Thursday, May 31, 2012

Newly-Revealed Hieromartyr Vlasios of Sklavaina

Hieromartyr Vlasios (Blaise) of Sklavaina (Feast Day – February 11 and December 9)

The Miraculous Uncovering of the Relics

One of the gifts from God to men is the revelation of St. Vlasios of Akarnanos and those martyred with him, in the year 1923 in the town of Palairou Sklavainon, Akarnanias. The small and unassuming town of Sklavaina is found at the base of the Mountains of Akarnanos a short distance from Palairou, and in the 1923 it was experiencing wondrous events.

For a few years before, the inhabitants of Sklavaina would see a priest in their sleep, who told them to dig to uncover his relics, indicating a certain place. None, however, knew where to dig, and fearing ridicule from others they kept it to themselves. The only thing they did was to build an icon stand in the place where the Saint showed them he was buried, in the name of St. Vlasios, Bishop of Sebaste. The dreams, however, continued much more, and St. Vlasios became more austere. And again, however, there was still hesitation.

The Saint especially appeared to Ms. Euphrosyne Katsara, a simple and pious woman who had dedicated her life to the worship of the Trinitarian God.

One night, Euphrosyne was staying at her daughter Sophia's house, who was suffering from typhoid fever and was on her death bed. During the night, while Euphrosyne was up praying, the room was illumined by an indescribable light and the doors and windows opened automatically. Amidst the light could be discerned the form of a venerable priest, dressed in a priestly stole, and holding a shepherd's rod in his hand. His form and appearance Euphrosyne discerned in detail, though her daughter could only see the light.

Then this priest turned towards Euphrosyne and told her: "Euphrosyne, I am St. Vlasios. Follow me that I may show you the place to dig to uncover my relics. I can't bear the sheep to trample upon me."

It should be noted that the tomb of the Saint had become a sheep pen.

Euphrosyne, astonished by what she experienced, took courage, and approached the Saint in all her simplicity: "My Saint, it is dark, and I would be eaten by wild dogs. And also, my child is very sick."

The Saint replied: "Follow me, Euphrosyne, and don't be afraid." And taking out a cross from around his neck, he made the sign of the cross on her sick daughter. Then, Euphrosyne took courage and followed the Saint into the night.

The darkness, however, dissolved by the light of the Saint. Reaching a place about 100 meters from the Saint's house, he told her: "Dig here", and began to mark the dirt with his rod in a circle. Having returned Euphrosyne to her house, he disappeared. There, her daughter had greatly improved, and in a few days she was totally healed. From that time on, St. Vlasios would appear to her and guide her.

Euphrosyne faced disbelief and skepticism from her neighbors. The Saint, however, continued his appearances to others, so that Euphrosyne would be believed. And at one point they began to dig in the place where they were shown. Euphrosyne told them that she had been informed by the Saint that his relics would be found on the third day of their work. On the second day, however, the worker despaired of their lack of progress, and dropped his tools and left. He eventually returned at Euphrosyne's insistence, and thus they reached the third day of their work.

At noon, as they were ready to abandon their efforts, they hit something hard. Waves of emotion and hope hit all those around, and banished their disbelief. When they removed the covering, a heavenly fragrance filled the air. The holy relics of the Saint were found! Their joy was indescribable. Among the relics were found a cross and five nails that looked as if they had been made that instant, and a stone plaque which wrote the date of 1006.

Euphrosyne, having gathered the relics with reverence, cleaned them and placed them back in the tomb. And though it was raining, the rain and winds did not affect them.

Then St. Vlasios appeared again to her and said: "I am happy that you found my relics, but you did not uncover my skull. As a result, you should keep digging to uncover it from the earth." And in reality, they began their work again, and found the Skull of the Saint.

The Saint directed that they build the Holy Altar of a church, by the blessing of the then Metropolitan of Aitolias and Akarnanias, who had gone himself to the tomb of the Saint to dig. St. Vlasios appeared and guided the founding of his church, appearing to people by day and by night. He was among them and strengthened them.

After the founding of the church, the Saint told Euphrosyne to go to Lefkada to a certain man who would paint the icon of the Saint. The iconographer, however, depicted St. Vlasios, Bishop of Sebaste. At the Saint's wishes, he made a new icon as the Saint was described by Euphrosyne.


The Life of St. Vlasios, as was revealed to the faithful

Details from the life and martyrdom of St. Vlasios were revealed to Euphrosyne, Fr. Arsenios Tsantalio, and Elder Paisios the Athonite.

St. Vlasios was an abbot or retired bishop in the Holy Monastery of the Entrance of the Theotokos, which was in the region of Sklavainon-Zaverdas, now Plairo. He endured death by martyrdom by Muslim pirates together with his fellow five monastics, and a multitude of Christian men, women and children in his flock, for their faith in Christ. He was beheaded, having previously been slowly nailed with five nails in his body, as was revealed at the uncovering of his relics. The executioners tried to burn the Saint's body, but it did not burn. The Christians who were saved returned and buried St. Vlasios, together with his five fellow martyrs, in a common tomb. The rest of the Christians were buried in a large mass grave.

Their martyrdom occurred on the 19th of December, a Sunday.

The revelations surrounding the life of St. Vlasios did not stop when God was well-pleased to reveal his holy relics. Many other new facts came to light in recent years. The continuous appearance of the Saint, and his continuous wonderworking power at the appeal to his holy name placed him as a bright star in the firmament. Much more could be written about it.


St. Vlasios Appears to Elder Paisios

Archimandrite Augoustinos Katsabires had entreated Elder Paisios to pray that the newly-revealed St. Vlasios of Sklavaina would appear to him. He hoped to learn his appearance so he could paint his icon.

It was the 21st of January 1980, the evening of the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. The Elder, having prayed at night in his cell with the prayer rope, saw appear before him amidst uncreated light an unknown Saint wearing a monastic mandya (of an abbot). Next to him on the wall of his cell, above the stove appeared the ruins of a Monastery. He felt indescribable joy and exultation, and wondered: "Which Saint is this?" Then he heard a voice from the Church: "It is St. Vlasios from Sklavaina."

Out of gratitude, and to thank the Saint for the honor which he showed him, he traveled to Sklavaina to venerate his grace-flowing relics.

Mr. Apostolos Papachristou mentions: "May 20, 1980, the Elder came to my house in Agrinio with the desire to travel to Sklavaina of Xeromeros to venerate the holy relics of St. Vlasaios of Sklavaina, after the Saint appeared to him in his cell. He stayed in our house one night and though we laid out clean linens for him, the Elder left them totally unused. When he went to Sklavaina, he venerated the Saint with prostrations, and taught all those around him.

Following this, the Elder ordered the icon of St. Vlasios from the Holy Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Koropi, Attica, having described the Saint's characteristics to the iconographer nun. When he received the icon, he was relieved, for she had exactly captured the Saint's image. He said: "It appears that the sister had piety and wrote this icon with prayer and fasting."

Every year he honored St. Vlasios' memory with a vigil alone in his cell. He, however, did not celebrate it on February 11th (the same day as the feast of St. Vlasios of Sebaste) when his memory is celebrated, but on December 19th, the day when he was martyred.


Apolytikion in the Third Tone
A new sun has shone upon us, though you struggled in former years, by the revelation of your divine relics, O our father, Hieromartyr Vlasios, you shine upon us with divine grace, therefore intercede with the Lord Who glorified you, that we be granted great mercy.


