Sunday, April 22, 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012
April 20, 2012
Friday, April 20, 2012
Sermon Delivered By Saint Nikolai Velimirovich
Pascha, 1934; Ochrid, Yugoslavia
Each Christian feast raises hundreds of questions and gives hundreds of answers. The questions are from men, the answers come from God through the feasts. This is especially true with the feast of Christ's Resurrection. Here He opens for us with His keys hundreds of locked doors. For God has more answers than man has questions; He has more keys than man has mysteries. Let us, then, consider a few such questions.
Here is a mystery: Why did Christ rise from the dead?
The key: Because Life could not remain in the grave. A thousand years before, the Prophet foretold concerning Christ:
"...nor wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption" (Ps. 15:10)
Christ revealed the living God, the Father, to the world; He revealed the heavens, the living realm of angelic hosts; He revealed life after death and the eternal heavenly kingdom. Would, then, the Restorer of life remain in the darkness of the grave and the embrace of death? Christ raised Jairus' daughter and the son of the widow of Nain and Lazarus of Bethany. Would He Who raised others not raise up Himself? Truly He arose; He could not do otherwise by virtue of His essence, His power, His greatness. Weak is the force of death that aspired to hold down the Giver of Life in its abyss. Small is the mouth of death that aspired to strangle the Bestower of resurrection. Only in the light of the Resurrection can one comprehend Christ's deeds on earth, His love for men and His divinity.
Here is another mystery: How has the belief in the Resurrection of Christ been preserved through so many centuries?
The key: In the same way that a well rooted tree withstands the winds, as light is preserved in darkness, and as truth is preserved amidst lies.
A third mystery: Is the Resurrection of Christ still felt today?
The key: It is powerfully felt, throughout the entire world, Gazing with the eyes of the spirit at the resurrected Lord, the weak are strengthened, the sorrowful are comforted, the sad rejoice, sinners repent, the wicked are corrected, the impure are cleansed, the persecuted are. encouraged, the despondent hope, sufferers pray, and those on their deathbeds no longer fear death.
"Today the Master spoiled hell and raised the prisoners from all ages whom it had held in bitter bondage." (from the Paschal canon)
A fourth mystery: What are the conditions for our own resurrection?
The key: To imitate here on earth Christ and His Apostles and al! these righteous ones who pleased God, according to one' s strength and God-given talents. To be humble, modest, compassionate, merciful, just, peace loving and persistent in every virtue. To pray to God, to repent of our sins, to constantly correct ourselves .... To read and listen to the Joyous News that is the Gospel of Christ, to accept every word of the Lore as sacred and to treasure it as a pearl, every word, every word. To believe all that Christ said, confessed or promised. And so we can not but have hope that we will rise rise up in this life from spiritual death, and in the life to come -- from eternal death. Thus spoke the resurrected Lord:
"I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." (John 1 1:25-26)
Let us, therefore, believe in Him, for in Him we shall find all the conditions for our resurrection.
And so, let us fervently say: I believe, O Lord. Help my weak faith. And with joy let us greet one another, brother to brother:
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!
On Bright Thursday, 19 April 2012, a Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the Katholikon of the Monastery of the Entrance of the Theotokos, or Panagia of the Rock, which until recently housed the Psychiatric Hospital of Petra Olympus. This was done to commeorate Hieromartyr John the New of the Holy Monastery of Petras Olympus, who was martyred in the holocaust of Naousa on Bright Thursday in 1822.
In 1822, the insurgence of the Greeks of Western Macedonia against the Turks came to a dramatic finale in Naousa. Abdul Abud, the Pasha of Thessaloniki, arrived on the 14th of March at the head of a 16,000 strong force and 12 cannons. The Greeks defended Naousa with a force of 4,000 under Anastasios Karatasos, Aggelis Gatsos, Tsamis Karatasos, Karamitsos and Philippos, the son of Zafeirakis Theodosiou, under the overall command of Zafeirakis Theodosiou and Anastasios Karatasos. The Turks attempted to take the town of Naousa on the 16th of March 1822, and on the 18 and 19 March, without success. On the 24th of March the Turks began a bombardment of the city walls that lasted for days. After requests for the town's surrender were dismissed by the Greeks, the Turks charged the gate of St George on Good Friday, the 31st of March. The Turkish attack failed but on the 6th of April, after receiving fresh reinforcements of some 3,000 men, the Turkish army finally overcame the Greek resistance and entered the city. In an infamous incident, as the rebels were abandoning the town, some of the women left behind committed suicide by falling down a cliff over the small river Arapitsa. Zafeirakis Theodosiou was pursued by a Turkish unit and was killed. The other Greek leaders retreated southwards. Abdul Abud laid the town and surrounding area to waste. The fall and massacre of Naousa marked the end of the Greek revolution in Macedonia in 1822. (John C. Vasdravellis, The Greek Struggle for Independence: The Macedonians in the Revolution of 1821 (1968), p. 123-24, 136)
Hieromonk John of the Holy Monastery of Petras Olympus represented his Monastery in the struggle of the Greeks. On Bright Thursday of 1822 Saint John celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Church of Saint George in Naousa together with four other priests. At the end of the Divine Liturgy thirty faithful were in the church who had fled there to pray for God's mercy and to escape the fury of the Turks. Unfortunately, the siege of the Turks was persistent and they managed to enter inside the temple, and behead all those who were inside with the first being Hieromonk John, then Papa Gerasimos the Spiritual and Papa Dimitri the Sakelario, and two other priests whose names remain unknown.
