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September 30, 2013

A Confrontation Between Eugenios Voulgaris and Voltaire

By John Sanidopoulos

Archbishop Eugenios Voulgaris (1716-1806) was the greatest Greek scholar of the 18th century, whose fame crossed the borders of Greece into Europe. In 1771 he left Constantinople and settled in Leipzig, due to a disagreement with Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril Loukaris.

King Frederick IV of Prussia admired the knowledge and wisdom of Voulgaris, and called him in 1772 to his court in Berlin to discuss such metaphysical questions as "Is there a hell?" and "Does paradise exist?". There, Voulgaris met Voltaire (1694-1778), a deist and rationalist who was among the famous thinkers of the French Enlightenment, and they discussed many theological and philosophical issues.

Both Voulgaris and Voltaire were invited to the royal dinner. Because that particular day was a fasting day in the Orthodox Church, a discussion on Orthodox fasting took place. Voltaire, who was a strong critic of the Roman Catholic Church, thought it ironic how such a wise and knowledgeable man as Voulgaris embraced such a superstition as fasting. A "confrontation" ensued.

"I do not believe in paradises and hells," began Voltaire. "I enjoy my life like a party! I eat meat whenever I want, without fretting if it is Wednesday or Friday or Lent! On Sundays and feasts I sleep to my content, without being concerned with having to go to church! I make love with any woman I want, and I go to the taverns where I dance and frolic without the fear that I will go to hell, because I do not believe in such a fairy tale."

Eugenios Voulgaris then responded to Voltaire:

"You say that you enjoy your life, because of this and that. But I also enjoy my life. When I eat fasting foods instead of meats on Wednesdays, Fridays and during Lent, and when I wake up and go to church on Sunday mornings and feasts, my soul is filled! When I pray for this or that reason, my soul rejoices! So what is the difference between us?

I doubt that you have peace in your heart. Let alone the fact that you are tormented by the nightmares of hell! Well? Is this what it is to live? And if after death there does exist a paradise and hell, woe to you! You will lose out in the other life as well! And even if after death there is no paradise and hell, I will still come out the winner! I win in this present life! I enjoy it! Neither does anxiety eat me up about what happens after death. Well? Who is the most fortunate? I who believe in eternal life, or you who do not believe?"

Voltaire had no response.

September 29, 2013

The Application of Orthodox Theology

By Protopresbyter Fr. John Romanides

All men regardless of nationality, race, and color have the noetic faculty and therefore the possibility of reaching illumination by means of purification and then if God pleases they may experience glorification at its varying degrees.

In any case the varying levels of theoria are the highest experiences of Orthodox spiritual life and theology.

Such a spiritual life and theology is neither Greek, nor Russian, nor Bulgarian, nor Serbian, etc., but rather prophetic, apostolic, or simply christian.

In the light of this one may put the question, what is "Russian Spirituality", and why is it presented as something higher than or simply different from other Orthodox spiritualities?

It seems that once Orthodox theologians come to the realization that the highest form of theology is theoria, which is the ongoing tradition of Pentecost in history, then they can properly take up positions for examining this tradition in its historical setting in order to evaluate correctly the applications of this theology to the relations of the Church to society and the world at large.

The most powerful element in this understanding of theology before us is that its bearer is liberated from enslavement to his environment, not by means of escape from it, but by the liberation of the noetic faculty from influence and domination by the intellect, the passions and the environment in such wise that the intellect, the passions and the environment are transformed by those who have reached illumination and theoria.

It is quite obvious that Christ prayed for the union of the Apostles and their followers in the vision of the glory of the Father in Himself by the Holy Spirit "in order that the world may believe" that the Father sent Him.

The world does not believe because of Christians in general, since they are many times no better and even worse than members of other religions. Because of such Christians many people cannot see the sense in taking Christianity seriously, even though they may accept Christ as a great religious leader and moral teacher.

It is only because of Christians in the states of illumination and theoria that the world believes that the Father sent His Son. One can readily examine how those in theoria influence their environment by studying the cult of Saints especially centered in their icons and relics.

Having this tradition of theoria in mind one begins to realize that there are many idols and myths which have invaded the modern Orthodox understanding of history by means of the official Russian tradition which after Peter the Great betrayed the Orthodox Civilization of New Rome and joined the Feudal Civilization of Frankish Europe. The unceasing tradition of theoria means that as long as this tradition continues the Patristic tradition continues, meaning simply that the central core of the Orthodox tradition continues.

At the time of the fall of New Rome this tradition was very strong among the Romans of the Patriarchates of New Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

However, soon after the foundation of the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Church of Moskovy officially condemned hesychasm, to wit the Trans-Volga Elders, known as Non-Possessors, and supported a type of monasticism which is foreign to the tradition of theoria and more like the feudal monastic establishments of feudal Europe.

Yet there is a tendency to picture the Roman Orthodox under Arabic and Turkish occupation as second-rate Orthodox Christians, and Russian Orthodoxy as the best example of everything Orthodox.

It seems rather that Churches with a strong tradition of theoria are no better of worse than the other Churches with a strong tradition of theoria. Since theoria is the same wherever it is found, so the piety, spiritual life and theology is the same also.

In any case it is clear that once the Filioque controversy broke out between Franks and Romans, the Franks automatically were forced to terminate the Patristic tradition since the Roman Fathers after St. John Damascus actively wrote against and condemned the Frankish Filioque.

It is necessary to study and get a clear picture of when and why the Russians followed the Franks in terminating the Patristic tradition. It is this Russian tradition which was taken to the new kingdom of Greece with the establishment of the Theological School of the University of Athens.

It is very significant that the Council of 1368 in Constantinople New Rome declared that St. Gregory Palamas is a Father of the Church like the other great Fathers and excommunicates all who disagree. What this Council was actually doing is condemning those who agreed with the Franks who believed that their scholastic theology is better than Patristic theology which for the Franks ended in the 8th century.

It is also very clear that the Orthodox tradition of theoria has no room whatsoever for the Latin distinction between the so-called active life and the so-called contemplative life. Both these parts of the life of celibacy of the Latin tradition of monasticism and orders are foreign to Orthodoxy.

The reason is obvious. When the noetic faculty attains to and contains the unceasing memory of God alone, the intellect, the memory, the body, and the passions continue to function, with the difference that instead of being dominated by the environment they are dominated by the noetic faculty which is completely liberated.

Because love in this state is not selfish but selfless the individual in this stage of perfection does not love God alone, but also all men and creation. He is even willing to forego his own salvation for that of others.

This means that true glorification extends from the noetic faculty and saturates the soul and body and sanctifies the environment, i.e, social and material creation.

