Surrendering Unconditionally

memory eternal

At St. John the Forerunner Women’s Monastery at Metamorfosi, Chalkidiki — at a nun’s funeral

“Και στα δικά μας” [“kai sta dika mas”] (*)

(*) (cf. Gerondas Gregorios’ word in the end)

Sister Episteme, +22 Friday September 2017, the day of our visit, reposed in the Lord on the eve of the Conception of St. John the Baptist, the patron Saint of her monastery, and her spiritual father, Gerondas Gregorios prayed together with her as she was leaving her last breath. Sister Episteme, 60 years old, 34 years a nun, felt her end approaching in the morning and asked her relatives who were visiting the monastery to take her on a last walk on her wheel chair giving them detailed instructions and blessing every corner of the monastery yard, churches and buildings. + Memory Eternal

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Gerondissa Emmeleia, Sister Episteme’s mother in flesh, became also a nun in the same monastery immediately after she became a widow, after her husband’s 40 day Memorial Service.  She had 5 children, 2 of which became nuns, Sister Episteme and Sister Christonymfi,  and one a married priest, Father Nikolaos. The last decade of her life she led a most holy, hidden ascetic life in silence and obedience and reposed in the Lord last Easter Sunday. + Memory Eternal

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Eleni, Sister Episteme’s lay sister, a kind, meek mother and grandmother, always caring first for others and never for herself, smiling radiantly, with courage, even when her sister was laid in the tomb: ” I feel such bright sorrow in my heart today!”

 

Gladdening Sorrow-Χαρμολύπη

 

Tatiani: a pilgrim who tried for some time to become a nun in the monastery but gave up in the end.

– “What was the most difficult thing in monastic life? What made you ‘give up’?” 

– “The fact that I could not surrender entirely to God’s Will and to do obedience in everything. I wanted to control my life, to have my opinions, to be in charge. A visa problem emerged, future was uncertain. If I “gambled” all my life and stayed in the monastery as a novice, I might jeopardised both citizenships, Greek and …, and ended up a refugee at God’s Mercy, God knows where. I did not have such ‘craziness’. The fasts, the long prayers, the vigils were difficult of course. One would get bored, tired, hungry, sleepy, but gradually, if one persists, one gets used to them, and grows spiritually. That was not really difficult. But cutting your will and having the guts to give up everything for Christ, and surrendering unconditionally, this has made all the difference. I could not do this.”

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Presbytera (ie. a priest’s wife) Theodora with 9 children, suffering from lupus:

“Unless one surrenders unconditionally, reaches even the point of becoming a fool for Christ, one way or another, living only for Him, and loving Him more than his family and himself, God’s Grace is never revealed in all His Power in his life. Most people around him of course will not understand him, and think that he is really crazy, but they do not care about what the world thinks of them. They only want to follow Him. Sister Episteme surrendered unconditionally to Him all her life, and especially in her illness. And in just 9 months God granted her his Kingdom.

*

 

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Gerondas Gregorios wishing to me after the funeral: “May the Lord help you. “Και στα δικά μας” [“kai sta dika mas”] (Approximate translation of this wish is “same to us” It is a return gesture of good wishes, but more than that it is specific to the occasion. It most likely refers to an engagement or a wedding. This is the reply to a well wisher, but not in so many words. The reply means; may good wishes accompany you when you also find yourself engaged or married or something similar ‘τα δικά σου’ – your (day of celebration) Actually it is an encouragement to follow the same route, wished to an unmarried guest in a joyous occassion, namely a wedding or engagement. There is a lugubrious exception, when this wish is said after the death of a monk in Mountain Athos or monasteries in general in Greece.

 

+ Memory Eternal!

 

 

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St Paisios and the woman in Hell

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* I really do not know what ‘impresses’ me the most in this story: the role of St Paisios or that of the Guardian Angel. May the Lord have mercy on our souls and may we never give such a hard time to our Guardian Angels!

