June 30, 2009

The Fast of the Holy Apostles and the New Calendar

Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos was a great Canonist of the Orthodox Church and was responsible for bringing many schismatic Old Calendarists back into communion with the Church. He wrote a book titled The Two Extremes, half of which tackled the extreme views of the Ecumenists while the other half took on the extreme views of the schismatic Old Calendarists and their influence within the canonical Body of Christ. The section below appears at the end of the book and tackles an often heard objection against the New Calendar regarding the Apostles Fast. Can the New Calendar be legitimate and canonically appropriate if in certain years it lessens the fast to a mere few days and sometimes even obliterates it?

The Elder informs us that he was asked by a young theologian regarding the Calendar change and the effect this had on the fast of the Holy Apostles. This man was concerned that the New Calendar not only reduces the number of fasting days for this fasting period, but in certain years when Pascha comes late it is obliterated altogether. This theologian considered this to be a justification for the schismatic Old Calendarists. Elder Epiphanios responded with the following article and it was originally published in Orthodoxos Typos

Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

Concerning the Fast of the Holy Apostles

By Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

It is true that the introduction of the Revised Julian (not Gregorian, as is put forth by the unlearned and bad intentioned)1 Calendar in the Church reduced the fast of the Holy Apostles by thirteen days and, if Pascha comes late, it does away totally with the fast. This fact is so detestable to Old Calendarists that they justify their rebellion against the Church. If they wanted to keep the Old Calendar however, they could still abide within ecclesiastical communion without objection. This is what the Holy Mountain practices. Who condemns this?

The reduction of the fast of the Holy Apostles (which, by the way, was not enacted by an Ecumenical Synod, but is shown to be an ancient practice of indisputable respect) did not come about by one, two or three individuals, either clergy or laity, but was done by the Church to produce a corrected Calendar. The other Church, those who adhere to the Old Calendar, [originally] did not cut off communion from the Church of Greece or the Church of Constantinople over the Calendar change and the subsequent reduction of the fast of the Holy Apostles, but continued a canonical relationship. Therefore, in borrowing from the above argument, who has the right to cut off the canonical relationship with the Church of Greece without going AGAINST the Church? And if you stand AGAINST the Church, you are simply outside the Church, becoming either schismatics or heretics.

I wonder how the Old Calenderists, with the stubborness they possess, do not anathematize all the Patriarchs, all the Bishops, all the Clergy, all the Synods, all the Churches, all the Saints, all the faithful, from the seventh century until today. They will ask: Why? Because simply, until that time, that is the seventh century, the fast of the Holy Apostles was not like it is today, but was much longer. Let me explain: This fast in the beginning was about a week in its duration. "During the week following Pentecost, the people who observed the fast went out to the cemetery to pray" (St. Athanasius, Letter to Emperor Constance). The Apostolic Constitutions prescribe the following: "After the feast of Pentecost, celebrate one week, then observe a fast, for justice demands rejoicing after the reception of the gifts of God and fasting after the body has been refreshed." Besides when the fast was to start (the first passage explains the fast was to be done the week of Pentecost, that is beginning with the day after Pentecost; whereas the second passage says it was to start a week later), the important matter is that the fast following Pentecost at that time was only one week. (At that time the feast of the Holy Apostles was not on June 29th. The fast is tied in with the Holy Apostles because after Pentecost they were sent out to preach).

In the proceeding centuries this fast underwent an extension. It began to be started on the day following the Feast of All Saints and lasted all the way until August 14th! This means that it lasted throughout the month of July, which further means it was the longest fast of the year surpassing by far the forty day fast of Great Lent. For example, if Great Lent with the additional Holy Week reaches to be 48 days, the fast of the Holy Apostles, on the occasion that Pascha lands on a late date, reached to be about 55 days, but on the occasion that it reached an early date it would last 89 days! For this we have a reliable witness of the seventh century in Saint Anastasios the Sinaite: "After the fast of Pentecost, this is what the Teachings of the Holy Apostles says. That after Pentecost to celebrate one week and after that to fast...You are to fast until the Dormition of the Theotokos" (St. Anastasios the Sinaite, On Three Forty Days Fasts). Thus the entire month of July is absorbed also!

What are our beloved Old Calendarists going to do, who detest change of ancient practices and traditions? If they are true to themselves, it is their duty, first, to put this fast in its proper place as it was in the seventh century so that the entire month of July is absorbed; and second, it is their best interest to renounce all the Churches, from the seventh century until today, since they dared to do away with a fast of ancient tradition. They will not exempt, it is understood, even Saint Anastasios from renunciation, who speaks with sympathy and not disgust against those who with boldness make the reduction, even calling them - listen! listen! - "Holy" Fathers. Is it possible for "Holy Fathers" to reduce fasts?

Among those to be renounced will surely be Saint Theodore the Studite, who: 1) did not condemn the prior practices of the aforesaid fast; and 2) also prescribed during feasts as well as Saturdays and Sundays during this fast, as well as the fast for Christmas, not only for fish to be allowed but also cheese and eggs. This is what he says: "During the forty day fast of the Holy Apostles we do not eat fish, cheese or eggs except on the days we do not sing the hours. Instead we eat two cooked dishes - one vegetable dish with olive oil and one of legumes without oil - and have two servings of wine at the ninth hour and two in the evening. On feast days, however, on which we are permitted fish and other such foods, we eat at the sixth hour and drink three measures of wine at the sixth hour and two in the evening. This regiment is also maintained during the forty day fast of the Holy Apostle Philip [Christmas]" (Migne, PG 99:1713-1716). He, therefore, isn't worthy either...let him be renounced!2

Worthy of being renounced also is the Patriarch of Antioch Theodore Balsamon (12th cent.), who not only allows the older practice, but confesses that in his day it was only seven days, at least for the laity: "Obligatory fasts are seven days before the following four feasts - before the Feast of the Holy Apostles, the Birth of Christ, the Transfiguration of Christ and the Falling Asleep of the Holy Theotokos. There is only one forty day fast, that of Holy and Great Pascha. Anything besides the seven day fast of the feast of the Holy Apostles and the feast of the Birth of Christ is according to one's will or of the foundational (monastic) typikon where one dwells."

With this opportunity I will speak about another fast, which with the passage of time has been totally abolished from common practice and has not brought on rebellion or schism, nor even protests and resistance. I speak of the fast which comes before the feast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, which was many days. Only the laity were allowed a one day fast, which was on the feast itself. Monastics however had also besides this a fast that lasted for a period of 4-14 days! Behold the testimony of Saint Theodore the Studite: "For the monastics, to the glory and praise of the wooden Cross, 14 days are kept, for others 12, and for others 4; but all the people of Christ are to keep pure this day of the Exaltation, on the 14th day of the month of September" (Migne, PG 99:1696). Where today is this multiple-day fast before the feast of the Precious Cross? In which Sacred Monastery is it kept? Which monastics even know about it? Dare that it not be kept by those who know about it!

For the above reason I very much abstain from advocating either for or against the reduction in fasts, unless they have been codified within the laws of the Ecumenical Synods, as is the fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays and that of Great Lent. I believe these things need to be worked out by those who have Confessors [Spiritual Fathers], according to their alloted discernment, to lead the faithful according to each one's strength. May the changers and the reorganizers be gone. Let us not provoke questions and confusion. Let pastoral good sense prevail. Let us not disturb the conscience of the simple. Our Shepherds should not discard the apostolic word: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being" (1 Cor. 10:23). I do not advocate towards any change of the established fasts. I simply want to emphasize that we the faithful are not given the power through subjects like these to create revolutions against our Church and schisms.

1. Elder Epiphanios is correct in not referring to the New Calendar as "Gregorian", since the New Calendarists follow the Julian Calendar for its moveable feast days, staying faithful to the First Ecumenical Synod calculation for Pascha. Thus the New Calendar can best be described as a revised version of the Julian Calendar.

2. This same Holy Father, in speaking about the fast of Great Lent, taught that fish can be eaten not only on Palm Sunday but also on the day before on the Saturday of Lazarus. Today different Churches have different rules regarding this practice.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos

The Influence of Elder Gervasios Paraskevopoulos on the City of Patras: A Personal Testimony

Elder Gervasios of Patras, who reposed on June 30, 1964

By John Sanidopoulos

I came to hear of Elder Gervasios when I was a teenager visiting my grandmother who lived in Patras, Greece. It was the early 1990's and the influence of this saintly clergyman was still very strong in Patras even though he reposed in 1964. There was a missionary spirit in the city inspired by Elder Gervasios and everywhere you went it seemed as if he had left his mark in one way or another. Patras was one of the few cities at the time that had a 24-hour ecclesiastical radio station and also had ecclesiastical TV broadcasts as well that have now expanded onto the internet. Many clergyman were inspired by the Elder, and Patras was noted as having some of the youngest and most devoted and zealous clergymen in all of Greece. With its many catechetical schools founded by the Elder as well as a seminary, there were estimates that Patras had somewhere in the vicinity of 3,000 theologians.