The Orthodox warrior does not seek escape from the material world, but the sanctification of the material world by its liberation from the devil and his followers. However, he first learns how to win battles from those who have become experts in this warfare and then he teaches others.

This is what the Critical Examination of the Applications of Theology seems to be all about.

Source: "Critical Examination of the Applications of Theology".

7 Sayings of Saint George Karslides (+ 1959)

- "God cares for everyone. Despair is basically a lack of faith"

- "The Panagia does not want big candles, she wants mercy shown to the poor."

- The Elder said that what saves man is "the good works of God: humility, obedience, love, and mercy."

- He said to a woman he met at the monastery: "What? You go to church every day and have not forgiven your children?"

- "Do not sit at the hour of the Divine Liturgy. Your mind should not fly here and there. As long as you are in church make the decision to devote all of the time to prayer."

- "Do not think only about what to eat, what to wear, how large a house you will build. Knock on the doors of the poor, the sick, the orphans. Prefer more the houses of the sad rather than happy. If you do good works, you will have a large reward from God. You will be made worthy to see miracles, and in the other life you will have endless jubilation."

- "The Christian who loves all people has a great reward, especially if he forgives those who do him evil. For if we don't love our neighbor, all the good works we do will be worthless. They amount to nothing, we will be worthless. Love, my brethren. God requires love from us."

September 27, 2013

'Prayer as a Means of Educating Children' (my article in the "Orthodox Observer")

The current issue of the Orthodox Observer (September 2013) published a shortened article of mine titled "Prayer as a Means of Educating Children", which is featured in the Family Connections section.

After 249 Years, the Relics of St. Akylina Return to Her Homeland

On the morning of 26 September 2013 His Eminence Metropolitan John of Lagada, Lete and Rentina celebrated an Intercession Service in the Sacred Church of the Archangels in Ossa, where in 2012 in a wondrous manner the Holy Relics of Saint Akylina the New Martyr were discovered. This began the preparations to return these Holy Relics to the place of the origin of the Saint in Zagliveri.

Following the prayers the Holy Relics were placed in specially designed baskets and carried on mules, which were accompanied by men on horseback, along the path that connects Ossa to Zagliveri. This was done because, according to sources, back in 1764 when the Saint was martyred, three young men brought her Holy Relics in this manner from Zagliveri to Ossa in order to bury her in the courtyard of the Church of the Archangels, near the Holy Relics of Saint Kyranna which were also recently discovered. They did this secretly to prevent them from being desecrated by the Ottomans, and until 2012 no one knew where her remains were hidden.

When the Holy Relics arrived that evening in Zagliveri, having returned to her homeland after 249 years, an official reception and worship service took place, to honor this holy Martyr who refused to betray her faith in Christ, and watered the land of Macedonia with her glorious blood.

On the morning of September 27th, Hierarchs from the regions of Ierissos, Mount Athos and Ardameri gathered in the Church of Saint Akylina in Zagliveri to celebrate a Multi-Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in honor of the return of the Holy Relics of Saint Akylina after 249 years from her martyrdom to her birthplace.

Read also: Holy New Martyr Akylina of Thessaloniki (+ 1764)

Saint Kallistratos and the 49 Martyrs With Him as Models for our Lives

Holy Martyr Kallistratos and the 49 Martyrs with him (Feast Day - September 27)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Kallistratos came from Carthage. His parents were devout Christians and nurtured him "in the education and admonition of the Lord". When he reached draft age he was inducted into the Roman army. In the army environment, among the pagans, he was tried by many temptations, which, however, he faced with great patience, wisdom and faith. Because he had a healthy spiritual organism, with strong spiritual antibodies, he remained, by the Grace of God and his own personal struggle, harmless and free from evil.

He had the good habit of waking up during the night and praying, but he did this with discernment and attention without bothering anyone. However, his way of life and behavior made some suspect he was a Christian, and for that a complaint was made against him to the general. He invited him to apologize and heard Kallistratos boldly confess his faith in Christ. He tried to dissuade him with promises and flatteries, yet, because he saw that he could not change his mind, he ordered that Kallistratos be tortured harshly. Finally, they tied him in a sack, which was well sealed, and threw him into the sea. But in a wondrous way the sack ripped and two dolphins carried the Saint safe and sound to shore. This miracle was seen by others, 49 soldiers, who came to believe and boldly confess that the God of Kallistratos was the true God, "Who alone does wonders".

After this event the Saint was imprisoned together with the 49 soldiers, whom he catechized in prison. And because everyone remained stable and steadfast in their faith, they were beheaded, and in this way they sealed their martyrdom for Christ with their holy blood.

Their life and times give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

The value of an example is truly very great, because an example teaches and inspires more than any teaching. Of course, teaching, advice and admonition is also necessary, but they are all completely useless and bring no benefit when they are not practiced, that is, when no one practices in life that which they say and advise. And, indeed, not only do they not build, but they destroy because they scandalize the conscience of those who are ill in faith. They are like the "barren fig tree", which was cursed by Christ. Conversely, when one's works speak, namely through their life, then their words become redundant and silence often is stronger than words.

Christ said that the preachers and teachers of the Gospel are those who validate what they say by their way of life and their brilliant example, and they will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven: "Whoever does and teaches, will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 5:19). Indeed, the person who struggles to apply what they teach is overshadowed by the uncreated Grace of God, and then acquires inspiration and a power so great that like a magnet they attract the well-intentioned on the path of virtue and perfection.

The 49 soldiers who were martyred together with Saint Kallistratos were influenced in their way of life and behavior by the bright example of the Saint. Because they were well-intentioned, the Grace of God overshadowed them, they were changed internally and prepared to accept at the right time the message of the Gospel. In other words, the 49 soldiers renounced their idols and confessed Christ as true God, sealing their confession with the blood of their martyrdom, not just because they saw the miracle of the rescue of Saint Kallistratos from drowning, but because they loved Christ and accepted His rich Grace, influenced by the bright example of the Saint. Besides, this miracle was seen by many others, but they did not believe in Christ, because miracles do not give birth to faith, but they are the fruit of faith.

It is verified by science, but also from the daily experience of life, that as the years pass the memory weakens, and most people remember few things, if any, of the advice and admonitions of parents and teachers on various issues. They remember, however, very well their way of life and behavior, that is, their personality and character. It is especially remembered if they applied themselves personally in their lives to what they taught and advised, remembering also very well the love and interest applied to them, and vice versa.

