The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 46

SONY DSC

The Birds’ Symphony by George Tsintsifas

Symphonia

Yesterday, I heard two familiar pieces of music on the radio. It took me back to when I studied music at school. There, as part of preparations for our examinations we followed the music scores of Bach’s Brandenburg Concert #3 and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony whilst listening to vinyl L. P. recordings of these works. It was both a duty and joy to follow and listen under the observations and instructions of a good teacher. Over and over again, our small group of pupils would listen to the recordings until we became so familiar that we knew them off by heart for the exam to follow. Some years later, I was pleased to hear these works played in concert by a live Orchestra. That initial schoolboy learning process was transposed into wonder as I witnessed each member of the Philharmonic playing their part under the conductor for the audience’s delight. 

In an Orchestra, breath and hands on musical instruments bring sound to notes, as breath gives voice to words in praise of God and hands bring mercy and kindness to others. Just as music is the fuel to stir emotions, Christian love is the engine to move faith and hope into action. Our Christian life too, often starts with listening and following the scores (the Bible/the Liturgy/the Church Fathers), paying attention to the Teacher and Conductor of our life (Christ), and then working together (in fellowship)for the benefit and joy of others(evangelism). 

 

 Theme: Working together in Harmony

Luke 15:25
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.

 

When one desert father told another of his plans to “ shut himself into his cell and refuse the face of men, that he might perfect himself,” the second monk replied, “ Unless thou first amend thy life going to and fro amongst men, thou shall not avail to amend it dwelling alone.”

 

Many arrived and adjusted themselves to a listening mode in the auditorium.

The orchestra entered, settled themselves, tuned up and looked intently for the Conductor’s command.

Sound and silence became a dialogue.

Both the ones who played and those who listened melded into a dynamic organism;

 a heartbeat giving life to a body.

The union of loving strings buzzed as bees in a hive,

To shrive the withered minds and weary limbs,

 And having worked the nectar and shared the pollen from the hours of practice and rehearsal,

Produced the honey for those seated to taste.

 The audience feasted on the abundant sweet notes

 And were swept along and above to a higher form;

 from their mundane routine to another dimension.

They were moved, transported to the land

Of awe filled tears,

Where harmony is the currency,

Where sunshine sparkles

and dances on the ears.

 Beads of infinity permeate the throng in this communion song;

Inspiring first emotion, then empathy, followed by wonder and finally joy.

Such joy as can never be captured but glimpsed-only glimpsed,

In a gilded moment, felt in the heart,

digested in that part 

of the mind which is forever a child’s laugh or first remembered summer.

As food is energy to the body so is music nourishment for the soul.

Such provision was encouraged by a ministering angel’s smile, sent

In order for us to repent from worldly guile.

 

We are drawn into that scented circle, inexorably and imperiously drawn

By that mysterious sound that claims and wraps our tender frame.

“But why so little music in the Gospels?”

“Hosannas” with palms endorse a King 

And older Psalms, of course, to sing!

But where is the chorus for our dreams? 

Only for the Prodigal it seems!

Was music not given by God to grace the mind of all,

 make glad the heart, to heed the call?

Is there not harmony at the centre of the Universe?

Or is it that our lives in Christ should rehearse

 for heaven;

 reverse the ego’s trend and blend to be

 a sounding board with others in that greater symphony.

Epilogue

A Harmony with Thee

Glory be,

 Viva Vivaldi,

 Not I but we, 

Was blind now see, 

Oh Mystery,

Oi Agioi kai Angeloi,

 In unity 

with The Holy Trinity. 

 

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.

 

Saint Basil the Great

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 45

nail

 I am pleased to report that Kimberly the Cucumber, Tom the Tomato plant and Kristian the Capsicum Chili Pepper are flourishing.  Kimberly has many flowers and the small cucumbers are beginning to develop, Tom is growing taller and taller every day and producing many cherry tomatoes and Kristian is, at last, turning from green to yellow, which, I am reliably informed, he should!  The one thing in common with all these plants is that they have all needed some physical support to grow with bamboo garden canes. The cucumber has tendrils, so she wound herself to the cane without any help, the other two have required a little assistance to be tied with string to their main support.

We humans too need all the help and support to grow in the spiritual life.

 

The Nail

 

Trisagion: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. 

 

  • Philippians 4:13

 

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 

Luke 22:32 

“But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

 

The matchstick strikes brief heat and light

The nail stays firm with its great might,

The matchstick though is small and frail

Unlike the large and sturdy nail.

 

But when we place them side by side

The nail assumes parental pride,

The matchstick from the nail will take

Its strength and so it will not break.

