Entering Hell on Pentecost – With Prayer

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The cycle of prayers assaulting Hades reaches a climax on the day of Pentecost. On the evening of that Sunday, the faithful gather for Vespers. During that service, they kneel for the first time since Pascha. And in that kneeling, the Church teaches them the boldness of prayer, the cry of human hearts for God’s solace and relief. Three lengthy prayers are offered, the third of which completes and fulfills the prayers that began so many weeks before in the Soul Saturdays:

Priest: O Christ our God, the ever-flowing Spring, life-giving, illuminating, creative Power, coeternal with the Father, … Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, dost deign to receive oblations and supplications for those bound in Hades, and grantest unto us the great hope that rest and comfort will be sent down from Thee to the departed from the grief that binds them. …

I can recall the first time in my priesthood that I offered this prayer. I had a copy in front of me, but had not read it before the service, nor had I ever heard it. I trembled as I offered the words above…astounded by their boldness. I had never heard such boldness before the Throne of God within the walls of the Church itself.

 

Reblogged from Fr. Stephen Freeman’s Glory to God for All things

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Freedom from Suffering

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The moment we accept death, true life can begin.  (Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra)

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The secret to his freedom does not lie in the rejection of his suffering, but in his joyful acceptance of them. He will be truly free only when he lets go of wanting to be free of his sufferings, for all freedom and all life depend on our being in right relation to God. When he accepts his death; when he allows himself to hear the sound of his footsteps descending into the grave, he will find that death no longer has a hold on him, for now he is with God. The darkness will vanish and he will see only light.

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If he accepts to become an instrument of God’s will, he will emerge triumphant; but otherwise he will fail.

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If “l” exist God cannot exist, for there cannot be two gods, and so it is either God or the self. When someone sees only his own suffering, God cannot answer him, for it is precisely the mistaken, negative attitude toward suffering that constitutes the separation between him and God. But if “I” cease to exist, if my relation to my suffering changes, then I can be united to God. This union depends on the denial of my self, so that God can come into my life.

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I must learn to accept suffering with joy, to find joy within my suffering, to realize that even in my moments of glory, I am nothing but “dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27), a pelican in the wilderness (Ps 102:6), lost in a desert land, seeking shelter in a landscape of ruins. I must realize my sinfulness, my nakedness, my alienation from God; I must realize I am like a sparrow alone o a house top (Ps 102:7), not because I have some psychological problem, but because I have been separated from God. … In this cry, this calling out, there exists the hope that I will hear the sound of His footsteps, and these will overtake my own and lead me to salvation.

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Source: Psalms and the Life of Faith, by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, pp 104-10

From Pascha to Good Friday

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That Easter (Paschal) Vigil Father Dionysios chanted “Christ is Risen!” only once. His next words were “My child, my child!” (1) The explosion of light which followed after at midnight the church went dark and the bells rang out to proclaim the resurrection was literally an explosion. When people started cheering and letting off firework crackers, one flare rebounded on a tree and exploded on his 6 years old son’s eye. K. his neighbour, 25 years old, had shot a flare with a sailor’s gun. It was Christos’ first time to hold the Paschal banner on the platform. They took the boy immediately to the nearest hospital, to the intensive care unit. For 5 days, Father Dionysios was holding his little boy’s hand praying for a miracle to save his life. His friends were screaming “Kill the murderer! He killed your son!” Father Dionysios told them to stop. “Do not lay charges on this man! Let us punish him with our love. What would Christ have done in our place? This is what you need to ask yourselves.”  For 4 days and nights, Father Dionysios pleaded on his knees. We did not know what happened on that 4th night but we saw him the following day in church exhausted but serene. Then, at 11 am, the news from the hospital came.  “We did all we could …” Father Dionysios looked up to the sky, and a tear trickled down his cheek to the ground.

The following day, Bright, Resurrection Day, but for their village was Good Friday. The little coffin was white. Father Dionysios, pale, was holding his little son’s hand, just as he had done all his life and the last four days in intensive care. He was his only son.

After the funeral, they kept pressing him to lay charges against his neighbour. He refused again. The following day he went to visit him in jail. The man everybody called a murderer. When he saw him, he wept and held his hand. Both were weeping. “Don’t say anything”, he told him. “He Who gives life, He knows ..” And he forgave him.

The Tear in the Chalice

One Sunday in June was the Memorial Service. At “Thine Own of Thine Own”, Father Dionysios looked at the Cross in the altar, and saw Christakis, not Christ, on the Cross, looking at him. Tears welled up in his eyes. Then he looked up again at the Cross, and he saw his son’s “murderer” face on Christ’s. His neighbour was still in jail. More tears welled up in his eyes. When he raised his eyes again for a third time, he saw Christ’s face on the Cross, Christ weeping and a tear falling in the Chalice.

