Prayer for Difficult Times

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By Elder Sophrony of Essex

‘In difficult times, when all my efforts have failed to conform the events of my life towards the Gospel teaching, I would pray in the following manner:
“Come and make Yourself one with my will. Your commandments do not fit within my narrow heart, and my finite nous does not comprehend their content. If You are not well pleased to come and dwell within me Yourself, then I will inevitably be led towards the darkness. I know that You do not work through force, so I entreat You: Come and take charge of my house, and wholly renew me. Transform the hellish darkness of my pride into Your humble love. Transfigure with Your Light my corrupted nature, that no passion might be able to remain within me that would prevent Your coming with Your Father (John 14:21-23). Make me a dwelling place of that holy life which You Yourself have allowed me to taste of here in part…Yes, O Lord, I entreat You, do not deprive from me this sign of Your goodness.” ‘

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Elder Sophronios’ prayer is so ‘Palamite’ ( +St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika the Wonderworker)

 “The first two years in his monastic habit, he spent with fasting, vigil, concentration of the mind and unceasing prayer. In his prayers he always evoke as intercessor the Mother of God and in every occasion he would ask for Her help. Once, when he was still and wholly surrendered to the thought of God, he saw in front of him a very venerable elder (St. John the Theologian). Turning at him with a gentle look, the elder said: ”I came my child, sent by the Most Holy and Queen of all to ask you, why every hour, day and night, you cry to God ‘…enlighten my darkness, enlighten my darkness …?” In reply, Gregory said: ”And what else shall I ask, me who am full of passion and sin, but to be shown mercy and be enlighten to see and do the Will of God?” Then the Evangelist told him: ”The Mistress of all – through me, her servant – commands that I should be your helper.” Then Gregory asked him: ”When will the mother of my Lord help me, now or after death?” ”Now and at the future life”, said the Theologian and disappeared, filling the heart of Gregory with unspeakable joy in regard to the promises of the mother of God.”

 The life of Saint Gregory Palamas Archbishop of Thessalonika the Wonderworker by Philotheos, Patriarch of Constantinople

 

 

Born to Hate Reborn to Love

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A Spiritual Odyssey from Head to Heart

The Incredible Tale of Klaus Kenneth

(Not for the faint-hearted) 

A friend recommended this book and its author last Sunday, and I have no words to describe the experience! I am half-way through the book and still reeling from the shock of the reading experience, chapter after chapter. And I believed that “The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios” by Dionysios Farasiotis was scary… Nothing had prepared me for this. Klaus Kenneth, emotionally and physically abused by family and priests, a gang leader at 12, a terrorist at 22 and a junkie at 25; then, a Buddhist monk, a Hindu mystic and an occultist in Central America, and this is only a chapter in his life. In his sincere search for escape from rejection and abuse, Klaus found himself on an odyssey that took him around the world several times, lured him into a vortex of pleasure and power, and initiated him into the great philosophies and religious traditions of our times. Having tried it all, and reaching the very brink of the abyss of despair and the desire for nonexistence, Klaus encounters the One whom he had never thought to look for, the One that he had always discounted: the great I AM, the God of Love and healing, the God of regeneration and eternal life.

“Do not fear!” “In my Name you will always be stronger!”

“To this day, I have never again experienced fear or doubt, and certainly no real despair.”

In that whirlwind of spiritual seeking, in all this frenetic searching for something more in his words, I believe he elaborated on his darker moments a little too much. I understand that he was trying to make his life an open book, but some of his experiences of power that he gained from Satan could serve as a temptation to readers. Eventually, Mr. Kenneth made right with God and we learn that he ultimately became an Orthodox Christian. At least, “The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios” is written with more restraint. I am honestly not sure if that is a book to be recommended, as the first part of his book reads like a visit to Hell in graphic detail. Or, like “the difficult road out of hell”. It has honestly scared me. I mean, it is certainly most encouraging that after his conversion and Christ’s promise to him “Do not fear!” “In my Name you will always be stronger!”, Klaus “to this day, has never again experienced fear or doubt, and certainly no real despair.” Yet, the reading is not for the faint-hearted. Half-way through the book, I am certainly looking forward to his extended talks with Elder Sophrony. In fact, it was under the guidance and prayers of Elder Sophrony that this version of his book came to be published, so who am I really to voice any objections for certain parts which I have found disturbing … Have you read this book and what are your views?

