October 31, 2013

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Riding On the Nightmare

If one were to develop a so-called Theology of Horror, or rather an intersection between Christianity and Horror, then one of the primary and classic texts to put things into perspective would be G.K. Chesterton's article titled "The Nightmare". I highly encourage that it be read and contemplated.


By Gilbert Keith Chesterton

A SUNSET of copper and gold had just broken down and gone to pieces in the west, and grey colours were crawling over everything in earth and heaven; also a wind was growing, a wind that laid a cold finger upon flesh and spirit. The bushes at the back of my garden began to whisper like conspirators; and then to wave like wild hands in signal. I was trying to read by the last light that died on the lawn a long poem of the decadent period, a poem about the old gods of Babylon and Egypt, about their blazing and obscene temples, their cruel and colossal faces.

"Or didst thou love the God of Flies who plagued
the Hebrews and was splashed
With wine unto the waist, or Pasht who had green
beryls for her eyes?"

I read this poem because I had to review it for the Daily News; still it was genuine poetry of its kind. It really gave out an atmosphere, a fragrant and suffocating smoke that seemed really to come from the Bondage of Egypt or the Burden of Tyre. There is not much in common (thank God) between my garden with the grey-green English sky-line beyond it, and these mad visions of painted palaces, huge, headless idols and monstrous solitudes of red or golden sand. Nevertheless (as I confessed to myself) I can fancy in such a stormy twilight some such smell of death and fear. The ruined sunset really looks like one of their ruined temples: a shattered heap of gold and green marble. A black flapping thing detaches itself from one of the sombre trees and flutters to another. I know not if it is owl or flittermouse; I could fancy it was a black cherub, an infernal cherub of darkness, not with the wings of a bird and the head of a baby, but with the head of a goblin and the wings of a bat. I think, if there were light enough, I could sit here and write some very creditable creepy tale, about how I went up the crooked road beyond the church and met Something-say a dog, a dog with one eye. Then I should meet a horse, perhaps, a horse without a rider; the horse also would have one eye. Then the inhuman silence would be broken; I should meet a man (need I say, a one-eyed man?) who would ask me the way to my own house. Or perhaps tell me that it was burnt to the ground. I think I could tell a very cosy little tale along some such lines. Or I might dream of climbing for ever the tall dark trees above me. They are so tall that I feel as if I should find at their tops the nests of the angels; but in this mood they would be dark and dreadful angels; angels of death.
* * * *

Only, you see, this mood is all bosh. I do not believe it in the least. That one-eyed universe, with its one-eyed men and beasts, was only created with one universal wink. At the top of the tragic trees I should not find the Angel's Nest. I should only find the Mare's Nest; the dreamy and divine nest is not there. In the Mare's Nest I shall discover that dim, enormous opalescent egg from which is hatched the Nightmare. For there is nothing so delightful as a nightmare-when you know it is a nightmare.

That is the essential. That is the stern condition laid upon all artists touching this luxury of fear. The terror must be fundamentally frivolous. Sanity may play with insanity; but insanity must not be allowed to play with sanity. Let such poets as the one I was reading in the garden, by all means, be free to imagine what outrageous deities and violent landscapes they like. By all means let them wander freely amid their opium pinnacles and perspectives. But these huge gods, these high cities, are toys; they must never for an instant be allowed to be anything else. Man, a gigantic child, must play with Babylon and Nineveh, with Isis and with Ashtaroth. By all means let him dream of the Bondage of Egypt, so long as he is free from it. By all means let him take up the Burden of Tyre, so long as he can take it lightly. But the old gods must be his dolls, not his idols. His central sanctities, his true possessions, should be Christian and simple. And just as a child would cherish most a wooden horse or a sword that is a mere cross of wood, so man, the great child, must cherish most the old plain things of poetry and piety; that horse of wood that was the epic end of Ilium, or that cross of wood that redeemed and conquered the world.

* * * *

In one of Stevenson's letters there is a characteristically humorous remark about the appalling impression produced on him in childhood by the beasts with many eyes in the Book of Revelations: "If that was heaven, what in the name of Davy Jones was hell like?" Now in sober truth there is a magnificent idea in these monsters of the Apocalypse. It is, I suppose, the idea that beings really more beautiful or more universal than we are might appear to us frightful and even confused. Especially they might seem to have senses at once more multiplex and more staring; an idea very imaginatively seized in the multitude of eyes. I like those monsters beneath the throne very much. It is when one of them goes wandering in deserts and finds a throne for himself that evil faiths begin, and there is (literally) the devil to pay-to pay in dancing girls or human sacrifice. As long as those misshapen elemental powers are around the throne, remember that the thing that they worship is the likeness of the appearance of a man.

That is, I fancy, the true doctrine on the subject of Tales of Terror and such things, which unless a man of letters do well and truly believe, without doubt he will end by blowing his brains out or by writing badly. Man, the central pillar of the world must be upright and straight; around him all the trees and beasts and elements and devils may crook and curl like smoke if they choose. All really imaginative literature is only the contrast between the weird curves of Nature and the straightness of the soul. Man may behold what ugliness he likes if he is sure that he will not worship it; but there are some so weak that they will worship a thing only because it is ugly. These must be chained to the beautiful. It is not always wrong even to go, like Dante, to the brink of the lowest promontory and look down at hell. It is when you look up at hell that a serious miscalculation has probably been made.

* * * *

Therefore I see no wrong in riding with the Nightmare tonight; she whinnies to me from the rocking tree-tops and the roaring wind; I will catch her and ride her through the awful air. Woods and weeds are alike tugging at the roots in the rising tempest, as if all wished to fly with us over the moon, like that wild, amorous cow whose child was the Moon-Calf. We will rise to that mad infinite where there is neither up nor down, the high topsy-turveydom of the heavens. I will ride on the Nightmare; but she shall not ride on me.

(Originally appeared in The Daily News, Oct. 16, 1909, and in Alarms and Discursions, NY: Dodd, Mead. 1911)

A Defense of Skeletons

In his 1902 book titled The Defendant, G.K. Chesterton defends a bunch of apparently nonsensical things that are often viewed differently by others, with his characteristic humorous wit mixed with deep yet commonsensical thought. In chapter three he undertakes a defense of skeletons, which is an appropriate contemplation for Halloween.

By Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Some little time ago I stood among immemorial English trees that seemed to take hold upon the stars like a brood of Ygdrasils. As I walked among these living pillars I became gradually aware that the rustics who lived and died in their shadow adopted a very curious conversational tone. They seemed to be constantly apologizing for the trees, as if they were a very poor show. After elaborate investigation, I discovered that their gloomy and penitent tone was traceable to the fact that it was winter and all the trees were bare. I assured them that I did not resent the fact that it was winter, that I knew the thing had happened before, and that no forethought on their part could have averted this blow of destiny. But I could not in any way reconcile them to the fact that it was winter. There was evidently a general feeling that I had caught the trees in a kind of disgraceful deshabille, and that they ought not to be seen until, like the first human sinners, they had covered themselves with leaves. So it is quite clear that, while very few people appear to know anything of how trees look in winter, the actual foresters know less than anyone. So far from the line of the tree when it is bare appearing harsh and severe, it is luxuriantly indefinable to an unusual degree; the fringe of the forest melts away like a vignette. The tops of two or three high trees when they are leafless are so soft that they seem like the gigantic brooms of that fabulous lady who was sweeping the cobwebs off the sky. The outline of a leafy forest is in comparison hard, gross and blotchy; the clouds of night do not more certainly obscure the moon than those green and monstrous clouds obscure the tree; the actual sight of the little wood, with its gray and silver sea of life, is entirely a winter vision. So dim and delicate is the heart of the winter woods, a kind of glittering gloaming, that a figure stepping towards us in the chequered twilight seems as if he were breaking through unfathomable depths of spiders' webs.

But surely the idea that its leaves are the chief grace of a tree is a vulgar one, on a par with the idea that his hair is the chief grace of a pianist. When winter, that healthy ascetic, carries his gigantic razor over hill and valley, and shaves all the trees like monks, we feel surely that they are all the more like trees if they are shorn, just as so many painters and musicians would be all the more like men if they were less like mops. But it does appear to be a deep and essential difficulty that men have an abiding terror of their own structure, or of the structure of things they love. This is felt dimly in the skeleton of the tree: it is felt profoundly in the skeleton of the man.