How To Distinguish A False Prophet From A True One


From The Shepherd of Hermas:

“How then, sir,” say I, “will a man know which of them is the prophet, and which the false prophet?”

“I will tell you,” says he, “about both the prophets, and then you can try the true and the false prophet according to my directions.

Try the man who has the Divine Spirit by his life. First, he who has the Divine Spirit proceeding from above is meek, and peaceable, and humble, and refrains from all iniquity and the vain desire of this world, and contents himself with fewer wants than those of other men, and when asked he makes no reply; nor does he speak privately, nor when man wishes the Spirit to speak does the Holy Spirit speak, but He speaks only when God wishes Him to speak. When, then, a man having the Divine Spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men who have faith in the Divine Spirit, and this assembly of men offers up prayer to God, then the angel of the prophetic Spirit, who is destined for him, fills the man; and the man being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks to the multitude as the Lord wishes. Thus, then, will the Spirit of Divinity become manifest. Whatever power therefore comes from the Spirit of Divinity belongs to the Lord.

Hear, then,” says he, “in regard to the spirit which is earthly, and empty, and powerless, and foolish. First, the man who seems to have the Spirit exalts himself, and wishes to have the first seat, and is bold, and impudent, and talkative, and lives in the midst of many luxuries and many other delusions, and takes rewards for his prophecy; and if he does not receive rewards, he does not prophesy. Can, then, the Divine Spirit take rewards and prophesy? It is not possible that the prophet of God should do this, but prophets of this character are possessed by an earthly spirit. Then it never approaches an assembly of righteous men, but shuns them. And it associates with doubters and the vain, and prophesies to them in a corner, and deceives them, speaking to them, according to their desires, mere empty words: for they are empty to whom it gives its answers. For the empty vessel, when placed along with the empty, is not crushed, but they correspond to each other. When, therefore, he comes into an assembly of righteous men who have a Spirit of Divinity, and they offer up prayer, that man is made empty, and the earthly spirit tees from him through fear, and that man is made dumb, and is entirely crushed, being unable to speak. For if you pack closely a storehouse with wine or oil, and put an empty jar in the midst of the vessels of wine or oil, you will find that jar empty as when you placed it, if you should wish to clear the storehouse. So also the empty prophets, when they come to the spirits of the righteous, are found [on leaving] to be such as they were when they came.

This, then, is the mode of life of both prophets. Try by his deeds and his life the man who says that he is inspired. But as for you, trust the Spirit which comes from God, and has power; but the spirit which is earthly and empty trust not at all, for there is no power in it: it comes from the devil.

Hear, then, the parable which I am to tell you. Take a stone, and throw it to the sky, and see if you can touch it. Or again, take a squirt of water and squirt into the sky, and see if you can penetrate the sky.”

“How, sir,” say I, “can these things take place? For both of them are impossible.”

“As these things,” says he, “are impossible, so also are the earthly spirits powerless and pithless. But look, on the other hand, at the power which comes from above. Hail is of the size of a very small grain, yet when it falls on a man’s head how much annoyance it gives him! Or, again, take the drop which falls from a pitcher to the ground, and yet it hollows a stone. You see, then, that the smallest things coming from above have great power when they fall upon the earth. Thus also is the Divine Spirit, which comes from above, powerful. Trust, then, that Spirit, but have nothing to do with the other.”

(9) Orthodoxy's Worship: The Liturgy After the Liturgy


By Protopresbyter George Metallinos

9. The Liturgy After the Liturgy

Ecclesiastical worship is the “Time-Space” in which the Christian ethos is shaped. During worship, the faithful rediscovers the proper meaning of a moral lifestyle, which cannot be shaped on the basis of a certain juridical relationship with God, but through the metamorphosis and the renovation of Creation and Man, in Christ. The Christian ethos is a liturgical one and it springs from one’s personal relationship with the Lord of the Church, Who offers Himself voluntarily “for the nourishment of the entire world”. This relationship, with its triple reference (Man-God-World) is realized during worship, according to the words of the Apostle Paul: “For, if you have also risen in Christ […] make dead your members on earth […] divesting yourselves of the old self […] and putting on the new …” (i.e.: So, if you have been resurrected along with Christ, then deaden everything earthen that is inside you, rejecting the old persona and donning the new one) (Colossians 3:1). This is the continuous “baptism” of the faithful within the new life of the mystery of faith.

In the Church’s worship, a person’s entire life is re-defined, now becoming Christ-centered. “Now everything is filled with light.” The faithful, having been flooded by this light, are invited to become a spiritual river – one that flows from the Holy Altar to irrigate the world salvifically. Ecclesiastical worship thus substantiates that which constitutes the Church’s offer in History. It does not provide any code of moral behavior or a system of moral rules; only a life and a society that can function as “yeast” that will leaven the world with its sanctifying presence, beginning from the micro-society. Participation in worship – if it is genuine – is a participation in the death of self-seeking and individualistic demands and a resurrection into the “in-Christ” reality, which is the purpose of the Church. The eschatological conscience that is inspired by Orthodox worship is oriented towards eschatological behaviors, by transcending the danger of secularization and any other compromises and configurations.

It is therefore understood that any alienation from the liturgical experience will, beyond other things, alter one’s beliefs and decompose one’s life, by transforming the ecclesiastical BEING into various anti-Christian substitutes (moralism, pietism, ritualism, etc.). Besides, we must not forget that the community ethos of Hellenism’s Orthodoxy and the free-spirited stance during the oppressive period of slavery had been shaped within Church worship: the only assembling of the population that never fell into decline. And this is a real blessing, thanks to which, by the Grace of God, in our difficult times, both our People and our Youth are once again finding the path that leads to the Church and Her worship.

At the end of the Divine Liturgy (this was its ancient ending), the Officiator would say to the laity: “Let us depart in peace”. This was not merely a formal announcement of the ending of a “religious duty”, but a motivational expression to relay the light of divine peace into the darkness of our world. The Church and Her Worship exist for the world – for its salvation. The Liturgy of the Church prepares the exit of the faithful into the world, both for testimony of the “Grandeurs of God”, as well as for the missionary calling for salvation in Christ. Christ’s sacrifice and His Resurrection, mysteries that are perpetually ever-present and experienced during worship, perpetually irrigate the world in a salvific manner. The faithful are those channels of Divine Grace that lead to the parched land of our societies – through which channels the “Light of Christ” can “shine on everyone” – shed its light on everything!

Bibliographical Notes:

Fr. G. D. Metallinos, The Theological Witness of Ecclesiastical Worship, Athens 1996.

Chr. Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality, Athens 1979.

Fr. John Zizioulas (Metropolitan of Pergamus), Creation as Thanksgiving: A Theological Approach to the Problem of Ecology, Athens 1992.

Fr. John Zizioulas (Metropolitan of Pergamus), "Eucharist and Kingdom of God", Synaxis, vol.49 (1994) – 51 (1994).

Evangelos G. Theodorou, Liturgical Lessons, Athens, 1986.

Fr. Al. Schmemann, Liturgical Rebirth and the Orthodox Church (Greek transl. by N. Christodoulou), Larnaca, Cyprus, 1989.

Fr. Al. Schmemann, The Church in Prayer – An Introduction to Liturgical Theology (Greek transl. by D. Tzerpos), Athens 1991.

P. N. Trembelas, The Principles and the Character of Christian Worship, Athens 19932.

Fr. Vlassis Feidas, see “Ecclesiastic History”, vol. Α’ – Β’ Athens 1992 and 1994.

