January 31, 2010

Holy New Martyr Elias Ardounis of Kalamata (+ 1686)

St. Elias Ardounis the Neomartyr (Feast Day - January 31 and Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers)


A fire inflames you Elias the crown-bearer,
Having as a garment the fire of love for God.

Saint Elias was a barber in the town of Kalamata in Peloponnesos and much respected for his shrewd good sense and experience in political affairs by the Turkish officials of the place. One day, when the latter had come to see him, Elias urged them to do all they could to reduce the burden of taxation on Christians which the Turks had imposed on them, or many would be led to deny their Christian faith and become Muslim merely to be relieved financially. The discussion grew heated and Elias was carried away to the extent of declaring, almost jokingly, that he himself was inclined to deny his faith in return for a fez. One of the Turks took him at his word and handed him the headgear, whereupon poor, benighted Elias adhered to Islam in the presence of the judge and to the sorrow of the local Christians.

Not long after, he was moved to repentance when he realized the gravity of what he had done, and traveled to Mount Athos. There he found a spiritual father and confessed with many tears his apostasy and once again acknowledged Orthodoxy; he was also chrismated and received the Body and Blood of Christ. Elias eventually became a monk on Mount Athos, where he led a virtuous life for eight years. However, as he could not attain peace of conscience, he received the blessing of his spiritual father to offer himself for martyrdom.

Elias returned to Kalamata, and made his presence known by walking around the bazaars of the Turks. When he was called Moustafa and questioned why he was gone for so long, he responded he was no longer Moustafa but an Orthodox Christian. With this he began to ridicule Islam and confess Christ as the true God. They in turn struck and pushed at him, and dragged him to the judge. Presented before the judge, Elias confessed Christ in like manner. For this he was imprisoned and shackled in chains for many days. After the second session of questioning, the judge saw his steadfastness of faith, so he was condemned to be burned to death in a slow fire. On his way to the flames a Turk slashed his back with the sword, but he gained greater courage for the trial and proceeded along joyfully singing the Psalms of David. But when he was thrown into the pile of green wood, he was suffocated almost immediately and his hair, beard and monastic cassock were left miraculously untouched by the flames. This occurred on January 31, 1686. That night a heavenly light appeared over his body, of which it was said by the Christians that since the earthly fire could not burn him that God sent His heavenly light to do the job.

The local Christians ransomed his body with money and buried him with great devotion, and as they were in procession the entire area was filled with a beautiful aroma coming from his relics. A church was later built over his tomb. His holy skull is in the Holy Monastery of Voulkanou in Messinia and is processed on the Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers, which is the day of his feast (February 2 is also a major feast in Kalamata because of the Cathedral of the Presentation of Christ). He was also martyred next to the Church of the Holy Forty Martyrs, which was built by the Christians in honor of the Saint, but was named after the Holy Forty Martyrs for fear of the Turks; after the Turkish occupation it was named in honor of Saint Elias.

At Kalamata, the mother of a certain teacher, named Dionysios Podaros, who recorded his martyrdom, took a portion of the Saint's relics and kept it in her home. There, one night, she saw a great light which shone to the glory of the Martyr and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
Divine offspring and ornament of Kalamata, Venerable Martyr Elias worthy of wonder, you truly showed yourself to be in the might of judgment, which you exercised in a sacred manner, and contested bravely, on behalf of Christ the Savior; entreat Him without ceasing, to have mercy on our souls.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
In asceticism beforehand, you appeared prominent in your love for God, in your contest afterwords, you struggled on behalf of Christ; you wrestled against all the errors of the enemy, and you bore, the burning of fire bravely-minded, and you were glorified by God, glorious Venerable Elias.

Rejoice, new star of the Church, godly-minded Elias, beauty of Kalamata; rejoice, the source of divine streams of miracles, to those who honor you, by your revered skull.

Voulkanou Monastery

The Prodigal Son Interpreted Hesychastically

by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos

Regarding the meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, St. Gregory Palamas interprets the parable hesychastically. St. Luke the Evangelist presents Christ's parable, in which we read: "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living" (Lk. 15, 13). St. Gregory does not analyze the parable in terms of morals, but theologically. He sets forth its true dimensions. Having the mind of Christ, experiencing the mystery of the spirit, he grasps its true meaning. Belonging organically, as he does, to the Orthodox Tradition, he realizes that the Fall of man, the so-called Ancestral Sin, is in reality a darkening, obscuring and deadening of the nous, whereas the resurrection of man is the vitalization of the dead nous. It is in this light that he also interprets the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

The nous is man's real wealth. "Above all else the nous is our innate essence and wealth". As long as we remain on the ways of salvation "we have our nous gathered in itself and in the first and highest nous, God". Our salvation is that we have our nous in God. But when we open a door to the passions, then our nous "is immediately scattered, wandering all the time around things that are carnal and worldly, around the manifold pleasures and passionate thoughts about them". Then a man's nous becomes prodigal, and in general he is called prodigal. The wealth of the nous is prudence, and it distinguishes good from evil as long as we continue to keep Christ's commandments. But when the nous withdraws from God, then prudence too is scattered into prostitution and imprudence.

Man's soul has not only a rational aspect but also appetitive and incensive aspects. In its natural condition man's nous "directs desire towards the one and truly existing God, the only Good One, the only Judge, the only one who provides pleasure unmixed with any pain." But when the nous is in the unnatural state, when it departs from God and is darkened, then desire is dispersed into many self-indulgent appetites: "Drawn on the one hand towards a desire for foods that are not needed, secondly towards the desire for unnecessary things, and thirdly towards the desire for vain and inglorious glory". This comes about through desire. But when the nous is being deadened, the incensive power too is similarly taken captive. When the nous is in its natural state, when, that is to say, it is united with God, then it rouses the incensive power only against the devil and utilises the soul's courage against the devil and the passions. But when it disregards the divine commandments, then "one fights against one's neighbour, rages against those of the same race, is infuriated with those who do not assent to one's irrational appetites, and alas, one becomes a homicidal man...".

From the book titled St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, Ch. 3.

Triodion: Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The Sunday of the Prodigal Son is the second Sunday of a three-week period prior to the commencement of Great Lent. On the previous Sunday, the services of the Church began to include hymns from the Triodion, a liturgical book that contains the services from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the tenth before Pascha (Easter), through Great and Holy Saturday. As with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the theme of this Sunday is repentance, and the focus on the parable of the Prodigal Son leads Orthodox Christians to contemplate the necessity of repentance in our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Kontakion in Tone Three
When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, 'I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants'.

Doxastikon in Tone Six
Loving Father, I have gone far from you, but do not forsake me, nor declare me unfitted for your Kingdom. The all-evil enemy has stripped me naked and taken all my wealth. I have squandered like the Profligate the graces given to my soul. But now I have arisen and returned, and I cry aloud to you, ‘Make me as one of your hired servants, You who for my sake stretched out Your spotless hands on the Cross, to snatch me from the fearsome beast and to clothe me once again in the first robe, for You alone art full of mercy'.


See also this article titled "The Brother of the Prodigal Son".

Homily on the Prodigal Son (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

(Homilies on Luke, Sermon 107)

I Hear one of the holy prophets trying to win unto repentance those who are far from God, and saying, "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God: for you have become weak in your iniquity. Take with you words, and return to the Lord our God." What sort of words then did he, under the influence of the Spirit, command them to take with them? Or were they not such as become those who wish to repent; such namely, as would appease God, Who is gentle, and loves mercy. For He even said by one of the holy prophets, "Return you returning children, and I will heal your breaches." And yet again by the voice of Ezekiel, "Return you altogether from your wickednesses, O house of Israel. Cast away from you all your iniquities which you have committed, that they be not to you for a punishment of iniquity. For I have no pleasure in the death of the sinner, as that he should turn from his evil way and live." And the same truth Christ here also teaches us, by this most beautifully composed parable, which I will now to the best of my ability endeavor to discuss, briefly gathering up its broad statements, and explaining and defending the ideas which it contains.

