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March 31, 2013

Was the Resurrected Jesus a Zombie?

It has become quite common, and a bit overstated, these days to refer to the post-resurrected Jesus as "Zombie Jesus", thinking that there is a comparison between the features of the risen Jesus with that of Zombies as depicted in popular culture, both said to rise from the dead. Usually such comparisons are not based on any compelling intellectual arguments, but it is worth examining nonetheless. Does the resurrected Jesus display Zombie-like characteristics to warrant such a comparison? The folks at examined both features and characteristics in a neutral fashion to give us the answer. After an analysis of the resurrected Jesus as described in the Gospels and the traditional pop culture Zombie depicted by George Romero (of Night of the Living Dead fame), here is what they found:


- Zombies are human bodies that died and have come back to life.

- Zombies only possess basic motor skills.

- Zombies cannot talk. At best they can communicate like animals through moans and groans.

- Zombies have one intention: to eat the living.

- Zombies are dangerous.

- Zombies are physical, they have no supernatural abilities.

- Zombies bodies are decaying and rotting.

- Zombies are not capable of complex thoughts or problem solving skills.


- Yes, Jesus did die and come back to life.

- Jesus built a fire and cooked fish for Peter and a few of his other followers. Building a fire requires use of very fine motor skills. – John 21

- Jesus talks to several people after rising from the dead. – John 21 (for one example)

- Jesus seemed to have no intention of eating people, and we have no record of him eating any humans after rising from the dead; we do however see him eating fish and honeycomb (so not even just meat). – Luke 24:42-43

- Jesus did not seem dangerous at all, on the contrary people were happy to be around him. He traveled with two of his followers (without them even knowing it was him) and they asked him to stay with them when he was getting ready to part from them. If he were dangerous it would not make sense to ask him to stay. – Luke 24:29

- Something really interesting about the resurrected Jesus was his ability to walk through walls and disappear. These seem like some kind of supernatural function which Zombies are incapable of. – Luke 24:31, John 20:19

- Jesus’s body did still have the holes from the spear and nails, but surprisingly Thomas, one of his followers, was not afraid to stick his finger in those holes. Jesus broke bread and cooked fish and people ate these things. If Jesus were a rotting corpse it seems unlikely that people would be so willing to eat the food he prepared or stick their hands in his side. John 20: 27, Luke 24:42-43, John 21

- The resurrected Jesus could talk, he prepared meals, he explained complicated doctrines, asked tough questions, performed supernatural acts, and did several other things that demonstrated problem solving and complex thought processes. His actions and words demonstrated something beyond human, not subhuman such as the living dead.

So whether you are a Christian or not, it is clear from Scripture that the risen Jesus it describes is certainly not a Zombie. One is forced to disbelieve the Bible and write off the resurrection all together, or embrace the Bible’s story and realize that the risen Jesus was someone who was raised in glory, not decay. Whichever you choose, a Zombie Jesus is clearly not an option.

The Paralytic Borne by Four

Second Sunday of Lent

Mark 2:1-12

By St. Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

1-5. And again He entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was heard that He was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and He preached the word unto them. And they come unto Him, bringing a paralytic who was borne by four. And when they could not come nigh unto Him for the press, they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, He said unto the paralytic, "Child, thy sins be forgiven thee."

What does this mean, "after some days"? (Theophylact is here interpreting for his contemporary Greek reader of 1100 AD the somewhat difficult New Testament Greek phrase δι᾽ ἠμερῶν.) It means, "when several days had gone by." When Jesus had entered the house, the people heard that He was inside and all came running, hoping that it would be easy to meet Him there. The faith of those men was so great that they even made an opening in the roof through which they lowered the paralytic. Thereupon the Lord healed him, seeing the faith of those who carried him, or of the paralytic himself. For the paralytic would not have agreed to be carried if he himself had not believed that he would be healed. Many times the Lord healed the unbelieving sick on account of the faith of those who brought them. Similarly, He often healed the one brought to Him because of that man᾽s faith, despite the unbelief of those who brought him. First He forgives the sins of the sick man and then He cures the disease, since the most severe illnesses occur for the most part as a result of sins. So it is that the Lord said of the paralytic in John᾽s Gospel that it was as a result of sins that the man had been paralyzed (John 5:5-15). But the paralytic in John᾽s Gospel is not the same one mentioned here. For the man in John᾽s account had no one to help him, while this man had four. And that man was by the Sheep᾽s Pool; this man was in the house. And this one was in Capernaum, while the other was in Jerusalem, to name but a few differences. But know that the paralytic mentioned by Matthew (9:2-8) and the one mentioned here by Mark are one and the same.

6-12. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, "Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?" And Jesus, immediately knowing in His spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, said unto them, "Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralytic, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee;' or to say, 'Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?' But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath authority on earth to forgive sins" —He saith to the paralytic— "I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house." And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, "We never saw it on this fashion."

When the Lord said that He could forgive sins, the Pharisees falsely accused Him of blasphemy, since God alone can forgive sins. But the Lord gives yet more evidence that He is God, by revealing what was in their hearts. God alone knows what is in the heart of each, for, as the prophet says, "Thou alone knowest the hearts of the sons of men." (II Chron. 6:30, III Kings 8:39) Although the Lord had revealed their innermost thoughts, the Pharisees remained senseless, not conceding that He Who knew their hearts could heal their sins as well. By healing the body, the Lord makes credible and certain the healing of the soul as well, confirming the invisible by means of the visible, and the more difficult by what was easier, though it did not appear so to the Pharisees. For the Pharisees thought it was more difficult to heal the body, because it was something visible. And they thought that it was easy to say that the soul had been healed because this healing was invisible. Perhaps they were thinking thoughts like these: "Look at this deceiver. He declined to heal the body which is visible, and instead claims to heal the soul which is invisible, saying, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Certainly, were He able, He would heal the body rather than pretend to do something that cannot be seen." Therefore the Saviour shows them that He is able to do both, saying, "Which is easier? To heal the body or the soul? Certainly it is easier to heal the body, but you think just the opposite. So I will heal the body, which in fact is easy, although it seems difficult to you. By so doing I will confirm the healing of the soul as well, which is difficult although it seems easy because it is invisible and cannot be verified." Then He says to the paralytic, "Arise, and take up thy bed," to confirm even more that the miracle was not a phantasy, and also to show that He had not only healed him but had filled him with strength.

The Lord does the same with our spiritual sicknesses. He not only delivers us from our sins, but fills us with strength to do His commandments. Therefore I, too, who am a paralytic can be healed. For Christ at this very moment is in Capernaum, which, interpreted, is "the house of comfort and consolation," which is the Church. For the house of the Comforter is the Church. I, too, am a paralytic, for the powers of my soul are inert and will not move to do good. But if I am carried by the four Evangelists and brought to the Lord, then I will hear Him call me, "Child", (for by doing His commandments I become a son of God) and my sins will be forgiven me. But how can I be brought to Jesus? If they make an opening in the roof. And what is the roof? It is my mind, which over-arches all that is within me. It is a roof made of many earthen and clay tiles, signifying earthly affairs. But if all these things are pulled away, and the strength of the mind within us is opened up and freed of the weight of earthly things, then I will be lowered, that is, I will be humbled. For I ought not to rise up in pridefulness that I have been unburdened of earthly things; but instead, after I have been unburdened of earthly things, I ought to be lowered, that is, humbled. Then I will be healed and I will take up my bed, which is my body, and employ it to do the commandments. For I should not only be raised up from sin and understand that I sin; I should also take up my bed, that is, get my body up and set it to do good. Then we shall also be able to see with spiritual eyes, so that all our thoughts within us can say, "We never saw it on this fashion," which means, "We never understood until now that we were paralytics and have now been healed." Only he who has been cleansed of sins sees things as they truly are.

