The above portion of a fresco comers from the Chapel of St. Demetrios at Vatopaidi Monastery on Mount Athos. Beginning with the top left all the way to the bottom right, it depicts the following: St. Symeon the Stylite (Sept. 1), the martyrdom of St. Mamas (Sept. 2), the martyrdom of St. Anthimos of Nikomedia (Sept. 3), the martyrdom of St. Babylas and the three children with him (Sept. 4), the martyrdom of St. Zachariah the father of St. John the Baptist (Sept. 5), the martyrdom of St. Sozon (Sept. 7), Sts. Joachim and Anna (Sept. 9), and the nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 8).
Monday, September 3, 2012
|St. Polydoros of Cyprus (Feast Day - September 3)|
Polydoros was born in Nicosia, Cyprus around 1740. His parents Hadjiloukas and Lourdanou were God-respecting and devout persons, and made sure to give their child a Christian upbringing. He was a parishioner of the Holy Church of the Archangel Michael in Tripiotis.
When Polydoros grew up, he was naturally intelligent and creative and for this reason he got started in the trade business. For his work, he began to travel in various parts of the world including Egypt. For a time, he followed the advice of his parents, and was careful about who he made friends with and their voices echoed permanently in his ears and restrained him from getting into bad company. However with time his attention became weak. In one of his travels in the country of the Nile, he became acquainted with a rich renegade from Zakynthos and went under his service.
In this job, he became connected with various types of men his age who had no moral barriers. Very soon Polydoros began to live a similar life, drinking and getting drunk, playing cards and spending the whole night until dawn in the various joints of debauchery.
One evening in one of these places of pleasure, he became very drunk and in his drunkenness he changed his religion and became Muslim. His new religion however did not offer any joy to him and neither could it offer him the minimal mental satisfaction. Despite the money that he gained, the positions and the greatness that his new life ensured him, he could not find any happiness in his life. On the contrary the guilt that began to wake up in him and started to grow day by day and multiply, could not let him find rest. His conscience hit him hard and without mercy; it was a whip which strickened him without pity.
One evening while he was in such a mental agitation, he remembered his house with sweet nostalgia. His parents were illiterate but they had the education of faith and virtue. Before they went for sleep in the evening, they all used to kneel down in front of the icon of the Virgin Mary and prayed to her to look after them from the Turks. Now, it was the religion of these same Turks that he bowed to. Then he remembered the advice of his good mother. She told him the following words once when he did something which he should not have done and felt uneasy and distressed: "My child, the only thing that appeases and gives peace to an upset conscience is repentance and confession". This recollection strengthened him somehow but also pushed him without any delay or postponement to leave Egypt and go to Beirut. When he reached there, with great agony he ran to see the local Orthodox Bishop. When he found him, deeply crushed, he fell in front of him and requested to accept his confession. He told him everything. He did not withhold anything. The Bishop, who was a devoted clergyman, listened to him with compassion and teardrops of affection. At the end, after he gave him comfort which strengthened him, the Bishop advised him that for his safety and in order to find peace he should resort to a monastery.
Polydoros listened to him with obedience. He thanked the good spiritual father, and left and hurried to execute the Bishop's advice. He took residence in a monastery, however he remained there for only a short time. Under the fear of exposing his spiritual father he soon left. He traveled to various places and ended up at the island of Chios. There he visited another spiritual father [St. Makarios of Corinth] and once again with pain in his heart, he confessed and asked him to once more allow him to become accepted in the Orthodox Church. The spiritual father accepted his repentance. He read the forgiveness prayer and anointed him with Holy Myrrh and gave him Communion.
After his re-establishment in the bosom of the Church, Polydoros left for the city of New Ephesus in Asia Minor. His desire to really rectify his sin did not leave him in peace. A thought twirled continuously in his brain. The thought was for him to visit the Turkish Authorities and with frankness to declare in front of them his faith in Christ and his devotion to his will. One day he presented himself in front of the mufti (the Muslim judge and priest) and without fear asked him:
"Tell me Master, is it legal and right to give back a fake thing which was given to me a little while ago with fraud?"
The mufti replied affirmatively: "Yes, it is legal".
Then Polydoros added: "I request that you give me this decision in writing". The mufti wrote his decision and gave it to him. As soon as Polydoros took the decision (the fetfa) in his hand, without losing any time, he ran to the Muslim judge (the Cadi) and showing the decision of the mufti he told him: "Ten years ago I was cheated and I was made to deny my faith. I threw away the gold which I had in order to take the dirt. Now I regret it. I am sorry for what I did and am distressed and I cry. Take your dirt and I will take back my gold. I was Christian! I will remain Christian! And I am ready to die Christian!"
Upon hearing the words of the confessor, the cadi tried hard to retain his anger. He tried to say something. He began with flatteries. He advanced to promises. He tried to make Polydoros change his mind by promising him money, positions and honors... and concluded: "Once you were Christian. Now however you are Muslim".
"No! No!" Polydoros protested intensely, "I am Christian and I will die Christian". The cadi was not disappointed. He continued the promises. Seductive promises. Improbable. But nothing.
At the end, when he was convinced that his efforts were lost, he ordered for Polydoros to be seized, and put him in prison were they begun the tortures. All night the executioners tortured the martyr. To count the different kinds of tortures Polydoros went through is impossible. We will say only this. The next day with his face deformed from the all night abuse and his body broken from the cruel beatings, Polydoros was led in front of a council made of Turkish nobles. For the second time Polydoros with enviable frankness declared his faith in Christ and his irrevocable decision to die for it. In all the threats and pressures which they made, his answer was: "I am Christian! I will remain Christian! And I will die Christian". His inflexible insistence had angered all the members of the Council, and in order to find a exit in the impasse, they ordered to throw the Saint once again in prison and have the tortures repeated. The executioners with unrestrained fury seized the victim again and threw him in a dark cell. There with cannibalistic passion, which is so well known even in our times, they begun their macabre work. They tied up the hands and the legs of the martyr in order for him not to be able to move and with whips they strucked him constantly everywhere. The Saint's body became a single wound from which the blood ran abundantly. After that, they put boiling hot irons and burning bricks on his shoulders and his armpits. In addition they inserted an iron rod into his penis. At the same time, some others put over his head a burning hot pot as a cap. We will not mention any other tortures as it is too much for us, not to mention that it is difficult for someone even to read them. We will add only this. The courageous martyr endured all of them with courage and unique perseverance. He endured them by praying with faith: "Lord forgive me". He had already decided for death and thus the pain did not scare him. With these martyrdoms he passed the whole night.
In the morning some executioners took the martyr and led him with insults and shoutings to the square in front of the judge, where he waited seated on a tall platform between a lot of Ottoman officials. A little below gallows were set up. The martyr looked first at the gallows and later at the judge. He felt a feeling of comfort seeing the first, and disgust as he looked at the second.
