Twenty-four hours with St. Amphilochios (I)

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At the nunnery of  Evangelismos “The Annunciation to the Mother of the Beloved One” in Patmos

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1.When you cultivate prayer the Tempter’s blusterings will not trouble you. Prayer diminishes his strength, he cannot do anything to us. (February 1965) .. The spiritual life has great pleasures. You fly, you leave the world , you don’t consider anything. You become children and God dwells in your heart. 

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St. Amhilochios Makris

2. The end of my life draws near I ask you to live a holy life, to walk along holy paths, so that you may help both our Church and Greece. … Your hearts are young and want to love. You must have our Christ alone in your heart. Your Bridegroom wants you to love only Him. 1/1/1968

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3.Remaining faithful to Monasticism is considered to be a martyrdom. … We must have our gaze fixed on heaven. Then nothing will shake us. …Take communion regularly, pray warmly, be patient and you will see a strong hand holding you.

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4.Christ often comes and knocks at your door and you invite him to sit in the living-room of your soul. Then, absorbed in your own business you forget the Great Visitor. He waits for you to appear and when you are too long in returning, he gets up and leaves. At other times, you are so busy that you answer him from the window. You don’t even have time to open the door.

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5.You are royalty, destined for the heavenly bridal chamber. …. Christ is near us even if we don’t see Him. Sometimes, from his great love, He gives us a slap too.

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6.We you see a person who is spiritually tired do not burden him any further, because his knees won’t be able to bear it. … A person who suffers from egotism attracts no-one. And if he does attract someone he will soon go away. When one comes across a childlike spirit, innocence and holiness the bond becomes unbreakable.

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7.Love the One, so that even wild beasts will love you. … Do you know there is an eleventh commandment not recorded in the Bible, and it says, ‘Love the trees.’ Those who do not love trees do not love Christ.

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8.True wealth, for me, is to see you in the Kingdom of Heaven. [to his spiritual children]

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9.When the flame of love exists, it consumes whatever evil approaches. … The person who shouts has no strength.

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10.The person who loves spiritually, feels prayerful, that he can be found within God and his brother. He is saddened when his brother is not advancing well and prays for his progress. Whoever has Christian love never changes.

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11.Hold the banner of Christ up high, so that you’ve always got your elder’s telephone number no matter where you are. … The Grace of the All-Holy Spirit makes a person send out rays. However, other people must have a good receiver in order to realise this. 1/1/1968

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12.Christ is the same, yesterday and today, but we have closed our eyes and look into the darkness. It is because we carry on like this that some fall in the mud and others are killed.

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13.I beseech the Lord to sanctify you, so that I may see you in Paradise. This is the dowry which I seek from the Lord for you.

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St Amphilochios’ tomb

14.For God’s grace to come during the Liturgy you must be concentrated and untroubled. 

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15.The more a person loves God, the more he loves other people. He loves them with holiness, respect and refinement, as images of God.

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16.When a person lacks inner warmth, he will be frozen and cold, even in summer.

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17.When your heart does not have Christ, it will contain either money, property or people instead. 

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18.Please put this commandment into practice. Cultivate love towards the Person of Christ to such an extent that, when you pronounce His name, tears fall from your eyes. Your heart must really burn. Then He will become your teacher. He will be your Guide, your Brother, your Father, and your Elder.

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19.Love your Bridegroom Christ with all your heart and then everyone will love you and take care of you.

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20.I desire the rebirth of Monasticism, because in my opinion, monasticism is the evzone [elite military unit] battalion of the Church.

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21.God’s protection diminishes temptation. … Innocence is greater than genius.

22.Because of widespread corruption, people cannot understand that spiritual love exists.

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St. Amphilochios cell

23.Let us look upon everyone as our superiors, however weak they may appear. Let us not be harsh, but always bear in mind that the other person also has the same destination as us. 

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24.We must have Love, even if they do us the greatest harm, we must love them. We will be able to enter Paradise only with love. 

