Panagia Laodigitria

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Church of Panagia Laodigitria or Panagia Lagoudiani in Thessaloniki

According to a byzantine legend, a miraculous incident occurred in the place where the church of Panagia Lagoudiani [Rabbit place] or Laodigitria [Virgin Mary the People Leader] is built. A hunter looking for rabbit’s hiding place, put his hands in a burrow trying to cage the small animal. However, he drew up from the hole the miraculous icon of Panagia Tricherousa [the “Virgin with Three Hands] or Oglaitissa. During the Ottoman rule, the monastery was called “Tavsan Manastir”, that is “the monastery of the rabbits”.

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After this incident, a women’s monastery was built on this place and the central part of the monastery is today’s church. In the 15th century, it was the catholicon of a nunnery that was a dependency [Metochion] of Vlatadon Monastery (*)  According to another theory, the church took its name after the owner, Lagoudatos [Rabbit Man], who lived in the 14th century. In any case, this historical church is a rare archaeological gem and a monument of the post-Byzantine period  (1453-1800).

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The origins of the name “Laodigitria” is unknown but many researchers agree on byzantine sources of the 12th century when the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki mentioned the following: “…η Πάναγνος Θεομήτωρ η παρ ημιν του οδηγείν επώνυμος” [Virgin Mary, Mother of God, lead us…” Laodigitria Theotokos, the Leader of the people, became together with Saint Demetrius, the woman patron saint of Thessaloniki.

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During the Turkish occupation, the monastery was offering social work, by granting near Monastery’s properties against symbolic price for the sheltering of poor Christian families. This system was called in Turkish “Itzare”, ie. an once-off symbolic “lump” sum and with the payment of instalments of similarly symbolic sums throughout their lifetime, so that the monastery retained the legal [‘bare’] ownership of the monastery’s real property since they beneficiaries were not allowed to sell them. This measure proved valuable for homeless families in hard times since the number of lodgings/houses was more than 20.

In 1802, the church was restored and renovated (Oct 27, 1802) through the sponsorship of the merchant Ioannis Kaftangoglou and became a three-aisled basilica with wooden ceiling and matroneum [gynaeconite; an upstairs gallery on the interior of a church, originally intended to accommodate women (whence the derivation from “matron”)], following the Macedonian ecclesiastic architectural standards of that era. Its most recent ktitor [ie. the founder] was Christos Georgiou-Menexes, from the province of Agiou Phanariou (Agrafa Thessaly) and from the village Megala Vraniana, +Memory Eternal of his parents. 

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The church keeps a significant number of 18th and 19th-century icons, together with a miracle-working icon of the Virgin Mary. In the chapel adjacent to the southern part of the church, is located the holy water fountain, hence another name for this church, that of the Life-Springing Fountain of the Theotokos (Life-Giving Font of the Theotokos) [Ζωοδόχος Πηγή]. The church celebrates on this Feast during Bright Week and also honours Holy NeoMartyr Alexander the Dervish from Thessaloniki, Laodigitria (+ 1794).

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As of today, the little city hermit will be chanting in this historic church, next to the Wonderworking Theotokos icon, an amazing blessing, honour and privilege. This was the first-ever church I visited as a young teenager, about 14 years old, for Confession, spiritual guidance and holy water, agiasma. + Father Panagiotis of blessed memory was my first priest confessor. So many memories! This church feels so much like home …. This blogpost is also beginning another blog series, that of Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, since lots of fellow pilgrims all over the world are asking me about Thessaloniki’s churches and monasteries.

*. The Monastery of Vlatadon is located on the northern side of Ano Poli of Thessaloniki, close to the castle walls with a magnificent view to the city. This small monastery is built on the site where St Paul is believed to have preached to the Thessalonians, was founded in the mid-14th century and has been in continuous use since then. But more about this byzantine monument at another blogpost.

A Song for Martyrs – Nuns of the Diaconesti convent

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Manastirea Diaconesti – Sfanta Liturghie la praznicul Invierii Domnului

 

 

A poem written by the nun Zorica (Teodosia) Laţcu. Chanted by the nuns of the Diaconesti convent, Romania.