"Hey! what do you say?", shouted the judge with a sardonic laughter. "Did you knock some sense in your brains or you still insist in your opinions?".
"I lost my brains only when I was carried away and exchanged my faith with yours. It is madness to throw away gold, in order to take dirt. Now I have found my sanity. Now that I have returned to Christ".
In hearing the words of the martyr, the judge lost his patience and shouted: "Hang this gavour (pig) so that we can finish with him. Hang him, his mind does not change". The executioners led Polydoros to the gallows. After he approached them with determined steps, he kissed the rope with respect, made his cross with devotion and serenely accepted the rope to pass through his neck. The executioner pulled the rope. The body was raised in the air, while the Saint's soul flew to the blue chaos of the sky. The corpse of the Saint remained on the gallows for three days. The third day the Turks ordered the Christians to take him and bury him. Some people with good souls, Christians and paradoxically Muslims, lowered the Saint's body from the gallows, washed it with clean water and buried him near the Armenian cemetery with teardrops of admiration and love.
A Miracle in New Ephesus
In New Ephesus lived a Christian named Nicholas. This unfortunate man was possessed by a demon, which spoke with his mouth like the child of the Philipians, and revealed many times the secrets of those who fled to him. One day the sick man met a cleric, who had in his possession the relics of St. Polydoros and a piece of the rope of the noose, and was saddened by him. He took the holy relics and went to his house:
As soon as he reached his door and the demoniac saw him he screamed:
“You here? You here? What have you come to do? What do you want from me?”
The priest, without losing time, took the holy relics from his bosom and made the sign of the cross towards the sick man.
The priest approached. He put the relics and the piece of the rope above him, and the sick man made a loud cry and then calmed down. The demon had fled and the man had become well again.
The Relics of St. Polydoros Go to Athens
During the Asia Minor Catastrophy of 1922 a Hieromonk, the Chancellor of the Holy Metropolis of Ephesus, Kyrillos Psillos, grabbed the holy skull of the martyr to save it. The furiousness of the Turks against clerics at the time was unbelievable. Their fury was directed further against the churches and the holy relics. When they uncovered clerics or other people holding icons, relics, etc., they slaughtered them without discussion. The act of the Chancellor was very bold, and had they found him, he would have paid immediately with his life. This pious worker of Christ however was decisive. He dressed like a gerontissa [an abbess, but in this case it might just mean an old woman], and took with him this very-precious treasure, made his cross and left for the ships departing for Greece. An endless line was waiting before him to be searched. As if arriving at the Turkish prison to be searched, the Turks were furious. They had already uncovered some in disguise. At that hour when the faithless reviled and beat their victims and screamed in terror, the disguised Kyrillos came to be searched.
The pious cleric, without losing his composure, clenched the skull of the Saint to his chest and whispered inside himself:
“O Saint Polydoros, save me.”
And he saved him.
"Hurry up Turkish woman", the Turk cried and pushed him ahead. In a short time the hieromonk was found dropped into a boat of salvation with his treasure. How did this happen? He did not remember. He didn’t understand. He was saved along with the holy skull of the martyr. When he arrived in Athens, he deposited it in the Holy Church of St. Katherine in Plaka. Dozens of the faithful went every day to venerate it. And thousands every year on September 3rd, which is his feast day, hastened to honor the martyr, the renegade who repented and sought His grace.
St. Polydoros Returns To Cyprus
On August 28th of 2012 the holy skull of St. Polydoros was brought to Cyprus and housed in a church dedicated to him in his hometown. He was received by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus.
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
A great boast of Lefkosia, a great protector are you of Ephesus, a great glory of the two cities, of a sacred offspring were you shown to be by the purple of your blood. Intercede with Christ God, Polydoros, that we may be delivered from dangers and sorrows.
August 31, 2012
A growing number of Georgians are turning to yoga to shake off the stress of daily life. But their quest for inner calm and smaller waists is generating hostility from the powerful Georgian Orthodox Church.
Over the past two years, yoga has gone from a largely unknown Eastern tradition to a popular fitness routine in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Georgian National Yoga Federation President Giorgi Berdzenishvili, a passionate practitioner for the past 15 years, called the trend a “dynamic” process that started under former Soviet leader Mikheil Gorbachev’s glasnost’ policies in the late 1980s.
During the Soviet era, when religious beliefs were discouraged, yoga tended to be viewed as a fringe health-oriented practice, devoid of spirituality, Berdzenishvili noted. But slowly, over the past several years, amid increased Internet usage and travel abroad, yoga has moved into the mainstream in Georgian society.
Today, yoga’s popularity is at an all-time high, instructors say. Classes are full, leading to the opening of several new studios in Tbilisi over the past year. This phenomenon has some Georgian Orthodox priests worried, due to yoga’s spiritual roots in Hinduism, and its perceived association with Buddhism.
While the Patriarchy, the body that governs the Georgian Orthodox Church, did not respond to requests from EurasiaNet.org for the Church’s official position on yoga, dozens of websites devoted to the faith have published articles and blogs that are critical of the practice.
Orthodoxy.ge, a website run by priests at Sioni Cathedral, the former headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church, warns the faithful that yoga is full of false “charms” that lure people away from God.
In a long entry entitled “Eastern Culture,” the priests caution that even people who perform “simple yoga exercises … gradually develop some spiritual thoughts” (a broad reference to meditation) that are not compatible with Christianity.
The Church is widely viewed as the most trusted institution in Georgia, and, by extension, Georgian Orthodox priests often wield considerable influence, providing guidance on everything from family planning to purchasing a car.
Local yoga instructors told EurasiaNet.org that priests’ concerns about yoga have stopped some Georgians from taking up the discipline, and have prompted others to abandon it. Mariam Ubilava, a certified yoga teacher at Sun Yoga Tbilisi, said that newcomers often ask before class if meditation is part of the program. “Georgians don’t like meditation so much,” Ubilava said. “Georgians are very strong in their religion and they think if they start meditation, this is related to Buddha and India, and they avoid [it].”
Three years ago, when 38-year-old Nino Kokosadze decided to take up yoga, she noticed that some of the women attending her early morning yoga classes bowed out of the group after their priests “forbade” them from attending.
Kokosadze, who turned to yoga to help with chronic back pain, decided after a few lessons to check with her priest as well. “I am Orthodox, a religious person and already six years I am attending church,” she said during a break at an outdoor yoga session not far from downtown Tbilisi. But Kokosadze’s priest took a more tolerant view. “I told him that some priests prohibited it,” she recounted. “He said that those who know what is yoga won’t prohibit it.”
Many Georgians simply need more information about yoga and meditation, said yoga instructor Ubilava. “[Meditation] doesn’t mean that you become Buddhist or following [sic] the Buddhist religion. It means you forget your daily life, meditate on something.”
