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

 

Journey of a Young Artist

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Jonathan Jackson and The Seeds of “The Mystery of Art”

 

Whoever wants to become a Christian, must first become a poet— Saint Porphyrios
When I was young, they brought me to Babylon
And the night hung over my head
The smoke came into my dreams 
In the valley of dry bones

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with God
My eyes were seared and my blood was bruised
But I was hidden within a song

All around were the sounds of Babylon
But all I heard, were the hymns of heaven

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with her 
I was barely coming clean and she had already seen
A war on her innocence

I spoke of the Christ underneath the clouds 
And woke her from the sleep of death

She took my hand and walked me through the crowd
Why, is anybody’s guess?

All around, was the gold of Babylon
But all I saw, was an angel of heaven

You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church
You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church

 

I would like to start with the journey of how this book, “The Mystery of Art” began. It was not an intellectual or abstract search. The questions and explorations on this subject were immediate and crucial for me growing up. I began working as a professional actor at the age of 11 on General Hospital. At The age of 12, by God’s grace I had a profound encounter with Christ. My father would give us cassette tapes of sermons to listen to and one night, I heard a sermon on “The holiness of God and the pride of the human heart.” I don’t know why and I don’t know how these things occur, but I was cut to the heart. I suddenly realized how far away from God I truly was. How prideful and full of selfishness and egoism I was. It scared me to be honest. And yet, paradoxically, in that very moment of feeling the weight of my sinfulness—how my supposed righteousness is like “filthy rags” before the holiness of God, as Isaiah says—a Divine Presence also overwhelmed me. I felt like a great sinner who was also mysteriously loved beyond comprehension.

Around the same time, I read C.S. Lewis’ chapter called “The Great Sin”, which is all about Pride. I read Matthew 25, the Last Judgment and Matthew 5 when Christ says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I knew I could never impress God with my self-righteousness, so I cried out for mercy, I cried out for grace. And the compassions of God washed over me.

This was a turning point in my life. Nothing was the same after this encounter. I began to hear and perceive my own thoughts with great clarity. This was frightening too because I was suddenly aware of all the judgments and horrible thoughts I had about people. But the Holy Spirit was so merciful in this process. He never made me feel condemned. Convicted, yes. But never condemned. He would always whisper, “I’m not showing you this to condemn you, I’m showing you this darkness, so you can be healed.”

I began to think about God all the time. Throughout the following years there were many struggles and trials but the mystery of God became the most beautiful, the most attractive, the most intriguing and important pursuit in my life.

Naturally and organically, I had a desire to incorporate the Holy Spirit into the work I was doing. I had studied a few different acting methods but for the most part, my own personal method was being birthed through experience. Working with Anthony Geary and Genie Francis and other incredible performers like Michelle Pfeiffer and Sir Ben Kingsley. It was very much like Orthodoxy in the sense that I was a sponge, soaking everything in through experience and not through theory.

Within a short period of time after this initial encounter of grace, I was given some very heavy storylines to portray. I was about 15 years old and my character Lucky Spencer finds a young girl in the woods, who has just been raped. It is winter and the poor girl is freezing out in the cold, left for dead. He rescues her and they develop a friendship. He spends months taking care of her and being by her side as she tries to heal from this horrific event.

On a Soap Opera, you are on TV almost every day; especially when your storyline in prominent. In a more direct way than most artistic mediums, you are living the day-to-day story of your character. I was portraying this storyline for months. It was during this time that I first remember bringing God into my preparation as an actor. I began to ask Him, “How could you allow this innocent creature to suffer in this way?” “How can anyone be healed from such a wound?”

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They were questions my character could have been asking God and questions most of us have asked before. What it began to do for me, was nudge my work towards something inherently spiritual and although I would not have known it at the time, something sacramental.

