November 30, 2012

The Miracle of Saint Andrew at Spetses in 1898

In the Church of Saint Andrew the First-Called in Spetses there is a silver ship hanging from the ceiling, which testifies to a naval miracle of St. Andrew that happened on November 30th of 1898. The following story is related to us by Peter D. Argyri.

It was the dawn of St. Andrew's on November 30, 1898. Most homes on the island of Spetses were lit by oil lamps. Housewives were getting ready for church to celebrate the feast.

Outside there was a bitter cold, as a storm had swept through the night before. Despite the bitter cold, at eight in the morning the church was crowded with the faithful.

As the priest was in procession with the Holy Gifts during the Great Entrance, all eyes turned towards the door. A bunch of bearded, shabby, soggy, disheveled men came in led by their captain. They approached the icon of St. Andrew and knelt together, first the captain followed by his crew. At one point even the priest stopped chanting to watch.

Their faces seemed wild, cold and pale. The salt of the sea or possibly some great agony carved deep wrinkles in their foreheads. Their hair was glued to their heads mixed with the blood from their wounds. Their clothes were ragged, and from the holes in their pants and shirt one could distinguish wounds that had been covered with dried blood.

The captain, after crossing himself and resting his head on the floor, pinned his eyes upon the icon of the Saint. His eyes were filled with tears and he trembled all over. With a quick movement of his hand to his bosom he pulled out a pouch so full that it was about to break from all the coins, and he placed it before the icon of St. Andrew. The sailors did the same, kneeling and kissing the icon with reverence.

When the priest said: "With the fear of God, faith and love, draw near", the captain with all his sailors approached and with a loud voice said to the priest:

"Commune us all, my Father, though we have never fasted."

Papa George looked into the eyes of the captain and said:

"The sick and the traveler have no sin, my child." So he offered them Holy Communion, saying: "The servant of God..."

"Captain John", he said.

"...John", said the priest, "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit", and he communed him. He did the same to all the sailors, who also kissed with reverence the Holy Chalice and the hand of the priest.

When the time came for the priest to distribute the antidron and the captain approached, the priest told him:

"Captain, you would give me great joy if you came with your crew to my home so I can offer you some coffee. I celebrate today."

"Thank you, my Father. I will come with joy, since we havn't seen our home for fifteen months now."

Soon everyone filled the house of the priest and the priest's wife took care of them all. Upon discussion the captain began to chronicle how his ship landed on the island.

"We set off from Malta with my friends here 35 days ago. On our way we came upon inclement weather. My ship is forty yards with two masts and they received several shots by the wild waves, but that which happened for three days and three nights I have never encountered in my life. The waves even covered the masts. At one point a huge wave cut the mast like a cucumber and it was swallowed by the sea. The waves were hitting us like balls, from the left and the right, as we tried to hold the ship. Some were wounded, others traumatized, and would moan and beg the Panagia and Saint Nicholas to help us.

Last night as night came, lightning and thunder and furious wind whistled against the ropes as if they were sirens, and we couldn't even see our noses. 'Courage, my lads, courage that we may endure' I yelled. 'It is a shower and it will pass.' We did not know whether we were in the sea or on the ship. The ship was taking in water. To the right a hole had opened. 'Help, Saint Nicholas!' I hopelessly yelled.

In a moment, a huge wave grabbed me and threw me to the corner. It broke my ribs and I was barely able to discern through the bright lightning a certain monk, just like you Papa George with the black cassock, holding the wheel. I do not remember anything else, my Father. But that monk was the same as St. Andrew whom we celebrate today."

Then a middle-aged sailor said:

"After, my Father, we heard in the mayhem the voice of the captain tell us: 'Crash, crash children....' No one responded. We only said to ourselves that the captain had gone crazy. And we shouted to him: 'Have you gone crazy, Captain? Where can we crash in the sea?' He said again: 'Crash in the front!' We obeyed and crashed. Silence spread around us as if everything became calm, and we thought a miracle happened. 'Captain, Captain!' we cried as we searched for him among the wreckage. We finally found him wedged between some planks. He couldn't remember anything."

The priest did the sign of the cross, and said to them:

"Saint Andrew saved you, my children. And you who were night and day at sea amidst many dangers must have Christ within you."

The captain sighed deeply, and as he sipped his coffee and lit his pipe, he said:

"They took me, my Father, and lay me on a blanket. We had no light, pitch darkness, and we waited for God to bring the dawn of day, since we imagined to be at some port. When we began to distinguish the white houses on your island, a good child came by at the beach, and having asked him what place this was, he said it was Spetses and the feast of St. Andrew. It was him that grabbed the wheel and gave orders to my sailors.

We had left Malta and went to Crete and after to Chios. But who would have imagined that weather, the Saint, would bring us to your island. With the coins we left at the icon of the Saint, help the orphans, the widows and the poor. It was fifteen months of fares. Money I can gain again, but my life and that of my sailors never. I will return to your island and hang, by his grace, a silver ship, similar to mine."

The priest blessed them, and all got up to leave, wishing them good travels, and they left towards the ship, to continue along what was set for their fate.

Source: περιοδικό ''Νεανικοί Προβληματισμοί''Ιουλιος-Αύγουστος 1997. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

How Saint Andrew Became the Patron of Scotland

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, Greece and Russia and was Christ's first disciple. About the middle of the 10th century, Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland.

There are around 600 pre-Reformation churches in England named after Saint Andrew, in contrast to Scotland's handful of churches of all denominations named after the Saint. Nevertheless, it was Scotland that adopted Andrew as its patron, which must have given them considerable political leverage with the Pope in pleading for help against the English. This was done in 1320 (The Declaration of Arbroath) for protection against the attempts of English kings to conquer the Scots. The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath cites Scotland's conversion to Christianity by Andrew, "the first to be an Apostle". Traditionally, Scots also claimed that they were descended from the Scythians, who lived on the shores of the Black Sea in what is now Romania and Bulgaria, who were converted by Saint Andrew.

According to Tradition, Andrew left the Holy Land after Pentecost to spread the Gospel in Greece and Asia Minor. In 60 AD, during the reign of Nero, he was working in Patras, where he baptized the wife and brother of the Governor, Aegeus. The Governor was so incensed by this, he ordered the death of the Apostle. Andrew was crucified on a cross in the shape of an X on November 30th.

The Relics of Saint Andrew in Scotland

How did the relics of Saint Andrew come to Scotland? There are two versions - the first appears to be a pious legend. In this, Saint Regulus (later known as Rule), a Greek monk and keeper of St. Andrew's relics at Patras, was told in a vision to hide some of the relics until further instruction. A few days later, the Emperor Constantine transferred the remaining parts of Andrew's body to Constantinople.

An angel again appeared and told Rule to take the bones he had hidden and go west by ship. Wherever they were shipwrecked he should lay the foundations of a church. The angel foretold how pilgrims would travel to this shrine from all parts of the West to receive health of body and soul.

Saint Rule's ship was driven ashore by a storm onto the headland of Muckross in Fife, into the little village of Kilrymont (later St. Andrews). Halfway between the Castle and the harbor is said to be Saint Rule's cell.

At the time Saint Rule landed, the Apostle appeared to the Pictish King, promising victory to his enemies. In gratitude, the King confirmed the dedication of St. Regulus Church to God and Saint Andrew.

A second (and probably more reliable) explanation says that the bones were brought to St. Andrews about 732 AD by Acca, Bishop of Hexham (near Newcastle), a well known venerator of Saint Andrew.

