Dear brothers and sisters,
Christ is in our midst!
May we all be transformed into living flame by the Holy Spirit!
Ascension Monastery in Sipsa, Drama (Greece).
Dear brothers and sisters,
Christ is in our midst!
May we all be transformed into living flame by the Holy Spirit!
Ascension Monastery in Sipsa, Drama (Greece).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Christ is in our midst.
A year has passed but the pandemic has not yet ceased. Just a few time slots remain to make this prayer truly “sleepless” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! 01:45, 02:30, 02:45, 04:15 and 17:30 UK time. This is a special request to our US brothers and sisters in particular. Please consider joining.
PS. Should you decide to join, please do not forget to sign up your name in the time slot you choose.
Meanwhile, in Syria …
Christ is in our midst.
You can have more than one slot if you like and apparently, there is an option for people to have the same time slot if they use a comma or semicolon but it would seem best to use the available spaces first. The time zone can be altered depending upon where you are in the world.
* Please share with your Orthodox friends.
Another very moving lockdown reading, together with Saint Velimirovich poetry: Last Great Lent of the Russian Royal Family, as Reflected in the Diary of Nicholas II
Saturday 6 April
“…After tea, I read in the sunset until seven. The vigil began at 9.45 with the adoration of the Cross.” —
Blot out, O Lord, all my memories–except one. For memories make me old and feeble. Memories ruin the present day. They weigh down the present day with the past and weaken my hope in the future, for in legions they whisper in my ear: “There will only be what has already been.”
But I do not wish for there to be only what has been. I do not wish and You do not wish, O Lord, for the future to be the past repeated. Let things happen that have never appeared before. The sun would not be worth much, if it only watched repetitions.
Worn paths mislead a wayfarer. Earth has walked over the earth a long time. Earthly walkways have become boring, for they have been traveled again and again from generation to generation throughout all time. Blot out, O Lord, all my memories except one.
Just one memory do I ask You not to blot out, but to strengthen in me. Do not blot out but strengthen in my consciousness the memory of the glory that I had when I was entirely with You and entirely in You, before time and temporal illusions.
When I, too, was a harmonious trinity in holy unity, just as You are from eternity to eternity.
When the soul within me was also in friendship with consciousness and life.
When my soul also was a virginal womb, and my consciousness was wisdom in virginity, and my life was spiritual power and holiness.
When I, too, was all light, and when there was no darkness within me.
When I, too, was bliss and peace, and when there were no torments of imbalance within me.
When I also knew You, even as You know me, and when I was not mingled with darkness.
When I, too, had no boundaries, no neighbors, no partitions between “me” and “you.”
Do not blot out this memory, my Father, but strengthen it. Even if it reveals to me the abyss along which I am journeying in humbleness and nothingness.
Even if it separates me from friends and pleasantries, and demolishes all the barriers between Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
Even if it leads me outside of myself, and makes me seem mad in the eyes of my fellow wayfarers.
In truth, no companionship pleases me except Yours, and no memory pleases me except the memory of You.
O my Merciful Father, blot out all my memories except one alone.
Immersed in St. Nikolai Velimirovich’s Prayers by the Lake
A view of Lake Ochrid (Ohrid), where St. Nikolai composed these prayers during his morning walks in the woods after Matins in the monastery
A most sobering perspective, and not only on fasting! I didn’t remember that word “terror” in Genesis 9. Wishing you all a most blessed, fruitful Lent.
Met. Anthony Bloom
“Beginning [this week], Orthodox Christians abstain from meat; has it any meaning apart from the ascetic, the disciplinary? Yes, it has, I think. There is a frightening passage in the ninth chapter of Genesis. After the flood, when mankind has become even weaker than before, less rooted in God, more tragically alone, more tragically dependent upon the created because it has lost communion with the uncreated, God says to Noah and his people:
“‘From now on all living creatures are delivered unto you as food; they will be your meat, and you will be their terror….’ That is the relationship which human sin, the loss of God in our lives, has established between us and all the created world, but particularly, in a particularly painful, monstrous way with the animal world. And our abstention from meat in the time of Lent is our act of recognition…
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A blessed Triodion (and Great Lent), a blessed new month and springtime to all of you! I have missed you!
