his exposure to the thousand-year-old monastic life on Mount Athos:

"The strict ascetical practices in most of the monasteries on Athos before the Paschal Festival reach such a point that it is frightening to think about it. Church services fill all day and all night. The taking of food is limited in the extreme. On certain days only the singers in the choir receive a piece of bread once or twice. During this time every-one on Athos must struggle with his body and spirit. When the Greeks greet one another at the commencement of the fast, they say: "I wish you success in swimming across the Lenten sea." Indeed, the sea of hunger and sadness, of fatigue and forced prayer may not be foregone either by virtue of one's own conscience or by the monastic regulations, except in cases of extreme exhaustion. In Passion Week the spiritual exertions of men for the glory of Christ and the honor of God become even more intense, the services longer, the food still more limited, the time for sleep and rest still shorter, and the examination of one's conscience yet more merciless.

The last evening comes. Everywhere there is silence. The cells of the monks are closed; the corridors are quiet and the churches empty. The woods, the mountains, the sea--nowhere can human beings be seen. Then, exactly at midnight resound strong hammer strokes against a board. Suddenly the bells begin to ring powerfully and solemnly. Life springs into being. Doors bang and voices can be heard. Lights flicker everywhere. Illumined by hundreds of candles, the open churches glow. Everyone wakes up happy and full of joy. Even those who were most exhausted experience an inexplicable feeling of excitement. The swimming across the great sea of bodily privation and the sometimes almost unbearable struggles of the soul have ended. We have landed on a joyous, flowering shore. Christ is risen from the dead,. He has conquered death through death. The Paschal Liturgy on Athos lasts from midnight till dawn. Then all the monks go for a time to their cells but come back for an early service.

Vespers is celebrated together with the Greeks in the largest church of the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon. This church is high, majestic, stern, dark arid at the same time blinding with gold. The iconostasis is very, very high. The church is completely filled with light. Besides a massive chandelier there is a giant silver ring with a row of candles that draw a garland of light around the pyramid-shaped lights of the chandelier.

Between the lights of the chandelier and the ring hang countless oil lamps and candles. On great feast days the chandelier and the ring rotate. All this blaze Of candles and lamps, of gold and silver--blinds, gleams, sparkles and rotates as though silently rejoicing with the people in an unbroken, festal dance.

Then, the exclamation of the deacon:

That we may be worthy to hear the Holy Gospel, let us pray to the Lord. The reading from the Gospel of St. John.

It is the Gospel in Greek. The reading has scarcely ended when suddenly there resounds a deafening ringing of bells .... Then a moment's silence .... And in this sudden silence in the church, somewhere in the depths, we hear a strange but pleasant ringing sound as though large drops with musical tone were falling onto metal. The Greeks are striking with their small hammers against metal discs. And again silence.

Then an exclamation in Church Slavonic:

That we may be worthy to hear the Holy Gospel, let us pray to the Lord. The reading from the Gospel of St. John.

The priest reads in Slavonic. Again, the solemn ringing.., and once again the soft beating of the metal discs. Let us attend. The Gospel in Turkish. After renewed ringing ... once more the exclamation; Rome speaks:

Cum ergo sero esset die illo una sabbatorum~et fores essent clausae, ubi erant discipli .... (John 20:19)

Next I hear a language which I cannot understand. It is Albanian, the language of heros, terrible robbers and faithful servants.

Vespers ends. No more ringing is heard. In the paved court and along the long corridors between the monks' cells again profound silence holds sway. For a long time I sit at the open window and look at sunny, golden, yellow, brown and white shrubs on the mountain side which is usually dark and bare but now seems to share our joy. I hear the soft tinkling of the bells on grazing donkeys. But other sounds overwhelm my soul on this evening: the exclamations and the ringing, the reading of the word of God, the different languages: Peace to you, Eirene humin, Pax vobiscum, Selam size.

The dark church, the stern appearance of the icons, the flashing gold and silver everywhere--the stillness, the ringing, the singing--and the wonderful reading to which everyone devoted the closest attention, interrupted only now and again by a smile of joy or an expression or mild surprise. And above our heads in the dark space, the silent, joyous, unceasing dance of countless lights. Truly this is the Festival of Festivals!"

Pascha on Valaam

Over a thousand years old, Valaam Monastery is situated on the islands of Lake Ladoga in northern Russia, not far from the Finnish border. In addition to the main monastery there were many small monastic communities (sketes) scattered about the islands. Closed by the communists in 1939, Valaam has since been turned into a museum by the Soviets.

Here in the words of a righteous monk Abbot Philemon, is a glimpse of how he remembered Pascha on Old Valaam:

"Hardly anywhere else in our Holy Russia was the feast of Pascha celebrated so humbly and quietly as on Valaam. We were left to ourselves in the monastery, for no pilgrim could cross Lake Ladoga whose icy water were ferocious as at no other time of year Each skete had its own services. Only our (main) monastery, having spent the time of Great Lent in the usual labors, fasting an intensified prayer which began with everyone partaking of the Holy Mysteries (likewise on Passion week), would finally, unite on Holy Night in the basement church (of Sts. Sergius and Herman) in anticipation of the Light bearing Paschal Matins.

No one, of course, slept this night. The Acts of the Apostles was read; everyone who so desired took part. And there were man who crowded around the reading stand wanting to take a turn. Everyone would read a bit replacing one another. Twenty years in row I remember this service, and the preparations for it, the expectations and these solemn readings. How I also longed to read the Acts. And I would wait in line with the others, gradually nearing the sacred place But no! Every time something stopped me revealing the demon of vainglory. I didn’t have the courage, and so I never did read the Acts in the middle of the church in the Valaam Cathedral.

A fierce frost. Snow. Around us a wide strip of fragrant firs--darkening on the white path. Here the bannered procession will pass by; here it comes. Here and there bonfires, begin to flicker; they are made by our Finns, our monastery workers who love to light them in this day. Soon will burst forth our thousand-year-old Valaam singing, grand but simple, of the Paschal troparion--I can hear t now! The cathedral is lit with candles and sparkles with gold. The mighty Valaam bells burst out in solemn peals. And a long line of vested clergy shines with gold. The soul trembles and melts before this mighty splendor in glorification of the Risen God, by us poor and humble ones...

Unutterable was the feeling of contrition and awe in which I stood through this service, really going upstairs to the choir loft from here everything could be seen better. Only the last year, already in the rank of deacon, was in the altar--and I must admit, it some how hurt me to be too close to the awesome beauty of what was performed: I didn't know where to stand, to whom to go for a blessing t order to get vested...I lost peace in trifles..,

The service was conducted at a brisk pace, everyone sang the canon, even the 'simpletons.'

Then came the long line of congratulatory brethren, greeting one another with a triple kiss, all servers holding icons, headed by the abbot. Everyone exchanges the Paschal embrace with a kiss. Hundreds, over a thousand monks line up. The first to greet you with 'Christ is risen!' is the abbot, while his cell-attendant hands you an egg, and then all the brethren.

Liturgy is conducted strictly, according the typicon, but at a quick pace, joyous and light. There's scarcely time to take it in before it is all over. Then everybody goes to the refectory to break the fast, solemnly following the abbot in pairs according rank, carrying the holy artos , [A special bread with a cross signifying Christ as the Heavenly Bread (John 6:33)] the singers preceded by those carrying the banners--and it is during the entire week. On the tables · there is a second egg for everyone (these are the only eggs the Valaam monk sees during the entire year), kulich and cheese pascha-but not very much; the Valaam monk's fast is strict, and even on the Great Feast of Pascha, he consoles himself with little, Day breaks--the light-bearing Resurrection of Christ! On Valaam it is very special --we are all alone! And everyone is left to himself. The pealing of bells is uninterrupted; everyone is welcome to go and ring. But even here, not once did I make it to the belfry.

