A Martyr’s Spirit in Daily Family Life


A true story by Elder Aimilianos 

“Once, when I was in a hurry to come here to the monastery to speak to you, I took a taxi, so I wouldn’t be late. On the way, I asked the driver:
“Tell me, do you ever get to eat lunch or dinner with your Wife?”
You know what sort of work these drivers have, and how they almost never know when they are going home.
“Every day” he told me, “both lunch and dinner.”
“How do you manage it? What time do you eat?”
“Lunch starts from 10:00 in the morning, and goes till 4:00 in the afternoon, and dinner is from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning.”
Do you understand? At 10:00 in the morning, his wife had the meal ready and waited for him, whatever time he arrived so that they could eat together. And in the evening, she waited for him from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning. Doesn’t this impress you? This is what martyrdom in life means: a life of love.
Martyrdom in daily life is action done out of love for the other person, making a sacrifice, setting aside one’s own selfish needs for the benefit of another.”

The Church at Prayer, Archimandrite Aimilianos, p 160


Glory to God for All things

This Akathist, also called the “Akathist of Thanksgiving,” was found among the effects of Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov upon his death in a prison camp in 1940. The title is from the last words of Saint John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile. It is a song of praise from amidst the most terrible sufferings attributed to Metropolitan Tryphon of Turkestan.



Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Thy will for our salvation is full of power. Thy right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Thy praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life’s journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 2

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

Ikos 2

Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 3

It is the Holy Spirit who makes us find joy in each flower, the exquisite scent, the delicate colour, the beauty of the Most High in the tiniest of things. Glory and honour to the Spirit, the Giver of Life, who covers the fields with their carpet of flowers, crowns the harvest with gold, and gives to us the joy of gazing at it with our eyes. O be joyful and sing to Him: Alleluia!

Ikos 3

How glorious art Thou in the springtime, when every creature awakes to new life and joyfully sings Thy praises with a thousand tongues. Thou art the Source of Life, the Destroyer of Death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding garments, white as snow. All the earth is Thy promised bride awaiting her spotless husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

Glory to Thee, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 4

How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on Thee; how life-giving Thy holy Word. To speak with Thee is more soothing than anointing with oil; sweeter than the honeycomb. To pray to Thee lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul. Where Thou art not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, become sorrowful; where Thou art, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!

Ikos 4

When the sun is setting, when quietness falls like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendour of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Thy dwelling-place: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Thy presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father.

Glory to Thee at the hushed hour of nightfall
Glory to Thee, covering the earth with peace
Glory to Thee for the last ray of the sun as it sets
Glory to Thee for sleep’s repose that restores us
Glory to Thee for Thy goodness even in the time of darkness
When all the world is hidden from our eyes
Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul
Glory to Thee for the pledge of our reawakening
On that glorious last day, that day which has no evening
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 5

The dark storm clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Thy fire is burning brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence: Alleluia!

Ikos 5

I see Thine heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious art Thou radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side. Thy right arm guides me wherever I go.

Glory to Thee, ceaselessly watching over me
Glory to Thee for the encounters Thou dost arrange for me
Glory to Thee for the love of parents, for the faithfulness of friends
Glory to Thee for the humbleness of the animals which serve me
Glory to Thee for the unforgettable moments of life
Glory to Thee for the heart’s innocent joy
Glory to Thee for the joy of living
Moving and being able to return Thy love
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 6

How great and how close art Thou in the powerful track of the storm! How mighty Thy right arm in the blinding flash of the lightning! How awesome Thy majesty! The voice of the Lord fills the fields, it speaks in the rustling of the trees. The voice of the Lord is in the thunder and the downpour. The voice of the Lord is heard above the waters. Praise be to Thee in the roar of mountains ablaze. Thou dost shake the earth like a garment; Thou dost pile up to the sky the waves of the sea. Praise be to Thee, bringing low the pride of man. Thou dost bring from his heart a cry of Penitence: Alleluia!

Ikos 6

When the lightning flash has lit up the camp dining hall, how feeble seems the light from the lamp. Thus dost Thou, like the lightning, unexpectedly light up my heart with flashes of intense joy.After Thy blinding light, how drab, how colourless, how illusory all else seems. My souls clings to Thee.

Glory to Thee, the highest peak of men’s dreaming
Glory to Thee for our unquenchable thirst for communion with God
Glory to Thee, making us dissatisfied with earthly things
Glory to Thee, turning on us Thine healing rays
Glory to Thee, subduing the power of the spirits of darkness
And dooming to death every evil
Glory to Thee for the signs of Thy presence
For the joy of hearing Thy voice and living in Thy love
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 7

In the wondrous blending of sounds it is Thy call we hear; in the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers: Thou leadest us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards Thee, and to make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia!

Ikos 7

The breath of Thine Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets and scientists. The power of Thy supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Thy laws, who reveal the depths of Thy creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of Thee. How great art Thou in Thy creation! How great art Thou in man!

