Monday, January 28, 2013

Will Be Back Soon...


I'll be taking a short break from posting anything new so that unattended matters and projects in my life don't become more overwhelming than they already are.

I hope to update everyone on my progress within a week or so, and make some exciting announcements as well to make your experience here more pleasant and user-friendly.

Communication will continue only through Facebook and Twitter in the time being.

Isaac the Syrian: Gehenna - the Torment of God's Love


From Ascetical Homilies 27:

- "In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised."

- "God’s recompense to sinners is that, instead of a just recompense, God rewards them with resurrection."

- "If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?"

- "Let us not be in doubt, O fellow humanity, concerning the hope of our salvation, seeing that the One who bore sufferings for our sakes is very concerned about our salvation; God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive, God’s grace is greater than what we ask for."

- "Sin, Gehenna, and Death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist. Gehenna is the fruit of sin…"

From Ascetical Homilies 48:

- "As for me I say that those who are tormented in Gehenna are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in Gehenna are deprived of God’s love."

- "Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful."

- "That is what the torment of Gehenna is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability."

- "This is the aim of Love. Love’s chastisement is for correction, but it does not aim at retribution…But the man who considers God an avenger, presuming that he bears witness to His justice, the same accuses Him of being bereft of goodness. Far be it, that vengeance could ever be found in that Fountain of love and Ocean brimming with goodness! The aim of His design is the correction of men."

From Ascetical Homilies 51:

- "Even in the matter of afflictions — the judgment of Gehenna, say — there bides a hidden mystery, whereby the Maker has taken as a starting point our patent willfulness, using even Gehenna as a way of bringing to perfection His greater dispensation. If the world to come proves entirely the realm of mercy, love, and goodness, how then a final state that claims requital for its measure?"

- "God is not One who requites [i.e. requires payback for] evil, but He is One who sets evil right."

- "That we should think that Gehenna is not also full of love and mingled with compassion would be an insult to our God. By saying He will deliver us to suffering without purpose, we most surely sin. We blaspheme also if we say that He will act with spite or with a vengeful purpose, as if He had a need to avenge Himself."

- "Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright, His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. ‘He is good’, He says ‘to the evil and to the impious.’ How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers?…How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth?…Where, then, is God's justice, for while we are sinners Christ died for us!"


Ephraim the Syrian: On the Gehenna of the Wicked


- My brethren, great is one’s fear at the hour of death, since at the moment of the separation of the soul from the body, there appear before the soul all of the works which it did, both day and night, both good and evil, while, at the same time, the Angels hurry to take the soul from the body. Now, the soul of a sinner, seeing its evil deeds, hesitates to depart. Urged by the Angels and trembling from its evil deeds, it implores with fear, saying: “Leave me for just one more hour, and afterwards I will leave.” But the answer to the soul is given by all of its deeds together — all that the soul has done –: “You created us. Together with you, then, we must appear before God.” So, trembling and wailing, the soul leaves the body and goes to appear before the eternal Judge of divine justice. (The Evergetinos)

- Maybe it is that the Gehenna of the wicked consists in what they see, and it is their very separation that burns them, and their mind acts as the flame. The hidden judge who is seated in the discerning mind has spoken, and has become for them there the righteous judge, who beats them without mercy with the torments of contrition. Perhaps it is this which separates them out, sending each one to the appropriate place; perhaps it is this which grasps the good with its right hand stretched out, sending them to that right hand of mercy; and it again which takes the wicked in its upright left hand, casting them into the place called “the left”; maybe it is this which silently accuses them, and quietly pronounces sentence upon them...this inner intelligence has been made the judge and the law, for it is the embodiment of the shadow of the law, and it is the shadow of the Lord of the Law. (Epistle to Publios, 22)

The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna


I have long wanted to do a little work to debunk the endlessly repeated myth that the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) was a perpetually burning trash dump. There simply is no evidence to support the idea, but because it seems a reasonable explanation for the origin of the Hinnom Valley as “hell,” writers and preachers accept and propagate the story.

Louis McBride recently raised the issue. He writes:

I consulted over a dozen study Bibles on Matthew 5:22 and no less than eight of them made a reference to the rubbish heap. Almost every major commentary on Matthew that mentions Gehenna also spoke of the garbage dump. I’ve always thought that this was an established fact.

Then he quotes Peter Head, G. R. Beasley-Murray, and Lloyd Bailey in tracing the origin of this notion to Rabbi David Kimchi in AD 1200. Specifically, Bailey states:

[Kimchi] maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources.

As with the legend about the rope around the high priest’s ankle, this popular myth seems to have originated in Jewish circles in the Middle Ages. McBride has more details and the sources in his post.

The explanation for the “fire of Gehenna” lies not in a burning trash dump, but in the burning of sacrificed children. Jeremiah is explicit that such occurred here:

Jeremiah 7:31–32 (ESV) — And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere.

Isaiah had already envisioned Topheth as the fiery destiny of an enemy of God.

Isaiah 30:33 (HCSB) — Indeed! Topheth has been ready for the king for a long time now. His funeral pyre is deep and wide, with plenty of fire and wood. The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, kindles it.

Thus already in Old Testament times, the Valley of Hinnom was associated with the destiny of the wicked. That the valley was just outside the city of Jerusalem made it an appropriate symbol for those excluded from divine blessing. Isaiah closes his book with these words:

Isaiah 66:24 (ESV) — “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

It is not difficult to see, from these and other texts (e.g., 2 Kgs 23:10; 2 Chr 28:3, 33:6; Jer 32:35), why Jesus and his contemporaries used the word Gehenna (“valley of Hinnom”) as synonymous with the place of everlasting fiery torment. Indeed, there is no reason to search further for ancient burning piles of discarded newspapers, product packaging, and junk mail.


Views of Scholars

Edward Robinson, preeminent explorer of the Holy Land beginning in 1838. He wrote:

“In these gardens, lying partly within the mouth of Hinnom and partly in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and irrigated by the waters of Siloam, Jerome assigns the place of Tophet; where the Jews practised the horrid rites of Baal and Moloch, and ‘burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.’ It was probably in allusion to this detested and abominable fire, that the later Jews applied the name of this valley (Gehenna), to denote the place of future punishment or the fires of hell. At least there is no evidence of any other fires having been kept up in the valley; as has sometimes been supposed” (Biblical Researches, vol. 1 [1841], 404-5).

The origin of the “garbage dump” theory appears to be Kimchi. James A. Montgomery observes this medieval commentator’s logic, but does not accept it.

“With the common sense which often characterizes Jewish commentators, Kimchi says that the place was the dump of the city, where fires were always kept burning to destroy the refuse; ‘therefore the judgment of the wicked is parabolically called Gehenna.’ But from the Biblical references the place appears to have nothing physically objectionable about it; in contrast to its contemporary condition Jeremiah prophesied that it would one day be called ‘Valley of Slaughter’” (“The Holy City and Gehenna,” JBL 27/1 [1908], 34).

Lloyd R. Bailey quotes Kimchi directly:

“The traditional explanation for this seems to go back to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27 (around 1200 C.E.). He remarked the following concerning the valley beneath Jerusalem’s walls:

'Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called ‘Gehenna.’'

“Kimhi's otherwise plausible suggestion, however, finds no support in literary sources or archaeological data from the intertestamental or rabbinic periods. There is no evidence that the valley was, in fact, a garbage dump, and thus his explanation is insufficient” (“Gehenna: The Topography of Hell,” Biblical Archaeologist 49/3 [1986], 188-89).

About the same time, G. R. Beasley-Murray made a similar observation:

“The notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimchi made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source. The valley was the scene of human sacrifices, burned in the worship of Moloch (2 Kings 16:3 and 21:6), which accounts for the prophecy of Jeremiah that it would be called the Valley of Slaughter under judgment of God (Jer. 7:32-33). This combination of abominable fires and divine judgment led to the association of the valley with a place of perpetual judgment (see Isa. 66:24) and later with a place of judgment by fire without any special connection to Jerusalem (see, for example, 1 Enoch 27:1ff., 54:1ff., 63:3-4, and 90:26ff)” (Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 376-77).

W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, in their excellent commentary on Matthew, note the lack of ancient evidence but do not entirely reject the notion of a garbage dump.