Therefore, the bright example of parents, especially when it is coupled with deeply pained prayer that comes from a loving heart, literally performs miracles. An impression was made upon me by the words of a simple yet faithful mother, who was saddened by the way one of her children treated a certain serious issue, how it did not conform to the will of God. She said: "Now that my children are grown I have stopped giving them advice. What I do now is show them lots of love and at the same time pray that God enlightens them." And truly, this helped substantially.

Silence and words are two ways of expression which cause benefit when they take place at a proper time, since there is "a time for silence and a time to speak". One needs to have discernment to know when to speak and when to be quiet. And, of course, silence and words create inspiration and truly are beneficial when they are clothed in the bright garment of a shining example, as well as prayer with deep pain and selfless love.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Άγιος μάρτυς Καλλίστρατος καί οι σύν αυτώ 49 Μάρτυρες", August 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

September 26, 2013

Movie Recommendation: "Gravity"

(Though I avoid any essential spoilers below, if you plan on seeing this movie and don't want to know anything about it, don't read any further.)

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a private screening of Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity. Because it is not due to be officially released until October 4th, I held back from writing anything about it until now lest it be forgotten. The reason being, this is a movie I highly recommend.

Gravity is a very simple movie: it's about a pair of American astronauts who survive a horrific accident while trying to repair a satellite and must do all they can to stay alive.

One of the brilliant aspects of a good simple horror movie are the astoundingly complicated things it says about human nature, both on the screen and within one's self. The human imagination can probably think of no more frightening scenario than being alone in space where, as the Alien tagline put it, "no one can hear you scream". Gravity captures this isolation in a way few other space movies have, with only two characters depicted in the entire movie (ground control voices not included), played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Though the actors may seem like flashy props to sell some tickets, they are simply great in their respective roles. Clooney is his comfortably charming self as the veteran astronaut; Bullock, as a computer genius on her first space mission, is sweet and frightened, but also sharply intelligent, noble, and brave. Their characters shine in the suspenseful moments of this intense stress-inducing adventure. For about an hour this thrill-ride will destroy your nerves.

Having said this, I am not simply recommending this movie because it's a beautiful and fun thrill-ride with some of the best and most enjoyable 3D filmmaking to date. Rather, this movie begins by showing how far technologically we have come as a human race, and like a gun shot it drives us deeper and deeper into despair as the situation gets out of any possible human control, until a moment of hope is depicted on the screen. Without giving away any essential spoilers, I will say that this moment begins with a prayer, then there is a close up shot of an image on the screen, then there is a hopeful visitation, and then salvation. This moment is depicted in a way that can be open to a few interpretations, one of them being a miracle. This is suggested in the image that hangs freely suspended in gravity, which is none other than a close-up shot of the icon of Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, left there by Russian Orthodox astronauts, and is depicted in the style below, with him carrying the Christ-child on his shoulder across the river. As for why this icon has a primary shot in the movie, I will leave it to the viewer to draw their own conclusion.

Hell in the Land That Speaks the Language of Christ

Aimilios Polygenis
September 26, 2013

In Syria there are not only victims of a civil war that seems to have no end. The people of Assad and the rebels are not the only ones fighting. There has manifested in Syria another war, even if it is indirect - the religious one.

In the ancient Christian city of Maaloula, Islamic organizations with ties to Al Qaeda have begun a war in this land for a while now. And though Christians may not be their direct target, they have become on a daily basis "collateral damage". Nobody cares about what will happen to them.

Until recently Maaloula was one of the safest places for Christians in Syria. It was one of their few shelters. And although the Syrian forces have achieved major victories, the area - as if it is paying for some unknown sins - does not seem to bring peace.

"We are going through hard times. May God protect us," came from the stammered lips of a nun in the Monastery of Saint Thekla, one of the two oldest Monasteries in Maaloula where forty Christians are trapped.

The new Patriarch of Antioch has appealed to all: "Help those who are trapped in the Monastery of Saint Thekla." Months ago his brother was kidnapped and his whereabouts remain unknown. Today he lives the agony of Christians who find themselves trapped in the Monastery due to the heavy fighting outside between the rebels and the regime.

In Maaloula, one of the earliest cradles of Christianity, images reveal something that has nothing to do with Christianity. And certainly not the love taught by religion. There where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ, hell, unfortunately, is much closer.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

A Lighthouse That Resembles A Russian Church (photos & video)

A metal structure weighing ten tons floats on the the Irtysh and Ob River, the third longest river in Asia.

But this is no ordinary lighthouse, for it also serves as a holy beacon.

It resembles a small Russian church with its cupola, and all around there are sacred icons that illuminate at night. The blessing for the operation of this new lighthouse was done by Patriarch Kirill himself, who approached it by yacht on 19 September 2013. And as expected, this lighthouse is dedicated to the patron saint of sailors - Saint Nicholas.

September 25, 2013

Saint Silouan the Athonite on Smoking

In 1905 Father Silouan spent several months in Russia, often visiting monasteries. On one of his train journeys he sat opposite a shopkeeper, who in a friendly gesture opened his silver cigarette-case and offered him a cigarette. Father Silouan thanked him but refused to take one. Then the shopkeeper began talking, asking, ‘Are you refusing, Father, because you think it is a sin? But smoking is often a help in life. It relaxes you, and makes a few minutes’ break. Smoking helps one to get on with one’s work or have a friendly chat, and in general…’ And so on, trying to persuade Father Silouan to have a cigarette. In the end Father Silouan made up his mind to say to him, ‘Before you light up a cigarette, pray and repeat one “Our Father…”’ To this the shopkeeper replied, ‘Praying before having a smoke somehow doesn’t work.’ To this Silouan observed, ‘So better not start anything which cannot be preceded by untroubled prayer.’

From Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, p. 70.

Saint Euphrosyne as a Model for our Lives

St. Euphrosyne (Feast Day - September 25)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The life of Saint Euphrosyne is admirable and her way of life uncommon. She is a model of spiritual bravery, purity and chastity.

Born in Alexandria in the fifth century, she was an only daughter and very rich. Material wealth, fortunately, did not manage to harden her soul to become selfish and stingy, as it most often happens, but she remained benevolent and merciful. Her parents loved God and loved people, and they managed to give her true wealth of the heart, namely, to inspire love for God and for people.

At the age of twelve she was orphaned of a mother and her father showed greater zeal and diligence towards her upbringing. When she turned eighteen he wanted to marry her to a young man of high social status. But Euphrosyne chose the path of virginity in Christ and her decision was firm and irreversible. For this reason one day she divided her belongings among the poor and left secretly, to avoid her father discovering her and obligating her to return to the world and marry against her will. She changed her clothing and dwelled in a male monastery, changing her name also to Smaragdos. She lived in a male monastery for thirty-eight whole years without anyone knowing her secret.

