Faces and Fates

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Being immersed in the Beauty of Slavonic Church services, especially the awesome beauty of the Eucharist- the Divine Liturgy  has everything we need. Overpoweringly beautiful and haunting. Such Beauty seems to sum up Christianity. We Christians should be first and foremost Eucharistic creatures.

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The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints (Ennismore Gardens, London)

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Coming here has been a dream from my youth.  Metropolitan Anthony’s of Sourozh books, especially Living Prayer, School for Prayer, God and man, and Courage to Pray, have sealed my conversion to Christ:

“I met Christ as a Person at a moment when I needed him in order to live, and at a moment when I was not in search of him. I was found; I did not find him.

I was a teenager then. Life had been difficult in the early years and now it had of a sudden become easier. All the years when life had been hard I had found it natural, if not easy, to fight; but when life became easy and happy I was faced quite unexpectedly with a problem: I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome, there was something beyond them. Happiness seemed to be stale if it had no further meaning. 

As it often happens when you are young and when you act with passion, bent to possess either everything or nothing, I decided that I would give myself a year to see whether life had a meaning, and if I discovered it had none I would not live beyond the year…”(continue)

Metropolitan Anthony’s presence is so alive here!   You can feel him still serving, from Heaven, at the Altar, especially during the Divine Liturgy.

So many Russian Saints relics here! St Seraphim Sarov, St Silouan the Athonite, Grand Duchess Elizabeth FeodorovnaIgnatius Bryanchaninov, John of Shanghai and San FranciscoXenia of Saint Petersburg, just to name a few ...

Praise the name of the Lord Byzantine Chant

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At the homily, the priest spoke about the Feast of the day: the Synaxis of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church

More than 1700 names are commemorated in the Synaxis.  Here is just one of them:

Martyr Catherine Arsky, laywoman

Commemoration date December, 17 (December, 4 old calendar)

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Born into a merchant family in St. Petersburg.  In 1920, she survived a tragedy. First, her husband, an officer of the Tsar’s Army and warden of the Smolny cathedral, died of cholera, then all five of their children.  Seeking the Lord’s succour, Catherine joined the brotherhood of St. Alexander Nevsky, founded at the cathedral of the Fedorovskaya Icon in Petrograd, and became the spiritual child of Hieromartyr Leo (Egorov).

Catherine was arrested in 1932 with the other members of the brotherhood (ninety in total).  She was sentenced to three years of labour camp “as a member of a counter-revolutionary organisation.” Upon release, she settled in Borovichi, like Martyr Keira Obolensky.  In 1937, she was arrested and charged with the clergy of Borovichi.  She refused to plead guilty of “counter-revolutionary activity” even under torture.  Was executed by firing squad on the same day as Keira Obolensky.

At the time of execution, she was sixty-two.

 

For other martyrs and confessors commemorated today, go to Pravmir

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A Hectic Schedule, a Big Scene and a Pilgrimage

All these three are part of my life! Let me explain …

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“Innumerable business transactions, consideration of many requests and petitions from every corner of … , and other cares, filled her day, sometimes bringing her to a state of complete exhaustion.”

This excerpt is from St Elizabeth the Grand Duchess and New Martyr‘s life but it could easily have written about me in the last couple of weeks, since my days have lately been so filled  with numerous administrative, academic duties and ‘interruptions’ – constant– phone calls, texts, mail, e-mail — all at the same time! — to the point of complete exhaustion. In particular, my duties for the founding of a new monastery have proven so far a most demanding (and rewarding) experience. But my similarities to the Saint and major role model  for me of course stop short here …

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I do apologise for not being able to write as much as I would like in this blog, for failing to always keep ‘on schedule’. I am sorry. It is just that I hardly have a spare moment any more. It also has to do with English not being my mother tongue. Sometimes I have to rewrite a paragraph so many times! I write something as best as I can and yet I am never sure whether what I really wanted to communicate to you, not so much semantically, as emotionally, is what is really communicated. Most likely I shall never know. I sincerely hope I have never offended anybody here or sounded — God forbid! — sarcastic, harsh, cruel, or indifferent.

On a different note, tomorrow, God Willing, I am leaving on a Pilgrimage to Italy, Bari, for St. Nicholas!!

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Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy where most of the relics of St. Nicholas are kept today.

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San Nicola, Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Italy, the crypt, the grotto

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I am so excited and so much looking forward to going on this pilgrimage and ‘meeting’ St. Nikolaos! My feelings can only be expressed with the ‘dancing’ of the chandeliers (polyeleoi in Greek) which follows in Psalm 135 (Arabic)!


The Apolytikion or Troparion (Hymn) of Saint Nicholas

An example of the Faith and a life of humility, 
as a teacher of abstinence
you did inspire and lead your flock
and through your truthfulness of your deeds
were exalted by greatness through your humility
uplifting all and by poverty gaining wealth.
Father and hierarch Nicholas intercede
with Christ our God that our souls be saved.
or, in literal translation:

As a canon of faith and an icon (image) of meekness,
(and) of self-control (abstinence) a teacher,
the truth of your deeds has shown you to your flock;
wherefore you acquired through humility the high things (greatness),
through poverty riches
Father hierarch Nicholas,
intercede with Christ the God
that our souls may be saved.

 

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I have always wanted to ‘meet’ this Spiritual Giant, the Defender of Orthodoxy, Wonderworker, Holy Hierarch, and Bishop of Myra, especially ever since I found out that this icon (image) of meekness and teacher of self-control, ‘abstinence’ literally got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face at the Council of Nicea!  😃

“In AD 325 Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the very first ecumenical council. More than 300 bishops came from all over the Christian world to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity. It was one of the early church’s most intense theological questions. Arius, from Egypt, was teaching that Jesus the Son was not equal to God the Father. Arius forcefully argued his position at length. The bishops listened respectfully.

As Arius vigorously continued, Nicholas became more and more agitated. Finally, he could no longer bear what he believed was essential being attacked. The outraged Nicholas got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! The bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable that a bishop would lose control and be so hotheaded in such a solemn assembly. They brought Nicholas to Constantine. Constantine said even though it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence, in this case, the bishops themselves must determine the punishment.

The bishops stripped Nicholas of his bishop’s garments, chained him, and threw him into jail. That would keep Nicholas away from the meeting. When the Council ended a final decision would be made about his future.

Nicholas was ashamed and prayed for forgiveness, though he did not waver in his belief. During the night, Jesus and Mary his Mother, appeared,* asking, “Why are you in jail?” “Because of my love for you,” Nicholas replied. Jesus then gave the Book of the Gospels to Nicholas. Mary gave him an omophorion, so Nicholas would again be dressed as a bishop. Now at peace, Nicholas studied the Scriptures for the rest of the night.

When the jailer came in the morning, he found the chains loose on the floor and Nicholas dressed in bishop’s robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. When Constantine was told of this, the emperor asked that Nicholas be freed. Nicholas was then fully reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.

The Council of Nicaea agreed with Nicholas’ views, deciding the question against Arius. The work of the Council produced the Nicene Creed which to this day many Christians repeat weekly when they stand to say what they believe.


* Other versions of the story have Jesus and Mary with Nicholas appearing in a dream to Constantine or, even, to all the bishops. In the dream, they give the Book of the Gospels and an omophorion to Nicholas, convincing Constantine and the bishops that Nicholas should be reinstated as Bishop of Myra.” [Bishop Nicholas Loses His Cool (At The Council of Nicaea)]