“Why the place of torment came to have this name, the name of the valley south of Jerusalem, gê-hinnōm (Josh 18.16 LXX: Γαιεννα), now Wādier-rabābi, is uncertain. The standard view, namely, that the valley was where the city’s garbage was incinerated and that the constantly rising smoke and smell of corruption conjured up the fiery torments of the damned, is without ancient support, although it could be correct. Perhaps the abode of the wicked dead gained its name because children had there been sacrificed in fire to the god Molech (2 Chr 28.3; 33.6), or because Jeremiah, recalling its defilement by Josiah (2 Kgs 23.10; cr. 21.6), thundered against the place (Jer 7.31-2; 19.2-9; 32.35), or because it was believed that in the valley was the entrance to the underworld home of the pagan chthonian deities (cf. b. ‘Erub. 19a) (Matthew 1-7, 514-15).

In the “Gehenna” article in the recent (2007) New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Philip S. Johnston considers the biblical evidence to provide “perhaps sufficient links” though he does not dismiss outright the dump theory.

“The exact process by which a geographical toponym became the locale of postmortem punishment is obscure. The clear association with abhorrent sacrifice and subsequent slaughter, and the possible further links with fire and corpses are perhaps sufficient links. It is often suggested that the Hinnom Valley became Jerusalem’s garbage dump, and that it constantly smoldered. Alternatively, the association to the cult of the underworld deity Molech seems to contain a link between a fiery altar and the entrance to divine realm” (2:531).

Bailey gives a further suggestion that may help to explain the origin of the view of Gehenna. The practice of sacrifice to foreign gods led to the view expressed in the Talmud that the Hinnom Valley was the location of two of the gates to Gehenna.

“Even after the valley ceased to function as a cult center, it continued to be regarded as the location of an entrance to the underworld over which the sole God was sovereign. This is clear from the following statements in the Babylonian Talmud:

(Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar further stated:) Gehenna has three gates; one in the wilderness, one in the sea and one in Jerusalem. (According to Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai's school:) There are two palm trees in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and between them smoke arises..,. and this is the gate of Gehenna? (Babylonian Talmud, Erubin, 19a-see Slotki 1938: 130-31)” (191).

Finally, Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron conclude their article on a New Testament-period dump in Jerusalem with some observations from archaeological investigation about the location of the Old Testament-period dump in the Kidron Valley.

“It seems that the location of the city-dump of the late Second Temple period in this particular part of the city had a previous long history in the late Iron Age II. The Book of Nehemiah mentions several times a gate called Saar ha-Aspot/Sopot (Neh 2, 13; 3:13-14; 12:31). This toponym is usually translated as ‘Dung Gate’, based on the analogy with 2 Sam 2,8 and Ps 113,7 (Simons 1952, 123). These verses mention the city’s poor people, who most probably were foraging the city dump for food. Even if we accept B. Mazar’s suggestion (1975, 194-95), to relate spt to tpt – the Tophet – which was an extramural high place in the Valley of Hinnom (2 Kgs 21, 6; 2 Chr 33,6), we remain in an area of dirt. This place involved an extensive use of fire, which produced burning waste such as ashes, soot and charred wood. Also the location of the Gate of the pottery sherds (Sa’ar ha-Harsit), in the south (Jer 19,2), might point to a pile of garbage (Simons 1952, 230), as pottery vessels were the type of household item broken and discarded in antiquity more than any other type of artifact.

All the various types of city-garbage (ashes, pottery shards, waste of human occupation, etc.) were moved and dumped at the southeastern side of the city of Jerusalem, in the Iron Age and Persian periods. This was the city dump to where also the debris of the smashed cult objects and related material that was created during the Josianic religious reform, were moved and dumped, mentioning particularly the Kidron Valley (2 Kgs 23,4,6,10,12)” (“The Jerusalem City-Dump in the Late Second Temple Period, Israel Exploration Journal 53 [2003], 17).

The “southeastern side” of Jerusalem is the southern portion of the Kidron Valley, and this was the area of the excavators’ study. The “extensive use of fire” is in relation to the activities of a high place, whereas the waste products of the city inhabitants were not of the sort that required significant burning.

In short, while it may not be denied that there was some burning of garbage in ancient Jerusalem, there is no indication that this was extensive, that it was located in the Hinnom Valley, or that it was in any way connected to the fires of eternal torment. A simpler and better supported explanation is the sacrificial offerings to pagan deities in the Hinnom Valley (Jer 7:31-32; 32:35; 2 Kgs 23:10; 2 Chr 28:3; 33:6).

An American Pilgrim on Mount Athos (3)


... continued from part two.

July 18. On the way up from the arsenal [a massive tower] and the sheltered landing at the Lavra, we stopped at a shrine where St. Athanasius is said to have hurt his leg while carrying wood to the monastery. They told us how the devils used to tear down the stones which he laid during the daytime when building the monastery, until he served the Liturgy, which drove them away.

We reached the Lavra about seven in the evening on the day of the feast of St. Athanasius. A great many monks and visitors crowded around the porch at the entrance. Some had brought wood carvings to sell so the feast was a combination of religious festival and fair, as in the Middle Ages. Fr. Joachim knew a great many people. We found that all the rooms were taken but he arranged to have us put up. He has influence through a friend of his who is the doctor and an epitropos.

People were sitting on all the benches and walking about the courtyard. We visited the doctor in his room and a monk brought in masticha, water, and preserved cherries for us. Fr. Joachim arranged for us to have mules when we wanted to leave and found that we would be able to see everything here. Since he didn't have a letter, we had to eat separately. Stacy and I went to the synod-room and had more liqueur and delicious cherries. People gathered in the hall upstairs and about 9:30, when all had arrived, the two bishops led the way to the dining room below. We all sat at a long table with the bishops at the head. We each had five plates piled on top of each other with knife and fork which we kept for each course. Wine was plentiful. The monks waited on table and served first cut up tomatoes and herring, then two fish courses, then beans, and last preserved pears. After dinner there were short speeches and singing in between. We weren't through until 11:15. Because of the number of people we had to sleep in separate rooms.

July 19. This morning I was waked up at 5:30 along with everybody else for the Liturgy. When I got to the church they were still doing the prothesis. A monk told me to take a stasidion in the very middle of the nave right in front of the Holy Doors where I saw everything. The Bishop of Tripolis was the principal officiant. He was wearing a sakkos of green and gold, an omophorion of white satin and gold, and carried an enameled crosier. With him served ten priests, some in red and gold, others in blue and gold, as well as five deacons. The color and pageantry were magnificent. At the Little Entrance four acolytes carried silver candlesticks in front and behind them came two deacons carrying the Gospels. The cover of the Gospels was of blue enamel set in silver and had five medallions on it. Instead of a curtain behind the Holy Doors was a gorgeous piece of pink and gold embroidery which could be raised and lowered. In front of the large icon of the Virgin and Child was a cloth of gold embroidery which was part of the trappings of Ali Pasha's horse. There were innumerable old Byzantine icons, especially in the sanctuary, the walls of which were lined with them. At the end of the Liturgy two monks brought in a great cake made of sugar, barley, and walnuts which had the design of the Byzantine eagle on it surrounded by an intricate border. There were two of these cakes, each about three feet in diameter. The second cake was decorated with a design of interlacing shields. One was blessed for St. Athanasius and the other in memory of the dead monks of the monastery. After the service the monks gave scoopfuls of the cake to the people outside. We had some and found it delicious.

I met Stacy and Fr. Joachim after the Liturgy and we took a look at the trapeza where the second class guests eat. They were all sitting at tables in a big hall eating soup and beans while a monk read aloud. After that we found the house where the library and treasures are kept was open, so over we went. In one room cabinets stood around the walls with treasures whose value couldn't be estimated. We saw the silver and gold miter of the Emperor Nikephoros, other miters of gold embroidery, two cibolia which looked like small churches, silver censers, jeweled and carved crosses. In another cabinet were Bibles. One was in a gold case with a long figure in relief on the cover. They opened this and it turned out to be a Gospel in uncials. Another Gospels was two feet high with painted enamel medallions, a gift of Catherine the Great. There were innumerable sets of vestments. Some of the orarions and epitrachelions had faces of saints embroidered on them in intricate detail. We saw a sakkos of gold cloth presented by the Emperor Nikephoros, which is worn only by the Patriarch when he visits the monastery. In the library we saw a Gospels in beautiful minuscules with many miniatures and decorations which the monks were thumbing over and examining with a magnifying glass. The books were all exposed on the shelves and no particular care was taken to guard them.

