Wednesday, April 25, 2012
On St. Thomas Sunday, 22 April 2012, His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All Ukraine officiated at the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Church of Ss Anthony and Theodosius at the Dormition Laura of the Caves in Kiev.
Concelebrating with His Beatitude were Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod and Chernobyl, abbot of the Laura; Archbishop Antoniy of Borispol, head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Rector of the Kievan Theological Schools; Archbishop Alexander of Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky and Vishnevoye, secretary of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; Bishops Nikodim of Zhitomir and Novograd-Volynskiy, Ilariy of Makarov, Panteleimon of Vasilkov, and ordained monks of the Laura.
At the Little Entrance, His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir elevated Bishop Nikodim of Zhitomir and Novograd-Volynskiy to the rank of archbishop.
The office of canonization of Schema-Archbishop Anthony (Abashidze; +1942) as a locally venerated saint was performed during the divine service. Archbishop Alexander read out the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of 14 June 2011 (minutes 21) to enter the name of Schema-Archbishop Anthony into church calendar. Archbishop Antoniy of Borispol told all those present about the life of the saint. His icon was brought to the middle of the church, and His Beatitude, archpastors, clergymen and laymen venerated the relics of the newly canonized saint, website of th4e Ukrainian Orthodox Church reports.
Schema-Archbishop Anthony (secular name David Iliych Abashidze) was born in Georgia in 1847. He graduated with distinction from the Law Department of the Novorossiysk Imperial University in Odessa in 1891 and that same year entered the theological academy. He was tonsured with the name of Dimitry at the age of twenty-four. In 1897 he was appointed inspector of the Kutaisi theological seminary, and in 1898 – inspector of the Tbilisi theological seminary. It was he who expelled Joseph Dzhugashvili, better known as Stalin, from the seminary. Bishop Dimitry was appointed Bishop of Tauris and Simferopol in 1912. When he was in Moscow for the Local Council of 1917-18, he would walk along the streets with his first-aid kit and give help to those wounded in the battle for Moscow. Bishop Dimitry was arrested and exiled from the Crimea in 1923 and settled in the Kitayevsky Hermitage which belonged to the Laura of the Caves in Kiev and was located some nine kilometers from it. He made a vow of silence and took the Great Schema with the name of Anthony. He was revered as a great ascetic, a man of prayer and clairvoyant elder. Orthodox Christians from Russia, Ukraine, Belarussia and Georgia came to him for advice. He died in 1942 and was buried behind the sanctuary wall of the Church of the Elevation of the Cross at the entrance to the Near Caves.
By St. Gregory the Theologian
There is one Light, God: inaccessible, knowing no succession or beginning, never ceasing, never measured, always shining - triply shining! - yet few, I think or less than few, are capable of reflecting on how great it is. And there are secondary lights, shining forth from that first Light: the powers that surround it, the spirits that serve it. But this light around us not only began recently, but is interrupted by night, and itself interrupts night in equal measure; it is entrusted to our sight, it is poured out in the air, it takes the very thing it gives - for it provides sight for the power of seeing, and is the first thing that our eyes see; by bathing visible objects, it gives us access to them. For since God has willed this universe, composed of both visible and invisible beings, be put together as the great and marvelous herald of his greatness, he himself is the light for eternal creatures, and there is no other (for why would those who possessed the greatest of lights need a second one?); but for lower creatures - those all around us - he caused the power of this light to shine forth, first of all. For it was fitting that the Great Light begin the work of creation with light, by which he destroyed the darkness, along with the disorder and confusion that had prevailed until then.
He did not display this light in the beginning, in my opinion, through some instrument like the sun. It was disembodied, unconnected with a sun; only later was the sun given the work of shedding light on the whole world. For while, in the case of other creatures, he brought matter into being first and created form later, limiting each thing by order and shape and size, in this case - to work a still greater wonder - he caused the form to exist without the matter (for light is the form of the sun), and after this added the matter, creating the sun as the shining eye of day. So one thing is numbered first in the list of days, another second and third and so on, until we reach the seventh day, which brings work to an end. The events of creation are divided up by these days, ordered in accord with God's ineffable reasons, and not attributed all at once to the omnipotent Word, to whom merely thinking or speaking is a work completed.
From Oration 44: For New Sunday
Saint George is reverenced in Cyprus even by the Turks. It is characteristically mentioned that during the Ottoman period, the Ottoman authorities had some laxity measures concerning the building of churches dedicated to St. George, only surpassed in number by the Virgin Mary. More than 350 monasteries, churches and chapels are dedicated to St. George in Cyprus. Nine Villages are named after him, as well as two islands, while seven other settlements named after the Great Martyr no longer exist. Saints from Cyprus had the name George, and many residents today are named either George or Georgia. Cypriot folklore is filled with references to St. George, such as in songs, proverbs, legends and traditions.
In Cyprus, St George is patron saint of epilepsy, a protector of eyes, he is considered an assistant of small children who are slow to take their first steps and a supporter of single girls. Riding on his horse, he wanders night and day in different parts of the island to satisfy the requests of the pious faithful. Many see him move around at night in the streets and alleys of the village or city, and many hear the horse galloping, while chasing a terrible evil, such as the "plague" and cholera, and he runs to stand by unhappy people or those in pain. In several areas, the imagination of people wants to see the "horse prints" of the horse of St. George imprinted on the ground, even if the area is rocky and barren. They even claim to have their own cave and fountain near them where St. George killed the dragon and freed the princess, as the Cypriots want him to be their own saint, interwoven with their daily life.
Details about these traditions can be read in Kosta Papageorgiou's book titled "Saint George the Trophy-Bearer in Cyprus" ("Ο Άγιος Γεώργιος ο Τροπαιοφόρος στην Κύπρο"), which contains over 200 photos.
The Miracle of the Holy Fire (1892–99) is a painting by William Holman Hunt which depicts the Greek Orthodox rite of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem. Hunt believed the fire to be a pious fraud which brought Christianity into disrepute. He intended the painting to be a satire in the manner of William Hogarth. Hunt published an elaborate keyplate explaining the identity of the various characters depicted.
The miracle of the Holy Fire is an annual event in which the patriarch of the Greek Orthodox church in Jerusalem enters the shrine of the Holy Sepulchre with an unlit lamp and emerges with it lit. The ceremony begins at noon when the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem or another Orthodox Archbishop recites a specific prayer. The congregants will then chant "Lord, have mercy" (Kyrie eleison in Greek) until the Holy Fire "descends" on a lamp of olive oil held by the patriarch while he is alone in the tomb chamber. The patriarch will then reveal himself from the tomb chamber and recite some prayers and light either 33 or 12 candles and distribute them to the congregants.
