The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 30



Christ is Risen!


Being of a certain age, I often have to call upon one of my trusted “computer savvy techies” as they are known, to help me when my computer fails. I am hopeless when it comes to technology having been brought up with “chalk and talk”. So I would like to put a good word in for modern and ancient technology; for those who enable and help today and for the default reliability of books and pencils of ” yesterday”.

I see the great benefit of modern technology, particularly in these days of lockdown, but the internet is a Pandora’s Box. Information requires distillation and discernment if we are to sift the good from the bad. We have to know the boundaries and limits.  The fear of big brother and artificial intelligence is far removed from the fear of God and Divine illumination. Where are we, if and when this technology crashes? Back to pencils and books!

Although today most records in space are electronic, in the original space race, faced with the fact that ballpoint pens do not operate in zero gravity, a vast amount was spent on developing an alternative that would write in conditions experienced during space flight. Russia took the simple option of using pencils for recording data.

Some years ago I was able to help a rather concerned student in revision mode whose computer had a problem- the solution, a book on the precise academic subject he was studying. Glory to God, he passed his exam!




Ecclesiastes 1 

16 I communed with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”


High flyers soar upwards to enthral 

Little knowing the sun’s own ire

“As wax melts before the fire”

So too “Pride comes before a fall.”

In Paradise we make our wings

And think escape so great, so smart

To ply our course in scientific art,

As in the tree a mocking bird sings.

Satan still whispers “bow to me”

“Be free!” and “all these kingdoms own.”

Whilst angels standing round the throne

Weep at feathers floating on the sea.

“Poor human reason, when it trusts in itself, substitutes the strangest absurdities for the highest divine concepts”  St John Chrysostom

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 29


Middle English:  Crist is arisen! Arisen He sothe!


As a pupil at school, I was obliged to study Shakespeare for English Literature; it was part of the curriculum and therefore I had no choice. I have to say that I found it rather dry, boring and difficult to understand. Many years later, however, a colleague asked me if I would like to go to Stratford on Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company in a Shakespeare play. I was rather disinclined based on my childhood antagonism but reluctantly agreed to go. What a revelation the play proved to be, causing a 180-degree reversal in my disposition! It was transformative, like for the first time seeing something in the light which had formerly only been in shadows. Within a short time of the play commencing I was wrapped, enthralled and fully engaged in the plot, transfixed by the sheer depth and cadence of language and in total empathy with the characters.

 The words took form in action and came to life!

The Word became flesh and lived amongst us!

The Celtic saints were very active, they did not just preach the word of God, they acted upon it and lived the Gospel out in their lives.


Sonnet I:

Nature and Nurture

Matthew 19:14

14 But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”


What is this treasure which I hold so near?

Closer than my breath which her name repeats;

Reserve her character till time stands clear

To shape her mind as her own voice entreats.

I do not cradle now by spoken will,

But by parental care as love dictates;

Her fragile frame from birth is caused to fill

Gentle arms, whose enfolding indicates.

Echoes aforesaid when grown, she will be

A woman, wife and mother to her child;

Transferring grace and form for all to see

The pattern’s gift, though by encounters styled.

Sweet Nature, thy bounds are kindly, free and fair

If Nurture’s bonds from beauty seeks to share.


As a parent, every action you take is important when you raise children.  It is not necessarily what you say but how you act that teaches them the Orthodox way of life.

St Paisios of the Holy Mountain

My prayers

Eν Χριστώ

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 28


Christ is Risen!


I had a lovely surprise this morning. One of my Parishioners brought me a beautiful bunch of wildflowers; amongst them lots of Ox-eye Daisies, together with a number of “Lockdown goodies” as she describes them, one of which was another kind of flower-flour! Indeed, the English word flour is originally a variant of the word flower both words deriving from the French word fleur. At last, I can bake some bread! The wildflowers now supplement the cultivated ones the sisters brought me some weeks ago.

It reminded me of when I was in a village in Romania and a kind gentleman presented me with a huge bunch of wildflowers which he had picked. The amount, the richness and variety were amazing. I remember too visiting a hermitage where the monk was turning over the soil to bring to life the seeds which had lain dormant for so many years.

 My spiritual father when he lived near Cambridge had a large garden. He gave a large portion of it over to a meadow for sowing seeds of wildflowers. The result was a heartwarming profusion of colour: Meadow Buttercups, Cowslips, Dandelion Ragged Robin, Red Campion, Yarrow, Poppy, Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Evening Primrose, Vipers Bugloss, and of course, Forget-me-not.

As if I could?