Around the year 832 AD (although some say 735 AD) the Northumbrian King Athelstane is said to have camped at what is now Athelstaneford in East Lothian, before his battle with the Picts under King Angus mac Fergus. Saint Andrew appeared to Angus in a dream and promised victory. During the battle, a saltire cross was seen in the sky, putting heart into the Scots.

Athelstane was killed at the ford over the Cogtail burn. In gratitude, Angus gave gifts to the Church of Saint Regulus at St. Andrews. He then ordered the Cross of Saint Andrew to be the badge of the Picts.

However, this foundation story of a more stable kingdom in what would become Scotland is almost certainly modeled on the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great's victory at the Milvian Bridge, Rome in 312 AD at the banks of the River Tiber when he became convinced of the power of Christianity by seeing the symbol of Christ (the Chi Rho - the Greek letters Χ Ρ, the first letters of 'Christ') in the sky.

Whatever route the bones of Saint Andrew may have taken, we do know that in AD 908, the only bishopric in Scotland was transferred from Abernethy (the royal residence) to St. Andrews. Subsequently, the town rapidly became famous as a pilgrimage site.

Increase in popularity

During the reign of Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret, devotion to Saint Andrew became nationwide and Andrewmas was made a national festival. Scottish soldiers fighting in the Crusades honoured Saint Andrew as Patron of Christian Knighthood.

In 1318 St. Andrew's Cathedral was dedicated and became known as the Canterbury of the North. It was the largest church in Scotland before the Reformation. In 1411 Saint Andrew's University was founded and sixty-one years later, the See of St. Andrews was raised to Metropolitan status.

At the Reformation, the great Morbrac (reliquary) which carried the bones of the saint and weighed one third of a ton, was destroyed. On 14th June 1559 the interior of St. Andrews Cathedral, including the shrine and relics, was destroyed by reformers who had accompanied John Knox to the city. The street games, the festivities, the fireworks and the processions with evergreens, which used to take place on November 30th, were banished for ever.

The three centuries that followed were difficult for Catholicism in Scotland. Catholic worship was outlawed. The traditions were kept alive in a few outlying glens and islands. Catholics in cities and towns had to rely on visiting priests, trained overseas. Priests like the Jesuit martyr John Ogilvie operated underground and were put to death if discovered.

Andrew's significance to the Scots

What, in practice, did Saint Andrew mean to the Scots? When, in 1603, the new King James I and VI tried to make one united flag, the Scots resisted because the saltire cross had been given an inferior position in the design. Scottish ships at sea persisted in flying the Saint Andrew's Cross.

The Union Jack was the official flag from the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. But, while the red Lion Rampant is the proper Royal flag for Scotland and the Thistle the national badge, official heraldic decrees state that the national flag and arms of Scotland are the Saint Andrew's Cross.

Saint Andrew is patron of Russia and Greece but has special significance for the Scots. The Declaration of Arbroath (1320), written by Scottish clergymen to Pope John XXII, was an appeal to the Pope against the English claim that Scotland fell within the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York.

The Declaration argues that the Scots were a distinct people who had long enjoyed the protection of Saint Andrew, brother of Saint Peter. Saint Andrew is described in the Declaration of Arbroath as "our patron or protector".

At the Battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling in 1314, the Scottish soldiers had worn the white cross of St. Andrew on their tunics and before the battle began they knelt in prayer, invoking his protection.

Four years later Robert the Bruce, at the dedication of St. Andrews Cathedral on 5 July 1318, placed a parchment at the High Altar expressing the nation's thanks to the Saint.

William Wallace's battle-cry was "St. Andrew mot us speed" (May Saint Andrew support us). Prior to the disastrous Scottish defeat at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, a great many Saint Andrew's crosses were made at the Boroughmuir in Edinburgh.

The Blue Blanket flag gifted to the Trade Guilds of Edinburgh also bore the Saint Andrew's Cross, while Scotland's largest ship, the Great Michael, was full of Saint Andrew's Crosses, as were the Honours of Scotland.

Mary, Queen of Scots' forces carried the saltire at the battle of Carberry; many Jacobite flags in the '45 Uprising also displayed the saltire. It soon became incorporated into the official badges of Scottish regiments. There was even a Saint Andrew coin issued by Robert II and a bawbee Scots halfpenny marked with the same cross.

Movement of relics

In modern times, the bones of Saint Andrew once more returned to Scotland. On the restoration of the hierarchy in Scotland in 1878, St. Andrews and Edinburgh was made the Metropolitan See of Scotland. In 1879 the Archbishop of Amalfi in Italy (where the bones had been brought in 1453 after the fall of Constantinople) sent to Edinburgh what was believed to be the shoulder-blade of St Andrew. Since 1846 the relics in Amalfi Cathedral have produced a mysterious and miraculous oil, called manna, every year on days specifically associated with the Saint – January 28th and November 30th.

At St Peter's, Rome in April 1969, Pope Paul VI gave another relic - part of the skull of the saint - to Cardinal Gordon Gray, at that time Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. "Peter greets his brother Andrew," were the words of the Pope to the Archbishop. The relics of the Apostle are today displayed at St Andrew's altar in the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mary in Edinburgh. At St. Andrew's Cathedral by the shore at Patras, Greece other parts of the skull of Saint Andrew are cherished in a place of honor.


A local superstition uses the cross of Saint Andrew as a hex sign on the fireplaces in northern England and Scotland to prevent witches from flying down the chimney and entering the house to do mischief. By placing the St. Andrew's cross on one of the fireplace posts or lintels, witches are prevented from entering through this opening. In this case, it is similar to the use of a witch ball, although the cross will activily prevent witches from entering, and the witch ball will passively delay or entice the witch, and perhaps entrap it.

November 29, 2012

Continuity and Change in Fourth Century Christianity

By John Sanidopoulos

Most would say that in all of recorded history, the world has gone through more change in the twentieth century than in any other century. Less so, but not considerably, the period between the end of the third century and the end of the fourth century also appeared to go through significant change. Whereas in the twentieth century industrialization and technology were responsible for the change, in the fourth century it was more so a movement that society embraced unlike any other movement known before.

Christianity was by no means novel by the beginning of the fourth century, but it was a threat to ancient beliefs, systems and practices held sacred by the general population of the Roman Empire. Founded on the shores of Galilee as a movement of inner transformation through repentance and purification to experience the reign of God within, little did anyone know that less than three hundred years later this healing of humanities spiritual maladies would be undertaken by the legislation of the Roman Empire. Having reached such a point of influence, how did Christianity reflect continuity and how did it change in its new historical context?

Many historians have contemplated this question and offered diverse conclusions based on personal presuppositions. Others have tried to be more objective. I will attempt to answer this question based on the primary source readings of Church history.

Church–State Relations

From apostolic times we are informed that there were “saints in Caesar’s household” (Phill. 4:22). We do not know to what extent this initial penetration influenced Church-State relations in the first century, but it appears there was little if any such influence. From its inception Christianity was a persecuted faith dominated by the pagan worldview held by such emperors as Caligula, Nero, and Domitian. The novelty and obscurity of Christian origins, coupled with their worship and devotion to a crucified Roman criminal, gave rise to many misunderstandings that made them an easy target of blame for societal and natural woes. These three emperors, therefore, authorized the first state sponsored localized persecutions that would switch off and on and become more and more fierce and ecumenical over the next two hundred and sixty years.

