Dear Readers: A long time supporter of the Mystagogy Resource Center has informed me that they would like to donate $3000 to help me continue the work of this ministry, but they will only do it as a matching donation, which means that this generous donation will only be made after you help me raise a total of $3000. If you can help make this happen, it will be greatly appreciated and it would be greatly helpful to me, as I have not done a fundraiser this year. If you enjoy the work done here and want to see more of it, please make whatever contribution you can through the DONATE link below. Thank you!
(Total So Far - Day 4: $1750)

September 30, 2009

The Story of a Turk Who "Fell In Love" With Hagia Sophia

Göksel Gülensoy directing

By A. Fotopoulou

"Still you are at the beginning of the road…and you are there, with all your grandeur. You exist…for me you are the light…I will be by your side. I will try to understand you more and to hear you. I will not stop laboring on your behalf. I will live in the enjoyment to know you and discover more about you, retaining all the enthusiasm of the first encounter. I thank you.”

These are the words which a Turkish director Göksel Gülensoy wrote, not for a woman, but for the most brilliant monument of Byzantium - the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople. The legends and theories about Hagia Sophia drove Gülensoy to become involved with the monument.

“I desired to see the things which were hidden, not the things above the earth which everyone sees, but to see those things which are below and are yet to be discovered. I wanted if possible to learn whether the legends and theories which I read in the books are true regarding Hagia Sophia’s underground. I began very slowly to “discover” the monument and the fruit of this effort was my first documentary Hagia Sophia which had as its theme the monument itself and the legends associated with it. My work had as much an effect in Turkey as it did to those on the outside, and the recognition of my love was my award that I received," he said in an interview with ANA-MPA.

This same film was awarded in 1994 with the second award for Best Documentary at the Ankara Film Festival and in 1995 with the Best Documentary Award at the Tampere Film Festival. It was also honored with an Honorable Mention at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 1996.

“But my passionate love for Hagia Sophia was born in 1998. I knew that it would be a relationship that would last many years. First, it was necessary for me to see it with my own eyes, to come to recognize it and most significantly to discover it. And this is what I did. In 2000 I finished my second documentary with the title Hagia Sophia and the Cisterns. The cisterns are underground structures which were used in more ancient times for storing water. With the passage of time my love was being transformed into a passion which has overtaken me now for eleven years” added Gülensoy.

Beginning with the theories which sought to link Hagia Sophia’s underground structures with the neighboring Royal Cisterns and with the complex of the Great Palace, the Hippodrome, and even with the Princes' Islands, the Turkish director wished to explore the “depths” of the monument.

“I made a new start. But this time it was necessary to delve into the “depths”, to learn and to bring these things to the surface about which knowledge was lacking. The floor of the main church is mainly tiles, half of which covered the cisterns and the other half tunnels of water. I received a permit from the Ministry of Culture and I started the exploration to see what is in these tunnels under the tiles. I confirmed that the church did not connect with either the Royal Cisterns or with the Great Palace, nor with the Princes' Islands. In the writings of a Russian pilgrim from the Thirteenth Century I had read that in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia Saint Antigonos was buried, who was a youth. Within the tunnels a skeleton of a child was found which possibly belongs to this Saint. However, it is necessary for the archaeologists and other specialists to investigate. They also located in "rooms" in which there were buried priests. In the cisterns canteens were found which dated to 1917 and possibly belonged to British soldiers who maybe were attempting to acquire some holy water. I encountered such beauties they blinded me. I saw things which even kings did not see; I heard the voice of history and became its witness. I was not able to be arrogant before such beauty. I desired to share it with everyone who also marvels at Hagia Sophia. I wanted everyone to see its unfamiliar aspects which are hidden below the earth. For this reason I rushed to document everything I saw with cameras," Gülensoy continued.

All the fruit of this search will become his third documentary that is dedicated to the monument and is titled In the Depths of Hagia Sophia. The documentary has as its assistors and advisors professors of Byzantine archeology from the University of Constantinople, İhsan Tunay and Haluk Çetinkaya.

"Eleven years of work was needed for this documentary to come into existence, which now is in the editing phase and requires about 40,000 euros for completion. There are no sponsors and there is no financing coming from any source. At this moments I have at my disposal 65,000 euros for things pertaining to the film and it was necessary to work outside of Turkey to collect this amount. I know that when the work is completed many will envy me, because I saw unknown aspects of the monument. So be it, let them envy me. Hagia Sophia will always be my great love and I will do other documentaries about it. My next project I will do a documentary about the Christian priests buried at Hagia Sophia” concluded the Turkish director.

(For more on this exciting discovery, visit my previous post here.)

September 29, 2009

Questions to Ponder From the Bible

THE LORD GOD called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" … Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?"

Genesis 3:9,13

THEN THE LORD SAID to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"

Genesis 4:9

THE ISRAELITES QUARRELED and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"

Exodus 17:7

MY GOD, MY GOD, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Psalm 22:1

IS THERE NO BALM in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

Jeremiah 8:22

WHERE CAN I GO from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

Psalm 139:7

WHEN I LOOK at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-4

TO WHOM then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these?

Isaiah 40:25-26

WITH WHAT shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? … He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6,8

JESUS … asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" … He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?"

Mark 8:27,29

THEN SOMEONE CAME to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"

Matthew 19:16

FOR WHAT will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

Mark 8:36-37

WHAT then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? … How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Romans 6:1-3

WHO WILL SEPARATE US from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Romans 8:35

All selections from the NRSV.

Confession - Confessor - Confessing

By Monk Moses the Athonite

Confession is a God-given commandment, and it is one of the Mysteries of our Church. Confession is not a formal, habitual ("to be on the safe side", or, "in view of upcoming feast-days"), forced and unprepared act, springing from an isolated duty or obligation and for psychological relief only. Confession should always be combined with repentance. A Holy Mountain Elder used to say: "Many confess, but few repent!" (Elder Aemilianos of the Simonopetra Monastery, Holy Mountain).

Repentance is a freely-willed, internally cultivated process of contrition and sorrow for having distanced ourselves from God through sin. True repentance has nothing to do with intolerable pain, excessive sorrow and relentless guilty feelings. That would not be sincere repentance, but a secret egotism, a feeling of our "ego" being trampled on; an anger that is directed at our self, which then wreaks revenge because it is exposing itself and is put to shame - a thing that it cannot tolerate. Repentance means a change in our thoughts, our mentality; it is an about-face; it is a grafting of morality and an abhorrence of sin. Repentance also means a love of virtue, benevolence, and a desire, a willingness and a strong disposition to be re-joined to Christ through the Grace of the almighty Holy Spirit. Repentance begins in the depths of the heart, but it culminates necessarily in the Mystery of divine and sacred Confession.

During confession, one confesses sincerely and humbly before the confessor, as though in the presence of Christ. No scientist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, sociologist, philosopher or theologian can replace the confessor. No icon - not even the most miracle-working one - can provide what the confessor's stole (epitachelion) can: the absolution of sins. The confessor takes the person under his care; he adopts him and ensures he is reborn spiritually, which is why he is called a "spiritual father".

Normally, spiritual paternity is lifelong, sacred and powerful - even more powerful than a family bond. Spiritual birth is a painful process. The confessor must keep track of the confessing soul, with a fear of God (as one who is "accountable to God"), with understanding, humility and love, and guide him with discretion in the ever-upward course of his in-Christ life.

The confessor-priest has been given a special blessing by his bishop for the undertaking of his confessional opus. However, the gift of "binding and unbinding" sins is initially acquired through his ordination as presbyter, when he is rendered a successor to the Apostles. Thus, validity and canonicity in Apostolic succession, through bishops, is of central and great importance. Like all the other Holy Mysteries of our Church, the Mystery of Confession is performed (and it bestows Grace on the faithful), not in conjunction with the skill, the scientism, the literacy, the eloquence, the energy and the artfulness of the priest - not even with his virtue and holiness - but through the canonicity (validity) of his priesthood and through the "Master of Ceremonies" - the Holy Spirit. The possible sins of the priest do not obstruct divine Grace during the Mysteries. Woe to us, if we were to doubt (on account of the unworthiness of the priest) that the bread and the wine actually become the Body and the Blood of Christ during the Divine Liturgy! This of course does not mean that the priest should not have to constantly concern himself with his own "cleanliness". Thus, there is no such thing as "good" or "bad" confessors. Each and every confessor provides the exact same absolution.

