Choice

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“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 solitude?”

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

*

Lev Gillet, ‘A Monk of the Eastern Church’, “Sunday Letters”, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, p231

* Specially dedicated to my spiritual father

Holy Monastery of Zavorda of Saint Nikanor

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It is the Day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant, O people! Pascha! The Lord’s Pascha! For Christ our God has brought us from death to life, and from earth unto heaven, as we sing triumphant hymns!

 

 

Holy Monastery of Zavorda of Saint Nikanor

After about 80 years the Holy Monastery of Zavorda of Saint Nikanor seems that it will once again revive its old and religious and historical splendor.
 
It has been reported that 8 hieromonks, until now, have immediately expressed their interest to continue their asceticism in the historic Monastery in Grevena.
 
In this case they will re-establish the avaton, which prohibits females from entering the Monastery.
 
The avaton of Zavorda Monastery was abolished in the year 2000 by the late Metropolitan Sergios of Grevena, and from that time no hieromonks lived there in asceticism.
 
Zavorda Monastery was founded in 1534-1535 by Saint Nikanor and dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ. It is famous for its icons of exceptional artistic quality and hosts the grave of Saint Nikanor.
 

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The Angel cried to her who is full of grace: Rejoice, pure Virgin! And again I say, Rejoice! Thy Son has risen on the third day from the grave. Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee. Now dance for joy and be glad, O Zion! And thou, pure Mother of God, rejoice in the rising of Him Whom thou didst bear.

Monastic Tonsure

ΚΟΥΡΑ ΔΥΟ ΝΕΩΝ ΜΟΝΑΧΩΝ ΣΤΗΝ Ι. ΜΟΝΗ ΑΓ. ΝΙΚΑΝΟΡΟΣ ΖΑΒΟΡΔΑΣ

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*The Paschal Canon was composed by the great Saint and Father of our Church, Saint John Damascene and is described as the most glorious of all hymns in the Orthodox Church; it has been called the Queen of canons because it exclaims the richness of Orthodox theology surrounding this great and holy feast.

 

Christ is Risen!

 

 

Saint Winifred and her Holy Spring

 

Icon of St. Winifred, painted by a modern Orthodox iconographer.
Icon of St. Winifred, painted by a modern Orthodox iconographer.
+ Commemorated November 3/16 
On March 1st, St. David’s Feast, we made a pilgrimage to St. Winifred’s Holy Well
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St. Winifred, whose name in her own language was Gwenfrewi, was born in North Wales in the early seventh century, when Christendom was still whole, and many great saints where living on the British Isles. She was of noble lineage, a descendant of the early Welsh kings of Powys, and the only daughter of Tyfid, Lord of the townships of Abeluyc (Trefynnon, later named Holywell), Maenwen & Gwenffynnon in Tegeingl. Her mother’s brother was St. Beuno, Abbot of Clynnog Fawr in Gwynedd. After difficulties he had encountered from the local princes of Clynnog, St. Beuno sought refuge with his sister’s family, and thus received land from her husband, Tyfid. From an early age, Winifred was instructed in the spiritual life by her uncle, and her sole desire was to dedicate herself to God and become a nun. She lived under St. Beuno’s care, near a chapel he had built in her native town of Abeluyc.

 

One Sunday, while St. Beuno was serving the Liturgy at the church, Winifred was alone in her house. A prince named Caradog was riding by, and stopped at the house to ask for a drink of water. Winifred was very beautiful, and Caradog was stricken with the desire to have her in marriage. The maiden’s resolve to preserve her virginity and become a nun was unshakeable, however, so the prince attempted to take her by force. Winifred struggled free and ran toward the church, but Caradog soon caught up with her on his horse. Out of anger at the refusal, he struck off her head with his sword. Her severed head rolled down the hillside to the churchyard. When her uncle and the congregation—which probably included Winifred’s other kin—saw what had happened, they were horrified. The wicked Caradog fell dead on the spot. (Other historical sources say that Caradog was killed by Winifred’s brother, Owain, as an act of revenge.)

