The Monastery Diaries 4

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A photo journal 
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Christ is in our midst!
What a beautiful vigil at St Arsenios’ annual Feast (+St Arsenios of Cappadocia, Nov. 10)! I do not think any of my photos can convey the holiness conveyed through the monks’ exquisite, prayerful chanting,  the Fathers’ prayers, the censing, the tears of the faithful, the dancing chandeliers at Polyelaios…
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Fr Synesios was throwing bay leaves inside the church before Vespers started

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There were lots of hieromonks, laymen and chanters invited to help with the chanting and the hospitality, and several priests and bishops all over the world since Saint Arsenios monastery is a very missionary-minded monastery and Gerondas Theoklitos has quietly and very discreetly founded together with several of his monks lots of monasteries all over the world.

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The Bishop Innokentios of Burundi and Rwanda

The Vigil was in two parts because the Feast was this year on a Sunday: on Saturday evening we had the Vespers and Matins, and on Sunday morning the Hours and the Holy Liturgy. Nonetheless, it was still too long, so long that the faithful were often seen collapsing in their stasidia and seats, and yet at the end, nobody wanted to leave. The monks though were so vigilant, like candles lit, not sitting down even for a minute during all these long hours.

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Some of the kollyva prepared by the faithful and the monks.
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At the end of the Holy Liturgy, the kollyva of the Saint were prayed in front of his icon. These kollyva were such perfect icons “written” on the boiled wheat that we did not want to eat them! Then, all the faithful were given in the monastery yard a bit of this kollyva, artoklasia and special treats for the Feast, the Fathers briefly disappeared in the arhondarikion, and when we thought that we were done with eating and feasting, we were all invited into the monastery’s trapeza for yet for food.
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During the agape meal, lots of chanters and two monks censing with a a katzion (special censer for feasts) and carrying a piece of holy bread,  a part of the proskomide’s holy bread, moved around all of us and we each picked up a very small piece. In that sense, the agape meal felt like yet one more Holy Liturgy after the Holy Liturgy in the church. Prayer seems to be seamlessly woven in all monastic activities, even in the washing-up that followed.

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Gerondas Theoklitos is on the left, Bishop Nikodemus of Kassandreia in the middle and the monk on the right , deeply bowing his head on the right is Father Arsenios. He was shining at his Saint’s Feast throughout the Vigil and the festivities that followed. He was honoured to read the Akathist before the Saint’s icon and the Synaxarion in the church and in the agape meal that followed at the end of the Holy Liturgy where all the faithful were invited to participate in a fellowship of Love and Holiness. Father Arsenios was the first to receive Holy Communion and the last to eat anything in the agape meal. In fact, I am not sure if he ate anything at all this day as he was so full of Joy and his Saint was feeding him with Heavenly food.

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This is Father Nikodemus who greeted me the first dawn here, on his way to a village parish, and we both admired the starlit sky, the “ison” for the worship unfolding in the monastery katholikon.

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Love and poor prayers,
LCH

The Monastery Diaries 3

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This Sunday at St Arsenios monastery, after the church services, Homily, Trapeza with Gerondas Theoklitos and a few obediences together with other pilgrims, Fr Synesios gave us a guest room to rest. At 4:00 we had Vespers, Supplication and …  and eventually, we left together with Gerondas Theoklitos: we drove him to the airport. That was a most interesting drive as we spent all the time taking turns in the Jesus Prayer and its variations. We started with “Glory to God” a hundred times, then “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us”, “Most Holy Theotokos save us”, and some variations like “Holy, Life-Giving Cross protect us”, “Baptist of Christ help us” (for repentance), “St. John the Evangelist help us” (for love), the Saints of the day, our Saints, all a 100 times repetitions each, first for the living, then for the departed . Very soon though we started praying using the following St. Paisios’ variation (*) to the Jesus prayer:

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ:

Do not abandon your servants who live far away from the Church. May your love convict them and bring them back to you.

