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May 31, 2009

Saint Leo the Great's Second Homily on the Ascension of Christ

By Saint Leo the Great 
(Sermon 74 - On The Lord's Ascension)

I. The Ascension completes our faith in Him, who was God as well as man

The mystery of our salvation, dearly-beloved, which the Creator of the universe valued at the price of His blood, has now been carried out under conditions of humiliation from the day of His bodily birth to the end of His Passion. And although even in the form of a slave many signs of Divinity have beamed out, yet the events of all that period served particularly to show the reality of His assumed Manhood. But after the Passion, when the chains of death were broken, which had exposed its own strength by attacking Him, Who was ignorant of sin, weakness was turned into power, mortality into eternity, contumely into glory, which the Lord Jesus Christ showed by many clear proofs in the sight of many, until He carried even into heaven the triumphant victory which He had won over the dead. As therefore at the Paschal commemoration, the Lord's Resurrection was the cause of our rejoicing; so the subject of our present gladness is His Ascension, as we commemorate and duly venerate that day on which the Nature of our humility in Christ was raised above all the host of heaven, over all the ranks of angels, beyond the height of all powers, to sit with God the Father. On which Providential order of events we are founded and built up, that God's Grace might become more wondrous, when, notwithstanding the removal from men's sight of what was rightly felt to command their awe, faith did not fail, hope did not waver, love did not grow cold. For it is the strength of great minds and the light of firmly-faithful souls, unhesitatingly to believe what is not seen with the bodily sight, and there to fix one's affections whither you cannot direct your gaze. And whence should this Godliness spring up in our hearts, or how should a man be justified by faith, if our salvation rested on those things only which lie beneath our eyes? Hence our Lord said to him who seemed to doubt of Christ's Resurrection, until he had tested by sight and touch the traces of His Passion in His very Flesh: "Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed" [John 20:29] .

II. The Ascension renders our faith more excellent and stronger

In order, therefore, dearly-beloved, that we may be capable of this blessedness, when all things were fulfilled which concerned the Gospel preaching and the mysteries of the New Testament, our Lord Jesus Christ, on the fortieth day after the Resurrection in the presence of the disciples, was raised into heaven, and terminated His presence with us in the body, to abide on the Father's right hand until the times Divinely fore-ordained for multiplying the sons of the Church are accomplished, and He comes to judge the living and the dead in the same flesh in which He ascended. And so that which till then was visible of our Redeemer was changed into a sacramental presence, and that faith might be more excellent and stronger, sight gave way to doctrine, the authority of which was to be accepted by believing hearts enlightened with rays from above.

III. The marvellous effects of this faith on all

This Faith, increased by the Lord's Ascension and established by the gift of the Holy Ghost, was not terrified by bonds, imprisonments, banishments, hunger, fire, attacks by wild beasts, refined torments of cruel persecutors. For this Faith throughout the world not only men, but even women, not only beardless boys, but even tender maids, fought to the shedding of their blood. This Faith cast out spirits, drove off sicknesses, raised the dead: and through it the blessed Apostles themselves also, who after being confirmed by so many miracles and instructed by so many discourses, had yet been panic-stricken by the horrors of the Lord's Passion and had not accepted the truth of His Resurrection without hesitation, made such progress after the Lord's Ascension that everything which had previously filled them with fear was turned into joy. For they had lifted the whole contemplation of their mind to the Godhead of Him that sat at the Father's right hand, and were no longer hindered by the barrier of corporeal sight from directing their minds' gaze to that which had never departed the Father's side in descending to earth, and had not forsaken the disciples in ascending to heaven.

IV. His Ascension refines our Faith and the ministering of angels to Him shows the extent of His authority

The Son of Man and Son of God, therefore, dearly-beloved, then attained a more excellent and holier fame, when He betook Himself back to the glory of the Father's Majesty, and in an ineffable manner began to be nearer to the Father in respect of His Godhead, after having become farther away in respect of His manhood. A better instructed faith then began to draw closer to a conception of the Son's equality with the Father without the necessity of handling the corporeal substance in Christ, whereby He is less than the Father, since, while the Nature of the glorified Body still remained the faith of believers was called upon to touch not with the hand of flesh, but with the spiritual understanding the Only-begotten, Who was equal with the Father. Hence comes that which the Lord said after His Resurrection, when Mary Magdalene, representing the Church, hastened to approach and touch Him: "Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to My Father" [John 20:17]; that is, "I would not have you come to Me as to a human body, nor yet recognize Me by fleshly perceptions: I put you off for higher things, I prepare greater things for you: when I have ascended to My Father, then you shall handle Me more perfectly and truly, for you shall grasp what you can not touch and believe what you can not see." But when the disciples' eyes followed the ascending Lord to heaven with upward gaze of earnest wonder, two angels stood by them in raiment shining with wondrous brightness, who also said: "You men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven? This Jesus Who was taken up from you into heaven shall so come as you saw Him going into heaven" [Acts 1:11] . By which words all the sons of the Church were taught to believe that Jesus Christ will come visibly in the same Flesh wherewith He ascended, and not to doubt that all things are subjected to Him on Whom the ministry of angels had waited from the first beginning of His Birth. For, as an angel announced to the blessed Virgin that Christ should be conceived by the Holy Ghost, so the voice of heavenly beings sang of His being born of the Virgin also to the shepherds. As messengers from above were the first to attest His having risen from the dead, so the service of angels was employed to foretell His coming in very Flesh to judge the world, that we might understand what great powers will come with Him as Judge, when such great ones ministered to Him even in being judged.

V. We must despise earthly things and rise to things above, especially by active works of mercy and love

And so, dearly-beloved, let us rejoice with spiritual joy, and let us with gladness pay God worthy thanks and raise our hearts' eyes unimpeded to those heights where Christ is. Minds that have heard the call to be uplifted must not be pressed down by earthly affections, they that are fore-ordained to things eternal must not be taken up with the things that perish; they that have entered on the way of Truth must not be entangled in treacherous snares, and the faithful must so take their course through these temporal things as to remember that they are sojourning in the vale of this world, in which, even though they meet with some attractions, they must not sinfully embrace them, but bravely pass through them. For to this devotion the blessed Apostle Peter arouses us, and entreating us with that loving eagerness which he conceived for feeding Christ's sheep by the threefold profession of love for the Lord, says: "Dearly-beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul" [1 Peter 2:11] . But for whom do fleshly pleasures wage war, if not for the devil, whose delight it is to fetter souls that strive after things above, with the enticements of corruptible good things, and to draw them away from those abodes from which he himself has been banished? Against his plots every believer must keep careful watch that he may crush his foe on the side whence the attack is made. And there is no more powerful weapon, dearly-beloved, against the devil's wiles than kindly mercy and bounteous charity, by which every sin is either escaped or vanquished. But this lofty power is not attained until that which is opposed to it be overthrown. And what so hostile to mercy and works of charity as avarice from the root of which spring all evils ? And unless it be destroyed by lack of nourishment, there must needs grow in the ground of that heart in which this evil weed has taken root, the thorns and briars of vices rather than any seed of true goodness. Let us then, dearly-beloved, resist this pestilential evil and follow after charity , without which no virtue can flourish, that by this path of love whereby Christ came down to us, we too may mount up to Him, to Whom with God the Father and the Holy Spirit is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Source: (with some corrections of my own)

May 29, 2009

The Funeral Oration of the Roman Empire Delivered on May 28, 1453

On Monday, May 28, the Romans knew that their moment of truth was upon them. There was a weird calm from the Turkish camp. The Sultan had ordered a day of rest before the final assault.

Those in the city who could be spared from manning and patching up the battered walls took to the streets in prayer. Constantine ordered that icons and relics from churches and monasteries be carried round the walls while the church bells rang. Constantine lead the procession.

