Autumn Photo Sketches of Rila Monastery

The Monastery of St. John of Rila, Bulgaria

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The Monastery of St. John of Rila, Bulgaria

The main holy place of Bulgaria is Rila Monastery at which the relics of Venerable John (Ivan; c. 876-c. 946), the Wonderworker of Rila and patron-saint of this Orthodox country, rest. Rila Monastery is situated in the very heart of the Rila Mountains. Steep slopes covered with glorious woods, magnificent rocks, peace and quiet… All of this disposes a pilgrim’s soul towards the meeting with the holiness already at the turn of the Sofia – Blagoevgrad Motorway. And on your way back the spiritual delight changes into peaceful joy… And also into bitterness: in the places where the Divine grace is abundant and strong, one particularly realizes the incorrectness, vanity and worldliness of our ordinary life.

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Rila Monastery was founded by St. John in the 930s and acquired its present appearance in the mid nineteenth century. Only the Tower of Hrelyu is much older: it dates from the fourteenth century. All who visit the holy monastery for the first time are amazed at the brightness of the frescoes which is an uncommon feature for a monastery. However, not everyone knows that they depict the afterlife journeys of a soul through the so-called aerial “toll-houses”, or trials. The main cathedral of the monastery is dedicated to the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God. The reliquary with the Venerable John’s relics rests there. Numerous miracles have occurred and continue to occur through the prayers of this holy man. His significance for Bulgaria and his national veneration can be compared with the veneration of St. Sergius of Radonezh in Russia; even the lives of these two saints are remarkably similar.

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There are three days of commemoration of St. John of Rila in the Church year: July 1/14, August 18/31, and October 19/November 1. The last of them falls on the period of the “golden autumn” (when leaves especially turn red and yellow) – the most beautiful time in the mountains, when it is so warm in the sun and where the beauty of the God’s creation meets with spiritual, heavenly beauty…
Photos by Yanina Alekseeva, Sofia.

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The Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God rila12
Christ the Pantocrator. A frescorila13
Venerable John (Ivan) of Rilarila14
Frescoes depicting Toll Houses
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The monks’ residence        rila20
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An Artist at Work
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My Lungs Swell Like a Ship’s Canvas

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Listen! Can you hear? The music … I can hear it everywhere … in the wind … in the air … in the light … it’s all around us … all you have to do is open yourself up … all you have to is listen!

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Have you seen August Rush (2007), this modern Oliver Twist fairy tale, where an orphaned musical prodigy uses his gift as a clue to finding his birth parents? Most critics have denounced it as “syrupy”, “sappy”,  or “melodramatic”, yet I love its music, especially the opening nature scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bCRYdLmduY and the City Rhapsody scene that  takes place when August arrives to New York and “feels” the music in city life sounds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-Jf_SQaE-s   May we be blessed with such a savant-like ability to hear Music and discover Beauty, wherever, and follow them in our lives! Let us thus be deeply embedded in the Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints.

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“In the house of lovers, the music never stops, the walls are made of songs & the floor dances” (Rumi)

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“When I am silent, I fall into that place where everything is music”(Rumi)

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Music

By Charles Baudelaire

Music, like an ocean, often carries me away!
Through the ether far,
or under a canopy of mist, I set sail
for my pale star.
Breasting the waves, my lungs swollen
like a ship’s canvas,
night veils from me the long rollers,
I ride their backs:
I sense all a suffering vessel’s passions
vibrating within me:
while fair winds or the storm’s convulsions
on the immense deep
cradle me. Or else flat calm, vast mirror …

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To Music 

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Music: breathing of statues. Perhaps:

silence of paintings. You language where all language

ends. You time

standing vertically on the motion of mortal hearts.

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… You stranger: music. You heart-space

grown out of us. The deepest space in us,

which, rising above us, forces its way out,–

holy departure:

… pure,

boundless,

no longer habitable. …

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I want to be with those who know secret things. Or else, alone. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

 

Remove The Sandals From Your Feet

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Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees.

— Revelation 7:3

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The saints embrace the whole world with their love.

— St. Silouan the Athonite

On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts, offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: “Love the trees.”

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Fr. Amphilochios, the geronta or “elder” on the island of Patmos when I first stayed there, would have been in full agreement. “Do you know,” he said, “that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment “love the trees.” Whoever does not love trees, so he believed, does not love God. “When you plant a tree,” he insisted, “you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God’s blessing.” An ecologist long before ecology had become fashionable, when hearing confessions of the local farmers he used to assign to them a penance, the task of planting a tree. During the long summer drought, he himself went round the island watering the young trees. …

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Fr. Amphilochios was by no means the first spiritual teacher in the modern Greek tradition to recognize the importance of trees. Two centuries earlier, the Athonite monk St. Kosmas the Aetolian, martyred in 1779, used to plant trees as he traveled around Greece on his missionary journeys, and in one of his “prophecies” he stated, “People will remain poor, because they have no love for trees.” We can see that prophecy fulfilled today in all too many parts of the world. …

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“Love the trees.” Why should we do so? Is there indeed a connection between love of trees and love of God? How far is it true that a failure to reverence and honor our natural environment — animals, trees, earth, fire, air, and water — is also, in an immediate and soul-destroying way, a failure to reverence and honor the living God?