 

(1) This story is real, and the event took place in Drosia, Evia, in 2011. Christos Soutzios, 6 years old, the priest’s only son, got killed by a flare. That memorial service took place on June 5, 2011. 

Source: https://www.egnomi.gr/article/14902/to_megaleio_tis_psyxis_toy_papa_dionysi.html

https://www.newsit.gr/topikes-eidhseis/xalkida-sygklonizei-o-pateras-pou-eide-na-skotonetai-to-paidi-tou-apo-naytiki-fotovolida-video/2769945/

 

 

*Sent by Hieromonk Synesios, St. Arsenios Monastery

 

 

From Hell to Paradise

 

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A unlit candle among the burning candles in the candle stand of Vatopaidi Monastery (Mount Athos). Blessed are the humble ones because they have the true light and ceaselessly give it to the others within a burning joy. They feel united with the others, even with the lesser and worst of all people, and for this humbleness God gives them His blessing, his peace.  The proud one prematurely feels the singularity and darkness of hell from this life. Source: The Ascetic Experience 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following is the story that Elder Aimilianos told of his own mystical experience, but he told it in the third person:

“Permit me to tell you [runs the story] about a certain monk I once knew. Just as all of us have moments of difficulty, he too was passing through a very critical period of his life. The devil had cast fire into his brain, and wanted to strip him of his monastic dignity, and make him a miserable seeker of alleged truth. His soul roared like breaking waves, and he sought deliverance from his distress. From time to time, he remembered the Prayer of the Heart, but it resounded only weakly within him, because he had no faith in it. His immediate surroundings were of no help. Every­thing was negative. His heart was about to break. How wretched man becomes when he is beset by problems! And who among us has not known such terrible days, such dark nights, and agonizing trials?

Our monk did not know what to do. Walks did nothing for him. The night stifled him. And one night, gasping for air, he threw open the window of his cell in order to take a deep breath. It was dark – about three o’clock in the morning. In his great weariness, he was about to close the window, hoping to get at least a few moments of rest. At that very moment, however, it was as if everything around him – even the darkness outside – had become light! He looked to see where such light might be coming from, but it was coming from nowhere. The darkness, which has no existence of its own, had become light, although his heart remained in the dark. And when he turned around, he saw that his cell had also be­come light!He examined the lamp to see if the light was coming from there, but that one, small oil lamp could not become light itself, neither could it make all things light.

Although his heart was not yet illumined, he did have a certain hope. Overcome with surprise and moved by this hope, but without being fully aware of what he was doing, he went out into the black courtyard of the monastery, which had often seemed to him like hell. He went out into the silence, into the night. Everything was clear as day. Nothing was hidden in the darkness. Everything was in the light: the wooden beams and the windows, the church, the ground he walked on, the sky, the spring of water which flowed continuously, the crickets, the fireflies, the birds of the night – everything was visible, everything! And the stars came down and the sky lowered itself, and it seemed to him that everything – earth and sky had become like heaven!And everything together was chanting the prayer [i.e. of the heart], everything was saying the prayer.And his heart strangely opened and began to dance; it began to beat and take part involuntarily in the same prayer; his feet barely touched the ground. He did not know how he opened the door and entered the church, or when he had vested; he did not know when the other monks arrived, or when the Liturgy began. What exactly happened he did not know. Gone was the ordinary connection of things, and he knew only that he was standing before the altar, before the invisibly present God, celebrating the Liturgy. And striking, as it were, the keys of both his heart and the altar, his voice resounded above, to the altar beyond the heavens. The Liturgy continued. The Gospel was read. The light was no longer all around him, but had built its nest within his heart. The Liturgy ended, but the song that had begun in his heart was endless. In his ecstasy, he saw that heaven and earth sing this prayer without ceasing, and that the monk truly lives only when he is animated by it. For this to happen, he needs only to cease living for himself.”

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An Antidoro from Elder Aimilianos’ many teachings available in print due to the tireless efforts of the Ormylia nuns for the last 23 years after Gerondas receded into silence. More would have survived had not Elder Aimilianos set fire on his own manuscripts decades ago in an act of self-effacing humility before the horrified eyes of his disciples

 

Welcome, illness, welcome, failure, welcome, suffering!