March 30, 2013

The Theotokos as a Teacher of Asceticism and Noetic Prayer

As is well known, in the very extensive writings of St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite (†14 July 1809) there are innumerable laudatory references to the Grace-filled, most revered, and most beloved name of the All-Holy Mother of our Lord.

However, the Saint’s “encomion” (encomium or laudation) to the Immaculate Maiden, as it emerges with unrivaled lyricism, rhetorical power, and theological depth in the nearly forty pages of his commentary on the Ode of the Theotokos, indisputably reveals him as one of the foremost Mariologists in the Orthodox Church.

* * *

The Ode of the Theotokos, in which Mary, the child of God (Theopais), glorifies and magnifies our Lord during her visit to St. Elizabeth after the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel, is “in truth admirable, most sweet, and most beloved,” and more so than all the Odes of the Saints from all the ages, because it is an Ode “of her who is holier than all the Saints,” “the author of which was Queen of all and Mother of the Creator of all.” “It is the product, composition, and exclamation of that most godlike mind, that most pure heart, and that most holy mouth, that of the Ever-Virgin Mary, and that of the very Mother of God.”

This marvelous and admirable Ode, which is divided into six verses, has been designated by the God-bearing Fathers to be chanted towards the end of Matins, along with the most sweet refrain and most beloved Troparion, “More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, thee who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, thee do we magnify.”

* * *

In this brief text, we shall cite just a few edifying passages by the great Athonite Mariologist from his commentary on the Ode of the Theotokos, as a humble offering of some morsels of gratitude for, and exaltation of, the extraordinary and incomprehensible majesty of the Virgin Mother, since “the Theotokos renders blessed those who unceasingly and reverently bless her.”

So great and such is the awe of Saint Nikodemos before the spiritual gifts of the Queen of all, that he suddenly breaks into an impetuous torrent of encomia in her honor: “O sweetest in deed and name, Mary, what emotion is this that I feel within myself? I cannot be satiated by praises of your majesty! The more I praise it, the more I long for it, and my yearning increases without end, my desire becoming unappeasable; wherefore, again I desire to praise it!”

The Saint then goes on to enumerate all those engaged in “the logical arts and sciences,” who, each in his own manner, aspires to extol the Most Pure one: grammarians, logicians, rhetoricians, mathematicians, geometers, musicians and chanters, astronomers, moralists, opticians, engineers, physicists, metaphysicians, authorities on the Divine Scriptures, theologians…!

* * *

What makes the deepest impression is that the Theotokos, even though “she surpasses the Angels and Archangels and all the choirs of Heavenly Hosts, not comparatively, but incomparably so”; even though “she became the ornament of the whole world, and the adornment of all creation, and the beauty of the Angels and of man”; even though “she alone stands on the boundary between Creator and creation”; and even though she was “the treasurer and dispenser of the wealth of Divinity” and “steward and guardian [and provider] of all the treasures and gifts of God, the Heavenly King”—for all that, she lived as an ascetic!

The toilsome asceticism of the Mother of God, who, after the Ascension of our Lord, struggled “in fasting, in prayer, in prostrations, and in every sort of ascetic practice,” must be associated also with the activity of noetic prayer, of which the Panagia is considered to be the teacher, because throughout her life—and, to be sure, especially during the twelve years that she spent in the Holy of Holies—, she “was occupied in and dwelt on nothing other than theoria, in other words, the vision of God,” “alone, beholding God alone, and alone, being beheld by God alone.”

She who is full of Grace “by herself found and practiced” “noetic activity (praxis) and vision (theoria),” through which the mind (nous) “rises above all creation and beholds the Glory of God,” which, thereupon, the Most Pure one “transmitted” and taught “to those who came after” this “new path to the Heavens.”

* * *

St. Nikodemos reminds us that “the heart of man was created by God always to return to God and behold its Creator.” This “return” involves the following two stages:

In the first stage, we must become “Jacob” (“supplanter”), which is to say that we must become supplanters of the passions, of the Devil, and of sin, by means of “practical virtue,” that is, “through fasting, vigils, prostrations, sleeping on the ground, prayer, hardships, and other bodily exertions.”

In the second stage, we must become “Israel” (“mind that beholds God”), by means of “theoretical virtue”; that is, “through noetic prayer practiced in the heart, we must ascend to what is called the illumination of Divine Grace, which acts and exists in the heart, and, thereby, raise ourselves—or, rather, be raised—by Grace to supernatural and immediate theoria, or, more precisely, to the vision of God.”

* * *

Therefore, through “praxis” and “theoria,” through asceticism and prayer of the heart, with the Theotokos — who is the Mother and bestower of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit — as our constant and unfailing guide and teacher, let us struggle unremittingly for the purification and cleansing of the five senses, of the imagination, of the mind, and of the heart, for only “the pure in heart shall see God.”

Source: Agios Kyprianos, No. 313 (March-April 2003), pp. 214-215.

Fasting According to the Church Fathers

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

The holy fathers and teachers of the Church, having proved by their own experience the beneficence of fasting, zealously inspired, agree with the teaching of Holy Scripture about fasting (Gen. 2:17; Ex. 4:28; Lev. 16:29-30, 2:27-2; Deut. 9:9, 18, 2; 2 Kings 12:16; 3 Kings 19:6-8, 21:27; 2 Chr. 20:3; 1 Esdras 1:4, 8:21, 9:3; Neh. 9:1-2; Ps. 68:11; Ex. 58:3-12; Dan. 10:3; Joel 1:14, 2:12-18; Jon. 3:5-10; Zech. 7:1-6, 8:19; Esdras 5:1, 20, 6:3, 35; Mt. 3:4, 4:2, 6:16-18, 9:15, 11:18, 17:21; Mk. 1:6, 2:18, 20, 9:29; Lk. 2:37; Acts 10:9,30, 13:2-3, 14:23; Rom. 13:14; 1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Cor. 6:4-5, 11:27; Col. 3:5. Refer to Apostolic Canon 69; VI Ecumenical Council 29, 56, 89; Gangra 19; Laod. 50; Dionysius of Alex. 1; Peter of Alex. 15; Timothy of Alex. 8, 10), the necessity of the latter by their contemporaries. In view of this at the present time many now break the canons of the Holy Church about the fast, leading us to a few endurances of the fast from the writings of the holy fathers.

According to the teaching of Saint Basil the Great:

"The prophets gave birth to the fast which strengthens the powers; the fast makes wise the law-givers. The fast is a kind of protection for the soul, a reliable companion for the flesh, the weapon of the valiant people, the school for ascetics. It repels temptations, it anoints the ascetics in piety. It is the companion of sobriety, the practitioner of chastity. It performs valiant deeds in abuses, it teaches silence during the time of peace. It blesses the vow of abstention, it perfects the priest. Without the fast it is impossible to risk one's self in the liturgical action not only in the present sacramental and true service, but also in the transfiguring and lawful service."