On Sunday 26 June 2011, 1241 New Martyrs of Naousa were glorified by the Church. See: The Glorification of 1241 New Martyrs of Naousa
Thomas Allom (1804-1872) was an English architect, artist, and topographical illustrator. Allom is chiefly known for his numerous topographical works, which were used to illustrate books on travel. From the 1820s onwards, he travelled extensively through the UK and mainland Europe. In 1834, at the age of 30, he arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, and produced until 1836 hundreds of drawings during journeys through Anatolia, Syria and Palestine. The results of this expedition were published in 1838 in Constantinople and the Scenery of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor published in two volumes with text by Robert Walsh. His engravings depict every part of the city, from Yeniköy on the Bosphorus to the fortress of Yedikule, and are today invaluable documentary records of Istanbul in the 1830s.
The Church of Zoodochos Pege (Life-giving Spring) in Baloukli
Outside of Constantinople, towards the district of the Seven Towers, there was in ancient times a very large and most beautiful church named in honour of the Theotokos; it had been built about the middle of the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the Great (also called "Leo of Thrace," he is commemorated on Jan. 20). Before he became Emperor, he had encountered there a blind man, who being tormented with thirst asked him to help him find water. Leo felt compassion for him and went in search of a source of water but found none. As he became downcast, he heard a voice telling him there was water nearby. He looked again, and found none. Then he heard the voice again, this time calling him "Emperor" and telling him that he would find muddy water in the densely wooded place nearby; he was to take some water and anoint the blind man's eyes with it. When he had done this, the blind man received his sight. After Leo became Emperor as the most holy Theotokos had prophesied, he raised up a church over the spring, whose waters worked many healings and cured maladies by the grace of the Theotokos; from this, it came to be called the "Life-giving Spring." The Church of Christ celebrates the consecration of this church on this day.
After the fall of the imperial city, this church was razed to the ground and the materials from it were used for building the mosque of Sultan Bayezid. Nothing remained of that church's ancient beauty, except for a small and paltry chapel, almost completely buried in the ruins. This chapel had twenty-five steps going down into it, and a transom window on the roof, wherefrom it received a little light. Toward the western side of the chapel was the aforementioned holy Spring, fenced about with a railing, and with fish swimming in it. Such was the condition of the Spring until 1821. Then even that little remnant was destroyed, occasioned by the uprising of the Greek nation against the Ottoman Empire; the sacred Spring was buried with it and disappeared altogether.
But in the days of Sultan Mahmud, when those subject to him were rejoicing in their freedom to practice their religion, permission was sought by the Orthodox Christian community to rebuild at least part of the chapel. Thus the work was begun on July 26, 1833. When the excavation had been made, and the foundations of the ancient church were found, there was rebuilt -- by a later writ of permission from the Sultan -- not merely a chapel of the holy Spring, but another new church, constructed upon the foundations of the ancient one. The building of this spacious, beautiful, and most majestic temple began on September 14, 1833, and the work was completed on December 30, 1834. On February 2, 1835, the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine II, serving the Liturgy together with twelve hierarchs and a great company of clergy, as well as a boundless multitude of Christians, performed the consecration of this sacred church and dedicated it to the glory of the Mother of God. On September 6, 1955, however, it was desecrated and destroyed again by the Moslem Turks; it has been restored again, but not to the former magnificence.
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
As a life-giving fount, thou didst conceive the Dew that is transcendent in essence, O Virgin Maid, and thou hast welled forth for our sakes the nectar of joy eternal, which doth pour forth from thy fount with the water that springeth up unto everlasting life in unending and mighty streams; wherein, taking delight, we all cry out: Rejoice, O thou Spring of life for all men.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
O Lady graced by God, you reward me by letting gush forth, beyond reason, the ever-flowing waters of your grace from your perpetual Spring. I entreat you, who bore the Logos, in a manner beyond comprehension, to refresh me in your grace that I may cry out, "Hail redemptive waters."
Interview with Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes: “I have come to Kosovo to convey to the Serbians that we are thinking about them”.
Interview led by Slavica Lazic
President of the Decani Monastery Relief Fund from the USA, The Very Reverend Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, visited Kosovo and Metohija this year, and delivered humanitarian aid to the most struggling families. Serbians in the region largely depend on help from the Church, charities, and people of good will.
The following interview took place in Belgrade, Serbia on 2 February 2012, wih Slavica Lazic who is one of the writers of Pravolsavlje.