In asceticism and virtue she far surpassed her fellow monastics, with the result that everyone marveled at the divine way of life of Smaragdos, and many struggled to emulate "him". Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite admired her angelic way of life, writing: "It was given to her to shine among the men by her virtues, like a precious emerald (smaragdos) gemstone among other stones. Blessed Euphrosyne appeared like an emerald (smaragdos)."

Often parents, perhaps due to too much love, which is certainly not entirely free of selfishness, insist to impose upon their children their own decisions, in order to be benefited by their children. The legitimate reaction of children, which is sometimes dynamic and contains elements of exaggeration, create family conflicts with societal implications. True love is linked with freedom, and vice versa. As is often said by His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos and is written in his books, love without freedom is a dictatorship and freedom without true love is anarchy.

Saint Euphrosyne never stopped truly loving her father and praying for him. When he realized the end of earthly life was near he asked her to meet him. In the meantime he had become a monk in the same monastery without it passing through his mind that he would meet his daughter there. During this meeting he learned her secret and her real name. It is worth noting that Paphnutios, her father, is also a Saint and that both father and daughter celebrate their feast on the same day.

Inside the male monastery she made a superhuman struggle to live according to Christ. She had to continuously impersonate, but also took great pains to not be outdone in asceticism and spiritual performance by her fellow monastics. And truly, as the sacred hymnographer says, she rejected the weaknesses of a female and became manly, that is, she had a manly mindset. In this way she overcame the difficulties to defeat the various temptations and live with "imcorruptible purity and chastity, which is acquired by corruptible people with toil and sweat" (St. John of Sinai).

Indeed, purity and chastity is acquired with much toil and sweat. Saint John of Sinai, in his wonderful book called "The Ladder", devotes one chapter (15) to purity and chastity, where he writes among other things:

1. Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature, which means that a mortal and corruptible body is rivaling the celestial spirits in a truly marvelous way.

2. He is pure who expels love with love and who has extinguished the material fire by the immaterial fire.

3. Chastity is the name which is common to all the virtues.

4. He is chaste who even during sleep feels no movement or change of any kind in his constitution.

5. He is chaste who has continually acquired perfect insensibility to difference in bodies.

6. The rule and limit of absolute and perfect purity is to be equally disposed towards animate and inanimate bodies, rational and irrational.

Saint Euphrosyne reminds us, among other things, that if one desires and truly wants to live according to Christ, there is nothing in the world that can deter them. Surely you will encounter temptations and difficulties will come, perhaps faced by people and situations, but if one truly loves the spiritual life, they will be patient and reach their goal, because love "always hopes, always perseveres", and it devises incredible ways to express itself.

For one to live with purity and chastity one must perform great labors and shed much sweat. By their bright example the Saints assure us that this life, despite its difficulties, is lovely. And it hides such joys that it is impossible for the "natural man" to even imagine.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΑ ΕΥΦΡΟΣΥΝΗ", September 2002. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Father Innocent, the Beekeeper

Hierodeacon Innocent holding the trikiri-dikiri,
with honeybees swarming around

Many people have passed through the monastery apiary, but we will talk about one of them, about the beekeeper Father Innocent.

Father Innocent (Igor Petrov in the world) was born on May 15 (old style), 1915, in the Primorsk oblast, into the family of an Ussurian Cossack. Igor's mother was pious, and he himself had an inclination for prayer. His friends used to make fun of him, "Why do you keep praying all the time?" Many were surprised to see Igor constantly in church, alone among old women. In the days of Russia's upheaval, Igor's family left Russia at the same time as the White Army and ended up in Manchuria. There, Igor got married; there he also learned the apiary trade. From Manchuria, he moved to Australia together with his family. He became quite wealthy there, yet he always gave much to the poor. Riches could not hold back his pious soul in its aspiration to serve God.

In the second half of his life, Father Innocent decided to leave the vain world behind and to become a monk. Already at the monastery, in addition to serving as a Deacon, Father Innocent had two other monastic obediences: he worked at the apiary and also filled and lighted the icon lamps and the candles before the services.

At the apiary, Father Innocent worked without any protective netting. He was not scared of bees, and neither did they fear or sting him. He often said that bees were like his own children to him. When Father Innocent went to sing in the choir, the singers sometimes noticed a bee sitting on his cassock. He would gently pick up the bee, shake it off into his pocket, and then take it back to the apiary. This is what happened another time. On the second day of Pascha, the brothers were walking around the church in a procession. Suddenly, out of nowhere came a swarm of bees, and they all swooped down upon the lilac flowers that adorned the dikerion and the trikerion. The Subdeacons were afraid, so they quickly handed over the dikerion and the trikerion to Father Innocent, who was not in the least frightened, but was actually very pleased. He marched importantly along with the procession holding the dikerion and the trikerion, which were completely covered with bees.

While Father Innocent was alive, there was always plenty of honey in the monastery. He generously gave the honey away as a blessing from the monastery, and people gratefully made donations. Father Innocent received orders for honey from all the ends of the world: from Argentina, Australia, and other countries. Even though honey could be found anywhere, everyone wanted to get it specifically from Father Innocent, as a blessing. You could feel that his honey was produced with prayers.

And Father Innocent was a quite a man of prayer. The prayerful state was his natural condition. When at the apiary, Father Innocent worked in an unhurried, measured way, and he constantly prayed. To him, his monastic obedience was like the continuation of liturgy.

One time, the following instructive incident took place. Father Innocent had to go somewhere on business, and he said to his novice, "I will be right back, I just need to wash the lamp oil off my hands." So he left. Ten minutes went by, then half an hour, and he still did not come back. The novice went to see what had happened. He came and saw Father Innocent standing before the sink, holding his hands under water, in a state of semi-consciousness: he was immersed in prayerful contemplation.

Father Innocent practiced the prayer of Jesus and was able to see the spiritual world, both the Angelic and the demonic. For him, it was natural. Sometimes, he asked the people around him whether or not they sensed the presence of an unclean spirit. Obviously, nobody could see anything.

On several occasions, the demons beat Father Innocent up. The brothers of the monastery were bewildered by the marks of beating that sometimes appeared on his face. One time, Archimandrite Sergius (Romberg) whose cell was next to Father Innocent's, heard the sounds of bustle coming from his neighbor's room, and then everything was again quiet. In the morning, muffled moans sounded from Father Innocent's cell. Father Sergius went inside and saw that its owner had been shoved head first into a narrow opening between the bed head and the wall. At first, Father Sergius tried to pull Father Innocent out by himself, but he could not do it, so he called for two other brothers to help him. All three of them together barely managed to set Father Innocent free.

