The Monastery Diaries 3

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3/11

This Sunday at St Arsenios monastery, after the church services, Homily, Trapeza with Gerondas Theoklitos and a few obediences together with other pilgrims, Fr Synesios gave us a guest room to rest. At 4:00 we had Vespers, Supplication and …  and eventually, we left together with Gerondas Theoklitos: we drove him to the airport. That was a most interesting drive as we spent all the time taking turns in the Jesus Prayer and its variations. We started with “Glory to God” a hundred times, then “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us”, “Most Holy Theotokos save us”, and some variations like “Holy, Life-Giving Cross protect us”, “Baptist of Christ help us” (for repentance), “St. John the Evangelist help us” (for love), the Saints of the day, our Saints, all a 100 times repetitions each, first for the living, then for the departed . Very soon though we started praying using the following St. Paisios’ variation (*) to the Jesus prayer:

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ:

Do not abandon your servants who live far away from the Church. May your love convict them and bring them back to you.

Lord have mercy on your servants who are suffering from cancer.

On your servants who suffer either from small or serious ailments.

On your servants who suffer from physical infirmities.

On your servants who suffer from spiritual infirmities.

Lord have mercy on our leaders and inspire them to govern with Christian love.

Lord have mercy on children who come from troubled homes.

On troubled families and those who have been divorced.

Lord have mercy on all the orphans of the world, on all those who are suffering pain and injustices since losing their spouses.

Lord have mercy on all those in jail, on all anarchists, on all drug abusers, on all murderers, on all abusers of people, and on all thieves. Enlighten these people and help them to straighten out their lives.

Lord have mercy on all those who have been forced to emigrate.

On all those who travel on the seas, on land, in the air, and protect them.

Lord have mercy on our Church, the bishops, the priests and the faithful of the Church.

Lord have mercy on all the monastic communities, male and female, the elders and eldresses and all the brotherhoods of Mt. Athos.

Lord have mercy on your servants who find themselves in the midst of war.

On your servants who are being pursued in the mountains and on the plains.

On your servants who are being hunted like birds of prey.

Lord have mercy on your servants who were forced to abandon their homes and their jobs and feel afflicted.

Lord have mercy on the poor, the homeless and the exiled.

Lord have mercy on the nations of the world. Keep them in your embrace and envelope them with your holy protection. Keep them safe from every evil and war. Keep our beloved Greece (the Elder’s home country; we could substitute the USA) in your protective embrace day and night. Embrace her with your holy protection defending her from all evil and war.

Lord have mercy on those who have been abandoned and have suffered injustice. Have mercy on families that are going through trying times. Pour your abundant love upon them.

Lord have mercy on your servants who suffer from spiritual and bodily problems of all kinds.

Lord have mercy on those who are despairing. Help them and grant them peace.

Lord have mercy on those that have requested that we pray for them.

Lord grant eternal rest to all those who have passed on to eternal life throughout the ages.

Then, back to Thessaloniki centre and straight to St Demetrios for the Myron Service. Gerondas Theoklitos was the catalyst for a most bountiful “harvest” of 15 cotton balls and an extra Myron cotton roll equivalent to 50 more! Everybody present is normally given only one piece of cotton, but we were collecting for the faithful in the UK and other countries.

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Amazing gushing myrrh leaking everywhere from his reliquary!!! God is glorified in His Saints!

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Lots of love and poor prayers

 

* The following prayer of his was given to Souroti convent which had asked the Elder for a prayer rule that could be used by the nuns in their evening vigils. This directive was given to the nuns during the final years of his life. The main emphasis of this prayer is his profound love for all of humanity.

This prayer can be used by every Christian believer since it takes in all the issues of life that need our prayers. Even the children can understand it easily since it is expressed in simple words. It can be used by families during their evening prayers.