Hans-Joachim Schultz, The Byzantine Liturgy – A Testimony of Faith and Symbolic Expression (Η Βυζαντινή Λειτουργία–Μαρτυρίa πίστεως και συμβολική έκφραση) (Greek transl. by D. Tzerpos), Athens 1998.

Source

The Accidental Discovery of Roman Catacombs on May 31, 1578


By Dan Graves

Forbidden to bury their dead in regular burial grounds, the Christians of Rome interred them in underground vaults used by the poor. Called catacombs, these were built outside the city and subject to severe building codes for fear they might collapse. So many martyrs found their final rest in these sites that Christians began to hold special memorial services in them. Except during the worst persecutions, Christians were allowed control of their own catacombs. Widespread use of catacombs for Christian burial seems to have dated from the 3rd century.

Christianity has transformed whatever it touched. It transformed even these gloomy crypts. On their walls Christians painted events from the Old and New Testaments. Christ and the apostles, Daniel's friends in the furnace, Christ as the Good Shepherd, the discovery of Moses in the bulrushes -- these are a few of the subjects rendered upon the rock-hard clay.

On this day, May 31, 1578, an entrance into the catacombs north of Rome, on the Via Salaria, was accidentally discovered. The import of the find was not then recognized. The man who would first understand its import was hardly two years old that day.

When he was just eighteen, Antonio Bosio committed himself to the lifelong study of archaeology. It was he who first recognized the significance of the entrance on the Via Salaria. In December 1593, before he turned twenty, Bosio explored the catacombs. Gradually he found links between them, for narrow passageways led from one to another. Some passages were blocked. Using his own eyes and questioning peasants, he sought additional entrances and found thirty. During one dry period, however, from 1600 to 1618, he found only two. What tenacity to keep the search alive for so long in face of so little fruit!

Twenty seven years after his first descent, he completed a book on the catacombs. Roma Sotterranea, he named it. Beginning with the Vatican cemetery, he worked in a counterclockwise direction around Rome, describing each of the many catacombs he had visited (by no means all). Colleagues prepared prints for it. It was not published, however, until five years after he died.

Like every good archaeologist, Bosio added historical detail to his findings. He wrote, for instance, of the 4,000 Christians martyred by Hadrian on the Via Appia rather than deny the Christ who redeemed them. Unfortunately, not everyone who entered the catacombs had as lofty motives as Bosio. Fortune hunters came to plunder the graves for relics to resell with spurious stories.

To an accidental discovery and Antonio Bosio's quick wit, we owe a chapter of Christianity which otherwise might have been lost. Some of the catacombs he explored have since been destroyed.

Bibliography:

"Bosio, Antonio." New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Thomson, Gale, 2002.

"Bosio, Antonio." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Goodyear, W.H. Roman and Medieval Art. (Meadville, Pennsylvania: Flood and Vincent, 1893).

Stevenson, James. The Catacombs: rediscovered monuments of early Christianity. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978, especially p. 50ff.

Various encyclopedia articles on Bosio, and catacombs.

The Necessity of an Orthodox Presence in Latin America


By His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras of Central America and the Caribbean

“A massive religious transformation has unfolded over the past forty years in Latin America and the Caribbean. In a region where the Catholic Church could once claim a near monopoly of adherents, religious pluralism has fundamentally altered the social and religious landscape." (Steigemga, 2008)i

“The public face of religion in Latin America has been transformed in the last half century.... The Christianity of the future will be marked by vigorous competition and growing pluralism in an increasingly open and competitive civil society and political order.” (Levine, 2007)ii

Current research, explains that Latin America, an area which was predominantly registered as Roman Catholic, is undergoing a radical religious change. The reasons cited by the above research generally falls into one of these three categories: 1. “Catholicism came to Latin America through conquest.” (Levine, 2007) In other words, it was forced upon a population, rather than a spontaneous growth of spirituality from the indigenous population. 2. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Catholic church accepted radical changes in order to conform to a newer society. 3. The clergy status was predominantly “restricted to whites of legitimate birth” (Levine, 2007).

Latin Americans have a respect for the Greek culture: its arts, language, and, of recent times, they have grown a deep respect for the ancient Orthodox Christian faith. Additionally, there exists in Latin America a serious respect for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the person of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. (His All Holiness has recently visited Cuba, Mexico and Panama where he was officially invited by the Presidents of these Countries and appropriately honored as the Spiritual Leader for World Orthodoxy.) Large groups of indigenous persons who researched the foundations of Christianity have recently asked to be brought into the Orthodox faith. One group in particular in Guatemala has about 500,000 participants.

The Orthodox Church does not proselytize – so how has this come about?

The Orthodox Christian faith may feel comfortable to a Roman Catholic in some ways, as it has a vague similarity to Roman Catholicism with a structured uniform service. However, Orthodoxy varies greatly in aspects which allow a person to express a deep sense of spirituality within the confines of humanity, and a historical tradition extending from Christ and as He is revealed in the Old and New Testaments. As the Roman Catholic Church has made significant dogmatic changes since the year 1054, the ancient Orthodox Christian faith has remained unchanged since her formation as declared by the first Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The Holy Metropolis of Mexico was initially established 16 years ago to serve three existing Greek-speaking parishes of Mexico, Panama and Venezuela. However, since the arrival of Metropolitan Athenagoras and the establishment of the Holy Metropolis of Mexico, the Metropolis is rapidly bringing Orthodoxy to the multitude of indigenous Latin Americans seeking the spiritual comfort and the redemptive message of the Christian East.

Would you consider to partner with us in building the foundation of the Orthodox Church at this crucial point in Latin American church history? Your recurring gift will help our continued support.


Notes:

i Timothy J. Steigenga and Edward L. Cleary; Conversion of a Continent, 2008.

ii Levine, D. "The Future of Christianity in Latin America", Journal of Lain American Studies 41: 121-145, (2007).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Temptation of Life's Unforeseen Circumstances


By Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra

We have a continuous temptation before us.

The unforeseen constantly occurs in our life.

You come to the monastery to find spiritual life, and you encounter evil. This is unforeseen.

You ask for a cell on the side of the monastery where there is no humidity, you acquire it, but you believe the sea brings on allergies, so that you have no joy night or day. Immediately your thoughts will tell you, "get up and leave". This is unforeseen.

I approach you with the idea that you are a good person, and I see that you are upside down. This is unforeseen.

The unforeseen constantly presents itself to us, because we have will and desires.

The unforeseen are contrary to our will and desires, which is why they appear to be unforeseen, but in essence they aren't.

Because a person who loves God expects anything and always says: "Thy will be done".

Rain, storms, hail and lightning come? "Blessed be the Name of the Lord".

Because these things cost our fleshliness, this is why we see them as unforeseen.

To prevent agitation, therefore, every time you get upset, so that you do not have anxiety and get troubled, expect anything, so you can endure whatever comes.

Always say - "welcome sickness", "welcome failure", "welcome martyrdom".

This will bring gentleness, without which there is no spiritual life.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos

(8) Orthodoxy's Worship: Worship and Spiritual Life


By Protopresbyter George Metallinos

8. Worship and Spiritual Life

The course towards theosis (deification) is attained through the induction of one’s whole existence into the body of Christ, with a lifestyle that will allow the uninterrupted collaboration of Man with the Grace of God. The main constituent of this lifestyle is ascesis, as a permanent struggle of man. This is what is meant by the words of Christ, that: “the kingdom of heaven is taken with violence, and by violence it is seized” (Matthew 11:12). Ascesis is a continuous course of repentance, by which the faithful becomes the recipient of the Grace of God, without which, his existence is deadened. On the contrary, with ascesis, our revolutionary nature is deadened, only to regain its God-centeredness.