"The fast sends up a prayer before heaven, being done as if with wings, before the mountain of Ascension. The fast is a complement of homes, the mother of health, the tutor of the youth, an adornment of the elders, the good companion of travelers, a reliable companion of those living together."

"The fast is the weapon for protection against demons because 'this kind does not go away, except through prayer and fasting' (Mark 9:28). Our guardian angels more really stay with those who have cleansed our souls through fasting. The fast is imitating angels, cohabitating with the righteous, the training for a chaste life."

"The fast protects children, keeps chaste the youth, and makes respectable the old adorned with gray hair worthier of respect by fasting. The fast is the most decent attire of women, a restraint in the prime of life, the defense of marriages, the tutor of virgins. Everyone in the home has access to such honorable services of the fast. But how does it order our life in society? Suddenly the whole city and all the people approach decency, quieting the shouts, rejecting quarrels, forcing an end to reproaches."

"If all accepted him in the counsel concerning their deeds, then nothing would interfere with the peace that would be in the whole universe: nations would not rise against each other; troops would not enter into battles between themselves, ... in the deserts there would be no robbers, in the cities, no slanderers, on the sea, no brigands."

According to the teaching of St. John Chrysostom:

"As incontinence in food occurring from innumerable causes and sources is malevolent for the race of man, and fasting and contempt of carnal pleasures always were the cause of inexpressible blessings for us. God, having created man in the beginning, and knowing, that healing is rather necessary for him for the salvation of his soul, immediately and from the very beginning gave the following first given commandment: 'You may eat of every tree in paradise; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die' (Gen. 2:16, 17). And the words: this, eat, but this do not eat, were in the paradigm of a fast. But man instead of observing the commandment, has broken it, and for that has been condemned to death."

"And the inhabitants of Sodom have drawn upon themselves the relentless wrath of God, over other crimes with these. For here is what the Prophet says: 'this lawlessness of Sodom, as in the surfeit of bread had sensual ease' (Ezek. 16:49). This defect in the very deed really is as though the source and root of all that is bad. But look now at the beneficent actions of the fast."

"The fast leads us to abuse from our enemies, delivers from slavery, returns us to freedom."

"He helps in the fiery furnace, protects us from the paws of the lions, banishes demons, changes the decisions of God, tames the fury of passions, allows us freedom, leads us to great silence in ideas."

"The fast restrains the body and bridles disorderly desires. On the contrary, it enlightens the soul, gives wing to, and makes even the scaling of the mountain with ease. The fast is food for the soul, and as food for the body fattens the body so the fast strengthens the soul, communicates easy flight to it, gives it the ability to rise to the heights and to think about the high place and delivers the pleasures and pleasantness from above to the present life. As the light judgment crosses the seas sooner, but the large overburdened cargo is more likely to capsize; so lent, making our mind much lighter, enables it to cross the sea of the present life more quickly, to aspire to heaven and be subject to heaven, and not to respect the present, but to consider more than the shadows and sleepy dreams."

According to the teaching of St. Isaac the Syrian:

"As satisfying the stomach is the beginning of any evil, so fasting is the basis of any virtue and the holy way to God. The fast is the protection of virtue, the beginning of self-sacrifice, a wreath of abstinence, the beauty of virginity and holiness, the shine of chastity, the basis of a Christian life, the father of prayer, the originator of chastity and wisdom, the instructor of silence, and the leader to everything good. As healthy eyes naturallyaspire to light, so the soul of the person observing a reasonable fast, naturally aspires to prayer. When you will fast then your mind will aspire and wish to converse with God. Equally the body, which is used to fasting, will also not want to sleep and lay on the bed all night. Whoever has accustomed the body to fasting, has turned over his mind to meditation with the perfect calmness, pours out his heart in prayer, expresses grief in his face, and will not have a place for shameful thoughts at all. Cheerfulness is not apparent in his visage. It is the enemy of passions and vain conversations. No one has seen that whoever fasts reasonably, cringes at any shameful passion. Reasonable fasting is great open space for all goodness. Whoever neglects it subverts all goodness. Therefore the commandment, issued right at the beginning of our existence, is fasting."

"Fasting is the weapon prepared by God for us. Whoever neglects it is not right. For if the Law-giver Himself fasted, is it not also necessary for those for whom the law is given to fulfill the fast? For a long time the human race was not able to win, for a long time the devil did not test the defeat of our nature; but at the very beginning he was weakened by this weapon. Our Lord was the leader and the first conqueror. He first delivered the victorious crown of our nature. Since then, whenever the devil sees that some one has this weapon, immediately he is afraid, immediately he imagines and remembers that defeat which he underwent by the Savior in the desert: his power is destroyed and disappears."

"Whoever does not love fasting, then in performing other ascetical feats, becomes lazy, careless, powerless and shows this to be a thin sign of the weakening of the soul and allows an occasion for the enemy to win a victory over him. Therefore it is clear that he enters the struggle naked and unarmed, and that he will return without victory; for his members are not armed with fasting. And whoever observes him, sees that he has a hard soul, ready for any opposition and, foreign to all evil passions."

"The basis of any blessing, and the liberation of souls from the captivity of the enemy, and the way leading to light and life, are the following two things: stay in one place and continually fast. From here comes an obedience of feelings, from here coolness of mind; by these means wild passions living in the body are tamed. From here come meekness of thoughts, bright ideas, diligence in deeds of virtue, and uplifting and fine concepts. From here at all times come eternal tears and the memory of death. From here comes that pure chastity which is completely foreign to everyone with seductive thoughts. From here comes insight and distant
enlightenment. From here proceeds the soul understanding, by the power of the Word of God, the deepest sacramental ideas and internal spiritual movements. From here comes the art to distinguish evil spirits from sacred powers, and true visions from vain dreams. From here comes constant vigilance of the mind, not allowing one the inclination for various ways and steps, and banishing laziness andnegligence. From here comes that flaming zealousness which scorns any danger and fears nothing. From here comes that fervent diligence, which does not bear any passion, expels it from thoughts and tries to erase from memory everything that passes through the soul. In short, from here comes the true freedom of the person, both the joy of the soul and the resurrection, and the tranquility with Christ in His Kingdom."

"Fasting is general peace of soul and body, a serene life, a consistent pattern of behavior, a way of life, pleasing God and grieving the enemy."

"Guards and vigilant protectors of the dwellings of the faster are angels, whereas those that turn themselves over to feasts and entertainment during the Holy Forty Day Fast are demons, these real friends of the greasy smell, fans of blood and accomplices of drunkenness."

"No one of the living in luxury was morally zealous, and no one given to feasts was the disciple of virtue, any not one lover of entertainment is a saint and no one in the living flesh is a member of the (heavenly) Kingdom."