Glory to Thee, showing Thine unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe
Glory to Thee, for all nature is filled with Thy laws
Glory to Thee for what Thou hast revealed to us in Thy mercy
Glory to Thee for what Thou hast hidden from us in Thy wisdom
Glory to Thee for the inventiveness of the human mind
Glory to Thee for the dignity of man’s labour
Glory to Thee for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 8

How near Thou art in the day of sickness. Thou Thyself visitest the sick; Thou Thyself bendest over the sufferer’s bed. His heart speaks to Thee. In the throes of sorrow and suffering Thou bringest peace and unexpected consolation. Thou art the comforter. Thou art the love which watches over and heals us. To Thee we sing the song: Alleluia!

Ikos 8

When in childhood I called upon Thee consciously for the first time, Thou didst hear my prayer, and Thou didst fill my heart with the blessing of peace. At that moment I knew Thy goodness and knew how blessed are those who turn to Thee. I started to call upon Thee night and day; and now even now I call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee, satisfying my desires with good things
Glory to Thee, watching over me day and night
Glory to Thee, curing affliction and emptiness with the healing flow of time
Glory to Thee, no loss is irreparable in Thee, Giver of eternal life to all
Glory to Thee, making immortal all that is lofty and good
Glory to Thee, promising us the longed-for meeting with our loved ones who have died
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 9

Why is it that on a Feast Day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why is it that then a heavenly gladness fills our hearts; a gladness far beyond that of earth and the very air in church and in the altar becomes luminous? It is the breath of Thy gracious love. It is the reflection of the glory of Mount Tabor. Then do heaven and earth sing Thy praise: Alleluia!

Ikos 9

When Thou didst call me to serve my brothers and filled my soul with humility, one of Thy deep, piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light like iron glowing in the furnace. I have seen Thy face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.

Glory to Thee, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love
Glory to Thee, making wonderfully Sweet the keeping of Thy commandments
Glory to Thee, making Thyself known where man shows mercy on his neighbour
Glory to Thee, sending us failure and misfortune that we may understand the sorrows of others
Glory to Thee, rewarding us so well for the good we do
Glory to Thee, welcoming the impulse of our heart’s love
Glory to Thee, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 10

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but Thou canst restore a conscience turned to ashes. Thou canst restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With Thee, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. Thou art love; Thou art Creator and Redeemer. We praise Thee, singing: Alleluia!

Ikos 10

Remember, my God, the fall of Lucifer full of pride, keep me safe with the power of Thy Grace; save me from falling away from Thee. Save me from doubt. Incline my heart to hear Thy mysterious voice every moment of my life. Incline my heart to call upon Thee, present in everything.

Glory to Thee for every happening
Every condition Thy providence has put me in
Glory to Thee for what Thou speakest to me in my heart
Glory to Thee for what Thou revealest to me, asleep or awake
Glory to Thee for scattering our vain imaginations
Glory to Thee for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering
Glory to Thee for curing our pride of heart by humiliation
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 11

Across the cold chains of the centuries, I feel the warmth of Thy breath, I feel Thy blood pulsing in my veins. Part of time has already gone, but now Thou art the present. I stand by Thy Cross; I was the cause of it. I cast myself down in the dust before it. Here is the triumph of love, the victory of salvation. Here the centuries themselves cannot remain silent, singing Thy praises: Alleluia!

Ikos 11

Blessed are they that will share in the King’s Banquet: but already on earth Thou givest me a foretaste of this blessedness. How many times with Thine own hand hast Thou held out to me Thy Body and Thy Blood, and I, though a miserable sinner, have received this Mystery, and have tasted Thy love, so ineffable, so heavenly.

Glory to Thee for the unquenchable fire of Thy Grace
Glory to Thee, building Thy Church, a haven of peace in a tortured world
Glory to Thee for the life-giving water of Baptism in which we find new birth
Glory to Thee, restoring to the penitent purity white as the lily
Glory to Thee for the cup of salvation and the bread of eternal joy
Glory to Thee for exalting us to the highest heaven
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 12

How often have I seen the reflection of Thy glory in the faces of the dead. How resplendent they were, with beauty and heavenly joy. How ethereal, how translucent their faces. How triumphant over suffering and death, their felicity and peace. Even in the silence they were calling upon Thee. In the hour of my death, enlighten my soul, too, that it may cry out to Thee: Alleluia!

Ikos 12

What sort of praise can I give Thee? I have never heard the song of the Cherubim, a joy reserved for the spirits above. But I know the praises that nature sings to Thee. In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight the whole earth offers Thee prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in Thee, how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to Thee. I have heard the mysterious mutterings of the forests about Thee, and the winds singing Thy praise as they stir the waters. I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Thy glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space. What is my poor worship! All nature obeys Thee, I do not. Yet while I live, I see Thy love, I long to thank Thee, and call upon Thy name.


