Saturday, August 31, 2013

On the Immediate and Ultimate Goals of the Christian Life

As we bind up another ecclesiastical year with a celebration of the Holy Belt of the Theotokos, and prepare to begin anew, it is fitting we also contemplate the goal not only of each ecclesiastical year, but of our entire Christian life in general.

The following text was written by St. John Cassian and comes from his book The Conferences. His "First Conference" was with Abba Moses the Ethiopian, who began by explaining what the immediate (purity of heart) and ultimate (acquiring the Kingdom of God; that is, the Holy Spirit) goals of the Christian life are for all Christians.

Those familiar with what St. Seraphim of Sarov said about this subject will notice a similarity of teaching.

By St. John Cassian

Book One, Chapter One

When I was in the desert of Scete, where are the most excellent monastic fathers and where all perfection flourishes, in company with the holy father Germanus (who had since the earliest days and commencement of our spiritual service been my closest companion both in the Coenobium and in the desert, so that to show the harmony of our friendship and aims, everybody would say that a single heart and soul existed in our two bodies), I sought out Abbot Moses, who was eminent amid those splendid flowers, not only in practical but also in contemplative excellence, in my anxiety to be grounded by his instruction: and together we implored him to give us a discourse for our edification; not without tears, for we knew full well his determination never to consent to open the gate of perfection, except to those who desired it with all faithfulness, and sought it with all sorrow of heart; for fear lest if he showed it at random to those who cared nothing for it, or only desired it in a half-hearted way, by opening what is necessary, and what ought only to be discovered to those seeking perfection, to unworthy persons, and such as accepted it with scorn, he might appear to lay himself open either to the charge of bragging, or to the sin of betraying his trust; and at last being overcome by our prayers he thus began.

Book One, Chapter Two

All the arts and sciences, said he, have some goal or mark; and end or aim of their own, on which the diligent pursuer of each art has his eye, and so endures all sorts of toils and dangers and losses, cheerfully and with equanimity, e.g., the farmer, shunning neither at one time the scorching heat of the sun, nor at another the frost and cold, cleaves the earth unweariedly, and again and again subjects the clods of his field to his ploughshare, while he keeps before him his goal; viz., by diligent labour to break it up small like fine sand, and to clear it of all briers, and free it from all weeds, as he believes that in no other way can he gain his ultimate end, which is to secure a good harvest, and a large crop; on which he can either live himself free from care, or can increase his possessions. Again, when his barn is well stocked he is quite ready to empty it, and with incessant labour to commit the seed to the crumbling furrow, thinking nothing of the present lessening of his stores in view of the future harvest. Those men too who are engaged in mercantile pursuits, have no dread of the uncertainties and chances of the ocean, and fear no risks, while an eager hope urges them forward to their aim of gain. Moreover those who are inflamed with the ambition of military life, while they look forward to their aim of honours and power take no notice of danger and destruction in their wanderings, and are not crushed by present losses and wars, while they are eager to obtain the end of some honour held out to them. And our profession too has its own goal and end, for which we undergo all sorts of toils not merely without weariness but actually with delight; on account of which the want of food in fasting is no trial to us, the weariness of our vigils becomes a delight; reading and constant meditation on the Scriptures does not pall upon us; and further incessant toil, and self-denial, and the privation of all things, and the horrors also of this vast desert have no terrors for us. And doubtless for this it was that you yourselves despised the love of kinsfolk, and scorned your fatherland, and the delights of this world, and passed through so many countries, in order that you might come to us, plain and simple folk as we are, living in this wretched state in the desert. Wherefore, said he, answer and tell me what is the goal and end, which incite you to endure all these things so cheerfully.

Book One, Chapter Three

And when he insisted on eliciting an opinion from us on this question, we replied that we endured all this for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

Book One, Chapter Four

To which he replied: Good, you have spoken cleverly of the (ultimate) end. But what should be our (immediate) goal or mark, by constantly sticking close to which we can gain our end, you ought first to know. And when we frankly confessed our ignorance, he proceeded: The first thing, as I said, in all the arts and sciences is to have some goal, i.e., a mark for the mind, and constant mental purpose, for unless a man keeps this before him with all diligence and persistence, he will never succeed in arriving at the ultimate aim and the gain which he desires. For, as I said, the farmer who has for his aim to live free from care and with plenty, while his crops are springing has this as his immediate object and goal; viz., to keep his field clear from all brambles, and weeds, and does not fancy that he can otherwise ensure wealth and a peaceful end, unless he first secures by some plan of work and hope that which he is anxious to obtain. The business man too does not lay aside the desire of procuring wares, by means of which he may more profitably amass riches, because he would desire gain to no purpose, unless he chose the road which leads to it: and those men who are anxious to be decorated with the honours of this world, first make up their minds to what duties and conditions they must devote themselves, that in the regular course of hope they may succeed in gaining the honours they desire. And so the end of our way of life is indeed the kingdom of God. But what is the (immediate) goal you must earnestly ask, for if it is not in the same way discovered by us, we shall strive and wear ourselves out to no purpose, because a man who is travelling in a wrong direction, has all the trouble and gets none of the good of his journey. And when we stood gaping at this remark, the old man proceeded: The end of our profession indeed, as I said, is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven: but the immediate aim or goal, is purity of heart, without which no one can gain that end: fixing our gaze then steadily on this goal, as if on a definite mark, let us direct our course as straight towards it as possible, and if our thoughts wander somewhat from this, let us revert to our gaze upon it, and check them accurately as by a sure standard, which will always bring back all our efforts to this one mark, and will show at once if our mind has wandered ever so little from the direction marked out for it.

Book One, Chapter Five

As those, whose business it is to use weapons of war, whenever they want to show their skill in their art before a king of this world, try to shoot their arrows or darts into certain small targets which have the prizes painted on them; for they know that they cannot in any other way than by the line of their aim secure the end and the prize they hope for, which they will only then enjoy when they have been able to hit the mark set before them; but if it happens to be withdrawn from their sight, however much in their want of skill their aim may vainly deviate from the straight path, yet they cannot perceive that they have strayed from the direction of the intended straight line because they have no distinct mark to prove the skillfulness of their aim, or to show up its badness: and therefore while they shoot their missiles idly into space, they cannot see how they have gone wrong or how utterly at fault they are, since no mark is their accuser, showing how far they have gone astray from the right direction; nor can an unsteady look help them to correct and restore the straight line enjoined on them. So then the end indeed which we have set before us is, as the Apostle says, eternal life, as he declares, "having indeed your fruit unto holiness, and the end eternal life" (Romans 6:22); but the immediate goal is purity of heart, which he not unfairly terms sanctification, without which the aforementioned end cannot be gained; as if he had said in other words, having your immediate goal in purity of heart, but the end life eternal. Of which goal the same blessed Apostle teaches us, and significantly uses the very term, i.e., σκοπός, saying as follows, "Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those that are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of the Lord" (Philippians 3:13-14): which is more clearly put in Greek κατὰ σκοπὸν διώκω, i.e., I press toward the mark, as if he said, "With this aim, with which I forget those things that are behind," i.e., the faults of earlier life, "I strive to reach as the end the heavenly prize." Whatever then can help to guide us to this object; viz., purity of heart, we must follow with all our might, but whatever hinders us from it, we must shun as a dangerous and hurtful thing. For, for this we do and endure all things, for this we make light of our kinsfolk, our country, honours, riches, the delights of this world, and all kinds of pleasures, namely in order that we may retain a lasting purity of heart. And so when this object is set before us, we shall always direct our actions and thoughts straight towards the attainment of it; for if it be not constantly fixed before our eyes, it will not only make all our toils vain and useless, and force them to be endured to no purpose and without any reward, but it will also excite all kinds of thoughts opposed to one another. For the mind, which has no fixed point to which it may return, and on which it may chiefly fasten, is sure to rove about from hour to hour and minute to minute in all sorts of wandering thoughts, and from those things which come to it from outside, to be constantly changed into that state which first offers itself to it.

