Gerontissa Makrina had the gift of prayer since a child. Once she asked with tears our Lord to show her how to pray. That night an Angel of the Lord appeared to her in an all-white robe and taught her how men ought to pray depending on their spiritual condition. According to the Angel’s suggestions, if the soul experiences a perfect Love for God, then one should pray with his hands raised. If humility and remembrance of his sins prevail in his heart, then one should cross his hands on his chest and lower his head. If the soul is engaged in a battle against passions and experiences the ultimate humiliation (ie. Άκρα ταπείνωση), one should pray with his hands ‘tied’ behind his back, like a convict. Then the Angel started praying on his knees, weeping, like he was embracing Christ’s feet, revealing thus the soul’s awareness of its utter insignificance and its ineffable joy and comfort from God. (Pp. Words of the Heart, Gerontissa Makrina Vassopoulou 1921-1995, pp60-61).
I would like to share a few thoughts about mental health disorders from the point of view of a carer. While in the UK, I worked in a care home for some time and had some experience interacting with mentally ill people. However, I was a member of a team and was not fully responsible for anybody. Now, things are tougher because I am in many ways wholly responsible and a carer 24/7. In so many ways I feel I too need long-term support…
‘Give blood and receive the Spirit’
“A woman knows she has conceived when she stops losing blood. So it is with the soul, she knows she has conceived the Holy Spirit when the passions stop coming out of her. But as long as one is held back in the passions, how can one dare to believe that one is sinless? Give blood and receive the Spirit. (Abba Longinus, Sayings of the Desert Fathers)
During this week my thoughts were on a recent saint, Elder Efraim of Katounakia, famous for his 42 years of the martyrdom of obedience to a very difficult, harsh and especially towards the end mentally unstable Elder Nikiforos.
I also reflected a lot on Sister Aggeliki of blessed memory and her obedience to her mentally disturbed sister, keeping her awake with all kinds of ‘happenings’ every single night for about 60 years (!), after her unmercenary doctor’s duties all day and night! I was reminded especially of her obedience to all kinds of crazy errands she was sent and/or accompanied and her long-suffering to all the insults and every name under the sun her sister was calling her for decades! Why did Sister Aggeliki not leave? For the salvation of her sister’s soul. Because, as much as she wanted to become a nun in a monastery, she knew that her sister would then be committed to a mental hospital and there she would be deprived of all the church services she so longed to participate in. And it was only during these church services and Holy Communion that she would be so surprisingly quiet, ‘sane‘ and absorbed …
These were precisely my Elder’s words upon this new obedience: “it is very important that you are patient and do everything that you can so that this poor soul is saved and enters the Kingdom of Heaven!” Not that I bear any resemblance to these exalted ones, but I too must give blood to receive the Holy Spirit and thus receive the baptism of long-suffering and obedience.Grace does not come without blood and tears.
The Lord said to his disciples, “Every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny him before my Father who is in heaven.
The Sunday after Pentecost in the Orthodox Church is dedicated to All Saints. The purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is to make saints of us all. The first and most important element in this process of sanctification is acknowledging Christ before others. In the early Church, and at subsequent times of persecution and still to this day to acknowledge Christ may require a costly sacrifice, even martyrdom.
In such a context,”talk is not cheap” and the Holy Apostles knew this when they wanted to share the life giving salvation that they had found and experienced in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Epistle for the feat Hebrews 11:33-12:2 we read about the price of that confession of faith- “they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.”
We must understand that, as Christians, we are engaged in a spiritual battle in the world. Christ Himself said that the world will hate us but that He had overcome the world. We too have to overcome our timidity and fears, our reluctance to speak out for Christ in the world. We are in the world but not of it.
At every service of worship in the Orthodox Church we offer incense to God as a sign of our worship of the One true God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The action is a powerful symbol of our prayers rising to heaven as the smoke ascends. We read in the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi gives the instruction from God:
From the rising of the sun, even to its going down,
My name shall be great among the Gentiles;
In every place incense shall be offered to My name,
And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
The priest blesses the incense which he puts on to the burning charcoal to cense the holy gifts at the Proskomedia with this prayer:
“ Blessed is our God, always now and ever, and unto the ages of ages . Incense we offer unto thee, O Christ our God, as a savour of spiritual sweetness which do Thou receive upon Thy most heavenly altar and send down upon us in return, the grace of thine all-Holy Sprit. Amen”
Incense has a long history in the Bible and in the tradition of the Church. God commanded Moses to use it in the Tabernacle and it was used in the Temple at Jerusalem where there was an altar of incense. Frankincense and sweet smelling myrrh was offered to Christ at His nativity. In our churches, the sacred censer has twelve bells symbolising the twelve apostles sounding forth their teaching with the proclamation of the gospel. The lower bowl represents the earth and the upper bowl heaven. The charcoal is lit and gives off fire and heat and fragrant incense is placed on the burning coal. Our offering in worship likewise should be sweet and full of zeal with the warmth of the Holy Spirit. We see at various points in the Holy Liturgy and at other services the priest censing the holy Icons of Christ, His All Holy Mother and the saints as well as the faithful who are made in the image of God. When we come home, we find that our clothes are permeated with the aroma of incense. One of our Parishioners remarked that her husband always knows when she has been to Church!