From there we went back to the church to see the relics. In front of the Holy Doors was a stand on which they put the reliquaries. An old man behind me showed me how to stand with hands folded in front. I nudged Stacy to show him but he kept his hands firmly behind his back. He told me later that he thought I was warning him to watch his pocketbook in the crowd. The best reliquary was a gold box studded with big precious stones to keep a piece of the Cross. Besides this we saw the hand of St. Andrew and of St. John Chrysostom and the head of St. Basil. We have decided that here on Athos they have a good chance of being genuine.

In the afternoon we lay down under the trees outside the monastery. Had a fine view of the sea and of the monastery. We walked down to the boat with Fr. Joachim and saw him off. He has been awfully good to us.

At dinner we were honored by having places near the bishop. What a meal! Six courses as follows: 1. tomato and greens; 2. onion and octopus; 3. mallow; 4. fried potatoes; 5. rice and octopus; 6. pears. The octopus has a pink flesh with a nice, delicate flavor. The tentacles, strange to say, are also good and tender.

July 20. For climbing Mt. Athos, Fr. Joachim arranged to have a servant of the monastery go with us. We got up about five and arranged one pack. Stacy believed in laying in a good quantity of the bread for the three-hours' walk but found after a little while that it turned into lead.

We started at 6:30 and followed a paved mule path which had smooth stones and ridges every yard or two which made walking unpleasant, especially on the upgrade. This lasted nearly an hour before we struck a stony dirt path. At first we went through low scrubby growth and gradually worked up to the level of larger trees like oaks, pines, and nut trees. Below us we saw the Romanian Skete of the Prodromos which was so white and clean that it might just have been built. At one point we saw a bright orange cliff which seemed to have been sliced off by the September earthquake. At Russiko they had told us that it happened during the vigil service for the Elevation of the Cross and the service went on without interruption although you could see the building sway.

We reached Kerasia by 9:30 and Euthymios, our guide, took us to a monk's house where there were mules. He brought out coffee and loukoumi and asked our nationality. When we came to the subject of the mules, he said he wanted 300 drachmas, that was what everybody paid. Luckily Fr. Joachim had told us not to give more than 200. While the argument was going on he gave us two cucumbers and said there were no other mules in the village. When we started to leave to look around he came down to 200. Later on top of the mountain we realized that we hadn't the cucumbers.

Going down to the village we saw other mules. Found a small Russian kellia consisting of church dormitory, and gardens. After looking at the church we were taken to the reception room and given masticha. We both find masticha quite strong especially when you are expected to drink it right down. When possible we pour it over the window sill or down a sink, but here the elder was with us so we drank part of it and left the rest. When he saw we had left some he went over to Stacy and held his glass to his mouth and literally poured it down. Then he saw that I finished mine.

We had two good mules with wooden saddles and thick blankets over them. It was a hard, stony trail up the mountain and we had to be careful to avoid bruising our legs against the rocks. Stacy preferred riding side saddle like may Greeks, but I found it more comfortable and secure to be astride. The slope of the mountain is so steep that we had wonderful views of the sea below. We dismounted at one spot and walked to the edge of a cliff from which we could jump off and land in St. Anne's. The mule boy said we were to walk from there, that it would take only a quarter of an hour. Since there were clouds just above us we couldn't tell but what that was the case. However, after climbing twenty minutes or so the clouds cleared and we saw the summit high above us. We had a hard hour's climb before we reached it. Though clouds were coming and going we had chances to make out monasteries below and look across the blue Aegean to Thasos, Samothrace, and Imbrose. On good days, we were told, it is possible to see Constantinople and Athens.

July 21. After spending the night at the Russian house in Kerasia we set off early in the morning. The walk was cool and easy. If we had had time we would have gone down to Kapsokalyvia where they are said to make wood carvings and good icons. Lavra looked like a castle with its tower as we approached it, and was certainly built to be defended. The courtyard is much more spacious than in any other monastery we have seen. The catholicon [main church] is in the middle and the other buildings straggle around it in irregular fashion.

We are glad to hear that a motor boat will be leaving for Iveron and that we shan't have to make the trip on mules. The boat was said to be leaving at noon but now it looks more like four or five. The time on the Mountain has confused us. They follow the Byzantine system which is a variation of the old Roman system. The day is supposed to start with sunrise and end with sunset. This would mean changing the length of the hours if they were accurate but time means so little here that they simply add an hour or two to the day in summer and subtract them in winter. Generally 8 AM is 12 for them, although at Lavra 6 AM was 12. We run on Saloniki time.

When it came time to leave we saw all the epitropoi and the hegoumenos come to the porch to say good-bye to the bishop. They would bow down and touch the ground, then kiss his hand. We walked down to the arsenal ahead of the others and had our packs taken by mule. On the way we had to pass a lot of mules which was a problem because the path was narrow and walled on both sides. We went gingerly hoping not to be kicked. We wanted to wait and watch the bishop get by.

As usual a good many people turned up to go in the boat. All the monks had umbrellas to keep off the hot sun. The bishop's deacon seemed to mind the swell and kept smelling a lemon. We passed Karakallou and Philotheou, both of which were set well back from the shore. One monk pointed out a tower with a small house adjoining where Patriarch Joachim stayed for some time. I gathered that he had had to flee from Turkey.

To be continued...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saint Clement the Stylite of Mount Sagmata (+1111)


Born into a pious Athenian family, Saint Clement showed devout tendencies from his early childhood. When he reached the age of thirty, he renounced the vanities of this world and entered the Monastery of Myoupolis, founded by Saint Meletios (1 Sept.) on Mount Kythairon in Boetia. For three years he showed himself to be the model of a monk, by his obedience and humility. Moreover, he used to like to withdraw to pray in the solitude of Mount Sagmata nearby. His prayer was so ardent that he was caught by surprise one day by one of his monks, his spirit in ecstasy and his body raised above the ground.

Wishing to flee from the admiration of men, Clement obtained the blessing of Saint Meletios to live in a cave, situated like a column on a promontory of Mount Sagmata. He spent many years there, in total retreat from the world, but the reputation of his virtues and of the grace which God granted him, attracted a growing number of disciples, who settled themselves either in the caves round about or in a small monastery situated nearby, in order to delight in his teaching. On the death of Saint Meletios, the monk who took on the direction of the Monastery of Myoupolis demanded that the ascetic return to lead the communal life. As Clement refused this, recalling that he had received the blessing of the former holy Elder to lead the life of hesyachasm, the abbot excommunicated him, and declared his name anathema. Not long afterwards, the latter fell ill, and realizing his error, asked to be taken to the ascetic to ask for his forgiveness. As his state of health did not allow for such a journey, it was whilst invoking the forgiveness of Clement that he gave up his spirit.

As a result, the reputation of the holiness of the ascetic of Mount Sagmata reached the ears of Emperor Alexios Komnenos, who gave as a gift to the now established Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration on Mount Sagmata a precious fragment of the True Cross.

Coming to the end of his struggles, Saint Clement fell seriously ill, and after giving his last words of advice to his disciples, his soul passed peacefully over to the Lord in the year 1111.

The Holy Skull of Saint Clement can be venerated today at the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Sagmata. Preserved there also is the cave of Saint Clement.

His holy memory is celebrated on January 26th and May 1st.


Ἀπολυτίκιον Ήχος α’
Τον πλούτον και την δόξαν του ματαίου αιώνος εμίσησας θεόφρων, οσιώτατε Κλήμης, και όρος κατέλαβες τραχύ, εν ω προσομίλεις τω Θεώ, διά τούτο συνελθόντες, επαξίως ευφημούμεν σε: δόξα τω σε δοξάσαντι Χριστώ, δόξα τω σε στεφανώσαντι, δόξα τω ενεργούντι διά σου πάσι ιάματα.

Κοντάκιον Ήχος πλ. δ’. (Την Υπερμάχω Στρατηγώ)
Τους εν ασκήσει φαεινούς και ουρανόφρονας, και του Χριστού ως αληθώς θείους θεράποντας, Κλήμεντα και Γερμανόν ανευφημήσωμεν, ούτοι γαρ ως ποταμούς ιάματα βρύουσι, τοις θερμώς τοις λειψάνοις αυτών πελάζουσι, και κραυγάζουσι, χαίρε ζεύγος αγιόλεκτον.


The Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration on Mount Sagmata

General remarks

Sagmata Monastery is one of the most important 12th-century monuments, built on the summit of Mount Sagmation, at the height of 747 meters. In ancient times this mountain was called Ypation, since it is recorded that a temple and a statue of Zeus Hypatos stood there. It owes its modern name possibly to its shape, which gives the impression of a saddle from a distance, or due to the previous occupation of the monks with saddle-making.

