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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Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (II)

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Paschal Holy Dances in Attica, Aegina and Euboia

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Bright Tuesday

Morning Holy Liturgy at the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus: I can literally feel the 179 Martyrs presence on me, as Father Jonathan had insisted that I carry them during this pilgrimage on their Feast Day[1]. Of course, the truth is the other way round: it is always the Saints who are carrying us. Archimandrite Theoklitos had offered a tiny fragment of the 179 Martyrs’ relics to our Holy Cross parish, which is displayed for veneration in the Holy Liturgy, and will later in the day return to ‘their own’ monastery to be ‘reunited’ with their brethren on their feast day.

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Holy Monastery of Saint Ephraim of Nea Makri, the Wonderworker and Newly-Revealed: A strange spectacle is awaiting us at the monastery gates: a leaping and dancing Resurrectional priest, a modern Saint Seraphim of Sarov figure, who greets all who enter the monastery with a kiss, and the words of the Paschal greeting: “Christ is Risen!” He is literally leaping with joy and greeting all pilgrims in a ‘dance routine’!!!

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli: Vespers and a Holy Procession of the 179 Martyrs. During the Procession, Abbess Styliani’s face is lit and transfigured in ecstasy. Together with all the nuns, she too is dancing the Resurrection dance. She is also blessing all pilgrims with a large pectoral Cross.

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NOTES

[1]The 179 Holy Martyrs were massacred by pirates into the katholikon, on Pascha 1680, during the midnight service, after the final “Christ is Risen!” was joyfully chanted by the fathers following the Divine Liturgy. Similarly, Saints Raphael, Nikolaos and Eirini were tortured from Holy Thursday until Bright Tuesday when they were eventually martyred on April 9, 1463. St Efraim of Nea Makri was himself too martyred by the Turks on Tuesday May 5, 1426.

 

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Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (I)

 

Saint Porphyrios’ Mobile Phone

By Nun Porphyria (Spyridoulas Moschou)
Because the Elder calls me on the phone every day from 4:00 to 6:00 in the morning and we read Matins, I thought that since the phone call is long-distance, he must be paying a lot of money to OTE [Hellenic Telecommunications Organization]. This is why when I got paid I put 50,000 drachmas in an envelope to give him.
“Elder, I brought some money, because your OTE bill must be big.”
“What are you talking about, foolish one? Here we are building a church and we’re gonna give so much money to OTE? Put it in the box we have for the building of the church.”
I put it in the box. But my thoughts kept telling me: It seems like OTE granted him a line of communication or someone else is paying for it.
“Lift me up. Give me my shoes to put on and tie them.”
He then took his cane and said to me: “Let’s go.”
I was surprised. As I held him I thought: Where are we going? We walked out of the balcony door and headed for the new building which was still a worksite. We went up some stairs and he showed me the new cells. He showed me the lightweight concrete that was being put as insulating material.
We then went up to a cell that had a built-in-bed where from the window was a view of the sea.
“Do you like it here?”
“Yes, it’s very beautiful, ascetical.”
“I love the ascetics very much. This is why my mind is constantly at Kavsokalyva, but they don’t let me go. One day I will go and stay there.”
We returned to the balcony door and I waited for him to want to lie down and rest. He proceeded however towards the entrance of the cell and said to me:
“Now we will go to the old cells that are empty.”
Outside at the corridor many people were waiting and they thought I was in his cell with him all this time. They were waiting for me to leave that they may come in. When they saw the Elder standing in the corridor, they lost it. For some of them it was the first time they saw the Elder standing up. They were shocked and ran to receive his blessing. We proceeded forward and went up to the second floor. The doors of the cells were shut.
“In this cell they have incense.”
I thought: Perhaps he smelled it. He read my thoughts and saw my lack of faith.
“Here they spread out washed wheat to grind it for prosphora.”
Again my thoughts told me: Well, wet wheat also has a certain smell.”
The Elder caught my thoughts again and said about the third cell:
“Here the toilet tank has rusted because we don’t pull on it to flush. Go pour a little water inside.”
Indeed, I opened the door and when I pulled on the toilet tank, the water came out rusted. So I thought: Rust doesn’t smell.
As we returned I heard him answer a telephone call from someone.
“Hello, Go ahead! Yes, yes, do it like that….”
He was giving advice to someone. But there was no telephone in his hands. It was just the two of us. I was motionless. How is he talking to someone without a telephone? I asked myself.
“Alright, hang up now, and come by some day so we can see you.”
He then said to me:
“See, foolish one. He had need of asking me something. He was calling me downstairs in my cell, but since I wasn’t there, I answered it here.”
Then I woke up. Then I understood that the Elder was not talking to me through OTE. He talked to me in a spiritual manner, which is why he told me to put the money in the box for the building of the church.
“Come on, let’s go now.”
Source: From the book Μαθητεία στον Άγιο Πορφύριο, έκδοση “Η Μεταμόρφωσις του Σωτήρος”, Μήλεσι, 2017. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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. Nektarios, the unknown hermit and the raging demons