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Christ, Man of Sorrows, end of 15th century

“Unforeseen things turn up constantly in our way because we have our will and our desires. Those unforeseen things are contrary to our will and desires; this is why they appear unforeseen to us, although they really are not. Because the person who loves God expects whatever may come, saying always “your will be done!” Rain will come, a storm, hail, thunder? “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” These are unforeseen because they come in contact with our ‘fleshly’ way of being. Therefore, in order not to be unsettled every time and to be upset, not to fret and succumb to anxiety, you have to expect all, and bear whatever may come. You must always say: “Welcome, illness, welcome, failure, welcome, suffering!” This will bring about meekness, without which there cannot exist a spiritual life.” (Elder Aimilianos Simonopetra)

 

 

Living Waters

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“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)

“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)”

What beautiful imagery! Indeed, the teachings of Our Lord came to the thirsting human race like living water, like a river of grace cooling the face of the earth. Christ is the fount of grace ‘of the water that will gush up to eternal life’, which slakes and waters people’s souls which are parched with raging thirst. Which transforms those who drink into springs: ‘Rivers of living water shall flow from their bellies’. And He said to the Samaritan woman’. The water that I shall give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’. Which transformed the desert of the world into a paradise of evergreen trees planted by God, planted as the edge of the waters by the Holy Spirit.

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THE FEAST OF MID-PENTECOST AND THE PENTECOSTARION

The fifty days following Pascha until the Feast of Pentecost are known as the period of the Pentecostarion in the Orthodox Church. At the mid-point between these great feasts of Pascha and Pentecost, on the twenty-fifth day which is always a Wedneday, is one of the most beloved feasts for the most devout Orthodox Christians known quit simply as Mid-Pentecost. Mid-Pentecost is to the Pentecostarion what the Third Sunday of Great Lent which honors the Holy Cross is to the period of Great Lent. It is a day which helps us focus on the central theme of the entire period. Whereas the mid-point of Great Lent reminds us to bear up the Cross of Christ bravely so that we may daily die with Christ in order to experience the Resurrection of our Lord, so also the mid-point of the Pentecostarion enlightens us regarding the theme of the fifty days following Pascha – which is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit poured out as a gift upon all the faithful who partake of the living water which is Christ Himself.

The central theme woven throughout the period of the Pentecostarion therefore is water. This becomes the central theme of the period because it is the central theme of the Gospel of John which we read in its entirety during the Pentecostarion and which naturally flows into the Acts of the Apostles which is also read during this period in its entirety. This theme appears for the first time on Pascha itself in the joyous Canon of the Feast of Feasts written by Saint John the Damascene when he invites us to “drink a new drink,” not “brought forth from a barren rock,” as in the Old Testament under Moses, but which rather “springeth forth from the grave of Christ.” Then during the Paschal Divine Liturgy the priest processes with the Gospel and chants loudly from Psalm 67:27 saying: “In the congregations bless ye God, the Lord from the well-springs of Israel.”

When Renewal or Bright Week is over the Church wisely sets up two Sundays in which to abolish all doubts concerning the Resurrection of Christ, that of the Sunday of Saint Thomas and the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women. This is done in order to ensure that we all partake of the living water that only the risen Lord can give. The following three Sundays, as we approach Pentecost, the theme of water becomes more and more central in the hymns of the Church. Thus we are found one Sunday at the Sheep’s Pool with the Paralytic, then at the Well of Jacob with the Samaritan Woman, and finally at the Pool of Siloam with the Blind Man. During this festive period we hear concerning the “living water” which if one partakes of “he will never thirst”. We are taught that it is our Savior Himself who is this living water, and we partake of Him through the baptismal waters and the Cup of Life which issued forth from His side at His crucifixion unto remission of sins and life everlasting. Then on Pentecost we have grace rained upon our parched souls and bodies so that we may be fruitful and have a great harvest as we hear from the holy Gospel on that day: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink”. Finally the Pentecostarion concludes with the Feast of All Saints, that is those who partook of the “waters of piety”, which is the harvest of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Fathers teach us that the feast of Mid-Pentecost stands in the middle of the fifty-day period from Pascha to Pentecost as a mighty flowing river of divine grace which have these two great feasts as its source. Pascha and Pentecost are united in Mid-Pentecost. Without Pascha there is no Pentecost and without Pentecost there is no purpose to Pascha.

We read the following entry in The Great Horologion that further explains the details of the feast:

“After the Saviour had miraculously healed the paralytic, the Jews, especially the Pharisees and Scribes, were moved to envy and persecuted Him, and sought to slay Him, using the excuse that He did not keep the Sabbath, since He worked miracles on that day. Jesus then departed to Galilee. About the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, He went up again to the Temple and taught. The Jews, marveling at the wisdom of His words, said, ‘how knoweth this man letters, having never learned?’ But Christ first reproached their unbelief and lawlessness, then proved to them by the Law that they sought to slay Him unjustly, supposedly as a despiser of the Law, since He had healed the paralytic on the Sabbath.