And struggling… Trying to put into practice “The Good Shepherd” chant-song dedicated to the spiritual fathership. Not sure what is more difficult: lack of grumbling and complaining; a gladsome face; readiness to serve or silence? As to the Kingdom’s violence or the hard work to spend ourselves on behalf of each other or … there is clearly no way out with personal preferences … Oh dear!
— Come here my blessed brothers,
All of us who are standing in a circle around our Good Shepherd.
Come, let us all offer unto him most welcome gifts:
One of us his gladsome face,
Another one his lack of grumbling and complaining;
Another one his readiness to serve,
And yet another one his silence.
And let us all offer unto him the Kingdom’s violence,
the hard work to spend ourselves
On behalf of each other,
And the care so that our obedience unto our Lord
Is never broken.
Let us all please with such offerings our dearest Father.
— And now, you, beloved, most honourable Father,
Cease not, tire not praying to God,
Seeking His Mercy for all of us,
Atoning for our sins.
Disobedient, defiled children are we,
Yet for the sake of your love for your children,
May we all be drawn together,
Unto the Kingdom of Heaven.
Psalm 73, written approximately 2.500 years ago. “Their kindred said in their heart together, “Come, let us abolish all the feasts of God from the earth.” Is this scripture fulfilled in our lives nowadays? (Luke 4:21) Unprecedented and appalling! No Easter in so many countries all over the world and quite probably no Christmas again in most. So many enemies of our Lord! May our Lord have pity on us. Lord have Mercy! A blessed Christmas to all, hopefully inside a church and with a proper church service, Holy Liturgy and Holy Communion. Your prayers
The Dormition Feast – A Homily on St. Luke. (10:38-42; 11:27-28) and a Story and a Farewell
Letting God be God
At that time, Jesus entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to Him and said, “Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” As He said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the breasts that Thou didst suck!” But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
In the Gospel for the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, we meet that familiar scene in the house of Martha and Mary. Martha is busy preparing the food and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. Martha we are told “was distracted”. The burden of work she felt was laid unfairly upon her. Her distraction, her preoccupation had led to resentment and so she intrudes upon our Lord’s teaching:
“Lord, don’t you care…. Tell her to help me.” In her frustration and anger, she not only questions our Lord’s awareness, but she also gives Him advice and tells Him what He should do.
This, unfortunately, is what we sometimes do. We try to tell the One who cares for us beyond measure, the Son of God, what He should be doing for us.
At the wedding of Cana in Galilee, the Mother of God notices that they had run out of wine. “ They have no wine.” This is in effect both a statement and a request and a tangible example of the intercessions of the Theotokos. His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” The Mother of God is always vigilant about our needs too and continually intercedes for us before the throne of grace.
Asking is different from demanding. The problem is that we want to give God advice rather than seek help from Him and do whatever He says. We want God to assist us in going our own way.
St Dorotheos of Gaza said: “ Nothing is more harmful than self-direction, nothing more fatal. I never allowed myself to follow my thought without seeking advice.” This is why we have spiritual fathers in the Orthodox Church, not that their advice is perfect but that we have another a reference point in spiritual trigonometry. Often it is not advice that a person seeks from their spiritual father, but they come to him because they want to know that their spiritual father cares for them, that he can be trusted to hear their complaint, their sins, to walk with them, share their burden and to love them. How much more does God love us and know our needs even before we ask?
More than advice it is God’s action that saves us. The Old Testament was full of advice which the people of Israel ignored. What was needed was someone to rescue them and us.
We see in the Falling Asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos that our Lord would not allow His mother to see corruption. He takes her to Himself and opens the way for us too.
There is a story of a man who fell into a pit. The first man came along and offered him advice.” If you get out of that pit you should learn your lesson not to make the same mistake again.” A second man came along and offered him advice on how to get out of the pit the man had fallen into. A third man came and offered no advice. Without any hesitation, he went down into the pit and helped the man out.