The walls of Constantinople today
When it was over he assembled his ministers, officers and soldiers and addressed them. There are three accounts of what he said. The first and shortest of them is contained in a letter of Leonardo of Chios, the Latin Archbishop of Lesvos, addressed to Pope Nicholas V on August 19, 1453. Leonardo had been present during the last weeks of Roman Constantinople and he reported to the pope some six weeks after the capture of the city, while his memory was still fresh.

The two other and longer versions of Constantine's speech are mainly elaborations and extensions of Leonardo's text. One purports to be from the pen of George Sphrantzes, who must certainly have heard the speech though he makes no mention of it in his memoirs. It is to be read only in the extended version of those memoirs compiled in the sixteenth century by Makarios Melissenos. The third version is given in the Greek Chronicle of the Turkish Sultans, also of the sixteenth century.

The speech as related by Leonardo of Chios is thus the most reliable account. This was Constantine's last public speech and can serve, as Gibbon observed, as 'the funeral oration of the Roman Empire.'

Saint Constantine XI the Ethnomartyr, Last Emperor of the Romans (reigned from 1449 - May 29, 1453 AD)

"Gentlemen, illustrious captains of the army, and our most Christian comrades in arms: we now see the hour of battle approaching. I have therefore elected to assemble you here to make it clear that you must stand together with firmer resolution than ever. You have always fought with glory against the enemies of Christ. Now the defence of your fatherland and of the city known the world over, which the infidel and evil Turks have been besieging for two and fifty days, is committed to your lofty spirits.

Be not afraid because its walls have been worn down by the enemy's battering. For your strength lies in the protection of God and you must show it with your arms quivering and your swords brandished against the enemy. I know that this undisciplined mob will, as is their custom, rush upon you with loud cries and ceaseless volleys of arrows. These will do you no bodily harm, for I see that you are well covered in armour. They will strike the walls, our breastplates and our shiellds. So do not imitate the Romans who, when the Carthaginians went into battle against them, allowed their cavalry to be terrified by the fearsome sight and sound of elephants.

In this battle you must stand firm and have no fear, no thought of flight, but be inspired to resist with ever more herculean strength. Animals may run away from animals. But you are men, men of stout heart, and you will hold at bay these dumb brutes, thrusting your spears and swords into them, so that they will know that they are fighting not against their own kind but against the masters of animals.

You are aware that the impious and infidel enemy has disturbed the peace unjustly. He has violated the oath and treaty that he made with us; he has slaughtered our farmers at harvest time; he has erected a fortress on the Propontis as it were to devour the Christians; he has encircled Galata under a pretence of peace.

Now he threatens to capture the city of Constantine the Great, your fatherland, the place of ready refuge for all Christians, the guardian of all Romans, and to profane its holy shrines of God by turning them into stables for fits horses. Oh my lords, my brothers, my sons, the everlasting honour of Christians is in your hands.

You men of Genoa, men of courage and famous for your infinite victories, you who have always protected this city, your mother, in many a conflict with the Turks, show now your prowess and your aggressive spirit toward them with manly vigour.

You men of Venice, most valiant heroes, whose swords have many a time made Turkish blood to flow and who in our time have sent so many ships, so many infidel souls to the depths under the command of Loredano, the most excellent captain of our fleet, you who have adorned this city as if it were your own with fine, outstanding men, lift high your spirits now for battle.

You, my comrades in arms, obey the commands of your leaders in the knowledge that this is the day of your glory -- a day on which, if you shed but a drop of blood, you will win for yourselves crowns of martyrdom and eternal fame."

Aerial view of Hagia Sophia today
All the people of the City then gathered into the Church of Hagia Sophia to pray for deliverance and celebrate the Divine Liturgy. After everyone, including the Emperor, received Holy Communion, they asked forgiveness of one another. Many kept vigil the entire night, while others prepared for the final showdown against Sultan Mehmed and his Ottoman hordes.

Emperor Constantine himself then went back to his palace at Blachernai to ask forgiveness from his household and bid them farewell before riding into the night to make a final inspection of his soldiers at the wall. He then kept vigil at the palace the entire night praying to God.

Emperor Constantine crowned by Christ as a martyr (drawing by Photios Kontoglou)
The next day the decapitated head and body of the Emperor was found amidst other decapitated corpses. We know it was taken to the Sultan to affirm that he was the new ruler of the Roman lands and the conqueror of Constantinople. Then there are differing accounts as to what happened to the body. Some say it was given to the Christians to give an emperor his proper burial, while others say the Sultan packaged the head and sent it throughout the lands of Persia, Arabia and Asia Minor as a symbol of his victory. Maybe both accounts can be reconciled however.

The Lamentation of Greece and Orthodoxy over the body of Emperor Constantine, painted by Photios Kontoglou.
Since the erection of the statue of Emperor Constantine IX in Athens, every year on May 29th the Greeks gather and offer a memorial service in his honor. His reverence has reached the point where he is honored as a Saint of the Orthodox Church.

The statue of Emperor Constantine in Athens
"To deliver the city it is not my own right nor any other person of her residents, because it is our common decision to die all of us and not to spare our life."

- Emperor Constantine's reply to Sultan Mehmed when asked to deliver the City without a fight

"Breaking down the doors with axes, the Turks entered the Church [Hagia Sophia] and dragged the fugitives off to slavery. Two by two, the men were tied together with cords, the women with belts, without consideration for age or station. Scenes of indescribable horror ensued. The icons of Saints were shorn of their jewels and smashed. The gold and silver Church vessels were seized, the altar cloths used for caparisons. Topped with a Janissary's cap, the crucifix was paraded in mockery. The conquerors used the altars as tables; when they themselves had finished eating on them, they turned them over to the horses for feed troughs or used them as beds on which to assault boys and girls."

--The Fall of the Roman Empire, A Chronicle by George Sphrantzes (translated by Marios Phillipides)

May 28, 2009

Saint Leo the Great's First Homily on the Ascension of Christ

By Saint Leo the Great 
(Sermon 73 - On the Lord's Ascension)

I. The events recorded as happening after the Resurrection were intended to convince us of its truth

Since the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the Divine power in three days raised the true Temple of God, which the wickedness of the Jews had overthrown, the sacred forty days, dearly-beloved, are today ended, which by most holy appointment were devoted to our most profitable instruction, so that, during the period that the Lord thus protracted the lingering of His bodily presence, our faith in the Resurrection might be fortified by needful proofs. For Christ's Death had much disturbed the disciples' hearts, and a kind of torpor of distrust had crept over their grief-laden minds at His torture on the cross, at His giving up the ghost, at His lifeless body's burial. For, when the holy women, as the Gospel-story has revealed, brought word of the stone rolled away from the tomb, the sepulchre emptied of the body, and the angels bearing witness to the living Lord, their words seemed like ravings to the Apostles and other disciples. Which doubtfulness, the result of human weakness, the Spirit of Truth would most assuredly not have permitted to exist in His own preacher's breasts, had not their trembling anxiety and careful hesitation laid the foundations of our faith. It was our perplexities and our dangers that were provided for in the Apostles: it was ourselves who in these men were taught how to meet the cavillings of the ungodly and the arguments of earthly wisdom. We are instructed by their lookings, we are taught by their hearings, we are convinced by their handlings. Let us give thanks to the Divine management and the holy Father who allowed the necessary slowness of belief. Others doubted, that we might not doubt.

II. And therefore they are in the highest degree instructive

Those days, therefore, dearly-beloved, which intervened between the Lord's Resurrection and Ascension did not pass by in uneventful leisure, but great mysteries were ratified in them, deep truths revealed. In them the fear of awful death was removed, and the immortality not only of the soul but also of the flesh established. In them, through the Lord's breathing upon them, the Holy Ghost is poured upon all the Apostles, and to the blessed Apostle Peter beyond the rest the care of the Lord's flock is entrusted, in addition to the keys of the kingdom. Then it was that the Lord joined the two disciples as a companion on the way, and, to the sweeping away of all the clouds of our uncertainty, upbraided them with the slowness of their timorous hearts. Their enlightened hearts catch the flame of faith, and lukewarm as they have been, are made to burn while the Lord unfolds the Scriptures. In the breaking of bread also their eyes are opened as they eat with Him: how far more blessed is the opening of their eyes, to whom the glorification of their nature is revealed than that of our first parents, on whom fell the disastrous consequences of their transgression.