It is hard to say exactly how much Father Innocent slept. In the mornings, he got up before the other brothers to light the icon lamps in the church. In the evenings, coming back to his cell after Compline, Father Innocent began to read his monastic rule of prayer. He would become deeply immersed in prayer. He could stand in prayerful concentration before his icon corner for a long time afterwards. People often saw a light in his cell at night. They say that sometimes he stood like that until morning. And by then it was time for him to go back to church to light the icon lamps before the Midnight Office, which begins at five in the morning in Jordanville.

Father Innocent fasted rigorously, and so he was ascetically thin. Yet, he concealed his fast. In general, his behavior was modest and humble. If anyone was upset with him, he always tried to be the first to ask for forgiveness. He prostrated himself on the ground before the other person even when he was completely blameless himself. Whenever anyone asked Father Innocent for help, he tried to be of assistance. From all around the world people sent him letters of gratitude. They sent him donations, which he would then give away to the needy. He did not however accept money form anyone. Once, an Australian company sent the monastery a check for 10,000 dollars as payment for some services that Father Innocent had rendered them while still a layman. Yet, he flatly refused to cash the check and insisted that it was sent back.

Father Innocent deeply venerated the Royal Martyr Tsar Nicholas II and his family even before the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia were glorified in 1981. There was a portrait of the Royal Family in the seminary dormitory, and every morning Father Innocent came up to venerate it, and only afterwards would he set off on his obedience.

Towards the end of his life, Father Innocent had to give up his obedience at the apiary because of health problems, and to retire; nonetheless, he always wanted to know how his bee-children were doing. Soon, the doctors found that Father Innocent had cancer. The period of preparing for the passage to the other world began. Yet, the preparation was not too difficult for Father Innocent, because he had tried not to become too attached in his heart to anything worldly. It was not for nothing that his saying was, "summer - winter, summer - winter, and then we are gone."

One time, several of the brothers from the monastery went to the hospital to check on Father Innocent. He was unconscious when they arrived. They started discussing which Akathistos they should read as a prayer for his health. One of them said, "Why should we read any Akathistos - he cannot understand anything anyway?" Suddenly, to everyone's surprise, Father Innocent opened his eyes, turned to the brother who had spoken, and distinctly said, "You do not understand anything yourself!"

Father Innocent passed away on September 25 (old style), 1983. During the burial service, which took place on September 28 (old style), bees came out of nowhere and sat on Father Innocent's coffin, as though to see him off on his final journey. Thus, even dumb creatures can become obedient and loyal to a person who acquired the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

The brothers accidentally mixed up the date of Father Innocent's fortieth day. So, exactly on the fortieth day after his passing, one of the brothers who lived on the fourth floor of the monastery building suddenly heard a gentle, but insistent knocking on the window of his cell. He looked out of the window, but obviously could not see anyone. He then hid next to the window, and to his amazement saw bees flying up to it and colliding against the glass. The brother went to see Archimandrite Vladimir (Sukhobok). Upon consulting the calendar, they found out that they had made a mistake when calculating the fortieth day. They realized that day was actually the fortieth day, and that the Lord miraculously reminded them of it through bees. The mistake was taken care of, and the monastery brethren celebrated Father Hiero-Deacon Innocent's memory on time.

In conclusion, we shall quote from the letter of one of the brothers of the monastery written after Father Innocent's death, "…Today we have buried our beloved and loving Father Innocent. He died from liver cancer in the Cooperstown hospital around seven o'clock in the evening, on Sunday, September 12/25, on the last day of the After-feast of the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos. He took Holy Communion for the last time several days before his death. You could say that towards the end of his hospital stay, where he probably spent 5 or 6 weeks, he took Holy Communion weekly. It would of course have been better for him to die here, at home. By the way, Father Hermogene is now dying from the same disease here at home. He is conscious, but he does not eat anything. He has become really thin and suffers a lot. Yet, Father Hermogene is preparing to die just as Father Innocent did it, as a monk. Father Innocent was buried in the very corner of the brother's cemetery, next to Father Gerontius and Father Joseph (Ivan Kozlov, the accountant). Thus, the ranks slowly become filled.

Though the news of Father Innocent's death is sad, it is joyous at the same time. There is a festive feeling in the heart. This joy does not let the soul mourn. The feeling of love and tenderness can be expressed in the words of the Prokimenon, "Blessed is the way in which thou shalt walk today, Brother, for a place of repose is prepared for thee," and in the words of the last sticheron, "My spiritual brethren and friends in fasting, do not forget me when you pray, but when you see my tomb recall my love, and pray Christ that He may settle my soul with the righteous."

Our own Father Nicodemus from Mount Athos wrote in the prayer diary of Father Theodosius of Carulla (I have read it recently), "Not long after the elder's death, I ran across a saying he used to have in the book by Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov). 'If on the day of someone's passing there is joy in your heart, it is a sign that his soul has been accepted by God."

Several months before Father Innocent's death, I visited him (which I did quite often in order to see how he was doing, or to help him in some way, or to chat, etc.) and found him in awful terror. I asked him, "Father Innocent, what is wrong?" He spoke nervously and quickly through his tears, "Death… I felt such a fear of death. I will be dead soon…" The rest of his words were almost incoherent, but he repeated the last sentence twice. Not long afterwards he became ill, yet, everyone thought that he had grown weak from fasting too rigorously, which in part was true. The brothers tried to fatten him up, but he refused everything, so the others and I often scolded him for it. His condition became worse; we turned to the doctors, but they could not tell what was wrong with him. In the end, they realized that he had cancer and that he was beyond cure. His daughter came from Australia. During his illness, he suffered greatly from attacks of the dark spirits; yet, the Lord "succored him" as the psalms say. He was told to fight and not to give in. Thank God, he came out of the fight as the winner, as was attested by the fact that both before and after his burial service he appeared to people, as he often said, "Glory be to God! Glory be to God for everything!"

Three different people saw Father Innocent in dreams. He first appeared to Father Methodius, his brother Hiero-Deacon. Father Methodius told me later, "I saw him in the refectory, I think, and I asked him, 'So, how are you over there?' He said, 'Good, very good… Now everything is fine…' and he was all glowing and so joyful."

This happened three days before Father Innocent's death. Afterwards, I heard that he had also appeared in a dream to a seminarian. The seminarian saw Father Innocent in church, already in his coffin, dressed in white. Yet, for some reason, the coffin was turned towards the people (that is backwards), and Father Innocent was moving inside the coffin. Father Vladimir (Sukhobok) commented on it, "He fought a lot against the demons here, and so he still fights against them over there, but not for himself anymore, but for us."