"Fasting is a holy classmate; fasting is the originator of all good deeds. And as masters do not make their products without the help of tools, so the adherents of piety and those glorified for their spiritual talents never created anything wonderful and extraordinary without abstention. The fasting Elisha revived and enlivened the dead man. The fasting Moses saw God. The fasting Daniel overcame the sorcery and deceit of the Assyrians. Even the Lord overcame the temptations of the devil. Even the fasting Apostles made prayers about important affairs. The fasting Ninevites averted the threat of death. Speaking in general, the fast is the mediator before God, worthy of respect, and the most hopeful ambassador who soon bowing to God for those whom he raises up prayer. Therefore, every pious man, everyone, who loves God more than pleasures, start the days of abstention with joy and gladness. For no one having a sad visage at the beginning of a fight will be a brave fighter."

"The fast is not hunger, but a little diversion from food. It is not inevitable punishment, but voluntary abstention. It is not slavish necessity, but free philosophy."

Revealing the necessity, importance and beneficence of the fast, the holy fathers and teachers of the Church at the same time explain also those conditions which makes the observance of the fast saving for us.

St. Basil the Great teaches:

"The benefit of fasting is not limiting to one abstention from food, because true fasting is eliminating evil deeds. Destroy every connection with the unrighteous. Forgive your neighbor his offenses; forgive him his debts. Do not fast in judgment and quarrels. You do not eat meat, but you eat your brother. You abstain from wine, but you do not abstain from insults. You wait until evening to eat food, but you spend the day in judgment places."

"Let our Lenten fasting be pleasant and pleasing to God. True fasting is the driving away of evil, the bridling of the tongue, the suppression of one's anger, the removal of carnal desire, slander, lies, and perjury. Abstaining from this is the true fast. In this fast are beautiful deeds."

St. John Chrysostom teaches:

"The deeds are not only that we come to church daily, continually hearing the one and the same, and fasting during the entire Holy Forty Day Fast. No if we from continual going here and hearing lectures shall not get anything, and from the fasting season we do not receive anything good for our soul: all this will not only not deliver any benefit for us, but will even serve our greater condemnation when, the Church taking such care of us, we remain the same as we were before."

"If we, coming here every day, and constantly hearing so much instruction, and receiving help from the fast, we do not conquer the passions arising in us: then what will be the forgiveness for us, what the justification?"

"Don't tell me, that I fast so much during these days, that I do not eat this or that, nor drink wine, or deprived myself, but rather show me that you did these things, that you are well disposed from the severe acts or if you are full of anger which overwhelms your flesh? If inside you are hatred and love of silver, then what is the benefit if you drink water? Do not display your fast as unpleasant, for one fast does not ascend to heaven."

According to the teaching of the Venerable Dorotheos, by the fast "we not only should observe the measure in food, but be kept also from any other sin, that, as we fast with the stomach, we should fast also with the tongue, keeping from slander, from lies, from celebrations, from abasement, from anger and in a word from any sin made by the tongue. Also we should also fast with the eyes, i.e. not to look at vain things, not to give the eyes freedom to look at anybody shamelessly and fearlessly. As well the hands and the feet should be kept from any evil deed."

"The respectable faster", teaches St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, "is the one who keeps himself from fornication, adultery and every impure one. The respectable faster is the one who rids him of anger, fury, rage and revenge. The respectable faster is the one who has imposed restraint of his tongue and keeps him from idle talk, foul language, inflammatory speech, slander, condemnation, flattery, lies and all kinds of foul speech. The respectable faster is the one who keeps his hands from theft, plunder, extortion, and his heart from coveting another's things. In a word:the good faster is one who departs from any kind of evil. You see, O Christian, what a sincere fast is! The carnal fast is useful for us because it serves us in the killing of passions. But the sincere fast is irrevocably necessary, because the carnal fast without it is just to eat nothing. Many fast in the body, but do not fast with the soul. Many fast from food and drink, but do not fast from evil thoughts, deeds and words. And what benefit is there for them from this? Many fast through the day or two or more. But do not want to fast from anger, spite and revenge. Many abstain from wine, meat, and fish, but with their tongue will bite people similar to them. And what benefit is that to them? Such existence with the hands often does not concern food, but extends them to extortion, plunder and coveting of another's goods. And of what benefit is that to them? The true and simple fast is abstention from any evil. So, if you will, O Christian, in order that the fast will be useful to you, fast carnally, fast sincerely, and fast always. If you impose a fast on your stomach, then also impose it on evil ideas and your whims. Yes fast intellectually from vain thoughts. Yes fast with your memory from spite. Yes fast in your will from coveting. Yes fast in your eyes from bad knowledge. 'Turn away your eyes, that they will not learn vanities.' Yes fast with your ears from corrupting songs and from slanderous whispering. Yes fast with your tongue from slander, judging, blasphemy, lies, flattery, foul language and any idle and putrid word. Yes fast with your hands from killing and plundering of foreign goods. Yes fast with your feet from going about evil deeds. 'Depart from evil and do good' (Ps. 33:15 (LXX); 1 Peter 3:11). Here is the Christian fast, which our God demands from us! Therefore bring yourself to repentance, and, restrain yourself from any evil word, deed and thought, learn every virtue, and always be fasting before God."

The Two Muslim Custodians of the Holy Sepulchre

Gabriele Barbati
March 30, 2013

Every Christian knows the holiest places in Christendom are in Jerusalem. The holiest of all, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was erected in 325, over the site where it is believed Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.

Yet, few know that it is a Muslim who opens and closes the only door to this holiest of Christian sites.

In fact, it's two Muslims: one man from the Joudeh family and another man from the Nuseibeh family, two Jerusalem Palestinian clans who have been the custodians of the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre since the 12th century.

Every morning, at 4:30, Adeeb Joudeh travels from his apartment outside the walls of the Old City to bring the cast-iron key to the church, just as his father and his forebears did before him.

Once there, he entrusts the key -- looking like a 12-inch (30-centimeter) long iron wedge -- to Wajeeh Nuseibeh, who knocks at the gate to call the priests and the pilgrims who spend the night praying inside. From inside the church, a wooden ladder is passed through a porthole to help him unlock the upper part of the enormous door.

Then, he unlocks the lower one before handing the precious key back to Joudeh. The ritual is reversed every evening at 7:30, after hundreds of tourists and pilgrims have left the church.

During holidays, such as Holy Week, which culminates Sunday with the Christian Easter, the elaborate opening and closing ceremonies take place several times a day.

Why the elaborate ritual? As often happens in Jerusalem, a city holy to several peoples and religions, there are different versions to explain why two Muslim families hold the key to the holiest site in Christendom.

“After the Muslim conquest in 637, the Caliph Omar guaranteed the Archbishop Sophronius that the Christian places of worship would be protected and so entrusted the custodianship to the Nuseibehs, a family who originated in Medina and had had relations with the Prophet Muhammad,” said Nuseibeh, a retired 63-year old electrician, while waiting in a nearby cafe to carry out his duties at the Holy Sepulchre.

“It happened again in 1187, after Saladin ended the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. He chose our family again to look after the peace between the different Eastern and Western Christian confessions, which were at odds over control of the Sepulchre," he said with a gentle smile, sitting next to his son, Obadah.

To this day, coexistence among the several Christian churches sharing the Holy Sepulchre is a delicate one. Catholic, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopian Orthodox monks have resorted to fists more than once to defend their respective denomination’s rights and privileges in the church, as defined in an decree by the Ottoman Empire, known as the Status Quo of 1853.