Book One, Chapter Six

For hence it arises that in the case of some who have despised the greatest possessions of this world, and not only large sums of gold and silver, but also large properties, we have seen them afterwards disturbed and excited over a knife, or pencil, or pin, or pen. Whereas if they kept their gaze steadily fixed out of a pure heart they would certainly never allow such a thing to happen for trifles, while in order that they might not suffer it in the case of great and precious riches they chose rather to renounce them altogether. For often too some guard their books so jealously that they will not allow them to be even slightly moved or touched by any one else, and from this fact they meet with occasions of impatience and death, which give them warning of the need of acquiring the requisite patience and love; and when they have given up all their wealth for the love of Christ, yet as they preserve their former disposition in the matter of trifles, and are sometimes quickly upset about them, they become in all points barren and unfruitful, as those who are without the charity of which the Apostle speaks: and this the blessed Apostle foresaw in spirit, and "though", says he, "I give all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, but have not charity, it profits me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:3). And from this it clearly follows that perfection is not arrived at simply by self-denial, and the giving up of all our goods, and the casting away of honours, unless there is that charity, the details of which the Apostle describes, which consists in purity of heart alone. For not to be envious, not to be puffed up, not to be angry, not to do any wrong, not to seek one's own, not to rejoice in iniquity, not to think evil, etc., what is all this except ever to offer to God a perfect and clean heart, and to keep it free from all disturbances?

Book One, Chapter Seven

Everything should be done and sought after by us for the sake of this. For this we must seek for solitude, for this we know that we ought to submit to fastings, vigils, toils, bodily nakedness, reading, and all other virtues that through them we may be enabled to prepare our heart and to keep it unharmed by all evil passions, and resting on these steps to mount to the perfection of charity, and with regard to these observances, if by accident we have been employed in some good and useful occupation and have been unable to carry out our customary discipline, we should not be overcome by vexation or anger, or passion, with the object of overcoming which, we were going to do that which we have omitted. For the gain from fasting will not balance the loss from anger, nor is the profit from reading so great as the harm which results from despising a brother. Those things which are of secondary importance, such as fastings, vigils, withdrawal from the world, meditation on Scripture, we ought to practise with a view to our main object, i.e., purity of heart, which is charity, and we ought not on their account to drive away this main virtue, for as long as it is still found in us intact and unharmed, we shall not be hurt if any of the things which are of secondary importance are necessarily omitted; since it will not be of the slightest use to have done everything, if this main reason of which we have spoken be removed, for the sake of which everything is to be done. For on this account one is anxious to secure and provide for one's self the implements for any branch of work, not simply to possess them to no purpose, nor as if one made the profit and advantage, which is looked for from them, to consist in the bare fact of possession but that by using them, one may effectually secure practical knowledge and the end of that particular art of which they are auxiliaries. Therefore fastings, vigils, meditation on the Scriptures, self-denial, and the abnegation of all possessions are not perfection, but aids to perfection: because the end of that science does not lie in these, but by means of these we arrive at the end. He then will practise these exercises to no purpose, who is contented with these as if they were the highest good, and has fixed the purpose of his heart simply on them, and does not extend his efforts towards reaching the end, on account of which these should be sought: for he possesses indeed the implements of his art, but is ignorant of the end, in which all that is valuable resides. Whatever then can disturb that purity and peace of mind— even though it may seem useful and valuable — should be shunned as really hurtful, for by this rule we shall succeed in escaping harm from mistakes and vagaries, and make straight for the desired end and reach it.

Book One, Chapter Eight

This then should be our main effort: and this steadfast purpose of heart we should constantly aspire after; viz., that the soul may ever cleave to God and to heavenly things. Whatever is alien to this, however great it may be, should be given the second place, or even treated as of no consequence, or perhaps as hurtful. We have an excellent illustration of this state of mind and condition in the gospel in the case of Martha and Mary: for when Martha was performing a service that was certainly a sacred one, since she was ministering to the Lord and His disciples, and Mary being intent only on spiritual instruction was clinging close to the feet of Jesus which she kissed and anointed with the ointment of a good confession, she is shown by the Lord to have chosen the better part, and one which should not be taken away from her: for when Martha was toiling with pious care, and was cumbered about her service, seeing that of herself alone she was insufficient for such service she asks for the help of her sister from the Lord, saying: "Do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone: bid her therefore that she help me" — certainly it was to no unworthy work, but to a praiseworthy service that she summoned her: and yet what does she hear from the Lord? "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things: but few things are needful, or only one. Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." You see then that the Lord makes the chief good consist in meditation; i.e., in divine contemplation: whence we see that all other virtues should be put in the second place, even though we admit that they are necessary, and useful, and excellent, because they are all performed for the sake of this one thing. For when the Lord says: "You are careful and troubled about many things, but few things are needful or only one," He makes the chief good consist not in practical work however praiseworthy and rich in fruits it may be, but in contemplation of Him, which indeed is simple and "but one"; declaring that "few things" are needful for perfect bliss, i.e., that contemplation which is first secured by reflecting on a few saints: from the contemplation of whom, he who has made some progress rises and attains by God's help to that which is termed "one thing", i.e., the consideration of God alone, so as to get beyond those actions and services of Saints, and feed on the beauty and knowledge of God alone. Mary therefore "chose the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." And this must be more carefully considered. For when He says that Mary chose the good part, although He says nothing of Martha, and certainly does not appear to blame her, yet in praising the one, He implies that the other is inferior. Again when He says "which shall not be taken away from her", He shows that from the other her portion can be taken away (for a bodily ministry cannot last forever with a man), but teaches that this one's desire can never have an end.

Book One, Chapter Nine

To which we, being deeply moved, replied what then? will the effort of fasting, diligence in reading, works of mercy, justice, piety, and kindness, be taken away from us, and not continue with the doers of them, especially since the Lord Himself promises the reward of the kingdom of heaven to these works, when He says: "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For I was an hungred, and you gave Me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me to drink" (Matthew 25:34-35). How then shall these works be taken away, which admit the doers of them into the kingdom of heaven?

Book One, Chapter Ten

Moses: I did not say that the reward for a good work would be taken away, as the Lord Himself says: "Whosoever shall give to one of the least of these, a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42), but I maintain that the doing of a thing, which either bodily necessity, or the onslaught of the flesh, or the inequalities of this world, compel to be done, will be taken away. For diligence in reading, and self-denial in fasting, are usefully practiced for purifying the heart and chastening the flesh in this life only, as long as "the flesh lusts against the spirit" (Galatians 5:17), and sometimes we see that even in this life they are taken away from those men who are worn out with excessive toil, or bodily infirmity or old age, and cannot be practiced by them. How much more then will they come to an end hereafter, "when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption" (1 Corinthians 15:53), and the body which is now a natural body shall have risen "a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:44) and the flesh shall have begun to be such that it no longer lusts against the spirit? And of this the blessed Apostle also clearly speaks, when he says that "bodily exercise is profitable for a little, but godliness (by which he certainly means love) is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8). This clearly shows that what is said to be useful for a little, is not to be practiced for all time, and cannot possibly by itself alone confer the highest state of perfection on the man who slaves at it. For the term "for a little" may mean either of the two things, i.e., it may refer to the shortness of the time, because bodily exercise cannot possibly last on with man both in this life and in the world to come: or it may refer to the smallness of the profit which results from exercising the flesh, because bodily austerities produce some sort of beginnings of progress, but not the actual perfection of love, which has the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come: and therefore we deem that the practice of the aforesaid works is needful, because without them we cannot climb the heights of love. For what you call works of religion and mercy are needful in this life while these inequalities and differences of conditions still prevail; but even here we should not look for them to be performed, unless such a large proportion of poor, needy, and sick folk abounded, which is brought about by the wickedness of men; viz., of those who have grasped and kept for their own use (without however using them) those things which were granted to all by the Creator of all alike. As long then as this inequality lasts in this world, this sort of work will be needful and useful to the man that practices it, as it brings to a good purpose and pious will the reward of an eternal inheritance: but it will come to an end in the life to come, where equality will reign, when there will be no longer inequality, on account of which these things must be done, but all men will pass from these manifold practical works to the love of God, and contemplation of heavenly things in continual purity of heart: to which those men who are urgent in devoting themselves to knowledge and purifying the heart, have chosen to give themselves up with all their might and main, betaking themselves, while they are still in the flesh, to that duty, in which they are to continue, when they have laid aside corruption, and when they come to that promise of the Lord the Saviour, which says "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).