III. They prove the Resurrection of the flesh

And in the course of these and other miracles, when the disciples were harassed by bewildering thoughts, and the Lord had appeared in their midst and said, "Peace be unto you" , that what was passing through their hearts might not be their fixed opinion (for they thought they saw a spirit not flesh), He refutes their thoughts so discordant with the Truth, offers to the doubters' eyes the marks of the cross that remained in His hands and feet, and invites them to handle Him with careful scrutiny, because the traces of the nails and spear had been retained to heal the wounds of unbelieving hearts, so that not with wavering faith, but with most steadfast knowledge they might comprehend that the Nature which had been lain in the sepulchre was to sit on God the Father's throne.

IV. Christ's ascension has given us greater privileges and joys than the devil had taken from us

Accordingly, dearly-beloved, throughout this time which elapsed between the Lord's Resurrection and Ascension, God's Providence had this in view, to teach and impress upon both the eyes and hearts of His own people that the Lord Jesus Christ might be acknowledged to have as truly risen, as He was truly born, suffered, and died. And hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at His death on the cross and backward in believing His Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy. And truly great and unspeakable was their cause for joy, when in the sight of the holy multitude, above the dignity of all heavenly creatures, the Nature of mankind went up, to pass above the angels' ranks and to rise beyond the archangels' heights, and to have Its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, It should be associated on the throne with His glory, to Whose Nature It was united in the Son. Since then Christ's Ascension is our uplifting, and the hope of the Body is raised, whither the glory of the Head has gone before, let us exult, dearly-beloved, with worthy joy and delight in the loyal paying of thanks. For today not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but have also in Christ penetrated the heights of heaven, and have gained still greater things through Christ's unspeakable grace than we had lost through the devil's malice. For us, whom our virulent enemy had driven out from the bliss of our first abode, the Son of God has made members of Himself and placed at the right hand of the Father, with Whom He lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

Source: Translated by Charles Lett Feltoe. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. .

Hymns of the Feast of the Ascension of Christ

Apolytikion (Fourth Tone)
O Christ our God, You ascended in Glory and gladdened Your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Your blessing assured them that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world.

Kontakion (Plagal of the Second Tone)
O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your dispensation for our sake, You ascended in Glory, uniting the earthly with the heavenly. You were never separate but remained inseparable, and cried out to those who love You, "I am with you and no one is against you."

May 27, 2009

Saint John the Russian, the New Confessor and his Incorrupt Relics

Saint John the Russian (Feast Day - May 27)

The Life of the Holy Confessor
John the Russian
Whose Venerable Relics Repose in New Prokopion on the Greek Island of Evia

"Undeteriorated relics are, in our tradition, the indisputable evidence of theosis, or in other words the fulfillment of the Church’s ascetic therapy." - Fr. John Romanides

The Holy Confessor John the Russian was born in Little Russia around 1690, and was raised in piety and love for the Church of God. Upon attaining the age of maturity he was called to military service, and he served as a simple soldier in the army of Peter I and took part in the Russo-Turkish War. During the Prutsk Campaign of 1711 he and other soldiers were captured by the Tatars, who handed him over to the commander of the Turkish cavalry. He took his Russian captive home with him to Asia Minor, to the village of Prokopion.

The Turks tried to convert the Christian soldiers to the Moslem faith with threats and flattery, but those who resisted were beaten and tortured. Some, alas, denied Christ and became Moslems, hoping to improve their lot. St John was not swayed by the promise of earthly delights, and he bravely endured the humiliation and beatings.

His master tortured him often in the hope that his slave would accept Islam. St John resolutely resisted the will of his master saying, "You cannot turn me from my holy Faith by threats, nor with promises of riches and pleasures. I will obey your orders willingly, if you will leave me free to follow my religion. I would rather surrender my head to you than to change my faith. I was born a Christian, and I shall die a Christian."

St John's bold words and firm faith, as well as his humility and meekness, finally softened the fierce heart of his master. He left John in peace, and no longer tried to make him renounce Christianity. The saint lived in the stable and took care of his master's animals, rejoicing because his bed was a manger such as the one in which the Savior was born.

From morning until late evening the saint served his Turkish master, fulfilling all his commands. He performed his duties in the winter cold and summer heat, half naked and barefoot. Other slaves frequently mocked him, seeing his zeal. St John never became angry with them, but on the contrary, he helped them when he could, and comforted them in their misfortune.

The saint's kindness and gentle nature had its effect on the souls of both the master and the slaves. The Agha and his wife came to love him, and offered him a small room near the hayloft. St John did not accept it, preferring to remain in the stable with the animals. Here he slept on the hay, covered only by an old coat. So the stable became his hermitage, where he prayed and chanted Psalms.

St John brought a blessing to his master simply by living in his household. The cavalry officer became rich, and was soon one of the most powerful men in Prokopion. He knew very well why his home had been blessed, and he did not hesitate to tell others.

Sometimes St John left the stable at night and went to the church of the Great Martyr George, where he kept vigil in the narthex. On Saturdays and Feast days, he received the Holy Mysteries of Christ.

During this time St John continued to serve his master as before, and despite his own poverty, he always helped the needy and the sick, and shared his meager food with them.

One day, the officer left Prokopion and went to Mecca on pilgrimage. A few days later, his wife gave a banquet and invited her husband's friends and relatives, asking them to pray for her husband's safe return. St John served at the table, and he put down a dish of pilaf, his master's favorite food. The hostess said, "How much pleasure your master would have if he could be here to eat this pilaf with us." St John asked for a dish of pilaf, saying that he would send it to his master in Mecca. The guests laughed when they heard his words. The mistress, however, ordered the cook to give him a dish of pilaf, thinking he would eat it himself, or give it to some poor family.

Taking the dish, St John went into the stable and prayed that God would send it to his master. He had no doubt that God would send the pilaf to his master in a supernatural manner. The plate disappeared before his eyes, and he went into the house to tell his mistress that he had sent the pilaf to his master.

After some time, the master returned home with the copper plate which had held the pilaf. He told his household that on a certain day (the very day of the banquet), he returned from the mosque to the home where he was staying. Although the room was locked, he found a plate of steaming pilaf on the table. Unable to explain who had brought the food, or how anyone could enter the locked room, the officer examined the plate. To his amazement, he saw his own name engraved on the copper plate. In spite of his confusion, he ate the meal with great relish.

When the officer's family heard this story, they marveled. His wife told him of how John had asked for a plate of pilaf to send to his master in Mecca, and how they all laughed when John came back and said that it had been sent. Now they saw that what the saint had said was true (Compare the story of Habakkuk, who miraculously brought a dish of pottage to Daniel in the lions' den [Dan. 14:33-39] in the Septuagint).

Toward the end of his difficult life St John fell ill, and sensed the nearness of his end. He summoned the priest so that he could receive Holy Communion. The priest, fearing to go to the residence of the Turkish commander openly with the Holy Gifts, enclosed the life-giving Mysteries in an apple and brought them to St John.

St John glorified the Lord, received the Body and Blood of Christ, and then reposed. The holy Confessor John the Russian went to the Lord Whom he loved on May 27, 1730. When they reported to the master that his servant John had died, he summoned the priests and gave them the body of St John for Christian burial. Almost all the Christian inhabitants of Prokopion came to the funeral, and they accompanied the body of the saint to the Christian cemetery.