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A few Saints Await

The little city hermit has started to take heart! So many prayers for him from all four corners of the world could not possibly go unheard! They have not been answered  in the way that he would have hoped — yet!– but this is a matter of least importance. Still in the dark, then, about a number of serious professional and family matters, the little city hermit is about to embark on a long pilgrimage across Greece and Romania, where a few Saints and spiritual elders await him for an “emergency treatment”:

St John the Forerunner in the Chalkidiki monastery of his spiritual father;

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St John the Evangelist and St Amphilochios in Patmos!

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And an elusive Romanian father Ioann, literally hiding in a North Romania hamlet, who has been praying about him for a long time, and a spiritual sister has made all necessary arrangements for them to meet at long last!

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Glory to God for all things! Even if no answers are to be disclosed in all these meetings, still so many blessings are under way!

Handing over your soul

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Abbas Roufos:

‘Someone who hands over his soul in obedience to a spiritual guide has a greater reward that one who retires alone to a hermitage.’ He also said this: ‘One of the fathers saw a vision of four ranks in heaven. The first rank was of those who are sick, yet give thanks to God. The second rank was of those who minister to the sick willingly and generously. The third rank was of those who live in the desert, seeing no one. The fourth rank was of those who for God’s sake put themselves under obedience to spiritual guides. But those who live in obedience in the fourth rank wore necklaces and crowns of gold and shone more than the others. I said to the one who showed me the vision, ‘How is it that the rank which is lowest shines the most?’ He replied, ‘Those who care for others do what they themselves want to do. Hermits follow their own will in withdrawing from the world. But the obedient have gone beyond their self-will, and hang on to God and the word of their spiritual guides: that is why they shine the most.’ Learn by this how great a good is obedience if it is for God’s sake and strive to win some trace at least of this virtue. It is the salvation of the faithful, the mother of all virtue, the entry into the kingdom; it raises us from earth to heaven; obedience lives in the same place as the angels; it is the food of the saints who by its nourishment grow to fullness of life.’

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

New Beginnings

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Fresco of the Throne of Preparation (Bucovina)

Pentecost blessings, T.S. Eliot malaise and a little city hermit’s new beginnings, and I Have a Question!
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“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

(“Little Gidding” ― T.S. Eliot)

*

Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling (…)

(“East Coker,” from *The Four Quartets* East Coker —T. S. Eliot)
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+ Monday of the Holy Spirit

Dear Friends in Christ
May the Holy Spirit give you the fruits of His grace this Pentecost!

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

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I can’t believe May flew by so fast! Little did I know when I wrote on May 1st that my Bight Week pilgrimage “felt like a landmark and a watershed” that so many things in my life would change at such a dizzying speed! Thank you for staying in touch through my inbox. So many emails to reply, questions to answer, stories to be told … I honestly feel surprised and deeply humbled by your love and encouragement. Please be patient with me, as I am simultaneously moving on to new ministries, a new home and a new job!!!. More in the posts to follow…

I need your help in another matter too. Please send me your questions–preferably practical questions that impact you personally in a real way but more theoretical ones too–ideas, topics etc about WHAT you would like me to blog about. Would you be more interested in …

a.Saint’s lives, homilies, holy men’s lives and teachings yet untranslated into English?

b.Vignettes, stories and photos from pilgrimages and Orthodoxy all over the world?

c. Conversion stories, especially from Protestantism to Orthodoxy?

d. ‘Missionary’ vignettes from my life and ministry here?

e. Differences between ‘American’, ‘British’ , ‘Greek’, Russian’, ‘African’ Orthodoxy, if I am allowed to make use of such terms and offer some poor reflections based on first-hand experience?

f. Witnessing in a multicultural and secular country?

g. Differences between a ‘Cradle’ Orthodox person and a ‘Convert’? (Although I personally shun such labels for various reasons)

h. “Questions and Answers”, ‘Erotapokriseis’ ‘literature’? I have received numerous questions over the years, which I have primarily answered in private, but maybe I should make these public. (Anonymously of course) (If one person has a question, most likely many more have the same question.) Witnessing in a multicultural and secular country?

i. … ???