Over the following years I portrayed a lot of dark and tragic roles: someone struggling with suicide, a heroine addict, a murderer among others. It was around this time when I began to ask God, “How can I portray these dark and troubled characters dynamically and truthfully, without being consumed by the darkness myself?” There are many tragic stories of young actors who become drug addicts after playing one in a film. The stories of drug overdoses and suicides among young actors and actresses are too many. I instinctively steered away from “Method Acting” and sought a different path, even though I didn’t know exactly what that would be.

It was around this time when I discovered Dostoevsky. It’s amazing to me now, being Orthodox that I wasn’t able to comprehend anything about the Orthodox Church as I read his books. It was like a veil, I suppose. But what I did discover was a kindred soul. Here was someone who was writing about very dark and tragic characters and themes but from a place of beauty—from a place of the Light of Christ. Prince Myshkin, from the “The Idiot”, changed my life. I clung to Dostoevsky in my heart as I approached portraying these dark characters and prayed, “Lord, please help me to portray the darkness of this world from a place of purity and light. Please, help me not to be overcome by the darkness, but to infiltrate the darkness with Your Light. Without you I can do nothing. I am nothing, I have nothing and I can do nothing without You, Lord. Amen.”

This is a snap shot so to speak, of the journey towards writing, “The Mystery Of Art”. These were the seeds, which by God’s grace, grew over time. There were so many important and profound spiritual realities that I wasn’t exposed to at the time, because I had not encountered the Holy Orthodox Church. I was grasping in the dark, looking for answers, feeling my way towards Christ, as best I could, but I always knew that something was missing; something significant and crucial to my relationship with God. There is a beautiful Scripture in the Gospel of John where Christ says,

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

I was one those lambs who was not of this fold. But through the grace of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and your prayers, He found me and brought me home. My journey to the Orthodox Faith took many years and was paved with blood and heartache. I carried all of these artistic questions and experiences with me as my family and I came into the Church for salvation, deliverance and healing.

See also: Jonathan Jackson’s Orthodox Acceptance Speech at the Emmy’s

See photos from his visit to Mount Athos for the first time with his 11 year-old son Caleb (2015), where they stayed  for five days visiting Simonopetra and Xenophontos monasteries, and spent most of his time at Vatopaidi Monastery (Friday till Tuesday) where he met the Abbot, Elder Ephraim, and attended an all-night vigil on Saturday night.

While at Vatopaidi Monastery, Jonathan also gave a testimony of how he converted to Orthodoxy for Pemptousia, which can be seen here.

A Conversation About God

With Actor Jonathan Jackson & Dr. Norris Chumley

While Jonathan’s views about Art in his book The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God are quite controversial, as two opposing book reviews below indicate(*), the narrative of his conversion and finding the true Church in “A Conversation About God” is captivating.

Watch a fascinating conversation about God, Conversion and Art, with Actor Jonathan Jackson and Dr. Norris Chumley:

Orthodox Christian Network

 

(*) Moses Benjamin Cabe (Ben Cabe) is praising Jackson’s views here, while  Richard Barrett (Orthodox Arts Journal) urges caution in

The problem of art in Anglophone Orthodoxy: a review essay” .

As for me, I am undecided yet and still studying the matter. Jackson invokes Dostoyevski‘s  quotation “Beauty will save the world.” and quotes Elder Porphyrios’ words in Wounded by Love“Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.”, both  central in my life and this blog.

Indeed, you do not have to be a Christian to create true art.  In fact, it may be that you have to become an artist before you are able to truly become a Christian. Jackson adds  that, when someone is drawn to the beauty of a certain piece of music or painting, he is really being drawn to Christ.  Far removed from Christ is anyone who does not, and cannot, appreciate beauty.  “It is an incredible thing to discover that Christianity is an experience of saying yes to what is truly beautiful. …  From the beginning, the pure and ancient faith of Christ, which is still alive today, proclaims that God is beautiful!”