It is the opinion then of some, that by the two sons are signified the holy angels, and we the dwellers upon earth: and that the elder one, who lived soberly, represents the company of the holy angels, while the younger and profligate son is the human race. And there are some among us who give it a different explanation, arguing that by the elder and well conducted son is signified Israel after the flesh: while by the other, whose choice it was to live in the lust of pleasures, and who removed far from his father, is depicted the company of the Gentiles. With these explanations I do not agree: but I would have him who loves instruction, search after that which is true and unobjectionable. What then I say is as follows, "giving occasions to the wise, and to the just offering knowledge," as Scripture commands: for they will examine for a fitting meaning the explanations proposed to them. If then we refer the upright son to the person of the holy angels, we do not find him speaking such words as become them, nor sharing their feelings towards repentant sinners, who turn from an impure life to that conduct which is worthy of admiration. For the Saviour of all and Lord says, that "there is joy in heaven before the holy angels over one sinner that repents." But the son, who is described to us in the present parable as being acceptable unto his father, and leading a blameless life, is represented as being angry, and as even having proceeded so far in his unloving sentiments as to find fault with his father for his natural affection for him who was saved. "For he would not, it says, go into the house," being vexed at the reception of the penitent almost before he had come to his senses, and because there had even been slain the calf in his honour, and his father had made for him a feast. But this, as I said, is at variance with the feelings of the holy angels: for they rejoice and praise God when they see the inhabitants of the earth being saved. For so when the Son submitted to be born in the flesh of a woman at Bethlehem, they carried the joyful news to the shepherds, saying, "Fear you not: for behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people, that there is born to you today in the city of David a Saviour Who is Christ the Lord." And crowning with lauds and praises Him Who was born, they said, "Glory to God in the highest, and upon earth peace, and among men good will."

But if any one say, that Israel according to the flesh is meant by the virtuous and sober son, we are again prevented from assenting to this opinion by the fact, that in no way whatsoever is it fitting to say of Israel that he chose a blameless life. For throughout the whole of the inspired Scripture, so to say, we may see them accused of being rebels and disobedient. For they were told by the voice of Jeremiah, "What fault have your fathers found in Me, that they have wandered far from Me, and have gone after vanities, and become vain?" And in similar terms God somewhere spoke by the voice of Isaiah, "This people draws near unto Me; with their lips they honour Me, but their heart is very far from Me: but in vain do they fear Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." And how then can any one apply to those who are thus blamed the words used in the parable of the virtuous and sober son? For he said, "Lo! all these years do I serve you, and never have I transgressed your commandment." But they would not have been blamed for their mode of life, had it not been that transgressing the divine commandments, they betook themselves to a careless and polluted mode of life.

And yet again,for I think it right to mention this also, some would refer to the person of our Saviour that fatted calf which the father killed when his son was called unto conversion. But how then could the virtuous son, who is described as wise and prudent, and constant in his duty, and whom some even refer to the person of the holy angels, treat it as a reason for anger and vexation that the calf was slain? For one can find no proof of the powers above being grieved when Christ endured death in the flesh, and, so to speak, was slain in our behalf. Rather they rejoiced, as I said, in seeing the world saved by His holy blood. And what reason too had the virtuous son for saying "you never gave me a kid." For what blessing is wanting to the holy angels, inasmuch as the Lord of all has bestowed upon them with bounteous hand a plentiful supply of spiritual gifts? Or of what sacrifice stood they in need as regards their own state? For there was no necessity for the Emmanuel to suffer also in their behalf. But if any one imagine, as I have already said before, that the carnal Israel is meant by the virtuous and sober son, how can he say with truth "you never gave me a kid?" For whether we call it calf or kid, Christ is to be understood as the sacrifice offered for sin. But He was sacrificed, not for the Gentiles only, but that He might also redeem Israel, who by reason of his frequent transgression of the law had brought upon himself great blame. And the wise Paul bears witness to this, saying, "For this reason Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people by His blood, suffered outside the gate."

What then is the object of the parable? Let us examine the occasion which led to it; for so we shall learn the truth. The blessed Luke therefore had himself said a little before of Christ the Saviour of us all, "And all the publicans and sinners drew near unto Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured saying, This man receives sinners and eats " with them." As therefore the Pharisees and Scribes made this outcry at His gentleness and love to man, and wickedly and impiously blamed Him for receiving and teaching men whose lives were impure, Christ very necessarily set before them the present parable, to show them clearly this very thing, that the God of all requires even him who is thoroughly steadfast, and firm, and who knows how to live holily, and has attained to the highest praise for sobriety of conduct, to be earnest in following His will, so that when any are called unto repentance, even if they be men highly blameable, he must rejoice rather, and not give way to an unloving vexation on their account.

For we also sometimes experience something of this sort. For some there are who live a perfectly honourable and consistent life, practising every kind of virtuous action, and abstaining from every thing disapproved by the law of God, and crowning themselves with perfect praises in the sight of God and of men: while another is perhaps weak and trodden down, and humbled unto every kind of wickedness, guilty of base deeds, loving impurity, given to covetousness, and stained with all evil. And yet such a one often in old age turns unto God, and asks the forgiveness of his former offences: he prays for mercy, and putting away from him his readiness to fall into sin, sets his affection on virtuous deeds. Or even perhaps when about to close his mortal life, he is admitted to divine baptism, and puts away his offences, God being merciful unto him. And perhaps sometimes persons are indignant at this, and even say, 'This man, who has been guilty of such and such actions, and has spoken such and such words, has not paid unto the judge the retribution of his conduct, but has been counted worthy of a grace thus noble and admirable: he has been inscribed among the sons of God, and honoured with the glory of the saints.' Such complaints men sometimes give utterance too from an empty narrowness of mind, not conforming to the purpose of the universal Father. For He greatly rejoices when He sees those who were lost obtaining salvation, and raises them up again to that which they were in the beginning, giving them the dress of freedom, and adorning them with the chief robe, and putting a ring upon their hand, even the orderly behaviour which is pleasing to God and suitable to the free.

It is our duty, therefore, to conform ourselves to that which God wills: for He heals those who are sick; He raises those who are fallen; He gives a helping hand to those who have stumbled; He brings back him who has wandered; He forms anew unto a praiseworthy and blameless life those who were wallowing in the mire of sin; He seeks those who were lost; He raises as from the dead those who had suffered the spiritual death. Let us also rejoice: let us, in company with the holy angels, praise Him as being good, and loving unto men; as gentle, and not remembering evil. For if such is our state of mind, Christ will receive us, by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.

What It Takes To Be Saved

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Although the Holy Fathers praised monasticism as the angelic state, and although many of the greatest saints lived their lives and attained perfection in the deaf and lifeless desert, nevertheless, the Orthodox Church does not recommend tonsuring to all the faithful. "Neither all those in the desert were saved nor all those in the world were lost," said one saint. To a city dweller who, with no inclination for monasticism, desired to enter the monastery, St. Niphon said: "My child, a place neither saves nor destroys a man, but deeds save or destroy. For him who does not fulfill all the commandments of the Lord, there is no benefit from a sacred place or from a sacred rank. King Saul lived in the midst of royal luxury and he perished. King David lived in the same kind of luxury and he received a wreath. Lot lived among the lawless Sodomites and he was saved. Judas was numbered among the apostles and he went to Hades. Whoever says that it is impossible to be saved with a wife and children deceives himself. Abraham had a wife and children, three-hundred-eighteen servants and handmaidens, much gold and silver but, nevertheless, he was called the Friend of God. Oh, how many servants of the Church and lovers of the desert have been saved! How many aristocrats and soldiers! How many artesians and field-workers! Be pious and be a lover of men and you will be saved!"

By the Waters of Babylon: The Great Fast, Our Exile

By Fr.Seraphim Rose
March 1965

This weekend, at the Sunday Vigil of the Prodigal Son, we will sing Psalm 135.[1]

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion".

In these words of the Lenten Psalm, we Orthodox Christians, the New Israel, remember that we are in exile. For Orthodox Russians, banished from Holy Russia,[2] the Psalm has a special meaning; but all Orthodox Christians, too, live in exile in this world, longing to return to our true home, Heaven.

For us the Great Fast is a session of exile ordained for us by our Mother, the Church, to keep fresh in us the memory of Zion from which we have wandered so far. We have deserved our exile and we have great need of it because of our great sinfulness. Only through the chastisement of exile, which we remember in the fasting, prayer and repentance of this season.

Do we remain mindful of our Zion?

"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem..."