This is your sixth visit to Kosovo and Metohija. What is your impression after this last visit of the endangered Serbian enclaves?
I came intentionally at this time of year. I wanted to see how average people live everyday life under these conditions of a cold and extremely harsh winter. I plan to share my experience and photos with the donors of my Fund and to testify to our brothers and sisters in Kosovo that Orthodox in America and across the globe have not forgotten about them. I came over here to communicate my love and to assure them that we are committed to help them by any means we can, and that we will persevere in our work.
What would be the most essential/urgent help for the Serbian people at this very moment?
I traveled all over Kosovo. During this visit I have spoken to many people, with the seminarians in Prizren, with monks and nuns in Decani and Gracanica, etc., so that I can find out how we can help them in the future. At the seminary, which had no heating, and was under construction for a while after it was destroyed, the situation is slightly better; however, there are still many things that need to be done. Schools need more support, from heating to equipment and teaching aids. There are currently six soup kitchens, which experience shortages of food. Due to bad weather many roads are impassable and that makes the situation for soup kitchens even more unbearable. I want to convey to the people in my country, through these photographs, about the seriousness of the situation.
In addition to the seminary and monasteries, I have visited many homes. I have noticed that many of them are without running water, without proper and sufficient heating systems and are only furnished with basic furniture. However, they were glad to see a priest, or to have a monk visit their home or their village. They are happy and grateful, although they need human care and humanitarian aid. We cannot forget Kosovo, for there are still a lot of people who are suffering. We must take care of them. There was a war here and Serbians were fighting for their lives. We know that many of them saved their lives by fleeing to refugee camps. Some of them are now returning to their centuries old homes and it will take them decades to have decent and normal lives again. Serbian families are still not capable of living normal lives. We cannot afford to stop supporting them, for they are returning to their homes with a commitment to reestablish their lives, to rebuild their churches and to reconstruct their monasteries, and this project will take a long time. Returning Serbian people don’t have enough Churches in which to pray. If there were more Churches where people could pray, I’m sure Serbians would return in a greater number. Serbian people love their Orthodox Church and faith. If they see Churches rebuilt, and Divine Liturgy served in them – they will come back. As long as there is a Serbian Orthodox Church and monks in Kosovo, Serbians will survive. Serbians do not complain to anyone, they are not bitter or angry. As Christians we cannot close our eyes to their struggles and hard life.
The Decani Monastery Relief Fund is a non-profit organization. How much money have you distributed over all of these years?
We have donors from all over the world. Financial assistance comes from America, Canada, Europe and Australia. We have collected almost a quarter of a million dollars over these fourteen years. Since everything was demolished, robbed, and destroyed, we are grateful to our contributors, and they are aware that we use their money for education, medical needs, households, and construction material for rebuilding houses and Churches. With great joy, we announce that thirteen Churches have been rebuilt. I haven’t been back in a while because it has taken this long to raise enough money to bring as a donation. The current economic crisis is affecting the whole world, and naturally Americans are struggling as well, however I will not give up seeking more donations. When I go back I will continue advocating that Kosovo needs more humanitarian help and that it needs to rebuild more Orthodox Churches and monasteries. I wish those who were responsible for their desecration and demolition would reconstruct them. However, since this is unlikely to happen, we, Orthodox Christians, have to rebuild them and reestablish their glory. Our Churches are our glory. WE cannot forget the seminary in Prizren, which was burned down by Albanians in 2004’s pogrom, which is now being rebuilt. There is a first generation of seminarians attending the reopened seminary there; however, there are still other dormitories that need to be rebuilt in order for the seminary to be fully functional.
Serbians in Kosovo and Metohija are in danger; they live in a constant fear. Are you afraid to visit the most remote Serbian enclaves without protection of peace keeping troops?
People were asking me in the States: “Why are you going to Kosovo? That’s dangerous!” When I first visited this region a while ago, my mother was on her deathbed with cancer. I was afraid that I would not find her alive when I came back to the States; however, she encouraged me in my intention, saying that I was doing God’s work and that I should not be afraid. Ever since, I’ve seen horrible things, and I simply cannot believe that Albanians are taking reposed people out of their graves, that they are desecrating Serbian cemeteries, and doing other horrible things – they don’t even leave dead people to rest in peace. They persecute the living and the dead. They are killing priests and monks. Father Hariton who was doing humanitarian work, bringing food, helping struggling people and taking them to the hospital, was kidnapped and beheaded in 1999. I was in the States when that happened and I promised I would visit his grave. He was buried without his head. I couldn’t believe that happened.
The West cannot understand our love towards the Orthodox Church; that love and the Jesus prayer from the monks and nuns in Kosovo are what keep the Serbian people existing in that area. I’m bringing many prayer ropes back to the States. People are asking for them. They are even putting them on the babies’ hands to wear. I believe in prayer and love.
I’m always accompanied with Bishop Theodosije and monks from Decani, therefore I feel safe. God protects us.