Hunt depicts the moment at which the kindled fire is released from the chamber and passed from candle to candle. Lighted candles can be seen emerging from the shrine in the background at the right. Hunt does not concentrate on the event itself, but rather on the social and ethnographic context in which it occurs.
Along with other Protestants and Catholics, Hunt had no doubt that the fire was not a miracle, so he concentrates on what he considered to be the fanatical and grotesque responses of the participants. He also believed that the interior of the church was the epitome of bad taste, writing that it was "crammed full of trumpery pictures of old Saints, and decorated throughout in that bad taste which Roman Catholics have to themselves in Europe but which here the modern Greeks share with them."
Hunt depicted the various competing religious groups along with the different races and ethnicities of the region. At the far right a woman who represents Protestant English attitudes hurries to remove her children from the scene as the crowd becomes increasingly excited. Their Greek Orthodox nursemaid in contrast, responds enthusiastically, reaching her candle into the crowd. A number of individuals adopt poses that are designed to mimic the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the background at the far left a figure mimicking Jesus dead is carried by others adopting exaggerated gestures of mourning. In the centre a man places himself against the shrine repeating the gesture of paintings depicting Jesus's resurrection.
As the crowd becomes unruly, the soldiers representing the occupying forces of the Ottoman empire attempt to control the more riotous elements. At the centre of the ceremony is the Islamic ruler of the city. Bim Pasha, his second in command, leans on his sword, representing order amid disorder.
1. Bronkhurst, J., William Holman Hunt, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol 1, p.278
2. Bronkhurst, J., William Holman Hunt, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol 1, p.276
By Nicholas Arseniev
We'd also like to show some examples of long-suffering for the defeated enemy, the forbearance inspired by the message of the Gospel ...
Let's think ... how Alexander I behaved in Paris in 1814. He didn't behave as a conqueror but as a liberator and friend of the French people. Moreover, he showed in the eyes of Europe how he meant to avenge the fate of Moscow. (We mean here the previous campaign of Napoleon in Russia).
On 29 March (10 April) 1814, at the Place de la Révolution, in the same place where they beheaded Louis XVI, they celebrated the splendid night Paschal Liturgy of the Orthodox Church, full of joy and with a tone of reconciliation, in accordance with the Resurrection Hymn: "... let us embrace one another, forgiving all in the Resurrection ... Christ is risen from the dead...", as a Liturgy of atonement, restoration and reconciliation in front of Russian troops with festive outfits.
It was (polite) revenge for Moscow, as he said it straight to his close friend Prince Alexander Golitsyn when he returned to Petersburg. Here he drew in the depths of Christian experience where at one time it seized the soul of Russian people all over the classes of the social scale.
This magnanimous behavior of Emperor Alexander I toward the defeated enemy strengthened the admiration felt for him by the numerous circles of Russian society.
From Russian Piety.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
April 24, 2012
The ecclesiastical leader of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Rowan Williams, will pay a four-day visit to Mount Athos, according to exclusive information by agioritikovima.gr.
The Archbishop will arrive at Mount Athos on Thursday morning (April 26), in order to visit the Monasteries of Xenophontos, Iveron and Simonopetra where he will stay the night. Also he will visit the Monastery of Pantokratoros and possibly other monasteries of Mount Athos.
Mr. Williams will depart from Mount Athos on Monday, April 30.
To be noted, last month he had submitted his resignation to Queen Elizabeth, since the Queen carries the title of protector of the faith - and disagreed on the issue of ordination of women priests and gay marriage.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos
After a year of research and preparation, the giant screen film JERUSALEM advanced into production with an unprecedented aerial shoot throughout Israel and the West Bank. Scheduled for worldwide release in 2013, the film will take audiences on a spectacular tour of the Holy Land and the city once believed to lie at the centre of the world.
During the reign of Emperor Diocletian of Rome, as the religion of the Nazarene was spreading, an empire-wide persecution against Christians began. This order went out to all the governors of the Roman provinces, including Cappadocia.
Among the first Christians arrested in Cappadocia was Gerontius, a leader in the Roman army and father of George, who was then ten years old. Both George and his mother Polychronia attended the trial. They heard Gerontius respond to the Governor: "I prefer to die for my faith in Christ rather than deny Him, even if you gave me everything you promised." They also heard the Governor pronounce his death sentence for refusing to worship the Roman gods. As Gerontius was dragged to the place of execution amidst hundreds of idolaters, young George saw his father give up his spirit which was received by bright angels.
George's mother said to him: "Your father, my child, is near the throne of God, where he so desired to live. Though we may not see him, he is near us and will protect us from evil. Our house has gained a great and powerful protector. May God make us worthy to confess our faith and offer our life as a sacrifice for Him. You must not, my child, be sad because you lost your father. We will meet again one day. We Christians believe, as you know, that we have an immortal soul, and one day we will be resurrected and we will live endlessly near the throne of God."
Years passed and it was George's turn to confess his faith before Diocletian himself. As George suffered in prison from his many tortures, his blessed mother Polychronia tried to empower him with courage by reminding him of Paradise which he could gain by remaining steadfast in his faith. She also fasted and prayed and daily brought to Him the Sacred Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ.
One day in prison she met Diocletian. When he saw her near George and talking with him, he asked her: "Why are you talking with the soldier?" Polychronia responded with courage: "I am Polychronia and I am a Christian, like my son, who for many days you have tortured. May you know King that with whatever he suffers you are preparing for him an eternal crown in heaven and an enviable seat near the throne of God." When Diocletian heard this, he said: "You taught him to not respect our immortal and glorious gods? You advised him not to sacrifice to them?" Fearlessly the mother of the martyr responded: "Learn, King, that we were born Christians. Our parents taught us faith in Christ Our God, Who is the only True and All-Powerful, and He never denied us anything we asked of Him, which is why we will never deny Him. A myriad of tortures we will endure and suffer with patience for His grace."
When Diocletian heard the brave words of Polychronia, in a rage he commanded that she be beaten and burned with candles. Though the pain was great, her faith and sweet anticipation of Paradise to come made it disappear. Eventually the martyr exclaimed: "Lord Jesus Christ, receive the spirit of Your servant."
So the faithful and humble handmaid of the Lord gave her spirit into the hands of the bright angels who brought her with joy to the throne of God where she received the crown of eternal glory.
At night Christians secretly received her honorable relics and buried them glorifying and praising God.
The relics of St. Anastasia Pharmakolitria are in the hands of bandits after the burglary of the Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of the same Saint in Thessaloniki.
The robbery took place, as estimated by police, on the evening of April 22 towards April 23, most likely in the morning on the feast of St. George.
According to preliminary information the burglary took place at night some time from 10pm until 5:40 the morning of April 23, and the robbers had to "open" five doors to get inside the Katholikon of the Monastery and to commit the unholy act of grabbing their sacred "prey".