The third time, Father Innocent appeared to a woman pilgrim who deeply respected and loved him. He was glowing and joyous.

When he was brought in from the hospital and we were dressing him, I noticed that his face was very serene. For two nights, they read the Psalter over him, and during the second night in particular, I noticed how pleasant it was to read and how comfortable the church felt.

Archbishop Laurus officiated the burial service together with several of the Archimandrites and Hiero-Monks. There were not too many people present; yet, you could say that the church was full. All through the service, I thought of the many ordeals, temptations, ascetic feats, and hardships that he had undergone, and how he had endured everything. He did not judge others, forgave those who had offended him, was always friendly; people hardly ever saw him unhappy. And, as everyone knew, he loved a lot.

When they were already letting down his coffin into the grave, a thought flashed across my mind, "Will God show that his soul has been accepted?" When I answered this thought with, "May everything be according to God's Will," a beautiful autumn leaf fell off a tree right in the middle of the cross on top of the cover of the coffin. The others might not have paid attention to it, but I noticed for sure that at that very moment a bird started singing. After twelve prostrations, I went to walk back His Grace, because I was subdeaconing. But people said that afterwards there came a swarm of bees. They circled around the grave and rested on the coffin. Father Innocent's workers came to bid farewell to their loving master.

In the evening, after the Vespers and the Matins and right before dinner, I went to Father Innocent's grave thinking and praying. Suddenly I saw a cat, which was slowly approaching the grave. The cat sniffed it, dug the mound with its paw, and then started running around it as if playing with someone. Then another cat came, and then a third one, and a fourth one! They were all playing joyfully completely unabashed by my presence. I was touched and thanked God for allowing me to see such a miracle.

'Blessed are they whom Thou hast chosen and hast taken to Thyself, O Lord.'

Rest, dear Father Innocent, from your many labors and pray to God that He may save our souls."

Source: From The Jordanville Paterikon, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY.

September 24, 2013

Saint Silouan the Athonite as a Model for our Lives

St. Silouan the Athonite (Feast Day - September 24)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Several years have passed since I heard, during a certain vigil, the words of the venerable Silouan read about love. I remember that it caused a great impression on me. It made me feel a sweetness in my heart and an unforgettable inner jubilation. Such homilies I have not had much of an opportunity to hear and I admit that I was amazed. Then I found and studied the book of his life and writings, which exude the fragrance of the Holy Spirit and spiritually nourish and quench, because they are words of God. Let us note here that there is a difference between the words of God and words about God. It is one thing to speak about Christ after seeing Him, and another thing to imagine Him. Philosophical speculation is one thing and empirical theology another, which is the result of the vision of God (theoria). The words of the saints are "words of eternal life", which is why they help in the therapy of the passions and in inner regeneration. The Gerontikon refers to people approaching the great Elders and begging them for a word of salvation: "Abba, say a word that I may be saved."

Saint Silouan was from Russia, who grew and matured spiritually in the Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon at Mount Athos.

In the wonderful book of the late Archimandrite Sophrony titled Saint Silouan the Athonite, which was published by the Sacred Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner in Essex of England, the reader can find a connection with the divine life of the Venerable One, as well as his wonderful writings. In the limited space of this article I want to mention, telegraphically, only three points about his divine life.

First, the family environment in which he grew up helped him in his later development. It is known that it played an important role in shaping his character and the overall personality of the children in the atmosphere of the family. His parents were simple peasants, with a deep faith in God. He himself would say of his father: "I have not reached the measure of my father. He was completely illiterate, even saying the 'Our Father' wrong, which he learned by listening in church, but he was a gentle and wise man." Indeed, he would recount incidents from his life in the family home. We will mention one in particular. Once they were harvesting the field and it was the turn of the young Symeon (his name in the world) to cook. He forgot it was Friday and boiled pork, which everyone ate. Six months later, on a certain feast day, his father told him: "Remember my child, that you gave me pork to eat out in the field? Believe me, I ate it as if it was a corpse." And when Symeon asked him why he didn't tell him, his father responded: "I didn't want to upset you, my son." When he would narrate this incident, the Venerable One added: "That is the sort of elder I would like to have: He never got angry, was always even-tempered and humble. Just think – he waited six months for the right moment to correct me without upsetting me!"

Second, his simple and unpretentious way of behaving was a scandal for most and an obstacle to the greatness of his personality, which is why few understood him. He was a peasant that was little educated, yet he was gentle with delicate manners, who spoke few words and not quarrelsome. This way of expression and behavior was not meretricious, external, but it gushed from within his heart, which was full of meekness and humility. He persistently and painfully asked from God for the forgiveness of his sins, night and day. He learned selfless love and gentleness and was taught true humility from Christ Himself, with the advice: "Keep your mind in hades and despair not."

He was full of compassion for the world and prayed fervently. During the day he would leave his hard work for a little at the mill of the Monastery and he would go to his cell, where he prayed for the poor laborers and even each one individually by his name.

Third, his writings reveal not a speculative theologian, but a Saint of divine vision. In these he constantly speaks about the Holy Spirit and true love. He saw Christ alive in the Holy Spirit and was an actual God-taught theologian. He knew very few letters, but his words flowed like gurgling water and so quietly and gently penetrated deeply and quenched the soul which thirsts for the words of God. Another contemporary Athonite Saint writes: "When one purifies the senses through obedience and stillness and calms the nous and purifies the heart, then they receive grace and the knowledge of illumination and become all light, all nous, all clarity; they flow theology, where if three were to write they would not catch up to the flow of grace which flows waves that scatter peace and complete inactivity to the passions throughout the body. The heart is inflamed by divine love and cries out: Hold back, my Jesus, the waves of Your grace, which dissolves me like wax. And indeed dissolution does not take hold. The nous is grabbed by the vision of God and becomes restrained, and the person is denatured and becomes one with God, so that they cannot recognize or separate themselves, like iron in the fire when it is kindled and assimilated into the fire" (The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast).

In his writings he recounts several miracles, which if they were done by him, he reports them in the third person as if they were done by someone else. But we believe the greatest miracles of the Venerable One were not so much physical healings, but rather the spiritual regeneration caused by the study of his life and his inspired writings. This test will convince - "Taste and see."