Another thing which I made me uneasy was all this personal, Confession tone of the narrative, something that one does not find in Orthodox discourse where a person’s personal experiences are not the centre of the discourse, but the church experience instead. This personal tone may be quite common in Protestant discourse but not in Orthodox. However, if we approach all this with positive thinking, there is so much for us to profit. Yes, Klaus Kenneth may be extreme, but so is Elder Sophrony, and so many other Saints.

For an interview with the writer, go to Journey to Orthodoxy here and for his precious talks with Elder Sophrony here.

A Holy Man’s Christmas Card

nativity-icon-5Paraskevi, who out of sheer humility does not wish to reveal her full name, was among the first spiritual children of Elder Sophrony, during the time of her studies in England. She sent us a copy of two handwritten scripts by the blessed Elder.

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A good wish card which the blessed Elder sent during Christmas 1967, when Paraskevi was going through some difficult times because of the illness of a close relative.

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 The outside of the card

The Christmas wish card (handwritten):

Archimandrite Sophrony

The Old Rectroy,Tolleshent Knight

by Maldon, Essex

Christmass 1967,

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Dear beloved in Christ, Sister Paraskevi.

May the Lord’s grace and peace be abundant in you. Let me first wish you Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Paraskevi, has it ever happened to do something according to my blessing and it turned out harmful? Or has it happened that you did something according to your mind and not according to my humble advice that it was successful and in accordance with God’s providence? Therefore, now you must listen to me, the old fool, and do as I give you the blessing to do. The only beneficial way for you and your relatives is to finish your studies and work at the same time, as my monks do from morning till the evening. Get rid of any worry for X and your family.

The unworthy Arch. Sophrony.

You have the love of all who are at out monastery.

***

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Handwritten inscription by the Elder on the 15th August 1975, when he sent her his book, St Silouan the Athonite

On the book St Silouan the Athonite (handwritten):

To my beloved in Christ sister Paraskevi with warm wishes and love

Arch. Sophrony

15th August 1975

Printed in Caps:

Hailing from various countries

And retreating to the Mountain,

Among the holy fathers of Mount Athos,

Escaping the unnatural

And safeguarding the natural

Rising to that which is beyond nature

Again, by hand of Elder Sophrony:

From the Holy Spirit gashes out love, and without it no one is able to know God ‘as He must be known’.

E.S. p. 443

(Note: E.S. refer to Elder Silouan, not yet recognized as a Saint at the time)

Do Not try. Give up. Be wrong.

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This is something of a follow up on a recent post. Here I will be simply listing quotes of Archimandrite Sophrony taken from the book, “I Know a Man in Christ”, by Metrtopolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos, published by, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2015. Therefore at the end of each quote only a page number will be designated. In addition I will tack on an ending which I choose to refer to as “epilogue”:

People’s growing love of psychology is a terrible thing. Psychology helps those in the West, but it is dreadful when the Orthodox learn psychology and substitute it for the neptic tradition of the Church. We must undermine Orthodox Christians’ love of psychology, because psychological methodology is outside the Orthodox tradition and, at the same time, it is characterized by the Western mentality. (p.269)

The whole of the West was influenced by St. Augustine. Augustinian theory is rather psychological; it deals with God psychologically. In Greece today there is a noticeable trend towards psychology, which is why St. Augustine is studied so much. St. Augustine may be a saint, but his work is subject to much exploitation.(p.345)

There is a great difference between the Orthodox and Western traditions. Psychology is adjusted to the Western tradition, so it differs enormously from the Orthodox tradition. (p. 358)

