October 31, 2010

100,000 Holy Martyrs of Tbilisi by the Muslims

100,000 Holy Martyrs of Tbilisi (Feast Day - October 31)

In 1227 Sultan Jalal al-Din of Khwarazm and his army of Turkmen attacked Georgia. On the first day of the battle the Georgian army valorously warded off the invaders as they were approaching Tbilisi. That night, however, a group of Persians who were living in Tbilisi secretly opened the gates and summoned the enemy army into the city.

According to one manuscript in which this most terrible day in Georgian history was described: “Words are powerless to convey the destruction that the enemy wrought: tearing infants from their mothers’ breasts, they beat their heads against the bridge, watching as their eyes dropped from their skulls.…”

A river of blood flowed through the city. The Turkmen castrated young children, raped women, and stabbed mothers to death over their children’s lifeless bodies. The whole city shuddered at the sound of wailing and lamentation. The river and streets of the city were filled with death.

The sultan ordered that the cupola of Sioni Cathedral be taken down and replaced by his vile throne. And at his command the icons of the Theotokos and our Savior were carried out of Sioni Cathedral and placed at the center of the bridge across the Mtkvari River. The invaders goaded the people to the bridge, ordering them to cross it and spit on the holy icons. Those who betrayed the Christian Faith and mocked the icons were spared their lives, while the Orthodox confessors were beheaded.

One hundred thousand Georgians sacrificed their lives to venerate the holy icons. One hundred thousand severed heads and headless bodies were carried by the bloody current down the Mtkvari River.

Every year on this feast a litany is held on the Metechi Bridge lead by the Patriarch of Georgia to honor the 100,000 Holy Martyrs. 16 photos can be seen here from the feast in 2009.

Commemoration of an Anonymous Confessor Under Julian the Apostate

The Anonymous Confessor (Feast Day - October 31)


Although we do not know your name blessed one,
You forever live being written in the book.

                                                                  By Theodoret of Cyrus

A young man who was a priest's son,[1] and brought up in impiety, about this time[2] went over to the true religion. For a lady remarkable for her devotion and admitted to the order of deaconesses was an intimate friend of his mother. When he came to visit her with his mother, while yet a tiny lad, she used to welcome him with affection and urge him to the true religion.

On the death of his mother the young man used to visit her and enjoyed the advantage of her wonted teaching. Deeply impressed by her counsels, he enquired of his teacher by what means he might both escape the superstition of his father and have part and lot in the truth which she preached. She replied that he must flee from his father, and honour rather the Creator both of his father and himself; that he must seek some other city wherein he might lie hidden and escape the violence of the impious emperor; and she promised to manage this for him. Then, said the young man, “henceforward I shall come and commit my soul to you.”

Not many days afterwards Julian came to Daphne, to celebrate a public feast. With him came the young man's father, both as a priest, and as accustomed to attend the emperor; and with their father came the young man and his brother, being appointed to the service of the temple and charged with the duty of ceremonially sprinkling the imperial viands.

It is the custom for the festival of Daphne to fast for seven days. On the first day the young man stood by the emperor's couch, and according to the prescribed usage aspersed the meats, and thoroughly polluted them. Then at full speed he ran to Antioch, and making his way to that admirable lady, “I have come,” said he, “to you; and I have kept my promise. Do you look to the salvation of each and fulfil your pledge.” At once she arose and conducted the young man to Meletius the man of God, who ordered him to remain for awhile upstairs in the inn.

His father after wandering about all over Daphne in search of the boy, then returned to the city and explored the streets and lanes, turning his eyes in all directions and longing to light upon his lad. At length he arrived at the place where the divine Meletius had his hostelry; and looking up he saw his son peeping through the lattice. He ran up, drew him along, got him down, and carried him off home. Then he first laid on him many stripes, then applied hot spits to his feet and hands and back, then shut him up in his bedroom, bolted the door on the outside, and returned to Daphne. So I myself have heard the man himself narrate in his old age, and he added further that he was inspired and filled with Divine Grace, and broke in pieces all his father's idols, and made mockery of their helplessness.

Afterwards when he bethought him of what he had done he feared his father's return and besought his Master Christ to nod approval of his deeds, break the bolts, and open the doors. “For it is for Your sake,” said he, “that I have thus suffered and thus acted.” “Even as I thus spoke,” he told me, “out fell the bolts and open flew the doors, and back I ran to my instructress. She dressed me up in women's garments and took me with her in her covered carriage back to the divine Meletius. He handed me over to the bishop of Jerusalem, at that time Cyril, and we started by night for Palestine.”

After the death of Julian this young man led his father also into the way of truth. This act he told me with the rest. So in this fashion these men were guided to the knowledge of God and were made partakers of Salvation.


1. A son of a pagan priest.
2. During the reign and persecution of Emperor Julian the Apostate (331/332 – 26 June 363).

Source: Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapter X.

October 30, 2010

Ten Things I Won't Do On Halloween

By John Sanidopoulos

Last year (2009) I wrote a controversial piece about Halloween titled "Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction". I want to make it clear that I am not out to defend Halloween or promote its celebration by Christians, though I do find it important to separate fact from the numerous fictions regarding this holiday promoted by Christians, and leave each individual to observe the day as their conscience and taste determines. Personally I see no contradiction between Halloween and Christianity and it is perfectly coherent in my heart the way I celebrate it. The fictional fundamentalist folklore and mythology surrounding Halloween is in my opinion the darkest aspect of the holiday, and it is the truth that I seek to bring to light lest Christianity be undermined, as it so often irresponsibly is in society. However, I also understand it is not within everyone's taste to celebrate Halloween, so mutual respect plays a large role in how I present the topic to Christians.

The True Origins of the Jack O' Lantern

First of all, there is absolutely no evidence behind the alleged pagan use of the Jack O' Lantern, where it is said in modern fundamentalist folklore that they were invented to ward-off evil spirits. In fact, the carved lanterns had practical military use in Ireland and Britain simply as carved lanterns. And stories of Stingy Jack are a later invention.

Despite the colorful legends, the term jack-o'-lantern originally meant a night watchman, or man with a lantern, with the earliest known use in the mid-17th century; and later, meaning an ignis fatuus or will-o'-the-wisp. In Newfoundland and Labrador, both names "Jacky Lantern" and "Jack the Lantern" refer to the will-o'-the-wisp concept rather than the pumpkin carving aspect.

Throughout Ireland and Britain, there is said to be a tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or swede.[1] But not until 1837 does jack-o'-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern,[2] and the carved lantern does not become associated specifically with Halloween until 1866.[3] Significantly, both occurred not in Ireland or Britain, but in North America. Historian David J. Skal writes,

"Although every modern chronicle of the holiday repeats the claim that vegetable lanterns were a time-honored component of Halloween celebrations in the British Isles, none gives any primary documentation. In fact, none of the major nineteenth-century chronicles of British holidays and folk customs make any mention whatsoever of carved lanterns in connection with Halloween. Neither do any of the standard works of the early twentieth century."[4]

In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween.[5] The poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who was born in 1807, wrote "The Pumpkin"  in 1850, in which he mentions the American tradition of pumpkin carving with no association with Halloween:[6]

"Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!"

So now that you have the real and less eventful history of the carved pumpkin apart from the folklore and myth, you can carve your own pumpkin conscience-free at the following site: http://www.theoworlds.com/halloween/


1. They continue to be popular choices today as carved lanterns in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although the British purchased a million pumpkins for Halloween in 2004. "
Pumpkins Passions", BBC, 31 October 2005. "Turnip battles with pumpkin for Hallowe'en", BBC, 28 October 2005.

2. Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Great Carbuncle," in Twice-Told Tales, 1837:

"Hide it [the great carbuncle] under thy cloak, say'st thou? Why, it will gleam through the holes, and make thee look like a jack-o'-lantern!"

3. Daily News (Kingston, Ontario), November 1, 1866:

"The old time custom of keeping up Hallowe'en was not forgotten last night by the youngsters of the city. They had their maskings and their merry-makings, and perambulated the streets after dark in a way which was no doubt amusing to themselves. There was a great sacrifice of pumpkins from which to make transparent heads and face, lighted up by the unfailing two inches of tallow candle."

Agnes Carr Sage, "Halloween Sports and Customs," Harper's Young People, October 27, 1885, p. 828:

"It is an ancient Scottish custom to light great bonfires on Halloween, and carry blazing fagots about on long poles; but in place of this American boys delight in the funny grinning jack-o'-lanterns made of huge yellow pumpkins with a candle inside."

5. Skal, David J. (2002). Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. New York: Bloomsbury. p. 32. ISBN 1-58234-230-X. The earliest reference to associate carved vegetable lanterns with Halloween in Britain is Ruth Edna Kelley, The Book of Hallowe'en (1919), Chapter 8, which mentions turnip lanterns in Scotland.

6. As late as 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o'-lantern as part of the festivities. "
The Day We Celebrate: Thanksgiving Treated Gastronomically and Socially," The New York Times, November 24, 1895, p. 27. "Odd Ornaments for Table," The New York Times, October 21, 1900, p. 12.

Read also: Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction

"The Raven": Demon of Despair (On Poe and Death)

By Presbytera Juliana Cownie

Soon after the death of a loved one come many visitors to the bereaved. Some arrive early, bearing gifts of food and speaking words of consolation and comfort. Others appear late in the day, unable to say anything, but still comforting in their very presence. But when the comforters have gone away and we sit through the lonely watches of the night, pondering our loss, the last visitor arrives. He comes invited, though not to bring consolation; his words are empty of that. No, his purpose is to smother any desire we may still have for life, to snuff out the smallest spark of hope that may yet gleam within our soul. He is the black-winged demon of despair, sent to bring us swiftly to the realm of everlasting pain and to bring the pain of Hell to us while we yet live.

Yes, he is summoned, and no less real for that. A very tangible manifestation of this demon and his influence is described by Edgar Allan Poe in his uncannily beautiful poem, "The Raven." Making masterful use of his gift for consonance and cadence, Poe has, within seventeen stanzas, depicted as powerful a description of a descent into the pit as to be found outside Dante's Inferno.

The poem begins by describing, in the first person, a man distraught with grief. In the midnight hours, caught up in a dark and desolate meditation from which he vainly seeks distraction among his books, he suddenly hears a rapping at the door. His mood, already morbid, is excited into terror. Flinging open the door, he finds only the bitter emptiness he had been trying so hard to shut out moments before. Into this darkness he whispers the name of his beloved Lenore. The terror and wonder that he feels, the daring dreams he entertains, are all expressed in that one name. He has dared to believe that somehow she has returned to him from the dead. The name is echoed back into the stillness of the night and he returns to his room, his soul still burning with the idea of seeing his beloved again.