However, we do have the right to choose our confessor; and of course we have the right to turn to the one who truly makes us feel at ease with him, spiritually. To constantly change our confessor however, is not a very sober decision; this kind of tendency does not reveal spiritual maturity. But confessors should, respectively, not fret excessively -or even create problems- when a spiritual child of theirs happens to depart from them. This may mean that they were morbidly attached to each other (sentimentally to the person, and not to Christ nor to the Church). They may also regard that departure as an insult; one that is demeaning to them and makes them think there is no one better than them, or, it may give them a feeling that the other "belongs" to them exclusively and they can therefore dominate them and in fact even behave forcibly towards them, as if they are repressed and confined subordinates. We did mention that the confessor is a spiritual father, and that spiritual fatherhood and spiritual childbirth entails labour. Thus, it is only natural for the confessor to feel sorrow upon the departure of his spiritual child. However, it is preferable for him to pray for his child's spiritual progress and its union to the Church, even despite its disengagement from him. He must wish for, and not against that child.

The confessor's opus is not just the superficial hearing of a person's sins and the reciting of the prayer of absolution afterwards. Nor is it restricted to the hour of confession. Like a good father, the confessor continuously cares for his child; he listens to it and observes it carefully, he counsels it appropriately, he guides it along the lines of the Gospel, he highlights its talents, he does not place unnecessary burdens on it, he imposes canons with leniency only when he must, he consoles it when it is disheartened, weighed down, resentful, exhausted, and he heals it accordingly, without ever discouraging it, but constantly pursuing the struggle for the eradication of its passions and the harvesting of virtues; constantly shaping its eternal soul to be Christ-like.

This ever-developing paternal and filial relationship between confessor and spiritual child eventually culminates in a feeling of comfort, trust, respect, sanctity and elation. When confessing, one opens his heart to the confessor and discloses the innermost, the basest and most unclean - in fact, all of his - secrets, his most intimate actions and detrimental desires, even those that he would not want to confess to himself, nor tell his next-of-kin or his closest friend. For this reason, the confessor must have an absolute respect for the unlimited trust that is being shown to him by the person confessing. This trust most assuredly builds up with time, but also by the fact that the confessor is strictly bound (in fact to the death) by the divine and sacred Canons of the Church, to the confidentiality that confession entails.

In Orthodox confession there are of course no general instructions, because the spiritual guidance that each unique soul requires is entirely personalized. Each person is unprecedented, with a particular psychosynthesis, a different character, differing potentials and abilities, limitations, tendencies, tolerances, knowledge, needs and dispositions. With the Grace of God and with divine enlightenment, the confessor must discern all these characteristics, in order to decide what he can utilize best, so that the person confessing will be helped in the best possible manner. At times, leniency will be required, while at other times, austerity. The same thing does not apply to each and every person. Nor should the confessor ALWAYS be strict, just for the sake of being called strict and respected as such; and he should likewise not ALWAYS be excessively lenient, in order to become the preferred choice and be regarded as a "spiritual father of many". What is required of him is a fear of God, discernment, honesty, humility, deliberation, understanding and prayer.

"Economy" (Oikonomia: to make allowances for something, exceptionally) is not demanded of the person confessing, nor is it proper for the confessor to make it a rule. "Economy" must remain an exception. "Economy" must also be a temporary measure (Archimandrite George Gregoriates). When the reasons for implementing it no longer exist, it must naturally be retracted. The same sin can be confronted in numerous ways.

A canon is not always necessary. A canon is not intended as a form of punishment. It is educative by nature. A canon is not imposed for the sake of appeasing an offended God and an atonement of the sinner in the face of Divine Justice; that is an entirely heretical teaching. A canon is usually implemented during an immature confession, with the intent to arouse awareness and a consciousness of the magnitude of one's sin. According to Orthodox teaching, "sin" is not so much the transgression of a law, as it is a lack of love towards God. "Love, and do whatever you want", the blessed Augustine used to say...

A canon is implemented for the purpose of completing one's repentance in view of confession, which is why Fr. Athanasios of Meteora rightly says: "Just as the confessor is not permitted to make public the sins being confessed to him, so must the person confessing not make public the particular canon that the confessor has imposed in his specific case, as it is the resultant of many parameters."

A confessor acts as the provider of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. During the hour of the Mystery of Confession, he does not function as a psychologist and scientist. He functions as a priest, as an experienced doctor, as a caring father. When listening to the sins of the person confessing, he prays to God to give him enlightenment, to advise him what the best "medication" for cure will be, and to gauge the degree and the quality of that confession. The confessor does not place himself opposite a confessing person with curiosity, suspicion, envy, excessive austerity, power and arrogance; but equally not with indifference, thoughtlessly, carelessly and wearily. The humility, love and attention of the confessor will greatly help the person confessing. The confessor should not ask too many, too unnecessary and too indiscreet questions. He must especially interrupt any detailed descriptions of various sins (especially the carnal ones) and even the disclosure of names, to safeguard himself even more. But the person confessing should also not feel afraid, or hesitate and feel embarrassed; he should feel respect, trust, honor and show reverence to the confessor. This feeling of sanctity, mutual respect and trust must be mainly nurtured, inspired and developed by the confessor.

Our holy mother the Orthodox Church is the Body of the Resurrected Christ; She is a vast infirmary, for the healing of frail, sinning faithful from the traumas, the wounds and the illnesses of sin; from pathogenic demons and from the venomous demonic traps and the influences of demonically-driven passions.

Our Church is not a branch office of the Ministry of Social Services, nor does She compete against the various societies for social welfare - without this meaning that She does not acknowledge this significant and well-meaning opus, or that She Herself does not offer such services bounteously, admirably and wondrously; it is because the Church is mainly a provider of a meaning to life, of redemption and salvation of the faithful "for the sake of whom Christ died", through their participation in the Mysteries of the Church. "The priest's stole is a planing instrument" - as the Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain used to say - "that planes and straightens out a person; it is a therapeutic scalpel that excises passions, and not a trowel for workaholics, or a symbol of power. It is a servant's apron intended for ministering to people, for providing therapy and salvation."

God uses the priest for the forgiveness of His creature. It is plainly stated in the absolution blessing: "May God forgive you - through me the sinner - everything, both in the present age and in the future one, and may He render you blameless, before His awesome Seat of Judgment; having no longer any worry for the crimes that have been confessed, may you go forth in peace." Sins that have not been confessed will continue to burden a person, even in the life to come. Confessed sins should not be re-confessed; it would be as though one doesn't believe in the grace of the Mystery. God is of course aware of them, but it is for the sake of absolution, humbling and therapy that they need to be outwardly confessed. As for the occasional penance (canon) imposed for sins, one must realize that it does not negate the Church's love for the person, but that it is simply an educative imposition, for a better awareness of one's offenses.

According to Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, "Confession is a willed, verbal revealing of one's evil deeds and words and thoughts; solemn, accusatory, direct, without shame, decisive, to be executed before a legitimate spiritual father." This God-bearing Saint has succinctly, fully and meaningfully clarified that confession must be willed, free, effortless, without the confessor straining to extract the person's confession. It should be with solemnity, in other words, with an awareness of the sorrow that he caused God with his sin, and not with sentimental, hypocritical, fainthearted tears.

Genuine "solemnity" implies an inner collapsing, remorse, a hatred towards sin, a love of virtue, and a feeling of gratitude to the Gift-Giver God. "Accusatory" implies a responsible confession, without attempts of justification, subterfuge, chicanery, irresponsibility and scapegoating; with sincere self-reproach and genuine self-humiliation that carries the so-called "happy-sorrow" and the "joyous bereavement" defined by the Church. "Direct" implies a confession with all sincerity, directness and precision, valor and courage, severity and bravery. It often happens that during the hour of confession, one avoids admitting his defeat, his fall and his weakness and by means of eloquent and long-winded descriptions attempts to deflect his share of responsibility, with twists and turns and half-truths - or even by accusing others - all for the sake of preserving (even at that hour) a prim and proper ego. A confession "without shame" implies a portrayal of our true, deplorable self. Shame is a good thing to have, prior to sin and not afterwards, and in the presence of the confessor. The shame felt during confession they say will free us from the sin during the Ultimate Judgment, given that whatever the confessor absolves will not be judged again. A "direct" confession implies that it should be clean, specific, sincere, and accompanied by the decision that the faithful will never repeat the sins he has confessed to. Furthermore, confession should be continuous, so that the "willingly recurring" passions (according to Saint John of the Ladder) are not strengthened, but rather, are cured sooner. Thus, old sins will not be entirely blotted out from memory, there will be a regular self-monitoring, self-observation, self-awareness and self-reproach; Divine Grace will not abandon; demonic entrapment will be averted much more easily, and reminiscence of Death will not seem as horrid and terrible.