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Let us begin with two visions of a tree. Edward Carpenter, in Pagan and Christian Creeds [records] a partial vision of a tree. “It was a beech, standing somewhat isolated, and still leafless in quite early Spring. Suddenly, I was aware of its skyward-reaching arms and up-turned finger-tips, as if some vivid life (or electricity) was streaming through them far into the spaces of heaven, and of its roots plunged in the earth and drawing the same energies from below. The day was quite still and there was no movement in the branches, but in that moment the tree was no longer a separate or separable organism, but a vast being ramifying far into space, sharing and uniting the life of Earth and Sky, and full of amazement.”

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… Two things above all are noteworthy in Edward Carpenter’s “partial vision.” First, the tree is alive, vibrant with what he calls “energies” or “electricity”; it is “full of most amazing activity.” Second, the tree is cosmic in its dimensions: it is not “a separate or separable organism” but is “vast” and all-embracing in its scope, “ramifying far into space … uniting the life of Earth and Sky.” Here is a vision of joyful wonder, inspired by an underlying sense of mystery. The tree has become a symbol pointing beyond itself, a sacrament that embodies some deep secret at the heart of the universe. The same sense of wonder and mystery — of the symbolic and sacramental character of the world — is strikingly manifest in Peaks and Llamas , the master-work of that spiritual mountaineer, Marco Pallis.

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Yet there are at the same time certain limitations in Carpenter’s tree-vision. The mystery to which the tree points is not spelt out by him in specifically personal terms. He makes no attempt to ascend through the creation to the Creator. …

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Let us turn to a second tree-vision, which is by contrast explicitly personal and theophanic: “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”  (Ex 3:1-6)

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Comparing the experience of Moses with that of Carpenter, we observe three things: in the first place, the vision described in Exodus reaches out beyond the realm of the impersonal. The burning bush at Horeb acts as the locus of an interpersonal encounter, of a meeting face-to-face, of a dialogue between two subjects. God calls out to Moses by name, “Moses, Moses!” and Moses responds, “Here I am.” “Through the creation to the Creator”: in and through the tree he beholds, Moses enters into communion with the living God.

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In the second place, God does not only appear to Moses but also issues a practical command to him: “Remove the sandals from your feet.” According to Greek Fathers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa, sandals or shoes — being made from the skins of dead animals — are something lifeless, inert, dead and earthly, and so they symbolize the heaviness, weariness, and mortality that assail our human nature as a result of the Fall.

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“Remove your sandals,” then, may be understood to signify: Strip off from yourself the deadness of familiarity and boredom; free yourself from the lifelessness of the trivial, the mechanical, the repetitive; wake up, open your eyes, cleanse the doors of your perception, look and see! And what, in the third place, happens to us when in this manner we strip off the dead skins of boredom and triviality? At once we realize the truth of God’s next words to Moses: “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Set free from spiritual deadness, awakening from sleep, opening our eyes both outwardly and inwardly, we look upon the world around us in a different way.

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So we enter the dimensions of sacred space and sacred time. We discern the great within the small, the extraordinary within the ordinary, “a world in a grain of sand … and eternity in an hour,” to quote Blake once more. This place where I am, this tree, this animal, this person to whom I am speaking, this moment of time through which I am living: each is holy, each is unique and unrepeatable, and each is therefore infinite in value.

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Combining Edward Carpenter’s living tree, uniting earth and heaven and the burning bush of Moses, we can see emerging a precise and distinctive conception of the universe. Nature is sacred. The world is a sacrament of the divine presence, a means of communion with God. The environment consists not in dead matter but in living relationship. The entire cosmos is one vast burning bush, permeated by the fire of divine power and glory. …

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For more Orthodox ecology of Transfiguration, theophanic transparency, pellucid double vision and Zen ‘haeccitas’, read the full article THROUGH CREATION TO THE CREATOR by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

 at http://incommunion.org/2004/12/11/through-creation-to-the-creator/

Thin Places

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  • Thin Places: “Thin Places,” comes from a Celtic Christian concept. The Celts believed that physical locations existed in which God’s presence was more accessible than elsewhere, places where heaven and earth seemed to touch, where the line between holy and human met for a moment, “the places in the world where the walls are weak”, “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses”, as Eric Weiner puts it in his spirituality travelogue, Man Seeks GodFor such a ‘thin place’ for me visit my blog post on the Holy and Life-Givng Cross Orthodox parish at Lancaster.

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“This is a difficult post for me to write … I have always believed that Art and Nature are two vital ways to make our  prayer come to life, two ways to lead us ‘into’ knowing God.  And yet, I feel God has offered me such a rare gift at the end of a very tough year that I need to give myself time to allow it to sink in before I fully understand what I was given. … I was on a day-tour of the Grand Canyon.