Poe uses the language so well to describe this chamber wherein haunting grief casts its gloom from the fire's dying embers and clings to each sad curtain, that one finds the man's obsession with death not at all unnatural. Unremitting sorrow has transformed this library into a mausoleum where all wisdom lies entombed with the books, bereft of any power to comfort the living, and the very furnishings seem to be draped with a shroud. The scene is set, the summons has been issued, the emissary of spiritual desolation awaits.

Acceptance of the death of our loved ones is never easy. Though St. Paul cautions us to "sorrow not, even as others which have no hope" (Thess. 4:13), when our world has collapsed around us, Heaven seems a dim, far point of light in a vast universe of darkness. The effort to hold our hands, that Christ might bring us up from the depths, seems too great. His Church was built that "...the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (St. Matt. 17:18). But when we do not seek refuge in the Church, these same gates can swallow us alive. A desire to commune with those who have crossed the barrier from this life into the spiritual realm and to attempt to reconfer our carnal claims upon them is an invitation to evil. What God would never in His infinite mercy allow, Satan would appear to allow, so that this tragic deception might prevent us from seeking the salvation of God through humble acceptance. Elder Nectary of Optina once warned a well-known spiritist of his time:

"Oh, what a perditious and terrible thing! Under the guise of a deep Christian teaching and through his demon-servants who appear invisible to man at spiritual seances, he, Satan, by means of the lie of the ancient serpent, leads man into such pits and such thickets out of which it is impossible to extricate oneself, not even to discern one's state." (1)

The tormented man, rationalizing that some perfectly natural phenomenon has been responsible for the rapping sounds, hears that sound once more, this time from the window. Betraying his emotion by the rapid beating of his heart, he flings open the window and the Raven flies in, alighting on a bust of Pallas above the door. Pallas Athene, pagan goddess of wisdom, is symbolic here of human reason, learning, and the arts. Apparently she is an ineffectual diety whose powers earlier proved insufficient to lift this tragic man, even briefly, from his mournful state of mind. Now the ill-omened Raven sits triumphant above her. Like the allegorical Virgil in Dante's Inferno, human reason is limited and without divine aid and can ultimately be surmounted by evil.

The man's initial response to this black-plumed apparition is one of contrived amusement. Though deceptively light in the tone of his greeting, the man's words belie his seeming indifference from the outset. He hails the Raven as having originated from the "Night's Plutonian shore." Pluto, another pagan deity, was lord of the underworld, the realm of the dead. The Raven comes recognized as an agent out of the land of darkness and death. Upon being asked its name, the mysterious entity responds with the single word, "Nevermore."

"Nevermore" is the haunting refrain upon which the lyrical cadence of this poem is built. Its meaning appears to elude the man at first. He dismisses the word as an irrelevant utterance and wonders aloud whether his new companion will fly, as all his hopes have done before. "Nevermore" comes this time as an apt reply to his despondent query. Despair we know to be the utter absence of hope. Hopes have flown away and despair has taken up its abode in a place of desolate hope. The man conjectures that this bird has perhaps learned its one word form some unhappy master plagued by catastrophe, "til his song one burden bore/ Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore of 'Never —nevermore.' " (2)

Hearing this word intoned as the funeral dirge for the hopes of another miserable soul, this morbid man will not be long in taking the demonic anthem into his own heart. Borne upon the breath of Hell, this perverted hymn to despair will be repeated again and again, until the hearer is driven to madness. The siren song which tempted Ulysses to hurl himself into the sea could not have been a deadlier temptation than this nor could it have required more restraint.

Hope does not fly of its own accord or die a natural death. We starve hope by fixing it on an object which cannot sustain it. When people die or dreams perish, we sometimes wish to bury our hopes with them. Despair comes with our invitation to shovel the first spadeful of earth onto the face of the deceased. As Christ descended into Hell to bring out those who had fallen therein, so will our hopes be resurrected and transfigured. If the demon of despair can drive out our hope in Christ, we are indeed lost.

"God does not insist or desire that we should mourn in agony of heart; rather, it is His wish that out of love for Him we should rejoice with laughter in our soul. Take away sin, and tears become superfluous; where there is no bruise, no ointment is required. Before the Fall, Adam shed no tears, and in the same way there will be no more tears after the resurrec tion from the dead, when sin has been destroyed. For pain, sorrow, and lamentation will then have fled away." [St. John Klimakos] (3)

Contemplating the bird and its strange saying, the man's mind turns once more to thoughts of his lost love. As if in response to his painful recognition that she will not return again to his room, he suddenly imagines that there is an aura of mystical divinity about the Raven: "Then, me thought the air grew denser/ perfumed from an unseen censer/ Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor." (4)

Enraptured by the angelic imagery in which he wishes to enshrine his dark visitor, the man concludes that God has sent this messenger with the gift of forgetfulness. His vision of respite from memories of Lenore is quickly shattered by the Raven's unchanging utterance. He shall taste the cup of blissful forgetfulness "nevermore."

The demon of despair attempts to keep us fixed on the idea that today's fresh grief will renew itself throughout an eternity of tomorrows. Anyone who has passed through this shadowed valley and out into the sunlight again knows that those very memories that cause the most pain become the sweetest with the passage of time. Certainly it does not seem so when living reality first passes into memory. Soon after the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote:

"What pitiable cant to say, 'She will live forever in my memory!' Live? That is exactly what she won't do. You might as well think like the old Egyptians that you can keep the dead by enbalming them. Will nothing persuade us that they are gone? What's left? A corpse, a memory, and, in some versions, a ghost. All mockeries or horrors. Three more ways of spelling the word dead." (5)

Now desperate, the man pleads with the Raven to prophesy his release from sorrow. Pursuing his earlier self-deception that the Raven may be a divine messenger but patently not caring whether it comes from the Devil himself, the man questions the bird twice more. As wretched Saul implored the witch of Endor to summon up the shade of Samuel; as that fallen king did seek the aid of evil to hear the voice of the dead; so does this man call upon darkness to echo his own certain knowledge of destruction. Is there any healing of grief in this life? Despair answers, "nevermore." Will we ever greet our loved ones in Heaven? The refrain of "nevermore" is assured. The demon knows but one answer. Descent into the abyss must follow swiftly.

As the man tries futilely to rid himself of the Raven, he finds despair not so easily thrown off. This demon, when we allow it, fastens onto our souls and relentlessly squeezes every drop of hope from our spirit. The juiceless pulp goes on living then, eternally tormented, eternally thirsting for what can never be, perhaps even for what never was.

Did Lenore actually ever exist? This poem preceded the death of Poe's wife, Virginia, by two years. Many women were Lenore for this romantic poet, and at the same time none of them was. She was an ideal of love created in Poe's imagination. Springing fully grown from the head of her creator, Lenore took on many attributes of a goddess, but proved to be all too mortal. Again and again she died, and as soulless phantom she was raised each time with a new name and face. It was said of Poe: "Only in the imagination could he find ideal satisfaction. Every woman he loved was exalted into the dream angel whom he could worship imaginatively rather than physically enjoy." (6)

The intensity of this poem certainly suggests genuine mourning, passionate grief, and bitter sorrowing. Is it possible to grieve so much over the death of an illusory ideal? Have we not all, like Icarus, flown our dreams a bit too close to the light and heat of reality, and watched as the pinions fluttered away, falling surely to our own destruction? Have we not watched our self-centered ideals rise like fantastic flying machines borne aloft by some capricious breeze and then, unable to sustain their own weight upon such fragile wings, plummet to the ground and perish in flames? Did we not cry and mourn among the ruins and ashes as passionately as though we mourned our beloved? God be praised that in His infinite mercy, He gave us more to hope for than what we are able to create in our imaginations. What is born must die; what is given over to Christ will transcend even death. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (St. John 12:24).

The demon of despair seeks to deprive us especially of this hope. In the last stanza of "The Raven," the unholy messenger is unmasked and his purpose accomplished:

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting
—still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a
Demon that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o'er him streaming
throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore.

Poe himself perfectly exemplified the man conquered by despair. A biographer wrote of the relationship of the poet to his poetic masterpiece:

"...Nor was there any hope in the hereafter. The thought burned into his heart with the eyes of a demon, and he could not drive it away. It was al ways there, 'one unvaried emotion' —'that was liable to topple over into delerium.' That at times, it did so topple, is perfectly clear. It is this kind of despair that drives men to suicide and three years later we find the still young man —who found this unhappy bird perched triumphant over the symbol of all his learning and art— trying to commit suicide by drinking laudanum. Those who think 'The Raven' is a mere literary tour de force often disregard its genuine emotion because it is dramatically and logically presented." (8)

Though Lenore was born in Poe's imagination, her smile could only find expression on the faces of real women. Conversely, the very real demon of despair had long been etching its image into the poet's soul. "The Raven" was written as a cry from an inner darkness. To dwell in darkness of the heart as a lost and fallen man was a choice Poe made. The heart is not uncharted territory. Christ descended into these depths, too, that we might be brought forth, out of ourselves, and out from under the shadow of despair.

"Within the heart are unfathomable depths. It is but a small vessel, and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, there life and the kingdom, there light and the Apostles, the heavenly cities and the treas ures of grace; all things are there." [St. Macarios] (9)


1. Alexandrova, N., "Elder Nectary of Optina," The Orthodox Word, No. 129, 1986.

2. Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, n.d.), p. 944.

3. The Ladder of Divine Ascent, tr. Archimandrite Lazarus (Moore) (London, 1959).

4. Complete Tales, p. 945.

5. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York, 1961).

6. H. Allen, Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1934), p. 488.

7. Complete Tales, p. 946.

8. Israfel, pp. 488-89.

9. Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarios the Egyptian, tr. A.J. Mason (London, 1921).

Source: Orthodox Tradition, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1988), pp. 28-33.

Saint Stephen Milutin of Serbia

Saint Stephen Milutin of Serbia (Feast Day - October 30)

Saint Stephen was the younger son of King Stephen Urosh I, and grandson of First-Crowned King St Stephen (September 24). He ruled Serbia from 1275 to 1320. Stephen Milutin received the throne from his elder brother Dragutin, a true Christian, who after a short reign transferred power over to his brother, and he himself in loving solitude withdrew to Srem, where he secretly lived as an ascetic in a grave, which he dug with his own hands. During his righteous life, St Dragutin toiled much over converting the Bogomil heretics to the true Faith. His death occurred on March 2, 1316.

St Stephen Milutin, after he became king, bravely defended, by both word and by deed, the Orthodox Serbs and other Orthodox peoples from their enemies. St Stephen did not forget to thank the Lord for His beneficence. He built more than forty churches, and also many monasteries and hostels for travelers. The saint particularly concerned himself with the Athonite monasteries.

