New Beginnings

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Fresco of the Throne of Preparation (Bucovina)

Pentecost blessings, T.S. Eliot malaise and a little city hermit’s new beginnings, and I Have a Question!
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“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

(“Little Gidding” ― T.S. Eliot)

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Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling (…)

(“East Coker,” from *The Four Quartets* East Coker —T. S. Eliot)
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+ Monday of the Holy Spirit

Dear Friends in Christ
May the Holy Spirit give you the fruits of His grace this Pentecost!

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

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I can’t believe May flew by so fast! Little did I know when I wrote on May 1st that my Bight Week pilgrimage “felt like a landmark and a watershed” that so many things in my life would change at such a dizzying speed! Thank you for staying in touch through my inbox. So many emails to reply, questions to answer, stories to be told … I honestly feel surprised and deeply humbled by your love and encouragement. Please be patient with me, as I am simultaneously moving on to new ministries, a new home and a new job!!!. More in the posts to follow…

I need your help in another matter too. Please send me your questions–preferably practical questions that impact you personally in a real way but more theoretical ones too–ideas, topics etc about WHAT you would like me to blog about. Would you be more interested in …

a.Saint’s lives, homilies, holy men’s lives and teachings yet untranslated into English?

b.Vignettes, stories and photos from pilgrimages and Orthodoxy all over the world?

c. Conversion stories, especially from Protestantism to Orthodoxy?

d. ‘Missionary’ vignettes from my life and ministry here?

e. Differences between ‘American’, ‘British’ , ‘Greek’, Russian’, ‘African’ Orthodoxy, if I am allowed to make use of such terms and offer some poor reflections based on first-hand experience?

f. Witnessing in a multicultural and secular country?

g. Differences between a ‘Cradle’ Orthodox person and a ‘Convert’? (Although I personally shun such labels for various reasons)

h. “Questions and Answers”, ‘Erotapokriseis’ ‘literature’? I have received numerous questions over the years, which I have primarily answered in private, but maybe I should make these public. (Anonymously of course) (If one person has a question, most likely many more have the same question.) Witnessing in a multicultural and secular country?

i. … ???

All of the above? None of the above? Please respond at either the Comment section below or at my email – anastasioskefalas1961@gmail.com. Your suggestions to my previous question–whether this blog should become bilingual etc– have been such a great help! Thank you ever so much for your love and encouragement! I really need to decide where to lay emphasis on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the Womb

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A young couple once visited St. Gabriel (Urgebadze). The woman was pregnant. St. Gabriel blessed them and said, “My dears, be aware, a child understands everything, therefore read the word of God to him, so he will grow up properly from the very beginning.”

The husband was amazed by what St. Gabriel said and asked, “Yes, but Father, I don’t even understand what’s said through a half-closed door, so how will a child in the womb understand?”

St. Gabriel looked at the woman and addressed the child in his mother’s womb: “Hello baby, I ask you—do you hear the word of God?”

He had just finished saying it when the child began to move so much that the mother grabbed her stomach and couldn’t hide her emotions. Her husband, amazed and already believing what St. Gabriel had said, looked at his wife, astounded.

St. Gabriel’s fiery zeal

Saint Gabriel

Excerpt from the life of Saint Gabriel the Confessor and Fool for Christ of Georgia,   including rare video footage of him

 

“It is quite difficult for the contemporary generation to imagine the unusual spiritual ability of the young monk, who adopted unprecedented and astonishing steps during the terrible communist regime. … The Soviet government planned to keep him in the psycho-neurological hospital forever. But God had preserved the life of His chosen one not for such a fate. It is interesting to read an excerpt from the medical conclusion:

Georgian SSR Tbilisi Healthcare City Psycho-Neurological Hospital 19/1 – 1966, Tbilisi, 1, Electroni Str.

#666Patient: Vasili Urgebadze, born in 1929, 6 class education. Address: 11, Tetritskaro Str.