I was drawn rather into the expansive wilds of nature, hastening to visit all around --what beauty, what grace abounded! Once you came out to the shore of the lake, you held your breath upon beholding the grandeur of the breaking ice on the wide surface of the lake. And how apparent here was the feeling of our solitude! our being cut off from the world. Then I'd visit all the chapels; there were many of them scattered about. There we'd sing "Christ is risen", either together with someone else, or alone. Besides ourselves, the brethren, there was no one anywhere.

This state of freedom was so unusual! There was no need to hurry anywhere, to rush; one was not afraid to be late to some obedience, or to miss anything. There was only one day like this in the whole year, long and full, 1asting without end--you can go everywhere, wherever you want, and you feast on it endlessly, wandering and walking to your heart's content, the soul rejoicing.

At approximately 3 o'clock, a bell is rung, its peculiar short rings calling everyone to tea. At this time many come from the sketes also. Tea is served with milk: three pieces of lump sugar, bread, sweet bread--eat, drink as much as you want.

For the next several days the service is conducted in various churches; the Risen Lord must be glorified everywhere. The service on the third day after Pascha is held in the upper church of the Cathedral. [This church was used only in summer and was unheated.] Everyone dresses as warmly as possible. Clouds of vapor rise from the mouths of the singers. I don't know how the Holy Gifts do not freeze--it's so terribly cold ! But the Paschal service proceeds very briskly.

Oh, that Light-bearing joy of Valaam! Oh, that holy Russian simplicity, the thousand-year-old austere simplicity, faithful to its poverty and humility, and magnificent in its triumphant celebration of the Resurrected Christ!"

Sarov: A New Paschal Spring

The snow still glistens on the fields and in the dark evergreen forest, where the sun's rays cannot so easily penetrate, winter still ~ seems to reign, But the noise of rushing water on all sides betrays the truth. The succulent green moss and majestic firs saturated with the spring dampness, give off 'something just like church incense, the fragrance of a new, rapidly approaching spring. The birches stand as though lifeless, awaiting the secret summons of nature, in order all at once to clothe themselves in spring's green apparel...' And suddenly, the entire Sarov forest resounds with the ringing peals of the Paschal bells, whose sound carries from the Holy Monastery, from the churches of the holy Sarov Hermitage, echoing in the surrounding fields, forests, groves, towns and villages.

Throughout the Motherland of Holy Russia the sound of Paschal bells once rang out, proclaiming the joy of Christ's Resurrection, and promising the universal resurrection. It was then that mighty men of God worked out their salvation in the Sarov forests. Like “a homeless wanderer, the deser't-dweller” Mark wandered at night among the oak groves which resounded with his continual singing: "Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ..." He said that he felt a special unearthly joy at this time, when all of nature was silent; that at no other time did prayer ascend so easily to God than at this time of peace and quiet. In a solitary cell, the spirit-bearing Elder Nazarius (+1808) ended his days; having gathered on Valaam a whole army of spiritual warriors, and now, beside the river Sarovka, he was at rest already in another world.

Further along the same river, Saint Seraphim, the joy of Holy Russia, for many years: struggled on the path of salvation. How much was thought out, how much was prayed through, in this green "desert". There also, in a small secluded hut, from the age of 12, the future missionary to America, St. Herman, conducted his spiritual struggles as a cell attendant to the ascetic Elder Varlaam.

There also lived the clairvoyant Anthony of Murom (+1855), a friend of the great Seraphim, and Jonah of Kiev (+1902) who, as a youth, lived in a hut near St. Seraphim. Likewise the restorer of Sanaxar Monastery, Theodore (+1791) who resembled the ancient desert fathers, and Theophan of New Lake (+1832) in his youth, and Moses (+1868), one of the founders of Optina Hermitage, and many others.

All of these friends of God; entirely immersed themselves in the stillness of their hearts, and there beheld the true nature of first-created Adam, that natural state of man, that magnificent and God-like dweller of paradise, for whose sake the whole world was created, a stranger to corruption and death. Carefully watching over themselves in the depth of the forest solitude, these wondrous elders studied through their own experience, all the various movements of the heart, the center of human life. Working to uproot all evil and to plant virtue, they illumined their souls with the know1edge of God. Before their inner sight were opened the mysteries of the invisible world, and they were able to discern what was good and what was evil. How did these spirit-filled elders who exhausted themselves so, experience in their hearts Christ's Resurrection? Is it possible, even dimly, to apprehend what the soul of a righteous man experiences who has worn himself out with relentless cleansing of his soul--when touched by the bright rays of the rising Sun of Righteousness?

The stars grow dim in the dawning Sarov sky. The dark forest and oak groves reverberate with the turbulent sounds of the life-bearing spring. With the ringing of church bells and the jubilant rejoicing of human hearts, there rises over the sinful earth the splendor of the dawn of Christ’s Resurrection.

Christ is Risen!

Christ Is Risen, O fathers of Sarov!

Christ Is Risen, O Much-suffering Russian land!

But in Russia, Sarov is no more. No one will answer the Paschal greeting. On the holy grounds of Sarov, there was until recently an abomination of desolation, a concentration camp of 20th century slaves and the graves of the monks – innocent sufferers awaiting the general resurrection. One person timidly remarks: There beyond the forest, protected by a dense thicket, rests a forgotten cemetery, deprived of its crosses. The anonymous boards gaze into the cloudy sky. Forsaken by all, the dead quietly narrate to the distant stars, the unending story of their sufferings – the story of unknown people whose lives were discarded as worthless. Around our barracks stood like a wall the thick green of the swaying birches – the unique and unforgettable thick forest of Sarov. All of us involuntarily felt the invisible strength and grace – giving proximity of the Holy Monastery. St. Seraphim himself appeared once in the forest on the road in Soviet times to a prisoner-monk, when his strength had given out under his heavy load and he could go no further. Almost all the believers among the prisoners midst of the severest trials, they felt his protection, At first it was proposed to build a concentration camp in the monastery, But such a spirit of depression fell upon the workers who were sent there from the "special ' department", so many cases of suicide arose among them, that the authorities moved the camp to another location, and in the monastery they built a home for the children of prisoners. They say that at night the children often see the elder in a white peasant's coat and a short black mantia." (Memoirs of Nun Veronica, St. Vladimir's Calendar for 1973)

In another account concerning the new martyr, Abbot Barsanouphius, an organizer of the Josephite catacombs, we read the following: "In Sarov he was beaten until he was half dead; when be came out of the camp he was a completely bent-over invalid who could not walk without crutches, It was hard to recognize the still not so old, well-built, tall batiushka, Father Barsanouphius. After his beating, the Lord granted him the great gift of inner spiritual sight. Likewise, during a time of severe illness, it was as though he were transported into another realm; he had a whole series of visions, which he related as undoubted confirmations of the life to come." (Russia’s New Martyrs, Fr. Michael Polsky; Vol. II, 1957.)

There is no death in God! All are alive in God. Christ is Risen and Life Reigns! And although the sufferings of crucified Russia have in no way diminished to this very day, nevertheless it is with new strength that there come forth sounds of an unmistakable, strong renewal. Do you hear, does the sound carry? Is this not the sound of a Paschal spring?

Yes! A great ascetic of our Russian Church Abroad, Archbishop Vitaly of Jordanville, said:

"These are isolated splashes of an awakening national will to freedom. They are now penetrating the, mass, just as the rays of the spring sun Penetrate the frozen earth. They melt the icy fetters of winter; they tear and carry off the ice which binds and deadens the life of the people; just as the spring torrents of the beloved Volga and the wide Dniepr carry and smash into small pieces the ice floes of winter." (Motifs of My Life, Archbishop Vitaly; Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY,' 1958)


Saturday, April 14, 2012

On Leaving Church Early On Pascha After "Christ is Risen!"

By Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Patras

As we approach Holy Pascha and are preparing to venerate the Honorable Passion of our Savior Jesus Christ and glorify His Resurrection from the dead, many thoughts flood my mind and many emotions flood my heart.

It would take too much space and time to explain what I feel as an Archpriest all that shakes my inner world. I believe that all people's feelings, on these holy days, are comparable to mine.

Our Lord is lifted up on the Cross and offers His Most-Holy Blood; He descends to Hades and is resurrected on the third day to give us new life and make us heirs of His eternal Kingdom.

"We praise His Passion, hymn His Burial, and for His Resurrection cry out: Lord, glory to Thee."

I am moved by the participation of the People in our sacred worship services, and rejoice because Greeks have deeply rooted in their souls faith in God and devotion to the Church and His Resurrection.

But our joy, unfortunately, is tempered, or rather, it is overshadowed when I think of the way we celebrate Holy Pascha. I will only refer to one issue. Thousands of faithful flock to the sacred temples around them during the ceremony of the Resurrection and are expecting with joy and jubilation to receive the Holy Light.

Creation is illuminated by the unwaning Light of the Risen One, and angels with men celebrate chanting triumphant hymns to the light-bearing Resurrection of the Lord. "Let us celebrate the death of death, the destruction of Hades, the never-ending beginning of another life."

And while all are glad, many (perhaps most) of the participants in the ceremony of the Resurrection, as if by magic they are seized by the Evil One, and they avert their faces from the Risen One and rush to leave the heavenly and earthly feast together; the Gathering of heaven and earth is in a hurry to leave the Lord, Who is sacrificed on the Horrific Altar and is offered as drink to the faithful, finding it more worthwhile to reach the same or other villages for the enjoyment of worldly joy and physical tables (in the homes).

In no other case do I feel so sad, but at that time. It is a very great sorrow, when we chant the verse, "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those who hate Him flee from Him", knowing that people are fleeing, they are scattering, whoever was previously glorifying the Risen One.

Mentally at that moment I see and hear our Lord asking, while showing the marks of the nails, the question which He asked His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Could you not keep watch with Me for one hour?"

"My children," He says, "why are you leaving? Are you that tired? Could you not take any more shedding of heavenly light? Are you hungry perhaps?

My children, why do you forsake Me? My people, what have I concocted against you and why do you reciprocate? Instead of My love, you give Me oblivion! Instead of My sacrifice, you give Me denial! Instead of My descending into Hades to lift you to Heaven, you give Me ingratitude! Instead of accepting the invitation to the Eucharistic Resurrection Supper, you give Me ungratefulness!

My people, why do you exchange heaven with dirt, the eternal with the transitory, the immortal food with temporary eating, the joy of the Reign of God with false worldly fun?

My people, why do you extinguish the light of the Resurrection and run to illuminate the darkness of your soul with the false lights of this vain world?"

How will we answer our Lord to these questions of His? No human logic can explain this fact. We try to analyze this phenomenon and explore its essence.

It is strange to listen to and a horrible spectacle. It is unfortunate this has occurred in recent decades and is the result of ignorance of the depth of the feast and its mystery, of the Resurrection, and salvation.

It is a product of secularization that has plagued our lives and our society.

It results from the influence of the devil, who rejoices with this attitude of the people.

In conclusion, the departure of people from the holy church before the Liturgy of the Resurrection is a great sin and betrays frivolity in relation to matters of faith. All the struggles one has undergone until Pascha, prove futile.

Some have an excuse ready: "Not everyone will fit in the church, we will be outside. What should we do then? We will leave, I can't endure it."

To this question - it is an excuse rather - I answer: The Grace of the Resurrection of the Risen One fills everything and the light of the Resurrection encompasses both inside and outside the holy temple and illumines the faces of the children of the Resurrection. "Now all things are filled with light: heaven and earth, and the nethermost regions."

And furthermore...

The Lord became man, humbled Himself, was punched, wore a crown of thorns for us, was spat upon, whipped, ascended Golgotha carrying the Cross on His shoulder, given bile and vinegar to drink, was lifted onto the Cross, and descended into Hades. He rose from the dead to raise fallen man. All these things we have forgotten and we leave...because we are burdened?

I would like to talk to you about two shocking experiences that I have lived with people of faith, who waited for hours to express to God their feelings.

I will limit it to two of them:

- When serving as the Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod, I accompanied Archbishop Christodoulos for a peaceful visit to the Church of Poland. There, we liturgized in the Monastery "Grabarka" during the feast of the Holy Transfiguration. Thousands of people had flooded the hill of the Monastery. During Holy Communion rain broke out.

My thinking was that people would scatter. But nobody left the Fearful Mystagogy, but with patience remained in the rain, to commune of the Pure Mysteries, receiving the All-Holy Body and Precious Blood of the Lord. Nuns were holding umbrellas, not to protect the priests, but the Holy Chalice.

- The second shocking experience was in Bucharest, Romania last October, where we carried the Holy Apostle Andrew's Skull for a blessing and sanctification of the Romanian people.

Thousands of Romanians waited almost twelve hours day and night, in terrible cold, to await their turn to venerate the Holy Skull. They had a splendid serenity on their faces and their eyes seemed to be of sweet anticipation for the meeting with the Saint.

My brethren, it is time to change our attitude regarding certain issues that are vital for us. The center of the life of our Church is the Resurrection and the Resurrectional Supper, the Resurrectional Table.

The celebration of Pascha should not be external, but should be a matter for the inner man.

Untiring should be our ability to return back to the Kingdom of God, and let it not be a secular opportunity for turbulence and a luxurious life.

I believe that this Pascha we will change our attitude, and we will want to stay for the Supper of the Kingdom, listening to the golden-worded panegyric of Saint John Chrysostom crying festively:

"Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!"

And having acquired the experience of being drunk at the immortal table of the Resurrection, let us depart for the goods of the other table in our homes, which will have the fragrance of the Resurrection, and as gifts of God will give us pleasure and material enjoyment, since man is a psycho-somatic entity, and as a mixed pilgrim, according to the sacred Gregory the Theologian, we will be sanctified by the Church of the Resurrection.

My brethren, do not leave from the church on Pascha before the Divine Liturgy. Do not forsake the Lord. Do not commit this great sin.

A Good Resurrection to you.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

Greek Bombs Trouble Tarpon Springs On Easter

An inert Greek bomb, shown at actual size, is on display in the Tarpon Springs Heritage Center at Craig Park.

Jeff Klinkenberg
April 8, 2012
Tampa Bay Times

Nobody knows what will happen when Orthodox Greeks celebrate Easter next Sunday. Perhaps the holiday will be joyous with loved ones gathered to glorify the Resurrection with a feast of lamb. But perhaps, and this is what causes certain folks some sleepless nights, it might turn out to be another Greek-bomb Easter.

When the clock tolls midnight on Easter morning, homemade bombs sometimes explode along the Dodecanese Boulevard riverfront. Explosions shake buildings and break windows on Athens Street. Back in the neighborhoods, teenage boys toss bombs and run from the cops. It's a rite of passage that happens to be a felony.

But really, nobody ever knows what will happen until it happens in Tarpon Springs, population 25,000. This year, police hope, nothing louder than the cries of the yellow-crowned night herons will be heard down by the famous sponge docks. That will mean rambunctious teenagers have heeded the annual request of Father Michael Eaccarino, the pastor of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, to light candles instead of bomb fuses.

Bomb explosions during Easter season have been part of the Tarpon soundtrack for generations. It's a custom that goes back to where so many of the town's 3,000 Greek-American residents trace their roots: the islands of Kalymnos, Symi and Halki in the Aegean Sea. There, high-spirted Easter celebrants fling dynamite from mountain cliffs and occasionally blow themselves up in the process.