The importance of the human skeleton is very great, and the horror with which it is commonly regarded is somewhat mysterious. Without claiming for the human skeleton a wholly conventional beauty, we may assert that he is certainly not uglier than a bull-dog, whose popularity never wanes, and that he has a vastly more cheerful and ingratiating expression. But just as man is mysteriously ashamed of the skeletons of the trees in winter, so he is mysteriously ashamed of the skeleton of himself in death. It is a singular thing altogether, this horror of the architecture of things. One would think it would be most unwise in a man to be afraid of a skeleton, since Nature has set curious and quite insuperable obstacles to his running away from it.

One ground exists for this terror: a strange idea has infected humanity that the skeleton is typical of death. A man might as well say that a factory chimney was typical of bankruptcy. The factory may be left naked after ruin, the skeleton may be left naked after bodily dissolution; but both of them have had a lively and workmanlike life of their own, all the pulleys creaking, all the wheels turning, in the House of Livelihood as in the House of Life. There is no reason why this creature (new, as I fancy, to art), the living skeleton, should not become the essential symbol of life.

The truth is that man's horror of the skeleton is not horror of death at all. It is man's eccentric glory that he has not, generally speaking, any objection to being dead, but has a very serious objection to being undignified. And the fundamental matter which troubles him in the skeleton is the reminder that the ground-plan of his appearance is shamelessly grotesque. I do not know why he should object to this. He contentedly takes his place in a world that does not pretend to be genteel--a laughing, working, jeering world. He sees millions of animals carrying, with quite a dandified levity, the most monstrous shapes and appendages, the most preposterous horns, wings, and legs, when they are necessary to utility. He sees the good temper of the frog, the unaccountable happiness of the hippopotamus. He sees a whole universe which is ridiculous, from the animalcule, with a head too big for its body, up to the comet, with a tail too big for its head. But when it comes to the delightful oddity of his own inside, his sense of humour rather abruptly deserts him.

In the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance (which was, in certain times and respects, a much gloomier period) this idea of the skeleton had a vast influence in freezing the pride out of all earthly pomps and the fragrance out of all fleeting pleasures. But it was not, surely, the mere dread of death that did this, for these were ages in which men went to meet death singing; it was the idea of the degradation of man in the grinning ugliness of his structure that withered the juvenile insolence of beauty and pride. And in this it almost assuredly did more good than harm. There is nothing so cold or so pitiless as youth, and youth in aristocratic stations and ages tended to an impeccable dignity, an endless summer of success which needed to be very sharply reminded of the scorn of the stars. It was well that such flamboyant prigs should be convinced that one practical joke, at least, would bowl them over, that they would fall into one grinning man-trap, and not rise again. That the whole structure of their existence was as wholesomely ridiculous as that of a pig or a parrot they could not be expected to realize; that birth was humorous, coming of age humorous, drinking and fighting humorous, they were far too young and solemn to know. But at least they were taught that death was humorous.

There is a peculiar idea abroad that the value and fascination of what we call Nature lie in her beauty. But the fact that Nature is beautiful in the sense that a dado or a Liberty curtain is beautiful, is only one of her charms, and almost an accidental one. The highest and most valuable quality in Nature is not her beauty, but her generous and defiant ugliness. A hundred instances might be taken. The croaking noise of the rooks is, in itself, as hideous as the whole hell of sounds in a London railway tunnel. Yet it uplifts us like a trumpet with its coarse kindliness and honesty, and the lover in 'Maud' could actually persuade himself that this abominable noise resembled his lady-love's name. Has the poet, for whom Nature means only roses and lilies, ever heard a pig grunting? It is a noise that does a man good--a strong, snorting, imprisoned noise, breaking its way out of unfathomable dungeons through every possible outlet and organ. It might be the voice of the earth itself, snoring in its mighty sleep. This is the deepest, the oldest, the most wholesome and religious sense of the value of Nature--the value which comes from her immense babyishness. She is as top-heavy, as grotesque, as solemn and as happy as a child. The mood does come when we see all her shapes like shapes that a baby scrawls upon a slate--simple, rudimentary, a million years older and stronger than the whole disease that is called Art. The objects of earth and heaven seem to combine into a nursery tale, and our relation to things seems for a moment so simple that a dancing lunatic would be needed to do justice to its lucidity and levity. The tree above my head is flapping like some gigantic bird standing on one leg; the moon is like the eye of a Cyclops. And, however much my face clouds with sombre vanity, or vulgar vengeance, or contemptible contempt, the bones of my skull beneath it are laughing for ever.

Horror: The Perfect Christian Genre

Scott Derrickson is a Christian and prominent Horror movie director who intertwines theological themes with his horror films. He is most famously known for his films The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Sinister (2012), and is slated to take on a Stephen King story and a biblical story. G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are clear influences in his work, among others. So far his focus has mainly been on the demonic and evil, with a tension between a fairly healthy dose of reason and the supernatural/paranormal, though often ending up with an acceptance of the latter.

In August 2005 Peter T. Chattaway from Christianity Today did an interview with Derrickson, that offers a few valuable insights on the intersection between Christianity and horror. Below are some excerpts:

Why would a Christian get involved in horror films, of all things?

Scott Derrickson: In my opinion, the horror genre is a perfect genre for Christians to be involved with. I think the more compelling question is, Why do so many Christians find it odd that a Christian would be working in this genre? To me, this genre deals more overtly with the supernatural than any other genre, it tackles issues of good and evil more than any other genre, it distinguishes and articulates the essence of good and evil better than any other genre, and my feeling is that a lot of Christians are wary of this genre simply because it's unpleasant. The genre is not about making you feel good, it is about making you face your fears. And in my experience, that's something that a lot of Christians don't want to do.

To me, the horror genre is the genre of non-denial. It's about admitting that there is evil in the world, and recognizing that there is evil within us, and that we're not in control, and that the things that we are afraid of must be confronted in order for us to relinquish that fear. And I think that the horror genre serves a great purpose in bolstering our understanding of what is evil and therefore better defining what is good. And of course I'm talking about, really, the potential of the horror genre, because there are a lot of horror films that don't do these things. It is a genre that's full of exploitation, but the better films in the genre certainly accomplish, I think, very noble things.

How do you avoid what some might consider a fascination with evil?

Derrickson: It's something I've thought a lot about. I think of this kind of material in an almost dietary fashion. It's something that is potent and powerful and it's not healthy for anyone to overindulge in it.

I would be concerned if one of my children were constantly watching nothing but horror films or indulging in gothic literature without the balance of other types of art and entertainment. I do think that's a danger. C. S. Lewis had that very practical wisdom, well stated, in his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, when he talks about how the two great dangers, in regard to our thoughts about the demonic and the devil, are to think too much of them or too little of them. To be too afraid of them, to be too hesitant to engage in discussion or thought or art that deals with this realm, is to give in to fear; but to become fascinated with it and to indulge in the material is also very unhealthy.

So for me personally, I stagger the kinds of material that I do. I've written in other genres, and if I'm working on a project like the one that I just did, during the course of working on it, I don't watch any horror films, I don't read any scary literature, I try to fill myself with things that are a bit brighter, to keep myself personally balanced. But I think that both kinds of material are important for a balanced diet—at least for me.

It's been said that "The Passion of the Christ" was very popular with horror audiences. Do you have any perspective on that?

Derrickson: I do. It's very gothic, a very dark film. And I think there are people who just have an inclination to want to see material that deals with that aesthetic. And yet I think that film also ought to be regarded by Christians as a horror film. I think the crucifix is gothic iconography, and yet what I love about the horror genre, what I love about gothic iconography, what I love about gothic literature, is the potential that it carries to blend with it beauty and meaning. And when beauty and meaning are combined with the horrific, you get things like the cross, and you get things like medieval art, and you get things like Dante's Inferno.

And it is something that American evangelicalism has abandoned, for the most part—to their own detriment, because I think the result is, we have left gothic imagery and the power of that aesthetic to Catholics and to non-Christians. Not that Catholics are non-Christians—I think most Catholics are Christians—but my point is that there is a great value in that aesthetic and people need that. I think that the history of the Christian church is one that is marked by an understanding of this. When I went to Europe a few years ago, I felt very at home there, and I loved standing in Notre Dame and looking at all the gargoyles on the outside of that building, and realizing that, as scary and frightening as they were, what I was looking at was something that was built to the glory of God.

How did your interest in the horror genre begin?

