Drop Your Baggage


Reflections on Pilgrimages by three fellow ‘Pilgrims


“No one descends from the Cross, but they take him down” Christ to Elder Sophrony (Sakharov)

[My interposed or ‘highlighted’ comments  are in brackets and in blue] 

“I had made grand plans [Oh yes! Sooo me!! Throw caution to the wind!]  this past summer. My goal was to retrace Paul’s first missionary journey. I would start in Antalya, shoot past Perge up north through the Taurus Mountains until I was just north of Yalvac (Antioch of Pisidia). From there I would swing west to Konya (Iconium) and do a quick circle hitting the ruins that were Lystra and Derbe before finishing back up at Konya. Unfortunately, just three days into this journey I ended up spraining my ankle. Even though that random injury shortened my planned 500+ mile journey down to seventy, it was still the longest I had ever walked in one setting and it was a great experience.

From start to finish I did that walk with this big black bag. In this bag I carried a tent and small blanket, some clothes, a Bible and a notebook, some food, and water. I carried lots of water. I would much rather not have the need, but I was going through some uninhabited mountains and near desert in weather that was in the nineties and sunny every single day. You might not think of it but water is heavy. Very heavy. As I was walking this bag gave me bruises on my shoulders. When I tried to loosen the straps to relieve them, it would end up chafing my lower ribs and back. [And blisters, corns and callouses on my feet]

[I have moved to the UK since May 20, ‘moved’ by a ‘similar’ missionary impulse. Little did I know that I would spend so much of my day walking from place to place, since I am not in possession of  a car (yet?) and my lodgings appropriately ‘primitive’ and remote, often getting lost in unfamiliar surroundings, carrying, more often than I would have liked, heavy objects in my backpack and bags. Never would I have grasped how spoilt and what a creature of comfort I am if I had not been restricted to such old, poorly maintained, cramped, uncomfortable, poor lodgings!]

There was no escaping the pain. This thing hurt and it was preventing me from being able to walk the walk I wanted to. It was a beautiful moment when I was able to hobble into my hotel in Isparta, drop my bag, and say, “I am done with you.” Like me dropping that bag, there are some things we will need to let go of if we are to chose to walk the life Jesus has called us to. 

 Mark 10:46 – Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed them. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road.

The first set of baggage Bartimaeus need to drop is the Baggage of his background.What is your background? What is your cultural heritage? One of the popular memes floating around on the internet are those “Keep calm and _______” Keep calm and pray. Keep calm and drink starbucks. Keep calm and eat a cookie. Keep calm and kill zombies. Keep calm and watch gossip girl. You name it, they’ve “keep calmed” it. One of my favorite “Keep calm’s” is a T-shirt I have seen a few times: “I can’t keep calm. I’m Turkish.” Every culture has it’s own distinctions, some would say stereotypes, and there will always be some who will use one of those cultural distinctions, or their family upbringing, as an excuse for their behavior. “I cant help being an alcoholic, I’m…” Or, “I can’t control my temper. It is the ______ in me coming out.” Or “You think I’m rude? I’m _____. We’re all rude. Deal with it.”

Although our cultural background and family background might make us more likely to act in certain ways, ultimately we are all responsible for our own behavior. [I would have never been made so intensely aware of my own cultural/ family background, had I not moved to a ‘foreign’ country and being ‘forced’ to communicate all the time, in writing and in speaking, in a language which is not my mother tongue. Can you imagine? Two conferences in just two weeks! Most fascinating but forcing me to struggle as they were not in my mother tongue. We never realise how deeply rooted we are in an ‘environment’ until we are completely removed from it] Bartimaeus could have said his background was a blessing or a curse. On the one hand since Timaeus means “highly favored”, Bartimaeus would mean “highly favored son”. He was not born blind and so the name “favorite son” was probably not an ironic misnomer. On the other hand, Timaeus is a Greek name. Those who like philosophy might recognize that it was Timaeus who debated Socrates in Plato’s dialogues. Bartimaeus was a mixed blood in a very racist society. Whether you come from a home of abuse, shame, and poverty or whether you had an incredibly blessed and very loving background, there comes a point when you just need to let go. Leave it behind you. Walk your own walk.

 Mark 10:46 – Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed them. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road.

In addition to the baggage of his background, Bartimaeus needed to drop the baggage of his disability. Bartimaeus was a blind beggar. In modern society being blind is not as crippling as it was in his day. We have books in braille. I have even been through a drive through for McDonalds where a sign says that they have braille menus available. I really hope no blind driver is ever pulling up to ask for one while I am anywhere near. We also have audio books and a program that will read any PDF file in a reasonably normal voice. We also have medical advances where many who would once have gone blind can now get surgery and see perfectly fine. Bartimaeus had none of that. He had no hope.