The patient is stationed in the city psycho-neurological hospital on 18.VIII.1965, and is brought from the prison for forced treatment. Diagnosis: psychopathic person, inclined to schizophrenia-like psychosis blanks. He was discharged from the hospital on 19/11/65. According to anamnesis he had a vision of a ghostly evil spirit with horns on the head at the age of 12… The patient proves that everything bad that is taking place in the world is due to Evil. From the age of 12 he started to go to churches, prayed, bought icons, and studied church literature… He ate nothing on Wednesdays and Fridays. Grown-ups and soldiers laughed at his nonsense: “On Wednesday Judas sold Christ for thirty silver coins, and on Friday the Jewish priests crucified him”; he was totally hallucinating. It was clear from the case that at the 1 May 1965 demonstration, he burnt a big portrait of Lenin, hanging on the building of the Council of Ministers. After interrogatory he said he did this because the picture of the Crucifixion of Christ should hang there and that it was not possible to idolize an earthly man – the doubt appeared in regard to his psychic health, due to which he was sent to court-psychopathic expertise. The examination showed the patient’s orientation is disoriented in place, in time, and in environment. He talks to himself in a low voice: he believes in the existence of heavenly beings, God and angels, etc. While talking, the main axis of a psychopath is always turned to that everything depends on God’s Will, etc. He is isolated from the other mental patients in the department. When someone talks to him, he surely mentions God, angels, and icons, etc. He is unable to criticize his condition. He was treated with the aminazinophrazia and syptomicine therapy, after which he passed commission.

Act of stationary #42 1965

Chairman of the commission: candidate of medicine, chief physician T. Abramishvili,

Members: J. Shalamberidze and physician Kropov.

He was discharged from the hospital on 19 Jan. 1965 and was taken home by his mother.

Physician: Lezhava 19 Jan. 1966.

 

… From that time on, Father Gabriel decided to completely change his lifestyle, which was too painful for him. Now he was determined to pretend as being mentally ill and to outwardly refuse his usual way of life. Instead of being in silence, he loudly preached in the streets. If till now he completely refused to drink wine, now he drank among people and pretended to be drunk. To pretend being foolish is an unusual feat which requires a spiritual strength and divine mind. “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Cor. 1:25).

 

Source: Mystagogy Resource Center by John Sanidopoulos

St Gregory the Theologian in Spiritual Warfare

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Gregory the Theologian, 1408 – Andrei Rublev

Flee swiftly from my heart, all-crafty one.
Flee from my members and from my life.
Deceiver, serpent, and fire, Belial, sin,
death, abyss, dragon, night, snare, and frenzy,
chaos, manslayer, and ferocious beast!
Thou didst entice into perdition those
first-formed folk, my foreparents, offering them
at the same time the taste of sin and death.
Christ, the Ruler of all commandeth thee to
flee into the billows, to fall upon the rocks,
or to enter the herd of swine, O baleful one,
as once He bade that presumptuous Legion.
Nay, yield forthwith, lest I smite thee with the Cross,
whereat all things tremble;
Oh, flee!
I bear the Cross upon me, in all my members.
I bear the Cross whene’er I journey, whene’er I sleep.
I hold the Cross in my heart. The Cross is my glory.
O mischievous one, wilt thou never cease from
dogging me with traps and laying snares for me?
Wilt thou not dash thyself upon the precipices?
Seest thou not Sodom? Oh, wilt thou not speedily
assail the shameless herds of ungodly heretics,
who, having so recklessly sundered the Almighty
Godhead, have witlessly destroyed and abolished It?
But comest thou against my hoariness? Comest thou
against my lowly heart? Thou ever blackenest me,
O foe, with darksome thoughts, pernicious thoughts.
Thou hast no fear of God, nor of His Priests.
This mind of mine, most evil one, was verily
a mighty and loud-voiced herald of the Trinity.
And now it beholdeth its end, whither it goeth in haste.
Confuse me not, O slimy one, that I might, as pristine,
meet the pure lights of Heaven, that they might
shine like lightning flashes upon my life.
Lo, receive me; lo, I stretch forth my hands.
Farewell, O world! Farewell, thou who bringest woes upon me!
Pity be shown to all that shall live after me.

 

 

Christ’s Light in Tolstoy’s Prison

 

 

the prisoner

A Vision granted to Nun Maria concerning her brother Leo Tolstoy. Also, his apostasy, his excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church, his tragic final days, the torturous struggle that went on in his soul at his last breath, and St. John’s of Kronstadt and St. Theophan’s the Recluse ‘examination’ of his spiritual condition

 

“I have renounced the Church that calls itself Orthodox… I renounce all the sacraments… I have truly renounced the Church, I have stopped fulfilling its rites, and I have written in my will to my close ones that they should not allow any clergymen from the Church near me when I will be dying…” (Lev Nicholaevich Tolstoy). Yet, in his final days, Tolstoy sought the most famous Russian monastery, Optina Hermitage, where ascetic elders were living. He wanted to meet with them, but at the last minute he lost his resolve, about which he regretfully told his sister, a nun of Shamordino Convent near Optina. When at Ostapovo station he felt his approaching death, he asked that a telegram be sent to Optina Hermitage with the request that they send him Elder Joseph. However, when two priests arrived in Astapovo, the writer’s followers would not allow them to meet…”

 

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“Throughout the history of Russian literature there has never been a more tragic personality than Lev Nicholaevich Tolstoy, the “great writer of the Russian land,” in the words of Ivan Turgenev. His literary works reach the heights not only of Russian, but world literature. Therefore, the pain and perplexity of many people who respect his works are understandable; these include Orthodox Christians, for whom the reason for the decision on February 20, 1901 by the Holy Governing Synod to excommunicate him may still be unclear.