My father heard Elder Gervasios teach as a young boy when my grandmother would take him every Sunday to one of his catechetical schools. My father is not a very religious man and enjoys a good joke about the church here and there (as many Greeks tend to do), but he is a believer and he does have a deep respect and hidden piety within him. This especially comes out when you ask him about Elder Gervasios. He was young when he first saw him and cannot remember a word he said, but he has told me how the image of Elder Gervasios is still very vivid in his mind. According to my father, the image of Elder Gervasios is the standard image every priest should have because he radiated tremendous respect and holiness. My father has even pointed out that one reason he does not go to church is because the priests of America, who for the most part do not wear a rason and even shave their beards, do not inspire him like that image embedded in his mind decades ago by Elder Gervasios.

My grandmother also held high regards for Elder Gervasios. She never spoke many details about him as I did not know too much about him to ask before she passed away, but when I did ask her eyes would open and she would do a circular motion with her hand many Greeks do to express a certain wonderment. For her, he was untouchable when it came to holiness and no one in Patras since his repose had ever done as much good for the city. In her eyes, Elder Gervasios was the ideal clergyman.

During my visits to Patras my grandmother would take me to places associated with Elder Gervasios. I gave one example here. Another time, since I had never been to confession, my grandmother took me to a priest who was fairly young and probably the most noteworthy confessor in the city at the time who served at the beautiful Church of Saint Nektarios, not too far from where my grandmother lived at Agios Yiannis Bratsikas. This priest was also influenced by the Elder and many at the time viewed him as "another Gervasios". There were always expectations of the people of Patras to have another Gervasios serve in their midst.

A few times we attended services at one of the more well known convents of Patras known as the Convent of the Prophet Elias. It is a beautiful monastery half way up a mountain leading to another men's monastery known locally as the Gerokomeo, dedicated to the Theotokos and known for its all-night vigil on August 15th. I remember one day in particular when we attended Great Vespers at Prophet Elias while the eminent Metropolitan Nikodemos of Patras was serving. This was the same Metropolitan who as a young boy attended the now legendary services officiated by St. Nicholas Planas, and besides writing a book on his life story was also the main proponent for getting him canonized officially by the Church of Greece. Sort of like the impression my father had with Elder Gervasios, I remember when Metropolitan Nikodemos ended the service he looked straight at me and signaled for me to be the first to come and venerate his Cross upon the dismissal of the crowd. His beautiful voice, devout demeanor and prophetic look made a great impression on me.

Saint Nektarios surrounded by some of his students at Rizarios School in Athens, among whom Elder Gervasios was one of his favorite pupils (first image bottom left is Elder Gervasios).

Inside the church of the Convent was a relic of a miracle associated with Elder Gervasios. Here is an account of what took place:

"During the days of Meatfare, Father [Gervasios] used to take the catechetical school children and they would go up to the Hermitage, which is now the Convent of the Prophet Elias. On February 17, 1929, Father and his spiritual children devoted themselves to planting a few trees in the area near the aforementioned Hermitage. Father himself with a few of the children also planted a pine tree after reading a special prayer. From that time 31 years went by. In August of 1960, this pine tree was cut down together with other trees to serve as firewood at the children's camp of Sychainon. The woodcutter was amazed when he noticed that at the root of the tree a beautiful Cross had miraculously been formed with different colors. He immediately reported this to the Metropolitan of the time, Constantine (Platis), who hastened to the scene of the occurrence bringing a few chemists to confirm this phenomenon. The chemists used a few liquids to eradicate the Cross from the tree, but not only did they not achieve this, but the Cross became more and more distinctive. By means of the microscope they confirmed, as it is said, that at its four ends icons of the Nativity, the Baptism, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection were miraculously inscribed. After all these certifications they confessed that it was a supernatural phenomenon. The Metropolitan of Patras, convinced now that it was a miracle, gathered the people at the Church of Saint Paraskevi, Sychainon, where the children's camps were, and after he finished Vespers and a supplication of thanksgiving he addressed the people and made known to them the facts of the miracle. Father Gervasios, who was there, took the microphone and said, crying and thanking God: 'My brethren, this miracle did not happen for my sake, because I am a sinner. It happened for the sake of the good and sinless children, who also planted this tree.' What a height of humility! When the people heard the Elder himself confirming the miracle, they shed tears as they glorified God, who knows how 'to glorify those who glorify Him'. Such Crosses exist today in the Monastery of Gerokomeiou, at the Metropolis of Patras, at the Convent of Prophet Elias and at Saint Paraskevi, Sychainon."

I venerated the miraculous Cross, which bore jewels and metals to indicate its many miracles as well as other relics of Saints. I also went out back where there is a shrine in the wooded area where the Elder planted the trees together with the children. When people visit they recall Elder Gervasios and tell stories of their own experiences with the Elder.

The Cross that appeared in the tree Elder Gervasios planted, placed with other relics of Saints. (Convent of Prophet Elias; Patras, Greece)

The spot where the tree with the miraculous Cross was planted.

For further information on Elder Gervasios, I highly recommend the following book by Hierodeacon Cyril Kostopoulos, Elder Gervasios (Paraskevopoulos) of Patras: His Life and Pastoral Work, Orthodoxos Kypseli, 1995.

A video tribute to Elder Gervasios Paraskevopoulos:

'For pictures of Elder Gervasios and more information, visit this tribute blog by a Catechetical School he founded called Anaplastiki School of Patras.

The Platytera icon in the apse of the Cathedral of the Apostle Andrew that depicts the Theotokos as the protectress of the city of Patras.

Saint Michael Paknanas the Gardener from Athens (+ 1771)

Saint Michael Paknanas the Gardener from Athens (Feast Days - June 30 and July 9)

By John Sanidopoulos

Historical Context

Athens was conquered by the Ottomans in 1456. It became actualized by 1458 when the Acropolis was captured and turned into a mosque. Athens became an administrative center (kaza) under Ottoman rule. The highest ranks of the city's executives were the voivode (governor) and the kadi (judge). Non-Muslims were allowed to practice their religion with few restrictions, but this had a price in the payment of higher taxes and the inability to hold public office (which was rarely given to Christians).

During the mid-18th century Muslims in Athens numbered to be about a tenth of the population following the Venetian invasion. Edward Gibbon described the inhabitants 'walking with supine indifference among the glorious ruins of antiquity.' Hans Christian Anderson reported seeing black Ethiopian slaves belonging to the Turks, who lived high in the caves in the side of the rock on the northern slope of the Acropolis. Some of the cave entrances would be partially bricked up for added shelter. The Ethiopians used the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus as a mosque.

In 1759 the voivode Hadji Αli Tzistarakis built the mosque which still bears his name on the present Monastiraki Square. The workmen dynamited one of the columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus to obtain high quality lime for the stucco. The Pasha of Halkis had Hadji Αli Tzistarakis banished for this act, even refusing a bribe of 16,000 piastres which the voivode offered him. The people attributed the outbreak of plague that year to the disease being released by the destruction of the column.

Conditions for the Christian population of Athens worsened during the Russian-Ottoman War of 1768-1774, and especially with the campaigns of the Russian admiral Orlov in the Aegean in which a large number of local Christians took part. During these operations Salamis was taken over by armed Christians, which led to a deterioration of Christian-Muslim relationships in Athens, since many Christians were considered by Muslims to be allies of the Russians.

This painting by Johann Michael Wittmer from 1833 shows the dwelling of a Stylite ascetic on the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Ilissos River in the foreground.

Life of Saint Michael the Neomartyr of Athens

Michael Paknanas (or Baknanas) was born to very poor but pious and faithful parents in the famous city of Athens, Greece in 1753 near Thisseio. Consequently, he did not go to school but learned gardening instead. A devout Orthodox Christian, Michael was a parishioner at the church of Panagia Vlassarou, which today is in ruins in Ancient Agora near Thisseio . During the harvest season Michael would load his donkey with products and peddle them in the villages surrounding the city of Athens.

Panagia Vlassarou is exactly west of the Odeon of Agrippa, in the center of Ancient Agora on the edges of Thisseio. Only a part of the church wall survives.

One day when he was eighteen years old, as he was returning from such a journey in the villages of Attica with his donkey, he was seized by some Muslims and accused falsely of transporting gunpowder to some rebel Greeks (klefts) who had become allies of the Russians. The Muslims beat him up and brought him before the kadi who had him put in jail. There, he was visited by other Muslims who threatened Michael and attempted to convert him to the Islamic faith.

A pious and zealous Christian named George, who found out about Michael, was able to visit him in prison and give him much needed support, for Michael was a rather simple and uneducated individual. George feared that Michael may deny his Orthodox faith, seeking to spare his life since he was only 18 years old. After bribing the guards, George saw Michael in his prison cell on his knees praying with tears. For many hours they stayed together and prayed and sang hymns. After giving the young Michael words of encouragement to make firm his faith for martyrdom, they embraced and he departed.