A spring of healing water sprang forth at the place where St. Winifred’s head fell. St. Beuno took Winifred’ head and replaced it to her body, then prayed to God that she be restored whole. By St. Beuno’s prayers, Winifred came back to life. The two sat on a rock which was later named, “St. Beuno’s rock,” and her uncle told her that anyone seeking help through her prayers at that spot would find it. A red mark remained around her neck, as a remnant of her miraculous restoration.

With her parents’ blessing, Winifred soon received the monastic tonsure at her uncle’s hand. St. Beuno advised Winfred to remain at that church to live the monastic life, which she did, eventually gathering around her eleven honorable virgins, and instructing them in the Christian faith. St. Beuno himself became a missionary, traveling west to Ireland.

St. Winifred made a pilgrimage to Rome, and was greatly influenced by the order of monastic life there. When she returned home, she called a synod known as the “Synod of Winifred,” attended by other Christian ascetics of Wales, Dumnonia, and the North. The common ascetic practice in Wales at the time was the eremitic life. At the synod, all agreed that the safety of the coenobitic life she led was preferable to the solitary life. Thus, after seven years in Abeluyc, Winifred decided to go out and help establish other coenobitic communities. It is said that two hermits she approached with the idea, Sts. Diheufyr and Sadwrn, were not interested in what seemed to them an innovation. It was not until she reached Gwytherin that she was welcomed by her mother’s cousin, St. Eleri. Here, Winifred was presented to his mother, St. Tenoi, and together they established a double monastery in the village.[1] Winifred eventually succeeded St. Tenoi as abbess there.

St. Winifred reposed on November 3, 660 AD, and was buried in the monastic cemetery.

Recently a fragment of an eighth-century reliquary from Gwytherin, the Arch Gwenfrewi (Winifred’s Casket), was found, witnessing her status as a recognized saint almost from the moment of her death, the earliest such surviving evidence for any Welsh saint.

Veneration of the saint was mainly limited to Wales until the late eleventh, early twelfth century, when it began spreading throughout the British Isles. Other wells have been recorded as dedicated to her, including one in Dublin, Ireland. In 1136. Her relics were translated to an ornate shrine in Shrewsbury, while her original tomb was retained at Gwytherin and a fragment at Holywell. The spring that had broken forth in Holywell on the site where her severed head fell is still active; the temperature of the water never changes, summer or winter, and the supply remains constant regardless of drought or flood in the locality. It is so clear that the pebbles at the bottom are distinctly seen to be stained as though with blood. It is lined with fragrant moss, the Jungermannia oplevoides.[2]

*   *   *

Holy springs are still a strong tradition in Orthodox countries—among them are the spring of St. Athanasius on Mt. Athos, the spring of St. Theodora of Vasta in Peloponnesus, and the many holy springs connected with saints and the Mother of God in Russia. History shows that there were also many holy springs in Britain during its pre-schism period, but the miraculous spring of St. Winifred is now one of a kind there. The following description of her spring in the town which is now named for it, Holywell, is from Source, “Holywell – Clwyd” by Roy Fry & Tristan Gray Hulse.

HOLYWELLHolywell first enters written history in 1093, when “Haliwel” was presented to St. Werburgh’s Abbey, Chester. In 1240, the Welsh prince Dafydd ap Llewelyn, once more in control of this area in Wales, gave the holy well and church to the newly-established Basingwerk Abbey; and the Cistercian monks cared for the well and its pilgrims until the Reformation.

Winifred’s fame, and with it the fame of the Well, continued to spread throughout the middle ages, but little is factually recorded about the pilgrimage. By 1415, her feast had become a major solemnity throughout Wales and England. Kings could be found among her pilgrims. Henry V came in 1416. Richard III maintained a priest at the Well. But it was during the reign of the Welsh Henry VII that devotion reached its pinnacle, with the building of the present well-shrine under the patronage of Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort.

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Such glory was short lived, though the Well’s fame was never eclipsed. The Reformation swept away shrines and pilgrimages; but no attempt ever quite succeeded in destroying devotion to St. Winifred at her Well. Through all the years of religious persecution, pilgrims, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, continued to visit Holywell. It became the centre of Catholic resistance. James II and his queen visited the Well in 1686, to pray for an heir. But James was exiled, and the persecution renewed. Through these long years, Holywell and its pilgrims were served by the Jesuits. They wrote popular Lives of the saint; and even kept inns in the town, where Mass could be said in comparative safety.

