February 28, 2011

Holy New Martyr Kyranna of Thessaloniki (+ 1751)

St. Kyranna of Thessaloniki (Feast Day - January 8 and February 28)


Lady Kyranna suffered and was tortured,
And was seen to depart to the Lord of lords.

Our Orthodox Church today celebrates the memory of the New Martyr Kyranni or Kyranna. Saint Kyranna came from the village of Ossa near Thessaloniki, and was born to pious parents. Because she was very beautiful, one day a certain Janissary who came to Kyranna's village in order to collect taxes, upon seeing her, wanted to make her his wife. Even though he tried to persuade her to change her religion with flatteries and gifts in order for her to marry him, the modest girl stubbornly refused to resign to his flattering. Then he began to bully and to threaten her that if she did not give up her faith, he would torture and kill her.

But the Saint did not change her mind, neither with the threats nor his bullying. He therefore captured her and brought her to the Turkish judge in Thessaloniki, where before the judge he lied by saying that Kyranna cheated him by promising him that she would become Muslim in order to marry him, but at the end she refused to do so. When the Saint was asked to defend herself, she confessed before all who were present her faith in Christ, and right after, the Turks imprisoned her.

Inside the prison, the Saint went through daily torture from the Janissary and the prison guards. One would hit her with a stick, another with the flat of his sword, and another would kick or punch her. Then when they left, the jailer would come and hang her by her arms and beat her until he was tired out, despite the cries of outrage and rebukes of the common prisoners. Despite these torments, Kyranna would remain strong and courageous, and seemed unaffected by the pain as if someone else were suffering, and she refused the food offered her.

One night, after seven days of such torment, on the 28th of February 1751, Kyranna was severely beaten by the jailer with a piece of wood and he left her hanging dead. This was done because the jailer had illegally allowed others in to beat Kyranna, and one Christian prisoner threatened to reveal this to the pasha. In the morning the body of the Saint was covered by Holy Light and gave off a celestial fragrance, as her soul was delivered to God, and the Christian prisoners upon seeing that, started to glorify the Lord, but the Muslims and Jews were afraid because they thought it was fire. When a Christian prisoner went to bring down the body of the Saint and found out that she was dead, he took care of it, and the next day it was given to the Christians who buried it. This Christian reprimanded the jailer, who came to repent of his evil deed. Her body was buried outside of Thessaloniki, at the Cemetery of Saint Paraskevi.

Today, in the village of Ossa, a great church exists dedicated to the New Martyr of Christ Saint Kyranna, who is also the patron saint of the community, and for this reason it is dedicated to her memory, since she was born and lived in Ossa. According to the historian Asterios Thilikos, the church was built in 1840, or according to its foundation date, it was built in 1868. The miraculous icon of Saint Kyranna is kept inside the church, which was painted around 1870, by Christodoulos Ioannou Zografos from the village of Siatista.

The church is a center of reverence for the villagers of Ossa, a place of worship throughout the region and her memory there is celebrated on January 8. In a Codex of Great Lavra her memory is listed for celebration on January 1. Generally her memory is celebrated on February 28th, the day of her martyrdom. The reason why her feast is celebrated in January is because it often happens that February 28th lands during the somber season of Great Lent when celebrations are discouraged. January 8th was likely chosen because the families of the village are together for the Christmas and Theophany holidays. Her memory toay is celebrated on the Sunday after January 8th.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
Rejoice offspring and divine offshoot of Ossa, Virgin Martyr Kyranna the Bride of Christ God, who firmly contested in these latter years, and destroyed the enemy, by steadfastly persevering. And now she ceaselessly entreats, on behalf of the faithful who honor, her blessed contest.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Virgin Martyr Kyranna, true Bride of Christ and beautiful maiden, we hasten towards your fervent intercession, to release us from every disease and affliction, and give us unceasing joy.

On every occasion we hasten to your intercession, revered Kyranna, receiving the requests, of Ossa that brought you forth, and we cry out to you with faith: keep away from us O Martyr, a life of misfortune and bitterness.

Patriarchal Catechetical Homily On the Opening of Holy and Great Lent


Prot. No. 195


On the Opening of Holy and Great Lent


By God’s Mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
And Ecumenical Patriarch

To the Plenitude of the Church

Grace and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

With our Prayer, Blessing and Forgiveness

Beloved brothers and children in the Lord,

“The arena of the virtues has opened; those who desire to compete may enter, girding themselves with the good struggle of fasting.” (Triodion, Cheesefare Sunday) Or, better, the arena has always remained open, from the time that the All-Merciful Lord of Glory deemed it worthy to assume our nature. Since then, through His Church, he invites every person to participate in the boundless gifts of the grace of the Holy Spirit, particularly during this blessed period of Holy and Great Lent.

Beloved children in the Lord, the boundless goodness of our God, who is truly worshipped in the Trinity, created the human race solely out of love in order to render us human beings – to the degree that is possible for human nature – sharers and participants of the grandeur of His sacred glory. This is the exclusive purpose of life at all times. Indeed, in order to achieve this purpose, the holy and inspired tradition of the Orthodox Church comes to our support, instructing, interpreting and including the entire spectrum of the spiritual life by means of various struggles, with which the faithful must always advance courageously.

Through the holy Sacrament of Baptism, each Christian received the grace of the Holy Spirit. If we begin to love God with all our heart, then this grace transmits to us in an incomprehensible way the wealth of its benefits. Whoever wishes to retain this experience of grace should strive with great joy to renounce from the soul the benefits of the present age in order to acquire the hidden wealth of true life. To the same degree that the soul advances in this spiritual struggle, the sacred gift of divine grace reveals the Lord’s goodness concealed in the depth of the soul in order to become the sure guide in the manifold spiritual struggle. (St. Diadochus of Photike, Century 77)

This spiritual struggle is ongoing for every faithful. Therefore, it requires us to start anew each day, each moment. “The time has come for the beginning of spiritual struggle, the victory of demons, the armor of virtue, the conduct of angels, the boldness before God.” (Lauds, Cheesefare Sunday) Great Lent precisely resembles a constant beginning of spiritual regeneration and renewal. This is why the hymnographer of the Triodion correctly orientates us toward its proper content, stating that bodily fasting by renouncing certain foods cannot result in remedy and is even despised by God as false, unless it is accompanied by purity that results from renouncing the spiritual passions (Lauds, Wednesday of Cheesefare Week).

Of course, focusing the intellect on the work of knowing God, in order to return it from passionate dispersion, comprises a toilsome and time-consuming labor. However, it is necessary and definitive for our spiritual wellbeing and social life. The way of virtue appears difficult and extremely unpleasant to those who undertake the journey; yet, not because it is actually like this, but because human nature has become accustomed to the ease of pleasure. For those who have succeeded in reaching the middle of this journey, in fact it appears pleasant and effortless (St. Diadochus of Photike, Century 93).

Frequently, those who cannot understand the great mystery of this piety consider the Orthodox ascetic tradition as negative and as leading to deprivation of creativity, of original initiative, of enjoyment in life’s pleasure. Nothing could be further from the truth. All that was created by God was created “very good” and offered to us in order to delight in and enjoy in order for us to give continual glory to our Benefactor. The commandments of God guide us and inform us in the proper use of these divine gifts, so that our body, mind and soul, together with all the material gifts, may be truly joyful and beneficial for our life. On the contrary, the arrogant, independent and contemptuous use of material gifts offered to us by the Creator result in entirely different goals to God’s expectations, leading us to depression, anxiety and misfortune, even though appearing to satisfy human pride momentarily.

Our Savior, who is truly divine and truly human, who is incomprehensibly known to the humble and those capable of receiving His uncreated grace, the Lord of glory and Lord of history, who directs our soul and mind, who contains the universe in His divine providence – from the smallest particle of His creation to the most inconceivable aspect of our world, is eternally the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14.6) Just as the hypostatic source of Life could not possibly be held by death, which was crushed through His resurrection, so too there could not possibly be any positive human life without participation in the life-creating Body of the Risen Christ, the Orthodox Church, and the inspired Holy Tradition. In brief, the Lord reigns forever, while the ideas of the proud are proved false. Or, as St. Diadochus so wonderfully says: “There is nothing poorer than a mind endeavoring to philosophize about God without God.”

