St. Cuthbert’s Eccentic Heir

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The simple grave of Maitland Moir, Dean Cemetery

Last weekend (Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd January 2017) I was invited to a Study Weekend: Holiness in the Bible, at the  Orthodox Community of St Andrew the Apostle, Edinburgh, by the Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist.

Highlights from this event will follow in the coming blog entries, however, the starting point has to be the late Renown Scottish Orthodox Priest, Fr. John Maitland Moir, whose legacy and spirit is so alive in this Orthodox Community. In the words of parishioners I met there, he now continues to live in their hearts. In his words:”I love you but God loves you more.”I had the rare blessing to meet this priest a number of times back in Greece, in my hometown Thessaloniki, on his way to Mount Athos. The last time we met, shortly before he reposed, his face was so radiant, transparent and otherwordly, words cannot describe.

The Life of Fr. John Maitland Moir

Below is his official obituary. Our prayers go to all who knew and loved him, and for the repose of his holy soul.

Fr John Maitland Moir 4Archimandrite John Maitland Moir (1924 – 2013)

Father John Maitland Moir, Priest of the Orthodox Church of St Andrew in Edinburgh, founder of many smaller Orthodox communities throughout Scotland and Orthodox Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh, died peacefully in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on the 17th April 2013.

Fr John Maitland Moir 1A man of profound holiness and bedazzling eccentricity, of boundless compassion and canny wisdom, utterly selfless and stubbornly self-willed, serenely prayerful and fiercely self-disciplined, Father John will surely earn a place as a unique and outstanding figure in the ecclesiastical annals of Scotland. He was born in 1924 in the village of Currie where his father was the local doctor; his fondness for his mother was always mingled with quiet pride in the fact that she was a member of the lesser aristocracy. The privileged but somewhat severe upbringing of an only child in this household together with a chronic weakness in his knees kept him apart from the hurly-burly of boyhood and directed him from an early age to more spiritual and intellectual pursuits. After his schooling at Edinburgh Academy, he went on to study Classics at Edinburgh University during the war years, his never robust health precluding any active military service. After the war, and a short spell as Classics Master at Cargilfield School in Perthshire, he moved to Oxford to continue classical studies at Christ Church and theological studies at Cuddesdon Theological College.

His interest in Eastern Christendom was awakened in Oxford and he eagerly seized the opportunity to study at the famous Halki Theological Academy in Istanbul in 1950-51. During this year he also travelled in the Holy Land and Middle East and forged friendships in the Eastern Churches which he maintained throughout his life. On his return to Scotland he was ordained in the Scottish Episcopalian Church, which he was to serve faithfully for the next thirty years. His first charge was as Curate at St Mary’s in Broughty Ferry, then for a period of six years he taught at St Chad’s College, Durham. He returned to Scotland in 1962 as Curate in Charge of the Edinburgh Parish of St Barnabas and as Honorary Chaplain at St Mary’s Cathedral, then in 1967 he moved north to the Diocese of Moray where he served as Chaplain to the Bishop of Moray and latterly as Canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Inverness. His devotion to his pastoral and liturgical duties as well as his personal holiness and prayerfulness inspired a sense of awe in his loyal parishoners. Only his habit of wearing the kilt beneath his cassock provoked a reprimand from his Bishop, who was more than somewhat bewildered by Father John’s fervent and unbending Scottish patriotism. The Scottish Episcopalian Church which Father John loved and served was, he believed, a Church with special affinities with the Eastern Churches: his eyes would light up when explaining how the Liturgy of Scottish Episcopalian Church, like those of the East, contained an epiclesis. With the passing of the years, however, he became convinced that the Scottish Episcopalian Church was moving ever further away in faith and in practice from that common ground with the Orthodox Church which he had also come to know and love and whose prayer he had made his own.

Fr John Maitland Moir 3In 1981, he resigned from his position in the Diocese of Moray and travelled to Mount Athos where he was received into the Orthodox Church at the Monastery of Simonopetra. He returned to Britain to serve now as an Orthodox Priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain with utter devotion for a further full thirty years.