A soul in Hell

The Elder related: ”I knew an old woman who was very stingy. Her daughter was very good, and whatever she wanted to give as alms she would throw out the window so she could leave the house with empty hands, because her mother would always check to see if she was taking anything. But if she told her mother that ‘the monk’ [that is me] had asked for something, then her mother would be willing to give it up. ”After her death, I saw a young man [her guardian angel], and he said to me, ‘Come-so-and-so wants you.’ I couldn’t understand what happened to me, but we were standing in front of a grave in Konitsa. He moved his hand, like this, and the grave opened. Inside, I saw a grimy mess and the old woman, who had started to decay. She was calling out, ‘Monk, save me.’ ”My heart went out to her. Feeling sorry for her, I climbed down inside and without being repulsed I embraced her and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ ”She said, ‘Tell me, didn’t I always give you anything you asked, willingly?’ ”Yes,’ I said, ‘that’s true.’ ”All right,’ said the young man, soothing her. He moved his hand like this again and closed the grave like a curtain, and I was back in my cell. ”The sisters from Souroti asked me, ‘What happened to you on the feast day of Saint Andrew?’ I answered, ‘Pray for so-and-so’s soul.’ Two months later, I saw her again. High above an abyss, there was a plateau with places, a lot of houses, and many people. The old woman was up there. She was very happy with the face of a small child that had just a tiny spot that her angel was also scrubbing to clean off. In the abyss, in the distance, I saw people being beaten and harassed, and trying to climb up. ”I embraced her out of joy. I took her aside a little, so the people in the abyss wouldn’t see us and be hurt. She said to me, come on, let me show you the place where the Lord has put me.’ ”

From the book, Elder Paisios of Mount Athos by Hieromonk Isaac

 

In a Grave For Three Years

The monasteries of Mt. Athos are hundreds of years old, and hundreds and thousands of monks have ended their earthly lives in them. But where are all of the graves of the reposed? Can it really be that the monks just don’t consider it necessary to take care to preserve the memory of their deceased brothers?

Purity of soul

Anyone that visits Mt. Athos’ monasteries will notice two peculiar things: first, even large monasteries have small cemeteries with only a few wooden crosses mounted in the ground; second, the oldest burials in these cemeteries are, at best, twenty or so years old. But how could that be?

First of all, let’s take note of the fact that Athonite monks are usually always buried on Mt. Athos itself. However, it does sometimes happen though that an Athonite monk due to various circumstances may end up living in another monastery outside of Mt. Athos and thus will be buried there instead. For example, at the Danilov cemetery in Moscow can be found the revered grave of the Athonite monk Aristoklis (Amvrosiev), who for many years had presided over the Athonite metochion in Moscow and thus was buried in Moscow after he reposed. However, any monk that reposes on Mount Athos, even if he had come to the Holy Mountain from another country for the first time, is not taken to his homeland to be buried, but is buried at the same Athos monastery in which he had reposed.

To repose on the Holy Mountain, in fact, is actually considered a kind of recognition of the deceased’s righteousness and almost a guarantee of the salvation of his soul. An Athonite monk of our time, hieromonk Gabriel, would always say, “What a joy it is to die on Athos! Here, the Mother of God herself meets the monk after his death, guiding his soul on its way from Earth to Heaven…”

On Mt. Athos, according to tradition, the burial of the deceased is preceded by a special rite. Also, the deceased monk’s clothes will not be changed and neither will his body be washed before burial. On the one hand, proper hygiene is, of course, always maintained; on the other, too much care for the body and health in general is considered an unnecessary occupation, not worthy of a monk’s time. And in fact, this manner of burial is not exactly something unique to Athonite monasticism. For example, in the “Monastic Rite of Burial” we read the following: “When a monk reposes in the Lord, it is not appropriate for his body to be washed or be seen unclad.”

The deceased instead will first be clothed in a “schema” and his head will be covered with a “koukoulion” (attire worn by schemamonks). Afterwards, a cassock is sewn over the body, serving as a coffin for the deceased, and an icon of the Holy Virgin Mary is placed on his chest. It’s worth noting that usually during burial procedure the icon of the Virgin Mary is only given to women, while men are given the icon of the Savior. But, since Mt. Athos is considered to be a place where the Mother of God is especially present, and according to belief, is the first to meet the souls of the deceased, the funeral traditions that have formed here are unique.

Generally burial takes place on Mount Athos on the day of death and without a coffin, so that the body may return unto the ground as soon as possible. Such a burial practice is actually common in many religions and cultures. In particular, Abrahamic religions adhere to this rule in accordance with the words that God addressed to Adam before his exile from Paradise: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Gen. 3:19).

After the customary prayer rule is read, the deceased monk is carried by his fellow brethren to his place of rest and is buried. Afterwards, on top of the grave the brethren mount a low four-pointed wooden cross on which, using simple paint, is made the most concise inscription: the name of the monk and the date of his death.