The Holy Synod simply cited by its decision a fact that had already taken place—Count Leo Tolstoy excommunicated himself from the Church and completely broke off ties with it. This is something that he not only did not deny, but even resolutely emphasized at every convenient opportunity: “It is perfectly justifiable that I have renounced the Church that calls itself Orthodox… I renounce all the sacraments… I have truly renounced the Church, I have stopped fulfilling its rites, and I have written in my will to my close ones that they should not allow any clergymen from the Church near me when I will be dying…” These are just a few of the great writer’s numerous proclamations in this regard.

Furthermore, when Leo Tolstoy was twenty-seven years old, he nurtured the idea of creating a new faith, which his diary entries of the time witness. In his old age, when he felt that his aim was nearly accomplished, the writer created a small sect of his fans and wrote “The Gospel according to Tolstoy.” The main object of Tolstoy’s attacks became the Orthodox Church. His words and actions directed against the Church were horrifying to the Orthodox consciousness. Furthermore, Leo Tolstoy’s activities during the final ten years of his life were, unfortunately, truly destructive for Russia, which he loved. They brought misfortune to the people whom he so badly wanted to serve. It is no accident that the leader of the Bolsheviks extremely valued the aim of Leo’ Tolstoy’s activity, and called the writer “the mirror of the Russian revolution.”

Great ascetics of the Russian Orthodox Church—St. John of Kronstadt, St. Theophan the Recluse, and many others, admitted with regret that Count Tolstoy purposefully used his great talent to destroy Russia’s traditional spiritual and social order.

The writer’s final days speak to us about the torturous struggle that went on in his soul. He fled his family nest, Yasnaya Polyana—not to his like-minded friends, the “Tolstoyans,” but to the most famous Russian monastery, Optina Hermitage, where ascetic elders were living. He wanted to meet with them, but at the last minute he lost his resolve, about which he regretfully told his sister, a nun of Shamordino Convent near Optina. When at Ostapovo station he felt his approaching death, he asked that a telegram be sent to Optina Hermitage with the request that they send him Elder Joseph. However, when two priests arrived in Astapovo, the writer’s followers would not allow them to meet…

Nevertheless, because the writer himself never made peace with the Church (Leo Tolstoy never publicly renounced his tragic spiritual error), the excommunication by which he separated himself from the Church cannot be removed. This means that canonically he cannot be commemorated in the Church. But the compassionate heart of any Christian who holds the literary works of this great writer in high regard cannot be closed to sincere, humble prayer for his soul. (Archimandrite Tikhon, Shevkunov) Source: OrthoChristian

 

The Silent Angel

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Elder Dobri is the subject of a 2015 documentary, “The Silent Angel,” which features interviews with his family, relatives, and friends, and also with Bulgaria’s last King and former Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

An icon of charity, Dobri Dimitrov Dobrev,  was born on July 20, 1914 in the village of Bailovo. His father died in World War I and his mother raised the children. He married in 1940, when Bulgaria was participating in the Second World. A shell fell near him during one of the bombings in Sofia, depriving him of nearly all his hearing. He had four children with his wife, two of whom he outlived.

Over the years, the elder became more and more detached from the material aspects of life, devoting himself entirely to the spiritual life. Around the year 2000, he donated all of his belongings to the Orthodox Church and began living in a small and modest addition to the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in his native village. It is also about that time that he began to collect money towards the restoration of churches and monasteries throughout Bulgaria.

He came under the spotlight when it was revealed that for years he had walked more than 12.5 miles to reach Sofia from his home in the village of Bailovo to beg for money and then donate it for charity.

After spending years at the entrance of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, with a plastic cup in his hand, he collected about BGN 40,000 ($24,700 today) for the cathedral in Sofia, BGN 10,000 ($12,350 today) for the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Bailovo, and BGN 25,000 ($31,000 today) for the restoration of the Eleshnishki Monastery of the Mother of God located to the east of Sofia, and the local church of the Gorno Kamartsi village.

His spirit of utter selflessness and sacrifice earned him the popular title “The Saint of Bailovo.”

Yesterday, Elder Dobri Dobrev (Grandpa Dobri), reposed in the Lord. He was 103 years old. He reposed at the Monastery of St. George in Kremikovtsi, to the northeast of Sofia.

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