 

Saint Paisios the Athonite and the Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki

The Gate to the Monastery of Souroti. Beautiful mosaic with Christ, and St. John the Theologian and St. Arsenios of Cappadocia praying to Him

Right now in Greece:

and:
My heart beats faster in Greece. Right now, I am there in spirit. Together with the Saint of my heart, Saint Paisios, my spiritual grandfather. God is glorified in His Saints!
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The Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki
Souroti is found around 28 kilometers from Thessaloniki, not far from the central road which links the city with the capital of Chalkidiki, Polygyros.The Holy Monastery is dedicated to St. John the Theologian and to St. Arsenios of Cappadocia. In the Monastery are the Relics of St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, which are found in the Katholikon, along with the grave of St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain, who reposed on July 12th 1994, and was buried next to the church of St. Arsenios.

The beautiful church of St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, in Souroti Monastery

Every year, from July 11th-12th, the anniversary of the repose of the Saint, the Holy Hesychasterion serves a vigil service, with thousands of the faithful taking part. For example, on the anniversary of St. Paisios’ repose in 2014 (and before he was canonized a Saint), an estimated 120,000 people came to venerate his grave. Many miracles occur through the Saint’s intercessions and through the soil from his grave, which pilgrims often take as a blessing.

The humble yet wonderworking grave of St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain, behind the church of St. Arsenios, Souroti Monastery

St. Paisios’ acquaintance with the Monastery
Once, the Elder sick and was in great need of blood for his surgery. He had no relatives by his side (as he himself wished) and a group of novice nuns donated as much blood as he needed. He was very grateful for their support. Wishing to express his deep gratitude, he used to say that their kind support resembled a woolen sweater embracing his bare flesh; he wished to take it off and offer it to them in return, as an expression of his heartfelt gratitude.

The grave stone of St. Paisios, engraved with beautiful and humble poem written by him. In English, it reads:
“Here life has ended,
Here and my breath (has ended),
Here the body will be buried,
And my soul will be happy.
My Saint lives, that is my honour.
I believe that he will pity my miserable soul.
He will pray to the Saviour

To have the Virgin Mary with me.”

The Great Deisis: Christ, entreated by the Theotokos, St. John the Theologian, St. John the Russian and St. Paisios the Athonite

He sympathized with the nuns who were facing insuperable problems in their effort to build their convent. So, he personally took the initiative to find a suitable area for its construction. He offered his assistance in every way he could; along with the building’s foundations, he also laid its spiritual foundations by giving instructions for the proper functioning of the convent. Thus, the Elder established a strong relationship with the Convent of St. John the Theologian and remained by its side until his death.

St. John the Theologian
For more on St. Paisios’ role in the founding of the Monastery, and on his relationship with Fr. Polycarp, see here.
Hours of Visitation at the Monastery (source)
Please note that the Monastery is closed to pilgrims Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while the schedule for the rest of the days is according to the following hours:
Winter hours:
Daily 10 am-1 pm and 3 pm-6 pm
Summer hours:
Daily 10 am – 1 pm και 5 pm – 7 pm 
Tel: (+30)2396041320 and (+30)2396041315
Please contact the Monastery with additional questions or for the most up-to-date info.
Beautiful gardens, planted with prayer, at Souroti Monastery
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monastery of Saint David the Elder (II)

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A Vigil 

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Elder Iakovos Tsalikis was one of the most important and saintly personalities of our day, a great and holy Elder. He was a vessel of grace, a living incarnation of the Gospel, a dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit and a true friend of God. From early childhood his aim was sanctification, and he enjoyed praying and would go to different chapels, light the icon-lamps and pray to the saints. In one chapel in his village, he was repeatedly able to speak to Saint Paraskevi. He submitted to God’s call, which came to him when he was still a small child, denied himself and took up the Cross of Christ until his last breath. In 1951, he went to the Monastery of Saint David the Elder, where he was received in a miraculous manner by the saint himself.