In Tarpon Springs an Easter bomb is typically made from shredded newspaper, twine, duct tape and powder purchased in a gun shop. There's more to it, of course. Just know the creation produces an impressive explosion. Even so, the ear blast is never enough for the most competitive bombmakers. Cpl. Scott Brockew, a Tarpon Springs police detective and Pinellas County's only bomb technician, once confiscated a homemade explosive about the size of a watermelon.

"Somebody was driving around with it in the trunk of his car,'' he said recently. "It contained 12 pounds of black powder. We took it to a remote spot and exploded it. From 300 yards away you felt the concussion in your chest. It left a 4-foot crater in the ground. Can you imagine if it went off in a crowd?''

• • •

Tarpon Springs, which became a Greek enclave in 1905, is one of Florida's great tourist towns. On Epiphany every January, visitors head for the bayou to watch Greek youths dive for a cross thrown by the bishop. Visitors throughout the year fill bags with gift-shop sponges and eat spanakopita, dolmades and baklava at lunch.

Some might argue that Easter bombs are as much a part of Greek culture as bouzouki music. Others, mostly people in law enforcement, would say that the occasional explosion in the downtown shopping district stopped being a quaint but noisy custom sometime after Sept. 11.

"It's a collision of folk customs with the American legal system,'' says Tina Bucuvalas, a Tarpon Springs folklorist who has sometimes been awakened by distant explosions early Easter morning. She never stops trying to understand the tradition of Easter bombs.

"Don't even call them bombs,'' an elderly Greek man explained to her recently in a casual conversation on the sponge docks. "Bombs are what al-Qaida makes in Afghanistan and Iraq. People here make their own firecrackers. You should call them firecrackers.''

He did not reveal his name, of course, another custom when the subject of Easter bombs arises.

"Americans celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks,'' he went on. "In Tarpon Springs, we celebrate the fact that Christ has risen from the dead with our own fireworks. It's the happiest day of the year.''

No kid, he grew up in Kalymnos and remembered stealing dynamite and building bombs with the powder as a teen. He carried his bombs to the mountaintop overlooking town, waited for midnight, ignited the fuse and heaved with all his strength. The explosion turned night into day, shook the mountain, shook the town below.

"My father was in church at the time,'' the retired gray-haired bomber told Bucuvalas. "He later told me that my bomb was so loud it made the old women weep.''

By tradition he passed on his Easter bombmaking skills to his American-born son. The son, now married with his own children, tells people the custom will end with him.

• • •

Male Floridians with more than a few wrinkles often think fondly about youthful adventures that may have included family summer trips through the Deep South where dangerous fireworks were legally sold — even to 12-year-old boys.

Back in Florida, the boys exploded their Cherry Bombs, M-80s and Ash Cans in back yards and parking lots without killing themselves, though everybody claimed to have heard of someone who had lost a finger or two. In 1966, the federal government outlawed the sale of the most dangerous explosives.

In Greece, Easter bombers accidentally kill themselves or innocent bystanders every spring. It has yet to happen in Tarpon, though not for lack of trying.

During the 1988 Easter season, a 20-year-old man waited too long to throw a bomb on Hope Street. The explosion broke his arm.

In 1991, police arrested a 14-year-old boy in possession of a 1-pound bomb.

In 1994, an 18-year-old was arrested for having a bomb. He wore a T-shirt showing a picture of three dead police officers sprawled at the feet of a man who was wearing a rat's head. "Dirty Rats,'' said the caption on the shirt. "Justice Is Served.''

Easter, 1996: A teenager was stopped driving on Dodecanese Boulevard because his passenger, a small child, wasn't properly restrained. The driver was arrested after two bombs were discovered inside his car. Later that night, police found a bag containing seven bombs on the sponge docks.

In 1997, a powerful bomb rocked Athens Street and did $3,000 damage to the National Bakery and the Greek Coffee Shop. The following Easter a bomb went off in the alley behind the famous Zorba's Greek Taverna. The front window shattered, whiskey bottles flew off the shelves and a $1,500 neon sign had to be replaced.

In 2000, after an enormous blast broke 13 windows along Athens Street, police arrested two 18-year-old boys. That Easter another bomb shattered the window at Paul's Shrimp House on Live Oak Street. On Athens Street, a bomb blew the bumper off a parked car and damaged the radiator.

In 2010, during the Easter Eve church service at St. Nicholas Cathedral on Pinellas Avenue, an illicit fireworks show, triggered by a remote control device, began on the roof of the 70-year-old structure and went on for 11 minutes.

Last Easter, fearing the worst, Tarpon Springs police Chief Bob Kochen requested helicopter help from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Hovering over the cathedral, the pilot saw a suspicious package on top of the church kindergarten. It turned out to be a box containing a remote control device apparently intended to set off another fireworks show.

On the Greek orthodox religion's holiest night, the police chief ordered the church, filled with about a thousand worshipers, evacuated. Then, to the chagrin of many in the congregation, the Tampa Bay Regional Bomb Squad filed through the empty church with specially trained dogs.

The dogs sniffed out no bombs and worshipers returned to their pews. From the church courtyard, police heard the sporadic explosions of Easter bombs in the distance.

• • •

Detective Scott Brockew was born on the Fourth of July. "For years,'' he tells people, "I thought all those fireworks were meant for me.''

He's 43 now and has done police work since he was 19. One hat he wears in Tarpon Springs is "bomb specialist.'' "Nobody in law enforcement in other parts of the country can believe what we face here,'' he tells people.

Tarpon Springs has 49 police officers who know never to ask for a day off during Greek Easter. Every available patrolman is on the street, on foot or in their vehicle, watching and listening.

"It's a cat and mouse game,'' Brockew said recently. Some mice build bombs with long fuses. When the bomb explodes and the cats arrive, the mice are blocks away. Other mice ignite commercially purchased smoke bombs, toss their powerful Greek bombs and escape in the mist.

"I hate to even talk about this,'' Brockew said. "I don't like to give them publicity.''

Officer Barbara Templeton spent her first Greek Easter 25 years ago in a squad car. "Somebody rolled a bomb under me,'' she said. "When it went off it was so loud I thought I'd lost my hearing.'' Her boss sent her to the emergency room.

"At the time I was one of the few women on the force,'' said Templeton, now a captain. "My first Easter and I had to go to the hospital. It was embarrassing.''

The police have their customs, too. Every spring for at least a half century, the police chief has written a letter to the pastor of St. Nicholas asking for help keeping the city quiet. On March 15, Kochen sent his annual message to Father Michael and the Parish Council.

"In the interest of safety,'' the police chief wrote, "I am respectfully asking that the Parish Council partner with the police department to openly denounce the use of fireworks and homemade bombs . . ."

• • •

Devout Greek Orthodox Christians in Tarpon Springs shun meat and alcohol during Lent. So determined are they to honor their savior's sacrifice that they avoid dairy products, cooking oil and even sex. Father Michael, the pastor at St. Nicholas, is their leader. He's 62, tall, with gray hair. He was born in New York and raised in Miami. As a boy he threw a firecracker or two into a lake just to see what would happen. What happened was a big explosion and dead fish.

After college he ran a bike shop and still keeps his Bianchi at the rectory, though he never seems to find time for a ride. He was ordained in 1991 and served in South Florida, Washington and Denver. In 2006 he came to St. Nicholas, one of Florida's most beautiful churches, and heard about the Easter-bomb tradition. He had never heard of such a thing, at least in the United States.

At first he embraced the tradition. "Bang! It's a big celebration. Christ has tramped down death," he says. "It's a wonderful moment.''