Nidhin Kochath Sugathan, a yoga instructor from the Indian state of Kerala, agrees, saying he’d encountered the same concern when he started teaching at Tbilisi’s Yoga Ananda studio. “Georgians had the wrong knowledge that yoga means sitting in the lotus position and chanting only,” Sugathan said.
With time, as practitioners realized that “[b]y chanting one ‘Om,’ they’re not going to change their religion,” the objections vanished, he said.
Nonetheless, after conversations with priests, National Yoga Federation President Berdzenishvili decided to develop a more culturally sensitive version of yoga practice for use in the federation’s classes; one that focuses on fitness, rather than meditation, and does not encourage participants to adopt yoga “spiritual names” or specific forms of dress.
Olga Ramer, the owner of Tbilisi Yoga Cave, one of the first yoga studios to open in the city, noted, that most Georgians today appear as interested in both the spiritual and physical aspects of yoga. “I would say there are more expats who are interested just in [the] physical part,” Ramer said. “The locals who come are actually very spiritual and they want both the physical and the spiritual.”
Those dual aspects of yoga have paid off for Kokosadze, who says that, after three years of regular yoga practice, her back is feeling better and her spiritual life has improved with the stronger powers of concentration acquired from yoga. The three-hour church services she attends each week “pass like a minute because now I am focused on what is happening.”
“[Yoga] has really helped me to concentrate on the main thing,“ she said. “You realize what is the most important in your life.”
Sunday, September 2, 2012
By Elder Sophrony of Essex
We Orthodox live Christ within the Divine Liturgy, or rather Christ lives within us during the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is a work of God. We say: "Time is a creation of the Lord". Among other things it means now is the time for God to act. Christ liturgizes, we live with Christ.
The Divine Liturgy is the way we know God and the way God becomes known to us.
Christ celebrated the Divine Liturgy once and this passed into eternity. His divinized human nature came to the Divine Liturgy. We know Christ specifically in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy we celebrate is the same Divine Liturgy which was done by Christ on Great Thursday in the Mystical Supper.
The 14th through the 16th chapters of the Gospel according to John is one Divine Liturgy. So in the Divine Liturgy we understand Holy Scripture.
The early Church lived without a New Testament, but not without the Divine Liturgy. The first records, the written hymns, exist in the Divine Liturgy.
In the Divine Liturgy we live Christ and understand His word.
As Christ cleansed His Disciples with his word and said to them: "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3) and He washed the feet of His Disciples with water, during the Sacred Washing, so also in the first section of the Divine Liturgy He cleanses us that we might attend later His Table of love. The purpose of the Divine Liturgy is to convey Christ to us.
The Divine Liturgy teaches us an ethos, the ethos of humility. As Christ sacrificed Himself, so also should we sacrifice ourselves. The type of the Divine Liturgy is the type of impoverishment for us. In the Divine Liturgy we try to be humbled, because we have the sense that there is the humble God.
Every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany. The Body of Christ appears. Every member of the Church is an icon of the Kingdom of God.
After the Divine Liturgy we must continue to iconify the Kingdom of God, keeping His commandments. The glory of Christ is to bear fruit in every member His fruit. This explains His word: "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8).
Source: I Knew A Man In Christ: The Life and Times of Elder Sophrony, the Hesychast and Theologian (Οίδα άνθρωπον εν Χριστώ: Βίος και πολιτεία του Γέροντος Σωφρονίου του ησυχαστού και θεολόγου) by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
On the first Sunday of September, the Holy Church celebrates the feast of All Saints associated with the island of Chios. This includes those who were born there, who lived there, who visited there, and who reposed or were martyred there.
The holy icon of the Synaxis of All Saints of Chios was first made at the Holy Monastery of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Oinousses and is today found in the Holy Church of Saint George in Frourio.
|New Martyr Haido of Stano (Feast Day - September 1)|
By John Sanidopoulos
Saint Haido was from the village of Stano in Halkidiki and she lived in the 19th century. After the Revolution of 1821 she left with her mother and settled in Thasos, because a Turkish ruler sought her hand in marriage and she did not want to convert to Islam or marry a Turk. Because of her refusal she was tortured in prison to convert, but she continued to refuse to renounce Christ and her heritage. Till this day one can see where Haido was imprisoned in Stano. She only escaped because the village priest and some young men helped break her free.
In Thasos she entered the Monastery of Pantokratoros in Kallirachi, where she served in the church and lived a life of purity fully dedicated to God and taking care of her mother. After the repose of her mother she dedicated her whole life to prayer and fasting and she acquired spiritual illumination. It is said that she reached an angelic state by her heavenly way of life, and for two days she was caught up into Paradise where she witnessed heavenly mysteries. Upon her return she related her experience to Hieromonk Gerasimos who served in the Monastery.
While still young she succumbed to sickness due to her austere way of life, and she reposed in peace. Before her death, she advised those with her to not change her clothing before her burial. They however did not obey. When they went to change her clothing an earthquake occurred and thunder sounded and a voice was heard saying to put her old clothes back on. When this was done there was stillness and her holy relics began to exude a beautiful fragrance. She was buried in the cemetery of the Monastery.
The memory of St. Haido was kept alive locally and she was considered a holy woman. Due to her suffering for Christ, many hail her as a neomartyr. The Church of the Entrance of the Theotokos in Stano commissioned an icon of her to be made, which was done by the Cyrillian Brotherhood of New Skete on Mount Athos in 1960. She was canonized locally by the Metropolitan in 1988 and her feast was established for September 1.
Read more about this Saint here: Η ΝEΟΜΑΡΤYΣ ΑΓΙΑ ΧΑΙΔΩ ΑΠΟ ΤΗΝ ΧΑΛΚΙΔΙΚΗ ΣΤΗ ΘΑΣΟ
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance to our God" (Isaiah 61:1-2).
This great and programmed prophecy, the Lord Jesus read at the beginning of His saving work before the Jews in Nazareth, and having read this He sat down and said: "Today is this scripture fulfilled" (Luke 4: 16-21).
One of the darkest prophecies for the Jewish scribes and priests, He read, closed the book and said: "Today is this scripture fulfilled."
None of the Jews dared to touch this prophecy for no one knew to whom this prophecy pertains. Seven centuries have passed since this prophecy was spoken and written and no one knew to whom it pertains. And when that One [Christ] came, upon Whom this prophecy pertains, He read it and applied it to Himself. Thus our great Lord justified His prophet and presented Himself to the world.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me." Why does He speak so when He is equal to the Spirit as He is to the Father? As St. Chrysostom interprets, it is for the sake of witnessing to the people. He does not say the grace of the Spirit [is upon Me], for the grace of the Spirit is upon the faithful people, but the Spirit Himself is upon Him as was manifested at the Jordan River. The Spirit is the witness of the Son and the Son was never without the Spirit for one moment. The Lord Jesus often mentions the Father and the Holy Spirit first out of infinite love toward the Father and the Spirit and love always ascribes its own to others, and second for the sake of instruction to proud men that they do not emphasize themselves but rather to give honor to others equal to themselves.