Beloved children in the Lord, upon entering the arena of Holy and Great Lent, we paternally exhort you not to be afraid or lazy in assuming the most important task of your life, namely the spiritual arena of work. Instead, be courageous and strong, so that you may purify your souls and bodies of all sin in order to reach the Kingdom of God, which is granted already from this life to those who seek it with sincerity and with all their soul.

May the grace of God and His boundless mercy be with you all.

Holy and Great Lent 2011

+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Fervent supplicant to God for all


Priests Reissue Tsarist-Era Censored Pushkin Tale

February 28, 2011
The Moscow Times

A classic Alexander Pushkin fairy tale ridiculing a priest was reprinted by Krasnodar region church officials in a Tsarist-era censored version that replaces the clergyman with a merchant.

The idea was pitched by Russian Orthodox priest Pavel Kalinin from the local town of Armavir, who has obtained an old censored edition of the tale, the regional news web site 93.ru reported Monday.

The book, which has print run of some 3,000 copies, was blessed by the region's bishop and recommended for use in Sunday schools, the report said.

The rhymed story, a staple of Russian children's literature, is called "The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda" and tells of a niggardly priest who hires a man ready to work for the price of three blows to the employer's head. Later realizing how strong the worker is, the priest gives him difficult tasks to accomplish, but Balda fulfills them all and punishes the employer by making him lose his mind from the blows.

The censored story, which delivers a moral lesson about greed instead of satirizing the clergy, better highlights Pushkin's original intent, the publisher was quoted as saying. But a dean of the Armavir church behind the project said the censored version is better because it has no "godless mockery of the clergy."

The tale was not published during Pushkin's lifetime, and the first publisher, poet Vasily Zhukovsky, opted in 1840 to replace priest with merchant to spare Pushkin's heirs problems with the authorities. The uncensored version was not published until 1882.

St. Theodore the Studite: Sunday of Meatfare

By St. Theodore the Studite

On the Great and Manifest Day of our Lord Jesus Christ

Delivered on Meat Sunday

Brethren and fathers, it is a universal law on this day for those who live in the world to stop eating meat and one may see among them great competition in meat-eating and wine-bibbing, and even spectacles of outrageous pastimes which it is shameful to speak about. It is necessary to participate with moderation and to give thanks to the Lord for what we have and to make worthy preparation for the banquet before us; while they possessed by the wiles of the devil do the opposite, demonstrating that they have accepted one rather than the other. Why have I mentioned these things? So that we humble monks may not direct our thoughts in that direction, nor desire their desire, which is not worthy of desire, but rather of misery; let us rather turn to consider the Gospel we are going to listen to, thinking, while the canon is being chanted, about "the great and manifest day" of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when the judge "will stand with the sheep on his right but the goats on his left". And to those on the right he will utter that blessed and most longed for invitation, "Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;" while to those on the left he will utter that most unwelcome and piteous sentence, "Depart from me, accursed, into the everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels." These words are full of dread, fear and alarm; they should make us, and them, as we reflect fall down and weep and make God merciful to us, before he has come to test those who listen. But although they are thus, let us, I beg, hear and heed the message of the Gospel, striving keenly to serve the Lord with fear and trembling, removing all wickedness from the soul, introducing instead all knowledge of good works, compassionate pity, goodness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, and whatever else is good and estimable, that when we have led lives worthy of the Gospel of Christ we may become heirs of the kingdom of heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom belong glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.


A Letter of Elder Ephraim of Katounakia To A Monk Suffering With Cancer

The following letter was written by Elder Ephraim Katounakiotis to a fellow monk who was dying of cancer. Elder Ephraim fell asleep in the Lord on February 14/27, 1998. 
Katounakia (02/04/1993)

Beloved brother in Christ, Fr. Jeremiah:

It is with much brotherly love that I embrace you, praying that the Lord God send His angel and gift you with a spirit of patience, and a spirit of faith and trust towards God.

Yesterday I received your letter and this morning I come to answer you. Three months ago I went to Athens and had eye surgery for my cataract, and as of yet my sight has not returned and I do not see well, and I appointed N. to write what I dictate. Be worthy of your calling of "Theoklitos" [Chosen of God]. Among the saints you are chosen, and among the martyrs you are placed.

To tell you the truth, I laud and envy you, foreseeing the fruits of your trials. The much love of God toward you has driven you towards this Golgotha.

Saint Chrysostom knit two works of praise for the much-suffering Job. He doesn't praise him for his previous life, when before his trials he was pious, hospitable, and a stranger to all evil, but he praises the patience he showed during his ordeal which God sent him.

During the time of the Occupation an impoverished father, a shoe-maker, made a lot of shoes, and gave them to his daughter to sell around the villages. The little girl several times went barefoot into the villages and sold them. She would go sometimes hungry, sometimes barefoot, sometimes during the day and sometimes at night, and as a result the little girl came down with tuberculosis. Before she died they were able to make her a nun and named her Anysia the Nun. When they transferred her relics, they were fragrant. See, therefore, the result of patience in trials.

In my village there was a similar spirit; Vasiliki was her name. Because she was a strong girl, her father would take her to outside jobs with him. From her many hardships her health was seriously shaken and in the end died. A neighbor of hers, a very pious person, saw during his prayers five or six angels singing hymns to God. And in the middle was this soul. See, therefore, what patience made her worthy of.

And our Elder, your grandfather, Elder Joseph, would repeatedly tell us that his life was a martyrdom, and see what God has made him worthy of in that his relics are fragrant.

I pray that you, through the prayers of our Elder, receive "the same".

With brotherly love,

Papa Ephraim Katounakiotis
 Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

What Is Occultism? An Orthodox Christian Response

By Valery Dukhanin

Let us begin with a short but true story. A child comes home from school and sees that the floor is sprinkled all over with rice. "Mama, what happened?" he says. "I am expelling bad energy from the house," she answers her son, explaining the practice of some Eastern mystic or other, where you sprinkle the "charmed" rice all over the floor. Who would have supposed that in the twenty-first century, alongside electronics, high technology and other scientific advances, the same old superstitious attraction to occultism would hang on. Everyone knows that many modern singers and actors are into Kabbalah. For example, Madonna personally founded a center for the study of Kabbalah in London, and others have followed her example — Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Paris Hilton, Courtney Love, Phillip Kirikorov, Lolita Milyavskaya, to name only a few. The Norwegian Princess Martha Louise in 2010 announced her dedication to esoteric teachings and spiritualism. Businessmen attentively watch the astrology forecasts, and some politicians and athletes even go to psychics and other sorcerers before serious undertakings.

Occultism (from the Latin occultus, meaning secret, hidden) is the mysterious teachings and cults that express a longing to penetrate the spiritual world, learn about the powers there, and possess them. This seems to be just as mysterious as the creaking of an old door in an abandoned barn, when children peek in with a mixture of fear and curiosity. Occultism considers that in man, nature, and the cosmos there are mysterious, supernatural powers, which can be revealed and discovered. Occultism calls people to take possession of these powers and use them to reach a more perfect life on earth. But isn't that what religion also calls man to do? In religion (by which we mean firstly Christianity, as true religion), knowledge of the spiritual world comes after constant communion with God. In occultism, man attempts to break through to spiritual powers, bypassing God.

"When I started dabbling in occultism" — the author of these lines is a former sorcerer who possessed psychic abilities — "I was amazed at the effect and possibilities that magic opened to me. Those who came to me for advice or help were clearly convinced about the invisible power that worked for them through my practice." Occultism views the spiritual world itself as an instrument for personal gain — egoism is the fundamental motivating force of the occultist. The motto of the successful occultist is: "I am not like the others; I can get what is off limits to other people." Occultism is most obviously expressed in magic. Magic is the attempt to possess supernatural and natural powers through spells, rituals, and special mystical actions.

When did occultism appear?

There is an ancient monument, the Akkadian[1] seal, dated to the second millennium B.C. In the center of this cylinder is a depiction of a tree with seven branches and two fruits. On either side of the tree are two figures with outstretched arms — judging by the headdress, a man and a woman. Behind the woman rises a snake. This is an ancient depiction of the sin of our forefathers. The seduction of occultism is directly connected with man's first fall into sin. The devil tempted our forefather and foremother by telling them that if they taste of the forbidden fruit, they will receive secret knowledge that will make them powerful, like gods: "In the day you eat of it (the forbidden fruit) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5).

