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

Three Old Age Death Vignettes orthodox city hermit

 

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.”

 

 

A Wounded Hand Nailed to the Cross

 

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

A Retreat and Pilgrimage to Panagia Eleousa, Mikrokastro — Reflections 

A retreat! Amidst various Lenten temptations and “the purifying draught of dishonour, sneers, derision and insults”! Mikrokastro monastery is my haven of peace, silence, hesychia and spiritual refreshment under the protecting Veil of the Theotokos. The grace-filled presence of Panagia Eleousa and the mesmerizing beauty of the Akathist Vigil at Mikrokastro monastery have offered me, again, a timely refuge! 

 

The exercise of authority is not a stone hand in a velvet glove- it is a wounded hand nailed to the Cross. (My spiritual father’s words)

 

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Wonder-working icon of Panagia Eleousa, of Mercy at Mikrokastro

 

How difficult at times to show patience in annoyances and unmurmuring endurance of scorn, disregard of insults, and the habit, when wronged, of bearing it sturdily; when slandered, of not being indignant; when humiliated, not to be angry; when condemned, to be humble”, but how difficult does this feel! (St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 2:8) Indeed a narrow path to theosis!  

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

 

To the Theotokos, let us run now most fervently,

As sinners and lowly ones

Let us fall down in repentance,

Crying from the depths of our soul:

Lady, come and help us,

Have compassion upon us;

Hasten now for we are lost

In the host of our errors;

Do not turn your servants away,

For you alone are a hope to us.

 

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

I have always been attracted to spiritual retreats,  removing myself from the usual environment to allow precious time for silence, hesychia, reflection prayer, meditation, and rest.  Have you ever felt the need to try to try to “Take stock” of your life and/or  re-commit to connecting with the spiritual aspects of life? I often feel such a need,  as I am usually laden with complex administrative duties and time-consuming writing tasks. Lately I have been so busy with translating a huge book on St. Paisios’ Life and Works, the forthocoming, 2nd edition of Elder [now Saint] Paisios of Mount Athos Hardcover – 2012, by Elder IsaacI understand that “Translation [can be] a Means of Grace” but with the book’s 750 pages (!) I sometimes feel doomed 😳 

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

Silence has always been blue to me!

Lake Mapourika

 

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.

 

 
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“If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If

you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If

you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent.

And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies

down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will

appear; and what energy! “ St. Feofil, the Fool for Christ

 

*

 
“Anyone who has had their heart broken learns to keep a little safety area.”

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

PILGRIMAGES: PAINFUL AND DANGEROUS DESERTS

Pilgrimages are like crossing a desert. They can be painful if taken seriously, and can even be dangerous. They are painful because they crack the shield of one’s comfortable certainty that things can only be done one way. In truth, nothing is one, except Faith itself; by comparison, the manners in which this faith ‘becomes flesh’ are countless. There are as many shapes and nuances of the faith as there are human beings. This is a painful lesson to learn, but it is absolutely necessary. Without this understanding, one loses sight of the personal nature of any spiritual experience. There are as many prayers as there are sighs, and there are as many sighs as there are human hearts. There is no rule on Heaven or earth to regulate the outpouring of love or pain of one’s heart.

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks …

 

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Suddenly, ‘The’ traditions of your local region become just that: local traditions, creations of a certain historical and cultural context which reflect the faith. As a pilgrim, you unavoidably find yourself immersed in a different context, a different embodiment of the same faith – other customs, other ways to pray, other saints and prayers, all embraced by the faithful in that region with the same absolute conviction that these local expressions of faith are ‘The’ only expressions of faith.

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Pilgrimages can also be dangerous and may lead (paradoxically) to a weakening of one’s faith. To some extend, this is a natural progression – when you grow in your faith, there is a moment when it becomes clear that what you previously held to be absolute truths are actually not. There are always other ways to express one’s faith. If you are weak of heart, this process of leaving your past behind may be a dangerous moment, and you risk losing your path while crossing the desert.

 

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

 

However, if you take courage and press forward, the Spirit will lead you to a new understanding – a higher one, a more loving one, embracing the endless diversity of the personal ways in which we manifest our One Faith. When you leave behind the comfort of your home, prepare yourself for the dangers of the desert, but don’t lose heart: at the end of it all, God has already prepared a better, higher, more spiritual home for you.

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

 

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Mother Theologia, a true Mother, and Siatistis Pavlos, both immensely popular and widely revered throughout Greece

 

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“The first stage of tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” (Ibid, Step 8.4) The Ladder of Divine Ascent is also known as The Monastic Bible. In many monasteries, it is a tradition to read this book during Trapeza meals throughout Great Lent.

