March 31, 2011

Exhibition on Byzantium to be Held in Washington in 2013

March 29, 2011

A great exhibition on Byzantium will be held in Washington in 2013, featuring exhibits from three major museums in Greece (Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens, Byzantine Cultural Museum of Thessaloniki and Benakis Museum) as well as Byzantine antiquities.

The exhibition will be presented in another U.S. State, currently under negotiation by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The exhibition highlights the Hellenic character of Byzantium and will be structured on a chronological canvas, covering the entire Byzantine era (330 – 1453) and allows for a parallel development of specific issues of interest such as: the acceptance and integration of Ancient Greek Art, the contribution of Greek texts in the development of education, the codification of the Late Roman law, the position of women in Byzantine society, etc.

The exhibition aims to provide visitors a tour in selected centers of the Byzantine Empire, such as Thessaloniki, Athens, Thebes, Arta, Corinth, Mystras, Rhodes and Crete.

The course will be oriented by two decisive parameters for the character of the Empire; the Greek language as a means of culture and recollection and the dialogue of the Empirical leadership with church.

A twelve member scientific committee has been setup for the purpose of the exhibition, with the participation of the General Director of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, the Director of Byzantine and Post – Byzantine Antiquities, the directors of all three museums and the director of EKEVYM, university professors, as well as other members of the Ministry.

The cost of the exhibition will be covered via sponsorship, one of which being OPAP, while the management of the funds will be performed by the scientific committee.

On the Holy Lenten Fast (St. Dorotheos of Gaza)

By St. Dorotheos of Gaza


In the Law, God laid down that the sons of Israel should each year give tithes of all they possessed, and if they did so they were blessed in all their works. The holy Apostles, knowing this to be for the help and advancement of our souls, resolved to fulfil it in a better and higher way, namely, for us to deliver up a tithe of the very days of our lives as if to consecrate them to God, so that we may be blessed in all our works, and each year to be unburdened of the whole year’s sins. They elected to consecrate out of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, seven weeks of fasting, and so they ordained; but our Fathers, in their time, thought it advisable to add another week, both to train and better prepare themselves to enter on the labor of fasting and to honor with their fasting the holy number of forty days which our Lord fasted. The eight weeks, subtracting Saturdays and Sundays, makes forty days, but we honor Holy Saturday with a fast because it is a very holy day and the only Saturday fast of the year.

The seven weeks, without Saturdays, gives thirty-five days, and if we finally add the half of the brilliant and light-giving night, this makes thirty-six and a half, which is exactly a tenth of three hundred and sixty-five. For thirty is the tenth of three hundred, six is the tenth of sixty, and the tenth of five is one half. Here then, are the thirty-six and a half days, the very tithing of the whole year as one might say, which the holy Apostles consecrated to penance for the cleansing of our sins of the whole year. Whoever, therefore, keeps careful guard over himself, as is fitting during these holy days, will be rewarded with blessings, brothers, even if it happens that, being a man, he has sinned either through weakness or carelessness. You see, God gave us these holy days so that by diligence in abstinence, in the spirit of humility and repentance, a man may be cleansed of the sins of the whole year and the soul relieved of its burden. Purified, he goes forward to the holy day of the Resurrection, and being made a new man through the change of heart induced by the fast, he can take his part in the Holy Mysteries and remain in spiritual joy and happiness, feasting with God the whole fifty days. Paschal time, as has been said, is the resurrection of the soul and the sign of this is that we do not kneel in church during the whole season up to Pentecost.

Everyone who wants to purify himself of the sins of the whole year during these days must first of all restrain himself from the pleasure of eating. For the pleasure of eating, as the Fathers say, caused all men’s evil. Likewise he must take care not to break the fast without great necessity or to look for pleasurable things to eat, or weigh himself down by eating and drinking until he is full.

There are two kinds of gluttony. There is the kind which concerns taste: a man does not want to eat a lot but he wants it to be appetizing. It follows that such a person eats the food that pleases him and is defeated by the pleasure of it. He keeps the food in his mouth, rolling it round and round, and has not the heart to swallow it because he enjoys the taste. This is called fastidiousness. Another man is concerned about satisfying himself. He doesn’t ask for fancy food nor does he care especially about whether the taste is nice or not, he only wants to eat and fill his stomach. This is gluttony. I will tell you how it gets its name: margainein means to rage furiously, to be mad; according to the profane, margos is the name given to the man who rages furiously or is mad. When this disease or mania for packing his belly full of food comes upon a man, therefore, it is called gastromargia, the madness of the stomach, whereas laimargia is the madness of the palate. These must be guarded against and abandoned seriously by the man who desires to be cleansed of his sins. They accord not with the needs of the body, but with its vicious inclinations, and if they are tolerated, they lead a man into sin. As is the case with legitimate marital union and fornication, the practice is the same but the object is different. In the one case, there is copulation in order to raise a family, in the other, to satisfy a desire for pleasure. The same is true with feeding: in one case it is a question of the body’s needs and in the other of eating for pleasure. The intention is what makes it a sin. A man eats to satisfy a need when he lays down how much he will take each day and, if what he has determined on overloads him, takes a little less, or if he is not overloaded and his body is weakened, adds a little. And so he estimates exactly his need and he bases his conclusion not on pleasure but on preserving the strength of his body. And what he takes he receives with prayer, deeming himself unworthy of that comfort and he is not on the look out to see if others, as is likely, because of special need or necessity are given special attention, lest he himself hankers for that comfort or think it a trivial thing for the soul to be at rest.

One day when I was in the monastery, I went to see one of the elders–and there were many great men among the elders there. I discovered that his disciple sat down to eat with him, and in private I said to the young man: You know, brother, these elders whom you see eating and taking a little recreation are like men who had deep purses and kept at work, always putting something into them until they filled them up. And after sealing them up they went on working some more and amassed another thousand crowns, so as to have something to draw on in time of need, and so they preserved what was sealed up in the purse. And so it is with these elders. They persevered in their labors, always storing up treasures for themselves, and after sealing up the treasure they worked a little more, and they hold these treasures in reserve for times of sickness and old age so they have something to draw on, and still preserve the treasures they have stored up. But we haven’t even a purse to draw on!

As I was saying, therefore, we ought, even if we take food out of necessity, to consider ourselves unworthy of any kind of special relief or even of monastic life itself–and not take food purely for pleasure, and in this way food will not bring our condemnation.

Enough about sobriety in eating. We must not only keep a sharp watch over our diet, but keep away from all other kinds of sin so that as our stomach keeps fast, so also may our tongue as we abstain from calumny, from deceit, from idle talk, from railing and anger and all other vices which arise from the tongue.