I am sorry about those spiritual fathers who assert that the spiritual life is not enough and psychology is also necessary. (p.368)

Human psychology uses different anthropology. It is more or less heretical. It is dangerous. It is bad that it is used by spiritual fathers. To a certain extent it helps those who have no experience to understand other people, but it does harm. Spiritual things also have psychological repercussions, as can be seen when one looks at the Orthodox and the Latins. But psychological things are not spiritual as well. (p.364)

Psychology and the spiritual life have different starting points; their anthropology is different. However, we cannot overlook psychology, which mainly helps people who are atheists and do not want to use the hesychastic tradition of the Church. It is a remedy for people who are far from the living God and are in terrible torment. It should be used discreetly and wisely. Medication may help the body that has suffered serious harm from various problems, but the cure will come through man’s regeneration by the grace of God. The soul’s wounds are cured by means of prayer.(p. 227)

The view that everything psychological is also spiritual, and everything spiritual is also psychological is a deadly danger. It is very dangerous for us to regard people’s psychological problems as spiritual states. Such a view is a blasphemy against God. The exact opposite ought to happen, that is to say, we ought to make a distinction between spiritual life and psychological life. (p. 358)

In all our years in the Monastery here is England, I have never met anyone who was cured through psychoanalysis, although it is highly developed in Western societies, However, to be fair, neurologist and doctors who give drugs to patients are more humble than psychoanalysts, and they help people to become socially balanced. They also help those within the Church, when they have problems of a neurological nature for various reasons. (p. 358)

The observations of psychology with regard to human beings are significant, because they explain that beyond the rational faculty there is something more profound. Psychological analysis, however, is infantile compared with the teaching of the Fathers of the Church. Although the observations of psychology are significant, the therapeutic method that it offers is awful. Psychoanalysis does not cure man; rather it confuses him even more. (p. 358)

One ought not to ‘spy’ on oneself, but to have profound repentance. (p. 286)

There is a difference between psychology and life in Christ. Psychology attempts to deliver man from guilt complexes, whereas in life in Christ we experience grief, pain, on account of being far from God, and we do not stop repenting until this grief is transformed. (pp. 343-4)

Epilogue:
A priest who studied psychology in the 1980’s both read the former post and worked together with me on this in that he found the quotes listed above. As we discussed the subject at hand he made some interesting observations: “Psychology today, no longer has a guiding star; it has nothing outside itself to look to as a model. It is self-absorbed. Whatever pleases a person, he can do. It has acquired the ethic of the culture it exists in.”

Holy Mountain’s Secret Cry

 

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Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios, Hierotheos, speaks on Mount Athos’ secret cry:  the Prayer of the Heart

 

As biological life is transmitted, so spiritual tradition is a whole life.

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A guide speaks theoretically, but the Fathers beget spiritually.

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The Holy Mountain is a living organism.

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May the Lord find us worthy to hear its secret cry!

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Already in his youth, Metropolitan Hierotheos was particularly interested in the Fathers of the Church, working for a time in the monastery libraries of Mount Athos, on the recording of the codices. He was especially interested in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas.

The influence of Fr. John Romanidis, the study of the patristic texts and particularly those of the hesychast Fathers of the Philokalia, many years of studying St. Gregory Palamas, association with the monks of the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos), and many years of pastoral experience, all brought him to the realisation that Orthodox theology is a science of the healing of man and that the neptic fathers can help the modern restless man who is disturbed by many internal and existential problems.

Within this framework he has written a multitude of books, the fruit of his pastoral work, among which is Orthodox Psychotherapy. Some of these books have been translated into various languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. With these books he conveys the Orthodox spirit of the Philokalia to the restless and disturbed man of our time.