Book One, Chapter Eleven

And why do you wonder that those duties enumerated above will cease, when the holy Apostle tells us that even the higher gifts of the Holy Spirit will pass away: and points out that love alone will abide without end, saying whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; "whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it will come to an end," but of this he says "Love never fails". For all gifts are given for a time as use and need require, but when the dispensation is ended they will without doubt presently pass away: but love will never be destroyed. For not only does it work usefully in us in this world; but also in that to come, when the burden of bodily needs is cast off, it will continue in far greater vigour and excellence, and will never be weakened by any defect, but by means of its perpetual incorruption will cling to God more intently and earnestly.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Suicide According to the Holy Canons and Tradition of the Church

By Protopresbyter Fr. Lambrou Fotopoulos,
Parish Priest of the Sacred Church of Saint Kosmas Aitolos in Maroussi

The two thousand year tradition of the Church teaches us without any doubt whatsoever that a person who commits suicide does not receive a funeral, unless of course they are insane.

Even when the cemeteries belonged to the Church, unlike today when they belong to the local government, those who committed suicide were not only prohibited from receiving an ecclesiastical funeral, but in silence they were buried outside the periphery of the cemetery.

This practice is not only done according to the oral tradition of the Church that goes back to Christ and the Apostles, but it is a canonical obligation according to the written Sacred Canons.

Below is the 14th Canon of Saint Timothy of Alexandria, which has Ecumenical status following its ratification by the 2nd Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod:

Canon 14 of St. Timothy

If anyone having no control of himself lays violent hands on himself or hurls himself to destruction, should an offering be made for him or not?

The Clergyman ought to discern in his behalf whether he was actually and truly out of his mind when he did it. For oftentimes those who are interested in the victim and want to have him accorded an offering and a prayer in his behalf will deliberately lie and assert that he had no control of himself. Sometimes, however, he did it as a result of influence exercised by other men, or somehow otherwise as a result of paying too little attention to circumstances, and no offering ought to be made in his behalf. It is incumbent, therefore, upon the Clergyman in any case to investigate the matter accurately, in order to avoid incurring judgment.

This divine Father has been asked whether liturgical and memorial services ought to be held for a man who has killed himself, by hurling himself down from a height, or by drowning himself, or by hanging himself, or by putting himself to death in any other manner, when he is not of sound mind, whether it be as a result of a demon or of an ailment of some sort; and the Father replies in the present Canon by stating that if any priest or any other clergyman be invited to celebrate memorial services for him, he ought to investigate well and with due accuracy whether such a man was in truth and reality out of his wits when he put himself to death. For it often happens that relatives and intimates of such a man, wishing to have him be given a memorial service and to be chanted over by the priests, and to have a liturgy held for the remission of his sins, tell lies and assert falsely that he was out of his wits, and that it was on this account that he put himself to death. Sometimes, though, one puts oneself to death either as a result of some injury or annoyance which he has received from other men, or as a result of faint-heartedness and excessive grief, or some other cause, voluntarily and while in his right mind; and for such a man no liturgical or memorial services ought to be held, since he murdered himself deliberately. Therefore, the clergyman must evaluate with accuracy in order not to sin.1

Such are the rulings of the Sacred Canons. As everyone understands, there is no discussion whatsoever over the issue as to whether a suicide should have a funeral or not. It is assumed that they won't receive a funeral. This Canon reiterates what was accepted by the Church until that point, and notes the only possible economy that can be given to a suicide is that they can receive a funeral if they are "mad", and this is to be determined after a thorough examination of each case.

As is known to those who have an ecclesiastical consciousness and do not see the Church in a "magical" way, that is, only as a ceremonial institution that does weddings, funerals, baptisms and other "social" events, the Sacred Canons are eternal laws that govern the Church. These laws have such a love for mankind, that it is incomprehensible nowadays.

Today there are many words about love and little actual love. True piety has become pietism, and the role of the priest is limited to caressing human passions instead of the aim of treating passions.

By banning a religious funeral the Holy Fathers, full of love for mankind, ensure the following key matters:

A. They shout out to all Christians with a blatant voice that whoever kills himself blasphemes the Holy Spirit and does not receive the remission of sins. In this way they are mentally supporting someone who is suicidal in a wise, clear and unambiguous manner to repel any such thought, even in cases of serious human difficulties.

Have the supposed "philanthropists" of today never contemplated that they justify suicides with intense emotional arguments, becoming unintentional instigators of many future suicides?

B. There is another, more spiritual reason why there should be no funeral service for a suicide. The social contempt for the suicide is a silent prayer to God to have mercy on them. Every humiliation of man before God increases Divine Mercy. Even posthumous humiliations help the soul in its account before God. This is shown in numerous instances in the life of the Church.2

We read in The Ladder of Saint John Klimacos, a book that has permeated throughout the centuries in all of Orthodoxy, that in the chapter "On Repentance" (Step Five) the monks whom the author knew and had reached a virtual angelic state, humbly asked that after their death "they would not even receive a memorial stone for them",3 but they requested their bodies be tossed without any postmortem honors. Saint Ephraim the Syrian asked that he not be buried with honors, and that they not light candles or incense for him, etc, so that God would take pity on him.

In the Euchologian, which every priest today uses, there are the prayers for the parting of the soul. These are heartbreaking cries of holy ascetics who pray for their body to be despised in order for their soul to find mercy from God. What do they say? "Do not allow my body to be buried in the earth, but leave it unburied, so that dogs can eat my heart."4 It is asked that the body of the sinner remain unburied for God to take pity on him. Therefore, it is by philanthropy that the Church does not give a funeral to suicides.

A blessed Athonite elder, Fr. Anthimos Agiannanites, when asked by relatives about a young suicide, if he should be commemorated during the Divine Liturgy (of course a funeral service was out of the question), responded: "Do not commemorate him during the Liturgy. It is better for his soul. When the All-Merciful sees that we do not honor him, the Same will take pity on him, but when we honor him, He will not have mercy on him."5

This is how our fathers respond to the postmortem false love of today.


For this dead person to not be read over, as we have seen, is the greatest compassion we can offer him. Otherwise, the prayers of the Church prevent Divine Mercy because they are false, self-righteous, hypocritical, and abusive towards God. How can we allow people who have abandoned the Christian faith or Orthodox truth or denied the divine gift of life to be chanted over in Christian churches with words such as "for the repose of the soul of the departed servant of God", "You are the resurrection...of the departed servant of Christ."

How can we on account of the deceased be kidding ourselves within the church, saying: "My soul longs with endless longing for Your judgments at all times" and "Despair took hold on me because of sinners that forsake Your Law" if he himself led an apostasy before God. How can we say on account of the deceased: "Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding, and I will learn Your commandments." How can the Church falsely celebrate by chanting: "Blessed is the way wherein you walk today, for there is prepared for you a place of rest."


[1]. Προδρόμου Ι. Ακανθόπουλου, Κώδικας Ιερών Κανόνων και Εκκλησιαστικών Νόμων, β΄ έκδοση, Θεσσαλονίκη, ΑΦΟΙ Κυριακίδη, 1995, σελ. 605.

[2]. In the Gerontikon there is a characteristic example of a couple in which the husband was humbly buried and went to Paradise, but his wife who was unrepentant, despite her pompous funeral that took places with many Bishops, Priests and laypeople, went to Hell. Γεροντικό, έκδοση ζ΄, Θεσσαλονίκη, Λυδία, 1989, σελ.166-172.