All of the above? None of the above? Please respond at either the Comment section below or at my email – anastasioskefalas1961@gmail.com. Your suggestions to my previous question–whether this blog should become bilingual etc– have been such a great help! Thank you ever so much for your love and encouragement! I really need to decide where to lay emphasis on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (II)

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Paschal Holy Dances in Attica, Aegina and Euboia

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Bright Tuesday

Morning Holy Liturgy at the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus: I can literally feel the 179 Martyrs presence on me, as Father Jonathan had insisted that I carry them during this pilgrimage on their Feast Day[1]. Of course, the truth is the other way round: it is always the Saints who are carrying us. Archimandrite Theoklitos had offered a tiny fragment of the 179 Martyrs’ relics to our Holy Cross parish, which is displayed for veneration in the Holy Liturgy, and will later in the day return to ‘their own’ monastery to be ‘reunited’ with their brethren on their feast day.

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Holy Monastery of Saint Ephraim of Nea Makri, the Wonderworker and Newly-Revealed: A strange spectacle is awaiting us at the monastery gates: a leaping and dancing Resurrectional priest, a modern Saint Seraphim of Sarov figure, who greets all who enter the monastery with a kiss, and the words of the Paschal greeting: “Christ is Risen!” He is literally leaping with joy and greeting all pilgrims in a ‘dance routine’!!!

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli: Vespers and a Holy Procession of the 179 Martyrs. During the Procession, Abbess Styliani’s face is lit and transfigured in ecstasy. Together with all the nuns, she too is dancing the Resurrection dance. She is also blessing all pilgrims with a large pectoral Cross.

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NOTES

[1]The 179 Holy Martyrs were massacred by pirates into the katholikon, on Pascha 1680, during the midnight service, after the final “Christ is Risen!” was joyfully chanted by the fathers following the Divine Liturgy. Similarly, Saints Raphael, Nikolaos and Eirini were tortured from Holy Thursday until Bright Tuesday when they were eventually martyred on April 9, 1463. St Efraim of Nea Makri was himself too martyred by the Turks on Tuesday May 5, 1426.

 

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Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (I)

 

Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (I)

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Gerondas Theoklitos, Monastery of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian

 

Paschal Holy Dances in Attica, Aegina and Euboia

Everybody in our mixed company on the bus was exhausted even before starting out! Doctors, reeling after long shifts, having barely slept for more than 3-4 hours in 3-4 days in a row; parents struggling with noisy, boisterous,excited young children; senior high-school and university students in distress, studying for their final exams … on the bus! … while all were desperately trying to get some sleep… But the most exhausted of us all was our accompanying priest, Hieromonk Synesios, St. Arsenios Monastery, after a rigorous monastic Great Lent and Holy Week, on top of all his other duties. St Arsenios himself, as in all past pilgrimages, was at the front seat of the bus. His relics were reverently carried by all pilgrims at every stop of our pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was brief but packed and hectic, so let me simply offer a few Paschal, mostly ‘leaping/ dancing” vignettes which made the greatest impression to me.

 

But let me start with the beginning.This Bright [1]Week pilgrimage was appropriately the brightest I have ever participated in! It felt like the fulfilment of St. John’s of Damascus Mystical Pascha captured in his Paschal Canon! To be sure, any trip to Greece in springtime straight from a foggy, misty, rainy England is bound to feel full of light! Especially if to Athens and the islands!

 

Still, the Light which nearly blinded all of us during this Bright Week pilgrimage must have contained a tiny ray of Christ’s Light [2]! A palpable, tangible Transfiguration Light dancing in all pilgrims’ eyes, on the bus and in all the monasteries we visited. The atmosphere felt so light as if were all to collectively Ascend to Heavens. The sheer exuberance of “Christ is Risen” chanted 99 times every single day during Resurrection Day and All Bright Week made our hearts leap with joy! And our Lord’s greeting “Rejoice!” in all the 11 Resurrectional Matins (Eothina) Gospels reverberated in our hearts. And as we were soon to find out, we were about to meet lots of literally dancing and leaping holy men and women.

 

Morning Holy Liturgy at the Holy Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Mount Olympus (3) on Bright Tuesday

 

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That was another discovery of that week: how many Paschal verses indeed contain this image of “leaping”:

 

THE PASCHAL CANON

 

Ode 4.

David, the forefather of our divine Lord, leapt and dancedbefore the symbolical Ark of the Covenant.