Glory to Thee, giving us light
Glory to Thee, loving us with love so deep, divine and infinite
Glory to Thee, blessing us with light, and with the host of angels and saints
Glory to Thee, Father all-holy, promising us a share in Thy Kingdom

Glory to Thee, Redeemer Son, who hast shown us the path to salvation!
Glory to Thee, Holy Spirit, life-giving Sun of the world to come
Glory to Thee for all things, Holy and most merciful Trinity
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 13

Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Thy goodness. Make us worthy of Thy blessings, so that, when we have brought to fruit the talents Thou hast entrusted to us, we may enter into the joy of our Lord, forever exulting in the shout of victory: Alleluia!

(repeat Kontakion 13 and Alleluia three times)

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life’s journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Thy will for our salvation is full of power. Thy right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly Joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Thy praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.


Ravages of Time

Destruction Of Monuments Of Eastern Christianity: A Photo Contest

The Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy announced the results of their second annual photo contest dedicated to the “Destruction of Monuments of Eastern Christianity.”

The contest, dedicated to the enduring spiritual and cultural monuments of the Eastern Christian Tradition, was organized at the proposal of the IAO’s Committee of Culture and in collaboration with the website OrthoPhoto.net, sharing beautiful photos from around the Orthodox world for twelve years.

Ravages of Time, Nature and Man

The international jury voted on photos divided into three categories:

  1. Abandoned monuments left to the ravages of time due to compulsive or voluntary discontinued usage
  2. Monuments that are accessible and in use, although damaged by weather or other sorts of pollutants and other natural elements
  3. Monuments that have suffered man-made damage and destruction.

Photos were judged on artistic value, as well as information about the monument, including its importance, location, and accessibility. Three prizes were awarded in each of the three categories. The winning photographs are:

Abandoned monuments left to the ravages of time due to compulsive or voluntary discontinued usage

First prize: The Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in the village of Stepantsikovo in the Yaroslavl region of Russia, by Nikolay Spiridonov

Winning photograph:

Supplementary photographs:

The church made of bricks, with two altars, with a St. Nicholas’ chapel. The cost for its erection was covered by the parishioners on the spot of the old wooden church (seventeenth century). It is square-shaped, with five cupolas, two series of windows, an altar and a multi-level bell-tower. During the Soviet era, it was closed down and used as a storehouse. Currently, it is abandoned and destroyed. Up until 1764, the village was an estate owned by the monastery of Saints Boris and Gleb of Rostov.

Second prize: The Churches of St. Demetrios and St. George of the Castle on Aegina, Greece, by Nikolaos Mourtzis

Winning photograph:

Supplementary photographs:

At the top of Paleochora hill on Aegina, the so-called ‘small Mystras’, is a castle built by the Venetians in 1654 and two large interconnected churches, the Twin Basilicas with two altars-entrances, of Saint Demetrios and Saint Georgios of the Castle, one for the Latin Catholics and one for the Greek Catholics. For pedestrians visiting the place, the view is fantastic; the area of Souvala and Aegina (the town) can be seen from there. The signs of abandonment are visible, although occasional efforts have been made to save them.

Third prize: The Church of St. Mary of Sinti in Paphos, Cyprus, by Tomasz Mościcki

Winning photography:

The Panayia tou Sindi Monastery was built in the sixteenth century. Only the main church has remained. The rest of the monastery is almost completely dilapidated.

* * *

Monuments that are accessible and in use, although damaged by weather or other sorts of pollutants and other natural elements

First prize: The Ampouchala cloister in the Karelia region, on the northern slope of the Trialeti Range in Georgia, by Vakhtang Beridze

Winning photograph:

Supplementary photographs:

Abukhalo Skete is mentioned in the “History of the Kingdom of Georgia” by Vakhushti Bagration. The monastic compound is located in the Kareli district, on the northern side of Trialeti Mountain, and dates back to the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries.

The skete consists of several caves of different sizes carved into the rock and is inhabited by monks, as it used to be in the past.

Second prize: The Church of St. John the Baptist in Goles, Bulgaria, by Vyacheslav Popov

Winning photograph:

Goles is a village in western Bulgaria, in the Godech municipality of Sofia. Goles village is located in a mountainous area to the south of Vidlic Mountain. The church of St. John the Baptist that is currently operational was built in 1896-1900 and needs repair. There are a few votive offering-crosses in the village, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, Saint Elias, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint George. Above the village of Goles, the monastery of Saint Nicholas is being renovated. We do not know the exact date of its erection.

Third prize: The Armenian Monastery of Agios Stefanos, 15 km northwest of the city of Tzolga, Iran, by Mohammad Nourmohammadian

Winning photograph:

Supplementary photographs:

The St. Stefanos Monastery is an Armenian monastery about 15 km northwest of Tzolga city in the East Azarbaijan Province of northwest Iran. The first monastery was built in the seventh century and completed in the tenth century. However, St. Bartholomew first founded a church on the site around 62 AD. It was partly destroyed during the wars between the Seljuks and the Byzantine Empire in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

* * *

Monuments that have suffered man-made damage and destruction.