The reliquary with the skull of St. Anastasia, the shrine with the feet of the Saint, a reliquary with fragment relics of St. Anastasia, St. Paraskevi and St. Modestos, and a modern art blessing cross was on the Holy Altar and an empty reliquary is now in the hands of robbers.
Note that these shrines are dated after 1830, ie after the burning of the Monastery. They also broke the Candle Stands and removed an unknown amount of the offerings of the faithful as well as items for sale from the showroom of the Monastery.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos
An Introduction to the Works and Person of Fr. Athanasios Henein:
Given such a miraculous event, instead of writing a preface ourselves, it is better for Fr. Athanasios to speak for himself, in his own words, about his blessed conversion into Life, the Truth – which exists only in the One Catholic and Apostolic Church, our Orthodox Church.
We praise God for his wonderful work and wish Fr Athanasios, through the intercessions of the Theotokos and of all the saints, the blessing and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ and His support for him and his family. We also thank him for his confidence and the texts he sends us. Eventually we will post both the Greek and Arabic versions to benefit souls and glorify the Lord.
Fr. Athanasios in his own words:
Many speak of heresy, many write about the condition, but few are those who have tasted the bitterness of heresy, and fewer still those who have lived and shed blood to free themselves from its captivity.
Heresy is a way of life, it is a great prison, it is a mental, as well as physical, illness. I, Athanasios Henein, lived these tragic events as the head of the Coptic community in Athens for fifteen years. Copts divide the person of Christ and abolish His inter-human reality and His realistic presence in the world and in the Church.
But the miracle of my healing and conversion to our Mother, the Orthodox Church, was by the grace of the Triune God and the practical love of His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, the Cretan Elder Methodios, and the fathers of the Holy Monastery of the Resurrection.
The words you will read, dear readers, are a confession of faith, and gratitude. But they are also an appeal for us to work together to help ordinary Copts (of which 15 thousand live in Athens) to experience the beauty of Orthodoxy.
(To read Fr. Athanasios’ articles in English, French, Arabic or Greek see HERE.)
The joyous Paschal season is here. We celebrated the glorious Resurrection of Christ in churches ablaze with lighted candles, the clergy in resplendent vestments greeting us with the life-giving news: "Christ is risen!" and our jubilant cries filling the air in reply: "Truly He is risen!"
Behind the Iron Curtain are thousands of believers, many of whom are imprisoned for their faith. Although unable to participate in such magnificent services, their hearts too are filled with joy. Christ's Resurrection freed the captives from their chains, and truly, even behind barbed wire and prison walls, the souls of Christians are free indeed. Let us greet them with a cry from the depths of our hearts: "Christ is risen!"
Below we give a moving account of how members of the Catacomb Church celebrated Pascha as prisoners in the notorious Solovki concentration camp. For all the lack of outward splendor of these catacomb services, and the difficult conditions under which they were conducted, the inner spiritual joy experienced by these prisoners is perhaps all the more intense.
At Solovki we had several secret Catacomb "churches," but our "favorites" were two: the "Cathedral Church" of the Holy Trinity, and the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The first was a small clearing in the midst of a dense forest in the direction of the "Savvaty" Assignment Area. The dome of this church was the sky, The wails were the birch forest. The church of St. Nicholas was located in the deep forest towards the "Muksolm" Assignment Area, It was a thicket naturally formed by seven large spruces. Most frequently the secret services were conducted only in the summer, on great feasts and, with special solemnity, on the Day of Pentecost. But sometimes, depending on circumstances, doubly secret services were celebrated also in other places. Thus, for example, on Great Thursday of 1929, the service of the reading of the Twelve Gospels was celebrated in our physicians' cell in the 10th Company, Vladika Victor and Fr. Nicholas came to us as if for disinfection. Then, catacomb style, they served the church service with the door bolted. On Great Friday an order was read in all Companies informing that for the next three days no one would be allowed to leave the Companies after 8 p.m. save in exceptional circumstances and by special written permit of the Camp Commandant.
At 7 p.m. on Friday, when we physicians had just returned to our cells after a 12-hour workday, Fr. Nicholas came to us and told us that a Plashchanitsa (burial shroud with the image of Christ) the size of one's palm had been painted by the artist R. The service-the rite of burial--was to be held and would begin in an hour. "Where?" Vladika Maxim asked. "In the great box for drying fish which is closet to the forest, next to Camp N. The password: three knocks and then two. It's better to come one at a time."
In hdlf an hour Vladika Maxim and I left our Company and started out for the indicated "address." Twice patrols asked for our permits. We, as physicians, had them. But what about the others?--Vladika Victor, Vladika Ilarion, Vladika Nektary, and Fr. Nicholas? Vladika Victor worked as-a bookkeeper in the rope factory. Vladika Nektary was a fisherman; and the others weaved nets. Here was the edge of the forest. Here was the box, about nine yards long, without windows, the door scarcely noticeable. Light twilight, the sky covered with dark clouds. We knock three times and then twice. Fr. Nicholas opens. Vladika Victor and Vladika Ilarion are already here... In a few minutes Vladika Nektary also comes. The interior of the box has been converted into a church. On the floor, on the wails, spruce branches. Several candles flickering. Small paper icons. The small Plashanitsa is buried in green branches. Ten people have come to pray. Later another four or five come, of whom two are monks. The service begins, in a whisper. It seemed that we had no bodies, but were only souls. Nothing distracted or interfered with prayer... I don't remember how we went "home," i.e., to our Companies. The Lord covered us!
The bright service of Pascha was assigned to our physicians' cell. Towards midnight under various urgent pretexts arranged by the section, without any kind of written permit, all who intended to come gathered, about fifteen people in all. After the Matins and Liturgy, we sat down and broke the fast. On the table were Paschal cake and cheese, colored eggs, cold dishes, wine (liquid yeast with cranberry extract and sugar). About three o'clock we parted.
Control rounds of our Company were made by the Camp Commandant before and after the services, at 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Finding us four physicians headed by Vladika Maxim, on his last round, the Commandant said: "What doctors, you're not sleeping?" And immediately he added: "Such a night...and one doesn't want to sleep!" And he left.
"Lord Jesus Christ! We thank Thee for the miracle of Thy mercy and power," pronounced Vladika Maxim movingly, expressing our common feelings.
The white night of Solovki was nearing its end. The delicate, rose-colored Paschal morning of Solovki, the sun playing for joy, greeted the monastery-concentration camp, converting it into the invisible city of Kitezh and filling our free Souls with a quiet, unearthly joy.