However, the ascetic endeavors of the faithful do not have a moralistic character; that is, they do not aspire to improving one’s character and behaviors, but to enable the participating in the celebration and the rejoicing of the ecclesiastical body. That is why it generates in the faithful a sense of unspoken joy, refuting every artificial (pharisaic) frowning and faked gloom, which are nothing more than manneristic forms of pietism. Christian ascesis is a voluntary participating in an obedience to Christ and the Saints for the mortification of our personal will and its eventual alignment with the will of Christ (Philip. 2:5).

Orthodoxy’s piety, however, is liturgical in nature. This is why ascesis is perceived as being supplementary to liturgical life. Ecclesiastical worship is festive in its ethos. Ascesis is the foretasting of joy through partaking of the Church’s festivity, but it is also a preparation of the faithful for their entry into this spiritual celebration. It is the path for one’s return to the “natural condition” (the authenticity of human existence), so that the passage to the “hyper-natural” (where Worship elevates us to) may be made possible. Besides, that which is sought in worship –according to the blessed Chrysostom – is “a sedate soul, an aroused intellect, a humble heart, a strengthened mind, a cleansed conscience”.

The spiritual progress, which the faithful attains through his personal ascesis, is “churchified” during worship; it is incorporated in the body of Christ, and from being a “personal” event, it becomes an ecclesiastical one – in other words, a social one. If individuality does not become “churchified”, it cannot be saved. Outside the body of Christ, not only can there be no salvation, but even the most perfect of virtues remains nothing more than a “woman’s unclean rag” (Isaiah 64:6), in other words, something chokingly filthy. Worship renders the faithful’s life a life “in Christ”. Ascesis provides this possibility, since the person who is governed by his passions cannot truly glorify God. In ascesis, a “cleansed heart” is the objective. (Psalm 50:12), because it is only ‘in a cleansed heart” that man can possibly see God (Matthew 5:8), thus attaining the purpose of his existence.

This is what the resurrectional hymn by Saint John the Damascene expresses: “Let us cleanse ourselves of our senses, and we shall have sight of the unapproachable light of the Resurrection: Christ Himself, ablaze…” Through the Divine Eucharist, worship leads us into theosis (deification), provided however that there is a cleanliness of heart and a transformation of our senses, from physical to spiritual ones. If worship, therefore, is the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, ascesis is the road to the kingdom. Worship defines and reveals the purpose of our existence; ascesis collaborates towards the realization of this purpose.

Buranovskiye Babushki Use Eurovision Winnings To Build Church


May 29, 2012

The Buranovskiye Babushki, as was planned, will send all money won for the second place on the Eurovision 2012 Song Contest for building a church in their native village Buranovo in Udmurtia.

"The building of the church has already started. Then we'll certainly call a priest and consecrate the church," the band administrator Maria Tolstukhina told journalists.

She said that the singers were happy about their success. "Certainly, these are the tears of joy. It's happiness," the administrator said.

In his turn, renowned missionary, rector of several Moscow churches Hegumen Sergy (Rybko), who contacted the Buranovskiye Babushki, congratulated the band on the second place on the Eurovision.

"In fact, you did not compete with anyone, but showed high creative skills and the spiritual strength of Orthodox Christians," Father Sergy said in his letter to the Buranovskiye Babushki as its copy was conveyed to Interfax-Religion.

According to him, the Buranovskiye Babushki showed the world that "it is possible to live modestly and not only for yourself and human 'pleasures', but for the sake of high spiritual goals."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Olet, the Beloved Bird of Elder Paisios


The following is a letter written by Elder Paisios the Athonite to the nuns of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti sent in the Spring of 1975. At the time he lived in the Kalyva of the Holy Cross.

In your last letter you sent me an icon of Adam and the animals in Paradise. So I thought I would send in my turn the drawing of a bird, my closest friend, because if I sent you the drawing of a snake, I think you would be captured by fright. I have named him Olet, which in Arabic means "child". He lives in a hill five hundred meters from my kalyva. Every afternoon I bring him goodies and treats. As soon as I give him something to eat, he takes a little and leaves. I call for him to come, but he leaves and after a little while he comes secretly from behind and hides under my jacket. When I go to leave he walks behind me at a distance of about one hundred meters and I, so that he will not continue coming behind me and get tired, leave him a crumb so that he may occupy himself, and I leave quickly so he will lose me.

Lately he has abandoned his asceticism and seeks good times! He neither eats broken rice or soaked dry bread, but only worms, which he wants me to put on a "plate" - the palm of my hands - and he climbs up there and eats. Progress!

There are days when I celebrate with Olet and his partner. One can say: "Why do you make exceptions for Olet? Why don't you do the same for other birds?" I respond: "When I call for Olet to come, he brings with him other birds, friends of his, who run right to the food, but Olet comes out of obedience and love. Even when he is hungry, he sits a while with me and forgets food; I remind him. And now that the weather has turned beautiful and he finds bugs to eat, when I call he still comes out of obedience, even though he is full and not bothered by hunger. Well, how can you not rejoice more for this philotimo bird than the other birds?

Many times I am moved by such great love that I want to squeeze him in my clutch, but I fear that I will be like the monkey which out of love squeezes its child and in the end suffocates them. So I clench my heart, and I rejoice for him from afar, so I will not harm him.

One day I was late to go to the hill and Olet, because he was chirping a lot, had relaxed early. I left his food and departed without seeing him. The next day I left to go very early, because I was worried that a hawk had eaten him. When he saw the food that I had left overnight, his "thoughts bothered him" and he went halfway and waited for me. When he saw me he was like a crazy person because of his joy. I gave him to eat, but he wanted company more than food. I marvel at his asceticism and the love he has, as well as his gratitude. Pray that I may imitate his virtues.

I believe you will not complain, since I told you everything, that I did not receive the consent of Olet. I hope I will not upset him, even though these things will not be known to the outside. You have the greetings of his and mine, the many.

At my kalyvi I not only have birds of the air, but all the animals come here - jackals, hares, ferrets, turtles, lizards, snakes - they get their full from the overflow of my love, and I am satisfied myself when they are satisfied, and all of us together, "the beasts, the cattle, the birds and the reptiles", "praise, bless, and worship the Lord."

Translated by John Sanidopoulos

(7) Orthodoxy's Worship: The Sanctification of the Entire World


By Protopresbyter George Metallinos

7. The Sanctification of the Entire World

The objective of ecclesiastical worship is the sanctification of the entire world. Man’s life is sanctified, but so is the environment that surrounds him. Within the boundaries of worship, Man is projected in Christ as the master and the king of Creation, who is called upon to refer himself, along with Creation, to the Creator – the source of their existence and sanctification.

a) The Sanctification of Time: The liturgical year is the transcending “in Christ” of the “calendar year” and the transformation of the calendar into a feast-day almanac. With Her celebrations and Her services, the Church sanctifies and transforms the year of our daily lives, by unifying and orienting it towards the kingdom of God. Liturgically speaking, Time ceases to be a simple, natural framework, inasmuch as it is transformed into a point of reference used for determining the content of worship. This is evidenced by the terminology used: “Matins” (=morning), “Vespers” (=evening), “Midnight”, “Hours”, etc.... From the liturgiological aspect, the organizing of the annual cycle on the basis of time periods (day, week, year), with an analogous organizing of one’s very life, is called the “Annual Liturgy”.