First prize: The Church of the Holy Protection in Bouzi village in Chelyabinsk, Russia, by Anzhela Usmanova

Winning photograph:

Supplementary photograph:

The church of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God in Bouzi village, to the north of the Chelyabinsk region, was built in the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries. It has three altars. Close to the church lies the abandoned building of the former school, a ground-floor building made of red bricks. It now houses the monks’ cells and a church. Currently, the population of the village is not more than one thousand. The church is on a hill and is visible from far away. The Sinara River flows under the mountain. The Resurrection was celebrated there in April 2014, after a break of 80 years.

Second prize: Church of the Archangel Michael in Ammochostos, Cyprus, by Constantinos Charalambous

Winning photograph:

Supplementary photographs:

The church of the upper parish of Lefkoniko was dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It was built in the early nineteenth century and had an imposing appearance, with an excellent wood-carved iconostasis and numerous Byzantine icons. The grandiose wall painting of the Archangel Michael was dominant in the interior of the church. All the official ceremonies and rituals of the community would take place here.

After the Turkish invasion in Cyprus, the church of the Archangel Michael in Lefkoniko village of the Famagusta province had the same fortune as several hundreds of other sacred monuments and sites of Christian pilgrimage in the occupied part of Cyprus: desecration and abandonment for forty-two years.

Third prize (tie): The Church of St. Petka in Kik, in Gospić Croatia, by Mirko Celic

Winning photograph:

Supplementary photographs:

Kik village is located halfway between Gospić and Gračac, Lika, Croatia. It is a part of the village Ploče. There is very little information about Saint Petka church in Kik, but it is known that it was moved in 1809 from the neighbouring village of Raduč since the latter got a bigger church dedicated to Saint Elijah the Prophet. The Kik church used to be the filial church of the cathedral church, dedicated to the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the village of Ploče. During WW II Croat Nazis destroyed the church documents about the parish so the most important information about its history is lost. After the end of the war, the communists – the former parishioners, blew up the Ploča church, and used its stones to build community stables. They also burned down the Kik church, which remains devastated until today. In 1995, during the war operation “Storm”, the Croats banished all the remaining Orthodox Serbs from the area, and there is nobody to reconstruct these two monuments. Time and the weather continue to damage the remains of the Kik church.

Third prize (tie): Vrontama Monastery in Laconia Peloponnese, Greece, by Ioannis Gekas

Winning photograph:

Supplementary photographs:

At Vrontamas in the Evrotas Municipality of Laconia, around seven kilometers from the “Kleisoura” settlement, at an inaccessible site of the gorge in the middle of which Evrotas flows, there is a cave that some monks had chosen in the Byzantine years to dedicate themselves to God. They established a monastery with a narthex, a main church, a small chapel, cells, rainwater tanks, ovens, and the essentials for an austere life. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the great martyr Nikita, while the interior is dedicated to St. Nicholas. The wall paintings date back to the twelfth or fourteenth century (the bust-length Christ extending His hands in blessing), and those in the chapel are from the post-Byzantine era. Due to the unreachable location of the monastery, the sacredness of the place and the need for protection from the Supreme Power, the inhabitants of Vrontamas, in September 1825, sought refuge there to escape the fury of the enemy and defend themselves with safety. Ibrahim’s troops were tightly besieging the Christians, but the narrow space and the fortification of the castle brought only casualties to the besiegers. The furious raiders opened up holes at a weak point of the rock, placed explosives and blew up the monastery. The death was torturous, as the infidels brought in huge quantities of dry grasses and branches from the valley and placed them in the opening of the roof. Using torches, they started a fire at the top of the mountain, causing a strong explosion that was lethal for those entrapped.

Archbishop Anastasios, the Science Lover who Became an Apostle of Peace

Archbishop Anastasios, the science lover who became an apostle of peace

Global Christian Forum


Renowned for his friendly, peaceful attitude and his inspiring speeches, nothing seems impossible for this man. He has struggled and faced a multitude of difficulties including severe illness and persecution, and he was asked to take up a new position at age 62. He committed to a country whose language and culture were unknown to him, arriving in the only officially declared atheist state, asked to rebuild the church.

In Tirana, Albania, 24 years later, he hosted the Global Christian Forum (GCF) consultation from 1-5 November. There, 150 high-level leaders and representatives of various church traditions from more than 60 countries gathered to listen and learn, and to stand in solidarity with churches and Christians experiencing discrimination and persecution in the world today.“It’s the fruit of our work together in Albania,” said Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania.

Archbishop Anastasios granted an interview to the World Council of Churches (WCC) news. This conversation took place in the archbishop’s residence in Tirana.

“I keep the window to remind me that life can end in a second.  We must not waste a single day.”