Such impious brawls between clergy proved Saladin’s prescience 1,000 years ago, when the sultan sealed the second front gate of the church and entrusted control of the remaining entrance to neutral custodians.

The Nuseibehs claim that the Joudehs entered this story only in the 16th century, after the Ottoman Turks gained control of Palestine and decided to charge a second family with the responsibility of guarding the key.

“Yes, we share the responsibility with the Joudehs, and sometimes we argue, as happens in a family,” Nuseibeh said.

Each Maundy Thursday since the end of the 19th century, the two Muslim families give the key to the Holy Sepulchre to the local Franciscan friars, for as long as it takes to walk to the church in a procession and to open the door after the morning liturgies. When those are completed, the friars return the key to the families.

This ceremony, which confirms in practice the validity of the Muslim families’ custodianship, is repeated with the Greek and Armenian communities, on Orthodox Good Friday and Holy Saturday, respectively.

“Right now, I have in my hands the keys to Christendom’s heart. This is a very important moment for us,” said the Rev. Artemio Vitores, the Spanish Franciscan who is the vicar Custodian of the Holy Land, during the Maundy Thursday procession.

“For centuries, Christian pilgrims were denied entry to the church, or had to pay huge sums to pray on the Sepulchre,” he said, all while holding the key.

At the head of the procession, Vitores was flanked on one side by Wajeeh Nusseibeh, his son Obadah and two cousins, all of whom were equally compensated by the friars for their services with the symbolic sum of $60.

On Vitores’ other side were Adeeb Joudeh, wearing an impeccable dark gray suit, and his 19-year-old son Jawad.

For about 20 minutes, Joudeh ceded control of the only existing key to the Holy Sepulchre. While there is another key, it is broken and no longer used. The functioning key is normally kept in a small office attached to the church and is guarded by an employee of the Joudeh family.

“This key has seen Saladin and every generation of my family since 1187. To me, it’s an honor to be in charge of the holiest of Christian places," Joudeh said, while walking the cobblestoned alley leading to the Holy Sepulchre.

He insisted on showing on his smartphone what he claimed are 165 official decrees confirming the Joudeh family’s role as custodian of the church over the centuries.

“My ancestor who was given the keys was a sheik, a highly respected person, who was not supposed to perform physical labor, such as climbing the ladder to open the gate,” Joudeh explained. “That’s why the Nuseibehs were called in to perform this duty. Unfortunately, they feel still ashamed of being just the doorkeepers.”

At the end of the procession, the key was welcomed by cheerful pilgrims waiting in front of the church.

For a few minutes, everybody stared at the solemn opening of the gate before rushing in.

Moments later, Adeeb Joudeh walked home with his son, as did Wajeeh Nuseibeh. They will come back here, time and again, at the gate of the Holy Sepulchre: two Muslims, coming in peace to bear the key to the heart of Christianity.

March 29, 2013

Prohibited Marriages in the Orthodox Church

By John Sanidopoulos

The following relationships are among those prohibited by the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church from entering into marriage:

A. Blood Relationships

a. Ascending Relatives

1. Parents

2. Grandparents

3. Great-Grandparents

b. Descending Relatives

1. Children

2. Grandchildren

3. Great-Grandchildren

Marriages between Ascending and Descending Blood Relatives are prohibited.

c. Collateral Relatives

1. Brothers and Sisters

2. Direct Uncles and Aunts

3. Nephews and Nieces

4. First Cousins

5. Second Uncles and Aunts

6. Second Nephews and Nieces

7. Second Cousins

All Collateral Blood Relatives are prohibited to marry up until the seventh degree, that is, up until the second cousin. Eighth degree and beyond are allowed, such as a male third cousin and a female third cousin, or a male second cousin with the granddaughter of his second cousin.

B. Relationships By Marriage

a. Marriages between two kindred by affinity in which the one kindred furnishes but one party lineally.

For example:

1. Father and Step-Daughter

2. Mother and Step-Son

3. Grandfather and Step-Granddaughter

4. Grandmother and Step-Grandson

5. Great-Grandfather and Step-Great-Granddaughter

6. Great-Grandmother and Step-Great-Grandson

7. Great-Great-Grandfather and Step-Great-Great-Granddaughter

8. Great-Great-Grandmother and Step-Great-Great-Grandson

b. Marriages between two kindred by affinity in which the one kindred furnishes two parties lineally.

For example:

1. Father and Son with a Mother and Daughter

2. Father and Son with a Grandmother and Granddaughter

3. Father and Son with a Great-Grandmother and Great-Granddaughter

4. Father and Son with a Great-Great-Grandmother and Great-Great-Granddaughter

5. Father and Son with Two Sisters

6. Father and Son with a First-Aunt and Niece

7. Father and Son with a Great-Aunt and Niece

8. Father and Son with Two First Cousins

9. Father and Son with Two Second Cousins

The same above applies with Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Daughters, Mothers and Sons marrying those mentioned. The same goes for Grandparents and Great-Grandparents. There must be six degrees of separation.

c. Marriages between two kindred by amity in which the one kindred furnishes but one party laterally.

For example:

1. A Man and his Wife's Sister after her death.

2. A Man and his Wife's First-Aunt and Niece after her death.

3. A Man and his Wife's Grand-Aunt and Niece after her death.

4. A Man and his Wife's First Cousin after her death.

5. A Man and his Wife's Second-Aunt and Niece after her death.

6. A Man and his Wife's Grand-Aunt and her Niece's Daughter after her death.

7. A Man and his Wife's Second Cousin after her death.

8. A Man and his Wife's Granddaughter of her Cousin after her death.

The same applies with a woman and the relatives of her husband after his death. There must be six degrees of separation.

d. Marriages between two kindred by affinity in which one kindred furnishes two parties collaterally.

For example:

1. Two Brothers and Two Sisters

2. Two Brothers with a Proximate Aunt and Niece

3. Two brothers and Two First Cousins

4. Two Brothers with a Grand-Aunt and Niece

5. Two Brothers with a Second Aunt and Niece

6. Uncle and Nephew with a Mother and Daughter

7. Two Proximate Uncles with Two Proximate Nieces

8. Two Proximate Nephews with Two Proximate Aunts

9. Two First Cousins with a Great Grandmother and Great Granddaughter

10. A Man may not marry the wife of his Father or Grandfather if they have more than one wife.

11. A Man with his Mother-In-Law

12. A Man with the Wife of his Brother after he died.

13. A Man with the Wife of his Uncle after he died.

14. A Man with the Daughter of his Mother-In-Law by another man.

15. A Man with the Sister-In-Law of his Son, or of his Grandson, or of his Great-Grandson.

16. A Man with his own stepdaughter, i.e. a daughter, or a granddaughter, or a great-granddaughter of the wife whom he has divorced and who had them by another man either before he took her to wife, or after he married her.

There must be six degrees of separation.

C. Relationships Involving Three Lineages

For example:

1. A Step-Father with the Wife of his Step-Son after he died.

2. A Step-Mother with the Husband of her Step-Daughter after she died.

3. One and the same Man may not marry the Sister and the Stepdaughter of his Wife's Brother.

4. One and the same man may not marry a proximate niece and the wife of her proximate uncle.

5. A Step-Father may not marry the Step-Daughter of his own Step-Daughter.

6. A Wife’s Brother may not marry the woman who was a Second Wife of the Husband of his Sister, that is to say, of his Brother-In-Law, after the death of his Sister.