Lord have mercy on your servants who are suffering from cancer.

On your servants who suffer either from small or serious ailments.

On your servants who suffer from physical infirmities.

On your servants who suffer from spiritual infirmities.

Lord have mercy on our leaders and inspire them to govern with Christian love.

Lord have mercy on children who come from troubled homes.

On troubled families and those who have been divorced.

Lord have mercy on all the orphans of the world, on all those who are suffering pain and injustices since losing their spouses.

Lord have mercy on all those in jail, on all anarchists, on all drug abusers, on all murderers, on all abusers of people, and on all thieves. Enlighten these people and help them to straighten out their lives.

Lord have mercy on all those who have been forced to emigrate.

On all those who travel on the seas, on land, in the air, and protect them.

Lord have mercy on our Church, the bishops, the priests and the faithful of the Church.

Lord have mercy on all the monastic communities, male and female, the elders and eldresses and all the brotherhoods of Mt. Athos.

Lord have mercy on your servants who find themselves in the midst of war.

On your servants who are being pursued in the mountains and on the plains.

On your servants who are being hunted like birds of prey.

Lord have mercy on your servants who were forced to abandon their homes and their jobs and feel afflicted.

Lord have mercy on the poor, the homeless and the exiled.

Lord have mercy on the nations of the world. Keep them in your embrace and envelope them with your holy protection. Keep them safe from every evil and war. Keep our beloved Greece (the Elder’s home country; we could substitute the USA) in your protective embrace day and night. Embrace her with your holy protection defending her from all evil and war.

Lord have mercy on those who have been abandoned and have suffered injustice. Have mercy on families that are going through trying times. Pour your abundant love upon them.

Lord have mercy on your servants who suffer from spiritual and bodily problems of all kinds.

Lord have mercy on those who are despairing. Help them and grant them peace.

Lord have mercy on those that have requested that we pray for them.

Lord grant eternal rest to all those who have passed on to eternal life throughout the ages.

Then, back to Thessaloniki centre and straight to St Demetrios for the Myron Service. Gerondas Theoklitos was the catalyst for a most bountiful “harvest” of 15 cotton balls and an extra Myron cotton roll equivalent to 50 more! Everybody present is normally given only one piece of cotton, but we were collecting for the faithful in the UK and other countries.

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Amazing gushing myrrh leaking everywhere from his reliquary!!! God is glorified in His Saints!

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Lots of love and poor prayers

 

* The following prayer of his was given to Souroti convent which had asked the Elder for a prayer rule that could be used by the nuns in their evening vigils. This directive was given to the nuns during the final years of his life. The main emphasis of this prayer is his profound love for all of humanity.

This prayer can be used by every Christian believer since it takes in all the issues of life that need our prayers. Even the children can understand it easily since it is expressed in simple words. It can be used by families during their evening prayers.

 

The Monastery Diaries 1

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Dear brothers and sisters,
Christ is in our midst!
My life back in Greece is still quite chaotic and hard, but Our Lord is showering me with His blessings. I got the blessing from my English little spiritual father, whose idea that blog was, to begin with, to share with you my life back in Greece, especially my monastery stays. So many of you wanted to know more about my life here. He told me “Yes, may it be a blessing for others”. Please forgive my unpolished style and my language errors but here is what happened on my first Sunday after our pilgrimage to Holy Land:

My new « parish » and my new « home » — Sunday diary 19/10/2019
So much and heavy housework and office work in-between!!!!
A humble antidoron to your many heart-warming emails:
“St. Arsenios’ monastery is currently 9 monks and one novice since they keep on recruiting new monasteries all over Europe. All the Fathers are very kind, most humble and hospitable. When I arrived at 5am the stillness and beauty of the night outside their katholikon was so full of holiness that it was spellbinding! One of the fathers, Fr. Nicodemus was leaving the monastery to serve a neighbouring village, and when he saw me like this, he gave me his blessing and told me to “put” all this nature doxology and beauty as the basis, the “ison” for the church services that were unfolding inside! On my way from Thessaloniki, I was saying the supplication to St. Arsenios and all the time in the monastery, I never stopped thanking him and St. Paisios for their hospitality. Both Saints are so alive and present here. Many faithful have literally seen them during vigils praying and St. Paisios is always kneeling before St. Arsenios, his spiritual father!
The services were of ineffable beauty and when they finished at about 9:15 am we all went inside the arhondariki for the homily of Gerondas Theoklitos, who thank God looked noticeably stronger now back at the monastery because I was really concerned with how frail and exhausted he looked during our pilgrimage. We must have been about 70 who stayed for the homily, although certainly a lot more for the services. Of course, when it is summer, the number doubles, triples…Then, at 11:00 Gerondas met some for Confession, and we were waiting for him together with a few more faithful, most of whom looked monastic oriented as if they were monks in the world or some in search of a monastery. While waiting, I met so many of the faithful we used to go on pilgrimages together 15-20 years ago, and our reunion was so moving! Again, more tears! They were asking me what had happened to my life, where had I disappeared?… As if I knew how to answer their questions! At some point, at about 12:30 Gerondas Theoklitos emerged out of the Confession chapel and made arrangements for our trapeza together. All the other monks had already had they Sunday meal while their Gerondas was doing Confessions. At first, this meal was very embarrassing as Fr Synesios was serving all 5 of us, a most humbling experience I can assure you, although I am sure a joy for him! The meal, a proper Sunday festive one, was in complete silence and at its end, Gerondas offered more words of spiritual guidance to us, and then the monastery fathers asked us to do a little Diakonia for them, so we all cleaned green beans together with Gerondas Theoklitos while reciting in turns the Jesus prayer! 2 big baskets of runner beans for the monks although father Synesios insisted we take all we want and just leave for them whatever remains!! What a beautiful holy Sunday! I feel so undeserving for such blessings!!! We left at about 3pm to allow some time to the Fathers to rest although they were so keen to offer us more hospitality and would not let us go … In the end, Gerondas Theoklitos asked each one of us 4 if we wanted to see him in private and one went inside the Confession chapel with him, but I told him that I did not need to because I had seen him yesterday. But what an opportunity to seek more guidance this way, every week! Oh, how much am I looking forward to all this for the coming Sunday! I cannot stop asking myself this question: why are we, me especially, offered so much love, why is God showering us/me with so many blessings, me the most undeserving one? I feel so humbled by all this experience! All that was prepared for me by God before setting my foot back here. Some pilgrims I met during this last pilgrimage in Holy Land told me about the possibility of sharing Sunday agape meal with Gerondas Theoklitos at his monastery. I have known Gerondas Theoklitos for over 20 years and have been together on a number of pilgrimages, but I was not aware of this possibility. Amazing divine providence!
My love and poor prayers in Christ
* Names and certain details have been changed for obvious reasons for all involved . All photos are from The Ascetic Experience blog… Please forgive me for this little “deception” and pray for me

Memory Eternal to a Pioneer

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“On Friday July 12, Dr. Edward Hartley died in a nursing home after a week-long decline, ending a long a fruitful life in Christ. I lost a friend and parishioner, and many people lost someone who was a great gift to them from God.

Dr. Edward Hartley, with his wife Vivian, was the founder of St. Herman of Alaska mission in Surrey, B.C. He was an Anglican, born in Nova Scotia, Canada, who came out to British Columbia to begin a medical practice here. He met and eventually married Vivian Robertson, and together they had three children. More significantly, over the years they had many more spiritual children. I have lost count of their godchildren. Dr. Hartley and Vivian decided that they should join the Orthodox Church in a time when such a course of action was so difficult as to look a bit crazy. There were no English-speaking Orthodox missions in the Vancouver area in that time, and so they joined the local OCA church which worshipped in Slavonic and spoke Russian. A far-sighted bishop in the parish welcomed them, and they learned to cope with Slavonic, becoming members of the Russian OCA parish. Vivian learned to sing in Slavonic as part of the choir, and Dr. Ed (as he was known) read the Epistle in English after it had been read in Slavonic.