He was tonsured in November 1952. As a monk he submitted without complaint and did nothing without the blessing of the abbot. He would often walk four to five hours to meet his Elder, whose obedience was as parish-priest in the small town of Limni. The violence he did to himself was his main characteristic. He didn’t give in to himself easily. He lived through unbelievable trials and temptations. The great poverty of the monastery, his freezing cell with broken blinds and cold wind and snow coming in through the gaps, the lack of the bare essentials, even of winter clothing and shoes, made his whole body shiver and he was often ill. He bore the brunt of the spiritual, invisible and also perceptible war waged by Satan, who was defeated by Iakovos’ obedience, prayer, meekness and humility. He fought his enemies with the weapons given to us by our Holy Church: fasting, vigils and prayer.

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 His asceticism was astonishing. He ate like a bird, according to his biographer. He slept on the ground, for two hours in twenty-four. The whole night was devoted to prayer. Regarding his struggle, he used to say: ‘I do nothing. Whatever I do, it’s God doing it. Saint David brings me up to the mark for it’.

His humility, which was legendary and inspiring, was his main characteristic. The demons which were in the possessed people who went to the monastery cursed him and said: ‘We want to destroy you, to neutralize you, to exterminate you, but we can’t because of your humility’. He always highlighted his lack of education, his inadequacies and his humbleness. It was typical of him that, when he spoke, every now and again he’d say: ‘Forgive me’. He was forever asking people’s forgiveness, which was a sign of his humble outlook. Once, when he was invited to visit the Monastery of Saint George Armas, where the abbot was the late Fr. George Kapsanis, he replied: ‘Fathers, I’m a dead dog. What will I do if I come to see you? Pollute the air?’ He always had the sense that he was a mere nothing.

And when he became abbot he always said that he wasn’t responsible for what happened in the monastery: ‘Saint David’s the abbot here’, he maintained. When he served with other priests, he went to the corner of the altar, leaving them to lead the service. When they told him: ‘This isn’t right, you’re the abbot of the monastery’, he’d reply: ‘Son, Saint David’s the abbot here’.

 

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Although he didn’t seek office, he agreed to be ordained to the diaconate by Grigorios, the late Bishop of Halkida, on 18 December 1952. The next day he became a priest. In his address after the ordination, the bishop said: ‘And you, son, will be sanctified. Continue, with God’s power, and the Church will declare you [a saint]’. His words were prophetic. He was made abbot on 27 June, 1975, by Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Halkida, a post he held until his death.

As abbot he behaved towards the fathers and the visitors to the monastery with a surfeit of love and understanding and great discernment. His hospitality was proverbial. Typical of him was the discernment with which he approached people. He saw each person as an image of Christ and always had a good word to say to them. His comforting words, which went straight to the hearts of his listeners, became the starting-point of their repentance and spiritual life in the Church. The Elder had the gift, which he concealed, of insight and far-sight. He recognized the problem or the sin of each person and corrected them with discretion. Illumined by the Holy Spirit he would tell each person, in a few words, exactly what they needed. Saint Porfyrios said of the late Elder Iakovos: ‘Mark my words. He’s one of the most far-sighted people of our time, but he hides it to avoid being praised’.

In a letter to the Holy Monastery of Saint David, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Vartholomaios, wrote: ‘Concerning the late Elder, with his lambent personality, the same is true of him as that which Saint John Chrysostom wrote about Saint Meletios of Antioch: Not only when he taught or shone, but the mere sight of him was enough to bring the whole teaching of virtue into the souls of those looking at him’.

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He lived for the Divine Liturgy, which he celebrated every day, with fear and trembling, dedicated and, literally, elevated. Young children and those with pure hearts saw him walking above the floor, or being served by holy angels. As he himself told a few people, he served together with Cherubim, Seraphim and the Saints. During the Preparation, he saw Angels of the Lord taking the portions of those being remembered and placing them before the throne of Christ, as prayers. When, because of health problems he felt weak, he would pray before the start of the Divine Liturgy and say: ‘Lord, as a man I can’t, but help me to celebrate’. After that, he said, he celebrated ‘as if he had wings’.