This is what Christ does. St John of Kronstadt writes:
Such are the comforting truths which the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos brings us: it assures us that Christ the Saviour, born from the Most-pure Virgin Mary, removed from us the curse of our sins and granted to all of us resurrection from the dead on the last day of the world. Is this not comforting for every Christian believer?
And having such an expectation of a general resurrection from the dead, let us try throughout our entire life to become worthy of the glorious resurrection into eternal life by means of constant repentance, battle with our passions and the temptations of the flesh and the world, and strive for success in all virtues, in order to eternally enjoy the infinite, incorruptible, surpassing all understanding, all feeling and all expectation – the blessings of the Heavenly Kingdom, together with God, the Mother of God, the holy angels, and all the saints. Amen.
We should let God be God because only He can bring us to Life in the Resurrection. His word and His action save. So if we have to speak, we have no occasion or need to give Christ advice or tell Him what to do. Rather we should follow the words of the Most Holy Theotokos:
“Whatever He says to you, do it.”
Dear friends in Christ, I fear that this will be my last blog post for quite some time, as I am about to retreat for God knows how long. Please keep me in your prayers as I will keep you and all mankind in mine.
Little great saints
When Saint Paraschiva arrived and took residence in the icon corner, she brought along four friends on the very same icon, smaller and framing her. Saint Filofteia, I have already written about, but the other three were completely unknown to me, so I started to get to know them. Great was my surprise to find that although there are many icons depicting them and they are much loved especially in Romania, two of the three have no feast day in the Romanian orthodox calendar. The more I learnt about them, the more drawn I was to them. They are so little known beyond their homeland and yet so inspiring in their striving for God, that I felt they needed a place in the Stavronian.
The first of the three, seen in the middle of the icon is Saint Teofana Basarab. By her baptism name Theodora, she was born around 1310, daughter of Basarab I of Wallachia (southern modern-day Romania). She was given in marriage for political reasons to Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, heir to the Bulgarian throne and took up residence with her husband in Lovech in Bulgaria. Lovech became under the influence of Theodora an important cultural centre, where byzantine manuscripts as well as manuscripts from Mt Athos were copied and translated. Theodora had four children, whom she raised in the faith. She was much loved by all for her gentleness, humility and virtue. Her husband became Tsar in 1330 and the new Tsaritza continued her tireless cultural and spiritual endeavours in Tarnovo, the capital. In 1347, Ivan Alexander tired of his wife and repudiated her. In order to avoid political conflict, she did not return to her father’s court, but retired to a monastery near Tarnovo and became a nun, taking the name of Teofana. Here she lived in humility and asceticism, accepting meekly all her misfortunes. The Tsar married his Jewish mistress and baptised her Orthodox, giving her his first wife’s name, Theodora. The new wife poisoned one of Teofana’s three sons, who passed away. Mother Teofana continued in her life of holiness in the monastery until her eldest son became Tsar of half of Bulgaria and then joined him at Vidin, the new Capital, where together with her daughter in law, she set an example of virtuous life and encouraged monasticism, founded a centre for compiling and popularising lives of saints, copying and translating spiritual works. The date of her death is unsure, but the holiness of her life was so great, that the Bulgarian church canonized her as early as 1371. Her feast day in the Bulgarian Orthodox calendar is the 28th October.