Stone after stone

It should be noted that the Athonite grave, that is, the very ground that the body is buried under, is much different than it is elsewhere. For example, the ground in Russia, which is mostly flatland, does not share in common any of the burial-related problems that inhabitants of the Mediterranean and other mountainous areas face. In Russia, the usual environment where the body of the deceased is placed is usually a homogeneous, soft, crumbly mass: at best, it is soil or sand; at worst—clay. On Mount Athos however there is nothing of the sort. Mt. Athos is all stone. Sometimes the ground is just a single stone mass, but more often it consists of cobblestones and large gravel. Soil on Mount Athos is in deficit even more than wood is. Therefore, agriculture on the peninsula is practically absent—there are no appropriate conditions for it. By the way, some time ago in the past, the Russian Panteleimon monastery on Mt. Athos had soil delivered to it by sea so that the monks, despite harsh conditions, would nonetheless be able to plant a few gardens. During our trip we happened to see some monasteries that had a bit of farmland, which at best had a few dozen rows of cabbages and some kind of gourds. The largest garden we saw was at the Great Lavra monastery, which had about 40 yards of land. And, no doubt, the soil for this garden was also brought from elsewhere, for the ground around the monastery is mostly all stone. As for the ground of the surrounding roads, it is either siliceous or consists of dense red soil resembling something like grated brick.

Now let’s take a look at the following scenario: a monk in one of the Athonite monasteries reposes in the Lord. In order to bury him, the brethren of the monastery have to urgently fulfill an extremely laborious obedience—prepare the place of burial for their deceased brother. Let us not forget that the deceased, according to monastic customs, are buried as soon as possible, usually on the very day of their death. Little by little, or rather, stone by the stone, the hardworking monks, with their shovels ringing, dig through the rough terrain of Mt. Athos. Finally, the grave is complete and the body of the deceased brother is gently placed within. But now what? Will they really fill the grave back up with all those stones and boulders they just dug up?! Of course not—for a cause such as this they can’t find enough soil. Now let us again keep in mind the deficit of soil on Mt. Athos, as this circumstance will soon help us understand the reason behind other important burial customs on the Holy Mountain.

With the grave now covered and topped off with a small mound of earth, and the wooden cross with its inscription mounted in place, the burial is complete. Now, here is the incomprehensible part of the procedure to one who is not familiar with Athonite burial customs: In just three years’ time the grave will be dug up, and the deceased brother’s bones will never again return to their former place of rest!

On Mt. Athos, a monastery brotherhood prays for newly-reposed monks with especial assiduousness. For the first 40 days, the entire brotherhood of the monastery reads the customary prayer rule for the reposed, repeating it according to the amount of knots on their prayer ropes. Also, in memory of the reposed monk, the monastery prepares “kolivo” (also called “kutia” in Russia), a ritual memorial dish which consists of some grain such as wheat, rye, oat, or rice, as well as honey, raisins and nuts. Furthermore, for the following three years the deceased is commemorated at every Liturgy during the proskomedia. Now bearing in mind that the Divine Liturgy in the monasteries is served daily, this means that the deceased monk receives commemoration every day and for quite a long time. Finally, the name of the deceased is also recorded in a special memorial monastery book, the so-called “Kuvaras”, which bears record of the names of all the deceased monks that have lived in the monastery from the time of its very foundation. For example, the “Kuvaras” of the Great Lavra monastery, read during special memorial days, has been recording the names of its brethren to this very day since the 10th century!

The ossuary

After three years have passed, the grave of the newly-reposed monk is carefully dug up and the brethren now examine the remains of the deceased to see what state they are in. If the soft tissues of the body are not completely decomposed yet, the grave will be covered up in likewise manner and the following procedure will be repeated again until it is clear that only the bones remain. By the way, according to Athonite tradition, a body that is not “accepted by the earth”, i.e., doesn’t decompose, is regarded as a sign that the monk did not make the effort to lead a proper monastic way of life and that his soul has not found rest in Heaven. In such case, the entire brotherhood begins to pray even more diligently, beseeching the Lord for the forgiveness of sins and purification of their fellow brother’s soul.