(“Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov”, by I.M. Andreev; The Orthodox Word, Vol. 6, No. 3)
By St. John of Kronstadt
I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth, and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen, and have the keys of hell and of death. (Apoc. 1:17-18)
These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth, and no man openeth. (Apoc 3:7)
I congratulate you all on the Bright Resurrection of Christ, and on such a great and holy day I wish to talk to you, dear brothers and sisters, on these words of Holy Scripture; and I call you dear because you are very dear to our Lord Jesus Christ, Who redeemed us at an infinitely precious price-His most pure Blood, poured out on the Cross for our salvation. Remember this and do not forget; do not forget from what you have been redeemed at such a precious price: from sin, the curse, and death, both temporal and eternal. Guard yourselves with all your strength from sin, which has caused such misfortunes in the world, and even now causes every kind of misfortune. And so, I repeat: Christ is risen! In truth He is risen!
I wish to explain to you the words from the Apocalypse of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian which are quoted at the beginning: "I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen, and have the keys of hell and of death." By these mighty words the Lord indicates that He is the Unoriginate and Almighty Creator of everything visible and invisible, or the angelic world; that all creation received its beginning from Him, including Lucifer himself, cast down from heaven and become satan and the devil, the chief of the fallen angels. who dared to oppose God and enter into battle with his Creator and introduce sin and death into God's world. The Lord says: I am the first and the last; from Me all the created spirits received their beginning--the angels and the demons, who before were good and holy spirits; by My word heaven and earth and the whole human race were called into existence and given the laws of existence and life; by Me are accomplished and will be accomplished all births of creatures and, through Me will be the end of heaven and earth and all earthly creatures; through Me will be the universal resurrection and the judgment of all; through Me will be conquered and put under foot all My enemies and the whole kingdom of satan; by Me the final enemy---death is destroyed and annihilated.
Since the Apocalypse of the Apostle John is the last book of the Holy Scripture and the first book is the Genesis of the world and the human race, written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the Prophet Moses, the Lord, indicating this, says that through Him the world and the account of its existence began: through Him also there will follow the end of the visible world, which is declared in special detail in the Apocalypse, which speaks Also of the final battle of the serpent or satan with the Lamb, Who was slaughtered and tasted death for the salvation of the World. Therefore the Lord says to John: I am the first and the last, that is through Me everything received its beginning, through Me it will end; through Me there will be the end of the world, the end of the kingdom of satan and the beginning of his eternal torment, the end of the battle of good with evil--the end of death, the end of dying--and righteousness will reign. From Me good and evil will receive their just reward; unrepentant sinners will go into eternal torment, and the righteous into eternal life. "Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his word shall be" (Apoc. 22:12), the Lord says many times in the Apocalypse.
Indicating that He endured death for us, and that without doubt the general resurrection will be through Him, the Conqueror of death, He says: "I was dead, and behold, I am alive for, evermore, amen;" and you also will be alive forever. This is the meaning of the words of Him Who arose: "I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth and was dead" for you, for your redemption from death, and I; that is: I conquered your death by My innocent death for your sake, and behold, I am also forever and will sit with My Father on His throne; I was not separated from Him, even though I was on earth accomplishing My great work for you who are subject to sin and death. Therefore, do you also, My followers, work and struggle against sin and do righteous deeds, and where I am, there shall My servant be also--that is, in the eternal Kingdom.
Remarkable also are the Lord's words: "I have the keys of hell and of death;" and, in another place in the same book: "these things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no many shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth." Just as the conquerors of cities in ancient times, as a sign of their victory, took the keys of the city gates and entered triumphantly into the conquered city, so also our Lord, having conquered hell and death for us by His own death, as Conqueror took from Satan the keys by which he had ruled for whole thousands of years, the keys of hell and death, and destroyed Hell, that eternal place of bonds for the earthborn, and liberated the eternal captives and led them out into the light of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The video above illustrates the different phases of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher moving backwards in time from the Crusades until Crucifixion. Here is the information from the site:
A journey back in time to tell the story of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site defined in many Christian traditions as “the Centre of the World”. This is the gift by ATS pro Terra Sancta to all the friends and the supporters of the Holy Land. Divided in chapters, the video by Mrs. Raffaella Zardoni for ATS pro Terra Sancta presents a 3D reconstruction of the basilica at different times, back to the stone cave which saw the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our being here, our commitment for this land and our deep desire to help its living stones start and gather meaning from here.
Monday, April 23, 2012
George, this truly great and glorious Martyr of Christ, was born of a father from Cappadocia and a mother from Palestine. Being a military tribune, or chiliarch (that is, a commander of a thousand troops), he was illustrious in battle and highly honoured for his courage. When he learned that the Emperor Diocletian was preparing a persecution of the Christians, Saint George presented himself publicly before the Emperor and denounced him. When threats and promises could not move him from his steadfast confession, he was put to unheard-of tortures, which he endured with great bravery, overcoming them by his faith and love towards Christ. By the wondrous signs that took place in his contest, he guided many to the knowledge of the truth, including Queen Alexandra, wife of Diocletian, and was finally beheaded in 296 in Nicomedia.
His sacred remains were taken by his servant from Nicomedia to Palestine, to a town called Lydda, the homeland of his mother, and then were finally transferred to the church which was raised up in his name. (The translation of the Saint's holy relics to the church in Lydda is commemorated on November 3; Saint Alexandra the Queen, on April 21.)
If April 23 falls on or before Great and Holy Pascha, the Feast of St. George is translated to Bright Monday.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Liberator of captives, defender of the poor, physician of the sick, and champion of kings, O trophy-bearer, Great Martyr George, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Cultivated by God, you became manifest as an honorable tiller gathering for yourself the sheaves of virtue. For you sowed with tears but reaped with gladness; in the contest you competed with your blood and came away with Christ. By your intercessions, O Holy One, all are granted forgiveness of sins.
Saints Gerontius and Polychronia, Parents of Saint George
Greek Epithets of Saint George the Great Martyr
A Vision of Saint George the Great Martyr In Glory
6th-11th Century References to Saint George
Saint George, Protector of Zographou and Xenophontos Monasteries
3 Miracles of Saint George
The Cell of Saint George "The Revealed One"
Saint George Appears to Saint Arsenios of Paros
The Prison and Chains of St. George in Cairo
Video: Report On the Church of St. George In Cairo
The Translation of the Relics of St. George to Lydda
Video: Report On St. George Church In Lydda
A Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Saint George in Israel
Miracles of St. George to Muslims at Koudouna
Loutro Traianoupolis: Where Christians and Muslims Venerate Saint George
Saint George: A Saint for the Desperate
The Wood Carved Statue of St. George in Kastoria
The Chapel of St. George on Lykavittos Hill in Athens
A Miracle of Saint George in 1940
A Miracle of Saint George the Trophy-bearer
Chapel of St. George at Mystras
The Milking of the Sheep in Honor of St. George in Crete
Traditional Greek Songs to Saint George
In Georgia, Everyday Is A Feast of Saint George
Saint George the Trophy-Bearer in Cyprus
An Icon of St. George is Gushing Myrrh in Cyprus
Saint Phanourios the Great Martyr and Newly-Revealed of Rhodes
The Tradition of Phanouropita (Phanourios Cake)
The Holy Icon of Panagia Paravouniotissa is one of the oldest images that have survived through the ages. It was presumably painted in the 7th century AD in the era of the Byzantine Empire, under Emperor Heraclius, after a victory over the Persians. The painters were two ascetic monks from Cyprus, Silvestros and Isaiah. The monks with other Christians settled in Proikoniso or on the island of Marmara, when the emperor Heraclius after his victory over the Persians, decided to move Christians from Cyprus to live in Proikoniso. The monks Silvestros and Isaiah chose to stay in the mountain, now called PANAGIA, because of their hesychastic life. There they erected a chapel in the name of the All-Holy Theotokos, and because it was located MORE THAN THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN, they gave the name "PARAVOUNIOTISSA" to the Panagia. So they built the Chapel of Panagia Paravouniotissa.