When the Serbian kingdom fell, the monasteries remained centers of national culture and Orthodoxy for the Serbian nation. St Stephen died on October 29, 1320 and was buried at the Bansk monastery. After two years his incorrupt relics were uncovered.


A Reflection of St. Nikolai Velimirovich

A great son of the Orthodox Church, King Milutin saved the Balkans from Uniatism. At that time in history when the Byzantine emperor's conscience was weakened, this noble and God-bearing Slavic king rose up decisively and, with God's help, saved Orthodoxy-not only in his own land, but also in all the lands of the Balkans. He who closely examines the life of the holy King Milutin will understand why God gave him success after success in all his works throughout his life. When Milutin ascended the throne, he immediately vowed to God that he would build a church for each year that he would reign. He reigned forty-two years and built forty-two churches. Next to some of the churches - for example, in Thessalonica and Constantinople - he also built hospitals for the indigent, where the poor would receive everything free of charge. Beyond that, he especially loved to give alms to the needy from his own enormous wealth. Oftentimes, this powerful and wealthy king dressed in the clothes of a poor man, and seeing the foolish extravagance of the princess and her retinue, said: "What is this, and what is it for? We are not used to such a life." And pointing to a Serbian princess with a distaff in her hand, he said: "Behold, this is the kind of clothing we expect our daughter-in-law to wear."

HYMN OF PRAISE: The Holy King Milutin

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

The saint of God, Milutin the gallant,
Had a great and difficult task:
To defend the Faith against evil schismatics,
And the people against many cruel tyrants.
He was a scourge to Palaeologus, and a scourge to the Latins-
Milutin triumphed over all the unbelievers.
The Orthodox Faith was his great treasure,
As it was Justinian's crown of pearls!
And, like Justinian, he built many churches,
And raised up glory to the glorious Christ throughout the world.
Royally he attended to matters imperial,
But his mind was not parted from Christ God.
Thus, pure and innocent in heart was he,
A venerable mind in the whirlpool of the world.
God, Who looks at the heart and judges accordingly,
Granted King Milutin immortality-
Immortality of soul, and an incorrupt body.
And lo, our holy king, even now, is intact!
As you fear no man, O wondrous King,
Be our defender before the Living God,
That he forgive our sinful monstrosities,
And vouchsafe us, with you, the Heavenly Kingdom. 

The Christian, Not Pagan, Origins of Halloween

The following excerpt is from the book The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996). This is to supplement my post titled "Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction". Hutton is a British historian, and his book is a very well-researched study of seasonal festivals in Britain. Some of his observations may be of interest to those who become anxious over Halloween — either pagans who think Christians “stole” it, or Christians who think it must be “demonic”.

At the end of the nineteenth century, two distinguished academics, one at Oxford and the other at Cambridge, made enduring contributions to the popular conception of Samhain. The former was the philologist Sir John Rhys, who suggested that it had been the ‘Celtic’ New Year… Rhys’s theory was further popularized by the Cambridge scholar, Sir James Frazer. At times the latter did admit that the evidence for it was inconclusive, but at others he threw this caution overboard and employed it to support an idea of his own: that Samhain had been the pagan Celtic feast of the dead. He reached this belief by the simple process of arguing back from a fact, that 1 and 2 November had been dedicated to that purpose by the medieval Christian Church, from which it could be surmised that this was been a Christianization of a pre-existing festival. He admitted, by implication, that there was in fact no actual record of such a festival, but inferred the former existence of one from a number of different propositions: that the Church had taken over other pagan holy days, that ‘many’ cultures have annual ceremonies to honor their dead, ‘commonly’ at the opening of the year, and that (of course) 1 November had been the Celtic New Year. He pointed out that although the feast of All Saints or All Hallows had been formally instituted across most of north-west Europe by the Emperor Louis the Pius in 835, on the prompting of Pope Gregory IV, it had already existed, on its later date of 1 November, in England at the time of Bede. He suggested that the Pope and Emperor had, therefore, merely ratified an existing religious practice based upon that of the ancient Celts.

The story is, in fact, more complicated. By the mid-fourth century Christians in the Mediterranean world were keeping a feast in honor of all those who had been martyred under the pagan emperors; it is mentioned in the Carmina Nisibena of St Ephraim, who died in about 373, as being held on 13 May. During the fifth century divergent practices sprang up, the Syrian churches holding the festival in Easter Week, and those of the Greek world preferring the Sunday after Pentecost. That of Rome, however, preferred to keep the May date, and Pope Boniface IV formally endorsed it in the year 609. By 800 churches in England and Germany, which were in touch with each other, were celebrating a festival dedicated to All Saints on 1 November instead. The oldest text of Bede’s Martyrology, from the eighth century, does not include it, but the recensions at the end of the century do. Charlemagne’s favourite churchman Alcuin was keeping it by then, as were also his friend Arno, bishop of Salzburg, and a church in Bavaria. Pope Gregory, therefore, was endorsing and adopting a practice which had begun in northern Europe. It had not, however, started in Ireland, where the Felire of Oengus and the Martyrology of Tallaght prove that the early medieval churches celebrated the feast of All Saints on 20 April.

This makes nonsense of Frazer’s notion that the November date was chosen because of ‘Celtic’ influence: rather, both ‘Celtic’ Europe and Rome followed a Germanic idea.

Dostoevsky and Spiritualism

By Thomas E. Berry, University of Maryland

From the reign of Catherine the Great to the Revolution of 1917, Russian society and literature were affected by the relationship between Western spiritualism with its seances and mediums and an ancient folk tradition with its superstitions and fancifulness. The common Russian belief in spirits, combined with the Western occult science, brought charlatans into the highest court circles throughout the last hundred and fifty years of the Romanov's rule. Cagliostro drew the attention of Catherine II; the Baroness Krudener instructed Alexander I; D.D. Home had the patronage of Alexander II; and Rasputin and Dr. Philippe had a close relationship with Nicholas II. The Czars were the inheritors of two strong social forces: a folk tradition based on the mystical and the miraculous dating back hundreds of years and a fervent search for historical and spiritual meaning among the Russian intelligentsia. Only Nicholas I failed to understand the popularity of spiritualism in Russia and his jack of interest separated him from the mainstream of Russian life. Most Russian monarchs were greatly influenced by the spread of spiritualistic forces. It was as if folk superstitions and Western spiritualism were destined to blend together and contribute to the fall of the Russian Empire.

Dostoevsky began writing during the reign of Nicholas I, the Czar who "had a horror of mysticism."(1) The literature of the time, however, was filled with psychic phenomena. Literary censorship during the 1840s encouraged parody and suggestive literature. European literary trends, such as Byronism and Hoffmannism, greatly influenced the writers in Russia, official restraints hindered the free development of their artistic spirits, and spiritualism were popular in the tales of Odoevskij, Gogol and other writers. In Something About Spectres in 1848, V.A. Zhukovskij discussed society's interest in spirits as if the question of spiritualistic phenomena was a major concern of the time.(2) Dostoevsky was aware of the literary tastes of the period and his own writing reflected his effort to appeal to the public's taste for the esoteric.

In The Double (1846), Dostoevsky explained the hero's talking with his own image as a case of mental imbalance. In The Landlady (1847), the heroine gave the impression of being possessed by the devil, but the author again explained her problems as an example of psychological imbalance. In Netochka Nezvanova (1848), a clarinetist inherited a remarkable violin and became obsessed by the power the devil had over him when he played. The evil powers of these early stories by Dostoevsky were based on the folkloric devils of Russian fables and Western short stories. Had the writer not been imprisoned at the end of the decade, he might have created more demonical tales. Literature and society, however, had undergone considerable change when he did return to his writing.

Dostoevsky wrote his major novels during the reign of Alexander II, a period when seances and mediums were extremely popular in society. The Czar welcomed the spiritualist D.D. Home into the royal palaces as a guest for weeks at a time. Seances of an incredulous nature were held with the monarch and other notables such as Count A.K. Tolstoy and Miss V.F. Tjutchev in attendance. The latter reported the fascination of the ruler with the occult science.(3) The popularity of seances among upperclassmen in society gave new dimensions to belles-letters and spiritualism gave Russian literature a leitmotif: the medium.(4) Dostoevsky's works show the dual nature of Russian spiritualism from the folkloric devils in many of his works to the sophisticated devilish phantom of Ivan's dream in The Brothers Karamazov. The writer's interest in spiritualism was undoubtedly sparked by the tremendous popular regard for the occult science during the reign of Alexander II.

In his personal life, Dostoevsky gave evidence of his curiosity about psychic phenomena. Doctor Janovskij, who treated the author, reported that Dostoevsky believed in premonitions and related the following incident. During the second year of their acquaintance, the doctor lived in Pavlovsk, returning to St. Petersburg three times a week for his medical practice. One day a strange urge convinced him of the necessity of returning to the city for an unscheduled visit. In a remote area he accidentally ran into Dostoevsky who had no money to pay a petty debt demanded of him by some military clerk. When the writer saw the doctor, he shouted, "See! See who will save me!" Later Dostoevsky called the incident remarkable and every time he would remember it, he would say, "Well, after that, how could one not believe in premonitions!"(5)

Dostoevsky often discussed spiritualism with friends,(6) and in 1876 he published his thoughts about spirits in The Diary of a Writer:(7)

...I think that a person who wants to believe in spiritualism cannot be hindered by anything, neither by lectures nor by entire commissions: and the disbeliever, if he really does not wish to believe, cannot be persuaded by anything. That is exactly the sort of persuasion I overcame at the February seance at A.N. Aksakov's, at least during the first strong impression. Since then, I have simply denied spiritualism, that is, in essence I have been indignant over the mystical aspect of its doctrine. (After reading the report of the academic commission's study of spiritualism, I could never be in a position to deny the spiritual phenomena which I have been acquainted with even before the seance with the medium and now, especially now.) But after that remarkable seance I suddenly guessed, or more so, suddenly realized, that it's not enough that I don't believe in spiritualism, but besides that, I don't want to believe - so no sort of proof will ever shake my position.

Books in Dostoevsky's private library give further evidence of the author's interest in the occult science:(8) for instance, Experimental Researches on Spiritualism, by Professor R. Cera (1866); and Spiritualism and Science: Experimental Researches on the Psychic Force, by William Crookes(1872).