He had second thoughts after hearing about midnight bombs that left craters, blew off car bumpers and broke arms. At a church service three years ago he held a baby above the congregation and asked, "What are we going to do if a bomb goes off nearby and harms this child?''

It turned out to be a relatively quiet Easter. But a year or so later an altar boy — an altar boy! — was arrested for having a bomb. In 2010 there was that unauthorized fireworks show that originated on the roof of a church building, which he did not approve of. He's all for avoiding a repeat of last year's police search of the church.

"We intend to cooperate with the police,'' Father Michael said. "But we want to express ourselves according to the old customs.''

Father Michael has a solution that he hopes will make everyone happy — the traditionalists and the safety conscious, too.

The Easter Eve service will go on as always. During the liturgy, all lights will be extinguished in church, except for one, on the altar, a lit candle.

Bishop Nikitas Lulias, who grew up in Tarpon Springs but now lives in Turkey, will be officiating with Father Michael's assistance. Bishop Nikitas will approach the lit candle and light his own. With that candle he will light the candle of someone else, who will light a candle of still another worshiper. Eventually the church will be lit by a thousand candles.

Then everyone and their candles will follow Bishop Nikitas and Father Michael outside to the courtyard.

"Christos anesti!'' the bishop will proclaim. "Christ is risen!''

And everyone in the courtyard will answer "Alithos anesti! He is risen indeed!''

And then, if everything works out, if they can raise $5,000 and all the permits are in place, a 10-minute fireworks show organized by the church will erupt. It will be a noisy manifestation of the congregation's overwhelming joy. And no one will get hurt.

And if the fireworks don't happen, well, it'll still be Easter and on that holiest of nights, Father Michael will try not to listen for explosions in the distance.

Read also: Tarpon Springs Explosion Rocks Greek Religious Celebration

A Unique Epitaphio in Ouranoupoli

In Ouranoupoli the women have a unique way of decorating the Epitaphio - with thousands of pearls and flowers.

Preparations began a month ago when women gathered more than 70,000 pearls and 30,000 flowers to make their Epitaphio into a real jewel.

This is a tradition in Ouranoupolis that goes back ten years and attracts thousands of visitors in the peninusula area.

Each year the women choose a Byzantine pattern, usually taken from Mount Athos, then they decide on the colors, order the flowers and pearls, and then both old and young participate in the decorating.

On Good Friday evening everyone then takes part in the procession with the Epitaphio through the streets of the village.

82-year-old German Woman Converts To Orthodoxy in Agrinio

Areti Kotseli
April 12, 2012
Greek Reporter

An old German woman, resident of Agrinio, converted to Christian Orthodoxy on Palm Sunday at St. George’s Church. The old woman, who lives in the Nursing House of Agrinio, expressed her wish to become Christian Orthodox.

Sofia Seilbord lived in Agrinio for 42 years and was married to a local man who passed away many years before her decision. Even though she had children, none of them live in Greece.

Her loneliness made her shut down during the last years. Living helpless, almost blind because of a severe cataract, her life was difficult. She had been a rather unsociable person, which explains why she can’t speak Greek very well, despite her 42-year presence in Agrinio.

Sofia was living in unfavorable circumstances until another German woman also living in Agrinio found her and arranged her transfer to the Nursing House of the Christian Union in Agrinio.

The 82-year-old woman found a new life. The lifestyle of the people who lived with her at the Nursing House since last September – when she was taken there – had her ask to be converted to Christian Orthodoxy. They helped her, offered her companionship, and arranged for her optical surgery to restore her vision. She visited Carpenisi Hospital twice, and Sofia can now enjoy her sight again.

“I want to have Jesus in my heart,” are her words in an interview with Agriniopress, when asked why she decided to become Orthodox.

The baptism ceremony took place last Saturday (Lazarus Saturday) and every person in the Nursing House attended the ceremony.

Video: A First Look At the Holy Light of Jerusalem 2012

Today at 2:20pm the Holy Light, known in the West as Holy Fire, once again descended into the Tomb of Christ as Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem knelt in prayer within the Holy Sepulchre. With 33 candles in each hand he distributed the Holy Light to all the faithful, amidst great joy and celebration.

Below is video of todays miraculous event:

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Prayer Before the All-Holy Sepulchre

By Fr. Mitrophanes, Guardian of the Holy Sepulchre

Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who art Risen from the dead, receive our prayers and supplications and also my pilgrimage to Thine All-Holy Tomb; and raise us up, Who art Risen from the dead, granting Thy resurrection to all, and raising all who have fallen. To bring us into communion and show us Thy Resurrection, Thou didst descend into Hades. To illumine our darkness, Thou camest as Light into the darkness and dispelled the darkness of Hades, and as an arrow and lightning and uncreated tongues of fire the Holy Light of Thy Resurrection illumines our darkness and purifies our vision. Thou art our Resurrection from the sufferings of life. Thou art our Light leading us through the darkness of this present life. Thou art our Resurrection who art fallen into the traps of the enemy of our salvation. Thou art our Peace distinguishing disharmony. Thou art our Joy, for the Myrrhbearing women cried "rejoice!". Thou art the Bread of Life Who came down from Heaven, of which whosoever eats none will go hungry, and sanctifiest those who participate and raisest them from corruption. Thou art our Resurrection, providing resurrection to all who have fallen, and to Thee do we ascribe glory together with Thine Beginingless Father and Thine All-Holy, Good, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Κύριε Ιησού Χριστέ, ό Θεός ημών, ό Άναστάς εκ νεκρών, πρόσδεξαι ημών τας εύχάς και τας δεήσεις και το προσκύνημα κατενώπιον τον Παναγίου Σου Τάφου και άνάστησον ημάς ό Άναστάς εκ νεκρών και πάσι την Άνάστασιν την Σήν χαρισάμενος και πάσι τοις πεσούσι παρέχων Άνάστασιν! Ίνα γαρ κοινωνούς ημάς δείξης της Σης Αναστάσεως, κατήλθες εν τω Αδη! Ίνα φώτισης το σκότος ημών, κατήλθες το Φώς εν τω σκότει και διέλυσας τα σκότη του Άδου, διό και βολίσι και αστραπαίς και ακτίσι και πυρίνοις γλώσσαις το Αγιον Φώς της Σης Αναστάσεως φωτίζει ημών τα σκότη και όράται απεριέργοις και καθαροίς όφθαλμοίς. Σύ γάρ ει ή Άνάστασις ημών εν τοις του βίου δεινοίς, Σύ ει το Φώς ημών πορευομένων έν τω σκότει της παρούσης ζωής, Σύ ει ή Εγερσις ημών πεσόντων παγίσι του εχθρού της σωτηρίας ημών, Σύ ει ή Ειρήνη ημών έν άσυμφωνίαις διακρινουμένων, Σύ ει ή Χαρά ημών, ότι «χαίρετε» εβόησας γυναιξί μυροφόροις, Σύ ει ό Άρτος της Ζωής ό εκ τον Ουρανού καταβάς, ό πάντοτε έσθιόμενος και μηδέποτε δαπανώμενος, αλλά τούς μετέχοντας αγιάζων και έγείρων εκ φθοράς, Σύ ει ή Άνάστασις ημών, ό τοις πεσούσι παρέχων Άνάστασιν και Σοί την δόξαν άναπέμπομεν σύν τω Άνάρχω Σου Πατρί και τω Παναγίω και άγαθώ και Ζωοποιώ σου Πνεύματι, νύν και άεί και εις τούς Αιώνας των Αιώνων. Αμήν

Translated by John Sanidopoulos

Greek Customs and Traditions for Good Friday

Pascha is uniquely celebrated in Greece, and one of the most important days anticipating the feast is Good Friday, which is a strict fast day and has its own unique ways throughout Greece of how the pious show their honor for the day. Lets take a look at how some areas of Greece display their piety on Good Friday:

Thrace: In Thrace an important custom is the "Burning of Judas". According to this custom, children make an effigy of Judas Iscariot and parade it from house to house begging for sticks of wood. They will use these following the procession with the Epitaphios where they will light a fire and burn the effigy of Judas. Then they take the ashes and throw them in the cemetery.