A song for

“Those who have fallen in battle across the centuries

For the triumph of the most honored Cross,

Those who in the moment of their death

Had in mind the Name of the most blessed Trinity,

And those who longed for The glory and crown above the mind,

Remember them O, Lord, when you come, Into the Kingdom of Your Holy Glory.”

 

For more chanting by the Sisters:
Manastirea Diaconesti – Sfanta Liturghie la praznicul Invierii Domnului

Manastirea Diaconesti-Cantari Ortodoxe-Colaj

Manastirea Diaconesti – Canonul Sfintilor Marturisitori din temnitele comuniste

Grupul psaltic al Mănăstirii Diaconești

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

A Conversation About God

With Actor Jonathan Jackson & Dr. Norris Chumley

While Jonathan’s views about Art in his book The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God are quite controversial, as two opposing book reviews below indicate(*), the narrative of his conversion and finding the true Church in “A Conversation About God” is captivating.

Watch a fascinating conversation about God, Conversion and Art, with Actor Jonathan Jackson and Dr. Norris Chumley:

Orthodox Christian Network

 

(*) Moses Benjamin Cabe (Ben Cabe) is praising Jackson’s views here, while  Richard Barrett (Orthodox Arts Journal) urges caution in

The problem of art in Anglophone Orthodoxy: a review essay” .

As for me, I am undecided yet and still studying the matter. Jackson invokes Dostoyevski‘s  quotation “Beauty will save the world.” and quotes Elder Porphyrios’ words in Wounded by Love“Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.”, both  central in my life and this blog.

Indeed, you do not have to be a Christian to create true art.  In fact, it may be that you have to become an artist before you are able to truly become a Christian. Jackson adds  that, when someone is drawn to the beauty of a certain piece of music or painting, he is really being drawn to Christ.  Far removed from Christ is anyone who does not, and cannot, appreciate beauty.  “It is an incredible thing to discover that Christianity is an experience of saying yes to what is truly beautiful. …  From the beginning, the pure and ancient faith of Christ, which is still alive today, proclaims that God is beautiful!”

While Jackson is surely right in all this, there are other claims he makes in this book which may be problematic and will hopefully be addressed in future blog posts, when this whole matter is clearer in my mind…

Give Me This Stranger

 

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Give Me This Stranger” Dedicated to my brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, “to all mankind”. Especially dedicated to the suffering, persecuted Church and to my Orthodox ‘convert’ brothers and sisters in Christ. I was so deeply disturbed, hurt and offended last Sunday when I heard them being characterised as ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’  amidst ‘cradle’ Orthodox circles.

 

“And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)

 

 

 

“As the sun hid its very rays at the Savior’s death, and the curtain of the temple was rent in twain, Joseph of everlasting memory approached Pilate, beseeching him in this manner:”

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Give me this stranger

Give me this stranger, who from infancy has been  as a stranger, a sojourner in the world.”

The Diaspora and Mission

 

I often hear the word “diaspora” “dispersed” to describe those Orthodox Christians worshipping outside their homelands or canonically defined jurisdictions. Originally used in connection with the Jewish people who were forced into exile outside Israel Deuteronomy 28:25, it has come to be used for those Orthodox Christians falling outside their traditional cultural nascent homelands and living in countries where multiple jurisdictions appertain as in the USA, Australia or Western Europe. Assignment of the “disapora” according to the interpretation of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council was granted to New Rome- Constantinople to take pastoral oversight over the “Barbarian” lands.

 

 

The reposed Metropolitan Philip of North America of thrice memory said: “I believe that Canon 28, historically, is a contextual canon and not a dogmatic one; it gave the city of Constantinople certain rights as the New Rome for secular, political reasons because it was the seat of the emperor.”

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Give me this stranger, whon His own race has hated and delivered unto death as a stranger.”

 

If we look to the Apostolic age we see in the Acts of the Apostles that it was the Patriarchate of Antioch that established mission to the “Gentiles” through St Paul the Apostle. All three of his missionary journeys were launched from Antioch. It was His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatios IVth who saw that the manner of living the catholicity of the Church is in full freedom in the Holy Spirit and not in blind adherence to the letter of the canons; because, “the canons were made for the Church and not the Church for the canons.” With spiritual courage, he maintained that “nothing prevents the modification of old and obsolete canons. We must search diligently for the realization of the Church in her present and given historical context, otherwise we die and we become nothing more than a museum filled with mummies.”