[3]. Αγίου Ιωάννου Σιναΐτου, Κλίμαξ, μετάφρ. Αρχιμ. Ιγνατίου, έκδοση ε΄, Ωρωπός Αττικής, εκδ. Ι. Μ. Παρακλήτου, 1991, σελ. 127

[4]. Μικρόν Ευχολόγιον, έκδοσις Αποστολικής Διακονίας της Εκκλησίας της Ελλάδος, έκδοση 11η. 1992, σελ. 223.

[5]. Πρεσβυτέρου Θεμιστοκλέους Χριστοδούλου, Τα ιερά Μνημόσυνα, Αθήνα, εκδόσεις Ομολογία, 2002, σελ. 215.

Source: Αυτοκτονία και Ιερατική συνείδηση (Suicide and Priestly Conscience), Athens 2007. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Holy Hieromartyr Philonides, Bishop of Kourion

Saint Philonides of Kourion (Feast Day - June 17 and August 30)


Before Philonides offered his sacrifice,
He offered the sacrifice of his prudence.

The Hieromartyr Philonides was born in Cyprus around 250 AD. As a young man he was chosen to serve the Church of Christ as a clergyman and eventually the Bishop of Kourion (Latin: Curium), a great city and renowned for its worship of Apollo. In fact, Saint Philonides is the first known bishop of Kourion.

When the terrible persecution of Diocletian broke out, the ruler of Cyprus at that time was Maximus, who the holy bishop arrested and imprisoned. He was imprisoned with three of his spiritual children - the priest Aristokles, the deacon Dimitrianos, and the reader Athanasios (who are celebrated by the Church together on June 23rd). One morning, when this holy companionship ended their devout prayers, three executioners came into the cell and dragged out and brutally killed the three companions of Bishop Philonides. Then they told Philonides that he must sacrifice to idols, or else they would strip him naked and drunk satyrs would sexually assault his body.

The Holy Hierarch literally froze when he heard this, and having prayed for a long time with tears, he stood up, and called forward some of his fellow brother prisoners and revealed to them the stance of the ruler and his decision to sacrifice himself. He did this because he did not want anyone to be scandalized by the manner of his death. It should be noted that this decree to corrupt Bishop Philonides did not only apply to the Bishop, but to all Christians in order to corrupt them and humiliate them physically.

To escape a shameful death, Bishop Philonides slowly crawled through a secret passageway and came to a high cliff. Having knelt in prayer for some time, he then covered his face with his cloak, made the sign of the Cross three times, then threw himself off the cliff. Before his body touched the ground, the soul of the Holy Hieromartyr flew to the Heavens.

Shortly after his death, the Saint appeared in a vision to two travelers, running before them naked and bathed in perfume, holding a palm branch and having a crown on his head. They heard the Saint say: "Thank you, my Christ, for by You I was victorious. From the door of the earth, You raised me up to the door of heaven." The vision led the two men to the spot where the dead body of the Saint was lying, then he disappeared. However, the pagans took the Saint's body and threw it into the sea in order for it to disappear. But the sea washed the corpse back on the shore from where eventually the Christians took it and buried it with honors.

A Bishop named Aristos, who had been arrested by the pagans and set free, is responsible for writing about the glorious life and martyrdom of Saint Philonides. His death is placed in the period between 303 and 305. In the Synaxarion of Constantinople his commemoration is set for August 30th. However, according to the Synaxarion of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite his memory is celebrated on June 17th.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Tomb of Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Today we commemorate the repose of one of the most important Athonite personalities of the 20th century, Elder Joseph the Hesychast, who fell asleep in the Lord 54 years ago on August 15/28, 1959. Below are photos of the tomb and place of asceticism of Elder Joseph at the Holy Mountain.

The Tomb of Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Outside the Tomb of Elder Joseph the Hesychast

The Cave of Elders Joseph and Arsenios at New Skete, Mount Athos

The view from inside the cave

High on the cliff of the cave one can discern where rings were hung with rope for the long hours of vigils

Stasidia of the Cave

New Skete

The Brotherhood of Elder Joseph

The Dormition of the Theotokos in Gethsemane (photos & videos)

The Church of Jerusalem celebrates the Dormition of the Theotokos on the Old Calendar, which is August 28th on the New Calendar but August 15th on the Old. The origins of the celebration are in Jerusalem, at the tomb of the Theotokos in Gethsemane. This is how it was celebrated this year.

The Descent of the Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Gethsemane

On Sunday 12/25 August 2013 a procession took place for the Descent of the Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos from the Metochion (Dependency) of Gethsemane opposite the Most-sacred Church of the Resurrection in Gethsemane to the Sacred Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Gethsemane.

This icon of the Theotokos in the type of the Dormition is kept opposite the Church of the Resurrection in the Chapel of the Dormition.

From there it is received on the 12th of August each year, to be taken to Gethsemane, where it lies until the 23rd of the same month, at which it is returned to its initial position.

In keeping with this order, the procession of the holy icon of Theotokos began this year at 4:00 am/5:00 am (summer time) from the Dependency. The icon was carried close to the bosom of the Abbot of Gethsemane, Archimandrite Nektarios, in the midst of their Eminences, the Archbishops of Ioppi and Lydda, Damaskinos and Demetrios, priests of the Holy Sepulcher and sojourner priests of the Orthodox Churches, long rows of monks and nuns, and a great crowd eager to venerate the sacred icon, placing their problems, adversities, agonies, pains and illnesses onto the Theotokos for help, protection, support and cure, whilst chanting “Apostles from the ends of the earth” and “In Giving Birth You Kept Your Virginity”, in Greek, Arabic and all languages of the Orthodox.

As the procession moved across the Via Dolorosa from the Church of the Resurrection to Gethsemane, it paused for supplication before the Holy Monasteries of Saint Alexander Nevsky, the Praetorium, Saint Anna and Saint Stephen.

Eventually, the sacred icon was lowered down to the Church of the Dormition of Theotokos in Gethsemane and placed behind the Tomb of the Theotokos next to the Platytera for veneration by the faithful. There it remains for the duration of the Divine Liturgy until the Eve, on which the Engomia [Lamentations] are chanted for the day of the Dormition of Theotokos, in anticipation of the Completion of the feast on the 23rd of August, when the procession is resumed, this time from Gethsemane toward the chapel.

After the Descent of the icon, a Divine Liturgy was also held at the chapel of Theotokos on the Mount of Olives in Little Galilee where it is believed that the Theotokos was announced her Dormition by an angel.

The Lamentations of the Theotokos in Gethsemane

On Tuesday the 14th/27th of August 2013, the Service of the Lamentations or the Epitaphios of the Theotokos was performed by the Patriarchate at the Tomb of the Mother of God in Gethsemane.

In attendance were the Fathers of the Holy Sepulcher with sojourner clerics of the Church of Greece and other Orthodox Churches, led by His Beatitude Theophilos, Our Father and Patriarch of Jerusalem. It commenced at 6:30 am from the Gate of the Patriarchate.

Once there, His Beatitude and Prelates waited at the Abbot's Quarters for the priests to descend into the Holy Church, pay their respects, and put on the appropriate vestments for the Service.

Subsequently, His Beatitude proceeded down to the court of the Church of the Dormition of Theotokos and, in the presence of appropriately attired priests, holding the Gospel, cross and censer he put on a patriarchal mantle and blessed the Holy Entrance.

Immediately afterwards, the hieratic procession walked towards the Tomb of the Mother of God, whilst chanters sang “In Giving Birth You Kept Your Virginity”.

Having venerated the Tomb of the Mother of God, His Beatitude was dressed in full primatial vestments, whilst the Prelates wore a stole and a pallium, and the priests a stole. Then, the procession of the Lamentations began in three stases: A: “The Pure One in the tomb”, B “Worthy it is to praise you, Theotokos”, and C: “All generations offer a song unto your burial, O Virgin”, with the Evlogitaria at the end.

Within the troparia of these stases, the Theotokos was praised for having conceived the Lord through the Holy Spirit, having raised Him in obedience and devotion until the Passion on the Cross, as the first Myrrh-bearing witness of the Resurrection, and as having slept a natural death and been buried in her tomb in Gethsemane, then taken by her Son to Heaven in soul and body to stand on his right and offer supplication and protection to those piously invoking her. These theological and devout hymns were received in great piety by a crowd of the Lord, co-chanting on the occasion.