In 1863 Dostoevsky attended a seance when the medium L.N. Livchak did a rope trick which caused several noted scientists considerable embarrassment.(9) The botanist V.I. Butlerov wrote that the event was the result of an "enormous technical operation that required significant mental power." Later the medium admitted that his great "technical operation" was done simply by "breaking a circled rope. Then, after tying the knots together, the broken parts were mended."(10) Evidently he substituted the knotted rope for the unknotted when nobody observed. Dostoevsky himself said that there was probably a logical explanation.(11)

During the early 1860s, Dostoevsky showed his interest in the esoteric by his publication of stories by Edgar Allen Poe in the journal Vremja (Time) and in articles about the American writer's literary style. Dostoevsky was intrigued by Poe's technique of presenting the outward possibility of an unnatural event while proceeding to relate a realistic tale. In the issue of Vremja that contained the stories The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Devil in the Belfry, there is an unsigned piece entitled St. Petersburg Dreams in Verse and Prose. The work was by Dostoevsky as it is an autobiographical account of a writer which parallels the Russian author's life. An imprisonment in Siberia is referred to as a "journey to the moon," which could indicate just how much Dostoevsky made Poe's images his own.(12)

Dostoevsky, like Poe, often intermingled naturalistic and irrational elements. The Russian author's earlier works used folkloric devils, as was pointed out above, and he continued using them in his major prose writings; for instance, Father Ferapont's multiple devils in The Brothers Karamazov. However, the influence of spiritualism is also evident in the esoteric aspects of the great novels. In Crime and Punishment there is a discussion of ghosts between Svidrigajlov and Raskolnikov (Part IV, Chapter I) which could have been inspired by Dostoevsky's knowledge of seances. When Svidrigajlov tells Raskolnikov about his dead wife's visitations, the descriptions are similar to the spiritualistic visits during a seance. Marfa Petrovna appears only briefly and speaks a few trifling remarks. Her oral utterances are similar to the phrases in thousands of seances recorded in the nineteenth century. They are pointless and disappointing to the listener. The same is true of the appearance of Svidrigajlov's dead serf Filka: a momentary visitation and pointless comments. Dostoevsky could have remembered his own experiences at seances while writing the scene.

In the novel The Devils, Dostoevsky referred to the book From New York to San Francisco and Back to Russia by P.I. Ogorodnikov. When Shatov in The Devils mentioned his experiences in America, he implied that spiritualism was part of the American way of life.(13) Ogorodnikov's book was published in 1872 and contained a conversation between two Russians who accidentally met in America and traveled together. Ogorodnikov and a student named A.E. Ja...v discussed American spiritualism while on their way to Chicago:(14)

... Ja...v related that Chicago, except for an abundance of Germans, is remarkable because most of the population is in intercourse with the next world and they are therefore somewhat strange.

And the practical American makes peace with that rubbish called the study of "spirits'?" involuntarily tore from my throat.

In America, as in a country with wide freedom of conscience, thought and speech, spiritualism, similarly to a majority of other studies, has found an abundance of fertile soil. There are up to four million followers of spiritualism in that country, and hundreds of remarkable people are in charge of it: lawyers, men of letters and scholars. They have their own special schools, their own religious service, their own festivals, picnics and meetings; they publish many books about spiritualism, their catechism and papers; they have more than just a few male and female prophets, clairvoyants, and mediums; their doctors, especially medics, can cure by means of spirits any disease of the body or the soul, and for that they charge only two or three dollars. Several of them are so gifted they can speak all dead and living languages and create miracles.

Having received such an account of the Chicago spiritualists, I reproached my acquaintance for not realizing that I truly doubt everything about the charlatans and exploiters of easily convinced fools.

"But not all spiritualists belong to the category of rascals," Ja...v interrupted.

I proposed to Ja...v that we go together to a seance of one of the mediums, but the hour was late, and probably all magicians were busy with beer by that time.

Dostoevsky referred to Ogorodnikov's book because he agreed with the traveler's low opinion of spiritualism. Another reference to the travel book was made in The Devils when Shatov discussed labor conditions in America.(15) The writer's mentioning of spiritualism in the novel is unusual because the occult science is rare in his prose writings. He usually expressed the fantastic through dreams.

One of the most famous dreams in Dostoevsky's novels is in The Brothers Karamazov: "The Devil: Ivan's Nightmare". There are references to spiritualism in the dream, which takes place in candlelight with a demon dressed possibly like a medium. The devil's statements about spiritualism refer to the Western occult science which was so popular in the country. The devil speaks of himself as a spirit and jokes that Ivan seems to think that he is dreaming. At various times Ivan himself calls the demonic visitor a phantom, a hallucination and a ghost. In his Diary of a Writer (Jan. 1876, Ch.3), Dostoevsky associated devils with spiritualism:

I should like to bring my January diary to a close with something more joyful. There is a humorous theme, and it is important; it is in vogue; namely, the topic of devils, of spiritism... Clergymen are raising their voices; they are instructing science itself not to bother with magic, not to investigate 'that witchery.' And if the clergy have raised their voices, it means that the thing has reached momentous proportions... But the trouble is: are there devils?... My trouble is that I do not believe in devils and it is a pity since I have formed a clear and remarkable theory about spiritism, but one based exclusively on devils: without them my theory is valueless...

Dostoevsky goes into detail in a humorous manner to explain his theory. He states that the basis of the devils' kingdom is discord and that their purpose is to sow discord among us. His definition could well have been taken from Chulkov's eighteenth-century Dictionary of Russian Superstitions(16) which maintains that discord is the raison d'etre of devils. Dostoevsky concludes that evil spirits had already caused much trouble in the new science of spiritualism. Many people had already been persecuted because of their belief in the popular science. The writer referred to the Scientific Committee on Spiritistic Phenomena in St. Petersburg which was formed to study spiritualism.(17) He claimed that devils had already caused much discord in the committee's work. Instead of fighting back, the devils had surrendered and had done nothing. Consequently, the people who believed that tables could fly had been ridiculed. Then, when the committee turned its back in disgust, the devils did something else that again convinced the adherents of spiritualism that they were correct after all. Of course, such an event caused the proceedings to start all over again. Seances, failure and ridicule, Dostoevsky claimed that it was all working just the way the devils wanted it. He ended his remarks with the following:

...Of course, I have been jesting and laughing from the first to the last word; however, here is what I wish to say in conclusion: if one is to consider spiritualism as something which has a new creed (and almost all spiritualists, even the sanest among them, are somewhat inclined toward such a view) several of the above remarks could be accepted as true... For this reason, may God bring a hasty success to an open investigation by both sides; that alone will eradicate as soon as possible the stench that is going around, and it might enrich science with new discoveries. But the shouting, defaming and expulsion of each other from society because of spiritualism ...that, in my opinion, ... is intolerance and persecution. And that is precisely what the devils want!

Dostoevsky must have been satisfied when the official governmental committee investigating spiritualism under the supervision of the noted chemist D.N. Mendeleev announced that it did not find a basis for the claims made by spiritualists.(18)

Devils played a considerable role in Dostoevsky's works. It has been pointed out by Robert Belknap that those evil forces form a veritable subtext in The Brothers Karamazov.(19) Dostoevsky's interest in devils and spirits is especially evident in the short story Bobok, which was written toward the end of his career and included in his Diary of a Writer in 1873. Bobok is a critic's delight. It has Poe's blending of the irrational with the realistic: the hero overhears the conversation of the dead in a cemetery; it has Hoffmann's exaggerations: noises coming from graves, etc.; it has the decadence of Baudelaire: the dying dead romp in a final orgy of debauchery; and the story has Gogol's mixture of fantasy and morality: the dead question the purpose of their lives and discuss the nature of morality itself. Bobok has even been compared stylistically to Gogol's The Dream of a Madman.(20) There is also reason to believe that Dostoevsky's attendance at seances influenced his writing of the tale. He went to mediumistic meetings during the 1860s and several seances from that period were recorded by Miss Tjutchev, the lady-in-waiting at the court of Alexander II mentioned above.(21) Certain aspects of Dostoevsky's story are similar to Miss Tjutchev's descriptions. In both, sounds are muffled. The hero of Bobok has trouble discerning the voices from the graves and Miss Tjutchev speaks of the faint sounds of the various phenomena she witnessed. More important is the pointlessness and stupidity of the communication of the spirits. One character in Bobok comments that "You can't imagine what an absence of wit there is here;" and a philosopher is noted for muttering a few irrelevant words each week. Other characters use the words "stupid" and "nonsensical" to describe their conversations. Miss Tjutchev concludes that the spirit world is indeed dull because of the absurdity of the spirits' comments. She found the "voices from the other world" to be abusive, foolish and senseless. For her, spiritualism was fascinating, but fatuous. Dostoevsky, it appears, agreed. In fact, Bobok could be interpreted as a parody of a seance where the absurd is placed on a par with empirical reality.

Dostoevsky's interest in spiritualism is evident in his life and literature. Father Ferapont's devils in The Brothers Karamazov indicate the author's knowledge of the Russian folkloric tradition and aspects of Bobok and Crime and Punishment show the writer's familiarity with mediums and seances. Dostoevsky did not believe in spiritualism, but the occult science did have an influence on his writings.


1. H. Troyat, Pushkin, (New York: Doubleday, 1970), p. 308.
2. V.A. Zhukovskij, Sochinenija, (St. Petersburg, 1885), pp. 111-127.
3. A.F. Tjutchev, Pri dvore dvukh irnperatorov, (Moscow: M.S. Sabashnikov, 1928), p. 147.
4. For a discussion of mediums in Russian literature, see: T.E. Berry, Spiritualism in Russian Society and Literature, (Nordland Press International, 1981).
5. Rebus, 1885, 25, p. 230.
6. Ibid.
7. F.M. Dostoevskij, Dnevnik pisatelja za 1876 god, (Paris: YMCA Press, 1940), V.H, pp. 139-140.
8. F.M. Dostoevskij, Polnoe sobranie sochinenij v tridcati tomakh, (Leningrad: Izdatel'stvo "Nauka," 1972), v. 12, p. 293.
9. Dostoevskij: "Pis'ma" (Moscow: Goslitizdat, 1959), v. IV, p. 350.
10. Ibid., p. 350.
11. Ibid., pp. 10-11.
12. V. Astrov, "Dostoevskij on Edgar Allan Poe," American Literature, v. XIV (1942), p. 72
13. Op.cit., Dostoevskij, "Polnoe sobranie sochinenij v tridcati tomakh," v. 10, p. 112.
14. P.I. Ogorodnikov, Ot Nju Jorka do San Francisko i obratno v Rossiju. (St. Petersburg: Kolesova i Mikhin, 1872), pp. 304-308.
15. Op.cit., Dostoevksij, "Polnoe sobranie sochinenij, v. 12, p.293.
16. M. Chulkov, Abevera Russkikh sueverij, (Moscow: Tipografija F. Gippius, 1789).
17. E.H. Britten, Nineteenth Century Miracles; or Spirits and Their Work in Every Country of the Earth. (New York: Lovell, 1884), p. 354.
18. Ibid., p. 359.
19. R.L. Belknap, The Structure of 'The Brothers Karamazov', (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1967) pp. 34-40.