So also let our eyes keep fast. No looking for trivialities, no letting the eyes wander freely, no impudent lying in wait for people to talk to. The same with the hands and feet, to prevent them from doing anything evil. Fasting in this way, as Saint Basil says, is an acceptable fast and, leaving behind all the evil to which our senses are inclined, we may come to the holy day of the Resurrection, renewed and clean and worthy to share in the Holy Mysteries, as we have already said.

First we go out to meet our Lord and receive him with palms and olive branches and seat him on the colt and come with him into the Holy City. What does this mean, sitting on a colt? He is seated on a colt that he may convert the soul (which, as the Prophet says, has become irrational and is compared to senseless beasts) into an image of God, and subject it to his own divinity. What does it mean, going to meet him with palms and olive branches? When someone marches out to war against an adversary and returns victorious, all his own people go before him with palm branches to mark his victory. The palm-branch is the symbol of victory. Again, when one man is injured by another, he desires to approach an authority who can vindicate him. He carries an olive branch and calls out, asking to be heard and helped. The olive branch is the symbol of mercy. Therefore, we go out to meet our Master Christ with palms because he is victorious–for he conquered our enemy–and with olive branches–for we are asking his mercy. May we, by asking, conquer through him and be found carrying the emblems of his victory, not only the victory by which he won for us, but also the victory which we won also through him by the prayers of all the Saints. Amen.

March 30, 2011

The Prophet Joel, the Man of God From Judah

Holy Prophet Joel (Feast Day - March 30)


A lion subdued you Prophet of the Lord,
Having transgressed the word of the Lord.

According to the Orthodox Synaxarion, on March 30th we commemorate a prophet of the Old Testament simply known as "a man of God" in 1 Kings (3 Kingdoms) 13, though his name is revealed to us in 2 Chronicles 9:29 as Joel (some Orthodox listings name him Joad probably to not confuse him with the more well-known Prophet Joel who is celebrated on October 19).

The Holy Prophet Joel came from Judah and prophesied during the tenth century before Christ (See 1/3 Kings 13). The prophet was sent by the Lord from Judea to Bethel to denounce the Israelite king Jeroboam for polluting his nation with idol worship.

The Lord commanded the prophet, "Eat no bread, and drink no water, and do not return by the way you came" (1/3 Kings 13:9). The prophet Joel appeared to King Jeroboam and prophesied to him concerning the wrath of the Lord. When the king tried to gesture with his hand to seize the prophet, his hand suddenly withered. The king entreated the prophet to pray to the Lord that his hand would be healed. By Joel's prayer he received healing.

Deceived by the false prophet Emba of Bethel, Joel disobeyed the command given him by the Lord. The older man lied and told Joel that an angel had commanded him to bring him to his home and feed him. Because of his disobedience, the prophet Joel was killed by a lion. His body did not rest with his fathers, but was buried near the abode of the false prophet who led him astray.

It is not by coincidence that we commemorate this prophet on a day that most years falls within the Great Lenten period. Much like Adam and Eve in Paradise, Joel is commanded by the Lord to not eat or drink in the land during his censure of Jeroboam, yet he is deceived by the old prophet Emba who falsely tells him that an angel appeared to him and told him the opposite; so Joel went to his house and ate. We also have a command established by the Church to fast, and we are told by the Apostle Paul: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Gal. 1:8). Because Joel was deceived into thinking that God would contradict Himself in His command, this cost him his life, for the responsibility of a prophet (like that of every Christian) is great when it comes to obeying the commands of the Lord.

Some would probably see this punishment as too harsh. One wonders however if the outcome would have been different, like the outcome of Adam and Eve, if Joel had repented when the Lord told him of his disobedience. Instead, after the Lord tells him of his sin, we are told in verse 23: "So after he ate bread and drank water, he [Emba] saddled the donkey for him, and he departed." Joel the Prophet had plenty of time to repent, yet didn't, so along the road he is overtaken by a lion and killed. This was an example of Hebrews 12:6: "For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." This is why the Church commemorates him. He was chastened so as not to "be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32). However, Jeroboam, whose hand withered and was restored by his humility after beholding the power of God, "did not turn from his evil way" (v. 32); thus he was condemned with the world.

Another important lesson we learn from this Old Testament chapter is to be vigilant against false teachers and prophets, and this applies just as much to the mature Christian as much as the less mature. We learn here that following these false prophets, even if our intentions are right, will eventually lead us towards disobedience, and our disobedience will have consequences.

Why was Joel the Prophet deceived by the old prophet from Bethel? He did this for several reasons:

· The prophet from Bethel was probably older (an old prophet, 1 Kings 13:11) and had the respect of the man of God.

· The prophet from Bethel identified with the man of God ("I too am a prophet as you are").

· The prophet from Bethel claimed a spectacular experience ("an angel spoke to me").

· The prophet from Bethel claimed to speak for the Lord ("by the word of the Lord").

· The prophet from Bethel did not seem to be an idolater who should be shunned ("Bring him back with you to your house").

· The prophet from Bethel offered no reward, other than simple food ("he may eat bread and drink water").

Notice how subtle the deception was, yet great were the consequences. For his disobedience Joel was killed by a lion and buried with the false prophet who deceived him.

During Great Lent and especially Holy Week we are called to greater vigilance in the spiritual life and obedience to the commands of the Lord. This commemoration on March 30th is an important reminder and warning that if we will be vigilant and obedient, we will receive our just reward; otherwise there will be consequences, whether they will be for our greater good or not.

On Despair and Salvation

Α nun possessed by a spirit of despair would say over and over again, "I am afraid that I will not be saved." And a wise elder replied to her:

"Who could then be saved if monastics cannot? For whom has God created Paradise? We will be saved. We ought to be joyful. We should admit that we are sinners, but also glorify God. To trust in God is like a continuous prayer. Think no evil. Blasphemous thoughts are like airplanes: they fly by, they disturb our tranquillity, and then they are gone. It is up to me to say when I am a sinner — not when the Devil wants me to."


The elder also said, "Various people can be comforted near a person who is free from stress."


A hermit said:

"What guarantees a safe journey to eternity is effort, dig­nity, the sense of being unworthy before God, hope (the spiritual oxygen), consolation, and certainty. Not misery and compelled obedience and forced prayer; not tears and sad­ness — these all come from Satan. Yes, I ought to weep for my sins, but all the while hoping in God's love. But I can­not stand it if I cry because the Devil wants me [to de­spair]. Many times Satan crushes a person with despair and the devil becomes the victor. But this does not happen when one is like a child on his father's trusting arm. Our trust in God is a ceaseless prayer that brings positive results. Despair comes from the Devil. Don't say, 'Oh, what has happened to me?' but give yourself to God totally and hope in Him.