7. A Father and his Son may not marry a Husband’s Sister and a Sister-In-Law.

8. Two Brothers may not marry a Step-Mother and a Step-Daughter.

9. Two Brothers may not marry a Mother-In-Law and a Sister-In-Law.

All marriages that exceed the third degree, and are of the fourth, or of the fifth, or of the sixth degree, and so on, in respect thereof are allowable.

D. Relationships Due To Holy Baptism

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite writes:

"This relationship results when one sponsors a child at the ceremony of Holy Baptism. For the man who undertakes this sponsorship is making the child in question his spiritual son or daughter, as the case may be; accordingly, he in fact becomes a closer and more intimate relative and father of the child than is its carnal father, because just as much as the spirit is higher than the body the relationship of the spirit is higher than that of the flesh." 

For example:

1. A Godfather (or his Carnal Son) may not marry his Goddaughter, i.e., any girl that he has baptized.

2. A Godfather (or his carnal Son) may not marry the Mother or Daughter of his Godchild.

3. None of the Godfather's Children may marry the Mother of their Father's Godchild

4. Nor may any Child marry a Daughter of his Father's Goddaughter.

5. If perchance Two Children, one male and the other female, happen to be baptized by one and the same Godfather, they may not marry each other.

6. A Man may not marry the Widow of his Spiritual Brother.

7. If the Husband baptizes One Child, and his Wife another, these Children may not intermarry.

8. A Son-In-Law may not marry the Goddaughter of his Father-In-Law.

E. Relationships By Adoption

1. Adopting Parents with Adopted Children

2. Adopted Brother with a Sister or Step-Sister from Adopting Parents

3. Adopted Sister with a Brother or Step-Brother from Adopting Parents

4. Adopted Child with a Relative of the Adopting Parents

There must be four degrees of separation.

F. Marriage and Clergy

1. Deacons and Presbyters may marry before ordination, but if their spouse dies or if there is a divorce they are prohibited from any further marriage, unless they leave the priesthood.

2. Bishops are not to marry under any condition.

G. Remarriage

Remarriage is forbidden in the Orthodox Church, yet out of condescension to the weaknesses of humanity the Orthodox Church does allow remarriage under certain conditions.

1. If a layperson remarries under the lawful conditions of the Church, they are only allowed to be remarried up to two times beyond the first marriage. Fourth marriages are prohibited to all under any condition.

H. Inter-Christian and Inter-Religious Marriages

Canonical and theological reasons preclude the Orthodox Church from performing the Sacrament of Marriage for couples where one partner is Orthodox and the other partner is a non-Christian. As such, Orthodox Christians choosing to enter such marriages fall out of good standing with the Church and are unable to actively participate in the life of the Church. While this stance may seem confusing and rigid, it is guided by the Orthodox Church's love and concern for its member's religious and spiritual well-being.

If one of the marriage partners (either the groom or the bride) is not an Orthodox Christian:

a. The non-Orthodox partner shall be a Christian who was Baptized with water in the name of the Holy Trinity in a denomination that expresses a belief in the Holy Trinity.

b. The non-Orthodox partner shall be willing to have any children issuing from the marriage Baptized in the Orthodox Church as well as raised and nurtured in accordance with the Orthodox faith.

c. The non-Orthodox partner shall not be a member of the following churches or religions (these marriages are prohibited in the Eastern Orthodox Church):

(1) Assembly of God (2) Buddhism (i.e., a Buddhist) (3) Christian Scientist (4) Disciples of Christ (5) Members of any Far Eastern Religion (6) Hinduism (i.e., a Hindu) (7) Islam (i.e., Muslims) (8) Jehovah's Witness (9) Judaism (i.e., a Jew) (10) Mennonite (11) Mormon (also called "Latter Day Saints) (12) Any Non-Christian (13) Pentecostal (14) Quaker (15) Salvation Army (16) Seventh Day Adventist (17) Spiritualist (18) Swedenborgian (19) Unitarian (20) Cults or New Age movements.

I. Adelphopoiesis or Adopted Brotherhood

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite writes:

"Adoption imitates nature, but nature never generates a brother, but only a son. So adoption, as imitating nature, cannot make a brother. Hence such a thing as making a brother by adoption not only is not practicable or to be considered to constitute an obstacle to marriage among themselves of such allegedly adopted brothers, but neither ought it to be projected at all. For it ought to be rejected from the Church of Christ, on the ground that it is the cause of many evils and of the perdition of souls to most of them, and merely affords matter for some persons to fulfill their carnal desires and to enjoy sensual pleasures, as countless examples of actual experience have shown at various times and in various places." 

St. Nikodemos warns here of the dangers of Adopted or Blood Brotherhood rituals turning into homosexual relationships. This applies to any form of homosexual relationship from becoming a marriage as well, since a homosexual marriage (between two men or two women) was unthinkable to the Fathers of the Church who composed the canonical prohibitions of marriage.

J. Betrothal, or Engagement

This refers to an engaged couple who have been formally Betrothed in a church by a priest. Today betrothals tend to be informal until the wedding day, when a Betrothal ceremony is combined with the Wedding Service.

1. Laymen are forbidden to marry a cousin or any other person related to their fiancée after she has died while they were engaged.

K. Monastics

1. Monastics are forbidden to marry under any circumstance.

L. Bigamy and Polygamy

1. Bigamy and Polygamy are forbidden in the Orthodox Church.

Unlawful Marriages Are The Cause of Many Evils

By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

Christian brethren, I beg of you, for the love of God, not to importune the holy bishops often by use of external means, to allow you to contract such unlawful marriages when they do not like to do so. For the aforesaid St. Sisinnius asserts that it is on account of these violations of the law that earthquakes, plagues, famines, wars, droughts, and other manifestations of divine wrath befall us; and that all those who want to have such marriages are prompted not impassively, but either by a desire of glory or of wealth or of nobility or of beauty or of some other passion. That is why such persons never make any headway in life, but, on the contrary, the wrath of God pervades their houses and annihilates them, since from the beginning they do not acquire the blessing of their spiritual mother the holy Church, but instead her curse, which roots out the foundations of their houses, as Sirach says: “but the curse of the mother roots out foundations” (3:9). Blessed are in truth those prelates who can be persuaded neither by gifts nor by threats and human fear to permit such unlawful marriages. All those persons, in fact, who suffer damage, or infamy and wounds, for keeping the divine laws and Canons are indeed Confessors and will be deemed to be really worthy of the crowns of martyrs.