 

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

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There is only one way left to escape the alienation of present day society: to retreat ahead of it.

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

 

 

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There’s no cure, except the retreat into Love,
For the suffering of subtly afflicted hearts.

Rumi (1207 – 1273)

 

Mikrokastro is a village in northern Greece, near Siatista in the Kozani district. It derives its name from Mount Kastraki which lies on the other side of the village. This mountain is on the way to Saitista and is known for the massacre which occurred there at the hands of the Turks in November 1912, which is the year the inhabitants gained independence from the Turks. The monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos was founded in 1753 and houses the miraculous icon of The wonder-working icon of Panagia Eleousa, Theotokos of Mercy, dating back to 1603, maybe as back as the 13th century, wondrously alive, even to the remotest ‘corners of the world’. The monastery at one time operated an old age home, an orphanage, and a hospital for sick children. During war times many sought refuge and sustenance from the monastery, and in turn the people loved the monastery and the bishop who made it  a center of the people’s lives. The monastery is the heart of western Macedonia and is truly a place where the command to “love one another” is exemplified.

*

Yearly on the 15th of August the male inhabitants of Siatista parade with their horses (the Cavalry of Siatista) in a procession of the icon from the monastery to Siatista. In Siatista a party ensues and the men dance on the baks of the horses while the wine flows freely, and people break their fasts with a great feast among friends and family till the early morning hours. This festivity goes back to Ottoman times when the Turks granted the inhabitants one day of freedom to do as they wished according to their traditions, and the men would ride their decorated horses to show their leventia (Greek word for manliness and courage).

  • Be sure to stop if near! The monastery is famous for its hospitality! [Telephone number:  +302465071307 ]

 

PILGRIMAGES: PAINFUL AND DANGEROUS DESERTS

It was embittered!

Lord, by this time he stinks

 

It was embittered, for it was abolished.

It was embittered, for it was mocked.

It was embittered, for it was slain.

It was embittered, for it was overthrown.

It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.

It took a body, and met God face to face.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven. 

It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting?

O Hell, where is your victory?

Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.

Christ is risen, and life reigns.

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

 

 

To Thee, the Champion Leader

The Akathist Hymn, chanted and in Icons, together with the Miraculous Athonite Akathist icon “Panagia of the Salutations the Myrrhgusher” at Holy Monastery Dionysiou 

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To Thee, the Champion Leader, we Thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos: but as Thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do Thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

While the Emperor of Byzantium Heracleios was on an expedition to fight the aggression of the Persians on their own grounds, there appeared outside the walls of Constantinople barbaric hordes, mostly Avars. The siege lasted a few months, and it was apparent that the outnumbered troops of the Queen City were reaching desperation. However as history records, the faith of the people worked the impossible. The Venerable Patriarch Sergius with the Clergy and the Official of Byzantium Vonos, endlessly marched along the great walls of Constantinople with an Icon of the Theotokos in hand, and bolstered the faith of the defenders of freedom. The miracle came soon after. Unexpectedly, as the chronicler narrates, a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy, and full retreat ensued. The faithful of Constantinople spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos at Vlachernae on the Golden Horn, and with the Patriarch Sergius officiating, they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting. Hence the title of the Hymn “Akathistos”, in Greek meaning ‘not seated’.

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The Akathist Hymn is chanted in all Orthodox Churches throughout the world during the five Fridays in the Great Lent, and constitutes a very concrete spiritual preparation for the Holy Week and Easter Services; a ‘staff’ to help us ascend the spiritual steps of the lengthy Lenten period, to finally reach the peak with our Lord’s Glorious Resurrection. 

*

Panagia herself, appearing to the Saints has said: “I will love, I will protect, and I will shelter every faithful person who greets me every day with the beautiful hymns of My Salutations, and who lives in accordance with the law of God. And on the last day of his life, I will defend him before My Son.”

The Akathist Hymn in Icons

The Laudations of Our Lady of the Akathist

The Akathist to the Mother of God was most probably written by Roman the Melodist in the 6th century and has inspired Iconographers to depict the Akathist in images no less beautiful than the words which inspired them.

 

Structure of the Hymn; Structure of the Icon

 

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American Icon, bordered by the 24 Stanzas and their corresponding Greek letter

 

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Outer border shows 24 Stanzas; Inner border shows Old Testament Prophecies

 

The Main part of the Akathist Hymn is comprised of 24 stanzas. The stanzas alternate between long and short. Each short stanza is written in prose and ends with the singing of “Alleluia.” Each longer stanza ends with the refrain: “Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded.”Sometimes “Rejoice” is translated as “Hail”; this is probably closer to the Greek word used (Chaíre – Χαῖρε) and explains the name for the service based on this Hymn (and another name for the Icon): the Salutations of the Theotokos.

