Make Good Use of Pain

Suffering
“God will centrifuge each one of us” (!)  Those words by Gerondissa Philothei were repeated rather ‘ominously’ 3 to 4 times at the first (*) homily I attended at the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery in Panorama. Doesn’t the centrifugal force cause an object to move out and away from the centre of its path? Is God through various afflictions centrifuging me away from the centre of my old self?

“How good it would have been if we did not let the pain go to waste! One way or another we will suffer. But our whole torture and struggle will go down the drain unless we make good use of pain unless we exploit it. …When we suffer, when a pain insists, let us think like that: “God wants something good to come out of this in me, and I act as if I do not get it. And all I do is moan and groan.” …. 

“Know this: When pain will have completed the work it is supposed to do, God takes away. It is not difficult at all for God to remove whichever pain. … A Christian is capable of making such good use of every pain so that he can constantly be in paradise. …. Let there be no complaint, no rebellion, no kicking about.

If possible, whichever pain you have, deal with it by saying these words: “Let it be blessed, my God. Whatever You Want.” This way our pain won’t get wasted but will be exploited to the full. We will take advantage of it, and the great good which saves will come to our hearts. When God visits you with sorrows, say: “Thank you, my God. As I had absolutely no intention to embrace a few ugly things, a few pains, and truly follow your path, you caught up with me and gave me a few. How can I thank you enough?” (!) [+S.K]

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(*) The first homily, that is after 35 or so years to be precise. Because Elder Symeon Kragiopoulos monastery was my starting point to the Church.  The moment I stepped my foot into the narthex, it all came back to me. Literally that “taste” and “fragrance” of life and teachings which I understood so little back then, yet never forgot since.  What an encouragement for my ‘new’ obediences!   The second ‘word’ which I received soon after was a mission to make pilgrimages and establish contacts with all nearby Thessaloniki monasteries. All nearby monasteries?! Quite bold a list of obediences for such a timid little city hermit. But may it be blessed. Your prayers

[Monastery Diaries 7]

 

 

The Monastery Diaries 6

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Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery

 

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Assumption Monastery

 

New 2020 obediences–New Envoy duties

 

This time to two monasteries at the suburbs of Thessaloniki, both at Panorama. The one is of the Nativity of the Theotokos, which belongs together with the nearby men’s monastery of the Holy Trinity, to +Elder Symeon Kragiopoulos’ monastery ‘complex‘. The opening photograph at their website shows both monasteries; the women’s monastery is the smaller one in the background); the second monastery is of the Assumption to the Theotokos  https://www.google.com/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x14a846fddfe0e7d3%3A0xc72518e226191bdc!3m1!7e115!4shttps%3A%2F%2Flh5.googleusercontent.com%2Fp%2FAF1QipPPDnFBdX1QlSJkJUMbysQeSsbBjsnLEGKPQOrb%3Dw480-h320-k-no!5zzpPPhc69zrHOuc66zrXOr86xIM6ZzrXPgc6sIM68zr_Ovc6uIM6azr_Ouc68zq7Pg861z4nPgiDPhM63z4IgzpjOtc6_z4TPjM66zr_PhSDPgM6xzr3Ov8-BzrHOvM6xIC0gR29vZ2xlIFNlYXJjaA&imagekey=!1e10!2sAF1QipMNsnxgG8ntgkYI5Rvp_YnQPBa30XAbs3XvDizB&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiiq6-hs_nmAhURaFAKHRJ_BoMQoiowGHoECAwQBg

 

Never a dull moment! So much to discover… I hardly know anything about the inner life of these two monasteries. Your prayers

New Year’s Resolutions

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“Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt” (Matthew 2:13)

“The angel commands us, as he did Joseph. ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt’ (Matthew 2:13). That is to say: renounce your sin and your slackness; take into your soul the Jesus you saw at Bethlehem and Mary, whom you must never separate from her son; flee the evil and the temptations that surround you; set yourself a hidden, retired, silent life, a life of intimacy with the small child and his mother — and also with Joseph”. (Lev Gillet, The Year of Grace of the Lord, p73).

The life of the Holy Family, whether in Egypt or later on at Nazareth — what an inspiration and a model for us! This is a year I truly want to hide and disappear together with Him. God willing, the goal will be the first three rungs of Saint John Climacus Ladder of Divine Ascent: 1.On renunciation of the world–2.On detachment–3. On exile or pilgrimage.

Blessed New Year 2020 to all!

Your prayers

 

 

The Monastery of Hosiοs Loukas

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From Steiri, through the prayers of Saint Luke, whose presence is tangibly felt in his monastery.With all best wishes for the forthcoming New Year, and Theophany, and to those still awaiting the celebration of the Nativity. 

