Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (II)

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Paschal Holy Dances in Attica, Aegina and Euboia

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Bright Tuesday

Morning Holy Liturgy at the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus: I can literally feel the 179 Martyrs presence on me, as Father Jonathan had insisted that I carry them during this pilgrimage on their Feast Day[1]. Of course, the truth is the other way round: it is always the Saints who are carrying us. Archimandrite Theoklitos had offered a tiny fragment of the 179 Martyrs’ relics to our Holy Cross parish, which is displayed for veneration in the Holy Liturgy, and will later in the day return to ‘their own’ monastery to be ‘reunited’ with their brethren on their feast day.

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Holy Monastery of Saint Ephraim of Nea Makri, the Wonderworker and Newly-Revealed: A strange spectacle is awaiting us at the monastery gates: a leaping and dancing Resurrectional priest, a modern Saint Seraphim of Sarov figure, who greets all who enter the monastery with a kiss, and the words of the Paschal greeting: “Christ is Risen!” He is literally leaping with joy and greeting all pilgrims in a ‘dance routine’!!!

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli: Vespers and a Holy Procession of the 179 Martyrs. During the Procession, Abbess Styliani’s face is lit and transfigured in ecstasy. Together with all the nuns, she too is dancing the Resurrection dance. She is also blessing all pilgrims with a large pectoral Cross.

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NOTES

[1]The 179 Holy Martyrs were massacred by pirates into the katholikon, on Pascha 1680, during the midnight service, after the final “Christ is Risen!” was joyfully chanted by the fathers following the Divine Liturgy. Similarly, Saints Raphael, Nikolaos and Eirini were tortured from Holy Thursday until Bright Tuesday when they were eventually martyred on April 9, 1463. St Efraim of Nea Makri was himself too martyred by the Turks on Tuesday May 5, 1426.

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Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (I)

 

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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.

Choice

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“Freedom, A Choice”,  a painting by Anila Ayilliath

 

Choice (*)

 

-Lord, let me come and join you in that land which beckons me, in those fields that I love.

-No, it is in this town that you must meet me.

-Lord, I long for the sun and the wilde flowers over there.

-I only have this black sky and these thorns to give you.

-But Lord, there is only noise and smoke here.

-There is something else as well; there is sin.

-Lord, I would so like to see again the blue water that you knew!

-Here, hearts are sick and souls are dying in darkness.

Lord, I could perhaps stay if you entered into my heart, if you took my hand. But when I see these streets […] my whole being revolts and escapes in thought over there. Must I therefore still stay here, with my sadness and my loneliness?

-My child, is it so difficult to decide? And to walk where I walk?”

(“Sunday Letters”, Lev Gillet, ‘A Monk of the Eastern Church’ by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, p23)

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* Dedicated to my spiritual father 

This dedication, initially made on 10/6/2017, holds true of course, only yesterday, when I re-discovered these letters last night, I thought every single iota of these verses was written for me! Piercing my heart … Each time, returning here is becoming increasingly difficult … 

I am Back

 

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli

Virginia: “When will you start writing in Greek? English comes difficult to me. I struggle with your posts. Please consider …”

And Gianna. And Kalliopi. And …

Christ is Risen! 

It seems this blog may soon become bilingual… Maybe I should alternate one blogpost in Greek, one in English? … Once, twice a week? Do you think this is a good idea? On the bus, on our way to Attica, my Greek friends asked me to share on the microphone a few of my experiences here. They gasped at the stories I told them. They did not know. How could they even begin to imagine? 

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St. Nektarios’ the Wonderworker monastery, Agia Triada (The Holy Trinity) in Aegina

I feel I owe this to my Greek and Cypriot brethren who should not be left behind. They need to recover Orthodoxy, expand their horizons and learn about Orthodoxy’s struggles in foreign lands. In so many ways, I have discovered more about Orthodoxy during my brief ‘exile’ in an un-Orthodox country than in a lifetime in an Orthodox one.

Besides, any missionary endeavour and blog require by their very nature more than one tongue. At Pentecost “every man heard them speak in his own language”(Acts 2:6). I still find writing in English a lot harder than in Greek my mother tongue, and there are a lot of texts yet untranslated in English. 

What is your opinion? Do you have any suggestions? I would be so grateful for any help.

 

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli, 179 Martyrs Reliquary

Christ is Risen! 