Kosovo is the most struggling area in the world today along with Constantinople and Skopje. Average people in the West must see these struggles, and we as Orthodox Christians have to help each other. We are obliged as Christians to take care of our weak and struggling brothers and sisters through our prayers, love, and humanitarian work. In my parish in the States my parishioners pray for me before I leave and worry if I will return safely. And here I am, I haven’t been killed yet. With prayers and love we can accomplish a lot. While here, I’ve been serving a Divine Liturgy every day in the monastery of Decani.
I know a lot of children whom I visit every time I come. I bring them some gifts and some pocket change to buy some food or whatever they need. One boy lost a lot of weight since my last visit. That shocked me. I cried when I saw that because I haven’t been able to help more. Now when I go back to the States it’ll be difficult for me to start my life again. I have a heating system, I can turn on the lights with a switch, I can freely go to the store, I can drive my car in peace and without fear, but knowing how Serbian people live in Kosovo is killing me. People travel with fear and insecurity.
I met with Patriarch Irinej after the Liturgy in St. Mark’s Church. That was a fascinating moment to see a Patriarch serving the Liturgy in a freezing Church. What a great example of sacrifice and self-giving. He is an example of a true Christian, for there are not a lot of people who are ready to sacrifice for other people. Every time that I come here, I say to myself that I am a spoiled American.
You are also president of the Archbishop Jovan Fund. You went to Skopje with the intention to visit him in the jail. They have rejected your appeal to see him. What were their reasons behind that?
The Archbishop is my close friend, and we’ve known each other for six years. I spoke with him just before he was arrested. He told me that in December he was planning on returning to his diocese. “I have to go back to my people. I’m responsible for them like any other bishop. I am aware of what my happen to me when I go back, however I know that you will be praying for me,” he said. This is an example of a true love for Christ’s Church. A father has to take care of his children, especially with the responsibility as a bishop. He knows that his clergy and people are suffering and he doesn’t want to remain silent in Thessalonica. So far he has been arrested six times. Why? He is and Archbishop of the universally recognized Church. When the unrecognized Macedonian Orthodox Church separated from one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church he decided to remain faithful to his archdiocese and to his Patriarch. There were other bishops who followed his example. However, the government of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia was looking for false accusations. The easiest way to defame someone is to accuse him of the embezzlement of money or to find something in his private life. He was accused with the former method. When he made an attempt to speak on behalf of his Church he asked – Why are you persecuting me? – He was accused that he has been speaking against his government. He replied: “My Church has to be free! And stop, don’t persecute us anymore!” To imprison an Archbishop is a scandal. He has a great love for God. I went to Skopje, but I wasn’t allowed to visit him at the prison. No one besides his mother and sister, who come to visit him once a month, are allowed to visit him – not bishops, not friends, not Patriarch. Prisons in Eastern Europe are much different than those in the States. The Archbishop’s life is in danger – he suffers from diabetes, he is in a cold cell without proper medication or diet. What’s the point of his imprisonment? His cassock and his insignias are taken away from him and he is thrown in a prison as if a robber. That’s a huge disgrace! The cassock is considered something holy for us. They want to strip him of his dignities and do away with him. Five times he was pronounced not guilty. If anything happens to him while he is imprisoned, we will tell the free world that the Macedonian government killed him. They are becoming extremely bad. Archbishop Jovan needs to be free now!
In Skopje I met with a representative from the US embassy, who showed a great understanding for our concerns. I have spoken with his Holiness Patriarch Irinej and I told him that we cannot remain silent about this. The more we keep silent, the more he suffers. We have to tell the world and the media that our Archbishop Jovan is in prison. He is dying on a daily basis. He is known in America as the confessor of Orthodoxy.
Our fund is financially supporting the clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese of Ohrid in Macedonia. They are persecuted, too. The whole Church is persecuted. They have to hide to pray, for the government destroyed all of their Churches. Nuns were praying once and the state police took them out of the Church, dragging them by their hair. That’s unthinkable in the West. They don’t have enough food, wood, warm water, and they have to hide when they pray.
I’ll never give up. I’ll try not to neglect my duties in my parish, but I’ll keep helping people in Kosovo as well. I pray to saints, especially to St. Steven of Decani to protect and guide his people in Kosovo and Metohija.
Serbia is being blackmailed to give up on Kosovo and Metohija in order to gain membership in the EU. What do you think about that?
I’m not a politician. I’m a parochial priest. Kosovo belongs to Serbia. Everything else is betrayal. The responsibility of the Serbians is to pray for their land and to protect it.
If anyone might be interested in sending donations to our fund please use the following address:
Decani Monastery Relief Fund
Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
2618 West Bannock Street
Boise, Idaho 83702
The Archbishop of America of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America with seat in New York, Archbishop Demetrios, sent a letter to the US Secretary of State, Ms. Hilary Clinton, in which he expressed his deep concern regarding the imprisonment of the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Jovan, and requested his immediate release.