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Give me this stranger, who in a strange manner is a stranger to death.”

 

I am not part of any “diaspora,” I am an Orthodox Priest born in the United Kingdom and I am an adopted son of Antioch. There are many Orthodox Christians whose parents were from different jurisdictions who were born here and are baptised into the Orthodox Church which may or may not be part of their “national” jurisdiction. Practically all of our Parishes in Britain and Ireland are Pan-Orthodox in their demography. Glory to God!

The Church as we say in the Creed is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

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Give me this stranger, who has received the poor as guests.”

Those who do not see mission as important are not true Orthodox Christians. Complacency and self regard emanate from empty vessels, veiling themselves with the masks of actors and national flags. Whilst less common the “older brother” syndrome sadly still persists in some circles towards so called “converts.” The Parable of the Prodigal son ( who he was guilty of many sins-Luke 15:11-32) is also a Parable about the Older son whose character is painted as pompous, aloof, resentful, self righteous, grudging, sullen, angry, complaining and jealous. One can do all the right things but with the wrong spirit.

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Give me this stranger, whom the jews from envy estranged from the world.”

 

From the very beginning the Church was One– she expressed herself at a local level but the faith and doctrine she proclaimed as being held in unity. We hold the faith as Holy– as those called to imitate Christ and to separate ourselves from sin, not from one another on the basis of ethnic identity.

 

The Church is Catholic that is “universal”; a proclamation which we make on the Sunday of Orthodoxy:-

This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.

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Give me this stranger, that I may hide him in a tomb, for as a stranger He has no place to lay His head.”

 

And the Church is Apostolic based on the teaching, preaching and tradition of the Apostles and by nature “sent out” to preach the Saving Gospel to all nations. From the very beginning, the Church was apostolic and evangelistic in her calling and command. Ethnic pride is simply a form of pharisaism and the very anithesis of Our Lord’s last command:

Matthew 28:19-20

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.

 

 

Certainly there are those waiting to hear the word of salvation, but there is no such thing as “ the diaspora”- quite the opposite-only those called and gathered( the ekklesia– the total body of believers belonging to the Lord who are called out from the world) into the Kingdom of God.

Luke 13:29

 

29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.

 

Give me this stranger, whose Mother seeing His dead body cries out:

“O my Son and my God, I am sorely wounded within me and my heart is rent,

seeing Thee as one dead: but in Thy Resurrection

I take courage and magnify Thee”.

 

So we have much to do- because for to those who have been given much, much is expected. We rejoice with those returning to the Orthodox Church. We weep with those who find themselves exiled from their lands. We are warmed by the fact that so many of our parishes are microcosms of Pentecost with faithful being welcomed from all over the world regardless of nationality. We thank God that we witness strength of faith and growth in His Church and we ask empowerment for the apostolic mission set before us to bring God’s love to a hungry world.

 

The glory of God is revealed in joy. The mercy of God is experienced in suffering. The grace of God is discovered in fellowship. The power of God is realised in miracles. The love of God is manifested in mission.

 

The Diaspora and Mission by father Jonathan Hemmings

 

“Thus entreating Pilate with these words, noble Joseph receives the body of the Savior: and wrapping it with fear in a linen with myrrh, he places in a tomb Him Who bestows upon all eternal life and great mercy.”

 

* After the procession with the Epitaphion on Holy Friday night,  the choir sings the “Give me this stranger” hymn.

 

*Unfortunately so much ‘wordplay’ in the original hymn with the key word/ root “ξένος” (ie. a stranger) is lost in the translation! In ancient Greek “ξένος” & “ξενίζω”  ξενίζω and ξενίζομαι < αρχαία ελληνική ξενίζω (φιλοξενώ) < may alternatively mean “a stranger” as a noun: ξένος, or “surprise conventional people by doing something weird, paradoxical, unconventional” as a verb: παραξενεύω, εκπλήσσω, “behave like a stranger”: φαίνομαι ή φέρομαι σαν ξένος or “offer hospitality usually to a stranger”: αρχαία ελληνική ξενίζω (φιλοξενώ)

 

Three Old Age Vignettes

Written at my refuge, the Mikrokastro monastery, under Our Lady’s Protective Veil . Watching my father die the last two weeks has been very painful and filled my mind with images of old age and decay.