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On the western slope of mount Elikonas, opposite mount Parnassus, after the village of Steiri, at a distance of approximately 30km from Livadeia, is the famous Monastery of Osios Loukas (St Luke), the largest and best-preserved monastery complex of the Middle Byzantine Period, with exceptional architecture and excellent decoration of mosaics, wall paintings and sculptures. With the Nea Moni of Chios and the Monastery of Daphni, the monastery of Osios Loukas is included in the list of world heritage monuments of UNESCO since 1990. Hosios Loukas is a breath-taking Byzantine monastery in a picturesque green and golden valley full of flowering almond and olive trees, near the town of Distomo. The landscape surrounding the Monastery of Hosios Loukas may not be as breath-taking as Meteora, but is still spectacularly blessed in beauty, even in wintertime when we visited it. As to the exquisite, stunning Beauty inside the monastery complex, and especially the katholikon, the main church, I hope these photos and videos can capture some of it.

 

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Saint Luke

Hosios Loukas Monastery meaning “Blessed Saint Luke” was not built in honour of Luke the Evangelist, but was established by the Greek monk Loukas. He was buried in the crypt of the monastery when he died in AD 953. I am still puzzled at the spelling of the word “Hosios”, as I have never encountered it before, but that is the official English ‘translation’ and the spelling adopted by UNESCO.

Saint Luke, born in AD 896, abandoned his home when he was an adolescent in search of spirituality. In the following years, he became a healer and was renowned for healing ailments that were practically impossible to cure.

Lukas developed a great talent as a prophet and predicted that Romano II would liberate Crete from the Arabs after his death. When the emperor defeated the Saracen Arabs, he commissioned a church to be built in his honour. [For  a more detailed Life, go to the bottom of the page]

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Exploring the monastery

One of the most striking aspects of the monastery is found at the entrance. If you look up, you will see a spectacular gold mosaic of the saint. Attached to the abbey is a large church, Katholikon, which in its turn is attached to a smaller temple, or Theotokos, erected between 997 and 1011 to honour the Virgin Mary.

The temples are beautifully decorated with numerous frescoes and mosaics, all perfectly preserved.  Underneath the Katholikon is the crypt where the remains of the saint lie.

 

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Although Hosios Loukas is smaller, the building reminded us of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

 

 

This monk is the one who did the guided tour for our group (St. Arsenios monastery, Chalkidiki). There are only three monks, all hieromonks, in this monastery complex, and they are all so full of His Grace!

Luke of Steiris, Luke Thaumaturgus, Luke the Younger, Luke of Hellas, or Luke the Wonder-worker (896 — 953 AD) was a Byzantine saint of the tenth century AD who lived in the themes (provinces) of Hellas and Peloponnese in Greece, and who founded the Monastery of Hosios Loukas (Venerable Luke) on the slopes of Mount Helicon, between Delphi and Levadia, near the coast of the Gulf of Corinth in Boeotia, Greece. 

The principal source for Luke’s life is an anonymous Life written by a monk of Hosios Loukas who had been one of Luke’s followers. His feast day is commemorated on February 7,and the translation of his relics on May 3. His relics are preserved in his monastery of Hosios Loukas.

Early Life

Saint Luke was born in 896 to pious parents who came from Aegina but were forced to settle on the Greek mainland due to Saracen raids. Luke was the third of the seven children of Stephen and Euphrosyne. From his earliest years, he showed a desire for a life of ascesis and contemplation usually only found in seasoned elders. He abstained from all flesh, cheese, eggs, and delicacies, drank only water, and kept a total fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. While herding cattle or tilling the family fields, he would often give away his food and even his clothing to the poor, returning home naked. He once gave away almost all the seed which was needed for planting in the fields. The Lord rewarded him for his charity, and the harvest gathered was greater than ever before.

When his father died, he abandoned farm work to devote himself entirely to prayer, making such progress that he was often witnessed by his mother lifted above the ground while praying.[3]

Monasticism

As a child Luke tried twice to leave home to seek a solitary life of prayer. The first time, he attempted to withdraw to Thessaly, but was captured by soldiers lying in wait for escaped slaves and was returned home.[4] The second time he had more success, meeting two monks journeying from Rome to Jerusalem[5] who took him to a monastery in Athens where he received the small habit.[6][note 3] At this point he was only fourteen years old (910 AD), and Luke’s mother who was very concerned for him, prayed for her son’s return. After seeing his mother in a dream, tearfully calling for her son, the abbot sent him home.

He returned home for four months, and then with his mother’s blessing he set out again upon the monastic life, going to a solitary place on a mountain called Ioannou (or Ioannitsa). Here there was a church dedicated to the holy Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian, where he lived an ascetical life in constant prayer and fasting for seven years.[7] The Life records with suspicious symmetry that during this time Luke received the great habit[note 4] from two monks[note 5] travelling from Jerusalem to Rome (presumably the same two from whom he had received the small habit on their outward journey).[8] After this, St Luke redoubled his ascetic efforts, for which the Lord granted him the gift of foresight.

