Day trip to the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner at Serres (I)

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The Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner is 7 miles away from the city of Serres, in Northern Greece. The monastery was founded by Saint Ioannikios, an athonite monk, at the end of the 13th Century.

A photo gallery of a day of blessed fellowship at the Timios Prodromos Monastery together with friends, which were spiritual children of + Elder Eusebios Vittis . Memory Eternal +

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To all my New Calendar friends: Happy Synaxis of St John the Baptist.
To all my Old Calendar friends: Merry Christmas. с праздником. 
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The Serbian armies partially destroyed the monastery in 1345.

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Saint Gennadius Scholarius, Patriarch of Constantinople, retired here between 1457 and 1462. The school of the Monastery was famous and the library was so rich in manuscripts that the monastery was called “of the Grammarians”.

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In 1917, the Bulgarian Army pillaged the monastery, stealing over 200 manuscripts, 1800 old printed books and other treasures, now found in museums all over Europe.

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After the Second World War, the monastery became deserted. It got repopulated by nuns in 1986. In 2010, part of it burned to the ground. The reconstruction work still continues to day.

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Pavilion with old fountain with holy water, now serving as flowerpot

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Old inscription

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Old relief

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There are many springs redirected to the monastery courtyard

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Twelve kilometres northeast of Serres, to the west of a deep ravine Mountain Menikiou, is located the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, one of the historical monasteries and most beautiful monasteries in Macedonia, Greece and one of the major centres of Orthodox monasticism in the Balkans. The natural beauty surrounding the monastery is just breathtaking. The Holy Monastery of Timios Prodromos of Serres is a pilgrimage of stunning beauty.

The establishment of the Monastery in 1270 and its long history testifies the culture, tradition and the rich spirituality of Byzantium, and is an astonishing monument of Byzantine art.

The monastery was built in 1270 AC by Ioannikios, who served as bishop os Ezeve (Dafni). Afterwards, his nephew, Joakim Metropolite of Zihni, during the year 1300 surrounded the nunnery with high, solid walls and endowed it with royal donations (monastery dependency and land).

In 1345 AC the land belonging to the nunnery was almost destroyed by the invasion of the Serbs. Only due to Helen wife of the Serbian Krali Stefanos Dousan, the area wasn’t destroyed.

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The main church (the katholikon) is devoted to Saint John the Forerunner

During the Turkish domination, the nunnery had the great honour of welcoming the first Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios after the fall of Constantinople. According to history, Gennadios was Patriarch for three years, from 1453 to 1457 and then he resigned and came to the Nunnery. In 1462 he was invited to the Patriarchal throne for the second time, which lasted only for one year. In 1464 he returned to the Patriarchal throne for the third time, but he was replaced by Joasaph the 1st, not having even completed one year and as a result, he returned to the Nunnery, where he died in 1472. According to tradition, Gennadios grave was in the middle part of the Catholic church of the Nunnery, close to the graves of the founders. The removal of his relics took place in May of 1854 and now are placed in a box. Close to the tomb there is a marble sign, engraved with an honourable epigram by the poet Helias Tantalidis, which was sent by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, at the time of the removal of the wise Patriarch’s relics.

The nunnery has been the centre of a constant painting movement. There are icons of the 14th century, some of the most interesting in our country and also beautiful wall paintings from the year 1630. There is also an incredible icon screen made out of walnut wood and very artistically engraved in 1804.

In the square ancient tower of the nunnery, that was converted into a library, there were 100 hand-written volumes in vellum, 200 hand-written volumes in paper, 1500 volumes of different kinds of books, 4 golden bulls of Byzantine emperors, in vellum, 5 patriarchal sigils, 4 old codes and many other religious articles that were stolen by the Bulgarians during 1913 and 1917.

Since the early years of its establishment enjoyed the favour of the Byzantine emperors. With donations and the grants acquired considerable wealth and quickly developed into an essential monastic centre.