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΣΙΛΟΥΑΝΟΣ Ο ΑΘΩΝΙΤΗΣ", September 1999. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

September 23, 2013

Holy New Martyr John of Konitsa, formerly a Muslim (+ 1814)

St. John the New Martyr of Konitsa (Feast Day - September 23)
John was born in 1785 in a place called Konitsa, which was populated by Albanian Muslims at the time. He was a Muslim of Muslim parents. His father was both a dervish and a sheik. When John was twenty years old, he also joined the order of dervishes, as there were a few tekes (Muslim dervish monasteries) in Konitsa. He moved to the city of Ioannina, Epirus, but later he moved to the town of Vrachori in the province of Aitolia, whose pasha was Haznatar Isufaravos, a friend of his father. So the pasha made John his private dervish, where he arose high in rank and fought in the battle of the Turks against the Russians in the area of the Ionian Islands.

During the battle John came into contact with many Orthodox Christians and decided to become an Orthodox Christian himself. He removed his dervish attire and sought baptism, yet no one would baptize him out of fear. The pasha eventually was transferred, but John did not go with him.

Because he was unable to be baptized in Vrachori, John went to the island of Ithaka where he was able to be baptized and at that time was given the name John. Returning to the mainland he married an Orthodox woman and became a rural guard, avoiding Muslims as much as possible.

His father eventually heard of his son's apostasy and sent two dervishes to persuade John to return to his Muslim faith. The messengers failed due to the steadfast faith of John. However news spread in the village that John was a former Muslim and dervish, causing the local Muslims to bring charges against him.

Soldiers were eventually sent by the muselimi of Vrachori to arrest John. When he was asked to identify himself, John replied: "I am an Orthodox Christian and my name is John."

The muselimi replied: "Aren't you the young dervish, the son of the sheik of Konitsa?"

"Yes I am," answered John, "but now I am an Orthodox Christian and I will die as an Orthodox Christian."

"You were deceived by your wife," countered the muselimi, "and changed your faith. But come to your senses now and make a confession of your old faith and then you will see how much you will be honored by me."

John dismissed what the muselimi said to him and said: "Don't think, muselimi, that I will be so foolish and dumb as to leave the holy faith of the Orthodox Christians and be blinded again to come to the faith of Islam."

For this confession John was sentenced to be beheaded. Before his decapitation John requested that his hands be untied. His request was honored, so he made the sign of the Cross and said: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom." He then bent his head and it was cut off. This occurred near a tree of the Church of Saint Demetrios in Agrinio which still stands today.

The muselimi did not acknowledge John to be either a Muslim or a Christian, thus not allowing him to be buried in either faith's cemetery. His head and body were thus thrown into a stream near the Church of Saint Demetrios. Influential Christians bribed the aga who gave them permission to gather the body of the martyr to give him a proper burial. However the aga ordered them to give no formal service or ceremony for John, and the Christians promised to not do so and merely buried him in a field.

Thus John the former Muslim sacrificed his life for the love of Jesus Christ in Vrachori, Vellas, Epirus on September 23, in the year 1814. Many years later a child would hear voices coming from the tree trunk where the martyrdom took place, and this occurred daily until Priests came and did a Sanctification Service.

The holy skull and relics of Saint John were brought to the Holy Monastery of Prousou in Evrytania sometime between 1814 and 1821, by the priest Cyril Kastanophylle and placed in a secret place. The years passed and knowledge of his whereabouts had become forgotten. His relics were confirmed to be his on January 4, 1974 when the monks of the monastery opened the crypt allegedly belonging to him. As soon as the monks moved the stone of the crypt, and indescribable fragrance filled the room, and they glorified God. Inside they found a skull and relics belonging to an unknown Saint. After an investigation of the place, they found a tile on which was writtten: "ΙΣ ΧΣ ΝΙΚΑ (Jesus Christ Conquers). Here is the former Ottoman John, who was martyred on behalf of Christ at Vrachori on 1814 September 23." The finding of his sacred relics is celebrated annually on January 4th.

There is a small chapel dedicated to Saint John near the tree of his martyrdom where his feast is celebrated annually with a transfer of his relics for a few days. This chapel was established on 26 October 1983.

Saints Xanthippe and Polyxene as Models for our Lives

Sts. Xanthippe and Polyxene (Feast Day - September 23)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saints Xanthippe and Polyxene were sisters according to the flesh. They were from Spain and lived in the first century during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.). Both sought the true faith which would bring meaning to their lives, and it pleased God for them to come to known it and then strive with all their strength to disseminate it.

Xanthippe was the wife of Probus, the ruler of the country. She was led to faith in Christ with her husband by the Apostle Paul, when he was in their country. Polyxene was a virgin and before her baptism she was tried by a great temptation. A certain libidinous man attempted to corrupt her, but the Grace of God preserved her and she remained unharmed. After this her desire grew to search for the true God which caused her to move from place to place. God made her worthy to hear the preaching of the Apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip. She became a disciple of the Apostle Andrew, who baptized her together with Rebecca, her friend and companion on her journey. After her baptism she returned to Spain, together with the Apostle Onesimus and Rebecca, and lived there the remainder of her life. The two sisters, Xanthippe and Polyxene, by divine zeal as genuine disciples of the holy Apostles, preached the true faith and led many well-intentioned to salvation. Although they lived in a time when members of the Church were persecuted and killed after cruel and inhuman torture, it pleased God for both of them to complete their lives in peace, at an advanced age.

Their life and times give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

Preaching the word of God is necessary because, when done the right way, it helps people to believe. Saint Gregory Palamas, interpreting the Gospel passage that mentions the healing of the paralytic - who was lowered with ropes before Christ after the roof of a house was destroyed - says that in order for people to believe they must first hear the word of God, which is why Christ "spoke unto them the word".

For the word of God to take hold and bear fruit in the souls of the listeners it must fall on fertile ground, "beautiful and good land", since there are many people who like to hear the word of God, but few people who strive to apply it in their lives. This is because, as Saint Gregory Palamas says: "All love to hear and to see, but not all are lovers of God." That is, everybody likes to hear and see things, but, unfortunately, few have a love for virtue, which is why there are few who hold within their hearts the word and strive to make it an experience and way of life. Characteristic is the phrase of Christ, which He repeated numerous times to the listeners of His words: "They who have ears to hear, hear." That is, whoever has their ears open, especially the ears of their soul, let them hear, that they may obey and apply what I say.

Fruition, however, does not only depend upon the earth, but also on the quality of the seed. In other words, the fruition of the word of God in the hearts of people does not only depend on the listeners, but also on the preachers of the word of God. The first, as mentioned, should have the desire to apply what they hear in their lives, but the latter should try to offer the people the word of God in a pure and unadulterated manner, as the Orthodox Church has experienced it and taught it through her Holy Fathers. Also, before the sermon they should pray for themselves, as well as for their listeners, whom they should primarily teach and inspire with their example. This means that whatever they teach they should first strive to apply this within their own lives, since, as Saint Seraphim of Sarov says, the greatest missionaries are those in whom is "the intensity of prayer and example". But the listeners should also pray together for the preachers of the Divine word, that God may enlighten them to correctly teach the word of His truth, and then for themselves, that Christ may open their mind "to be presented with the scriptures".