Derrickson: When I was in film school. I knew that I wanted to integrate my faith with cinema in some way that was relevant to the culture. And I was looking for a way to do that, and I had just re-read The Screwtape Letters, and within the same year, I read Walker Percy's novel Lancelot, and there was a line in Lancelot that said, "'Evil' is surely the clue to this age, the only quest appropriate to the age. For everything and everyone's either wonderful or sick and nothing is evil … God may be absent, but what if someone should find the Devil?"

It really started to resonate with me, that this was the genre where a Christian could connect with mainstream culture, and there was potential there to not preach to the choir—not even preach to the culture, but connect with the culture. And that is certainly what I have been trying to do with a lot of my work. And in the case of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, I was very committed to not making a movie that was intended to give spiritual or religious or metaphysical answers to the audience. I really just wanted to make a film that was going to provoke the mainstream audience to ask themselves what they believe, and cause them to come away from the film provoked to think about and discuss spiritual matters and spiritual issues that I think are profoundly important.

Why Zombies Matter

By Russell D. Moore

Zombies are everywhere. Ever since the classic “Night of the Living Dead,” the undead have shown up in movies. Zombies now are featured in top-rated cable TV shows, and in apocalyptic novels and survival guides. An entire genre has ignited around the concept of adding zombies to classic literature (“Pride and Prejudice with Zombies,” etc.). But why are we drawn to these gruesome figures?

In the New York Times, columnist Amy Wilentz reminds us why zombies scare us, and why we can’t help but watch through our clenched hands covering our eyes. The zombie myth is rooted in something quite real, and quite terrifying. The zombie stories emerged in a Caribbean context of brutal slavery. The zombie’s horror is that he is, she writes, a slave forever. After all, if even death cannot free you, you can never be free.

That’s exactly the point, and here’s why it should matter to Christians.

Zombies are horrifying not simply because they’re mean and aggressive. They are horrifying because they represent what ought to repulse us: the rotting decay of death. But they still walk. And, beyond that, they still crave. In their search for human brains, they are driven along by their appetites, though always under the sway of a slavemaster’s will.

That’s our story.

The biblical story of the Fall of humanity is one of a humanity that comes under the sway of death by obeying the appetite. God places a fiery sword around the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us, so that the primeval humans wouldn’t eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Why? It’s because God didn’t want to consign humanity to a never-ending existence of this kind of walking death. He sentences us to the curse of death so that, ultimately, we can be redeemed.

The gospel tells us that, apart from Christ, we were walking in the flesh, that is slavishly obeying our biological impulses and appetites without the direction of the Spirit. As such, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). But we weren’t inert. We instead, though dead, “walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). We were walking dead slaves.

And, in our death, our appetites weren’t silenced but instead drove us along. This walking death, the Apostle Paul writes, was driven along as we “carried out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3).

Caribbean people could resonate with the horror of zombies because they knew what it was like to be enslaved by evil people, with no hope of escape. And maybe our culture pays attention to zombies because we know what it is like to be dead inside, but unable to find peace, unable to stop walking.

The gospel doesn’t just extend our lives forever into eternity. That’s what we, left to ourselves, think we want. The rich young ruler asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life, but Jesus points out that he wants to eternalize his present state rather than to be hidden in the life of Jesus himself. That’s a zombie walk, and Jesus loves us too much for that.

Jesus offers instead life, and that abundantly, as we eat of his flesh, drink of his blood, share in his triumph over the accusing slavemaster.

So let’s have some sympathy for the zombies. And next time you see the trailer for a zombie film, or see the picture of a walking corpse on the cover of a novel, remember that that was your story once too.

Vlad the Impaler as Romanians See Him

For a short yet concise treatment on how the historical figure Vlad Tepes, popularly known as Vlad the Impaler, who served as an inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula, has been viewed and is still viewed by his native Romanians, see the following article by Elizabeth Miller:

Among the things she writes, is the following:

"During the 1970s, the Communist government also undertook many practical projects to re-enforce Vlad's reputation as a national hero: statues were erected, streets were renamed, restoration of his Arges castle was undertaken, and a commemorative postage stamp was issued in 1976 to mark the anniversary. In 1978, a feature movie entitled Vlad Tepes was produced which, according to Stoicescu, 'portrays the true personality of a great prince'. Though the movie could be rather tedious, it is an interesting understanding of Vlad from a contemporary political point of view: it comprises thinly veiled parallels between Vlad's political and military policies and the position taken by the Communist Party with respect to nationalism, the aristocracy, foreigners, and the maintenance of law and order."

Below is the complete 1978 movie Vlad Tepes, with English subtitles:

October 30, 2013

Saint Therapon the Ascetic and Wonderworker of Lythrodontas

St. Therapon of Lythrodontas (Feast Day - October 30)

Saint Therapon of Lythrodontas came to Cyprus with the group of the three hundred refugees from Palestine during the persecutions carried out in the seventh century by Muslim Arabs. Having lived in the Palestinian desert, he learned the life of monasticism, asceticism, prayer, humility, vigils and abstinence. Upon arriving in Christian Cyprus, he started searching for a parallel place for ascetic exercise and found the right place, along with water close to it, near the village of Lythrodontas in the province of Nicosia.

In that desolate site of Lythrodontas, Saint Therapon, after many spiritual struggles, was made worthy by God to receive the gift of performing miracles. The faithful of the area came to him in order to be cured from various diseases, and to receive proper Christian teachings for their spiritual well-being. When the Saint reposed in the Lord, his body was buried in the place of his ascetic exercise, either by the faithful or maybe his disciples.

By a miracle of God, after many centuries, his holy relics where found in this way: According to narratives of the older residents of Lythrodontas, in past years, before the village was built where it is currently situated, there existed only a small settlement, situated at the site where the village cemetery is today. Once during night time, the people of this small settlement saw a light appearing where the church of the village is today built. They went searching the area but did not find anything. They saw again this mysterious light for a second and third time and the light finally appeared over a bush. That's when they decided to cut the bush at its root, and so they did. When the bush was removed, they discovered the tomb of Saint Therapon along with his holy relics. Right after this event they built a church in the name of Saint Therapon. This church existed until 1863, when it was demolished in order to build a larger church which exists up until today. A piece of the saint's forehead is preserved in this church until today, enclosed in a silver case and it's taken on a procession once a year on the Saint's feast day.

Regarding the miraculous finding of the remains of Saint Therapon, the following is indicated in the Seventh Ode of his Divine Service: "Moses was previously shone by a pillar of light, a pillar which was shining from earth to heaven; a ray of light has shown you to us, where now your enduring and suffering body is situated and the devout and loyal faithful chant to you unto all the ages."

After their discovery, the relics of Saint Therapon performed many miracles and healed many people, mostly those suffering from marsh fever. Up until today, the Saint performs different types of miracles to those who come with faith to his church. For this reason he was given the name "Wonderworker". Near the church there is also the holy water of the Saint.

From the Doxastikon of the Saint's Divine Service, the Saint seems to have taught the following: "Love God, and ye shall find eternal blessing; choose His love because when He comes in His glory ye shall find rest together with all the saints." Also, a scroll on one of his newer icons reads: "Temperance of tongue and belly is the greatest philosophy."

The memory of Saint Therapon of Lythrodontas is celebrated on October 30th.

Source: Edited by John Sanidopoulos.

October 29, 2013

Saint Anastasia the Roman as a Model for our Lives

St. Anastasia the Roman (Feast Day - October 29)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

She was born and lived in Rome in the third century under Emperor Decius. After settling in a monastery as a nun she was arrested, courageously confessed her faith, and after terrible tortures she completed her life in a martyric way.

While she was alive she was a benefactor to people with her holy life and her prayer was pleasing to God. After her death she became even more of a benefactor and consoler. She has a living presence to those who piously run to her intercessions. Her sacred Relics, which exude the fragrance of the Holy Spirit, are a source of healing and treatment of various diseases, both of the soul and body.

When I, as a young student, first visited the Holy Mountain with my friends and in particular Gregoriou Monastery, the fathers offered to us the sacred Relics of the Monastery, that we may venerate them and receive their blessing. These are the fragrant flowers of the Garden of the Panagia and one of the most valuable gifts the Athonite fathers offer to pilgrims. Among the other sacred Relics, I also remember that of the Venerable Martyr Anastasia the Roman, who is among the triad of patron saints of the Monastery (together with Saint Nicholas the Bishop Myra in Lycea and the Venerable Gregory the founder of the Monastery). Besides the fragrance of her sacred Relic there remained etched in my memory the stories of the fathers about her miraculous (which for them were done at critical times) interventions, and especially how the Saint is for them a "refuge in afflictions", a firm protector and consolation.