Attentively the crowd also listened to the word of God delivered by the sojourner Metropolitan of the Church of Greece, His Eminence Theologos Metropolitan of Serres, on the Theotokos as Mother of the Lord and eternal mediator before her Son on behalf of each and every faithful Christian Orthodox, and equally for the faithful of our Nation, suffering gravely at present because of the financial crisis from which he wished that we exit through the intercession of Theotokos.

At the conclusion of the sermon, the priests who carried the Epitaphion in which the icon of the body of the Theotokos was placed, climbed the stairs next to the Gate of the Church. There, a supplication was made for the pilgrims of the All-Holy and Life-Giving Sepulcher and of the Tomb of the Mother of God, as well as for peace, health and kind condition for the whole world.

The priests went on to lower the Epitaphion into the area behind the Tomb of the Mother of God and in front of the icon of the Platytera, known as “Ierosolymitissa”, where a supplication was made and the Patriarchal Polychronism chanted. The dismissal of the Service of the Lamentations followed, whilst even after the dismissal the crowd was eager to venerate the sacred icon.

Subsequently, the Patriarchal retinue and the people of the Lord were received at the Abbot’s Quarters by the Abbot of Gethsemane, Archimandrite Nektarios, where they were offered cold water, lenten cakes and nuts in the presence of the Consul-General of Greece in Jerusalem, Mr Georgios Zacharoudiakis, and personnel from the Greek Consulate General.

The Preaching of Saint John the Forerunner

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos 
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

At the end of the Great Litany, known also as the "Eirinika", having commemorated the Panagia and all the Saints, our Priest urges us to commend our lives to the God-man Christ. In a previous sermon we have spoken about the Panagia. Today we will concentrate on the phrase "with all the Saints", and because of the Feast of the Decapitation of the Head of Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist, we will refer to him, since he is among the Saints.

Saint John the Forerunner received the name John, which is interpreted as "gift of God", and it was given by God Himself. He is called Forerunner, because he preceded Christ and prepared the way for His work. He is characterized as Baptist, because he was made worthy to baptize Christ in the Jordan River. He is a great personality who was praised by Christ Himself, who said of him: "There is none born of a woman who is greater than John the Baptist" (Matt. 11:11).

That which we observe in the Honorable Forerunner is that he is the last Prophet of the Old Testament and the first Prophet of the New Testament, because he lived on the border of both the Old and New Testaments. He is a wonderful link between the Prophets and Apostles.

His preaching was indistinguishable from the preaching of the Prophets and Christ, because he preached repentance. He would say: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near" (Matt. 3:2). The Kingdom of Heaven is Divine Grace, the revelation of Christ as Light, and the participation and communion of man with the Light. Repentance is a precondition for communion with God. This is the core of the preaching of the Church; not several shallow words, not philosophies and opinions, but the indication of how to unite someone with God.

Also, what is admired about Saint John the Forerunner was that he was a herald of the truth. He spoke of Christ who is the Truth, and led people to the Truth. His words were not shallow, conciliatory and false. He rebuked people who approached him as well as Herod, indicating to them the correct way, the restoration of justice, and to align their lives with the Law of God. Of course, this had consequences for him, namely imprisonment and finally beheading unto death. But the most important thing in our lives is to correctly honor the truth.

By preaching repentance and truth the Forerunner was glorified and he entered into history, being honored by all Christians. An Athonite once said that when the false is united, in actuality it is split, while that which is true, even though it is divided it is still united. We see this in the lives of the Saints and naturally in the life of the Honorable Forerunner. He was true, he was linked with the Truth, Christ, he spoke the truth, and until today he lives truly and in reality in the hearts of all Christians, although he is not biologically alive. How many Sacred Churches have been raised in his name! Indeed today all Christians fast strictly and in this way we honor the Honorable Forerunner.

We must be people of the truth and not falsehood, of simplicity and not duplicity and hypocrisy. The Honorable Forerunner, after the Panagia, has great boldness before Christ, which is why we must call upon his intercessions and imitate his example.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ο Τίμιος Πρόδρομος", July 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Black People in Byzantine Society

By Apostolos Karpozilos

In Byzantine sources we do not find specific references to black people as a separate group that lived on the margins of Byzantine society due to their distinct color, their characteristics, their language or their culture. The sources, insofar as we know, do not seem to indicate the existence of a black people who were on the margins of society in urban centers or elsewhere, even during the period when the empire included areas of South Arabia and North Africa, with their mixed populations of nations and races.

Also the relatively little evidence we have at our disposal indicates that black people were not in particular considered a minority in the Byzantine mind. The names of the various peoples who inhabited the shores of the Red Sea and within Africa, both in early Christian and Byzantine sources, were characterized by confusion and ambiguity. The name commonly used for these people were Indians, whether they were Axumites, Ethiopians or Omirites.

Besides, the historical references to these peoples are limited to the beginning of the seventh century, where the empire still retained its sovereignty in Egypt by controlling Egyptian trade with other nations of the African continent.

With the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs the relationship between the empire and these peoples was cut off for good. It should, however, be noted that the attitude of the Byzantines towards the blacks, as reflected in the relatively few and scattered testimonies of sources, do not reflect any racial bias. Prejudices of this kind did not exist in antiquity, not even in the Greco-Roman period, when the empire was indeed multinational. At least there was no racial strife in the form and to the extent we know of them today, even though xenophobia, nationalism and dislike or contempt for uncivilized peoples were not unknown concepts in the world of antiquity. However, blacks did not face persecution nor were they excluded from the social mainstream as inferior due to their color.

Therefore the Byzantines inherited a culture for foreign peoples that had already formed during the Greco-Roman period, a mentality of excellence in both education and culture, and not racial especially in their relations with blacks and Negro-Africans in general. This attitude and mindset was influenced even more by the teaching of the Gospel, the message of which was directed generally to all without any discrimination.

The scant evidence we have for blacks can be divided into three categories of sources: the theological, historical and literary. But of which blacks are they talking about here - a particular race or people or of the dark colored in general? Byzantine writers bundle all the black or dark people under the name of Ethiopians, in the same way they group together the Indians, without making any distinction as to their place of origin, their characteristics or their language.

The word Ethiopian in Byzantium was used not only to indicate the inhabitants of Ethiopia, Nubia or Sudan, but also to indicate a black or dark person. The word derives from aitho (αίθω = burned) and ops (οψ = face), so that an Ethiopian (Αιθίοψ) is one who has a burned face from the sun. As Philostorgius writes of the inhabitants of Axum: "These are all of a very dark color, from the effects of the vertical rays of the sun."

The Church very early took a positive and specific attitude towards blacks, due to various biblical passages of the Old and New Testaments, which mention both Ethiopians and blacks. The interpretations of these passages by the Fathers of the Church formed an "African theology" as it was characteristically named by Professor Ernest Benz, who was the first to contribute to the extensive biblical scholia of Origen. In the passage of the Song of Solomon 1:5, the Ethiopian daughter, for example, addresses the daughters of Israel, and having the feeling of inferiority because of her color, she says apologetically: "I am dark, yet beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon." According to Origen, the Ethiopian daughter here symbolizes the Church of the nations, while the daughters of Jerusalem symbolize the Jewish synagogue and the supremacy of the origin of the race of Abraham. This passage and several others (such as the Ethiopian woman taken by Moses in Number 12:1-2), is interpreted in the context of the teaching about the Gospel to the nations (cf. Acts. 21:25).

The contrast between the colors black and white, as expressed in the Song of Songs ("I am dark, yet beautiful." ... "Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me."), is interpreted symbolically by Origen and the Fathers of the Church. During one period even the Church of Alexandria and generally Africa included within it various peoples, tribes and nations, including no doubt many blacks.

Any misinterpretation that might arise from biblical passages where blacks may be portrayed in a negative or humiliating way, such as Jeremiah 13:23 ("Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil."), were surmounted very early thanks to the timely intervention of Origen.