After thirty days of incarceration, he was returned to the kadi who began to flatter Michael and promised not only to spare his life, but to reward Michael with all kinds of good things if only he would consent and embrace Islam. Michael, however, refused saying: "I will not become a Muslim! I will not become a Turk!" (Δεν τουρκεύω!). Consequently he was sent to the so-called kalopasha (good pasha) from Ioannina to decide on his fate. Then the same thing occurred: the same threats and promises, but also the same refusal from Michael, who, though simple, was mighty in faith: "I will not become a Muslim! I will not become a Turk!" As a result, Michael was sentenced to death.

On the way to his execution, Michael asked forgiveness from all the Orthodox Christians he encountered. The site of his execution was to be the Temple of Olympian Zeus. At the site of his execution Michael knelt and bent his head, being tied to one of the pillars of the Temple. The executioner, to frighten and cause him to weaken at the last minute, hit him with the blunt edge of the sword asking the martyr to reconsider. The martyr responded: "I told you, I am a Christian. I refuse to become a Muslim." It is said that this was done a few times to induce fear in Michael. But Michael, full of the Holy Spirit, shouted with courage: "Strike for the Faith!" (Χτύπα για την πίστη!) This outburst infuriated the executioner who struck off Michael's head with one fatal swing of the sword.

Thus Michael the Gardner from Athens, Greece gave his life for the love of Jesus Christ in Athens on July 9, 1771.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus today. Originally there were 104 Corinthian columns of which only 15 remain standing. One of the columns actually blew down in a storm in 1852. The rest of the columns were used as building material over the centuries.

Today the following inscription at the Temple of Olympian Zeus (the first southeastern pillar) bears witness to St. Michael's martyrdom: "1771 Ιουλίου 9 απεκεφαλίσθη ο Πακνανάς Μιχάλης" (July 9th 1771 Michael Paknanas was beheaded.) Though he was martyred on July 9th, his feast day is celebrated on June 30th and also on July 9th.

Finally, because he was a gardener and recommended a diet rich in fruits and vegetables in his lifetime, on April 4, 2003 the Archbishop of Athens Christodoulos proclaimed him a patron saint of Dieticians and Nutritionists, in addition to Gardeners. Furthermore, a street was named for him (Baknana) in Neos Kosmos in Athens, as well as a stop on the Tram station became named Baknana Tram Stop.

The memory of Saint Michael is especially honored at the Church of the Ascension in Neos Kosmos, Athens and the Church of Saint Philip in Vlassarous (Monastiraki). Since 2010 a Divine Liturgy is served at the sight of his martyrdom on July 9th. Photis Kontoglou painted an icon of the Athenian neomartyr in the Chapel of Saint Irene in Kifisia, Attica which belongs to the Pesmazoglou family. And both Monk Gerasimos Mikragiannanites and Dr. Haralambos Basias of Alexandria have written Divine Services in his honor.

Icon of St. Michael painted by Photis Kontoglou

Apolytikion for a Martyr in the Fourth Tone
Thy Martyr Michael, O Lord, in his courageous contest for Thee received the prize of the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since he possessed Thy strength, he cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons' strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by his prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.

For a detailed biography of this Neomartyr, I highly recommend the following book (in Greek): ΦΕΡΟΥΣΗΣ Δ., Μιχαήλ Μπακνανάς (Ιστορικό αφήγημα), ΑΣΤΗΡ, 2007.

It is divided into the following parts:

Αντί για πρόλογο 5
Στης Βλασαρούς το μαχαλά 7
Στα χρόνια του Σαρρή Μουσελίμη 14
Το μυστικό της βρύσης 22
ʼπαρτο κάστρο! 26
Ο Μητρομάρας έρχεται 29
Ο «μποχτζάς των χαρατζίων» 34
Το σχολειό του Ντέκα 37
Το κονάκι του κυρ-Αναγνώστη στα Σοπόλια 42
Ο Μιχαλιός παράνομος; 49
Μποσταντζής και ναάτ-χάνης 56
Στους Τρεις Πύργους 60
Ο «κλωστός» δερβίσης 66
Ο γέροντας Εφραίμ 78
«Γιαβάς, γιαβάς ορέ ζεβζέκη» 87
Το άδικο μαντάτο 92
Το τζαμί του Τζισταράκη 95
Στο γουλέ του Κάστρου 101
Ποιος ήταν ο δυνατός 111
Τ' όνειρο του Μιχαλιού 116
«Χάιντε ορέ γκιαούρ» 121
Η καταραμένη λάμια 127
Τα μοιρολόγια της Αθήνας 133
Το τέλος του δρόμου 138
«Χτύπα μωρέ για την πίστη» 144
«Εναρέτως και αγγελικώς επολιτεύθη» 149
Όλα έγιναν στ' αχνό σκοτάδι της νύχτας 153
Το πέτρινο χρονικό 161
Ιστορικές σημειώσεις: 165
α. «Οίκος υπ' αριθ. 1549»
β. «Περί την εστίαν και την τράπεζαν»
γ. «Στις κολώνες»
δ. Ο ʼγιος Μιχαήλ ο Νέος
Βιβλιογραφία 179
Εικόνες 181

June 29, 2009

Ethiopia's Orthodox Patriarch Backs Off Announcement To Display Ark of the Covenant to the Public

Hark! Where's the Bible Ark?
Ethiopia's Orthodox patriarch cops out on revealing plan for public viewing

Posted: June 26, 2009

The leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church today backed off on a much-anticipated announcement about the Ark of the Covenant -- the ancient container holding the Ten Commandment -- which he claims to have seen.

But no other evidence or, indeed, even any announcement, was made public today when word had been expected.

Ark hunters and Bible enthusiasts have been buzzing for two days on the report from the Italian news agency Adnkronos that Patriarch Abuna Pauolos, in Italy for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI this week, said, "Soon the world will be able to admire the Ark of the Covenant described in the Bible as the container of the tablets of the law that God delivered to Moses and the center of searches and studies for centuries."

He had suggested the possibility the artifact might be viewable in a planned museum.

"I repeat (the Ark of the Covenant) is in Ethiopia and nobody … knows for how much time. Only God knows," he said in the Adnkronos report available online.

The report said Pauolos reported the artifact "is described perfectly in the Bible" and is in good condition.

"The state of conservation is good because it is not made from man's hand, but is something that God has made," Pauolos said, according to the report.

The agency had reported an announcement would be made at the Hotel Aldrovandi in Rome, and a hotel spokeswoman told WND Pauolos had been in residence there, but no news conference or event was scheduled.

"The Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia for many centuries," said Pauolos in the report. "As a patriarch I have seen it with my own eyes and only few highly qualified persons could do the same, until now."

Bob Cornuke, biblical investigator, international explorer and best-selling author, has participated in more than 27 expeditions around the world searching for lost locations described in the Bible. A man some consider a real-life Indiana Jones, he has written a book titled "Relic Quest" about the Ark of the Covenant and participated in History Channel production called "Digging for Truth."

Next week, Cornuke will travel to Ethiopia for the 13th time since he began his search for the Ark. He told WND he believes it is possible Ethiopia could have the real artifact.

"They either have the Ark of the Covenant or they have a replica that they have believed to be the Ark of the Covenant for 2,000 years," he said.

Cornuke said, if it is genuine, there's a plausible explanation of how the Ark may have come to the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Ethiopia.

"The Ark could have been taken out of the temple during the time of the atrocities of Manasseh," he said. "We have kind of a bread crumb trail that appears to go to Egypt, and it stayed on an island there for a couple hundred years called Elephantine Island. The Ark then was transferred over to Lake Tana in Ethiopia where it stayed on Tana Qirqos Island for 800 years. Then it was taken to Axum, where it is enshrined in a temple today where they don't let anybody see it."

Cornuke said he traveled to Tana Qirqos Island and lived with monks who remain there even today.

"They unlocked this big, four-inch thick wood door," he said. "It opened up to a treasure room, and they showed me meat forks and bowls and things that they say are from Solomon's temple. When the History Channel did this show, they said it was one of the largest viewed shows. People were fascinated."

He said Ethiopians consider the Ark to be the ultimate holy object, and the church guards the suspected artifact from the "eyes and pollution of man."

"In Ethiopia, their whole culture is centered around worshipping this object," Cornuke said. "Could they have the actual Ark? I think I could make a case that they actually could."

But according to a statement delivered to WND by the webmaster for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, there is no chance that the religious leaders and people in the nation will give up their custody of what they believe is the Ark.

"I think Abba Pauolos must be out of his mind. … An (artifact) should not be shown or touched other than the clergies but to put it on display is a reckless comment let alone doing it," the statement said. "Not only the local clergies but the people of Ethiopia won't allow it and it is not going to happen."

The webmaster noted there were artifacts moved from Ethiopia to Britain over the years, and even those are not allowed to be displayed.

Pauolos in the Adnkronos report said any display would need the approval of the supreme court of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

A spokesman for a U.S. branch of the church, Mehereto Belete of Los Angeles, told WND he had been given no word of any major change in the status of the Ark.