An apostle of peace and reconciliation, since meeting him in 1997, he is one of my greatest role models. I know, I’m merely one of many who share this. We meet in his residence office the day after his 86th birthday.  He extends a warm greeting, offering Greek coffee and cakes.  The welcoming room has warm colours, flowers and icons. It tells Archbishop Anastasios’s life story, one sometimes reflecting hazard. A double-glazed pane stopped a bullet that is suspended while it was in full flight toward him. It was fired by a sniper during the 1997 political upheaval that pushed predominantly Muslim Albania into chaos, nearly claiming the archbishop’s life. “I keep the window,” Archbishop Anastasios notes, “to remind me that life can end in a second. We must not waste a single day.”

Few men use their days like Archbishop Anastasios. Frail but energetic, he has spent the last 24 years overcoming immense obstacles to achieve a near-miracle in one of Europe’s poorest countries.

From Greece to Africa and Albania

Born into a religious family in Pireus, Greece on 4 November 1929, as a boy he was interested in science, but his view changed after four years of Nazi occupation of Greece. That brought fear, destruction, and the horrors of the Second World War.  He realized that the only way to make sense of the suffering was to work for eternal peace; the kind that can only come from Jesus Christ. He has dedicated his life and career to fulfilling Christ’s mandate.

His official title is Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania, but Anastasios has sometimes been called the Archbishop of Tirana and All. It isn’t a title he objects to. “I am everyone’s archbishop. For us, each person is a brother or sister. The church is not just for itself. It is for all the people.”

During the 1990s, around 160,000 people perished in the Balkan Peninsula violence. Although the conflicts largely hinged on ethnic differences, religion played a critical role in the three-sided war that embroiled Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Muslims. The archbishop discovered soon after arriving in Albania in 1992, his role was not merely to lead the Orthodox Church in Albania. “You must bear in mind that Albania had very little experience of being an independent country and even less of freedom.” During the communist era, from 1945 to 1990, Albania, just north of Greece, became the only country in the world to prohibit all religious practice. Just the act of crossing oneself could land one in prison. Every church, mosque and synagogue was destroyed or converted to secular use as Albanians, who now number 3 million, were isolated from the rest of the world.

The archbishop recalls, “The Albanian State was created in 1912-1913. Then there were 25 years of trying to build up that state in Europe’s poorest country. In such a setting it is necessary to think in larger terms, about social development as a whole, to think not in terms of decades but centuries….We must think what it means to be free.”

If you have faith, stay and struggle

After communism collapsed, in 1991 the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, decided to send Archbishop Anastasios to Albania to report on the country’s religious situation. He found 1,600 destroyed churches and only 22 elderly priests still alive of the 440 who served Albania before communism. Albanians were, however, desperate for religious freedom and many gathered for services in fields where nothing remained of their former churches except broken bells.

He saw the despair in Albanians’ faces. “I thought, who’s going to help these people? Who is going to give them hope?’ I said to myself, ‘If you have faith, stay and struggle. If you don’t, go home.’” So he stayed. Over the next decade, Archbishop Anastasios fought to overcome centuries of ethnic and religious hostility, to establish a new church throughout the nation.

Archbishop Anastasios underline “About 150 new churches (both large and small) have been erected, 60 churches and monasteries, designated as cultural monuments, have been renovated and restored, and 160 churches have been repaired. More than 70 buildings have been purchased, built and reconstructed to make preschools, schools, youth centres, health centers, metropolitan sees, hospitality homes, workshops, soup kitchens, etc. Altogether there have been more than 460 building projects”.

All kinds of education are crucial for the archbishop. “Education is far more than books to read and facts to memorize. The goal must be to help shape people who are not only capable intellectually or skilled in certain specializations, but motivated by respect and love rather than greed and fear,” he observes.

“God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power. Those who fear God fear nothing else.”

Women and men at the seminary

Educational work to prepare men and women for service in the church became a key concern.

“We are struggling with the problem of the shortage of priests. The young generation was raised in an atheistic climate, and after that came the capitalist dream, which made many decide to go to other countries. The scent of money is very powerful. Gradually some people realize money does not bring happiness, that happiness can only come from something deeper.

“As you will have noticed, there are not only men but also women at the seminary; perhaps a third of the enrollment. It used to be the vocation of women was mainly in the home, but now they have a public life and the church must use their gifts. Women exercise another form of church service. There are many women who have graduated from the seminary and who are playing an important role in the activities of the church in Albania, diaconal works of mercy, teachers, administration, mission activity, and so forth. We would have achieved much less without them.”

The Church should be present

The archbishop emphasized that the church should be present in all areas of life. He introduced new health care, educational and developmental programmes, social and relief efforts, cultural and environmental projects along with other necessities of civilization.

He says, “In each area of life we must implant a spiritual dimension. Culture is more than technology! Most of all it is respect for the dignity of people. Culture requires respect for God’s creation. Where it exists, there is beauty.”