 

Good God above whose hallowed name

Invests His strength to gird our frame,

Holy God, Holy and strong

Stay close to us our whole life long.

You cannot destroy the passions on your own, but ask God, and He
will destroy them, if this is profitable for you.

St. Anatoly of Optina

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 45

castles in the air

Building Castles in the Air

One of my parishioners was kind enough to bring me some strawberries and raspberries yesterday from her allotment. Setting apart her own hard work, which is considerable, she had been reflecting on the Wisdom of Creation, especially God’s economy and His timing for the ripening of the fruits.  The vegetables, nuts and fruits ripen at various times of the year, giving us an excellent sufficiency and supply, dispersed over many months.

I have many pots of flourishing Basil on my window sill; all at different stages of growth. I am able to give these little gifts to others as a small offering back to God. His economy, from Greek oikonomia,- “management of a household,”is indeed a mysterious outpouring of grace.

Throughout this pandemic, the beauty of Creation has been a constant source of comfort and encouragement. Sadly, human economics is often motivated by greed, power and self interest, but despite this, we see how God replenishes the earth.

Worldly economy is driven by pride, but simpler values and needs are seen in times of crisis. The Great Wall of China could not contain the coronavirus, but Christ builds human bridges of love to care for others who are sick.

As King David observed in writing the Psalm:

 “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

 God is humble, loving and plenteous in mercy. What a wonderful world we would have, if we followed His example and obeyed His commands.

 

Building Castles in the air

Reflections on a walk in the City of London

 

Luke 3:5:”Every valley shall be filled 

every mountain and hill brought low;

The crooked places shall be made straight

And the rough ways smooth;”

 

 Soaring glass houses in the London skies

Shrink the deserted souls of EC 1.

There grow commercial plants that fertilize

 The f.t. index by a deal well done.

 

Pretty palaces where the cool, jet set

Drive in darkened windows on alloy wheels;

Which rotate around the secret text and debt

In guarded boardrooms and brunch- type meals.

 

Life is wealth for such giants of the air

 Served by tube and Liverpool Street station;

The stocks and bonds without guilts and care

For the needs of the poor and their own salvation.

 

 God sees the hearts of these important men

Who dispense numbers from their golden towers.

He writes history’s balance sheet with His pen

 New Babel falls by mans’ own fallen powers.

 

Yet in the shadow of Goliath’s feet

Lies a sacred stone of royal David’s line;

St. Botolph’s within the good Bishopsgate

Where wounded souls are healed through bread and wine.

 

High life soon stumbles and submits to grief

 Let white flags of surrender be unfurled,

Your treasure be beyond the hand of thief

Walk humbly in the graveyard of the world.

 

As abba Macarius was returning to his cell from the marsh carrying palm-leaves, the devil met him with a sharp sickle and would have struck him but he could not. He cried out, “Great is the violence I suffer from you, Macarius, for when I want to hurt you, I cannot. But whatever you do, I do and more also. You fast now and then, but I am never refreshed by any food; you often keep vigil, but I never fall asleep. Only in one thing are you better than I am and I acknowledge that.” Macarius said to him, “What is that?” and he replied, “It is because of your humility alone that I cannot overcome you.”

 

The poem was written shortly before the Bank Crisis and great economic recession of 2007-8.

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 44

greece-olive-grove-olive-trees-old_u-l-q11z0zt0

There is nothing quite like receiving a hand written letter. They have substance and form, they have shape and content. People who write letters take the trouble and the time to choose a card, to buy a stamp, to write in their own hand and post the letter. Sometimes it is interesting to decipher their own idiosyncratic style! I recall a teacher at school who taught all his pupils to write in calligraphic “copper plate” English Roundhand. One always could detect who had been taught by this teacher in their first year at Secondary (High )School!  Letters, like teachers leave a lasting legacy for the recipient too. 

Cards and letters today are often reserved for Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmas and Pascha (Easter); but how nice it is to receive a note of thanks or a note of encouragement-it lifts the spirit. I received two such cards last week. Writing thank you is so important because first and foremost we are called to be Eucharistic creatures.Whilst e mails and texts are convenient and efficient, they lack a certain permanency.

Some years ago I knew a dear lady who lived in the Parish where I served as priest. She was born in Holland, her father was French and her mother Polish. She had lived in England for many years. Eccentric in a most delightful way, she was kind and considerate of others always writing copious thank you notes to them. She was a voracious reader of poetry and philosophy; speaking fluently in four languages she would regale visitors with amazing stories from her remarkable life. Bedridden now in old age, she loved the trees and the birds outside her cottage. On one pastoral visit, she said to me,  “Father, I would like you to have these letters, you may find them of interest.” She thrust three yellow envelopes into my hand. 