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The narthex of the katholikon

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The narthex of the katholikon. Carved detail.

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The narthex

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Postbyzantine fresco from the narthex: The Life giving Spring

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Postbyzantine fresco: The Last Judgement

The main temple is stone built, and there are many Byzantine frescoes. The iconostasis is carved and dates back to 1804. In the cathedral, magnificent frescoes are preserved belonging to different chronological phases and in various stylistic trends from the 14th century onwards — a living museum of Byzantine and post-Byzantine art.

The Cathedral is a monument of Byzantine hagiography, whose frescoes are attributed to Macedonian hagiographer M. Panselinos. Along with the surviving pictures, heirlooms, manuscripts and other objects of miniaturisation, they all give a complete picture of the artistic and intellectual radiation experienced by the monastery since its inception to date.

The operation of a Greek school since 1825 and a Seminary from 1869 confirmed the name rightly won as a “Monastery of Literature”.

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The entrance to the nave

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Inside the main church

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Jesus Christ the Saviour, icon fom the iconostasis

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Mother of God, icon fom the iconostasis

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Fresco from the main church

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Christ before Pontius Pilate, fresco from the main church

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The Burial of Christ, fresco from the main church

The age of the monastery, the permanent residence of thirty nuns and the large turnout of believers led to the need for reconstruction of the new Catholic, built in the architectural standards of the Byzantine monasteries.

Since 1986, there have been nuns in the Monastery,  mostly university graduates who chose poverty, chastity and obedience over careers, relationships and motherhood, who came from the Monastery of Panagia Odigitria of Volos and are under the obedience of Elder Efraim of Arizona. The life of nuns is dedicated to worship, reading, and working in the monastery. In addition to their attendance at church, the sisters spent several hours in private prayer and meditation. Often people struggle with the idea of a young woman, even a college graduate, entering religious life: “It seems so different to be readily accepted by others. For several years my parents didn’t recognise it… However, it was a conscious choice through internal need” (Νun Iosephia).

The monastic community is engaged with various daily work and chores: cooking, raising the necessary supplies of vegetables and fruits, producing wine, oil and honey, embroidery, iconography and so many others.

The fraternity under the guidance of Αbbess Fevronia makes every effort to reconstitute the complex with remarkable results. The old distillery of Monastery wine now forms a small cosy museum. On December 13, 2010, the monastery was hit by a fire that destroyed the hospice, the old showroom, the guest room and other buildings. The 30 nuns are trying hard to reconstruct the building complex of the Monastery which was ruined in 1986. Since then, the monastic community in cooperation with the Authority of Byzantine Antiquities in Kavala has undertaken the work of conservation and restoration of the monastery.

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Saints Archangels Michael and Gabriel, old tempera on wood

A Brief History of the Timios Prodromos Monastery

The katholicon (main church) was built in the 14th century and belongs to the single-aisled domed type with lite, narthex, exonarthex and an oblong roofed portico on the south side (Makrynariki)

On the north side are two chapels and the belfry. The rest of the buildings are organized around the katholicon: cells, abbot’s quarters, school, refectory, library, hostel. The wall paintings of the katholicon were executed in 1300-1333 and were continued in several periods, by various artists.

The monastery was founded in 1275-1278 by Monk Ioannikios from Serres and a few years later it was renovated by his nephew, Ioakeim, bishop of Zichne. It soon developed to an important monastic centre with great financial prosperity, because it was favoured by the Byzantine emperors. Patriarch George Scholarios (Gennadios) died here and was buried in the katholicon.

As the spiritual centre of Hellenism in eastern Macedonia, during the Balkan wars the monastery of Timios Prodromos (Saint John the Baptist) provoked the fury of the Bulgarians, who took pains to strip it of its historic treasures. Greek historical documents and in particular the monastic library were carried off to Sofia in their entirety in 1912. The quest for these invaluable sources of Macedonian history has since occupied, as it continues to occupy, much scholarly research.

