My dear sister K.,
My dear sister K.,
There was a woman in a small village in Aitoloakarnania and had three children.
Kyra Vasiliki managed to raise up her family with incredible deprivations and difficulties, but with a unique dignity! She died on Dormition eve in 1998.
The next day, on August 15, the cheap coffin with her corpse, which was on the chassis of the priest’s small van, was headed toward the cemetery.
In the course of the funeral, some of her fellow villagers followed and talked about the sufferings that she had endured when she lived, when suddenly a beautiful fragrance exuded and spread all over the place:
If thousands of flowers were there, no such aroma would be possible !!!
All of them were surprised and could not explain that mystery. Among those who accompanied her was also a spiritual child of the late Elder Ambrosius Lazaris (1912-2006), the charismatic Spiritual Father of the Holy Monastery of Dadi. After a few days of this miraculous, yet incomprehensible event, he went to Elder Ambrosius, reporting to him the whole incident. Very laconically, he told him only that: “A woman died, and the place was full of fragrance.”
Elder Ambrosius, at first, remained silent.
Then, he walked into his room, stayed for a while there, and then returned.
These were his words:
– She has been sanctified! And, do you know why? Because, never in her life, did she ever complain! Such are the people which God ‘wants’! To fill Paradise and make the Second Coming. Do you understand? …
A testimony offered by Hieromonk Synesios.
“A few years ago, I was the parish priest of St. Vasileios church (Piraeus) and was called to hear the confession of a young man, Xenophon, 42 years old.
When I arrived, his days were numbered. Cancer with rapid metastases had affected his brain too. He was all alone at the ward, the bed next to him was empty, so we were all alone.
This is what he told me about how he came to Faith, since he was a “hardened atheist” in his own words:
‘I arrived here about 35 days ago, in this ward of two beds. Next to me was another patient, about 80 years old. He was suffering from cancer too, in his bones, and although he was experiencing excruciating pain, he was constantly praising the Lord “Glory to God! Glory to God for all things!” He also recited more prayers which I heard for the first time in my life since I was an atheist who had never set my foot to church. Often, all those prayers comforted him and he slept for a couple of hours. Then, after 2-3 hours, he woke up again from the excruciating pain, and he would start over “My Christ, I thank you! Glory be to Thy Name! Glory to God! Glory to God for all things!” I was moaning with my pain, and this patient at the next bed to mine was glorifying God. I was blaspheming Christ and the Theotokos, and he was thanking God, thanking him for the cancer which he had given to him, and for all the excruciating pain he was suffering.
I was so rebellious and indignant at this! Not only for the excruciating pain I was suffering, but also for his never-ending Doxology. He was also partaking daily of Holy Communion, while I was throwing up in disgust.
– ‘Will you please shut up! Shut up and stop saying all the time ‘Glory to God’! Can’t you see that this God, Whom you are thanking and glorifying, this same God is torturing us with such cruelty? What kind of God this is? No, He does not exist!’
And the patient on the next bed would meekly answer me: ‘He does exist, my child, and He is also a most loving Father, because with all this illness and pain, He cleanses me from my many sins. If you had worked on some rough task, and your clothes and your body stank, would you not need a rough brush to clean all this dirt? Likewise, God is using this disease as a balm, as a beneficial cleansing for my soul, in order to prepare it for the Kingdom of Heaven’.
His replies got even more on my nerves and I was blaspheming gods and demons. All my reactions were sadly most negative, and all I did was to keep on screaming: ‘There is no God. … I do not believe in anything. … Neither in this God nor in His Kingdom …’
I remember his last words: ‘Wait and you shall see with your own eyes how the soul of a Christian who believes is separated from his body. I am a sinner, but His Mercy will save me. Wait, and you will behold and will believe!’
And that day came. The nurses wanted to place a screen, as is their duty, but I protested against and stopped them. I told them ‘No, don’t do this, because I want to watch how this old man will die!!!’
So I watched him and he was glorifying God all the time. He also said a few ‘Hail, Unwedded Bride’ for the Theotokos, which as I later found out, they are called ‘Salutations’. He would also chant “Theotokos Virgin Mary …”, “From my many sins ..” and “It is truly right to bless you, Theotokos …”, and he would also make the sign of the Cross a number of times.
Then … he raised both of his hands and said “Welcome, my Angel! Thank you for coming with such a bright synodeia to take my soul. Thank you! Thank you!” He raised his hands a little bit more, he made the sign of the Cross, he crossed his arms on his chest and fell asleep in the Lord. Suddenly, the ward was filled with Light, like ten and more bright suns had risen all together, such was splendour of the light with which this ward was lit!” And not only was this ward lit, but a heavenly fragrance spread around, inside the ward, even outside the corridor, so powerful that those patients in the neighbouring wards who were not asleep and could get out of their beds, they came out and started walking up and down the corridor, trying to discern where this special fragrance was exuded from.