Different attitudes towards the Roman Empire are evident in the earliest Christian writings. This variety of views persisted into the second and third centuries. Following Romans 13 and Acts, apologists writing in defense of their faith stressed that the Christians were law-abiding citizens, who paid their taxes and prayed for the emperors and the welfare of the Empire. They attempted to demonstrate that those who did not worship the Roman gods could nevertheless be good Romans. Further, they argued that the special connection between the Roman religion and the Roman state should be broken, and that emperors should allow the practice of other religions, such as Christianity.

Some Christian writers claimed that only corrupt emperors had persecuted the Church. Some suggested that the Church and the Roman Empire might have a common destiny; they began together (Jesus was born in the reign of the first Emperor, Augustus) and prospered together. They claimed that the peace won by the Emperor - the Pax Romana – was God-given to facilitate the spread of Christianity, “the philosophy which goes with the Empire” (Melito).

Tertullian was less optimistic. He believed that the whole fabric of social and public life was fouled by idolatry. It was unthinkable that a Christian should enter the imperial service, let alone be an emperor. North African Christians generally displayed a more scornful and defiant attitude to Roman power. In AD 180 one of the martyrs of Scillium declared: “I do not recognize the empire of this world.”

During the first half of the third century it became fashionable to combine the worship of different gods in one religion. Some of the emperors showed a particular interest in Christianity. The Emperor Alexander Severus reputedly included a representation of Jesus among the statues in his chapel. His mother had contact with Hippolytus and Origen, who also corresponded with Emperor Philip the Arabian and his wife.

But Christianity first became the religion of kings and princes outside the Roman Empire. Royal families adopted it in Edessa, one of the chief centers of Syriac-speaking Christianity, in the early third century, and in Armenia and Georgia a century later.

The last great empire-wide persecution of Christians began in 303, known as the Diocletian Persecution. Although it is called the "Diocletian Persecution" because it was under his watch and he co-signed the decree, it was primarily Galerius who was responsible for the worst persecution the Church had ever experienced. Galerius convinced Diocletian that for the unity of the Empire, Christians had to be exterminated, and in successive decrees there were hundreds of soldier martyrs, such as St. Sebastian who was shot through with arrows, St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki  and St. George. All Christian books had to be handed over; all clerics jailed; and finally all Christians who refused to sacrifice to the gods were to be killed. The number of Christian martyrs is incalculable, especially in the East.

Lactantius’ De mortibus persecutorum and Eusebius’ The Martyrs of Palestine deal with this period. Lactantius wrote his treatise with the intent of providing a useful tool of reference to show how God sent judgement to the enemies of the Church, namely the Roman Emperors prior to Constantine, and in turn brought peace and flourishment to the Church with the conversion of the Empire. According to Eusebius, the Empire was rent in two due to this persecution. While in the West the persecution lasted two years, in the East it went on for eight. According to Lactantius, it was ten years and about four months until the Edict of Milan in 313 was signed by Licinius and Constantine. The Church thus went from persecuted to tolerated.

With the conversion of Constantine in 312 and his victory over Licinius at the battle of Adrianople, the relationship between the Church and State changed. From being persecuted the Church now started to become privileged. Sunday was recognized as a day of rest in honor of the Lord’s day (321), military prayer to the one true God was enforced (321), churches were repaired and constructed (324), and most importantly the First Ecumenical Synod of Nicea was called in 325 to deal with the Arian heresy and the Paschal controversy to bring unity and conformity to the Christians of the Empire. According to Constantine’s Edict on Behalf of All Christians in 324, Constantine saw himself as God’s servant called to heal the ills of persecution and heresy in the Empire by providing an environment for the Church to prosper. He did this to the point where he moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople.

The Office of the Bishop

In the first three centuries of Christianity, when trouble arose in a local church, the bishop was held responsible by the local Roman authorities. This is clear from the writings of Polycarp, Ignatius and Cyprian of Carthage. During periods of peace, they were expected to keep order in the Church and foster respect for the authority of Rome. With the numerous controversies, schisms and heresies in the early Church, these bishops fought to keep unity and order in the Church based on their apostolic authority and succession. Bishops convened in synods to settle these disputes, but it was always difficult to achieve total conformity while being so scattered and underprivileged within the Empire.

With the edicts issued by Constantine, the role of the bishop altered in the fourth century. First of all, African clerics were exempted from public duties in 313 in order to dedicate all their power to worshiping the Divinity so that the Church and the Empire may both prosper. Also that year Christian bishops were authorized to judge ecclesiastical affairs. At the same time, Constantine himself entered into episcopal affairs in regards to the Donatist schism in order to ensure that there be no schism or division within the Catholic Church. He convoked a large synod of bishops at Arles in Gaul to repair the schism at governmental expense. In 316 a fourth method of manumission was added whereby slaves could be freed within the assembly of the Church as long as a bishop was present. The episcopal rank was further elevated in 318 to the status of judges allowing litigants to transfer suits from civil judges to bishops, whose verdicts were recognized as final. In 319 clerical exemption from public duties was extended to southern Italy, which thus constituted another step in the spread of this concession throughout the Empire. Clerical exemption from taxation was conferred in 320 to all bishops from the various provinces.

In his oration on synodal procedure for the First Ecumenical Synod in 325, Constantine set the standard by which most later Roman Emperors were to view the episcopal rank:

God has appointed you as bishops and has given to you the power of judging also about us; and, therefore, we rightly are judged by you, but you cannot be judged by men. And on this account await the judgment of God alone among you and to that divine investigation let your quarrels, whatsoever they are, be reserved. For you also have been given to us by God as gods and it is not suitable that man should judge gods, but He alone, about whom it has been written: “God has stood in the congregation of the gods; moreover in the midst He judges among the gods.” And, therefore, after these matters have been dismissed, apart from any contention of spirits decide those things which pertain to the faith of God. (Rufinus)

Though Constantine held the episcopal office in such high esteem, it was not uncommon for Constantine and other later Emperors to interfere in episcopal affairs. This is evidenced in his letters preserved by Eusebius from 330 in which Constantine opposes the transfer of Eusebius from the see of Caesarea to Antioch. Yet this was never legislated, only suggested. No doubt it was suggested for the good of the Church in Caesarea.

One of the most telling incidents of how emperors entered into episcopal affairs is related by Athanasius in his Apologia Contra Arianos. Athanasius, as a champion of Orthodoxy in the see of Alexandria, was often conspired against by Arians and Eusebians. When matters became hopeless, one or the other would appeal to the emperor to interfere in the matter and settle disputes. In the mid-fourth century, the fate of Athanasius was in the hands of emperors. If they leaned towards the Arian bishops, Athanasius was exiled; if they leaned towards Orthodoxy, Athanasius was reinstated to his episcopal rank in Alexandria.

Another incident is recorded by the historian Socrates. Around 379 Gregory of Nazianzus was elevated to the episcopal rank in Constantinople. The forty churches of Constantinople had been overrun by Arians and he was forced to assemble in a small oratory he called Anastasia. When the Orthodox Emperor Theodosius returned from Thessalonica, Gregory was satisfied enough to resign his bishopric and allow the emperor to reinstitute Orthodoxy within the city. The forty churches were returned, a new Orthodox bishop was elevated, the Arians were exiled, and peace was restored to the city. In order to legislate the situation, the emperor immediately called for the Second Ecumenical Synod to be convened in Constantinople in 380.