Weak and forgetful, even in the midst of the Great Fast we live as though Jerusalem did not exist for us. We fall in love with the world, our Babylon; we are seduced by the frivolous pastimes of this "strange land" and neglect the services and discipline of the Church which remind us of our true home. Worse yet, we love our very captors - for our sins hold us captive more surely than any human master - and in their service we pass in idleness the precious days of Lent when we should be preparing to meet the Rising Sun of the New Jerusalem, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is still time; we must remember our true home and weep over the sins which have exiled us from it. Let us take to heart the words of St. John of the Ladder: "Exile is separation from everything in order to keep the mind inseparable from God. An exile loves and produces continual weeping." Exiled from Paradise, we must become exiled from the world if we hope to return.

This we may do by spending these days in fasting, prayer, separation from the world, attendance at the services of the Church, in tears of repentance, in preparation for the joyful Feast that is to end this time of exile; and by bearing witness to all in this "strange land" of our remembrance of that even greater Feast that shall be when our Lord returns to take His people to the New Jerusalem, from which there shall be no more exile, for it is eternal.


[1] “By the Waters of Babylon” is the entire Psalm 136, sung to a plaintive melody, after the Polyelos Psalm during Matins. It is only sung in church the three Sundays that precede Great Lent: Sunday of the Prodigal Son, The Last Judgment (Meatfare) and Forgivensss (Cheesefare) It is significant that this same hymn is chanted at the beginning of the service of monastic tonsure.

[2] This homily was written in 1965, when the church in Russia was still under captivity to the Communist regime.

January 30, 2010

What is the "Byzantine" Empire? Lars Brownworth Explains

Lars Brownworth, author of "Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization", discusses what the Byzantine Empire is and where it fits in history.

Parable of the Prodigal Son from "Jesus of Nazareth"

I typically don't endorse films about the life of Jesus, but this one played a major role in my conversion and it is probably the most dignified. One of my favorite scenes from the film Jesus of Nazareth is the tremendous performance of Robert Powell, who plays Jesus, when he dramatically narrates the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I offer it as a reflection for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.

The Bogomils and the Three Hierarchs

By John Sanidopoulos

The Three Hierarchs Controversy in Constantinople

During the reign of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081 – 1118) there arose in Constantinople a great dispute over these three hierarchs. Some regarded Basil the Great (c. 330-379) higher than the other three because he was an exalted orator, he surpassed all in his time in both word and deed, he was angelic, steadfast in temperament, and alien to all that is worldly. Others regarded John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) for being most loving and merciful, understanding the weaknesses of human nature, and as an eloquent orator who guided all to repentance through his discourses. Others, finally, stood behind Gregory the Theologian (329-389) maintaining that in the cogency of his speech, his skillful interpretation of the Scriptures and in the elegance of the construction of his discourses he surpassed all the renowned proponents of Hellenic wisdom, both those who lived in times past and those who were his contemporaries. Thus, while others would exalt the glory of one Church Father, others would demean their significance. Some went so far as to refer to themselves as Basilians, Johnites and Gregorians.

After a short time these three Saints appeared in a vision to Metropolitan John Mauropous of Euchaita (died c. 1075-1081), who recorded the details of this controversy (PG 120). He was told in this vision by the three hierarchs themselves that all three of them were equal before God and commanded that those indulging in the disputes to cease their disagreements and unite by commemorating the three together on a single day and ordered that Bishop John write the hymns for the feast. Since all three were commemorated in January, he decided to proclaim the Feast of the Three Hierarchs on January 30th, and this ended the dispute. (See The Lives of the Three Great Hierarchs: Basil the great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. Dormition Skete Publications, 1985, pp. 188-191.)

The Bogomils and the Three Hierarchs

It was not only among the Orthodox that a controversy at this time existed regarding the Three Hierarchs. It seems that it was a short time after the institution of this feast that Basil, the ascetical leader of the Bogomil heretics, entered Constantinople with his twelve disciples seeking to convert the Orthodox to their heresy. The Alexiad of Anna Komnena describes the meeting between Basil and her father, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who tried through argument and intimidation to bring Basil to Orthodoxy. Basil's defiant belief that God would deliver him even if he were thrown in a pit of fire prompted the emperor to test this claim by having him burnt in the Hippodrome.

While Basil was in prison, the emperor sent a renowned dogmatician and apologist, the monk Euthymios Zygabenos, to interview him about his beliefs and expose his gross heresies. Zygabenos recorded all this in his masterpiece titled The Dogmatic Panoply (PG 130). Among his many errors, Basil revealed his abhorrence for the Three Hierarchs, especially St. John Chrysostom whom the Bogomils called "John the Swollen Mouth". The Bogomils considered Chrysostom as a corrupter of the original New Testament by heading a conspiracy to remove important passages from the Gospels that in reality were interpolated by the Bogomils.

In his chapter "On the Bogomils", Zygabenos also offers a commentary on how the Bogomils interpreted specific passages from the Gospel of Matthew along with his own critique. Regarding Matthew 7:15 which reads "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves", Zygabenos informs us of the following way in which the Bogomils interpreted this passage:

"They say that a false prophet - how absurd - means Basil, who was great in teaching, and Gregory the star of theology, and John Chrysostom, because they taught the revealed doctrine. I leave out the other absurdities of the sect, which they utter against these Saints more than the rest, and which deserve thunder and a chasm and punishment of every sort."

Both controversies were occurring at the same time and it appears the Bogomils possibly wanted their own opinion heard by not honoring any of the Three Hierarchs and demeaning their memory altogether. Or it merely shows how highly the Orthodox regarded the Three Hierarchs at this time, considering therefore that a war against the Three Hierarchs was a war against Orthodoxy. It is possible that the controversy among the Orthodox may have begun by Bogomils, since Cosmas the Bulgarian says a century earlier that the Bogomils of Bulgaria blamed John Chrysostom for introducing the corrupted doctrine of the Eucharist through his Liturgy.

When Basil the Bogomil was burned to death in the Hippodrome, it was not long thereafter that the influence of Bogomilism was eradicated from Constantinople, thanks to the efforts of Emperor Alexios I.

Orthodox Should Not Split Church and Secular Life

Moscow Patriarchate urges Orthodox Believers to Identify Themselves as Majority Church

Moscow, 29 January 2010, Interfax – A Renowned Priest urged Orthodox Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussia and Moldavians not to be afraid of feeling themselves a majority in their countries and follow Orthodox norms of life in all its sphere.

“You shouldn’t be afraid of making it your mission: if we make a majority in our own countries – representatives of Belorussia, Ukraine, Moldova are present here – then we have full authority to make our moral principles, our vision of the present and the future determinative in the spheres of society and state we work in,” head of the Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said.

Speaking at the Christmas Readings in Moscow, he urged “to change our identity so that Orthodox Christians, first of all, lay people should find their place in the spheres of state and social life they work in, they should not be people who are Christians just on Sundays and feasts, and on all other days, all other time people living in compliance with other laws, laws of this world, but they should become a live and acting community of people behaving like Orthodox Christians in an Orthodox country.”

According to the priest, this division, partly dictated by the Soviet period and partly by new apologists of secularism, is “very strange for a Christian,” as “if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand,” Fr. Vsevolod said.

“A person can’t divide himself or herself as a church being and a social being. A society, no matter if it is a local community or people of the country, can’t divide its spiritual and the so-called secular life,” Fr. Vsevolod went on to say.

He believes “Orthodox Christians have a conciliar, joint social mission, which they can carry out working in various fields, but coordinating, uniting their efforts as Orthodox Christians, positively influencing on different spheres of social and state life.”

Buddhism Is Appealing to Westerners

Buddhism is an Eastern Way of Life Appealing to Westerners

By Jessica Porter
January 27, 2010
The Buddhist Channel

Richmond, VA (USA) -- Scarlett Sams works in a Presbyterian Church during the day, but on Thursday nights she attends a meeting of Tibetan Buddhist’s at Ekoji Buddhist Sangha in Richmond, Va. She is a part of a growing Buddhist movement in the United States of every day Americans finding comfort in this Eastern tradition.