Another thing that is all too frequently observed - and we admit this with deep pain and abundant love - is that sermons are not always as Orthodox as they should be; in other words, they only manage to sound like just another commentary on an unimportant news item, thus transforming the sacred pulpit into yet another television "frame" where we can air our own opinion on daily events and occurrences. The Orthodox sermon however is by nature mainly ecclesiological, Christological, salvatory, hagiological and beneficial to the soul. The sermon on repentance as delivered by the Prophets, the holy Baptist, the Savior Christ and all the Saints remains forever opportune and a necessity. A basic prerequisite for partaking in the Holy Mysteries and for an upward spiritual course is a purity of heart; a purity that is rid of miscellaneous sins; the spirit of avarice and blissfulness inspired by today's hyper-consumerist society; the spirit of God-despised pride in a world of narcissism, individualism, non-humility, non-philanthropy, arrogance and the bizarre; the demonic spirit of mischievous thoughts, fantasies and imaginations and unclean and obscure suspicions and envy.

Purity of heart has become a rare ornament - in brotherly and conjugal relations, in obligations towards colleagues, in friendships, in conversations, in thoughts, in desires, in pastoral callings. The so-called Mass Media have lapsed and become mere sources of contamination. Forgotten are neptic awareness, ascetic sobriety, traditional frugality, simplicity and gallantry. This has led to a polluting of the soul's rationalizing ability, an arousal of its desirous aspect towards avarice, while its willpower has become severely blunted, thus drawing a weakened person towards evil, without any impediments or limitations.

Nowadays prevail self-justification, excuses for our passions, beautification of sin, and its reinforcement through modern psychological supports. The admission of mistakes is regarded as belittlement, weakness and generally improper. The constant justification of our self, and the meticulous transferal of responsibilities elsewhere have created a human being that is confused, divided, disturbed, worn-out, miserable and self-absorbed, taunted by the devil, and captured in his dark messes.

There is a prevalence of foolish rationalism nowadays, which observes evangelical virtues and conciliar canons according to its liking, preference and convenience, on important issues such as fasting, abstinence, childbearing, morality, modesty, honesty and precision.

In view of all the above - none of which I believe has been exaggerated - it is our belief that the opus of a confessor is not an easy one. Ordinary coercion to repent and the cultivating of humility are nowadays inadequate; the fold requires catechesis, re-evangelizing, spiritual training, as well as a spiritual about-face, in order to acquire powerful antibodies. Resistance, reaction and the confronting of the powerful current of de-sanctification, of secularization, of demoting heroism, of eudemonism and of amassing wealth are imperative. The young generation is in need of special attention, instruction and love, given that their upbringing has not proven to be of any help in their becoming aware of the meaning and the purpose of life, or of the void and the indecorousness, the lawlessness and the darkness of sin.

Another serious problem - even for our Christians - is the often over-zealous quest for a laborless, toil-free and grief-free life. We are in search of Cyreneans to carry our crosses. We refuse to lift up our own personal cross. We have no idea of the depth and breadth of our own cross. We bow in reverence before the Cross in church, we cross ourselves, but we do not embrace our personal cross. In the long run, we would like a non-crucified Christianity. But there cannot be an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday.

We honor martyrs and saints, but we ourselves do not want to suffer any hardships, any postponements, any difficulties. Fasting is too difficult a task to accomplish; we feel resentful during an illness; we cannot tolerate any harsh words, not even when we are to blame, therefore how could we possibly tolerate injustice, slander, persecution and exile, the way our saints did? It is an indisputable fact that the contemporary, secular spirit of convenience, leisure and excessive consumerism has greatly affected the measure of spiritual living. Generally speaking, we demand a non-ascetic Christianity. Orthodoxy however has the ascetic Gospel as its basis.

One other serious problem of our time is man's morbid and undue reliance on logic, intellect, knowledge, and personal judgment - we are referring to the over-fed and ultimately tiring rationalization. Neptic Orthodox theology teaches us to consider our Nous a tool, and to lower it, into the Heart. Our Church does not cultivate and produce intellectuals. To us, rationalization is not a philosophical mentality, but a clearly sin-oriented life view - a form of atheism - since it goes contrary to the commandment of placing our faith, hope, love and trust in God. A rationalist judges everything using the filter of his own mind and only with his finite mind, with himself and his sovereign ego as the epicenter, and does not place any trust in divine Providence, divine Grace and divine Assistance in his life. By often regarding himself as infallible, a rationalist does not allow God to intervene in his life and therefore judge him. That way, he is convinced that he is not in need of confession. Saint Symeon the New Theologian says however that, for one to believe he has not fallen into any sins is the greatest of falls and fallacies, and the greatest sin of all. Certain newer theologians speak of "missing the target" and not of "sinning", in their desire to blunt the natural protesting of one's conscience. The self-sufficiency displayed by certain churchgoers and fasting Christians can at times be hiding a latent pharisaic stance, i.e., that "they are not like the others" and therefore are not in need of confession.

According to the Holy Fathers of our Church, the greatest of evils is Pride; it is the mother of all passions, according to Saint John of the Ladder. It is the mother of many offspring, the first ones being vainglory and self-vindication. Pride is a form of denial of God; it is an invention of wicked demons, the result of too much flattery and praise, which in turn results in a debilitation and exhaustion of man, God-despised censure, anger, rage, hypocrisy, the lack of compassion, misanthropy, and blasphemy. Pride is a passion that is formidable, difficult, powerful and hard to cure. Pride is also strong in many ways, and with many faces. It manifests itself as vainglory, boastfulness, conceit, arrogance, presumptuousness, swell-headedness, insolence, self-importance, megalomania, ambition, self-love, vanity, avarice, flesh-loving, a love for leadership, accusations and arguments. Also as smugness, favoritism, insolence, disrespect, outspokenness, insensitivity, contradiction, obstinacy, disobedience, sarcasm, stubbornness, disregard, indignity, perfectionism and hypersensitivity. Finally, pride can lead to impenitence.

The tongue often becomes the instrument of pride, through unchecked, long-winded, useless talking; gossiping, silliness; vain , insincere, indiscreet, two-tongued, diplomatic, pretended and mocking conversations.

Out of the seven deadly sins many other passions spring forth. Having mentioned the offspring of Pride, we then have Avarice, which gives birth to the love of money, greed, stinginess, lack of charity, hardheartedness, fraud, usury, injustice, deceitfulness, simony, bribery, gambling. Fornication manifests itself in myriads of ways, for example, envy - with its underhanded and evil spite, insatiable gluttony, anger, as well as suspect negligence and lack of care.

Special attention should also be paid to many un-Orthodox elements in family life, which we believe should be examined carefully by confessors and the persons involved. The avoidance of childbearing, the idolizing of one's children (when regarded as the extension of the parents' ego), overprotecting them, or constantly watching their moves and savagely oppressing them. Marriage is an arena for exercising humility, mutual leeway and mutual respect, and not the parallel journey of two egotisms despite a lifelong coupling and coexistence. The devil dances for joy whenever there is no forgiveness in human weaknesses and in everyday mistakes. Parents will help their children significantly, not with excessive courtesy outside the home, but with their peaceful, sober and loving example in the home, on a daily basis. The participation of the children together with the parents in the Mystery of Confession will fortify them with divine Grace in an experiential life in Christ. When parents ask for forgiveness with sincerity, they simultaneously teach their children humility, which destroys all demonic plots. In a household where love, harmony, understanding, humility and peace bloom, there the blessings of God will be bounteous and the home becomes a castle that is impervious to the malice of the world around. The upbringing of children with the element of forgiveness creates a healthy family hearth, which will inspire them and strengthen them for their own futures.

One other huge matter that constitutes an obstacle for repentance and confession is self-vindication, which plagues many people of the Church also. Its basis is, as we mentioned earlier, demonic Pride. A classic example is the Pharisee of the Gospel parable. The self-vindicating person has apparently positive elements, which he will over-praise and for which he would like to be honored and praised. He is happy to be flattered and to demean and humiliate others. He has excessive self-esteem, he vindicates himself to excess and believes that God is necessarily obliged to reward him. In the long run, he is a poor wretch, who, in his wretched state makes others wretched. He is possessed by nervousness and agitation and he is demanding, thus imprisoning himself; these are tendencies that will not allow him to open the door to divine mercy, through his repentance.