All this is very beautiful. The aroma and action engages with our senses to elevate our heart towards God, but we should not forget the context of what this meant for early Christians. They were required once a year to appear before a statue of Caesar and put a pinch of incense on burning charcoal and say “Caesar is Lord!”It was seen as an act of political loyalty. But of course many Emperors imagined that they were divine (gods) and the conscience of thousands of Christians would not allow them to do this simple act and say these words, because for them there was only one Lord, Jesus Christ. They were prepared to be killed rather than confess a false god.
Just a pinch of incense but to whom do we offer this?
Last century, St.Gabriel Urgebadze from Georgia was such a confessor. After compulsory service in the army, he became a monk in 1955. He made himself famous by setting fire to a banner of Lenin during a parade in Tbilisi in 1965. He spoke openly to the people: “Glory is not needed to this dead, but glory to Christ, who subdued death and blessed us with an eternal life.”He was arrested, tried, ruled to be psychotic and confined to a mental hospital for seven months. He was treated mercilessly by the authorities who demanded from him confession of an alleged conspiracy in the Church in return for him to escape the death sentence. Despite torture and severe interrogation he would not accede to their political machinations. He put Christ first! He acknowledged Christ.
St Polycarp of Smyrna when he was eighty six years of age was asked to renounce Christ he replied, “Eighty six years have I served Christ and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who served me?” He was burned at the stake. He put Christ first. He acknowledged Christ.
We are strengthened when we acknowledge Christ, when we make a public confession of our faith. The Holy Apostle Paul tells us that if we confess with our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead then we will be saved. Romans 10:9-10. We should tell others how much Christ means to us. At Pentecost we were equipped with all the resources we need to bring others to Christ, we have no excuse. If we acknowledge Him before others then He will acknowledge us before the Father in Heaven.
Let us pray, that through the strengthening and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may be found worthy to acknowledge and confess Christ.
Let my prayers be set forth before Thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice; hear Thou me, O Lord.
Some years ago on an excursion to London, I visited an exhibition at the British Museum entitled “Treasures of Heaven.” In it’s own way it was impressive. One could only wonder at the beauty of exquisite craftsmanship, but the collection of precious reliquaries drawn from around the world was a display of ornate but empty vessels.
Later, I felt a similar disquiet visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington at the amount of Church artefacts in a particular part of the museum. It seems that people were visiting and viewing holy items as if they were no longer to be found today within a living community but were things belonging to the past.
One gallery had scenery built in the form of a Church. It was filled with onlookers but empty of prayer and worshippers; they were interested observers, following a commentary with an audio guide.
A short walk from the V&A Museum is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. As soon as I stepped into the Church-the lingering fragrance of incense charged the air. Entering into this Temple of living tradition one felt immediately the atmosphere of prayer, the peace and presence of Christ, His Mother and the Saints. I was able to venerate the holy Icons. I was no longer in the barren desert of history but was drinking from spiritual and living waters of the eternal present. God is glorified in His saints!
Euge Euge Agioi (Well done Saints!)
Acts 5:15 so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.
Ephesians 5:30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.
Treasure from Heaven
A key that unlocks,
Bones yet transfigured
In a fragrant box.
Fragments of saints
To strengthen a prayer
Their earthly remains
For the faithful to share.
A transport of motion
From heaven to save
A grace filled devotion
That blesses the grave.
Members of Christ
Invested to be
Holy and precious
“True faith is found in one’s heart, not mind. People who have faith in their mind will follow the antichrist. But the one’s who have it in their heart will recognise Him.”
— What is ‘experience’ in spiritual life, dearest Father?
— A comb that you acquire when you go bald.
— So, isn’t it useless?
— No, because you can then use it to comb the hair of others!
Saint Porphyrios’ words; Testimony of Metropolitan Neophytos Morfou
*Photograph above: Saint Porphyrios venerated by bees ☦️🐝
In the region of Kapandriti near Athens, a wonderful thing happens. Ten years ago, a devout beekeeper named Isidoros Ţiminis, thought to place in one of his hives an icon of the Crucifixion of the Lord. Soon thereafter, when he opened the hive, he was amazed that the bees showed respect and devotion to the icon, having “embroidered” it in wax, yet leaving uncovered the face and body of the Lord. Since then, every spring, he puts into the hives icons of the Savior, the Virgin Mary and the Saints, and the result is always the same. He placed a photograph of Elder Porphyrios (before he was canonized) in the hive, and the bees showed the same respect and veneration as towards other saints. (Mystagogy Resource Center)
I too meant to share with you but I am having problems with my laptop 😦 I tried to yesterday but was not able to … It is such a beautiful documentary! Even if someone is not so interested in the life of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, the scenery is breathtaking, the monastery “sightseeing tours”amazing, and Jonathan Jackson’s acting is so good!
Update Saturday, 23 May: Actucally, there is time. You can watch the whole documentary on the great 20th-century Athonite spiritual father “Saint Joseph the Hesychast: ELDER JOSEPH THE HESYCHAST FILM (Άγιος Ιωσήφ ο Ησυχαστής)” , starring the Emmy-award winning Jonathan Jackson.