After three years in Coventry, Father John returned to Scotland where he united the two small Orthodox communities in Edinburgh, one Slavonic and one Greek, into the single Orthodox Community of St Andrew. At the same time, he travelled tirelessly around the country by bus serving often tiny groups of Orthodox Christians in Aberdeen, Inverness, Perth, Dundee, St Andrews, Stirling and elsewhere. For Father John, the Orthodox Church was what his beloved C.S. Lewis would call ‘Mere Christianity’, transcending the bounds of nationality and language and embracing all who seek to live a Christian life – the scandal of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. It also embraced for him the most precious elements in the Christian history of Scotland, especially that vision of Christianity expressed in figures such as St Columba and St Cuthbert. An ascetic by nature, his interest was in a practical Christianity nourished by prayer and tradition, rather than in the aesthetic refinements and intellectual gymnastics that attract many Westerners to the Orthodox Church. Not without opposition from members of his flock, Father John introduced English as the common language of worship and succeeded in creating a truly international community reflecting the many nationalities of the Orthodox students studying at the Scottish Universities and of the Orthodox families living and working in Scotland. As the Orthodox Church in Scotland grew in numbers through migration from traditionally Orthodox countries, so did the proportion of Scottish members who found themselves at home in the Community.

His role as Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh was one he took very seriously. The Chapel of St Andrew, set up at first in his house in George Square and then transferred to the former Buccleuch Parish School by the Meadows, lay at the heart of the University complex; the daily services held there with unfailing regularity and its ever open door provided and continues to provide a firm point of reference for countless students. The Chapel of St Andrew, however, was also the base for his work at the other Edinburgh Universities and throughout Scotland – work now being continued with equal zeal and selflessness by two gifted Priests, Fr Avraamy and Fr Raphael.

Fr John Maitland MoreFather John subjected himself to an almost unbelievably austere ascetic regime of fasting and prayer, while at the same making himself available to everyone who sought his assistance, spiritual or material, at all times of day and night. His care for the down-and-out in Edinburgh provoked admiration and no little concern in many parishioners who would come to the Church, which was also his home, only to find him calmly serving coffee with aristocratic gentility to a bevy of homeless alcoholics or to find a tramp asleep on his sofa. He was tireless in his efforts to help the victims of torture and persecuted Christians throughout the world. Few days would pass without him writing a letter of support for someone in prison or in mortal danger. He had inherited a comfortable fortune, he died penniless, having dispersed all his worldly assets to the deserving and undeserving in equal measure.

His habits of life would have marked him as a caricature of Scottish parsimony had they not been joined to an extraordinary generosity of spirit. All his voluminous correspondence was meticulously hand-written on scraps of recycled paper and dispatched by second-class mail in reused envelopes, whether he was writing to Dukes and Prelates or to the indigent and distressed. For many years, he was a familiar sight on the streets of Edinburgh as he passed by on his vintage electric bicycle, his black cassock and long white beard furling in the wind.

As his physical strength ebbed away, he was comforted by the love and care of those who looked to him as their spiritual father and by the ministrations and devotion of his fellow clergy. He was also tended by the medical expertise of the Greek doctors of the Community towards whom he never ceased to express his gratitude.

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The last year of his remarkable life was perhaps the most remarkable of all. Completely bed-ridden, nearly blind and almost totally deaf, he devoted himself even more fully to prayer, especially to prayer for the continued unity, harmony, well-being and advancement of the Orthodox Communities in Scotland. On the day he died, an anonymous benefactor finally sealed the purchase of the former Buccleuch Parish Church for the Orthodox Community of St Andrew in Edinburgh thus securing a material basis for the realization of the spiritual vision that had inspired Fr John throughout his life.

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St. Andrew’s Church has acquired this property and is planning to move here in the future.

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Orthodox Easter St Andrews Church Edinburgh 2013; Father John’s seat.

Read also this ex-Scottish Episcopal priest,  who even then, in the 1960s,  looked like an Orthodox priest, with a wispy beard and a Sarum cassock, and always the  fervent patriot, he once earned an episcopal reprimand for wearing a kilt  beneath his cassock, and and who “became a “weel-kent” figure riding a heavy iron bicycle around Tollcross and the Meadows. …  Although he lived a quiet life, Father John hit the national headlines in 2001 when he helped shelter an eight-year-old girl from her father.

Defying a court order that the girl should not leave the country without her father’s consent, he helped Ashley-Maria Black and her mother Valerie set up a new life in Greece.

Despite angry visits from the girl’s father Keith Black to his offices he refused to reveal the girl’s whereabouts, despite a court order, claiming Mr Black was using the girl to “harass” her mother… in “Renown Scottish Orthodox Priest Dies Just Weeks After Completing His Life’s Work” here and here

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May his Memory be Eternal! 