They had the sense and foresight to see that raising their children in a Russian church in the Vancouver area was not the path of wisdom, and so they received the blessing from their bishop to begin a mission in English, worshipping in a chapel they built in their backyard. Those were difficult years, with one step forward and one step back. I came to their little backyard mission in 1987 when there were about fifteen people there on a Sunday. They had no stipend available for a priest, and no other building. Their priest would have to find a secular job to support himself and his family while the mission grew. But they all had enthusiasm and commitment, and the parish slowly grew.

Dr. Ed was a man of humour, zeal, and effervescence. He was always ready with a joke and a smile. When I would phone his house he answered the phone often by saying, “Greetings and hallucinations—I mean greetings and salutations!” In all the years I was his parish priest I never recall him frowning or being in a bad mood. He wanted to convert absolutely everybody to Orthodoxy, and his home was an open house, a place of welcome and kindness. I may add that his wife Vivian and his children shared in his kind and zealous spirit. Vivian reposed in 2013, but his children are still faithfully serving the Lord, being wonderful chips off the old paternal block.

Dr. Hartley breathed his last at 2.28 p.m. this last Friday, and stepped into the Kingdom, doubtless escorted by a multitude of angels. The following Sunday at St. Herman’s was a busy one. We baptized an infant, a child of South Asian and East Indian-Caribbean descent. We baptized the Anglo-Canadian husband of one of our Russian ladies. We baptized another adult North European/Canadian convert. We also received by chrismation the Armenian mother-in-law of one of our Romanian immigrants.  Before the baptisms, a lady who was a longtime friend of the Hartleys was finally entered into the catechumenate, joining a young Ethiopian catechumen.  Dr. Hartley would have been pleased by all this, since he wanted everyone to become Orthodox, regardless of their upbringing or national identity. I would like to think that the Lord allowed him to peak down into the nave of his old parish, and rejoice in the work in which he and Vivian had been so instrumental in bringing to birth.

Dr. Ed will be missed by all who had been privileged to know him. He was one a pivotal generation who was prepared to work and sacrifice to join the Orthodox Church in a day when the cost for doing so was very high. If conversion to Orthodoxy is now somewhat easier, this owes much to Dr. Ed and those of his generation who were prepared to pay the price and hold the door open for us. Our debt of gratitude to him and those like him is very great.”

By Fr. Lawrence Farley

No Other Foundation

 

 

Saint Paisios the Athonite and the Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki

The Gate to the Monastery of Souroti. Beautiful mosaic with Christ, and St. John the Theologian and St. Arsenios of Cappadocia praying to Him

Right now in Greece:

and:
My heart beats faster in Greece. Right now, I am there in spirit. Together with the Saint of my heart, Saint Paisios, my spiritual grandfather. God is glorified in His Saints!
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The Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki
Souroti is found around 28 kilometers from Thessaloniki, not far from the central road which links the city with the capital of Chalkidiki, Polygyros.The Holy Monastery is dedicated to St. John the Theologian and to St. Arsenios of Cappadocia. In the Monastery are the Relics of St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, which are found in the Katholikon, along with the grave of St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain, who reposed on July 12th 1994, and was buried next to the church of St. Arsenios.

The beautiful church of St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, in Souroti Monastery

Every year, from July 11th-12th, the anniversary of the repose of the Saint, the Holy Hesychasterion serves a vigil service, with thousands of the faithful taking part. For example, on the anniversary of St. Paisios’ repose in 2014 (and before he was canonized a Saint), an estimated 120,000 people came to venerate his grave. Many miracles occur through the Saint’s intercessions and through the soil from his grave, which pilgrims often take as a blessing.