I am back. I can’t believe a whole month flew by so fast! Thank you for staying in touch through my inbox. So many emails to reply, questions to answer, stories to be told … Please be patient with me, as I am still unpacking. My pilgrimage to Attica, Aegina and Euboia lasted only a few precious days, yet had quite an effect on me. It felt like a landmark and a watershed. More in the posts to follow…

 

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The Kato Xenia Monastery at Almyros, near Volos – The Wonder Working Belt of Virgin Mary

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Monastery of Transfiguration near Rovies, island of Evia, constructed by Saint David, and served by the recently canonised St. Iakovos Tsalikis. + His grave

A Song for Martyrs – Nuns of the Diaconesti convent

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Manastirea Diaconesti – Sfanta Liturghie la praznicul Invierii Domnului

 

 

A poem written by the nun Zorica (Teodosia) Laţcu. Chanted by the nuns of the Diaconesti convent, Romania.

A song for

“Those who have fallen in battle across the centuries

For the triumph of the most honored Cross,

Those who in the moment of their death

Had in mind the Name of the most blessed Trinity,

And those who longed for The glory and crown above the mind,

Remember them O, Lord, when you come, Into the Kingdom of Your Holy Glory.”

 

For more chanting by the Sisters:
Manastirea Diaconesti – Sfanta Liturghie la praznicul Invierii Domnului

Manastirea Diaconesti-Cantari Ortodoxe-Colaj

Manastirea Diaconesti – Canonul Sfintilor Marturisitori din temnitele comuniste

Grupul psaltic al Mănăstirii Diaconești

Two Contemporary Miracles of the Holy Cross

 

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Two True Stories of Witchcraft, Demons and the Power of the Holy Cross in Congo, Africa 

1. A Miracle of the Holy Cross in Congo 
Mystagogy
Amazing things are happening in Congo, said Father Basil Muamba to a large audience in the lecture hall of Kananga Mission. They are authentic and leave one speechless!
Fr. Basil recounted:
“In 1996 I made a missionary trip to Dimbelenge, accompanied by a boy who was a chanter in the Center of the Mission of Kananga, and another boy who came with us on the road.
When we arrived we met the old faithful who I had baptized last year and some were waiting to be baptized now. They gave us a house to spend our days while we were living near them.
Among those awaiting baptism, there was a man who in a magical way was able to bring down lightning, and he had already killed many people.
The traditional chief of the village had punished him by forbidding him to drink from the local river Mukamba.
I baptized all of those who waited for baptism and among them was the magician.
In the evening I kneaded and left the prosphoron (offering bread) for the Divine Liturgy the next day. All three of us then went to sleep.
At around 4 o’clock in the morning a strong wind began to blow, which made the entire house shake. I jumped from the bed and heard the two children who escorted me crying and shouting:
‘Father, we are dying, come and rescue us!’
I heard the kids, but I could not move to get to the children’s room. I realized I was alive because I could feel my head. But my entire body was paralyzed.
I had with me a Cross that the late Fr. Chariton gave me once in Tsikamva. In the evening I had placed it on the table. I thought of getting it and praying. But I could not reach out my hand.
The children continued to cry louder. With difficulty I brought my hand on my leg, I did the sign of the cross, and realized that I could now move.
I sat on the bed with my legs hanging, but the wind was throwing me from one wall to another room. With difficulty, knocking back and forth, I got out of the room and went to the porch where I saw my bike thrown upside down on the edge of the porch, and immediately went to the children’s room.
I went inside, grabbed them by the hand, their clothes were torn leaving them almost naked, and they vomited and had diarrhea. It was about 6 o’clock in the morning.
In the courtyard of the house was a night guardian who resides with his entire family in a house on the same plot. He had heard what was happening in our house, but could not approach us to help. I took the kids outside and told them to stay on the porch and I reentered the house.
I started to call the name of the security guard. At one point, he arrived. ‘You do not understand anything that was happening?’ I asked. ‘Do you perhaps understand what happened all morning?’
‘I heard everything’, he told me, ‘but I did not have the strength to come near to you.’
I begged him to go and call some of my relatives, who lived in the area, as well as the faithful. In the morning I had to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Many of the faithful came and told me:
‘All that happened in the night happened because you baptized yesterday the leader of the thunderers magicians who was able to throw lightning. His friends (other magicians) thought: We will agitate and put through a trial now the one who baptized our leader.’
I stepped out for a moment from the space in which I was about to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Some of the faithful and a few unbaptized villagers said to me:
‘Father, they wanted to kill you (like they did the others), but they were unable to. We also believe that your God is mighty, true. We ask you, therefore, to baptize all of us.’
I baptized them and the leader of the ‘thunderers’ was strengthened even more, that our God is the true God.
I finished the trip and returned to Kananga.
When I was to make my next trip, the Bishop gave me a Cross, saying: ‘When you arrive, throw this Cross in the river of the area, and you will tell the faithful to swim, find and return to you the Cross.’
I threw the Cross. Many of the faithful fell into the river to find it. The one who found it and returned it to me was the leader of the ‘thunderers’ who had come to celebrate at the Center of the Mission.
I presented to the Bishop the faithful one who retrieved the Cross and the Bishop gave him a gift.