While Jackson is surely right in all this, there are other claims he makes in this book which may be problematic and will hopefully be addressed in future blog posts, when this whole matter is clearer in my mind…

Near-Death and Afterlife Stories in a True Crown Jewel

 

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Dryovouno Monastery, Near-Death and Afterlife Stories

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Father Stephanos of the Monastery of Transfiguration (Metamorfosi tou Sotiros) in Dryovouno speaks very little, mainly with his eyes.

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Mother Theologia: “How little do we think of death, although he is so near to us!” commenting on a yet another sudden, unexpected death.

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Laokratia told us about a dream: “My friend’s late young son, who had suffered a sudden and violent death through a road crush, appeared in his father’s dream in tears, standing before a closed gate, telling him that ‘they’ do not allow him in. His father, a very faithful man, promptly met Elder Iakovos Tsalikis and told him his dream. By the grace of God, the elder, having a pure nous, was deemed worthy to see the souls of people at the time they were leaving the earth and ascending towards heaven. Elder Iakovos asked him if his son was blaspheming God, and the father sadly admitted so. Then, Elder Iakovos promised to pray for his son, and he also advised him to do alms in his son’s name, fast and pray to the Lord so He will grant him rest”. The poor father made a prostration and obeyed the elder, and after 40 days, he saw again his son in his dream, this time radiant with joy, in front of an open gate, thanking him and telling him that ‘they’ had allowed him in!”

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Sister Gregoria: “I just received a message from a friend who had to undergo a difficult operation and she told me that it all went well but that it was St. Luke Bishop of Simferopol and Crimea, the Blessed Surgeon who operated her! In the operating room she felt that she was dying. She started ascending and watched the surgeon and the nurses trying to revive her unconscious body. Then she met ‘somewhere in the air’ St Luke. To be sure she could not really interpret what was happening to her as it was taking place. Still she understood that he reassured her that he would take over as the surgeon was clearly in an impasse. Then she started moving in the reverse direction, got into her body again and found herself in the hospital, having had the surgery performed, with doctors standing around her, looking at her puzzled. But who was this St Luke she had met? It took her a few hours to find out that her mother, a very devout woman, had placed a little icon of his underneath her pillow, just before the operation started!”

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Sister Ioanna:”Yesterday at midnight, while I can finishing the writing of an icon and adding the dedication, I realised that although I could write the mother’s name easily, there was no way I could add her late son’s name. I started praying and in the Spirit I ‘saw’ that the mother was in a very good spiritual state, but her son was not at all well and needed our prayers. She felt that God had granted rest to the mother’s soul, but they should do alms in the son’s name and pray to the Lord so He will grant him rest”.

We arrived at the Monastery of the Transfiguration (Metamorfosi tou Sotiros) in Dryovouno on its Feast  day. We were a group of faithful, Mother Theologia and some nuns from the nearby Monastery of the Assumption, Dormition (Koimiseos tis Theotokou) of Mikrokastro. What stunning Beauty confronted us!

 

 

This male monastery is located a few kilometers above Dryovouno, at a secluded area. Its foundation goes back to 1592, while the murals were completed in 1652, by painter Nikolaos from Linotopi while the narthex in particular is the work of Argyris Kriminiotis.

 

Kosmas Aitolos arrived here and, after preaching, treated the monks who had been taken ill due to an epidemic. He fetched water from a nearby spring, blessed it, and gave it to the monks to drink, who were then cured. This water has been considered holy ever since and a chapel devoted to saint Kosmas has been constructed at the spring. St. Kosmas received from God the gift of prophecy.

 

At wartime, the monastery offered valuable services to the local population. It served as storage for ammunition and as base for various chieftains. This is where Dimitrios Feraios, Kapetan Vardas and Pavlos Melas resorted to.

 

In 1943 it was set on fire by Italians along with its historic records. Its renovation began in 1996, the prime mover being Archbishop Stefanos Rinos with the personal efforts of monks and believers. The parvis offers a sense of tranquility and a spectacular view to Voio and Kastoria.

