Now & ever…:With thine invincible and divine power ever repel from my soul the destructive assaults made against me by mine invisible enemies, O Virgin, and grant me spiritual weaponry and a strategy [to use] against them.
A Christmas Story
The Golden Gate shut behind them. At the same time a terrible roaring shattered the silence of the green valley. A majestic figure sat on the towering rock at the plateau in the middle of the forest. The silhouette of the Lion stood out against the starlit sky.
The Lion made a huge leap and stood at their midst. For the first time no animal dared to approach. The young couple and all the other animals stumblingly stepped back. They turned back to escape. But the Gate was shut. A many-eyed guard with a fiery sharp sword was blocking their way.
Then the Lion attacked the antelope. Immediately the panther charged at the goat. Then the big bear tore apart the tender calf. And the wolf the meek lamb. It had started. A war had begun. A cruel, relentless, and above all, prolonged, infinitely prolonged, war. The whole Creation would henceforth “groan as in the pains of childbirth”. (Romans 8:22) This night was the darkest of all.
… The Lion sat on the towering rock. His eyes gazed intently at the abysses of the night skyline. Something unusual was taking place up there, this darkest night of the year. A new star seemed to dawn and eclipse all the rest. The whole forest was in commotion. This night was hiding a mystery.
Further in the horizon a small company appeared. A humble little donkey was slowly climbing up towards the clearing. Sat on his back, a young woman, a tender daughter still, was gently clutching on her bosom a newborn baby. A white-haired old man was walking by their side. And this unusual, new Star was guiding their footsteps in the darkness. The tree tops were bowing humbly to the ground at their passage, venerating those unknown travelers.
Suddenly, before the night travelers made it to the clearing, a loud thundering shattered the silence of the dark forest. A horseback column was galloping towards them.
– “We found them!” shouted the captain.
But as the column thrust menacingly forward, a terrible roaring shattered the silence of the dark forest. The Lion made a huge leap and stood between the night travelers and the soldiers on horseback showing his terrible teeth to the soldiers. Stunned, the animals of the forest followed immediately their king. The scared horses would tear from their reins and got up on their hind legs. The captain went wild.
– “Archers!” He screamed out of his mind.
In vain. All bows fell immediately to the ground when they touched the animals’ bodies. Like hitting steel. The horses grew uncontrollable. Any minute and they would flee back to the high land in a wild stampede.
The leader dismounted in a frenzy. Blind in his fury he hurled himself down in a bold leap and thrust himself to the baby. Menacingly he raised his sword to slaughter it, but the sword froze in mid air. To his horror and shock he saw before him the sweet face of his own wife, holding his own baby in her bosom!
His knees bent, his body collapsed to the ground. Sitting on the humble donkey the Daughter was looking in his eyes with infinite compassion. A bright, otherworldly halo was opalescing in rays around Her face! The soldier felt small, powerless before this Godly Babe, who seemed so vulnerable and helpless in the arms of his fragile mother, yet everything seemed to bow before Him.
Quietly all the animals surrounded in worship the human synodeia. The nod of the little child, invisible, yet omnipotent, was gently leading the lion and the calf together, the bull and the bear, the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the goat. Under the spell of this otherworldly Mystery, the soldiers dismounted in awe and knelt side by the side with the wild animals.
Time had stopped. The Golden Gate was open again. No longer does the fiery sharp sword guard the gate of Eden. The Babe mystically summoned all back to Paradise. A prophecy of old took flesh:
“The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
… (Isaiah 11:6-9)
The Babe raised His Hand, a tiny, soft hand, yet capable to govern the whole Universe. The Babe blessed them with the Sign of the Cross. The Prince of Peace had been born on earth. The ancient, cosmic warfare would soon come to an end. Maran Atha!
Ad. & Transl. Kleio Kechagia
π. Δημητρίου Μπόκου
Ascending to The Horrendous Golgotha (John 19, 17), i.e. “The Place of the Skull” (“Golgotha” in Hebrew), was by far the most gut wrenching experience at our pilgrimage. Here the mystery of divine economy was accomplished, here the New Testament was sealed with the blood of the Theanthropos (Godman) which cleansed humanity from the evils of sin and death.
Stairway to Calvary in Holy Sepulchre Church …
Like in the prison of Christ, suddenly everything — the raw violence, the injustice and the hubris recorded in the “Twelve Gospel” readings* -– everything, becomes scarily all too real!