 

The stanzas are arranged in an acrostic following the Greek alphabet. Thus, the first stanza, “An Archangel was sent…”, begins with alpha: “γγελος πρωτοστάτης…” whilst the final stanza, “O All-Praised Mother…”, begins with omega: “ πανύμνητε Μῆτερ…”

 

Each stanza presents us with a scene, which as they progress cover the themes of the Annunciation, the Nativity, Christ, and the Theotokos herself, in that order. It is these scenes which are depicted around the outer border of most “Akathist Icons”.

 

The Mother of God: at the centre, but not the focus, of the Icon

Yaroslav, 18th Century

 

At the centre of the Icon is the Mother of God to whom the Akathist is dedicated. She is surrounded by a number of people, usually between 11 and 15, who hold appear to be bowing down before her, holding scrolls and other objects. These men are various Old Testament Prophets, and the scrolls they hold are their prophecies relating to the Mother of God. The objects they hold are prefigurations of Mary found in the Old Testament Scriptures, but are also some of the titles given to Mary in the Akathist Hymn.

Despite the honour given to her, Mary sits at the centre of the icon directing us to her Son, our God, sitting in her lap.

As in the Icon at the top of the page, where Mary is not holding the infant Christ (Immanuel), then she is sat amid the praise with her hands held deferentially, palms outward, imploring us to give all honour and glory to God. Surrounding Mary’s seat is a mandorla-shaped wreath representing the Tree of Jesse, which climbs up over the Mother of God’s head to blossom forth an image of Christ Immanuel: God Incarnate. (The use of a “mandorla-wreath” to represent the Tree of Jesse is seen in this painted wall of the Sucevita Monastery, built in the 16th century in Romania).

Thus the Theotokos is the subject of the Icon, just as the Akathist is dedicated to her; however, just as the Akathist glorifies God, the focus of the Icon always leads us back to Jesus Christ. In the Akathist, Mary is not just called “All-glorious temple” but “All-glorious temple of Him Who is above the Seraphim” (from Oikos 8, i.e. the 16th Stanza of the Akathist). The praises of Mary are devoid of meaning without Jesus Christ, the Word of God, Who was incarnate within her. Likewise in the Icon inspired by the Akathist, Mary cannot be separated from her Son, shown either seated upon her, or blossoming above her.

Russian Icon (probably 19th Century)

 

While singing in honour of Your Son, O Mother of God, we all praise you as a living temple; for the Lord who holds all things in His hand dwelt in your womb, and He sanctified and glorified you, and taught all to cry to you: Hail, O Bride unwedded!

Miraculous icon of Panagia of the Salutations, Dionysiou Monastery, Mount Athos  

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Holy Monastery Dionysiou – Panagia of the Salutations the Myrrhgusher
“According to an inscription on the back of this icon, it was given as a gift to Saint Dionysius, founder of the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou on Mount Athos, by Emperor Alexios Komnenos, upon his visit to Trebizond in Asia Minor. According to Holy Tradition, this is the same icon that Patriarch Sergius processed around the walls of Constantinople in 626 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Heraclius. At that time Constantinople was attacked by the Persians and “Scythians” (Avars and Slavs) but saved through the intervention of the Most Holy Theotokos. A sudden hurricane dispersed the fleet of the enemy, casting the vessels on the shore near the great Church of the Theotokos at Blachernae near the Golden Horn. The people spent the whole night in front of this icon thanking her for the unexpected deliverance. In memory of this event the Akathist Hymn is chanted in the Orthodox Church.
In 1592 Algerian pirates stole the icon, but after a fierce storm, a frightening dream, and a great miracle, the leader of the pirates was forced to return it to the monastery. They had hid it in a chest, but the icon shattered it and it was drenched in myrrh. Because of this miracle, some pirates repented and entered the monastery to become monastics.
In 1767 certain theives from Dalmatia stole the icon, and upon their return to Dalmatia were apprehended by Greek shepherds who took the icon and brought it to Skopelos. On Skopelos island the Greek community leaders elected by the Turks, known as Dimogerontes, denied to the Dionysian monks from Mount Athos the return of the icon when they came to request its return. After three months Skopelos was punished by a plague which brought great tragedy to the island, and the Dimogerontes repented and had the icon returned to Dionysiou Monastery and also established a metochion for the monastery on the island.
The icon is small and darkened by time. It is housed in a chapel dedicated to the icon at Dionysiou Monastery where the Akathist Hymn is sung daily.” 
  