Our obedience should not be done with misery or be­cause we happen to be monastics. The elder or the eldress is not like the Emperor Diocletian who gives us orders. Rather, we should be grateful to our elders and eldresses because our obedience to them protects us. We thus must not react to their directions negatively, nor disobey them.

* * *

An elder said:

"I have not dealt with many things. I am familiar with some patristic teachings and I keep trying. Nonetheless, one thing has become clear to me. There is no bitterness for man. When you face bitter situations spiritually, eventually they become sweet.

We come across a person who has sinned, has regretted it and repented sincerely; he is sad and confesses and re­ceives divine consolation. If one does not feel this way, it means that he should understand that something is not quit right with his conscience. He should go to confession again; then consolation will follow. This is the way we should go. A person shares in his fellow man's sorrow, prays for him, and asks God to help him."

From An Athonite Gerontikon.

The Siblings of Elder Paisios (photos)

His sister Christina

His brother Raphael

To his spiritual children the Elder wrote:

"To some people your love will be expressed with joy and to others it will be expressed with your pain. You will consider everyone your brother or your sister, for we are all children of Eve (of the large family of Adam, of God). Then, in your prayer you will say: ‘My God, help those first who are in greater need, whether they are alive or reposed brothers in the Lord.’ At that point, you will share your heart with the whole world and you will have nothing but immense love, which is Christ."

Epistles, p. 50.

Third Century Skulls of Christian Martyrs Discovered In Lagonisi

Recently a discovery of eight skulls pierced with nails were made during excavations in the ruins of a church in Lagonisi near Halicarnassus, the ancient Greek city at the site of modern Bodrum in Turkey. According to Professor Mustafa Sahin, the skulls are dated to the third century, and belonged probably to Christian missionaries between 40-45 years old.

The excavation is titled "Salvation Excavations of the Ancient City of Myndus" under the chairmanship of Professor Mustafa Sahin and the representative of the Ministry of Culture Netsmi Herold. The eight skulls have been transferred for research in the Department of Archaeology of Burdur involving anthropologists.

Professor Mustafa Sahin unfolded the atrocity as revealed by the skulls found among remains of the church in Lagonisi. The professor stated the following: "The skulls are of the Late Ancient Period and belong to people who were captured and killed by nails through the head then cut off from their bodies, probably to be shown as an example to the world, and buried. This is a practice of cruelty and horror that was applied during the Roman era at the expense of trying to spread Christianity."

Saint John Climacus (St. Nikolai Velimirovich)

St. John of the Ladder (Feast Day - March 30 and the 4th Sunday of Great Lent)

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

John Klimakos (Climacus) is the author of "The Ladder of Divine Ascent."

John came to Mt. Sinai as a sixteen year old youth and remained there, first as a novice under obedience, and afterwards as a recluse, and finally as abbot of Sinai until his eightieth year. He died around the year 563 A.D.

His biographer, the monk Daniel, says about him: "His body ascended the heights of Sinai, while his soul ascended the heights of heaven." He remained under obedience with his spiritual father, Martyrius, for nineteen years. Anastasius of Sinai, seeing the young John, prophesied that he would become the abbot of Sinai. After the death of his spiritual father, John withdrew into a cave, where he lived a difficult life of asceticism for twenty years.

His disciple, Moses, fell asleep one day under the shade of a large stone. John, in prayer in his cell, saw that his disciple was in danger and prayed to God for him. Later on, when Moses returned, he fell on his knees and gave thanks to his spiritual father for saving him from certain death. He related how, in a dream, he heard John calling him and he jumped up and, at that moment, the stone tumbled. Had he not jumped, the stone would have crushed him.

At the insistence of the brotherhood, John agreed to become abbot and directed the salvation of the souls of men with zeal and love. From someone John heard a reproach that he talked too much. Not being angered by this, John however remained silent for an entire year and did not utter a word until the brothers implored him to speak and to continue to teach them his God-given wisdom.

On one occasion, when six-hundred pilgrims came to the Monastery of Sinai, everyone saw an agile youth in Jewish attire serving at a table and giving orders to other servants and assigning them. All at once, this young man disappeared. When everyone noticed this and began to question it, John said to them, "Do not seek him, for that was Moses the Prophet serving in my place."

During the time of his silence in the cave, John wrote many worthwhile books, of which the most glorious is "The Ladder". This book is still read by many, even today. In this book, John describes the method of elevating the soul to God, as ascending a ladder.

Before his death, John designated George, his brother in the flesh, as abbot. George grieved much because of his separation from John. Then John said to him, that, if he [John] were found worthy to be near God in the other world, he would pray to Him, that, he, [George], would be taken to heaven that same year. And, so it was. After ten months George succeeded and settled among the citizens of heaven as did his great brother, John.


As a kind of torch on Sinai, the Mount,
John was glowing in heavenly light
Subduing the body, subdued his thoughts,
Thirty steps, he numbered toward victory.
Miraculous strategy, wonderful tactic
As a legacy, to the spiritual warrior he gave
The spiritual warfare, who desires to learn
And in this warfare to gloriously conquer.
"The Ladder," all miraculous, by the Spirit written,
After the dreadful strife was ended,
When John the Victor, the world from himself shed,
As a precious gift, to the brethren he brought it.
An epic poem, that is the soul of man,
When from dust, toward heaven it desires to climb,
An awesome epic poem of struggle and suffering,
A sparkling epic poem of faith and hoping.
This, John, to us gave, illumined by God,
Weapons, all-glowing, to you and to me.
And now before the Lord, John prays
That the Lord be pleased to send us help
When, to Him, by the Ladder we climb.
That to us, His hand He extends, that we
May to Him arrive.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
With the rivers of your tears, you have made the barren desert fertile. Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you, your labors have borne fruit a hundred-fold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O John, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.

Kontakion in the First Tone
As ever-blooming fruits, thou dost offer the teachings of thy God-given book, O wise John, thou most blessed, while sweet'ning the hearts of all them that heed it with vigilance; for it is a ladder from the earth unto Heaven that conferreth glory on the souls that ascend it and honour thee faithfully.

March 29, 2011

Greek Government Ignoring Autonomy of Mount Athos

Christine Pirovolakis
March 29, 2011

Monks from the 1000-year-old autonomous monastic community of Mount Athos on Tuesday defied the cash-strapped Greek government by refusing to pay property taxes.

The finance ministry, which has been forced to accept an international bailout, recently announced plans to tax the monks on any real estate in their possession outside the boundaries of the autonomous state.

Mount Athos, or the Holy Mount, is divided into 20 self-governed territories on the Athos peninsula in north-eastern Greece.