 

Three Old Age Vignettes

 

 

 Terminal, Temporary, Transcending 

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 2

14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.

 

1 Corinthians 3

  1. And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, …

3. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

 

I. Terminal

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An Old Man by

C. P. Cavafys (1863-1933)

 

At the noisy end of the café, head bent

over the table, an old man sits alone,

a newspaper in front of him.

 

And in the miserable banality of old age

he thinks how little he enjoyed the years

when he had strength, eloquence, and looks.

 

He knows he’s aged a lot: he sees it, feels it.

Yet it seems he was young just yesterday.

So brief an interval, so very brief.

 

And he thinks of Prudence, how it fooled him,

how he always believed—what madness—

that cheat who said: “Tomorrow. You have plenty of time.”

 

He remembers impulses bridled, the joy

he sacrificed. Every chance he lost

now mocks his senseless caution.

 

But so much thinking, so much remembering

makes the old man dizzy. He falls asleep,

his head resting on the café table.

 

II. Temporary

 

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Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

 

III. Transcending

An Old Man in Christ

 

The royal doors are open, the great Liturgy is about to begin!

 

In the pouring rain, our fate

In Your hands, Lord brighten,

We make our way to meet you,

Beloved, across massive puddles

Rising with the tide of excitement.

 

“Ah, the blameless in the way. Alleluia”

 

Heart, body, mind and soul

Thoroughly cleansed and washed,

We are determined

To sprinkle Joy on your grey day,

Be your Guardian angels For a while

And hold off dark clouds

Of abandonment.

 

“My soul is worn with endless longing. Alleluia”

 

At the door, your quiet Strength surprises us!

An enchanting infant’s smile, behold!

You Beam our welcome,

Appropriately Toothless!

Are you, old friend, but a year old?

 

“Lord, I am become as a bottle in the frost. Alleluia.”

 

Head bent, hands crossed

The epitrachelion wraps gently

Emasciated shoulders, frail, stooped.

Humbly you whisper to Father

Your Confession, Taste Loyal Servant

The Fountain of Immortality

Invisible choirs accompany our poor hymn!

 

“Call me up to You, O Savior, and save me. Alleluia.”

 

You live alone, at your 93,

Even climb, dear, bedroom’s stairs steep!

Yet Angels and Saints keep you company

In the lonely path to Christ.
 
Christ before wife, mother and child, you put
 
Grace is free but discipleship is not cheap.

 

“The sheep that was lost am I. Alleluia.”

 

World wars have feared

Your Faith’s strong fortress,

Violently, you took the kingdom, by force.

Ravenous wolves failed

To lead you astray, the one pearl of great price

You unearthed, All that you had

You sold and bought.

 

“The Choir of the Saints has found the Fountain of Life.  Alleluia.”

 

What a living icon you are!

Like your faded with candles kissed

In your icon corner, full of Grace and Light

Painstakingly you commemorate,

Day-to-day, a long, tattered names’ list.

 

“Image am I of Your unutterable glory. Alleluia.”

 

You may be old, feeble and frail,

Yet your zeal and bright courage

Shames us all,

Amidst peppermint and cakes

His wonderful acts prophetically you proclaim,

The Spirit lifts you up,

To generations to come.

 

“Though I bear the scars of my stumblings. Alleluia”

 

Old Brother, toothless, we implore you in Christ,

Begging on your knees we sinful, beseech,

Under your roof, unworthy we pray

Just a little more while, abide with us,

Please stay, bless, to Heavens reach!

 

“Lead me back to be refashioned. Alleluia.”

 

Meek Humility, shine upon us,

Grace abundant your poor children enthuse!

What matters is the soul not the sole,

Bless us, Bless us, Guide us in judgment

You have inherited the Earth indeed.

Even if you’re wearing odd shoes!

 

“Into that ancient beauty of Your Likeness. Alleluia.”