The few historical testimonies we have for blacks during the early Byzantine period are mainly limited to the field of diplomacy. The sources mention two or three times when Blemmyes and Ethiopian ambassadors requested a hearing from Constantine I (324-337) and Constantius II (337-361). However, these fragmentary accounts which we draw concerning the Negro-Africans can be numbered on our fingers, and their importance is rather limited, as the authors do not go into substantial detail.

We would add, however, that any references of Eusebius of Ceasarea to the presence of foreign ambassadors at the court of Constantine the Great, which mentions the Blemmyes race, the Indian and the Ethiopian, are not rhetorical places, but refer to a specific event. The relations of the empire with the various African peoples during this period, were mainly limited to the field of trade and the conclusion of several treaties, as with the Omirites of whom speaks the ecclesiastical historian Philostorgius. Also with the spread of Christianity there was promoted the political and economic interests of the empire in the sensitive area of ​​Southwest Arabia. As known, the emperor Constantine II attempted to influence ecclesiastical matters in the nation of Axum by sending a personal letter to the rulers Aizana and Sazana requesting the removal of Bishop Frumentius.

But the commercial activity was often compounded by the missionary work conducted by traders as well as the monks and ascetics of Egypt. "Indeed many Ethiopians were seen among the monastics living in asceticism, and many acquired the virtues and thus fulfilled the words of Scripture: 'Ethiopia shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God'" (Psalm 68:31). According to Jerome, who wrote in the early fifth century, Ethiopian pilgrims daily visited Jerusalem. Diplomatic relations with the nation of Axum continued under Anastasios I and remained until the time of Justinian.

The kings of Axum even sent precious gifts to Anastasios - for an unknown occasion - of an elephant and two giraffes among other exotic animals. Moreover, under Justinian, on the occasion of the accession of the Samaritans to the side of the Persians, a pact of friendship was sought with King Elisboa of Axum. John Malalas describes in great detail and in an impressive way the diplomatic mission and the arrival in the courtyard of Elisboa. Therefore, diplomatic contacts with the Ethiopians and Omirites during this period "give the appearance of a continuous, feverish activity" and were essentially inspired by political-economic incentives.

From hagiographic sources of the same period it is evident, not only in Egypt but also in the Arabian peninsula, that the monks of the desert had maintained contacts and communication with black people.

The Byzantine ecclesiastical calendar included, as is known, the memory of Saint Moses the Ethiopian (August 28), the life of which is indicative of the contacts ascetics of the Thebaid had, within the limits of Hermopolis in Egypt, with black populations, but also black robbers and bandits, just as it was in the background of the life of Saint Moses the Ethiopian. The same goes for contacts between monks and Arabs, whom sources do not always distinguish from the blacks. In hagiographic sources, especially those coming from the region of Sinai, there is however a distinction between Arabs and Blemmyes as two distinct and separate nations. It is also interesting to note that in the iconography of the Arab saints there is no distinction as to color, but they are illustrated just like the Byzantine saints.

In hagiographic texts of this period, we have the first mention of the term "black" to describe a race with negro features, the Blemmyes. However, in Greek papyri of Egypt from the 6th and 7th centuries, the term "black" refers to Sudanese slaves.

The presence of black soldiers and black slaves in Byzantium is another issue that needs in particular to be studied. Constantine Porphyrogenitus mentions in his work On Administering the Empire to his son Romanos that the leader of the Arabs, Abimelech, sent ambassadors to Justinian Rinotmitos seeking peace under the terms that the emperor would withdraw the battalian of Mardaites from Lebanon while he would offer each Roman emperor a thousand coins, together with a noble horse and an Ethiopian slave.

Mention of Ethiopian soldiers, or better of pirates, occurs in the narrative of John Kaminiates On the Capture of Thessaloniki by Leo of Tripoli in 904. Here it refers, in one sense, to Sudanese mercenaries who participated in the raids of Leo, the soldiers of which included Arab and African pirates.

While references to specific sources of historical data and events related to the presence of blacks in Byzantine society are minimal to nonexistent, the literary sources are numerous - although almost always these kinds of testimonials focus on one or two themes or literary sites . In the literature on the Ethiopians, there dominates mostly various quotations and variations of Ethiopian proverbs: "the Ethiopian remains Ethiopian", "an Ethiopian cannot be whitened", or even "the one born an Ethiopian is whitened" in a response to a Sticheron in commemoration of the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by St. Philip. Most interesting are the references found in hagiographic texts, in which the demons usually appear as black, appearing in the form of Ethiopians, as in the Life of Symeon the Fool: "When the spirit fled, it passed through the phouska-shop in the form of an Ethiopian and broke everything... An accursed black man came and smashed everything."

As a rule, the demons that appear black as Ethiopians test the faith and fortitude of believers. A typical example is the Life of Andrew the Fool. In order to win crowns in Paradise, Andrew, while in a deep sleep, saw that he must wrestle with a black demon in a packed theater of many Ethiopians. Having faith in the words of the angel, that the Ethiopians are insolent and cowardly, the saint eventually emerged the victor in this spiritual struggle, having defeated all those blacks.

But in the Life of Symeon the Fool the appearance of Ethiopians in sleep represents death: "And when he (a great man of the city) was burdened (by illness) almost to death, he saw himself in his sleep playing dice with an Ethiopian, who was death." In dream texts, the same black color was seen as a harbinger of evil. In early hagiographical texts, the demon of fornication and pride appear in the form of an Ethiopian, while in other ones demons appear hairy, with the face of a dog, and as Ethiopians black as coal.

The descriptions of demons in hagiographical texts makes one wonder if they somehow reflect not only the fears and superstitions that prevailed among the working classes, but even racial prejudices concerning at least black people. From certain indications of the sources, they could support the view that racial discrimination was made, even though from the side of the Church it was declared that to neither Scythians nor Ethiopians was the kingdom of heaven closed, for everyone is welcome into the bosom of Christ. Incidents in the Life of Moses the Ethiopian, however, are indicative of a culture that was shaped by whites against blacks. To test the patience and humility of Moses, the monks of the Skete where he was a monk expelled him from their circle with derogatory characterizations and contempt: "The Patriarch, wanting to test him if he had true humility, secretly told the clergy to expel him out of the sacristy. So, when he appeared there after the Divine Liturgy, they expelled him calling him a black man. Moses immediately left without any objection. One of them, who followed him secretly to see if he was bothered, heard him speaking to himself: 'It is good what they have done to you, O black colored one. Since you are not a human, what are you doing with people?'"

Another report also highlights in a forceful way a sense of prejudice towards blacks in the story of the drunken beggar Zamaras, who lived, it seems, on the sidelines of Seleucia of Isauria: "An Ethiopian man, covered with darkness and gloom." The appearance of Zamaras in a dream of the author of this passage is indicative of the prejudice of the time. Some prejudice regarding blacks even teetered on the edges, as can be seen in a passage from a letter of Theodore the Studite, who says: "If a woman at the time of conception imagines an Ethiopian, she will give birth to an Ethiopian."

However, the fear inspired by Ethiopian demons or ghosts were not exclusively derived from their black color, but from several other features which made them fearsome in appearance, such as their stern gaze and face, the scruffy hair of their head, their large physique combined with nudity gave the appearance of warlike blacks, etc. Characteristic is a passage in the Life of Euthymios, of a small Ethiopian with fire emitting from his eyes, a dark complexion, and of considerable height. But even in other types of texts, Ethiopians are not only feared for their color, but in combination of their whole appearance, as in Kaminiates.

Ethiopians are rather rare in the pages of Byzantine chroniclers, and in most cases they don't appear in reality but proverbially, and always in relation to their color: "As for them, like Ethiopians they remained unchanged." Gradually the "Ethiopian" became synonymous with the dark or black person, and in references to "Ethiopians" and blacks in general, such as the Saracens and others, where they receive sneering importance, such as in the vernacular texts, like the Poulologos (Bird Book).