Thus, my Father, I, the hardened atheist did believe and called for you to hear my Confession.’
Xenophon was firm and merciless with his old self, but the Mercy of our Lord was great, really great! He offered a clear confession, received Holy Communion a couple of times, and departed in deep repentance, in peace, a holy death, himself glorifying God!”
By Protopresbyter Stephanos Anagnostopoulos
Photos of the personal belongings of His Holiness Patriarch Pavle and a few stories about his proverbial poverty and non-attachment to material things
His Holiness Patriarch Pavle was born as Gojko Stojcevic in a small village in present day Croatia. He lost both of his parents at a young age and was raised by his aunt. He studied in Belgrade and was majoring in Theology and Medicine. He graduated from University of Belgrade in 1942. He worked as a construction worker after WWII and then took his monastic vows in Ovcar. That is when he received the monastic name Pavle. He later took post-graduate studies in Athens, Greece when he returned in 1957 he was elected as Bishop of Ras and Prizren. He held that position for 33 years before becoming Patriarch in 1990. He held that position until his death on November 15th, 2009.
The Patriarch of Serbian Pavel had only one robe, which he himself made (he always answered with a smile: “I have more than one robe and I don’t need – I cannot wear two at once.”) He dressed himself with a vestment – he cleaned and ironed himself.
The patriarch repaired shoes and even sewed shoes for himself (moreover, if he saw that someone had torn his clothes or shoes, he offered his services in repair). The patriarch until the end used old printing and sewing machines, heated the water on a tiny old stove, wrote with a pen. He had neither personal assistants, nor a personal secretary, nor a personal car.
The photos below show some of the personal belongings of the Patriarch of Serbian Pavel
His Holiness was known for his humility. When he was asked why he always walked or took public transport, he replied “I will not purchase one until every Albanian and Serbian household in Kosovo and Metohija has an automobile.”
Here are a few great stories that show how humble of a man he was ……….
******The Mercedes Story******
Patriarch Pavle, as he was known, continued to live a simple life even after he moved to the new residence – the Patriarchal Palace – in Belgrade. People form Belgrade often encountered him on the streets, riding the train or the bus … Once, while walking alone the hilly street of King Peter the I, towards the Patriarchate,a Mercedes – last model barely passed him, the driver – a priest from one of the well-known parish in Belgrade, stopped the car and said:
– Your Holiness, permit me to invite you in! Just tell me where you heading …The Patriarch entered the car, and as soon as it started moving, asked:
– Tell me, Father, whose car is this?
– It’s mine, your Holiness!
– Stop it! – the Patriarch replied, he then got off, made the sign of the Cross and said to the priest:
-May the Lord, watch over you!
*****The Black Automobile Story*****
The great session of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church had just ended. As it was the customary, his Holiness was heading to the vespers service at the Cathedral. When he exited the Patriarchal Palace, he saw many black limousines parked near and asked:
– So many luxury cars, who do you think they belong to?
– To our bishops, Your Holiness! They came with them to the Synod meeting-replied the priest who accompanied him.
– Oh, God watch over them, what would they’ve traveled with, if they weren’t taken the monastic vows of poverty?!
******The Travel Story******
In the Patriarchate building, it is often heard the story of the Patriarch dialogue with the deacon accompanying him everywhere; as they were ready to go to the church in Banovo Brdo, the deacon asked:
– So, how are we traveling? By car?
– By bus! – the Patriarch replied with determination.
– It’s crowded, it’s stuffy in the bus, and the church is not close …
– We’re going (by bus)! – His Holiness replied shortly.
– But … – the Deacon, following him, advance a new argument, — Your Holiness, it is summer, many people go to Ada Ciganlija [a famous pool] and buses are full of barely naked people. It is not appropriate…
– You know, Father – the Patriarch replied back – one can see what he desires to see!
Patriarch Pavle refused, in fact, to get paid.He only received a small pension he was entitled to as a formal bishop of Raska and Prizren. All his needs were modest, given that he sewed his mantle and repaired his shoes … Yet, he still had some money left of that pension. What was left of it, he divided among poor or donated it to other purposes of civic good.
When a request from bishops was made to increase their salaries in 1962, his reaction as a bishop became proverbial :
– “But why, since we are not able to spend what we already have?”.
He did, likewise with what he received as gifts. If he received mantle material, he keep it until he met a monk or a priest not been able to afford it. Then he would calculate how much they would need to sew a cassock (mantle) and give them exactly that, so he may share the rest with others.