Final Note: The Canons are guides in the pastoral ministry of the Church for the spiritual maturation of the faithful, to help the members of the Church be healed of their weaknesses and passions and elevate them spiritually through her sanctifying grace. It is in this light that the above marital prohibitions should be viewed. There may be some minor differences among the various Orthodox jurisdictions in how they are applied, and sometimes even how Bishops may choose to apply them. For example, certain jurisdictions may not allow intermarriage with certain non-Orthodox Christians that another jurisdiction may allow, and vice versa. Sometimes, in extreme and unique situations, these canonical prohibitions can be allowed by economia, or leniency, as has been the case historically. For example, in isolated villages the prohibitions on relatives marrying have been slightly reduced a bit, since most in the surrounding villages were related in one way or another. Or one can even cite how after World War I, certain Serbian clergy were allowed to remarry since many of their spouses had died or were killed prematurely, and they were forced to raise their children alone, which caused a disturbance in that area. In certain cases, especially under Ottoman occupation, Orthodox women were forced to marry Muslim men, and the Church allowed this by necessity and kept them in good standing with the Church. Even divorce and remarriage, which is not allowed in the Orthodox Church, is allowed in certain circumstances, depending on jurisdiction. Therefore, if there are any questions regarding the above Canons and prohibitions, refer to your local Priest, who can refer to his Bishop. Any deviation, however, can only be blessed by the local Bishop, yet deviation is highly discouraged, as St. Nikodemos informs us above.

It is also argued that these prohibitions are later developments of the Church, and are therefore either out of date or not in accord with the Apostolic tradition. However, that these are later developments is not entirely true, except for a few situations. It is true the definitions were later developments, but the practice of prohibiting marriages goes back to Apostolic times, and in many cases things were a lot stricter in the early Church. The Church condescends to the weaknesses and situations of people as much as possible, but it has its limits and always has and will. In the few cases the Church has become stricter, it is because the Church over time grows in wisdom after observing some negative results from allowing it in the past, and may have only allowed it due to the situation of her infancy or her stand in society. Two cases in point is how the early Church allowed Bishops to marry and also allowed Christians to marry pagans, though discouraged it. The expansion of the Church and the Christianization of the Roman Empire allowed the Church to reach its ideal situation by prohibiting Bishops from marrying and no longer allowing Christians to marry non-Christians and heterodox, since Christianity no longer existed on the margins of society as a persecuted faith. 

The Church always has the interests of her members in mind, but it must responsibly and faithfully apply its rules to individuals for the good of the entire Church and her mission, and even for the sake of the world at large.

Read also: How Fourth Marriages Became Prohibited

March 28, 2013

A Japanese Woman Who Followed Her Heart to Orthodoxy

How far is Tokyo from Larissa? By kilometers the distance is undoubtedly very great.

For a young woman, who had the longing to follow the path of her heart to satisfy a great desire of hers, the distance was like an excursion in a blooming spring garden.

It is like the excursion the then 29 year old Yuko did thirteen years ago, to the Holy Church of Saint Nicholas in the center of Tokyo, the only Orthodox church in the bustling capital of the country of the rising sun.

This excursion was decisive for the rest of her life, because it changed her completely.

It made her choose the living testimony of Orthodoxy, to change Christian doctrines. To leave her homeland and family and come to Greece determined to become a monastic, devoting the rest of her life to the service of God.

Her visit to the Church of Saint Nicholas in Tokyo, where she followed the Divine Liturgy, and her acquaintance with the Professor of Theology at the University of Athens, Stergios Papadopoulos, were the two key events that changed her life.

We met her as she wove baskets at an outdoor festival dedicated to nature in the heart of Paranesti, a few kilometers from the village of Mesochoritos in the region of Drama.

Listening to her story, you feel that the 42 year old, today known as Sister Sophia, was destined for this very purpose: to be a monastic, devoting her life to the pursuit of God's truth.

She Renounced Protestantism

Fascinated by Orthodox Christian worship, the Services of the Orthodox Church, and under the guidance of Professor Stergios Papadopoulos, she decided to renounce Protestantism, to leave her employment as a catechist in the Protestant Church, and be baptized Orthodox Christian. She took the name Sophia and made the huge decision to come to Greece, as she claims: "Only here could I find the fulfillment of my great desire to dedicate myself to God."

Sister Sophia confesses that she came to Greece because there she would not feel like a minority, since "Orthodoxy and faith are predominant and alive in everyday life." Moreover, she was tired of the busy Tokyo life. From the Professor she heard about the Sacred Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner which is 3.5 kilometers west of the village Anatoli, at a height of 1100 m. in the mountains of Kissavos.

The Monastery was built in 1550 by St. Damianos of Kissavos, who organized a coenobitic monastic brotherhood and lived as an ascetic in a nearby ravine. The Monastery flourished until World War 2, but then was abandoned. In 1980, near the original Post-Byzantine complex, Athonite fathers began to build a new wing, which was abandoned after 1983. Since July of 2000 the Monastery began its restoration by a team of Orthodox monastics from various countries. These same nuns are also from the Hermitage of Saint Paul in Lavrion. It is worth noting that this monastic community understands the multinational character of the Monastery as an international mission, affirming the fact that in Orthodoxy there is no distinction between nation, tribe or tongue.

She Has Served As A Monastic For 13 Years

Sister Sophia was drawn to the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner. She has served as a monastic there for thirteen years. Years that have been closer to God, but very far from her family - her parents and her sister. She still remembers how much they resisted her decision to change Christian doctrines and leave Japan. However, she says that she prays to God to give them strength, and she communicates with them regularly through writing. She learned Greek, which she considers a difficult language, and learned to weave baskets at the urging of the abbess since she had to fulfill some obedience. "The basket", says Sister Sophia, "is inextricably tied to the Christian story, since the desert fathers were involved in basket making both for all purposes but also to ensure their livelihood."

In her highly skillful hands, the flexible rods of laton (a Chinese plant from which the basket is made), formed a handmade basket without using any other technical means (glue, stapler, etc.). She very patiently explained this to all those interested who approached her during the 10th Pan-Hellenic Festival Local Exchange about the art of basketry.

It is already noon and several women have gathered around Sister Sophia to hear about the beauty of basketry, and so we leave Sister Sophia. We hold on to her words however. Instructive words that reveal that every desire leads us on a path to reality, if we believe in our abilities. We all as people have the potential to follow the path of our hearts.

Source: From Alitheia, September 2013. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Hillary Clinton's Letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew



January 30, 2013

His All Holiness Bartholomew I

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople


Your All Holiness:

It has been an honor working with you during my tenure as Secretary of State. Together, we have done a great deal to promote inter-religious and inter-ethnic understanding and to raise the profile of religious freedom issues in Turkey and beyond.

You are an inspiration to many with your contributions to the rich tradition of religious diversity in Turkey. I look forward to the day when Halki Seminary will reopen its doors as a shining symbol of religious freedom.

As I prepare to leave office, please know you have my best wishes for great success and happiness in all your future endeavors, and for the continued well-being of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

With warm regards, I am

Sincerely yours,

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Olympian Ilias Iliadis Fulfills His Promise

Olympian Ilias Iliadis has made good on his promise to offer his Olympic medal to the Panagia at Mount Athos. On Wednesday 27 March 2013 he visited the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi at Mount Athos, and after meeting with Elder Ephraim he offered his metal to adorn the the wonderworking icon of Panagia Paramythia.

Ilias Iliadis won the bronze medal in Judo in the Summer 2012 Olympics in London. When Iliadis was asked by Greek reporters at the time to whom he dedicated his medal, he said: "I dedicate it first to God, then to all the Greeks." Iliadis went on to say: "I thank God! This metal will go to Mount Athos."