"It is news for us just as it is for you," he said.

Cornuke explained that a special guardian lives inside the church which reportedly holds the Ark and never leaves. Once a guardian is appointed, he stays until he dies and another man replaces him.

"We know for a fact that there have been 30 guardians in history who have never left that enclosure," Cornuke said. "I know the guardian. When CNN and BBC went over there, he wouldn't see anybody but me. So I went and talked to him, and he's getting very aged. He told me they have the real Ark and he worships 13 hours a day in front of it. When he gets through, he is covered in sweat and he's exhausted."

He said he met a 105-year-old man who claimed to have seen the Ark 50 years ago when he was training a replacement guardian.

"It frightened him to death when he got a glimpse of it."

Cornuke said he also met with the president of Ethiopia nearly nine years ago and had a one-on-one conversation with him in his palace. He asked if Ethiopia had the Ark of the Covenant.

According to Cornuke, the president responded: "Yes, we do. I am the president, and I know. It's not a copy. It's the real thing."

Many theories exist about the ultimate fate of the Ark, including that it has been hidden in a still unknown location, it was destroyed by enemies of the Israelites, taken by Egyptian invaders to Egypt or removed by divine intervention.

The quest for the artifact received additional publicity in 1981 when actor Harrison Ford searched for it in Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Cornuke said Ethiopians claim their purported Ark is kept in a large stone sarcophagus lined in ornately hammered silver. The Ark itself is made of acacia wood and laminated with a thin veneer of gold. The mercy seat sits atop the Ark and is made of pure, hammered gold and includes two cherubim facing one another.

Whether the artifact is real or simply a copy, Cornuke said an unveiling might leave the world with more questions than answers.

"We have only typology to go on," he said. "We could probably have some people analyze the wood samples and come up with some kind of dating protocol on it because it is acacia wood to see if that is it."

Rives said a close inspection of the Ten Commandments would be necessary to ensure they are in accordance with true text and not later versions of the Ten Commandments.

Cornuke said experts would also need to determine whether the artifact itself fits biblical description and trace its path to Ethiopia.

"We are peeking behind the veil of history," he said. "We're taking a glimpse of an artifact that could be a very holy object."

Vatican Experts Confirm Authenticity of St. Paul's Remains

The tomb of Saint Paul in Rome containg his relics

Pope Claims Human Remains Belong to St Paul

Fiona Winward in Rome
The Guardian
Monday 29 June 2009

Human remains found beneath the Vatican have been identified as belonging to St Paul, Pope Benedict XVI said, apparently laying to rest the mystery of a tomb first discovered in the city in 2006.

Archaeologists found material and fragments of bone dating to the first or second century AD inside the tomb at the basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

Vatican experts claim the tomb's position, underneath the epigraph Paulo Apostolo Mart (Paul the Apostle and Martyr), at the base of the main altar is proof that it belongs to the apostle.

The pope said the tomb had not been opened but that a probe inserted through a small hole had revealed traces of purple linen decorated with gold sequins, blue material and red incense grains as well as the remains. "Small fragments of bone were carbon dated by experts who knew nothing about their provenance and results showed they were from someone who lived between the first and second century," he said.

"This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that these are the mortal remains of Paul the apostle," he said, adding that the discovery "fills our souls with great emotion".

The pope made the announcement from the basilica as he celebrated the end of the Pauline year, which has marked the 2,000th anniversary of the apostle's birth. It also comes a day after Vatican archaeologists uncovered what they believe to be the oldest icon of St Paul in a Rome catacomb, dating to the late fourth century.

St Paul was a Roman Jew who converted to Christianity after he saw a light on the road to Damascus. His letters in the New Testament are considered highly influential in Christian thinking.

Tradition holds that Paul was beheaded by the Emperor Nero around AD 62-65 and buried in a vineyard over which the Emperor Constantine built a basilica in 324. St Paul Outside the Walls is the second biggest church in Rome after St Peter's.


Pope: Bone Fragments Found in Tomb Are Paul's

Sunday, 28 Jun 2009

The first-ever scientific test on what are believed to be the remains of the Apostle Paul "seems to confirm" that they do indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday.

It was the second major discovery concerning St. Paul announced by the Vatican in as many days.

On Saturday, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano announced the June 19 discovery of a fresco inside another tomb depicting St. Paul, which Vatican officials said represented the oldest known icon of the apostle.

Benedict said archaeologists recently unearthed and opened the white marble sarcophagus located under the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome, which for some 2,000 years has been believed by the faithful to be the tomb of St. Paul.

Benedict said scientists had conducted carbon dating tests on bone fragments found inside the sarcophagus and confirmed that they date from the first or second century.

"This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul," Benedict said, announcing the findings at a service in the basilica to mark the end of the Vatican's Paoline year, in honor of the apostle.

Paul and Peter are the two main figures known for spreading the Christian faith after the death of Christ.

According to tradition, St. Paul, also known as the apostle of the Gentiles, was beheaded in Rome in the 1st century during the persecution of early Christians by Roman emperors. Popular belief holds that bone fragments from his head are in another Rome basilica, St. John Lateran, with his other remains inside the sarcophagus.

The pope said that when archaeologists opened the sarcophagus, they discovered alongside the bone fragments some grains of incense, a "precious" piece of purple linen with gold sequins and a blue fabric with linen filaments.

On Saturday, the Vatican newspaper announced that a round fresco edged in gold featuring the emaciated face of St. Paul had been discovered in excavations of the tombs of St. Tecla in Rome. It was believed to have been dated from the end of the fourth century, making it the oldest known icon of St. Paul, meaning it was an image designed for prayer, not just art, L'Osservatore Romano said.

Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, presidente of the Vatican's culture department, said the discovery was an "extraordinary event" that was an "eloquent testimony" to the Christianity of the first centuries, L'Osservatore said.

Vatican archaeologists in 2002 began excavating the 8-foot(2.4-meter)-long tomb of St. Paul, which dates from at least A.D. 390 and was buried under the basilica's main altar. The decision to unearth it was made after pilgrims who came to Rome during the Roman Catholic Church's 2000 Jubilee year expressed disappointment at finding that the saint's tomb — buried under layers of plaster and further hidden by an iron grate — could not be visited or touched.

The top of the coffin has small openings — subsequently covered with mortar — because in ancient times Christians would insert offerings or try to touch the remains.

The basilica stands at the site of two 4th-century churches — including one destroyed by a fire in 1823 that had left the tomb visible, first above ground and later in a crypt. After the fire, the crypt was filled with earth and covered by a new altar. A slab of cracked marble with the words "Paul apostle martyr" in Latin was also found embedded in the floor above the tomb.

Monday is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a major feast day for the Roman Catholic Church, during which the pope will bestow a woolen pallium, or scarf, on all the new archbishops he has recently named. The pallium is a band of white wool decorated with black crosses that is a sign of pastoral authority and a symbol of the archbishops' bond with the pope.

At the end of Sunday's service in the warm basilica, the 82-year-old Benedict lost his balance slightly as he slipped on a step on the altar, and was steadied by one of his assistants who was by his side.

A First Century Church in Jordan?

World's 'Oldest Christian church' Discovered in Jordan
Archaeologists claim to have found the world's oldest church dating from shortly after Christ's crucifixion.

By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
10 Jun 2008


If tests confirm that it dates back to between 33 AD to 70 AD, as the archaeologists claim, it would make it the earliest known place of Christian worship by around two hundred years.

According to a report in the Jordan Times newspaper, a very early underground church was found beneath the ancient Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab, northern Jordan near the Syrian border.

"We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD," Abdul Qader al-Husan, head of Jordan's Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, said.

"We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians – the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ."

A mosaic found in the church describes these Christians as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine". Mr Husan said they believed to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan.

He cited historical sources which suggest they both lived and practised religious rituals in the underground church and only left it after Christianity was embraced by Roman rulers in the fourth century AD.

The claim was treated with some disdain in online chatrooms focusing on biblical knowledge with most contributors suggesting the claim was made up to boost Rihab's tourist status.

There is no clear holder of the title of oldest Christian church with various sites claiming the title without definitive evidence.

In 2005 Israeli archaeologists claimed to have found the earliest Christian church when they uncovered a floor mosaic dating from the first part of the third century.

It was found inside the perimeter fence of a top security prison built by Israel in Megiddo or, to use its ancient name, Armageddon, where, according to the New Testament, the final battle between good and evil will be fought before the return of the Messiah.

The bishop deputy of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese, Archimandrite Nektarious, described the Rihab discovery as an "important milestone for Christians all around the world."

Researchers recovered pottery dating back to between the 3rd and 7th centuries, which they say suggests these first Christians and their followers lived in the area until late Roman rule.

Inside the cave there are several stone seats which are believed to have been for the clergy and a circular shaped area, thought to be the apse.

There is also a deep tunnel which is believed to have led to a water source, the archaeologist added.

Rihab is home to a total of 30 churches and Jesus and the Virgin Mary are believed to have passed through the area, Husan said.