In his addressing to the US Secretary of State, Ms. Hilary Clinton, Archbishop Demetrios of America points out: “in the name of the 65 Hierarchs who are part of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, I would like to draw Your attention to the truly sad situation in which Archbishop of Ohrid Jovan is found”, and adds: “his arrest has several years long history, from the time when the schismatic church of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia began the persecution of Archbishop Jovan, the canonical Archbishop of Ohrid. The church of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not recognized by any canonical Orthodox Church in the world, and her constitution by the internal powers is only one more example of action which is contrary to what is right and what is proper, and what is in accordance with the Canonical right of the Orthodox Church across the ecumene.
Archbishop Demetrios in his letter to Ms. Hilary Clinton also states: “With the members of our Assembly who reside and serve to the orthodox believers in the United States, we very much appreciate what our country is doing in the world regarding the human rights, religious freedoms and the protection of the human dignity and security of each person. Archbishop Jovan has been unjustly imprisoned while he was attempting to fulfill his religious obligations and we sincerely hope that our Government will intercede in his name and request his release on freedom.
We are deeply grateful to You for your unceasing efforts, especially for the improvement of the religious freedoms around the world. As Orthodox Christians, the most suitable way to express our gratitude is to continue to pray for You and for all our civil authorities, and pray that God be with You and greatly multiply Your noble efforts for America and for the whole world”, are the words with which Archbishop Demetrios concludes his appeal for immediate release of Archbishop Jovan, an appeal addressed to the US Secretary of State, Ms. Hilary Clinton.
Information Service of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Born in Granitsa, in the Agrapha area of Greece, of the pious and God-fearing parents Demetrios and Statera, Michael was brought up in the Orthodox Christian tradition. His parents were regular church attendants, and from an early age Michael took his religion very seriously. When his father died, Michael was quite young, so he was brought up by his mother. Later when he came of age, she arranged an Orthodox Christian marriage for him.
Some time later Michael moved to the city of Thessalonike where he worked as a breadseller. In Thessaloniki he became well-known not only for his genuine piety but also for his many kind acts and works of charity. In addition he rarely if ever missed any church services and listened attentively to the Scripture readings. In fact he had a great desire to become a monk, but he was reminded it was not right to abandon his wife.
On the feast of Mid-Lent (Third Sunday of Great Lent), Michael did not remain in church after the end of service, as was his custom, to hear the spiritual readings that were read, but went straight to the shop and sat for a time. Soon a Muslim boy known to Michael came to his shop to buy bread. Michael began to engage him in conversation , something he had done before. This time he asked the boy what he believed and whether or not he understood what his teachers told him about his Muslim faith.
By chance the boy's Muslim teacher appeared and the boy told him of Michael's questions and conversation. The teacher then said to Michael: "What is this you are saying to the boy, you infidel? You curse our faith which is glorious and honored, and our dress is glorious and priceless."
To this Michael replied: "With the grace of my Christ, the true God, I am faithful and truly pious, and I know what I say and what I believe, so much that I am ready to die for my faith. But you miserable men neither know what you say nor what you do. Truly you are mistaken and move in darkness. You have a religion full of myths and creatures."
This exchange attracted other Muslims who stood nearby and after hearing some of what was said, they took hold of Michael and brought him before the kadi, charging him with having insulted the Muslim faith and the prophet Muhammad.
When Michael was brought before the kadi, he was questioned about his Orthodox faith. To this questioning, Michael gave intelligent and brave responses which angered the kadi,* especially when he denied that Muhammad was a legitimate prophet. For this, Michael was sentenced to burned at the stake, to which Michael replied in a loud voice: "I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who is true god and my Creator and Maker. I am ready, if necessary, to suffer tortures for his love. So from whatever money I have, take it and buy wood to burn me, for I do not wish to be offered as a sacrifice to God with your wood."
As soon as he said that he spit on the kadi and the papers he was holding. The kadi responded by having Michael put on the floor and flogged severely. Then he was put in jail.
Orthodox Christians who knew the jailer visited Michael whom they found chained, but calm and unafraid. In fact he related to them the following visitation he had:
Last night when I prayed my Lord appeared and strengthened my weakness and gave my soul courage, telling me: "Michael, my athlete, rejoice. Just as I put forward my soul and suffered death by crucifixion for your sake and for all humanity, in the same way it is necessary for you to die for my love so you might live and reign with me. See to it then that you are not afraid of the fire, for the fear is only in its appearance, and its taste is to be scorned. You will with all this be strengthened by my unconquerable power."
"Saying this," Michael added, "the Lord blessed me and left and I was enveloped by such incredible love and joy that I can't hold myself back. I can only wait for that blessed day to come that will separate me from this world and allow me to join my Christ."