Three and a half years later the priest was miraculously informed in a dream that the relics of St John had remained incorrupt. Soon the relics of the saint were transferred to the church of the holy Great Martyr George and placed in a special reliquary. The new saint of God began to be glorified by countless miracles of grace, accounts of which spread to the remote cities and villages. Christian believers from various places came to Prokopion to venerate the holy relics of St John the Russian and they received healing through his prayers. The new saint came to be venerated not only by Orthodox Christians, but also by Armenians, and even Turks, who prayed to the Russian saint, "Servant of God, in your mercy, do not disdain us."

In the year 1881 a portion of the relics of St John were transferred to the Russian monastery of the holy Great Martyr Panteleimon by the monks of Mount Athos, after they were miraculously saved by the Saint during a dangerous journey.

Construction of a new church was begun in 1886, through the contributions of the monastery and the inhabitants of Prokopion. This was necessary because the church of the holy Great Martyr George, where the relics of St John were enshrined, had fallen into disrepair.

On August 15, 1898 the new church dedicated to St John the Russian was consecrated by the Metropolitan John of Caesarea, with the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine V.

In 1924, an exchange of the populations of Greece and Turkey took place. Many Moslems moved out of Greece, and many Christians moved out of Turkey. The inhabitants of Prokopion, when they moved to the island of Evvia, took with them part of the relics of St John the Russian.

For several decades the relics were in the church of Sts Constantine and Helen at New Prokopion on Evvia, and in 1951 they were transferred into a new church dedicated to St John the Russian. Thousands of pilgrims flocked here from all the corners of Greece, particularly on his Feast, May 27. St John the Russian is widely venerated on Mount Athos, particularly in the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon.

St John's help is sought by travelers, and by those transporting things.


The Saint performed many wonders even after his blessed repose. A descendent of the Agha told many of the following miracle: "My children would not live except for a short time, and would die while yet infants. Their unfortunate mother, after she had lost hope in the wisdom of medicine, fled without my knowledge to the relics of the slave John, so that be might grant her a little child which would not die while yet young, so that we also might rejoice to see it as a young man or even a young girl .... In truth the righteous John heard the supplication of my wife. God granted us a strong little boy whom we called, as you know, Kole Guvan Oglu (that is, "Son of the Slave John"), and he lives through the power of God and the prayers of John even until today."

Several times St. John has appeared in dreams and visions warning of impending dangers. Once he warned some Greek school children that the roof was about to fall; they had time enough to jump underneath their desks and when the roof fell, its beams came down upon the desks without striking even one of the children.

More recently we have heard about the miraculous healings of two severe cases of meningitis – one a 19 year old shepherd boy in southern Greece and the other a 3-year old boy in London.

Today a part of the right hand of St. John is enshrined in a special silver reliquary in the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, where many people come to venerate it and to ask the prayers of this simple Confessor of the Christian faith, knowing that the Lord – Who resisteth the proud – hears speedily the prayers of the meek.

Based on a Life by Photios Kontoglou. The Orthodox Word, June-July, 1967.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
He that hath called thee from earth unto the heavenly abodes doth even after thy death keep thy body unharmed, O righteous one; for thou wast carried off as a prisoner into Asia wherein also, O John, thou didst win Christ as thy friend. Wherefore do thou beseech him that our souls be saved.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The holy memory, O venerable father, of thine illustrious contests hath come today gladdening the souls of those who venerate thee with reverence and faith, O John.

May 26, 2009

On Faith and Reason - Selections from Saint John Chrysostom

Below are some excerpts from Saint John Chrysostom, found throughout his writings, that deal with the relationship between Faith and Reason. For Saint John, there is not a contradiction between Faith and Reason when used for their own purpose, since both are gifts of God, but he does demonstrate and drive home strongly that Faith is far superior to Reason. Moreover he continuously warns against misusing Reason to be an enemy of Faith. Reasoning should not interfere in matters of Faith, because Reason cannot even hope to comprehend the transcendent nature of Faith. Reason cannot enlighten Faith, but Faith can enlighten Reason. Reason diminishes Faith because it limits it and does not allow it to grow. And Faith that does not increase eventually withers and dies. At the same time Reason unenlightened by Faith is like being born and raised in a dark prison cell, confined and unaware of the world beyond your limited experience, sort of like Plato's allegory of the cave. Reason can never move us beyond its own ignorance and it serves its purpose only when it drives a person to deeper Faith. 

Saint John Chrysostom writes:

- "In that God has bestowed upon us benefits that surpass man's reasoning, suitably enough He has brought in faith. It is not possible to be steadfast when demanding reasons. For behold all of our noble doctrines - how destitute they are of reasoning, and dependent upon faith alone. [For example,] God is not anywhere, and is everywhere. What has less reason in it than this? Each, by itself, is full of difficulty. ... He was not made, He made not Himself, He never began to be. What reasoning will receive this, if there be not faith?"

- "If any one should tell you descend into the deep, and trace out things at the bottom of the sea, you would not tolerate the command. Therefore, when no one compels you, why do you willingly seek to comprehend the unsearchable abyss [of our divine dogma with your reasoning]? I beseech you, do not do this. Instead, let us sail upwards - not floating, for we shall soon be weary and sink; but using the divine Scriptures, as some vessel, let us unfurl the sails of faith. If we sail in them, then the Word of God will be present with us as our Navigator."

- "This is the work of faith: If you believe, suffer all things; if you do not suffer, you do not believe. For are not the things promised [so great], that he who believes would choose to suffer even ten thousand deaths? The kingdom of heaven is set before him - and immortality, and eternal life. Therefore, whoever believes will suffer all things. Then faith is shown through his works. In truth, one might have said: Not merely did you believe, but through your works you manifested it - through your steadfastness, through your zeal."

- "Where faith exists, there is no need of questioning. Where there is no room for curiosity, questions are superfluous. Questioning is the subversion of faith. For he that seeks, has not yet found. He who questions, cannot believe. Therefore, it is [St. Paul's] advice that we should not be occupied with questions; since, if we question, it is not faith. For faith sets reasoning at rest."

- "But why then does Christ say, 'Keep on seeking and ye shall find, keep on knocking and it shall be opened unto you' (Matt. 7:7); and, 'Keep on searching the Scriptures, for in them you have eternal life (John 5:39)? With regards to 'seeking', it refers to prayer and vehement desire. And He invites us to, 'Keep on searching the Scriptures,' not in order to introduce the labors of questioning, but to end them - so that we may ascertain and settle their true meaning; not that we may be always questioning, but that we may be done with it."

- "And [St. Paul] rightly said, 'Command some not to teach different doctrines, nor to give heed to fables, and endless genealogies, which produce questions rather than the dispensation of God, which is in faith' (I Timothy 1:4). Justly has he said, 'the dispensation of God.' For great are the blessings, which God is willing to dispense; but the greatness of them is not conceived by reasoning. This must, then, be the work of faith, which is the best medicine of our souls. This questioning, therefore, is opposed to the dispensation of God. For [this is] what is dispensed by faith: To receive His mercies and become better men; to doubt and dispute of nothing; but to repose in confidence."

- "It is not faith merely to profess belief, but to do works worthy of faith; ... for sound doctrines avail nothing towards our salvation, if our life is corrupt. ... For even though we have all faith and all knowledge of the Scriptures, yet if we are naked and destitute of the protection derived from (holy) living, there is nothing to hinder us from being hurried into the fire of hell; and burning forever in the unquenchable flame. For as they who have done good shall rise to life everlasting, so they who have dared the contrary shall rise to everlasting punishment; which never has an end. Let us, therefore, manifest all eagerness not to waste the gain, which accrues to us from a right faith, by our vile actions; but becoming well-pleasing to Him by these [i.e., our actions] also, boldly to look upon Christ. No happiness can be equal to this."

- "Some, who seek out everything by reasoning, turn aside from the faith; but reasoning produces shipwreck, while faith is as a safe ship. For where there is no faith, there is no knowledge; when anything springs from our reasoning, it is not [true] knowledge."