What could that tempter have offered the first humans? After all, from the very beginning, man was called to be like God, and God had given the first-created man and woman authority over the earthly world: "Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth'" (Gen. 1:28). True, retaining that authority and royal dignity was only possible on the path of union with God, and required that man force himself and work on himself accordingly. It seems that Satan suggested a simpler, easier method. He suggested that the fruits themselves supposedly possessed some magical power that would make man equal to God. The woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise (Gen. 3:6). At the snake's suggestion, Eve tasted the forbidden fruit because she wanted to receive that special knowledge, which was supposedly hidden in the fruit. The mistake made by the first man and woman was that they regarded the tree in paradise as some sort of mysterious talisman, which they could take by force and instantly become independent rulers of the whole world.

Thus, the first-created man's fall into sin was the initial source of occult practice, the basis of magic and the search for secret knowledge. If before sin man and woman abided in a very close inner communion with God, and their well-being depended upon this, then in their fall, God ceased to be the dearest, inmost good that hallowed life from within. Now, the forbidden fruit — that external yet alluring object — became a "golden key" for man, by which he thought to achieve independent happiness and become a self-sufficient ruler of his own existence. If the first-created man's authority over the world could only be realized in the presence of his personal harmony with God, now man was trying to reach perfection "through the back door." From that time on, we have people who want to possess mystical powers and abilities, and come up with various magic rituals or verbal formulas in order to influence the world — to become "like gods" without God. People acquire mystical knowledge, are proud of it, and then, like our fore-parents, lose absolutely everything.

In the office of a psychic you will find a particularly mesmerizing atmosphere — mysterious semi-darkness, candles in candlesticks, a crystal ball; the visitor is also given a special relaxing tea. In this lulling atmosphere, a person lets down his guard, and his initial mistrust of the psychic is dulled. Then the psychic makes some motions to get the visitor to concentrate, focus his attention, and interact with him. The psychic then makes a visible display of his authority and capability. The patient feels completely dependent upon the "miracle-worker" and quickly agrees to every recommendation that the "specialist" convincingly makes. This is how the psychic gradually casts his spell over the visitor, just as the snake cast his spell over first-created Eve.

Just what practices are related to occultism are set forth quite clearly in the Church's rite of renouncing occult practices. After a thorough confession of occult practices, before the prayer of absolution is read, the priest asks questions which the penitent answers using the proscribed phrases. In the rite, we read:

Question: Do you admit that the practice of the various forms of occultism, such as psychics, bioenergetics, contactless massage, hypnosis, folk healing, non-traditional medicine, coding, removal of hexes, sorcery, magic charms, fortunetelling, contact with spirits, invoking poltergeists, spiritualism, astrology, contacting the "higher reason," UFOs, tapping into "cosmic energies," parapsychology, telepathy, "deep psychology," yoga and other Eastern cults, meditation, and other forms of occultism lead to a deepened association with fallen spirits?

Answer: I admit it, and repent of those practices.

Thus, all psychics, folk healers, psychotherapists using hypnotic suggestion, bioenergetics therapists who work on people through their "biofield", sorcerers, witch doctors, psychic healers, ufologists, astrologers, fortunetellers, and the like are all occultists.

Psychics themselves insist that they heal people using special powers they possess, which they call biological current, bioenergetics, accumulated cosmic energy, and so on. Many of them regard themselves as possessing a power given them by God Himself. In fact, occultism is essentially a connection with the world of evil spirits that is forbidden by God; as is stated in the rite, occult knowledge "leads to a deepened association with fallen spirits."

So, is occultism an authentic way of knowing the spiritual world?

If we want to see what is in a picture gallery, we can go through the entrance accessible to all, providing we have fulfilled all the necessary conditions and paid the fees, and then we will see authentic masterpieces. We could also go there at night, after hours, sneak through the window of a back corridor and follow where it leads. No unlawful method has ever led to a true vision of art, because a completely adequate review requires an appropriately lofty emotional disposition, and not the curiosity of a thief, who might see the exhibit of true art from afar but not comprehend its depth, or perhaps limit himself to a vision of mortars and pestles, brooms, and cheap horseshoes over the doors of the outbuildings. Occultism has never lifted people to true spiritual heights; it has only limited their participation to spheres, which, although non-material, are still very far from holy. The inhabitants of that world are just as fallen as man himself is.

Occultism is foreign to Divine Revelation. If it uses the Bible, it uses it only as one of the mysterious books over which occultists might even tell fortunes, but which they do not consider to be the irrefutable word of God. The famous occult theorist and practitioner Rudolf Steiner wrote: "When the occultist speaks, he does not give dogmas; he gives his living experiences. He tells what he has seen on the astral and spiritual planes, or what was revealed to him by his teachers who he has recognized as such."[2] For example, the authoritative sorcerer Aleister Crowley wrote his Book of the Law in a trance-like state, at the dictation of an unseen spirit. The famous [Russian] psychic Allan Chumak writes in his book, For Those Who Believe in Miracles, that he was taught in a special way by voices speaking in his head, "working in turns to give dictation." He summarized the "revelation" and used it as a guide to his healing practice. Furthermore, as Chumak insists, the voices only taught him to use his own methods to heal people and supposedly never cause them any harm; they also told him about how the world is ordered.

Occultism is largely a distorted spirituality in which a person strives to affirm himself with the help of "hidden" powers, instead of by communion with God and by strengthening himself through God's grace. Therefore, occultism always appears in those places where there is little or no knowledge of true spiritual life. In Russia in the 1990's, occultism came in as a replacement for materialism and flooded the length and breadth of our native land like a burst sewer pipe. [This replacement of materialism happened several decades earlier in the West, while the occultists Steiner and Crowley whom the author mentions lived at the turn of the twentieth century. —Ed.] Surges of occultism can always be observed during periods of crisis and social upheaval, when people want to solve their plight through some kind of invisible help, know the future, avert disaster through simple magic, and other people take advantage of the situation for their own easy gain. Although the acute phase of this attraction to "secret knowledge" has passed, the attraction has remained in its chronic form. It comes up in everyday life as spells and talismans, superstitious signs and astrological forecasts, and as all possible methods of expanded consciousness and discovery of inner, hidden abilities.

Occultism has its own technology: do this or that, and you will definitely get what you are after. Unfortunately, this is often transferred to religion, when Church rites and prayers are viewed as preventative rituals, which by themselves provide a person with every possible benefit. The first child of Adam and Eve, Cain, already regarded religion as a magical protection against earthly problems. Having lost God's blessing, he said, "Now, anyone who finds me will kill me: (Gen. 4:14). That is, if I had not come under Your wrath I would not have lost the special protection, and my earthly life would be immune from any danger. He regarded religion itself as nothing more than a means of obtaining earthly well-being, like a certain magical key that opens the lock on earthly happiness.

People who have a magical consciousness at the expense of religion think to obtain earthly comfort, while God Himself is superfluous to them. Christ said of such people, "You seek Me … because you ate of the loaves and were filled" (Jn. 6:26). A person with a magical consciousness would like to receive that golden key, the magic wand, and use it to obtain various benefits. For example a modern Kabbalah adept (or of any kind of magic) can be recognized by the red woolen yarn on his wrist. They consider that a person who loves you should tie seven knots into a piece of yarn and pronounce a special incantation that is supposed to protect you from jealousy, evil eye, and other negative charms. It all boils down to a particular ritual or verbal formula as a kind of tool or instrument that helps you to turn your life's switch from sickness to health, or from suffering to well-being.

Christian spiritual life, on the other hand, is founded upon completely different principles. The most precious thing a man has is his eternal soul, and therefore spiritual well-being comes before fleshly well-being. Heavenly treasure has more meaning than earthly treasure. Man is created in the image of God, and therefore he can only be truly happy with God. Living converse with God with a penitential renunciation of sin is the stabilizing core of spiritual life. Keeping God's commandments with sincere, warm prayer, and confession with participation in the Church services gives the soul a freedom and joy which nothing in this world can give. If occultism lures by flattery into powerfulness but then enslaves the soul to merciless demons, Christianity makes a person who fulfills God's will truly strong, for when one is with God, he lacks nothing—the inner treasure fills the outer lack. Of course, there is no breathtaking mystical flight here, as when the soul caught up in occultism thinks that it is fluttering upwards, while it is in fact plummeting into an abyss. True spiritual life comes about peacefully, naturally, simply — gradually transforming the soul and inspiring it towards a pure, clear, and sensible life. It is the path of ascent upon which we regain that paradisal harmony and union with the Lord, once lost through the flattering seduction of occultism.