When she was arrested and martyred she was young in age, but she was well beyond her age in wisdom and a valiant spirit. She did not bend before cruel tortures, and after the cutting off of her breasts they tore her flesh with fire-heated iron. She remained rigid until it came to the point that they cut off her head.

Her holy life, admirable martyrdom and great love that manifests itself over time to those who rely on her, as well as the hymns of our Church, give us the occasion to emphasize the following:

The Venerable Martyr, like all the saints, had pure thoughts. Through asceticism and the observance of the commandments of the Gospel she was purified and through the optical part of the soul, the nous, she was able to discern the uncreated energies of the Grace of God from created demonic energies. She learned not to hold on to and entertain impure thoughts (logoismoi), but turned them away before they entered her nous, and from there they would have entered the heart and turned to action.

Logoismoi are thoughts combined with images, which with the help of imagination and the passions captivate the nous. Care is needed that they do not enter the nous, but that they remain in the reasonable part of the soul. First one holds on to the good logoismoi and removes the evil ones by turning them into good ones. But then it is desirable to not entertain even good logoismoi, because they may not be completely free from passionate concepts.

Victory against the devil and sin or on the contrary our defeat and enslavement, begin with logoismoi. Whoever emerges victorious in the area of the logoismoi, can progress to higher levels of the spiritual life. This is why the Holy Fathers call the fight against logoismoi the art of arts and science of sciences. Saint Anastasia did not deny Christ or sacrifice to idols, but she conquered and wiped out the tyrants by remaining constant in her faith as a steadfast pillar, because she did not lose the fight against the logoismoi.

The struggle with logoismoi is among the most important chapters in the spiritual life. This influences not only our spiritual progress and salvation, but also our way of life and daily behavior, because virtue, as well as evil, have social implications. Anyone tormented by logoismoi and is unable to find peace by himself, negatively affects the community around them, since it is not possible to find it also with others. Whatever happens daily around us we must accept with good and simple logoismoi, without delving into complex processes, of the type that ask how and why and perhaps this and perhaps that, which complicate matters worse and create problems out of nothing. The simplicity of which the Apostle Paul speaks is not unconnected with the logoismoi and are a true wealth, "enriched unto all simplicity". Victory in the field of logoismoi valorizes man on the social level, and primarily leads him to a living communion with God.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΜΑΡΤΥΣ ΑΝΑΣΤΑΣΙΑ Η ΡΩΜΑΙΑ", October 2000. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

October 28, 2013

When the Icon of St. Demetrios Wept in Kalamata in October of 1940

By Vasilios Demetrios Georgiopoulos

The older people in our village tell us that the icon of Saint Demetrios, located on the northern side of the icon wall in the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos (which was painted with particular skill by the great iconographer and teacher of Photios Kontoglou, Spyridon Mimis Pelekasis), during the days when the people were celebrating the feast of Saint Demetrios, in 1940 on the eve of the Great War, it was continuously "weeping". The people would wipe away the "tears", but it continued to "weep".

Tears would continue running from his eyes for the plight of the Greeks, for the war, for the black occupation, as well as for the fratricidal civil war that soon came. Saint Demetrios wept and the village gathered in the church, kneeling and crying because of it.

This miracle remains unknown to many of us who are younger, but it confirms for us that the saints do not abandon this world but they live with us with much love.

These tears for my village and for us Greeks are very important. They are the tears of the Myrrh-gusher that flowed for all the Romans whom he loved very much, but especially for the residents of Plateos whom he loves very much. For this reason we responded to his love, and after a dream by Kloufetos we built a second church that we may honor him always with great reverence and love.

Many years and blessings!

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

The Story of OXI Day (video)

Read also:

Why We Celebrate OHI (OXI) Day in Greek Orthodoxy: The Virgin Mary and World War 2

The Skull of a Romanian New Martyr Gushes Myrrh

On 22 October 2013 the skull of a new martyr of the communist prisons began to flow with myrrh. This skull was found among other bones and skulls in the mass graves of the prison Aiud in Romania.

This took place in the city of Targoviste during the Divine Liturgy in the Church of Saint George.

The previous evening pilgrims were listening to a speech dedicated to the Holy New Martyrs of the communist prisons. That night and before the Divine Liturgy - as eye-witnesses have testified - it was completely dry. Within six hours at least half a liter of myrrh had gathered.

This is considered another sign for the Patriarchate of Romania to canonize the New Martyrs of Romania.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Pop Culture's New Enchantment With Witchcraft

Meryl Streep in a scene from the forthcoming film Into the Woods. Photograph: CAP/NFS/Image supplied by Capital Pictures.

Sarah Hughes
October 26, 2013

When Ryan Murphy, the creator of American Horror Story, announced that the third season of the American TV series would focus on witches, he was riding the crest of a wave. Not since the 1990s – the era of Buffy's geek goddess, Willow Rosenberg, and a scowling Fairuza Balk in The Craft – have witches been so much in demand.

In the young-adult section of bookshops, shelves that recently groaned under the weight of tales of tormented vampires and lovelorn werewolves, are now stuffed with stories of witchcraft and magic, from Ruth Warburton's much-praised Winter Trilogy to Jessica Spotswood's Cahill Witch Chronicles. Lower down the age range, last month the most recent in Jill Murphy's long-running Worst Witch series was published, while among the predictions for this Christmas's bestselling toys are the Bratz spinoff, House of Witchez. For adults, next year will mark the climax of Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy, centring on the relationship between a vampire and a feisty American witch.

In film, highlights of the BFI's gothic season include Burn Baby Burn! a festival of witchcraft on film, which comes to Belfast's Queens Film Theatre in early November, and the once-banned 1922 Danish witch movie Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages, showing this week at Filmhouse Edinburgh and the following week at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Dundee Contemporary Arts. Even Meryl Streep is getting in on the act – recent stills from the forthcoming film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods show her transformed into a hag complete with wild grey hair and long nails.

However, it is on television that the season of the witch has truly taken hold. In addition to American Horror Story, with its tale of voodoo queens and teenage witches, there's Lifetime's The Witches of East End, adapted from a novel by Melissa de la Cruz and featuring a family of spellcasters led by Julia Ormond. Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals (on the Syfy channel) has a central storyline about witchcraft and in Universal's Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane deals with dueling covens in present-day America.

So why witches – and why now? "The idea of being able to manipulate supernatural forces still resonates," says Owen Davies, professor of social history at the University of Hertfordshire and author of America Bewitched: The Story of Witchcraft after Salem. "Witches and ghosts speak to something fundamental and innate in our psyche. It's an emotional connection."

The last time witches were so in fashion, in the 1990s, the response from young girls was intense. "When Buffy and Charmed were at their peak, I would get letters from teenage girls, mainly from America, asking for help about where to look for spells," says Davies. "Those shows gave teenage girls a feeling of empowerment; there's something very appealing about magic and witchcraft. There have also been studies of girls who were interested in witch shows in the 1990s, following how many went on to become practising wiccans. It's not a huge number, but it's interesting that some of them watched the shows and thought, 'I want to know more'."

Ruth Warburton, whose latest young-adult novel, Witch Finder, will be out in January, feels the growing interest is partially driven by a teenage desire to see girls in less passive roles. The most striking thing about the recent movie Beautiful Creatures (adapted from a bestselling teen novel) was that the hero worshipped from the sidelines as his witch girlfriend came into her powers.

"Often the traditional way of looking at relationships in young-adult fiction is that the guy has all the power and the interesting life and the girl goes along for the ride, but that's not the whole story," says Warburton. "Increasingly, we're trying to bring our daughters up to believe they can be the leader; they can have the adventure; they can do the cool stuff and one thing about witches is that they allow you to explore that moment when girls become teenagers and realise the power they have as women and how exhilarating that can be."

It is also arguable that these new shows reflect a changing attitude in television. The era of the anti-hero is coming to a close with the end of Breaking Bad and the final seasons of Mad Men. In their place have come female-centric shows, from Orange is the New Black to Masters of Sex, and Scandal. Thus Witches of East End is as interested in the bonds between mothers and daughters as in potions and curses, while American Horror Story: Coven conducts a serious examination of outsiderdom, exclusion and the nature of power. "The witches are a great allegory for any minority group that's been persecuted and had to go underground and finally is like: 'You know what? Dammit no, we're fighting back,'" the show's creator Murphy said.