“Therefore, since the things spoken of by Christ in the middle of the Feast of the Tabernacles are related to the Sunday of the Paralytic that is just passed, and since we have already reached the midpoint of the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost, the Church has appointed this present feast as a bond between the two great Feasts, thereby uniting, as it were, the two into one, and partaking of the grace of them both. Therefore today’s feast is called Mid‐Pentecost, and the Gospel Reading, ‘At Mid‐feast’—though it refers to the Feast of the Tabernacles—is used.

“It should be noted that there were three great Jewish feasts: the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Passover was celebrated on the 15th of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, which roughly coincides with our March. This feast commemorated that day on which the Hebrews were commanded to eat the lamb in the evening and anoint the doors of its houses with its blood. Then, having escaped bondage and death at the hands of the Egyptians, they passed through the Red Sea to come to the Promised Land. It is called ‘the feast of Unleavened Bread,’ because they ate unleavened bread for seven days. Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after Passover, first of all, because the Hebrew tribes had reached Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt, and there received the Law from God; secondly, it was celebrated to commemorate their entry into the Promised Land, where also they ate bread, after having been fed with manna forty years in the desert. Therefore, on this day they offered to God a sacrifice of bread prepared with new wheat. Finally, they also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles from the 15th to the 22nd of ‘the seventh month,’ which corresponds roughly to our September. During this time, they lived in booths made of branches in commemoration of the forty years they spent in the desert, living in tabernacles, that is, in tents (Ex. 12:10‐20; Lev. 23 LXX). “

The Feast of Mid-Pentecost is celebrated for an entire week until the following Wednesday, making it an eight day feast. During this entire time the hymns of Mid-Pentecost are joined with that of Pascha. Because of the theme of water, traditionally the Church celebrates the Lesser Blessing of the Waters on this day, preferably with a procession with the Holy Cross to a water spring.

The theme of the feast not only invokes water, but even more central to the Gospel chronology it honors Christ as Teacher and Wisdom as He reveals Himself between the stories of the Paralytic and that of the Blind Man. During this time we are told: “Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught…Jesus answered them, and said, ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself'” (John 7:14-30). The icon for this feast depicts the young Jesus teaching the elders in the Temple (Luke 2:46, 47) at which time Jesus first revealed Himself as a teacher or rabbi. Traditional Orthodox icons will depict Jesus as larger than the elders, showing his superior spiritual status.

Since the hymns of the Church invoke and praise our Lord as the Wisdom of God spoken of in the Book of Proverbs, it is traditional that all churches named after Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia celebrate their feast on this day. In fact, Greek scholar Constantine Kalokyre has written a study titled “The Churches of the Wisdom of God and the Date of their Celebration”, which appeared in the periodical Saint Gregory Palamas, no. 71 (723) (1988), pp. 538-617. In this study he comes to the conclusion that the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople celebrated its feast day on Mid-Pentecost.

From Mystagogy

Also cf Pemptousia

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Troparion, tone 8: Having come to the middle of the Feast, refresh my thirsty soul with the streams of piety; for Thou, O Saviour, didst cry to all: Let him who thirsts come to Me and drink. O Christ our God, Source of Life, glory to Thee.

Kontakion, tone 4: When the Feast of the law was half over, O Lord and Creator of all, Thou didst say to the bystanders, O Christ our God: Come and draw the water of immortality. Therefore we fall down before Thee and cry with faith: Grant us Thy bounties, for Thou art the Source of our Life.

 

Elder Aimilianos and Christ Pantokrator

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Please have a look at the eyes of the Elder how much they resemble Christ’s ‘different’ eyes and left vs right features in that famous Sinai icon*. Isn’t this a striking similarity? I am completely mesmerised, if I may use such an expression, with this photograph of the Elder, and I have been spending really a lot of time simply looking at him, ever since his repose in Christ. Compassionate, Peaceful, yet Stern too. It feels like an icon to me, and not a photograph. Your thoughts?

Elder aimilianos

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Many (1) agree that the icon represents the dual nature of Christ, illustrating traits of both man and god, perhaps influenced by the aftermath of the ecumenical councils of the previous century at Ephesus and Chalcedon. Christ’s features on his left side (the viewer’s right) are supposed to represent the qualities of his human nature, while his right side (the viewer’s left) represents his divinity.

(1) Cf. Manaphēs, Sinai: Treasures, 84; Robin Cormack, Oxford History of Art: Byzantine Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 66.