Books

 

 

Allowed to See

The Bible: the center of Theology of Father Symeon Krayiopoulos

The Bible: Father Symeon’s Kragiopoulos Centre of Theology

His discourse was also theological. He never ignored dogma, never indulged in moralizing, empty verbiage or flights of fancy. He spoke well, was comprehensible, and used theology, not as a system of knowledge, but as the essence of life, which imbues the whole of human existence. The centre of his theology was the Bible, which he knew in depth. His sermons were, at bottom, Biblical and he recommended that his ‘children’ read the Scriptures, and, indeed, he set a chapter of the New Testament to be read every day, by all of them. He immersed himself in the Scriptures, engaging with the text and enjoying the interpretational footnotes, both Patristic and modern.

We would often speak at length on the telephone about one passage or a single word.

His theological discourse wasn’t superficial. He knew theology in depth, he was up-to-date with theological bibliography and followed developments in academic theology. He was usually present at conferences of the Greek Society for Biblical Studies and took part in the discussions, reminding people, through what he said, that theology isn’t merely knowledge, but also an experience, without which knowledge ‘is puffed up’. And all the days of the conferences, when Fr. Symeon circulated as an ordinary member, he emanated the fragrance of Christ with his words, his smile and his presence. At one such conference in Cyprus, during a break, a professor from Thessaloniki approached a group of a few young people who were talking to Fr. Symeon and said: ‘Do you know what a blessing this moment is for you. In Thessaloniki we get to enjoy Fr. Symeon’s presence in drips and drabs. You’ve got him here when and for as long as you want’.

 

‘If you’re a theologian, you’ll pray properly; and,

if you pray properly, you’re a theologian’ (On Prayer 61)

 

His theological discourse was also niptic. He enjoyed the niptic fathers and imitated them in word and deed. The saying attributed to Saint Neilos: ‘If you’re a theologian, you’ll pray properly; and if you pray properly, you’re a theologian’ (On Prayer 61) was a rule of life. The silent assemblies, of which we spoke above, are a small example of his desire to teach the method of the prayer of the heart. And even if these silent assemblies have not been generally adopted as his vigils have, they were of great benefit, because the idea spread of using a prayer-rope and saying the Jesus prayer. Until then, it had been unknown to the wider public, neglected or held to be something that was appropriate only for monastics.

I realized just how much Fr. Symeon was imbued with the spirit of the prayer of the heart, how much he was himself niptic, from a long discussion we had as we were returning from a conference of the Greek Society for Biblical Studies on Patmos, the first of a series, at the end of September, 1975.

As we were sitting in the stern of the ship, in the moonlight, returning from the island of the Revelation, he showed himself to be a great niptic father, a holy teacher of the prayer of the heart. He was taken up, speaking from another world, and I tried to follow him, drinking in his words. We parted past midnight, with the feeling that we weren’t done with the subject. How could we be when ‘perfection is never-ending’?

Fr. Symeon never advertised his work. He never challenged anyone in his homilies. You learned about him from other people. I recommended his talks to someone and he said to me afterwards: ‘You mean there’s somebody like him in Thessaloniki and you didn’t tell me earlier?’

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“I thank you, my Lord, that you allowed me to see what I am”

 

The Bible: the center of Theology of Father Symeon Krayiopoulos

 

I thank you, my LordThe event of salvation is conscious. We should know this and not fear it at all. Further, we should beg God to reveal our true selves to us. Then God will see that we accept this not with words, but in practice. Therefore, when at some point, either we make a mistake or something else happens, and God allows all of our wickedness, and our whole diseased and bleak inner state to be revealed, we need to accept it. We need even to be thankful, saying: “My God, such a thing I had awithin me and I didn’t recognize it! I thank you, my Lord, that you allowed me to see what I am”. 