“It’s a great community and they are my friends. They are genuine and if I need something, they are there for me. If I’m going through a crisis they are there for me. That is why I am a Buddhist,” Sams said. Although there are no exact statistics, the 2004 World Almanac estimates there are two to three million Buddhists in the United States. But that number includes not only converted Buddhists such as Sams, but Buddhist immigrants who have brought their religion from Eastern countries.

“Buddhism in American is two camps. One is the Ethnic communities that have centers practicing their own variety of Buddhism. At those places they speak in Vietnamese, or whatever language,” Virginia Commonwealth University Religious Studies Professor Daniel Perdue said. “But by and large it is middle class to wealthy white folks who have adopted Buddhism in all varieties.”

Buddhism in America is very different from Buddhism in Eastern countries and there the reasons are two-fold. It is a lay person religion, meaning anyone can participate. There is not the same emphasis on monks and monasteries as there is in other parts of the world.

“[In Tibet] major monasteries had more than 10,000 monks in a country with only six million people. By the time of the fall of Tibet, about one out of three males was a monk. And about 1 out of 4 females was a nun,” Perdue said, emphasizing the monastic importance in the East.

Also, many Americans do not view Buddhism as a religion or as strictly as it is practiced in the East. It is more often viewed as a philosophy or lifestyle.

“Some very famous Buddhist masters made a statement that ‘Buddhism in the East is like an old tree and has no more capability of producing good fruit. Buddhism in the West, even though still young, is very capable of making good fruit,” Huang Tran said. He believes the open-mindedness of Americans and their constant need to question things has allowed Buddhism to take root, unlike people in the East who just accept the religion and don’t question, not allowing any room for change.

Tran grew up in a Buddhist family in Vietnam, but never found comfort in the religion as a child. Due to economic and political hardships he left Vietnam and came to Virginia, where he has lived the past 24 years. Since then, he has become a mixture of Vipassana and Zen Buddhism. He often goes to Saddhama Vipassana Meditation Center, a monastery in Louisa County, and Hue Quang Temple, a Pure Land Temple, in Richmond.

Buddhism can be divided into two types, Mahayana and Theravada. Theravada is more monastic and emphasizes study and meditation while Mahayana is more ritualistic and holds the belief that any person can become enlightened at any time. Mahayana forms of Buddhism are Tibetan, Zen and Pure Land. The Theravada form of Buddhism is Vipassana.

Unlike Buddhism in Asia, where it is most prevalent, there are very few statistics about the amounts of people celebrating types of Buddhism in the United States. There is disagreement in the Buddhist community about which form is most popular in America.

“Tibetan is exploding in the U.S. right now. There’s a combination in Tibetan teaching of the concept of Zen and Vipassana, some practitioners prefer Zen and some prefer Vipassana, but in Tibetan they have both, it’s cool,” Tran said.

But others believe Zen is the most popular. Zen is considered a more intellectual type of Buddhism that goes beyond words and concepts, Kevin Heffernan, leader of the Zen group at Ekoji and Zen Buddhism professor at V.C.U., said.

Ekoji is a row house in Richmond’s Museum District that is home to Zen, Pure Land, Tibetan, Vipassana and a Meditative Inquiry group. Most members are people in the community, like teachers and hospice volunteers, who are not ethnic Buddhists but have found comfort in Buddhism, said Sams.

Zen also emphasizes the arts like haiku and calligraphy which is appealing to many people. But others have a different idea about why Zen has found such popularity.

“My honest answer is that it has such a nice catchy name. You can market Zen a lot better than you can some of the others because it sounds so cool … nothing quite so sexy in Theravada,” Vipassana Leader at Ekoji Andy Wichorek said.

Wichorek turned to Buddhism after facing hardships in his life. After choosing Vipassana he has been able to see life more clearly. He is now able to make better decisions and holds a higher degree of calm and collectedness. Although Buddhism is not as prevalent as other religions, others like Wichorek are turning to its teachings.

“Buddhism is sort of unique among the seven world religions for its slow spread, it take s a while for the ideas to sink into a culture. Often it is popular among the wealthy before it is popular among the entire population,” Perdue said.

Although changing slowly, American society is certainly seeing more Buddhist influence. For example, Hollywood has made Buddhism trendy. In many movies Buddhist symbols or references can be seen in the background and many celebrities are openly Buddhist. It is almost as if they are promoting Buddhism, Perdue said.

Examples of this are Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt about the fall of Tibet and the Dalai Lama and actors such as Richard Gere and Orlando Bloom who have converted to Buddhism.

Buddhism will only continue on its path to change and grow to become a greater part of American society. According to Tran it is becoming so accepted because it promotes ideas such as harmony, peace, love and kindness that is knitted among all people. But like many aspects of Buddhism, opinions of the future of Buddhism in America are very diverse.

“[Buddhism] is probably going to continue to get more popular, I don’t know what the ceiling is. Certainly it’s going to remain fairly obscure but there is so much room for growth … but there’s a lot more to go before it really hits the mainstream,” Wichorek said.

One idea is Buddhism will simply continue to change. People will be drawn to meditation and practice at home and occasionally at a center. A few of them will become more serious and actually go to temple, and then a few of those will go on retreats and seek harder practices. They will become the leaders at places like Ekoji for the people who want to come to a center once in a while, Heffernan said. Cliff Edwards, Religious Studies Professor at V.C.U. has a similar opinion.

“It’s going to splinter considerably. It doesn’t want to be called Zen, just Buddhism. And if meditation is the special interest just call it meditation. That is what America needs and wants,” Edwards said.

But everyone agrees that it will gain more popularity. It has grown a lot in the past 30 years and will remain obscure, but will become more popular, Wichorek said. Tran believes that everyone would become Buddhist, if they only had the knowledge.

“I can see that people offend Buddhism, but Buddhism doesn’t offend anyone, so if one recognizes and they can see, they would know and they would come,” Tran said.

Russian Cathedral May Appear Near Eiffel Tower

Russian Cathedral is Probable to Appear Near Eiffel Tower

Moscow, January 29, Interfax – Russia applied for participating in a contest for a lot of land to build an Orthodox church in Paris.

“The Executive Office of the President on behalf of the Russian Federation, in compliance with the governmental order, participates in a contest for purchasing a lot of land in Paris. In case of winning, we will build a Russian spiritual and cultural center,” the Russian Newsweek magazine has cited the Office's press secretary Viktor Khrekov as saying.

Khrekov noted that Russia had not done such concessions since 1917.

According to the edition, the land in question is located in downtown Paris not far from Eiffel Tower. Other contenders for the land is Saudi Arabia that wishes to build a diplomatic building and a mosque there.

Among other participants is Canada with an embassy project and a group of private investors who plan to construct a hotel.

[Update from February 10, 2010: Kremlin Acquires Plot Alongside Eiffel Tower]

Russian Donation To Restore Kosovo Monasteries

Russia Donates $2 Million to Restore and Protect Four Kosovo Monasteries

Belgrade, January 29, Interfax – Russia will donate $2 million to four monasteries in the Serbian district of Kosovo and Metochia, Serbian Minister of Culture Nebojsa Bradic told Serbian RTS TV.

These funds will be forwarded to renovate and secure the protection of monasteries Visoki Decani, Gracanica, Mother of God of Levis and the Patriarchal See of Pec.

“It’s planned to allocate $400,000 out of $2 million donated by Russia to restore paintings in the Monastery of Mother of God of Levis. Other monasteries will receive money not only to renew paintings, but to restore and secure protection of monastery complexes,” the Minister said.

History of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs

During the reign of the Emperor Alexios Komnenos (1081-1118), a controversy arose in Constantinople among men learned in the Faith and zealous for virtue about the three holy Hierarchs and Fathers of the Church, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.

Some argued for Saint Basil [known as Basilians] above the other two because he was able, as none other, to explain the mysteries of the Faith, and rose to angelic rank by his virtues. Organizer of monastic life, leader of the entire Church in the struggle with heresy, austere and demanding shepherd as to Christian morals, in him there was nothing base or of the earth. Hence, said they, he was superior to Saint Chrysostom who was by nature more easily inclined to absolve sinners.

The partisans of Saint Chrysostom [known as Johnites] retorted that the illustrious Archbishop of Constantinople had been no less zealous than Saint Basil in combating vices, in bringing sinners to repentance and in raising up the whole people to the perfection of the Gospel. The golden-mouthed shepherd of matchless eloquence has watered the Church with a stream of homilies in which he interprets the divine word and shows its application in daily life with more accomplished mastery than the two other holy Doctors.