He had the habit of walking barefoot, but now began to wear shoes. He also began drinking water from the river that was forbidden to him.”

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2. A Miracle of the Holy Cross in Congo  
Mystagogy
 
At the Monastery of Saint Nektarios (Kolwezi, Congo), among the girls in the boarding school, there were added two more a few months ago – Despoina who is 11 years old and by exception a boy named Angelo who is 6. These children have a history.
The Sisters of the Monastery found these children abandoned in the streets. They brought them to the Monastery and alerted the police to find their parents. Eventually they learned their mother was a witch. She had killed their siblings and initiated them in magic and abandoned them. In this way they would be able to make their “bread” in life.
With the blessing of Fr. Meletios Mandelides, the head of the mission, they were baptized. Since then they have had the strength and enlightenment from God to tell Abbess Thekla what magic they did and how many people they had killed.
They told her that with magic they killed people, took their blood, and placed it on a sewing needle. They would hang this on themselves and at night they would fly kilometers away to do their magic and kill other people.
When the Abbess asked if the demons still bother them, they said:
“They come to get us. They pull at us to cut off the Cross we wear around our neck. When we do the sign of the cross, they disappear. One time magicians came and pleaded with us to follow them, but they were unable to take us with them.”
As to why this is so is easy to understand, since the demons fear Baptism, the Cross and Holy Water which the children drink every morning.
These children, Abbess Thekla told me, have a strong character which is why they have them eat once a day. Every morning they drink Holy Water, and when there is a Divine Liturgy they Commune of the Holy Mysteries.
Source: Αληθινές Ιστορίες μαγείας (True Stories of Witchcraft), Εκδόσεις “Ορθόδοξος Κυψέλη”, Θεσσαλονίκη. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
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Orthodox mission in Rwanda

The Silent Angel

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Elder Dobri is the subject of a 2015 documentary, “The Silent Angel,” which features interviews with his family, relatives, and friends, and also with Bulgaria’s last King and former Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

An icon of charity, Dobri Dimitrov Dobrev,  was born on July 20, 1914 in the village of Bailovo. His father died in World War I and his mother raised the children. He married in 1940, when Bulgaria was participating in the Second World. A shell fell near him during one of the bombings in Sofia, depriving him of nearly all his hearing. He had four children with his wife, two of whom he outlived.

Over the years, the elder became more and more detached from the material aspects of life, devoting himself entirely to the spiritual life. Around the year 2000, he donated all of his belongings to the Orthodox Church and began living in a small and modest addition to the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in his native village. It is also about that time that he began to collect money towards the restoration of churches and monasteries throughout Bulgaria.

He came under the spotlight when it was revealed that for years he had walked more than 12.5 miles to reach Sofia from his home in the village of Bailovo to beg for money and then donate it for charity.

After spending years at the entrance of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, with a plastic cup in his hand, he collected about BGN 40,000 ($24,700 today) for the cathedral in Sofia, BGN 10,000 ($12,350 today) for the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Bailovo, and BGN 25,000 ($31,000 today) for the restoration of the Eleshnishki Monastery of the Mother of God located to the east of Sofia, and the local church of the Gorno Kamartsi village.

His spirit of utter selflessness and sacrifice earned him the popular title “The Saint of Bailovo.”

Yesterday, Elder Dobri Dobrev (Grandpa Dobri), reposed in the Lord. He was 103 years old. He reposed at the Monastery of St. George in Kremikovtsi, to the northeast of Sofia.

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