- "What the wisdom of men cannot discover, faith abundantly comprehends and achieves. Therefore, let us cling to this; and not commit to reasonings that concern ourselves. For tell me, why have not the Greeks been able to find out anything? Did they not know all the wisdom of the heathen? Why then could they not prevail against fishermen and tentmakers, and unlearned persons? Was it not because the one committed all to argument, the others to faith?"

- "Therefore, [St. Paul] shows that the greatest things are attained through faith; and not through reasoning. And how does he show this, tell me? It is manifest, he says, that God made: the things which are, out of things which are not; things which appear, out of things which appear not; things which subsist, out of things which subsist not. ... For reason suggests nothing of this kind; but on the contrary, that the things which appear are [formed] out of things which appear."`

- "Where is the proof ... that God made these things [i.e., all of the visible and invisible creation]? Reason does not suggest it; for no one was present when it was done. [Therefore], how is it shown? It is plainly the result of faith. 'Through faith,' [St. Paul exclaims], 'we understand that the worlds were made.' Why 'through faith'? Because 'the things which are seen have not come into being out of things which appear' (Hebrews 11:3). For this is Faith."

- "'Moved with fear, [Noah] prepared an ark' (Hebrews 11:7). Reason indeed suggested nothing of this sort; for 'they were marrying and being given in marriage' (Luke 17:27); the air was clear, there were no signs [of change], but nevertheless he feared: 'By faith', [St. Paul says], 'Noah was warned by God of things not seen as yet, and moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house' (Hebrews 11:7). ... Faith is all. If [faith] stabilizes the heart, then it stands in security. It follows that faith gives stability, while consequently reasoning is shaky. For faith is superior to reasoning."

- "Faith needs: a generous and vigorous soul; and one rising above all things of sense; and passing beyond the weakness of human reasonings. For it is not possible to become a believer, other than by raising one's self above the common customs [of the world]."

- "Everywhere, beloved, we have need of faith - the mother of blessings, the medicine of salvation; and without this, it is impossible to possess any one of the great doctrines. Without this, men are like those who attempt to cross the open sea without a ship; who - for a little while - hold out by swimming, using both bands and feet. However, when they have advanced farther, they are quickly swamped by the waves. In like manner, those who use their own reasoning, before they have learned anything, suffer shipwreck; as also Paul says, 'Who concerning faith have made shipwreck' (1 Tim. 1:19). In order that this not be the case with us, let us hold fast to the sacred anchor [of faith]."

- "This is what we [should] learn: rather to raise questions, not to solve the questions that are raised. For even if we do solve them, we have not solved them altogether; but (only) as far as man's reasoning goes. The proper solution of such questions is faith - knowing: that God does all things justly and mercifully, and for the best; that to comprehend the reason of them is impossible. This is the one solution, and no better one exists... This is a chief characteristic of faith: to leave all the consequences of this lower world, and [thereby] seek that which is above nature; ... cast out the feebleness of forethought; and accept everything from the Power of God."

- "Faith requires obedience, and not curiosity; and when God commands, one ought to be obedient, not curious."

- "There is need not only of faith, but also of a spiritual way of life - that we may keep the Spirit that was given once for all."

- "Faith is - indeed - great, and brings salvation; and without it, never is it possible to be saved."

- "For the wonderful qualities of faith are two: that it both accomplishes great things, and suffers great things; and regards the suffering as nothing."

- "Wherefore I entreat you: let us use much diligence - both to stand in the right faith, and to show forth an excellent life."

And a few by Saint Basil the Great...

- "We must neither doubt nor hesitate respecting the words of the Lord, but be fully persuaded that every word of God is true and possible - even if nature rebels; for therein is the test of faith."

- "Let the simplicity of faith be stronger than the deduction of reason."

May 24, 2009

John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins and Faustus of Riez Were Not Semi-Pelagians

By John Sanidopoulos

Saints John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins and Faustus of Riez are Orthodox Church Fathers. The West has designated these Fathers as Semi-Pelagians out of convenience because they opposed the Augustinian doctrines of the total bondage of the will, of the priority and irresistibility of grace, and of rigid predestination. In fact, these Fathers of the Church were influenced by Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil the Great, who could be better viewed as Synergists. Synergistic Soteriology is Orthodox Soteriology, and it is opposed to the errors of Pelagius and Augustine. In other words, these three Fathers took the moderate route in opposing two grave errors: the self-made, man-based salvation of Pelagianism and the monergistic, deterministic salvation of Augustine.

Saint John Cassian expressed his views concerning the relation of grace and freedom in his Conferences according to the tradition he received from the Greek-speaking Fathers by whom he was taught. With unmistakable reference to the Bishop of Hippo, he had endeavored in his thirteenth chapter of Conferences to demonstrate from Biblical examples that God frequently awaits the good impulses of the natural will before coming to its assistance with His supernatural grace; while the grace often preceded the will, as in the case of Matthew and Peter, on the other hand the will frequently preceded the grace, as in the case of Zacchæus and the Good Thief on the Cross. Furthermore, in his Institutes, Saint John shows in chapters 20-22 what he learned from his teacher Paphnutios that there is no salvation apart from the cooperation (synergeia) of man's free-will along with divine grace. Without identifying Augustine by name, Saint Vincent condemned Augustine's doctrine of grace and predestination as well, calling it heresy to teach of "a certain great and special and altogether personal grace of God [which is given to the predestined elect] without any labor  without any effort, without any industry, even though they neither ask, nor seek, nor knock" (Saint Vincent, Commonitorium, ch. 26). Augustine had already passed away in 430, while this refutation was written in 434 to support the teachings of Saint John Cassian. In refuting the doctrines of Augustine, these two Fathers emphasized the cooperation of man's free-will and God's grace not just initially in the process of salvation but throughout one's lifetime.

Augustine was not named in these refutations out of respect for his attempt to combat the heresy of Pelagius. Augustine, more known as a speculative theologian and largely unaware of the traditions of the Greek-speaking Fathers, took his refutation of Pelagius to an opposite extreme to the point of nearly obliterating human free-will. The exchanges between Augustine and the Fathers of the West were respectful and they never labelled each other as heretics, just erring friends. The polemics only started after the death of Augustine by his disciple Prosper who falsely labelled the Fathers of the West as "enemies of grace".

Since false teachers often employ the use of Holy Scripture and manipulate it towards their own teachings, Saint Vincent offers three tests of accurate, Orthodox interpretation of Holy Scripture according to the tradition taught to him by the Greek-speaking Fathers: universality, meaning the entire Church adheres to the teaching; antiquity, meaning the teaching was always taught from the time of the apostolic successors; and consent, meaning that Ecumenical Synods, Fathers and bishops harmoniously agree the teaching is true. He also demonstrates that if any one of these three criteria are compromised, then the faithful should look to the other criteria to establish truth. These three criteria also were used by Saint Vincent to refute the novel doctrines of Augustine.

That Augustine was in error is evident by his frequent use of Scripture to tweak his novel views. In fact, Augustine himself admitted that he once believed in Synergism, or what he calls "a similar error", until he examined what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7. Preferring his own interpretation to the consensus of the Holy Fathers, Augustine fell into error. That Saints John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, and Faustus of Riez were upholding the doctrines of the Greek Fathers is clear from their writings and the fact that they do not deny any established doctrine as Augustine does, but confront a deviation of this doctrine in the person of the unnamed Augustine and his disciples.

Saint Faustus of Riez was the successor of Saint John Cassian and upheld all his teachings. To the doctrine of predestination taught by Augustine and his followers such as Lucidus, Saint Faustus responded that those who ascribe salvation entirely to the will of man (Pelagius) or to irresistible grace (Augustine) fall into heathen folly. In a letter to Lucidus he wrote: "We assert that whoever is lost is lost by his own volition, but that he could have obtained salvation by grace had he cooperated with it. On the other hand, whoever, by means of [this] cooperation attains perfection may, of his own fault, his own negligence, fall and lose it and [become] lost. Certainly we exclude all personal boasting, for we declare that all that we have has been gratuitously received from God's hand" (Epistle to Lucidus, 53:683). Saint Faustus by no means defended Augustinian doctrines as many contemporary Orthodox defenders of Augustine claim, but such a preposterous claim is refuted by the above quotation. Furthermore, the cooperation between God's grace and man's free-will described in the above passage reveals that Saint Faustus also was not a Semi-Pelagian.