On reading them, I discovered they were thank you letters, one such read… thank you O….. (name),for the beautiful flowers which you placed in our room and the delicious cake which you baked for us, signed………….Winston and Clementine Churchill.

 

I have spoken about my love of trees before, but today apart from their intrinsic beauty in creation, let us thank God for that which they provide us: protection, physical and spiritual formation, recreation, habitation and education.

 

Without trees

 

Without trees, there is no shade.

Without trees, no icons are made.

Without trees, no barbecue for heat.

Without trees, there is no fruit to eat.

Without trees, there is no home for birds.

Without trees, no paper for these words.

 

My children, I don’t want Paradise without you. Whoever plants a tree, plants hope, peace, and love and has the blessings of God. Consider all people to be greater than yourself, though they may have many weaknesses. Don’t act with hardness, but always think that each person has the same destination as we do. Through the grace of God I consider all people to be saintly and greater than myself.

St Amphilochios of Patmos

 

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 42

Elder Gabriel

Saint Gabriel

“Euge Agioi”

Some years ago on an excursion to London, I visited an exhibition at the British Museum entitled “Treasures of Heaven.” In it’s own way it was impressive. One could only wonder at the beauty of exquisite craftsmanship, but the collection of precious reliquaries drawn from around the world was a display of ornate but empty vessels.

Later, I felt a similar disquiet visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington at the amount of Church artefacts in a particular part of the museum. It seems that people were visiting and viewing holy items as if they were no longer to be found today within a living community but were things belonging to the past.  

 One gallery had scenery built in the form of a Church. It was filled with onlookers but empty of prayer and worshippers; they were interested observers, following a commentary with an audio guide.  

A short walk from the V&A Museum is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. As soon as I  stepped into the Church-the lingering fragrance of incense charged the air. Entering into this Temple of living tradition one felt immediately the atmosphere of prayer, the peace and presence of Christ, His Mother and the Saints. I was able to venerate the holy Icons. I was no longer in the barren desert of history but was drinking from spiritual and living waters of the eternal present. God is glorified in His saints!

 

Euge Euge Agioi (Well done Saints!)

 

Acts 5:15
so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.

Ephesians 5:30
For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.

 

Treasure from Heaven

A key that unlocks,

Bones yet transfigured

In a fragrant box.

 

Fragments of saints

To strengthen a prayer

Their earthly remains

For the faithful to share.

 

A transport of motion

From heaven to save

A grace filled devotion

That blesses the grave.

 

Members of Christ

Invested to be

Holy and precious

“Euge Agioi!”

 

“True faith is found in one’s heart, not mind. People who have faith in their mind will follow the antichrist. But the one’s who have it in their heart will recognise Him.”

Saint Gavriil Urgebadze

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 41

scaling-the-heights-of-hubris

I recall being at the Monastery of Sambata de Sus Monastery in Romania and concelebrating at a Holy Liturgy with seven other priests. Even though I do not speak the language, except for a few words, I understood the whole of the Liturgy and felt a unity in the Holy Spirit; it was as if I was hearing the Holy Eucharist in my own language. I can truly say that experience was not unique, I have felt that same mystical knowledge and full participation of worship in Greece. Our Parish itself is a little Pentecost composed of people from all over the world. The whole experience of worship is permeated with the Holy Spirit’s presence whose gifts and fruits we enjoy.

 

1 John 4:16

….. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

 

This is The Holy Spirit’s gift and His language is love.

 Deconstructing the tower of Babel

 

Genesis 11

The Tower of Babel

 1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 

 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 

 

“Let’s scale the heights and take the lights 

of the firmament.

We’ll call the tune and pocket the moon.

Come on! let’s grab the Sun and that being done

We will be called great!

Let’s create another state by

 Storming heaven’s gate and gain control.”

 

 From below…the bright “hello”

 Led to a sad “goodbye.”

The smile became a rueful sigh.

And people asking why?

And who are you?

What did you say?

That once friendly question where

is met by a beleaguered stare!

From nostalgic then to…. tell us when?

The change from common sense

 to non-sense came because of man.

What was his plan?

 To build a tower and to steal God’s power!

 

Much later in an upper room, 

Diners seated round a table

Take bread and wine,

  And as they are able

  De-construct the tower of Babel.

 God initiates a conversation

His language: love, for every nation.

And from above that which was lost

Is found, and invested with a Pentecost!

 

 A soldier asked Abba Mios if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things, he said, “Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?” He replied, “No, I mend it and use it again.” The old man said to him, “If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?” 