However, the satirical mood of the author of the vernacular text reflects not only the prejudices of the time against the "blacks" and the "Saracens", but also reveals the aesthetic preferences of the Byzantines. The black and generally the dark colors are not considered a thing of beauty, as opposed to the white and golden colors, which we see in portraits of emperors as outlined by historians and chroniclers. Also people who were publicly ridiculed had their faces smudged - a sign of dishonor - because in this way they brought on laughter. In one case a mob ridiculed Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, as the historian Niketas Choniates records, proclaiming the emperor a black man.


To summarize, in the form of a conclusion, we can say that Blacks did not significantly occupy the Byzantine mind because they did not acquire or play a special role in Byzantine society. Their numbers in the cities of Egypt and North Africa are unknown to us. Although their presence was not particularly felt in the traditionally Greek-speaking areas, they should have been in those areas during the period until the seventh century. However, these sources and the extent that I was able to consult, there is no special mention made about them.

The reason the Byzantines did not deal with the blacks or the marginalized, such as several other minorities, lies in the multinational and ecumenical character of the empire, whose ultimate aim was the conversion of the nations and their inclusion in the Christian ecumene, as this was the only true image of the heavenly kingdom on earth.

Source: ΟΙ ΠΕΡΙΘΩΡΙΑΚΟΙ ΣΤΟ ΒΥΖΑΝΤΙΟ (The Fringe in Byzantium), ΊΔΡΥΜΑ ΓΟΥΛΑΝΔΡΗ ΑΘΗΝΑ 1993. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Saint Moses the Ethiopian as a Model for our Lives

St. Moses the Ethiopian (Feast Day - August 28)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Moses the Ethiopian is a creation of true repentance. Led astray at a young age later he became a gang leader of bandits for several years. Having come to awareness, he repented for his crimes and eventually found his way to holiness.

He was a purchased slave of a certain rich land owner. He had a rough and intimidating character and everyday created many problems, until his master resented him and threw him out onto the streets. Moses found shelter among bandits and due to his enormous physical strength he soon rose to become their leader. Once, while hunted by the institutions of power for his many crimes, he went to hide deep in the desert where the most renowned ascetics lived. His association with the saints made him slowly calm down. The Grace of God overshadowed him, because repentance is the time of Grace, his heart softened, and he truly repented and sought redemption. His change was radical and in a short time he reached the measure of the great Fathers of the desert. After Baptism he was made worthy to receive the Grace of the Priesthood. At the age of 75 he departed this temporary life in a violent manner as a martyr. Pagan bandits stormed the cave where he was living in asceticism and they killed him with a knife. In this manner, once again, was the word of Christ to the Apostle Peter verified: "All who receive a sword will perish by a sword" (Matt. 26:52).

The two great virtues which adorned him were true repentance and deep humility. Until his last breath he "wept bitterly" for his sins and considered himself inferior not only to people, but also to irrational creation. "The awareness of our sins is a great gift from Heaven, greater than the vision of angels... Repentance is a priceless gift to humanity... Our theosis is through repentance. This is a fact of inconceivable greatness" (Archimandrite Sophrony, We Shall See Him As He Is). Moses utilized in the best way possible this priceless gift and arrived at theosis, the vision of God.

Several incidents from his life and times reveal the radical change in his way of life. This is what repentance means: a change in mindset and lifestyle. It is worth mentioning one of them: "Once, four bandits who were old companions of his entered his cell in order to rob him, without imagining who they would find inside. When they saw him they were surprised. He, with great ease, took them, tied them up, and led them to the assembly of Elders asking them what should be done with the bandits, saying also: 'To me it is no longer appropriate to punish people'" (Gerontikon).

Repentance is not a static situation, an event of the moment, but it is a dynamic way of life. It is a bloody struggle for the transformation of the passions and the coming of the Holy Spirit to be felt in our entire being.

The greatest illness of man after his fall into sin was pride, which is the root of all evil and the cause of all conflicts and wars. "Pride is that dark abyss in which man sinks due to the fall... Pride is the beginning of evil, the root of all tragedy, the sower of hatred, the annihilator of peace... Pride is that outer darkness, in which the man who has been separated from God's love resides" (Archimandrite Sophrony, We Shall See Him As He Is). The experience of sincere repentance attracts the uncreated Grace of God which transforms human existence. Man thus expels pride and acquires height-creating humility, which is closely linked to self-reproach. That is, one deals only with their own transgressions and their own sins. He complains about and blames himself, speaking first against himself, and he is not resentful when he is criticized and insulted by others.

The venerable Moses was in the habit of saying: "When you occupy your mind with your own sins, there will not be time to monitor the mistakes of others." Characteristic of his deep humility is the following incident: "The day he was ordained a Presbyter by the Patriarch of Alexandria, at the time he wore the sacred vestments, it was said to him in a friendly manner that he became white as a dove. Moses inquired humbly of the Patriarch if he was judging him from the outside or from within, because his vestments were white. The Patriarch, wanting to test him if he had true humility, secretly told the clergy to expel him out of the sacristy. So, when he appeared there after the Divine Liturgy, they expelled him calling him a black man. Moses immediately left without any objection. One of them, who followed him secretly to see if he was bothered, heard him speaking to himself: 'It is good what they have done to you, O black colored one. Since you are not a human, what are you doing with people'" (Gerontikon).

The Orthodox Church, with the way of life it offers, transforms and refines jackals and wolves into harmless sheep and lambs. It changes the proud into humble, fornicators and adulterers into wise, murderers, terrorists and bandits into Venerable Ones.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΜΩΫΣΗΣ Ο ΑΙΘΙΟΠΑΣ", August 2002. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Venerable Abba Poemen: the Shepherd of Souls

Saint Poemen (Feast Day - August 27)

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos 
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The venerable Poemen, who is celebrated by our Church today, belongs to the great chorus of Venerable Ones and Ascetics, who existed as followers of the Martyrs that were martyred during the period of persecution in the first centuries of Christianity. That is, when the persecutions ended, then the martyric "spirit" of Christianity continued with the Venerable Ones and Ascetics, who tried their entire lives to observe the commandments of Christ, even at the most perfect degree.

The venerable Poemen was born in Egypt around 340 AD and from his youth he lived ascetically. When he reached the age of fifteen he went to live in a Sacred Monastery of Libya. At first he seemed "hard" to his mother, who had gone to meet him at the Skete and he avoided her, but he did this in the context of asceticism, which was understood by his mother, and thus she withdrew with joy, even though she did not meet him. In turn, the venerable Poemen came to know the entire method of the Orthodox ascetic life, having been purified of his passions with many spiritual ascetic feats, and he acquired love for the entire world. The love of the venerable Poemen was proverbial, as shown from his sayings which have been preserved in the book known as Gerontikon.

I will mention some of them which he told his visitors, and reveal his spiritual maturity.

When a brother asked him what is the faith which purifies man of the passions, he answered: "Faith is for one to be led by humility and to do works of mercy." Of course, faith is the uncovered truth Christ gave to His Apostles and they to their successors who protected the Church with dogmas. But here is meant empirical faith, which is the experience of uncovered truth, which is humility and love towards others.

A certain brother had evil thoughts and wanted to get rid of them. He asked Abba Poemen about this and he led him out in the air and told him to reach out and catch the winds, because thoughts are like the winds. And when he responded that he could not do it, the venerable Poemen replied: "If you cannot catch the winds, neither could you stop thoughts from coming, but you could resist them," that is, do not do what they tell you. How much truth is hidden in this counsel of the venerable Poemen and how much it helps us who are tossed about by various thoughts!

Abba Poemen taught that people could be saved wherever they were and no matter with what work they were occupied. He said: "If three people are found together, and one is living in quietude well [that is he is living the hesychastic method, far from people and praying unceasingly], the other is ill and thanks God, and the third serves people with pure thoughts [without pride and ulterior motives], then all three are performing the same work." Thus, wherever one lives and in whatever situation they are in, they could be saved if they live with faith in God, love towards the brethren and pure thoughts.