It helps that both shows are happy to play with stereotypes. We tend to see witches as withered crone or seductive enchantress, Baba Yaga or Morgan Le Fay, yet for Witches of East End the key is that these women are a normal family with a family's ups and downs.

Yet Davies argues that the key to witch-related success remains image. "The image of the witch has transformed from someone extremely dangerous, through the sexy domesticated witches of Bewitched to the new wave of young, sexy witches in Charmed and Buffy to now," he says. "We're not interested in the mundane reality – we don't want to watch a drama about someone falsely accused of bewitching a pig." In other words, just as our vampires are now soulful lost boys, so our witches must be appealing in looks, if not always in deed.

October 27, 2013

A Wonderworking Icon of the Archangel Michael Weeps in Rhodes

By John Sanidopoulos

Inhabitants of Rhodes are talking about a miracle, having seen on Saturday morning an icon of the Archangel Michael weeping in the Sacred Church of the Archangel Michael in the Old Cemetery of Ialysos.

At 2:00 PM Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes went to the place himself where the icon can be found following reports from the faithful, in order to determine if this was a miracle or some other event.

The Metropolitan, after indeed verifying there were what looked like tears on the face of the Archangel, asked for the icon to be moved from the place it was hanging.

They then examined the back side of the icon as well as the wall on which it rested to determine if there was moisture which passed on to the icon.

Having established that this was impossible, the Metropolitan of Rhodes testified that this was in fact a miracle, and he asked that the icon be brought to the Sacred Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Ialysos for public veneration, as well as to see if a change in environment would halt the phenomenon.

"We will move it to the big church to see how the phenomenon evolves," Metropolitan Kyrillos told the faithful who had gathered in the small chapel.

The first to see the icon weeping were women who went on Saturday morning to open the church and who in turn informed the vicar of the church.

The vicar, Fr. Apostolos, informs us that the icon was constructed in 1896 and had recently undergone maintenance by the archaeological department.

As of today, the icon continues to weep in its new environment, sometimes stopping but then continuing again, and it is even reported that a second icon of the Archangel Michael is weeping from the original church as well. Large crowds have gathered to venerate the icon and have been anointed with the holy myrrh.

In the video below, the moment can be seen when the Metropolitan was investigating the icon as well as the testimonials of the residents.

For more photos and video, see here.

October 26, 2013

The Apostle Paul and Thessaloniki

By Panagiotis Melikides, Theologian

On October 26th our Church celebrates the memory of Saint Demetrios, who, along with Saint George, are among the most beloved saints. Saint Demetrios, as we all know, is the patron saint of the city of Thessaloniki. If Philippi was the first European city to accept the message of the Gospel from the Apostle Paul, the Church of Thessaloniki was the first to accept the two first epistles from the Apostle to the Nations and are also the oldest New Testament texts. Thus in today's message we will very briefly look at how this city was Christianized by the Apostle Paul.

We will first note two basic things regarding the tactics the Apostle followed in his missionary work and which he implemented in the case of Thessaloniki. First of all, the Apostle chose cities renowned for their important geographical location and for their commercial traffic, which means they were not only numerous, but because of their importance they were visited by several foreigners for various reasons (traders, professionals, etc.). In this way the Gospel message could be diverted from the city-hub to other areas. His second tactic was to first preach in the Jewish synagogues. We should not forget that Israel was God's chosen people so that through them mankind could prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Moreover, the Old Testament that was read and interpreted in the synagogues was a "pedagogue to Christ", by which, theoretically speaking, the local Israelites of the diaspora would easier accept the message of the Gospel.

It would be useful, I think, to see briefly what were the synagogues. First, synagogues appear after the destruction of the first Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem (586 BC), but as a place of worship they began to grow after the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. In the synagogue was read, as already noted, the Scriptures (the Old Testament) and it was interpreted. Also, in addition to reading and interpretation there was also prayer. The head of the synagogue is the rabbi, who is not a priest but a teacher (which is the meaning of the word "rabbi").

To better understand the actions of the Apostle Paul we should keep in mind that Macedonia and, therefore, Thessaloniki, were completely conquered by the Romans in 146 BC. It had the privileges of a free city and the right to self-government led by the so-called "civic militia", the existence of which is known through the book Acts of the Apostles. The civic militia as higher magistrates were elected by the people, and were in administration and accountable to the Roman praetor who had been based in this city. The demographic composition of the city was composed mainly by Greeks, Romans and Jews. It would be superfluous to mention the importance of Thessaloniki, as an important and major urban center of the time.

So when the Apostle Paul arrived in Thessaloniki after Philippi, he first preached, according to his tactic, in the synagogue of the city. Acts refers to him preaching on three consecutive Sabbaths, explaining to the Jews that Jesus had to be crucified and rise from the dead, and that this Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 17:2-3). The results were dismal. Only a few Jews believed in the preaching of Paul, while the majority of those that did respond were pagans. Among these first Christians were: Aristarchus, Gaius and Secundus. Tradition (although this is not generally accepted) considers Aristarchus to be the first bishop of Thessaloniki.

The great success of the work of the Apostle Paul enraged the Jews, who went to the home of Jason who was hosting the Apostle. They did not find the Apostle Paul there, but they arrested Jason and some believers who were at his house at the time, and they were led to the civic militia. The accusations made, according to Acts 17:7, were the following: "They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." After paying bail Jason was eventually released. After all these things Paul escaped by night for the city of Beroia.

It is a fact that the Apostle loved the Christians of Thessaloniki very much. Thus, in 51 AD, while in Corinth for missionary purposes, he sent his first epistle to the Thessalonians. This epistle is the first text of the New Testament written, and it responds to issues faced by the Christian community, but the issues raised by the divinely-inspired words of the Apostle to the Nations are definitely timeless and relevant to all people everywhere no matter what times they live in.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Απόστολος Παύλος καί Θεσσαλονίκη", October 2008. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

A Study of the Miracles of Saint Demetrios

By Anastasios A. Phillipides

October is dedicated to the memory of the Greek people with the feast of Saint Demetrios. Saint Demetrios is one of the most beloved saints, not only in Greece but throughout the Orthodox world, as evidenced by the frequency of the name Dmitry, Dumitru, etc. It looks like this popularity is not unconnected with the sense of the continued presence of the Saint over the centuries, as evidenced by his appearances and miracles.

As is known, the center of the veneration of the Saint is Thessaloniki, where he was martyred and where was erected in the early Byzantine years a majestic church in his honor. Thessaloniki has, historically, many reasons to honor Saint Demetrios and there began to be recorded from very early on his repeated miracles. The writing of a first collection of miracles is attributed to Archbishop John, after 600 A.D., and a second collection has an anonymous author that was written around 680 A.D. Historians have lifted a variety of information from these texts. Beyond the religious interest in these texts they are invaluable, especially for the movements of the Slavs in the 6th-7th century, and for life in Thessaloniki at that time as well. As has been noted by P. Lemetrle, whatever is referenced within is for us new material not mentioned in any other source. In 1979 Lemetrle made ​​a new critical edition and commentary of the text, and in the 1990s we had two versions in Greece with the original Greek text and a modern Greek translation. The first was done by the Center of Hagiographical Studies of the Holy Metropolis of Thessaloniki, curated by the late Professor Panagiotis Christou, and the second by Agra Publications, edited by Professor Christos Bakirtzi with an excellent translation by Aloe Sideris. The second edition, apart from the extensive comments (about 90 pages) of the scholar, includes drawings, 40 photographs and four studies about the "Miracles of Saint Demetrios" by Lemetrle, Speck, and Bakirtzi.

Some miracles refer to physical healings of the sick, others to the care shown by the Saint for his church in Thessaloniki, and others to the protection of the city from enemy attacks. The writing of the texts are at such a high level, such a cultivation of wording and such expressive power, that they are proof of the high cultural level of the city during the early Byzantine period. It is addressed in the second person plural, as in public speech or preaching, and in many of them the speaker invokes the testimony of those who are in attendance to verify his words. In other words, these were events that took place during the author's life, which his listeners could confirm.