It serves as the spiritual centre of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Despite protests by the European Parliament, women, including female journalists, are banned from the rugged 300km² peninsula, which has been dedicated to the Virgin Mary since 1060.

Under the constitution, Mount Athos is also exempt from paying taxes or tariffs to the Greek government.

The 2600 monks who live on Mount Athos called an emergency session to complain that the Greek government was ignoring their rights as an autonomous state. They said they had written a protest letter to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.

The monks, who reportedly own millions of euros worth of real estate around Greece, have threatened to break off all contact with the government in Athens unless their demands are met.

Doctors credit the monks' peaceful lifestyle and healthy diet, which features no red meat, regular consumption of olive oil, plenty of fresh fruit, homegrown vegetables and daily portions of fish.

God Shouldn’t Be Used As A Scapegoat

The following was probably written by someone who is an atheist or agnostic as the tone seems to suggest, but it offers a valuable critique one rarely encounters when Christians give over-simplistic answers to highly-complex issues and how non-Christians view this.

Bethany Breeze
March 29, 2011

The tragedies of the earthquake in Japan March 11 were, to most people, unimaginable. Yet with images of the disaster flooding in, disbelief was able to turn into compassion, and compassion into action.

Simultaneously, Russian Orthodox priest Alexandr Shumsky published an article title “The end of the Japanese Miracle” March 14. In this, he wrote the earthquake and tsunami were God’s way of punishing Japan for offending Russia because some protesters had recently burned Russian flags and destroyed portraits of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

Among the support, unity and care of fellow human beings shown in wake of such a disaster, where exactly does the concept of God lie? An argument for “free will” as a necessity for an omniscient presence, and any other of the accompanying weak justifications for human suffering, simply fall flat in the face of reality.

So it is those who carry the name of God — religious figures and followers — that carry the God concept into situations of human pain and suffering.

“In the Judo-Christian tradition, the believers see the vengeful hand of God in any disaster, be it natural or social,” said Father Konstantin Kravtsov, a priest of the Annunciation Church in Moscow, Russia.

Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo’s governor, said, “I think (the disaster in Japan) is tembatsu.” Tembatsu is a Japanese term that means “divine punishment.” His remarks are reminiscent of the New Orleans’ mayor in 2005, Ray Nagin, who said, “Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane.”

I am not an environmental science major. But I have enough education and common sense to see the stupidity in these comments. These people are using God as a scapegoat. If something positive occurred in Japan, or New Orleans, at these times, I think it is safe to say these leaders would not be giving the credit to, or passing all the responsibility to God.

A website said blatantly, “such events shake our confidence in this life and force us to think about eternity. Churches are usually filled after disasters as people realize how tenuous their lives really are and how life can be taken away in an instant.”

To say such a thing from a comfortable office far from devastation is both uncaring and disturbing. And now not only are earthquakes a divine punishment, they are a commodity. They can take advantage of people’s insecurities to create converts.

This superstitious cop-out technique, which is scientifically absurd and humanely disrespectful, can still be seen in many areas of our society we like to consider developed. It is simply exacerbated by discomfort and pain, as people need someone or something to pass the responsibility to and blame. Hurricane Katrina had nothing to do with the climate we have damaged if God was just feeling a little grumpy.

This is seen tragically in the face of dire illness as well. As my beloved 18-year-old cousin is currently fighting cancer for the second time, she deserves more than an “I’m praying for you.” This is the ultimate cop-out, and every time I see it I struggle to imagine how hearing this may feel when something as serious as cancer has a hold of your body. It is the ultimate denial of reality, passing of responsibility to actually help while building righteous pomposity.

If you are one to still seriously think a God created the tragedy in Japan like the disillusioned Shumsky, try going and telling that directly to a Japanese woman who has just had her entire life and family washed away. And if you think a God is controlling the illness of a loved one, try telling them straight to their face. Ignorance is easy from an armchair, but it’s a little harder when you are actually faced with reality.

Patriarch Irinej: Declare Yourselves Orthodox Serbs

March 29, 2011

Serbian Patriarch Irinej called on all believers, members of the Serb community in the region to declare themselves Orthodox Serbs during the forthcoming census of population, which is due to commence on April 1.

Serbian Patriarch Irinej called on all believers, members of the Serb community in the region to declare themselves Orthodox Serbs during the forthcoming census of population, which is due to commence on April1.

“By participating in the census, we demonstrate that we abide by the laws of the country in which we reside, but primarily that we strive for the salvation of our soul by living in harmony with God and our neighbors,” the Patriarch noted.

“In that respect, I call on all of you to take part in the forthcoming census, and thus assert your basic human rights and freedoms, so as to preserve your religious, cultural and national identity, guaranteed by Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,” Patriarch Irinej underscored.

Bulgarian Schismatic Priest Dies In Car Accident

March 29, 2011

Kamen Barakov, a priest from Bulgaria's alternative synod, who was among the front-runners of the rebel clergy, has been killed in a car crash.

The crash occurred on Monday on Sofia ring-road near the villages of Busmantsi and Kazichane. Barakov was driving his own BMW, but it was not immediately clear what caused the crash and whether other cars were involved in it. He died on the spot.

Kamen Barakov was one of those who secured the Alternative Synod victory in the Strasbourg European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in September last year that the Bulgarian state has unduly forced Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Christians to worship under only one Church by chasing out clergy from the 'alternative' synod out of temples.

The schism in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was started in 1992 when a group of senior clergy headed by Metropolitan Pimen of Nevrokop decided to split from the rest, claiming that a Church headed by allegedly communist-related Patriarch Maxim is illegitimate.

The rightist Union of Democratic Forces cabinet of PM Filip Dimitrov was instrumental in supporting the rebel clergy and even attempted to ban the prior synod headed by Maxim, only to be countered by Bulgarian courts.

In 1998 Pimen repented in front of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, but after his death one year later the schism was flared up by his successor Inokentii in the alternative synod.

In 2004, the Bulgarian police stormed through 250 churches countrywide and detained many priests of the 'alternative' synod to restore proprietorship to the official Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Trailer: "Sarantario, The Mountain of Temptation"

Here is a trailer for "Sarantario, The Mountain of Temptation". Its a documentary film shot in Israel-Palestine, which talks about a monk, Father Gerasimos, and his life in a "special" place like the monastery in Sarantarion Mountain. The monastery rises to a height of 350 meters above sea level and commands a magnificent and panoramic view of the Jordan Valley. It is the site where Jesus spent forty days and forty nights fasting and meditating during the temptation of Satan, about 3 km northwest of Jericho.