In 1054 the separation of the Churches of East and West caused much suffering. The Franks conquered in the Crusades even Constantinople (1204), terrorizing, burning churches, schools and libraries. From their mania not even the Chapel of Panagia Paravouniotissas escaped, which was burned down.
For many centuries the ruins of the chapel were not discovered. In the 16th century families from the island created a community in the valley of the mountain because of the area; the streams that passed through the valley and the climate was ideal for growing vineyards. They built a church there in honor of the Great-Martyr Saint George, because of fear of the Turks. The village created was named Gallimi, perhaps because in the 2nd century BC the plain was covered by the sea forming a galinio or port.
After more than a century, some shepherds who were grazing their sheep and wanting to build a pen, unknowingly dug in the ruins of the chapel mentioned above. But when they found the area to be sanctified they abandoned work and rushed to announce the find to the parish priest of the village. He immediately went with the shepherds and Christian Gallimites, and after they excavated they found the floor of a burned church and two damaged candelabras and marble reliefs. Then they pulled out, with a lot of emotion, the holy icon of the Mother of God with wood that was rotting, and only distinguished the image by the face, because it was damaged by its long stay underground and the moisture.
With fear and reverence of God the people of Gallimi formed a procession with the icon and placed it as a precious treasure and a jewel in the left aisle of the sanctuary of the Church of St. George the Great-Martyr. At the expense of the rich family Hadji-Drosinis the holy icon was restored by a hagiographer, Demetrios Koutaleos.
Because the finding of the icon took place on Thomas Monday, it was established to celebrate the discovery on this festive day every year till today.
After the exchange of populations from Asia Minor refugees who came to Eretria, Greece preferred to carry from their homes in two large boats, instead of property, the icon of the All-Holy Theotokos, as well as 410 other icons, because they believed miracles poured forth by the grace of the Saints, instead of gold and silver.
The Gallimites emigrated, with tears in their eyes, and before finding a place to rest their first night in Eretria, a procession with the Holy Icons led by the priest Papa Stratis took place to the Church of St. Nicholas.
The refugees filled the church, chanting and crying with pain, which made their icons to grind and candles to move, which is confirmed by many refugees today, as a sign of support, blessing and divine consolation.
Half the refugees and half the icons moved to Ammouliani of Thessaloniki. The Holy Icon of Panagia Paravouniotissa remained in Eretria to accompany the refugees and their descendants. In honor of the miraculous icon a new parish was created in Eretria (March 31, 1999) by Presidential Decree, and in 2002 there was built a small but lovely church, the Church of Panagia Paravouniotissa, which houses the Sacred Image. On April 12, 2010, Thomas Monday, on which celebrates the Panagia Paravouniotissa, His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Halkidos put the foundation stone for the construction of a large new church, worthy of the honor we owe to our Lady.
Description of the Holy Icon
The image depicts the Holy Virgin Mary holding Christ on her left with her two hands. Christ is depicted with the body of a child of four-years, but with the face of a twelve-year-old, perhaps to emphasize His wisdom. With his right hand, Christ blesses looking straight ahead.
Mary's face is sweet, but serious to severe; her nose is thin and long showing a meekness and calmness, and she has a small mouth which is closed symbolizing her fasting, but also the few words she spoke. The dress covers the whole body like a royal mantle; the same with Christ. She sits on a majestic throne on a beautiful pillow. Left and right the two Angels stand by in stationary supplication, with hands completely covered with the garment as a sign of respect and awe. Saint John of Damascus tells us: "I enter the hospital of souls, the Church, choked by thoughts like I'm in thorns. The beauty of the icons attract me and inadvertently my mind goes to the patience of the Panagia in life, but with what glory she is crowned; by the icon I open up, praise God, and I earn my salvation."
1. The Icon of Saint George in the Holy Monastery of Zographou on Mount Athos
In the year 919, three brothers — Moses, Aaron, and Vasilios — went to Mount Athos to become monks. They built three tents in a large valley near the river. They also built a small church near there, but were skeptical about what saint to name the church after. They prepared the board on which the icon of the patron saint of the church was to be painted, however, they did not paint the icon because they could not decide to which saint the church should be dedicated. When the monks went to the church the next morning, they found that an icon of Saint George had been painted on the board. The icon was painted in an ancient style. This miracle showed the brothers that God wanted their church dedicated to Saint George.
The institution which the brothers had established was named the Monastery of Zographou, or the Monastery of the Painter, because of the icon’s miraculous appearance.
The following is considered to be the history of this icon before its appearance in the Monastery of Zographou. This icon was originally in the Monastery of Phanouel, located in Lidan. From the time that Eustratios was the abbot of this monastery, the icon had performed many miracles. One day in the presence of the monks, the icon came off of the piece of wood on which it had been painted and disappeared from their sight. The monks were extremely saddened by this event and felt that God had forsaken them. Then, the Abbot Eustratios saw Saint George before him and the Saint told him not to weep for him for he was on Mount Athos. The abbot told the other brothers of his vision. Eustratios left the monastery, and after going to Jerusalem, he embarked on his journey to Mount Athos. After searching in many of the monasteries for the icon, he finally came upon the Monastery of Zographou. When he entered the church, he saw the icon hanging without anything supporting it. Eustratios remained at that monastery until his other brothers came to see the miracle.
That icon performed the following miracle. The Bishop Vothenon visited the monastery and began to question the events without faith. Pointing to the icon, he laughed and said, "Is this the miraculous icon?" He placed his finger on the icon and there it stuck. To this day, visitors to the monastery can still see the finger hanging on the icon.