A few days later a high-ranking kadi came and questioned Michael further, to which Michael replied with great boldness. Seeing his resolve, the kadi, although moved by Michael's testimony, nevertheless sentenced him to death. The official sentence read as follows:
Michael, of Orthodox Christian parents, moved by his own accord, came before me and many notables who happened to be in my court, and openly confessed Christ, that the prophets prophesied about him, and that the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus Christ is primarily and truly the birthgiver of God. And he added this also, there were prophets up to the time of Christ, but those who followed are liars and deceivers, and openly called our prophet Muhammad a liar and a deceiver and degraded him with other insults, and therefore, being unwilling to repent over what he said, the law has decided to deliver him to the fire on the twenty-first of March, the fifth day of the week, at the ninth hour.
To frighten Michael at the place of execution, which was the courtyard of the Church of the Presentation of Christ, they placed his hands in the fire, then they took off most of his clothes and covered his body with sulfur. They then placed him in the fire and he ignited, singing hymns until the very end.
Thus Michael the Breadseller of Granitsa died for the love of Jesus Christ in Thessaloniki on March 21, in the year 1547 (some sources say 1544).
* This exchange can be read in Nomikos Michael Vaporis' book Witnesses For Christ, pp. 69-75, from which the above account was abridged.
April 18, 2012
With Russia’s powerful Orthodox Church facing a wave of criticism from what it has called supporters of “radical liberal values,” a Christian publisher presented on Wednesday a book on the religious beliefs of stars of show business and film.
“The Church has always been persecuted,” actor and presenter Boris Korchevnikov, just one of the 35 celebrities featured in the “The Stars On Heaven” book, told a downtown Moscow news conference. “And today we are seeing more persecution – just in a different form.”
Celebrities interviewed in the book, released by the Moscow-based Nikeya publishers, include Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov, actor Yevgeny Mironov, and rock star Leonid Fyodorov. Famed Serbian film director – and Orthodox Christian – Emir Kusturica is also featured.
The presentation comes ahead of an April 22 “defense of the faith” nationwide prayer called by the Orthodox Church to protect it from attacks by “"anti-Russian forces.”
The Church’s Supreme Council said in a statement earlier this month that it had been targeted by “those pushing through radical liberal values” over its opposition to same-sex marriages and consumerism.
But while Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida denied the book was designed to shore up support for Russia’s Christian establishment, he also admitted the timing of its release was fortuitous.
“There is no such thing as a coincidence for God,” he said. “But this is not our answer to bloggers.”
Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill was condemned by opposition figures for his public backing of Vladimir Putin in the run-up to the ex-KGB spy’s landslide victory at March 4 presidential polls. The patriarch called the 12 years of Putin's rule a "miracle of God" in a televised meeting, triggering a high-profile protest by all-female punk group Pussy Riot at Moscow’s largest cathedral.
Top Church officials have also been criticized by bloggers and by opposition media for their “lavish” lifestyles. The anti-Putin Novaya Gazeta newspaper also alleged in February a pre-patriarch-era Kirill profited from Church tobacco and alcohol sales in the early 1990s.
Patriarch Kirill was also at the center of a scandal this month regarding a $30,000 Breguget watch, which was airbrushed – although its reflection remained intact – out of an official Church photo following public indignation over his possession of the luxury timepiece. The patriarch had admitted owning the watch in an interview prior to the row, but said he never wore it. Famous blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny - an Orthodox believer - called the incident “shameful.”
Patriarch Kirill was first spotted wearing the watch in 2009, while he was preaching austerity as a way out of an economic crisis.
But a spokesperson for Nikeya publishers stressed on Wednesday that the book contained no explicit expressions of support for the beleaguered patriarch.
A number of celebrities featured in the book express however the conviction that only religious belief can save Russia and Russians.
“Without belief, Russians transform into beasts,” says director Mikhalkov, who won an Oscar for the 1994 film "Burnt by the Sun."
“Russians are afraid of very little. That’s why they need the fear of God the most,” says television presenter Yury Vyazemsky. “Morals alone will not save them.”
“The first steps to the Church are very easy, as if God himself is leading you by the hand,” says actor Andrei Merzlikin, star of the popular gangster film "Boomer."
The release of the book coincided with a scandal involving pop star Filipp Kirkorov, who was photographed speaking at the altar of Moscow’s Ilya Proprok church during the April 8 christening of his daughter. Church officials said Kirkorov, the former husband of Russian pop icon Alla Pugachyova, may face excommunication.
Pussy Riot accused police of hypocrisy for not detaining Kirkorov. Three members of the all-female punk group face up to seven years behind bars after being detained in March over their performance of an anti-Putin song at the altar of the Christ the Savior Cathedral.
“Three Pussy Riot suspects have been behind bars for over a month for exactly the same thing,” the group said in a blog statement earlier this month.
Greece’s National poet Dionysios Solomos (1798–1857) was born on the Greek island of Zakynthos, to an elderly count and his teenaged housekeeper. Solomos was educated in Italy, where he studied law and literature, but on returning to Greece he relearned Greek, and decided to write in demotic, or common modern, Greek. He gained fame early on with his ‘Hymn to Liberty’ (1823), a 158‐quatrain poem – the first two stanzas are sung as the Greek National Anthem.