Of the twenty miracles contained in Collections A and B (there is a third that was later published), we will make mention of the fourteenth, which is one of the most impressive. We are in September of 586 A.D. and a multitude of Avars and Slavs, perhaps one hundred thousand, are attacking Thessaloniki. "As a deadly wreath they encircled the city and not a piece of land could be seen where a barbarian did not step. It was worth it to see that instead of dirt or grass or trees were the heads of opponents from one side to the next, and they were even heaving to entail they were against us for the inevitable aftermath of death," writes the author of the "Miracles".

The situation was tragic as there had been a famine that decimated the population of the city, and this sudden appearance of enemies shut out of the walls of the city many men who were out in the fields harvesting. Worse, most of the elite of the guard happened to have gone along with the prefect to other parts for public affairs.

The enemies installed the machinery for the siege, iron rams and huge stone throwers, and they "began firing stones, or we could say entire mountains, and the arrows of the archers fell like wintry flakes, so that none of the defenders of the wall could return fire without danger and see what was happening outside." The Thessalonians were conquered by despair, as there was absolutely no human means to save them. Their only refuge was prayer and the supplications to their Saint to entreat on their behalf to God. And surely, Saint Demetrios interfered with specific incidents in various stages of the siege.

On the seventh day of the siege the enemy prepared the final assault, hoping that the severity of the raid would terrorize and repulse from the ramparts the defenders. The author himself was found at the eastern wall (near today's street Ethnikes Amynes). Let us give him the floor to say more:

"And though we were dominated by formidable fear for the fate that awaited us, suddenly, around the eighth hour of that same day, all together the barbarians that had encircled the city, left running with barbaric screams towards the hills abandoning their tents together with all their belongings. And such was their panic that overtook them, that some left unarmed and without robes. Then, after waiting around three hours in the surrounding mountains ... they came down again at the setting of the sun to their tents and began, by providence of the Athlete, to strip one another of their weapons, with the result that many of them were injured and fell dead. Then, after spending the night in complete silence, unlike the previous ones, and as it began to dawn, ... among the countless multitude not one could be seen."

What happened? The Thessalonians did not know. Neither did the author, who was not misled to speak about apparitions and things that he himself had not seen. At this point, we could say that in a certain "modern" way, there is a change in the narration of the text and we read the description of the same event from the side of the invaders, for some of them the next day defected and sought refuge in the city. Conversations with their officials reported that after yesterday's offense they were ensured until now the army remained hidden in the city, because at the eighth hour they opened the gates and they were attacked by a man of many weapons, so they all panicked and ran to the mountains waiting there until dark when the army returned to the city. Then all the besiegers decided that at the next dawn the army will again set out against them.

When the Thessalonians asked the fugitives whom they saw at the head of the army, they responded: "A man fire-blonde and brilliantly arrayed with a white robe, on a white horse," indicating to all the familiar image of Saint Demetrios, which survives today in mosaic. Shedding tears of joy and elation, throughout the city hymns were remitted to the Athlete Saint and thanks were given from deep within their souls to God.

The contemporary reader, living in a time of rationality and distrust, approaches such books with reservation, dominated by the question: are all these things perhaps true? However our ancestors who lived in this place during Byzantine times had the same question. It is wrong and arrogant to think that in the time when those who created and led the cultural synthesis of Hellenism and Christianity took place people were simplistic and credulous. Rather, they were educated, possessing a classical education and they had the same need as we do for evidence of the supernatural claimed by each narrator. That's why the text of the "Miracles of Saint Demetrios" are peppered with many details that identify the time, place or site of the city, where each miracle took place. Arriving at the end of this book the contemporary reader is left with very few doubts about the historicity of the events listed. And I feel very privileged because in our time, for the first time, such projects are now available to the general public.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΤΑ ΘΑΥΜΑΤΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ", October 2001. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

October 23, 2013

Orthodox Demonology 101

By St. John of Damascus

He who from among the angelic powers was set over the earthly realm, and into whose hands God committed the guardianship of the earth, was not made wicked in nature but was good, and made for good ends, and received from his Creator no trace whatever of evil in himself. But he did not sustain the brightness and the honor which the Creator had bestowed on him, and of his free choice was changed from what was in harmony to what was at variance with his nature, and became roused against God Who created him, and determined to rise in rebellion against Him: and he was the first to depart from good and become evil. For evil is nothing else than absence of goodness, just as darkness also is absence of light. For goodness is the light of the nous, and, similarly, evil is the darkness of the nous. Light, therefore, being the work of the Creator and being made good ("For God saw all that He made, and behold they were exceeding good." - Genesis 1:31) produced darkness at his free-will. But along with him an innumerable host of angels subject to him were torn away and followed him and shared in his fall. Wherefore, being of the same nature as the angels, they became wicked, turning away at their own free choice from good to evil.

Hence they have no power or strength against any one except what God in His dispensation has conceded to them, as for instance, against Job (Job 1:12) and those swine that are mentioned in the Gospels (Mark 5:13). But when God has made the concession they do prevail, and are changed and transformed into any form whatever in which they wish to appear.

Of the future both the angels of God and the demons are alike ignorant: yet they make predictions. God reveals the future to the angels and commands them to prophesy, and so what they say comes to pass. But the demons also make predictions, sometimes because they see what is happening at a distance, and sometimes merely making guesses: hence much that they say is false and they should not be believed, even although they do often, in the way we have said, tell what is true. Besides they know the Scriptures.

All wickedness, then, and all impure passions are the work of their mind. But while the liberty to attack man has been granted to them, they have not the strength to over-master any one: for we have it in our power to receive or not to receive the attack. Wherefore there has been prepared for the devil and his demons, and those who follow him, fire unquenchable and everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:41).

Note, further, that what in the case of man is death is a fall in the case of angels. For after the fall there is no possibility of repentance for them, just as after death there is for men no repentance.

From An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk. 2, Ch. 4.

Saint James the Brother of God as a Model for our Lives

St. James the Brother of God (Feast Day - October 23)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint James the Brother of God was the first Hierarch of Jerusalem. He was the son of Joseph, the betrothed of the Most-Holy Theotokos, by his first wife and was considered by the Jews as the brother of the Lord. Besides this, he was called the Brother of God for the following reasons: "First, for his wonderful state of being and many virtues, on account of which he was also called 'Just'. Second, because he was not numbered among the chorus of the Twelve Apostles and did not have the privilege to be called an Apostle, he was thus given the privilege of being called 'Brother of God'. Third, he made Christ an heir to share in the paternal estate, while the other three brothers refused to do the same" (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, The Seven Catholic Epistles). He was honored more than all of his brothers, which is shown by what the sacred Chrysostom says about the relatives of Christ according to the flesh. That is, he was called by all believers "Master" (Bishop), and Saint James is "considered the first Master of all" (op. cit.) He was honored also by all the Apostles, and his opinion was taken into serious account, as witnessed in the Acts of the Apostles.

The only letter he wrote he did not send to the faithful of a particular local Church, but to all the faithful of the universe, to all the Jews who believed in Christ and were scattered in every part of the world, which is why it is called a Catholic (Universal) Epistle. "In this letter he teaches, first, the differences between temptations: which temptations occur to man through the concession of God and which ones through man's desire. Second, that Christians should show their faith not only with words but especially through works. Third, he orders that the rich should not be preferred in the Church above the poor, but rather to rebuke the rich as proud. Fourth and last, while the Saint comforts those who suffer injustice and motivates them towards forbearance and to be patient until the Second Coming of Christ, he sets forth before them Job as an example of the usefulness of patience, and instructs the sick to invite the priests to anoint them with oil. And all believers should strive to bring the way of truth to those who have been deceived, because to them is given payment from the Lord, which is the remission of sins" (op. cit.).

Saint James wrote the first Divine Liturgy, which is devout and preserves the way of worship of the first Christians of Apostolic times. It is celebrated today, the day of his feast, but also on the second day of Christmas.

The Brother of God James, according to Saint Theophylact, was called "Less" in contrast to the Apostle James who was the brother of Saint John the Evangelist, who was called "Great" because he was numbered among the Twelve Apostles. "Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome" (Mark 15:40). The second Mary mentioned is the Theotokos, who is called the mother of James and Joses.

The end of his life was martyric. Because of his divine zeal he led many to the knowledge of God, so the Jews threw him from the pinnacle of the Temple, and when they saw him still alive they stoned him to death.