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 39

heaven doors

Homecoming

When I was a little boy my mother used to take me shopping, or, to be more accurate, I used to accompany her on shopping trips. On Saturdays, we used to go to a rather fine department store where there were all kinds of beautiful items for sale. In the basement was the toy department! Each week I hoped that my mother would buy a little car for my collection – I was never disappointed.
I was fascinated with the lift which took us to the different floors in the store. It was operated by a man in a brown uniform with yellow piping. His smart livery was completed by a peaked cap and white gloves. He would ask what department we required and would press the appropriate amber button on the brass plate to his left. It would light up in a bright tortoiseshell pattern. Clothing, food, perfume, hardware, electrics, shoes, carpets and furniture- you name it- the store had it to sell. The lift transported us to such different “rooms” each with their own distinct character.
On the top floor, our last calling place, was the restaurant for refreshments. I would be treated to a cake or ice cream and fizzy drink before, loaded down with bags, we caught the bus to go home.
It was so good to arrive home and to see my father who had returned from work and of course to play with my new toy car with my friends!

After “shopping” in the world for our salvation, Our Lord ascended to His Father in the heavens to prepare a place for us.

The Homecoming

John 14:2
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

Hear the prayers of your servants
Who from our tested faith,
Hearts grief and pity, brave
These sweet words of hope
Which cry for mercy o’er the earth filled grave.
We pray and say:
Go home, my dearest one, go home.

It’s not the place but the way we live
Δεν είναι ο τόπος αλλά ο τρόπος που ζούμε
That is our home.
το σπίτι μας
 
It’s not what we own but what we give
Δεν είναι το τι έχουμε, αλλά αυτό που δίνουμε,
That shares His home
που μοιράζεται τον οίκο Του

May Christ’s balm our memories heal
His new life promise seal
As following in the way
We rest awaiting change.
Until clothed on that sudden judgement day
We hear Christ say:
Come home, my dearest one, come home.”

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. 
Blessed Augustine

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 38

cave

AGIA SOFIA’S CAVE, CRETE

Christ is Risen!

The man who lived in a cave

Some years ago, one hot summer day whilst on holiday in Crete, I visited with friends a small Church, high up on the top of a mountain. Near to the Church was a man who lived in a cave. On visiting him he showed us around his “house.” His bed was a smoothed rock shelf and another flat rock for a table. Above the “table” was an oil lamp and Holy Icons of the Saviour and the Mother of God.

Outside, he had two or three goats, a few chickens, a small plot of land with a clear stream of water running through it. I recall that the bees at the time were drinking from the stream.

“Don’t you miss out on things? one of our company enquired of the man.

“No, I have everything I need, I have milk and honey, I have eggs and freshwater to wash and drink and I can always exchange a few eggs for bread in the village.”

“What about the scorpions, aren’t you afraid of the scorpions?” one of our party asked.

“ There are scorpions,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders, “but I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me!”

Example 2

A shabbily dressed man walked into a publisher’s office in Moscow. He took from his greatcoat a rather tattered manuscript and enquired whether it could be published? The publisher glanced dismissively at the manuscript and seeing the man’s dishevelled appearance said that he had no time to read it.

“Really? “said the man “I must have been misinformed, I am told that people like to read what I write.”

“ Indeed” said the publisher, his curiosity being aroused by this response “….and so who are you? What is your name?”

“My name?” as he collected his papers and stuffed them back into his overcoat, “my name is Leo Tolstoy.”

The publisher felt rather foolish and started begging for the privilege to publish. The eccentric genius quietly withdrew making his exit from the publishing office.

 

The wisdom of God

1 Corinthians 1:23

But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,”

1 Corinthians 4:10-11

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonoured! 11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.

Who can contain the wisdom of the Wise?

Count loss as gain in faith-filled eyes.

Where is the key to unlock uncreated Light?

In constant prayer of day and night!

What target Heaven’s arrows and guided darts?

The simple minds, the humble hearts!

 

Who brought life to the Virgin womb?

He who emptied a stone-cold tomb!

Wisdom dwells in fools for Christ.

Power of God the Great High Priest

Who came in flesh to save the least.

Brightness of the Father, Pre-existent Word

The natal earth her ears first heard.

Who conceived creation? Wisdom from above!

Holy fools reflect His image… Love.

Who can contain the wisdom of the Wise?

In repentant sighs the one who dies… to self.

When Abba Macarius was into Egypt, he found a man who had brought a beast to his cell and he was stealing his possessions. He went up to the thief as though he were a traveller who did not live there and helped him to load the beast and led him on his way in peace, saying to himself, “We brought nothing into this world; but the Lord gave; as he willed, so is it done; blessed be the Lord in all things.”

My love and prayers

 

Eν Χριστώ