Jordan Cave May Be Oldest Church

By Matt McGrath
BBC science correspondent
Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Archaeologists in Rihab, Jordan, say they have discovered a cave that could be the world's oldest Christian church.

Dating to the period AD33-70, the underground chapel would have served as both a place of worship and a home.

It is claimed that it was originally used by a group of 70 persecuted Christians who fled from Jerusalem.

These early Christians lived and practised their faith in secrecy until the Romans embraced Christianity several hundred years later.

'Beautiful things'

Rihab is in Northern Jordan. The cave is beneath the ancient church of St Georgeous, itself one of the oldest known places of worship in the world.

According to Dr Abdul Qader Al-Hassan, the director of the Rihab Centre for Archaeological studies, the cave site shows clear evidence of early Christian rituals that predate the church.

Dr Al-Hassan says that steps lead down into the chapel which is approximately 12m long and seven metres wide.

There is a circular area of worship with stone seats separated from living quarters. This circular element, called an apse, is important says Dr Al-Hassan because there is only one other example of a cave with a similar feature, which was also used for Christian worship.

Dr Al-Hassan said: "We found beautiful things. I found the cemetery of this church; we found pottery shards and lamps with the inscription 'Georgeous'".

In the cave there is also a tunnel that leads to a cistern which supplied water to the dwellers. An inscription in the floor of the church above refers to the "70 beloved by God and the divine" whom the archaeologist believes were refugees from religious persecution in Jerusalem.

Dr Al-Hassan says that excavation of the tunnel and the cistern may yield yet more evidence about the lives of these early Christians.

"From the tunnel to the cistern is very important. We want to clean it and make an excavation inside it. We found a very old inscription beside it and coins also, and crosses made from iron."

Other experts say they are cautious about the claim. They want to examine the artefacts and see clear dating evidence. The earliest confirmed examples of churches date from the third century, they say.

The entrance to the cave

An archaeologist stands just inside the cave

Two Jordanian archaeologists dig inside the cave

Work continues inside the cave

Interior of the church believed to be oldest in the world

Pottery found inside

Altar of the Saint Georgeous Church in Rehab, Mafraq.

A worker cleans a mosaic floor near broken tombstones of early Christian graves in the St Georgeous church cemetery

An artifact held near a mosaic at the ruins

Saint Georgeous Church dates to about 230 AD and is itself among the oldest churches in the world

Photos provided by both sources above.

June 28, 2009

Fourth Century Image of St. Paul Uncovered in Roman Catacomb

Image of Saint Paul excavated in the Roman Catacomb of St. Thekla on June 19, 2009

[Interesting news on the day before the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The fourth century image was found in the Catacomb of Saint Thekla near the Constantinian Basilika of the Apostle Paul outside the walls along Via Ostiense in Rome. Interestingly the image of the Apostle Paul found there very closely resembles all contemporary Byzantine icons of the Apostle Paul as he is described in apocryphal accounts and as he was depicted throughout the history of the Roman Empire. The apocryphal book, The Acts of Paul and Thekla, describes the mighty apostle as "a man rather small in size, bald-headed, bow-legged, with meeting eyebrows, a large, red and somewhat hooked nose." Yet the power of the man was unmistakable. "Strongly-built," the account goes on, "he was full of grace, for at times he looked like a man, at times like an angel." The Ecclesiastical History of Nikephoros describes him as having a long curling beard, high forehead, pale face, prominent shoulders and deep piercing eyes.- J.S.]

Contemporary Byzantine Icon of Saint Paul

Rome Catacomb Reveals "Oldest" Image of St. Paul

Sunday June 28, 2009

ROME (Reuters) – Vatican archaeologists using laser technology have discovered what they believe is the oldest image in existence of St Paul the Apostle, dating from the late 4th century, on the walls of catacomb beneath Rome.

Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, revealing the find on Sunday, published a picture of a frescoed image of the face of a man with a pointed black beard on a red background, inside a bright yellow halo. The high forehead is furrowed.

Experts of the Ponitifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology made the discovery on June 19 in the Catacomb of Santa Tecla in Rome and describe it as the "oldest icon in history dedicated to the cult of the Apostle," according to the Vatican newspaper.

The discovery, which involved removing layers of clay and limestone using lasers, was announced a day before Rome observes a religious holiday for the Feasts of St Peter and St Paul.

Peter and Paul are revered by Christians as the greatest early missionaries. Converting on the road to Damascus following a blinding vision of Jesus, Paul took the Gospel to pagan Greeks and Romans and met his martyrdom in Rome in about 65 AD.

Early Christians in Rome buried their dead in catacombs dug into the soft rock under the city and decorated the underground walls with devotional images, often in the Pompeian style.

(Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Sophie Hares)

The Basilika of Saint Paul in Rome outside the city walls built over the site of his tomb and relics.

'Oldest' Image of St Paul Discovered
Archaeologists have uncovered a 1,600 year old image of St Paul, the oldest one known of, in a Roman catacomb.

By Nick Pisa in Rome
28 June 2009

The fresco, which dates back to the 4th Century AD, was discovered during restoration work at the Catacomb of Saint Thekla but was kept secret for ten days.

During that time experts carefully removed centuries of grime from the fresco with a laser, before the news was officially announced through the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

There are more than 40 known Catacombs or underground Christian burial places across Rome and because of their religious significance the Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archeology has jurisdiction over them.

A photograph of the icon shows the thin face of a bearded man with large eyes, sunken nose and face on a red background surrounded with a yellow circle – the classic image of St Paul.

The image was found in the Catacomb of St Thekla, close to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, which is said to be built on the site where he was buried.

St Thekla was a follower of St Paul who lived in Rome and who was put to death under the Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th Century and who was subsequently made a saint but little else is known of her.

Barbara Mazzei, the director of the work at the Catacomb, said: "We had been working in the Catacomb for some time and it is full of frescoes.

"However the pictures are all covered with limestone which was covering up much of the artwork and so to remove it and clean it up we had to use fine lasers.

"The result was exceptional because from underneath all the dirt and grime we saw for the first time in 1600 years the face of Saint Paul in a very good condition.

"It was easy to see that it was Saint Paul because the style matched the iconography that we know existed at around the 4th Century – that is the thin face and the dark beard.

"It is a sensational discovery and is of tremendous significance. This is then first time that a single image of Saint Paul in such good condition has been found and it is the oldest one known of.

"Traditionally in Christian images of St Paul he is always alongside St Peter but in this icon he was on his own and what is also significant is the fact that St Paul's Basilica is just a few minutes walk away.

"It is my opinion that the fresco we have discovered was based on the fact that St Paul's Basilica was close by, there was a shrine to him there at that site since the 3rd Century.

"This fresco is from the early part of the 4th Century while before the earliest were from the later part and examples have been found in the Catacombs of Domitilla."

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture minister, said:"This is a fascinating discovery and is testimony to the early Christian Church of nearly 2000 years ago.

"It has a great theological and spiritual significance as well as being of historic and artistic importance."

The Catacomb of St Thekla is closed to the public but experts said they hoped to be able to put the newly discovered icon of St Paul on display some time later this year.

St Paul was a Roman Jew, born in Tarsus in modern-day Turkey, who started out persecuting Christians but later became one of the greatest influences in the Church.

He did not know Jesus in life but converted to Christianity after seeing a shining light on the road to Damascus and spent much of his life travelling and preaching.

St Paul wrote 14 letters to Churches which he founded or visited and tell Christians what they should believe and how they should live but do not say much about Jesus' life and teachings.

He was executed for his beliefs around AD 65 and is thought to have been beheaded, rather than crucified, because he was a Roman citizen.

According to Christian tradition, his body was buried in a vineyard by a Roman woman and a shrine grew up there before Emperor Constantine consecrated a basilica in 324 which is now St Paul Outside the Walls.

St Paul's Outside the Walls is located about two miles outside the ancient walls of Rome and is the largest church in the city after St Peter's.

His feast day is on Monday along with St Peter and it is a bank holiday in Rome where they are patron saints of the city.

Officials are considering opening the tomb below St Paul's in the Basilica's crypt which is said to hold his remains.

Greek New Martyrs Under Ottoman Rule: A Case Study

The Orthodox Church celebrates its New Martyrs, known and unknown, who refused to submit to Islam under penalty of death on the Third Sunday after Pentecost

The present article is based on a variety of sources and principally on the biographies (vitae) of 172 Greek Orthodox Neo-Martyrs.

According to several accounts, from the conquest of Constantinople to the last phase of the Greek War of Independence, the Ottoman Turks condemned to death 11 Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople, nearly 100 bishops, and several thousands of priests, deacons and monks (Bompolines, 1952; Paparounis, no date; Perantones, 1972; Pouqueville, 1824; Vaporis, 2000). It is impossible to say with certainty how many men of the cloth were forced to apostatise. Nevertheless, many preferred martyrdom to apostasy, and of the above thousands, several have been canonized and raised to sainthood by the Greek Orthodox Church.