The liturgical year “baptizes” Man’s entire life into the worship of the Church. The repetition of the feast-days every year renews the catechesis of the faithful and it gives a special meaning to the customary (Greek) wishes: “and next year, also”, or, “for many more years” – wishes that refer to new opportunities for learning. The liturgical year is linked to the Church’s cycle of feast-days, whose basic structural element is festivity. There is a cycle of “mobile” feast-days with Easter at its centre, and a cycle of “immobile” feast days, with the Epiphany and Christmas at its centre. The periods of the Triodion and the Pentecostarion belong to the former cycle, having received their names from the respective liturgical books that predominate therein.

The Triodion period is a sectioned one, just as the human body is sectioned: the first four weeks can be regarded as the body’s extremes; the body itself is the Great Lenten period, and the Holy Week of Easter is the head. Hymns, readings and rituals all comprise a spiritual preparation for one’s participation in the Holy Week and the Resurrection. From Easter Day, the period of the Pentecostarion begins. Easter and Pentecost were already feast-days of the pre-Constantine order, and albeit Hebrew in origin, they now had a Christian content. Christ and His Passion are what differentiated the Christian from the Jewish Passover-Pascha, which had now become a symbol of the new life; of the divine kingdom. The coming of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost inaugurated the new century.

The cycle of immobile feast-days was organized with the day of the Epiphany at its centre (6th January), a date that originally also commemorated the Birth of Christ. The separation of the two celebrations for historical and theological reasons was effected around the middle of the 4th century. With Christmas as their basis, the other, Magisterial feast-days (Circumcision, Baptism, Presentation, Transfiguration) were each put in their respective place. But the Theotokos also comprises a “liturgical sacrament”. The feast-days relating to the Holy Mother (Birth, Presentation, Annunciation, Dormition, etc.) are all linked to the Magisterial feast-days, expressing the same sacrament. The celebrating of the memory of Saints is an extension of the liturgical honour bestowed on the Theotokos. What seems odd for some people however is that the Church “celebrates” by honouring the memory – that is, the dormition – of Her children and not their birth. We Orthodox Christians do not celebrate our birthdays; we celebrate on the day of commemoration of the Saint whose name we bear. In Christian terms, a “birthday” is the day of one’s ‘dormition’, i.e., the day that one is born into eternity. The Saints embody the “common life” and are projected as the leaders of mankind, in its course for making man real. Our nation’s association with the Saints – with the Most Holy Mother at the head – is apparent in the two-fold festivity that is performed in their memory, both inside the temple with the Holy Altar at the centre, and outside the temple, with the secular table at the centre. The book of the lives of Saints is a cherished article for the people, as it is seen as a “hoarding” of the Church’s historical memory and a guideline for the faithful. The course of the faithful is shaped, “along with all the Saints”.

The liturgical organizing of Time in its micro-temporal dimension is analyzed in the weekly cycle of services and the day-to-evening services. The weekly cycle is composed of two parts: the Saturday-Sunday cycle and the five-day cycle. Each day of the week is dedicated to the memory of a certain soteriological event or a certain Saint: Sunday is dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ; Monday to the Angels; Tuesday to Saint John the Baptist; Wednesday and Friday are respectively linked to Judas’ betrayal and Christ’s Crucifixion (which is why these are two days of fasting); on Friday, the Church also commemorates the presence of the Holy Mother by the Cross; Thursday is dedicated to the Apostles and Saint Nicholas; and Saturday is dedicated to the deceased.

The weekly cycle was organized on the basis of Sunday (Greek=Kyriaké), the first celebration – historically - to be set down by the Church. Being directly related to the Lord (Greek=Kyrios) Jesus Christ (Cor.I, 12:3), it represents a confession of faith unto Him. Being also related to the “eighth day”, it was linked to the Divine Eucharist as a permanent and immobile day for its commemoration. The Sunday “day of rest” – which was imposed by Constantine the Great in 324 A.D. – did not relate Sunday with the Sabbath, but instead portrayed itself as the transcending of the Sabbath. Sunday is “the first of the Sabbaths (=the first day of every week), the Queen and the Mistress”, we chant. The Sabbath reflects the natural life of the world, whereas Sunday represents the eschatological day of entry into the new aeon.

The day-to-evening services include the following: The 24-hour cycle begins with Vespers (see Genesis 1: “and it became evening, and it became morning….”) and its services coincide with the ancient division of Time (evening, midnight, dawn, third, sixth, ninth hours). The services are: the “Esperinos” (Vespers = of the day’s end) or “Lychnikon” (=of the lamp), the Major and Minor “Apodeipnon” (=after the evening meal); the “Mesonyktikon” (=of midnight); the “Orthros” (=of dawn) – the most extensive and theologically opulent service, and the “Ores” (=Hours), which are the 1st, the 3rd, the 6th and the 9th, in commemoration of the major moments affecting our salvation (the Crucifixion, the Death of Christ, the descent of the Holy Spirit).

But, while all of ecclesiastical worship was indissolubly interwoven with natural Time, the Divine Liturgy remained beyond Time and its confinements. Thus, it does not belong to the cycle of day-to-evening services, nor are any of the other services regarded as preparation for it. That is why it can be performed at any time – morning, noon or night – as the par excellence celebration and festivity of the Church.

b) The Sanctification of Life: The epicenter of the sanctifying function of the Church is Man. From the moment of his birth into this world and his spiritual re-birth in the Church, through to the last moment of his presence in this lifetime, ecclesiastical worship constantly provides Man with opportunities for “ecclesiasm” and continuous rebirth. The catholicity of the spiritual and everyday caring of the Church for Her faithful is evident in the liturgical book “Major Book of Benedictions”. Its very structure and its texts embody the objective of the Church, which is the “complete” incorporation of Man in the ecclesiastical body, the struggle for victory over the devil, the demonic powers of the world and sin, and the confronting of everyday problems and needs. The wealth and the variety of the benedictions and the Services of the book of Benedictions is indicative of the love and the concern of Orthodoxy for the personal and the social life of the faithful; for the cycles of his life, and his more common and everyday labours.

The Church sanctifies Man from the moment of his birth, giving Her blessing to the new mother and the newborn child, preparing the latter to be eventually received into Her bosom. After all, the sanctification of the family begins from the Sacrament of Marriage. On the 8th day, the infant receives its name with a special liturgical act, and its personal “otherness” is thus confirmed – something that is afterwards proven by its incorporation in the ecclesiastical body. On the 40th day, the infant is “led to” the temple to be “churchified”, to begin its ecclesiastical life, which corresponds to the commencement of adult catechesis.

After this spiritual preparation, Baptism follows; this is the entry into the body of Christ, which gives Man the possibility of living the life of Christ and of constantly receiving His Grace. Infant baptism, familiar since Christian antiquity, can be comprehended only in the cases of pious parents and godparents - in other words, of a Christian background – and cannot be imposed by any legislation. Through Baptism, the “neophyte” is inducted into a specific community – the local Church – by participating in the ethos and the way of existence of the Church. The more perfect this induction is, the more consistently will his Christian status evolve.

But the faithful is called upon to augment the gift that he received through his baptism, by orienting his life in a Christ-centered manner. Thus, after “nature” (=soul and body) has died and risen (=immersion) in the baptismal font, the human persona is also sanctified through the Sacrament of Chrismation which functions as the personal Pentecost of the faithful, so that through his spiritual labor, he will become a “temple” of God and his life a veritable Liturgy. The Sacrament of Repentance (Confession) provides the opportunity for a continuous transcending of sin and the transforming of death into life.