In the nineteenth century, after Catholic Emancipation, it was the Jesuits who oversaw and directed the spectacular renaissance of the pilgrimage. A church opened in the town in the 1840’s was constantly enlarged and enriched. A pilgrim’s hospice was erected shortly afterwards. And under Fr. Beauclerk in the ‘nineties, the pilgrimage underwent a revival of medieval proportions. Pilgrims came literally in thousands, necessitating a branch rail line into the town. The popular press gave account of each reported cure. And the sick reported cures in such numbers that Holywell came to be called the ‘Lourdes of Wales’. Despite the alterations to pilgrimage patterns caused by the increasing secularism of 20th-century life, and by devotional changes within Catholicism itself, the Jesuit’s heritage continues: people are still coming to Holywell on pilgrimage.

THE WELL CRYPT AND CHAPEL

Unlike Gwytherin, with the grave and other relics of the saint, or Shrewsbury Abbey, which after 1138 enshrined Winifred’s body, the Holywell pilgrimage has always centred on the Well itself. A church, almost certainly on the site of the present Anglican church of St James, over-looking the Well, has stood by the Well, certainly since 1093 and probably since Winifred’s own time. And there may perhaps have been a further small chapel, connected more directly with the Well. But we have no indication as to the form of the Well itself throughout the middle ages. Celtic holy wells take many individual forms, and it is possible that until the end of the fifteenth century there was no form of structure at all around the spring itself, which is what the medieval Welsh votive poems suggest. The sheer force of the spring would support this.

The present glorious structure was begun around 1500 and probably took ten or fifteen years to complete. It is unique, having no parallel anywhere in Europe; and is a masterpiece of late Perpendicular architecture. It takes the form of an almost square crypt, built into the steep hillside, but open to the North through a triple arcade which gives access to the Well. In the centre the spring rises in a star-shaped basin, before flowing into an oblong bath, access to which is gained at either end by steps. All around the Well, graceful columns rise to support the elaborately vaulted roof; and in the centre, directly over the source, is a large pendent boss, beautifully carved with the legend of St Winifred, but now badly worn. Originally, the spaces between the columns were filled with delicate Gothic tracery, destroyed by the Puritans. An open gallery in the west wall originally gave the pilgrim his first glimpse of the holy well as he descended from the chapel above, to enter the crypt through the now closed door.

 

The chapel comprises a nave and a side-aisle, and is built directly over the crypt, with which it is contemporary. At its east end an apse was built out onto the hillside to contain the altar. The well-crypt has never ceased to be used for its original purpose, but the chapel has seen many changes of use, used at times as a court-house, at others as a school. In consequence, it suffered great damage, but it was thoroughly restored and re-roofed in 1976. Both the interior and exterior of the chapel are enriched with fine, and often amusing, sculptures.

Considering the superior quality of the architecture, and the degree of technical skill required to build directly over the source of a small river, it is odd that not a single hard fact concerning its construction has survived. We do not know the name of its architect, nor the name of those who commissioned and paid for the shrine: not even the dates of its construction. The building itself yields the only clues. The emblems and coats of arms carved on the bosses of the crypt ceiling suggest the patronage of Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, the pious mother of Henry VII. Margaret died in 1509. The arms of Catherine of Aragon suggest further royal patronage; and yet other badges indicate the beneficence of other noble families. Such patronage, which alone could account for the building’s splendour, is also the only real clue to dating it to the first decade of the sixteenth century.

Though its exact history will probably always remain a mystery, the shrine remains a fitting setting for the only British pilgrimage to have survived continuously for over 1300 years.

THE HOLYWELL CURE TRADITION

People have bathed in St Winifred’s Well for 1,350 years. They still do. Pilgrims today pass three times through the small inner bath, saying a decade of the Rosary; afterwards entering the outer pool to finish their prayers kneeling on St Beuno’s Stone, by the steps. Some pray for a cure; more “offer up” the discomfort of the icy waters for friends, or simply in honour of St. Winifred, or as a gesture of thanks. Pilgrimage has many reasons.