[1] Sumeria and Mesopotamia.
[2] Priest Pavel Khondzinsky, Against Steiner: about the Waldorf schools (Moscow, 2001), 17.


We Ought Not Care More For the Body Than the Soul

By St. John of Kronstadt

It is remarkable that however much we trouble about our health, however much care we take of ourselves, whatever wholesome and pleasant food and drink we take, however much we walk in the fresh air, still, not withstanding all this, in the end we sicken and corrupt; whilst the saints, who despise the flesh, and mortify it by continual abstinence and fasting, by lying on the bare earth, by watchfulness, labors, unceasing prayer, make both their souls and bodies deathless. Our well-fed bodies decay and after death emit an offensive odor, whilst theirs remain fragrant and flourishing both in life and after death. It is a remarkable thing: we, by building up our body, destroy it, whilst they, by destroying theirs, build it up. By caring only for the fragrance of their souls before God, they obtain fragrance of the body also.

From The Spiritual Counsels of Father John of Kronstadt, pp. 152-153.

February 27, 2011

Concerning An Icon of the Last Judgment

By Archbishop Andrei Rymarenko

On the western wall of the Kiev Cathedral of St. Vladimir, remarkable for its murals, right over the entrance to the church is a wonderful representation of the Last Judgment. First of all, we are struck by the mass of people, their faces, eyes. and you have the vivid awareness that you are among them. Involuntarily, you try to find yourself, to determine your place according to your spiritual state. And within you occurs,as it were, a private judgment upon yourself. There are faces expressing terrible sorrow, a totally perished life trembles in them. There are others, full of malice, hatred, murmuring, envy, insatiable desires. Life passed on, but something is gnawing at them and will eternally gnaw at them.

But here, rays of light start to break their way through the enormous clouds, and they show us other faces: quiet, calm, joyful, happy. This is life! And the closer they are to the Throne, the more clear these faces are. And over the Throne shines the Cross. On the Throne is seated the Lord Savior of the world Himself, and around Him, John the Baptist, the Apostles, all the Saints are praying, triumphing. Here is harmonious rejoicing. Only one cry, one wail disturbs it. The Mother of God has fallen on the shoulder of Christ, and she alone is pleading for the salvation of sinners , for mercy for all those without hope. She alone has been given the power to intercede to the end before the mercy of God.

Dear brothers and sisters! Wherever you may be in this terrible picture, do not despair. You have not yet perished! There is our Mother. She is whispering for you, and it is doubtful that even the Almighty God can refuse her. She is the 'finder of all those who are lost'. Just believe in this, and warmth will begin to fill your heart; and a new hope will light up in it. Then love of the Wisdom of God will begin to reveal itself to you!

Will There Be Salvation For All? (St. Nikolai Velimirovich)

Letter 148: To A blacksmith, Radosav I

By Saint Nikolai Velimirovich

You would like for God to pardon all sinners of His Terrible Judgement. Are you again tempting Christ just like that enemy of God tempted Him on the mountain? "If you are the all-merciful Son of God, have mercy on Judas and Cain and all serious sinners, and I will worship you!" This is how you could phrase your tempting of Christ. And the Lord Himself could respond to you and say, "Was I not merciful enough when I descended from my eternal glory into human darkness and gave my whole self as a sacrifice for mankind? How shall I pardon those who never asked me for it; who despised my offered mercy to their last breath; who spilled the blood of my faithful disciples like water; who remained servants of Satan to the end?"

And how is it now that mortal men compare their mercifulness to God's and even think themselves to be more merciful than God? Examine yourself thoroughly and see how limited and vain human mercy is. See if you would easily forgive a friend who swore three times that he does not know you. Would you forgive a man who was persecuting your relatives with the sword to the point of extinction? Would you forgive a man who would mock everything that is most sacred to you? The Lord Jesus forgave Peter who renounced Him three times. He forgave Saul who was persecuting His followers, His relatives. He forgave Augustine who mocked the sacred things of Christianity. He forgave all those who repented wholeheartedly and turned their rebellion into zeal for God and God's sacred things. He will forgive at His terrible judgement even those who repented only on their deathbed, confessed Christ as the Son of God and cried out to Him for salvation. He will also forgive those who showed even as much mercy in His name as to give a glass of cold water to the least of His followers.

But all this is not enough for God's tempters! It is not enough for those who neither know what it is to forgive nor to repent. They do not know how God's mercy overcomes our way of thinking. Nor do they know how deep are the wounds of Christ for mankind. They would like for God to mingle the Kingdom of eternal light with darkness and for there to be a mixture of good and evil on heaven as on earth. They would like for Cain and Judas and all the fratricides, all the godless, all the bloodthirsty, debauchers, lascivious, mockers of sanctity, ridiculers of God - everybody, all the unrepentant evildoers to stand at the right hand of Christ at the last Judgement, together with the Saints, martyrs and the righteous, and for no one to be on the left side! Is that justice? Is it just to give the same wages to those who worked all day? Is it mercy to mix light with darkness, truth with lies, wheat with chaff?

Who are you, O man, to teach justice to the One who founded justice? Or to remind of mercy the One who out of mercy gave Himself to be crucified for mankind? Bow down to the sanctity of His justice and to the unsearchable depth of His mercy, cry out, "O Most-Merciful One, have mercy one me a sinner and save me!"

The Genesis "Problem"

Fr. Robert Barron
February 26, 2011
The Integrated Catholic Life

I’m continually amazed how often the “problem” of Genesis comes up in my work of evangelization and apologetics. What I mean is the way people struggle with the seemingly bad science that is on display in the opening chapters of the first book of the Bible. How can anyone believe that God made the visible universe in six days, that all the species were created at the same time, that light existed before the sun and moon, etc., etc? How can believers possibly square the naïve cosmology of Genesis with the textured and sophisticated theories of Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Stephen Hawking?

One of the most important principles of Catholic Biblical interpretation is that the reader of the Scriptural texts must be sensitive to the genre or literary type of the text with which he is dealing. Just as it would be counter-indicated to read Moby Dick as history or “The Wasteland” as social science, so it is silly to interpret, say, “The Song of Songs” as journalism or the Gospel of Matthew as a spy novel. By the same token, it is deeply problematic to read the opening chapters of Genesis as a scientific treatise. If I can borrow an insight from Fr. George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and astrophysicist, no Biblical text can possibly be “scientific” in nature, since “science,” as we understand it, first emerged some fourteen centuries after the composition of the last Biblical book. The author of Genesis simply wasn’t doing what Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Hawking were doing; he wasn’t attempting to explain the origins of things in the characteristically modern manner, which is to say, on the basis of empirical observation, testing of hypotheses, marshalling of evidence, and experimentation. Therefore, to maintain that the opening chapters of Genesis are “bad science” is a bit like saying “The Iliad” is bad history or “The Chicago Tribune” is not very compelling poetry.

So what precisely was that ancient author trying to communicate? Once we get past the “bad science” confusion, the opening of the Bible gives itself to us in all of its theological and spiritual power. Let me explore just a few dimensions of this lyrical and evocative text. We hear that Yahweh brought forth the whole of created reality through great acts of speech: “Let there be light,’ and there was light; ‘Let the dry land appear’ and so it was.” In almost every mythological cosmology in the ancient world, God or the gods establish order through some act of violence. They conquer rival powers or they impose their will on some recalcitrant matter. (How fascinating, by the way, that we still largely subscribe to this manner of explanation, convinced that order can be maintained only through violence or the threat of violence). But there is none of this in the Biblical account. God doesn’t subdue some rival or express his will through violence. Rather, through a sheerly generous and peaceful act of speech, he gives rise to the whole of the universe. This means that the most fundamental truth of things—the metaphysics that governs reality at the deepest level—is peace and non-violence. Can you see how congruent this is with Jesus’ great teachings on non-violence and enemy love in the Sermon on the Mount? The Lord is instructing his followers how to live in accord with the elemental grain of the universe.

