Like a swift sparrow

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O much-suffering Stephanie, * with the crown of the gifts of grace * hath the Lord now crowned thee, who gavest up thyself * to willing torments and pains in the nobility of thy soul: * ’twixt two palm trees thou wast bound, * and thereby thou wast rent in twain, * spreading out thy wings, * flying up unto God like a swift sparrow and forsaking to the fowlers * thy mortal body, O wondrous one. [Ainos (Praise) from the Orthros November 11]

*It is said that + Martyr Stephanie in Damascus was 16 years old at the time of her martyrdom.
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Isn’t that an amazing transfiguration of a horrid death? What a stunning testimony to the transformative power of Christ’s Resurrection! This hymn reminded me today of St. Porphyrios and his precious advice on immersing ourselves in the Church’s hymns for their great healing power to overcome all the gloom, the sadness, the failure, and the death that seem to surround us.

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The Elder Porphyrios once asked a pilgrim visiting him:

— Do you know the troparion that begins, “We celebrate the slaying of death …”?

— Yes, elder, I know it.

— Then say it.

—“We celebrate the slaying of death, the destroying of hell, the beginning of another way of life that is eternal. And leaping for joy, we sing a hymn to the Cause, the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.”

—Do you understand it?

—Certainly I understand it.

I thought that he was asking me for a translation into modern Greek.

The Elder then waved his hand dismissively saying,

— Little George, you didn’t understand anything at all! You said it quickly like a chanter in a hurry. Listen to what awesome things are said in this hymn: Through Christ and His resurrection, we do not get across a river, a gorge, a canal, a lake, or even the Red Sea. We have moved across an abyss that no human being could cross on his own. Ages came and went with the world waiting for this Pascha, for this passage. Our Christ passed from death to life! That’s why today “we celebrate the slaying of death, the destroying of hell.” Death is no more. We celebrate today “the beginning of another way of life that is eternal,” a life with Him.

Speaking with enthusiasm and conviction, the Elder was clearly moved. The elder paused and continued more energetically:

— Now there is no more chaos, no more death, no more slaying, no more Hell. Now everything is joy, thanks to the resurrection of our Christ. Human nature is resurrected with Him. Now we too can rise again that we might live with Him eternally … What bliss is contained in the Resurrection! “And leaping for joy, we sing a hymn to the Cause.” Have you seen how young goats now in the spring frolic on the green grass? They drink some of their mother’s milk and then prance about leaping for joy, and so do we celebrating the ineffable joy of the resurrection of our Lord.

He then stopped speaking. Pure joy was now in the air. And the elder continued,

—Can I give you some advice? In every sorrow, with every failure, in anything that causes you pain, collect yourself for half a minute and slowly say this hymn. Then, you will see that the most important thing in your life and in the life of the entire universe has already been accomplished with the resurrection of Christ. It is our salvation. And then, you realize that all our setbacks are so insignificant, that you don’t need to allow them to spoil your mood.

— St. Porphyrios, Wounded by Love

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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.”

 

 

Apolytikion
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.
Kontakion
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.
Megalynarion
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 (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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The fire in Mati and St. Paisios

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It was the moment when the fire of 23rd July had completed its life-damaging work in Neo Vujza and Mati (about 7pm in the evening), and started spreading northeast to Agios Andreas where the children’s camps of the Municipality of Athens is located and southwest to Rafina.

Those present at the port of Rafina (where they had moved to escape the flames, including my brother) heard the bell in the chapel of Agios Nikolaos, located on a hill just above the harbour. The flames were already threatening the chapel. Some went to the chapel courtyard to see if there was a need for help.

Among them was a lady, and on the bench of the courtyard, she saw what looked like the form of a rallying priest who sat on the bench in the fumes and turned his body toward the flames. Impressed, she took a picture on her cell phone from a distance. Approaching, she took another one. But once she reached the bench, the figure disappeared unexpectedly and mysteriously into the smoke.

At that moment, the wailing stormy wind suddenly stopped blowing completely, so that the flames were not extended to the settlement of Rafina. A corresponding phenomenon, a sudden interruption of the wind that pushed the northeast flames, happened at the same time on the opposite side, at the boundary between Matio and St. Andrew. The result was to save the main settlement of Rafina and most importantly, save the area of ​​Agios Andreas where the camps were located.

It should be noted that 600 young children temporarily resorted to the beach of Agios Andreas whilst waiting for the buses to take them to Athens. The area of ​​Agios Andreas is overgrown with pine trees and with lush vegetation, just like Mattia. If the flames had reached this area, an incredible tragedy would unfold, much worse than what happened in Mati.

Note that the fire was expanding at an inconvenient speed, causing people to be trapped in the pass, unable to escape, not even by car. So, the dozens of unfortunate victims of the fire found in the beach at Mati were locked.