Directed & Filmed by Nikos Chrisikakis
Produced & Written by Maria Giachnaki
Edited by Kosmas Filiousis
Music composed by Vangelis Svarnas


Jordan Asking For the Return of Possible Early Christian Writings

Robert Pigott
March 29, 2011

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

A group of 70 or so "books", each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.

A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.

A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.

That is certainly the view of the Jordanian government, which claims they were smuggled into Israel by another Bedouin.

The Israeli Bedouin who currently holds the books has denied smuggling them out of Jordan, and claims they have been in his family for 100 years.

Jordan says it will "exert all efforts at every level" to get the relics repatriated.

Incredible claims

The director of the Jordan's Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

"They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls," says Mr Saad.

"Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology."

They seem almost incredible claims - so what is the evidence?

The books, or "codices", were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings.

Their leaves - which are mostly about the size of a credit card - contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code.

If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, then they are of huge significance.

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

He says they could be "the major discovery of Christian history", adding: "It's a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church."

He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages of those which have so far been opened.

Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians would have interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they would have regarded as representing the presence of God.

"It's talking about the coming of the messiah," he says.

"In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have the seven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because it resided in the holiest place in the Temple in the presence of God.

"So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy of holies, in other words to get legitimacy from God."

Location clues

Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.

"As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image," he says.

"There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem."

It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of a capital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were.

"It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls," says Mr Davies.

Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to the location of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purely Jewish, origin.

"We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from the troubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and then they fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have been found," she says.

"[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towards a Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christians were particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scroll form, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of early Christianity."

The Book of Revelation refers to such sealed texts.

Another potential link with the Bible is contained in one of the few fragments of text from the collection to have been translated.

It appears with the image of the menorah and reads "I shall walk uprightly", a sentence that also appears in the Book of Revelation.

While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism, it could here be designed to refer to the resurrection.

It is by no means certain that all of the artefacts in the collection are from the same period.

But tests by metallurgists on the badly corroded lead suggest that the books were not made recently.

The archaeology of early Christianity is particularly sparse.

Little is known of the movement after Jesus' crucifixion until the letters of Paul several decades later, and they illuminate the westward spread of Christianity outside the Jewish world.

Never has there been a discovery of relics on this scale from the early Christian movement, in its homeland and so early in its history.

Is the New Testament Forged?

Jerry Newcombe
March 28, 2011

The scholar is the iconoclastic Dr. Bart Ehrman, who teaches religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The book is called Forged: Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Ehrman said on a radio broadcast that about 75 percent of the New Testament documents are supposedly forged. They’re frauds.

Dr. Sam Lamerson is a conservative New Testament scholar who teaches at Knox Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale. (By way of full disclosure, I earned a theology degree there). He heard Ehrman on a radio broadcast say words to this effect: “I want to be the scholar that uses the F-word about the Bible. I want people to know that these books were forged.”

“Forged” is a strong word. Several of the New Testament books claim no authorship at all. Church tradition has attributed them to various writers, but the biblical text itself does not claim authorship for these particular books. For instance, none of the four Gospels (of which tradition names the writers as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) actually have the names of the authors at the beginning of their documents.

But if a document is anonymous, how could it be a forgery?

Dr. Mike Licona, a rising star in New Testament scholarship, has been reading an advanced copy of Forged. He told me that the most prolific biographer of antiquity is widely held to be Plutarch (as in Plutarch’s Lives), yet of all the 50 or so existing manuscripts we have of Plutarch, none of them are signed.

Were they forgeries? By Ehrman’s definition, it would seem so. But no serious scholar holds that view.

Dr. Licona, who has debated Ehrman twice, told me, “What we’re seeing from Ehrman [in Forged] is not new information. It may be new to many readers who aren’t used to looking at the academic stuff, but it’s not at all new.”

Ehrman goes on to assert that many New Testament books that do claim authorship within the text, such as Ephesians, Colossians, and the letters of Peter and James, are not written by the claimed authors. It should be noted that this is not based on manuscript evidence. It’s based largely on the style of the text, and there are many conservative scholars who are not convinced by these arguments. Thus, Ehrman is stating liberal opinion as fact.

Ironically, Ehrman even states in his own book, “Virtually all of the problems with what I’ve been calling forgeries can be solved if secretaries were heavily involved in the compositions of the early Christian writings.” [p. 134]

But that’s exactly what happened.

Conservative scholars note that many of Paul’s writings begin with his name…and that of a co-author, such as Timothy, Silas, or Sosthenes.

Dr. Lamerson, who interestingly worked his way through seminary by doing magic tricks, knows sleight of hand when he sees it (or in this case, hears it). He said, “Of course, being forged is very different from having a secretary or having someone help you with the text or not knowing who wrote the text because their name simply isn’t included.”

Ehrman likes to tout that he’s a former evangelical, who went to Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. Ehrman then went on to Princeton Seminary where he began to have some doubts about his faith. That faith finally shattered when he was teaching at Rutgers University. Now, he’s an agnostic.

So why are Bart Ehrman and other liberal scholars even concerning themselves with this stuff if they don’t believe it?

Amazingly, Jesus made a warning that fits here (if the Gospel of Matthew is to be believed-and, no, it wasn’t forged; it just isn’t signed). He admonished those who “shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.” He said, “You yourselves won’t go in, but you prevent others from going in.”

I’m concerned that many people will hear Bart Ehrman and think that he speaks for all the scholars. He does not.

Many people might miss the Gospel because they take Ehrman’s word as Gospel. It is not.

It is liberal opinion repackaged well for a mass audience.

For anyone needing a scholarly rebuttal to Bart Ehrman’s 2011 book, feel free to read Terry L. Wilder's excellent article called "Pseudonymity and the New Testament," which appears in a 2001 book, Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues. (Indeed, his arguments aren’t new.)

Dr. Paul Maier, a professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University and a first rate scholar of the New Testament and its history, told me, “Both [Ehrman] and his publisher [HarperOne] are guilty of cheap sensationalism with little or no regard for the truth.”

Ehrman’s book went on sale on March 22, 2011. Just in time for Easter, he, his publisher, and the lackeys in the media who go for all the anti-faith iconoclasm get another chance to try and cash in. What a friend we have in Jesus.

March 28, 2011

St. Nektarios: The Pure In Heart Perceive God and Discover Him

By St. Nektarios of Aegina

It is evident that unbelief is an evil offspring of an evil heart; for the guileless and pure heart everywhere discovers God, everywhere discerns Him, and always unhesitatingly believes in His existence.

When the man of pure heart looks at the World of Nature, that is, at the sky, the earth, and the sea and at all things in them, and observes the systems constituting them, the infinite multitude of stars of heaven, the innumerable multitudes of birds and quadrupeds and every kind of animal of the earth, the variety of plants on it, the abundance of fish in the sea, he is immediately amazed and exclaims with the Prophet David: "How great are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom Thou made them all."