An offspring of Pride is censure, which is unfortunately also a habit of many Christians, who tend to concern themselves more with others than themselves. This is a phenomenon of our time and of a society that pushes people into a continuous observation of others, and not of the self. Modern man's myriad occupations and activities do not want him to ever remain alone to study, to contemplate, to pray, to attain self-awareness, self-critique, self-control and to be reminded of death.

The so-called Mass Media are incessantly preoccupied with scandal-seeking, persistently and at length, with human passions, with sins, with others' misdemeanors. These kinds of things provoke, impress, and, even if they do not scandalize, they nevertheless burden the soul and the mind with filth and ugliness and they actually reassure us, by making us believe that "we are better" than those advertised. Thus, a person becomes accustomed to the mediocrity, the tepidity and the transience of superficial day-to-day life, never comparing himself to saints and heroes. This is how censure prevails in our time - by giving man the impression that he is justly imposing a kind of cleansing, by mud-slinging at others, albeit contaminating himself by generating malice, hatred, hostility, resentfulness, envy and frigidity. Saint Maximus the Confessor in fact states that the one who constantly scrutinizes others sins, or judges his brothers based on a suspicion only, has not even begun to repent, nor has he begun any research into discovering his own sins.

Many and various things can be said; but in the end, only one thing is opportune, significant and outstanding: our salvation, which we do not attend to forever. Salvation is not attained, except only through sincere repentance and clean confession. Repentance not only opens the celestial Paradise, but also the terrestrial one, with the foretasting -albeit partial- of the ineffable joy of the endless reign of the heavens and of wonderful peace, in the present time. Those who uphold the practice of confession can be the truly and genuinely happy people; pacifist and peace-bearing; heralds of repentance, of resurrection, of transformation, freedom, grace, and with the blessing of God in their souls and their lives. "God's bounteous Grace turns the wolf into a lamb", says Saint John Chrysostom. No sin can surpass God's love. There is not one sinner who cannot become a saint, if he desires to. It has been proven, by the innumerable names that are recorded in the Book of Saints.

The confessor listens to confessions and absolves those confessing, under his blessed stole. He cannot however confess himself and place the stole over his own head to obtain forgiveness in the same manner. He must necessarily kneel underneath another stole to confess and be absolved. That is the way the spiritual law functions; that is the way God's Wisdom and Mercy have ordained. We cannot confess others, but not submit ourselves to confession; to not practice what we preach; to talk about repentance, but not to repent; to talk about confession, but not confess ourselves regularly. None of us can dethrone himself, and none can absolve himself. The unadvised, the disobedient, the unconfessed are a serious problem for the Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, the confessor's stole can be a miraculous scalpel for the removal of malignant tumors; it can raise the dead, renew and transform the indecorous world, and bring joy to earth and heaven. Our Church has entrusted this grand ministry, this sacred service, to our priests and not to the angels, so that we might be able to approach them with ease and without fear, as fellow-sufferers and corporeal counterparts.

All the above have been deposited with sincerity and not at all pretentiously, by a co-sinner, who did not aspire to play the teacher, but a co-struggling, co-student, together with you. It was merely his desire to remind you with simple and inartistic words the Tradition of our holy mother, the Church, on the ever-opportune matter of divinely-spun and divinely-blessed Repentance and the divinely-delivered and God-favoured, blessed Mystery of Confession.

Taken from REPENTANCE AND CONFESSION, by Monk Moses of the Holy Mountain, "Orthodoxi Kypseli" Publications, Thessaloniki. Translated by ORTHODOX OUTLET for DOGMATIC ENQUIRIES.

September 28, 2009

Center for Inquiry’s BLASPHEMY CONTEST

You’ve got to wonder what an organization that touts itself for critical thinking is thinking when it sponsors a BLASPHEMY CONTEST:

Maybe Christians should submit Psalm 14:1 or Romans 1:20, but since Darwin is their god a few word's of Darwin's less than divine attributes would suffice. Or maybe just a few words on blasphemy.

Here is my submission:

Title: My Submission for Your Dumb Contest

Dear Center For (bigoted) Inquiry:

Here is my submission that I think we can all agree on:

"Presumption and boastfulness are causes of blasphemy. Avarice and self-esteem are causes of cruelty and hypocrisy." - St. Kosmas Aitolos

I also like:

"Unspeakable blasphemy is the child of dreadful pride." - St. John of the Ladder


"May your blasphemy fall upon your own head." - St. Niketas Stethatos

I'm looking forward to my T-Shirt and mug. :-)


A Response to Moscow's Sad Claims of "Rank"

Concerning the Ranks of Churches
New York, NY

Editor's Note:

On August 4, 2009, a website posted an article presenting some of the recent developments taking place at the Moscow Patriarchate. Specifically, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow had begun reevaluating the ecclesiastical rank of the Orthodox Churches. According to Archpriest Maxim Kozlof, a member of the committee entrusted with this task, the Patriarchate of Moscow is considered a Church of the pentarchy, that is, of the five Churches of ancient Christendom. He also claims that by virtue of its magnitude, the Patriarchate of Moscow maintains such a status. He also declares that the Patriarchate of Moscow has extended its jurisdiction across numerous countries. After reading these comments, Fr. Makarios Griniezakis, a professor of theology and ethics at the Theological Academy of Heraklion in Crete, responded with a different perspective. In what follows, Fr. Makarios frames the claims made by Fr. Maxim in their proper historical, canonical, and ecclesiological setting.

Fr. Makarios Griniezakis is an Archimandrite of the Ecumenical Throne; he is also the official preacher of the Archdiocese of Crete, and the director of the Archdiocese's radio station.

Concerning the Ranks of Churches

A few days ago your reputable website posted an article that discussed a series of efforts by the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia to formulate the Patriarchate of Moscow's position relative to the ranks of the Orthodox Churches. In a recent interview, the Archpriest Maxim Kozlof, a member of this newly formed committee, provided the details of the committee's work. With regard to these comments, but also in response to various ecclesiological and theological uncertainties often put forth by Russian clergymen and theologians, permit me the following thoughts:

1. The fact that an Orthodox Patriarchate has yet to clarify in its conscience who is the First of Orthodoxy incites sadness. During their Synaxis this past October, the Primates of the Orthodox Church signed an official declaration that reemphasized who has the first place in Orthodoxy. We are troubled, however, that only a few months after this historic moment a committee is formed to reevaluate the ranking amongst Orthodox Churches. We remind the reader that the Primates, including the Patriarch of Russia, stated that they gathered "at the invitation and under the presidency of the First among us, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew." If this statement is not sufficient, then our faithful brothers in Russia should refer to the Patriarchal Tome of 1589, which granted to them the Patriarchal Status. In the pages of this document they will discover exactly who signed the Tome, and thus realize who holds the eminent position in Orthodoxy.

2. To question issues that have been settled by Ecumenical Councils and established for centuries is quite dangerous. We speak in terms of "danger" because even a cursory study of history shows us that every heresy, schism and ecclesiastical division stemmed from personal ambition and egotism, only later to be robed in the mantle of dogmatic diversity. Arius, Dioscorus, Nestorius, Apollinarius, and Marcion, were pious and religious; however, they also were men who had tremendous egos and lacked ecclesiastical ethos. If they truly believed in God, if they were obedient to their bishops, if they respected the canons of the Church, and if they recognized the authenticity of the Holy Synods, then they would not have reached the point where they created division in the unified Body of Christ. Consequently, it is not enough for us to uphold the dogma of the Fathers in isolation--even the "old-calendarists" do this. We must also maintain the ethos of the Fathers, which helps to secure the unity of the Church.

3. When we speak about ecclesiastical ethos, we certainly do not identify with the logic based on size and figures. If we did, we would give the impression that we were economists, sociologists, and politicians. In the life of the Church, and especially in our spiritual lives--which the Church of Russia has much fruit to offer--two plus two does not always equal four. When we emphasize our vastness and point to statistical demonstrations, it means that we are not shepherds, but rather operatives of power, exploiting the administrative and spiritual authority that springs forth from our position. Â This is even more so the case when we put forth such efforts to earn the praise of the world and acquire the primary position in Orthodoxy. Given our current condition, those who participate in the administration of the Church must consider that their role is not to compete on stage with Stalin and Hitler. They are called to enter that sacred space where Church Fathers such as Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and Saint John Chrysostom live, and to be inspired by them. This is what we mean when we pronounce, "we who follow the fathers," especially since the patristic era has not ended. Every moment in time has the potential of becoming patristic if it secures and protects the Orthodox ecclesiological criteria for responding to prevalent problems and concerns. This is lost when we follow the philosophy and logic of the world, of arithmetic, of expediency, and of statistics and consequences.