The monastery, still functioning today, acquired its final form with the addition of many buildings during the Turkish occupation.

In the years between 1972 and 1986 the roofs of several buildings were repaired. Since 1986 restoration has been carried out at the cells of the east wing and at the north wing.

This is the most important monastery of Serres (Serrhai).

 

 

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A Christmas Card from Elder Sophrony Sakharov

 

Archimandrite Sophrony
The Old Rectory, Tolleshunt Knight
by Maldon, Essex

 

Christmas 1967

 

Beloved in Christ,
Sister Paraskevi!
May the grace and peace of the Lord multiply to you.
And first – I wish you a Good Christmas and a blessed New Year.
Pareskevi, has it ever occurred to you perhaps that you did something with my blessing, and the result was harmful? Or on the contrary, have you ever done something consistent with your ideas and having abandoned my words and my humble advice, that everything was done according to the good pleasure of God and successful? So also now listen to me like a crazy person, and do as I bless you to do.
The only way that will be beneficial to you and yours, is to complete your studies working as my monks work, from morning until evening – or rather night. Dispel now every care of life for [the third person the Elder speaks of here is left anonymous to not be known] and your family.
The unworthy Archimandrite Sophrony,
I send you the love of all who are to be found in our Monastery.

 

 

Monastery of Saint Hilarion, Bishop of Meglin

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Back to Greece, for yet another long pilgrimage. And yes, Greece can be foggy like England. 

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Our pilgrimage starts at a historic monastery, dating back to  the 12th century, located one kilometer from Promahi village (Aridaia, Greece), founded by St. Hilarion of Meglin (Feast Day – October 21). 

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St. Hilarion was born of eminent and devout parents in that same village of Promahi, in the late 11th century. His childless mother had long prayed to God that He grant her a child, and in accordance with her prayer, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to her and comforted her with the words: “Do not grieve, you will give birth to a son and he will turn many to the light of truth.” When Hilarion was three years old, the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!” was constantly on his lips. He was well-educated, was tonsured a monk at age eighteen, and founded this monastery dedicated to the Holy Apostles, based on the Rule of Saint Pachomios.

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These days, the monastery is an austere women’s monastery with 5 nuns under the obedience of Hieromonk Paisios, a spiritual child of St. Paisios. Vespers here is otherworldly in its beauty.

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Saint Hilarion of Meglin’s lifelong struggle and contribution to the Orthodox Church was against the Bogomils. Because of Hilarion’s prayers and exhortations, many of the Bogomils abandoned their teachings and converted to Orthodox Christianity. It is noted in the thirteenth century Markianos Code, Codex 524, that during his burial service, myrrh streamed continually from his eyes and that he later appeared on many occasions in visions to the monks of the monasteries to strengthen them in their monastic duties.

O Venerable Father Hilarion, intercede with Christ God to save our souls.

Monastery of St. Savas the New of Kalymnos

I discovered Saint Savas and his monastery during my recent pilgrimage to Kalymnos. It is an awe-inspiring place , a place one step below heaven. Iconography beyond aesthetic, historical and religious value and the Saint is so alive! The patron saint of the island, Agios Savvas, has performed miracles and has blessed homes all over the world.

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Inside his cell

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For two episodes from his life and his special relationship with Saint Nektarios, go to my previous blog post, Holy Father Savvas the New of Kalymnos 

 

 

Holy Father Savvas the New of Kalymnos

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During my recent pilgrimage to Patmos, on my way back through Kalymnos, I venerated the incorrupt relics of an amazing ascetic and Saint of the “latter days”, our Holy Father Savvas the New of Kalymnos. I even spoke to people whose parents confessed to him and remember with tears his love, compassion and angelic purity. 