Theodosius shared the piety and great reverence towards the episcopal rank held by his predecessor Constantine. One such bishop he held particular esteem for was Ambrose of Milan. In the winter of 388/9, rioters at Callinicum burnt a synagogue and a meeting place of the Valentinians. Theodosius had ordered the synagogue rebuilt and the trial and punishment of the perpetrators. Ambrose protested this decision of Theodosius to preserve unity in the Church, and the Emperor withdrew the order. Again in 390 Theodosius ordered a large number of civilians to be massacred in Thessalonica in retaliation for the killing in a riot of the Gothic general Butheric. Ambrose advised the emperor that he would not commune him if he did not repent of this act. Theodosius complied and came to church until Christmas without his imperial robes, when he was again allowed to commune. These incidents again reveal how much authority was relegated to the bishops in ecclesiastical affairs, as long as bishops like Ambrose were bold enough to reprimand and offer sound counsel to the emperors.

Another such courageous bishop of the late fourth century was John Chrysostom. The Emperor Arcadius and Empress Eudoxia at the time, though Orthodox, were involved in an extravagant lifestyle. Chrysostom launched a crusade against excessiveness and extreme wealth which the Empress construed as a personal affront to her and her royal court. This, along with the false accusers who were jealous of his rank, caused his exile. He was restored after a lot of clamor and protests. Chrysostom delivered a sermon in which he deplored the adulation of a frenzied crowd at the unveiling of a public statue of the Empress Eudoxia. His sermon was grossly exaggerated by his enemies, and by the time it reached the ears of the Empress it resulted in his permanent exile from his beloved city of Constantinople.

Thus throughout the fourth century there occurred a tremendous change of status for bishops within the Roman Empire. By the end of the fourth century, the Patriarch of Constantinople was second in imperial rank only to the Emperor. The Emperor was bishop of those outside the Church while the bishops were bishops of those within the Church.


The monastic ideal has its source in the prophets and apostles. Virginity was always held in high esteem from what Christ and the Apostle Paul taught in the New Testament. Communities of female virgins were fairly common in the first three centuries of the Church, and asceticism was practiced privately by all. The title of “first monk” is usually ascribed to Paul the Hermit who fled to the mountains during the Decian Persecution in the mid-third century. No doubt there were other such hermits, but Paul is one who survived when he met Anthony, the father of monks, in the early fourth century.

Anthony is considered the father of anchoritic monasticism in Northern Egypt. In Egypt, it was common for ascetics to live in huts, in the outskirts of the towns and villages, and this was the common practice in about 270, when Anthony withdrew from the world. He began his career by practicing the ascetical life in this fashion without leaving his native place. He used to visit the various ascetics, study their lives, and try to learn from each of them the virtue in which they seemed to excel. Then he took up his abode in one of the tombs, near his native village, and there it was that the Life records those strange conflicts with demons in the shape of wild beasts, who inflicted blows upon him, and sometimes left him nearly dead. After fifteen years of this life, at the age of thirty-five, Anthony determined to withdraw from the habitations of men and retire in absolute solitude. He crossed the Nile, and on a mountain near the east bank, then called Pispir, now Der el Memum, he found an old fort into which he shut himself, and lived there for twenty years without seeing the face of man, food being thrown to him over the wall. He was at times visited by pilgrims, whom he refused to see; but gradually a number of would be disciples established themselves in caves and in huts around the mountain. Thus a colony of ascetics was formed, who begged Anthony to come forth and be their guide in the spiritual life. At length, about the year 305, he yielded to their importunities and emerged from his retreat, and, to the surprise of all, he appeared to be as when he had gone in, not emaciated, but vigorous in body and mind.

Fourth century monasticism became more organized. Such organization started with Pachomius. Raised a pagan, he encountered Christians while serving in the army. He left the army, was baptized, undertook charitable work for a while, and then in 316 withdrew into the desert to live the life of a hermit. In 320 he decided to found a community where monks would live together. This foundation marked the beginning of cenobitic monasticism. He wrote a monastic rule, and this rule influenced the later rules that governed other monasteries and territories.

Whereas there was change in Christianity with regards to Church-State relations and the office of the bishop, there was an evolutionary continuity in monasticism that probably would have developed similarly had not the Empire converted to Christianity. Some would argue that Christians had a death wish following the persecutions that caused the widespread popularity of monasticism in the fourth century. I would disagree with this conclusion and argue that the widespread popularity of monasticism was the result of the success it had in helping Christians live authentic spiritual lives. The freedom afforded by Constantine allowed for the dissemination of monastic texts by pilgrims and exiles that helped raise the awareness of monasticism. In essence, when people heard about it, it just made sense and aroused curiosity.

Popular Religious Expressions

Similar to monasticism, popular religious expressions such as pilgrimage and martyr veneration were expressions of an evolutionary continuity between the first three centuries of Christianity and the fourth century. In the text known as The Martyrdom of Polycarp dated to the second century, for example, there is a clear expression of martyr veneration by the local faithful paid to Polycarp’s relics. We also have early Christian accounts of pilgrimage. With the freedom granted to Christians in the fourth century, Constantine allowed for the building of churches over the sites of Christian martyrs to be rebuilt and built, and most importantly the sites in the Holy Land were excavated and churches such as the Holy Sepulchre were built to encourage pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage of Egeria reveals how popular and organized such pilgrimages had become, even for women.


Things get a little tricky when trying to determine the continuity or discontinuity of paganism within the Roman Empire of the fourth century. We know that it continued in some form or another and it was still fairly popular. However, there were constant conflicts between the Christians and the pagans until the sixth century.

Especially in Rome, which was the home of the staunchly conservative members of the Senatorial class, paganism was still active at the end of the fourth century. It was then that Theodosius issued edicts banning paganism and making Christianity the official religion of Rome. Old Rome did not want to give up their piety to their ancestral cults. This is best represented by a famous debate between the pagan Symmachus and Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, over the maintenance of the Altar of Victory. Dating back to Roman Republican days and located in the Roman Senate, the Altar of Victory was one of the most important symbols of paganism. Constantius II in 357 had removed it, but most likely Julian the Apostate had it restored. Gratian in 382 tolerated the pagans of Rome, but renounced the title of pontifex maximus, thus in effect abolishing the headship of the pagan state religion. In 384 Valentinian II had the Altar of Victory officially removed. In the East, Theodosius banned paganism in general.


Was there continuity or change in fourth century Christianity? I think the best answer to this question is that the essence of Christianity remained the same, but its situation and status within the Empire changed. If Constantine had not converted to Christianity, the office of the bishop and the role of the Church within the Empire may not have evolved the way it did. It took action to effect the change. The same could partly be said about paganism. But when it comes to Christian practices and expressions, I believe there was an evolutionary continuity that occurred with the help of the Empire’s new toleration and acceptance of Christianity, but did not hinge on it.

(Written in 2006)

November 27, 2012

It Is Not Enough To Be Fans Of The Elders

Protopresbyter Dionysios Tatsis
November 23, 2012

Many people are eagerly seeking for some contemporary Elder to entrust to them the solution of their problems. They want to meet a new Elder Paisios, who will have general and boundless love, wisdom from above, a holy life and God-entrusted prayer, through which he will work miracles. They telephone known clerics to learn about them, and they sorrow because they did not have the chance to meet Elder Paisios while he was alive.