If the bones of the deceased are completely free from flesh (and this, under the Athos climate, while also taking into account the terrain, occurs most often in just about three years), they are taken out of the grave, and after being thoroughly washed with water and wine are transferred to the ossuary, which is a building that resembles a chapel and is usually located somewhere nearby, outside the walls of the monastery. As for the empty grave, it’s now ready to grant rest for another three years to someone else after his repose.

So now we know how Mt. Athos manages to solve the problem of soil deficit and why there are so few graves in the cemeteries of these ancient monasteries. As it turns out, there can’t possibly be too many graves, as there is a constant “rotation” going on that many at first aren’t aware of.

Now an ossuary is, in essence, a crypt. But the peculiarity of this crypt lies in the fact that the deceased, or rather, their remains, are not hidden there, but are in plain sight: the skulls are lined up in rows along the shelves, while the other bones are neatly laid right on the floor along the walls. The names of the monks and the date of their death are usually found written on each skull. Here is how the well-known Russian writer Boris Zaitsev, who visited Mount Athos at the beginning of the 20th century, described the ossuary of the Skete of Saint Andrew: “The ossuary of St. Andrew’s Skete is a rather large, secluded and well-lit room on an underground floor. Inside the ossuary is found a cupboard with five human skulls. On each is inscribed a name and a date. These were the abbots of the skete. Then on the shelves lay the skulls (about seven hundred) of ordinary monks, which also have inscriptions. And, finally, what to me seemed most incredible—small bones (the hands and feet) were neatly put together in stacks near the wall, reaching up almost to the ceiling. All this was done with the most profound care that is inherent to this kind of burial tradition. It seemed to me that the only thing missing from this whole picture was a monk that would spend time here keeping record of things and compiling biographies of the reposed brethren. There is some literature present here as well. On the wall here, by the way, hangs a saying that the brethren themselves composed: “Remember, O brethren, that we were once like you, and you will once become like us.”

Thus, in such a manner do the Athonite monks lay at rest after reposing in the Lord, with the ossuary basically serving them as a common mass grave. It’s also worth noting that on Athos it is thought that the color of the skull of a reposed monk is a sure sign of whether or not the monk’s life was well-pleasing to God. Thus, according to this belief, the skulls of the righteous have a beautiful yellowish shade—they look as though they are emitting light, and, sometimes even produce a sweet-smelling scent; the monks that have honestly carried out their monastic vows have white-colored skulls; and a dark colored skull, on the other hand, signifies that the judgment of the departed monk’s soul due to his sins did not have a positive outcome. The last case, however, is quite rare on Mt. Athos.

Mt. Athos’ ossuaries are never locked. Any inhabitant of the monastery can at any time can enter the ossuary and in solitude reflect on the transience of life. Looking at the bones of monks whom one once knew, or of those who had reposed centuries ago, it is unlikely that one would not come to the thought that they themselves will one day also find rest here along with their fellow brethren. Now that is truly something to ponder for the monk… However, monks do not at all fear ending up here in this gloomy house of bones, knowing for certain that there is no need to fear death, for it has already been defeated by the Risen Christ!

Yuri Ryabinin

7/7/2017

 

He Had to Bury His Own Son

 

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+DANIEL reposed on Sunday, June 11, 2017, while trying to swim across the Spree river near the Ebertbrücke, 10117 Berlin. He was on a college trip, studying abroad.

 

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“Until the resurrection, son.” His father, Father Seraphim Holland

May God hear his prayer and send comfort!

This beautiful young man, Daniel Holland, died tragically at the age of 20. Listen here  to the words of love, life, and hope, offered by his father, Priest Seraphim Holland, at his funeral service,where he had to bury his own son. These 20 minutes could turn out to be life-changing for you.

At the funeral for Daniel: about his deep heart and how and why we pray for the dead, and how to properly keep his memory.

http://www.orthodox.net/ser…/funeral_2017+daniel-holland.mp3

How and why Orthodox pray for the dead
The deep heart

SYNOPSIS:Remarks at the funeral of Daniel Holland (+Sunday of All Saints, 2017), from his

father. His deep heart, and how and why we pray for the dead, and how we should

remember him. It is with actions, not words.

 

In memory of +Daniel, our son/brother/uncle/friend and for those in need
 

https://www.dropbox.com/s/fit5c573wxrpsh5/dyptichs-daniels-list.doc?dl=

 

 

 

 

A Smile from Eternity

Honorable Mr. Papanikolaou,

A few hours after the entombment of elder Joseph, you posted at your website an article with the title «Funeral of Blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopedi – A Smile From Eternity«, describing in a few words the event aided by a few pictures.