May our Lord grant us the same spiritual poverty and humility. Patriarch Pavle’s acts condemn me.
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”— Proverbs 19:17
By Susanna Schneider
Podvig is a Russian term that is used to describe struggle, ascesis, and quite literally, hard work that become spiritual offerings by virtue of the orientation of the soul from self to God. … Elder Sophrony noted that harmful self-love can be overcome only through much struggle and effort. According to Saint Theophan the Recluse, “all the saints accept the only true path to virtue to be pain and hard work… lightness and ease are a sign of a false path. Anyone who is not struggling, not in podvig, is in prelest” [spiritual delusion] (The Path to Salvation, p. 209). One can add that anyone not struggling for virtue is under the deluding influence of egocentricity that prevents the sufferer from seeing God and neighbor and philautia that prevents the wretched soul from genuinely loving them as well.
The terrible struggles involved in physical illnesses and ailments can also be understood in terms of podvigs as long as those experiencing such illnesses and ailments perceive them as being allowed by God’s loving providence for their own purification and illumination. And this perception can only come through a conscious and heroic act of will to move beyond the orbit of self.
Fr. John Krestiankin, in his letters to laypeople, writes, “While our illnesses, yours and mine, should not upset us, for we have already gone out into the final frontier; our podvig of labors is already over; it is left for us only to bear the podvig of illness. I think that this is the most valuable and promising spiritual labor, for nothing humbles a person like sickness. Now we truly stand before the Lord like babes, with the awareness that we and all of ours are in God’s hands. We stretch out our hands to Him, our hearts cry out only to Him, and no ambition or pridefulness about this podvig can stick to us. How good and saving this is!”
When we are physically ill or incapacitated, we are forced to confront our own weakness and helplessness. In such instances, we are no longer capable of doing ordinary things for ourselves. We are dependent on others who have their own lives to lead and we feel as though we are on the periphery, not in the center. This is painfully crushing for the ego, which finds itself at a crossroads: should it rebel with even more vehement egocentric demands or humbly accept life on its own difficult terms. Often, people try both approaches. Blessed are those who willingly allow their ego to be humbled, for then the nous awakens and turns to the only One it can: it turns to God in prayer, in hope, and in love.
The notion of illness as podvig could be most beneficial for us if we look at our spiritual state in this way, for indeed, we are spiritually ill and without care from those physicians and nurses in the Hospital of the Church we would be lost, exposed, and in danger of spiritual death. If we were able to keep this notion of our illness and our dependency in the recesses of our heart, we would be more inclined to call upon the most Holy Name of Christ in humility and repentance. The recollection of our own spiritual illness would assist us in the continual remembrance of God throughout the day.
This notion is found in the teachings of Elder Sophrony and explained by Archimandrite Zacharias, “Two abysses lie before us: the depth of the mercy and love of God shown by His Cross to which we join ourselves by voluntarily mourning over our transgressions, and the depth of the fallen state in which we find ourselves. Both lead us to intensify our cry to God, in the way of all righteous souls, and grace comes to our help and strengthens us, for it bears within itself the seed of eternal life. This seed and the consolation that accompanies it inspire us to undertake an awesome struggle with the darkness that we have discovered within ourselves, until it is all ‘swallowed up by life’ (2 Cor. 5:4). We stand constrained by the abyss of the love of Christ, the Cross and the grace of His Resurrection on the one hand, and the abyss of our fall on the other hand. The abyss of our fall cries to the abyss of the mercy of the love of Christ (cf. Ps. 42:7) and if we acquire this two-fold vision in our life, we will never cease to be inspired day and night.”
Illness, physical and spiritual, can be therapeutic instruments for healing us of the ills of our egocentricity if we choose to embrace them as a podvig. But this is only be possible if we are prepared to glorify God for all things, the joys and the sorrows. When we treat illness as a podvig we are echoing the words of Saint Paul to the Romans, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” And such podvigs give life a deep sense of purpose that frivolous egocentricity never can and never will.
Source: Ancient Christian Wisdom
“I arrived at the address and signaled. After waiting a few minutes, I beep again. Since this was supposed to be my last passenger, I thought about leaving, but instead I parked the car, went to the door and knocked … “Just a minute,” said a fragile, elderly woman’s voice. I heard something being dragged along the floor.
After a long pause, the door opened. A little woman of about 90 was standing in front of me. She was wearing a plain dress and a hat with a veil, as if from 1940s films. Next to her was a small suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for many years. All furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no trinkets or dishes on the shelves. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photographs and glassware.
“Would you help me carry the bag to the car?” She asked. I took the suitcase to the car and then came back to help the woman. She took my hand and we slowly walked toward the car.