You must see this and embrace it. Not in the sense that you will hang onto it, but in the sense that you will acknowledge that you are the one that has this within you. You ought to acknowledge it without wanting to blame and pass the responsibility to someone else and without averting your eyes as though not wanting to see it. Some men and women who work at lowly jobs, whatever happens, they stoop and patiently do the work completely. On the contrary, a person may be fragile or delicate, and supposedly ashamed, supposedly disgusted and supposedly isn’t able to do such work. If he does this work though, it will be incomplete. Here, though, in our own case, it’s necessary that we see our sin. We must see this thing that we hold onto as if we want it, and within which our soul has been sunk for an entire life. We must see it, must feel it. We must see how difficult it is, nearly impossible, to escape from this state.  Therefore, someone is completely convinced, and thinks: “It’s over. I’m going to perish”. This is Hades. Namely, someone sees that he is in Hades.

However, we know that we have a Saviour, we know that Christ came to earth. Then we start to understand what it means that he came to save us, and we run to the Saviour. We run to the Lord with pain, with prayer, with a cry, with faith, with hope and a firm conviction that the Lord will accept us and will save us. The Lord wants us to approach things exactly like this. This is not our own daring or our own boldness.  He wants us act just like that, to entrust ourselves in this way, and for this reason he gave us promises. So someone does this work, and little by little the decay of his soul, that lies in the subconscious and the unconscious, emerges.

How long will this last for? A lifetime. Until the end of our life, this is the work we have to do. But grace is involved. It also happens every so often that when you enter within yourself or when you give yourself to God, the decay you have within emerges on its own, and you see it whether you want to or not.

It is a bleak state, a filthy state, but grace is involved since in exactly this way you are redeemed, once and for all, and are saved. And it is through this that you are delivered from this state.

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Is our disposition such that the Lord is able  to be moved to compassion for us?

 The Bible: the center of Theology of Father Symeon Krayiopoulos

“And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”

Then – as the Gospel passage tells us – since the multitude had followed him into the desert for many hours and were hungry, the Lord with five loaves and two fish, having blessed and multiplied them, fed five thousand men with twelve additional baskets taken up.

The compassion of Christ is not simply some sentimentality, but is a manifestation of His love toward His creation. God always loves the world, He loves every individual person, but for Him to be moved to compassion and to show it, it is also necessary for a person to be appropriately receptive to it.

It’s not enough to simply do some good works (to pray, to go to church, to study). Whatever we do we are sinners and unworthy of God. Consequently, we are unacceptable. All the same, we need to do these things precisely to show our good disposition, to show that we want to be saved, that we choose God, we seek Him, we love Him. But is not enough for these things to be done only because of habit.

That’s why it is good, wherever we find ourselves, to ask ourselves night and day whether our disposition is such that the Lord is able to be moved to compassion for us. It is not necessary for you to journey along many and distant roads, climbing and descending, in order to achieve this. God is the one who covers the distance that exists between us and Him.

All a person needs to do is one little thing, but a little thing which is great and which is everything: to humble himself, to repent, to have the fear of God within him, to not be puffed up, self-inflated, and conceited.

And then – O, the wonder! – God will be found wherever we are. Then irrespectively of how things arise in our lives, we will feel the compassion of God and see how God will provide all that our souls and bodies need. It is not difficult for God – not difficult even for God to heal you from sickness or to put in order other problems and situations in your life. He can take care of everything. But we need to adopt that disposition that will elicit His compassion toward us. (August 3rd, 2014)

 

Transcribed talks by Archimandrite Symeon Kragiopoulos

 From: Holy Hesychasterion “The Nativity of Theotokos” Publications.

Translated by fr. Matthew Penney

 

(To be continued …)

 

For Fr. Symeon Kragiopoulos: The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – I, The Theologian and the ‘Liturgical’ Being (his famous church services and vigils), go here

For Fr. Symeon Kragiopoulos: The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – IIThe ‘Silent’ Assemblies of Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, (his famous silent sessions of the Jesus prayer), go here

For Fr Symeon Krayiopoulos: The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – III, A Servant of the Holy Mystery of Confession, go here …

A Servant of the Holy Mystery of Confession

 Father Symeon : A Servant of the Holy Mystery of Confession

Father Symeon : A Servant of the Holy Mystery of Confession

In confession, as in the whole of his everyday behaviour, Fr. Symeon was all love. Love overflowed from within him. He radiated love, not with words, nor with actions, but with his mere gaze, his smile, with a single word. He was formal, but not a slave to formalities. I remember one incident in particular. He’d given me the number of his personal telephone, the one in his room. I would usually phone him between 11-12 in the evening, which was the best time for him because, as he explained: ‘Now it’s the afternoon for me’.