A first priority for the archbishop is children and young people. “We have opened many kindergartens, nurseries and schools. My only regret is that we cannot help more young people. We do what we can with the staff and space we can afford.”

When Anastasios was ordained, he went to Africa.  “In the evening of the day I was ordained a priest in May 1964, I flew to Uganda, which I had thought about so often and with such longing. I had thought that Africa would be my home for the remainder of my life. But malaria ended that dream…..It was my first experience of being close to death. I remember the phrase that formed in my thoughts when I thought I would die: ‘My Lord, you know that I tried to love you.’ Then I slept and the next day I felt well!  There was a second attack when I went to Geneva to attend a mission conference. Fortunately doctors there were able to identify the illness and knew how to treat it. When I was well enough to leave the hospital they said I must forget about returning to Africa.”

The Archbishop returned to his studies, but did not forget Africa. With a scholarship, he pursued post-graduate studies in Germany at the University of Hamburg, from 1965-1969. He specialized in the History of Religion, but also studied ethnology, missiology, and African studies. His dissertation was, “The Spirits Mbandwa and the Frame of their Cult: A Research on the African Religion of Western Uganda.”

Local and global ecumenical movement

In 1969, the WCC called Anastasios to accept a position in the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism as the “Secretary for Research and Relation with the Orthodox Churches.” He later became the first Orthodox moderator of the Commission for Mission and Evangelism (1984-91), presiding over the San Antonio World Mission Conference (1989).

Then in January 1991, the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided to re-establish the Church of Albania. Two months after his 61st birthday, Anastasios received a phone call from the Patriarchate of Constantinople asking if he would go to Albania to see if anything was left of the Orthodox Church. It not originally intended as a permanent assignment, only to see if and how the local church could be revived.

He says, “Only later was I asked by authorities of the Patriarchate if I would be willing to accept election as Archbishop of Albania. After a period of reflection and prayer, I was open, on three conditions. The first was that it must be clear that this was the wish of the Orthodox in Albania. Second, that this was the desire of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Third, that the Albanian authorities would accept this decision. Otherwise the situation of the church would only be more difficult. My answer was much less than yes! I was like Jonah, looking for a path of escape! But inside my prayer was, ‘Your will be done.’”

He explained, “The Orthodox people were indeed pressing me to stay. How could I refuse them? How could I say I had a different plan for the rest of my life? They were praying for me every day. Remaining in Albania would mean putting aside all the ideas I had about what I would be doing with the remainder of my life. I had in mind a peaceful retirement in Greece, giving lectures at the university and writing books.”

“It has been important for me not only to learn Albanian but to take care that whenever I say something I say it not just in a way that can be understood but say it well”.

One of Albania’s most serious investors and job creators

Language skills, education and church buildings are important for the archbishop:  “Church building often involves more than just a structure for worship. When we build or restore a church or monastery, often we also have to rebuild the road.”

“With all our construction projects, the church has become a significant factor in the economic development of Albania. We are one of Albania’s most serious investors and job creators.”

Anastasios’s most ambitious project, which he views as the capstone of his mission in Albania, was to rebuild an Orthodox cathedral in Tirana to replace one demolished by the communist government. The name he chose for the cathedral embodies what he has accomplished for the Orthodox Church in Albania and the Albanian people – resurrection.

Ecumenical vision beyond a Balkan

The Archbishop also talks of his ecumenical vision “Beyond a Balkan, European perspective, we are trying to respectfully and lovingly embrace the whole church and the entire world that Christ himself has raised, redeemed and enlightened by His cross and resurrection. The ecumenical vision offers a special power, endurance and perspective for every local and concrete situation. Besides this, the emphasis on the ecumenicity and catholicity of the church, and the gaze on the incarnate word of God in the Holy Spirit, offers to the Orthodox thought and conscience an open horizon with boundless majesty.”

Interfaith dialogue, he pointed out, is not simply exchanges of words. “It helped being in the World Council of Churches’ committee for dialogue with other religions, but what we did was academic. Here you learn that often the best dialogue is in silence; it is love without arguments.”

We could keep talking for hours but more media wait outside. The archbishop concludes with a smile: “You can only do your job with love and humility! I feel I’m still like a student or like a missionary for justice and peace!