This ritual is as old as the pilgrimage itself. Maen Beuno, Beuno’s Stone, connects us directly with the time of St Winifred. The Medieval Lives say that Beuno sat on this stone when he told Winifred that anyone coming to the Well and asking something in her name, “might receive an answer to their request at least at the third time.” This was understood to mean that the petitioner should bathe three separate times. After the building of the present Well this meant three dips in the little bath. A carving opposite this bath shows how healthy pilgrims carried the sick through the waters on their backs. The stonework of the Well is covered with hundreds of graffiti, initials of hopeful or grateful pilgrims. Some inscriptions explicitly testify to cures received at the shrine.

 

The exterior pool formed no part of the original building, being added later; but its size witnesses to the crowds of pilgrims who came even during the times of religious persecution. Nor was their faith in vain. For 800 years there is a continuous record of cures and other favours claimed at the Well through the prayers of St Winifred—the only British shrine boasting such an uninterrupted history of pilgrimage and healing. Until the 1960s, the crypt was stacked with crutches left by cured pilgrims. Centuries of letters testify to the power of God and His saints in this place: records of cures not only of Catholics, but of Protestants; and even of those with no faith in anything. One account, touching in its simplicity, a scrap of paper left at the Well 100 years ago, can stand for all the rest:

A Protestant Father wishes to return thanks to God that through the use of St Winifred’s water, his only daughter was cured miraculously, Three years ago of a serious malady, which had resisted the efforts of several doctors & friends for the period of Three and a half years. Signed, C.T. Longley.

[1] Britannia Biographies, http://www.britannia.com/bios/ebk/winifred.html. Partly edited from Agnes Dunbar’s A Dictionary of Saintly Women (1904).

[2] Ibid.
St. Winifred’s life compiled from various sources by Pravoslavie.ru/Orthodox Christianity

Auld Reekie Sailtír

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“Holiness in the Bible” Study Weekend: Highlights (II)

Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist

Orthodox Community of St Andrew the Apostle in Edinburgh

 

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What follows is a small antidoron (*) for all the blessings I tasted in this retreat! I have already made up my mind that I will be going back to this parish on the regular! Thanks for having us St Andrew’s parish! 

Friday 20/1/2017

6pm arrival and registration, though I did not make it on time, as the weather was unexpectedly fair and bright, and Edinburgh sightseeing was irresistible. Famous for its medieval skyline and whisky trails, this is a city with plenty to see and do, even for a little hermit 🙂 I tried to take in as much as I could the colorful views from atop Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat, enjoyed a crisp seaside stroll along Portobello Beach, wandered the historic Royal Mile, and dashed to the parish, as I was late 🙂  Sighteseeing photos at the end of the post (*)

*

This delightful and diverse community is a Panorthodox haven, an icon of the catholicity and universality of Orthodoxy with many Greek, Cypriot, Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian immigrant families, as well as British converts and American expats. It has for its church a small but cozy house at 2 Meadow Lane. This is located right next to the Meadows, a lovely series of parks and fields roughly analogous to New York City’s Central Park. (Orthodox in the District)

 

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Need exercise? Edinburgh is hillier than either Rome or San Francisco. Exploring the city even for half a day rehabilitated many long neglected muscles of mine!

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Friday 20/1/2017 Cont.

6:30pm Vespers. One immediately senses what a warm, close-knot Orthodox community this is.

7:30pm  Archimandrite  Fr. Raphael Pavouris, , a wonderful Greek hieromonk who spent time on Mount Athos, offers a homily on Holiness in the Bible, followed by dinner and evening prayers.

Margaret: This evening at the study weekend, after Vespers for St Maximos:
Fr Raphael gave us a talk on Holiness in the Bible. The Bible is holy in itself and was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but is also a call to holiness through examples (Elisha giving himself fully to the call), visions of holiness (Isaiah 6) and reminders that we are being sanctified through that call. 
We then shared an Agape meal, both visitors for the weekend and local parishioners. A wonderful start to the Fellowship’s first study weekend in Scotland, at the Parish of St Andrew in Edinburgh.