Secondly, we are meant to notice the elements of creation that are explicitly mentioned in this account: the heavens, the stars, the sun, the moon, the earth itself, the sea, the wide variety of animals that roam the earth. Each one of these was proposed by various cultures in the ancient world as objects of worship. Many of the peoples that surrounded Israel held sky, stars, sun, moon, the earth, and various animals to be gods. By insisting that these were, in fact, created by the true God, the author of Genesis was, not so subtly, de-throning false claimants to divinity and disallowing all forms of idolatry. Mind you, the author of Genesis never tires of reminding us that everything that God made is good (thus holding off all forms of dualism, Manichaeism and Gnosticism), but none of these good things is the ultimate good.

A third feature that we should notice is the position and role of Adam, the primal human, in the context of God’s creation. He is given the responsibility of naming the animals , “all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts” (Gen. 2:20). The Church fathers read this as follows: naming God’s creatures in accord with the intelligibility placed in them by the Creator, Adam is the first scientist and philosopher, for he is, quite literally, “cataloguing” the world he sees around him. (Kata Logon means “according to the word”). From the beginning, the author is telling us, God accords to his rational creatures the privilege of participating, through their own acts of intelligence, in God’s intelligent ordering of the world. This is why, too, Adam is told, not to dominate the world, but precisely to “cultivate and care for it” (Gen. 2: 16), perpetuating thereby the non-violence of the creative act.

These are, obviously, just a handful of insights among the dozens that can be culled from this great text. My hope is that those who are tripped up by the beginning of the book of Genesis can make a small but essential interpretive adjustment and see these writings as they were meant to be seen: not as primitive science, but as exquisite theology.

February 26, 2011

Synaxarion for Meatfare Sunday

By Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos


On the same day, we commemorate the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and His impartial Judgment.


When Thou, O Judge of all, shalt sit to judge the earth,
Mayest Thou judge me, too, worthy to hear Thee say, “Come hither.”


The most Divine Fathers placed this parable after the first two [those of the Publican and Pharisee and of the Prodigal Son], lest anyone, learning about God’s love for mankind in those parables, should live carelessly, saying: "God loves mankind, and when I cease from sinning, I shall be ready to accomplish everything." They set this fearful day here, in order to instill fear, through death and the expectation of future torments, in those who are heedless, and to bring them back to virtue, not trusting in God’s loving-kindness alone, but taking into account that He is a just Judge, Who will render unto each man according to his deeds. Moreover, since the souls of those who have died stood in our midst yesterday, it was fitting that the Judge should come today. In a certain way, the present Feast is, as it were, the consummation of all the Feasts, just as it will be the final day for all of us. We should reflect that the Fathers will assign the beginning of the world and Adam’s fall from Paradise to the following Sunday, and that the present Feast is the end of all our lives and of this world. The Fathers assigned it to the Sunday of Meatfare, so as to curb greed and gluttony through the fear aroused by this Feast, and to summon us to show compassion to our neighbors. Furthermore, since, after reaping delight, we were exiled from Eden, and came under judgment and the curse, the present Feast is placed here, and also because, on the next Sunday, on which we commemorate the fall of Adam, we are going to be figuratively cast out of Eden, until Christ comes and brings us back to Paradise.

Christ’s coming is called the Second Coming, because whereas He first came to us in bodily form, quietly and without glory, He will now come from Heaven with wonders that transcend nature, with conspicuous radiance, and corporeally, so that He may be recognized by all as being He Who first came and delivered the human race, and Who is going to judge it, to see whether it has preserved what was given to it. When His Coming will take place, no one knows; for the Lord kept this hidden even from the Apostles. But until then, at any rate, He indicated that it will be preceded by certain signs, which some of the Saints explained in greater detail. It is said that the Second Coming will occur after seven millennia have passed. Before Christ comes, the Antichrist will come. He will be born, as Saint Hippolytos of Rome says, from a harlot, who will appear to be a virgin, but will be of the Hebrew race, of the tribe of Dan, the son of Jacob; and he will supposedly live as Christ did, and will perform as many miracles as Christ, and will raise the dead. But all of these things—his birth, his flesh, and everything else—will be an illusion, as the Apostle says; and he will then be revealed as the son of perdition, with all power, with signs and deceitful wonders. However, as Saint John of Damascus says, the Devil himself will not be transformed into flesh, but a man who is the offspring of fornication will receive all the energy of Satan, and will suddenly rise up. He will appear good and gentle to all, and then there will be a mighty famine. He will supposedly satisfy the people, will study the Holy Scriptures, will practice fasting, and, compelled by men, will be proclaimed king; he will show especial love to the Hebrew race, restoring them to Jerusalem and rebuilding their temple. Before seven years have passed, as Daniel says, Enoch and Elias will come, preaching to the people that they should not accept him. He will arrest and torment them, and will then behead them. Those who choose to remain pious will flee far away into the mountains; when he finds them, through the agency of demons, he will make trial of them. Those seven years will be cut short for the sake of the elect, and there will be a mighty famine, and all the elements will be transformed, so that everyone will all but disappear.

After this, the Lord will suddenly come from Heaven like lightning, preceded by His honorable Cross, and a river of boiling fire will go before Him, cleansing the entire earth of pollution. The Antichrist will immediately be seized, and he and his minions will be handed over to the eternal fire. As the Angels sound their trumpets, the entire human race will be gathered together from the ends of the earth, and from all the elements, in Jerusalem, because this is the center of the world, and there are set thrones for judgment, but with their souls and bodies all transformed into incorruption and having a single form, the elements themselves having been transformed into a superior state, and by a single word the Lord will separate the righteous from the sinners; those who have done good will depart, gaining eternal life, whereas the sinners will go to eternal punishment, and never will there be an end to their torments.

It should be known that Christ will not be looking at that time for fasting, bodily hardships, or miracles, good though these things are, but for things that are far superior, namely, almsgiving and compassion. To the righteous and the sinners He will speak of six virtues: “For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me food; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me; for inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” Everyone can do these things according to his own ability. Then every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The torments which the Holy Gospel recounts are these: “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched; and cast him into the outer darkness.” Clearly accepting all these things, the Church of God believes that the abiding of the Saints with God and the perpetual effulgence of His light and their ascent to Him are the delight of Paradise and the Kingdom of Heaven, and that alienation from God and the consumption of souls by the awareness that, through carelessness and temporal pleasure, they have been deprived of Divine illumination are the torment, the darkness, and the like.

In Thine ineffable love for mankind, O Christ God, count us worthy to hear Thy desired voice, number us with those on Thy right hand, and have mercy on us. Amen.


Kontakion in the First Tone
O God, when You come upon the earth in glory, the whole world will tremble. A river of fire will bring all before Your Judgment Seat and the books will be opened, and everything in secret will become public. At that time, deliver me from the fire which never dies, and enable me to stand by Your right hand, O Judge most just.

Doxastikon of Matins in the First

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Let us go before, O brethren, and cleanse ourselves for the Queen of virtues; for behold she hath come bringing to us fortune of good deeds, quenching the uprisings of passion and reconciling the wicked to the Master. Let us welcome her, therefore, shouting to Christ God, O thou who arose from the dead, keep us uncondemned, who glorify Thee, O Thou who alone art sinless.

St. Theodore the Studite: Friday of Meatfare

By St. Theodore the Studite

On Self-Mastery and Our Present Confession

Delivered On Friday of Meat Week

Brethren and fathers, most people call the present days ‘feasts’, because they get drunk and debauched during them, not understanding that these days demand abstinence from meat, not indulgence in drunkenness and intoxication. That is proper to a pagan feast; it is the business of Christians to exercise self-control ‘and not to satisfy the desires of the flesh’,[2] as the Apostle teaches. Nevertheless evil has progressed into law and leads the world as it wishes. But let us, brethren, flee intemperance even in partaking of things that are permitted, for we know that intemperance is the mother of sin. For our forefather Adam, as long as he abstained from the forbidden food in Paradise, rejoiced and was made glad by divine visions and filled with divine revelations; but when he acted intemperately and partook of the tree of disobedience, he was at once exiled from the delight of Paradise and intemperance for him became the begetter of death. So too the inhabitants of Sodom behaved wantonly ‘with food in abundance’,[3] and drew down upon themselves the anger of God and were overwhelmed with fire and brimstone. So too Esau the hated, entrapped by gluttonous eyes, exchanged his birth right for a meal.[4] ‘But the people of God sat down to eat and drink, and arose to play’.[5] These are the sort of things that are going on during these days; for revels and inebriation, shouting and demonic leapings require not only the day but most of the night as well. So intemperance is an evil, and through it death entered the world. But we should give thanks to God, brethren loved by the Lord, because he has rescued us from such empty behaviour and transferred us to this blessed life, in which there is not intemperance, but moderation; not drunkenness, but vigilance; not disturbance, but peace; not hubbub, but tranquillity; not abuse, but thanksgiving; not wantonness, but purity, holiness and temperance. From this it was that our inspired fathers sprang up,[6] who with God trampled down the passions, expelled demons, rivalled angels, performed signs from God, attained heavenly glory, were a cause of wonder in the world. One of them was the blessed Antony, whose life we have been reading; and we have learnt how God magnified him in this world under heaven, so that the kings of the earth thought it important to write to him and to hear from him a written voice.