On the right of the tsaritza, mother, wife and nun, we can see Saint Theodora of Sihla carrying a cross, a saint who has found a place in the Romanian Orthodox synaxarion. Saint Teodora of Sihla, commemorated on the 7th August, was born around 1650 in an area of incredible natural beauty of mountains and forests in northern Romania. Her desire to serve the Lord took shape early on in her life, after the death of her only sister, but her parents did not agree that she should enter a monastery and gave her in marriage to a holy young man in the vicinity. Since the marriage was not blessed with children, both husband and wife decided to enter monasteries. They both received monastic tonsure in the same skete in Poiana Marului. In a few short years, Saint Theodora advanced greatly in obedience, prayer and asceticism. When the Turks invaded the Buzau valley, Theodora and her spiritual mother fled to the mountains. They lived for several years in fasting, vigil and prayer, enduring cold, hunger and many temptations from the evil one. When her spiritual mother passed away, the saint went to venerate the wonder working icon of the Theotokos in Neamt and was guided to seek spiritual advice from Hieromonk Barsanuphios of the Sihastria skete, who advised her to go and live alone in the wilderness for a year. “If, by the grace of Christ, you are able to endure the difficulties and trials of the wilderness, then remain there until you die. If you cannot endure, however, then go to a women’s monastery, and struggle there in humility for the salvation of your soul.” Together with her new spiritual father, Paul she went in search of a dwelling and moved in a cave on mount Sihla. Here she lived in complete solitude only seeing her spiritual father, who came to bring her the Holy Mysteries. She grew in asceticism and she would keep vigils all night long with her arms lifted up to Heaven and fed on herbs and drank water from a small channel cut into the cliff, known to this day as St. Theodora’s spring. As the Turks attacked villages and monasteries around Neamt and people started fleeing to the mountains, the saint gave up her cell and retired to an even remoter cave. Discovered by the Turks, the saint was miraculously rescued by the Lord and continued her spiritual struggles completely forgotten by the world into old age. Like Mary of Egypt, her clothes became rags and like the prophet Elijah, she was fed by the birds, often depicted on her icon. The monks of the Sihastria skete saw birds come to pick up bread and fly off with it in their beak in the same direction. Guessing that some ascetic might live in the vicinity and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Hegumen and two monks went in search through the wood. They saw a great light and as they approached, they found Saint Theodora levitating and shining with great light praying. The Saint had been praying for the Lord to send her a confessor and the Holy Mysteries. The next morning, two monks went to find the saint and Father Anthony heard her confession and gave her the Holy mysteries, after which St Theodora passed away saying “Glory to God for all things!” The monks buried her in her cave and her relics remained incorrupt. News of her death spread and people came to venerate her tomb. Her former husband, Hieromonk Eleutherios came to the cave and made a cell for himself in the vicinity, below the cliffs of Sihla, where he remained for the following 10 years until his repose. Saint Theodora’s relics were moved to the Kiev Caves monastery in the 19th century. The inscription on Saint Theodora’s scroll reads: “Life is blessed for those in the wilderness as they fly upon the wings of Divine love” (Sunday Matins).
The third saint of the icon is Saint Mavra of Ceahlau, who does not have a feast day in the synaxarion but who is much loved. She lived in the same area as St. Theodora on the Ceahlau mountain in northern Romania. Born sometime in the middle of the XVIIIth century, a record of her life is found in the writings of Fr. Ioanichie Balan. Raised by God fearing parents, Mavra (Mary at baptism) ached with love for God. She entered the monastery at 20 years old at the skete Silvestru. In a short time, Mavra became renowned for her humility, obedience, gentleness and unceasing prayer. Lover of silence, she built herself a little hut outside the monastery where she lived in solitude, joining the community only in the daytime and keeping vigil in her hut at night. She slept only for a few hours sitting up on a chair, ate very little dry bred and vegetables once a day and did hundred of metanias every day. As time went by, she withdrew deeper into the mountain in a clearing called to this day The Nuns’ clearing (Poiana maicilor). Here, she struggled with temptations and endured the bitter mountain cold, wind and snow. The nuns in the skete followed her to ask for spiritual guidance and built their own small cells around the clearing to be near her and join her in her vigils. Such was her gentleness and holiness, that all animals of the forest loved her and were tamed by her. Wherever she went, a deer followed her. She passed to the Lord surrounded by her spiritual daughters and was buried in an unknown place in The Nuns’ clearing.
The question that sprang to mind was how come these three saints are often depicted together when they are so different: one was an princess and queen, promoter of culture, long suffering wife and mother, the other two simple women, of whom only one had known wedlock, leading austere and ascetic lives. They are united, beyond their Romanian origins, by their great love of God, by willingness to take up His Cross and above all, by humility.
By Alexandra McC.