4. It has been noted that, "the place of the Patriarchate of Moscow in the pentarchy of the ancient Patriarchates is very significant." It seems that some have still not realized that which is quite obvious, that is, that the Patriarchate of Moscow has never been a member of the pentarchy of the ancient Patriarchates. The pentarchy is comprised of Old Rome, New Rome (Constantinople) and the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Not only was Moscow never considered a member of the pentarchy, but also there are no ecclesiastical or canonical texts that designate Moscow as the replacement or substitute for Old Rome. This is made clear when we look at some of the central moments in church history: the schism with Old Rome occurred on 1054 during the reign of Michael Kerularios, while Russia was elevated to the status of a Patriarchate in 1589, under Patriarch Jeremiah II. If there was ever a pressing need to replace Old Rome this would have occurred immediately after the schism (1054), and not five centuries later, when Russia was elevated to a Patriarchate.

5. It is also noted "that after the fall of Rome, the Patriarchate of Moscow acquired a seat amongst the five most significant Churches, and extends its jurisdiction over a series of countries." At this point we must emphasize that the 28th Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council grants only to the Church of Constantinople the jurisdictional oversight of the "barbaric lands."

The extension of the Patriarch of Russia's jurisdiction across lands outside its ecclesiastical borders is uncanonical and a violation of Church order. This is the case when other Primates act similarly. Local Churches would have been able to extend into lands beyond their established ecclesiastical border if the canon referred to ethnicities ("barbarians") instead of geographical regions ("barabaric lands"). If this were the case we would have been able to say, for example, that the Romanian Patriarch is the spiritual leader of the Romanian people across the world, or that the Russian Patriarch is the leader of every Russian. However, the 28th Canon is unambiguous and mentions geographical jurisdictions and not ethnicities. Every Orthodox Church has a specific geographical border. Constantinople, however, maintains the license to extend throughout the Ecoumene, except, of course, into those areas under the canonical jurisdiction of other autocephalous or synodal Orthodox Churches.

The present ecclesiological circumstances are accepted through ekonomia. After all, it is not ideal to have five Archbishops of America, or to have multiple ecclesiastical jurisdictions in a single European country. We should not forget, however, that our compliance with the current state of affairs through ekonomia should not become an occasion for boastful arrogance and deviation from canonical tradition. Moreover, the uncanonical extension of a Church's jurisdiction should not be viewed as a strict execution of canon law, nor should it be perceived as an a priori right that every Primate enjoys because of their canonical jurisdiction over a specified ecclesiastical geographic region.

The thoughts that we have shared express a much deeper problem concerning what is often said about primacy in the Orthodox Church, about the idea of a "third Rome," about ecclesiastical rank, etc. These ideas would not be taken seriously had some random laymen or clergymen issued them. It is disturbing, however, when an official Church arbitrarily creates a committee (according to Fr. Maxim's comments) to evaluate matters that have already been resolved; to decide on those issues for which the Church has already decided. We would expect a Church such as Russia, which has undergone trials and tribulations, to have a completely different way of thinking. We would expect to see the Church of Russia rely more on faith than on logic, on miracles rather than facts and figures.

It is clear from the discussion that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will certainly not lose the position of primacy that it maintains; the ranking of the Orthodox Churches will not change; and the committee in question--or any other committee that is formed--will not institute rebellious changes in the Orthodox Church. We owe it to the faithful to always speak the truth so that they may hear a different perspective, and in order to avoid stirring false impressions in them. It is important not to forget that truth abides. The truth will release us from our parochial attitude and self-love; the truth will liberate us from spitefulness and our egos; the truth will allow us to move beyond feelings that instigate internal quarrels and erect narcissistic partitions. 'The truth shall set us free.' Irrespective of who we are, as members of the Church we have a constant and sacred duty to actively defend the truth.

The Primacy of Constantinople in Relation to Russia and Ukraine

Taras Antoshevskyi
September 16, 2009

Interview with Archimandrite Job (Getcha), Doctor of Theology, clergyman of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on the significance of the primacy of Constantinople, world inter-Orthodox relations, and the issue of Ukraine.

Archimandrite Job (Getcha) is a member of the Kyivan Religious-Philosophical Society, Society of Eastern Liturgy, Central Committee of the World Council of Churches and the Orthodox-Catholic Work Team of St. Irenaeus, a professor at the Catholic and Orthodox institutions. A year ago he was the only Ukrainian member of the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine. The Archimandrite is well acquainted with the relations between the world Orthodox centers, is familiar with the state of affairs of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, and supports it from the depth of his heart. Therefore, RISU editors approached him with a few urgent questions.

Recently, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) set up a special work team to study the issue of the “primacy” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Bishop Hilarion (Alfieiev), who initiated the establishment of the team and is its head, in an interview to a Greek news site made the following comment on the purpose of the committee:

“I see two goals for the group. The first is to develop the position of the Moscow Patriarchate regarding the primacy in the Orthodox Church both for the inter-Orthodox dialogue and for the dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics as this subject concerns both these dialogues. In the inter-Orthodox dialogue, it is necessary to develop a position on how we, the Orthodox, view this primacy. Is it a primacy of honor? Primacy of authority? And what are the conditions of these primacies?”

What, in your opinion, is behind this? And can the MP settle such issues on the internal level or should a joint decision of all the Orthodox be made on the global level?

The issue of primacy in the Orthodox Church is not a new issue. It was settled long ago by canonical tradition. As early as 381, the Second Ecumenical Council decreed in its second canon that the primacy among the five ancient patriarchates belongs to the Roman See and that Constantinople holds the second place. Later, Canons 9, 17, and 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451 granted the Constantinople Patriarchate special privileges, especially the practice of the right of appeal, about which the famous Russian Church historian A. Kartashov wrote an important article in 1936 (A.V. Kartashov, "The Practice of the Right of Appeal of the Constantinople Patriarchs", Warsaw, 1936).

Certainly, after the divide of the Western and Eastern Church, when the communication between the Roman See and other Eastern patriarchates was broken, Constantinople took the first place in the diptychs of the Orthodox Church according to the canonical tradition and there is no doubt about this. To deny the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate actually means to deny the canonical decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and Holy Scripture. If anyone denies that these decrees became “obsolete” and do not satisfy the “present circumstances” any more, one has to stress that no synod of an individual autocephalous Church is authorized to change them, and only an Ecumenical Council might review them if need be.

One should also specify how this primacy is viewed in the Orthodox Church. Some accuse the Constantinople Patriarchate of eastern papism. Therefore, it is necessary to see how this supremacy is exercised within the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is exercised in the spirit of Apostolic Canon 34, which envisages that bishops of each region should know who is first among them, recognize him as their head, and should not do anything special without his consent nor should the head do anything without the consent of the bishops. What does it mean? It means that the Ecumenical Patriarch is first of all the acting bishop of the Constantinople Eparchy. As the Patriarch he heads the Holy Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate. His place is the head in the Synod and not over the Synod. The patriarch cannot dictate any decree without the consent of other members of the Synod. Like other bishops, he cannot interfere in the matters of other eparchies and cannot even serve a service there without an invitation from the local bishop. Can you imagine: today, the Chalcedon Eparchy is a part of what is now Istanbul. Every time the Ecumenical Patriarch wants to serve a service there, he, as the acting bishop of the Constantinople Eparchy, asks for a blessing from the Chalcedon Metropolitan and can serve in the churches of the Chalcedon Eparchy only with his blessing! The same applies to any other eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. What has it to do with papism?

As for the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarch on the Pan-Orthodox level, they are also interpreted from the viewpoint of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the spirit of Apostolic Canon 34. That is, the patriarchs and heads of autocephalous Orthodox Churches should know who is first among them, recognize him as their head, and should not do anything special without his consent nor should the head do anything without their consent. The Ecumenical Patriarch has a right to accept letters of appeal and care for the unity of the Church by convening Pan-Orthodox meetings attended by heads of each patriarchate and autocephalous Church (or their representatives) but he cannot decide anything himself, without them, unilaterally. We see this practice was used in the latest meeting of heads in the Phanar in October of last year. And one cannot see here any “eastern papism.”

As for the dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox theologians always stress that the dogmatic and canonical provisions of the first millennium constitute the norm for us. Therefore, primacy is understood in the way we have described it for the Pan-Orthodox level. Metropolitan John of Pergamum recently stated that “if we find a concept of the universal primacy of the pope, which would not diminish the fullness of the nature of the local church, it would be acceptable for us.”