And so we too, humble wretches, follow their way of life; and that we imitate it our monastic profession bears witness, our denial of the world, estrangement from fatherland, race, friends and intimates, our subjection, our obedience, this present confession, for which we have also been persecuted. Accordingly, let us rejoice and congratulate one another that we have been given these gifts of grace by God, and that we are leading a spiritual life, in which it is always open to us to keep festival every day, should we so wish, and to rejoice with unlimited[7] joy. Therefore I beg you, let us hold mightily to our ascetic practice and this confession, for a word has gone out that the Mighty[8] is keeping an eye on our affairs and doubtless a royal official will suddenly arrive.[9] But don’t be scared at what has been said. ‘If God is on our side, who is against us?’[10] And if he helped us in the past, how would he not help in the future? Only let us stand nobly, only let us attend[11] without faltering, and he himself will give power to all who lead to the end a life that is well-pleasing to him to gain the kingdom of heaven in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be the glory and the power with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] This Instruction is suggested for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son by the current Slavonic Triodion from Moscow, which only gives Catecheses for the Sundays of these weeks.

[2] Rom. 13:14.

[3] Ezekiel 16.49.

[4] Cf. Genesis 25:29-34 and Mal. 1: Esau I hate.

[5] Exod. 32:6.

[6] The verb anatello means to ‘rise up’, sometimes of the sun, at others of plants, and is used metaphorically of people with either image understood. In this passage the idea of plants is the one of which St Theodore is thinking.

[7] This adjective, amuretos, is not in the lexica. The Greek editor suggests, ‘incorruptible’, ‘unending’, though he gives no reasons.

[8] That is to say the Emperor. St Theodore plays on the words ‘mightily’, krataios, and ‘mighty’, kraton.

[9] This echoes the troparion from the Midnight Office, ‘The Judge will come suddenly and the deeds of each will be laid bare’. St Theodore implies that it is not only the just Judge who arrives suddenly.

[10] Romans 8:31.

[11] St Theodore in these two clauses deliberately echoes the deacon’s invitation at the beginning of the anaphora. Hence my somewhat unidiomatic translation of prosechomen. The present subjunctive of continuous action here contrasts neatly with the aorist of immediate action in the Liturgy.


What Does It Mean To Worship God "In Spirit And Truth"?

"But there is coming an hour, and now is, when the true worshippers shall do reverence to the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4:23).

Saint Gregory Palamas explains:

"The supreme and revered Father is Father of Truth itself, namely, the Only-begotten Son; and the Holy Spirit has a Spirit of Truth, just as the Logos of Truth. Therefore, those who reverence the Father in spirit and truth and hold to this manner of belief also receive the energies through these. For the apostle says that the Spirit is the One through Whom we pray. And the Only-begotten of God says: 'No one cometh to the Father, except by Me' [Jn. 14:6]. Therefore, those who thus do reverence the supreme Father in spirit and truth are the true worshippers, by conceiving the incorporeal incorporeally. For thus will they truly see Him everywhere in His Spirit and Truth. Since God is spirit, He is incorporeal, but the incorporeal is not situated in place, nor circumscribed by spatial boundaries. Consequently, if someone says that God must be revered in some definite place among those in all the earth and heaven, he does not speak truly, nor does he worship truly. As incorporeal, God is nowhere; as God, He is everywhere...He is boundless...Because He sustains and encompasses the universe, He is in Himself both everywhere and also beyond the universe."

One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, Chaps. 59, 60.

Saint John Chrysostom explains:

"Christ here declares nothing else than His incorporeality. Now the service of what is incorporeal must needs be of the same character, and must be offered by that in us which is incorporeal, that is, the soul and purity of mind ... For both Jews and Samaritans were careless about the soul, but took great pains about the body, cleansing it in diverse ways ... Sacrifice then not sheep and calves, but dedicate thyself to the Lord. Make of thyself a holocaust; this is to offer a living sacrifice. You must worship 'in truth'; as former things were types, such as circumcision, and whole burnt offerings, and victims, and incense, they now no longer exist, but all is 'truth'."

Homily 33, P.G. 59:191.

Saint Porphyrios, Bishop of Gaza (+ 420)

St. Porphyrios of Gaza (Feast Day - February 26)

Saint Porphyrios, Bishop of Gaza, was born in about the year 346 at Thessalonika in Macedonia. His parents were people of substance, and this allowed Saint Porphyrios to receive a fine education. Having the inclination for monastic life, at twelve years of age he left his native region and set off to Egypt, where he was an ascetic in the Nitrian desert under the guidance of the monk Makarios the Great (19 January).

There also he met Blessed Jerome (15 June), who was then visiting the Egyptian monasteries; he set off with him to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to the holy places and to reverence the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord (14 September), after which he resettled into the Jordanian wilderness for prayer and ascetic deeds. There Saint Porphyrios fell under a serious malady of paralysis. Unable to walk, he would have to crawl to the divine services. For healing he decided to go to the holy places of Jerusalem.

One time, when fully paralysed, as he lay half-conscious at the foot of Golgotha, the Lord sent His servant into a salvific vision in his sleep. Saint Porphyrios beheld Jesus Christ, descending with the Cross and turning to him with the words: "Take this Wood and preserve it". Awakening, he sensed himself healthy. The words of the Savior were soon fulfilled: the Patriarch of Jerusalem ordained Saint Porphyrios to the priestly dignity and appointed him curator of the Venerable Wood of the Cross of the Lord. And it was during this time that Saint Porphyrios received his portion of an inheritance from his parents – four thousand gold coins. All this he gave away to the needy and for the embellishing of the churches of God.

In 395 the bishop of the city of Gaza (in Palestine) died. The local Christians set out to Caesarea to Metropolitan John with a request to provide them a new bishop, who would be able to contend against the pagans, which were predominant in their city and were harassing the Christians there. The Lord inspired the Metropolitan to summon the Jerusalem presbyter Porphyrios. With fear and trembling the ascetic accepted the dignity of bishop, and with tears he prostrated himself before the Life-Creating Wood and then set off to fulfill his new obedience.

In Gaza he found all of only three Christian churches, but of the pagan temples and idols there were a great many. During this time there had occurred a long spell without rain, causing a severe drought. The pagan priests brought offerings to their idols, but the woes did not cease. Saint Porphyrios imposed a fast for all the Christians; he then had the all-night vigil, followed by going around all the city in a church procession. Immediately the sky covered over with storm clouds, thunder boomed, and abundant rains poured down. Seeing this miracle, many a pagan cried out: "Christ is indeed the One True God!" As a result of this, there came to be united to the Church through Holy Baptism 127 men, 35 women and 14 children, and soon after this, another 110 men.

But the pagans just like before still harassed the Christians, passed them over for public office, and burdened them down with taxes. Saint Porphyrios and the Metropolitan of Caesarea John set off to Constantinople, to seek redress from the emperor. Saint John Chrysostom (14 November, 27 and 30 January) received them and rendered them active assistance.

Saints John and Porphyrios were presented to the empress Eudoxia who at that time was expecting a child. "Intercede for us," – said the bishops to the empress, – "and the Lord will send thee a son, who shalt reign during thine lifetime." Eudoxia very much wanted a son, since she had given birth only to daughters. And actually through the prayer of the saints an heir was born to the imperial family. In consequence of this, the emperor in the year 401 issued an edict directing the destruction of the pagan temples in Gaza and the restoration of privileges to Christians. Moreover, the emperor bestowed on the saints the means for the construction of a new church, which was to be built in Gaza on the locale of the chief pagan temple there.