Everything else that is said in this wonderful prophecy, the Lord fulfilled by His miraculous works, word for word. He came primarily to proclaim the mercy of God to men, but at the same time to proclaim the Dread Judgment to those who would despise and reject that mercy.
This is the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, the prophet of God, the true prophet.
Brethren, let us venerate Isaiah whose God-inspired mouth foretold the Savior and our salvation and let us worship without ceasing our wonderful Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We worship You our Lord and Savior and we give You thanks for Your all-wise plan for our salvation. To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
Friday, August 31, 2012
Elder Germanos was born in the Cypriot village Avgorou of the eparchy of Ammochostos (Famagusta) in 1906 of pious parents Nicholas and Margaret, of the Hatzigeorgi family. Reading the life of Saint John the Hut-Dweller when he was young, he was inspired to make the decision to follow the monastic life.
At age 16 he entered the Stavrovouni Monastery. He showed exemplary zeal and noteworthy obedience as a novice monastic. He received the prayer to wear the cassock at age 24 and from his original name George was renamed Monk Germanos. He was ordained a Deacon the following year. He was tonsured a monk of the Great Habit at age 29 and was ordained a Hieromonk (Priestmonk) at age 38.
The purity of his life, his proven prudence, and administrative abilities served as the main cause for his election to abbot in the year 1952, when the abbot till then, the ever-memorable Elder Dionysios II, reposed. As abbot he was the first to set an example: first in guilelessness, in forgiving, in meekness, in patience, in service, in diligence, in silence, in participating in the Sacred Services. He very diligently cultivated ceaseless prayer in his soul.
One of his chief virtues was conscientious obscurity. He avoided any projection of himself towards the outer world, but also towards the people around him. He strove to hide his virtues with every diligence; for this reason as a rule very few were able to recognize the invaluable treasure hidden beneath his plain appearance. His ceaseless prayer with tears, his angelic standing before the dreadful Altar of the Lord during the time of the Divine Liturgy, and the unique and unrepeatable example of his whole life gave forth a most wealthy spiritual fruitfulness, not only in his own Monastery, but also in the female Monasteries of Cyprus, which blossomed and were supported thanks mainly to his own struggles.
He was an excellent Confessor and Spiritual Father, and guided a multitude of people to repentance and to genuine spiritual conversion to the Lord. His whole life was a real living witness of the living Jesus.
His earthly life was sealed with a martyric end. On the afternoon of August 31, 1982, on the last day of the Ecclesiastical Year and a day dedicated par excellence to the Panagia, whom the venerable Elder exceedingly venerated, while he was returning from a hard day's work in the olive fields, driving the tractor of the Monastery, he fell into a steep valley, where he found, on his own and unaided, a martyric death. With the end of the Ecclesiastical year the blessed Elder reposed, a genuine ecclesiastical personality, whose life essentially was a constant sacrifice, a ceaseless service. Undoubtledly he was transposed to the Altar above, where the unending Liturgy is served. The monks, who looked for him persistently all that afternoon, finally found him the next day, dead and in a prayerful position, with his feet and hands crossed, this also being a visible sign of his spiritual work, even during those last painful moments of his martyric death, which like the pains of childbirth, introduced him to eternal life.
"Do you want to not sin? Always remember your death!" - Elder Germanos
The miracles referred to below have been selected from the Vatopaidi Monastery archives.
1. It’s difficult to have kids
Fr Theotimos comes from Congo. He studied theology in Greece. He wished to have kids so much but had a problem. He asked for the ribbon blessed on the Holy Belt. He describes the result.
Methonis 23, Athens
The name of God-Man Christ must always be glorified and the name of the Panagia, the Mother of God must be honored.
We received the Holy Belt on March 1992. In May 1992 my wife became pregnant and we had a baby son weighing 2.900 gr. He was born with a caesarian section and we baptized him Marios, to honor the name of the Panagia. The doctors had previously verified that it would have been difficult for us to have children.
In April 1993 my wife was eight months pregnant and had a problem. She had to have another cesarean before the end of the gestation period. My wife wore the Holy Belt on her for two days before the operation. The baby, a girl, who was weighing only 1400 gr. was born having doubled her weight.
Fr. Theotimos and Evangelia Tsala.
2. The time we have longed for arrived
I would like to mention a miracle which took place to my wife, when she was wearing the Holy Belt of the Most Holy Mother of God, which a priest from your monastery had given us in August 1992, when I had visited the Holy Mountain.
But before I go into this, I would like to refer to another miracle which happened to both of us and made us completely change the way we live. Our life was definitely secular. We were knee deep into the sludge of lies and sin which our society provides in abundance. We had been walking a path which was supposedly leading us to happiness and joy but basically it was causing faction and finally eternal spiritual death.
The All Merciful God showed mercy on us. He gave us a present which we thought at first that it was unbearable. My wife had been diagnosed with compulsive neurosis. She was prescribed twelve pills a day to deal with depression, sadness and suicidal tendencies. She was having attacks and was crying all day. We visited many doctors, until we found our spiritual father, Fr E. Everything has changed since then. We turned towards the right path.
Even though my wife’s problem did not completely disappear, the psychiatrist, in cooperation with our spiritual father, advised us to have a child. However, because of my wife’s problem, it was difficult for her to become pregnant. We had been expecting help from above.
And now I am going to refer to the second miracle.
During our veneration of holy relics, the priest talked about the miracles that our Panagia performs on childless women with the blessed ribbons. All those who wore them and lived with repentance, become pregnant. Then I was fighting the thought to get one for us, but I was embarrassed. I was ready to leave, but something pushed me and I got one.
My wife had been wearing it all the time. We were praying and waiting. In November the same year, the time which we have yearned for has arrived. Now that I am writing this, we have a daughter who is 9.5 months old and is called Irene.
Vasilis and Panayiota Aslanides.
3. The doctors had disappointed both of them
Livadia Larnaca, Cyprus
In 1993 I celebrated the Annunciation of the Mother of God at the Holy Mountain. Besides my personal need for prayer, I asked the fathers to pray for two spiritual sisters who had not had the joy of becoming mothers. The doctors had disappointed both of them.
At the end of the Paraklisis made for B. and G, I took the ribbons, after they were being blessed by the Holy Belt. When I returned to Cyprus, I had invited both of them to receive the blessings, which I had brought for them. B came and kissed the icons at the iconostasi, but did not take the ribbon that day, she took it later on. In the meantime, she became pregnant.
It took G more time to receive the blessing because she was staying far away. She had adopted a child. When we met, she took the ribbon and a few days later the doctor confirmed that she was pregnant.