Archbishop Dr Anastasios(born Anastasios Yannoulatos, Greek: Αναστάσιος Γιαννουλάτος, Albanian: Anastas Janullatos, 4 November 1929) is Archbishop of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania and as such the primate and Head of the Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, is professor emeritus of the National University of Athens and honorary member of the Academy of Athens. He has served as primate of Albania since 1992. In this capacity, he reconstructed the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania from ruins and initiated important contributions in healthcare, development work, emergency relief, culture, ecology and peace-making. From 1984-1991, Anastasios was moderator of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism;  from 2004- 2013 President of the World Council of Churches, from 1981 to 1990, he was the acting archbishop of East Africa, where he organized and developed the Orthodox Mission in East Africa; and from 1983-1986, dean of the Theological School at the University of Athens. Honorary President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

23 December 2015

By Marianne Ejdersten* 

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If I Perish

if I perish.jpg

Esther Ahn Kim

If I Perish

Korea 1929

Esther Ahn Kim walked slowly up the hill to the shrine, with her students following silently behind her. The young teacher knew that when she arrived at the place of worship she would be forced to make a life-altering choice. The Japanese, who had taken control of Korea, were forcing everyone to bow at the shrine of their “sun god.” The punishment for refusing was imprisonment, torture and possibly even death. Fearing for their lives, many Christians had already given in to the Japanese soldier’s demands. And now it was Esther’s turn to make her decision. She fixed her eyes on the vast sky beyond the hills and thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, when they were commanded to bow to the statue of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. The three young men had decided that even if God did not choose to save them from the burning fire, they would die honoring Him.

At that moment, Esther knew what she would do. Even though so many other Christians had decided that outwardly bowing to the idol was acceptable as long as they continued to worship Christ in their hearts, Esther could make no such compromise. She would not bow to any other but the one true God. Defying the Japanese warlords would most likely mean torture and imprisonment, but Esther decided that she would not live her youthful life for herself. She would offer it fully to her Prince, Jesus Christ. She said a silent prayer to Him. Today on the mountain, before the large crowd, I will proclaim that there is no other god but You, she declared.

christian persecution orthodox city hermit

Esther’s group was the last to arrive at the shrine. A huge crowd had gathered, standing in straight, respectful lines, afraid to move because of the cruel gazes of the Japanese policemen. A few of the authorities eyed Esther and her students with disapproval as they joined the rest of the worshipers. Esther’s heart began to pound with dread for what she was about to do. A sense of uneasiness swept over her, and she silently repeated the Lord’s Prayer over and over. Lord, she prayed, I am so weak! Please help me do this— watch over me as I stand for You.

“Attention!” came the commanding voice of one of the officials. The crowd stood in silence and submission. “Our profoundest bow to Amaterasu Omikami!” As he shouted the words, the entire group bent the upper half of their bodies, bowing solemnly before the shrine. Esther was the only one who remained standing, looking up at the sky. The fear and uncertainty that had gripped her just moments before had vanished. Calmness and peace flooded her. She had done what she knew God wanted her to do. On the long walk back to the school, Esther continued her dialogue with God. I have done what I should have done, she told Him. Now, I commit the rest to You. I died today on that mountain—now it is only You who lives through me. I leave everything in Your hands.

For several months, Esther lived in hiding. She knew it was only a matter of time before she was found and imprisoned for the stand that she had taken against the Japanese. But instead of cowering in fear and worry about what her future held, she decided to prepare her heart and her body to suffer for Christ. Just as Paul said, “I buffet my body and make it my servant,” (1 Cor 9:27) Esther decided to train for prison life, just as an athlete might train for competitive sports. She counted it a great honor to suffer for Christ, but she also knew she was weak and unready for all that lay ahead.

If I Perish

“I knew it would be impossible for me to keep my faith in my own power,” Esther wrote later. “God would have to work through me if I was to stand firm. I decided to fast.” Many times before, Esther had fasted for three days without difficulty. Now, she was determined to go without food or drink while she prayed for an entire week. The fast was extremely difficult. By the sixth and seventh day Esther’s lips were dry and her chest was in an iron vise, causing her to fight to breathe. But when the fast was finally over and water was poured into her mouth, she raised her hands in victory, thanking God for being with her.

“Although I had not expected it, after the fast I was able to understand the Scriptures better and I felt a new power in my prayer. Now I felt I could leave the fear of torture in the Lord’s hands.”

More time went by and more fearful news of prison life reached Esther’s ears. As anxiety crept back in, she fasted once more – this time for ten days.

“Again I found a peace I had never known before,” she wrote. “I read the Bible earnestly and had a new concern to memorize important chapters against the day when I would be in prison without my Bible.”

Esther also began sleeping on the floor, learning to live in a state of poverty, and going without all the comforts she had grown up with, so that she would be prepared for the harsh conditions of prison. When she went to the market to buy produce, she bought ripe fruit for her family members but rotten fruit for herself. When her mother and sister saw the decaying food she selected for herself, they cried, but soon they understood. This was the kind of food Esther would be forced to eat in prison.

Months of faithful, diligent preparation—fasting, memorizing Scripture, tirelessly praying, and training to endure harsh conditions – transformed Esther from a weak, frail, faltering young woman to a bold and confident ambassador for Christ. Instead of fearing torture, she now faced it boldly in the power and grace of God.

Esther felt God calling her to come out of hiding and boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel among the Japanese. She knew that this would likely lead to her death, but she was determined to follow the Lamb wherever He led her.