The lady, a few days later, visited Father Dorotheos, the Parish Priest of the Temple of the Assumption, the parish Church at Mati. She told him the incident with the priest who sat on the bench next to the chapel of St. Nicholas and showed him the pictures.

He first told her that this chapel does not have a priest and that he does not recognise any clergy in the face of the photos from those who serve in the wider region. In fact, he wondered what a priest can sit there among the wild fire and the smoke. But when he noticed the photographs better, he exclaimed with awe: “This is the face of Saint Paisios!”

The above story of this lady was narrated by Father Dorotheos to my brother, who lives next to the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

If you carefully look at the two photographs the lady took, it will distinguish a priest-monk who only wears a robe, holds a prayer rope in his hand and has his body turned towards the flames. The resemblance to Saint Paisios is astonishing. In the closest picture, the cap of Saint Paisios is distinguished in the head of the figure, while on the feet of this figure can be seen flip-flops with socks. Another characteristic of the Saint.

Nikos Koulouris
Professor of Law
2/9/2018

Source: from Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Parish and Community of Newcastle

Christ’s Naked Word

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St. Cuthbert, an early Celtic Saint, used to pray standing in the sea. When he stepped out, the sea otters would dry his feet with their fur.

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“The more I examine myself, the more I see that a life devoted to constructing and organizing, a life which produces positive results and which succeeds, is not my vocation, even though, out of obedience, I could work in this direction and even obtain certain results. What attracts me is a vocation of loss–a life which would give itself freely without any apparent positive result, for the result would be known to God alone; in brief, to lose oneself in order to find oneself.” (Father Lev Gillet, Letter of 9 March 1928, in Contacts, 49, no. 180, 1997, p. 309.)
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“The one thing that sets the Saints apart from the rest of us is their struggle to remain entirely obedient to Christ. There is no bargaining in their mind, no negotiating Christ’s teaching, no diluting His words to the point where they lose the strength to open for us the path of salvation.

Most of us receive the word of God with caution, and we immediately start turning it on all sides until we reach a compromise that works for us. Most of us fear the word of God. All we truly want is something that looks like His word enough to make us feel good about ourselves, enough to make us have the appearance of Christians, but not to the extent that we could lose control over our lives.

One can go through life either in obedience to Christ or in obedience to one’s own will. The challenges and choices of this world are simple and clear if we obey Christ’s word – we need to love, we need to forgive, we need to help. Ultimately, we need to allow the world to crucify us for His name and become true followers of the Crucified One. These are His words, and this is the way of the Saints.

Things only seem complicated when our brain gets in the way. Things only seen unclear when we begin negotiating Christ’s word, looking for a human version of it which does not lead to the Cross. Unfortunately, we always succeed. Unfortunately, we have the frightening ability to reduce Christ’s teaching to something that excludes the Cross. The danger, though, is that without the Cross there can be no Resurrection either.

The Saints are not like that. The Saints do not build an idol of their earthly lives. They have no vision of a perfect life here, no vision of a perfect self in this world. They remain faithful to Christ and His word, and allow nothing of this world to come between them and their God.

Look at St Cuthbert. Look at his faith, the faith of a young man who spent his nights into the cold waters of the North Sea, so he may control his mind and his body in prayer. Look at his obedience to his true calling – a hermit at heart, he left everything behind to be obedient to Christ. A man alone on his island, but carrying the world and its Creator in his heart.

Through his prayers, may we also be given the faith to obey Christ’s naked word, not our own tamed version of it.” (Fr. Seraphim Aldea, Mull Monastery Blog)

 

 

In the hollow of His Hand

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The time has come again for the little city hermit to ‘disappear’. Holy Week church services demand all our being, preparations for a long pilgrimage to Greece are well under way and spring is beckoning! Should you wish to contact me, while ‘away’,  please send me a message here. Christ is Risen! May the Lord hold us in the hollow of His Hand until we ‘meet’ again! 

 

 

*traditional gaelic blessing

Awed by the Beauty of thy Virginity

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Iconography Trivia: The fact that Panagia is shown sitting in the presence of an angel illustrates that she is “higher than the Seraphim and beyond compare more glorious than the Cherubim”. I don’t think many would remain seated in the presence of an angel of God, but this icon testifies to the spiritual height of the Mother of God. (Not that she necessarily sat during this encounter – it depicts a spiritual reality more than a historical one)

The miracle depicted and described in this video is so awe-inspiring. The hymn, sung first in Greek and then in English, is so beautiful. It is the same hymn chanted at the end of the Akathist services held on Friday nights during Great Lent.

May we have her blessing!

Awed by the beauty of thy virginity, and the exceeding radiance of thy purity;

Gabriel called out unto thee, O Theotokos,

What worthy hymn of praise can I offer unto thee?

And what shall I name thee?

I am in doubt and stand in awe! Wherefore as commanded, I cry to thee:

Rejoice, O full of grace.

 Source: LESSONS FROM A MONASTERY here and here

 

 

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Rotunda, Thessaloniki, during restoration work