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.

Midbar, Arabah, Chorbah, Yeshimon—In the wilderness

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Midbar. Arabah. Chorbah. Yeshimon. A mystical incantation in Hebrew. Eremos, Eremia. I am wandering in those places. After the crossing of my Red Sea. Back then, I thought that I had left all my past life behind. But no, there was more. There is always more… Now, the Elder’s “word” is that I must go back to Greece. After 5 years here! What for? Again, I am clueless. Completely. How can life change so drastically, so dramatically, so fast? What will my future be there? I have absolutely no clue, other than I must learn to cling to God and surrender to His Will, as no one has now been left for me, other than Him and my Elder.

Abba Allois said: “Unless a man say in his heart, Only I and God are in the world, he shall not find rest.”

Asking for your prayers…

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Words translated as “wilderness” occur nearly 300 times in the Bible. A formative Hebrew memory is the years of “wandering in the wilderness,” mixing experiences of wild landscape, of searching for a promised land, and of encounters with God. The Pentateuch wandering takes place in the midbar, uninhabited land where humans are nomads. This common Hebrew word refers often to a wild field where domestic animals may be grazed and wild animals live, in contrast to cultivated land, hence, sometimes “the pastures of the wilderness” (Joel 1:19–20). Another word is arabah, steppe (Genesis 36:24), also translated as desert: “The land that was desolate [midbar] and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness [arabah] shall rejoice” (Isaiah 35:1). Land that lies waste is chorbah; land without water is yeshimon.

The wilderness is a locale for intense experiences—of stark need for food and water (manna and quails), of isolation (Elijah and the still small voice), of danger and divine deliverance (Hagar and Ishmael), of renewal, of encounters with God (Moses, the burning bush, the revelation of the divine name, Mount Sinai). There is a psychology as well as a geography of wilderness, a theology gained in the wilderness.

Linguists will make the point that the Hebrews did not have an exact equivalent of the contemporary English word “wilderness.” Nevertheless, the Hebrews evidently knew the experience of confronting the wild.

Turning to the New Testament, which was written in Greek, not Hebrew, the word most often translated as “wilderness” is eremos (or eremia), an isolated place. The wilderness figures at critical junctures in the life of Jesus. Jesus is baptised by John and then is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days. The Devil is there, but so is the Spirit. “A great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1.35). This records a search for solitude, for self-discovery, for divine presence, but this process, crucially, seems to require the ambience of the natural environment.

Source: Environment and Society Portal 

 

 

 

 

Saint Paisios’ Konitsa home and Stomio Monastery

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St Arsenios’ monastery July pilgrimages — a photo journal and vlog

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First, a bit of mountain trekking: Prophet Elias church on Olympus’ summit (2800m.)

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 Then,  Molyvdoskepasti

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Moni Stomiou, Konitsa

Path to Stomio monastery:

 

+Memory Eternal, Elias! May you feast in Paradise with your beloved Saints, St. Paisios and the prophet Elias! (Elias, a family acquaintance, precious friend and father of 4  lost his life at 39, about a month ago; he fell in a gorge on these mountains during a mountain trekking/pilgrimage .)

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Ilias to Prophet Ilias

 

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Finally, Saint Paisios’ home:

 

 

 

Saint Paisios the Athonite and the Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki

The Gate to the Monastery of Souroti. Beautiful mosaic with Christ, and St. John the Theologian and St. Arsenios of Cappadocia praying to Him

Right now in Greece:

and:
My heart beats faster in Greece. Right now, I am there in spirit. Together with the Saint of my heart, Saint Paisios, my spiritual grandfather. God is glorified in His Saints!
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The Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki
Souroti is found around 28 kilometers from Thessaloniki, not far from the central road which links the city with the capital of Chalkidiki, Polygyros.The Holy Monastery is dedicated to St. John the Theologian and to St. Arsenios of Cappadocia. In the Monastery are the Relics of St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, which are found in the Katholikon, along with the grave of St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain, who reposed on July 12th 1994, and was buried next to the church of St. Arsenios.

The beautiful church of St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, in Souroti Monastery

Every year, from July 11th-12th, the anniversary of the repose of the Saint, the Holy Hesychasterion serves a vigil service, with thousands of the faithful taking part. For example, on the anniversary of St. Paisios’ repose in 2014 (and before he was canonized a Saint), an estimated 120,000 people came to venerate his grave. Many miracles occur through the Saint’s intercessions and through the soil from his grave, which pilgrims often take as a blessing.

The humble yet wonderworking grave of St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain, behind the church of St. Arsenios, Souroti Monastery

St. Paisios’ acquaintance with the Monastery
Once, the Elder sick and was in great need of blood for his surgery. He had no relatives by his side (as he himself wished) and a group of novice nuns donated as much blood as he needed. He was very grateful for their support. Wishing to express his deep gratitude, he used to say that their kind support resembled a woolen sweater embracing his bare flesh; he wished to take it off and offer it to them in return, as an expression of his heartfelt gratitude.

The grave stone of St. Paisios, engraved with beautiful and humble poem written by him. In English, it reads:
“Here life has ended,
Here and my breath (has ended),
Here the body will be buried,
And my soul will be happy.
My Saint lives, that is my honour.
I believe that he will pity my miserable soul.
He will pray to the Saviour

To have the Virgin Mary with me.”

The Great Deisis: Christ, entreated by the Theotokos, St. John the Theologian, St. John the Russian and St. Paisios the Athonite

He sympathized with the nuns who were facing insuperable problems in their effort to build their convent. So, he personally took the initiative to find a suitable area for its construction. He offered his assistance in every way he could; along with the building’s foundations, he also laid its spiritual foundations by giving instructions for the proper functioning of the convent. Thus, the Elder established a strong relationship with the Convent of St. John the Theologian and remained by its side until his death.

St. John the Theologian
For more on St. Paisios’ role in the founding of the Monastery, and on his relationship with Fr. Polycarp, see here.
Hours of Visitation at the Monastery (source)
Please note that the Monastery is closed to pilgrims Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while the schedule for the rest of the days is according to the following hours:
Winter hours:
Daily 10 am-1 pm and 3 pm-6 pm
Summer hours:
Daily 10 am – 1 pm και 5 pm – 7 pm 
Tel: (+30)2396041320 and (+30)2396041315
Please contact the Monastery with additional questions or for the most up-to-date info.
Beautiful gardens, planted with prayer, at Souroti Monastery
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!