In the interview, Archbishop Hilarion ranks the Moscow Patriarchate among the ancient patriarchates even though the Moscow Church was established in the middle of the 15th century as the result of a schism with the Kievan Mother-Church and its patriarchate was recognized only in 1589-1593. Can it be considered ancient like the churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople? And what is your general evaluation of the interview?

According to the diptychs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, one should distinguish the “ancient” patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) from the “new” patriarchates (Moscow, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Georgian). Why? The reason is not political! The reason is that the statuses of the “ancient” patriarchates were defined by the Ecumenical Councils in the first millennium and, therefore, we believe that they obligate not only the Orthodox Church but also the Western Church since in the first millennium it was in full communication with the Eastern Church and participated in the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. The “new” patriarchates, on the other hand, arose during the second millennium and their statuses were recognized only on the Pan-Orthodox level by the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate but were never approved by an Ecumenical Council.

As for the interview of Bishop Hilarion, whom I respect as a friend and theologian, I can only say that, unfortunately, it shows more political subjectivity of a church official than scholarly objectivity of a theologian. For instance, the argument that autocephaly in Ukraine is impossible because Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus constitute one indivisible spiritual space is powerless if we take into account the history and modern system of the Orthodox Church. For instance, the present Greek state is divided between two church centers. Central Greece belongs to the Greek Autocephalous Church, whereas the northern territories, Athos, Dodecanese, and Crete fall within the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In addition, if one is to use the argument of the reverend bishop, then the autocephalies of the Polish Orthodox Church, and, perhaps, even, the Orthodox Church of the Slovakian and Czech lands as former parts of the Russian Orthodox Church would be impossible!

After the visit of Patriarch Kirill to Constantinople and the meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew in Moscow, they began to talk about a change of relations between the two Orthodox centers. Experts evaluated these negotiations as an attempt of Moscow to prevent intensification in Constantinople’s participation in Ukrainian church matters. Is it really so and what is the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s evaluation of this meeting and did the attitude to the Ukrainian issue change in the Phanar?

In my opinion, the main success of the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Ukraine last year was the resumption of the preparation of the Pan-Orthodox Council and the inclusion of the Ukrainian issue in its agenda. In fact, after a decade of tense relations, Patriarch Bartholomew and the late Patriarch Alexis reached an agreement on this and Patriarch Alexis himself took part in the meeting of the heads of the Orthodox Churches at the Phanar in October of last year. It was also attended by Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan), who officially addressed all the heads in writing with a request to jointly settle the Ukrainian issue on the all-Orthodox level. After this meeting, the preparation of the all-Orthodox council became more active. One meeting was already held in Chambesi last June. During Patriarch Kirill’s first visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate after he was elected Patriarch of Moscow, Patriarchs Bartholomew and Kirill had an opportunity to discuss what had been done and had still to be done prior to convening the Pan-Orthodox Council. Certainly, in view of this preparation process, the Ukrainian issue will not be settled soon but it is by no means forgotten. On the contrary! A lot has been achieved in the last year.

The hierarchical council of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) recently addressed Patriarch Bartholomew with a letter requesting His Holiness to actively engage in measures to heal the schism in Ukraine. In particular, the letter says: “We call the Ecumenical Council to develop and implement a complete theological-ecclesial program to establish in Ukraine the catholicity of the Church conscience.” What is your evaluation of this statement and what can the reaction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate be?

The statement of the UAOC calling the Ecumenical Patriarchate to promote the “establishment in Ukraine of the catholic church conscience” is an important step to settle the matter of division of the Orthodox Church. By this statement the UAOC actually rejected the principle of ethnophiletism which is the main cause of the division of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and seeks communication with the fullness of the Orthodox Church. Certainly, it would be even better and more effective if all the church structures, which are currently in communication with the fullness of the Orthodox Church, would unite and pass such a statement. I am sure that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will welcome such a statement but the process of further settling the Ukrainian issue is connected with the process of the preparation of the Pan-Orthodox Council, as mentioned earlier.

You are a member of various international ecumenical forums. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian side actually is not represented there as a subject of relations, in particular, no Ukrainian Orthodox church participates in them. What role, in your opinion, can Ukraine play in the world ecumenical process and what is required for that?

Of course, the participants of the official ecumenical forums are appointed by their Churches. Therefore, Orthodox participants are sent from each local Church. Since the only Orthodox Church in Ukraine that is in communion with the fullness of the Orthodox Church is part of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Moscow Patriarchate is mostly represented in the ecumenical forums by workers of the Department of External Church Relations in Moscow, Ukrainian participants rarely attend such forums. But they attend non-official forums. For instance, I, together with Archimandrite Kirill (Hovorun), am a member of a non-official group of the dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics of St. Irenaeus.

The participation of Ukrainians in the ecumenical dialogue is very important, especially, with respect to the dialogue of the Orthodox with Roman Catholics, as they are directly connected with the question of “Uniatism.” In order for the Orthodox Ukrainians to be able to take a more active part in the ecumenical forums, the unity of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is necessary. And the present process of preparation of the all-Orthodox council is very important for that.

Various Views on Fasting

Fasting is a Form of Worship

The Vancouver Sun
September 26, 2009

In today's world, fasting and cleansing have become more palatable rebrandings of the increasingly dated concept of dieting.

It has become easier to tell people you're cleansing or fasting when turning down a buttery canape or refusing a glass of wine than to say you're on a diet.

But among the world's various religions, the concept of fasting is as established as prayer and worship. It is an exercise of devotion and faith that, in some cases, includes goals of heightened clarity and increasing closeness to a higher power.

"Fasting, because it is a discipline of one of most fundamental physical activities, strikes hard at our 'fleshliness,' our preoccupation with the body at the expense of the soul," says John Stackhouse, an Evangelical theologian at Regent College in Vancouver.

"People around the globe report that, once they get through each recurring period of hunger that does preoccupy the mind, they feel more intellectually and spiritually alert and focused."

The degree to which one is required to fast depends on the religion. Catholics, for instance, fast one day at a time and don't necessarily abstain from all food and drink during the fast.

Jews traditionally fast for 25 hours during Yom Kippur, which is this Monday, and spend most of the day in synagogue services. Muslims spend a full month fasting during daylight hours in recognition of Ramadan.

Itrath Syed is a Muslim who spent most of September and the latter part of August abstaining from food and water during daylight hours in recognition of Ramadan.

Each night, Syed would break the fast at sundown with friends and family. And each morning, she would start the fast again at sunrise, "trusting God to get [her] through the day."

Syed notes that Ramadan is not just about abstinence, but is a time to revisit one's relationship with God and re-examine one's priorities.

"It's a chance to be more conscious and have more clarity," she says. "You can use that time to refocus your energy. For me, there's a lot of busyness in my life, so fasting is a way to see the things you really believe are your actual priorities.

"But that is something you have to work at. It doesn't just come with being hungry."

Even for those who do not follow a specific religion, fasting is viewed as a way to centre oneself and calm the mind -- not to mention losing a few pounds or "detoxifying" the body.

Ashley McIntosh is a Vancouver-based life coach and nutritionist who believes fasting has health benefits for some people, but not all.

"Some people are more prone to excess than others," she says.

"That type of person would benefit from cleansing and fasting because they're strong enough to handle it."

But people who have ever experienced an eating disorder, or are already careful about what they eat, or generally feel nutritionally deficient should not attempt a fast or a cleanse. Cleansing is generally considered a diet that allows a spectrum of healthy, whole foods, but restricts processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and often dairy and meat.

McIntosh says both fasts and cleanses are best accompanied by a mental shift that includes greater introspection -- perhaps writing in a journal -- and a general slowdown in activity.

"It's a good way to kick-start a life change," she says. "You don't have as much energy to do physical things, so it's a good time to look inwards."

But whether you're fasting for spiritual or health reasons, Dr. Laird Birmingham recommends consulting first with a physician, particularly if you have any concerns.

Birmingham, who is a psychiatry professor at the University of B.C. and medical director of the Beau Cote Residential Treatment Centre for Eating Disorders on Bowen Island, says there are dangers to fasting that can lead to impaired brain function, and compromised function of the liver, kidneys and heart.

If someone is fasting for a prolonged period of time, Birmingham says some of the most serious risks occur when he or she finally eats again.

"The worst time might be when they're re-fed.

"Prisoners of war in the Second World War and other wars, they usually die when they are re-fed. Because their metabolic rate goes down, it develops these deficiencies, but then all of a sudden they're given food afterwards, which turns the system on and makes it use a whole bunch of stuff which they don't have."