One of the characteristic aspects of his life was his relationship with the saints. He lived with them, talked to them and saw them. He had an impressive confidence towards them, particularly Saint David and Saint John the Russian, whom he literally considered his friends. ‘I whisper something in the ear of the Saint and he gets me a direct line to the Lord’. When he was about to have an operation at the hospital in Halkida, he prayed with faith: ‘Saint David, won’t you go by Prokopi and fetch Saint John, so you can come here and support me for the operation? I feel the need of your presence and support’. Ten minutes later the Saints appeared and, when he saw them, the Elder raised himself in bed and said to them: ‘Thank you for heeding my request and coming here to find me’.

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One of his best known virtues was charity. Time and again he gave to everybody, depending on their needs. He could tell which of the visitors to the monastery were in financial difficulties. He’d ask to speak to them in private, give them money and ask them not to tell anyone. He never wanted his charitable acts to become known.

Another gift he had was that, through the prayers of Saint David, he was able to expel demons. He would read the prayers of the Church, make the sign of the Cross with the precious skull of the saint over the people who were suffering and the latter were often cleansed.

He was a wonderful spiritual guide, and through his counsel thousands of people returned to the path of Christ. He loved his children more than himself. It was during confession that you really appreciated his sanctity. He never offended or saddened anyone. He was justly known as ‘Elder Iakovos the sweet’.

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He suffered a number of painful illnesses. One of his sayings was, ‘Lucifer’s been given permission to torment my body’. And ‘God’s given His consent for my flesh, which I’ve worn for seventy-odd years, to be tormented for one reason alone: that I may be humbled’. The last of the trials of his health was a heart condition which was the result of some temptation he’d undergone.

He always had the remembrance of death and of the coming judgement. Indeed, he foresaw his death. He asked an Athonite hierodeacon whom he had confessed on the morning of November 21, the last day of his earthly life, to remain at the monastery until the afternoon, in order to dress him. While he was confessing, he stood up and said: ‘Get up, son. The Mother of God, Saint David, Saint John the Russian and Saint Iakovos have just come into the cell’. ‘What are they here for, Elder?’ ‘To take me, son’. At that very moment, his knees gave way and he collapsed. As he’d foretold, he departed ‘like a little bird’. With a breath like that of a bird, he departed this world on the day of the Entry of the Mother of God. He made his own entry into the kingdom of God. It was 4:17 in the afternoon.

His body remained supple and warm, and the shout which escaped the lips of thousands of people: ‘Saint! You’re a saint’, bore witness to the feelings of the faithful concerning the late Elder Iakovos. Now, after his blessed demise, he intercedes for everyone at the throne of God, with special and exceptional confidence. Hundreds of the faithful can confirm that he’s been a benefactor to them.

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Source: Pemptousia, “The Elder of love, forgiveness and discernment” by  Alexandros Christodoulou

For more information about the monastery and St. David, go here 

Saint Irene Chrysovalantou monastery in Northern Evia

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Euboia pilgrimage . Our first stop is the Monastery of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, a Metochion of the Monastery of Saint George in Ilia, which in 1990 split off and formed another Sisterhood under the Abbess Chrysovalanti. It is built above the Camp of the Metropolis that draws over 800 children a year, between the coastal villages of Rovia and Ilia, and it stands with the serene Gulf of Evia in front of it and Mount Valantion behind it.
Besides the Church of Saint Irene, the Monastery has two other chapels: Saint Onouphrios the Ascetic who celebrates on June 12th, and Saint Job the Much-Suffering who celebrates on May 6th.
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The chapels are decorated with wonderful Byzantine frescoes. In the grove of the Monastery is the renovated old Church of the Archangel Michael, a former Monastery of Ilia, which is celebrated on November 8th. The Holy Archangel is considered the patron saint of the region, and it has taken its name from him (Taxiarchis Ilion).
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A large central Church of Saint Irene does not yet exist, because the small numbered Sisterhood (1 Abbess and 2 Nuns) does not have the financial ability to complete the unfinished Monastery.

 

It is worth noting that this Monastery is the first dedicated to Saint Irene Chrysovalantou that follows the New (Revised Julian) Calendar.