“33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). …
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[c] When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23, 44-46)
… 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[c] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Matthew 33, 45-53)
“Today is hung upon the Tree, He Who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A Crown of thorns crowns Him Who is King of Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds. He received buffetings Who freed Adam in Jordan. He was transfixed with nails Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a spear Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ. Show also unto us thy glorious Resurrection.”
This is the hole through which you can touch the very earth where the Cross actually stood.
The queue of the pilgrims never ends here.
Just look at this ancient rock, the Rock of Calvary, literally split in half, exuding the fragrance of Holiness and Sanctity!
“Oh look, my soul, look!
How the rock was split in half
At the sight of the Crucifixion
Of the Invaluable Treasure!”
(Excerpt of a poem by St. John Jacob (the Romanian)
How much more should our hearts be torn and wounded by love if an inanimate material felt the hubris and shuddered and literally split in two at the sight of our Lord on the Cross! Indeed, we need to continually beseech the Lord for “pardon and remission of our sins and transgressions”, “that we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance”.
“Before the end to our life comes, because then we lose the right to pray for ourselves… because the time given to us for our repentance has expired.”
Glory to Thy Forbearance, O Lord!
Lord Jesus Christ forgive us the sinners.
* Service of the HOLY PASSION of our Lord Jesus Christ on Great Holy Thursday Evening
The Little Orphan
an autobiographical poem
by St. John Jacob (the Romanian)
“the child of zero” who “followed the One”*
The bells are ringing!
Old men sit at their verandas,
Others are at their doorsteps.
The young and the children
Go out in their best clothes
To meet their friends at the church
Of the cemetery.
This mystical fragrance
Of the Holy Feast!
They take it in … like incense,
From herbs and flowers.
The Fields are robed
In a beautiful dress
And everything looks now
Renewed on the earth.
Near the Holy Altar
Of the wooden church
A little child offers
Candles and oil.
He kisses the Holy Cross
In front of the fresh tomb
And kneels crying
When the bells are ringing
In a jubilant tone
Near the Cross the little orphan
Sheds tears with pain.
Suddenly, while absorbed in his tears
And his deep sighs,
At the ringing of the bells
A sweet voice he hears :
“Cry Not, my child, today
Feel not sad, because, look!
By your side am I
Christ is Risen!”
Was this his mother’s voice
Coming from the tomb
His sadness to dispel
From his broken bosom?
Immediately the orphan
Rises and ecstatically looks up,
Searching to find
Who was speaking to him.
Then, from the Altar most Holy
By the smoked wall
He sees the Risen Christ
Sweetly smiling to him.
His little heart is lit
His face calms
His pain leaves him
And such is his mind:
“If I see here
The Risen Lord
Then my mother too
Is risen with Him.”
Speaking thus to his mind
Humbly he bows
And kissing the tomb
Returns to his ‘home’!
Alone, lonely, he lives
At his earthly lodgings,
His poor father
Died at the war.
Often at nights he sleeps
By the tomb with them.
Crying in the morning he returns
Back to the deserted house.
But the bells ring!
Again at the cemetery
His mother’s voice
Is heard to say:
“Cry not, my child, today
Do not be sad,
Because, lo, I am with you
Christ is Risen!”
Since then our little orphan
And whenever the bells ring
His heart is consoled!
November 4, 2009
+ Blessed Eusebios Vittis
“Toward the last years of his life, I had the blessing to speak with him in private and pray together. Those piercing, blazing eyes! Elder Eusebios, the mystic, the poet, the Seer of God, as they called him! This Meeting burns still in my heart! I have also met a number of his spiritual children and know firsthand how much he helped them in all their lives’ trials and tribulations, how Father-like he stood by their side! May we have his blessing!” (Little city hermit)
By Eusebios Vittis
My offering will be:
For all of Your sheep that do not know You and therefore do not communicate with You, I will communicate.
For all Your sheep, who cry for their transgressions and deviations, small and large, whether in knowledge or in ignorance, I will cry.
For all of Your sheep, who sink in the quicksand of sin, losing their purity, I will lament.
For all Your sheep, who sleep the blissful sleep of negligence and indifference, I will stay awake.
For all Your sheep, who blaspheme You and despise You, because they never truly knew You, I will hymn You and will give You glory.
For all Your sheep, held captive to whatever passion, on bended knee I will beg You to free them from their dreaful bonds.
For all Your sheep, who fall into the hands of wolves, with agony and desperation, I cry out to You:
Lord, Lord, Lord, save them! Resue them!