Luke’s fame spread and a number of miracles are ascribed to him during this period, such as revealing to two brothers the location of their dead father’s buried treasure.[9]Numerous proofs of Luke’s holiness are also given, such as sleeping in a trench to remind himself of death,[10] or being visited in a dream by an angel who let a hook down Luke’s mouth and “drew out a certain fleshly member therefrom”, freeing him from the temptations of the flesh.[11]

After a seven years on Ioannou, the saint moved to Corinth because of an invasion of the Bulgarian emperor Symeon (which Luke had predicted).[12] Hearing about a certain Stylite at Zemena (Gimenes) near Corinth, he went to see him, and remained for ten years to serve the ascetic with humility and obedience.

Afterwards, ca. 927 AD, the saint returned again to Mount Ioannou to build his own community and again pursue asceticism. Often he would be forced to move by the number of visitors who learned of his holiness, and came to him for prayer or a word of counsel or prophecy, no matter how secretly he tried to live. Luke drew so many followers that he found the distractions unbearable and decided to retreat further into the wilderness, with the blessing of his Elder Theophylactus.[13] Three years later, however, Luke was displaced again, this time by a Magyar invasion.

Luke retreated with the local villagers to the nearby island of Ampelon.[14] Once there, Luke found the desert island to be a suitable place to pursue his solitary ascetic life, and stayed for three years, enduring terrible thirsts.[15] His sister would occasionally bring him some bread, but he gave much of it away to the needy or to passing sailors.

Eventually Luke’s disciples persuaded him to leave, and he returned to the mainland and settled for the remainder of his life in the far more amenable environment of the present Hosios Loukas, where he founded his hermitage ca. 946 AD in the area of Stiris (which may be a corruption of Soterion, or place of healing).[16][note 6]

Here brethren gathered to the elder, and a small monastery grew up, the church of which was dedicated to the Great Martyr Barbara. Dwelling in the monastery, the saint performed many miracles, healing sicknesses of soul and of body.

Death

Saint Luke fell ill in his seventh year at Stirion. Foreseeing his end, the saint confined himself in a cell and for three months prepared for his departure. When asked where he was to be buried, the monk replied, “Throw my body into a ravine to be eaten by wild beasts.” When the brethren begged him to change these instructions, he commanded them to bury his body on the spot where he lay. Embracing his disciples, he asked them to pray for him, prophesying that the place where he died would someday be the site of a great church and monastery. Then raising his eyes to heaven, he said, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!” and reposed in peace and joy. St Luke fell asleep in the Lord on February 7, 953.

Myrrh flowed from his holy relics,[note 7] and many healings occurred. His tomb exuded a fragrant oil which was collected and burned in a lamp, and many miracles and healings were wrought at the tomb. The rumour that his relic worked miracles brought great numbers of believers to the monastery to be healed, and the original buildings gave way to more monumental structures.[16] As the Saint had predicted, two churches and a monastery were built there, and the monastery of Hosios Loukas became a great place of pilgrimage, as it remains to this day.[note 8]

Troparion, Kontakion

Troparion of St Luke of Mount Stirion Tone 1[17]
Let us firmly honour Luke the Godbearer with hymns and chants,
the glory of the faithful,
the boast of the righteous,
bright light of Stirion and its true inhabitant;
he brings near to Christ those who cry out in faith:
Glory to Him Who has strengthened thee;
Glory to Him Who has crowned thee;
Glory to Him Who through thee works healings for all.

Kontakion of St Luke of Mount Stirion Tone 8[17]
God in ineffable judgment chose thee before thou wast fashioned according to His good pleasure;
He took thee from thy mother’s womb,
He sanctified thee as His servant.
As the Lover of mankind,
He guided thee to Himself,
before Whom thou dost now stand rejoicing,
O Luke.

(OrthodoxWiki)

 

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The Monastery Diaries 4

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

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

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The Bishop Innokentios of Burundi and Rwanda

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

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

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

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

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Love and poor prayers,
LCH

The Monastery Diaries 1

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

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

Return to the Holy Land

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The past days were hectic. The little city hermit had been packing, distributing his property here, sending a few boxes back to Greece and trying to pick up the pieces of his broken heart. Now, all is done. A search of a home and a family again begins. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” I now have only my Gerondas and my spiritual family in His Uncreated Church. “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” What remains to be done in my last week here is a pilgrimage to Walsingham to take leave of Our Lady. Then, I am praying for a Baptism in the Uncreated Fire of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Finally, I am craving for a long retreat into silence. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I am asking for your prayers and will pray for all of you. May we meet again in God’s kairos.