 

 

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Father Avraamy (Neyman), left, and Father Raphael (Pavouris), right. These exceptionally kind men are pillars of the Orthodox communities in Scotland.

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Saturday 21/1/2017
 

Matins was chanted in Russian style by Fr. Luke Jeffrey and his KhouriyaI also met in the church Fr. Michael Harry and his Khouriya, all four of them ‘converts’ and most humble and compassionate.

 

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Saturday Church Services with Presbyter Luke Jeffrey (Photo from Fr Luke’s Ordination)

Presbyter Luke  presbytera was very good with the chanting (Russian style) and Fr. Luke was most compassionate,  in encouraging us with his humility, kindness, meekness and gentleness to join him in the prayers. In a style quite unusual for a priest, Fr. Luke, during Matins, kept getting out of the altar to check on how we were doing. Were we dozing off ?  🙂 Were we distracted? Such kind eyes! Or were we paying attention to what was being chanted, pleading to God with fervour and joining our prayers to his to Heaven? For the Uncreated Church and for all mankind.  In truth, I have felt most grateful during these services , and ever since, for Christ’s compassion in instituting the Church and offering to us His priests for the Sacraments. And I realised too how much we must do to help all priests and pray for them. Indeed, Fotini is right. The Church is our Arc, “Κιβωτός”.

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Coffee and Refreshments followed

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Reminiscent of the early Christian house churches, the sanctuary itself comprised a large room in the front of the house, with dozens of icons covering the walls and a small iconostasis at the eastern end of the room. I will always remember the wonderful people I met while attending the divine services here. Deacon Luke and his very kind Khouriye, both converts to the faith, the English convert Stephen, a very kind student at the University, Mattheus, a Greek physical fitness instructor,  with his English wife and their two pious daughters chanting so beautifully at the kliros throughout the long services, Marian, a Romanian, always ready to offer coffee, tea, biscuits, and kindness and smiles, and so many of the other Romanian, Russian, British, Greek, you name them, parishioners, which have all made lasting impressions on me. One feels so immediately welcome here and wants to return! Such hospitality and love! St. Andrew’s is a pan-orthodox Church based in Edinburgh, a parish of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, which is in turn part of the Œcumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

 

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St. Andrew is an important Saint for both Constantinople, being its patron Saint, and Scotland, being again its patron with his cross the Saltire and her flag: sailtír, flagan tsailtír, bratach na hAlban.

St. Andrew’s have services and Liturgies daily (!), not only on Sundays, or on major feasts. I am not sure if there is any other parish at the UK like them, with the exception of course of Essex monastery. They worship primarily in English, but you will also hear Greek, Slavonic and Romanian. Their Father in Christ is Archimandrite John Maitland Moir (b. 18 June 1924-d. 17 April 2013), who founded the parish out of his home in George Square.

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Father John’s life had elements of  the popularised, practical and unconventional Mere Christianity of C.S. Lewis, to  which he added layers of spirituality and asceticism .… In a world where genuine eccentricity or commitment is scarce, that Orthodox minister who put an eccentric spin on life, left a legacy of dedication. Memory Eternal!

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Maitland Moir established the Chapel of St Andrew in Edinburgh, first in his  living room with some 20 worshippers. This flock grew and in 2003 he sold his  house to buy a former school building but this also became too small.

Funds to  expand further were insufficient. On his deathbed, Maitland Moir gave thanks to God that his dream was  fulfilled. An anonymous benefactor had come forward to complete the purchase of  a £350,000  building for the community.

Alongside a full weekly program of services of worship, St. Andrews parish is blessed with a large and lively multicultural community. Among other activities, you will find here an active student society, a charitable fellowship and community meals.  The three priests of the parish are also in charge of the Archdiocese’s parishes scattered across eastern Scotland, Aberdeen, Dundee,  St. Andrews, the Highlands and Bamburgh in England.

The parish began its life as a chaplaincy mainly for Polish servicemen during World War II, whilst the liturgical language used in the beginning was Slavonic. However, as the years passed, it is evident that the ethnic composition of the parish has become a less important factor, altering towards a presence of the universal Orthodox Church in Scotland. This is, thus, an exception to the rule within the Orthodox Cosmos where ethnic background is a key factor within a community, nevertheless the Orthodox Church in Scotland seems to have transcended the boundaries of national identity.     