She continued to thank me for my kindness. “It’s nothing,” I told her, “I just try to treat my passengers the way I want them to treat my mother.”
“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. When we got into the car, she gave me the address and then asked: “Could you go through the center of the city?”
“This is not the shortest route,” I replied.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. – “I’m not in a hurry. I’m going to the hospice. ”
I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes sparkled. “My family left a long time ago,” she continued in a low voice, “The doctor says that I have not very long to go.”
I calmly extended my hand and turned off the meter.
“What route would you like to go?” I asked.
For the next two hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the area where she and her husband lived when they were newlyweds. She showed me a furniture warehouse, which was once a dance hall, where she worked as a little girl.
Sometimes she asked me to slow down in front of a specific building or alley and sat staring into the darkness, saying nothing. Then she suddenly said: “I am tired, perhaps we will go now.”
We rode in silence at the address she gave me. It was a low building, something like a small sanatorium, with a driveway along the portico.
Two nurses approached the car as soon as we arrived. They gently helped her out. Must have been waiting for her. I opened the trunk and carried a small suitcase at the door. The woman was already sitting in a wheelchair.
“How much do I owe you?” She asked, reaching for her purse.
“Nothing at all,” I said.
“You have to make a living,” she replied.
“There are other passengers,” I replied.
Almost without thinking, I leaned over and hugged her. She hugged me tightly in response.
“You gave the old lady some happiness,” she said. – “Thank you”.
I squeezed her hand and then left … The door closed behind my back, it was the sound of closing another book of life …“
Source: Orthodox Parables and Stories
A few case studies analysed by St. Porphyrios at a rare audio recording and a chapter from his book “Wounded by Love”
“Nowadays people often feel sadness, despair, lethargy, laziness, apathy, and all things satanic. They are downcast, discontent and melancholy. They disregard their families, spend vast sums on psychoanalysts and take anti-depressants. People explain this as ‘insecurity.’ Our religion believes that these states derive from satanic temptation.
Pain is a psychological power which God implanted in us with a view to doing us good and leading us to love, joy, and prayer. Instead of this, the devil succeeds in taking this power from the battery of our soul and using it for evil. He transforms it into depression and brings the soul into a state of lethargy and apathy. He torments us, takes us captive and makes us psychologically ill.
There is a secret. Turn the satanic energy into good energy. This is difficult and requires some preparation. The requisite preparation is humility. With humility you attract the grace of God. You surrender yourself to the love of God, to worship and to prayer. But even if you do all in the world, you achieve nothing if you haven’t acquired humility. All the evil feelings, insecurity, despair and disenchantment, which come to take control of the soul, disappear with humility. The person who lacks humility, the egotist, doesn’t want you to get in the way of his desires, to make any criticism of him or tell him what to do. He gets upset, irritated and reacts violently and is overcome by depression.
This state is cured by grace. The soul must turn to God’s love. The cure will come when we start to love God passionately. Many of our saints transformed depression into joy with their love for Christ. That is, they took this power of the soul which the devil wished to crush and gave it to God and they transformed it into joy and exultation. Prayer and worship gradually transform depression and turn it into joy, because the grace of God takes effect. Here you need to have the strength to attract the grace of God which will help you to be united with Him. Art is required. When you give yourself to God and become one with him, you will forget the evil spirit which drags at you from behind, and this spirit, when it is disdained, will leave. And the more you devote yourself to the Spirit of God, the less you will look behind to see the spirit that is dragging at you. When grace attracts you, you will be united with God. And when you unite yourself to God and abandon yourself to Him, everything else disappears and is forgotten and you are saved. The great art, the great secret, in order to rid yourself of depression and all that is negative is to give yourself over to the love of God.
Something which can help a person who is depressed is work, interest in life. The garden, plants, flowers, trees, the countryside, a walk in the open air — all these things tear a person away from a state of inactivity and awake other interests. They act like medicines. To occupy oneself with the arts, with music and so on, is very beneficial. The thing that I place top of the list, however, is interest in the Church, in reading Holy Scripture and attending services. As you study the words of God you are cured without being aware of it.
Let me tell you about a girl who came to me. She was suffering from dreadful depression. Drugs had no effect. She had given up everything — her work, her home, her interests. I told her about the love of Christ which takes the soul captive because the grace of God fills the soul and changes it. I explained to her that the force which takes over the soul and transforms the power of the soul into depression is demonic. It throws the soul to the ground, torments it and renders it useless. I advised her to devote herself to things like music which she had formerly enjoyed. I emphasized, however, most of all her need to turn to Christ with love. I told her, moreover, that in our Church a cure is to be found through love for God and prayer, provided this is done with all the heart.”
By St. Porphyrios