 

 

If I Perish

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Esther Ahn Kim

If I Perish

Korea 1929

Esther Ahn Kim walked slowly up the hill to the shrine, with her students following silently behind her. The young teacher knew that when she arrived at the place of worship she would be forced to make a life-altering choice. The Japanese, who had taken control of Korea, were forcing everyone to bow at the shrine of their “sun god.” The punishment for refusing was imprisonment, torture and possibly even death. Fearing for their lives, many Christians had already given in to the Japanese soldier’s demands. And now it was Esther’s turn to make her decision. She fixed her eyes on the vast sky beyond the hills and thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, when they were commanded to bow to the statue of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. The three young men had decided that even if God did not choose to save them from the burning fire, they would die honoring Him.

At that moment, Esther knew what she would do. Even though so many other Christians had decided that outwardly bowing to the idol was acceptable as long as they continued to worship Christ in their hearts, Esther could make no such compromise. She would not bow to any other but the one true God. Defying the Japanese warlords would most likely mean torture and imprisonment, but Esther decided that she would not live her youthful life for herself. She would offer it fully to her Prince, Jesus Christ. She said a silent prayer to Him. Today on the mountain, before the large crowd, I will proclaim that there is no other god but You, she declared.

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Esther’s group was the last to arrive at the shrine. A huge crowd had gathered, standing in straight, respectful lines, afraid to move because of the cruel gazes of the Japanese policemen. A few of the authorities eyed Esther and her students with disapproval as they joined the rest of the worshipers. Esther’s heart began to pound with dread for what she was about to do. A sense of uneasiness swept over her, and she silently repeated the Lord’s Prayer over and over. Lord, she prayed, I am so weak! Please help me do this— watch over me as I stand for You.

“Attention!” came the commanding voice of one of the officials. The crowd stood in silence and submission. “Our profoundest bow to Amaterasu Omikami!” As he shouted the words, the entire group bent the upper half of their bodies, bowing solemnly before the shrine. Esther was the only one who remained standing, looking up at the sky. The fear and uncertainty that had gripped her just moments before had vanished. Calmness and peace flooded her. She had done what she knew God wanted her to do. On the long walk back to the school, Esther continued her dialogue with God. I have done what I should have done, she told Him. Now, I commit the rest to You. I died today on that mountain—now it is only You who lives through me. I leave everything in Your hands.

For several months, Esther lived in hiding. She knew it was only a matter of time before she was found and imprisoned for the stand that she had taken against the Japanese. But instead of cowering in fear and worry about what her future held, she decided to prepare her heart and her body to suffer for Christ. Just as Paul said, “I buffet my body and make it my servant,” (1 Cor 9:27) Esther decided to train for prison life, just as an athlete might train for competitive sports. She counted it a great honor to suffer for Christ, but she also knew she was weak and unready for all that lay ahead.

If I Perish

“I knew it would be impossible for me to keep my faith in my own power,” Esther wrote later. “God would have to work through me if I was to stand firm. I decided to fast.” Many times before, Esther had fasted for three days without difficulty. Now, she was determined to go without food or drink while she prayed for an entire week. The fast was extremely difficult. By the sixth and seventh day Esther’s lips were dry and her chest was in an iron vise, causing her to fight to breathe. But when the fast was finally over and water was poured into her mouth, she raised her hands in victory, thanking God for being with her.

“Although I had not expected it, after the fast I was able to understand the Scriptures better and I felt a new power in my prayer. Now I felt I could leave the fear of torture in the Lord’s hands.”

More time went by and more fearful news of prison life reached Esther’s ears. As anxiety crept back in, she fasted once more – this time for ten days.

“Again I found a peace I had never known before,” she wrote. “I read the Bible earnestly and had a new concern to memorize important chapters against the day when I would be in prison without my Bible.”

Esther also began sleeping on the floor, learning to live in a state of poverty, and going without all the comforts she had grown up with, so that she would be prepared for the harsh conditions of prison. When she went to the market to buy produce, she bought ripe fruit for her family members but rotten fruit for herself. When her mother and sister saw the decaying food she selected for herself, they cried, but soon they understood. This was the kind of food Esther would be forced to eat in prison.