Such a man, impelled by his pure heart, discovers God also in the World of Grace of the Church, from which the evil man is far removed. The man of pure heart believes in the Church, admires her spiritual system, discovers God in the Mysteria, in the heights of the theology, in the light of the Divine revelations, in the truths of the teachings, in the commandments of the Law, in the achievements of the Saints, in every good deed, in every perfect gift, and in general in the whole of the creation. Justly then did the Lord say in His Beatitudes of those possessing purity of the heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

Orthodox 3D Cinema in Murmansk

March 28, 2011

The metochion of the Trifon Pechenga Monastery in Murmansk plans to open an Orthodox cinema for religious and educational films.

The cinema will have 70 seats and will be equipped with 3D technology, Murmansk Vestnik reports. The cinema will not only be showing Orthodox movies, but also educational films. The first viewers to test the new cinema will be school children, who will be shown a film about traffic safety. This event is organized in cooperation with the traffic police.

The metochion is located on the outskirts of Murmansk and will be a huge complex when it is completed. The institution will have several churches and chapels, a 150 bed shelter for homeless people and a hotel for pilgrims.

Trifon Pechenga is the world’s northernmost monastery, located in the Pechenga municipality on the border to Norway. The monastery is currently under construction, after the former buildings burned to the ground in 2007.

Jerusalem Patriarchate Sells Leasing Rights To Jewish Investors On Jerusalem Land

Ranit Nahum-Halevy
March 15, 2011

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate sold most of its leasing rights to large swaths of Jerusalem to a group of Jewish investors last week. The NIS 80 million agreement puts an end to the long draw-out land affair - at least for the next 140 years.

In the deal, signed March 10, the Patriarchate sold most of its rights to lease the land it has held in Jerusalem to a group of Jewish investors from Israel and abroad. The group includes the Ben David family, one of the wealthiest in Jerusalem, who are large property investors and partners in Givot Olam Oil Exploration.

The sale includes 85 parcels on hundreds of dunams of the capital's most expensive properties, including in the very pricey neighborhoods of Rehavia, Talbieh, Baka and Katamon.

Hundreds of projects have been built on the land, including residential, commercial and almost everything else. The properties include the Wolfson Towers that overlook the Knesset building, the Neve Granot neighborhood below the Israel Museum, Liberty Bell Park, the Great Synagogue, the old Ottoman train stations, hotels, offices and residences.

The Israel Lands Administration manages the Patriarchate's properties, in the name of the Jewish National Fund. The ILA and the Patriarchate are signed on leasing agreements through 2051, but the ILA will sign the renewed leases in the future with the group of Jewish investors.

Theofilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, signed the agreement himself, along with his deputy for financial matters.

The deal will give the buyers the ownership rights on the new land as of 2051, and they have already started talks with the ILA over the conditions of the renewal of the leases in 2051.

The agreement has long-term political significance though it may not make economic sense for the buyers, said property assessor Koby Bir.

"There are those who may say the amount [paid] is too low ... But, the investors bought the rights starting only another 40 years," he said. "Only then will they become the owners of the land and can sign the agreements to renew the leases," he said.

Bir said the deal was high risk. "No one promises that tomorrow morning, or in a few years, the JNF will start making deals to renew the leases," he said. "But now the land is being managed by a group of Jewish investors and the Palestinian threat has been removed. We have already heard that the investors are chasing after the ILA, and [the ILA] will not just let them make any amount they demand. The ILA is in no hurry."

Politics and parcels

The story goes all the way back to just after the founding of the State of Israel. The Patriarchate, the historic owner of the land in question, signed a leasing deal with the JNF. The new country needed land to develop the new capital, but the Patriarchate adamantly refused to sell any land, and instead only agreed to lease it out.

In 1952 the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate signed the deal which left it with formal ownership of the properties, but all the rights to use and develop the land were transfered through a long-term lease of 99 years to the JNF, until 2051.

The original terms allowed the JNF to sublease the land to various developers, which built on the properties - including thousands of homes. But the original lease stated that the Patriarchate would once again receive the full and sole rights to the properties when the lease runs out in 2051.

To prevent a situation where the residents and others using the properties would have to negotiate individually with the Patriarchate in the future, the state carried on secret negotiations for decades in an attempt to convince former Patriarch Diodoros I to agree to extend the lease.

But political pressure, mostly from Palestinian groups, kept Diodoros from signing. Israel was also worried that after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the new body would reach an agreement with the church over the land.

In early 2000, a deal was formulated by Jacob Weinroth, the attorney representing the JNF. The new lease was to have been extended to 2150 in return for $20 million. The sides even signed a letter of intent, but the deal was canceled shortly after with the Patriarchate claiming the buyers had defrauded the church. Various repercussions from this failed deal and the myriad accusations are still being heard in court.

Monk Moses: On the Rewriting of Our History

By Monk Moses the Athonite
March 26, 2011

Recently there have been attempts at a shameful rewriting of our history. Neither few nor many connoisseurs agonizingly are trying to convince us that four centuries of Ottoman domination, the great Ottoman Empire, was an ideal period of cooperation, association and communication with our enslaved ancestors, our hapless serfs. The study of Ottoman archives brought to light strong evidence, they say, that the Turks were noble, casual, generous and very polite. Many Modern Greeks are wondering, worried and seriously troubled about the aim of the authors and exponents of these original and unsubstantiated views. 190 years after the Greek Revolution in 1821, they are rewriting our history.

How can it be seriously shown that the Greeks acquired a national consciousness just before the Greek Revolution of 1821? The common origin, the same language, the same religion, similar ethics and customs, do they not show a national consciousness from Greek antiquity? During the Hellenistic and so-called Byzantine era does there not continue a culture lived and created after the famous ancient Greek race? Are clergy, scholars, writers and travelers in error when they speak loudly about how before and after the fall of Constantinople there was a brilliant continuation of Hellenism? Are there not documents that speak of exorbitant taxes for the enslaved, the martyrdoms of the Orthodox, violent Islamization, kidnapping and the making of janissaries? Were the bold fighters, Kleftes and Armatoloi, guerrillas and fugitives as we heard recently? Was the cause of the uprising of 1821 of a purely economic nature? Didn't Marxists theorize in a congress of theirs thirty years ago these monolithic theories?