The answers they usually receive is that God will send once again such virtuous Elders to uphold us. Obviously this creates hope, but our brothers and sisters want to deal with their problems now and not in the future. One can see this in the tone of their voice, in their pain and in their tears.

Many times people rely on others to pray for them, forgetting that their own prayers, when it comes from a pure heart, are heard and requests are satisfied. Communication with God should not be done through a third party. Everyone must pray, struggle spiritually, observe the commandments of the Gospel, and communicate with those who can help them. Alas, if a hurt brother or sister becomes idle and slothful! They should become active and find the path of God.

I notice that many study the various books which are written about contemporary Elders, and they remain more on the miraculous events and less on their teachings. This is something that must be corrected. The aim of a miracle is so that the Elder can become known and to certify his sanctity. The number of miracles has no particular value. What is one, what is a hundred? They are the same. We must not forget that it is Christ who works the miracles through the virtuous man. If Christ judges that one miracle requested by an individual will not be of help spiritually, then He will not do it.

Our attention should be directed mainly to the lessons and teachings of the Elders. We have to study and contemplate them, be fascinated by their meaning and strive to implement them without reservations and misinterpretations, always confident that everything taught by the Elders they had previously applied to themselves. Their teachings are experiential, this is why it alters in a sacred way the well-intentioned students who receive the spiritual seeds in the field of their souls and advance in the life in Christ. Soon we will discover that the path of the Elders must become our own path and their experiences must become our own experiences.

It is not enough to be fans of the Elders and in our lives to follow a different path. We must also be their humble imitators. Let them be shining examples in our spiritual life.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos

Slovakia Removes Saints' Halos On New Euro Coin

November 21, 2012

Slovakia, responding to requests from some fellow eurozone countries, has removed the halos from a €2 coin commemorating the 1,150th anniversary of the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Moravia.

Slovakia, a eurozone member since 2009, will start circulating the coin next year to mark the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia and Panonia, which was part of modern Slovakia.

Eurozone countries are allowed to mint commemorative coins once every year under EU rules. The image on the back of the commemorative coin, however, must be accepted by the remaining eurozone members and the European Commission.

Cyril and Methodius were brothers, born in Thessaloniki at the beginning of the 9th century, who created the Glagolitic and then the Cyrillic alphabets with the aim to have the Bible and other texts translated into Slavic languages [more].

Cyril died in 869 and Methodius in 885. They were soon canonised as saints, with Saints Cyril and Methodius Day being celebrated on 24 May to mark the anniversary of Cyril’s death (see background).

Cyril and Methodius were also declared patrons of Europe in 1980 by Pope John Paul II. In Bulgaria, the only EU country at present to use the Cyrillic alphabet, 24 May is a public holiday, called “Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Literature Day”.

And no religion?

Slovakia agreed to remove the halo despite Cyril and Methodius' undisputed status as saints.

"Under EU rules, when designing the national side of a euro coin, Member States are required to take into account that the coins will circulate throughout the whole eurozone, and in that context, proposed designs are shared in advance with other Member States so that they can provide any comments they deem appropriate," the Commission said in a statement.

The Commission acknowledged that some members states objected to the coin, adding that Slovakia submitted a slightly amended design, "which has now been approved by the [EU] Council of Ministers."

If the motivation of the unnamed member states was to remove religious symbols from the design, they did not entirely succeed. Cyril and Methodius hold a Christian double cross, standing on the middle peak of a mountain with three peaks.

The double cross and the three peaks are the main elements of the coat of arms of Slovakia and feature on the regular Slovak euro coins.

The revamped design has been met with unease by the Bulgarian press. During Communism, painters and sculptors were requested by the authorities to portray Cyril and Methodius without sanctity halos.

November 26, 2012

Was Saint Katherine Really Hypatia of Alexandria?

By John Sanidopoulos

Despite the great popularity of Saint Katherine among all Christians, the oldest reference to this fourth century martyr comes from a seventh century Syrian liturgical text. The oldest life we have comes from the Menologion of Emperor Basil II who died in 886. In this she is called Aikaterine, and the report runs as follows:

"The martyr Aikaterine was the daughter of a rich and noble prince of Alexandria. She was very beautiful, and being at the same time highly talented, she devoted herself to Greek literature as well as to the study of the languages of all nations, and so she became wise and learned. It happened that the Greeks held a festival in honor of their idols, and seeing the slaughter of animals, she was so greatly moved that she went to the King Maximinus and expostulated with him in these words: 'Why have you left the living God to worship lifeless idols?' But the Emperor caused her to be thrown into prison, and to be punished severely. He then ordered fifty orators to be brought, and bade them to reason with Aikaterine, and confute her, threatening to burn them all if they should fail to overpower her. The orators, however, when they saw themselves vanquished, received baptism, and were burnt forthwith, while she was beheaded."

Because of the long gap between the time of her martyrdom and the first written testimony, many scholars and authorities have concluded that St. Katherine never existed, such as the Vatican did in 1969 (though she was restored in 2002). Some have even postulated that her story is an allegory, like many scenes from the lives of various saints, such as the story of St. Christopher (Christ-bearer) who is said to have carried the infant Jesus on his shoulder, or the story of St. George who is said to have slain a dragon to save a princess. Ultimately these things can only be proposed as theories for lack of evidence, but seem likely.

Interestingly, the original Greek form of the name Αικατερινη (Aikaterine) or Εκατερινη (Ekaterine) is etymologically very obscure and much argued over. The name does not seem to be rooted in any Greek word, although it has been said to derive from the words αει (aei) which means "ever" and καθαρος (katharos) which means "pure". What we do know is that this name never appears before it is associated with St. Katherine of Alexandria. This is very much like St. Phanourios (the Revealer) who is said to be the patron of finding lost items, and some consider to be merely an epithet for St. George whose life he resembles based on the scenes of his discovered icon in Rhodes. If this is the case, could Katherine merely be an epithet to support the allegory? After all, one of the chief characteristics about St. Katherine was that she dedicated her life to Christ as a virgin, which brought about the late western medieval tradition of her being called the Bride of Christ.

One of the more interesting theories is that the story of St. Katherine is based on the life of Hypatia, a neoplatonist philosopher from Alexandria who was admired by both pagans and Christians for her virtue and learning. She also was a woman who dedicated her life to virginity in Alexandria for the sake of her learning, and was brutally murdered in 415 by a group of extremist Christian monks primarily for political reasons. It is not difficult to see the parallels between the lives of St. Katherine and Hypatia, from the little we know of both, but are they in fact the same?

In the Middle Ages a tradition began to circulate that Hypatia, through her student Synesius the Bishop of Cyrene, became a Christian. No one knows for sure how this tradition started, but one argument can be made that it did flourish in the city of Laodicea in Asia Minor. Vasilios Myrslides writes in his book Biography of the Greek Philosopher Hypatia (B. Μυρσλίδη, Βιογραφία της φιλοσόφου Ελληνίδος Υπατίας, Athens, 1926; see also Χρ. Μ. Ενισλείδου, Αικατερίνα η αγία και πάνυ ωραία Υπατία, Athens, 1954), that in the village of Denizli of Laodicea there used to be a church "dedicated to the honor and memory of Hypatia, the philosopher and martyr". He further states that this church celebrated its feast on November 25th "for the Virgin-Martyr Saint Katherine in whose name crowds of believers who lived in the surrounding area would celebrate the wise daughter and rhetor Hypatia" (Β. Μυρσλίδη, Βιογραφία και περιοδικό «Κιβωτός» Νοέμβριος και Δεκέμβριος 1953). Myrslides himself was a school teacher in the village of Denizli at the School of the Greek Community in 1897, so his testimony is very reliable.