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I would like to share here two episodes from his life which made a big impression on me (recorded in the monastery’s edition of his life):

 

In Athens he met the acolyte of Saint Nektarios, who informed him that Saint Nektarios was looking for him. Based on this fact, it is assumed that the two saints had met before; in fact, most biographers agree that St Savvas was St. Nektarios’ spiritual child. Therefore, he went from Athens to Aegina in 1919, where he was with Saint Nektarios until he reposed. There he served as a priest in the Convent of the Holy Trinity. He taught the nuns iconography and ecclesiastical music. Upon the repose of Saint Nektarios in 1920, Savas witnessed the first miracle of the Saint when, after his repose, St. Nektarios leaned over so that St. Savas could attire him with his epitrahelion [ie. stole], and then the Saint returned back to his previous rigour mortis (ie. postmortem rigidity). St. Savas performed the funeral and for the first three nights he continued his communication with St. Nektarios over his grave, asking him a number of questions and listening to his answers! St. Savvas’ biographers have recorded those facts from first-hand witnesses and the stunned nuns’ testimonies.
Then, St. Savas enclosed himself in a cell for forty days where he lived in strict prayer and fasting, and emerged holding an icon of Saint Nektarios he had painted, which was the first icon of the Saint to exist. He gave the icon to the abbess ordering her to offer to the faithful for veneration. The abbess told him that this was not possible, as St Nektarios had not been yet officially canonised despite his numerous miracles from the very first moment of his repose and that such an action was not prudent and might get them in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities and even cause the shutting down of the monastery. But St. Savas insisted that “You must obey. Take this icon and offer it for veneration and do not scrutinise God’s Ways”.
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The second episode too happened again in Aegina. A young nun, Nektaria, wanted to see for one last time the face of St. Nektarios after his repose and started digging stealthily his tomb. The other nuns caught her in the act and reported her to the Abbess. She rebuked her and then sent her to St. Savas. He too rebuked her sternly and told her that her action was called grave-robbing and she should not receive Holy Communion until Holy Thursday. The young nun started to cry and beg for forgiveness, telling St. Savas that she did not know that what she had been doing was wrong and sinful. As soon as she left St. Savas’ cell, St. Nektarios appeared to St. Savas, smiling,  and told him: “Elder, forgive her. She is very young. She didn’t know, she didn’t know that this was a sin. Offer her Holy Communion on Holy Thursday. Actually, offer her Holy Communion before Holy Thursday. Did you hear, Elder? Have mercy on her. She did not know. Did you hear? Thank you.”

 

 

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Let us faithful praise Holy Savvas, the glory and protector of Kalymnos, and peer of the Holy Ascetics of old; for he has been glorified resplendently as a servant of Christ, with the gift of working miracles, and he bestows upon all God’s grace and mercy.
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Today the island of the Kalymnians celebrates your holy memory with a rejoicing heart; for it possesses as truly God-given wealth, your sacred body that has been glorified by God, O Father Savvas, approaching which they receive health of both soul and body.
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Rejoice, thou new star of the Church, the offspring of Thrace and the beauty of Kalymnos, O God-inspired Savvas, fellow citizen of angels and equal of all the saints.

 

 

You contended with the saints of old Savas,
And are glorified with them by your numerous miracles.

This angel on earth and a human in heaven was born in 1862 Herakleitsa, Eastern Thrace, Ottoman Empire and reposed in our Lord on 7 April 1947 (aged 85). He lived as a monastic and practiced the arts of Iconography and Ecclesiastical Music in the Saint Anna’s Skete (Mount Athos), the historic Monastery of Saint George Chozeba, the Convent of the Holy Trinity (Aegina), the monastery of St John the theologian and Evangelist (Patmos) and the Convent of All Saints (Kalymnos) and a number of caves and hermitages all over the world.  His feast day is 7 April (25 March), The Fifth Sunday in Lent and was canonised in 1992.

For those who have never heard of him, a synopsis of his life can be found at the Mystagogy Resource Page.

Twenty-four hours with St. Amphilochios (II)

1.Cultivate the Jesus Prayer and a time will come when your heart will leap with joy, just as it does when you are about to see a person who you love very much.