The 172 cases can be classified in 5 major categories of martyrdom. Some martyrs were accused of being political offenders and traitors to the Ottoman state; others were charged with being agitators because they had advocated a better treatment of Christians or because they had spoken on behalf of justice. For example, in the Metropolitan of Corinth, Ζacharias, executed in 1684, was accused of maintaining a correspondence with the Venetians. At his trial Zacharias insisted that he was innocent of the accusation but the Turks beat him cruelly. He was offered pardon on condition that he apostatise to Islam. When the Metropolitan refused, the judge condemned him to death by torture (Delahaye, p. 704). There are 15 more neo-martyrs in this category.

The second category includes martyrs who were native Ottomans and were brought up in the Islamic faith. For some reason, however, either on their own initiative or through the efforts of missionaries they became Christians. Α Muslim was forbidden to deny his faith on pain of death. The same rule applied to all Muslims whether by birth or by conversion. The Roman Catholic missionary Francis Lucas of Smyrna recorded the extraordinary martyrdom of 23 Muslim Turks who were put to death in the year 1649 at Thyatira, Asia Minor. In addition to the anonymous martyrs in this category, we know of five more. Some may have been of Christian ancestry.

The third class of martyrs includes zealous Christians who conducted missionary activity either among Christians trying to sustain them in their faith, or among Muslims and Jews. For example, the monk Makarios, prompted by missionary enthusiasm, decided to preach before a large crowd of Muslims in a market place in Thessalonica. He was apprehended by the Turkish authorities and was thrown into the prison. After several tortures, he was offered pardon on condition that he embraces Islam. When he refused to apostatise; he was beheaded in the year 1527 (Perantones, 1972, 3:325-526). Ιn addition to Makarios, 15 more were put to death because of missionary activity.

Closely related to the previous list, there were some idealistic men who aspired to earn the crown of martyrdom in imitation of the ancient Christian martyrs. The reading of martyrologies and lives of saints was popular in the Greek church under Ottoman captivity and it exerted an influence to the extent that some tried to imitate the early heroes of Christianity. For instance, Romanos, from central Greece, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While a guest at the Monastery of St. Sabbas, he was inspired by listening to the Acts of the Martyrs, which was read during a meal in the monastery. He desired to become a martyr himself and his desire was fulfilled in 1694 (Delahaye, 1921, pp. 705-07; Perantones, 1972, 3:443-47). Four more belong to this category.

The fifth and most numerous category includes men and women who, for various reasons and at different stages of their life, apostatised from Greek Orthodox Christianity to Islam and later decided to return to their ancestral faith. Guilt not as an aspect of personality structure as psychological theory advocates, but a guilt, which arose from a precise kind of behaviour and from specific circumstances and events. Many of them, seeking atonement for having denied their faith, became martyrs. For example, Demetrios of Tripolis in the Peloponnesos as an orphan entered the service of a Muslim who converted him to Islam. Upon becoming an adult and reflecting on his apostasy, he left Tripolis and sought the advice of a spiritual father. He confessed his apostasy and was received in secret by the church. Nevertheless, he had nο peace of mind and felt the need to atone for his sin with martyrdom. He returned to Tripolis, where he presented himself to his old master as a Christian ready to wash away the stain of his apostasy with his blood. The outcome was that he was put to death on April 14, 1803 (Perantones, 1972, 1:163-65; Delahaye, p. 707). We know by name 52 more who sought atonement by martyrdom.

No less important are the 48 additional neo-martyrs who were condemned to death for diverse reasons. Some were accused of insulting the Muslim faith or of throwing something against the wall of a mosque. Others were accused of sexual advances toward a Turk; still others of making a public confession such as "Ι will become a Turk" without meaning it (Delahaye, 1921, p. 708; Perantones, 1972, 3:409, 421, 470). There are several more whose reasons for condemnation are not stated by the sources. Their names are mentioned but very little else.

The existence of neo-martyrs attests to a religious revival in the Greek Orthodox Church, which however did not take place in the seventeenth century, as a modem scholar suggests (Vitti, 1963), but in the eighteenth. Ιn fact most neo-martyrs were put to death in the eighteenth and in the first half οf the nineteenth centuries. Six became martyrs between 1453 and 1499; 22 between 1500 and 1599; 38 between 1600 and 1699; 51 between 1700 and 1799; and 55 between 1800 and 1867.

Most of the neo-martyrs came from the lower classes and from the provinces. Several professions were represented, including physicians, teachers, and of course, the clergy. But the majority was from various ranks: farmers, artisans, traders, secretaries, merchants, barbers, gardeners, grocers, sailors, household servants, travelling vendors, coffeehouse keepers, and more. The three tables added to this article illustrate the chronological period, geographical origins, and professional background of the neo-martyrs.

Thus, evidence unmistakably indicates that the Turks used both systematic and circumstantial measures to attract Christians to Islam. High political and socially prominent positions were granted to apostates in order to entice Christians to Islamic conversion. Exemption from heavy taxes, including the poll tax, was no less powerful of an enticement. To influence people from lower social strata, apostates from poor Christian families were given riches and honours by the Turks. For men there were some additional allurements to Islam, sexual hedonism, for example. Polygamy was forbidden by the Christian Church but allowed by Islam; concubinage was condemned by Church canons but it was a lifestyle for many Muslims.

TABLE 1: Chronological Distribution (1453-1867)
1. 1453-1499 = 6
2. 1500-1599 = 22
3. 1600-1699 = 38
4. 1700-1799 = 51
5. 1800-1867 = 56

TABLE 2: Geographical Distribution (Place of Birth)
[Ρlace of birth is not always mentioned.]
1. The Capital Constantinople = 14
2. Asia Minor = 24
3. Thrace = 13
4. Macedonia = 15
5. Epiros = 12
6. Thessaly = 6
7. Central Greece (Attica, etc.) = 11
8. Peloponnesos = 16
9. Aegean Islands = 19
10. Crete = 12
11. Cyprus = 3
12. Ιοnian Islands = 2
13. Non-Greek states: Serbia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Rumania, Egypt Syria, Russia, Jerusalem) = 20

ΤΑΒLΕ 3: Distribution by Professions
A profession is not always mentioned. Only four were from wealthy and socially prominent families. Professions are listed as they occur in the alphabetical Arrangement of the neo-martyrs. Total number of professions represented is 35.
Artisans = 24
Clergymen = 34
Shopkeepers = 13
Civil Servants = 6
Physicians = 1
Merchants = 7
Ordinary labourers = 2
Servants = 11
Housewives = 5
Seamen = 5
Farmers = 12
Military men = 1

Apart from Turkish methods and means, there were historical events and religious trends that led Christians to embrace Islam. The progress of the Turks was perceived by some Christians as evidence that their God had abandoned them and was fighting on the side of the Turks. Religious syncretism was one of the most innocent seeming ways by which Christians were persuaded to change their religious creed. This trend was used extensively by dervishes in their religious mission. For example, Badral-Bin, Torlak, Hu-Kemal, and Burklud e Mustafa preached that there was harmony between Islam and Christianity (Vryonis, 1971, pp. 359-59; see also Delahaye 1921 for sources). Christians concluded that since there was a close affinity between the two, why not apostatise to Islam and enjoy worldly privileges as well?

Notwithstanding the material gains that Christians would have enjoyed by converting to Islam, the story of the neo-martyrs reveals that in the course of 400 years there were many who obeyed the dictates of conscience rather than the enticements of secular pleasures. The usual answer of the neo-martyrs to the courts, which offered them conversion as an alternative to death was: "Ι was born a Christian, Ι desire to die a Christian:" The story of the neo-martyrs indicates that there was no liberty of conscience in the Ottoman Empire and that religious persecution was never absent from that state. Justice was subject to the passions of judges as well as of the crowds, and it was applied with a double standard, lenient for Muslims harsh for Christians and others.

The view that the Ottoman Turks pursued a policy of religious toleration in order to promote a fusion of the Turks with the conquered populations (Bréhier, 1947; (Bruader, 1973, p. 769), is not sustained by the facts. Undoubtedly, many Christians, Jews, and members of other religious minorities converted to Islam voluntarily. But what alternative did they have if they wanted to improve their social status? These were those who did not want to be second-class citizens, rayahs or part of the subject class, and became Muslims in order to preserve their social status. That is, those people were not converted by the threat of the sword but by psychological and social constraints.

The relatively few neo-martyrs of the second half of the fifteenth century may be an indication of the rather tolerant attitude of Sultan Mohammed ΙI an attitude, however, determined much more by the horror, pillage, and the destruction which followed the capture of Constantinople. On the other hand, the small number of neo-martyrs between 1700 and 1760 reflects the better conditions and relative peace that prevailed in the Ottoman Empire.