 

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“When they who were held by the chains of hell beheld Thy boundless compassion, O Christ, they hastened to the Light with joyful feet, exalting the eternal Pascha.

 

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We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of hell, the beginning of eternal life. And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause, the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.

 

THE PASCHAL STICHERA IN TONE FIVE

Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and leap for joy, in that thou beholdest Christ the King like a bridegroom come forth from the grave.

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Everybody in our mixed company on the bus was exhausted even before starting out! Doctors, reeling after long shifts, having barely slept for more than 3-4 hours in 3-4 days in a row; parents struggling with noisy, boisterous,excited young children; senior high-school and university students in distress, studying for their final exams … on the bus! … while all were desperately trying to get some sleep… But the most exhausted of us all was our accompanying priest, Hieromonk Synesios, St. Arsenios Monastery, after a rigorous monastic Great Lent and Holy Week, on top of all his other duties. St Arsenios himself, as in all past pilgrimages, was at the front seat of the bus. His relics were reverently carried by all pilgrims at every stop of our pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was brief but packed and hectic, so let me simply offer a few Paschal, mostly “leaping/ dancing” vignettes which made the greatest impression to me:

 

To Be Continued …

 

Footnotes

 [1] Bright week begins with the Sunday of Pascha, and comes to a close on Bright Saturday, at Vespers. One may actually argue that Bright week comes to a close before the ninth hour (which precedes vespers), since the royal doors and deacons’ doors, which have been wide open all week, are closed. This is a sad and significant moment. Just like our forefathers Adam and Eve, we cannot remain in paradise in this life, because of our sins. Ours is a life of struggle against our passions, which hold us back from full realization of paradise in this life.
‘How many days are in Bright week?’ There are TWO correct answers! According to the sun’s rising and setting, Bright week is seven days, (Sunday through Saturday) but to the church, liturgically, it is one day – the “eighth day”.

[2]Cf. Lev Gillet’s notes on the theme of light in the Byzantine liturgical year: ‘Come, take light from the Light that has no evening, and glorify Christ, risen from the dead.’ On the Sunday Pascha, the celebrant stands at the royal doors of the iconostasion and holds a lighted candle in his hand. “Once more, the eastern Church represents the Christian mystery in terms of the mystery of light; this Light, whose birth was marked by the star of Bethlehem, has been shining among us with growing intensity; the darkness of Golgotha could not extinguish it. Now it reappears among us, and all the candles which the congregation hold in their hands, and that they now light, proclaim its triumph. In this way, the deeply spiritual meaning of Easter is indicated. The physical Resurrection of Jesus would be without value to us if the divine light did not shine at the same time among us, within us. We cannot worthily celebrate the Resurrection of Christ if, in our soul, the light brought by the Saviour has not completely overcome the darkness of our sins.”[The Uncreated Light] on Easter night triumphs over the darkness; at Pentecost it reaches its full zenith. Pentecost is the ‘midday flame’. (The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, p177, p215 respectively)

[3]: For information and a documentary in Greek about our first stop, the beautiful Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus, go herehere and here.

Choice

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“Freedom, A Choice”,  a painting by Anila Ayilliath

 

Choice (*)

 

-Lord, let me come and join you in that land which beckons me, in those fields that I love.

-No, it is in this town that you must meet me.

-Lord, I long for the sun and the wilde flowers over there.

-I only have this black sky and these thorns to give you.

-But Lord, there is only noise and smoke here.

-There is something else as well; there is sin.

-Lord, I would so like to see again the blue water that you knew!

-Here, hearts are sick and souls are dying in darkness.

Lord, I could perhaps stay if you entered into my heart, if you took my hand. But when I see these streets […] my whole being revolts and escapes in thought over there. Must I therefore still stay here, with my sadness and my loneliness?

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

(“Sunday Letters”, Lev Gillet, ‘A Monk of the Eastern Church’ by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, p23)

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* Dedicated to my spiritual father 

This dedication, initially made on 10/6/2017, holds true of course, only yesterday, when I re-discovered these letters last night, I thought every single iota of these verses was written for me! Piercing my heart … Each time, returning here is becoming increasingly difficult …