According to a third group [known as Gregorians], Saint Gregory the Theologian was to be preferred to the others by reason of the majesty, purity and profundity of his language. Possessing a sovereign mastery of all the wisdom and eloquence of ancient Greece, he had attained, they said, to such a pitch in the contemplation of God that no one had been able to express the dogma of the Holy Trinity as perfectly as he.

With each faction setting up one of the Fathers against the other two in this way, the whole Christian people were soon caught up in the dispute, which, far from promoting devotion to the Saints in the City, resulted in nothing but ill-feeling and endless argument.

Then one night the three holy Hierarchs appeared in a dream to Saint John Mauropous, the Metropolitan of Euchaita (5 Oct.), separately at first, then together and, speaking with a single voice, they said: "As you see, the three of us are with God and no discord or rivalry divides us. Each of us, according to the circumstances and according to the inspiration that he received from the Holy Spirit, wrote and taught what befits the salvation of mankind. There is not among us a first, a second or a third, and if you invoke one of us the other two are immediately present with him. Therefore, tell those who are quarreling not to create divisions in the Church because of us, for when we were on earth we spared no effort to reestablish unity and concord in the world. You can conjoin our three commemorations in one feast and compose a service for it, inserting the hymns dedicated to each of us according to the skill and knowledge that God has given you. Then transmit it to the Christians with the command to celebrate it each year. If they honor us thus as being with and in God, we give them our word that we will intercede for their salvation in our common prayer." At these words, the Saints were taken up into heaven in a boundless light while conversing with one another by name [PG 120].

Saint John immediately assembled the people and informed them of this revelation. As he was respected by all for his virtue and admired for his powerful eloquence, the three parties made peace and every one urged him to lose no time in composing the service of the joint feast. With fine discernment, he selected January 30 as appropriate to the celebration, for it would set the seal to the month in which each of the three Hierarchs already had a separate commemoration.

The three Hierarchs — an earthly trinity as they are called in some of the wonderful troparia of their service — have taught us, in their writings and equally by their lives, to worship and to glorify the Holy Trinity, the One God in three Persons. These three luminaries of the Church have shed the light of the true Faith all over the world, scorning dangers and persecutions, and they have left us, their descendants, this sacred inheritance by which we too can attain to utmost blessedness and everlasting life in the presence of God and of all the Saints.

With the Feast of the Three Hierarchs at the end of January — the month in which we keep the memory of so many glorious bishops, confessors and ascetics — the Church in a way recapitulates the memory of all the Saints who have witnessed to the Orthodox faith by their writings and by their lives. In this feast we honor the whole ministry of teaching of the holy Church, namely, the illumination of the hearts and minds of the faithful through the word of truth. So the feast of the Three Hierarchs is, in fact, the commemoration of all the Fathers of the Church, those models of evangelical perfection which the Holy Spirit has raised up from age to age and from place to place to be new Prophets and new Apostles, guides of souls heavenward, comforters of the people and fiery pillars of prayer, supporting the Church and confirming her in the truth.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
The three greatest beacons of the Three-sunned Godhead, who lighted the whole inhabited world with the beams of their divine doctrines, the rivers of wisdom flowing with honey, who watered all creation with streams of the knowledge of God, Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian with famous John whose tongue spoke golden words, let all we lovers of their words now assembled honour them in hymns. For they ever intercede with the Trinity on our behalf.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
You have taken, Lord, the sacred, the God-inspired heralds, the high peak of your Teachers, for the enjoyment of your good things and for repose; for you accepted above every offering their toils and their death, you who alone glorify your Saints.

Source: The Synaxarion, The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Volume 3, Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady, Ormylia, 2001.

Turkey’s War on the Cultural Heritage of Cyprus

Bare Ruined Choirs: Turkey’s war on the cultural heritage of Cyprus

BY Katherine Eastland
February 1, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 19
Weekly Standard

When churches fall completely out of use
What shall we turn them into?

—Philip Larkin, ‘Church Going’

Soon after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the roof of St. Andronikos church in Kythrea caved in and fell into its sanctuary. No one came by to clear the rubble, so there’s a heap of ruins on the ground covered with tangled greenery. From where I stand, on top of that heap, I can see that the walls, once known for their frescoes, have been stripped white and are now marked with black and neon graffiti. In some places there remain a few painted figures, including ones of Saints Peter and Paul, but their faces are chiseled out and their bodies have been pockmarked by bullets. Cars roll by every so often, but the one persistent sound is the hum of bees coming from a smashed clerestory window.

I came across this church off a road near the Agios Dimitrios crossing point on the Green Line, the boundary running through the island of Cyprus and keeping it cloven in two radically disparate parts: the free, government-controlled area of Cyprus, and the upper third of the sovereign territory of the Republic that Turkey seized in 1974. Turkey has since held that part under illegal military occupation, and turned it into a rogue breakaway “state” called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized by Turkey only.

Dilapidated churches like St. Andronikos are a common sight here. As the journalist Michael Jansen observes, the north, full of 12,000 years of history at a key crossroads in the Mediterranean, now looks like a “cultural wasteland.”

During and soon after the invasion, museums in the north and private collections were plundered, artworks were burned in pyres, stolen, or illegally exported, 21 major archaeological sites were captured—including the ancient city kingdoms of Salamis, Soli, and Engomi—along with more than a hundred places that had been inspected or were being excavated, four castles, and over 500 churches, chapels, and monasteries, most of them dating to the Byzantine period (4th-15th centuries). From the interiors were removed several major icons, mosaics, frescoes, Bibles, wood carvings, reliquaries, silver and gold vessels, and more. Sixteen thousand icons alone are reported missing.

The Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus have worked to repatriate, with some major successes, several of these works through local, foreign, and international courts. But the list of damaged items and places keeps growing. As the occupation continues, so does destruction—whether by intent or neglect, or lack of adequate funds.

While much of the damage that took place in the north cannot be visited — most of the art hangs in other countries, was destroyed, or has been secreted away — the 500 religious buildings are still standing, at least for now. They remain as solid memories of a past that is flickering out as a new, and decidedly Turkish, culture develops in the north. The rise of that culture is quickened by the heavy influx of Turkish settlers, who currently outnumber the indigenous Turkish-Cypriot population by two-to-one. This cultural shift is apparent even in the cafés, where the drink of choice is black tea in tulip-shaped glass cups, the sort you can buy in twelve-packs in Istanbul. Town names are now Turkish, and the twin red-and-white flags of Turkey and the TRNC are everywhere—from mountain slopes to the rear windows of vans. Another part of this shift is seen in the churches which, with their ravaged cemeteries, are arguably the elements of Greek Cypriot culture that have suffered the most in the occupation. Divorced from their original use as houses of Christian worship, they are now in ruins or used for other purposes.

Most of the 500 buildings belong to the island’s Greek Orthodox Church, one of the world’s earliest, founded by St. Barnabas in 46 A.D. and decreed autocephalous in 431. Others are Catholic, Maronite, Armenian Apostolic, and Anglican; a few are synagogues. Nearly all of them can be visited; but about 50 are inaccessible since they stand within the U.N.-moderated buffer zone or Turkish military camps, where they are used as barracks, hospitals, cafeterias, and warehouses.

Over a fifth of the northern churches, like roofless St. Andronikos,
have been skinned of their art and left to the elements and foraging animals. About 80 other churches still have a religious use as mosques. Some of them are modest, with creaky mihrabs and sheets thrown over what remains of the iconostasis (a gilt wall where icons once hung). Others are rich, with big-branched chandeliers of glass. In St. Paraskeve in Morphou the gilt bishop’s throne and epistyle have been reassembled into a mihrab and mimbar. Some mosques that were formerly churches have been abandoned.

Most of the churches have been cast in new, secular roles as garages, luxury hotels, granaries, storage rooms for furniture or potatoes or hay, classrooms, bars, cafés, and art studios. One is a morgue. A few, such as the St. Barnabas Monastery in the Karpass peninsula, have been set up as icon galleries with whitewashed walls, but the works on view are not native to the buildings and are young and relatively worthless, dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Of the Christian buildings in the occupied north, three are kept, at least in appearance, as churches. But restrictions on their use and maintenance prevent Christians living in the north from worshiping in them regularly without interruption by Turkish officials.