2. The Miraculous Icon of Saint George Which Came by Sea From Arabia
This icon was found in the harbor of the Monastery of Vatopaidi. Later it was discovered that the icon had originally come from Arabia. The abbots of the different monasteries began to argue as to whom the icon belonged. They decided to place the icon on the back of a donkey. The donkey was left at the cross roads between Mount Athos and Salonika. It was agreed that whichever monastery the donkey went to could rightfully claim the icon. The donkey proceeded to the Monastery of Zographou. After the donkey arrived there, it died. The icon was placed on the left pillar of the church, opposite the other miraculous icon of Saint George.
3. The Third Icon of Saint George in the Monastery of Zographou
On the third pillar of the Church of Saint George of the Monastery of Zographou hangs a third icon of the Saint. This icon had belonged to the ruler of Moldavia (Rumania), Stephen. When ever he went into battle, Stephen would carry this icon with him. After capturing Constantinople, the Turks came to the land ruled by Stephen. He decided to fight the Turks inside the walls of the city. He saw a vision of Saint George which told him that the Saint would help him to be victorious. After the battle, Stephen took the icon to the Monastery of Zographou and gave a great deal of money for the purpose of beautifying this holy place.
4. The Miraculous Icon of Saint George in the Monastery of Xenophontos on Mount Athos
During the Iconoclast Period, several soldiers had taken an icon of Saint George and thrown it into a fire with other icons. When the fire had died, some bystanders saw that it had not consumed the icon of Saint George, but had damaged only a small portion of it. One soldier ran his sword into the face of the Saint. Blood emerged from this spot. The soldiers were so frightened that they ran. Some Iconodules who witnessed this miracle, took the icon to protect it from the soldiers in case they returned. They took it to the shore and placed it into the water. Then they prayed to the Saint to guide his icon to a place where it would continue to perform miracles. The icon landed at the Monastery of Xenophontos on Mount Athos. The blood stains and the burnt clothing of the Saint can still be seen on the icon.
1. A woman had bought a pillar for a church being dedicated to Saint George in Rome. However, she had no means of transporting the pillar. One night she dreamt of Saint George. He helped her to lift the pillar and then throw it into the sea. Soon afterwards, the pillar was found in Rome with instructions to place it on the right side of the church as the woman had wished.
2. In the city of Paflagonia in Pontus, many churches had been dedicated to Saint George. Many families named their children George or Georgia in honor of this great martyr. The following miracle concerns one particularly pious couple who had named their son George. The boy had been raised with great faith. As was the law, when he became twenty years old, he served in the army. During a battle with a barbaric tribe, many Christian soldiers were either murdered, imprisoned, or enslaved. George became a personal slave to one of the barbarian officers. His parents, giving him up for dead, had mourned him for a year. They went to one of the churches dedicated to Saint George and asked that he tell them what had happened to their son. The Feast Day of Saint George was being celebrated on the anniversary of the boy’s disappearance. The parents invited their relatives to dinner since they hoped that Saint George would give them a sign concerning their son. That same evening, the barbarian master was preparing for a dinner and ordered George to draw some water with which to wash his master’s feet. As he drew the water he cried and prayed to Saint George to reunite him with his family. As he prepared to return to his master, a horseman appeared before him on a white horse. It was Saint George. The Saint put him on the horse and the boy found himself in the house of his parents while they were eating. One may imagine the happiness that filled that house. It is from this miracle that another icon of Saint George is based. It depicts a boy on the back of the horse with Saint George. This icon was first made in early Byzantium.
3. In the same city of Paflagonia, some children were playing in the courtyard of the Church of Saint George. One of the boys was being teased by the others. He went to the icon of Saint George to ask for help. In return, the boy promised to make the Saint a food called "sfouggato," a type of onion omelet. The boy returned to the courtyard and won a wrestling match with several boys. He went home and made the "sfouggato" and took it to the Saint’s icon. Shortly afterwards, three young men entered the church and saw the food. In jest, they said that the Saint would not eat the food, so they decided to sit on the steps of the altar and eat it themselves. When they tried to get up, they found themselves stuck to the marble steps. Only after offering the Saint three gold pieces, were they able to leave.
The icon of Saint George is rarely missing from the first row of icons of the iconostasis. A town with several Greek Orthodox Churches normally has one church named after this great martyr. His great honor is derived not only from the miracles which have been attributed to him, but also because many of his icons have performed miracles.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
By Monk Moses the Athonite
In one of its hymns, our Church calls the unbelief of Thomas "good". Understandably one would wonder - is there good and bad unbelief? There seems to be, because humans are not purely good or evil. In one who has a clean conscience, good heart and humble thought, everything is clear. In one infected with the virus of unbelief, all is dark and troubled. If only we had the good unbelief of the Apostle Thomas!
We would say that doubt, hesitation and little faith, it is normal to a man who seeks God with the mind.
The Apostles of Christ begged Him to add faith to their existing faith. Unbelief, however, is a serious spiritual illness. Faith is beyond reason and unbelief is unreasonable. Unbelief is often dense, comes from frivolity and shallowness of thought, and from a volatile life and confused consciousness.
The case of Thomas, who was absent at the onset of the appearance of the Risen Christ to His disciples, is typical. It is a fact that Thomas doubted, and did not disbelieve, but asked for evidence to confirm his faith.
Well known for his enthusiasm in other moments, Thomas is not a skeptic who is isolated and disadvantaged. He dares, he searches, he investigates, he inquires. He asks for the truth, to have direct contact with it. Christ did not have problem offering it to him. He came back to meet him. He comes back to everyone of us.
The faith of many Christians sometimes is lukewarm, colder than unbelief. We have faith as an armor and good outfit to beat others with, but not to take the beating; to be appreciated, admired and be watched. We do not dare to look ever deeper into the beliefs of our faith, we do not in any way want to challenge it, and perhaps expose it. Strong faith gives spiritual health, balance, sturdiness, empowerment, hope and trust in God. Sometimes, let's not be afraid to admit it, our faith has much evidence of secret ego-pathologies and morbid sentimentality. It reaches even to the point of a mistaken belief in an antisocial skepticism, which offers a pretty bad example to others. Seeking God while being this way, is to backtrack.
Thomas surely was not of bad faith, nor did he believe easily. He was careful, outspoken, genuine, solid, honest and true. It was who he was. His good unbelief made Christ come to him. Christ offered Himself to him for his sincerity. He did not rebuke him, who asked to see Him, to touch Him. But eventually He blessed those who will not see and yet believe.
Unbelief is of course a free choice of each of us. Unbelief says that they base themselves only on what they see and grasp and understand with logic. This is coercion and tiresome easiness. Faith, we would say, comes with difficulty, hazard, risk and daring. This is why He blessed those who believe without tangible evidence. The strongest evidence is the confirmation of our hearts. The hard-to-believe Thomas is our brother, he is weak, but definitely sympathetic.