Both of them visited me to announce their good news. All together we gave glory to the Panagia, the Mother of God.
4. I was married for seven years and didn’t have a child
M.Bogdou 18, Xanthi
I had been married for seven years and didn’t have a child. My husband and I had tried many times to have a child and had visited various doctors in Athens and Thessaloniki. Finally at the end of our tether, you sent me a ribbon blessed by the Holy Belt of the Mother of God. I got pregnant and gave birth to a healthy baby boy on the 31st August 1993, on the feastday of the Holy Belt.
I certainly cannot express my gratitude enough and my adoration and awe for our Creator, who does great and wonderful things and continues to bless his worthless servant. I am pregnant again and the doctor told me that they are twins. Please write my son’s name, among the list of the miracles of our Panagia.
With a lot of respect and affection,
Demetrios and Maria
5. Three healings
We feel the need to express our gratitude for the great honor you have shown in bringing the Holy Belt to our home. It would be a great omission not to refer to the miracles we have seen being performed. We refer to some of them, fully realizing the magnitude of what we are about to write.
A military judge, who had a serious back problem and was walking bent, became well as soon as he left our home.
A fifteen year old child, who could never stand on his feet because of a congenital problem, began to walk as soon as he entered the house. It is important to say that his parents kissed the Holy Belt when you had already entered the car and were getting ready to leave. They told us about the miracle a few days later, because they had been afraid!
My husband’s colleague as soon as he put on some Holy Water on a funny spot which was suddenly growing and making him anxious, it disappeared immediately! This person did not come to our home to venerate the Holy Belt and the miracle had been performed just by the Holy Water.
May we have your blessing!
Paul and Fotini Papoulidou
6. We have been given two healthy boys
Arch. Chrysostomos 1, Pafos, Cyprus
I am writing this letter as an indication of our gratitude to our Most Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Maria, who has shown her magnanimity towards the sinful and humble servants of our Lord, once more.
She has performed a miracle on us, by giving us two healthy boys, after seven years of marriage. When I had visited your monastery in 1993, I prayed in front of her wonderworking icon and took the ribbon from her blessed Holy Belt. A year later the miracle happened. My wife became pregnant with twins.
I also extend my thanks to you because you have helped me find the true path of God which leads to eternal life. Please pray to our Lady that she grants health to the children, which she has given us so miraculously.
With the love of Christ,
Stelios and Eleni Kalli
7. Back pain stopped
Themistokleous 31, Athens
During my visit to the Great and Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi on 8/25/1995, after the Vespers the priest brought out the body remains of saints and the Holy Belt of the Most Holy Mother of God for the visitors to worship. When this had finished, I asked the priest to read some prayers for me in the presence of the Holy Belt. He placed his stole and the Belt of the Panagia and started saying a prayer. While he was reading, I started feeling that I had been holding a great and very heavy load on my back, which was receding as the reading was progressing. When the prayer ended, I felt that the weight had disappeared. From that moment my back pain, which has given me so much trouble for so long, had disappeared.
I would like to express my infinite gratitude to our Panagia for the miracle she performed on me by completely curing my back pain.
With infinite thanks,
8. The Holy Belt has miraculously given me 12 children
I have a 14-member family: myself, Fr Nicholas, my wife Anthi and twelve children. A crucial and great miracle of the Holy Belt is our having twelve kids.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child she had serious health problems. She was nearing her term but had no labor pains. The doctors had said that the baby was dead and that she had to abort it otherwise her life was in danger. However, she had placed her faith in God, was reciting Paraklesis and praying with the prayer rope. Our child in the end was born alive and healthy under the following miraculous circumstances.
A devout woman, when she heard about our problem, gave me a ribbon of the Holy Belt. She told me to tell my wife to wear it and everything would be all right. My wife did as she was told and after a while she gave birth to a graceful and blessed little girl.
My wife’s other pregnancies were also problematic, but with the grace of the Holy Belt, we have managed to have twelve kids, six boys and six girls.
And here is something else, which is also important. My wife had varicose veins on her legs and the doctors had advised her not to have another child since she was going to endanger her child’s life as well as her own during birth. Because she had placed her trust in the Mother of all people, she was never put in any danger.
With respect and love in Christ
Father Nicholas, Theologian and Teacher
Victory Day (Zafer Bayramı) on August 30 is a national holiday in Turkey to commemorate the victory in the Battle of Dumlupınar against the Greeks, one of the final battles and the most decisive one in the Turkish War of Independence in 1922.
Turks often rewrite history to make their battles noble and justified, and the commemoration of Victory Day is no exception. According to the Turks, Greeks were invaders of Turkey and occupied Turkish land, which is why they were expelled in 1922. More accurately, this battle was meant to be a Greek War of Independence after being occupied by the Ottomans for hundreds of years.
For a Turkish take on this celebration, read "Turkey Recognizes Victory Day Aug. 30".
For a general history of the Battle of Dumlupınar, read here. This battle marked the beginning of the end of the Greek presence in Anatolia.
2012 marks the 90th Victory Day in Turkey.
For the first time, Russian sociologists have compiled an atlas of Russia’s religions. Given the current debate on relations between the church, state and society, this atlas offers a timely and valuable look into the nature of Russian worship.
August 30, 2012
Ogonyok: You say that your Atlas is the first project of its kind, and yet surveys of religiosity in Russia are conducted on a regular basis. What has your team done that is new?
Roman Lunkin: For the first time, separate polls concerning a person’s religion and world view were conducted in every region of the Russian Federation. What is also new is the way in which the questions were formulated: in the past no one thought it was necessary to ask people about their particular denomination of Orthodoxy; was it Pentecostalism, say, or an Eastern spiritual type? If you look at world practice, then our Arena project, part of which is the Atlas of Russia’s Religions, has at least two foreign analogs: the European Values Survey, which is part of the World Values Survey, and the Pew Research Center in the United States, which regularly compiles indices detailing the religious make-up of different states. We are trying to do something similar, to the extent that we are able, that takes into into account Russia’s particularities.
Ogonyok: Have you managed to prove that there are enough “originals”* to make it necessary to consider them?
R.L.: Of course these represent a small percentage of the overall population, sometimes within the margin of statistical error. But if you combine opinion poll findings with other factual material (field research by the Russian team at Oxford’s Keston Institute, open data bases at the Ministry of Justice, at Rosstat), then it is possible to understand which numbers fall within the margin of error and which represent real believers and the real situation in a region. Our Atlas aims to destroy the stage setting “Russia”, the myths and stereotypes, and to show instead the actual, living and highly diverse country that it is.
Ogonyok: Is that stage setting called “Russia” by any chance “Holy, Orthodox Rus”?