These Island nations each have a flower which is often found as an emblem appearing on crests, coins, and flags. The national flower of Ireland is the shamrock (which is technically a plant), while Scotland’s national flower is the Thistle. Wales’ national flower is the bright yellow Daffodil. England has the Red Rose( as does Lancashire!)


A Garden in Harston*


John 12:24:  Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”


Autumn’s gentle dying and sighing into aspiring worth

Witnesses the gold leaves fall to carpet, as a covering for sin, the soft green earth.

What rich abundance there is in God’s economy!

Mellow fruits and flowers are wrapped in finest robes for God’s glory.

No harsh light to pierce the eyes of the tiredness of our soul,

Only the fresh glow of holy breath to make broken bodies whole:

Until God’s flora rests in winter’s death.


Here in the seasoned wisdom of third age flowers

The seeds of resurrection are stored for many hours,

Until that explosion of the third-day tomb;

God’s radiance warms the ground of that stone-cold womb.

In dappled light, in a garden in Harston, at hand is Son blessed soil.

We share the joy of those who labour there and wait on God with love and toil:

For new growth in God’s garden.


In weeding and turning of man’s substance is revealed new seeds

Which grow into new plants of scent and colour through holy deeds.

Sweet Mill View where, often unseen by human eye, the wheel of Life is turned,

Where through careful stewardship, the labourer’s pay is earned.

A dialogue with heaven is found and a covenant made long ago

In another garden secretly comes in time to grow:

Into that spring beauty of New Life.


“The more resolutely, the more constantly, your heart is turned towards God and His saints the more it will be enlightened, purified, and vivified.” St. John of Kronstadt.

* Harston is a village near Cambridge, England.

* Photography by Amit Das

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 27

under the stars

Under the Stars

Χριστός Ανέστη!
Some years ago I visited a monastery in a remote part of Greece and was taken aback somewhat being greeted by a nun with a most refined English accent: “ Your blessing! Oh, it’s so lovely to see you dear Father, welcome!” The nun was indeed from England, but in that Monastery there were nuns from all over the world; from Germany, Sweden, Finland, Philippines, Greece, Cyprus and one from the USA who knew the priest who had Chrismated me. It was like a little microcosm of Pentecost.

St Brigid and her Monastery

St Brigid became a hermit and built herself a cell near a large oak tree. But soon men and women came to join her, to live as monks and nuns; so she built a double monastery which became larger than any town in the country.

 Each evening the monks and nuns would go to the surrounding countryside to see if anyone required any food or accommodation. If someone was homeless, they brought them back to the monastery for food, rest and shelter. In addition, St Brigid built a hospital for those who were sick and who were cared for by the monks and nuns.

Near to the Monastery lived a rich merchant who had a disdain for religion and expressed his contempt for the monastery. Nevertheless, Brigid visited the man regularly despite his insults and the man came to have admiration for her convictions and persistence

The rich man fell sick with a fatal illness and called for St Brigid. He could not speak and she knew that no words would comfort him, so she made a cross of some new rushes and placed it in his hands. He lifted the Cross to his lips, kissed it and then departed this life.


John 15:18,19: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. if you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

Based on the Letter of Mathetes to Diognetus 180 A.D.


These Christians who look down on death

With loving grace for one another,

Praise Christ with every living breath

Place Him above son, wife and mother.


As the soul is to the body

So are Christians to the world.

No country, language, custom, race

No philosophy of human health,

They live as aliens and trace

 Love to a heavenly commonwealth.


As the soul is to the body

So are Christians to the world.

They share everything and endure

Torture, death and hardship as gain,

Obeying laws they help the poor

Loving all, by all they suffer pain.


As the soul is to the body

So are Christians to the world.

We are unknown and yet still condemned

Defamed but are vindicated,

Destitute, broken hearts we mend

Reviled we bless, dying, to life translated.


As the soul is to the body

So are Christians to the world.



“O strange and inconceivable thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised again, but our imitation was but a figure, while our salvation is in reality. Christ was actually crucified, and actually buried, and truly rose again; and all these things have been vouchsafed to us, that we, by imitation communicating in His sufferings, might gain salvation in reality. O surpassing loving-kindness! Christ received the nails in His undefiled hands and feet, and endured anguish; while to me without suffering or toil, by the fellowship of His pain He vouchsafed salvation.“

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, On the Christian Sacraments. 