According to the local tradition of Denizli, Synesios of Cyrene (+ 416), to show repentance on behalf of Christians for the death of Hypatia, is the one who called a local synod on November 25, 415 after her death, in which he presented a letter of Hypatia where she said she had "a desire to die a Christian" and to be baptized on Holy Saturday of that year. The synod decided to thus honor her memory on November 25th, which became the feast of St. Katherine later on. From this we can deduce that the people of Denizli saw St. Katherine as a baptized version of Hypatia. It is worth noting as well

From this information, we see that at least for the Orthodox Christians living in Denizli in the late 19th and early 20th century, Hypatia and Saint Katherine were one and the same person, whose relics are said to rest at the Monastery of Saint Katherine at the foot of Mount Sinai. Whether this is indeed the case is very uncertain, so until further evidence comes up, we should assume that St. Katherine and Hypatia were two different persons, and that Alexandria in their lifetimes, having lived a little over a hundred years apart, fostered a great education for women that allowed for two women in particular to come down through history as being known for their great knowledge and wisdom and sacrifice. Perhaps we should merely assume then that Hypatia's memory was held with such great reverence by certain Christians, that her memory became fused with St. Katherine, both of whom were females that lived a life of purity and were held in such high esteem by their peers.

Synaxarion of Saint Stylianos of Paphlagonia

On the twenty-sixth of this month [November], we commemorate our Venerable Father Stylianos of Paphlagonia


The firm pillar of asceticism has fallen,
For Stylianos has left this life.
Stylianos joyfully stands by God on the twenty-sixth.

From the time he was in the womb of his mother, he was sanctified, and became a dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. For this reason he distributed the riches he had to the poor, and became a monk, surpassing all the monks of his time by his hard struggles and arduous asceticism. Later he went to the desert, and entered into a cave. There he received food by a divine Angel, and he became a physician of various untreated passions.*

When a death-bearing sickness comes to an infant and dies, and the parents are left childless, then, whatsoever mother calls upon Saint Stylianos with faith, and paints his holy icon, will give birth to other children. Also the sick infants are released from their sickness.**

In this way the renowned one conducted himself, and having done many healings and miracles, he then departed to the Lord.***


* He was probably born in the sixth century in Paphlogonia, though this is uncertain. We know that Paphlogonia had a portion of his relics. Interestingly, Saint Alypios, who was a pillar saint or stylite, was also from Paphlogonia, lived at the same time as Saint Stylianos, and the name Stylianos comes from the Greek word for "pillar."

** On the island of Icarus there was a tradition to keep an icon of St. Stylianos in the house, and when a child came down with a sickness the parents would bring the icon to the Divine Liturgy and then bless the child with it. In Crete the parents of children who died named the departed child "Stylianos" if a boy or "Styliani" if a girl. Even during the time of illness, the child's name may be changed to "Stylianos". Among the Vlachs one also finds men named "Stergios" or "Stelios" to fulfill a vow of the mother who had trouble bearing children. 

*** The skull of St. Stylianos is kept at the Metropolis of Thessaliotidos. Other portions of his relics are at the Monasteries of Damastas in Fthiotidos, Leimonos in Lesvos, Dadiou in Fthiotidos, and Kato Xenias in Almyros of Magnesia.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
A living pillar of abstinence, an immovable pillar of the Church, you showed yourself to be blessed Stylianos, having been dedicated to God from your youth, you were perceived to be a dwelling-place of the Spirit. O Venerable Father, entreat Christ God, to grant us the great mercy.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Sanctified from the womb like another Samuel, you glorified God by your labors. Having becme a healer and protector of Christ's babes and sucklings, He has glorified you, O Stylianos.

Vampire Fears Boost Garlic Sales in Serbian Village

November 26, 2012

Locals in the Bajina Basta municipality, western Serbia, are freaking out after the local council has issued a warning about the famous vampire Sava Savanovic being on the loose and thirsty for blood.

Sava Savanovic is a popular figure of Serbian folklore, known as the first vampire in Serbia. According to legend, he lived in an old watermill on the nearby Rogačica river, where he killed and drank the blood of peasants who came to the mill for their grains. Scary stories like this are not uncommon, but the people of Zarozje village, where the mill is located, actually believe their local vampire is real. They had no problem living near it, as Savanovic hasn’t hurt any of them for centuries, but now that his home has collapsed, they fear he may take revenge on them. ”People are worried, everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people. We are all frightened,” mayor Miodrag Vujetic told the press.

The run-down mill was functional until the mid 1950s, when it was bought by the Jagodić family, who later turned it into a tourist attraction. The legend of Sava Savanovic attracted crowds of tourists from all over Serbia, and proved profitable for the local community, only the Jagodić were so frightened by its sharp-fanged inhabitant that they never came near it, not even to perform repairs. The mill collapsed recently, and that’s when everyone started panicking. Garlic sales are booming in Bajina Basta, as locals believe the smell will keep Savanovic at bay, and plans to restore the mill as soon as possible have been set in motion. Unfortunately, with winter just around the corner, repairs will have to wait till spring, so in the meantime the local council has issued a vampire warning and advised people to use garlic and put a Holy Cross in every room of their homes.

Mayor Vujetic said he understands why someone who has never lived in the region would laugh at their fears, but made it very clear that none of the locals have any doubt vampires are real. Reported accounts of strange growls, neither animal nor human, coming from the old mill, and of a dark tall individual standing next to it in the dead of night, don’t help matters much, either.

November 24, 2012

The Martyrdom and Relics of St. Clement of Rome

Saint Clement of Rome was among the first bishops of Rome founded by Saint Peter the Apostle in the first century, and is considered the first Apostolic Father of the Church.

According to early Christian tradition, Clement was banished from Rome to the Chersonesus during the reign of the Emperor Trajan and was set to work in a stone quarry. Finding on his arrival that the prisoners were suffering from lack of water, he knelt down in prayer. Looking up, he saw a lamb on a hill, went to where the lamb had stood and struck the ground with his pickaxe, releasing a gushing stream of clear water. This miracle resulted in the conversion of large numbers of the local pagans and his fellow prisoners to Christianity. As punishment, Saint Clement was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown from a boat into the Black Sea. According to early accounts, the tide would recede every year by two miles, revealing a divinely built shrine which contained the martyr's bones.

The Inkerman Cave Monastery marks the supposed place of Clement's burial in the Crimea. A year or two before his own death in 869, Saint Cyril brought to Rome what he believed to be the relics of Saint Clement, bones he found in the Crimea buried with an anchor on dry land. They were deposited by Adrian II with those of St. Ignatius of Antioch in the high altar of the Basilica di San Clemente. Other relics of Saint Clement, including his head, are claimed by the Kiev Monastery of the Caves in Ukraine.

Inkerman Cave Monastery

The Inkerman Monastery of St. Clement is a cave monastery in a cliff rising near the mouth of the Black River, in the city of Inkerman, administered as part of the sea port of Sevastopol. It was founded in 1850 on the site of a medieval Byzantine monastery where the relics of St. Clement were supposedly kept before their removal to San Clemente by Saints Cyril and Methodius. The early Christians are supposed to have kept the relics in a grotto which could be visited only on the anniversary of his death. William Rubruck described it as a church "built by the hands of angels".