The founder of the Monastery was Saint Clement, initially a monk in the Monastery of Saint Meletios, from where he left to settle in a skete on the summit of Sagmata. His relics as well as those of other saints are kept in the katholikon. Some financial support came from Emperor Alexios Komnenos, who granted a chrysobull in 1106.

The precinct and its buildings

The Monastery generally retains a trapezoid ground plan. Four wings with cells and other auxiliary buildings surrounded a spacious courtyard, giving the impression from outside of a strong precinct. Almost in the center of the courtyard stands the katholikon.

Around the Katholikon are built the cells, the dining hall, and the rest of the support spaces. Towards the south side is the dining hall of the Monastery, the “photanamma”, and towards the western side the first cell, all constructions of the 12th century. The rest of the buildings (cells, the archondariki, etc.) date from the Turkish occupation.


The Katholikon

The katholikon of Sagmata Monastery, dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ, follows the classicizing tendencies that prevailed in Greece during the 12th century. It belongs to the architectural type of the complex cross-in-square church with dome, a characteristic Constantinopolitan type. To the west a four-columned lite is built and a later exonarthex.

The most noteworthy portion of the church is the mosaic floor. It is beautiful, from the samples that remain, crafted with multicolored stones, depicting wonderful scenes from the animal and plant kingdoms, along with geometric shapes.

The roof of the main church has lost its original form due to various additions, already since 1675, and were restored in the years 1971-72. However, the dome, destroyed by the 1914 earthquake, was not restored until quite recently, between the years 2002-2004.

Buildings outside the monastery precinct

Among the buildings outside the monastery precinct are included:




a) The Skete of Saint Clement, a small cave on the south slope of Sagmata, where according to tradition he initially led his ascetic life. (Photos above show the exterior of the cave, the interior, and the view from the cave.)


b) Saint Clement's vaulted tomb, which was incorporated in the interior of a modern church, replacing an earlier one, built in 1974, to the south of the precinct.

c) A single-naved church, to the south of the precinct, dedicated to Saint Nicholas. This small 16th century church has the shape of a free cross in the exterior with a semi-hexagonal apse to the east, while in the interior it forms a triconch.

d) Around the Monastery are the ruins of old chapels, while at a distance of about 1 kilometer, next to the road, is the chapel of the Holy Forty Martyrs, which was built during the Turkish occupation.


e) In recent years, the contemporary Russian Saint Luke the Surgeon, Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimea(1877-1961), became well known in Greece. Within the Holy Monastery is a chapel dedicated to St. Luke. Contained within are portions of his relics, his episcopal mitre, and some personal items. His memory is celebrated on June 11th.

Other Saints of Sagmata Monastery

St. Germanos (1480-1540) – He served as abbot of the Holy Monastery during the bitter years of Turkish occupation. He was the spiritual father of St. Seraphim. His memory is celebrated on January 26th.

St. Seraphim (1520-1602) – His family was from the town of Zeli. In his youth he came to Sagmata, and lived there as a monk for 10 years. For greater asceticism, he fled to the area of Domvou Elikonos, and built his famous Holy Monastery. His memory is celebrated on May 6th.

Fr. Nektarios Antonopoulos (the Abbot of Sagmata Monastery), who routinely takes the Holy Relics to churches outside the Monastery, and gives many talks on the life and miracles of St. Luke of Simferopol .

The Monastery Today

The Monastery knew days of wondrous spiritual greatness, and was a spiritual lighthouse for the region for centuries. Unfortunately, the national endeavors of later years did not leave the Monastery unaffected. The occupation by the Turks halted the processes of the Holy Monastery, along with other monasteries. Then, the Monastery was sacked and stripped of its holy treasures, which continued later by contemporary thieves. The buildings suffered the corruption of time, and the lack of men allowed considerable damage. The formerly multitudinous Holy Monastery remained with a few aged monks, who, without the necessary resources and difficult conditions, tried to salvage what was possible.

From the 1970's, at the concern of Metropolitans Nikodemos and Ieronymos, and after, there began major restoration activities. The reconstruction had progressed to the point that the abandoned Holy Monastery had changed appearance. Since 1977, the Monastery has been inhabited by a small-numbered brotherhood, and functions as a male monastery.

Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Sagmata: Archimandrite Nektarios Antonopoulos

The Monastery is open to pilgrims daily from 7:30AM-1PM, and from 4PM until sunset.

The Holy Monastery celebrates:
August 6th (The Transfiguration of Christ)
January 26th and May 1st (St. Clement)
September 14th (The Precious Cross)

Monasticism in Byzantine Boeotia


1. Early Byzantine period and the “Dark Ages”

Nothing can be said with certainty regarding monastic life in Byzantine Boeotia during the first eight centuries AD. We know that until around the mid 6th century Boeotia, as well as the rest of south Greece, had been largely Christianized, but soon passed to an unprecedented cultural decline: violent incursions by Avars and Slavs in the hinterland, the settlement of new populations, the frantic activity of Arab pirates in the Aegean, the overthrow of political and economic order of Late Antiquity, natural disasters and pestilence turned over everything.

We assume that during the "Dark Ages" (7th and 8th c.) in the fertile region of Boeotia a basic form of economic and social life still existed, and thus church life, and next to it, some kind of monastic activity, too. It was not until the beginnings of the 9th century that the territory started reviving culturally and economically, and so Boeotia met a general cultural prosperity and as a consequence the foundation and the rise of monasticism.

2. Period of monastic life foundation in the region (9th and 10th c.)

In the year 805 the Peloponnese was separated from the theme of Hellas, while Thebes became capital of a new, smaller theme of Hellas. Around the middle and the end of the 9th century, Byzantine governors or the region’s great land-owners financed the building of new churches, surely not by following the grandeur of early Christian basilicas, yet still in a certain impressive form. These were the first monuments of Christian Boeotia from the middle Byzantine period: the Church of Saint Gregory at Thebes (872) and that of the Theotokos of Skripou (Orchomenos) of the year 874. Although these churches seem to initially have functioned as chapels of rich land-owners, at a certain period of time they may have turned into the katholikon of urban monasteries.

Within the aforementioned framework someone wonders: where is the organized monastic life? Unfortunately we have no clear and cross-checked testimonies for eponymous monasteries in 9th-century Boeotia. It is, however, known that within the climate of a renewed optimism marked by the Macedonian dynasty and the end of the Iconoclasm Controversy, ecclesiastical life and monasticism rose everywhere once again. From the Life of Hosios Loukas (whose information we should use slightly in retrospective) we learn that in the beginning of the 10th century there were rural coenobitic monasteries in Boeotia and Attica, although Hosios Loukas himself preferred the anchoritic life. More precisely, we learn that in close proximity to the town of Thebes there was a monastery with its abbot called Anthony, where Hosios Loukas was often offered hospitality. However, 9th-century Boeotian monasticism was rather more anchoritic. From this anchorite monasticism would gradually emerge the coenobitic one. And it is Hosios Loukas who became the link from the one form of monasticism to the other. He was both an anchorite and a cenobite. As a mater of fact, Hosios Loukas himself after 946 retreated and led a coenobitic monastic life where today still lays the homonymous monastery, until his death in 953. The first and most popular monastic community of Boeotia was created here ever since. In the second half of the 10th century it would attract the interest of Boeotian landed aristocracy as well that of the Byzantine emperors themselves and would turn into a major center of worship and pilgrimage. In the Μonastery of Hosios Loukas at Steiri in Boeotia hundreds of local and refugee monks would come and lead here a monastic life, such as the unknown Saint Luke Gournikiotes, whose portrait is found in the katholikon of Hosios Loukas. Most of all, however, here would come the scions of powerful landowning families from the thematic capital, Thebes, to change their secular power with the monastic one, such as the Leovachos family. At the same time, and in a parallel way, political and military thematic officers would fund the erection of a splendid monastic complex and would endow it with donations from rural or urban revenues.

The second most crucial influence for the development of indigenous monasticism was exercised by the presence of Hosios Nikon Metanoeite in Thebes (around 970). Hosios Nikon taught in the city and led a monastic life probably in some isolated hermitage, maybe even in the Monastery of Hagia Photeine, for whose veneration he showed special preference. We may assume that since then a close bond was created between him and the abbots of the Monastery of Hosios Loukas, and thus explaining his mosaic depiction in the katholikon of the monastery as early as the beginnings of the 11th century, just a few years after his death! Therefore, with the beginning of the second millennium, Boeotian monasticism, centered around the Monastery of Hosios Loukas, experienced its high peak. And the centuries to come would prove an era of expansion and complete efflorescence of monastic life in Boeotia with whatever that entailed.