The letter of Saint James the Brother of God is an amazing text that brings true consolation and unspeakable joy to the soul and repels all forms of despair. It sets forth the best way of interpersonal relations. It stresses that people should not be divided into groups depending on the money or status they hold, but they should demonstrate to all the same respect because they are icons of Christ. It indicates the way of purification, the healing of the soul of the passions, so the nous can be illumined and man can gain personal knowledge of God. He does not fail to stress the value of the presence of the Priest - the Healer - and the use of tangible matter, such as oil, which is sanctified and through it the uncreated Grace of God acts.

He also speaks of human wisdom and contrasts it with the wisdom that "comes from above", which he calls pure, peaceful, lenient, deferential, full of compassion and good fruit, impartial and sincere, because it is free from the passions, which cause strife, fights, messiness "and every vicious thing".

There are those who are wise according to God and those wise according to the world, but there are also those who possess both types of wisdom. Besides, human wisdom enriches the intellect, while the enhypostatic wisdom of God, which is Christ Himself, enriches the heart with uncreated Divine Grace and is graced with all the goods longed for by man and are listed by the Apostle Paul - love, joy, peace, etc. By reason a person understands the letter in the way they hear it or read it, but with an illuminated nous they have the ability to penetrate the depth of what is said or read and in this way understands the spirit of the text and its deeper meaning in order to interpret it correctly.

The study of the life and letter of Saint James helps the believer to be inducted into the perspective of therapy, whereby they will acquire the true knowledge of themselves, the empirical knowledge of God and true communion with our fellow men.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Άγιος Ιάκωβος ο Αδελφόθεος", October 2004. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

October 22, 2013

Angry Stone Throwing Demons

By John Sanidopoulos

There are a few ways demons express their anger in physical form. One of the more characteristic ways, recorded many times throughout history till the present day, is by throwing stones. Demons throw stones at people in order to hurt those who anger them.

Anglo-Saxon demons seem to have had a particular penchant for throwing stones. Venerable Bede’s prose Life of Cuthbert records Saint Cuthbert (+ 735) mentioning the stone-throwing tendencies of demons: "How often have the demons tried to cast me headlong from yonder rock; how often they have hurled stones as if to kill me." In the tenth century Life of Saint Dunstan, the devil is blamed for hurling not one but two stones at the saint. The first incident occurs, rather interestingly, in a church, where the devil attempts to kill Dunstan and the bishop accompanying him with a large stone – ‘the stone was hurled down in a fit of madness by the malign enemy of every just work, drawing upon the armory of his wickedness’. In the second instance, the stone comes even closer, managing to ‘project the cap he wore a perch measure or so from his head’. Curiously, Dunstan elects to preserve this second stone in a church, in memory of the impotence of the devil’s schemes.1

Stone-throwing demons not only hurl stones at saints who frustrate their efforts to defeat them through temptations, but also at their followers who anger them for their disloyalty. An example of this can be read in The Alexiad of Anna Komnenos, daughter of Emperor Alexios Komnenos. Alexios had invited the leader of the Bogomils of Constantinople, Basil, to dinner in the imperial palace. During this dinner, Alexios cunningly and deceitfully extorted out of Basil a confession of the Bogomil faith, the contents of which were usually kept secret from the uninitiated yet was needed by the emperor for a conviction of Basil by the Holy Synod. Anna then records how after Basil's confession and the night before his imprisonment for heresy, he retired to a small house Alexios had built for him near the imperial palace. At midnight his appointed guard witnessed a hail storm rain upon the house of Basil and a sudden earthquake shook the ground and rattled the roof tiles; Basil merely shut the door and retired back into his house. This was interpreted as Satan tormenting Basil in anger for revealing his secrets to the emperor.2

A similar incident is recorded by an early New Hampshire colonist named Richard Chamberlain. For three months in 1682 rocks tossed by unseen hands battered the New Hampshire home on New Castle Island of George and Alice Walton, and crashed through their small leaded glass windows. A torturing hail of stones followed them into the fields, pelting their arms and legs, bruising the flesh. George Walton, an elderly tavern keeper and planter was struck full in the back. When he crossed from New Castle Island to the Portsmouth mainland by boat to report what was happening to him, a flying rock "broke his head".

The mysterious flying stones came and went all that summer. As many as 100 were reported in one session, always focused on Walton or anyone who happened to be near him. Walton reported being struck as many as 30 or 40 times. When he visited his son who lived up along Great Bay, the rocks flew at him in a field, but mostly they hammered at the Walton’s home. Some were hot, as if just taken from an oven, while some were cold as death. They ranged from tiny pebbles, to stones the size of a man’s fist, or as large as a human head. Chamberlain records many other frightening incidents of the devil's mischief both inside and outside the house.

Chamberlain was staying on the second floor of Walton's tavern and was a eye-witness of the events. 16 years later he published his journal recording this event titled "Lithobolia", a Greek word he apparently created that translates to "Stone-Throwing", in reference to the devil's mischief. The full title is nearly 100 words:

Lithobolia: or, the Stone-Throwing Devil. Being an Exact and True Account (by way of Journal) of the various Actions of Infernal Spirits, or (Devils Incarnate) Witches, or both; and the great Disturbance and Amazement they gave to George Waltons Family, at a place call’d Great Island in the Province of New-Hantshire in New-England, chiefly in Throwing about (by an Invisible hand) Stone, Bricks, and Brick-bats of all Sizes, with several other things, as Hammers, Mauls, Iron-Crows, Spits, and other Domestick Utensils, as came into their Hellish Minds, and this for the space of a Quarter of a Year.

There are a few explanations for this incident suffered by poor George Walton, who was marked with injuries till the day he died. One is that Walton, a Quaker, had himself been accused of wizardry after he accused his neighbor Hannah Jones of being a witch. This was the result of a property dispute. According to Chamberlain, Hannah Jones angrily told Walton that he "should never quietly injoy that piece of Ground". Her comment was taken for a bewitching curse and, therefore, evidence that Jones’ witchery had likely summoned the Stone-Throwing Devil. Cotton Mather, a powerful Puritan man who served as a judge less than a decade later at the deadly Salem Witch Trials, wrote about this incident and saw it as a precursor to the hysteria of Salem. Another explanation however sees this as an elaborate "prank" by Puritans to drive the Quaker Walton's out of New Hampshire. The Walton's were a scandalous family to the Puritans on many accounts, and if a natural explanation were to be given, this would fit best. Yet it hardly explains every incident, especially those recorded in the house, and certain supernatural elements in the story.

In south-eastern Oklahoma, on a hot summer night of 15 June 1990, the McWethy family, Bill and Maxine, their 18-year-old daughter Twyla and her baby Desireé, sought relief by moving their chairs into the front yard, hoping for a breeze. Without warning stones began to catapult at them from the darkness. Assuming it was local kids pulling a prank, they went inside annoyed. Yet the attack continued for 24 hours, breaking some windows of their home. Being a small town with no police station, they investigated the incident with neighbors, but found no source to the stone-throwing. The attacks continued. One day, while 50 people were gathered at the McWethy residence to find the culprits, they decided to take fifty stones and mark them with nail polish, throwing them in every direction around the house to locate the source. Within minutes they all came sailing back. Even better, someone decided to throw them in a nearby pond, and within moments they came flying back ... wet. There were many other incidents of this happening and many investigations, and eventually it was discovered that a spirit was behind the activity. When asked why this took place, the only explanation Mrs. McWethy could give was something strange and interesting: "Cause we stay up late at night."4

The infamous Goldfield Hotel is an abandoned hotel located in Goldfield, Nevada. It's paranormal activity has been so serious that the owner of the hotel has forbidden anyone to go inside it due to the likelihood of them getting hurt. Before the Ghost Adventures crew received a weekly television show on the Travel Channel, they filmed an award winning documentary titled Ghost Adventures: The Beginning where they filmed their paranormal investigation of the Goldfield Hotel, among others. During this investigation, one of the best paranormal footage in existence was recorded when a lone brick on the ground breaks every law of gravity by violently flying into the air all on its own and is hurled into an opposite wall with high velocity. Victor H.S. Kwong, professor in the Department of Physics for the University of Nevada Las Vegas, reviewed the brick footage and said that it would be impossible to pull a brick of that size and weight with such velocity without using a thick string that would surely have reflected the light from the investigators' cameras and therefore be very clearly visible. Video footage and the analysis can be seen in the video below (Warning: footage is unedited and contains foul language):5

We will end with two other malicious incidents of demonic stone-throwing recorded in the book Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos by Archimandrite Cherubim Karambelas. In the chapter on Elder Sabbas the Father Confessor, we are told about stone-throwing demons on Mount Athos in the early 20th century. Archimandrite Cherubim gives us a full account of these two stories:

The Book of Magic

Somewhere in Chalkis, the relationship between a man and his wife had become very strained. The husband did not lead a normal life, but lived in a strange, obscure manner. His face took on a repulsive expression. He had broken away from the Church; he wanted nothing to do with Church life, and especially not with the Sacraments. His unfortunate wife tried in every possible way to bring him back to God, but he was unyielding. Finally she understood that she must take a hard position.