Forced conversions, which also resulted in martyrdom, were often determined by the character and policies of individual Sultans, by internal problems, and by international events. For example, mass-forced conversions were recorded during the caliphates of Selim Ι (1512-1520), the madman's Selim II (1566-1574), and Murat III (1574-1595). On the occasion of some anniversary, such as the capture of a city, or national holiday, many rayahs were forced to apostatise. On the day of the circumcision of Mohammed ΙII great numbers of Christians (Albanians, Greeks, Slavs) were forced to convert to Islam (Finlay, 1877, p. 119). Of the 51 neo-martyrs of the eighteenth century, the overwhelming majority of them (39) were put to death between 1760 and 1796 that is during the Russo-Turkish wars. The great number of neo-martyrs of the nineteenth century is explained on the basis of international events, which affected the fate of the Ottoman Empire. The Greek revolt for independence provided additional ground and pretensions for persecution of Greek Christians. While at no time was toleration of Christians an established rule and it depended upon the arbitrary will of the Sultans and their subordinates, few judges and village rulers paid any attention to whatever privileges had been granted in theory to the rayahs.

Concluding Observations

Α few more observations. Α church, which was able to produce men and women with a living faith and a commitment to spiritual values and principles could not have been a moribund church, or a church involved only in ritual and concerned with barren tradition, as the Orthodox Church has been portrayed by Western Christendom in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was not solely an ecumenical brotherly gesture by the President of the Society of the Bolandists when he wrote: "The neomartyrs are the purest glory of the Greek Church, and before these generous witnesses to the faith which we hold in common every Christian should bow" (Delahaye, 1921, p. 712).

If it is true that the blood of the early Christian martyrs, under Roman persecution, became the seed of Christianity, as Tertullian remarked in second century, (Tertullian, 1931, 50), the blood of the neo-martyrs was not shed in vain, for it inspired and nourished Greek Orthodox Christianity under Turkish persecution.

(Excerpts taken from this study by Fr. Demetrios Constantelos)

Could the Ancient Quarry Discovered In Israel Be A Monastic Cave?

[A quarry? - probably; a hideout? - maybe but unlikely; how about a monastic cave? This story has really been buzzing for almost two weeks now most recently with headlines referring to a quarry discovered from the time of Jesus with christian symbols from about 350 AD. Most speculations have been limited to this cave being a possible quarry to build nearby early christian monasteries, and some have interpreted it in light of the Roman catacombs as being a possible refuge for early christians (even though there was no persecution of christians in the area in 350 AD, though it could have been used for such when there was). If speculation like this is going to be done, then scholars and archeologists should consider what the main historical phenomenon was of the Palestinian deserts in 350 AD - cave-dwelling anchorites. So along with all the other theories reported, I am speculating that this cave, afer serving as a quarry to build the nearby monasteries, was further utilized by desert solitaries, possibly with their disciples, to be used as a place of solitary prayer and strict asceticism. - J.S.]

Ancient Christian Quarry Unearthed

Reuters: JERUSALEM (June 23, 2009) - Israeli archaeologists said on Sunday they had discovered the largest underground quarry in the Holy Land, dating back to the time of Jesus and containing Christian symbols etched into the walls.

The 4,000-square-yard cavern, buried about 10 yards beneath the desert near the ancient West Bank city of Jericho, was dug about 2,000 years ago and was in use for about half a millennium, archaeologist Adam Zertal said.

The cave's main hall, about three meters tall, is supported by some 20 stone pillars and has a variety of symbols etched into the walls, including crosses dating back to about AD 350 and Roman legionary emblems.

Zertal said his team from Haifa University first discovered the site three months ago while they were putting together a detailed archaeological map of the area.

"We saw a hole in the ground ... and went down and discovered this giant cavern, originally a quarry, built uniquely with hall after hall," Zertal told Reuters.

The team believes the stones were used in buildings and churches in the region, but Zertal said further research was necessary.

The site may eventually be turned into one of the largest underground tourist sites in the Holy Land, he said.

Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Michael Roddy

June 26, 2009

Saint David the Dendrite of Thessaloniki

Saint David the Dendrite of Thessaloniki (Feast Day - June 26)

By John Sanidopoulos


With David of old art thou now united, O new David; 
For thou didst kill the carnal passions like Goliath. 
On the twenty-sixth, David passed through the gates of life.

The earliest written chronicle of the life of Saint David comes from his contemporary, Saint John Moschos, in his Leimonarion (or Spiritual Meadow). Saint John together with his disciple and companion Saint Sophronios the Sophist travelled to Egypt in order to record the great deeds and wise sayings of the Desert Fathers from the monastic authorities of the desert of the late 6th or early 7th century. He records how he met Abba Palladios in Alexandria and tells us the following:

We went to the same Abba Palladios with this request: "Of your charity, tell us, father, where you came from, and how it came about that you embraced the monastic life". He was from Thessalonika, he said, and then he told us this: "In my home country, about three stadia beyond the city wall, there was a recluse, a native of Mesopotamia whose name was David. He was a man of outstanding virtue, merciful and continent. He spent about twenty years in his place of confinement. Now at this time, because of the barbarians, the walls of the city were patrolled at night by soldiers. One night those who were on guard-duty at that stretch of the city-walls nearest to where the elder's place of confinement was located, saw fire pouring from the windows of the recluse's cell. The soldiers thought the barbarians must have set the elder's cell on fire; but when they went out in the morning, to their amazement, they found the elder unharmed and his cell unburned. Again the following night they saw fire, the same way as before, in the elder's cell - and this went on for a long time. The occurrence became known to all the city and throughout the countryside. Many people would come and keep vigil at the wall all night long in order to see the fire, which continued to appear until the elder died. As this phenomenon did not merely appear once or twice but was often seen, I said to myself: 'If God so glorifies his servants in this world, how much more so in the world to come when He shines upon their face like the sun?' This, my children, is why I embraced the monastic life."

Abba Palladios goes on to speak of another monk from Mesopotamia known as Adolas the Recluse. Saint John writes:

The elder also told us this: that after Abba David, there came to Thessalonika another monk, also from Mesopotamia, whose name was Adolas. He confined himself in a hollow plane tree in another part of the city. He made a little window in the tree through which he could talk with people who came to see him. When the barbarians came and laid waste all the countryside, they happened to pass by that place. One of the barbarians noticed the elder looking down at them. He drew his sword and raised his arm to strike the elder, but he remained there rooted to the spot with his hand stuck up in the air. When the rest of the barbarians saw this, they were amazed and, falling down before him, they besought the elder [to restore their comrad]. The elder offered a prayer and healed him and thus he dismissed them in peace.

From what we can tell from all the historical sources, including his biography written by an anonymous author of Thessaloniki between 715-720, Saint David was probably born in Mesopotamia around the year 450 AD and died in Thessaloniki sometime between 535 and 541. We don't know why either David or Adolas traveled from Mesopotamia to Thessaloniki, but both the Synaxarion of Constantinople and the Menologion of Emperor Basil II assure us that he did come from somewhere in the "east".

In Thessaloniki David became a monk at the Monastery of Sts. Theodore and Mercurius, otherwise known as Koukouliaton (Κουκουλιατῶν) Monastery, at a young age between the years 465-470. It was known as Koukouliaton because the monks wore cloaks for which it was known and which is depicted in the icons of the Saint. In fact in January of 1944 a marble slab was found in the Jewish cemetery that depicted an icon of Saint David dating back to the 10th century in which he is wearing a cloak with the hood hanging off his shoulders.

We are told that the Monastery of Sts. Theodore and Mercurius was next to the walls of the city at the gate known as Aproiton. We are further informed that there was another monastery next to this one known as Aproiton Monastery, though it is possible it could have been another name for the same monastery. The word "Aproiton" probably indicates the austere rule of the monasteries, since it implies that the monks were not allowed to leave their monastery. This gate was probably located along the northern wall of the city to the west of the Acropolis which the Turks called during Ottoman times Eski Delik. It is believed that outside this gate along the wall was the Monastery of Sts. Theodore and Mercurius where Saint David lived a monastic life. Others say the monastery was northeast of the Acropolis in an area known as the Garden of the Sheep, but this seems implausible since the Aproiton is too far west for this to be considered. However we still are not sure where the gate known as Aproiton was actually located for sure. To complicate matters further in locating the actual place of this monastery, one biography tells us that the monastery could be seen from the sea. If this is true, then the monastery would most likely have to be within the city walls to the west of the Acropolis along the northern wall.

At the Monastery of Sts. Theodore and Mercurius Saint David lived a life of prayer, fasting, vigils, humility, study of the sacred Scriptures and the cultivation of all the virtues. When the abbot of the monastery passed away, the monks of the monastery found David alone worthy to replace him due to his spiritual gifts. David however refused this honor, and instead decided to live his ascetic ordeals by climbing up an almond tree to the right of the main church (the katholikon of the monastery) and living up there for three years. One source tells us that this tree was in between two churches within the monastery. For three years this Saint endured the most extreme trials like the Stylite Saints (some say he endured more because the tree offered him no rest due to its constant swaying in the high winds), enduring the bitter cold of the winter and the burning heat of the summer and fully exposed to all the elements of the weather.