3. High period (11th – 12th c.)

The new period was marked by the grandiose projects of the abbots of Hosios Loukas: the erection of an imperial church next to that of the Theotokos / Santa Barbara. Actually, modern research almost agrees that in the year 1011 the erection of the famous katholikon of the current monastery started thanks both to imperial and local donations. It seems that a rapid development of this pilgrimage center and the subsequent wealth brought to the monastery provoked state care and the ambitions of local aristocracy. The monastery’s fame (mid 11th century) started expanding in the entire south Greece, new donations were added to the older ones, while subordinate monasteries arose: at Thebes the female Monastery of Archangel Michael or of the Naupaktitissai, near Orchomenos Saint Nicholas at Kambia, other ones at Aliveri and Politika of Euboea, as well at Antikyra and elsewhere.

This prosperous monastic climate of the mid 11th century as well the economic rise of the region attracted the interest of the Byzantine court. A new missionary was sent upon imperial order: Hosios Meletios the Young. He settled in the unknown Monastery of Saint George, very close to Thebes, and attracted many believers and monks near him. But under the burden of his rapid popularity he was forced to resettle at Mount Kithairon, where he created a huge monastic center with twenty-four paralavria and many hundreds of monks! Thus, a new complex of monasteries, centered around the older Monastery of Symboulou, would flourish here in the second half of the 11th century thanks to the generosity of Emperor Alexios I and the irresistible spiritual influence of its founder. After his death (1105) this complex continued his activity with equally active young abbots and would become a center of economic and spiritual strength until the occupation of the region by the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade.

Hosios Clement of Sagmata started his ascetic life at the end of the 11th century at the monastic complex of Hosios Meletios. He was dispatched, however, from the coenobitic life and lived as a hermit on Mount Ypaton or Sagmata, near Thebes. There, later, along with his pupils he settled in a small monastery, over the remains of the temple of Jupiter Hypatos. Thus, in the beginnings of the 12th century a new monastic center was founded in Boeotia. With the support of the local population as well the favor of the Komnenos family (although the surviving chrysobull with the donations of Manuel Komnenos has been checked as a forgery) flourished during the entire 12th century.

For Hosios Niketas of Thebes (12th c.) we know a few things. He led an ascetic life as a hermit initially in SW Boeotia (at Osteia, mod. Chostia and later at Kalamiotissa, mod. Zaltsa) and developed charitable work in the region. Besides, during the same period at Davleia another group of monks founded the Monastery of Jerusalem or the Transfiguration of the Savior, a spiritual foundation renowned and active mostly in the following periods of the region’s history.

It is worth mentioning, however, John Kaloktenis, the Metropolitan of Thebes from the second half of the 12th century, whom his biographer praised for reviving monastic life in the area of his jurisdiction, turning into female monasteries some abandoned male ones. Maybe one of them might have been the so-called Monastery of Myrrinios, mentioned by Michael Choniates around 1180.

4. And what then?

For the period of Frankish occupation we can only make reasonable assumptions. We know, however, that the Monastery of Hosios Loukas passed to the possession of the Templars’ Order, while that of Hosios Meletios remained in Orthodox hands, as revealed by the correspondence between the exiled Michael Choniates and Abbot Joannikios. As far as the rest of the monasteries are concerned, we assume that the few Catholic monks would not have been in position to exploit their huge estates, and thus left them to their owners and just collected the revenues.

5. The role of the monasteries and monasticism in the Byzantine era

The monastic life was an essential element in the culture of the Byzantine man, as well as a basic instrument of economic life. A third characteristic was its political dimension. Thus, monastic life was strengthened and flourished in Byzantine Boeotia on spiritual, economic and political grounds, while similar needs were covered and roles played.

To be more precise, one of the strongest ideals of the era was holiness. This is observed by simply reading the Life of Hosios Loukas. This ideal “dominated” as it was the ideal which many tried to fulfill and a few did fulfill. It was this ideal which common people admired and powerful landowners and state officials often sought at the end of their life. Lastly, it was that ideal that central authority exploited and everyone was ready to pay for – with a few or a lot of money, with many or a few personal sacrifices. The era admired and paid for holiness!

At the same time, the accumulation of huge land estates under a centralized government, such as the monastic one, created the circumstances for economic growth, impossible under other conditions. Only that way mass production and collection could be achieved, and as a consequence a surplus for the markets and the capital. So, the disadvantage of tax exemption which often monasteries enjoyed was counterbalanced. This does not mean that a “free” peasant or a monastery tenant profited from this form of economic life. He, one way or another, was losing or almost losing.

Finally, the political dimension of monasticism explains its rise during this particular period of time. Large and small monastic complexes like those of Hosios Loukas at Helikon, Hosios Meletios the Young at Kithairon, Hosios Clement at Mount Sagmata, the Transfiguration of the Savior or of Jerusalem at Davleia, the smaller ones around Thebes or their dependencies in the area of Livadeia and the steep shores of the Corinthian or the Euboean gulfs, were indisputable footholds of Byzantine authority. The man of everyday labor with his long- or short-distance pilgrimage journeys had the chance to escape from the misery of his everyday life inside their walls and to be influenced by the splendor of their ceremonies, but also to strengthen his Christianization and Hellenization. To seek for and find someday the cure for his spiritual or physical weaknesses. To feel that he belonged to an all-powerful entity on earth (the Byzantine Empire) and to seek for an after-death salvation. Through the monasteries and Orthodox worship, which monasteries passionately served, the various populations of a region became members of a commonwealth. Thus, the political role of monasticism was equally important with the spiritual and the economic one.

As far as the “dark” side of monasticism is concerned, although contemporary sources for the region of Boeotia do not provide the slightest evidence, we must assume that this was roughly similar to the one in other regions of the Byzantine Empire where monasticism became gigantic in proportions: encroachment of free neighbor peasants’ land, endless disputes with stock breeders (like those mentioned later on the documents from the Monastery of Hosios Loukas during the Ottoman period), insolence and moral misconducts like those stigmatized by Eustathios of Thessalonike. But similar phenomena, as a kind of natural pathogenesis, crop up wherever human vanity and greed prevail. So, let us keep here the charitable activity of these institutions in an era when there was no other cohesive force in society except religion.

And a last question: How literate were the monks of those days? We know that Hosios Loukas, the founder of Boeotian monasticism, was completely illiterate and actually he did so consciously. He did not want to be educated. Hosios Loukas’ example, however, was not followed by his successors. The following abbots were literate, rich landowners as it appears from various grave or wall inscriptions with their names as well from the statute of the Theotokos Nafpaktiotissa which was perhaps composed in this monastery in 1048. Besides, the other two founders of Boeotian monasticism, Nikon Metanoeite and Hosios Meletios, were literate, imperial envoys with proper education. In any case, however, no theological treaty or other type of document survives from the hand of the leaders of Boeotian monasticism. But the conclusion, in general, is still valid: the 11th and 12th centuries were a period of efflorescence for Boeotian monasticism thanks to the dominant political and economic position of the region as well as to the charismatic leaders of this social phenomenon.

An American Pilgrim on Mount Athos (2)


... continued from part one.

We were anxious to reach the Skete of St. Anne because we had a letter of introduction from a Greek priest in Boston to Fr. Joachim, who was living there.

July 16. We were glad to be able to push on in the late afternoon and avoid another night in Dionysiou. The rule is that each monastery will furnish conveyance to the next but not beyond so it looked as if we would have to stop at Agiou Pavlou, but we persuaded the boatman to row us on to Agia Anna, a total distance of an hour. From the water we could see how impossible it would have been to walk over the pass from Agiou Pavlou to Agia Anna. Down at the end of the peninsula the sides of the mountain are very steep and the path has to wind high up. Agiou Pavlou set back from the water on one side of a steep ravine. Its tower and battlements made it look like a castle.