The history of converting churches into mosques and mosques into churches, and of reappropriating buildings of any faith for secular purpose, is long and well documented. But the argument that Cyprus’s occupied religious buildings, and the art within them, are legitimate spoils of war does not hold. In today’s Europe, cultural property is seen as subsisting in a special niche that should be protected. Under the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), destruction of cultural heritage is considered a war crime. Furthermore, the European Union itself has several directives on cultural property—which Turkey would have to follow should it enter the EU. (Notably, one of the preconditions the EU has set for Turkey’s admission is a settlement to the Cyprus problem; i.e., the island’s reunification.)

This past summer in Washington the U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE), which monitors compliance between and among member states on the Helsinki accords, issued a 50-page report for Congress on the state of Cyprus’s cultural and religious heritage, saying that it was “in peril” and that “under conventional and customary law, Turkey, as an occupying power, bears responsibility for acts against cultural property.” It also numbers the various ways Turkey has violated international humanitarian law, as set forth in post-World War II treaties that Ankara has signed.

While there is a promising, but perhaps fatally slow-going, effort to reunify Cyprus by diplomatic means, the Church of Cyprus—which has remained independent through every vicissitude of political rule—believes it has a special, natural obligation to its religious heritage. But this heritage, especially if it’s already in shambles, fades in importance when urgent matters such as governance and property distribution are being addressed by the diplomats drafting a political settlement for Cyprus. The churches themselves simply don’t get much attention. But the Church, headed by Archbishop Chrysostomos II, is taking significant measures to try to save its property, usurped by the TRNC. And the Church reminds the EU that Turkey still has a long way to go before it conforms with EU policies.

Around Easter last year Chrysostomos opened an office in Brussels next to EU headquarters. When I met with him here in Nicosia — in his long office, featuring an icon of Christ in judgment on the wall behind his desk — he cheerfully said that at the new office there will always be a bishop to welcome EU parliamentarians and “present and promote our efforts.” By doing this, Chrysostomos hopes to “exert some pressure with the hope that we will manage to restore all the monuments if possible before it’s too late.” Thirty-eight are near collapse.

“Of course, it goes without saying that I can see the huge difficulties associated with such a task, not to say its impossible nature. Unfortunately,” he continues, “it seems to me that Europe does not know the real dimensions of the problem.”

Chrysostomos is frank about meddling in politics:

I know that the government might be reacting to such an idea [direct involvement of the Church] especially at this time, but we will continue our efforts. We invited [Cypriot] President Christofias to come and inaugurate our offices with us in Brussels, but he didn’t.

To further publicize the churches — and prepare as much as possible for their pending restoration — the Church has underwritten, through the Kykkos Monastery, the work of a young Byzantinist at the Hellenic Open University in Patras, Greece, to catalog all accessible religious monuments in the north. Professor Charalampos G. Chotzakoglou started work on the project with a team of archaeologists and other Byzantinists in 2003, when the Green Line was partially opened by the TRNC government, allowing people to cross the line freely for the first time since 1974. The Helsinki Commission consulted Chotzakoglou’s detailed account when it drafted its report for Congress last summer.

Incomplete reports had been made before Chotzakoglou’s, such as those by foreign journalists visiting the area, and by Turkish-Cypriot journalists such as Mehmet Yasin, who wrote some of the most eloquent testimonies. But the first report, UNESCO’s in 1975, was shelved because UNESCO feared it was too damning! (It has only recently become available, and on a strictly limited basis.) The man who submitted this report—Jacques Dalibard of Canada, who was specially appointed by UNESCO to assess the state of cultural heritage after the 1974 war—was not even allowed access to some of the most damaged churches. Still, he wrote that the whole island of Cyprus should be “regarded as one huge monument,” and that a team of specialists be dispatched solely to protect the remnants of Greek heritage in the north.

His suggestions were not followed.

Chotzakoglou’s findings were published in a book in 2008 (Religious Monuments in Turkish-Occupied Cyprus: Evidence and Acts of Continuous Destruction; Lefkosia) and will soon be available in an online public database. He has also been tending to a similar project with Greek and Turkish Cypriots on all religious monuments on the island (Muslim and Christian), cyprustemples.com. It is a valuable site, but needs to be updated: Some of the recent destruction, such as the bulldozing of St. Catherine Church in Gerani in the summer of 2008, and its cannibalizing for buildings in the nearby village of Trikomo, has not been noted.

Incidentally, the razing of St. Catherine is not an isolated case: In the past five years 15 churches have been leveled. That such destruction still occurs is especially disappointing because, since 2007, there has been a special government-appointed technical committee of Greek and Turkish Cypriots dedicated to the maintenance and restoration of heritage on both sides of the island. (To be sure, these committees are destined to do only some good as long as Cyprus remains divided: Their success depends on the good faith of both sides to honor promises to restore the other side’s damaged buildings.)

Destruction did occur to Muslim monuments south of the Green Line, mostly in the years leading up to the war, when both communities were fighting and the Turkish Cypriots, in the minority, bore the brunt of the violence. But the Church and the republic have worked to restore those buildings—no doubt hoping for a gesture of goodwill in return—and since 1989 the government has spent over $600,000 in the effort. So far, 17 historic mosques damaged and looted by Greek Cypriots have been restored. In 2000 the project to restore and protect all Muslim sites in the south began; the Department of Antiquities has recorded all their names and will guard them until they are renovated. This project should be completed sometime this year.

In a recent meeting proposed by the EU, the archbishop met with the mufti of northern Cyprus and said that he would welcome him as his guest in the south to inspect the Muslim sites. If the mufti did not find a site well preserved, he said, then “we as the Church of Cyprus would be willing to take full financial responsibility to restore it.” In exchange, he told the mufti that he wanted him to “facilitate our crossing to the Turkish-occupied area in order to begin restoring our churches with our money. And we will bear any and all costs.”

The mufti declined the offer, and suggested that one church in the north be restored for every mosque restored in the south. Deeming the mufti’s proposal a “worthless gift” — there are far fewer mosques in the south than churches in the north, and it would take, at best, 500 years to renovate the north’s 500 churches and “in 500 years there will be nothing for us to restore” — Chrysostomos rejected the counteroffer.

The north’s “real policy,” he believes, “is to procrastinate so the monuments themselves might be destroyed in time.”

On the morning before I visited some of the northern churches, I walked through the Archbishop’s Palace museum and looked at the art on view. In one room, I stopped by seven small wooden boxes, each with a glass top and containing a head of a saint, archangel, or Christ rendered in tesserae. The heads rested on white tissue paper that ran around their heads like second halos or bandages.

The master smuggler Aydin Dikmen had raggedly cut these exceptional late fifth/early sixth-century works — some of the few to have survived the rampant iconoclasm of the eighth century — from the walls of the Church of Panagía Kanakariá at Lythrankomí. Efforts at restoration and rocky international flights had weakened them further, causing them to crack. At one point, Dikmen tried to repair the loose tesserae — some with sockets of silver imported from Bethlehem — with Elmer’s glue. While they once reminded a visitor of heaven and immaterial gain, they are now symbols of earth and material loss. Which is painful precisely because, as Chrysostomos says, “these are not just art objects for us.”

The case for the restoration of these churches, and the art within them, is compelling — and the loss to art history and to Cypriot culture is immense and immeasurable. Until the island is one again — which could happen in four months or four decades—its two sides will continue to diverge, becoming more lopsided, with a Turkish culture taking root in the north amid the continuing collapse of its Hellenic heritage.

Whatever happens to Cyprus, there remains an eloquent, otherworldly hope, as expressed by Paul in a letter to the Christians at Corinth at about the same time the Church of Cyprus was founded by his coworker Barna-bas: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Paul’s thought is especially poignant when you’re standing inside a church in early ruin, or looking at a torn mosaic — things that were made, at one time, as if to last.

Katherine Eastland is an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard.

The Relationship Between a Tsar Peter of Bulgaria and Sant John of Rila

St. Peter, King of Bulgaria (Feast Day - January 30)

Saint Peter, King of Bulgaria, was the son of the militant Bulgarian prince Simeon. St. Peter was distinguished for his Christian piety, and he often turned to St. John of Rila (August 18, October 19), asking his prayers, spiritual guidance and advice.