The Byzantine monastery, probably founded in the 8th century by Iconophiles fleeing persecution in their homeland, had eight chapels of several storeys and an inn accessed by a stairway. The caves of Inkerman were surveyed by Peter Simon Pallas in 1793 and looted by the British in the 1850s. The Russians added two churches, commemorating the Borki Incident (1895) and the Crimean War (1905). The monastery was damaged by the Crimean Earthquake of 1927 and was closed between 1931 and 1991. During World War II the caves housed the officers of a Soviet army defending Sevastopol. Several churches were taken down by the Soviets.

See more photos of the martyrdom spot of St. Clement from the feast on November 24th, here.

November 22, 2012

Squanto: A Special Instrument of God

By John Sanidopoulos

When reading the writings and histories of the early American settlers, a common theme one comes across time and time again is the Providence of God. Faced with insurmountable obstacles in trying to settle in a new land, when these settlers felt they had been especially blessed by God, they gave thanks as a community, knowing that all good things come from Above. The Providence of God was displayed in diverse ways, but for the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, it came in the form of a Native American person - his name was Squanto.

Most Americans are familiar with certain aspects of Squanto's life, but what caused William Bradford, the Governor of the Plymouth Colony, to call him “a special instrument sent of God” for the good of the colonists?

Little is known of Squanto's early life. Historians date his birth sometime between 1585 and 1592. Tisquantum was his real name and he was from the the Patuxet tribe of the Wampanoag Confederacy. In 1614, Tisquantum was kidnapped by Englishman Thomas Hunt, one of John Smith's lieutenants. Hunt was planning to sell fish, corn, and captured natives in Malaga, Spain. There, Hunt attempted to sell Tisquantum and a number of other Native Americans into slavery in Spain for £20 a piece.

Sir Ferdinando Georges, an early English colonial entrepreneur who has been called "the Father of English Colonization in North America," related an account of the incident: happened there had beene one Hunt ... [who] seized upon the poore innocent creatures, that in confidence of his honestie had put themselves into his hands. And stowing them under Hatches, to the number of twentie foure, carried them into the Sraits, where he sought to sell them for slaves, and sold as many as he could get money for. But the Friers of those parts took the rest from them, and kept them to be instructed in the Christian Faith; and so disappointed this new and Devillish project.

As Georges says, Hunt captured 24 Native Americans and locked them “under Hatches.” Imagine the horror that these young men felt. They were locked below deck in deplorable conditions for days, while the ship sailed across the harsh Atlantic Ocean. They did not know where they were being taken or what would happen to them when they arrived. Hunt brought Squanto and his fellow prisoners to Spain where he intended to sell them as slaves in the Malaga Slave Market. Providentially for Squanto, a group of Spanish monks intervened and stopped the sale. These monks greeted this bound young Indian with the words, “Estas libre,” meaning “You are free.” So Squanto, after facing tremendous fear and panic for days at the hands of a tyrant, was introduced to Christianity with a spirit of love. They took Squanto into their care and taught him the Christian faith. Though little is known of Squanto’s time in Spain, he was able to survive life in a country where people spoke a foreign language and lead a lifestyle that bore no resemblance to the way he had lived in his homeland. One biographer said he began to love Jesus at this time. Now a free man, Squanto ventured for a way to return home.

After Squanto went back to England he began searching to find a way to go back home to America. He managed to get to London, where he lived with, and worked for a few years with John Slany, a shipbuilder. After a failed attempt to return in 1618, at last in 1619 Squanto returned to his homeland aboard John Smith’s ship, having joined an exploratory expedition along the New England coast, led by Captain Thomas Dermer. He soon discovered to his horror that the Patuxet, as well as a majority of coastal New England tribes (mostly Wampanoag and Massachusett), had been killed off the year before by an epidemic plague, possibly smallpox; it has recently been postulated as having been leptospirosis. Native Americans had no natural immunity to European infectious diseases.

Having discovered that his tribe was extinct and villages for miles inland were completely empty, Squanto eventually found a few survivors from neighboring villages, who brought him to Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag. Massasoit told him of the grisly details of a spreading plague which had killed 90% of the native people of the region.

When the Mayflower arrived on the shores of Massachusetts in 1620, with its 102 passengers and about 30 crew members, it was welcomed by a harsh winter climate. Due to exposure, disease and shortages of food, only 53 Pilgrims survived their first New England winter. Fortunately, they happened to settle on land that the Patuxet tribe once occupied, whose last survivor just happened to know fluent English.

Massasoit, perhaps because of Squanto’s close association with Europeans, placed him and another native from Maine named Samoset under house arrest in the village of Pokanoket (near what is today Bristol, Rhode Island.) At the end of the winter, Massasoit and his people considered sending Samoset and/or Squanto to talk with the Pilgrims, since both of them could speak English. Ultimately, Massasoit decided to send only Samoset to greet the Pilgrims because he did not want to chance losing both of them and he did not want to risk sending Squanto, who was his best translator.

On March 16, 1621 Samoset walked up to a group of Englishmen and said “Welcome Englishman! Welcome Englishman!”

Later Massasoit met with Plymouth Governor John Carver. Squanto was the translator. With his assistance, they signed a treaty of peace. Massasoit signed for his people and the Pilgrims signed as emissaries of King James. The peace treaty lasted more than fifty years.

After signing the treaty, Massasoit was so pleased with the work of Samoset and Squanto that he granted them their freedom. Samoset returned to his homeland in Maine. Squanto, who probably knew more English than any other native person in North America at that time, decided to stay with the Pilgrims as the colony’s chief interpreter and agent in their interaction with all native people.

That spring and summer Squanto proved himself invaluable. He led them to brooks brimming with herring beginning their spring migration upstream. He showed the Pilgrims how to fish with traps. He taught them where to stalk game in the forest. The children learned what berries they could pick for their families. Twenty acres of corn grew tall after Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to plant fish (as natural fertilizer) with the native corn seeds from a local tribe.

Historians have conjectured that had not Squanto been at that right place at the right time, the early Plymouth settlement would simply have not been. The people would have starved to death and the America as we know it today would have been drastically different.

William Bradford knew exactly Squanto’s worth, when he says:

…Squanto continued with them and was their interpreter and was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation. He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died.

On his way back from a meeting to repair damaged relations between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims, Squanto became sick with a fever. He began bleeding from the nose. Some historians have speculated that he was poisoned by the Wampanoag because they believed he had been disloyal to the chief. Squanto died a few days later in November of 1622 in Chatham, Massachusetts. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

Governor William Bradford, in Bradford's History of the English Settlement, wrote regarding Squanto's death:

Here [Manamoick Bay] Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman's God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.

Squanto is the ultimate survivor. He survived kidnapping, harsh treatment, and an attempt to sell him as a slave in Spain. In the world as existed in the 17th century, living in foreign cultures, without being trained to speak either Spanish or English, he was able to find his way back to England and back to North America in the Cupids Cove Colony. He made his way home to Patuxet only to find that everyone he knew had died of a plague. He was able to assimilate all that he had learned and became a special instrument sent to the Pilgrims of God for their good beyond their expectation.

History of the Many First Thanksgivings

June Hunt
November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Day in the United States abounds with historic images of black-hatted, silver-buckled Pilgrims joining Native Americans in an outdoor New England feast of wild fowl, fish and grain. Certainly today's Thanksgiving feast is inspired by the traditional stories about the Pilgrims, but this celebration isn't exactly the very first American Thanksgiving.

