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.

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God’s little flowers

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ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή

Herakleitos  I. p. 89 Fr. 60.

“the way upward and the way downward is one and the same”

 

I like this time of the year, February- the cusp of spring- the stirring from hibernation, the orientation of the earth tilting on its axis towards a warmer inclination. The cold, frozen earth in the Northern Hemisphere which has lain dormant over the winter, starts to come alive. The snowdrops are sending up their green shoots once again; peeping through the surface, these bold, hardy flowers, with heads bowed in humility are drawn by the sun. They are the front line of nature’s offspring in the march towards life, silent heralds and signalmen of the resurrection to come. The stretching of their sensitive, sinuous roots ever downward and the upward struggle of their shoots ever upward require equal grace filled effort. The breaking open of the bulb, the flourishing of the epiderm, the nodding of the head before the movement of the wind ( the spirit), and finally, the full glory of this tiny flower stands before the Creator of the Cosmos.

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The Liturgical cycle is a movement in God’s time, in which we glance brief moments of eternity. Our inclination and disposition towards God, our prostrations and metanias, are the means to spiritual growth. We must put down roots of stability and at the same time reach with our arms towards the heavens. We flourish at the presence of Christ; we say “yes” to the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and at the last we are embraced as sons and daughters of Light in the arms of our heavenly Father.

 

The great fast of winter leads to the feasts of the Nativity and beyond to Theophany and the great fast of Lent leads to the Cross of Pascha and beyond to the Resurrection. The cold heart is indeed called, broken, drawn and imperiously captured by the warmth and light of our loving God. We are God’s little flowers. Renewed in vigour and faith from sensing the power from above, the season and the time, we become again brave Christians who break out of stricken conformity, that dark place we inhabit, into the beautiful freedom of Christ’s Kingdom.

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Ecclesiastes 3:1

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

By Father Jonathan Hemmings

 

 

 

 

The Prince of Peace

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A Christmas Story

The Golden Gate shut behind them. At the same time a terrible roaring shattered the silence of the green valley. A majestic figure sat on the towering rock at the plateau in the middle of the forest. The silhouette of the Lion stood out against the starlit sky.

The Lion made a huge leap and stood at their midst. For the first time no animal dared to approach. The young couple and all the other animals stumblingly stepped back. They turned back to escape. But the Gate was shut. A many-eyed guard with a fiery sharp sword was blocking their way.

Then the Lion attacked the antelope. Immediately the panther charged at the goat. Then the big bear tore apart the tender calf. And the wolf the meek lamb. It had started. A war had begun. A cruel, relentless, and above all, prolonged, infinitely prolonged, war. The whole Creation would henceforth “groan as in the pains of childbirth”. (Romans 8:22) This night was the darkest of all.

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… The Lion sat on the towering rock. His eyes gazed intently at the abysses of the night skyline. Something unusual was taking place up there, this darkest night of the year. A new star seemed to dawn and eclipse all the rest. The whole forest was in commotion. This night was hiding a mystery.

Further in the horizon a small company appeared. A humble little donkey was slowly climbing up towards the clearing. Sat on his back, a young woman, a tender daughter still, was gently clutching on her bosom a newborn baby. A white-haired old man was walking by their side. And this unusual, new Star was guiding their footsteps in the darkness. The tree tops were bowing humbly to the ground at their passage, venerating those unknown travelers.

Suddenly, before the night travelers made it to the clearing, a loud thundering shattered the silence of the dark forest. A horseback column was galloping towards them.

–  “We found them!” shouted the captain.

But as the column thrust menacingly forward, a terrible roaring shattered the silence of the dark forest. The Lion made a huge leap and stood between the night travelers and the soldiers on horseback showing his terrible teeth to the soldiers. Stunned, the animals of the forest followed immediately their king. The scared horses would tear from their reins and got up on their hind legs. The captain went wild.

–  “Archers!” He screamed out of his mind.

In vain. All bows fell immediately to the ground when they touched the animals’ bodies. Like hitting steel. The horses grew uncontrollable. Any minute and they would flee back to the high land in a wild stampede.

The leader dismounted in a frenzy. Blind in his fury he hurled himself down in a bold leap and thrust himself to the baby. Menacingly he raised his sword to slaughter it, but the sword froze in mid air. To his horror and shock he saw before him the sweet face of his own wife, holding his own baby in her bosom!

His knees bent, his body collapsed to the ground. Sitting on the humble donkey the Daughter was looking in his eyes with infinite compassion. A bright, otherworldly halo was opalescing in rays around Her face! The soldier felt small, powerless before this Godly Babe, who seemed so vulnerable and helpless in the arms of his fragile mother, yet everything seemed to bow before Him.