King Peter concluded peace with Byzantium on terms advantageous for Bulgaria. He also gained recognition from the Patriarch of Constantinople for the autonomy of the Bulgarian Church, and the affirmation of a Patriarchal throne in Bulgaria, benefiting all the Bulgarian Church.

St. Peter aided in the successful extirpation of the Bogomil heresy in his lands. He died in the year 967, at fifty-six years of age.

St. John of Rila

A Reflection by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Here is an example of how emperors seek counsel from the saints and how the saints avoid vanity and riches and how they counsel emperors. The Orthodox Bulgarian Tsar Peter set off with his retinue toward the Rila mountain driven by the insatiable desire to see St. John of Rila and to benefit from his instruction. The tsar sent men ahead to inform the Saint of his arrival, but the Saint did not agree to meet with the tsar. The saddened tsar again sent some men with foodstuffs and an ample amount of gold as well as a petition requesting the Saint to write some counsel for him. John, accepted the edible things but returned the gold, not even wanting to touch it, replied to the tsar: "If you desire the heavenly kingdom, be merciful as the heavenly Father. Do not trust in injustice and do not be covetous; be meek, quiet and be accessible to everyone. Do not accept praises from your noblemen. Let your purple robe radiate with virtues. May the remembrance of death never depart from your soul. Humble yourself before the feet of Mother Church; bow your head before her prime-hierarchs so that the King of kings, seeing your sincerity, reward you with goodness such as never entered into the heart of man." Receiving that letter, the tsar kissed it, and after that read it frequently.

January 29, 2010

Finding of the Panagia Evangelistria Icon in Tinos

The Finding of the Miraculous Icon of the Megalohari Panagia Evangelistria (Feast Day - January 30)

The Discovery of the Miraculous Icon of Panagia Evangelistria

This highly-venerated icon of the Annunciation was discovered in the ruins of the ancient church of St John the Baptist on January 30, 1823.

An elderly man, Michael Polyzoes, had a dream shortly before the Feast of the Annunciation in 1821, in which the Mother of God appeared to him in shining white garments. She instructed him to dig in the field of Anthony Doxaras outside the city, where he would find her icon. She also told him to build a church on the site, since there had once been one there. The Queen of Heaven also promised to help him accomplish these tasks.

Upon awakening, he crossed himself and tried to go back to sleep, believing that his dream had been a temptation from the devil. Before falling asleep, Michael saw the Theotokos once again, and noticed that the room was flooded by a gentle white light. Her head was surrounded by divine light, and her face displayed ineffable grace and sweetness. Speaking to the old man she said, "Why are you afraid? Your fear comes from unbelief. Listen! I am Panagia (the all-holy one). I want you to dig in the field of Anthony Doxaras where my icon is buried. I ask you to do this as a favor, old man. You will build a church there and I will help you." Then she disappeared.

The next morning, Michael went into the village and told the priest what had happened to him during the night. The priest also thought the dream was a temptation, so he urged Michael to come for Confession and Communion. The old man, however, was not convinced that his visions were mere dreams or demonic temptations. He told the inhabitants of the village of his experience. Some laughed at him, but only two believed his words.

The two men went with him to the field one night and dug in many places, but they found nothing. Then they dug in another place and found the remains of an old wall. Finding nothing but bricks, they had to give up their search in the morning so the Turks would not find out what they were doing.

Anthony Doxaras, the owner of the field, found the bricks and tried to use them to build an oven. The mortar would not adhere to the bricks, so whenever they tried to build one section of the oven, it collapsed. The workers were convinced that God was showing them that the bricks from the ancient church were not to be used for an oven.

St Pelagia (July 23), an eighty-year-old nun, had several dreams in June of 1822 in which the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to her. St Pelagia was living in the women's monastery of the Dormition on Mt. Kechrovounios, about an hour's journey from the village. She had lived in the monastery from a young age, and was known for her great virtue and piety.

The Theotokos appeared to her in a dream and ordered her to go to Stamatelos Kangades (a prominent man of the village), and tell him to uncover the church of St John the Baptist in the field of Anthony Doxaras.

Terrified by the vision, Pelagia attributed the dream to her imagination, and she began to pray. She was afraid to tell anyone about her dream, but the following week, the Theotokos appeared to her again, reminding her of her instructions. Still, the nun remained silent and told no one of her vision. The Theotokos appeared a third time, this time with a severe manner. She chastised the nun for her unbelief, saying, "Go and do as I told you. Be obedient."

St Pelagia woke up in fear and trembling. As she opened her eyes, she saw the same mysterious Woman she had seen while asleep. With a great effort she asked, "Who are you, Lady? Why are you angry with me, and why do you order me to do these things?" The Woman raised her hand and said, "Proclaim, O earth, glad tidings of great joy" (Megalynarion of the Ninth Ode of the Canon for Matins of the Annunciation).

Understanding at last, the aged nun joyfully exclaimed, "Praise, O heavens, the glory of God" (The next line of the Megalynarion).

At once, she informed the Abbess of her visions, and she also told Stamatelos Kangades. Mr. Kangades, who had been designated by the Theotokos to carry out the excavation of the church, informed Bishop Gabriel of these events. The bishop had already heard of the dream of Michael Polyzoes, and realized that the account of the nun Pelagia agreed with his vision. Bishop Gabriel wrote to all the churches on the island of Tinos, urging them to cooperate in finding the church and the icon.

Excavations began in September of 1822 under the supervision of Mr. Kangades. The foundations of the church of St John, destroyed by Arabs in 1200, were uncovered. An old well was found near the church, but not the holy icon. The money ran out, and so the effort was abandoned.

Once again the Mother of God appeared to St Pelagia, urging that the excavations continue. Bishop Gabriel sent out an appeal for donations to build a new church on the foundations of the old church of St John the Baptist. The new church was built, and was dedicated to St John and to the Life-Giving Fountain.

On January 30, 1823 workers were leveling the ground inside the church in preparation for laying a new stone floor. About noon one of the workers, Emmanuel Matsos, struck a piece of wood with his pickaxe, splitting it down the middle. He looked at one piece of the board and saw that it was burned on one side, while the other side showed traces of paint. As he brushed off the dirt with his hand, he saw that it was an icon. Joining the two pieces of wood together, he crossed himself and venerated the icon.

He called the other workers, who also came and venerated the icon. When the icon was cleaned, it was shown to be an icon of the Annunciation. The split was in the middle of the icon, between the Theotokos and the Archangel Gabriel. Neither figure was damaged, and this was regarded as a miracle.

That same day, the icon was given to Bishop Gabriel, who kissed it and cried out, "Great art Thou, O Lord, and wondrous are Thy works."

After the finding of the icon, the inabitants of Tinos were filled with zeal to build a magnificent church in honor of the Theotokos. People offered their money and their own labor to help build the church of the Evangelistria (She who received the Good News).

The new church was completed in 1823, and was consecrated by Bishop Gabriel. St Pelagia of Tinos fell asleep in the Lord on April 28, 1834. Her Feast Day, however, is on July 23.

The Tinos Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos continues to be venerated as one of Greece's holiest treasures. Innumerable miracles of healing and deliverance from danger have not ceased since the time the icon was found.


The Annual Celebration

On this day the religious feelings of the believers find strongest expression. The whole population of the island and many visitors, who disregard the winder storms of the Aegean offer their thanks to the Great Mother and Proctress of the Christians, Who deigned to reveal Her Holy Icon for the salvation of all those who really believe.

In the afternoon on the eve the Holy Icon is transferred with great honours to the Lower Church and its placed near the point where is lay buried for centuries. This is followed by a special service dedicated to the finding of the Icon.

The next day, an official episcopical [presided over by Bishops] [Divine Liturgy] is celebrated and by 2 p.m. under the continuous ringing of the bells of all churches, the Holy Icon is carried through the decorated streets of the town in its gold and silver canopy supported by the church wardens, the local authorities and the representatives of the population. After a short prayer at the quai the Holy Icon is returned to Her marble palace, where a prayer is said in memorial of the builders of the Church, whose tombs are situated at the East side of the Church, and of all those who have sacrificed their fortunes and themselves for the construction of the Church.

