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)

 

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Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (I)

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Gerondas Theoklitos, Monastery of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian

 

Paschal Holy Dances in Attica, Aegina and Euboia

Everybody in our mixed company on the bus was exhausted even before starting out! Doctors, reeling after long shifts, having barely slept for more than 3-4 hours in 3-4 days in a row; parents struggling with noisy, boisterous,excited young children; senior high-school and university students in distress, studying for their final exams … on the bus! … while all were desperately trying to get some sleep… But the most exhausted of us all was our accompanying priest, Hieromonk Synesios, St. Arsenios Monastery, after a rigorous monastic Great Lent and Holy Week, on top of all his other duties. St Arsenios himself, as in all past pilgrimages, was at the front seat of the bus. His relics were reverently carried by all pilgrims at every stop of our pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was brief but packed and hectic, so let me simply offer a few Paschal, mostly ‘leaping/ dancing” vignettes which made the greatest impression to me.

 

But let me start with the beginning.This Bright [1]Week pilgrimage was appropriately the brightest I have ever participated in! It felt like the fulfilment of St. John’s of Damascus Mystical Pascha captured in his Paschal Canon! To be sure, any trip to Greece in springtime straight from a foggy, misty, rainy England is bound to feel full of light! Especially if to Athens and the islands!

 

Still, the Light which nearly blinded all of us during this Bright Week pilgrimage must have contained a tiny ray of Christ’s Light [2]! A palpable, tangible Transfiguration Light dancing in all pilgrims’ eyes, on the bus and in all the monasteries we visited. The atmosphere felt so light as if were all to collectively Ascend to Heavens. The sheer exuberance of “Christ is Risen” chanted 99 times every single day during Resurrection Day and All Bright Week made our hearts leap with joy! And our Lord’s greeting “Rejoice!” in all the 11 Resurrectional Matins (Eothina) Gospels reverberated in our hearts. And as we were soon to find out, we were about to meet lots of literally dancing and leaping holy men and women.

 

Morning Holy Liturgy at the Holy Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Mount Olympus (3) on Bright Tuesday

 

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That was another discovery of that week: how many Paschal verses indeed contain this image of “leaping”:

 

THE PASCHAL CANON

 

Ode 4.

David, the forefather of our divine Lord, leapt and dancedbefore the symbolical Ark of the Covenant.

 

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“When they who were held by the chains of hell beheld Thy boundless compassion, O Christ, they hastened to the Light with joyful feet, exalting the eternal Pascha.

 

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We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of hell, the beginning of eternal life. And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause, the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.

 

THE PASCHAL STICHERA IN TONE FIVE

Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and leap for joy, in that thou beholdest Christ the King like a bridegroom come forth from the grave.

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Everybody in our mixed company on the bus was exhausted even before starting out! Doctors, reeling after long shifts, having barely slept for more than 3-4 hours in 3-4 days in a row; parents struggling with noisy, boisterous,excited young children; senior high-school and university students in distress, studying for their final exams … on the bus! … while all were desperately trying to get some sleep… But the most exhausted of us all was our accompanying priest, Hieromonk Synesios, St. Arsenios Monastery, after a rigorous monastic Great Lent and Holy Week, on top of all his other duties. St Arsenios himself, as in all past pilgrimages, was at the front seat of the bus. His relics were reverently carried by all pilgrims at every stop of our pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was brief but packed and hectic, so let me simply offer a few Paschal, mostly “leaping/ dancing” vignettes which made the greatest impression to me:

 

To Be Continued …

 

Footnotes

 [1] Bright week begins with the Sunday of Pascha, and comes to a close on Bright Saturday, at Vespers. One may actually argue that Bright week comes to a close before the ninth hour (which precedes vespers), since the royal doors and deacons’ doors, which have been wide open all week, are closed. This is a sad and significant moment. Just like our forefathers Adam and Eve, we cannot remain in paradise in this life, because of our sins. Ours is a life of struggle against our passions, which hold us back from full realization of paradise in this life.
‘How many days are in Bright week?’ There are TWO correct answers! According to the sun’s rising and setting, Bright week is seven days, (Sunday through Saturday) but to the church, liturgically, it is one day – the “eighth day”.