On Mount Athos this day we all have an all-night vigil, because on such a day we were liberated from the Turkish yoke. As we have learned, the world during the Paschal holidays was more than ever in the churches. This means that faith is not extinguished. But it can become deeper and warmer. Thomas is not for the unbelievers, but for the skeptical, for those with little faith, and finally for the faithful. May his good unbelief trouble us to fertilize us.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos
Saturday, April 21, 2012
All that we know of Saint Kali comes from the Service composed in her honor. The acrostic of the Canon to Saint Kali informs us that the poem was written by "the Cretan". In other words, it was written by an Archbishop of Crete. In the two manuscripts we have of this Service, we are given the interpretation of this, that it was "Andrew of Crete". If this Andrew of Crete is indeed Saint Andrew, Archbishop of Crete, then we know Saint Kali lived before his death in 740. But then again, this could be another Archbishop of Crete. Some have proposed Nikephoros Moschopoulos, Metropolitan of Crete, who was Metropolitan from 1285-1322. If this is the case, then Saint Kali lived no later than the fourteenth century.
Saint Kali was from Asia Minor. Her was rich and she disposed of her property to philanthropical causes. She was not likely a nun, since nowhere in her Service does it indicate that she was. Rather, she housed the homeless and the needy in her home, because she was dedicated to ministering to the suffering of those less fortunate.
Kali was a virgin who lived wisely with asceticism, fasting and unceasing prayer. Her characteristic virtue was her philanthropy. Her chief motive was her desire to keep the commandments of Christ, and to imitate divine mercy and love for mankind.
In her Service many miracles are also attributed to her. At one time she made bread to distribute to the poor, and God made it so that as the bread was distributed it never diminished in order for all to be fed. Even after death are miracles attributed to Saint Kali. So many are her miracles, that the hymnographer refers it to being a "sea of miracles" and he calls her "miracle-gusher". She is known to have healed both soul and body, but especially painful and chronic diseases, rheumatism, arthritis, paralysis and deformities of the joints of body parts.
The memory of Saint Kali is celebrated both on May 15th and Bright Saturday.
April 20, 2012
Close links between the Greek state and the Orthodox Church are turning from a blessing for the clergy into a curse as the debt-laden government struggles to fund the ancient institution, just as impoverished Greeks need its charitable work most.
Starved of money as the state makes huge spending cuts, the deeply conservative church which grew from one of the earliest centers of Christianity is seeking new sources of funds.
But despite a new spirit of enterprise, such as at one monastery which wants to build a solar energy farm, numbers of priests are dwindling, those that remain are suffering pay cuts, and the church is fighting to keep soup kitchens open as unemployment soars and poverty deepens.
"The tills are empty and the system is collapsing," said Ignatios Stavropoulos, a modernizing priest who has his own page on LinkedIn, a social website for professionals.
Under a 60-year-old treaty, the state agreed to pay priests' salaries in exchange for large amount of church property, including land. But this means more than 10,000 priests are now on the government payroll, putting a 190 million euro ($250 million) annual burden on the country's overstretched budget.
Under the terms of an international bailout that saved Greece from bankruptcy, the government is cutting pay which for a typical parish priest is about 1,000 euros a month. Athens will also fund only one new priest to replace every 10 who retire or die, causing shortages in remote parishes during a deep recession when the flock most needs help.
In the cities, the church has stripped operations to the bone to save money for the soup kitchens and charities it runs for the growing army of the homeless and the unemployed.
Unlike in some European nations to the north where the influence of religion is dwindling, the church plays a leading role in the life of the Greece.
Long-bearded priests, dressed in flowing black robes, are a common sight on the country's streets and the Orthodox faith is recognized by the constitution as the official religion. When a new government was sworn in last year, the Archbishop of Athens blessed the prime minister and cabinet in a colorful ceremony.
According to opinion polls, about 80 percent of respondents believe in God. This makes Greeks among Europe's strongest Christians, although many are infrequent church-goers.
In a country where private charities and volunteering remain embryonic, the main burden of helping the destitute and downtrodden falls on church shoulders.
But attitudes towards the church are mixed and it often draws criticism for being too close to the state.
Many citizens believe it still owns too much property, pays too little in taxes, and generally fails to contribute its fair share as ordinary Greeks' tax bills soar under the austerity demanded by the country's bailout from the EU and IMF.
The church dismisses such notions. "It's a myth that we're drowning in money," said Father Irinaios Laftsis, a priest in the northern diocese of Alexandroupolis.
Over the past decades the church has transferred 96 percent of its property to the state. It also paid 12.6 million euros in taxes in 2011, it said last month, stressing that the church was treated no differently from any other non-profit organization.
To cover the shortage of priests, some bishops are permitting laymen to take services. These volunteers receive no state wages and don't wear the characteristic vestments.
For instance, a retired army officer recently started holding mass at Avantas, a village close to the eastern border with Turkey, said Father Irinaios. "Priests in small villages retire or pass away and there is nobody to replace them," he said. "We are going to have a huge problem."
The church is already slashing its operating expenses to cope with the rising costs of its social work. Last year, it spent almost 96 million euros on the 700-odd charities it runs.
"The crisis does not only affect our charities' functioning, it also threatens their very existence," Bishop Efstathios of Sparta said earlier this month. State pension funds had stopped paying contributions to the charities he runs for almost a year, he complained.
Building or restoration work on churches, some home to ancient frescoes and ikons, has often ground to a halt while many are not properly heated during the harsh Greek winter to cut back on fuel expenses.
Economies are being made at all levels. Church orders for candles dropped 40 percent this Easter season, a religious items merchant in the southern province of Arcadia told Reuters.
OFF THE AIR
In February, the church briefly took its 23-year-old, cash-strapped radio station off the air, depriving listeners of the daily mix of sermons and cultural programs.
Spreading poverty is making matters even worse. Austerity-pinched believers are cutting down on private donations while businesses are going belly up, depriving the church of rental income and swelling the queues in its soup kitchens.
"Needs are increasing while resources are falling," said Father Vassileios Hatzavas, who runs the Athens Archbishopric's poor relief fund.
As Greek unemployment soars to record levels, soup kitchen rations more than doubled in Athens last year to about 10,000 a day, not counting about 3,000 food packages sent to families each month, Hatzavas said.
As the government tightens its purse strings, the clergy are increasingly looking to alternative revenue sources.
Short of cash and with much of its still abundant real estate tied up in ownership disputes, the church is seeking cooperation with municipalities, the army or private business to develop sites, Hatzavas said.
For the first time, the church sent an official delegation last month to a religious tourism fair in Russia, the world's biggest Christian Orthodox country and a major tourism target. Also, Penteli monastery outside Athens is planning to build a solar park to tap into subsidies for renewable energy producers.
Some priests may have gone too far in their fund-raising zeal, such as Efraim, abbot of the 1,000-year-old Vatopedi monastery.