“…… I learned from the internet that the journalist Angel Bonchev was preparing a book about the unknown for us Saint Nikephoros the Leper, at a critical moment when the world was covered by the coronavirus pandemic and thousands died, killed by this new plague.
I called him on the phone and he briefly told me about his suffering life and the heavy cross that had been given to him. I was very anxious and disturbed in the weeks before by all that was heard on the media, but at that moment I felt comforted, especially when I learned that St. Nikephoros had appeared to a man in Greece to inspire courage and a willingness to help people against this evil.
Since up to this point I did not have much information about his life, akathist, prayers, I was comforted by the little I already knew and told myself that the saint would help, I had faith that he would be with us, I felt close to him. I cried all night, praying to him, thinking about what was happening in the world and the cases of infected people that were growing every day in Bulgaria.
Saint Nikephoros the Leper: The first night
At 4 o’clock that night I fell asleep. In my dream, he visited me – Saint Nikephoros the Leper. I recognized him immediately. I saw him in his black dew, standing up, holding a golden cross in his right hand. He addressed me with the words: “Warn all Christians to pray to me, but repeatedly. Let them also read the services. There is a cure and this is the Holy Communion. There’s also a herb to drink, it’s thyme, it kills viruses. And in any case, be sure to visit the house of God at this difficult time, because there is no contagion there and no one can be infected. ” It was the first night.
The next night, he came again and said this time that many Christians, and not only, had prayed to him because he had also spread through social networks about his appearance in Greece. He also told me to tell my son to pray to him, but not only once, as he had once said to him, – that is not enough. “Many times,” the saint repeated. The next day I asked my child, “How many times have you prayed to St. Nikephoros?” And he replied that only once in the morning. I explained to him that it was not enough.
The third night
The third night I saw him again. But this time, the most important thing I understood was that Bulgaria would be protected from the virus. I turned to him with the question: “Will all of Bulgaria be preserved?” He said to me, “Yes!” At that moment I saw our country as a map, and he stood over it, over Southern Bulgaria, and more precisely somewhere over Plovdiv. And he said, “Ring the bells, ring the bells, ring the bells!” I asked, “Are there bells in the Diocese of Plovdiv?” “Yes!” He said very briefly and affirmatively. Then he ascended to heaven, and with his golden cross in his hand, he blessed from above. From the very cross, a light came down and illuminated the whole country. The last thing he said was, “It will pass!”
After all this, a tremendous change occurred in me – the reassurance and strength that Saint Nikephoros the Leper Coronavirus Miracle Worker breathed into me, in the face of the panic that has engulfed everyone in the world and in our country … “
It was the evening after the feast of the Finding of the head of St. John the Forerunner, the eve of the feast day of St. Apostle Carp. I felt very inspired that evening. I did not want to sleep at all and I thought, “ Well, let me write something about Fr. Tikhon and send it to the sisters in Souroti”. By 8:30a.m. I wrote about 30 pages. I still did not want to sleep but decided to lie down for a while because my legs were weak.
Sunrise began. By 9a.m. I was still not sleeping. And suddenly I saw that one of the walls of my cell (the one near which my bed stood) just disappeared. I saw Christ – He was in the light, just about 6 meters from me. I saw Him from His side. His hair was bright and His eyes were blue. He did not say a word to me, but only looked – not right at me, but a bit more to the side.
I saw everything with the non-corporal eyes. In such cases, it does not matter whether your corporal eyes are closed or not. I saw that with my spiritual eyes.
When I saw Him, I thought, “ How could they all spit in that Face? How could they – the people without any fear of God – hit that Face? How could they slam the nails into that Body? Oh, God…”
I was struck by that. How pleased I felt at that moment! What a joy I felt! I cannot express that beauty with words. It was the very beauty about which it was said: “You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips” (Psalm 45:2). This is what that beauty was. I have never seen anything like that on any of His images. There was only one – I do not remember where I have seen it – which looked a bit alike.
A person should work in a monastery ever for a thousand years to see this beauty at least for a moment. What great and indescribable things are gifted to people – and how miserable are the things we try to deal with!
After this vision, Saint Paisios the Athonite ordered to the nuns from the monastery of Souroti to make an icon of Christ exactly like he saw Him. The image represents this icon.
This photograph which is being published for the first time in the pages of this edition [Μακαριστός Ιάκωβος Τσαλίκης, 5th edition, published in 2000] was taken in the cell of the late Elder Iakovos eleven months after his death.
The Cypriot Hierodeacon who took it wasn’t able to visit the late Elder while he was alive, so he wanted to take a picture of his cell.
And – O the miracle! – when the film was developed, everyone was amazed to see the form of the late Elder.
An interesting observation has been made about the photo. The late Elder is full-bodied, in gigantic proportions, in relation to space in his cell and the very near distance to the wall from where the photo was taken. A professional Cypriot photographer pointed out that it takes at least 15 feet to shoot a full-length, upright person!
God is Glorified in His Saints! For details of this miracle, go to Mystagogy