Saint Porphyrios to the very end of his life upheld Christianity in Gaza and guarded well his flock from the vexatious pagans. Through the prayers of the saint there occurred numerous miracles and healings. Over the course of 25 years the archpastor guided his veritable flock and reposed at an advanced age, in the year 420.



By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

The monk Mark asks Porphyrios:
"You were paralytic, holy father,
On your knees, to church you crawled,
My hand in yours, you held
Yesterday thus and today otherwise!
At night you were ill, behold healthy you dawned
So suddenly, who healed you?
Of the rare physician, tell me the name."

To Mark, Porphyrius replied:
"My Healer, my Creator is,
Last night on Golgotha, I fell asleep
By severe pain, completely overpowered,
As though in person, I saw clearly in a dream
On the Cross, my Lord hanging,
And on the other cross, the thief.
As I saw, so I cried out!
O God and Lord, remember me,
In Your kingdom, remember me!
The Good Lord, to the thief said:
'Go down and his body heal,
As your soul, I healed.'
Quickly the thief, the cross descended,
Embraced me, kissed me, and raised me up,
Saying: 'To our Savior, draw near!'

At that moment, the Lord also descended the Cross,
Lifted the Cross and, on me He placed it.
'Receive the holy wood,' He said,
'And for the sake of eternal salvation, carry it.'
As soon as I, with my hands, grabbed the Cross,
Immediately I stood and was immediately made whole.
To God my Creator, glory be,
To Christ my Savior, glory be!"

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Porphyrios, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Arrayed with a most sacred life, thou wast adorned with the priestly vestment, O all-blessed and godly-minded Porphyrius; and thou art conspicuous for miracles of healing, interceding unceasingly for us all.

Monk Joseph: Athonite Protector of the Greek Air Force

Monk Joseph, known in the world as Christos Bairaktaris, is 49 years old. He comes from the village of Agios Vasilios in Corinth, though is considered by the Greek air force to be a part of their own family. All pilots of the Phantom, Corsair and F-16 aircraft's know him, who daily embark in the dangerous struggle to preserve the dignity of Greece and preserve the Greek identity of the Aegean Sea.

Father Joseph has been a monk on Mount Athos since the early 1980's. Since 1989 he has withdrawn by himself to live as an ascetic on the rocks of Cape Akrathos, over a cliff 300 meters deep. Alone with God, he reads, does manual work and saves his soul.

"He is a saintly man, a biblical personality, who, that if anyone comes to meet him, opens a window to a world of goodness and love," says George Vazouras, a pilot who visits him often, to Press Time.

Father Joseph, a hermit on Mount Athos, monitors the air battles of the Aegean and blesses the fighter pilots.

Since 1990 nearly all Greek pilots after each engagement with the Turks fly over Mount Athos to get the blessing of the venerable elder.

"Every day, when I hear the sound of airplanes, I dash from my cell. I go out and wave the Greek flag. I weep with emotion, as these young kids always, following any mission in the Aegean, come to greet me that I may give them my blessing."

On one occasion, four Turkish F-16's pierced through the clouds and poured out over the Aegean. When they entered Greek air apace, they broke off into pairs. One pair turned to the right towards Thaso and Samothraki, while the other went straight towards the northern Cyclades (Andros, Tinos, Mykonos). The Tactical Air Force in Larissa issued an alarm signal. Four Greek fighter planes, with an experienced captain and a first lieutenant, went off to engage in their daily mission.

When the Turkish pilots saw they were being pursued, they united in the northern Aegean near Limnos, Mount Athos and Mytilene. It looked as if these Turkish pilots were not there to "play", since the airplanes with the crescent on the tail were heavily armed. A few minutes later, off the coast of southern Mount Athos, a virtual dogfight began. The Greek pilots, in a masterful way, took the advantage by getting behind them and leading them back to the Turkish coast. They did this at a low altitude right over the sea, with dangerous and tight maneuvers and engines at maximum power.

The four Greek F-16's, before returning to their base, then did what all Greek airmen have done in the last thirteen years. They went to get their blessing from their patron! Elder Joseph, from the cliffs of Mount Athos, had watched the dogfight with tears in his eyes.

"May you have my blessing! Return now in health and as victors always..." he said to them as he waived his Greek flag over the icy air of the Aegean until the planes were lost in the skyline.

"I love them all like my children. I have also met some up close", said the hermit Joseph in a conversation. "Every day, when I hear the sound of airplanes, I dash from my cell. I go out and wave the Greek flag. I weep with emotion, as these young kids always, following any mission in the Aegean, come to greet me that I may give them my blessing. I have watched too many battles. I felt fear and pride. But the feeling I get after each engagement when they pass over my hermitage to greet me is indescribable ... Some of the pilots came here and found me. We embraced, we talked, they opened their hearts. They revealed their problems. I feel that my words are words of God, and will make them even more courageous to defend everything in our Greece."

The leader of Aviation, Gen. George Avlonitis, is one of the officers who have met the monk Joseph. And like the others, is impressed by the peaceful nature and wisdom of his words. Pilots from all martial squadrons have sent to the hermit's hermitage prayers, gifts, but above all their love, because they know that after a difficult time in any flight over the Archipelago, their contemporary 'protector' is there on the rocks, in order to bless them and to animate them from the Hermitage of Saint Menas.

How did this all begin?

The Hermitage of Saint Menas is a dependency of the Holy Monastery of Great Lavra. One day the Abbot of Great Lavra, Philip, told Joseph to go to Skyros for the feast of Saint George. He did not want to go. He was too busy with his work and his prayers. His purpose in going to Skyros was to gather stones for the overhaul of the monastery. Fr. Joseph was obedient.

While in Skyros, after the feast, he visited the air base. One of the air force officers approached him and said that he had once seen him as he was flying over the Aegean near the cliffs of Athos as he was talking with two people. He said that he saw him with a man and a woman. Joseph began to laugh. The one whom the pilot thought was a woman was in fact a monk with long hair. He explained this, along with the fact that Mount Athos neither allows women to step in its land nor allows the monks to even think about women. This pilot then began the tradition that whenever he passed by the area of the Hermitage of Saint Menas, that he would fly by and send his greeting. From that time forward there was never a time when this pilot did not do so, but rather he would fly low near the hermitage and send his greeting. In turn, he would receive his blessing.

Since other pilots were also flying in the area, they learned of this beautiful relationship between the pilot and the monk, so they began doing the same thing. Monk Joseph, in order to make sure that he could be seen and in order to encourage them, decided to get a flag and from a steep and high part of the cliff he waved it as they would fly by doing their cross. Later he got two flags, one Greek and the other Byzantine with the two-headed eagle.

This is how the Greek air force established a spiritual relationship with Monk Joseph the Athonite, their patron.

See a video here.


The Best Memorial For the Deceased

By Elder Paisios the Athonite

The best of all memorials we can do for the deceased is to live careful lives, and undertake the struggle to do away with our shortcomings in order to brighten our souls. This is because our freedom from material things and the passions of the soul, besides bringing us relief, it brings also comfort to our departed ancestors of all our generations. The departed feel joy when one of their offspring is near to God. If we are not in good spiritual condition, then our parents, our grandparents, and our great-grandparents of all generations suffer. "See what offspring we have made!" say the sad ones. If we are in good spiritual condition, however, they rejoice, because they helped us to be born and God somehow is obligated to help them.

Therefore, that which will give joy to the deceased is for us to strive for us to please God with our lives, that we may meet with them in Paradise and live together in eternal life. Hence, it is worthwhile to beat upon our old self to become new, to neither harm ourselves or other people, but to help ourselves and others, either living or fallen asleep.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

February 25, 2011

Synaxarion for the Saturday Before Meatfare

By Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos


On the same day, the most Divine Fathers appointed a commemoration of all those who, from ages past, have piously fallen asleep, in the hope of resurrection unto life eternal.


Forgive the dead their transgressions, O Word,
And do not show Thy good compassion to be dead.