Her courageous stand for Christ led to six harrowing years in Japanese prisons. During that time, though her body grew week with suffering, she shone with supernatural love toward her persecutors and fellow prisoners. Even through torture, she refused to deny the name of Christ. Her astounding example of “suffering hardship as a good solider for Christ” brought many into the Kingdom who would never have heard the Gospel otherwise. After she was released, the story of her imprisonment and unwavering faith became the all-time religious bestseller in Korea, inspiring countless thousands to stand strong in their faith.

If I perish Taking up our Cross orthodox city hermit

Gleaning From Esther’s Example

Modern Christianity often encourages us to chase after achievements and accolades; to develop skills and pursue accomplishments that will be applauded and esteemed by this world. Some even go so far as to say that the more impressive we are to pop-culture, the greater our witness for Christ will be. The hip, trendy, pop-culture style of many modern worship services illustrate how far we have come from the days of the apostles, when Paul proclaimed, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.” (2 Cor. 11:20)

Though Paul had plenty of human skills and achievements he could have emphasized or built upon, he chose to treat those things as “rubbish.” (Phil 3:8) His greatest accomplishments; his most powerful witness, came from the incredible suffering he endured for Christ’s sake: “Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…” (2 Cor. 11:27-29).

And so it was in the life of Esther Ahn Kim. It wasn’t her accomplishments, personality, money, or skills that caused the nation of Korea to be forever changed. It was her shining example of suffering for Christ’s sake.

One time in prison, her arms were handcuffed behind her back for days until she passed out from the relentless pain. The intent was to torture her until she finally denied Christ. But even though her mind and body were broken, her spirit remained strong, rooted and grounded in Truth. She would not relent, no matter how horrible the pain became. She emerged from the torture victorious in her faith.

Another time, she gave up her meager prison food for several days to a woman who was filthy, insane, and sentenced to death for murdering her husband. Instead of being repulsed by the woman as all the other prisoners were, Esther prayed relentlessly for her, sacrificing her own comforts to reach the woman’s heart. The woman died in her right mind, knowing Jesus Christ, with a hope and a future.

Such sacrifice and personal suffering for Christ’s sake is only possible through the supernatural grace of God. Only one who has truly given up everything to follow Jesus can exude such grace in the face of such hardship.

Esther’s story challenges me to ask the question – am I prepared to suffer for Jesus Christ? In the midst of our comfortable … lifestyles, it’s easy to think, “Of course, if persecution came, I would never deny the name of Christ. Of course if I were thrown into prison, I’d remain strong in my faith.”

But we must ask ourselves – are we truly “dying to self” daily, as Esther did, or are we more concerned with protecting our own comforts and interests than in consecrating our lives fully to Jesus Christ? The only way to be a true follower of Christ is to willingly give up everything; to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 10:38, Lk. 9:23).

… We will never gain Esther Ahn Kim’s version of supernatural boldness and sacrificial love by coddling our own self interests and protecting our own comforts. … We are not walking the narrow way of the cross anymore. We are merely living selfish lives with a “Christian label” over them.

Esther Ahn Kim counted the cost of following Jesus – not only on the day when she refused to bow at the shrine, but every day thereafter. She counted the cost when she willingly and gladly gave up comforts and trained her body to endure hardship for the sake of Christ. She counted the cost when she came out of hiding and boldly proclaimed the Gospel among the Japanese who had the power to torture and kill her. She counted the cost when, in prison, she endured horrible misery rather than deny her faith in Christ. She counted the cost when she sacficially loved a filthy, repulsive woman and gave of what little she had in order to win her to Christ. Esther’s life was no longer her own—and every outward decision she made reflected that inner reality. If you desire to do “big things” for God—ask yourself today whether you have truly counted the cost of following Christ.

Many of us think that in order to prepare for an effective ministry, we must gain a large following, write a book, gain worldly accolades, or make a lot of money. But the best way to prepare for a world-changing ministry is to ‘die’ – so that Christ may live through us. Remember that Paul had every reason to boast in his earthly accomplishments, and yet he threw them aside as worthless and counted his suffering for Christ’s sake as his greatest, most important acheivments. (See 2 Cor. 11:30 and Phil. 3:8.)

When self is at the center of our lives, the only impact we will have on this world will be shallow and human-scripted rather than eternal and God-scripted. We may make a temporary splash, but if we do not take up our cross and truly follow Him, we will never reflect the supernatural radiance and grace of Heaven.

If I perish Taking up our Cross orthodox city hermit

Taking up our Cross

… It may take a few days, weeks, or months for those old habits to fully die. But if you allow Him to re-train your daily decisions and enable you to “deny yourself, pick up your Cross, and follow Him” you will soon understand from firsthand experience what Paul meant when he said, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

This world needs more young women like Esther Ahn Kim—young women who unreservedly take up their cross and follow Him, no matter what the cost. May it be our greatest desire to follow such a path, and joyfully suffer any hardship for the One who gave everything to us. The world will never be the same when they encounter such a life.

*Story of Esther Ahn Kim taken from If I Perish by Esther Ahn Kim

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