Panagia herself, appearing to the Saints has said: “I will love, I will protect, and I will shelter every faithful person who greets me every day with the beautiful hymns of My Salutations, and who lives in accordance with the law of God. And on the last day of his life, I will defend him before My Son.”

 

Source: iconreader.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

St. Porphyrios and a Nightingale

My heart has been very moved by a passage from Wounded by Love, the Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. It speaks to so much of my own life and the world around me that for this post I would like to invite you in to hear his wonderful story of one lone nightingale. May the Celtic Orthodox spirit of seeing God’s energia in His creation bring peace to you. Please let it sink deep into your heart, I know that I am trying to do the same. Holy Father Porphyrios, pray to God for us!

One morning I was walking alone in the virgin forest. Everything, freshened by the morning dew, was shining in the sunlight. I found myself in a gorge. I walked through it and sat on a rock. Cold water was running peacefully beside me and I was saying the prayer. Complete peace. Nothing could be heard. After a while the silence was broken by a sweet, intoxicating voice singing and praising the Creator. I looked. I couldn’t discern anything. Eventually, on a branch opposite me I saw a tiny bird. It was a nightingale. I listened as the nightingale trilled unstintingly, its throat puffed out to bursting in sustained song. The microscopic little bird was stretching back its wings in order to find power to emit those sweetest of tones, and puffing out its throat to produce that exquisite voice. If only I had a cup of water to give it to drink and quench its thirst!

Tears came to my eyes – the same tears of grace that flowed so effortlessly and that I had acquired from Old Dimas. It was the second time I had experienced them.

I cannot convey to you the things I felt, the things I experienced. I have, however, revealed to you the mystery. And I thought, ‘Why does this tiny nightingale produce these songs? Why does it trill like that? Why is it singing that exquisite thought? Why, why, why…why is it bursting its throat? Why, why, for what reason? Is it waiting for someone to praise it? Certainly not. No one there will do that.’ So I philosophized to myself. This sensitivity I acquired after the experience with Old Dimas. Previously I didn’t have it. What did that nightingale not tell me! And how much did I say to it in silence: ‘Little nightingale, who told you that I would pass by here? No one comes here. It’s such an out-of-the-way place. How marvelously you unceasingly carry on your duty, your prayer to God! How much you tell me, and how much you teach me, little nightingale! My God, how I am moved. With your warbling, dear nightingale, you show me how to hymn God, you teach me a thousand things beyond number…’

My poor health does not allow me to narrate all this to you as I feel it. A whole book could be written about it. I loved that nightingale very much. I loved it and it inspired me. I thought, ‘Why it and not me? Why does it hide from the world and not me?’ And the thought entered into my mind that I must leave, I must lose myself, I must cease to exist. I said to myself, ‘Why? Did it have an audience? Did it know I was there and could hear it? Who heard it as it was bursting its throat in song? Why did it go to such a hidden location? But what about of all these little nightingales in the middle of the thick forest, in the ravines, night and day, at sunset and sunrise? Who heard their throat-bursting song? Why did they go to such secret places? Why did they puff out their throats to bursting?’ The purpose was worship, to sing to their Creator, to worship God. That’s how I explained it.

I regarded all of them as angels of God, little birds that glorified God the Creator of all and no one heard them. Yes, believe me, they hid themselves so that no one would hear them. They weren’t interested in being heard; but there in solitude, in peace, in the wilderness, in silence, they longed to be heard, but by whom? None other than by the Maker of everything, the Creator of all, by Him who gave them life and breath and voice. You will ask, ‘Did they have consciousness? What am I to say?’ I don’t know if they did it consciously or not. I don’t know. These, after all, are birds. It may be, as Holy Scripture says, that today they live and tomorrow exist no more. We mustn’t think differently from what Holy Scripture says. God may present to us that all these were angels of God. We don’t know about these things. At all events they hid themselves that no one would hear their doxology.

So it is also for the monks there on the Holy Mountain; their life is unknown. You live with your elder and you love him. Prostrations and ascetic struggles are all part of daily life, but you don’t remember them, nor does anyone ask about you, ‘Who is he?’ You live in Christ; you belong to Christ. You live with everything and you live God, in whom all things live and move – in whom and through whom…you enter into the uncreated Church and live there unknown. And although you devote yourself in prayer to your fellow men, you remain unknown to all men, and perhaps they will never know you.

A Gaelic Blessing

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you

 

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