We do not shout in vain because we have settled and established views that are affected, because this is how we grew up, because it suits us, because we fear being contradicted, because we do not have strong arguments. We are not accustomed to yelling, and not afraid to diverge from non-established new views. In 1821, they say, the Greek nation was established. What existed before? Who dwelled here? Who were those who inhabited here? Do they want to say that in 1821 there was founded the Modern Greek state? Should historians confuse the terms nation and state? Greek history is not given to controversy, ratings and speculation. Our history should not be dramatized and casually humiliated. Let us not insult the spilled blood of heroes for our freedom today. Anyone can submit their personal interpretations of history. But there should be acceptance by all, discussed quite seriously and openly. Will we remove the foustanella and kariophili from the militants and put on them "blue jeans" and automatic weapons? Did not the heroes of 1821 fight "for the holy faith of Christ and the freedom of the country?" Did they shed their blood for economic recovery and the establishment of a nation-state? Did it not start from the Monastery of Agia Lavra? From where did it start? From a tavern? Are the Secret Schools a myth, and the involvement of clergy in the Greek Revolution a fairytale? For 190 years our historians told us such serious lies? Why? So many years we were immature and now suddenly matured to accept the great truth hidden by Mr. Veremis? The truth comes in the deletion of myths? Truth means forgetfulness of oblivion. A vigilant, correct, fair memory of historical events. Why invent and hold on to so many myths? Perhaps it is not a myth and in this lies much truth? Should not the study of the Ottoman archives be extended to the Russian, Austrian, English and even in other Greek anecdotes?

A historian cannot by personal ideology and a strong bias delete without question by a stroke of the pen the offerings of the clergy and Church in the Greek Revolution, throughout the course of the country. This is not a simple debate, defending the honest and blood-stained raso, but an intense and wholehearted protest. The leaders of the newly-formed history have a joyless role, known and ordinary, one without shame, an unnecessary and unwaged war against the sanctified, the righteous and the beautiful. They strike at the Church, Orthodoxy, religion, the clergy, and monasticism. They say in a mature enough time it will level. But the last word of history, the dot and dash, others will surely provide. The Revolution began with the blessing of the Church on 3/25/1821, the day of the Annunciation. The Annunciation brought the resurrection of our doleful and sweet homeland.

Translated By John Sanidopoulos

Saint Boyan-Enravota, the First Bulgarian Martyr

St. Boyan-Enravota the Martyr (Feast Day - March 28)

The Bulgarian State was founded on the Balkan Peninsula in 680 AD by a militant Turkic tribe - the Pra-Bulgarians (the "original Bulgarians"). It was chiefly populated, however, by local Slavic tribes which had much earlier established themselves in this region. For the most part these Slavs were already Christianized. This Christian population was augmented when the great Bulgarian khan, Khrum the Fearsome (802-814), in the course of his numerous incursions into Byzantium, captured many Byzantine Christians and brought them back to his country as slaves.

Among these captives was the learned Christian, Kinamon, who became a tutor of the khan's children. Khrum's heir, the pagan Khan Omurtag (814-831), whether because he noticed Kinamon's influence on his elder sons or simply out of enmity towards his Christian faith, tried to force Kinamon to take part in an idolatrous banquet. When Kinamen resolutely declined, Omurtag had him tortured and thrown into a dungeon where he languished for many years.

The Holy Martyr Boyan, Prince of Bulgaria, suffered for Christ around the year 830. When his pagan brother Malomir [Vladimir] ascended the Bulgarian throne, Prince Boyan asked him to free the learned Christian Kinamon, who had been in prison for a long time for refusing to participate in pagan sacrifices under Prince Omurtag (Obrit or Krutogon), Prince Malomir's predecessor.

Malomir consented and gave Kinamon to Prince Boyan as a slave. Boyan spoke to Kinamon about Christianity, telling him of the errors of paganism and that belief in Christ is necessary for salvation. At the end of their conversation he told the prince, "Without Jesus Christ there is no light for the mind, no life for the soul. He alone is the Teacher of mankind and our Savior. By His death, He has reconciled fallen mankind with God. If you do not wish to perish, believe in the Lord Jesus." Prince Boyan recognized the truth of his words, and was inspired to ask for Baptism.

The newly-converted prince was filled with a love of prayer, fasting and contemplation of God. Malomir, learning about the conversion of his brother to Christianity, demanded that he renounce the Christian Faith and return to paganism. Instead, the holy Prince Boyan answered, "I despise the pagan idols and I revere Christ, the true God. No one shall separate me from the love of Christ." Malomir, hearing his brother's reply, sentenced him to death.

Before his martyric death, the holy martyr-prince declared: "The faith for which I now die will spread throughout the Bulgarian land. You vainly imagine that you will stop it by killing me. Temples to the true God will be built, and priests will offer Him true worship. The idols and their foul sacrifices, however, will vanish." Then he said to his brother Malomir, "You will gain nothing from your cruelty, and death will soon overtake you."

The holy martyr was killed by the sword, and his predictions to his brother were the first to be fulfilled. Malomir soon died, and since he had no heir, his elder brother Presian (836-852) succeeded to the throne. Prince Presian's son, the holy Prince Boris, in holy Baptism Michael (May 2) later Christianized the Bulgarian nation. Thus the prophecy of the holy Martyr Prince Boyan was fulfilled.

The Fourth Week of Great Lent

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

"This is a holy week of light, in which the precious Cross is exalted in the sight of all the world". During all this week up to Saturday "sanctifying the time of abstinence the divine and precious Cross" in the midst of the temple "clearly offers everything, source of divine forgiveness, both light of heaven and life and true joyfulness", "bestowing on those who venerate it redemptive sanctification, light and glory and mercy" and "facilitating the season of the Fast for us". The subject of the church hymns all this week is the glorification of the Holy Cross, and therefore it is referred to as Veneration of the Cross Week 1). Representing beneficial fruits sprouting from the life-creating tree of the Cross into a sinful world, the Holy Church sings praises to the Holy Cross, as "a tree of life, the spoiler of Hades, the joy of the world and the consumer of corruption", "the scepter of the Holy Messiah, the heavenly glory of man, the praise of kings, the dominion of faith, the invincible weapon, the driving away of enemies, the light of radiance, the salvation of the world, the great glory of martyrs, the power of the righteous, the brightness of angels", "the sign of joy, the praise of martyrs, the adornment of apostles, the confirmation of bishops", "the joy of the Orthodox, the protector of the universe", "the fortress of abstinence, the cooperator of the vigilant, the strengthening of the fasters, the upholders of the strugglers". Praising the Holy Cross, the Holy Church together with it calls on its children to restrain "from corrupting passions for food by abstinence and from sweets by disgust", and "purifying themselves by fasting" to venerate the Holy Cross "with awe and by faith", "drawing up sanctification for their souls". But as success in the Lenten spiritual efforts may, especially after having already achieved the mid point of the holy Forty Day Fast be eclipsed by gluttony, the Holy Church following the example of the Lord, who humbled Himself by dying on the cross, also calls us to humility, so that we may not lose our justification before God because of Pharisaic pride, looking not only at our deeds, but also in our thoughts. "Let us with all the faithful, the Holy Church appeals to us, emulate the repentance of the Publican, and not boast like the Pharisee. Let us offer cries of sorrow from the depth of our heart to the loving God of all. For He Himself has given this commandment saying: Every man that exalts himself shall be abased, and that he that humbles himself shall be exalted. Therefore with one accord let us cry to Him: God be merciful to us sinners and save us" and "grant us that it may come during the rest of the fasting season in tenderness".