For all Your sheep, who find themselves in hopeless situations, in isolation, in inability to think and unable to find a saving escape from the labyrinth in which they find tehmselves, I will pray to You.
~Fr. Eusebios Vittis (+2009)
When you first catch a glimpse of the magical St. George’s Monastery (Choziba) in the Judean desert, the Desert Fathers’ Wisdom is brought to life in its uncompromising, breathtaking asceticism. This amazing cliff-hanging monastery, one of the world’s oldest and definitely one of the most inspiring churches in the Holy Land, is a must-see for the desert / archeological fans / devout Pilgrims.
St. George Orthodox Monastery, or Monastery of St. George of Choziba is a monastery located in Wadi Qelt, in the eastern West Bank, in the occupied territories. The sixth-century cliff-hanging complex, with its ancient chapel and gardens, is active and inhabited by Eastern Orthodox monks. It is reached by a pedestrian bridge across Wadi Qelt, which many believe to be Psalm 23’s Valley of the Shadow. The valley parallels the old Roman road to Jericho, the backdrop for the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
Here’s some beautiful aerial video footage to give you a taste of the area around St. George’s Monastery…
St George’s Monastery can be reached via the main Jerusalem – Dead Sea highway (Road 1). Take a left at Mitzpeh Jericho (or a right if you’re coming from Jericho) and follow the brown signs for Wadi Kelt. You can hike the Wadi all the way to the monastery but it will take lots of hours of arduous trekking in the desert under the blazing sun! Up and down, for hours, a windy path! Not so easy for seniors or people with disabilities, but there are usually plenty of locals offering their donkeys for the ride (at a cost of course).
Check out the clip below for a real taste of the walk to St George’s Monastery … When I look at these photographs or watch the videos, I cannot believe I did all this walking!
St. George’s Monastery was originally started in the fourth century by a few monks who were looking to immerse themselves in the lifestyles and desert stories of John the Baptist and Jesus. The monks, and perhaps most notably the hermit John of Thebes, eventually settled on the spot around a cave where it is believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6). The traditions attached to the monastery include a visit by Elijah en route to the Sinai Peninsula, and St. Joachim, whose wife Anne was infertile, weeping here when an angel announced to him the news of Mary’s conception.
The monastery became an important spiritual centre in the sixth century under Saint George of Choziba. Hermits living in caves in nearby cliffs would meet in the monastery for a weekly mass and communal meal.John of Thebes became a hermit and moved from Egypt to Syria Palaestina. The monastery was named St. George after the most famous monk who lived at the site. Destroyed in 614 A.D. by the Persians, the monastery was more or less abandoned after the Persians swept through the valley and massacred the fourteen monks who dwelt there. The bones and skulls of the martyred monks killed by the Persians in 614 A.D. can still be seen today in the monastery chapel. These 3000 and more martyrs’ relics are so alive that during their Supplication canon every week an exquisite fragrance and raw smell of fresh slaughtered blood are alternately exuded from them!
The Crusaders made some attempts at restoration in 1179. However, it fell into disuse after their expulsion. In 1878, a Greek monk, Kallinikos, settled here and restored the monastery, finishing it in 1901. Father Germanos, born Georgios Tsibouktzakis, who came from Thessaloniki, Greece, to St George’s in 1993 and lived there until he was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 2001, was for many years the sole occupant of the monastery, he was named Abbot in 2000. Emulating the Wadi Qelt monks of late antiquity, Father Germanos offered hospitality to visitors, improved the stone path used by pilgrims to climb up to the monastery, repaired the aqueducts, and improved the gardens of shade and olive trees.
This is probably the most stunning discovery in the monastery: St. John Jacob (the Romanian) – a Hermit from the Holy Land with complete Incorruptible Relics! He was a great ascetic and a poet. He called himself “the child of zero” who “followed the One”. After his all night- vigils, he would briefly rest in the verandah of the monastery and write his so moving poetry, sadly not translated yet in English. In the next days I plan to translate and post here some of his most moving autobiographical poems. This Saint is famous for his miracles, from the discovery of his relics to nowadays.
This discovery was even more stunning for me personally because my spiritual father had introduced him to me the last day before flying from Lancaster to Greece and then to Tel Aviv. He also gave me a tiny piece of a secondary relic of him. What a ‘coincidence’! I knew nothing about him, other than his name, and then a brief google search, and here I found him most alive and incorruptible!
Let me close with Archimandrite Konstandinos, a holy Elder, very special in his hospitality and famous for his clairvoyance gifts.
For more photographs, go here