Months of faithful, diligent preparation—fasting, memorizing Scripture, tirelessly praying, and training to endure harsh conditions – transformed Esther from a weak, frail, faltering young woman to a bold and confident ambassador for Christ. Instead of fearing torture, she now faced it boldly in the power and grace of God.

Esther felt God calling her to come out of hiding and boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel among the Japanese. She knew that this would likely lead to her death, but she was determined to follow the Lamb wherever He led her.

Her courageous stand for Christ led to six harrowing years in Japanese prisons. During that time, though her body grew week with suffering, she shone with supernatural love toward her persecutors and fellow prisoners. Even through torture, she refused to deny the name of Christ. Her astounding example of “suffering hardship as a good solider for Christ” brought many into the Kingdom who would never have heard the Gospel otherwise. After she was released, the story of her imprisonment and unwavering faith became the all-time religious bestseller in Korea, inspiring countless thousands to stand strong in their faith.

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Gleaning From Esther’s Example

Modern Christianity often encourages us to chase after achievements and accolades; to develop skills and pursue accomplishments that will be applauded and esteemed by this world. Some even go so far as to say that the more impressive we are to pop-culture, the greater our witness for Christ will be. The hip, trendy, pop-culture style of many modern worship services illustrate how far we have come from the days of the apostles, when Paul proclaimed, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.” (2 Cor. 11:20)

Though Paul had plenty of human skills and achievements he could have emphasized or built upon, he chose to treat those things as “rubbish.” (Phil 3:8) His greatest accomplishments; his most powerful witness, came from the incredible suffering he endured for Christ’s sake: “Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…” (2 Cor. 11:27-29).

And so it was in the life of Esther Ahn Kim. It wasn’t her accomplishments, personality, money, or skills that caused the nation of Korea to be forever changed. It was her shining example of suffering for Christ’s sake.

One time in prison, her arms were handcuffed behind her back for days until she passed out from the relentless pain. The intent was to torture her until she finally denied Christ. But even though her mind and body were broken, her spirit remained strong, rooted and grounded in Truth. She would not relent, no matter how horrible the pain became. She emerged from the torture victorious in her faith.

Another time, she gave up her meager prison food for several days to a woman who was filthy, insane, and sentenced to death for murdering her husband. Instead of being repulsed by the woman as all the other prisoners were, Esther prayed relentlessly for her, sacrificing her own comforts to reach the woman’s heart. The woman died in her right mind, knowing Jesus Christ, with a hope and a future.

Such sacrifice and personal suffering for Christ’s sake is only possible through the supernatural grace of God. Only one who has truly given up everything to follow Jesus can exude such grace in the face of such hardship.

Esther’s story challenges me to ask the question – am I prepared to suffer for Jesus Christ? In the midst of our comfortable … lifestyles, it’s easy to think, “Of course, if persecution came, I would never deny the name of Christ. Of course if I were thrown into prison, I’d remain strong in my faith.”

But we must ask ourselves – are we truly “dying to self” daily, as Esther did, or are we more concerned with protecting our own comforts and interests than in consecrating our lives fully to Jesus Christ? The only way to be a true follower of Christ is to willingly give up everything; to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 10:38, Lk. 9:23).

… We will never gain Esther Ahn Kim’s version of supernatural boldness and sacrificial love by coddling our own self interests and protecting our own comforts. … We are not walking the narrow way of the cross anymore. We are merely living selfish lives with a “Christian label” over them.

Esther Ahn Kim counted the cost of following Jesus – not only on the day when she refused to bow at the shrine, but every day thereafter. She counted the cost when she willingly and gladly gave up comforts and trained her body to endure hardship for the sake of Christ. She counted the cost when she came out of hiding and boldly proclaimed the Gospel among the Japanese who had the power to torture and kill her. She counted the cost when, in prison, she endured horrible misery rather than deny her faith in Christ. She counted the cost when she sacficially loved a filthy, repulsive woman and gave of what little she had in order to win her to Christ. Esther’s life was no longer her own—and every outward decision she made reflected that inner reality. If you desire to do “big things” for God—ask yourself today whether you have truly counted the cost of following Christ.