Currently English is widely used within the services, on the other hand Greek and Slavonic are retained in order to unite different traditions within Orthodoxy, due to the fact that the community comprises of English, Scottish, Greeks, Russians, Serbians, Romanians and people from other countries. 

Archbishop Grigorios, in a letter towards the community, explains: “The Community in Edinburgh represents, and is an ‘Icon’ of, the life of the Orthodox Church in the Scottish capital. An encouraging characteristic of this life is that it is multi-lingual and multi-cultural, respecting and encouraging the traditions of Orthodox Christians from outside Scotland who have found themselves part of the Scottish Orthodox Community, which itself looks back to the Orthodox heritage, of this part of Britain, and embracing all those Orthodox Christians who seek its protection”.  (Londinoupolis)
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About the Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist: The Fellowship brings together members of the several Orthodox Church traditions in the British Isles and Ireland through prayer, discussion and mutual friendship, to deepen our commitment to, and understanding of, the Orthodox Christian Faith. The Fellowship arranges or sponsors a series of annual events, including a summer conference and a youth festival in the spring, and a study weekend in the winter. This year the Fellowship visited Scotland for the first time.
For Highlights I, go here
And here are the Edinburgh sightseeing photos promised at the beginning:

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Cortosophe Hill

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The Royal Mile

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Edinburgh Castle, Scotland’s most famous landmark

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Palace of Holyroodhouse and Holyrood Abbey, the Queen’s official Edinburgh residence and has frequently been at the center of Scottish history

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Holyrood Park: Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags

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St Giles Cathedral

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Princes Street

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Art City: The National Galleries of Scotland

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Calton Hill and the Scottish National Monument

 

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National Library of Scotland

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(*) last 9 by Zoella

Bless the Lord, my soul! What a retreat! How many blessings in store for us! God willing, I shall return here. If it were only Edinburgh, I would certainly not be the first one to fall in love with this city, but my heart was captivated by St. Andrews’ parish. Here is indeed something greater and rarer to find.

(*) Antidoron (from Greek, meaning “instead of the gifts”; in Arabic, qurban) is the remaining bread from a loaf of prosphora after the Lamb has been removed for the Holy Eucharist. In Byzantine practice, it is blessed during the megalynarion to the Theotokos immediately after the epiclesis in the Divine Liturgy and is given by the priest to the faithful after the service. Historically, it was distributed only to those who had not received ‘the Gifts’, Holy Communion so that they would receive a Blessing in place of Holy Communion but this practice has changed over time and all those present at the Divine Liturgy receive Antidoron as a blessing.

 

Gie her a Haggis

 

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“Holiness in the Bible” Study Weekend: Highlights (I)

Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist

Orthodox Community of St Andrew the Apostle in Edinburgh

 

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Sunday 22/1/2017

*A thought-provoking talk by Dr. Fotini Hamplova on how women can be saved through child-bearing and especially child-rearing, including us all here, spiritual mothers, spiritual fathers and indeed all Orthodox Christians in this call to Holiness through asceticism, the cutting of our will, silence, podvig etc.

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Fotini: “The Church is our Arc. This is where we are safe.”

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Fr. Mark (Glasgow) on holiness in the 21st century

Fr. Mark: On Bearing Our Cross to become Holy

How can you bear it?

We cannot. But where else can we go?

The feeling of being nailed on a Cross. 

See this to the end. 

Proceed to a territory beyond our endurance–to Death. 

God will never force us, push us beyond we want to go. 

Danger: illusion of Peace. 

Terrorism of the demons: assailed largely through thoughts, discouraging: very convincing.

The Evil One becomes powerful in our lives to the extent to which we will listen to him.

It takes great humility, courage and faith in order to allow God to smash us to pieces. Because He will in order to save us. If we allow Him, if we surrender to His Will.

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How lovely to see Fr Michael Harry with his Khouriya,  who are to ‘retire’ after Easter to the Hebrides!