 

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In Memoriam: Sister Aggeliki Tsaousi the Unmercenary Paediatrician (1932-2015)

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+ Memory Eternal!  Καλόν Παράδεισον! + Theophany 2015

Today I have been to the Annual Greek Memorial Service for a very special person, one I consider my spiritual mother.  On the anniversary of the repose the tradition is for members of the church to pray for the reposed during Holy Liturgy, at the very centre of the temple, with  Koliva, accompany the relatives to the graveside with flowers, candles, incense, prayers and singing … and follow these prayers by a special meal with the family and friends.

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After Meeting such a Person, how can you not change? 

St. Porphyrios once told a Pediatrician: “Listen to what I have to say to you. Every time you examine a child*** you should offer a fervent prayer with love: Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant.”

As he said this he took a deep breath while he opened his hands. “It is in this way that you should pray for every child. God has sent a precious soul into your hands. As you place your hands on them pray fervently within yourself that the grace of God will be transfused into the soul of the child. 

“Do all this things spiritually and in secret. The others who are present won’t understand anything. You will prescribe to them medicines which science dictates but in the final analysis Christ will heal the child.” (source)

* This is exactly how Sister Aggeliki lived and ministered the needs of her younger (and older) patients. She was a true Child of God, taking care of all of us, children of God. She was a paediatrician for “paedia” (children) from newborn to 99+ years old  😊

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Sister Aggeliki Tsaousi slept in Christ last year amidst the Lights of Theophany, having lived a long life of poverty for Christ, of sacrifice and prayer, dedicated to the ministering of the poor, the sick, the needy, the addicted, the refugees, families in crises, all her brethren in Christ, no matter what their country of origin was and what their religion. She established a charitable organization “Love of Christ”, recruited other like-minded volunteer doctors and founded an ‘international’ humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization (NGO), a model Doctors Without Borders, before that term was even invented. The fact that the doors of her clinic remained open 24/7 and welcomed everybody drew upon her the criticism, even wrath  of some of Thessaloniki’s local society, who could  not understand why she bothered with gypsies, Muslims, drug addicts, Albanians or atheists. She often got into trouble for being no respecter of persons, but the Lord did not abandon this handmaiden who trusted in Him and lived a life of holiness and humility. She was a woman of integrity, great strength and faith, and pursued the path of the Cross, of sacrifice, with the Holy Unmercenary St. Panteleimon and St. Nektarios of Pentapolis by her side, making their presence most  powerfully  felt in her daily ministry with great miracles of healing.

 

After Meeting such a Person, how can you not change? 

 

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St. Nektarios of Pentapolis (Sister Aggeliki’s Patron Saint)

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Holy Unmercenary St. Panteleimon (Sister Aggeliki’s ‘Medical Assistant’)

I have never written before in my life an obituary, especially in a language which is not my mother tongue! but I feel deeply moved to make a humble attempt for Sister Aggeliki, since I have been blessed to be on her side for more than 2 decades.

Sister Aggeliki was truly, genuinely ecumenical. She “incarnated” John Donne’s Meditation:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 

Sister Aggeliki’s  love for God and her ‘neighbour’ was proverbial, unwavering, selfless, unconditional and boundless. She was special and she made everybody feel special and loved!  She became a legend all over Greece! A doctor who was never granted her degree, because as a University student she refused to take the oath, which was  the custom of Greek universities back in those days, since she felt it contradicted God’s law: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all …” (Matthew 5:34).

A doctor whose career collapsed before its beginning, but not her calling! A doctor who never “earned” any salary for her services, who worked as a volunteer in all major hospitals, clinics, charitable and missionary organisations, in Greece and abroad, a doctor who was eventually hired as a cleaning lady (!) but was never paid, again (!), and even her “pension” as a cleaning lady went straight to the poor, the church and various charitable organisations, as we all found out after her repose. So, how on earth did she make it? This remains still a mystery to everyone but God!

Dear Sister Aggeliki, such zeal, such a pure spirit and love for Christ! She strove so hard to remain invisible, hidden, but God’s Grace “betrayed” her … She would make it a point to frequent ‘anonymous’ chapels to hide herself from people and their praise — indeed I remember her ‘confessing’ this ‘secret’ to me — yet, everybody recognised her everywhere and sought her blessing and her prayers! She was the families’ refuge and strength, a proverbial Rock in times of distress, always present in times of need, always preferring fasts to feasts, when faced with conflicting demands in her hectic schedule.