With the exception of Jain monks -- who Stackhouse says practise holy fasting to an extreme degree that leads the most devout among them to finally starve to death -- most people who practise religious fasting do not abstain to a dangerous degree. What is expected of religious followers in terms of fasting can straddle a fine line between being simply uncomfortable and unreasonable.

Ara Norenzayan, who teaches social psychology at UBC, says fasting is common among so many religions in part because it is one way to "weed out fakers."

Norenzayan examines evolutionary explanations for religion and says that although religious groups often require members to do "costly things" to prove their devotion, the group leaders have to make sure those costly actions aren't too difficult or physically taxing, or they run the risk of losing followers.

But if the required behaviour isn't challenging enough, non-believers can easily latch onto a group to receive its benefits.

"Anyone can profess to believe," Norenzayan says.

"Fasting works quite well because it's a difficult, costly thing to do and not anyone who's just passing through the group would do it. Only dedicated members would do it. It's a commitment device."

Certainly, whether you're fasting to demonstrate your devotion to a religion, fasting with hopes of gaining mental clarity, or even fasting with a goal of better health, commitment is a key ingredient to success.

New Tunnel in Istanbul Unearths 1,000 year-old Byzantine Ships

Posted by Xeno on September 27, 2009

It’s a common sight in the traffic-clogged streets of Istanbul, a city that straddles two continents.

The “radical system” city planners embarked on five years ago involved construction of a new subway tunnel beneath the Bosphorus Strait, the spectacular body of water that cuts this city in two. By the year 2025, engineers predict more than one million people a day will use the tunnel to travel between Istanbul’s Asian and European shores.”We will connect two continents, Asia and Europe,” said Nusret Ilbay, one of the many engineers working on the $3 billion Marmaray Tunnel Project. He was standing on scaffolding, overlooking a gaping 30-meter deep hole that will one day be a subway station on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. A concrete wall is all that holds back a churning river of sea water.

Watch Report From CNN On The Building of the Tunnel

“As you can see, some leakage on the wall face has been observed,” Ilbay explained on a tour of the construction site. “In order to overcome these leakages, we have applied chemical grouting.”

Legend has it, thousands of years ago Jason and the Argonauts narrowly escaped death sailing up the Bosphorus in search of the mythological Golden Fleece.

Today, engineers face equally daunting challenges building a tunnel beneath one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, at depths of up to 55 meters, in an active earthquake zone.

First they dredged a trench on the bottom of the Bosphorus. Then, using divers and undersea cameras, they submerged and buried 11 massive pre-fabricated tunnel segments, almost all of them longer than a football field.

To enter the unfinished tunnel, visitors must climb down a steep staircase in a construction tower surrounded by water in the middle of the strait. During the descent, the temperature plummets and humidity rises.

Construction workers toil here in the gloom of this 1.4 kilometer long tube on the bottom of the sea, their welding torches spraying showers of sparks in the darkness.

One worker claimed that during the lunch break, when the machinery came to a stop, he could hear the sound of oil tanker and cargo ships’ engines as they motored past in the waters overhead.

As a precaution in the event of a catastrophic flood in the tunnel, engineers constructed an emergency bunker on the bottom of the sea. Stocked with food and water and equipped with a heavy water-proof door, the “emergency room” is supposed to protect survivors for up to 10 days, until they can be rescued.

But, in their rush to modernize Istanbul’s transport system, city planners ran into an unforeseen obstacle: history.

In Yenikapi, a neighborhood of textile factories and seedy hotels where one of the main transit stations for Istanbul’s new subway and commuter rail system was to be built, archaeologists discovered the lost Byzantine port of Theodosius.

It was originally built at the end of the 4th century AD by Emperor Theodosius I when Istanbul — then known as Constantinople — was the capital of the eastern Roman Empire. The port’s harbor silted over centuries ago, and eventually disappeared beneath subsequent layers of civilization. Until its rediscovery in 2004, archaeologists said they only knew about the port from ancient books.

“This was a big moment of joy and happiness for us, an unexplainable feeling,” recalls Professor Zeynep Kiziltan, the acting director of Istanbul’s Archaeology Museum

“At around one meter below sea level, we started finding the remains of ropes. As we continued [digging] a bit more, the remains of a boat surfaced.”

Since that discovery, armies of hundreds of laborers and archaeologists have been working in a giant pit, three shifts a day, seven days a week. The scale of the excavation is unusual in modern-day archaeology, says Cemal Pulak, an anthropologist from Texas A&M University’s nautical archaeology program.

“Its mind-boggling … it really looks like an Indiana Jones-type operation,” says Pulak, who has worked as a consultant on the excavation of the lost port.

The Yenikapi dig has uncovered an ancient armada: 34 Byzantine ships ranging from dating between the 7th and 11th centuries AD. In one tent, two workers carefully uncover the ancient wooden beams of a 40-meter long merchant vessel. A third man preserves the wood by keeping it moist, sprinkling the relics with water from a hose.

Plans to travel beneath the Bosphorus have been delayed at least four years by the excavation of the Theodosious Port. The postponement has added untold millions of dollars have also been added to the cost of the entire project.

In the rush to move forward, the residents of Istanbul have accidentally uncovered a valuable piece of their city’s ancient past.

September 26, 2009

More on the Relationship Between Elder Paisios and Saint Euphemia

On September 16th I posted on the fascinating relationship between Elder Paisios and Saint Euphemia. Since then I have acquired more details on this relationship and further evidence of the great love Elder Paisios came to have for this Great Martyr of the Church.

The Elder (Paisios) was in the front yard of his hut when he was visited by one of his spiritual children. He was repeating, from the heart, "Glory to You, O God", over and over again.

"Can someone be rendered useless - in a good sense?" the Elder suddenly asked him.

"Who would that be, Elder?"

"Well, I was sitting in my cell quietly, then she came here and drove me crazy with excitement. They are having such a good time 'up there'."

"What's troubling you, Elder?"

"I will tell you, but don't you tell anyone."

He went on to narrate the following:

"I had just returned from the world, to deal with an ecclesiastical matter (he had a meeting with the late Mayor of Athens, Mr.Tritsis). It was Tuesday, around ten in the morning, and I was in my cell reciting the Hours. I hear a knock on my door, and a woman's voice saying:

'Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers' (the traditional monastic manner of requesting permission to enter another's quarters).

I thought to myself: 'How did a woman come to be on the Holy Mountain?' And yet, I could feel a divine sweetness flow through me, so I asked: 'Who is it?'

'Euphemia', replied the voice.

I thought to myself: 'Who is this Euphemia? Could it be a woman who did something foolish and came to the Mountain wearing men's clothes? What am I supposed to do now?' A second knock was heard. I asked again: 'Who is it?'

'Euphemia', replied the voice again.

I thought it over and decided to not open the door. At the third knock, the door opened on its own, even though it was bolted from the inside. I heard footsteps outside, in the corridor. I dashed out of my cell and saw a woman who was wearing a head veil. She was accompanied by someone who resembled Luke the Evangelist, but he vanished. Despite my certainty that this was not a sinister phenomenon because the woman's presence glowed with a radiant light, I asked her who she was.

'The martyr Euphemia',* she replied.

'If you are indeed the martyr Euphemia, come with me, and let us prostrate ourselves before the Holy Trinity. Whatever I do, you must do.'

I went into the chapel, prostrating myself and saying 'In the name of the Father...' She repeated it, also prostrating herself.

'And of the Son...'

'And of the Son...', she repeated in a soft voice.

'Louder, so I can hear you', I said to her, and she repeated it, in a louder voice.

While still in the corridor, her prostrations were not in the direction of the chapel, but towards my cell. At first I was puzzled, but then I remembered I had a tiny paper icon of the Holy Trinity pasted onto a piece of wood, which was hanging above the door of my Cell. After our third prostration, saying, 'And of the Holy Spirit,' I said to her:

'Now, let me prostrate myself before you.' I prostrated myself and kissed her feet and then the tip of her nose. I thought it too impertinent to kiss her face.

The Saint sat down on a stool and I sat myself down on the small chest, and she proceeded to give me the solution to my concern (regarding the ecclesiastical matter).

Then she told me about her life. I knew that a Saint Euphemia existed, but I didn't know anything about her life. When she described her martyrdoms, I didn't only hear them being described; it was as though I could actually see them and feel them. I shuddered...oh my God!!

'How did you survive such tortures?' I asked.

'If I had known what kind of glory the Saints have, I would have done whatever I could to undergo much worse tortures.'