Eν Χριστώ
* Photograph by Evgeni Tcherkasski

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 26


Believe …

Hristos a înviat


I recall on my first visit to Romania attending the funeral of an old lady in a small village. The Parishioners had kept vigil all night before the funeral, waiting patiently outside her home, saying fervent prayers for their departed friend. There were weeping and sorrow mixed with resurrection hope and humble faith together with profuse expressions of sympathy and compassion for the bereaved family.

St Columba ordains a priest.

In central Scotland, there was a priest called Molluch who wanted to be a priest although he could not read or write. He approached St Columba on one of the saint’s missionary journeys to that region.  St Columba wanting to test Molluch’s faith told him to go and fish in the nearby lake and when he had caught a fish to come back. Puzzled by this instruction but obedient Molluch took a small coracle to the lake and started fishing. For two days and two nights, he caught nothing but on the third day he caught a fish. However, on catching the fish he took pity on it; carefully removing it from the hook, he returned it to the water. Rowing back to shore Molluch confessed to the saint and told him what had happened. St Columba commended him for his patience, compassion, and humility; qualities which he saw as necessary for the priesthood. St Columba ordained Molluch who duly proved to be an excellent priest.

O What Faith

Luke 7:9; “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.”

Gentle gentile strong and brave

Built a synagogue and gave

A chance of life to his dear slave:

By his faith.

He showed his care and great compassion

In more than any normal ration

When humility was not the fashion:

He showed faith.

A Centurion ruled with iron glove

But this one knew of Him above

Whose hands could heal with powerful love:

Given faith.

Considerate in his way and kind

A virtue one would rarely find

In one so masterful a mind:

Blessed by faith.

His faith was simply of the best

Surpassing Israel and the rest

Such trust which passes every test:

This is faith.

To the glory of God

Sayings from the Desert Fathers

The old men used to say, “If someone has faith in another and hands himself over to him in complete submission, he does not need to pay attention to God’s commandments but he can entrust his whole will to his father. He will suffer no reproach from God, for God looks for nothing from beginners so much as renunciation through obedience.”

Εν Χριστώ

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 25

Christ is Risen!

Animals have a sensitivity that is quite remarkable. I know someone who is blind who has a guide dog. The dog is not only obedient to its master and disciplined to knowing what it should do but is sensitive and even anticipating the needs of its master. It is known that a dog’s acute sense of smell is sensitive to human emotion, anxiety and depression and has the ability to detect ailments and disease. Horses too can read human facial expressions. They possess a gift that can distinguish human mood.

St. Columba his blessings and the white horse. ( part 2 of2)

The white horse which had pulled the wagon for the saint to bless the Island of Iona came to Columba and laid its head on the saint’s chest. It began to whinny and cry. It seemed to know that the saint was ill. One of the monks wanted to take the horse away but St Columba refused: “Let him alone, for he loves me. Let him pour out his tears of grief. You are a man with a rational soul….but this dumb creature, possessing no reason* has been told by the Creator Himself that I am about to leave him.”

 His World


Matthew 6:28: “So why do you worry about clothing?

 Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow they neither toil nor spin.”



God’s creation is too beautiful for the worldly-wise,

            It takes the simple, humble mind to stand in awe with open eyes.

The abundance of God’s goodness needs an inner sight and trained,

To wonder at His Universe requires that we have gained;

A sense of veneration for his order and his splendour.

We require a loss of pride and a willingness to surrender,

To gain discernment in our search for beauty and exercise of choice.

We need to listen carefully at that inner, still, small voice

That prompts us to select the best,

And with the angels and the saints attest,

The omnipotence of God in His creation,

The crowning of a Holy Nation,

Dedicated to participation

                    In His world.

We are indeed the stewards of this earth

Called to cherish and conserve that which is of worth.

Illuminate our sight, dear Lord, so that we may grow in grace

Mirrored for a season until we see You face to face.

Working in our clay-bound bodies, a consequence of sin

Resting rarely to consider lilies that neither toil nor spin.

The earth is far too beautiful for the worldly-wise

It takes a simple, humble heart for the soul to rise

Upwards to the heavens, inspired by love

                    For His world.




Amma Theodora

Amma Theodora said, ‘Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate, Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.’

The same Amma said that a teacher ought to be a stranger to the desire for domination, vain-glory, and pride; one should not be able to fool him by flattery, nor blind him by gifts, nor conquer him by the stomach, nor dominate him by anger; but he should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; he must be tested and without partisanship, full of concern, and a lover of souls


*The word for horse in Greek is άλογο which means non-speaking or without logic or reason.

Eν Χριστώ

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 24


the nine muses

Χριστos ἀνέστη!