Furthermore, the Church blesses the “paths” that the faithful voluntarily choose for their perfection: either marriage (in Christ), or monastic living. Both are “sacraments of love”, with a direct referral to Christ. Marriage, when preserved within the framework of a life in Christ, leads to the transcendence of the flesh and to one’s perfect delivery unto Christ, thenceforth coinciding with monastic ascesis. In this way, the Sacrament of Marriage reveals the truth of the Church without being used to serve conventional expediencies of everyday living. Wherever marriage is perceived simply as a moralistic adjustment or a “legal transaction”, “political” marriage is preferred, which may be a legal act, but it is nevertheless a marriage that is not spiritually “equivalent” to the ecclesiastical one, which is a Sacrament of Grace.

Furthermore, ecclesiastical worship provides sanctifying acts for every moment of one’s life. In fact, through them, it proves that it is not a “spiritualist” (abstractly spiritual) affair, or a “religious” affair, because the sanctification it provides also constitutes a proposal for confronting the everyday problems of each person. In one of the Matins Prayers, we ask God to grant Man His “terrestrial and celestial gifts”.

There are blessings even for instances in life that seem trite and insignificant, such as (for example) “for a child’s haircut”, “for when a child leaves to learn the sacred texts”, “for ill-natured children”, etc.. Other blessings refer to the intake of food, the various “vocations” and works of the faithful (eg, travels) as well as “professions”; inter-personal relations are blessed, so that there will be justice, peace and love; God’s Grace is requested for man’s tribulations, for his illnesses, his mental health and his psychosomatic passions. An important place in the worship of the Church is given to death: the cessation of the body’s collaboration with the soul, until the moment of the “common resurrection”. The Church does not overlook this supreme existential event of life; in fact, She stands near the person from the moment that death makes its appearance. She confesses the near-death person and offers him Holy Communion; She inters his body, which has now been delivered to mortification and corruption, sending off the soul to its last journey and beseeching Christ to receive His child, who has abandoned the world with the hope of acquiring “eternal life”. The funeral service is one of the tenderest and touching texts in ecclesiastical worship.

In parallel to the above, the church offers prayers for various moments of public life: serious circumstances and disasters, dangers, malfunctions in public life, both in the micro-society of the village or the town, as well as the macro-community of the homeland and the nation. The relative prayer material refers to national anniversaries, the structures of civil life, education, the armed forces, public health… This incomparable liturgical wealth remains broadly unknown and so we remain ignorant of all those elements that can give meaning to our lives.

c) The Sanctification of Material Creation: Creation, both liturgically and theologically, is the broader territory provided for man’s fulfillment; it is the framework of his everyday life – especially in rural communities, where this is perceived more profoundly. Man’s association with Creation constitutes a special theme of ecclesiastical worship and it unfolds during special services that prove the ecclesiastical acknowledgement of material creation (bread), which was assumed by Christ’s human nature and which is constantly transformed into the “flesh” of Christ during the Divine Eucharist.

Our liturgical act blesses and sanctifies water, wine, sustenance, living and working quarters, flora, fauna, natural phenomena (wind, thunder, rain, earthquake, etc.), for the protection, finally, and the salvation of man. During worship, the faithful offers the Creator’s gifts - in lieu of his giving thanks - so that they might be “baptized” in Divine Grace and be returned to the offerers, for their own sanctification and preservation. During the Divine Liturgy, “one could say that a march, a parade of the whole world towards the Holy Altar is taking place” (Fr. John Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamus). This negates every notion of an opposition between the natural and the supernatural, since the creation being offered to God (bread and wine) becomes the carrier of the Uncreated (Grace) and sanctifies the participants.

The God-centeredness of existence is inspired by the theology of such texts. Through nature, Man is referred to the Creator, by comprehending the world as a gift of the Creator, learning to use Creation eucharistically (with gratitide) and acquiring the empirical certainty that the issue is not “what does man eat”, but with what presuppositions he eats something, given that sanctified nature co-sanctifies man also. Thus, the faithful learns to become an “officiator” of Creation, in a “cosmic liturgy” that is officiated by the Saints. The Saints, with their imperishable and miracle-working relics, reveal the destination of Creation, which are its sanctification and its incorruptibility. Each faithful is invited to our worship, so that he can be wholly sanctified; so that he will be enabled to co-sanctify Creation along with him, through his association with it.

Video: The Fall of an Empire - The Lesson of Byzantium



THE TEXT OF THE FILM “THE FALL OF AN EMPIRE—THE LESSON OF BYZANTIUM”

The YouTube video above is the first of nine parts. The entire video can be seen in one video here.

The Roman Chain of the Golden Horn


The Romans had this chain stretched across the mouth of the Golden Horn to keep out the navy of Mehmed II in 1453 during the siege of Constantinople. Each link is about 2 feet long and they were only broken once, during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Desiring to get his fleet into the Golden Horn from the Bosphorus and prevented by these chains, Mehmed ordered that several ships be rolled on land across Galata on greased logs two days later. Moving around the Genoese colony of Pera, the ships were able to be refloated in the Golden Horn behind the chain. They are currently on display in the Istanbul Military Museum, as well as other parts in the city.





Monday, May 28, 2012

The Walls of Constantinople Still Stand


By coincidence, the dates and days of the week in 1453 coincide with those this year, and May 29th falls once again on a Black Tuesday. In 1453 the Ottoman Turks used a giant cannonade, tossing granite projectiles that weighed a full ton, to tear down the walls of Constantinople and conquer the city, and though the city eventually was conquered, the walls continued to stand despite the damage. The walls of Constantinople still stand, although there have been attempts to tear them down once they lost their defensive purpose. Right up to the end of the 20th century plans were made to destroy them. The railway from Europe runs right through them along the Sea of Marmara. Sultan Abdulaziz, who reigned from 1861 to 1876, was eager to tear them down during his reign because he felt they weren’t modern and western enough – these obviously were in the days before tourism. Some parts of the walls came down in order to widen the roads that ran through them – after all they weren’t built to accommodate the automobile and a city with millions of inhabitants. Even in the 1980s and 1990s there was nationalistic talk of tearing them down because the walls weren’t Turkish, but there was heavy opposition. Because of tourism, a large-scale restoration program has been under way since the 1980s, which allows the visitor to appreciate their original appearance. But the restoration program has been criticized for use of inappropriate materials and poor quality of work and destroying historical evidence. During the earthquake of 1999 some restored sections collapsed while the original structure underneath remained intact, as if showing contempt for the shoddy work that had been done on them.

For more on the walls of Constantinople, read here.



The Great Mystery of Matrimony


By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

The Mystery of Matrimony

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cling to his wife and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

It is God's will that the human race multiply; it is God's artful manner how the human race is being multiplied. It is God's mystery how man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife. To leave your parents does not mean to abandon your parents but rather to become parents yourself. When children become parents, they are no longer only children, but are companions of their parents. When wedded sons learn of the mystery and pain of childbirth, they then respect their parents even more. The marital union can never free a man from having respect and obedience toward his parents. The original commandment of God to honor your parents must be fulfilled. But, according to the natural cycle of things, a man leaves his parents and becomes a parent himself; he becomes a founder of a new future while his parents depart, having completed their role in the world. However, everything is not in "leaving" the parents. By a certain incomprehensible mystery, man clings to his wife and detaches himself from his parents. St. Theodoretus writes: "Christ Himself left his Father on high and united Himself to the Church."