October 29, 2010

Who’s Afraid of Halloween?

By Fr. Mark Sietsema*

I have a confession to make. And it’s a bad one ….

When I was a kid … I used to get dressed up for Halloween! And it was not always something innocent either, like an astronaut or a cowboy. Once I was even a ghost! Worse yet, I would go door-to-door with my brothers and say “Trick or treat!” Idolatrous! Occultic! Satanic! Over time, of course this demon-glorifying activity caught up with me. Look at me now. I dress in black almost every day …

Of course you see the problem here. If not, you will very soon start reading about it in the paper again. Many people of churchy persuasions object strenuously to the observance of Halloween. Every year we read letters to the editor that run as follows:

“Halloween is the worship of the devil! Halloween comes from heathen roots! Trick or Treat comes from an ancient pagan custom: the Druids would go from house to house seeking a virgin to sacrifice! If you complied and handed over your family’s virgin, they left outside your door a jack-o-lantern with a candle inside … fueled by human fat! If you did not comply, a terrible trick would be played on you! The Catholic Church perpetuated the pagan legends with its Feast of All Saints. If you let your kids celebrate Halloween, you expose them to the possibility of demonic possession!”

Well, good Orthodox Christian, what should our Church make of this controversy? Is Halloween something we Christians should shun like the Black Mass? Don’t the facts about Halloween’s origins prove that it is an abomination?

No. First of all, none of these “facts” are true. It’s all fiction. We know almost nothing about the culture and practices of the ancient Druids, except what little the Romans had to say. (Mind you, these are the same Romans who also used to say that Christians hold secret orgies where they sacrifice babies and eat them—so let’s be careful about how much credence we give them.) The Romans invaded Britain in 43 B.C. There they found a number of Celtic tribes, which the Roman legions subjugated with relative ease.

Now, you need to know that the Romans were not what you would call “culturally curious.” They had little interest in the ways of the conquered Britons. Generally, when there is interaction between conqueror and subject, the conqueror picks up and uses the local names for rivers, hills, and the like. For instance, our state is full of names from the native languages of the Indians: Michigan, Mackinac, Saginaw, Escanaba, Kalamazoo, Washtenaw. However, we find almost no use of the Celtic place names by the Romans. The Romans did not come to Britain for kaffee-klatsches, but for plundering and pillaging. Under the Roman sword the Celtic place-names perished with the Celts, as did any certain knowledge of Celtic or Druidic customs (like what kind of fat they used in their candles).

But what if the stories about pagan Halloween were true? Does that prevent us from making a fun day out of the Thirty-First of October? Or do pagan origins damn a thing forever?

I would hope that as Orthodox Christians we would know better than to say that. We borrowed an awful lot of useful things from ancient pagan cultures. Our musical system of eight tones? From the pagan Greeks. (Next time you hear a dismissal hymn in the Third Tone, picture a phalanx of Lacedaemonian warriors marching into an attack: they liked Third Tone for their battle hymns.)

And our iconography is an obvious adaptation of Egyptian funerary art: the portraits painted on Egyptian coffins look just like the faces in our icons. Christmas, we all know, is a retooling of the Roman celebration of the winter solstice, the Feast of Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun-god). And many, many Christian churches were built atop pagan shrines and holy places, the most famous example being the conversion of the Parthenon (a temple built in honor of Athena the Virgin Warrior) to a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Even Protestants with their Puritan impulses and their “just the Bible” mentality have to contend with borrowings from pagan sources in the Scriptures. For example, chapters 22-24 of the Book of Proverbs are almost certainly a translation of the older Egyptian advice guide The Instruction of Amen-em-Opet. And elsewhere in the Bible different titles given to God such as El Elyon “God Most High” and “the one who rides on the clouds like a chariot” (Psalm 104:3) are originally epithets for the pagan storm-god Baal.

What’s my point? You can’t judge a custom by its origins. What counts is one’s intention in the here and now. And let’s be honest: modern Halloween for you and me—and even the Wiccans down the street—has nothing to do with virgin sacrifice or black magic. It’s about having fun in a costume and eating things your dentist wouldn’t approve of.

“Well!” the anti-Halloween crowd would reply, “Halloween teaches kids that they can get something for nothing!!” But is that so bad? To my ears that sounds awfully close to the Christian idea of grace!

“Yes, yes, but we shouldn’t teach our kids that it’s OK to threaten someone with vandalism if they don’t fork over something you want!” Well, let’s look at this from another perspective. Maybe Halloween holds a nice little life lesson: you give a little to get a little. The Book of Proverbs speaks often of the power of gifts. If we all practiced the spirit of Halloween—being prepared always to give small kindnesses to those around us—what a wonderful world we would have.

Again, let’s be honest: no one was ever possessed by the devil because he or she dressed up for Halloween or passed out licorice or read a Harry Potter book. Our modern lives have way too many other avenues for temptation to enter, and these things are the real cause of our spiritual problems: pride, gluttony, hatred, materialism, and ignorance.

This may be the only pro-Halloween article by a clergyman you read this year. Actually, this piece isn’t so much pro-Halloween as it is anti-superstition and anti-paranoia. American Christianity is too much titillated by thoughts of demons, based on a mythology of evil that has more to do with pagan folklore than the sober statements of Scripture. Such superstition gives all Christians a bad name.

That’s why I’m not afraid of Halloween, and I see no problem with Orthodox Christians having fun at costume parties. After all, why would anyone want to learn more about Jesus Christ and his message, if being a Christian means forever being a spoilsport and a killjoy? If you believe in one God, if you trust Him, then accept his protection and don’t live in fear of demonic bogeymen. The real battle with the devil is fought in the heart, not in front of the Harry Potter bookstore.

Some people drink too much on New Year’s Eve. Should that stop you and me from enjoying a glass of champagne? Some people eat too much at Thanksgiving. Should that stop us from having our turkey with all the trimmings? Some people spend too much at Christmas. Should that stop us from exchanging gifts?

Some people go overboard on the spooky side of Halloween. It’s not too hard to avoid that for your family. Skip the horror movies. Don’t revel in gore. Don’t profane death. Don’t indulge in occult practices … But don’t be paranoid or superstitious either!

And have a Happy Halloween!

*Fr. Mark Sietsema is the Presiding Priest at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lansing, MI


St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite On Vampirism

Canon 66 of St. Basil the Great

A grave-robber shall remain excluded from Communion for ten years.

Footnote to this Canon by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

It is fitting that we add in the present footnote how great condemnation those priests or laymen deserve who open graves in order to find, as they say, the Vrykolakas*, as they call them, and put them to death.

Oh, to what a wretched condition and lack of knowledge present-day Christians have reached! Christian brethren, what delusions are those you have? What foolish and infantile imaginings are those in which you believe? What mockeries are those with which the demons separate you from an implicit belief in God, and make sport of you like silly children?

I tell you and I inform you with every assurance that Vrykolakas never occur, nor are there any in the world. Vrykolakas, as you call them, are nothing else than a false and childish prejudice born of your fear and unbelief; and they are a silly notion which fools you and tells you that the dead rise out of their tombs and come forth and trouble you. There are no Vrykolakas, because it is impossible for the Devil ever to raise a dead person and to make a corpse that has been dead a month or two have blood, or finger nails, or any bodily movement or motion, such as you imagine.

Vrykolakas are a silly notion, because, if one examines carefully those who claim to have seen Vrykolakas, he will find that after saying that someone else told them about it they finally come to believe that they themselves have seen them. That is my impression from having many times and in many places investigated the facts. Hence, my brethren, when you learn these, dismiss any such prejudice and imagination from your thought, and henceforth believe not that there are any such things as Vrykolakas in reality.

If, as a result of your paucity of belief in God the Devil ever obsesses you with any such imaginations, tell the priest to chant an Hagiasmo, or Sanctification Service, in that place, and through divine grace the activity of the demons will be terminated.

As for any persons that dare to open graves in order to strike or mangle a corpse, or to burn it, for the alleged purpose of putting to death with that blow or of burning the Vrykolakas, they ought to be canonized by the prelate not only as grave-robbers, but also as murderers. What am I saying? Why, such persons ought to be prohibited under severe penalties by the prelate from daring in the beginning even to open at all the graves of suspected dead persons.

See also divine Chrysostom (Homily 2 "On Lazarus and the Rich Man"), how he reproves those silly persons who believe that demons actually are in existence, which is the same as saying, the souls of those who have been murdered, or have been hanged, or have met a violent death. For he tells them that the souls of such persons do not become demons or Vrykolakas, but rather do those Christians who live in sins and who imitate the wickedness of the demons.

See also page 992 of the second volume of the Conciliar Records, where it is stated to have been a belief of the heresy of the Bogomils that demons inhabit bodies.

* Vrykolakas (Greek βρυκόλακας, pronounced /vriˈkolakas/), variant vorvolakas or vurdulakas or vrykolakos, is a harmful undead creature in Greek folklore. It has similarities to many different legendary creatures, but is generally equated with the vampire of the folklore of the neighbouring Slavic countries. While the two are very similar, blood-drinking is only marginally associated with the vrykolakas. Read more here.

Source: The Rudder (Pedalion) (The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, Chicago: 1957) pp. 830-831.

Related Link: Real Stories of Vampires from Transylvania

400 Year Old Diary of Witchfinder General Made Public

By James Tozer
29th October 2010

It is one of the grimmest chapters of our history.

Dramatised in the horror film The Witchfinder General, the execution of scores of innocent village women for consorting with the Devil is chilling.

But now a 350-year-old diary made public for the first time details the terror that faced the victims of Matthew Hopkins’ witch-hunts during the Civil War.

It tells how one of those accused admitted to ‘carnal copulation with the Devil’ after he appeared in her bedroom in the shape of a handsome young man.

The confession, by a young Essex maid, Rebecca West, implicated her mother, Anne, in witchcraft – saving her own life but condemning her mother to the gallows.

It is the account of Puritan writer, Nehemiah Wallington, who tells how a supposed coven of witches was found in the village of Manningtree in the 1640s.

Hopkins achieved notoriety long before he was immortalised in the 1968 Vincent Price film. Between 1645 and 1647, historians believe the self-styled Witchfinder General’s bloody crusade across East Anglia resulted in more than 100 women being put to death.

The trials in Manningtree – his home village – are among the most notorious of his brutal campaign.