After vespers the President of the Church Committee pronounces the panegyric of the day, which refers mainly to the activity of the Holy Foundation during the past year and the planned activity of the new year.

In the evening the school-children lead by the orchestra of the Church march through the streets holding lighted multi-colour lamps and singing various hymns referring to the finding of the Holy Icon.

Apolytikion in Tone One
O people of Tinos and all faithful, come and acclaim with hymns our Protectress; the all-venerable icon of the pure Mother of God is found to be a source of healing for us. Let us cry to her: Rejoice, O our glory and boast. Rejoice, thou who hast delivered mankind from the ancient curse.

Kontakion in Tone Plagal of the Fourth
O Lady, we joyfully celebrate the finding of thine icon and we praise thy boundless blessings; for thou dost pour forth abundant grace on all and grant healing to all who cry to thee: Rejoice, unwedded Bride.

For more information on this holy icon, the holy church, as well as Tinos, see here.

At this link are photographs taken from the Great Vespers celebration on the island of Tinos on January 29, 2010. And here are photos from the Divine Liturgy on January 30, 2010.

Turkey Is Worst Human Rights Violator

Turkey Is Worst Human Rights Violator, ECtHR says

29 January 2010
Today's Zaman

In an annual report released on Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the top judicial body to rule on human rights violations in Europe, found that Turkey is by far the worst violator of human rights among the 47 signatory states of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In statistical data on violation judgments by country for the period between 1959 and 2009, Turkey topped the chart with 18.81 percent of all violation judgments, followed by Italy with 16.57 percent and Russia 6.34 percent. Within this timeframe, 2,295 judgments were entered for Turkey and only in 46 cases did the court find no violations. The most common human rights violation committed by Turkey was the denial of the right to a fair trial. Italy scored second with 2,021 judgments against it.

In 2009 alone, Turkey again topped the list in terms of violations of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. In a tally of the number of judgments entered for Turkey, 356 cases out of a total of 1,625 put the country in the worst violator class. In only nine cases out of the 356 did the court find there was no violation, while stating that at least one violation occurred in the rest of the cases. Russia followed Turkey in 2009 with 210 judgments against it.

In terms of pending applications as of Jan. 1, 2010, the report found that Turkey has the second highest number of complaints lodged against it with 11 percent of the total 119,300 applications. Russia led the pack in this category with 28.1 percent of the applications. In its report, the court described Turkey as a “high case-count state.”

More than half of the judgments in which the court found a violation included a violation of Article 6 of the convention, the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time. In recent rulings, the court found that in most cases Turkey was in breach of this article and noted lengthy trials as a violation the convention. There have been excessive delays, in violation of the "reasonable time" requirement, in civil and criminal proceedings taking place in Turkish courts.

Furthermore, 62 percent of Turkey’s violations concerned Article 6 which is right to a fair trial and lengthy proceedings. This article was often raised as the reason for rulings against Turkey. The data shows that in 2009, the court found Turkey guilty of violating fair trial principle in 126 cases out of the total 356 cases. The second most common violation Turkey committed was in relation to the length of legal proceedings with 95 cases settled in 2009.

The report unequivocally finds that in recent years there has an upward trend for Turkey in terms of applications allocated to signatıry states. In 2009, Turkey had 4,474 applications in the court while the number was 3,706 for 2008 and 2,828 for 2007. Only Russia, Romania, Poland and Ukraine surpassed Turkey in recent years in terms of applications to the court.

Turkey seems to be the country adding to the court's caseload the second most. Out of a total caseload of 132,115, 4,725 cases regarding Turkey are waiting in the Committee of Judges, 6,207 are awaiting first examination while 1,896 cases are communicated, meaning that they were referred to Turkey for ??implementation??? observations.

Since 1959, the court has found 16,106 applications lodged against Turkey to be inadmissible or has struck them out.

The European Convention on Human Rights drafted in 1950 places Turkey under the jurisdiction of the ECtHR. In 1987, Turkey accepted the right of individuals to make applications to the ECtHR to apply individually to the ECtHR and in 1990 recognized the compulsory jurisdiction of the court. However Turkey has still not ratified some of the protocols of the Convention despite signed them.

In October 2009 the European Commission on Enlargement to the European Union attested that Turkey had made some progress on the observance of international human rights law. However, the implementation of some ECtHR judgments requiring legislative amendments has been an outstanding issue for several years. Further efforts are needed to strengthening the institutional framework on human rights, in particular with regards to the establishment of an independent human rights institution and of an ombudsman.

Spiritual Advancement Leads to Greater Humility

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

The more a man advances in spiritual knowledge and in purification of the heart, the more it appears to him that the depth in which he finds himself is even lower and that the height to which he strives is even higher. When one spiritual giant on his death bed heard that his companions were praising him because of his great asceticism, he began to weep and said, "My children, I have not even begun my spiritual life." When St. Ignatius, that God-bearer, lay chained in the dungeon, he wrote to the Ephesians: "I do not command you as though I stand for something. Even though I am in chains for the Name of Jesus Christ; nevertheless, I still have not perfected myself in Him. Now I am beginning to be His disciple, and I speak to you as a collegium of my teachers."

Translation of the Relics of Saint Ignatius the God-Bearer

The Translation of the Relics of the Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer 
(Feast Day - January 29)


Having been devoured by lions Ignatius,
You are left without a body and are a portion for the faithful.
On the twenty-ninth the soul of Ignatius ascended.

After the holy hierarch Ignatius was thrown to the lions in the year 107 (or 108) on the orders of the emperor Trajan in the Flavian Amphitheater, Christians gathered up his bones and preserved them in Rome.

Later, in the year 108 (or 109), the Saint's relics were collected and buried by the deacon Philo of Cilicia and Rheus Agathopus, a Syrian, and were interred outside the gates not far from the beautiful suburb of Daphne near Antioch. A second transfer, to the city of Antioch itself, took place in the year 438 by the Emperor Theodosius II to the Tychaeum, or Temple of Tyche, which was converted into a church dedicated to Ignatius. After the capture of Antioch by the Persians, the relics of the Hieromartyr Ignatius were returned to Rome and placed in the Church of the Holy Hieromartyr Clement (San Clemente) in the year 540 (or 637, according to other sources), where portions remain today.

St. Ignatius introduced antiphonal singing into Church services. He has left us seven archpastoral epistles in which he provided instructions on faith, love and good works. He also urged his flock to preserve the unity of the faith and to beware of heretics. He encouraged people to honor and obey their bishops: "We should regard the bishop as we would the Lord Himself" (To the Ephesians 6).

In his Letter to Polycarp, St. Ignatius writes: "Listen to the bishop, if you want God to listen to you... let your baptism be your shield, your faith a helmet, your love a spear, your patience like full armor." (Compare Ephesians 6:14-17 and the Wisdom of Solomon 5:17-20. Also The Ladder of Divine Ascent 4:2)

Ignatius stressed the value of the Eucharist, calling it a "medicine of immortality" (To the Ephesians 20:2). 

The very strong desire for bloody martyrdom in the arena, which Ignatius expresses rather graphically in places, may seem quite odd to the modern reader. An examination of his theology of soteriology shows that he regarded salvation as one being free from the powerful fear of death and thus was compelled to bravely face martyrdom.

Saint Ignatius's most famous quotation, however, comes from his letter to the Romans:

"I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God's sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God's wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ" (Letter to the Romans).

His sacred skull is kept today at the Holy Metropolis of Beroia. A hand is kept at Xeropotamou Monastery in Mount Athos. Other portions of his relics can be found in Great Lavra Monastery in Mount Athos, Panagia Varnakova Monastery in Nafpaktos, Ntaou Penteli Monastery in Athens, the Lavra of Saint Alexander Nevsky in St. Petersburg, and in the Church of Saint George of the Greeks in Venice.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Ignatios. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Soaring with love for Him Who holds thee in His hands, thou wast shown to be a God-bearer, O Ignatius. Thou didst finish thy course in the West, and pitch thy dwelling in the unwaning day of the heavens. O Venerable Father, entreat Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Dawning from the East this day, divine Ignatius, that God-bearer praised of all, hath made the whole creation bright with his wise teachings of piety and is adorned with the beauty of martyrdom.