In 475, the Synod of Arles condemned Augustine's teaching of predestination. The Synod of Lyons in the fifth century, under the Archbishop of Lyons Saint Patiens, did the same. In 829, the Synod of Paris again condemned Augustine's teaching of irresistible grace and reaffirmed the Orthodox Christian doctrine of Synergism. At the Synod of Mainz in 848, under Saint Hincmar, Augustine's doctrine of double predestination was again condemned. It was not until the Frankish theologians begun studying Augustine during the time of Charlemagne that the tides changed in the churches of the West and divided itself into a hopeless mess. Even now, in the 21st century, one of the many major divisions in Protestantism is over the question of predestination and irresistible grace.

It has been assumed that the Second Synod of Orange in 529 condemned the views of the so-called "Semi-Pelagians" John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, Faustus of Riez and others. This is a complete misunderstanding of the Synod as Gaul at the time was predominantly Orthodox and largely untainted by Augustine's novel doctrines. A careful examination of the 25 Canons formulated by the bishops of Gaul reveals in fact the upholding of the Orthodox doctrine of Synergism and both a condemnation of the errors of Pelagius as well as those of Augustine, though again out of respect Augustine is not named. That Augustine is refuted here is further evidenced in the writings of Saint Gregory of Tours who never cites Augustine in his works, though he does show admiration for Saint John Cassian as a guide for monasticism in Gaul.

Book Review: "Greek Orthodox Patrology" by Panagiotes K. Chrestou

For those who are not familiar with the late Dr. Panagiotes Chrestou, he is without a doubt the greatest patristics scholar of the twentieth century and has yet to be surpassed. A foretaste of his genius is presented in this volume which introduces the reader to the study of the Church Fathers. One should keep in mind that this volume, translated by another patristics scholar Fr. George Dragas, consists of only about half of the first volume introduction to Professor Chrestou's 5-volume magnum opus. The second half of the introduction is forthcoming.

According to Fr. Dragas: "His [Dr. Chrestou's] Greek Patrology in 5 volumes, written in Greek and comprising some 3,300 pages, is the most updated Patrology around the world, surpassing any other in thoroughness and extensiveness, and it would have been the indispensable textbook in this field worldwide had it been translated into a more commonly used language, like English..." When all 5 volumes are translated, no doubt it will achieve this status.

This first half of the first volume "gives a birds eye view of Greek Orthodox Patrology, and elucidates in a thorough and succinct way such basic topics as: who the Fathers are; the historical context of patristic literature; the nature and characteristics of Greek patristic literature; and the seven major periods of Greek patristic literature from AD 90 through 1453, the capture of Constantinople." Furthermore, it examines not only the writings of those we know today as Fathers, but examines all the ecclesiastical authors, whether Orthodox or heretical, who wrote in Greek from the beginning of the Christian era to the capture of Constantinople in 1453. It is the Fathers who constitute the nucleus of this examination as they gave the tone of life from post-apostolic times throughout the entirety of the history of the Roman Empire after Constantine the Great.

The effort of Professor Chrestou is meant to revitalize Greek patristic scholarship not only at the academic level, but also as the direct inheritance of Orthodox Christianity. As he says: "It is the Fathers who move the threads of Holy Tradition." The organic unity between the writings and lives of the Church Fathers with Orthodox theology is indispensable for a comprehensive understanding of patrology.

This is not another mere catalogue of names and writings of the Church Fathers. Professor Chrestou understood well that this does little to benefit students of the Fathers and he avoided it as much as possible. In this and other forthcoming volumes there will be presented a "new type of Patrology", as Dr. Chrestou called it. This is not merely a dry systematic exposition of texts and bibliographies and the problems they address, but this is primarily a Patrology with personality. According to the author, it "brings to the fore the personalities of particular authors by projecting those points in their activity and teaching which allow the reader to acquire a full image of them."

If your looking for a dry Patrology with no personality and you have no desire to understand the context of the Church Fathers, this volume is not for you. If you are looking to enhance and broaden your view of patristics and Greco/Roman literature, then you will welcome this volume as an indispensable part of your library.

May 23, 2009

Evgeny Rodionov, the New Martyr of Chechnya

Below is a story of the courage and faith of a young man in Post-Soviet Russia whose memory is honored by many Orthodox Christians in Russia on May 23rd and August 20th, though he has not been officially canonized as a Saint of the Church.

Evgeny Aleksandrovich Rodionov was born thirty minutes after midnight on May 23, 1977 in the village of Satino-Russkoye near Moscow in what was then the Soviet Union. According to his mother, as a boy in this small village, all he really wanted was to be a cook. When he was eleven years old, Evgeny Rodionov received from his grandmother a little Cross on a chain. He wanted to wear it to school, but his mother, then an atheist, warned him against it, since the communist authorities frowned on such things. Evgeny wore it anyway and refused to ever take it off.

In 1995 Evgeny turned eighteen and was drafted into the Russian armed forces as is required for all Russian men. Right before being drafted, Evgeny was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church on his own accord seperate from his parents who were still atheists. For his duty he was chosen to work in a frontier guard unit (something of a mix between the US Border Patrol and the National Guard) and sent for training in the Kalingrad area of what was formerly East Prussia. After training he was sent to the border of Chechnya and posted near the town of Galashki. This was towards the end of the controversial
First Chechnyan War. On the night of February 14, 1996, just six months after he started his service, Evgeny and three comrades were captured by a force of Muslim Chechen guerillas who were disguised in an ambulance while the Russian soldiers were manning a checkpoint.

According to a report in
Pravda from 2003:

"They [Evgeny and the soldiers with him] patrolled the border between the republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Their control and registration post was located some 200 meters far from the security detachment. The post was just a small cabin, without any light or wire communication. The cabin did not even have a military support, in spite of the fact that it was a single cabin on the mountainous road, which was used for carrying weapons, ammunition, captives, drugs and so on. The border guards stopped an ambulance vehicle to check it. More than ten armed Chechens got out of the vehicle. Needless to mention that it was very easy for them to cope with young inexperienced soldiers. The guys showed as much resistance as they could, but the outcome of the fight was evident before it even started."

Upon capture they were held in the cellar of an abandoned house for 100 days as ransom demands were sent to their families. Kidnapping and demanding ransom was almost a cottage industry in Chechnya during that time period. They kept Evgeny hanging by his wrists in a basement. They starved and beat him. Rodionov's ransom was reported to be 50 million rubles (1.6 million dollars) - at the time an impossible sum. Another report says it may have been in the $10,000 range. Whatever it was, the ransom was not met.

Chechen field commander Rusland Haihoroev (also spelled Khaikhoroyev in some sources) eventually beheaded Evgeny with a rusted saw that took over an hour to complete on May 23, 1996 (his 19th birthday) near the settlement of Bamut. His body, along with four other Russian prisoners were placed in a bomb crater outside the village of Alexeevskaya and covered up with lime and dirt. Haihoroev stated later in an interview that he only killed Rodionov after the soldier denied conversion to Islam and refused to give up his Orthodox Cross, while two others with him had converted to Islam. Russian troops occupied the village where Evgeny was murdered the following day after the execution.