Consider this: The 1564 French Huguenots in Florida ... the 1598 Spanish conquistadors near present-day El Paso ... the 1610 Virginia settlers of Jamestown – they all hold claim to celebrating the "first" Thanksgiving in North America before the arrival of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts.

Picture the French Huguenots in Florida – 1564

After building Fort Caroline to establish a settlement on the St. John's River near Jacksonville, French Protestants joined with local Indians in celebration. This simple event involved a modest feast, prayer and music. One of the French officers wrote: "We sang a psalm of Thanksgiving unto God, beseeching Him that it would please His Grace to continue His accustomed goodness toward us." But due to conflict with Spain over possession of the territory, the settlement was destroyed within a few years.

Picture the Spanish Conquistadors in Texas – 1598

Led by Juan de Onate, an expedition of about 500 crossed the Chihuahuan Desert to reach the Rio Grande River. After their harrowing journey across the wasteland, they rested on the banks of the river, offered thanks to God and feasted. Their journey and colonization was the start of European settlements in the American Southwest.

Picture the Virginia Settlers in Jamestown – 1610

The early years of the Jamestown settlement were marked by famine, disease and death. After the winter of 1609-1610, a population that had reached nearly 500 was reduced to about 60 settlers. When ships arrived carrying food in the spring of 1610, the settlers responded with a spontaneous prayer service.

The Traditional Picture of the Massachusetts Pilgrims

In November of 1620 after a voyage totaling more than 3,000 miles, dissenters from the Church of England, commonly known as Pilgrims, landed at Cape Cod to establish a new settlement and exercise religious freedom. The first winter and spring was a trying time for the colonists as disease, cramped quarters and bitter cold all took a toll.

In the early months of their quest, 50 of the 102 settlers died with only a handful remaining unscathed by the harsh environment.4 By the summer and autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims rebounded and gathered a bountiful harvest while enjoying plentiful fishing and hunting. Nearly 100 Native Americans joined 52 Englishmen to feast for three days to celebrate the harvest and God's blessings.

The Role of Abraham Lincoln

Thanksgiving proclamations were sporadically made by presidents and governors, but in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln established a day for giving thanks as a national tradition. Desiring to unite a nation torn apart by war, Lincoln wrote of prosperity, population increase and emerging harmony as signs of God's mercy even in the face of battle.

This president called all Americans to "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," while asking God to bring peace as well as to tenderly care for widows, orphans and all those who were suffering because of the Civil War.

Our Historic Thanksgiving Heritage

Americans are a unique combination of diverse cultures and traditions, evidenced by several competing "first" Thanksgivings. Our nation has a rich heritage that recognizes God's sovereign rule, offering gratitude to Him even in times of adversity. Thanksgiving to God is the common element that links the early French, Spanish and English settlers as well as Americans of the Civil War period.

No matter where you are or whatever your needs, take time to be grateful. When we come to God with our requests and concerns filtered through thanksgiving, the Bible makes it plain – we will receive the peace only He can give, a peace that passes all understanding.

Remember what the apostle Paul wrote, while chained under house arrest, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).

Abraham Lincoln's Atheist Period

Stephen Mansfield
November 16, 2012

We have heard the soaring phrases often. They are fixed in the American book of verse. Now, they sound again in Steven Spielberg's magnificent film, "Lincoln."

They come to us as tones of faith from Abraham Lincoln's presidential speeches: "a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land," "the Almighty has his own purposes," "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom," and "the judgments of the Lord are true." They suggest a God who rules in the affairs of men and does so with both love and justice.

Yet this God was not always Abraham Lincoln's God. In his early years, Lincoln hated this being. It was a natural response. He was thoroughly convinced that God, in turn, hated Abraham Lincoln. It is one of the most surprising facts of Lincoln's life, a fact that makes his religious journey among the most unique in our history.

The 16th president of the United States was born on an American frontier swept by almost violent religious revivals. Men routinely responded to preaching and the "Spirit's work" by shouting, convulsing, passing out and even barking. Few were caught up in this excitement more eagerly than Thomas and Nancy Lincoln.

Their intelligent, sensitive son found it all too much. Young Abraham rejected his parents' loud, sweaty brand of faith and in part because he could not reconcile the weepy, religious version of his father with the man who beat him, worked him "like a slave," and resented his dreams of a more meaningful life. Historian Allen Guelzo has written, "on no other point did Abraham Lincoln come closer to an outright repudiation of his father than on religion."

Young Abraham chose reading over religion -- and reading made him rethink religion. Alongside "Aesop's Fables" and "Robinson Crusoe," he read the works of religious skeptics. Books like Thomas Paine's "Age of Reason," Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," and "Ruins" by the French writer Volney gave Lincoln the intellectual tools for dismantling the edifice of religion.

His move to the Illinois village of New Salem did the same. As his friend and biographer, William Herndon, wrote of this time, "he was surrounded by a class of people exceedingly liberal in matters of religion. Volney's 'Ruins' and Paine's 'Age of Reason' passed from hand to hand." Lincoln drank deeply from this anti-religion stream. Soon he began openly attacking Christianity. Friends recalled that he openly criticized the Bible, that he called Christ a bastard and that he labeled Christianity a myth. He even wrote a pamphlet defending "infidelity." To protect his political aspirations, friends tore the booklet from his hands and burned it. Lincoln was furious. He had become the village atheist.

His closest friends doubted his atheism, though, believing that he used it to mask a deeper pain: the suspicion that God had cursed him. This grew from his mother's "illegitimate" birth. Lincoln felt tainted by it. Herndon recalled "rumors of bastardy" that convinced Lincoln "God has cursed and crushed him especially." His outspoken atheism was actually "a blast, Job-like, of despair."

Lincoln lived under this angry cloud during his first ventures into politics, into a troubled marriage and through the sufferings that marred his life and assured him of his curse. Oddly, it was through the portal of these very sufferings that faith slowly returned.

When little Eddie Lincoln died in 1850, just shy of his fourth birthday, his parents were devastated. Ever haunted by depression, Abraham needed help pushing back the darkness. He turned to the Rev. James Smith, a Presbyterian minister in Springfield. The two met, counseled and prayed. Slowly, unsteadily, a change began.

It was the bugle call of Lincoln's epic battle for faith. Though he never joined a church and seldom spoke of Jesus Christ publicly, he became our most spiritual chief executive, sometimes more prophet than president.

We see this in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He told his cabinet he did it because of a covenant he made with God. He would end slavery where he could if God would grant the Union significant victories. He had become convinced the war was divine judgment upon a slave-trading nation. He believed the act of Emancipation could help lift that judgment.

This same sense of need to mediate between God and the nation infused his Second Inaugural Address, perhaps the greatest of American political sermons. God wills this war, Lincoln said, in order to purge the wickedness of slavery. Now, at war's end, both North and South should humble themselves, honor God's righteous judgment, and heal the land through forgiveness and mercy. It tells us much about Lincoln's religious views in the latter years of his presidency that he expected the speech to disappoint the nation. Why? "Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them," he explained to a friend.

This "difference of purpose" was a reality Lincoln knew well. He had suffered under it, hated God for it, and, ultimately, tried to heal it in himself and in the nation. We should be thankful that he did, for these efforts helped to give us our greatest president.