The poem Η Hμέρα της Λαμπρής or The Day of Easter is most famous from a scene from the award-winning film "Eternity And A Day", by Theodoros Angelopoulos (1998). In the movie Alexandros (Bruno Ganz) and the boy (Achilleas Skevis) are on a bus ride and encounter the Greek poet Dionysios Solomos (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), who recites verses from his poem Η Hμέρα της Λαμπρής. Some consider this scene part of one of the greatest scenes in all cinema:
Η Hμέρα της Λαμπρής
Καθαρότατον ήλιο επρομηνούσε
της αυγής το δροσάτο ύστερο αστέρι,
σύγνεφο, καταχνιά, δεν απερνούσε
τ' ουρανού σε κανένα από τα μέρη,
και από εκεί κινημένο αργοφυσούσε
τόσο γλυκό στο πρόσωπο τ' αέρι,
που λες και λέει μες της καρδιάς τα φύλλα
«γλυκειά η ζωή κι ο θάνατος μαυρίλα».
Χριστός ανέστη! Νέοι, γέροι και κόραις
όλοι, μικροί, μεγάλοι ετοιμασθήτε,
μέσα στις εκκλησιές τες δαφνοφόραις
με το φως της χαράς συμμαζωχθήτε,
ανοίξατε αγκαλιές ειρηνοφόραις
ομπροστά στους Αγίους, και φιληθείτε,
φιληθείτε γλυκά χείλη με χείλη,
πέστε Χριστός ανέστη, εχθροί και φίλοι.
Δάφναις εις κάθε πλάκα έχουν οι τάφοι,
και βρέφη ωραία στην αγκαλιά οι μαννάδες,
γλυκόφωνα, κοιτώντας ταις ζωγραφι-
σμέναις εικόνες, ψάλλουνε οι ψαλτάδες,
λάμπει το ασήμι, λάμπει το χρυσάφι
από το φως που χύνουνε οι λαμπάδες,
κάθε πρόσωπο λάμπει απ' τ' αγιοκέρι,
οπού κρατούνε οι Χριστιανοί στο χέρι.
The Day of Easter
The last cool star of dawn was
foretelling the brightest sunshine;
no cloud, no drift of mist was travelling
across any part of the sky.
Coming from there, the breeze
blew so sweetly across the face,
so gently, that it seemed
to whisper to the depths of the heart:
‘Life is sweet and death is darkness.’
‘Christ is Risen!’ Young and old, maidens,
everyone, little and great, prepare!
Inside the laurel-covered churches,
gather in the light of joy!
Open your arms and with them offer peace,
that the icons of the saints may see.
Embrace and kiss each other sweetly, lip on lip,
let friend and foe proclaim, ‘Christ is Risen!’
Laurels are placed on every tomb,
beautiful babes are held in mothers’ arms,
the choristers sing sweetly
as they come before the icons.
Bright is the silver, bright is the gold,
under the light of the Easter candles.
Each face alights before the holy candles,
that Christians bear in hand.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Though I have never attended the miraculous ceremony of the Holy Light in Jerusalem which takes place annually on Holy Saturday afternoon, I once did have the blessing of seeing the Holy Light when I was in Athens in 1991, and was told of a miracle performed by the Holy Light not in Jerusalem, but in a tiny chapel in Athens.
After two months of pilgrimages to various holy shrines throughout Greece, my final day arrived and I was staying with my Uncle and Aunt in Glyfada, Athens. My Aunt Sia decided to buy me a gift before going home, so she took me across the street to the home of an iconographer whom she knew in order to buy me two hand-painted icons. We arrived at the home of this older couple and when I walked in the entire house was filled with icons, which was obviously also their studio. My aunt told me to choose two icons, so I picked one of Christ at Jacob's Well with St. Photine and another of All New Martyrs Under the Ottomans, both of which were very beautiful.
The couple whom we bought the icons from were a very devout and welcoming couple and were most impressed by the extensive pilgrimage I took, being only 15 years old at the time. They decided therefore to take me to a chapel nearby of which they were caretakers and is little known in Glyfada, dedicated to Saint Barbara but belonging to the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. After venerating the icons they showed me a spot which contained a glass bowl of oil in which was lit a small fire. This fire they told me came from Jerusalem a few years prior when monks brought the Holy Light to Athens. Since then this fire burned perpetually.
When I asked how they kept the fire burning perpetually for so long, they told me about a miracle. They said that since they were the only caretakers of the chapel, they always took care of the Holy Light to make sure it never extinguished. One year however they went to go visit family abroad for more than a few weeks, and when they returned the Holy Light had extinguished. With sorrow they decided to reignite the oil lamp anyway, so they grabbed some oil and refilled the bowl. As they refilled the bowl the Holy Light spontaneously lit again without having to be reignited. Since then they always made sure to keep the fire going.
See more photos of the chapel here.