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And a few more friends

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 Archimandrite John Maitland Moir (b. 18 June 1924-d. 17 April 2013), the Founding Father of the parish, was also present in our hearts.

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Nice group photo of the Haggises  🙂

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A haggis lunch accompanied with with excellent Scottish folk music and Robert Burns poetry recitation while ceremoniously cutting the haggis.

The folk music was mesmerising and sounded something like that. Apologies for running out of battery…

 

And the Haggis ritual looked like that. Again apologies for my battery …

 

 

This poem was written by Burns to celebrate his appreciation of the Haggis. As a result Burns and Haggis have been forever linked. As I found out, this particular poem is always the first item on the programme of Burns’ suppers. The haggis is generally carried in on a silver salver at the start of the proceedings. As it is brought to the table a piper plays a suitable, rousing accompaniment. One of the invited artistes then recites the poem before the theatrical cutting of the haggis with the ceremonial knife: “But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer/ Gie her [Scotland] a Haggis”

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Then, a scenic tour of Edinburgh

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Arthur’s Seat is one of the Best Places with Scenic Views in Edinburgh.

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View of Edinburgh from the Rest and Be Thankful, Corstorphine Hill.

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View from Calton Hill Edinburgh

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Craiglockhart Hill

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Braid Hill

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Blackford Hill

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Arthur’s Seat

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Yes, I know. A haggis lunch…..then a walk…..Orthodox have stamina 🙂

 

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Edinburgh is traditionally said to have been built on seven hills. Walk round the town for an hour or so and you might wonder if they didn’t mean seven …

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Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh Castle as seen from Princes Street …

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While spending this long weekend in Edinburgh, I’ve caught a glimpse of the castle almost every day, whether I’m walking to or from the church, shopping, or wandering about town..

Our Sunday scenic tour culminated to St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh (Roman Catholic), where we venerated the relics of St Andrew the First-called. Here parishioners and visitors for the study weekend joined together as pilgrims.

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It was such a lovely weekend; thank you to all who worked so hard and for all the kindness and fellowship!

Journey of a Young Artist

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Jonathan Jackson and The Seeds of “The Mystery of Art”

 

Whoever wants to become a Christian, must first become a poet— Saint Porphyrios
When I was young, they brought me to Babylon
And the night hung over my head
The smoke came into my dreams 
In the valley of dry bones

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with God
My eyes were seared and my blood was bruised
But I was hidden within a song

All around were the sounds of Babylon
But all I heard, were the hymns of heaven

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with her 
I was barely coming clean and she had already seen
A war on her innocence

I spoke of the Christ underneath the clouds 
And woke her from the sleep of death

She took my hand and walked me through the crowd
Why, is anybody’s guess?

All around, was the gold of Babylon
But all I saw, was an angel of heaven

You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church
You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church

 

I would like to start with the journey of how this book, “The Mystery of Art” began. It was not an intellectual or abstract search. The questions and explorations on this subject were immediate and crucial for me growing up. I began working as a professional actor at the age of 11 on General Hospital. At The age of 12, by God’s grace I had a profound encounter with Christ. My father would give us cassette tapes of sermons to listen to and one night, I heard a sermon on “The holiness of God and the pride of the human heart.” I don’t know why and I don’t know how these things occur, but I was cut to the heart. I suddenly realized how far away from God I truly was. How prideful and full of selfishness and egoism I was. It scared me to be honest. And yet, paradoxically, in that very moment of feeling the weight of my sinfulness—how my supposed righteousness is like “filthy rags” before the holiness of God, as Isaiah says—a Divine Presence also overwhelmed me. I felt like a great sinner who was also mysteriously loved beyond comprehension.

Around the same time, I read C.S. Lewis’ chapter called “The Great Sin”, which is all about Pride. I read Matthew 25, the Last Judgment and Matthew 5 when Christ says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I knew I could never impress God with my self-righteousness, so I cried out for mercy, I cried out for grace. And the compassions of God washed over me.

This was a turning point in my life. Nothing was the same after this encounter. I began to hear and perceive my own thoughts with great clarity. This was frightening too because I was suddenly aware of all the judgments and horrible thoughts I had about people. But the Holy Spirit was so merciful in this process. He never made me feel condemned. Convicted, yes. But never condemned. He would always whisper, “I’m not showing you this to condemn you, I’m showing you this darkness, so you can be healed.”