In spiritual struggles there needs to be a measure, in order to prevent excesses. Abba Poemen, who was characterized by discernment, which is why he was known by the name "lamp of discernment", and this was the result of many years of struggles against the passions and the devil, said at one point: "Over-excess is always from the demons," that is, whatever is beyond measure is from the demons. With both sin and spiritual struggle the person must discern the measure, and not be occupied by either despair or pride. Extremes are always dangerous.

Abba Poemen gave great importance to the repentance of man. He knew the alteration of human nature and that man sins by influence from the devil and the captivity of his will, which is why he showed great love towards sinners and urged them towards repentance. To a certain brother who asked him what repentance from sin means, he responded: "Repentance signifies a firm resolution not to return to a sin. For this reason precisely the righteous are called blameless, for they have abandoned sin and have been proven righteous."

A characteristic feature of the great love of the venerable Poemen towards people is shown in the response given to certain brethren who asked if they should awaken the brothers who were sleepy during the assembly. He said: "If I see a particular brother who is sleepy, I will place his head on my knees for his repose."

Such was the empathetic heart of Abba Poemen for the entire world and this was the result of his internal purification, the transformation of his passions towards love for God and for the brethren. This is why the sacred hymnographer calls him "a citizen among Angels and their converser", "a dweller in the metropolis above", "a habitat of virtues", and "a dean of the desert".

May we have his prayers and intercessions before God.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ο όσιος Ποιμήν", July 2006. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Synaxarion of Saint Phanourios the Great-Martyr and Newly-Revealed

The following account of the life of Saint Phanourios was written by St. Nikephoros of Chios and included in the Kollyvades text known as the New Leimonarion.


On the 27th of August, commemoration is made of the Holy, Glorious, and Great-Martyr Phanourios the Newly-Revealed


Phanourios bestows light upon all the faithful,
Even though he long lay in the darkness of the earth.

From whence Phanourios, the splendid athlete of the Lord and invincible martyr, came, and of what parentage he was, and even in what age he lived and under the reign of which emperors he waged his struggle and fought his fight, we have been unable to ascertain, for the account of his life has been lost owing to the vicissitudes of time, as many other things also have been lost or become obscure or unclear. This only do we know, that when the Hagarenes ruled the renowned island of Rhodes, having conquered it because of our sins, he that became ruler of the island wished to rebuild the ramparts of the city that past sieges had ravaged. On the outskirts of the fortress were several ruined dwellings that had been abandoned by reason of their association with the old fortress, which was located a furlong to the south. From these ruins the Hagarenes were wont to gather stones for their construction.

It so happened that, while excavating and reinforcing that place, they discovered a most beautiful church, which was partly buried in ruins. Excavating as far as the floor of the temple, they found many holy icons, all decayed and crumbling, yet the icon of the holy Phanourios was whole and entire; indeed, it seemed as though it had been painted but that very day. And when this all-venerable temple was uncovered, together with its sacred icons, the hierarch of that place, Nilus by name, a man of great sanctity and learning, came and read the inscription of the icon, which said, "The Holy Phanourios."

The Saint was depicted upon the icon as follows: He was shown as a young man, arrayed as a soldier, holding a cross in his right hand, and at the upper part of the cross there was a lighted taper. Round about the perimeter of the icon were twelve scenes from the holy one's martyrdom, which showed the Saint being examined before the magistrate; then in the midst of soldiers, who were beating him about the mouth and head with stones; then stretched out upon the ground while the soldiers flogged him; then, stripped naked while they rent his flesh with iron hooks; then incarcerated in a dungeon; and again standing before the tyrant's tribunal; then being burned with candles; then bound to a rack; then cast amidst wild beasts; then crushed with a great rock; then standing before idols holding burning coals in his hands, whilst a demon nearby wept and lamented; and finally he is shown standing erect in the midst of a fiery furnace, his hands, as it were, uplifted towards Heaven.

From these twelve scenes depicted upon the icon, the holy hierarch perceived that the Saint was a martyr. Then straightway that good and pious man sent deputations to the rulers of that place, asking that they consign to him that temple for restoration, but this they declined to do. Therefore, the hierarch traveled to Constantinople alone and there obtained a decree empowering him to rebuild the church; thus it was restored to that state in which it can be seen even to this day, outside the city. And it has become the source of many miracles, of which I shall relate one for the profit of many, that all who love and venerate the Saint may rejoice.

At that time the isle of Crete had no Orthodox hierarch, but a Latin bishop, for it was ruled then by the Venetians, who had shrewdly refused to permit an Orthodox hierarch to be consecrated whenever one died. This they did with evil intent, thinking that with time they could thus convert the Orthodox to the papal doctrines. If Orthodox men wished to obtain ordination, they had to go to Kythera. It came to pass that there went forth from Crete three deacons, traveling to Kythera to be ordained priests by the hierarch there; and when this had been accomplished, and they were returning to their own country, the Hagarenes captured them at sea and brought them to Rhodes, where they were sold as slaves to other Hagarenes. The newly consecrated priests lamented their misfortune day and night.

But in Rhodes, they heard tell of the great wonders wrought by the Great Martyr Phanourios, and straightway they made fervent supplication to the Saint, beseeching him with tears to deliver them from their bitter bondage. And this they did each separately, without knowing ought of what the others were doing, for they had each been sold to a different master. Now, in accordance with the providence of God, however, they were all three permitted by their masters to go and worship at the temple of the Saint; and, guided by God, they came all together and fell down before the sacred icon of the Saint, watering the ground with the streams of tears, entreating him to deliver them out of the hands of the Hagarenes. Then they departed, somewhat consoled, each to his own master, hoping that they would obtain mercy, which in fact did come to pass; for the holy one had compassion upon their tears and hearkened unto their supplication. That night he appeared to the Hagarenes who were the masters of the captive priests, and commanded them to permit the servants of God to go and worship in his temple lest he bring dreadful destruction upon them. But the Hagarenes, thinking the matter sorcery, loaded them with chains and made their torments more onerous.

Then the Great Martyr Phanourios went to them that night and brought them forth from their bonds, and encouraged them, saying that the following day he would, by all means, free them. He then appeared to the Hagarenes and, reproaching them with severity, said: 'If by tomorrow you have not set your servants at liberty, you shall behold the power of God!' Thus saying, the holy one vanished. And, O, the wonder! As many as inhabited those houses all arose blind and paralyzed, tormented with the most dreadful pangs, the least with the greatest. But, though bedridden, with the help of their kinfolk they considered what to do, and finally decided to send for the captives. And when the three priests were come, they inquired of them if they were able to heal them; and they answered: 'We shall beseech God. Let His will be done.'

But the Saint appeared again to the Hagarenes on the third night and said to them: 'If ye do not send to my house letters of manumission for the priests, you shall have neither the health, nor the light [of sight] which you desire.' And when they had again conferred with their kinfolk and friends, each one composed a letter of emancipation for his own slave, which were left before the icon of the Saint. And O, the wonder! Even before the messengers sent to the temple returned, those, who before were blind and paralyzed, were healed; and marveling they set the priests free and dispatched them to their homeland amicably. The priests, though, had a copy of the icon of St. Phanourios painted and took it with them to their own country, and each year the memory of the holy one is piously celebrated amongst them. By the prayers of the Martyr may Christ God have mercy upon us. Amen!

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
A heavenly song of praise is chanted radiantly upon the earth; the company of angels now joyfully celebrateth an earthly festival, and from on high with hymns they praise thy contests, and from below the Church doth proclaim the heavenly glory which thou hast found by thy labors and struggles, O glorious Phanourios.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Thou didst save the priests from an ungodly captivity, and didst break their bonds by divine power, O godly-minded one; thou didst bravely shame the audacity of the tyrants, and didst gladden the orders of the angels, great martyr. Wherefore, we honor thee, O divine warrior, most glorious Phanourios.

Source: Orthodox Life, Vol. 32, No. 4 (July-August 1982). Translated by [Father] George Lardas from the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church (in Greek), 4th Ed. (Athens, 1974), Vol. VIII, pp. 470-474.

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