My brethren, matrimony is a great and miraculous mystery, one of the greatest mysteries of God's plan. A pure and honorable marriage is overly replete with sublimeness. A pure and honorable marriage, in the fear of God, is a vessel of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Whoever disdains marriage disdains the Spirit of God. Whoever defiles marriage with impurity, blasphemes against the Spirit of God. Whoever abstains from marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God must, in a different manner, prepare himself as a vessel of the Holy Spirit and, in the spiritual realm, make himself fruitful in order not to be cut down as the barren fig tree.

O God, Holy Spirit Almighty, assist those who are in the state of matrimony, that in purity, fear and mutual love be as the Church of God in which You joyfully abide and govern all things for good.

The Two-fold Mystery of Marriage

"This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32).

Great is the mystery when a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife. The apostle himself, who was raised to the third heaven and who saw many mysteries of heaven, calls the physical union of men and women in marriage on earth "a great mystery." That is the mystery of love and life and only the mystery of Christ's bond with His Church is greater. Christ is called the Bridegroom and the Church, the Bride. Christ loves His Church so much that, because of Her, He left His heavenly Father - remaining with Him, of course, in unity of substance and divinity - and descended to earth and attached Himself to His Church and suffered for Her so that, by His Blood cleanse Her from every sin and spot and make Her worthy to be called His Bride. With His love He warms the Church, with His Blood He feeds the Church, and by His Holy Spirit He causes the Church to live and sanctifies and adorns Her. What a husband is to a wife, so Christ is to the Church. Man is the head of a woman and Christ is the Head of the Church. A husband loves his wife as his own body. A woman listens to her husband and the Church listens to Christ. A husband loves his wife as he loves his own body and Christ loves the Church as His own Body. A husband loves his wife as he loves himself and a wife reveres her husband, and Christ loves the Church as He loves Himself and the Church reveres Christ. Since no one hates his own flesh but rather warms and nourishes it so also Christ warms and feeds the Church as His own Body. And every individual human soul is the bride of Christ the Bridegroom and the assembly of all the faithful is the bride of Christ the Bridegroom. The kind of relationship of a believing man toward Christ so also is the relationship of the entire Church toward Christ. Christ is the Head of that great Body which is called the Church, and which is in part visible and in part invisible.

O my brethren, this is a great mystery! It is revealed to us according to the measure of our love toward Christ and of our fear of Christ's judgment.

O Lord, Gentle Savior cleanse us, save us and adorn our souls that we may be worthy of the immortal and indescribable unity with You in time and in eternity. To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

Documentary: Constantine the Great



This documentary is a fine production, but sometimes walks the line between truth and fiction, especially towards the end. It avoids any supernatural explanations for certain incidents in Constantine's life, but does not necessarily discount them either. Towards the end, following the defeat of Licinius, Constantine is depicted as a bit maniacal and power hungry, of which there is no evidence, and the documentary suggests a certain hypocrisy in Constantine for killing Licinius and his son (during an unnecessary emotional scene), and his wife Fausta and son Crispus. An objective history would have been better, such as stating that Licinius was hanged by Constantine for conspiring to raise troops among the barbarians, and Fausta and Crispus were killed for an unmentionable crime that not even his successors and her sons repealed. For the most part, however, this documentary is useful and moderate, just completely ignore the last few minutes if you seek an objective history.

St. Nikodemos on the Prophecies of St. Andrew the Fool for Christ


In his Synaxaristes For the Twelve Months of the Year (vol. 3), St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite makes an important note for the commemoration of St. Andrew the Fool for Christ on May 28th. He does not write anything about the life of this Saint, but after stating that he reposed in peace and giving the Verse of Praise, he notes the following reason for not writing anything further:

"The Life of this Saint Andrew is preserved in a manuscript of much breadth, a book almost of great composition, in which are contained numerous prophecies concerning the future. I will never issue this here, since it is said it contains some things that are doubly unacceptable, and it is found at Iveron, as well as other places."

St. John the Russian and the Collapse of the School


In 1862, after attending liturgy in the nearby Church of Saint Basil, an Orthodox woman told the Christians that the previous night she had dreamt that St. John the Russian had risen up from his coffin and gone to the neighboring school, where, with his own hands, he held up the collapsing roof. As she finished her story, they all heard a tremendous crash, and ran outside to see that the roof of the school had indeed collapsed over the schoolhouse. Expecting the twenty children to be dead, the despairing villagers ran to lift up the heavy roof beams, but to their astonishment all of the children crawled out of the debris unharmed. They told the villagers that, seconds before the roof collapsed, they had heard a terrible creaking sound and hidden under their desks. When the roof fell, the beams were supported on the desks, and no one was hurt.

Video: Trisagion at the Tomb of Dostoevsky


On Sunday 27 May 2012 the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos, together with other bishops and clergy, visited the tomb of Fyodor Dostoevsky at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in Russia, where he performed a Trisagion Service for the repose of the soul of the great Russian writer.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod


By Sergei V. Bulgakov

Devoting this Sunday to the memory of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, the Holy Church sings:

"Let us, the pious assembly of true believers, celebrate today in prayerful memory the God-bearing Fathers from every part of the world who assembled in the brilliant city of Nicaea. For these pious wise ones put down the godless teachings of the terrible Arius, and expelled him from the unity of the Catholic Church, and clearly taught everyone to profess their faith in the consubstantial and coeternal Son of God, existing before the ages, expressing this clearly in the symbol of faith". 

The heresy of Arius was one of the most destructive heresies.* It concerned the teaching about the divinity of the Son of God, i.e. that main doctrine of Christianity, on which all our faith and the whole Church of Christ is founded, which makes it the unique basis for all hope of our salvation. If the Arian heresy, rejecting the divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, then exasperated the whole Church and carried away with itself a great many pastors and shepherds; if this heresy had overcome the true teaching of the Church and was made dominant; then for a long time Christianity itself would no longer exist and the whole world would be plunged into its former darkness of unbelief and superstitions. The Holy Fathers at the First Ecumenical Council laid down the Orthodox teaching, having established it universally. And the Holy Church, after a comfortable time, glorifies these same Holy Fathers of Nicaea on the Sunday after the Ascension because the most glorious Ascension of the Lord serves as clear proof of the inseparable connection of the two natures in Jesus Christ, the divine and the human.

In the service for the present day, the Holy Nicaean fathers are hymned, as "the hierarchs of Christ", "hierarchs, glorious pastors", "most blessed fathers of divine knowledge", "as luminous stars bright with the truth of Christ", "keepers of the known apostolic traditions", "O divine array, God-proclaiming knights of the Lord's company, most brilliant stars of the spiritual firmament, impregnable towers of the mystical Zion, fragrant flowers of Paradise, all-golden mouths of the Word, the praise of Nicaea, the adornment of the universe".