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A meeting of Saint Nektarios with a clairvoyant hermit on Mount Athos. Also, a recent miracle of the Saint in Romania.

 

St. Nektarios enjoys wide popularity amongst Orthodox throughout the world, yet his popularity in Romania has gained over the past few years. Portions of his relics can even be found in such places as Putna Monastery, Radu Voda Monastery in Bucharest, the Church of the Holy Hierarch Nektarios in Iasi, and the Hermitage of Saint John and Nektarios in Bradetu, Arges. Why do so many Romanians venerate Saint Nektarios and go to pilgrimage to his Monastery in Aegina? All this seems to be related to a recent, miraculous “visit” of the Saint to a village in Romania.

Below is the account as it was told by Romanians to Greeks:

“In a village of Romania there was no priest and the residents often went to the Patriarch with the problem in order to fill the empty spot. However the Patriarch did not have the means of satisfying the demand. The villagers often went to the Patriarch, but he would say the same thing, that he did not have a priest to send to the village.

Meanwhile people died unread (no funeral service), others had relationships and children without marriage vows, and the children and adults alike were unbaptized.

Then one day, outside of the church, a car stopped and out stepped a priest. The village was astonished and yelled out that a priest had come.

The villagers went to the church to greet him and asked him, “How did you come to the village after our Patriarch had said that he doesn’t have a priest to send us?”

The priest answered, “Isn’t this what you wanted? Did you not want a priest? Here I am.”

All the villagers were glad in the presence of the new priest.

The priest began immediately working. He went to all the graves and read the funeral service. He baptized and married everyone in the village and administered Holy Communion.

One day he invited all the villagers to church and told them, “I will leave now, my mission is done.”

The villagers were confused and asked, “Now that you came, you are leaving?”

However the priest did not listen to the villagers and proceeded with his decision.

When the villagers realized that their wasn’t anything they could do, they thanked him for his offering.

After a few days, the villagers went to the Patriarch and they thanked him for sending them a priest and to let him know that they would appreciate it if he could send them another priest soon, but the Patriarch didn’t know anything.

He said to them, “I didn’t send a priest because I don’t have one, however let me check with the chancellor to see if he had sent a priest to you to serve your needs.”

He phoned the chancellor, but he too didn’t send anyone.

The Patriarch inquired, “What did this priest do in your parish?”

The villagers answered, “He married us, baptized us, performed funerals for our parents, he did what any other priest would have performed for us.”

Then the Patriarch asked, “Well, didn’t he gave you any papers or log the Mysteries.

“Of course,” said the villagers, “he gave us papers and he wrote them in the church’s books.”

“Then did anyone see what he wrote? And with what name he signed?”

“All the documents were written in Romanian and we are not well educated and the signature he signed in a language we have not seen before.”

The Patriarch requested they go bring the books in order to see who was this clergyman.

When they returned with the book the Patriarch remained speechless. He couldn’t believe his eyes.

Indeed all the documents were written in Romanian while his name was written in Greek with the name of his signature,

Nektarios, Bishop of Pentapolis

For the original sources of the miracle and further information, all translated by John Sanidopoulos, go to Mystagogy. 