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2.Do not neglect evening prayer. Pray with eagerness like those who are going to a feast. They are awake and feel joy alone. Thus, since you are going to speak with your Bridegroom, do not listen when the Tempter tells you various things in order to hinder you, because you know there is someone who cares for you.

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3.-“Elder, how must we picture Christ?”

-“We must always bring to Christ to mind with love. We could be holding the photograph of someone in our hands, but since we do not know them, we do not love him, we are not moved. Whereas, when we pick up a photograph of our mother, our soul immediately leaps and cries out with love.

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4.A person can be raised up above the earth by two wings, one is simplicity and the other is purity of heart. You must be simple in your actions and pure in your thoughts and feelings. With a pure heart you’ll seek God and with simplicity you’ll find Him and be glad. A pure heart passes through Heavens gate with ease.

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5.Self-denial must be cultivated with discernment, otherwise we reach the point of suicide.

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6.We are on the high seas of life, sometimes there are storms and at other times calm. God’s grace does not leave us. Else, we would have sunk, if he had not held us up. 

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7.The saints always look to the other life. It is the grace of the remembrance of death.

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8.God guards us from temptation. He does not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength. He allows everything for our good.

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9.When spirituality increases, even sleep will have been fought off.

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10.Prayer is grace. God gives it when zeal and humility exist.

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11.Fight the Hater of Good, who envies you, bravely suffer whatever befalls you with fortitude, patience and faith.

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12.Do not allow your soul’s enemy to wage war against you. He appears in sheep’s clothing, supposedly wanting your soul’s benefit.

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13.Trust in the Lord always and he will nourish you in time of hunger. … Spiritual bonds become unbreakable when they come across a child-like spirit, innocence and sanctity.

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14.With a good word for your neighbour, supporting him, you buy paradise.

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15.Repentance must occur, not from fear of punishment but because we have sinned before God. Sweeten your thoughts with words of consolation and hope. Warm your words with the warmth of your love towards your Bridegroom and remember His Passion, which he underwent for you, so that you would remain firm, devoted and humble. Give your whole self completely over to the protecting veil of the Panagia.

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16.Love giving hospitality, my child, for it opens the gates of Paradise. In this you also offer hospitality to angels. “Entertain strangers so that you won’t be a stranger to God.”

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17.The saints submitted to whatever God sent them, with childlike simplicity, “That’s the way You want it. Let Your will be done.”

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18.Hospitality… the greatest of virtues. It draws the grace of the Holy Spirit towards us. In every stranger’s face, my child, I see Christ himself.

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Chapel of Unknown martyrs by St. Amphilochios

19.Sorrow is pleasing to God, in as much as it doesn’t take away our courage to fight.

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20.It is necessary and beneficial for a general self-examination to take place from time to time, remembering all former sins. … Our deeds, dear sister, will not save us; God’s infinite mercy will.

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21.Leave all your concerns to the hands of God. Ask for whatever you want, like a child asking from its father. … Prayer is a gift from God. Always ask with hope.

 

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The nunnery of  Evangelismos “The Annunciation to the Mother of the Beloved One” was built in 1613 from a Cretan monk of the Monastery, named Nikiforos. It is southwest of Chora. It consists of the temple of the Evangelistria (Our Lady of the Annunciation) of the side chapel of St. Luke and from a three-floored fortified tower with the side chapel of St. Antonio. The foundation of the monastery is dated from 1936, from the monk Amphilochios Makris, a great spiritual figure. He worked hard for the foundation and the development of the nunnery. The icons in the church date back to the 15th, 16th and 17th century. The sisterhood is home to over 40 nuns who apart from praying, occupy themselves with social welfare, gardening, beekeeping and Byzantine embroidery called the”spitha” (spark). The same stitch was used to make embroidery for aristocratic Byzantine families from the time of Hosios Cristodoulos.

Spiritual Counsels and Sayings Translated by Marina Robb.

All material is copywrited to Evangelismos Monastery, Patmos.