Since it often happens that certain people suffer death prematurely, in a foreign land, at sea, on trackless mountains, on precipices, in chasms, in famines, wars, conflagrations, and cold weather, and all manner of other deaths; and perhaps, being poor and without resources, they have not been vouchsafed the customary psalter readings and memorial services, moved by love for mankind, the Divine Fathers ordained that the Orthodox Catholic Church make commemoration of all people, a tradition which they inherited from the Holy Apostles, in order that those who, due to some particular circumstance, did not receive the customary obsequies individually, might be included in the present general commemoration, indicating that whatever is done on their behalf confers great benefit on them.

This is one reason why the Church of God performs the commemoration of souls. A second reason is that, since the Fathers intended, as is fitting, to assign the observance of the Second Coming of Christ to the following day, they appointed a commemoration of all souls on this day, as if propitiating the dread and unerring Judge to show them His innate compassion and place them in the promised Paradise of delight. A third reason is that, since they intended to expound the banishment of Adam on the following Sunday, they devised the present commemoration, on this day of rest, as a respite from, and end of all human affairs, so that they might start from the beginning, that is, the banishment of Adam—for the final event that we will experience is the examination by the impartial Judge of all the deeds that we have committed in our life—and so that, putting fear into men thereby, they might make them ready for the contests of the Fast.

We always commemorate souls on Saturday, because Sabbaton (Sabbath) means “rest” in Hebrew; and since the dead have rested from worldly and all other cares, we offer supplications for them also on the day which means “rest.” It has become customary for us to do this every Saturday. On the present Saturday, we observe a universal commemoration, beseeching God for all the pious. The Fathers, knowing well that what is done on behalf of the reposed, that is, memorial services, almsgiving, and Liturgies, affords them great respite and benefit, allow the Church to do so on both an individual and a general basis, a tradition which they received from the Holy Apostles, as St. Dionysios the Areopagite tells us.

That what the Church does on behalf of souls benefits them, is clear from many sources, but especially from an incident in the life of St. Makarios, who was in the habit of praying for the departed and had besought God to reveal to him whether any benefit was conferred on them thereby. Finding the desiccated skull of an impious pagan on the road that he was traversing, he asked whether the souls in Hades experience any consolation. The skull replied: “We receive great respite, Father, when you pray to God for the departed.” St. Gregory the Dialogist even saved the Emperor Trajan through prayer, though he was told by God never again to make entreaty for one who was impious. In addition to this, through the prayers of the Saints and Confessors, the Empress Theodora snatched the God-hating Theophilos from torments and saved him, as we know from ecclesiastical history. St. Gregory the Theologian, in his funeral oration for his brother Cæsarios, states that supplications for the departed are beneficial for them. In one of his homilies on the Epistle to the Philippians, the great St. John Chrysostomos says: “Let us think of some way to benefit the departed; let us give them whatever assistance we can, by which I mean almsgiving and offerings to the Church on their behalf; for this affords them great profit, gain, and benefit. Indeed, not in vain or haphazardly have these practices been prescribed; it has been handed down to the Church of God by His all-wise Disciples, that the Priest should commemorate the faithful departed at the dread Mysteries.” Elsewhere, he says: “In your will, inscribe the Master as fellow-heir along with your children and kinsfolk; let your papyrus contain the name of the Judge, and let it not fail to mention the poor, and I will stand surety for you.” St. Athanasios the Great says: “Even if one who has died in the true Faith has vanished into thin air, call upon Christ God, and do not avoid lighting oil lamps and candles at his grave; for these things are acceptable to God and bring great recompense.” Observe these things, therefore, whether the deceased is a sinner, so that you might obtain for him forgiveness of his sins, or a righteous man, so that you might gain additional rewards. If perhaps he is a stranger and without means, and thus has no one to take care of him in this situation, yet God, in His righteousness and love for mankind, will provide for him on account of his penury in proportion to the mercy that He sees on our part. Besides, he who makes an offering on behalf of such individuals partakes of the reward, since he has shown concern for the salvation of his neighbor, just as someone who anoints another person with perfume makes himself fragrant first. In fact, those who do not fulfill what is commanded and enjoined in such situations will assuredly bring judgment upon themselves.

Until the Second Coming of Christ, whatever is done on behalf of the departed brings benefit to them, as the Divine Fathers affirm, and, in particular, to those who did even some small amount of good when they were numbered among the living. Although Holy Scripture says certain things—and rightly so—for the chastening of the many, yet God’s love for mankind prevails for the most part. We should know that in the next world all will recognize each other, both those whom they know and those whom they have never seen, as the Divine Chrysostomos says, proving this from the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. They will not, however, be recognized in bodily form, for everyone will be the same age, and their physical characteristics will be absent, but only by the clairvoyant eye of the soul, as St. Gregory the Theologian says in his funeral oration for Cæsarios: “Then shall I see Cæsarios... brilliant, glorious,...such as in my dreams I have often beheld you, dearest of brothers.” St. Athanasios the Great, in his oration on the departed, says: “Even before the general Resurrection, it is given to the Saints to know each other and to make glad with one another, whereas sinners are deprived of this; and to the Holy Martyrs it is given to see what we do and to visit us in our needs. At the general Resurrection, all will recognize each other and the secrets of all will be made manifest.”

We should know that at present, that is, prior to the general Resurrection, the souls of the Righteous exist in certain specially designated places, and those of sinners in another region, the former rejoicing in their hope, but the latter grieving in expectation of the terrors that await them, since the Saints have not yet received the promise of good things, as the Divine Apostle says, “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40). It should also be known that not all who have fallen over precipices, or been burnt by fire, or drowned in the sea, or died from deadly poisons, cold, or hunger, suffer these things at God’s behest. These are the judgments of God, some of which happen by His good pleasure, but others by His permission, and yet others for the purpose of instructing, threatening, or chastising other people. In His foreknowledge, God sees and knows all things, and all things happen by His will, as the Holy Gospel says about sparrows (St. Matthew 10:29-31; St. Luke 12:6-7). However, He does not determine that things should happen in this or that way, for example, that one man should drown and another die by natural causes, or that one man should die in old age and another in infancy, but He decreed once and for all that there should be a general lifespan for humanity and so many different kinds of deaths. During this lifespan, various kinds of deaths are brought upon mankind, but God does not determine them from the very beginning, although He does have knowledge of them. In relation to the life of each human being, the will of God adumbrates both the time and the manner of his death. Although St. Basil the Great talks about a predetermination of life, he is alluding to the verse: “Earth art thou, and to earth shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:20). For the Apostle writes to the Corinthians: “[Because ye partake unworthily,] many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (I Corinthians 11:30); the Prophet-King David says: “Take me not away in the midst of my days” (Psalm 101:25), and: “Thou hast made my days as a handbreadth” (Psalm 38:5); the Prophet Moses says: “Honor thy father, that thou mayest have length of days” (Exodus 20:12); and the Prophet-King Solomon says: “lest thou shouldest die before thy time” (Ecclesiastes 7:18). In the Book of Job, God says to Eliphaz: “I would have destroyed you, were it not for My servant Job” (cf. Job 42:8).

Hence, it is evident that there is no predetermined limit of life. If someone says that there is such a limit, please understand that this limit is the will of God; for He adds years to one man’s life as He wills, but reduces them in the case of another, dispensing all things according to what is profitable for us; and, when God wills, He arranges both the manner and the time of death. Therefore, the limit of each man’s life is, as St. Athanasios the Great says, the will and counsel of God. St. Basil says that deaths are brought upon us when the limits of life are fulfilled, but by “limits of life” he means the will of God. For, if there is a limit to life, why do we beseech God and call upon physicians, and pray for our children, that they might live? We should also know that when baptized infants die, they enjoy the Paradise of delight, whereas those not illumined by Baptism and those born of pagans go neither to Paradise nor to Gehenna. When the soul departs from the body, it has no concern for the things of this world, but only for the things of the Heavenly realm.

We celebrate memorial services on the third day, because on that day a man changes his aspect, on the ninth day, because at that time his whole body decays, with only the heart remaining, and on the fortieth day, because on that day even his heart perishes.

Appoint a place in the tabernacles of Thy Righteous for the souls of those who have departed before us, O Christ our Master, and have mercy on us, for Thou alone art immortal. Amen.

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Only Creator who out of the depths of wisdom lovingly govern all things and upon all bestow what is accordingly best for them, give rest to the souls of Your servants, for they have placed their hope in You, our Author and Maker and God.

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Give rest, O Christ, among the Saints to the souls of Your servants, where there is no pain, no sorrow, no grieving, but life everlasting.