Evgeny's mother, Lubov Rodionova, was informed that her son had deserted the army. She did not believe the news and went to look for him in Chechnya. She stayed there for ten months chasing down leads and questioning anyone who would talk to her. It was months before she found out that he had in fact been killed. This news came when she found the Chechens who had held her son prisoner and then killed him. Rusland Haihoroev, the leader of the Chechen gang, told her seventeen times over the course of seventeen seperate meetings, that she had born a bad son who refused to adopt Islam and join the separatists in their fight against Russia. “Your son had a choice to stay alive. He could convert to Islam, but he did not agree to take his Cross off. He also tried to escape once,” said Haihoroev to Evgeny's mother. She finally agreed to pay Haihoroev some 100,000 rubles (about $4000 US) to take her to his gravesite in the forests outside of Alexeevskaya. This was money she did not have, so she had to sell her apartment to finance the deal. Chechens in Moscow handled the deal and when all was done Haihoroev showed her where his body was. There late at night, with the assistance of the military, she was able to exhume his body. She found her sons headless body together with the Cross he wore and died for among his bones and stained with small drops of blood. The head was discarded in another place. According to Evgeny's mother, this event took place in the following way:

“When I came to Chechnya in the middle of February, a living private cost ten million rubles. This price was 50 million in August. A friend of mine was told to pay 250 million rubles for her son, since he was an officer. It was nighttime when I and some sappers digging the pit, in which the bodies of four Russian soldiers were thrown. I was praying all the time, hoping that my Evgeny was not going to be there. I could not and did not want to believe that he was murdered. When we were taking out the remnants, I recognized his boots. However, I still refused to accept the fact of his death, until someone found his Cross. Then I fainted.”

Lubov took Evgeny’s body away along with the bodies of his murdered friends. She returned to Moscow with the aide of the Russian Orthodox Church and buried him. When Lubov Rodionova came back home, Evgeny’s father died five days after the funeral. He could not stand the loss of his son.

“We know that he had to go through horrible, long-lasting sufferings that could be compared to the ones of great martyrs in ancient times. They were beheaded, dismembered, but they remained devoted to Jesus Christ anyway,” priest Alexander Shargunov said during the requiem in Evgeny Rodionov’s memory.

Evgeny was posthumously awarded the Order of Courage by the Army. Lubov Rodionova later returned to Chechnya on a second trip and recovered her sons head.

Haihoroev himself and his bodyguards were killed on August 23, 1999 in a fight between his group and a rival Chechen band.

The soldier's fate would have probably been forgotten, if a Central TV film crew had not come to the village where Evgeny's relics now lie six years later to shoot a short report on a Cross being set on a restored church. Parishioners told the reporters about the heroic deed of the son and the courage of the mother, who had buried him in his homeland. They filed the story as a separate report. A year later a huge devotion spread throughout Russia and the entire world.

New York Times reported in 2003:

"In pamphlets, songs and poems, in sermons and on Web sites, Private Rodionov's story has become a parable of religious devotion and Russian nationalism. The young soldier, it is said, was killed by Muslim rebels seven years ago because he refused to renounce his religion or remove the small silver Cross he kept around his neck...

"As his story has spread, pilgrims have begun appearing in this small village just west of Moscow, where his mother, Lubov, 51, tends his grave on an icy hillside beside an old whitewashed church. Some military veterans have laid their medals by his graveside in a gesture of homage. People in distress have left handwritten notes asking for his intercession. In a church near St. Petersburg, his full-length image stands at the altar beside icons of the Virgin Mary, the Archangel Michael, Jesus and Nicholas II, the last of the czars, who was canonized three years ago.

"Aleksandr Makeyev, a paratroop officer who heads a foundatioion to assist soldiers, said he had seen soldiers kneeling in prayer before an image of Private Rodionov. 'The kids in Chechnya, they feel they've been abandoned by the state and abandoned by their commanders,' he told the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. 'They don't know who to appeal to for help, but they understand that Zhenya is one of them,' he said, using Private Rodionov's nickname. 'You can say he is the first soldier-saint.'

"Among the photographs of her son that Mrs. Rodionov spreads on her kitchen table are laminated cards that she says some soldiers carry with them for luck. They bear his image along with a prayer:

"Thy martyr, Evgeny, O Lord, in his sufferings has received an incorruptible crown from Thee, our God, for having Thy strength he has brought down his torturers, has defeated the powerless insolence of demons. Through his prayers save our souls."

Icons and pictures of this young man Evgeny spread around Russia very quickly and he was hailed as a New Martyr for Christ. In these icons sometimes he wears a uniform, sometimes a red robe (which is a way he appears in visions to the faithful, especially soldiers and children), sometimes armed, sometimes holding a Cross of martyrdom, but always with his halo. The picture distributed of him shows Evgeny wearing the Cross around his neck for which he died. Miracles have been occurring in connection with Evgeny's relics as well. During a religious procession in commemoration of Martyr Evgeny on November 20, 2002 the icon with the image of the soldier started secreting sweet-scented myrrh.

A sign in memory of the brave Evgeny was put at the entrance to the school where he studied. There was also a documentary released about him. People’s donations made it possible to put a two-meter (6 ft.) high Orthodox Cross on his grave which is located in the village of Satino-Russkoye, near Podolsk, in the Moscow region. People come to visit his grave from the most distant parts of Russia. A WWII veteran once came to visit Evgeny’s grave and he took off his military decoration – the Bravery Medal – and put in on the tombstone. The writings on Evgeny’s grave Cross run: “Russian soldier Evgeny Rodionov is buried here. He defended his Fatherland and did not disavow Christ. He was executed on May 23, 1996, on the outskirts of Bamut.”

His own Cross, the one that he refused to give up, his mother has donated to St. Nicholas Church in Ordinka, Moscow.

Because of the huge devotion to the New Martyr Evgeny, the pious faithful sought official canonization from the Moscow Patriarchate. Initially they refused and this divided the Orthodox in Russia. Maksim Maksimov, secretary of the canonization commission, explained the Synod's position in Tserkovny Vestnik (Church Bulletin), the official publication of the Russian Orthodox Church. His arguments can be summarized in three points: the only evidence that the soldier was executed for this faith is the testimony of his mother, who in her love made a god of her son; the Russian Orthodox Church has never canonized anyone killed at war; the period of new martyrs ended with the collapse of the Bolshevik regime. However, he emphasized, the deceased can be honored without canonization. Patriarch Alexy of Moscow personally blessed the popular account of Evgeny's life, but worried that his cult would balloon into anti-Muslim rage.

Opponents of the decision, including well-known priest Alexander Shargunov, argued that an outbreak of people's love is enough for the truth; that Evgeny's grave works miracles, curing the sick and reconciling enemies. They also point out that the solider did not die at war but in captivity, and that to say that the time of martyrs is over is near heresy.

A Church in his name that honors his patron saint was built in Hankala, near Groziniy, in August 2002. It is the only Orthodox Church in Chechnya. On October 21, 2008 soldier Evgeny Rodionov was numbered with the martyrs as a locally venerated saint of the Astrakhan Eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Evgeny's mother, who never before set foot in a church, is now an Orthodox Christian believer, saved by the example of her son, the Holy Martyr Evgeny Rodionov. Eventually the faithful helped her to raise enough money to buy a new home.

Evgeny Rodionov’s biography was published in a booklet that came out in 2002. The book was called The New Martyr of Christ, Warrior Evgeny. The fifth edition of this booklet was the one blessed by Patriarch Alexy. It was written by priest
Alexander Shargunov who is a noted communist and nationalist which in turn has been the cause of speculation regarding the truth of his tale. Some say Fr. Alexander merely contemporized a story from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (Book III, Chapter 7, “Disputation”) to promote Russian interests in the Chechnyan War. Though this tale of Dostoevsky, which is based on actual events as described by Dostoevsky in his Diary of a Writer (1877), is very similar to the story of Evgeny, this only testifies to the possibility of its actuality. This argument does not hold up when the testimony of Evgeny's mother and executioner bear testimony to the truth of the tale, as well as the fact that there is video evidence to prove Evgeny was beheaded and countless stories of miracles reported by the pious faithful. Evgeny's relics also testify to the truth of the story.