R.L.: The myth that 80-90 percent of Russia’s population is Orthodox is just one aspect of the generally superficial view of religious processes here. By our calculations, the number of Orthodox Christians in Russia is half that — 40 percent on average, in different regions of Russia. And of those, only 5 percent said they were parishioners in a specific parish and went regularly to church. These findings in no way diminish Orthodoxy’s role in Russia, they simply give one a real idea of the size and nature of the congregation of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Ogonyok: The Gallup Organization recently published a survey of religiosity in the world that showed the number of believers to be declining. As compared to 2005, the number has decreased by 20 percent in France and by 13 percent in the United States. In Russia the decrease has been less significant, only 2 percent, but that is the direction things are going in. Do these observations coincide with yours?
R.L.: When you ask a person who believes in God but does not profess a particular religion whether or not they believe in God, they will most likely say that they do not. Our findings coincide with Gallup’s in that the role of traditional, ethnic religions in the life of society does appear to be diminishing. On the other hand, the role of faith is not shrinking, it is even growing. In the last 20 years of religious freedom in Russian, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a typically European religious variety has taken shape, with an abundance of different possible paths for those who want to find themselves. In the lists kept by the Ministry of Justice, the number of non-Orthodox, Christian organizations is second only to the number of Russian Orthodox Church organizations, and greater even than that of Muslim organizations.
Ogonyok: Islam is also a traditional religion. Is its congregation shrinking?
R.L.: In Muslim regions of Russia, young people’s interest in Islam is supported. Moreover, the congregation is amplified by migrants — this is no secret. It is, however, worth noting that 10 percent of Russian Muslims, who are neither Sunnis nor Shiites, are wary of such migrants.
Ogonyok: I was interested to learn that 44 percent of those who profess the “traditional” religion of their ancestors are Russians. And in central Russia you found not only Buddhists but also adherents of Eastern religious practices. Do you attribute this to a trend in nontraditional religions?
R.L.: In Russia there really are Slavic neo-pagans — people who take the “traditional religion of their ancestors” very seriously. Some are interested in the ideas of the New Age movement — various mystical practices in which there are elements of paganism, as well as of Eastern beliefs, astrology, theosophy, and Roerich’s teachings. In our survey, Russians who seek the “true faith” (not necessarily members of specific confessions) wound up in the same cohort as those who are shamanists, because of belonging to indigenous populations in Yakutia or, for example, Altai. There are Buddhists in Moscow and in St. Petersburg and in Kaliningrad: this is probably a result of the intelligentsia’s traditional interest in the East.
On the other hand, faiths that are considered “antiquated” by mass consciousness, such as the Old Believers faith, are not only alive, but thriving. When speaking of Old Believers, we tend to show dying villages that by some miracle are managing to preserve traditions that no one needs. For the expert, of course, this is nonsense: in fact, some 40 percent of Old Believers today earn in excess of 20,000 rubles a month, 26 percent live in cities of a million or more inhabitants, while 15 percent run their own businesses. Old Believers remain a very energetic and industrious group, one that attracts young people. The powers that be and the mass media, the Russian Orthodox Church and society will have to realize that in Russia, along with “traditional” churches, new churches are springing up, while old ones are being invigorated. Our religious map is too diverse to be painted in just one or two colors.
*“Originals” refers to poll responses that answer the question of denomination in any way other than “I am Orthodox”, “I believe in God”, or “I do not believe in God”.
More information about the survey can be found at research service Sreda web-site.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
By Elder Germanos of Stavrovouni
Continence from fleshly passions is the natural state, whereas, on the contrary, falling into fleshly sins is in reality something unnatural. Today however the world has been led astray so much, that it calls light darkness, and darkness light. It characterizes the continent and chaste as `retarded' and `backwards,' whereas those who roll in the filth of fleshly pleasures it considers progressive! It admires and extols them! The age has come, which Anthony the Great mentions, when those who are foolish will see those who are chaste, and they will consider them as insane, not being able to discern that in reality it is they themselves who are insane!
The unnatural deviations of the Sodomites and Gamorrians God punished in an "unnatural" way: with rain, not of water, that is, but of fire and brimstone!
No person, neither a man nor a woman, has ever repented for keeping the command of Christ by keeping themselves in chastity and virginity until their wedding day, and in turn, in chastity and faithfulness towards their legal spouse within their marriage. They have every rich blessing of God that keep these! In contrast, those who do not keep them lose very much.
That which is called "libido" was given by God for an important purpose, and is connected with a "lure". The important purpose is to perpetuate the human race which makes man a co-creator with God, and the "lure" is pleasure.
When a couple walks together blessed with an Ecclesiastical Marriage, then marriage progresses in the will of God. Conversely, when they are deliberately and selfishly separated, then pleasure becomes an end in itself, and the true purpose canceled. This is an abnormal situation! It is an overthrow of what God has set forth, and it is a mortal sin. For such a sin God punished as an example Onan (see Gen. 38:1-10).
Fleshly sins are an exclusively grievous mark of the person of apostasy. When man falls into such sins, he ends up even worse than the animals!
Our body is "the temple of God" (see I Cor. 6:19). For this reason, when we hand it over to fleshly sins, we defile that living temple. And it is written that "if anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." (I Cor. 3:17)
Loving pleasure and loving the flesh cools and wipes out love for God.
In olden times people felt shame when they fell into fleshly sins. Unfortunately today these sins occur without shame. And, with the downhill path we have taken, the time will come when not only will they no longer be considered sins, but they will be praised! O woe and alas, when our society reaches that point!
He who struggles to be pure, avoiding any kind of fornication and lewdness, tastes right now the incorruptibility of the future resurrection!
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
August 24, 2012
Machaerus is the infamous setting of the beheading of John the Baptist. The historian Josephus corroborates a story from the Gospels in which John the Baptist condemned Herod Antipas’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. Herodias’s daughter Salome danced for her step-father, and when he offered to grant anything she asked, she demanded the beheading of John the Baptist. In “Machaerus: Where Salome Danced and John the Baptist Was Beheaded” in the September/October issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, excavation director Győző Vörös writes that “we can identify the very location of the party where Salome danced.”
While the beheading of John the Baptist lends the Herodian palace a special notoriety, Győző Vörös examines the archaeology and extended site history to show how the location of the Dead Sea fortress at Machaerus led to its special place in Herodian Judea. Looking across a longer expanse of history, the Hasmonean, Herodian and Zealot occupations at Machaerus tell the different stories of their respective periods, from regal luxury to the brutality of a Roman siege.
Machaerus was the easternmost of Herod’s renovated palatial fortresses. While Vörös insightfully notes comparisons to the other fortresses, Machaerus stands out because of its location east of the River Jordan. Rising majestically above the Dead Sea (see the cover of the September/October issue of BAR), the fortress could be seen from as far north as Alexandrium and as far south as Masada, and smoke signals from the citadel were visible in Jerusalem. In addition to its natural defensible position on a rocky hilltop, Machaerus served as the first line of defense—and warning—against any eastern invaders.