Hydra: Hydra has a unique custom for Good Friday. In the Kamini district the Service of Lamentations is held in the sea, followed by fireworks which illuminate the sky.

Zakynthos: On the island of Zakynthos the procession with the Epitaphios is done differently than other places in Greece. According to ancient custom, the procession with the Epitaphios, which symbolizes Christ's descent into Hades, is done right before sunrise in the early morning hours, and when the sun rises the Bishop raises the victory flag of the Resurrection.

Litochoro: The decoration of the Epitaphios is done Holy Thursday night in Litochoro by unmarried girls, who throughout Great Lent make flowers out of fabric. Then on Good Friday evening the Epitaphios is processed to the center of town where various choirs meet, creating an amazing spectacle.

Aitoliko: Pilgrims specifically travel to the Dormition of the Theotokos Church in Aitoliko to visit a historic Epitaphio which dates to the 13th-14th century.

Nafpaktos: Good Friday evening a large crowd gathers for the procession with the Epitaphios with lit torches and they all gather at the harbor lighting the torches at the castle, which transports everyone to another era. And at the harbor entrance torches form a large cross that offers a spectaculor view.

Macedonia: Beginning on Holy Thursday the people of Macedonia put a red towel, symbolizing the blood of Christ, out their window or on their balcony. They keep it there till Pascha, and during this time the women don't do any laundry.

Syros: In Syros there is an Orthodox parish and a Catholic parish which celebrate Pascha according to the Orthodox calendar. The Catholic Epitaphio leaves from Ano Syro from the Church of Saint George and in Hermopolis it leaves from the Evangeliston Church. The Orthodox procession begins from the Church of Saint Nicholas, the Church of the Dormition and the Metropolis of the Transfiguration. They all meet at the center of town and offer a prayer together.

Paros: In Marpissa on the island of Paros the Epitaphios procession has fifteen stops. At each stop a section of the mountain lights up, and children dressed as Roman soldiers or disciples of Christ depict scenes such as the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, the prayer on the Mount of Olives, and the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. On Holy Saturday the island is full of lights with countless fireworks.

The Dirge of the Panagia: A Good Friday Tradition

The "Dirge of the Panagia" (Μοιρολόι της Παναγιάς) is a long narrative funeral song which narrates the Passion of Christ as it was lived by the Virgin Mary and the Myrrhbearing women. One could find hundreds of variations throughout Greece, Cyprus, Asia Minor and southern Italy. According to the the Swiss Hellenist professor of the University of Geneva, Bertrand Bouvier, in his book Le Mirologue de la Vierge (Geneva 1976), there are two hundred and fifty six variants. In fact, there may be over a thousand, since each village has its own unique version, and in certain Greek islands like Samothraki there are at least three versions circulating.

These songs probably date back to around the 13th century and are based upon the canonical and apocryphal Gospels, as well as the ecclesiastical hymns of the Church. In other words, it is a folk liturgical drama of the Middle Ages which can be found in both east and west. They are today one of the most striking and beautiful examples of Greek folk music.

According to the study of Samuel Baud-Bovy, these melodies were used for actual laments. In these dirges or laments of the Panagia ordinary women with song share in the pain of the Panagia, who is a universal and timeless symbol of all mothers who attended the martyrdom of their children and experienced the absurdity and inevitability of death.

Although there are local differences in individual elements of the song or the melody or the pronunciation, structure and form of the laments, the functions are strikingly similar from southern Italy to Pontus and Cyprus.

Photios Kontoglou, in one of his writing "Σήμερον κρεμάται", gives us a basic version of the the Dirge of the Panagia:

Today the sky is black,
today is a black day,
today they crucified,
the King of all things....

Or in Greek:

Σήμερον μαύρος ουρανός,
σήμερον μαύρη μέρα,
σήμερον εσταυρώσανε,
τον πάντων βασιλέα.
Σήμερον όλοι θλίβονται
και τα βουνά λυπούνται.
Σήμερον έβαλαν βουλήν
οι άνομοι Εβραίοι,
οι άνομοι και τα σκυλιά
οι τρισκαταραμένοι.
Σαν κλέφη τον επιάσανε
και σαν φονιά τον πάνε
και στου Πιλάτου τις αυλές
εκεί τον τυραγνάνε.
Κι' η Παναγιά η δέσποινα
κ' οι άλλες οι γυναίκες
έπιασαν το στρατί στρατί,
στρατί το μονοπάτι.
Το μονοπάτι τς' έβγαλε
μεσ' στου ληστή την πόρτα.
Τηρά δεξιά, τηρά ζερβά,
κανέναν δεν γνωρίζει.
Τηρά και δεξιώτερα
βλέπει τον Άγιο Γιάννη
-Άγιε μου Γιάννη Πρόδρομε
και βαπτιστή του γυιού μου
μην είδες τον υιγιόκα μου
και σένα δάσκαλό σου;
-Δεν έχω γλώσσα να σου πω
γλώσσα να σου μιλήσω,
δεν έχω χεροπάλαμο,
για να σού τονε δείξω.
Βλέπεις εκείνον τον γυμνό,
τον παραπονεμένο,
οπού φορεί πουκάμισο
στο αίμα βουτημένο;
Οπούναι τα ματάκια του
ραμμένα με μετάξι,
κι οπού φορεί στην κεφαλή
αγκάθινο στεφάνι;
Εκείνος είναι ο γυιόκας σου
και μένα δάσκαλός μου.

In places like Cyprus these dirges have even become an art form with more elaborate music, as can be heard here, here and here. Most other places have a more simple melody, as can be heard in Kalymnos below:

It is worth noting that Samuel Baud-Bovy (Δοκίμιο για το Ελληνικό Τραγούδι) says that the Greeks of Asia Minor, especially the Cappadocians, would sing in Turkish the History of Abraam, the History of Joseph, and the Dirge of the Panagia.

The Dirge or Lament of the Panagia is sung on different occasions and with different methods according to local folk tradition. Some women sing it following the Service of the Twelve Gospels on Holy Thursday either standing or sitting or kneeling around the Cross of Christ. Others sing it the following morning as they are decorating with flowers the tomb of Christ. While others sing them after they have decorated the tomb of Christ as they stand around the epitaphion, or even following the Service of Lamentation when the epitaphion has been processed around the church or village. They are traditionally only sung by women, usually beginning with the older women and gradually the younger women join in as well. The song takes usually around 30-60 minutes, and in some places the women sing them all night either in the church or going from church to church lighting all the oil lamps along the way.

Today in most churches the well-known Lamentations of Good Friday are sung within the liturgical Service of the Lamentations on Good Friday, so in most parishes the Dirge of the Panagia has fallen into disuse being now replaced by the offical Lamentations.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Passion of Christ According to Theophanes the Cretan

Theophanes the Cretan (Θεοφάνης ο Κρης) was a leading icon painter of the Cretan school in the first half of the sixteenth century, and in particular the most important figure in Greek fresco-painting of the period. Frescoes bearing his signature survive in the Greek monasteries of Mt. Athos, especially Stavronikita Monastery and Great Lavra, and Meteora which has his earliest dated work, from 1527. In Stavronikita he depicted beautifully the entire Passion of Christ, which can be seen in part below:

Fr. Mitrophanes, Guardian of the Holy Sepulchre (3)

Many times when in the morning I would visit him, this would happen. Usually every Thursday I would first find him "almost dead", but when I would leave he would be like an "18 year old lad". Such grace showered his face, such a change would happen with the Elder, that he talked about the greatness of God. He ardently desired to be in constant communication with the world, to narrate the greatness of God which they granted him. He wanted this grace to transfer to his guests, and he did this one hundred percent, because no one ever left from him without changing and without being moved, after hearing his grace-filled words which came out of the blessed mouth of the Elder.