A Sinai Codex of 1716 contains the life and deeds of Saint Nikandros the New Ascetic who shone with virtue and holiness at the Sacred Monastery of Saint Katherine at the holy and God-trodden mountain of Sinai. According to the codex, Saint Nikandros was born in 1581 on the island of Kastelorizo where there was a metochion of Saint Katherine's Monastery dedicated to the Holy Apostles. He became a monk at Sinai in 1611 and reposed in 1631 in the days of Archbishop Joasaph.
While at Sinai there was a very virtuous hieromonk named Ignatios from Rethymno in Crete. Ignatios took Nikandros as his novice. Since both desired to know the monasteries and hermitages of Mount Athos, they went and remained there for five years. But they again returned to the place of their repentance at Sinai believing they could find more quietness there, and there they lived for the rest of their lives.
Hieromonk Ignatios was a very good and virtuous spiritual father. He had perfect indegence and continence and his constant work was prayer. His disciple however, Monk Nikandros, surpassed his Elder. He had greater temperance and indefatigable obedience to his Elder and attained a state of complete dispassion. He never appeared to be joyous or sad but always stood with the same unchanging state of mind. He would do a prostration to everyone and to whatever someone said to him he would always begin by saying "bless father".
Nikandros reposed over a year prior to his spiritual father Ignatios. After a year the fathers went to the cemetery to bury another brother, and when Elder Ignatios entered to see the relics of Nikandros he found the corpse full and having the color of saffron and it was gushing myrrh. Fr. Ignatios left the cemetery with tears, saying: Thank you, Lord, that even while alive you gave me this information about my novice."
Note: Many sources give the feast day of Saint Nikandros as January 29th. But according to the Metropolis of Symi, Saint Nikandros is celebrated on Bright Wednesday. Rather, it is Saint Ignatios of Rethymno who is likely commemorated on January 29 (see here).
The holy and most-honored icon of the Panagia "Ypsenis" was hidden beneath an olive tree in the eponymous village of Lardos, which was the site of an old Monastery of the Most-Holy Theotokos. In that place was often found in asceticism and prayer our Holy Father Meletios (February 12), who one night became an eye-witness to a marvelous spectacle. A column of light came down from the sky lighting up the tree and surrounding area.
Surprised he approached and found an old looking icon of the Mother of God. The next night the Theotokos appeared to him in a dream telling him to build in her name a temple at the place where he found the icon, in order to place the icon, and to establish a monastery, to continue in his asceticism.
At the same time she showed him a place near the area where she told him to dig to find the necessary money for such a large project. The Saint obeyed the command of the Panagia, dug at the place suggested, and found the buried treasure by which he managed to meet the costs of building. He built the temple in which he treasured the Holy Icon, and refounded the ruined monastery, where he lived in asceticism till the end of his earthly life.
The miraculous icon is treasured until now in the homonymous monastery and is honored by the faithful and is a source of many miracles to those who approach with faith and reverence.
The Monastery of Panagia Ypseni
On the South-Eastern side of the island of Rhodes, 50 km from Rhodes Town, in the direction of Lindos and the village Lardos, hidden in a once verdant forest is the monastery of the Panagia Ypseni or Gypseni.
There are two possible explanations for the title given the Panagia. Ypseni from the Greek word for height, indicating the monastery is built on high ground. There is a folk verse which says, “O Panagia of Ypseni, thou who art in the heights”. The other explanation says that it is a corruption of the word gypseni, because of the high amount of gypsum in the surrounding
According to the commemorative stone at the entrance of the Church, the monastery was built around 1855. It’s founder was St. Meletios of Rhodes.
Today about 15 nuns live within the monastery, under the spiritual direction of the abbess of the monastery, Mariam. The monastery’s first abbess was the nun Eugenia. The sisterhood was established by the Metropolitan of New Zealand, Amphilochios Tsoukos.
The monastery celebrates its patronal feast on the 22 and 23rd of August, on the leavetaking of the Dormition of the Mother of God, where multitudes of people come together. The monastery also celebrates the memory of St. Meletios on the 12th of February. There is also a celebration on Bright Wednesday.
The Synaxis of the Icon of the All-Holy Mother of God of Ypseni is celebrated on Bright Wednesday after Pascha. The faithful take the icon to the village of Lardos on Bright Monday. The priest and a multitude of people accompany the icon to every house, so that all can receive her blessing. On Tuesday of Bright Week the icon is returned to the Holy Monastery Ypseni accompanied by the priests and a multitude of the faithful who make the journey on foot.
The sisters of the monastery paint icons, sew, work the land (vines, olives, citrus fruits etc) and mount icon reproductions onto natural wood.
For the complete account of Fr. Mitrophanes' vision of the Holy Light in Jerusalem, which authenticates the annual phenomenon that takes place at the Holy Sepulchre on Holy Saturday, read I Saw the Holy Light by Fr. Savva Achileos.
Below Fr. Mitrophanes, who was guardian of the Holy Sepulchre for 58 years, is interviewed regarding his experience (in Greek):