 

The Cross

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Fourth in her ‘series’ of Cross-related visions, Abbess Thaisia sees a Cross. This is not a dream like the others before, but a vision while awake. Always these visions take place in the midst of heavy trials and tribulations, when she begins to lose heart and starts to languish:

 

“Once, during the period of labours and sorrows when I was beginning to put the community in good order, I was sitting in my study, all alone. All the doors were closed. Everyone had gone to bed, and I was preparing to do the same–yet I continued to sit there–I don’t know why. I was putting off going to sleep. I was not praying, nor was I thinking of anything special. There was something heavy on my heart, something very heavy, and there was silence in my heart and soul. Suddenly, in the middle of my cell, I saw a large wooden cross standing on the floor, so large that it almost reached the ceiling. (Evidently this was not a dream, for I was awake–I was just sitting, conscious of everything around me.) At the place where the horizontal and vertical beams met, there was something like a bloody, red, oblong fastening. seeing the cross, I did not become afraid; I crossed myself, and involuntarily thought, ‘How large it is! How will I be able to carry it?’ Then I heard these words, as if coming from the cross itself: ‘You will lift it and carry it, for My strength is made perfect in weakness!’ 

I considered that this was sent either to strengthen me in my sorrowful life, or to warn me of still greater sorrows to come. Although I felt some sadness, I accepted this with equanimity. I was ready to endure any suffering for the good of the community, and, through it, for the glorifying of the Name of God.”

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For Abbess Thaisia’ first vision, go to The Cross-Baptism

For her second vision, go to The Fool-For-Christ and the Cross

Finally, for her third vision, go to Martyrdom Before the Crucifix

Martyrdom Before the Crucifix

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Third in her ‘series’ of Cross-related visions, Abbess Thaisia sees a Crucifix. Always these visions take place in the midst of heavy trials and tribulations, when she begins to lose heart and starts to languish… Here, the Holy Hierach St. Nicholas visits her to sternly admonish her. Below follows another except from her Autobiography:

“Then once I had a dream. I was walking along a road in an open field. I had to turn right, but there was no path in that direction; there were only beds of planting vegetables, very long ones. They looked as they do in autumn after the vegetables have been harvested, and the furrows between the beds were dirty and wet. I stopped and considered how to turn right. To go along the furrows would mean getting dirty and wet, but to walk across the beds would be a muddy, sticky business. Suddenly, I saw an old bishop coming in my direction with a staff in his hand. I thought, ‘I’ll wait and see, and whichever way he goes I will go too.’ Coming close to me, he said: ‘Come with me, I will show you the way.’ Leaning on his staff with his left hand, he took me with his right hand and led me along a bed, saying: ‘Although it’s muddy and you will often get stuck, the path is high; look how much dirt and water there is along the low path.’ We walked together for a long time. He continued preaching, and I talked to him without fear, although I recognised him as St. Nicholas. Finally we came to some church or chapel (I don’t remember which), and went in. Inside was a large Crucifix, and on the right, hanging on the wall, was an icon of St. Parasceva. I began to prostrate myself before the Crucifix. As soon as I touched the floor with my head, the holy man struck me on the neck with such force that I thought he would chop my head off. I had hardly recovered when another blow followed, and then another, and so on to five. ‘Why is he beating me?’ I asked myself. ‘Does he really want to chop my head off? But why would he want to do that?’ ‘Don’t argue, don’t act wise,’ he answered my thought. ‘If I struck you, it was because I had to. You have forgotten that one must obey without arguing. You don’t have to show off your  knowledge.’ I stood up, and the holy hierarch looked at me, smiling kindly. He pointed at the icon of martyr Parasceva, saying: ‘Here she is, the bride of Christ. She allowed her head to be cut off as an offering to her Bridegroom; whereas you are unable to suffer even a little, and you keep on philosophising while you still don’t possess spiritual wisdom. Humble yourself; endure, and you will be saved.’ “

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For her first Vision-Encounter with our Lord’s Cross, go to The Cross-Baptism

For her second Vision-Encounter with our Lord’s Cross, go to The Fool-for-Christ and the Cross