I love singing. When I was a little boy, I sang in a Church choir which I joined of my own rather stubborn and precocious will. It was through singing about Christ and to Christ that I came to know Christ. Blessed Augustine said:“ To sing is to pray twice!” I know many who would agree!

Although I have an eclectic taste in music, I often relax by listening to J. S. Bach and if in “party” mood to Vivaldi!

Shoes made of Turf ( part 2 of 2)

As he walked (on his Iona-Turf shoes)towards Armagh, St. Columba sang his old songs and many people came out of their homes to listen to him and followed him all the way to the Bishop’s House. The Bishop was displeased to see the saint and said that he did not like the bards because they conveyed the Gospel stories in their own words in song. St Columba replied that the bards sang from the heart and they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Bishop could make no answer, but, seeing the large crowds listening with such enthusiasm to Columba’s singing, let the saint and the people go on their way.

Nine Daughters of Memory

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.


Louvre, The Nine Muses Sarcophagus

The old lady sat in her chair musing on past times with her daughters:-



“Do you remember your holiday report, my dear?

The story told in stoic, epic verse

How your heroic deeds the battle won

The dragon slayed to end the curse.


Hope from despair by words alone set free

Your voice and pen gave vent to certain harmony.”



“Do you recall the lyre lessons and the speeches that you gave?

That concert that you played on Parnassus Mount.

Plucking from history well-worn strings

Strumming the tune of truth’s account.


You made famous those who went before

Those close to home and those on distant shore!”



“Do you honour in verse the hymn you used to sing;

To please the congregation of your choice?

Do you still play the flute and entertain

The crowd and encourage them to rejoice.


Such happy days, it still brings a smile

To ponder on your grace and style.”



“Do you bear in mind the love letters that once you wrote

When you were young and words were rare?”

The playful lines you loved to quote

In summer’s heat, when scent of roses filled the air.


Your dark eyes still claim the other’s sight

Like piercing arrows of the night.



“Do you salute the mask you cherish of pretence?

Your life that hides the other you, ere long

Of celebration in the midst of tragic circumstance

And tears that flow with melodious song.


The knife, the club, the boot, the mask

Would answer all I need to ask.”



“Do you recollect the serious tones you taught?

From solemn spur and gravest revelation

The whispered sacred silence that you sought

Which led eloquence itself to echo in elation.


Praises cannot cloak or veil your name

Your works have earned immortal fame.”



“Do you celebrate in dance those shows of such delight?

Your movement midst the chosen nine

Seated, waiting for a chance to flirt

With twirling skirt amongst the chorus line.


Does knowledge of the arts still spring from Helicon?

If music guides your feet my sweet, dance on.”



“Do you memorise the jokes you used to tell?

  I didn’t see you with your entourage!

 The verdant flourishing of your comic dress

Midst clowns that offered camouflage.


Your crown of ivy, wearing boots

You climbed the heights from humble roots.”



“Do you honour the heavens and thank God for gifts?

 Raise the eyes of others to celestial height from naught

Majestic beauty and grace behold that which lifts

 Imagination from the power of rational thought.


You used to ponder cosmic birth

The sun, the moon, the stars, the earth.”



So where now are these daughters?

 Covered by the nymphic waters!

“All at sea” they say,

Where is their poetry today?

Their mother too, it seems, has slipped away.

Memory, it appears, no longer lives

Though joy of culture still forgives

The sins of the secular select:

The cynic, philistine, politically correct,

Who sail upon the fashions’ tide,

Who in sterile towers of greed reside,

and for their own intentions guide

The arts and life in Titanic struggle.

Too few hands, too many things to juggle!

Yet there is to each a time and chance

To rescue life

 -through poetry, music, art and dance.


Ὁ βίος βραχύς,
ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,
ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς,
ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή,
ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.
Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC)

“Ars longa vita brevis”― Hippocrates

Full quote:

“Ars longa,
vita brevis,
occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.

Life is short,
[the] art long,
opportunity fleeting,
experiment dangerous,
judgment difficult.”

― Hippocrates

Music doth withdraw our minds from earthly cogitations, lifteth up our spirits into heaven, maketh them light and celestial. (St John Chrysostom)

With the famous image of bees that gather from flowers only what they need to make honey, Basil recommends: “Just as bees can take nectar from flowers, unlike other animals which limit themselves to enjoying their scent and colour, so also from these writings … one can draw some benefit for the spirit. We must use these books, following in all things the example of bees. They do not visit every flower without distinction, nor seek to remove all the nectar from the flowers on which they alight, but only draw from them what they need, to make honey, and leave the rest. And if we are wise, we will take from those writings what is appropriate for us, and conform to the truth, ignoring the rest” (St Basil” Ad Adolescentes” 4).