Quietly all the animals surrounded in worship the human synodeia. The nod of the little child, invisible, yet omnipotent, was gently leading the lion and the calf together, the bull and the bear, the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the goat. Under the spell of this otherworldly Mystery, the soldiers dismounted in awe and knelt side by the side with the wild animals.

 

Time had stopped. The Golden Gate was open again. No longer does the fiery sharp sword guard the gate of Eden. The Babe mystically summoned all back to Paradise. A prophecy of old took flesh:

“The wolf will live with the lamb,

    the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;

    and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,

    their young will lie down together,

    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy

    on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

    as the waters cover the sea.

… (Isaiah 11:6-9)

 

The Babe raised His Hand, a tiny, soft hand, yet capable to govern the whole Universe. The Babe blessed them with the Sign of the Cross. The Prince of Peace had been born on earth. The ancient, cosmic warfare would soon come to an end. Maran Atha!

 

Ad. & Transl. Kleio Kechagia

Χριστούγεννα 2016

π. Δημητρίου Μπόκου

https://antexoume.wordpress.com/2017/01/10/ο-αρχοντασ-τησ-ειρηνησ-χριστουγεννιά/

 

 

Unfading Bloom

 

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Flowers sheltered like cenobitic monks in a crevice at the summit of Mt. Athos.

“How can I plead empty-handed?”

St. Paisos would always cut a few wild flowers outside his hut and take them to the Theotokos icon, whenever he wanted to pray to Her.

Indeed, he urged everybody to always make an offering to Panagia, even a little one, anything within our power

 

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At the hut of St. Paisios

 

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Like a Green Olive Tree

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“They went to a place called Gethsemane…”

— Mark 14:32

Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest. This garden was an olive grove and it still exists today. Gethsemane means “oil press” in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.

 

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Psalm 52:8  “But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever.”

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“Do you know that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment “love the trees.“  When you plant a tree, you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God’s blessing.” – Elder Amphilochius of Patmos

According to Met. Kallistos, the Elder frequently assigned the penance of planting a tree on the island (Patmos) for those who came to him for confession. His ministry raised up forests as well as demolished the sins of many.

 

 

All Creatures Great and Small

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“Once a dog was dying from thirst in the desert. A monk went by and gave him the water he was keeping for himself. That moment Heavens opened and a voice was heard: ‘He who saved the dog will have a multitude of his sins forgiven’.”

Blessed Gabriel the Confessor and Fool for Christ

Source: Fr. Charalambos Livios Papadopoulos

Blessed Gabriel was gentle Saint of our times, compassionate for all Creation. In his youth, he had an unusual entertainment; he used to take a small stick in his hands and ran away. Chirping birds sat on it and followed him all the way. This surprised everyone. Vasiko was a soft-hearted child. He did not allow putting a trap for mice, but caught them in a cage alive and afterwards set them free out of the yard. Read about the rest of his life here

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Fr Herman recalls a quiet moment when he was with Fr Seraphim [Rose] and their animals came up to them: Svir [the monastery dog] looking up devotedly and wagging his tail, and a lovely, white-pawed cat named Kisa standing quietly by.“From your point of view,” Fr Herman asked in a reflective mood, “what are animals all about?”

Fr Seraphim replied: “They have something to do with Paradise.”

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“Abba Xanthios said, ‘A dog is better than I am, for he has love and he does not judge.

—  Sayings of the Desert Fathers

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“Geronda, how do animals sense a person’s goodness?”….. “They can instinctively sense if you love them. The animals in Paradise felt the fragrance of Grace and served Adam. Since the transgression, nature groans together with man” St Paisios

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“My mind tells me that even the animals are better than me; so, I humble myself and obey them. Very early this morning, being tired from praying all night and exhausted because of my illness, I lay down to rest. After a while, I heard a kitten meowing outside my cell as if she needed something. I really wanted to rest, but I humbled myself and went against my own will. I obeyed the kitten and replied to her calling. I went to open the door. It had started to rain and I let her in so she wouldn’t get wet. What do you think then? Should I obey the animals or not? My thoughts tell me I should.” – St Paisios

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“All these things connected with nature help us greatly in our spiritual life when they are conjoined with the grace of God. When I sense the harmony of nature, I am brought to tears. Why should we be bored with life? Let us live life with the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth. The person who has the Spirit of God, who has Divine Wisdom, sees all things with love of God and notices all things. The wisdom of God makes him grasp all things and delight in all things.”- Saint Porphyrios

 

 

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Photos & Selection of the Fathers’ Saying: Orthodoxy and Animals

 

 

 

 

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