On the fourth week there is a veneration of the Holy Cross on those days, which the Holy Church, for the most part, calls for prayer and fasting: on Monday and Wednesday, at the First Hour, and on Friday, at the end of all the Hours. The priest sets the analogion with the Holy Cross, and places a candleholder with lighted candles behind the analogion, and the priest sings: "Before Thy Cross", and so forth, as this is done on Sunday. At the First Hour instead of the prayer: "Order my steps", we sing: "Before Thy Cross", and after that, during the veneration, we sing the verses: "Come, faithful, and let us venerate", with those verses that we sing at the veneration of the cross on the Veneration of the Cross Sunday. The veneration of the cross is done even if it is the patronal feast day.

Wednesday of the fourth week is called the "middle" of the Holy Forty Day Fast (in simple language it is "Middle of the Cross Week"). From this Wednesday on at the Presanctified Liturgies we intone the special litany for the catechumens as written in the service books "On this Mid-Fast Wednesday we do not use olive oil and wine for our meals, for again the day is mournful and not joyful".

We sing all the services on Friday the same way as on Wednesday. At the dismissal for the Hours there is a veneration of the Cross during the singing of the idiomelon (samoglasnikh) verses (stichera); after the veneration of the Cross, the Cross is carried into the sanctuary according to the rubrics as on August 2 (see page 268).

1) Some of the hymns for this week of the Holy Cross are called "thrice composed" and "tripartite" (look at the 8th ode of the canon for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). In the opinion of some, the name of Holy Cross is explained by the following tradition "about the tree of the cross". The Patriarch Abraham, wishing to find out whether the Lord will forgive the heavy sin of Lot (Gen 19:30-38), planted three saplings from three healthy trees: the cypress, the plane tree (i. e. a date palm) and the cedar (again ode 5 of the canon for Friday of the fourth week of Great Lent, ode 5 of the Resurrection canon and ode 9 of the canon for Wednesday of the Octoechos tone 2 and the tone 3 Kathisma (sedalen) for Matins on Wednesday and Friday) and ordered Lot to carry water from the Jordan and to water these saplings. Abraham thought to himself, that if the designated branches starts to grow, then God will forgive Lot, and if not, the sin of Lot is not forgiven. Lot fervently fulfilled the obedience (podvig) of sincere penance laid on him. The tempter of the human race the devil, seeing the unceasing labor of Lot, perpetrated all kinds of obstacles to not allow him to water the three entrusted branches. The penitential effort overcame the intrigues of the tempter. The plentifully watered branches grew. Moreover, they grew together into one tree. From this one, but three-sourced tree the arms of the cross of crucifixion was subsequently made, on which the Savior was crucified (see the details in the Kormchii 1896, 8).


March 27, 2011

Synaxarion for the Third Sunday of Great Lent

By Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos


On this day, the Third Sunday of the Great Fast, we celebrate the Veneration of the Honorable and Life-giving Cross.


Let the whole earth venerate the Cross,
Through which it learned to worship Thee, O Word.


Since through the forty-day Fast we are also crucified in a certain way, deadened as we are by the passions, and feel a sense of bitterness, so that we become exhausted and fall down, for this reason the Precious and Life-giving Cross is set forth, to refresh and strengthen us, and to remind us of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It exhorts us with this thought: If our God was crucified for us, how much ought we to do for Him! It lightens our burdens by comparing them with the afflictions of the Master. It reminds us of the glory that comes through the Cross and gives us the hope of this glory. For, as our Savior ascended the Cross and was glorified through being led around dishonorably and by the bitter treatment that He received, so must we also act, in order that we may be glorified with Him, even if we suffer some unpleasantness for a time.

And we venerate the Cross in other ways. Just as those who traverse a rough and lengthy road and have grown faint through weariness, if they should happen to find a tree that affords plenty of shade, sit down for a while and are refreshed, and, as if rejuvenated, accomplish the remainder of the journey; so now in the season of the Fast and on the laborious road that we traverse, the Life-bearing Cross was planted in the midst by the Holy Fathers, providing us with relaxation and refreshment and making those who have become weary well-equipped and nimble for the subsequent toil. Or, just as at the coming of a king, his banners and scepters precede him, and then he arrives in person, rejoicing and taking delight in his victory and at the same time making his subjects glad; even so our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is soon going to display the Trophy of victory over death and come forth in glory on the day of Resurrection, has sent His scepter in advance, the royal Banner, the Life-giving Cross, preparing us to make ready and welcome Him soon as King, and to praise Him Who has gloriously triumphed.

By the middle week of Holy Lent, the holy period of forty days resembles the spring of Marah because of the discipline that we apply to our bodies and because of the bitterness and weariness that are in us as a result of fasting. Therefore, just as the Divine Moses threw the tree into the middle of that spring and made it sweet, so also God, Who has led us through the noetic Red Sea and away from Pharaoh, sweetens the bitterness from the forty days of fasting with the life-giving Tree of the Precious and Life-giving Cross, consoling us as we spend time in the desert until He leads us up to the noetic Jerusalem through His Resurrection.

Or, since the Cross is called the Tree of Life and is this Tree, and since the Tree of Life was planted in the middle of the Paradise of Eden, it was appropriate that the most Divine Fathers should plant the Tree of the Cross in the middle of the holy forty days, thereby simultaneously reminding us of Adam’s gluttony and describing his restoration through the Tree of the Cross. For if we taste of this Tree, we shall no longer die, but be made alive.

By the power of Thy Cross, O Christ our God, protect us from the assaults of the Evil One, and vouchsafe us, having passed through the arena of the forty days with ease, to venerate Thy Divine Passion and Thy Life-bearing Resurrection; and have mercy on us, for Thou alone art good and lovest mankind.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance. Grant victories to the rulers over their adversaries. And through Your Cross preserve Your habitation!

Kontakion in Plagal of the Third Tone
Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Eden; it has mysteriously been quenched by the wood of the Cross! The sting of death and the victory of hades have been vanquished; for You, O my Savior, have come and cried to those in hades: "Enter again into paradise."