There are a few videos being ciculated on the internet of Russians being beheaded by Muslim Chechens. In fact, there are over 400+ hours of such videos known. They say that a video was made by the Chechens of Evegny's death as well, though its whereabouts are unknown. According to one person who has examined all these videos, as well as the execution of Evgeny: "They used the rusted old saw, and slowly sawed his head off. Everything was filmed, and when Lubov Rodionova came to see the field commander who did it, he gave her a tape with her son's execution on it." I must warn my readers that these videos are very gruesome and are best avoided, as they will likely leave your mind in a frenzy for a few seconds as they did to me. The Chechens preferred this atrocious method of execution because they followed a legend saying that a decapitated victim would not come for the murderer after death.  

Read also:

Myrrh Flows From Icon of New Martyr Evgeny Rodionov

Russian Church Reticent Over Canonization of Evgeny Rodionov

Below is a tribute video to the New Martyr Evgeny Rodionova

May 22, 2009

The Orthodoxy of Tom Hanks

An interesting article recently appeared regarding Tom Hanks and his happiness in being Greek Orthodox (see article below). But how Orthodox is Tom Hanks? Though he is not very vocal about his Orthodox faith, we can get a few glimpses of his Orthodoxy through his interviews and many successful films.

Tom Hanks was an adherent of a number of different Christian denominations while growing up, including Catholic, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), Nazarene, and a Fundamentalist Christian group. His jump from one faith to another mainly was due to the various relationships his divorced parents got into that left him with a very troubled and confused childhood. From an interview published in George magazine, April 1998:

"The major religion I was exposed to in the first 10 years of my life was Catholicism. My stepmother became a Mormon. My aunt, whom I lived with for a long time, was a Nazarene, which is kind of ultra-super Methodist, and in high school, all my friends were Jews. For years I went to Wednesday-night Bible studies with my church group. So I had this peripatetic overview of various faiths, and the one thing I got from that was the intellectual pursuit involved. There was a lot of great stuff to think about. What were the four spiritual laws? Are you a post-tribulationist or a pre-tribulationist?"

Hanks joined the Greek Orthodox Church when he married his wife Rita Wilson in 1988 and has since found his stability there. They attend Saint Sophia's Greek Orthodox Church in Los Angeles and his spiritual father was Fr. Robert Stephanopoulos (his son George is the known political commentator and his daughter is a nun of the ROCOR church in the Holy Land). Tom has stated that he enjoys being Orthodox because the people at his church don't bother him too much and the atmosphere helps him meditate on the bigger questions. Furthermore, Tom and his family are well-known for attending the daily services of Holy Week.

Rita Wilson has written about various Greek Orthodox traditions and they were both producers in the highly popular film My Big Fat Greek Wedding by Nia Vardalos. Vardalos' film (to be released June 5, 2009) My Life In Ruins, a comedy about a Greek-American tour guide in Greece, is also produced by Tom Hanks by his studio The Playtone Company. This same studio also produced Mama Mia! which is set in Greece. All these movies reflect the faith and heritage of his wife Rita, while Hanks presents more subtle theological messages in his films that have not been without controversy.

Hanks is most controversial for his role as Robert Langdon in the film The DaVinci Code as well as Angels and Demons. While these books and movies promote theological heresy and historical revisionism, Hanks has always promoted these movies as having no basis in fact and endorses them as a means to ponder the big questions of life. Regarding what these questions are, Hanks says:

"I must say that when I go to church, and I do go to church, I ponder the mystery. I meditate on the, 'why?' of 'Why people are as they are,' and 'Why bad things happen to good people,' and 'Why good things happen to bad people.' ... The mystery is what I think is, almost, the grand unifying theory of all mankind."

When asked whether his wife Rita had any qualms about a story that has been condemned by Greek churches, he said: "No, absolutely not. My heritage, and that of my wife, suggests that our sins have been taken away, not our brains."

When asked about his personal views on God, Hanks is far from dogmatic and Orthodox in his thinking. It's a very personal matter to him and his upbringing probably had a lot to do with his inclusivistic approach to the subject. He says:

"My parents divorced so often that I've seen a lot of different sort of religions down the line. My wife is Greek Orthodox and I've been converted. My kids have been baptized in the same font in which she was baptized at our cathedral in town. But I still believe in being able to leave the heavens to those who want to interpret the heavens as they see fit."

This "open-minded" attitude even steers into moral issues. In 1993 Hanks starred in a film called Philadelphia revolving around HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia which earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor In A Leading Role. This role made Hanks into a Gay Rights icon which he proudly embraced. In his acceptance speech he said the following about his role and his inspiration:

"I would not be standing here if it weren't for two very important men in my life. Two that I haven't spoken with in a while but I had the pleasure of the other night: Mr Rawley Farnsworth, who was my high school drama teacher, who taught me to act well the part, there all the glory lies.

And one of my classmates under Mr Farnsworth, Mr John Gilkerson. I mention their names because they are two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age. I wish my babies could have the same sort of teacher, the same sort of friends.

And there lies my dilemma here tonight. I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of Heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number 1,000 for each of the red ribbons we wear here tonight.

They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious Creator of us all. A healing embrace that cools their fevers, that clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident commonsense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent Creator of us all, and was written down on paper by wise men, tolerant men, in the city of Philadelphia 200 years ago. God bless you all, God have mercy on us all, and God bless America."

The revelation about his gay teacher inspired the 1997 film In and Out, starring Kevin Kline as an English Literature teacher who is outed by a former student in a similar way.

Furthermore, Hanks is very open about his approval of same-sex marriage. According to Wikipedia:

"Hanks was extremely public with his opinion and opposition to Proposition 8 that amended the California constitution to define marriage as a union only between a man and a woman. Hanks and those in opposition raised over USD$44 million in contrast to the supporters' $38 million, but Prop 8 passed with 52% of the vote.

Hanks went on to blame supporters of Prop 8 as un-American and attacked the LDS (Mormon) church members — major proponents of the bill — for their views on marriage and their role in supporting the bill. About a week later, Hanks apologized for the remark, saying that nothing is more American than voting one's conscience, and that is what the supporters of Prop 8 did."

As far as Tom Hanks being an Orthodox Christian, I would say for him it is more about being part of a faith and cultural tradition than anything else. It can be best symbolized from a famous scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Toula’s fiance is baptized in a rite that is a complete mystery to him. Afterwards, he shows her his new Cross and says: “I’m Greek now.”

For someone who attends the daily services of Holy Week, though reportedly few other times throughout the year, it's unfortunate Tom is not more vocal about his Orthodox faith. Could it be because there are contradictions between his faith as an Orthodox Christian with his inclusivistic attitude regarding who God is as well as his moral stance in favor of same-sex marriage? Could it be his lack of education in Orthodoxy? Maybe he doesn't want to sound as snobby as some of his fellow celebrities involved in Scientology and Kabbalism? Perhaps it is all of the above, and he also wants to maintain an individualist attitude with regards to his philosophical outlook on life, and not be bound to the particular views of his faith. At the end of the day, he is still a great entertainer who aims to please his audience and in many ways has been formed within an individualistic and liberal Hollywood milieu.

Tom Hanks is Happy to be a Member of the Orthodox Church

May 21 2009

Hollywood actor Tom Hanks appreciates his membership in the Orthodox Church and intends to raise his four children in similar vein.

"I am aware that it is vitally important to come to church and contemplate those substantial questions put up by Orthodoxy and the answers it offers," Hanks said in an interview published by Argumenty i Fakty.

According to him, when a man arrives at a decision to marry and have children, "it is crucial to define spiritual heritage of a future family at this stage."

"I consider Greek Orthodoxy my own spiritual heritage. I got married in the same church where my wife had been baptized. My children were baptized in the same baptismal font as my wife," Tom Hanks said.

According to Hanks, this makes his family "a part of the large universal Church".

"We go to church on rare occasions, but when we do, we have dinner together and discuss our feelings after that," he added.