 

Serving as the doctor of ‘Love for Christ’, assisting administratively nearby and far monasteries , supporting charitable/missionary organisations, ministering the needs of the poor who flocked around her, had Sister Aggeliki working from dawn to midnight each day. In the midst of her exhausting ministry she devoted careful time to her inner life of prayer, composed Christian poetry and wrote Christian plays, kept a diary in which she set down her thoughts, feelings, and prayers, and systematically recorded Patristic teachings on monasticism together with her broad experience in contemporary monasticism, encoding them in her voluminous work, her magnum opus (in the editing process; under publication) Rule of Love for Christ: A Set of (Spiritual) Articles of ‘Incorporation’ For a Woman’s Monastery.

So, let me eventually dare upon a few vignettes …

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Vignette1: It all started very unexpectedly, back to the days when my son was a toddler, and undergoing from one medical complication to another, being sent from one hospital to another, with doctors at their wits’ ends, experimenting on all sorts of medication on him, without being able to diagnose, let alone treat, his health problem, whatever that was. In despair, always in search for a paediatrician who could assist us in our impasse and bring our woes to an end, God took care of us and I was given her telephone number, I cannot recall by whom …

I remember our first telephone call in full detail. I was very upset and frustrated and all she did was calmly ask a couple of questions to understand what the problem was and then she paused! I thought the line was broken, but she was still there on the other side; she told me she had to pray so that she would not pile error upon error on this chain of medical misjudgments to avoid further jeopardising my son’s health. So, I waited and … waited in silence … Finally, she told me in full detail what we had to do, until she would examine our son, which she promptly did, once she was available, and then treated him for just one week, and do I need to add that she was correct 100% in her “diagnosis” and that this was the end to my son’s  health problems?

You would not want to let such a paediatrician disappear from your life, would you? The fact that you would not have to  pay anything for such treatment, or  travel all the way  to hospitals or wait long hours in queues outside surgeries, was the least for such a Godsend present. Even the fact that she never erred, even in the most difficult cases, never! , was a “minor” detail to what just a single visit to this amazing woman offered you. Really, could it be that people like her truly existed? Indeed, she was in “possession” of something which none or very few other paediatricians or doctors, or indeed anybody, could offer, and that was nothing less than a  glimpse to another world, a beautiful world full of Serenity, Love, Compassion, Light, Peace, Hope and true Healing.

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She was such a magnet and we soon got stuck to her, like practically anybody else who got to know her better. One could not help but be drawn into her strong, warm, calm, prayerful, charismatic circle of grace- and be changed! Gradually we even began to fathom the depths of her life and ministry  if that could ever be possible ! Because you have to somehow be spiritually similar  to such a person to be able to understand or describe her by any means. And we most surely were not. But we were blessed to be next door neighbours (😊), so we would regularly visit her at her home-clinic, and spend hours and days talking, praying, helping, planning … Yes, planning! Because during these intimate visits, we eventually became attracted to her vision and started ourselves volunteering to help other people

All these long days of ministry, of driving her to homes in need, of visiting terminal patients, orphans, of children summer camps and soup kitchens, of concerts and plays, of sharing the holiness of fellowship in Christ and bringing the Church to the Laity of God, to give you just a few examples, would not only not tire us, but on the contrary would help us forget or deal better with “our” problems, would most deeply refresh us. She had such a fine sense of humour and was always so cheerful! So many memories, dear Sister Aggeliki, a true Angel, Messenger of God, so many words of yours still echoing in my ears, so many pieces of invaluable spiritual advice. May you remember us in your prayers now that you are face to face to God and behold His Glory in the company of His Saints.

After Meeting such a Person [Προς-Ωπο, Prosopon (/ˈprɒsɵpɒn/[1] or /prɵˈspən/;[2] from Ancient Greekπρόσωπον, πρός ‎(próstowards) + ὤψ ‎(ṓpseye), most often translated as “person”, and as such is sometimes confused in translation with hypostasis, which is also translated as “person.”, but  pros-opon originally meant a Person whose eyes are directed Up-wards, to Heaven — Sister Aggeliki’s eyes were most certainly directed Up-wards!