Source: CyberDesert

Twenty-four hours with St. Amphilochios (I)

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At the nunnery of  Evangelismos “The Annunciation to the Mother of the Beloved One” in Patmos

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1.When you cultivate prayer the Tempter’s blusterings will not trouble you. Prayer diminishes his strength, he cannot do anything to us. (February 1965) .. The spiritual life has great pleasures. You fly, you leave the world , you don’t consider anything. You become children and God dwells in your heart. 

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St. Amhilochios Makris

2. The end of my life draws near I ask you to live a holy life, to walk along holy paths, so that you may help both our Church and Greece. … Your hearts are young and want to love. You must have our Christ alone in your heart. Your Bridegroom wants you to love only Him. 1/1/1968

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3.Remaining faithful to Monasticism is considered to be a martyrdom. … We must have our gaze fixed on heaven. Then nothing will shake us. …Take communion regularly, pray warmly, be patient and you will see a strong hand holding you.

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4.Christ often comes and knocks at your door and you invite him to sit in the living-room of your soul. Then, absorbed in your own business you forget the Great Visitor. He waits for you to appear and when you are too long in returning, he gets up and leaves. At other times, you are so busy that you answer him from the window. You don’t even have time to open the door.

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5.You are royalty, destined for the heavenly bridal chamber. …. Christ is near us even if we don’t see Him. Sometimes, from his great love, He gives us a slap too.

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6.We you see a person who is spiritually tired do not burden him any further, because his knees won’t be able to bear it. … A person who suffers from egotism attracts no-one. And if he does attract someone he will soon go away. When one comes across a childlike spirit, innocence and holiness the bond becomes unbreakable.

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7.Love the One, so that even wild beasts will love you. … Do you know there is an eleventh commandment not recorded in the Bible, and it says, ‘Love the trees.’ Those who do not love trees do not love Christ.

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8.True wealth, for me, is to see you in the Kingdom of Heaven. [to his spiritual children]

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9.When the flame of love exists, it consumes whatever evil approaches. … The person who shouts has no strength.

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10.The person who loves spiritually, feels prayerful, that he can be found within God and his brother. He is saddened when his brother is not advancing well and prays for his progress. Whoever has Christian love never changes.

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11.Hold the banner of Christ up high, so that you’ve always got your elder’s telephone number no matter where you are. … The Grace of the All-Holy Spirit makes a person send out rays. However, other people must have a good receiver in order to realise this. 1/1/1968

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12.Christ is the same, yesterday and today, but we have closed our eyes and look into the darkness. It is because we carry on like this that some fall in the mud and others are killed.

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13.I beseech the Lord to sanctify you, so that I may see you in Paradise. This is the dowry which I seek from the Lord for you.

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St Amphilochios’ tomb

14.For God’s grace to come during the Liturgy you must be concentrated and untroubled. 

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15.The more a person loves God, the more he loves other people. He loves them with holiness, respect and refinement, as images of God.

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16.When a person lacks inner warmth, he will be frozen and cold, even in summer.

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17.When your heart does not have Christ, it will contain either money, property or people instead. 

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18.Please put this commandment into practice. Cultivate love towards the Person of Christ to such an extent that, when you pronounce His name, tears fall from your eyes. Your heart must really burn. Then He will become your teacher. He will be your Guide, your Brother, your Father, and your Elder.

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19.Love your Bridegroom Christ with all your heart and then everyone will love you and take care of you.

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20.I desire the rebirth of Monasticism, because in my opinion, monasticism is the evzone [elite military unit] battalion of the Church.

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21.God’s protection diminishes temptation. … Innocence is greater than genius.

22.Because of widespread corruption, people cannot understand that spiritual love exists.

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St. Amphilochios cell

23.Let us look upon everyone as our superiors, however weak they may appear. Let us not be harsh, but always bear in mind that the other person also has the same destination as us. 

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24.We must have Love, even if they do us the greatest harm, we must love them. We will be able to enter Paradise only with love. 

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