Well, after that occurrence, I was unable to do anything for three whole days. I was beside myself with elation and was constantly praising God. I didn't want to eat, I didn't want anything. I was constantly glorifying!

Elder Paisios in his cell with the icon he commissioned of St. Euphemia hanging on the wall beside him.

In one of his letters the Elder had mentioned:

"In all my life, I will never be able to repay my huge obligation to Saint Euphemia, who, although entirely unknown to me, and without being obliged to, bestowed on me such a great honour...."

When describing the incident, he added very humbly that Saint Euphemia appeared before him, "not because I was deserving, but only because I was preoccupied at the time with an issue that had to do with the state of the Church in general, and for two other reasons."

What had especially impressed the Elder was "how that petite, frail person could last through such tortures.... If she were more of a...(implying a woman of a bigger and stronger physique), but she was so tiny...."

While in that paradisiacal state, the Elder composed a Canon in honor of the Saint:

"With what complimentary songs can we praise Euphemia, who condescended from above and visited a wretched resident monk in Kapsala? On knocking the third time, the door opened miraculously and she, the Martyr of Christ, entered with heavenly glory, and we worshipped together the Holy Trinity."

He also composed a closing hymn, which began with the words:

"Glorious Great Martyr of Christ, Euphemia, I love you very very much, after the Most Holy Mother...."

(Of course he did not intend these compositions for liturgical use, nor did he chant them in public.)

Contrary to his custom, the Elder left (Kapsala) for the town of Souroti and made the sisters of the monastery there participants of that celestial joy. With his help and his instructions, they painted an icon of the Saint exactly as she had appeared before him (depicted above).

The Elder himself had fashioned a negative of the Saint's icon onto a metal mold, which he used to print small, stamped icons that he distributed as blessings to visitors, in honor of Saint Euphemia. While sculpting the mold of the icon, he had trouble fashioning the fingers of her left hand. He said: "I struggled to fashion her hand, but then I put forward a positive thought to explain it: 'Perhaps it is because I had also oppressed the poor girl...."


* During the Fourth Holy and Ecumenical Synod, which was convened in Chalcedon by the pious emperors Marcian and Pulcheria in the grand basilica of Saint Euphemia, the 630 Fathers undertook the retraction of the heretical views of Archimandrite Eutychius, who was supported by Archbishop Dioscorus of Alexandria. To resolve the dispute through a divine decision, the Patriarch - Saint Anatolius - proposed to both sides to compose a tome containing their respective Confession of Faith, and both documents would then be placed inside the reliquary of Saint Euphemia. The two parchments, on which were inscribed the definitions of the Faith with regard to the Person of Christ, were placed on the Saint's chest and after the reliquary was sealed shut, the Fathers began to pray. After eight days, they all went to the witnessing place, where, upon opening the reliquary, they discovered to their amazement that the Saint was hugging the Orthodox tome in her arms, as though she wanted to place it inside her heart, whereas the tome of the heretics appeared to have been thrown down to her feet. In the face of such a splendid proof of the truth, the Orthodox offered up thanks to God, and the heretics were scorned and jeered by the crowd of faithful.

Other miracles have been mentioned, which the precious relics of Saint Euphemia have performed. During a Persian invasion, the barbarians stormed Chalcedon and attempted to destroy her relics with fire. However, they remained intact and furthermore, blood was seen pouring out of the hole that was made to open the reliquary. This miracle repeated itself occasionally at later times and would heal the faithful who came to collect some of the blood of Saint Euphemia. However, her tomb would more frequently exude a fragrant aroma, thus witnessing the favor that God had bestowed on the Saint.

To protect them from another vandalization, the precious relics were translated to Constantinople where they were deposited in the Church of Saint Euphemia, near the Hippodrome. During the years of Iconoclastic persecutions by Constantine V Kopronymos, her temple was turned into an arsenal, while her precious relics were thrown into the sea and were washed ashore on the coast of Limnos Island, where they were salvaged by two fishermen. They were rediscovered during the reign of the Empress Irene and were transferred officially to the Capital (Constantinople) in 796, where they continued to work miracles. After many other adventures, the relics are now venerated in the Church of Saint George at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Phanar.

From The New Book of Saints of the Orthodox Church (July Volume), Indictus Publications, p. 112.

The Repose of St. John the Theologian According to His Disciple Prochorus

The Translation of St. John the Theologian (Feast Day - September 26)

The Latter Years of the Apostle John

(According to the Synaxarion)

The last years of his life, the holy Apostle John spent in strict asceticism. He ate only bread and water, did not cut his hair, and dressed in simple linen garments. Because of his old age, he did not have the strength to preach the word of God even in the environs of Ephesus. At that time he taught only the bishops of the Church and inspired them to teach the people the Gospel unceasingly, and especially to keep in mind and to preach the first and principal commandment of the Gospel: the commandment of love.

When the holy apostle became very weak, the blessed Jerome relates, his disciples carried him to the church, but he was no longer able to give long sermons. He then reduced his teaching to the unceasing repetition of "Little children, love one another." One day when his disciples asked him why he repeated this to them incessantly, John replied with the following words: "This is the Lord's commandment; and if ye keep it, it is enough."

The Repose of St. John the Theologian

(According to the testimony of St. Prochorus, his disciple and one of the original seven deacons of the Church)1

In our first visit to Ephesus, we were there for nine years, and then spent fifteen years of exile in Patmos. After twenty-six years had passed from the time we came from Patmos to Ephesus again, John came out of the house of Domnus and assembled seven of his disciples - myself and six others - and said to us: "Take spades in your hands and follow me."

So we did as we were instructed and followed him outside the city to a certain place, where he said: "Sit down." He then went a little apart from us to where it was quiet and began to pray. It was very early in the morning; the sun had not quite risen. After his prayer he said to us: "Dig with your spade a cross-shaped trench as long as I am tall." So we did it while he prayed. After he had finished his prayer, he laid himself in the trench we had dug, and then said to me: "Prochorus my son, you will go to Jerusalem. That is where you must end your life." He then gave us instructions and embraced us, saying: "Take some earth, my mother earth, and cover me." So we embraced again, and taking some earth, covered him only up to his knees. Once more, he embraced us, saying: "Take some more earth and cover me to the neck." So we embraced him again and took some more earth and covered him up to the neck. Then he said to us: "Bring a thin veil and place it on my face, and embrace me again for the last time, for you shall not see me anymore in this life." So we embraced the apostle again, grief-stricken. As he was sending us off in peace, we, lamenting bitterly, embraced his whole body. The sun rose just then, and he surrendered his spirit.2

We then returned to the city and were asked: "Where is our teacher?" So we explained what had just occurred in great detail. They begged us that we show them the site. Therefore, we went back to the grave with the brethren, but John was not there. Only his shoes were left behind. Then we remembered the words of the Lord to the Apostle Peter: "If I will that he tarry until I come, what is that to you?" And we all glorified God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to Whom is due glory, honor, and worship, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

It should be noted, that according to Holy Tradition, the reason we have no physical remains but rather an empty tomb of the Apostle John is because when the disciples returned to his tomb, it was found empty. It is assumed that he was raised, just like the Lord and the Theotokos. This is what we call "Metastasis" (Translocation or Transposition), and it is what we celebrate on September 26th.


1. Taken from The Lives of the Holy Apostles by Holy Apostle Convent (pp. 149-152).

2. This last sentence is not recorded in the original, but incorporated into the text by Maximus of Margounio. Furthermore, according to St. Jerome, the Apostle John reposed in the third year of the reign of Trajan, that is 101 AD. This is sixty-eight years after the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. This is confirmed by Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and other Holy Fathers of the Church. It is believed he was about 6-8 years younger than the Lord, which made him 93 or 95 years of age upon his repose.

Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Beloved Apostle of Christ our God, hasten to deliver a people without defense. He who permitted you to recline upon His bosom, accepts you on bended knee before Him. Beseech Him, O Theologian, to dispel the persistent cloud of nations, asking for us peace and great mercy.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Who can tell thy mighty works, O virgin Saint? For thou pourest forth miracles, and art a source of healings, and thou dost intercede for our souls, as the Theologian and the friend of Christ.

The Ikos
To learn wholly the high secrets of heaven, to investigate the depths of the sea is rash and beyond comprehension; as therefore it is wholly impossible to number all the stars and the sand on the sea shore, so it is to tell the graces of the Theologian, with so many crowns Christ has garlanded the one he loved; the one who leant on his breast and feasted with him at the mystical supper, as Theologian and friend of Christ.