Efraim masterminded a scheme six years ago under which monks at the monastery on Mount Athos, a independent Orthodox peninsular enclave, persuaded government officials to exchange cheap farmland for prime Athens real estate.
Efraim has been charged with a fraudulent deal which prosecutors say cost the state tens of millions of euros.
Notwithstanding the Vatopedi affair, the crisis is offering the church a chance to reduce its financial dependence on the state via legitimate business enterprises, as other churches did decades ago.
"It's a matter of survival for the Church," Stavropoulos said. ($1 = 0.7621 euros)
April 20, 2012
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and First Lady Svetlana Medvedeva attended the consecration ceremony of the Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kronstadt. The ceremony was carried out by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, the Kremlin press service reports.
The Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kronstadt is the main shrine of the Russian Navy. The cathedral was founded in 1902 by decree of Emperor Nicholas II in honor of the 200th anniversary of the Russian Navy. In 1929 it was closed and desecrated.
“The Naval Cathedral has a very complicated history, in which, like in a drop of water, the dramatic 20th century history of our nation is reflected,” noted Medvedev. “It was built and consecrated in the beginning of the century; this was done by popular demand of sailors, who were personally involved in collecting donations and contributed to the construction of the cathedral in cooperation with the Admiralty. St John of Kronstadt also participated in the cathedral’s consecration. Unfortunately, because of subsequent events, the cathedral was desecrated and for a long time the building was used for other purposes. But a city like Kronstadt, a city that is home to Russia’s naval base, must have its own large naval cathedral.”
In 2009, at Patriarch Kirill’s initiative, a board of trustees was established to restore the cathedral. It is expected that the cathedral will be fully restored in time for the 100th anniversary of its first consecration, which will be celebrated in 2013.
April 20, 2012
In early March, a man broke into a church in Veliky Ustyug, 700 kilometers northeast of Moscow, and hacked more than 30 icons into pieces with an ax.
Two weeks later, another church was vandalized in the southern Russian town of Nevinnomyssk. The assailant smashed icons, beat up the priest, and ended his rampage by planting a hunting knife into a cross on the altar.
The Russian Orthodox Church says the incidents are the latest in a string of attacks against the church, which clerics claim is under assault from unspecified "enemies of the faith."
In a strongly worded statement earlier this month, the church said it was the victim of a coordinated "anti-Christian" campaign and called for a nationwide Divine Liturgy on April 22 in defense of the Russian Orthodox faith.
Patriarch Kirill himself has complained of being the target of an "information attack."
The campaign, the statement claims, began in February when the all-female dissident punk-rock group Pussy Riot staged an unsanctioned anti-Kremlin performance in Moscow's largest church.
The "punk prayer" performed at Christ the Savior Cathedral, in which Pussy Riot denounced the Russian Orthodox Church's close ties to the Kremlin and called on the Virgin Mary to "drive out" President-elect Vladimir Putin, has deeply polarized Russians.
Many backed the arrest of three Pussy Riot members over the performance, which caused outrage among churchgoers. A court in Moscow this week extended the trio's pretrial detention until June 24.
"I felt sick to my stomach," Taisya, an elderly churchgoer in the village of Bystritsa in the Kirov region, told RFE/RL. "I think God will punish them very severely. And the people shouldn't forgive this either; they shouldn't."
Her church, like hundreds of others, will hold a special liturgy on April 22 in line with the patriarchate's instructions.
'Let Them Make Penance'
Nikolai Fedko, the local priest, agrees that the authors of the "punk prayer" should not get away lightly.
"I would forgive them, but maybe some kind of physical punishment is necessary," Fedko says. "Let them make penance; let them fast. If they want to clean their souls, if they want to save Russia, they won't achieve anything by shouting. Churches and monasteries are being built. Let them go and help out."
But the punks' harsh treatment has also sparked indignation, including among believers, many of whom are upset that church leaders have called for harsh sentences.
The women -- two of whom have small children -- face up to seven years in prison on charges of hooliganism and inciting religious hatred.
Some suspect the alleged campaign against the Orthodox Church was merely thought up by the patriarchate to limit the backlash over its unforgiving stance toward Pussy Riot.
Nikolai Mitrokhin, a religion expert with the Research Center for East European Studies at Germany's University of Bremen, says there is no indication that attacks against Russian Orthodox churches have intensified in recent weeks.
"The church has been feeling much too confident recently. It felt the need to have Pussy Riot prosecuted, although such a performance would have gone unnoticed 10 years ago," Mitrokhin says. "And when public opinion started strongly condemning the church for its ruthless response, the church, with its leadership's mentality, claimed it was the victim of a conspiracy and started a real PR campaign."
Others accuse clerics of using Pussy Riot's controversial performance to deflect attention from a series of scandals that have hit the church of late.
The church has been criticized for a recent court ruling forcing a children's hospital outside Moscow to hand over half of its complex to the Russian Orthodox Church, which wants to set up a monastery there.
Then, the patriarchate was forced to apologize after being caught airbrushing a $40,000 Swiss watch from Kirill's wrist in a photograph on its website.
Perhaps the most damaging scandal, which further fueled anger at Kirill's ostentatious lifestyle, was a court ruling ordering former Health Minister Yury Shevchenko to pay a staggering 20 million rubles ($690,000) to the keeper of an elite apartment in central Moscow owned by Kirill.
The court said dust from the renovation of Shevchenko's apartment had drifted upstairs and ruined the patriarch's furniture.
Yakov Krotov, a priest who hosts an RFE/RL program on religion, believes it was this incident more than the others that really lies behind the church's current efforts to rally believers to its defense.
"This apartment incident proved explosive. A villa on the Canary Islands is beyond the cognitive horizon of average Russians, but any person can compare a 150-meter flat in the city center with his own 40 square meters, in which he lives with his two children, his mother-in-law, his grandfather and his great-grandmother," Krotov says.
"I think this is precisely why the patriarch got scared. This discredits him a lot more than any bank account in Switzerland."
Kirill also came under fire for calling Putin's 12-year rule a "miracle of God" ahead of the March 4 presidential election.
His brashness and his coziness with the Kremlin has much to do with what religion experts describe as mounting anticlerical feelings in Russia since his inception in 2009.
"A large portion of educated Russians had expected Kirill to steer the church on a more intellectual path, to bring the church closer to today's realities," Mitrokhin says. "Instead, Kirill has distinguished himself only with measures in support of the authorities and is exerting increasingly crude pressure on civil institutions. Kirill also likes to display wealth and luxury. He and his allies actively defend the idea that the church must be rich. All this has prompted a barrage of criticism."
And in another indication that the Russian Orthodox Church is in no mood to forgive detractors, a court outside St. Petersburg this month gave a blogger a suspended sentence for saying that "God is a myth."
The court confiscated his computer as further punishment.