What is your disability? Most people would say I am average height, but in my family my shortness is a disability. All of my cousins and siblings, even most of the girls, are taller than me. Our family loves basketball. I love basketball, but I have a permanent unfixable disability against others in my family.  No matter how hard I try, I will never grow taller. It just won’t happen. But then I think of pros like Spud Webb and Mugsy Bogues. These guys were much shorter than I was and yet they played well against others who were far taller and better than anyone in my family. Just like our background, we need to drop the baggage of our supposed disabilities if we are to experience our miracle. If God calls us, He will enable us. [I have repeatedly felt so incompetent, weak, discouraged, vulnerable, frustrated, inadequate, struggling, the last three weeks, even while trying to accomplish such basic tasks, as moving, unpacking, struggling to have a reliable Wi-Fi connection–still a struggle!–registering at NHS, opening bank accounts, securing a variety of official documents …] 

Mark 10:47 – When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In addition to his background and disability, Bartimaeus needed to drop the baggage of his respectability. [Oh yes! Can you imagine what friends, relatives back in Greece think of me when they ask about what on earth I am doing here at the UK? Re-discovering Orthodoxy in a ‘secular’, ‘pagan’, ‘depraved’ country?! Certainly a country that is not God’s ‘chosen nation’ such as Greece!!??] In Mark 10:47 it says that Bartimaeus began to shout. There are two different Greek words that are both translated “shout” in the New Testament. One of those shouts is the cry of joy or greeting. When I am watching Real Madrid in football and Cristiano Ronaldo scores again, I am shouting right along with that announcer, “GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!” When I spot an unexpected friend walking along at the far end of Sultanahmet Square, I will be shouting out their name. This type of shout is very different from the type of shout I would be proclaiming if I was in a car that just crashed off the side of a bridge. As that sinking car started to fill up with water and I was still trapped inside, my shout would become louder and louder as I grew more and more desperate.

The truth is, the more joyful or desperate we become, the less concerned we are with those around us. Joy and desperation both expose the fear of respectability as the shadow it really is. The rest of the time, most of us are far too concerned with our respectability. “What would they think if…” is a thought we all think much too often. Think about it. Ninety percent of the time we think about someone else, we are really only wondering what they are thinking about us. On the flip side, those same people, if they think of us at all,  are spending ninety percent of those thoughts wondering what we think of them. We are all trapped in a web of false respectability and we need to drop that baggage off and come to Jesus.

Mark 10:48 – “Be quiet!” Many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Very similar to that baggage of respectability that Bartimaeus had to drop was the baggage of others expectations of him. As much as I just said people don’t often think about you, on those rare moments when they do, they are sure to let you know just exactly what they think. When I first told a certain friends that I was moving to Turkey, they told me I was being stupid. [Likewise] They said I was doing a lot of good work right where I was and that I had no business giving all that up, and leaving my family and friends to go to the other side of the world. It hurt. I knew that I was doing the right thing, and others who I trust their voice in my life agreed, but to hear this person say those things even though I knew they were wrong really hurt.

Everybody around Bartimaeus told him to shut up. They wanted to silence him, but he wasn’t screaming for the crowd. His voice was aimed only at Jesus and he would not be quiet until he received his answer. Sometimes, pursuing our miracle means those around us might end up getting angry or confused. They might not understand what God has called us to or they might become disappointed because we are not following their dreams for our life. Oh well. We need to drop the baggage of other’s expectations if we are going to walk the life Jesus has called us to.[Precisely, ‘crazy’ though that ‘calling’ may appear]

Mark 10:49-50 – When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.” So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on. He’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

The next thing Bartimaeus had to throw off was the baggage of his security.[Oh yes! To be sure, Jesus has blessed my every single day here with new friends, new ‘signposts’, caring, clairvoyant elders, miracles, Sants’ relics, you name it, but every single day I had also to learn the hard lesson to rely only on Him] Bartimaeus threw aside his coat. We hear that and think, “so what?” What we do not realize is how much of a big deal this would be for a poor person at that time. Bartimaeus was most likely homeless and, if so, that coat was his most prized possession. The poor man’s coat was also his blanket. In the hot summer days, it was his only protection from the sun. During the cloudless chilly nights, it was his shelter from the cold.