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The sense of unmanageable Beauty one has before the wilderness of the Grand Canyon is just that: a true revelation of God, a true revelation of the correct relationship we are to have with Him. When I was there, facing this extraordinary demonstration of what authentic creativity is, all I felt was silence: a thick blanket of silence that covered my heart, my brain, my body… Before God’s presence, one goes numb, afraid to even breathe, afraid to approach it or draw near in any way. My eye-sight is not worthy to touch such beauty, my voice is not real, authentic enough to even whisper a prayer; all of one’s senses go silent, paralysed before such overwhelming power.

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And yet, my heart continued to pray in a different way. Deep down, my being seems to hide a different kind of worship, a different kind of relating to Christ. I don’t know when and how I learnt it; it just exists, the way instincts simply exist. Before such beauty, one discovers how different we are from what we’ve learnt to think we are – we are so much deeper, so much more beautiful, so much more able to worship and truly pray. It’s as if we were created with a set of spiritual senses and abilities, which we later – for some painful reason – fail to recognise in ourselves and fail to develop. We waste so much of our own being, we are so removed, so distant from our real selves… We learn to adapt to this world, and we end up replacing our spiritual senses with material ones.

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Then, in moments like these, we find ourselves face to face with His presence, and a sort of engine just starts working again in our hearts – all by itself, with no input, no doing of our own.

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I was simply present; I was in awe at the presence of my true self as much as I rejoiced in God’s presence. There was nothing but silence in me; yet, this silence was as alive, as ‘eloquent’ in its worship as the most grace-filled moments I’ve been blessed with the Holy Altar.”

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Ashes and Snow — Qadeeshat Lamayouta

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Qadeeshat Hyeltana

Qadeeshat Lamayouta

Itrahem Alain

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Holy God

Holy Mighty One

Holy Immortal One

Have Mercy on us

For the stunning, heavenly singing of the Aramaic hymn, listen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6tV679wXIU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwNkBaWxz_Y

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Worshipping God in Aramaic the language of Jesus the Semitic language of Israel, Levant, and Mesopotamia, by Father Seraphim and his choir from Georgia, brought me to mind Gregory Colbert’s Ashes and Snow images, visceral yet dreamlike, returning us to a place we long for but cannot name, reawakening an ancient memory in us of a time when we lived in balance and harmony with Nature and God.

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Gregory Colbert’s Ashes and Snow is an ongoing project comprised of photographic artworks, a one-hour film and two short film “haikus,” and a novel in letters all presented in a purpose-built temporary structure called the Nomadic Museum.

“Feather to Fire
Fire to Blood
Blood to Bone
Bone to Marrow
Marrow to Ashes
Ashes to Snow.”

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For the full text, go to: http://www.mycity.rs/Knjizevnost/Ashes-and-Snow-by-Gregory-Colbert.html

For the mesmerising videos watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSX444hQ5Vo&list=PLF8BA0D1D7E544A00&index=1

https://gregorycolbert.com

Soaring on Eagles’ Wings

“And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1)

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“Exceedingly sad is the blindness of the sons of men, who do not see the power and glory of the Lord.

There is too much of You, O Lord, my breath, therefore people do not see You. You are too obvious, O Lord, my sighing …”

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“A bird lives in the forest, and does not see the forest. A fish swims in the water, and does not see the water. A mole lives in the earth, and does not see the earth … “ Velimirovic (1880 – 1956), Prayers by the Lake,  VII

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“… … The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it.”

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“You never enjoy the world aright, …. till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys … “

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“It is the Paradise of God. It is more to man since he is fallen than it was before. It is the place of Angels and the Gate of Heaven. …”

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“You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.”

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“You never enjoy the world aright …Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels …”

Thomas Traherne (1636 or 1637 – ca.1674) English metaphysical poet, ecstatic theologian and clergyman — Centuries of Meditation, ‘almost the most beautiful book in the English language’, according to CS. Lewis

Discovered at https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/you-never-enjoy-the-world-aright/

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“The Earth is Art, The Photographer is only a Witness”

Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Earth from Above

For more information go go to Yann Arthus-Bertrand official website at http://www.yannarthusbertrand.org/en AND to a captivating image-filled Ted talk, where Yann Arthus-Bertrand displays his three most recent projects on humanity and our habitat — his stunning aerial photographs in his series “The Earth From Above,” personal interviews from around the globe featured in his web project “6 billion Others,” and his soon-to-be-released movie, “Home,” which documents human impact on the environment through breathtaking video.  https://www.ted.com/talks/yann_arthus_bertrand_captures_fragile_earth_in_wide_angle?language=en

For Yann Arthus-Bertrand stunning latest opus Human, for promo material and trailers go to https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/u/0/collection/human-the-movie, for excerpts to https://www.youtube.com/user/HUMANthemovie2015  and for the whole movie to http://www.human-themovie.org

Ancient Celtic Prayer

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Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you

Amen
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you

Amen
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

Deep peace of Christ, The light of the world to you
Deep Peace of Christ to you
Deep peace of Christ, The light of the world to you

Amen
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.