[2]Cf. Lev Gillet’s notes on the theme of light in the Byzantine liturgical year: ‘Come, take light from the Light that has no evening, and glorify Christ, risen from the dead.’ On the Sunday Pascha, the celebrant stands at the royal doors of the iconostasion and holds a lighted candle in his hand. “Once more, the eastern Church represents the Christian mystery in terms of the mystery of light; this Light, whose birth was marked by the star of Bethlehem, has been shining among us with growing intensity; the darkness of Golgotha could not extinguish it. Now it reappears among us, and all the candles which the congregation hold in their hands, and that they now light, proclaim its triumph. In this way, the deeply spiritual meaning of Easter is indicated. The physical Resurrection of Jesus would be without value to us if the divine light did not shine at the same time among us, within us. We cannot worthily celebrate the Resurrection of Christ if, in our soul, the light brought by the Saviour has not completely overcome the darkness of our sins.”[The Uncreated Light] on Easter night triumphs over the darkness; at Pentecost it reaches its full zenith. Pentecost is the ‘midday flame’. (The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, p177, p215 respectively)

[3]: For information and a documentary in Greek about our first stop, the beautiful Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus, go herehere and here.

I am Back

 

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli

Virginia: “When will you start writing in Greek? English comes difficult to me. I struggle with your posts. Please consider …”

And Gianna. And Kalliopi. And …

Christ is Risen! 

It seems this blog may soon become bilingual… Maybe I should alternate one blogpost in Greek, one in English? … Once, twice a week? Do you think this is a good idea? On the bus, on our way to Attica, my Greek friends asked me to share on the microphone a few of my experiences here. They gasped at the stories I told them. They did not know. How could they even begin to imagine? 

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St. Nektarios’ the Wonderworker monastery, Agia Triada (The Holy Trinity) in Aegina

I feel I owe this to my Greek and Cypriot brethren who should not be left behind. They need to recover Orthodoxy, expand their horizons and learn about Orthodoxy’s struggles in foreign lands. In so many ways, I have discovered more about Orthodoxy during my brief ‘exile’ in an un-Orthodox country than in a lifetime in an Orthodox one.

Besides, any missionary endeavour and blog require by their very nature more than one tongue. At Pentecost “every man heard them speak in his own language”(Acts 2:6). I still find writing in English a lot harder than in Greek my mother tongue, and there are a lot of texts yet untranslated in English. 

What is your opinion? Do you have any suggestions? I would be so grateful for any help.

 

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli, 179 Martyrs Reliquary

Christ is Risen! 

I am back. I can’t believe a whole month flew by so fast! Thank you for staying in touch through my inbox. So many emails to reply, questions to answer, stories to be told … Please be patient with me, as I am still unpacking. My pilgrimage to Attica, Aegina and Euboia lasted only a few precious days, yet had quite an effect on me. It felt like a landmark and a watershed. More in the posts to follow…

 

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The Kato Xenia Monastery at Almyros, near Volos – The Wonder Working Belt of Virgin Mary

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Monastery of Transfiguration near Rovies, island of Evia, constructed by Saint David, and served by the recently canonised St. Iakovos Tsalikis. + His grave

Contrition and Repentance

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Peter denies Christ, Bloch Carl (1834-1890)

“Thinking of my own sinfulness brings the need for contrition (μεταμέλεια). We are not speaking yet about repentance (μετάνοια), but about contrition. Repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit. God will give it to me. For example, you did something and then say “Oh no! What have I done? Why did I not listen to the Gerondas? Now I will have to hear the Gerondas’ admonition!” This is being contrite. But when I call you and tell you, “My child, what have you done?” If you confess your error and say “Punish me, Geronta!”, and I don’t punish you, but rather grant you to take Communion, you will say, “How good is Geronta! How I am and how he is! Look at the Grace of God! Oh my soul does not suffer to sadden God!” Now repentance begins. Contrition is one thing, repentance is another.’

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra

… ” “

A Great Lent Story

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A real story where the disciple thought he knew better than his spiritual father …

 

‘It was a day in Great Lent that the Elder saw from afar a burglar breaking into his cell.

This burglar was the same one like last year …

The Elder hid in the barn until the burglar completed his task.

When the Elder’s disciple later found out, he was furious and scolded his Elder:

– “Why did you not call me to catch him? This is the same burglar who broke into us last year and remains unrepentant!”

– “Who knows, my child”, answered the Elder. “Maybe he will repent this year …”

-“And if he repeats this again?”, the disciple burst out.

-“Then, my child, I must run, open the door and give him everything, so that he will not fall into temptation for a third time …”

The disciple knelt, kissed his spiritual father’s hand, and left in tears…’

 

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.