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 … 

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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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A Day to the Prince Islands (II)

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The Monastery of St. George Koudounas

This historic Monastery of Saint George Koudounas, on Prince’s Island outside of Constantinople, was according to tradition built by the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros Phokas in 963 AD. A miraculous icon of St. George was brought here from the Monastery of Peace, which was founded by Emperor Justin II, in Athens at that time.

The Monastery was later sacked in the Fourth Crusade. Then in 1302 the pirate Giustiniani plundered all the buildings and monasteries of the island. Not wanting their holy icon stolen by the Franks, the monks hid the icon under the earth and place the holy altar above it. The miraculous icon however was lost for many years.

Later, St. George appeared to a shepherd in a dream and told him where to find his icon. When he approached the area, he heard the ringing of bells, and having unearthed the icon, found it decorated with bells. This is the source behind the epithet “Koudouna” which means “bells”. The Monastery was later attached to Hagia Lavra in Kalavryta, and eventually to the Patriarch of Constantinople. The current church was built in 1905.

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The miracles of the Saint are many, not only towards Christians [Romans], who approached always with great reverence (in olden times there wasn’t a Christian family which had not visited Koudouna at least once a year), but towards everyone without exception, who approach his grace with faith. Thus there is a great mass of people who come from other faiths from throughout Turkey. The pilgrims number about 250,000 a year, the majority being Turks. The great iron gate of the Monastery, as we learn from its engraving in Greek and Turkish, was offered from the Muslim Rasoul Efenti, as a gift of gratitude towards the Saint for the healing of his wife.

On April 23rd, in other words the day when the Saint is honored and the Monastery celebrates, tens of thousands of pilgrims arrive, not only from Constantinople but from other cities, to venerate the Great Martyr and to seek help in their problems. Roughly all of these pilgrims are from other faiths. Many will return later to thank St. George, who heard their prayer and granted their desire, bringing the indispensable oil for his vigil lamp. You hear with passion how he healed this person’s son, how another became a mother after being barren for many years, how a third acquired a house, etc.

The Monastery also celebrates on the feast of Saint Thekla, and on this feast about 10,000 Muslims visit the Monastery seeking the prayer of Saint George.

(For the full history of this Monastery with many pictures, visit this site.)

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Muslim Vows
Some come barefoot up the hill which takes about 30 minutes to climb to the Monastery, others come with offerings of oil, candles, and sugar so that their lives may be sweet. Some do not speak as they climb up to the Monastery until they kiss the icon of St. George. They follow the services with hands lifted in the air holding lit candles. They ask priests for antidron to bring home with them for a blessing. They have great faith and respect for Orthodoxy.
On September 24 I witnessed at 6:00 AM four modern looking Turkish girls approaching the Monastery. I asked them for what purpose they came. They responded: “Faith in the Saint brought us here. It doesn’t matter that we are Muslims. We prayed that he would help us. We have heard so much about the Monastery.”
Oral came from Smyrna in order to venerate the Saint with her vow. She brought three bottles of oil. When I asked why she, as a Muslim woman among the thousands, visit the Orthodox Monastery, she responded: “It is not forbidden by anyone for us to believe in Saint George. Religions have one common agreement, the one and only God. We could be hiding within us a christian.”
Of the many interviews I conducted that day with Muslims, the responses were basically the same.
A different answer was given by Antil however. He said: “Life in Turkey is difficult. The people need something to give them strength. They have turned to religion. They have been bored by everything so they seek help elsewhere. Why not Saint George?”
And one Turkish newspaper reported: “Saint George has distributed hope to the suffering.”
Testimonies of Monks From the Monastery
Hieromonk Ephraim of Xenophontos, who has lived for three years at “Koudouna”, is astonished with the faith of the thousands of Muslims who visit the monastery. “These people live with their heart”, he affirms, “Because faith is the sight and the strength of the heart, for this reason they can and they do experience our Saints.”
Monk Kallinikos of Xenophontos, who serves as a priest, relates: “We are astonished with that which occurs here. Many times we see people who find the Lord with the faith of the Roman centurion.” To our question if the Saint responds to the supplications of the thousands of pilgrims, he replied: “During my three years here, we ourselves are witnesses of miracles, such as the healing of paralytics, mutes, and the giving birth to children.”
We asked the monks at St. George to comment about their stay in Turkey, and they told us: “All of their behavior is perfect. From the highest ruler, to the lowest, they treat us with such respect that many times we wonder which would be better, to live in Christian Greece or Muslim Turkey. We should tell you that we go everywhere with the monastic dress and our experiences have always been positive.
Thus, St. George has become a place of worship for thousands of atheists, Christians, Jews, and especially Muslims, who with every means come to the island and bring their tamata (vows), and place them before the Saint, as they place their hopes in him. And the Saint shows that he does not judge and ‘imparts healing’ to every faithful person.”

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For more:

Eis Tin Polin (1) 

A Day to the Prince Islands (I)

 

 

 

A Day to the Prince Islands (I)

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Morning transfer to the pier for a private ferry ride to the island of Halki, home of the renowned Halki Patriarchal School of Theology. Halki is one of the Prince Islands which owe their name to the fact that during the Byzantine period the imperial family and disgraced aristocrats were exiled in the monasteries on the islands.

Ιsland of Halki

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Halki Patriarchal School of Theology

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Eis Tin Polin (1) 

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St Photios the Great is believed to have founded the monastery in Halki in the late 19th century. In 1844, Patriarch Germanos IV established the Theological School for the purpose of pleasing God with a dwelling for teachers, theologians and theology students. The monastery houses a very impressive and important library.

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A carriage (fayton) took us to the top of the hill where the Theological School is situated, since motorized vehicles are forbidden on all the islands. A magnificent view awaited us there.

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Halki Patriarchal School of Theology

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Η Παναγία η Παυσολύπη
The Theotokos that Puts an End to our Sorrows

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