 

 

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The views are stunning!
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The monastery is renowned for its hospitality and Abbess Chrysovalanti.
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St. Iakovos Tsalikis presence is made felt in all Euboia, after his recent glorification.
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I am Back

 

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli

Virginia: “When will you start writing in Greek? English comes difficult to me. I struggle with your posts. Please consider …”

And Gianna. And Kalliopi. And …

Christ is Risen! 

It seems this blog may soon become bilingual… Maybe I should alternate one blogpost in Greek, one in English? … Once, twice a week? Do you think this is a good idea? On the bus, on our way to Attica, my Greek friends asked me to share on the microphone a few of my experiences here. They gasped at the stories I told them. They did not know. How could they even begin to imagine? 

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St. Nektarios’ the Wonderworker monastery, Agia Triada (The Holy Trinity) in Aegina

I feel I owe this to my Greek and Cypriot brethren who should not be left behind. They need to recover Orthodoxy, expand their horizons and learn about Orthodoxy’s struggles in foreign lands. In so many ways, I have discovered more about Orthodoxy during my brief ‘exile’ in an un-Orthodox country than in a lifetime in an Orthodox one.

Besides, any missionary endeavour and blog require by their very nature more than one tongue. At Pentecost “every man heard them speak in his own language”(Acts 2:6). I still find writing in English a lot harder than in Greek my mother tongue, and there are a lot of texts yet untranslated in English. 

What is your opinion? Do you have any suggestions? I would be so grateful for any help.

 

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli, 179 Martyrs Reliquary

Christ is Risen! 

I am back. I can’t believe a whole month flew by so fast! Thank you for staying in touch through my inbox. So many emails to reply, questions to answer, stories to be told … Please be patient with me, as I am still unpacking. My pilgrimage to Attica, Aegina and Euboia lasted only a few precious days, yet had quite an effect on me. It felt like a landmark and a watershed. More in the posts to follow…

 

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The Kato Xenia Monastery at Almyros, near Volos – The Wonder Working Belt of Virgin Mary

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Monastery of Transfiguration near Rovies, island of Evia, constructed by Saint David, and served by the recently canonised St. Iakovos Tsalikis. + His grave

Holy Land Pilgrimage: Bethlehem

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Bethlehem! The birthplace of our Lord and Savior and the cradle of biblical history. Bethlehem (Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶםBet Lehem, [bet ˈleχem], “House of Bread”) is located five and half miles from Jerusalem. No town in the world has such a glorious history as Bethlehem. Our Elders together with a number of Holy Land Hieromonks offer a Holy Liturgy at the Church of the Nativity. 

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A Greek Orthodox Church, which has been built over the birthplace of Our Lord by the Emperor Justinian and is over 1,500 years old. It is the second oldest Orthodox Church in existence. It was not destroyed by the Persians, as they saw a mosaic of the Magi dressed in Persian wear over the front door. Words cannot communicate what we experienced in venerating and touching the actual ground where Jesus was born. A few feet away is the Holy Manger. 

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Where is Bethlehem?
 
Micah 5:
 
    2 “ But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 
      Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, 
      Yet out of you shall come forth to Me 
      The One to be Ruler in Israel, 
      Whose goings forth are from of old, 
      From everlasting.”
“I am the Life” Our Saviour said
 
Where is the house of Living bread?
 
Where does this birth of new life start?
 
The chamber of a loving heart
 
Is Bethlehem.
 St.Athanasius of Alexandria (On the Incarnation, 54): “For He was made man that we might be made God (divine)”
Sunday of the Righteous Forefathers 2009 JAH (Fr. Jonathan Hemmings)

The Broken Priest

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Such insight and perception of the all too frail human priest from Father Seraphim Aldea!