Suspicion had fallen on villager Elizabeth Clarke and Hopkins was appointed to question her in March 1645. She was examined for ‘devil’s marks’ like warts or moles.

Under torture she broke down and named several other women including Anne West and her daughter Rebecca. They were already being blamed for the deaths of two children.

Tortured at Colchester Castle, Rebecca confessed and implicated her mother and other local women, thus saving herself.

It was at their trial in Chelmsford in July 1645 where Rebecca’s dramatic account was given.

Explaining how she knew her mother was in league with the Devil, Wallington writes: ‘When she looked upon the ground she saw herself encompassed in flames of fire and as soon as she was separated from her mother the tortures and the flames began to cease.

‘As soon as her confession was fully ended she found her contience so satisfied and disburdened of all tortures she thought herself the happiest creature in the world.’

With no legal representation, all but Rebecca were found guilty, and a total of 19 women – including Clarke – were hanged.

Wallington is thought to have based his account on contemporary pamphlets. He died in 1658. The notebook is kept at Tatton Hall, Cheshire. It is being made public by a team from Manchester University’s John Rylands Library who are ‘digitising’ the diary.

"Defending Constantine": Reviews

Defending Constantine
The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom

By Peter J. Leithart

About the Book

We know that Constantine:

-issued the Edict of Milan in 313

-outlawed paganism and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire

-manipulated the Council of Nicea in 325

-exercised absolute authority over the church, co-opting it for the aims of empire

And if Constantine the emperor were not problem enough, we all know that Constantinianism has been very bad for the church.

Or do we know these things?

Peter Leithart weighs these claims and finds them wanting. And what's more, in focusing on these historical mirages we have failed to notice the true significance of Constantine and Rome baptized. For beneath the surface of this contested story there emerges a deeper narrative of the end of Roman sacrifice--a tectonic shift in the political theology of an empire--and with far-reaching implications.

In this probing and informative book Peter Leithart examines the real Constantine, weighs the charges against Constantinianism, and sets the terms for a new conversation about this pivotal emperor and the Christendom that emerged.


Reviews & Endorsements

"Too many people, for far too long, have been able to murmur the awful word Constantine, knowing that the shudder it produces will absolve them from the need to think through how the church and the powers of the world actually relate, let alone construct a coherent historical or theological argument on the subject. Peter Leithart challenges all this, and forces us to face the question of what Constantine's settlement actually was, and meant. Few will agree with everything he says. All will benefit enormously from this challenge to easygoing received 'wisdom.'"

—N. T. Wright, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

"There have been of late a splurge of populist history books damning Constantine the Great as the villain of the piece. Almost without exception they have drawn their picture of this most complex and complicated of late-antique Roman emperors from secondhand, clichéd and hackneyed books of an older generation, adding their own clichés in the process. Constantine has been sketched luridly, as the man who corrupted Christianity either by financial or military means. At long last we have here, in Peter Leithart, a writer who knows how to tell a lively story but is also no mean shakes as a scholarly historian. This intelligent and sensitive treatment of one of the great military emperors of Rome is a trustworthy entrée into Roman history that loses none of the romance and rambunctiousness of the events of the era of the civil war, but which also explains why Constantine matters: why he was important to the ancient world, why he matters to the development of Christianity (a catalyst in its movement from small sect to world-embracing cultural force). It does not whitewash or damn on the basis of a preset ideology, but it certainly does explain why Constantine gained from the Christians the epithet 'The Great.' For setting the record straight, and for providing a sense of the complicated lay of the land, this book comes most highly recommended."

—John A. McGuckin, Columbia University

"An excellent writer with a flair for the dramatic, Peter Leithart is also one of the most incisive current thinkers on questions of theology and politics. In this book, Leithart helpfully complicates Christian history, and thereby helps theologians recover the riches of more than a millennium of Christian life too easily dismissed as 'Constantinian.' If the Holy Spirit did not simply go on holiday during that period, we must find ways to appreciate Christendom. Any worthwhile political theology today cannot fail to take Leithart's argument seriously."

—William T. Cavanaugh, Research Professor, Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, DePaul University, Chicago

"For a generation that thinks it approves of those who challenge the conventional wisdom, it can come as quite a shock when someone actually does it. In this book, Peter Leithart takes up the daunting challenge of defending Constantine, and he does it with biblical grace, deep wisdom, profound learning and scholarship that has let the clutch out. This is a magnificent book."

—Douglas Wilson, senior fellow of theology, New Saint Andrews College, Idaho


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Saint Abramius the Recluse and His Niece, Blessed Mary

Sts. Abramios and Maria (Feast Day - October 29)

                                                                By St. Dimitri of Rostov

The blessed Abramius was the son of pious parents, and from his youth he frequently attended God’s holy churches. There he gladly hearkened to the reading of the divine Scriptures. His parents, who loved him greatly, sought to compel him to marry although this was not his desire. They repeatedly enjoined him to take a wife, and at length he was forced to submit to their will. But seven days after his wedding, as he sat in his room with his bride, the grace of God suddenly shone in his heart like light, and he arose and left his house without saying anything to anyone. Guided by God, he left the city where he lived and took up his abode in an abandoned hut about half a mile away. He settled there with a joyful heart, glorifying God and intent on laboring for his salvation.

Now Abramius’ parents and relatives were grieved by his disappearance, and they searched for the blessed one everywhere. Seventeen days after he had departed, they found him in his cell, praying to God. They were amazed by what he had done, but the blessed one said to them, "Do not marvel at this, but give glory to God, Who loves mankind, for it was He Who delivered me from the vain world. Entreat the Lord for me that He grant me to bear His light yoke to the end, and trouble me no more. Because of my love for God, I wish to live here in silence and to fulfill the Lord’s holy will."

When his parents saw that Abramius was not to be dissuaded, they said the amen. The blessed one again besought them not to disturb him with their visits, and then sealed up the door leaving open only a little window, through which food could be passed to him.

The blessed Abramius resumed his labors for God, Who enlightened the saint’s mind with His grace. Abramius achieved perfection in the eremetic life and lived in great abstinence, pursuing the virtues of humility, chastity, and love. Word of his sanctity spread everywhere, and those who heard of it began to come to see him and to be profited, for he had received the gift of speaking wisely and consoling the hearts of others.

Ten years after the blessed Abramius forsook the world, his parents died, bequeathing him numerous possessions. Since he did not wish to leave his prayer and solitude, he requested a close friend to distribute his entire inheritance to the poor. He thus remained free from cares, for the blessed one’s whole desire was to prevent his mind from clinging to anything earthly. Therefore, he had no possessions except a single garment, a hair shirt, a bowl from which he ate and drank, and the mat upon which he slept. Throughout the fifty years he struggled in the monastic life, he never altered his rule, continually laboring for God with love and fervor.

One of the villages that lay near the city where Abramius had lived was very large, and its inhabitants were all heathen, from the least to the greatest. Until that time no one had succeeded in turning them to God. Many priests and deacons had been sent by the Bishop of that region to convert the inhabitants of the village from the deception of idolatry, but not one could endure the afflictions they suffered at the hands of the pagans. Numerous monks likewise strove repeatedly to win the people of that village away from their error, but as they had no success, they departed from their midst. One day, as the Bishop was sitting with his clergy, he brought to mind the blessed Abramius and said, "In all my life I have not met a man who has attained such perfection in every good and God-pleasing work as has our lord Abramius."

The clergy replied, "Yes, master, he is truly God’s servant and a perfect monk."

The Bishop said to them, "I wish to make him a priest for that village of pagans. Perhaps by his love and patience their hearts will be inclined toward him, and they will turn to God."

The Bishop and his clergy departed forthwith and went to the blessed one. After they had arrived and greeted the saint, the Bishop began to tell Abramius of the pagan village, beseeching him to go there. When Abramius heard this, however, he became very sorrowful and said to the Bishop, "Forgive me, holy Father! Leave me in peace to weep for my sins, for I am a weak man and unfit for the task you wish to lay upon me."

The Bishop replied, "The grace of God will enable you to succeed in this undertaking. Do not shirk this good obedience."

"I entreat Your Holiness: leave me, the wretch, to bewail my iniquities," said the blessed one.

The Bishop answered, "You have forsaken the world and despise all that is in the world, have crucified yourself to the flesh, and have acquired every virtue, but you have not learned obedience."

When Abramius heard this, he wept bitterly and said, "I am but a stinking dog. Of what use is my life, if you think of me thus?"

The Bishop said, "You sit here alone and save yourself, but in the village you will turn many to the Lord and salvation, with the help of God’s grace. Consider, therefore, which of the two will bring you a greater reward: to save yourself alone or to save many."

Weeping, the blessed one said, "May the will of God be done! In obedience, I go."

The Bishop led Abramius forth from his cell to the city, where he ordained him. Then he sent him with other clergymen to the pagan village. Along the way, the blessed one prayed to God, saying, "0 Good One, Who lovest mankind, Thou seest my weakness. Do Thou send Thy grace unto mine aid, that Thy most holy name may be glorified!"

When he reached the village and saw how the people served the idols and were held fast by demonic delusion, Abramius groaned and wept. Lifting up his eyes unto heaven, he said, "0 God, Who alone art without sin, disdain not the works of Thy hands!"

Abramius then sent word to his dear friend to whom he had entrusted the task of distributing his inheritance to the poor and instructed him to send him a portion of the money which yet remained, that he might use it to build a church. The blessed one quickly began the construction of God’s temple, and within a short time a magnificent church was built, which he adorned like a fair bride. While the church was being built, the blessed one would go amid the idols and pray to God without saying a word aloud. After the church was completed, he tearfully offered prayer to the Lord there, making entreaty to God and saying, "0 Lord, gather the people which have been scattered, and lead them unto this church. Enlighten the eyes of their mind, that they may know Thee to be the one true God, Who lovest mankind."

When he had finished his prayer, the saint left the church, overturned the altar of the pagans, and destroyed their gods. When the heathen saw this, they fell upon him like wild beasts, thrashed him, and cast him out of the village. But he returned by night to the church and began to cry out, weeping in prayer to God and beseeching Him to save the people from perdition. When morning dawned, the pagans found him in the church praying (for they came every day to the church, not to pray but to marvel at the magnificence and beauty of the building), and they were amazed. The blessed one besought them to acknowledge the one true God, but they beat him with staves as though he were a lifeless rock. They threw him to the ground, tied a noose about his neck, and dragged him out of the village. Then, thinking he was dead, they laid a stone upon him and departed. But Abramius came to himself in the middle of the night, and scarcely alive, sat up and began to weep bitterly, saying to God, "Why, 0 Master, hast Thou spurned my lowliness and my tears? Why hast Thou turned Thy face away from me and disdained me, who am the work of Thy hand? 0 Master, look down upon Thy servant and hearken unto my prayer! Strengthen me, and loose Thy servants from the bonds of the devil, and grant them to know Thee, the only true God; for there is no God other than Thee."