His Rule he did continuously and without fail. At 5:00 am he would arise with difficulty and with his walker he would go to the basin of water, wash his hands, dry them off good, and immediately grab his prayer rope. Several times the chambermaids would find him lying down on the ground. And despite being 97 years old, he would continuously stick to his Rule. From the day, however, when he could no longer arise from bed without help, he took a "downward spiral", and saw a defect in his Rule. But even prostrate, he would not stop with the same faith and effort to speak of the greatness of God, full of grace. He would often say: "Whoever has faith in God, love for his fellow man, and his thoughts on the memory of death and the memory of Paradise, should not fear anything." Other times, again, I would urge him to speak of a few of his experiences in the All-Sacred and All-Holy Sepulchre. And he, immediately and without delay, would begin to tell us a great narrative about all the wonders he lived, and his face would shine with the grace that showered him.

Once in a while he would ask: "Can you hear me? Can you understand me?" He was afraid that whatever he said that was beneficial and with grace could not be heard or understood, lest his effort be lost due to his not so good articulation of speech. But whatever came out of his grace-filled mouth was so understood by those thirsty in soul that he immediately moved them, and they would break out with tears of repentance and relief. Whenever I would bring to him faithful people, which was often, roughly every Saturday and Sunday, they would see in the face of the elderly Holy-Tomb-Dweller Elder Mitrophanes a change from the grace which showered him. A grace, which in turn, was transferred to all the faces of his guests. Such was the spiritual change that would happen with the pilgrims, that it became a habit for me to bring guests every Sunday so I could often live these sacred and unforgettable moments, watching analytically their faces changing by the grace of the Elder.

To the girls he would say: "Find a good Christian, not a handsome man, because only a Christian is for the home."

To a novice nun who visited him, he said: "O, you have made the best choice, to be a bride of Christ. What else do you want? This is perfection."

To another female visitor who had come from Athens to take care of him and groom him, and to give him whatever he wanted in his old age, he said: "Thank you, my daughter, for everything. You have received your reward as you would have received it, and if I was going to come to Athens with you, I could not follow you, because tens of thousands pass from here every day, who invariably have the same need, the same passion as you, to hear of the greatness of God by me a sinner. You see, they even need me here, which is why I am waiting here."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

The 2012 Sanctification of the Holy Myrrh (video)

Read more about this special service here.

Φώτιος Κετσετζής: "Εξέδυσαν με..."

Εξέδυσαν με τα ιμάτιά μου και ενέδυσαν με χλαμύδα κοκκίνην.
Έθηκαν επί την κεφαλήν μου στέφανον εξ ακανθών
και επί την δεξιάν μου χείρα έδωκαν κάλαμον,
ίνα συντρίψω αυτούς ως σκεύη κεραμέως.

The Sanctification of Holy Myrrh in the Orthodox Church

An Explanation of the Holy Myron

By Rev. S.T. Kezios


Holy Myrrh is the Chrism Oil used in the Orthodox Church for the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Holy Myrrh is sanctified by the Ecumenical Patriarch with the participation of a host of Bishops and other clergy, as well as lay people. Whereas the chafing of the Holy Myrrh takes place in a building adjacent to the Patriarchal Chapel of Saint George it is stored and kept in the Sacred Repository of Holy Myrrh located in the Tower, elsewhere on the Patriarchal grounds. The Ecumenical Patriarchate distributes the Holy Myrrh to the Orthodox Churches throughout the world to be used for Confirmation, one of the Seven Sacraments. In the Orthodox Church this Sacrament of Confirmation is administered at Baptism.

Approximately every ten years the reserve of Holy Myrrh nears depletion. The Ecumenical Patriarch then informs the Holy Synod which resolves and requests for the replenishment of the Holy Myrrh during Holy Week of the forthcoming year. His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch informs the Primates of Orthodox Churches throughout the world and extends to them, and other Hierarchs, an invitation to attend and participate. A request is also made to many of them asking for a specific offering of a precious oil or element mandated for inclusion in the preparation of the Holy Myrrh.

Metropolitans of the Ecumenical Throne and lay people as well, are assigned to comprise the body of those responsible for all the appropriate preparations. In the year 2012, Metropolitan Athanasios of the Senior See of Chalcedon was appointed to preside. Metropolitan Cyril of Imvros and Tenedos, Metropolitan Dimitrios of Sevasteia, Metropolitan Theoliptos of Iconium and the Grand Archimandrite Athenagoras as secretary, were the ranking clergy appointed. The lay people appointed were Stefanos Bairamoglou, George Savits, Joseph Constantinides, Christos Hamhougias, Theodore Messinas, Aris Tsokonas, Constantine Agiannides, and Catherine Malita.

Historical Overview of the Sanctification of the Holy Myrrh in the Orthodox Church

By His Eminence Metropolitan Paul of Sweden

In the Orthodox Church, Holy Myrrh is sanctified to be used in the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Chrism (Confirmation). Thus it becomes a visible means of the bestowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon those who are baptized.
In the early years of Christianity this bestowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon those who were baptized was done by the “laying of the hands” of the Apostles. “Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

However, when the churches throughout the world had multiplied, and the number of those who had been baptized increased substantially, to make a mission similar to the one to Samaria was impossible. It was then that anointing by Holy Myrrh was introduced in the Church. This totally replaced the bestowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon those baptized by the “laying of hands”. The date on which this replacement was accomplished is not known. In any event, it is most likely that it took place during the apostolic times. “In lieu of the laying of hands, this was given by the Apostles to those baptized in Christ” (Symeon of Thessaloniki).

The use of Holy Myrrh was introduced into the Church mirroring the existing practice in the Old Testament. “Furthermore the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Also take for yourself aromatic spices, the flower of costly myrrh, five hundred shekels worth, and fragrant cinnamon, half as much, two hundred and fifty, and two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet smelling calamus, and five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. You shall make from these holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be an oil of holy anointing’. (Exodus 30, 22-25)

Throughout the ages, the following terms have also been used in referring to Holy Myrrh: oil of thanksgiving, oil of anointing, chrism, chrism of thanksgiving, heavenly chrism, mystical chrism, myrrh, divine myrrh, great myrrh, holy and great myrrh. Generally today, the term “Holy Myrrh” is in common usage.

The Holy Myrrh is prepared from oil and a variety of fragrant essences. These symbolize the diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit which are received by the Christian who is being anointed. The most ancient particular references, concerning the materials for the myrrh, and for the preparation and chafing of the ingredients to be used, date from the 8th century. This is the earliest description we have, and it has been preserved to this day. In the Ecumenical Patriarchate an official register exists defining the various aromatics which are to be used and compose the Holy Myrrh; they number fifty seven. Details as to the manner of the sanctification of Holy Myrrh during the first centuries of Christianity are totally non existent.

The earliest relevant information is a reference by Hippolytos in his The Apostolic Tradition. Newer ordinances concerning the sanctification of Holy Myrrh are included in the published Great Euhologion, presently in use, and in the Euhologion of Goar. About the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century specific efforts were made at the Ecumenical Patriarchate to review the existing Order of the Service of Sanctification of Holy Myrrh in use until then. This was done with a view toward revision. Relevant Services were published during the years 1890, 1912 and 1960.