I began to think about God all the time. Throughout the following years there were many struggles and trials but the mystery of God became the most beautiful, the most attractive, the most intriguing and important pursuit in my life.

Naturally and organically, I had a desire to incorporate the Holy Spirit into the work I was doing. I had studied a few different acting methods but for the most part, my own personal method was being birthed through experience. Working with Anthony Geary and Genie Francis and other incredible performers like Michelle Pfeiffer and Sir Ben Kingsley. It was very much like Orthodoxy in the sense that I was a sponge, soaking everything in through experience and not through theory.

Within a short period of time after this initial encounter of grace, I was given some very heavy storylines to portray. I was about 15 years old and my character Lucky Spencer finds a young girl in the woods, who has just been raped. It is winter and the poor girl is freezing out in the cold, left for dead. He rescues her and they develop a friendship. He spends months taking care of her and being by her side as she tries to heal from this horrific event.

On a Soap Opera, you are on TV almost every day; especially when your storyline in prominent. In a more direct way than most artistic mediums, you are living the day-to-day story of your character. I was portraying this storyline for months. It was during this time that I first remember bringing God into my preparation as an actor. I began to ask Him, “How could you allow this innocent creature to suffer in this way?” “How can anyone be healed from such a wound?”

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They were questions my character could have been asking God and questions most of us have asked before. What it began to do for me, was nudge my work towards something inherently spiritual and although I would not have known it at the time, something sacramental.

Over the following years I portrayed a lot of dark and tragic roles: someone struggling with suicide, a heroine addict, a murderer among others. It was around this time when I began to ask God, “How can I portray these dark and troubled characters dynamically and truthfully, without being consumed by the darkness myself?” There are many tragic stories of young actors who become drug addicts after playing one in a film. The stories of drug overdoses and suicides among young actors and actresses are too many. I instinctively steered away from “Method Acting” and sought a different path, even though I didn’t know exactly what that would be.

It was around this time when I discovered Dostoevsky. It’s amazing to me now, being Orthodox that I wasn’t able to comprehend anything about the Orthodox Church as I read his books. It was like a veil, I suppose. But what I did discover was a kindred soul. Here was someone who was writing about very dark and tragic characters and themes but from a place of beauty—from a place of the Light of Christ. Prince Myshkin, from the “The Idiot”, changed my life. I clung to Dostoevsky in my heart as I approached portraying these dark characters and prayed, “Lord, please help me to portray the darkness of this world from a place of purity and light. Please, help me not to be overcome by the darkness, but to infiltrate the darkness with Your Light. Without you I can do nothing. I am nothing, I have nothing and I can do nothing without You, Lord. Amen.”

This is a snap shot so to speak, of the journey towards writing, “The Mystery Of Art”. These were the seeds, which by God’s grace, grew over time. There were so many important and profound spiritual realities that I wasn’t exposed to at the time, because I had not encountered the Holy Orthodox Church. I was grasping in the dark, looking for answers, feeling my way towards Christ, as best I could, but I always knew that something was missing; something significant and crucial to my relationship with God. There is a beautiful Scripture in the Gospel of John where Christ says,

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

I was one those lambs who was not of this fold. But through the grace of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and your prayers, He found me and brought me home. My journey to the Orthodox Faith took many years and was paved with blood and heartache. I carried all of these artistic questions and experiences with me as my family and I came into the Church for salvation, deliverance and healing.

See also: Jonathan Jackson’s Orthodox Acceptance Speech at the Emmy’s

See photos from his visit to Mount Athos for the first time with his 11 year-old son Caleb (2015), where they stayed  for five days visiting Simonopetra and Xenophontos monasteries, and spent most of his time at Vatopaidi Monastery (Friday till Tuesday) where he met the Abbot, Elder Ephraim, and attended an all-night vigil on Saturday night.

While at Vatopaidi Monastery, Jonathan also gave a testimony of how he converted to Orthodoxy for Pemptousia, which can be seen here.

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