Abramius then went into the village and entered the church, and he stood there, chanting and praying. The next morning, the pagans came and found that he was still alive and were astonished. As they were brutal and merciless men, they again began to torment him cruelly. Having knocked him to the ground, they tied a rope about his neck and dragged him out of the city. The blessed one suffered similar cruelties at their hands for three years: he was persecuted, beaten, reviled, stoned, and endured hunger and thirst. But although the heathen brought all these things upon him, never was he angry with them, neither did he complain nor show cowardice. He bore these things without growing despondent, and torments only served to increase his love for the people and his desire for their salvation. He instructed the elderly respectfully as though they were his own parents and taught the young as if they were his brothers, entreating them to accept the faith. The children he dealt with as though they were his own, even though they mocked and reviled him.

The people of that village could not but be amazed by Abramius’s life; and one day, when all of them had gathered together, they began to speak with one another, saying, "Do you not see what patience this man has? Do you not see what love beyond words he has for us? He has suffered much evil from us but has not gone away or said a word of complaint to anyone. He has not turned away from us but endures all things with great joy. Truly, God, of Whom he ever speaks, has sent him to us, that we might correct our lives. He tells us of the kingdom, of paradise, and of life eternal, and his words are surely true. Otherwise, he would be unable to endure such abuse at our hands. Moreover, he has shown us that our gods are powerless, for they proved unable to revenge themselves upon him when he broke them to pieces. He is indeed a servant of the living God, and all that he has said is truth. Come, then, let us believe in the God Whom he preaches!" The people then hastened to enter the church, crying and saying, "Glory to the God of heaven, Who hath sent us His servant to save us from the delusion of the devil!"

When the blessed one saw them, he rejoiced exceedingly, and his countenance shone like the light of morning. He opened his mouth and said to the people, "0 my fathers, brethren, and children! Come, let us glorify God, Who has illumined the eyes of your hearts, that you should know Him and be cleansed of the impurity of idolatry. Believe in the living God with all your heart, for He is the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things therein, the Lord unoriginate, ineffable, unapproachable, the Giver of light, both dread and just, Who loves mankind. Have faith also in His only-begotten Son, Who is His Wisdom and Power and does His will, and in the Holy Spirit, Who gives life to all things; for if you believe thus, you shall have eternal life."

The people answered him: "O our father, the guide of our life! We believe as you say and teach us, and we are ready to do whatsoever you command."

The blessed one immediately took them all and baptized them, old and young, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In all they were about a thousand souls. Every day he read to them from the divine Scriptures and spoke of the kingdom of heaven, of paradise, of the fire of Gehenna and of righteousness, faith, and love. Like fertile ground they received the good seed and gave forth fruit, one a hundredfold, another sixtyfold, another thirtyfold. The blessed one, who was like an angel of God, was ever engaged in their instruction, and they hearkened to him eagerly, gladly, and with diligence. They gave close heed to his sacred teaching, for they were bound to him by the bonds of love.

The blessed one lived with the villagers for a full year after their conversion, because he wished to confirm them in the faith. Day and night he taught them the word of God without ceasing. When he saw that they were established in their zeal for God and that their faith was firm, he wished to leave them, knowing that they had come to love and to revere him very much. He feared lest he form an attachment to them, thus betraying his monastic vow. One night, he arose and began to pray to God, saying, "0 Thou Who alone art without sin, 0 Thou only Holy One, the merciful Master Who alone lovest mankind and restest in the saints! Thou hast enlightened the eyes of this people, freed them from the deception of idolatry, and vouchsafed them to know Thee. Do Thou ever keep and preserve them, 0 Master, and do Thou guard this Thy flock, which Thou hast acquired in Thy great love for mankind. Protect them from every side by Thy grace, ever illumine their hearts, and cause them to be altogether pleasing unto Thee, that they may be vouchsafed Thy heavenly kingdom. Defend Thou me also, who am feeble and unworthy, and count not mine intention as sin, for Thou knowest that I love Thee and seek after Thee."

When Abramius had finished his prayer, he signed himself with the Cross and secretly departed to another place where he hid himself from the villagers. The next day, the newly enlightened people went to the church, according to their custom. They searched for the godly one but did not find him, and in their confusion they wandered about like lost sheep seeking their shepherd, for whom they wept as they called out his name. Having looked everywhere and not found him, they became very downcast and hastened to the Bishop to tell him what had happened. The Bishop likewise was saddened when he learned of this, and as he saw how Abramius’ flock wept and besought God to return their father to them, he sent a number of his servants without delay, to seek for the blessed one. The servants diligently sought for him as though he were a precious stone but could not find him. Therefore, the Bishop went with his clergy to the village, and seeing that all its inhabitants were steadfast in the faith and their love for Christ, he chose from their number worthy men, ordaining them presbyters and deacons. Then, after blessing them, he departed.

When the blessed one heard what the Bishop had done, he rejoiced greatly. He gave glory to God and said, "O my good Master! What shall I render unto Thee for all Thou hast done for me? I worship and glorify Thy divine providence!"

After praying thus, Abramius joyfully returned to the cell where he had formerly lived. A little way from the first cell he built another, in which he shut himself up. But seeing Abramius’ great struggles and how the saint rejoiced in God his Saviour, the devil burned with envy toward him and began to strive in every way to cast down Christ’s good warrior. Seeking to stir up proud thoughts in him, Satan tempted him with words of praise. Once, as the blessed one stood at prayer at midnight, a light as bright as the sun suddenly shone in his cell, and he heard what seemed to be a divine voice, saying, "You are blessed indeed, 0 Abramius! Verily, you are blessed, for no other man has done my will as you have. Because of this you are truly blessed!"

Abramius at once perceived the delusion of the adversary, and he lifted up his voice and said, "May you perish in darkness, 0 Satan, full of deceit and wickedness! I am a sinful man, but I trust in my God’s succor and grace. I do not fear you, and your illusions do not frighten me, for the name of Jesus Christ, Whom I love, is my invincible rampart. In His name I adjure you to depart!"

Immediately the devil vanished like smoke. A few days later, however, as the blessed one was praying by night, Satan again appeared, holding an axe, with which he began to destroy Abramius’ cell. When it seemed that the cell had been ruined, the devil cried out to his companions, "Hurry, my friends; make haste and let us strangle him!"

But the blessed one answered, All the nations compassed me round about, and by the name of the Lord I warded them off.

Straightway Satan vanished, and the cell was seen to have suffered no harm. But only a few days after this, as the saint was praying at midnight, Abramius saw that the mat on which he stood was about to be consumed by raging fire. The godly one trampled down the flames, and he said, "Upon the asp and the basilisk shall I tread, and I shall trample upon the lion and the dragon and on all the power of the enemy in the name of my Helper, Jesus Christ my God."

Satan took flight and cried out with a loud voice, "I shall conquer you yet, vile one, for I have devised a new snare for you!"

One day, as the blessed Abramius was eating, the devil again entered his cell, this time in the guise of a youth. He drew near the saint and pretended that it was his intention to dash to the floor the vessel from which Abramius ate. Seeing this, the blessed one held on to the bowl and continued to eat, not showing the least fear as the devil stood before him. Then the devil set a burning candle on a candlestand and began to chant with a loud voice, Blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.

Satan chanted the psalm through to the end, but the saint did not answer him until he had finished eating. He then made the sign of the Cross and said to the devil, "Vile dog, thrice-wretched, impotent, and cowardly! If you know that the blameless are blessed, why do you trouble them? Truly, all who love God and trust in Him with their whole heart are blessed and thrice-blessed."

Answered the devil, "I vex them in the hope of vanquishing them, and I tempt them to turn them away from every good work."

The blessed one said to him, "May it not go well with you, accursed one! May you not overcome or lead astray any of those who fear God. It is those like you who have fallen away from their God that you deceive and conquer, for God is not with them. You are forced to vanish before those who love God even as smoke vanishes in the wind. Their prayer alone suffices to drive you away as the wind sweeps away dust. My Lord lives and is blessed forevermore; He is my glory and my boast, and even if you should stand here for a year or more, you will not cause me to fear you. O you unclean dog! I will never do your will, for I despise you as a filthy cur."

The devil disappeared when the blessed one spoke thus; but five days later, as the saint was concluding his midnight chanting, the enemy again appeared, accompanied by what seemed to be a multitude of people. They encircled his cell with a rope, and pulling it tight, cried out to one another, "Let us cast his cell into the abyss!"

Seeing this, the blessed one said, "They compassed me about like unto bees around a honeycomb, and they burst into flame like a fire among the thorns, and by the name of the Lord I warded them off."

To this Satan could only say, "I do not know what else to do; lo, you have utterly prevailed over me. You have overthrown my power and caused me to be held in disdain, but nevertheless, I will not leave you in peace until I vanquish and humble you."

The blessed one said, "0 unclean one, may you and all your works be cursed, but to God our Master, Who alone is holy, be glory and worship! Learn now, 0 wretched and shameless one, that we fear neither you nor your specters."

The devil warred thus with the saint for a considerable time, seeking to frighten him with various apparitions, but he could not vanquish that steadfast struggler and was himself overcome. The blessed one continued to add to his labors, and his love for God grew so that he came to love the Lord with his whole heart. His manner of life was such that he was filled with God’s grace, and because of this the devil could not prevail over him. During all the years he was a monk, a day did not pass when he failed to weep, and he never succumbed to laughter. He did not partake of oil in his food, and he never washed his face, but lived each day as though he were about to die.

Now the blessed one had a brother according to the flesh, who had one daughter. When her father died, the girl was left an orphan. She was at that time seven years old, and she was taken to her uncle by acquaintances of her father. He ordered that she be left in his outer cell while he withdrew into seclusion in the inner chamber. There was a small door between the two through which he taught her the Psalter and the other books of Holy Scripture. Thus, the maiden began to live the monastic life, fasting and praying like her uncle, and she exercised herself in every monastic labor and virtue. Although her father had left her considerable wealth, the saint commanded that it be distributed to the poor at the very hour of his brother’s death.

The blessed one often shed tears as he besought God to care for the maiden and to guard her from the vanity of this world, and she would herself often entreat her uncle to pray God that she be delivered from every snare of the devil. She strove to emulate her uncle’s monastic life in every way; and the elder rejoiced when he saw her zealous labors, her tears, humility, silence, meekness, and love for God. She labored with him in monasticism for that time like a pure lamb or an unblemished turtledove. But at the end of that time, the devil laid his snares to trip her up and to catch her, hoping by this to grieve the blessed one and to tear his mind from God.