The humble yet wonderworking grave of St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain, behind the church of St. Arsenios, Souroti Monastery

St. Paisios’ acquaintance with the Monastery
Once, the Elder sick and was in great need of blood for his surgery. He had no relatives by his side (as he himself wished) and a group of novice nuns donated as much blood as he needed. He was very grateful for their support. Wishing to express his deep gratitude, he used to say that their kind support resembled a woolen sweater embracing his bare flesh; he wished to take it off and offer it to them in return, as an expression of his heartfelt gratitude.

The grave stone of St. Paisios, engraved with beautiful and humble poem written by him. In English, it reads:
“Here life has ended,
Here and my breath (has ended),
Here the body will be buried,
And my soul will be happy.
My Saint lives, that is my honour.
I believe that he will pity my miserable soul.
He will pray to the Saviour

To have the Virgin Mary with me.”

The Great Deisis: Christ, entreated by the Theotokos, St. John the Theologian, St. John the Russian and St. Paisios the Athonite

He sympathized with the nuns who were facing insuperable problems in their effort to build their convent. So, he personally took the initiative to find a suitable area for its construction. He offered his assistance in every way he could; along with the building’s foundations, he also laid its spiritual foundations by giving instructions for the proper functioning of the convent. Thus, the Elder established a strong relationship with the Convent of St. John the Theologian and remained by its side until his death.

St. John the Theologian
For more on St. Paisios’ role in the founding of the Monastery, and on his relationship with Fr. Polycarp, see here.
Hours of Visitation at the Monastery (source)
Please note that the Monastery is closed to pilgrims Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while the schedule for the rest of the days is according to the following hours:
Winter hours:
Daily 10 am-1 pm and 3 pm-6 pm
Summer hours:
Daily 10 am – 1 pm και 5 pm – 7 pm 
Tel: (+30)2396041320 and (+30)2396041315
Please contact the Monastery with additional questions or for the most up-to-date info.
Beautiful gardens, planted with prayer, at Souroti Monastery
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

The Sacrifice to Get a Spiritual Father

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“A relationship with a spiritual father takes sacrifice. I am not talking in images or metaphors here – I mean real, emotional and bodily sacrifices. The more valuable the relationship, the greater the spiritual fight against it and the greater the sacrifices one needs to make to preserve the relationship, help it grow and gather its fruit. It involves pain, effort and a real fight.

Remember that saying from the Desert Fathers? ‘Why are there no spiritual fathers anymore? Because there are no spiritual sons.’ Having or not a spiritual father is largely up to us, because Christ can turn a stone into a spiritual father if He sees a real spiritual child in need. This is something we – the spiritual sons and daughters – are responsible for.

The beginning belongs to us. And it all begins and grows on sacrifice – real, emotional and bodily sacrifice.

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I was huffing and puffing as I recorded this one, going down a wooden path on Athos to meet one of the fathers living alone in the forest. Please forgive the extra noise – it is proof that I take you with me everywhere, and that you are always in my heart and in my prayer. ….”

 

Fr. Seraphim Aldea narrates the importance of struggle in the relationship with a spiritual father, through his own physical journey from his monastery to the Holy Mountain.

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/monkseyes/the_sacrifice_to_get_a_spiritual_father#38889

 

*Specially dedicated to my hermit Gerondas and my Spiritual Father thousands of miles apart, but always so close each other and me!

*Specially dedicated to my fellow travellers in search of a spiritual father. To have a good spiritual father in your life is truly a gift from God!

Pilgrimage to Evia

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Synaxis of All Saints of Euboea (Evia)

Blessed New Year 2019! May He who is the Alpha and Omega Christ our True God grant us every strength and all virtues necessary for our salvation in this year of His grace 2019. May we honour our calling and chosen way as Christians. Soon, I will start uploading lots of stories and photographs from a recent pilgrimage to Euboia.


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St. Iakovos Tsalikis and St. David of Evia