The photograph of the reposed, who is smiling not only with his lips but with all the expression of his face, made  a great impression on people, which we can see  from the articles and comments in numerous web-sites.

One can indeed come across dead people with a glowing face, a peaceful expression, but with never a smile. On the one hand all the spiritual fathers say that the time of death is horrifying for man. On the other hand we read in the book of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers that even the most advanced ones , out of humility, did not let down their guard before entering eternal life, where there is no longer any danger.

In addition, Elder Joseph had a major heart problem and he was very debilitated by this illness. So how did he repose smiling?

The answer is: NO, he didn’t repose smiling, but HE SMILED AFTER HIS REPOSE.

After a conversation of us with some fathers of the monastery, we convey to you the story of the event.

The two monks that were with him until the very last moment, sprinted to the abbot, Elder Ephraim, to let him and the rest of the fathers know about the repose of Elder Joseph and the former two didn’t pay attention to the reposed, who was left with his mouth half-open.

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Thus, they came back to the cell, to prepare the reposed according to the monastic order. Elder Ephraim ordered them to leave his face uncovered. The fathers tried to close his mouth, but as it was quite late, his mouth remained open. They even tied a gauze around his head, so that his mouth would remain closed, but after they removed it his mouth opened up again. About 45 minutes had already gone by, since he had passed away.

-Elder, what should we do, it looks bad with the  mouth open?

-Leave him as he is, do not cover his face!

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They sewed him inside his monastic mantle as according to monastic custom. The whole procedure so that he was put inside the mantle and sewed in took another 45′. Then, they cut off the cloth around his face –according to the order- and found the elder as everybody can see him now, smiling.

Did he listen to them and granted them this litle favour, so that he didn’t hurt their feelings? Or, was it that he wanted to grant us an indication what he saw and let us know the state in which he is now?

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The smile of elder Joseph of Vatopedi, is the First supernatural event after his repose and has become a great consolation for everybody.

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Panayiotis Koutsou

Source: Diakonima

 

How to Communicate with Departed Loved Ones

 

Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (Part 4/6)

In the fourth part of the video interview, Elder Tadej talks about how to communicate with departed loved ones and how to help them.

 

Elder Tadej:
“Can we get into contact with our loved ones who passed away?
As soon as we start to think about them we establish communication.
Those who have noble, peaceful and quiet spirit converse sometimes during their sleep with the souls they want to get into contact with. They get everything they wish. They ask something and a deceased person can answer their question.
We are not only related to the material world but also to the spiritual world… If one is focused, meek and humble, it happens.
If you feel very sorry for somebody who passed away and you pray for him [her], then he gains a lot in spiritual life, he receives energy. You give your life for somebody you are concerned about, you would like him or her to be fine.
You send them energy, divine energy, and you are connected with them…
We are all connected with divine energy but we don’t think about it and don’t pay attention.
We are not far away from each other.
We are so close.

What should we ask people who died, what do they tell us, how do we look like to them?
They ask us for help.
When they pass over to eternity they can’t pray for themselves any longer, they can pray only for us…
When the end of somebody’s life comes, he loses the right to pray for himself… because the time given to him for his repentance has expired.
Other people can pray for him and that is accepted by God.

 

Entering Hell

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With Prayer 

The cycle of prayers assaulting Hades reaches a climax on the day of Pentecost. On the evening of that Sunday, the faithful gather for Vespers. During that service, they kneel for the first time since Pascha. And in that kneeling, the Church teaches them the boldness of prayer, the cry of human hearts for God’s solace and relief. Three lengthy prayers are offered, the third of which completes and fulfills the prayers that began so many weeks before in the Soul Saturdays:

Priest: … O Thou Who didst descend into Hades, and demolish the eternal bars, revealing an ascent to those who were in the lower abode; Who with the lure of divine wisdom didst entice the dragon, the head of subtle evil, and with Thy boundless power bound him in abysmal hell, in inextinguishable fire, and extreme darkness. … Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, dost deign to receive oblations and supplications for those bound in Hades, and grantest unto us the great hope that rest and comfort will be sent down from Thee to the departed from the grief that binds them. (edited for length)

 

Source: Father Stephen Freeman Glory to God for All Things — excerpted

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