Many of us think that in order to prepare for an effective ministry, we must gain a large following, write a book, gain worldly accolades, or make a lot of money. But the best way to prepare for a world-changing ministry is to ‘die’ – so that Christ may live through us. Remember that Paul had every reason to boast in his earthly accomplishments, and yet he threw them aside as worthless and counted his suffering for Christ’s sake as his greatest, most important acheivments. (See 2 Cor. 11:30 and Phil. 3:8.)

When self is at the center of our lives, the only impact we will have on this world will be shallow and human-scripted rather than eternal and God-scripted. We may make a temporary splash, but if we do not take up our cross and truly follow Him, we will never reflect the supernatural radiance and grace of Heaven.

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Taking up our Cross

… It may take a few days, weeks, or months for those old habits to fully die. But if you allow Him to re-train your daily decisions and enable you to “deny yourself, pick up your Cross, and follow Him” you will soon understand from firsthand experience what Paul meant when he said, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

This world needs more young women like Esther Ahn Kim—young women who unreservedly take up their cross and follow Him, no matter what the cost. May it be our greatest desire to follow such a path, and joyfully suffer any hardship for the One who gave everything to us. The world will never be the same when they encounter such a life.

*Story of Esther Ahn Kim taken from If I Perish by Esther Ahn Kim

Pilgrimage to Mikrokastro Mother of God Monastery

This post has been long due, since Mikrokastro Mother of God Monastery has been my refuge and retreat since 2014, ever since I discovered it, or better ever since our Holy Lady revealed herself to me there.  A most  holy place, a ‘thin’ place I keep returning, especially when badly in need of spiritual nourishment, in times of trials, adversity, tribulations and temptations. This is a place where the Mother of God comforts all her children, a place where its peace invades you and the fellowship of the nuns warms you.

 

 

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Part A: A brief history of the Monastery of the Mikrokastro Mother Of God

 

The Holy Monastery is dedicated to the Assumption of the Mother of God. According to historians, the main church of the monastery is estimated to have been founded 200-250 years ago. The iconography in the church was completed in 1797 (about 200 years ago), as is shown by the inscription that still exists on the west wall of the church.

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The history of this place started with a small chapel in the nearby village of Mikrokastro, but its propitious geographical position as a passing place on the journey from Kozani to Kastoria helped the site become a place of worship. This was mainly due to the presence of the Holy Icon of the Eleoussa Mother of God on the icon screen; it is not known when or under what historical and religious circumstances this Icons was found here.

 

 

The miracle-working power of the Icon contributed to the place quickly becoming the most important place of worship in Western Macedonia. According to the inscription mentioned above, the church’s frescoes were painted by iconographers from Kopessovo in Epirus, who, despite Western influence, tried to remain loyal to the Byzantine tradition following the standards of the Konstantinos Palaiologos era. The more popular manner of the depictions does not diminish the sweetness of the facial expression or the comforting feeling instilled in the souls of the faithful.

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The icon screen of the convent is one of the most beautiful in the region and was made by skilled craftsmen either from the local area or Epirus. The miracle-working Icon of the Mother of God found in and belonging to the monastery dates back to either the 12th or the 13th century according to modern methods of dating holy icons.

 

 

 

The plenty votive offerings to the Mother of God helped the property of the Monastery to increase, and this property was taken care of by workmen inhabiting the area. In 1820 this place of worship was characterized as a Holy Monastery for reasons of prestige because of the presence of the Holy Icon, since it never had a monastic brotherhood. It only had an Abbot appointed by the Bishop of Siatista and an administration Committee.