In accordance with the established rubrics for the sanctification of Holy Myrrh, and the order of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on Palm Sunday, upon the completion of the Doxology, the Patriarch blesses the Archon Perfumer and his Deans. They are responsible for the chafing of the Holy Myrrh and are attired in full length white robes. The Patriarch then places upon the Archon Perfumer a silk apron.

On Great and Holy Monday, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Patriarch approaches the appropriately adorned “Kouvouklion” (ceremonial canopy) adjacent to the Most Venerable Patriarchal Church of Saint George the Great Martyr and Trophy Bearer. This is where the cauldrons for the chafing of the Holy Myrrh have been placed.

He then blesses the beginning of the series of sacred services for the sanctification of Holy Myrrh by celebrating the ritual for Holy Water. After this Sacred Service, he sprinkles the materials which have been prepared, the utensils to be used, and the cauldrons, with the Holy Water. Then, holding a lit candle, he ignites pieces of old holy icons mixed with kindling which have been placed under each cauldron. Continuing, the Patriarch reads certain chapters from the Holy Gospels. The reading of these passages from the New Testament is continued by the holy Hierarchs present, the Clergy of the Patriarchal Court, and other clergy. This order of readings continues all day throughout Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday.

On Great and Holy Tuesday, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Patriarch again approaches the holy Kouvouklion wherein the Lesser Supplication to the Theotokos is chanted, as he commemorates all who either with materials, with monetary gifts, or with their labor have contributed for the preparation of Holy Myrrh.

On Great and Holy Wednesday, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Patriarch once again approaches the holy Kouvouklion and after a brief prayer service pours rose oil, musk and the remainder of the fragrant oils into the cauldrons. By the end of the day the chafing of the Holy Myrrh and the preparation of all the relative remaining needs have been completed.

On Great and Holy Thursday, after the dismissal of the Service of Orthros, conducted in the Chapel of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the vesting of the Patriarch and the holy Hierarchs takes place. Then, they descend from the Patriarchal Manse to the Most Venerable Patriarchal Church proceeding in litany with the ringing of the bells. During this descent the Patriarch bears a small chrismatory (vial for Myrrh). The most senior of the Hierarchs bears a global vase of alabaster containing Presanctified Myrrh (that is to say, Holy Myrrh from a previous sanctification) while the second Hierarch in seniority carries one of not as yet sanctified Myrrh. The remainder of the holy Hierarchs bears small silver vessels containing Myrrh prepared for sanctification. There follow twenty four Archimandrites, in pairs, holding on either side, twelve great silver urns containing Myrrh which is to be sanctified.

Toward the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, and after the intonation “And may the mercies of our great God…” the Grand Archdeacon intones, “Let us be attentive!” The prayerful congregation then kneels while the Patriarch sanctifies the Holy Myrrh according to the Prescribed Order. Upon the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, in a procession identical in order as was that of the earlier descent from the Patriarchal Chapel to the Patriarchal Church, the Holy Myrrh is brought to the Patriarchal Repository of Holy Myrrh wherein the alabaster global vases and the other vessels containing Holy Myrrh are deposited. The dismissal of the Divine Liturgy then follows.

The sanctification of Holy Myrrh is celebrated only by bishops, never by presbyters. This tradition in the Church is steadfast and unanimous. With the passing of time however, whereas this tradition concerning the presbyters remains firm, it becomes modified for bishops. This common right of all bishops gradually devolved to the bishops of certain established Churches; to the Patriarchs, and finally only to the Ecumenical Patriarch. In other words, whereas each and every bishop has the hierarchical right to sanctify Holy Myrrh, canon law does not permit him. It appears there are three principal reasons which contributed to this curtailing of the right of bishops to sanctify Holy Myrrh. To begin with, it was given to the Primates of each ecclesiastical jurisdiction and then ultimately given to the Ecumenical Patriarch.

The first of these reasons is the rarity of the elements involved and the difficulty for each bishop to procure them for the preparation of the Holy Myrrh. Second, is the constantly increasing exaltation of the First, or Primate of the broader ecclesiastical jurisdictions. Third, is the prominent place, with the passing of centuries, which the Ecumenical Patriarchate received form the Patriarchates of the East, and the maternal bond of the Church of Constantinople with the Churches whose people received the Christian faith from its missionaries.

In reality, the concentration of this right to sanctify Holy Myrrh given to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not to be understood as a dependency or subordination of the other churches, but rather as a tangible and visible sign of the unity and the bond of the various Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches toward the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This is a necessary point, not for the exaltation of the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Orthodoxy, but for the existence of a perceptible indication of the unity of the totality of the local Orthodox Churches. That notwithstanding, today in the Orthodox Church the Patriarchates of Moscow, Belgrade, and Bucharest sanctify Holy Myrrh in addition to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and perhaps even some other Orthodox Churches.

As was mentioned in the beginning, Holy Myrrh is mainly and primarily used in the celebration of the Sacrament of Chrism which is immediately administered upon Baptism. It constitutes however a particular and distinct sacrament apart from Baptism. According to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, the gifts and grace of the Holy Spirit are bestowed upon those baptized by the Sacrament of Chrism. They are thus strengthened in the Christian life in which they have been initiated through baptism, and are fortified in the struggles against sin and the attacks of evil, thereby increased, “…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4, 13)

Holy Myrrh is also used for the reception of converts into the Orthodox Church and for those who have fallen away; for the dedication of Churches; the consecration of holy Altars; the consecration of holy Antimensions; and for certain other instances of ritual. In the past it was also used to anoint Orthodox Kings during their coronation.

The Celebration and Sanctification of the Holy Myrrh through History (1833-2012)

1833* by Patriarch Constantine I from Sion (1830-1834)

1856 by Patriarch Cyril VII from Amasia (1855-1860)

1865 by Patriarch Sofronios III from Amasia (1863-1866)

1879 by Patriarch Joachim III from Thessaloniki for the first time, during his first patriarchal tenure (1878-1884)

1890 by Patriarch Dionysios V from Hariton (1887-1891)

1903 by Patriarch Joachim III from Thessaloniki for the second time, during his second patriarchal tenure (1901-1912)

1912 by Patriarch Joachim III from Thessaloniki for the third time, during his second patriarchal tenure (1901-1912)

1928 by Patriarch Vasilios III from Nicaea (1925-1929)

1939 by Patriarch Benjamin from Heraclea (1936-1946)

1951 by Patriarch Athenagoras from the United States of America (1948-1972) for the first time

1960 by Patriarch Athenagoras (1948-1972) for the second time.

1973 by Patriarch Dimitrios from Imvros and Tenedos (1972-1991) for the first time.

1983 by Patriarch Dimitrios from Imvros and Tenedos (1972-1991) for the second time.

1992 by Patriarch Bartholomew from Chalcedon (1991- ) for the first time.

2002 by Patriarch Bartholomew (1991- ) for the second time.

2012 by Patriarch Bartholomew (1991- ) for the third time.

It is worthy to note that in these latter years of the history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate there is recorded the instance of the late Patriarch Joachim III who sanctified the Holy Myrrh thrice (1879, 1903, and 1912). Emmanuel Gideon dedicated his treatise, On the Holy Spirit, useful knowledge for the faithful, Constantinople 1912, "for just cause" to the Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople Joachim III from Thessaloniki, “…for alone among the Patriarchs in these latter years, to have been made worthy to sanctify the Holy Myrrh, the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Our present Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was made worthy to sanctify the Holy Myrrh three times (1992, 2002, and 2012).


* The year 1833 chronicles a beginning date. From this date forward the dates for the sanctification of the Holy Myrrh in the Ecumenical Patriarchate are known and can be attested with absolute certainty.

View photos of The Beginning of the Process of Sanctification of Holy Myron »

View photos of The Sanctification of the Holy Myron (Myrrh) at the Phanar »


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