Machaerus was more than just a military outpost; the extensive renovations by Herod turned the originally defensive center into a lavish palace that set the stage for a (deadly) Herodian birthday party. In “Machaerus: Where Salome Danced and John the Baptist Was Beheaded,” Győző Vörös explores the archaeology, architecture and history of the site, telling Machaerus’s tale from the lower city to the citadel’s peaks, and from its Hasmonean origins to a cruel ending at the hands of the Roman army.
For more about Machaerus, read Győző Vörös, “Machaerus: Where Salome Danced and John the Baptist Was Beheaded.” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2012
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"The voice of one that cries in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3).
When a king wants to visit a certain place, he sends before him in advance his heralds. To an unusual king an unusual herald is appropriate. The herald of Christ the King in the wilderness was Moses; in Jerusalem, the Prophets; in Nazareth, the Archangel; in Bethlehem, the Magi of the East; on the Jordan, John. Not one king in the history of mankind has had such heralds.
St. John the Baptist was also as unusual and special as were the other heralds of Christ. He was the voice crying in the two-fold wilderness: in the wilderness of Jordan and in the human wilderness. Just as the wilderness of Jordan was fruitless and dry, so the wilderness of the human spirit, was unfruitful and dry. John was not able to make the human wilderness green and fruitful, but he cleared and plowed it and, in that way, was preparing the earth and leveled it [the earth] for the great Sower Who, by His coming, brings with Him the seed and the rain to sow the seed of knowledge and the rain of grace from on high to make it green and be fruitful.
By repentance, John prepared the way and by baptism in water, made the path straight. The way and the paths these are the souls of men. By repentance, the souls of men were prepared to receive the seed of Christ and by baptism in water to bury that seed deep in the earth of their heart. The proud and the lowly when they are immersed naked in the water are all as one, equal in their nothingness before the majesty of the All-glorious Christ the Savior: "Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low" (Isaiah 40:4). The word here is not about earthly valleys and hills but of lowly and proud men. As corpses in the grave are all the same before the eyes of a living man, thus all sinners, lowly and proud, slaves and masters are equal before the living God.
Such a wondrous vision was seen by Isaiah, the son of Amos, the prophet of the living God, the one and true God.
O Lord, Heavenly King, to Whom the heavenly hosts worship day and night, look down once again upon our nothingness and because of Your humiliation and passion for us, save us. Amen.
By St. Augustine of Hippo
John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.
Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.
However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.
In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.
When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.
Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John’s baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ’s baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.
Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offence to the word. I am not the Christ, he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord. The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him”.
What does prepare the way mean, if not “pray well”? What does prepare the way mean, if not “be humble in your thoughts”? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.
If he had said, “I am the Christ”, you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.
He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.
Source: (Hom. 293, 3: PL 1328-1329)
By St. Bede the Venerable
As forerunner of our Lord’s birth, preaching and death, the blessed John showed in his struggle a goodness worthy of the sight of heaven. In the words of Scripture: Though in the sight of men he suffered torments, his hope is full of immortality. We justly commemorate the day of his birth with a joyful celebration, a day which he himself made festive for us through his suffering and which he adorned with the crimson splendour of his own blood. We do rightly revere his memory with joyful hearts, for he stamped with the seal of martyrdom the testimony which he delivered on behalf of our Lord.
There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.
Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.
Such was the quality and strength of the man who accepted the end of this present life by shedding his blood after the long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ. John was baptized in his own blood, though he had been privileged to baptize the Redeemer of the world, to hear the voice of the Father above him, and to see the grace of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. But to endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.
Since death was ever near at hand through the inescapable necessity of nature, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake. He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.
Source: (Hom 23: CCL 122, 354, 356-357)
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
By John Sanidopoulos
I first travelled to Meteora when I was 15 years old with my mother and my grandmother. We only had a day and a half to visit all the monasteries there, so we hired a random taxi driver from neighboring Kalambaka to serve as our tour guide over our two day pilgrimage. The taxi driver was a very pious man, whose cab was decorated with many icons of saints, and he was very knowledgeable about all things Meteora. As we drove from one monastery to the next, one particular rock structure caught my eye that fascinated me. I asked the driver what it was. He told us that it was a prison for monks, where they repented for their sins. In my 15 year old immature imagination I thought of this as a place of punishment and exile. I imagined what life must have been like there, what sins would have brought them there, how they endured the harsh elements, how long they served their sentence, etc. It was a complete mystery, and to this day I never have come across any reliable texts concerning this prison of monks at Meteora, until recently after 21 years a speculation came to me that may not seem too improbable.
One of the most haunting and fascinating sections of The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus of Sinai is recorded in Step 5, where he talks about the repentance of the monks, whom St. John called "convicts", in a harsh secluded monastery known as "The Prison". When one reads this section, you could hardly believe that this was ever a real place, but St. John stayed at the Prison for a month, and recorded for us what he saw that made an extremely deep impression on him.
The Prison that St. John visited was where monks who had gravely sinned lived in extreme ascesis and gave extraordinary proofs of repentance, straining by their labors to receive God’s forgiveness. Far from appearing as extreme and intolerable, this Prison seemed rather to the Saint to be the model of monastic life: “A soul that has lost its one-time confidence and abandoned its hope of dispassion, that has broken the seal of chastity, that has squandered the treasury of divine graces, that has become a stranger to divine consolation, that has rejected the Lord’s command…and that is wounded and pierced by sorrow as it remembers all this, will not only take on the labors mentioned above with all eagerness, but will even decide devoutly to kill itself with penitential works. It will do so if there is in it only the tiniest spark of love or of fear of the Lord.”
If you have not read about the Prison described by St. John, I would encourage you to do so. It can be read here, between pages 29-34.
In 1959 Thomas Merton wrote a review for The Ladder of Divine Ascent in Jubilee magazine, where he praised it in many ways. However, he took exception to one section, and that was towards the chapter which describes the Prison. To him, it insulted his intelligence that St. John praised this form of asceticism and repentance, and he accused these monks of having various mental disorders. This proves that those who think according to the worlds standards and have distanced themselves away from the ascetical tradition of the Church and the way of the pious, see such things as utter follishness, insane, demented.
Regarding the prison for Monks at Meteora, which is known also as the Rock of the Holy Spirit, there are various traditions surrounding it with no positive identification. For example, we know that in the last half of the 18th century the Turkish-Albanians occupied this area and may have used it as a prison. In the beginning of the 19th century the Turks used the monasteries of Meteora as prisons and places of exile for punished clergy from Constantinople, but there is no record they stayed at the Rock of the Holy Spirit. In fact, no one knows if they were really ever prisons at all. It could have just been a place for ascetics to stay. But why call it a prison? There must be something to that tradition. Perhaps there was a certain resemblance to the way of life here that there was in the Prison described by St. John. It's all speculation, but a valid theory nonetheless.