In one place an arm of rock ran out from the cliffs and formed an arch like a flying buttress. We rowed under it and could see a cave farther underneath the cliff. As soon as we landed we took our packs a little way back along the shore and went in for a swim. Here the bottom sloped off gently and made an ideal place. The water was just cool enough. The houses of the skete were perched high up on the sides of a ravine and the path up to them was rocky and poorly maintained. By the time we reached the lowest house the sun had set. We stopped at one house to inquire the way and man insisted that we stay a few minutes. He stopped irrigating his garden and gave us a glyko (a sweet) and some delicious loquat preserve. We ate it on his parch and admired the sunset. Then he showed us the way to Fr. Joachim's. The path was like a flight of stairs.

We arrived at nine and were most hospitably received. Fr. Joachim turned out to be thirty-seven years old and had been a priest in the United States till two years ago when he was threatened with tuberculosis and advised to come here. He has decided to stay permanently.

We had a most interesting conversation with him on the porch while Fr. Paisios scrambled some eggs for us American-style. A skete is a collection of small houses in which are from one to five or six monks. Nearly every house has a chapel and a priest. Monks who are in houses where there is no priest go to the main church for service. In each house there is an elder, the senior monk who has charge of the house and has absolute authority. He tells the others how many services there will be, how long they can read, whether they can answer letters. The elder is not necessarily a priest. The whole skete is presided over by a dikaios who is elected each year. If any one wants to join a house he must be taken in by the leader, who tries to find people who will be congenial and persuade them to come. There are four monks in this house, all of whom have been in America. They have fixed up the place with a sun porch, comfortable sitting room, and a new cistern so that their neighbors refer to it as the American consulate and tell them that they must get a car soon.

There are several classes of monks on the Mountain. First come those in monasteries who are considered the lowest because their life is easiest. Then come those in sketes, then those in kellia, then those in detached kalyvai (huts), and finally the hermits, who live in caves. There is a small class of monks who count as the very lowest, those who have business of their own, like the man who runs the motorboat at Daphni. Sometimes a man changes to a stricter class but it is not considered right to change to an easier class. The hermits live an incredibly vigorous life. There are two Russians, one of whom was a prince, who live on bread and water. Once the Russians tried to persuade him to go back and be a metropolitan but he wouldn't. One of these hermits, St. Maximus, is said to have flown down from the top of Mt. Athos. The hermits keep wholly to themselves and people know little about them. Sometimes they won't come out when called. Monks who live in sketes cannot raise all they need and have to buy supplies for the winter. For this reason, each one has to have an income of about 4000 drachmas ($32) if he is to support himself adequately. Most of them get by with 2000 or 3000. Goods are cheaper for the monks because they don't have to pay duties or taxes. The monasteries vary in wealth. Vatopaidi is very rich and the monks live like princes. The Lavra and Iveron also are well off.

Before long our supper was ready, and it was delicious. We had eggs scrambled with cheese, boiled eggs, cheese, and apricots. It was the best meal we have had on the Mountain. When visitors come or on a feast day they have more things to eat. During the winter they live on stored food because for much of the time the snow makes it impossible for them to get out.

July 17. Slept late and had a fine breakfast of more scrambled eggs and hot cakes with sugar syrup. Fr. Joachim apologized that they had run out of honey two weeks ago. Then we looked over the estate. They have some land to one side and below the house, which is all turned into garden. It is on a slope of fifty degrees or so and divided into terraces. The soil is so stony that I don't see how things grow, but there is almost everything conceivable there and all flourishing. The garden gets lots of sun and can be well irrigated. We saw cucumbers, beans, corn, squash, tomatoes, onions, olive trees, figs, apricots and things I have forgotten. The house has a wonderful lookout. The slope is so steep that from my chair I can't see the foot of it, only the water. The houses are perched on the side as in an Alpine village.

In the afternoon we slept as usual to avoid the heat and towards six went down to the main church. On our way we passed a little cemetery with only a few crosses on it. Near the railing on the wall was a basket with the skull and bones of a monk who had died three years ago and had been dug up. His name and the place where he lived and the date of his death were written on the skull. The monks are dug up after three years and their bones exposed that way for a week. Then they are put in a chamber nearby. We looked in and saw quantities of skulls and bones.

Fr. Joachim wants to join us and visit all the other monasteries but the elder doesn't want him to be away so long. They are expecting a young fellow whom he knows who will come here for three years and then if the elder wants to take him he can stay permanently. It will be all right, however, for Fr. Joachim to come to the Lavra with us. He says that the elder wants him to stay here and doesn't want him to be attracted elsewhere. Whenever one of the family leaves the house or comes back he kisses the elder's feet and his right hand.

At the main church we were received in the guest room of the dikaios and given water and masticha. Then he took us to the church and brought out its principal relic, the foot of St. Anna, in a silver case. The relics are usually kept on or near the altar and are brought out by the priest to be shown to visitors. Unless you have some one well known with you they are rather hard to see. In the church was a large icon of St. Anna. Fr. Joachim and the others said she didn't allow her face to be photographed and wanted us to try. Although the face was dark and in the shadow we made a try but doubt if it will come out. On the way back we stopped at a friend of Fr. Joachim's who is a deacon and paints icons. He gave us water and a sweet paste made from masticha. When we got back to the house we photographed it and all the people thoroughly. We got Fr. Paisios, whom we call the gardener in chief, in his garden and hope we caught Fr. Grigorios, the elder, with his smile.

July 18. We had a good sleep after lunch and started down with our packs around four. We hope this is our last portage. Two monks, a father and son, joined us for the trip to the Lavra. Fr. Joachim had arranged for a boat to take us all for two hundred drachmas. As we went around the end of the peninsula we saw kalyvai (huts) perched on the cliffs like nests. Some of them could get supplies from boats by letting down ropes and the only other communication was by ladders up the face of the cliff. Further on we saw the mouths of caves where hermits lived. All the way along there was hardly a spot where a boat could land, the cliffs were so steep. At Kapsokalyvia we stopped to leave a few newspapers and took on two men who had had themselves put ashore there in the morning because they were afraid of the heavy sea. We couldn't beach the boat but anchored a few yards out and monks who had turned up their trousers carried the passengers to the boat on their backs. The scenery was magnificent all the way around.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

An American Pilgrim on Mount Athos (1)


A trip to Mount Athos in 1936 by two American graduate students provides them with a wonderful introduction to the treasure of Orthodoxy.

By Mr. M. W. Mansur

What follows are excerpts from a journal which I kept during a three-week visit to Mt. Athos with a college friend in 1933. I had become interested in Orthodoxy and was anxious to learn more about it. The faith and kindliness of people whom I met there contributed to my embracing the Faith several years later.

July 10. It was quite a rush for us in Saloniki to get to the boat by 6:30 but we might have taken our time because like all Greek boats it didn't leave for yet another half hour. All evening we had a fine view of Mt. Olympus across the bay. This boat, the Psarra, was even less shipshape than one would expect. The hatch wasn't closed and the way the cargo was stowed made the vessel list badly to port. Stacy leant me some golf stockings to put over my trousers to keep fleas from crawling up. We put on extra shirts and sweaters mostly as precaution against the cold, but we hoped it would help more than it did against the fleas. Stacy started the idea of squirting flea powder inside our clothes and that was really efficient. Later in the night we moved below to be warm.

July 11. When I first looked out in the morning I saw the outline of Mt. Athos. It looked exactly like the old prints. The peak was as sharp as a needle and the whole mass rose right up from the sea. As the sun rose it cast a pink light on the summit and gradually we could make out the ravines and wooded areas. Here and there we distinguishd monasteries nestled on the slopes or near the shore. The tranquility was such that we felt we had entered another world. We reached Daphni about six and were taken off in a big rowboat. As soon as we landed we arranged about breakfast and then showed our documents to the police. They were good-natured and let us leave our knapsacks in their quarters. The monk who runs the shop had prepared a table for us in the garden behind the house. It was a lovely spot under the slopes of the ridge. We fared well on tea, two boiled eggs, and bread. Right after breakfast we left for Karyes in hopes of avoiding the heat but found it already hot. For a distance the trail followed the shore and then began circling and turning up to Xeropotamou. The trail itself was about five feet wide and paved with stones, some flat, some not. The whole trip up to Karyes was perfectly lovely. It passed through olive orchards and chestnut woods and through some open spaces. Almost all the way we caught glimpses of the great white peak of Athos. Down below we could always see the blue sea. We passed various kinds of people, monks walking or on mules and men who work for the monasteries.