There was a certain monk who frequently visited the saint under the pretext of receiving instruction from him. When this monk (who was a monk only in name, not in deed) first saw the blessed maiden, he was filled with lust for her. He wished to speak with her, for his heart burned with a mad love. He longed for her thus for a whole year until one day, with the help of Satan, he opened the door to her cell and entered, seducing and defiling her.

After she had fallen into sin, Mary (for this was the maiden’s name) was filled with terror. She rent her garment and beat her face, and in her grief she wished to put an end to her life. She said, "I have slain my soul and ruined my life; I have brought to nought all my monastic labors, my fasting, and my tears! I have angered God, destroyed myself, and cast my godly uncle into bitter sorrow. I have become the devil’s plaything; why should I continue to live? 0 woe is me; what have I done? What a grievous pit I have fallen into! A dark gloom has covered my heart, and now I do not know what to do or where I may hide myself. Where shall I go? Into what abyss shall I fling myself? Where now is the teaching of my venerable uncle, where the instruction of his friend Ephraim, who said to me, ’Be heedful and guard your soul undefiled for the immortal Bridegroom, for He is a holy and jealous God.’ But I no longer make bold to lift my eyes to heaven, for I have perished before both God and man. I cannot remain here, for I am a sinful woman, altogether defiled; how can I dare speak with my holy father? If I should approach him, fire will issue forth from the door of his cell and burn me up. It would be better for me to go to another land where no one knows me, for I have perished, and no hope of salvation remains for me."

Mary immediately arose and journeyed to another city where she changed her attire and took up her abode in a brothel. Now as these things took place, the blessed Abramius saw a dream. He beheld a fearful and enormous serpent, which hissed menacingly. This serpent slithered into his cell where it found a dove and swallowed it up. Then the serpent withdrew, returning to its den.

When the saint awoke, he was sorely troubled and wept bitterly, saying, "Can it be that Satan has raised up a persecution against the Holy Church? Perhaps many have forsaken the faith or the Church is troubled by schism."

Two days later, Abramius saw in another dream that same serpent creep out of its pit and into his cell, but this time it placed its head beneath his feet and burst asunder. The dove which was in his belly, however, remained alive, and when the blessed one stretched out his hand to take it, he found that it had suffered no harm.

After the blessed one arose, he called out once or twice to the maiden, his co-struggler, and said, "This is the second day that you remain slothful and have not opened your mouth to glorify God!"

As there was no answer, Abramius opened the door and saw that his niece was gone. He then perceived that the vision pertained to her, and he began to weep and to say, "O woe is me! The wolf has snatched away my ewe-lamb! My child has been stolen from me!"

Then the saint lifted up his voice and lamented tearfully, "O Saviour of the whole world, return Thy lamb Mary to the fold of life, that grief may not cast me down into Hades in mine old age. Disdain not my supplication, 0 Lord, but quickly send Thine aid, that she may be delivered from the maw of the serpent."

Mary lived away from her uncle for two years, but he did not cease to pray for her day and night to God. Then someone told the saint where his niece was to be found and what sort of life she was leading. Abramius begged one of his acquaintances to go to that place to verify the truth of what he had heard. The man went, found the place, saw Mary, and returned to assure Abramius that the report was true.

When the saint had confirmed these things, he asked that he be brought the garb of a soldier and a horse. He then broke open the door of his cell and came forth from his seclusion. After he had clothed himself in military uniform and put upon his head a high-crowned hood that concealed his face, he took a gold piece, mounted the horse, and rode away. When he came to the brothel, he glanced about to see if Mary was there and gaily said to the proprietor, "Friend, I have heard that you keep a certain fair wench. It would please me to have a look at her."

The innkeeper saw his hoary grey hairs and laughed in his heart, since he supposed that Abramius wished to have her. He replied, "The lass does live here, and she is very comely," for the blessed maiden was indeed uncommonly handsome.

Then the elder said jestingly, "Call for her, that I may amuse myself with her this night."

The innkeeper called Mary, and she came to her uncle. When the saint saw her bedecked as a harlot, he could scarcely hold back his tears, but he constrained himself so that she would not recognize him and flee. They sat down together and began to drink, and that wondrous man made merry with her. Mary took him in her arms, but when she began to kiss him, she smelt the fragrance that came forth from his pure body, which had been mortified by numerous ascetic labors. She called to mind the past when she lived in abstinence, and she sighed and wept, saying, "0 woe is me!"

The innkeeper said to her, "Mary, you have now been with us for two years, and never have I heard you sigh thus and say such things. What is it that troubles you?"

Mary answered, "I would be happy if I had died before I came here!"

Not wishing her to recognize him, the blessed Abramius said to Mary sharply, "Ah, you only remembered your sins when you came to me!"

Then Abramius took out his gold piece, gave it to the innkeeper, and said, "Friend, make us a fine supper, that I may sport with this wench tonight, for I have come a long way for her sake."

O the divine wisdom and spiritual discernment of the godly one! O the condescension which he showed her! He who in fifty years as a monk had not once eaten his fill of bread or drank his share of water now eats flesh and drinks wine, in order to save a lost soul. Even the ranks of the holy angels in heaven marvelled at the wisdom, compassion, and good judgment of that blessed father. He ate meat and drank wine to snatch a drowning soul from the defilement of sin. O surpassing wisdom! O understanding beyond measure!

After they had eaten and made merry, the maiden said to Abramius, "Sir, let us go and lie upon my bed, that we may sleep."

The saint said, "Very well."

When they entered the chamber, Abramius saw a large bed, thickly spread with covers, and he sat down upon it. Then he said to Mary, "Close the door. Come here and remove my shoes."

Mary locked the door and sat down beside the saint. He said to her, "Come closer to me."

Abramius took hold of Mary firmly so that she could not flee, removed the hood from his head, and kissed her. Weeping, he said, "Mary, my child, do you not recognize me? Am I not he who reared you? What has become of you, my child? Who has brought you to ruin? Where is the angelic habit you once wore, my daughter? What has become of your abstinence and the tears you once shed? What of your vigils and your sleeping upon the ground? You have fallen from the heights of heaven into this wretched pit. 0 my child! Why did you not tell me when you fell into sin? My beloved friend Ephraim and I would have taken your labors of repentance upon ourselves. Why have you brought me to such grief? Can you not see the sorrow into which you have cast me? My child, who except God alone is without sin?"

When Mary heard this, she became like a lifeless stone in his arms, stricken with fear and shame. Then the blessed one said, "Have you nothing to say to me, my child Mary? Have you nothing to say to me, 0 my heart? I will answer for you, my child, on the day of judgment; I will take the penance for your sins upon myself."

The saint continued to entreat her thus until midnight, weeping and exhorting her. Little by little she took courage and said to him tearfully, "I cannot bear to look upon you because of the shame of my face. How dare I pray to God when my lips are so defiled?"

Abramius said to her, "Child, may your sin be upon me! May God require recompense for your sin from my hands! Only heed me, and let us return to our cell. I know that Ephraim will also pray to God for you, my daughter. Show mercy upon my old age, O my heart. Come now, child, depart with me."

Mary answered him thus: "If you are certain that I can repent and that God will accept my prayer, I will come, falling down before your holiness. I kiss the soles of your sacred feet, for you have shown great compassion for me by coming here to lead me away from this vile and unclean place."

She then placed her head upon his feet and wept through the night, crying, "How can I make amends for all my sins, 0 Master!"

When morning dawned, Abramius said to the girl, "Arise; let us be gone."

She said to him, "I have some gold and clothing here. What would you have me do with them?"

Said the blessed one, "Leave it all here, for it is the devil’s portion."

Without delay they departed. The saint set Mary on the horse and led her away, walking before her. As they went on their way, the blessed one rejoiced in his heart like a shepherd who has found his lost sheep and taken it upon his shoulders. Reaching his dwelling, Abramius immediately shut her in the inner cell. She put on a hair shirt, and calling upon God’s help, fervently devoted herself to monastic labors. Weeping and fasting, guarding herself in meekness and humility, she gave herself over to repentance with much zeal. Such was her penitence and such her prayer that our repentance in comparison seems but a shadow, and our prayer to be nothing whatsoever. And the compassionate God, Who does not will that any man should perish but desires that all come to repentance, had mercy upon His handmaiden, whose penitence was true; and He forgave her sins. Moreover, as a sign of the remission of her sins, Mary was granted the grace to heal the illnesses of those who had recourse to her.

The blessed Abramius lived for ten more years. Seeing Mary’s great repentance, her tears, fasting, labors, and her fervent prayer to the Lord, he was consoled and gave glory to God. He was seventy years old when he reposed in the Lord. After his death almost all the inhabitants of the city assembled to approach his precious body, through which healing was bestowed on the infirm.

Christ’s ewe-lamb Mary lived in great abstinence for five years after the repose of her uncle. She prayed to God tearfully day and night so that many heard the voice of her weeping and boundless lamentation as they passed by her cell. They would stop and marvel, giving glory to God. Such was the perfect repentance by which the blessed Mary pleased God! She reposed in peace, and now, having shed copious tears, she rejoices with the saints, who exult in the Lord. To Him be glory unto the ages. Amen.


HYMN OF PRAISE: The Venerable Abramius the Recluse

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

St. Abramius left his bride
And dedicated his life to strict asceticism.
By asceticism he worked out his salvation,
And wisely directed others to salvation.
Demonic power attacked the saint,
But in the name of Christ he crushed it.
The demon took on various, horrible guises,
To scare and hinder the man of God.
This man of God did not allow himself to fear,
Or separate his mind from God,
But shone on the world like a candle,
Glorifying the One God, the Most-holy Trinity.
Imprisoned, alone and not wanted by the world,
Abramius became a prisoner for the sake of Christ
For fifty years-fifty years!
Of tears, fasting and struggle-all for the Son of God:
For fifty years-fifty years!
Established on Christ, the firm Foundation.
Glory to Abramius, Christ's soldier,
That, on the mortal earth, he has shown us immortality!

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Abramius, your soul rejoices with the angels.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
You abandoned all earthly comforts, O Father Abramius, living righteously in hope of things to come and receiving a sacred anointing. Initiated into divine mysteries, you enlighten those who cry: Glory to him who has strengthened you! Glory to him who has granted you a crown! Glory to him who through you works healing for all!

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Thou, while living in the flesh, wast as an angel upon earth; and through thine ascetic pains, thou didst become like a great tree planted by the streams of temp'rance, increasing greatly; with the rivers of thy tears, thou didst cleanse away stains. O Abramius, for this cause, a godly vessel of the Good Spirit art thou.