In our days we hear many sermons, but from what it seems by the results, few are those which touch the hearts of people and lead them to repentance and spiritual regeneration. Perhaps this is because they are reflections and pious thoughts, which are the words of men, and do not have the power to comfort, support and regenerate man. Indeed, sometimes, because in human words there are energies of the passions, they cause the opposite effect, that is, they cause confusion, agitation and sometimes despair. Rather, the word of God regenerates, heals, comforts and gives meaning to life, since "it is a living, active and sharp double-edged sword, penetrating deeply... discerning thoughts and the intentions of hearts." Once they told Christ, as He was teaching the people, that His Mother and brothers (the children of Joseph) were asking for Him. He, pointing His hand to His disciples, said: "Behold my mother and my brothers." He then added: "They who do the will of My Father Who is in the Heavens, they will be My brother, sister, mother."

It is truly an honor and blessing for all of us to be worthy to become mothers and brethren of Christ. It depends on us.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Άγιες Ξανθίππη καί Πολυξένη", August 2013. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

September 22, 2013

Consecration of the Only Church in Greece Dedicated to the Prophet Jonah

The only church in Greece dedicated to the Prophet Jonah is in the village of Anoskeli in Kisamos. It was consecrated on the Sunday of All Saints, 30 June 2013, and built entirely by the pious local family of Demetrios and Maria Stefanoudakis. It is a beauteous, stone-built church, very neat and groomed.

On Saturday 21 September 2013, the Church of the Prophet Jonah celebrated its first feast day, with a procession of his icon around the church before the celebration of the Festal Divine Liturgy.

September 21, 2013

Holy Apostle Kodratos as a Model for our Lives

St. Kodratos (Quadratus) the Apostle (Feast Day - September 21)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The various lives of the saints describe the Apostle Kodratos as a great apologist of Christianity, zealous, wise and an orator with excellent intellectual capacity. As Bishop of Athens - a city in which flourished different philosophical schools which is why it required a Bishop with superior qualifications - he rebuked the godless paganism of the philosophers and led many well-intentioned to the truth. These pagans, because they were unable to face him, slandered him and thus removed him from his flock, though they were unable to bend his fighting spirit. They exiled him to Magnesia in Asia Minor, but there he was also able to lead crowds of people to the path of salvation by the Grace of God and with divine zeal. He also wrote an apology for the correct faith and sent it to Emperor Hadrian of Rome, which resulted in his arrest and torment, and he sealed his confession for Christ with the blood of his martyrdom.

The sacred hymnographer calls him an luminary without error who discerned the doctrines of life: "Thy life became radiant with wisdom; thou didst draw down the fire of the Spirit and discern the doctrines of life, Kodratos, Apostle of Christ. Therefore, we cry to thee as to a luminary without error: Glory to Christ Who has glorified thee; glory to Him Who has crowned thee: glory to Him Who through thee works healings for all" (Apolytikion).

Below we will examine the following:

First: "Thou didst...discern the doctrines of life"

The sacred hymnographers of the Church, as authentic theologians, managed to convey, in a concise manner, the entire theology of the Church in their texts of hymns. This is why, as Orthodox Christians, as one great contemporary theologian said characteristically: "We chant the truths of our faith, we sing them."

The venerable and God-bearing Fathers of the Church, as theologians who saw and were taught by God, but were also genuine shepherds of God's people, expressed and endorsed in Local and Ecumenical Synods the truths of the Orthodox faith, because at times they were corrupted by heretics. They did this in order to protect the members of Christ's Body from the infectious disease of heresy, which lead to sickness and eternal death. Heresies distort and alter the faith, which is not an ideology, but a way of life. And as is well known, when the faith is altered, then the therapeutic method for man from the passions is lost and our salvation is at stake. This is why the sacred hymnographer calls the truths of the faith "doctrines of life", because living them leads to communion with God, Who is the source of life.

Therefore, the saints way of life, as well as all the members of the Church who desire to strive to achieve their personal sanctification, is directly linked to doctrine, which are also called boundaries, because they are boundaries between truth and error.

Heresy is a disease of the logistical part of the soul, which is occupied and enslaved by an evil spirit, and therefore it is primarily treated through prayer. The saints, because they are illuminated by the Holy Spirit, have the gift of the discernment of spirits which is why they can discern the divine from the demonic, the authentic from a counterfeit, truth from error, and in this way they protect the faithful from heresy.

Dogmas do not bind human freedom, but they help people free themselves from the shackles of the passions and tyranny of the devil. In fact, this is authentic and true freedom. They who by the Grace of God and their personal struggle have purified their heart and dominated their passions are the truly free ones. Of course, the devil will not stop warring against them until the end of their earthly life, but it is impossible to subject them, because with a heart that has been cleansed of the passions "there dwells the energy of the uncreated Grace of the Holy Spirit." And so in this case the devil, as characteristically stated by Saint Diadochos of Photike, "cannot enter the heart, but he acts outside the perimeter of the heart."

Therefore, Orthodox doctrines are spiritual nourishment, as well as a way of life, which lead to the acquisition of internal freedom and genuine love.

Second: "Therefore, we cry to thee as to a luminary without error"

Those who have the responsibility to drive or guide a boat or plane know this: whatever they do they must do with absolute safety, and among other things they must have a special instrument called a compass. Also, those who engage in sports know that without a coach no one can become a proper athlete, and without a referee it is impossible to conduct an athletic event. The same by analogy can be said about the spiritual life. That is, one cannot walk "the path of the commandments of God" and arrive safely at their destination, without risk of straying or being misled, unless led by a spiritual compass, who is an experienced spiritual guide, a "luminary without error". Such luminaries without error and spiritual guides were the saints, as well as those spiritual fathers who struggled to achieve their personal sanctification, who at the same time were inspired by the sanctified lives of the holy Fathers of the Church and their divinely inspired teachings. These can guide the faithful unerringly on the path of virtue and perfection, because they have the ability to enter the depth of human problems and understand their deeper causes.

The intellectual preoccupation with the "doctrines of life" is not beneficial to people, because they do not change them internally. They who are benefited and saved are those who have changed dogmas into spiritual food and drink, that is, into an everyday lifestyle. And this takes place within the Church by the Grace of God and each one's personal struggle under the guidance of a "luminary without error".

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Απόστολος Κοδράτος ο εν Μαγνησία", August 2012. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.