Commemorating the efforts of the Holy Fathers of the Nicaea Council, the Holy Church glorifies them because they, "gathered all pastoral art and righteous ascetic passion, avenging the difficult rotten and pernicious wolves, with the sling of the spirit casting them out from church performance", "preaching peace, with the peace most of the world was united", and "all the gathered spiritual art and through the Divine Spirit immediately seeing the heavenly and honorable symbol of faith divinely written sketched out", i.e. as St. Demetrius of Rostov says, "a true canon of the Christian faith". According to the manual of this hierarch, firmly containing this canon of the Orthodox faith in Christ, as the bright candlestick in the darkness of this world, we should go the way of the commandments of the Lord, in order for us to inherit a bright and blessed place. With all our life we should confess, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the true God and the perfect man, and He, our Savior, will call us true servants and His confessors (Mt. 10:12). With a loud voice we should most sweetly glorify the name of Christ, before whom every heavenly, earthly, infernal worldly knee bends, but the Lord will glorify us with heavenly glory for He says: "I will glorify those who glorify me". Continuously we should hymn Him as the true God, and He will bless us in this contemporary life with the fulfillment of His grace, and for the praise of our mouths He will satisfy our flesh and souls with the glory of eternal life in His kingdom of heaven where He in unapproachable glory reigns with the Unoriginate Father, the Coeternal and Lifecreating Spirit to ages of ages without end.

Notes:

* By the way, in the service of the present day we commemorate the wonderful vision of one of the Holy Fathers who attended the Council of Nicaea, St. Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria. This zealous advocate of the Orthodox faith, "seeing Christ like the Child on the holy offering table, dressed in a torn robe" asked: "who are you, O Savior, in torn clothes?"  "Arius", replied the Lord. "Truly", as St. Demetrius of Rostov says, "this wolf (Arius) tore the clothes of the Lamb of God, when he denied His divinity, when the Creator of all called creation as created, when the faithful people, through the blood of Christ, were divided from the unity of faith and love, when the only begotten Son was called the servant and attendant to God the Father. But for tearing the clothes of the Lamb, the blasphemer accepted the reward for his deeds. For the Lord tore the belly of Arius, (all his innards dropped out), as a second Judas, and at the same time also tore the impious soul from the corrupt body, as an example and lesson to other heretics, blasphemers".

How the Fame of St. John the Russian Revived


In 1922 with the Greek-Turkish war and the wave of nationalism and ethnic cleansing that swept Turkey, the body of St. John the Russian was carried to Greece by refugees during the exchange of populations. It was housed at a church dedicated to the Saint's name.

Remaining largely forgotten and ignored, Saint John's fame was revived in the 1970s, when he resumed his miraculous works of healing. Children with congenital deformities and diseases are the most common beneficiaries of the Saint's grace.

In 1970 a child was born to a family in Istiaia, Greece, living in extreme poverty. The boy's legs were horribly bent and his feet attached to his back. The doctors surgically separated the boy's legs from the rest of his body, but there was no hope of the boy being able to walk. There was no neural network in the lower half of his body.

While the child grew his family spent what little money they had with the hope of finding a treatment for the boy's disability. When the only thing left to them was a small lamb, a vision of Saint John the Russian led the family in a pilgrimage. Carrying the animal on his back and the boy on his arms, the desolate father took his family on a march of 80 miles through the wilderness leading to the church housing the coffin with the Saint's body.

Tying the lamb to the holy coffin, the father dedicated his last belonging to the Saint, praying for his son's recovery. After the ceremony of veneration and prayer to the miracle-working Saint, the family slept outside, in front of the church's door.

Soon after midnight the father woke the handicapped child. His wife, stirred by the noise, asked what he wanted of the child at this time. Ignoring her, he went on and asked the child for a drink of water. The healed child arose to bring his father water from the fountain outside the church.

This was one of the first in a sequence of miracles that made the saint rise again in popularity and make pilgrims flock to his church today with their gifts and wishes. Among them, every year in autumn a young man brings a living lamb in his arms, an offering to the Saint that turned his life from a condemnation to a blessing.

In 1974, in France, a devastated mother prayed at a monastery of the Virgin Mary. A Russian visitor approached the mother having heard her pray for her child born with a rare, congenital disease of the pituitary gland. He told her of his compatriot Saint, whose miraculous body remained intact in Greece. He showed her a small icon of the Saint.

Back at the hospital, the stranger maked the sign of the cross on the infant's forehead with the small image of the Saint. The child writhed and turned. It was covered with sweat. The mother touched her lips on its brow - the fever was gone. The child, whose death had been predicted as imminent and inevitable, continued to grow normally.

Since then many incidents of wondrous healing and recovery have been attributed to the young Saint and his miraculous body. His small church is now brimming with offerings of wax statues, silver vessels and icons of the Saint. He continues to perform miracles for those who pray to him and he attracts a large crowd of pilgrims every year.

3000 Muslims Pray For Hagia Sophia To Become A Mosque


Ayla Jean Yackley
May 26, 2012

Thousands of devout Muslims prayed outside Turkey's historic Hagia Sophia museum on Saturday to protest a 1934 law that bars religious services at the former church and mosque.

Worshippers shouted, "Break the chains, let Hagia Sophia Mosque open," and "God is great" before kneeling in prayer as tourists looked on.

Turkey's secular laws prevent Muslims and Christians from formal worship within the 6th-century monument, the world's greatest cathedral for almost a millennium before invading Ottomans converted it into a mosque in the 15th century.


"Keeping Hagia Sophia Mosque closed is an insult to our mostly Muslim population of 75 million. It symbolises our ill-treatment by the West," Salih Turhan, head of the Anatolian Youth Association, which organised the event, told the crowd, whose male and female worshippers prayed separately according to Islamic custom.

The government has rejected requests from both Christians and Muslims to hold formal prayers at the site, historically and spiritually significant to adherents of both religions.

The rally's size and location signals more tolerance for religious expression under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose party traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement.

His government has also allowed Christian worship at sites that were off-limits for decades, as it seeks to bring human rights in line with the European Union, which it aims to join.


Turhan told Reuters his group staged the prayers ahead of celebrations next week marking the 559th anniversary of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet's conquest of Byzantine Constantinople.

"As the grandchildren of Mehmet the Conqueror, seeking the re-opening Hagia Sophia as a mosque is our legitimate right," Turhan said in an interview.

Worshippers refrained from entering the museum, one of Turkey's most-visited tourist destinations and whose famous dome is considered a triumph of Byzantine architecture.

Most Turks appear satisfied with it remaining a museum as a kind of compromise between its conflicting historic roles.


OTTOMAN PAST

However, some devout Turks believe that barring worship at Hagia Sophia is an affront against Sultan Mehmet, who designated it as a mosque and who, like other Ottoman leaders, served as caliph to the Islamic world.

Under Erdogan, many Turks have come to embrace their imperial Ottoman past and question the more austere, Western-oriented reforms that followed the last sultan's overthrow in 1923.

The shift coincides with a stalled EU bid and declining expectations Turkey will ever join the mostly Christian bloc.

The government's active diplomatic engagement in the Middle East with lands that once belonged to the Ottoman empire has also prompted Turks to reexamine the NATO member's Western tilt.

Meanwhile, some Orthodox argue Hagia Sophia should be returned to its original state as a Christian basilica.

In 2010, 200 or so Greek American Orthodox aborted plans to pray at Hagia Sophia after the Turkish government threatened to block their entry into the country on security grounds.

The Ecumenical Patriarch, spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox, does not support efforts to revert its former dominion into a church.

"We want it to remain a museum in line with the Republic of Turkey's principles," said Father Dositheos Anagnostopulos, the patriarch's spokesman.

"If it were to become a mosque, Christians wouldn't be able to pray there, and if it became a church it would be chaos."

Only a few thousand Greek Orthodox faithful are left in Turkey, but the patriarch's seat remains in Istanbul, a vestige of the Byzantine Empire.

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