"Listen to me. You have made my life unbearable. If you won't come to receive Communion on Pascha, I am going to have to leave you. It will be impossible for us to live together. I want Christ to rule in our family."

The persistence, pressure, threats, and heartfelt prayers of this good Christian woman were not in vain. The husband saw that by his behavior he was in danger of irreparably destroying his home, his future, and the future of his children. His soul was shaken, and he resolved to return to the light.

Great was the darkness hidden within him, for the unfortunate man had descended to collaborating with the demons; he had trained himself in magical arts. This is what had kept him so stubbornly away from the Church. He understood that he first of all needed a confessor. The Holy Mountain was not far away, and there he went, seeking the right person. He found Fr. Sabbas.

How different was his return journey! He was renewed inside. Instead of confusion, chaos, and darkness, he saw a new regenerated world. Relief and tears of joy shone on his face as he finished his confession. What peace he felt, what a lightening of his burden! But there was still something else to get rid of. He stretched out his hand, holding a certain book.

"Take this book also, my Father. This was the cause of my catastrophe."

It was a Solomoniki (a book of magic), the essential manual of all who study magic.

"Why are you giving it to me? It wants burning. Take it and burn it somewhere away from here."

On his way from the Kalyve to St. Anne's Skete, he saw a large hole in the rock. In this cavity the Solomoniki was soon reduced to ashes. The Evangelist Luke wrote about a similar incident: "Those who followed magic arts made their books into a heap and burned them" (Acts 19:19). Fires like these are a joy to the angels, a wounding of demons. Such books of darkness and stench should not circulate among us.

Still more relieved, the man continued on his way. He happened to meet Fr. Hilarion, a disciple of Fr. Sabbas.

"Convey my respects and boundless gratitude to the father confessor. And tell him that the book was burned in the cave above here."

Fr. Hilarion continued heedlessly towards the Kalyve. But when he reached the cave, showers of great boulders fell around him, thundering and rolling down the hillside. Terrified, he reached the Kalyve and told the Elder what had happened.

"It was the work of Satan, my child."

When he had recovered from his fear, he remembered to convey to the Elder the words of the man he had passed on the road. He remembered about the burning of the book. When Fr. Sabbas explained who the man was and what book he had burned in the cave, he understood what had happened.

Not only Fr. Hilarion experienced the stoning, however - it happened to everyone that passed by that place. In the end the road became impassable, for nobody dared to come near that place. Disturbed, the fathers sought the help of Fr. Sabbas. He fasted, prayed, sprinkled the cave with holy water, and the evil spirits retreated. He advised the fathers to place an icon of the Theotokos and a lampada within the cave. Thus the road became peaceful as before.

Today those who pass by there often stop and sing "Meet it is..." to the Theotokos, with no danger. Some fathers have told us, however, that occasionally there is still demonic activity in that place, mainly when a disciple who has broken obedience passes by it.

The Strange Shower of Stones

A young pastry-cook from Thessalonika, Athanasius, felt aversion for worldly life, and resolved to take the monastic schema and live in the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou. As a novice at Dionysiou he was sent to Monoxilitis, a Metochion within Mount Athos, to receive monastic training.

In the meantime, his parents in Thessalonika were embittered by the decision of their cherished only child. They moved heaven and earth to "save" him, to bring him back to the world. They did not even hesitate to seek the help of Satan, resorting to magic and sorcery.

Athanasius suddenly began to feel pressure, as though there were a heavy weight on him. He himself in his former life had dealt in magic, and so was not uninitiated in such matters; therefore he correctly guessed what his parents were doing. He felt an anguish that became more and more intense. Something very unpleasant was hanging over him. From inner need he prayed more frequently, painfully emphasizing the phrase in the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from the evil one."

The other brothers of Monoxilitis suspected nothing of this. One morning after the service as they were preparing for their work, stones suddenly began falling on them from the forest above. Luckily for them and for the property of the Metochion, they suffered no harm. They waited a while - some passers-by, apparently, had an appetite for jokes. But when they began their work again, stones started flying from behind them. Then they understood that something serious was happening, and they took refuge in the church. They did not dare to leave it, for as soon as they did so the stoning would start again. Stools, wooden forms for the monastic skoufias, and other objects were hurled through the air. Their dog was thrown three meters down from where he had been lying.

Soon some policemen who had been notified came from Karyes. They searched the area and shot volleys in the direction the stones came from. Finally they realized this was not the work of men, but of unseen enemies.

Then the novice Athanasius came forward and explained the cause of the mischief.

"To completely persuade you," he finished, "let me go by myself over there to the little church of St. Artemius, and you'll see that stones will follow me."

This is what happened. The stones fell all around him, but without hitting him.

After the demonstration they isolated him in the church. The steward of the Metochion, Fr. Porphyrius, sent a letter asking for a boat from the Monastery. From the moment Athanasius left the church until he disembarked at the harbor of the Monastery, terrible things happened. It is a wonder that the boatman did not faint from terror. "The stoning did not cease on the sea, even though they were a distance from the shore. The stones kept falling, but fortunately around the boat, without doing any damage" (Gabriel of Dionysiou, The New Evergetinos, p. 65).

Between the shore and the courtyard of the Monastery, all was quiet. This encouraged several people to call it an illusion. A sudden shower of stones from a nearby tower, however, silenced them.

The Council of Elders, which assembled immediately, made the decision "to send the novice to the God-bearing Elder, Fr. Sabbas ... so that he may deliver him." The general conviction of the fathers was that the prayers of Fr. Sabbas could flog the evil spirits.

The Kalyve of the Resurrection underwent a week of hard trials. There was an atmosphere of war - an open war between the powers of light and darkness. There was continuous, deafening noise. Enormous boulders came loose from the nearby cliffs, flying by and over the Kalyve, and hurtling with terrible crashes down the nearby precipice into the sea. Fierce voices uttering blasphemous words disturbed and sullied the area. And there were insults - unwonted insults against all monks, and especially against the confessor. All the stench of Hades revealed itself.

The man of God, disregarding his deep old age (he was then in his last years), gave himself up to great struggles. For a whole week he kept a complete fast, praying continually. "This kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:20). His compassionate heart could not endure seeing God's creation undergoing such tyranny.

At the end of the week, the Elder, with steadfast, unwavering faith in the Resurrected Lord, approached the sufferer. The evil spirit became agitated.

"I banish thee, ... O unclean spirit ... by God Who created all things by His word, and by our Lord Jesus Christ ... Fear, begone, flee, depart from the servant of God Athanasius ... Depart to the dry, deserted, uncultivated places...."

And thus it happened. It seemed as though something came out from Athanasius' mouth. The undesirable occupant disappeared, "like smoke vanishes". The words uttered by the Spirit-bearing mouth of Fr. Sabbas struck the demon like a flaming sword. Instantly the novice became calm and quiet, sighing with relief. Out of boundless joy and gratitude he fell at the feet of the confessor, kissing them and moistening them with tears.6

"O Saint of God, you have saved me, you have taken away the horrible weight. Oh, thank you! You rescued me from the dreadful serpent. Glory be to Thee, my God!"

Athanasius stayed with his physician for several more days. By his advice, he went to the Skete of Koutloumousiou, where he remained. Fr. Habbakuk - the name he received at his tonsure - is distinguished among the fathers by his austere ascetic life. He never forgot the unforgettable Elder who had saved him from the power of the devil.


1. http://easternanglosaxonist.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/hurling-demons/

2. John Sanidopoulos, The Rise of Bogomilism and Its Penetration into Constantinople, p. 56.

3. http://www.seacoastnh.com/arts/please041403.html

4. http://www.testament.org/testament/forteantimes.html

5. http://ghostadventures.wikia.com/wiki/Ghost_Adventures:_The_Beginning

6. Archimandrite Cherubim, Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos (vol. 2), pp. 432-436.