It should be noted that although Saint David was the first ascetic known as a "dendrite" (one who lives in trees) in Thessaloniki followed by Adolas (for whom there is no other historical source other than John Moschos), this type of asceticism was practiced in places like Syria and Mesopotamia from which both David and Adolas came from (see the life of Saint Maro the Dendrite celebrated February 4th; interesting studies concerning dendrites can be read here and here). The latest dendrite I know of was Elder Joseph the Hesychast who in the 1920's lived in Athens and would pray sitting in a tree in imitation of the Saints. Furthermore, an interesting comparison of trees was depicted in the Church of Chora in Constantinople in the fourteenth century in which Saint David is shown at the entrance to the funeral chapel, and is positioned equidistant between Christ calling Zacchaeus (who had climbed a tree in order to see Christ as he passed through Jericho) and Moses before the Burning Bush. In each, we witness an encounter with the divine in three periods – Old Testament, New Testament, Roman Empire.

When those three difficult years passed, after instruction was given to him by an angel of the Lord to live in silence in a cell and he was foretold by this same angel that he would "accomplish one other act of love" before he died, Saint David came down from the almond tree and entered a cell that had been prepared by his disciples. Saint David entered his cell in the presence of Archbishop Dorotheos of Thessaloniki (c.497-c.520) along with many pious clergy and faithful who gathered to see this momentous event when the news had spread. John Moschos informs us that this cell existed outside the walls of the city "about three stadia beyond the city wall", that is, a little more than 555 meters beyond the wall no doubt very near his monastery. From the fact that Archbishop Dorotheos was present at this event, we can ascertain that Saint David entered his cell sometime within the first two decades of the sixth century.

Living as a recluse in his cell and for his unparalleled ascetic feats, this Saint was considered as an angel of God by the people. Many people came to seek his prayers and many healings of demonic possession, diseases and suffering are reported. We can assume it was during this time that the extraordinary events reported by John Moschos took place.

One such miracle that is reported bears an amazing resemblance to the account of John Moschos. We are told a certain youth had a demon and he came to the cell of the Venerable David crying out: "Release me, O David, thou servant of the eternal God, for fire comes forth from your cell and burns me." Upon hearing this, David reached out his hand from his cell through a small window and held the youth, saying: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, commands you to go forth from His creature, O unclean spirit!" After doing the sign of the Cross over the youth, the demon was immediately released and all marvelled, glorifying God who glorifies those who please Him with God-pleasing works.

Saint David's silence was interrupted sometime after 520 when Archbishop Dorotheos died. His successor, Archbishop Aristeides, together with a multitude of clergy and faithful came to the Saint's cell pleading that he travel to Constantinople so as to entreat Emperor Justinian (527-565) regarding the establishment of Justiniana Prima as the new capital of the Prefecture of Illyricum, replacing Thessaloniki. Archbishop Aristeides was against this, since it would demote the status of Thessaloniki and divide Illyricum. Aristeides could not travel to Constantinople because he did not want to leave the city shepherdless with the impending threats of the barbarians.

From 318-379 Sirmium was capital of the Prefecture of Illyricum which encompassed Pannonia, Noricum, Crete, and the whole Balkan peninsula except Thrace. Since 379 Thessaloniki became the capital of the Prefecture of Illyricum. Justiniana Prima was built in 535 in Serbia at the place of Justinian's birth. Justinian's novel 11 announced the imminent transfer of the Illyrian prefecture to Justiniana Prima and the establishment of an archbishopric there making it the metropolis of Illyricum. Thus Eastern Illyricum was to be divided into two ecclesiastical regions under Justinian's law: the southern part belonged to the Archbishop of Thessaloniki and the northern was given autocephalous status under the Archbishop of Justiniana Prima. This was done in order to better protect the northern territories against the barbarians on the other side of the Danube.

David submitted to the pleadings of the Archbishop and the people of Thessaloniki in order to fulfill the prophesy of the angel that appeared to him while on the tree and out of obedience to the bishop and the love of the people of Thessaloniki. After many years of seclusion he emerged from his cell and saw the sun for the first time in many years. His appearance had changed as well. His hair had grown to his lower back and his beard fell all the way down to his feet. Together with his two disciples, Theodore and Demetrios, they left during the night for Constantinople.

The Archbishop pleads with David to see the Emperor

When they arrived in Constantinople his fame preceded him and he was received with much reverence by the people of Byzantium and was especially well received with much respect and reverence by Empress Theodora, who had him escorted into the palace and given hospitality as if he was an angel in the flesh. Justinian was occupied with other matters when he arrived, but was awe-struck at his holy appearance when he finally saw him the next day and listened to his case before the Senate. Before David spoke however the following miracle occurred leaving everyone astonished: David took a piece of live coal with incense in his bare hands and together with his disciples censed the Emperor and the entire Senate and his hand did not burn, though he was praying and blessing for about an hour. After this David pleaded the case of Archbishop Aristeides, and Justinian submitted to his wishes so that the status of Thessaloniki remained uninterrupted. Though historians mention the fact that this division of Illyricum never actually took place, they tend to leave out the fact that this was because of the great impression Saint David had on Emperor Justinian.

St. David's miraculous censing before the Emperor and Senate

The Saint returned by ship from Constantinople to Thessaloniki. However, when he arrived at Thermes at a place called Emvolos (about 126 stadia from the Saint's cell), he gave up his spirit to the Lord after making his request known to his disciples that he be buried at his monastery. The ship continued on to the port of Thessaloniki, but a strong wind escorted them as if by divine providence and landed at the spot where Sts. Theodoulos and Agathopodus were martyred on the west side of the city. Upon hearing the news of his falling asleep, the Archbishop with a large crowd gathered to pay their last respects and by procession led him up to the Monastery of Sts. Theodore and Mercurius where his relics were enshrined in a wooden coffin according to his wishes.

About 150 years after the Saint's death, in 685-690, the abbot of the monastery Demetrios opened his tomb in order to receive a portion of his relics. In doing so however, the plaque on the tomb fell and broke into many pieces. This was seen by the abbot as a sign that it was not the wishes of Saint David for his relics to be portioned. A monk under Demetrios by the name of Sergius eventually became Archbishop of Thessaloniki. He was present when as a monk they had tried opening the tomb of the Saint. Honoring this occurrence, Sergius opened the tomb which emitted a beautiful fragrance from the incorrupt relics and took care to only remove some hair from the beard and head of the Saint in order to distribute to the faithful to increase their faith and help aid in their salvation.

The tomb of the Saint remained undisturbed until the Fourth Crusade in 1204. In 1236 it was taken by Crusaders to Pavia, Italy and from there transferred to Milan in 1967. Finally on September 16, 1978 through the efforts of Metropolitan Panteleimon of Thessaloniki, the sacred relics of Saint David were triumphantly returned to Thessaloniki and housed in the Basilica of Saint Demetrios the Great Martyr. To celebrate this feast a Service was written by the renowned hymnographer Elder Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis. Eventually the relics were transferred to the katholikon of the Monastery of Saint Theodora in the middle of Thessaloniki in a chapel surrounded by icons of the Saint's life.

The relics of Venerable David today

It should be pointed out here that the current Monastery of Hosios David in Thessaloniki has no association with the life of the Saint nor is it the site of the Monastery of Sts. Theodore and Mercurious. This is however the oldest monastery in Thessaloniki (only the katholikon currently exists) and in Roman times was known as the Monastery of the Prophet Ezekiel (some say Zachariah) though more popularly known as Latomou Monastery. The mosaics inside are the oldest in the city dating back to approximately the 5th-6th century, especially magnificent being the depiction of a beardless Christ flanked by the prophets Ezekiel and Hakkakuk along with a vision of Ezekiel of Christ surrounded by the symbols of the four Gospels (the angel, eagle, lion, and bull). This monastery was not named after Saint David until 1921 when it was returned to the Orthodox after serving as a mosque since 1430. Interestingly the faithful had the mosaic of the vision of the Prophet Ezekiel covered in mortar (some say the Turks simply white-washed it) all those centuries so that the Turks would not destroy it as was their custom. During the days of Iconoclasm it was covered in ox-skin to be protected. Its existence was lost to history after 1430 until discovered in 1921, which some believe was done in a divine manner.

For more on the Latomou Monastery as well as the sources for the life of Saint David, see here and here (Greek only). For the 8th century life of Saint David, see A. Vasiliev, ‘Life of David of Thessalonica’, Traditio: Studies in Ancient Medieval History, Thought and Religion 4 [1946], pp. 115-147.

Latomou Monastery, Thessaloniki

Mosaic depicting a vision of the Prophet Ezekiel in Latomou Monastery

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
O David, your love for God the Word gave you wings, and you lived an angelic life in a tree. You produced for us fruits of grace, and we partake of them spiritually, crying to you with faith: Pray for us to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
An Angel on earth, and stranger to all earthly things, you made a tree your dwelling like an eagle's nest, whence, O David, you soared up to Heaven, where you found that Tree which in Eden we lost of old. Remember us all, who keep your memory.