St. Drostan — Spiritual Fatherhood

Bishops, priests and monastics – male and female – can suffer (God willing, maybe not all of us do) from a type of loneliness that comes from the responsibility of always comforting (without being comforted), always forgiving (without ever being forgiven), always getting everyone back on their feet and spiritually renewed (while hardly ever receiving any spiritual support themselves). Yes, this is the cross we were given; and yes, this is the path we have taken. And yet, we are all human – clergy and monastics included – and like all humans, we need forgiveness, we need light, we need support, we need to be allowed to get up and start again. We need what all humans need – to feel loved.
There is so much I love about St Drostan, yet I suppose it is this particular miracle – the healing of a priest called Symon – that brings him instantly close to my heart. There is something special to me, a priest, about this story. St Drostan’s miracle speaks loudly about a suffering which is rarely talked about in the Church, a kind of suffering that goes mostly unnoticed by all except those who are affected by it – the clergy of the Church.
Because of this perception – that clergy should never need any help – priests and monastics tend not to ask for help when they suffer. And they do suffer, for it can be very lonely as a priest. It can be depressing. Life can get very dark. People forget that our bishops, priests and monastics are the most exposed among us – spiritually, they are on the front line, they are the ones under the greater attacks, they are the ones both God and the devil test most. God does it out of an excess of love; the devil – out of an excess of hatred.
St Drostan’s miracle spoke to me because it envolved the healing of a priest, but also because of the nature of that healing. Symen, the priest, needed light. The priest had lost his sight, had lost his direction, had lost his hope. When darkness engulfs the heart of a priest, that is no ordinary darkness, but the deepest of the deep. Symeon, the priest, goes to St Drostan to ask for light, and St Drostan opens his spiritual eyes to the Light of Christ.
When we were working on the compostion of this icon, there were a number of things I wanted it to convey. Priest Symeon (note his epitrachilion, a symbol of his priesthood) has his eyes closed, as a sign of the spiritual darkness which is fighting him. There is complete abandonment on his face. St Drostan is his last hope, and he places his soul in the hands of this holy man. I know from my own experience how much a priest longs to be blessed himself, to feel a hand over his own head taking away his sins, forgiving him, granting him light and the hope of a new beginning. A priest can hold his hands over hundreds of heads in a week, praying for all, absolving all, while his heart longs for a loving hand above his own head.
St Drostan does precisely that. His expression is loving, but focused and deep in prayer. He does not look at the kneeling priest, but at the Light pouring through his hands over Symeon’s hands, completely aware that this Light (not himself) is the source of all healing and salvation. Like all confessions, this icon depicts the meeting of three Persons, not two: the spiritual father, the son and God Himself. Symeon’s humility (he is kneeling before the saint) comes from his need and despair, but St Drostan’s humility (note his posture) comes from his awareness that he is doing God’s work, in His Maker’s presence (which is why is is slightly bowing, as if standing before Christ). I purposely chose not to depict St Drostan as a priest (although he was ordained), because I wanted to signify that spiritual fatherhood is not an exclusive charisma of the ordained clergy – the Tradition of the Church has kept the memory of simple monks (and, indeed, nuns) whom Christ had blessed for this particular work.
Finally, pay attention to the Light that crosses the icon diagonally, from the upper right corner to the lower left one. This Light, the Uncreated Divine Light, God Himself, descends from Heavens and first rests on the spiritual father. St Drostan’s hallo is ‘fed’ by the divine Light, as a sign that his holiness is God’s holiness – God and Man become one in His Divine Light. The Light then travels from the spiritual father onto his hands, as a sign that holiness is always translated into holy works. In this case, the holy deed is the healing, the restauration of Symeon’s sight, the very gift of the Divine Light from the spiritual father to his spiritual son, who have now become as one. in God’s Light.
… As I prayed for an understanding, for a vision of what this icon should look like, I was reminded once again of how much I owe my own spiritual father. I am totally aware that all I received through him came from Christ; I am aware he is only human. But for me, this ‘only human’ man has kept me spiritually alive (and has spiritually resurrected me many times).  … for one’s spiritual father, the most simple and direct way to tell him that nothing of his sacrifice is forgotten. It lives on through me. I am alive through this sacrifice.