Eν Χριστώ

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 23

serving the orthodox mission in madagascar

Serving the Orthodox Mission in Madagascar


Christus resurrexit! 

Hospitality is a most prominent social feature of our Orthodox Christian Faith. It is impossible for me to visit my spiritual children and friends in Greece, Cyprus or Romania without being showered with the most lavish hospitality. This, of course, involves the most generous portions of delicious food and the most delightful company attended by conversation that continues deep into the night. Despite my best efforts and most fervent protestations about the quantity of food when serving, I invariably return home a kilo heavier!

 Before every meal, the food is blessed and in my experience, there is always consideration for others who may benefit from the generous provisions remaining. I know that at this time many of our Parishes are distributing food to the poor, the elderly and the isolated. Glory to God!


St. Columba, his blessings and the white horse: (Part 1 of 2)


Weary with old age Saint Columba in early May 597 was taken around the Island of Iona on a wagon drawn by a white horse. When he saw his monks working in the field he would stand up and bless them. Whenever he saw cattle or sheep grazing he would stand up and bless them. He also blessed the wild animals and birds that he saw. After this, he went to bless the contents of the barns. He was pleased to see them full and said: “If I have to depart from my family, I shall carry with me the knowledge that they have ample food for the coming year.”


The Meal 


Matthew 25:42:” Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”


“What a meal!” the Abbot said

on the feast of St.Wilfred.

“You excelled yourself this time dear brother!”

“The lamb was perfect, like no other.”

“The wine was good too, sweet and red

Better even than the bread.”

“Who was that unexpected guest,

Who appeared at once with all the rest?”

“I’ve no idea” the monk replied

“But I’ve a feeling that he tried

To take some food out to the poor

I saw some beggars at the door. “

“He’ll not come back I’ll see to that

I’d rather feed the kitchen cat.”

He will come back one day you know

To judge all people high or low

And let us pray it’s not too late

To help the one who’s at our gate

The invitation to the heavenly feast

Depends on how we treat the least!



“Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as an indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God”- St Seraphim of Sarov.

Eν Χριστώ

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 22

orthodox pilgrims climbing

Hristos a înviat!


From my little chapel in my front room, I never serve the Divine services in slippers! Somehow, although this would be more appropriate and comfortable, it seems rather casual and disrespectful; so I always put on my clean shoes as I would as in Church! I’m sure no one would notice my feet under my cassock, but I know, and I know that all things should be done in order as the Apostle Paul reminds us.( 1 Corinthians 14:40) To dress correctly befitting the task is something that we should not easily dismiss. It was good to see some of the gentlemen wearing ties at Pascha!!

I remember mountain walking in Transylvania with my spiritual brother and some students some years ago- a variety of inappropriate footwear seemed the fashion- trainers, sandals and even grandfather’s old brown brogues, but no walking boots! Needless to say there were some very sore feet at the end of each day.


  St Columba and the shoes of Turf. ( part I of 2)

In the early Church in these islands with few writing materials, the Gospel was often conveyed by singing bards. A message came to St. Columba (who was also a singing bard) that the leading Bishop in Ireland had outlawed this practice and that” he was not to set foot on the Island of Ireland!” St Columba remembering how many had been converted on earlier missions by singing the Gospel stories decided to go back to Ireland but in order not to contravene the Bishop’s instructions he cut and took two turfs of soil from Iona with him on the boat. On reaching Ireland he tied these two turfs to his feet!

Mountain Walking in Transylvania

Summer 2003

Matthew 7:14: “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way

which leads to life ,and there are few who find it.

The climb was hard following the track

It tired the legs and wrenched the back;

Clearer and lighter was the air

Greater and slower was the care.

In which we made our way.

The thin line of friends began to spread,

Like a spider’s hoary thread

On the mountain climb together

Stretched in love for one another.

As we walked the way

Stopping often to refresh and rest,

To view the scene, to pray, to jest,

To share a thought, to catch a sigh

To marvel at the birds on high.

As we walked His Way.

Our destination now in sight,

We summon up our little might,

To reach the summit and the goal

With all our heart, mind, strength and soul.

With Him who is the Way.


What toil we must endure, what fatigue, while we are attempting to
climb hills and the summits of mountains! What, that we may ascend
to heaven! If you consider the promised reward, what you endure is
less. Immortality is given to the one who perseveres; everlasting
life is offered; the Lord promises His Kingdom.

St. Cyprian 

 Eν Χριστώ