When we reached Xeropotamou we were so hot that we thought we would inquire about hiring mules. In the courtyard we found a monk who insisted on our going inside and having a cup of coffee. He took us up to one of the most enchanting views I have ever seen. Below was a garden bordered by cypresses and then the slope dropped off steeply into the sapphire sea. Some distance off we could see the peninsula of Longos. Near the window was a table and along each wall was a low settle with a white cloth over it. Everything was spick and span. In a few minutes a boy came in carrying a tray on which were two glasses of water, of ouzo, two cups of Turkish coffee and two plates of red cherry preserve. I didn't expect to care for the coffee and ouzo but they both were delicious. At the same time another monk came in who was the archontaris or host to visitors. We had a jolly time with him. After he found out who we were and where we came from we began talking about the Depression. He was quite dramatic in explaining how now everything was made by machines and that left no work. When we finished he insisted on showing us one or two things in the courtyard. On our walk we met a priest from Piraeus who is spending his vacation here. He told us he was once a watchmaker and wanted to see our watches and know how much they cost.

On top of the divide we could see the water on both sides. Before long we caught sight of the white houses of Karyes with their red tiled roofs all built on a hillside. Beyond the town we saw the Serai [the Russian skete of St. Andrew] which was an imposing mass of white buildings with green domes. Karyes itself had narrow, winding streets with shops run by monks and laymen. We found that the Hiera Koinotes [Holy Synod] would not assemble until four, so we wandered over to the Serai hoping to be invited to lunch. An old man at the gate greeted us by saying, "Do you speak English?" which cheered us up until we found that was all he knew. We gathered from him that everyone was asleep because of the coming vigil. A well dressed, dapper beggar to whom we gave two drachmas told us that the Samara was the best restaurant but that was none too good.

At four we went to the office of the Hiera Koinotes. One of the guards took our letter from the Metropolitan and told us to sit down in the hall. While we waited he brought us water and coffee. The guards wear tight fitting caps, white stockings, Greek shoes, breeches, a sash, and braided waistcoat. While we waited we saw the members come in one at a time. As each arrived one of the three guards took coffee to him. It took an hour for us to get our document. It was stamped with the seal in four parts which was sprinkled with sand to dry it.

When we reached Daphni again we hired a boat to take us to Russiko [the Monastery of St. Panteleimon] for seventy-five drachmas. The cool ride was refreshing. The large white stone buildings of Russiko looked imposing from the water, though not so picturesque as Xeropotamou. When we landed a Greek policeman brought us to the archontaris, Fr. Haralambi. He unlocked a room for us in a long corridor in one of the buildings which was once used to lodge the many pilgrims from Russia. It was twilight when we arrived and hard to see the exact arrangement of the buildings. The ramps leading up to the courtyard were bordered with flowering oleanders which overhung the balustrades. Farther up the hillside we could see the green domes of the churches. The place was charming and quiet and dignified in that atmosphere. By the time our supper was ready the bells were ringing for the vigil of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which was to begin at nine.

As soon as we finished supper Fr. Haralambi put on his cloak and veil and led us up to the church. As we crossed the courtyard we could hear the chanting coming down from the windows. We went up at least five flights of stairs in the dark and at last came to the church. It was so dark inside that we could only see that we were going past monks standing in their stasidia [compartments along the walls containing arm rests and a seat that can be lowered]. He took us to a position where we could see the doors of the iconostasis and follow the service. The choir seemed to be ahead of us and to the right. Big columns in the center of the church made it hard to see, especially when only a few candles were burning, what was the plan of the church. The service began at nine and we arrived about half past. The first part was Vespers with a good many things which are omitted in parish churches. We heard some litanies, then some readings which were done first from one side of the church and then from the other. The service was conducted by a deacon and a priest in gold vestments. They both did things in a very dignified, slow manner. The chanting was deep and impressive.

We left at 11:15 and they had only finished the Little Entrance. Some monks went out for a little air onto the balcony once or twice but the service was never interrupted. When we left the church we made our way down the staircases which were so dimly lighted that we had to grope our way. Outside we could hear the chanting as we went through the courtyard.

July 12. The next morning we got up at seven and Fr. Haralambi brought us bread and tea-black bread, which was rather bitter but good. Then the bells began ringing for the Liturgy at eight. As I crossed the court I saw a monk carrying a long semantron [wooden bar] over his shoulder which he was beating with a mallet. Now that it was light in the church I could see how it was arranged. Outside the doors proper were two rows of stasidia and inside were stasidia around the walls and against the columns. This morning Archimandrite Misail was at the altar in light gold vestments ornamented with red rings. Seven priests, one archdeacon, and two deacons served with him. At the Little Entrance they all came out and stood facing each other in front of the Holy Doors. The archdeacon had a good deep voice and read the Gospel well. The whole service was most impressive. When it came time for communion the monks went up front and kissed the icons. Then they bowed to each side of the church and to the others. What surprised me was that the form should be so dignified and careful when they go through it so much. They all seemed engrossed in what they were doing.

After the Liturgy they went to the dining room. Fr. Haralambi took me in to see them at dinner. They sat on benches. At the farther end of the hall was a table and special seat for the hegoumenos.

Our meals were about the same. We usually had hot vegetable or rice soup, large sardines, fish swimming in cut up vegetables and oil, bread, and cucumber. One time we had a dish of beans in the pod. We eked out breakfast with our nuts and raisins.

The main buildings at Russiko are built around a courtyard with the catholicon [main church] in the middle. Since there are always a few Greek monks part of the service in the catholicon is in Greek. The main Russian church is on the top floor at the north or upper side of the courtyard. On the west side is the bell tower and dining hall. To the south is the entrance through a portico. Outside the portico a ramp goes down to the water and is bordered on each side by pink oleanders. Below the monastery proper is a stone building for pilgrims where we stayed. The monastery has a quiet atmosphere; it is hard to believe there are about 350 monks here.

In the afternoon I went to Vespers in the catholicon. At first I was in a stall where I couldn't see so an old man took me up front. It was strange to hear some of the chanting in the Byzantine style along with the Slavonic. It seemed to cause some confusion even to the monks. The interior of the catholicon, like the cathedral, almost shone with gold. The icons were usually covered with gold or silver.

July 13. After Liturgy this morning Fr. Haralambi gave us dinner and then brought down an extremely nice monk who spoke French. He showed us around and answered all our questions. Before the Revolution there would sometimes be one thousand pilgrims a week around Easter. Now the capital of the monastery has been lost and they all have to work hard to keep going. He said that the singing was better when there were more younger monks to take the soprano parts. All of them work, some in the gardens, some in the offices, some cutting wood. Those who are too old or feeble take turns reading the Psalter for two hours apiece. We saw one old man doing that in a little chapel. In some ways the monastery is like an old man's home where they are all busy and contented.

He took us to the library and introduced us to the librarian who also spoke French. When he told us that most of the books were on religion, he explained that Orthodox monks made that their specialty and didn't pay much attention to science and learning like the Roman Catholic monks. He showed us some leaves from a Gospel in Greek uncials and a work of Gregory the Theologian which had some gorgeous full-page illustrations. The gold and blue and red were as bright as if they had been applied yesterday. He had Hasluck and Byron but not Riley.

When I mentioned Archbishop Benjamin to the librarian he told me that his secretary who went to the United States with him had once been a Roman Catholic monk who came to Russiko and was so impressed that he became Orthodox. We were told how to distinguish icons of St. Nicholas and St. Sergius. St. Nicholas is always shown wearing vestments.

At about six we packed our things and left. The archontaris showed us the path for fifteen minutes and then said Good bye. It was hard to get a great deal from him because he wasn't naturally talkative and spoke only a little Greek.


Friday, January 25, 2013

St. Gregory the Theologian’s Advice to a New Bride


We are in Constantinople, in 384 AD. There is a festive event taking place: the wedding of two well-known youths of that time. They are both from upper class families.

The bride, Olympiatha, is a remarkable young lady, quite wealthy and a descendant of the imperial family. She is an orphan whose uncle Prokopios (an eparch of the Imperial State that is also her protector) undertook the responsibility for all of the wedding arrangements, including the invitation list. Olympiatha is marrying a wonderful man by the name of Nevrithios who is the eparch of Constantinople and overseer of the imperial fields.

According to the historians of that time, all of the “who is who” are in attendance of the wedding ceremony, including a sizeable group of bishops. St. Gregory the Theologian (the Patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual father of the bride) is unable to be present due to personal illness. He sent a personal letter to Prokopios expressing his regrets for being unable to attend due to illness. As the spiritual father of Olympiatha, he is pleased about the wedding and passes in writing his immense joy about the wedding of the “golden Olympiatha.” He calls her golden not because of her immense family wealth but rather her golden heart that is evident in the bride’s character and demeanor. In his letter, St. Gregory refers to her as “my child,” i.e., my spiritual child; as such, he is in position to know the depth of her character and quality of her soul as no one else.