Vignette2: Preparations for a feast for the children’s summer camp were under way and a volunteer got very tired, lost its temper, started shouting at Sister Aggeliki and insulting her, and eventually slammed the door in her face! As if all this exhaustion had triggered an explosion of deep-rooted rivalry, jealousy, pride and resentment! She wanted so desperately to be in charge and lead! And what did most patient Sister Aggeliki do? Did she lose her temper? She was older, exhausted after all and suffering from cancer too. No, she just took a deep breath and started praying spiritually and in secret. I was stupefied !! What was that woman thinking?! Just the age, frailty and the habit that Sister Aggeliki was wearing should be more than enough to teach her to behave herself and show more respect! I rushed downstairs to try to appease her (to no avail), as she was still shouting at the top of her voice that she was right and that Sister Aggeliki was to blame for all this!  So what did Sister Aggeliki decide to do? Magnanimous Sister Aggeliki, generous in forgiving an insult or injury, free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness. She “punished” herself just like St. Nektarios, who rather than punish two students of his, when they misbehaved, when he served as the headmaster of the Rizarion Ecclesiastical School,  he ‘punished’ himself and started fasting (ie. eating nothing!) and praying for their sake. Likewise, Sister Aggeliki repented, fasted, prayed and refrained from Holy Communion that Sunday until she confessed to her spiritual father and asked for forgiveness for a wrong she had not committed! Needless to add, she forgave that woman wholly and unconditionally that very moment and never entertaining any bad thought (logismos).  Sister Aggeliki would always, very humbly, like her patron Saint, Saint Nektarios, endure injustice  slanders and meekly face temptations

Vignette 3: She was on her deathbed, facing terminal cancer, and stifling her moans with Hymns and Martyrs’ Apolytikia. To her very last day, she examined sick children and ministered people’s needs. Just to remember her hoarse from pain voice singing a hymn a day before her end reduces me to tears. 

Vignette 4: The minute her pure soul flew to her Maker, Sister Aggeliki’s face glowed; she raised her hand with her prayer rope, and blessed everybody at her side, leaving this world with ineffable Joy!

After Meeting such a Person, how can you not change? 

–– Geronda [ie. Saint Paisios], the final diagnosis has been made. Your tumor is cancerous and it’s aggressive. 

–– Bring me a handkerchief so that I may dance to the song: “I bid farewell to you, O poor world!” I have never danced in my life, but now I will dance for joy as my death approaches. [Dialogue With Elder Paisios as He Faces Death at http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.gr/2014/10/ dialogue-with-elder-paisios-as-he-faces.html

And so, she danced her way to Heaven! Sister Aggeliki had always wanted to become a nun; she fasted and prayed like a nun; she owned nothing, gave away everything, and wore a habit all her life, but she stayed in the desert of the cities instead, because she sacrificed her “calling” in order  to take care of her blind sister, who was suffering from a very serious mental disorder and was dangerous to herself, her environment and Sister Aggeliki of course. Humbly she would confess that this cross was for the expiation of her sins! She did not want to commit het to a mental institution, because this sister was simultaneously a fool for Christ, and wanted to spend endless hours in Church and in prayer. Sister Aggeliki knew that she could not lead  such a church life in a mental hospital, where they would ‘sedate’ her with heavy medication, so she ‘waited’ by her side for 50+ years and would walk her to church whenever there was a service. Sister Aggeliki received tonsure only a few months before her death, when her sister had died. And yet, how moving it was today to hear her commemorated in Church as a “Sister”, because if there was any woman who deserved to be thus commemorated as a nun, if not on Earth, then surely in Heaven, this was most certainly her!

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Today, during the Memorial Service, it suddenly occurred to me that rather than praying for her, we ought to pray to her, and ask her blessing from “above”!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZRrbixpVV0

Why these bitter words of the dying, o brethren,
which they utter as they go hence?
I am parted from my brethren.
All my friends do I abandon and go hence.
But whither I go, that understand I not,
neither what shall become of me yonder;
only God who hath summoned me knoweth.
But make commemoration of me with the song:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

But whither now go the souls?
How dwell they now together there?
This mystery have i desired to learn; but none can impart aright.
Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them?
Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them and make the song:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

We go forth on the path eternal, and as condemned,
with downcast faces, present ourselves before the only God eternal.
Where then is comeliness? Where then is wealth?
Where then is the glory of this world?
There shall none of these things aid us, but only to say oft the psalm:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

If thou hast shown mercy unto man, o man,
that same mercy shall be shown thee there;
and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,
the same shall there deliver thee from want.
If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,
the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Youth and the beauty of the body fade at the hour of death,
and the tongue then burneth fiercely, and the parched throat is inflamed.
The beauty of the eyes is quenched then, the comeliness of the face all altered,
the shapeliness of the neck destroyed; and the other parts have become numb,
nor often say: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

With ecstasy are we inflamed if we but hear that there is light eternal yonder;
that there is Paradise, wherein every soul of Righteous Ones rejoiceth.
Let us all, also, enter into Christ, that we may cry aloud thus unto God:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!