August 27, 2012
Whenever someone speaks of “American Orthodoxy,” there is usually an unspoken understanding that the term refers to North American Orthodoxy: the United States, Canada, and sometimes Mexico. This way of speaking is indeed convenient, considering that the majority of Orthodox parishes in the Western Hemisphere are still located in North America. However, in the past few years a great change has occurred in Latin America that makes it increasingly inaccurate to focus on North America as the western outpost of Orthodoxy. Just two years ago, in 2010, the Orthodox Church received a large group of Guatemalan converts numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Now Guatemala, and possibly all of Latin America, holds tremendous promise of becoming fertile ground for the Orthodox Christian Church.
The seed of Orthodoxy in Guatemala was planted by the nuns of the Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox orphanage in Guatemala City. Many people are familiar with the incredible work of Mother Inés, Mother Ivonne, and Mother María. In fact, just this year a group of seminarians from St. Vladimir's Seminary traveled with the seminary Chancellor/CEO Archpriest Chad Hatfield to see the work of the nuns and to assist at the orphanage. It is through these nuns that the Guatemalan soil was first prepared for the Orthodox Church.
Now, with the recent chrismation of a new group of Guatemalan converts that numbers between 100,000 and 200,000, the Orthodox Church is ready to blossom in Guatemala. The magnitude of the event cannot be overstated. Almost overnight, Guatemala has become the most Orthodox country in the Western Hemisphere (by percentage of national population). Furthermore, the Orthodox communities in Guatemala continue to grow rapidly and attract attention throughout Guatemala. There is still, however, little information available to the broader Orthodox world on the history and character of these new communities. For this reason, I traveled to Guatemala this summer, spending two months visiting many of the Orthodox parishes, meeting the leaders of the communities, and accompanying the bishop of the Guatemalan Church—His Eminence, Metropolitan Athenagoras—as he made his historic first visit to the new parishes in Guatemala. I returned to the United States with the desire to share what I saw and the conviction that the Holy Spirit is at work with power in Latin America.
The new Orthodox communities are in touch with the nuns of the Hogar, but they are an independent movement with a unique history. These communities are mostly made up of native Mayans and have roots in the Roman Catholic Church. They first began in the 1970s and 1980s as a Roman Catholic renewal movement called the “Charismatic Renewal in the Holy Spirit.” For various reasons, including the movement's charismatic prayer practices and emphasis on music in church services, the parishes of the Charismatic Renewal became estranged from the Roman Catholic Church. Many communities went decades without sacraments until, in the 1990s, a former Roman Catholic priest named Fr. Andrés Girón took the movement under his wing. A very prominent figure in Guatemala, Fr. Andrés had served in the Guatemalan senate, acted as an ambassador to the United Nations, and led a large movement for land reform among the rural poor of Guatemala. These activities were part of what caused Fr. Andrés to come into tension with the Roman Catholic Church, eventually leaving the Church before taking leadership of the parishes of the Charismatic Renewal.
It was through Fr. Andrés that the communities of the Charismatic Renewal began to move towards the Orthodox Church. Fr. Andrés first joined a non-canonical Orthodox group called the Society of Secular Clerics, and he was soon ordained a bishop in this group. However, as he became more familiar with broader Orthodox Christianity, Fr. Andrés sought out the canonical Orthodox Church. A number of priests from other countries came to evaluate the situation in Guatemala, and then in April of 2010, Fr. Andrés was received into the canonical Orthodox Church under the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
After Fr. Andrés entered the Orthodox Church, then began the process of ordaining priests, chrismating the faithful, and educating the hundreds of thousands of new Orthodox. Over the last two years, a total of eight priests who were originally ordained non-canoncially have now been ordained as priests in the Orthodox Church. One of those priests spent a year in Greece to learn about Orthodoxy and become an iconographer, and there are plans for other priests to spend time abroad growing in Orthodoxy. The priests have begun to train a large team of catechists to go into all the villages to teach the people about Orthodoxy. In addition, a missionary priest from Pennsylvania, Fr. John Chakos, has begun working in Guatemala to assist the Guatemalan leaders and teach the faithful.
While the eight priests of the Guatemalan Orthodox Church are familiar with Orthodox theology and history, the majority of the Orthodox faithful still have much to learn and need time to grow. Many parishes lack basic iconography and essential liturgical supplies, and the communities are still relatively unfamiliar with the Divine Liturgy and other Orthodox services. Nevertheless, the communities have the seed of powerful faith: parishes are always packed on Sundays, sometimes with close to a thousand people; lay leaders are well-versed in Scripture and deliver convicting sermons to the congregations; and many communities center all of their activities around the Church, with some villages faithfully tithing ten percent of their crops and money. The Guatemalan Orthodox are indeed still newborns in the Church, but they are already growing in the Orthodox Church and have reacted well to the changes that are being made to bring them closer to the fulness of the faith. These “little ones” of Guatemala, the newborn Mayan Orthodox, will not be turned away by the Lord.
As we continue to discuss the future of “American Orthodoxy,” we must not forget that the providence of God often guides the Church in unexpected ways, and His providence is now calling our attention to Latin America. When, in 1867, St. Innocent reflected on the sale of Alaska to the United States, he said, “I see in this event one of the ways of Providence whereby Orthodoxy will penetrate the United States.” These words are often recalled in discussions of American Orthodoxy, along with the stories of the rapid conversion of native Alaskans to the Orthodox Church. Now, in our lifetime, as many as 200,000 native Guatemalans have turned to the Orthodox Church—is this not the continuation of God's Providence in the Western Hemisphere? The Holy Spirit has opened a door for the faith to penetrate Latin America through Guatemala, and this event calls us to recognize and believe in the tremendous potential for the Orthodox Church to flourish in this hemisphere. We are called to stand with the Orthodox Christians of Guatemala: through prayer, through donations of liturgical supplies and monetary support, and through missionaries and teachers who will go to Guatemala to help the people learn and grow.
Finally, we are called to once again be inspired by the richness of “American Orthodoxy.” From the small wooden churches of Alaska to the large food festivals of Pittsburgh and Chicago, from the Orthodox parishes that dot South America to the Mayan communities that live under the volcanoes of Guatemala—the beauty of God's Church is alive and growing in the Western Hemisphere. Let us embrace the work of God's Providence, supporting the Guatemalan Orthodox Church and tending to the faith throughout all the Americas, so that the seed of American Orthodoxy will grow and blossom.
For more information on the Guatemalan Orthodox Church and my summer travels to the Guatemalan communities, see my blog, which has articles and pictures that give a fuller understanding of Guatemalan Orthodoxy. If you would like to know how you can support the Guatemalan Orthodox Church, please contact Fr. John Chakos, the missionary priest who is serving in Guatemala under the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). You can also find articles by Fr. John Chakos about the Guatemalan communities on the blog of Pres. Alexandra Chakos.