We’d speak without restraints of time, but he would still be up in the morning for his rule. One evening, around midnight, the son of a friend of mine, a spiritual son of Fr. Symeon’s, who was studying abroad, telephoned me. He was very upset and asked for help with a really important problem which needed to be resolved immediately. I was in no position to advise him. Only the Elder could do so, but how? At that time of night nobody would have answered a telephone call to the monastery. I hesitated to give his confidential telephone number, because he’d told me not to give it to anyone at all. The case was such, however, that I decided that I’d just have to go against his instructions. So I gave it. And the boy was saved. The father saved his son.  The next day I asked forgiveness for the infraction, but he told me not to worry and that I’d done the right thing.

That was Father Symeon. A discerning, consoling and enlightened advisor to whom we had recourse and to whom we referred people with difficulties, so they could find refuge.

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In his sermons, in his discussions, in confession, Fr. Symeon didn’t avoid taking a position on burning questions which others didn’t dare to touch on so as not to come into conflict with the prevailing, unhealthy atmosphere. Let me explain. There was at one time much ado generated over 666 and this was an issue that threw people into turmoil. Father Symeon did not leave his spiritual children in the dark over this. He clarified the issue in a series of talks, reassuring those who were worried. He did the same for bar codes and other similar issue which aggravated ill-informed believers. In general, he dealt with important ecclesiastical and theological issues with clear thinking, theological depth and knowledge of the Patristic tradition. And all of this with sobriety, without any spirit of contention.  If ever I wanted a second opinion on my own articles on Church matters, I would submit them to him and he would always make useful observations. For example, if I used acerbic language, he would suggest I tone it down.

In general, his discourse was prophetic. He did not ignore dogma, he was never restricted to dry moralizing, he used neither clichés nor soaring rhetoric. Well-grounded, comprehensible, he spoke in the name of God, telling the truth, castigating lies and thus bringing the faithful to his way of thinking. Listening to him, you felt that you were listening to the word of God, that his discourse was official, authentic and valid. He didn’t impose himself through human coercion, but spoke rather ‘in the Holy Spirit’. Without prevarication, he went straight to the heart of the matter and didn’t mince his words in order to please people. He told the truth of the Church, without pulling any punches, however hard this seemed to many people. He was a prophet in the Biblical sense, shaking people up to get them to cast off the fripperies with which their egotism had burdened them, so that they could see naked reality clearly.

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Pain is a shortcut to salvation

Father Symeon : A Servant of the Holy Mystery of Confession

It says in the Gerondikon: “In the morning you may be in hell and in the evening you can be in paradise”. What is meant is that in the morning man may have committed sins, but, as in the course of the day he came to his senses, showed reverence, repented and wept for his sins. As the sun sets, it is no big deal for God to place him in paradise. Things are easy and the road to salvation is short. We, by having the wrong attitude, make things hard and the road to salvation “un-short”.

Whatever your condition is, if you repent, God welcomes you and you are saved. All you need is to repent truly.

You may repent for something you have done, but you repent because your egoism has been hurt. You go to confession, for the one and only reason that your egoism has been wounded. Not because you have sinned in the eyes of God. You had a good impression of yourself. As you have sinned though, you can no longer have it. And that makes you suffer. This is not repentance, though.

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(To be continued)

For Fr. Symeon Kragiopoulos: The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – IIThe ‘Silent’ Assemblies of Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, (his famous silent sessions of the Jesus prayer), go here

For Fr. Symeon Kragiopoulos: The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – I, The Theologian and the ‘Liturgical’ Being (his famous church services and vigils), go here