Within his letter to Prokopios, he writes that “I am next to you, celebrating the event, and with you I place the right hand of the one youth upon the right hand of the other and then both of them upon the hand of God.”

Later on, St. Gregory sends to the young bride an original wedding gift: a poem with 111 verses, written in ancient Greek and with quite old-fashioned language (even for that time). Through this gift, he passes to his spiritual daughter the wisdom of pertinent advice and thus paints the ideal type of an Orthodox Christian wife.

† † †

My daughter,

For your wedding, I, your spiritual father Gregory, offer you this poem as a gift. And I consider it to be the best possible advice a father could offer to his beloved daughter.

Listen to me Olympiatha: I know that you desire to be a true Christian. As such, be aware that a true Christian must not only be one but she must also appear accordingly. This is why I ask you to pay special attention towards your personal appearance. You must be simple! Gold, attached to precious stones, does not add any value to women of your stature. This is even more so with make-up. It is very improper for you to alter your face, which represents an image of God, for the sole purpose of attraction and admiration by others. Know that this constitutes vanity that is unbecoming of a young lady of your character. I therefore ask that you overcome the feminine vanity that is abundant among young ladies of our time and remain simple in your appearance. The expensive and fancy dresses must remain for those women that have no desire for the life beyond and do not know what the meaning of spiritual struggle and attainment of virtues is all about; this type of woman cannot possibly comprehend the spiritual radiance and brilliance of a life in Christ. You have aimed towards greater goals and for a higher purpose for your life. These goals demands your full and undivided attentiveness and care.

First of all, you must respect and love God and immediately after Him you must respect and love your husband in the same manner as our Lord and Savior and in accordance with the instructions of our Holy Gospel. I thus ask you, how is it possible for a woman to love her husband in this manner if she has not met, has not respected and has not loved Her Lord and Creator in this same manner?

In your marriage, fondness, affection and love must be strong and persistent for him whom God has selected to be your life partner. This man is now the eye of your life and the delight of your heart. And if you ever perceive that your husband possibly loves you more than you love him, do not take advantage of his feeling by attempting to gain the upper had in your marriage. That is plainly wrong as it is totally against the writings of the Holy Gospel!

You must respect him and love him unconditionally, as you love God. Be aware that you are a woman and you have an important and great purpose and destiny; however, your purpose and destiny is different than that of your husband who must be the head of your household. Set aside the silliness of equality among the sexes, that some of your contemporaries preach, and attempt to comprehend the obligations of marriage. In the realization of these obligations you will discover the great patience and endurance that is necessary to fulfill your family duties; it is in this manner that you will also discover the great strength that you as a woman possess.

You must surely be aware of how easily anger overtakes men. They cannot maintain and they often appear as wild lions. It is at this exact moment that a woman must remain stronger and display her superiority. You must play the role of the lion-tamer. What does a lion-tamer do when the beast starts roaring? He becomes even calmer than usual and through kindness and persistence he overcomes his wrath. He speaks to him kindly, in a soft but firm voice, he caresses it, he attends to it, he pets it and little by little calmness is restored.

You must never criticize, scold or become derogatory towards your husband for something that he has erred. Likewise, you must avoid any contempt towards any inaction or indecision by your husband, even when the outcome is not favorable or something that you greatly desire or consider proper. Be aware that demons are always around attempting to penetrate your household, and break up the couple’s harmonious spiritual cohabitation.

You must share everything, joys and sorrows alike. The Holy Sacrament of Marriage has indeed made all common to both of you. This is equally important towards the daily obligations and duties as they apply to running the household; it is the only way that a strong foundation will be built for your marriage. Let both of you provide your views and opinions; in the end, however, allow your husband to have the final say.

When you observe your husband to be sorrowful, share in his sorrow and provide him the needed relief; the support of the person closest to you in moments of sorrow and despair is of great value and relief. Immediately, however, let your facial expressions become calm, clear and collected; let peace prevail upon your demeanor and forego the temptation of any thoughts of despair. The wife is the calm harbor for the sea wave-stricken husband.

Your presence within your home is irreplaceable; you must accordingly love your home with all the cares and concern of a dedicated housekeeper. You must view it and consider it as your kingdom and you should be judicious about how often you exit its entrance. Let your husband take care of many of the outside cares and obligations while you concentrate towards those within the home.

Be extremely careful with whom you associate and the company that you keep. Be especially careful of the social gatherings that you may be participating in. Do not allow yourself to enter entertainment centers of questionable background; these represent extreme danger towards your purity and the sanctity of your marriage. These types of social interactions remove the instinct of shame, eyes cross with eyes, and once shame is not there to guard from any impropriety, the demons are able to exercise their influence and give rise to evils of unspeakable magnitude.

On the other hand, social interactions with friends of substance and of firmly grounded spiritual state must be pursued. In this manner, words of value get implanted within you and you either benefit from them or are able to confront and resolve any weaknesses that you may recognize. Concurrently, you are able to cultivate social interests and get to know people who will benefit your household’s spiritual state.

Do not be anxious to keep company or even appear in public and in the company of others for no reason. You should instead dedicate your precious time in the company of your wiser and more prudent relatives, priests, and seriously-minded people, young and old alike.

Stay away from conceited and ostentatious women whose mind is pre-occupied with external appearances and social circles, all for the purpose of vainglory and public display. This should be the same for any men that you consider respectful and spiritual but whom your husband has not allowed to enter your home, irrespective of how highly you may regard them. For is there anything more precious for you than your good husband whom you love so dearly?

Your thoughts must aim high but you must never behave as intolerable or snobbish.

I applaud women that are known by only a few men. Do not run towards worldly feasts and celebrations, even when those are for weddings or birthdays. It is around those types of gatherings that the passions of the flesh are aroused with the many dances, the drinking, the laughter and the false joys that are capable of deceiving and misleading even the pure and the wise. Always remember that purity is extremely fragile—it is like bee wax exposed to the rays of the sun. It would be prudent to limit and at times avoid the worldly feasts, even within the confines of your own home. If we were capable of controlling the desires and many appetites of the stomach we would be well served in our struggles against the many passions of our flesh; we would be in a position to conquer them instead of being subdued by them.

Keep your face calm and collected and do not alter it with extreme laughter or with grimaces of dismay, anger or disappointment towards others. Your ears should be decorated not with pearls but instead with the sounds of proper language and with locks for all the improprieties that may enter your nous through them. Thus, whether they are open or closed your sense of hearing will remain pure.

As far as your eyes, they are the ones that display the contents of your soul. Let them be the source of blush and virgin purity that pours below your eye lashes. This way, your presence and eyesight will invoke modesty, decency and the shame of innocence to all that lay their eyes upon you, perhaps even your husband! It is best and for many reasons that you keep your eyes closed or indifferent to the events around you and you should make it a habit to always maintain your sight low.

And now for your tongue. Your husband will always be your enemy for as long as your tongue is uncontrolled, even if you are to be blessed with thousands of other talents. A foolish tongue often endangers even the most innocent of people. It is preferred to maintain quiet, even in cases that you are correct. This is because you risk the expression of an unintended improper word or characterization. No matter how greatly you desire to say a lot, it is best that you limit your words and instead choose your presence to be a quiet one.

Be attentive even of the manner that you walk; it matters greatly towards a prudent presence.

And now pay close attention and be mindful of the following advice: You must never exemplify or maintain an uncontrollable desire for the flesh. Persuade your husband to respect the holy days of the Church and the fasting periods. This is because God’s laws are of much greater importance than the image of God. Be mindful that the institution of marriage was established by the Son of God to aid His creation so that a balance is maintained, as some depart this world while others arrive.

If you have benefited from this old man through some spiritual words of value I ask that you keep these words and advice guarded well within the depths of your soul. In this manner, through everything that you have benefitted and through the grace of your moral stature, you will be capable of healing your excellent husband and well known politician from the evils of vainglory and pride that constantly surround him.

This is my gift and heirloom that I offer to you. And if you desire my blessing, I pray that you become a vineyard of descendants, with many children, and many children from these children, so that our God may be glorified by more of us, for it is for Him that we are born and to Him that we should aim our earthly paths.

Your spiritual father,

+Gregory

Patriarch of Constantinople

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