 

 

This Holy place played an important religious and national role supporting the nation’s struggle for independence in 1821, offering hospitality and a hiding place to revolutionaries of the independence struggle, maintaining an ammunition store, paying the salary of the village teacher, and strengthening the inhabitants’ faith so that they could resist the pressure of Islamic proselytism.

 

The monastery participated in the historic events of 1878, offering moral and material support, in the Macedonian struggle during the years 1904-1908, in the war of liberation in 1912, in the relief of the victims of the Asia Minor disaster, in the epic struggle of 1940-1941 and its climax, i.e. the historic Fardikampos battle in March 1943. The monastery “offered soul, blood and money” offering the sacrifice even of its priest.

 

 

After the war, the bishop of Sisani and Siatista, Iakovos Kleomvrotos, (later to become Bishop of Mytilini), a powerful personality of the clergy, realised that the Holy Monastery was a more suitable place for spiritual and social activity than mountainous Siatista.

 

In 1952 he founded a School of Agriculture here for the farmers’ sons of the area, which, after functioning for two years, closed and was given to the Swiss Red Cross with a view to founding a hospital for local children suffering from glandular problems. In this building a primary school was also set up. In this way, hundreds of local children were helped.

 

Other buildings at the same location include the boarding school of the School of Housekeeping, which was used as a guest house and later as a home for the elderly. In addition, another building was erected in which his successor – Bishop Polykarpos – founded an orphanage.

 

Bishop Antonios was elected in 1974, and he showed great interest in the restoration and peopling of the monasteries in the region. In 1981 the position of the Abbot fell vacant and Father Stephanos Renos took over. With the moral, spiritual and material support of the Bishop as well as the contribution of the faithful and well-known donors, Father Stephanos Renos did great renovation work and added new buildings, a guest house and chapels.

 

 

 

 

In 1993, by a presidential decree, the Holy Monastery was turned into a monastery for women, and some time later the first monastics entered the monastery.

 

 

Two noticeable customs have been preserved since the years of Turkish domination. The first is the custom of Horseriding. On the 15th August, a religious festival day, the young men from Siatista armed and riding ornate horses came to the festival to venerate the Mother of God and under the unsuspicious eyes of the Turks the leaders of the struggle talked about the issues concerning the revolution, and the hope of freedom for the enslaved Greeks was strengthened. This custom has been preserved until today and has been incorporated in the whole festive religious atmosphere.

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The second custom is the carrying in procession of the icon of the Mother of God That is, apart from extraordinary events such as insect epidemics, droughts and illnesses, during which the inhabitants of the area carried the icon in procession around the area to ward off evil, the inhabitants of Siatista have been taking the same icon in procession regularly for centuries now. In all weathers and accompanied by many people of all ages, they cover a three-hour distance on foot holding the icon in their hands until they arrive in their town, where the icon is solemnly received and taken to the cathedral and a prayer is chanted. After this, the Icon is taken to every house and flat. This event witnesses the fact that neither the Mother of God’s grace nor the people’s faith have diminished.

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The grace of the Mother of God has gathered peace-loving and pious women who have offered themselves to life-long service in the monastery, vowing to find salvation through the basic virtues of monastic life: obedience, chastity, lack of property, prayer, charity, and at the same time trying to achieve the moral elevation of local inhabitants.

The small sisterhood has devoted itself to a struggle for inner order, the restoration of buildings, the organization of worship, tree-planting on the land belonging to the convent, hospitality and spiritual outreach to visitors. The sisterhood sows with patience, cultivates the seeds of the virtues referred to in the Gospel with assiduity, re-baptizes the faithful in the genuine spiritual concepts of the Orthodox Church and the Holy Fathers, interprets the Gospel, comforts the sad and turns the beautiful stone-built monastery into a safe harbour, where people struggling in life can find shelter and relief.

 

 

Contact Information:

Mikrokastro, Siatista, Greece

Tel no: +30 24650 71307

To be continued …

Part B: Lessons from the Monastery and Miracles at Mikrokastro Mother Of God to follow soon

 

 

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