Iliadis is now preparing to compete in the All-European Judo Competition in Budapest, which will take place between 25-27 April 2013.

March 27, 2013

Patriarchs of Constantinople Killed Under the Turks

The Martyrdom of St. Gregory V

Listed below are the venerable Patriarchs of Constantinople who suffered martyric deaths under the Turks and paved the way towards freedom for the Greek people.

Cyril Loukaris - The Protomartyr of the Patriarchs, on 27 June 1638 he was strangled and his body was flung into the Bosporus.

Cyril II Kontaris - Hanged in 1639

Parthenios I - Poisoned in 1644

Parthenios II - Strangled in 1651

Parthenios III - Hanged in 1657

Gabriel II - Hanged in 1657. He was Patriarch for only 12 days.

Meletios II - After being tortured brutally with a chain and log, he died of his injuries in 1769.

Gregory V - Hanged on Holy Pascha in 1821 at the Patriarchal Gate, which remains closed today since that time. His death was the banner of the Greek Revolution.

Cyril VI - Hanged on 18 April 1821 while in exile in Andrionople.

Evgenios II - Successor to Gregory V, he was surrendered to the mob, and died from injuries on 22 July 1822.

St. Cyril Loukaris

Recovery of the body of St. Cyril VI

The Sunday of Orthodoxy (Monk Moses the Athonite)

By Monk Moses the Athonite

The Sunday of Orthodoxy, the festive celebration of the prevalence of truth, is the victory against heresies and delusions, schisms and conflicts. For two thousand years Orthodoxy remains true, steadfast, beloved, authentic, just, honorable, integral, genuine and inspiring. It cannot cease, cannot bend, cannot wilt, cannot fear, cannot be defeated, cannot be opposed, and cannot be conquered.

Orthodoxy is faithful to the Gospel, to the requirements of the Holy Apostles, to canonical apostolic succession. We need to proclaim to our neighbor the true ecclesiastical tradition, not only with words but by a powerful example. Orthodoxy is not sterile knowledge, but life and experience. The personal taste of faith is a sublime wealth, inexhaustible treasure, a source of joy and hope.

The uniqueness of Orthodoxy in times of confusion, anxiety, darkness and crisis raises a bright star to illuminate the mind and heart. Holy Orthodoxy does not lose its foundation easily when confronted by progressive nihilists. Its base is strong and the faithful people have felt well its great power.

Orthodoxy is a living meeting between people and God. It is not extremism, fanaticism, jealousy, hatred and obstinacy. It is the middle way, frank, measured, balanced, free and graceful. It unites, brings rest, animates and sanctifies. It is beyond natural, beyond logic, transformative, light-giving, meaningful and substantial. It is incorrupt, ancient and new, perfect, sacred, comprehensive, ecumenical, but not ecumenistic. Orthodoxy is not a museum exhibit, a nebula, an abstract habit, a statue, a worn out idol, or a rotting swamp. It is not ancestor obsession, folklorism, a beautiful religion among others, but a new way of life.

It is not a human construct, a witticism, an eloquence, a formality or externality. It is not a window display, a picture frame, egotistical and belonging to the past. It is a cross and resurrection, a crowned martyrdom, manly and brave. Its symbol is a cross. Its throne is modesty, humility and simplicity. It does not coerce, blackmail, enslave or revolt. An Orthodox is not born but made, is baptized and re-baptized. It is a stadium of struggle, repentance, freedom, fearlessness, security and hope. Joy, peace and refuge are elements of Orthodoxy. Hopefully we experience these comfortably. Let us not be spectators in the stands, but athletes in the arena - begining today - the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Moscow's 200 New Orthodox Churches Causing Public Stir

The Russian Orthodox Church is going full-speed ahead with its plan to build 200 new churches in Moscow, despite complaints from non-believers and members of other religious groups.

Anna Vasilieva
March 26, 2013

As part of the 200 Churches Program approved by the Russian Orthodox Church two years ago, eight new churches have already been built in five districts of Moscow. Thirteen more are under construction, and the documentation for a future 36 churches has been completed.

Patriarch Kirill announced in the summer of 2010 that the Russian Orthodox Church would need to build at least 200 new churches. He based his argument on the numbers: If, in Russia overall, there is one church for every 11,000–13,000 residents, then, in Moscow, (where there are only 650 churches and chapels) every place of worship must accommodate two or three times as many people.

Many see the realization of the 200 Churches Program as the ideological expansion of the Russian Orthodox Church; even some Orthodox believers are disturbed by it.

Most disgruntled of all by this program are people who live in the districts where the new churches are being built or will be built. In principle, they are not against this sort of construction, but they say that more thought should be put into choosing the sites — parks and squares should be left untouched.

Meanwhile, many Muscovites cannot understand why new Orthodox churches have to be built at all. They say that the churches near them are largely deserted, even during important Orthodox holidays. In their opinion, it would be far more logical for the Russian Orthodox Church to spend its money on shelters for the homeless.

The Russian Orthodox Church insists that the program’s naysayers are a small minority. Philip Gril, leader of a movement that supports building new Orthodox churches, noted that “under Soviet rule, some 1,000 churches in Moscow were destroyed; so today’s construction of 200 new churches is a partial restitution of debts to the Church.”

The trickiest aspect of implementing the 200 Churches Program is the privileged position that municipal authorities have accorded the interests of the Orthodox Church. Despite statements to the effect that Moscow is a multi-denominational city, other religious groups have few churches of their own. The Catholic Church has two churches and 12 parishes. The Jewish faith has five synagogues; Muslims have four mosques and Lutherans have three churches.

Experts agree that the question of building new mosques is most pressing of all. Some 2 million Muslims live in Moscow. Last year, the United Center of Muslim Organizations in Russia finally received permission to build a new mosque. However, residents of the district in which the construction was planned came out against the project and it was dropped.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin believes that “two-thirds of the Muslims who go to the city’s mosques have no registration papers, therefore, it is not yet a fact that Moscow needs to build more mosques.”

The Moscow population mostly approves of such conclusions. Experts, on the other hand, say that the numbers of Muslims in Moscow will not diminish due to the lack of mosques. Meanwhile, relations between the different nationalities are becoming worse and worse with every passing year.

“Muscovites have become hostages to their phobias with respect to Muslims,” said Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, president of the Islamic Cultural Center of Russia, in response to an earlier, unsuccessful bid to build a mosque in the Moscow district of Mitino.

Other religious groups are also dissatisfied. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia has informed the municipal authorities many times of the need to build several more synagogues in addition to the existing five. No new synagogues are being built, even though Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the world’s largest museum of Jewish history in 2012.

Small religious sects, too, have their complaints. Krishna worshippers, for example, have been trying for almost a decade to replace the loss of the building which, since 1991, had been their only temple in Moscow. It was razed in 2004. Despite the active support of foreign politicians and cultural leaders, construction of a new Krishna temple has yet to begin.

As for the construction of Orthodox churches, residents’ protests have not gone entirely unheard. So far, at 19 hearings concerning the 200 Churches Program, the protesters have managed to win negative decisions. Meanwhile, the municipal authorities have given the Russian Orthodox Church twice as many new sites from which to choose.