Following Jesus is not safe. [No ‘plans’ or comfortable old habits will do here] I am currently reading a book that is a collection of stories about people who have left their former religion to become followers of Christ. Every single one of them is using a fake name for the book. Most of them had to leave their homes and even their countries to become God followers. I have a friend who is in Bible college now who still has not told his family that he has become a follower of Jesus. He fears that when his father finds out, he will hire someone to forcefully bring him back to his home country or, failing that, just kill him.

I cannot imagine that but I can imagine giving away a thousand book library. For me those books were my security. They were my prized possession. But when Jesus said, “come here” they did not matter. Those things we hold dear, those things that make us feel safe, can be very good or decent things. There was nothing evil about Bartimaeus’s coat but when it weighed him down from coming to Jesus, it had to go. If there is anything in my life that I trust or value more than following Christ, it is baggage that needs to be dropped.

Mark 10:51-52 – “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

He received his sight and followed Jesus. His eyes were opened and his path was set.

So what is our baggage? Jesus is calling us today. He is asking us to come, follow him. What baggage do we need to leave by the roadside in order to obey? For some reading this, it might be the first time you have ever seriously considered following Him. What is holding you back? Is it a fear of losing your respectability? Do the expectations of your family and friends hold you back? Maybe there is something you have done in your past, or something that was done to you, which makes you believe you are not worthy. Drop the baggage.

Others reading this have been following after Jesus for a while now. He is asking you to come a little higher. What would that take? Do you fear you are unfit because of some disability or struggle? Are you unwilling to just let loose and scream? Does the next step that you already know he is calling you to take seem just a little too unsafe?

When Bartimaeus met Jesus, the Messiah was on His way to the cross. This was the last time he would ever pass through Jericho. He did not know it at the time but if Bartimaeus passed up this opportunity, he would never have another. We might think there is all the time in the world to let go of that painful baggage which we consider so dear. We think that, but we certainly do not know it. This might be the last such opportunity you will ever have to grab hold of your miracle. This could be your final opportunity. Will you drop the baggage and step out? Will you be willing to lay everything down at the roadside and begin walking in the footsteps of Jesus?”

Source: Between Two Seas

“It is later than you think. Hasten, therefore, to do the work of God”.” as my spiritual great-grandfather Blessed Seraphim Rose would say.

Keep Your Mind in Hell



… and Despair Not

Not for the faint-hearted!

“No one on this earth can avoid affliction; and although the afflictions which the Lord sends are not great, men imagine them beyond their strength and are crushed by them. This is because they will not humble their souls and commit themselves to the will of God.”


These words seem to sum up soberingly D. Balfour’s tumultuous life, and indeed in so many respects ours…


SPEECHLESS! “It seems ludicrous to rate a book like this according to a certain amount of stars…I searched for it after reading the book I Know a Man in Christ — a great book about our holy and blessed Elder Sophrony, which mentions this correspondence with the amazing Englishman David Balfour. I imagine that the only reason why anyone would be interested in this book would be to learn about this incredible spiritual friendship. (No! There are so many more reasons to want to study this book) And this book does allow for that — and much more besides. I’ve read letters of spiritual direction before. These letters go way beyond that. They give insights to the Elder and to St. Silouan which are simply impossible to convey otherwise. And this David Balfour — he went from Catholic hieromonk to Orthodox hieromonk to British Army major and intelligence officer to diplomatic interpreter to midlife husband and father to Oxford Byzantine scholar in old age. A biography of him wouldn’t go amiss, although I don’t think we’ll see one. And underlying his whole life is the gaining and the losing and the eventual regaining of that inestimable treasure, the Holy Orthodox Christian faith and Holy Grace. Not for the faint of heart.” (D. Kovacs )



Not for the faint of heart.” Most certainly!


What an intense book which can be read on so many levels! A heart-rending spiritual biography of a brother in Christ struggling for his faith and the salvation of his soul amidst staggering trials, temptations and tribulations! A sobering warning too to all of us to be deadly serious with our faith and never forsake our obedience to our spiritual father at any cost! Hell indeed broke loose when Balfour decided to disobey St. Silouan and use his own mind instead for his life-decisions! To give you just one example: After converting to Orthodoxy and becoming an Orthodox hieromonk, Balfour disobeyed St Silouan’s ‘suggestion’ to move to France, and then to England, and went to Greece instead. Things went well at first, but with the outbreak of the Second World War, Balfour was forced to flee Greece and started wandering all over Europe, while undergoing a very dark period of disobedience, disillusionment, doubt and eventual loss of his faith, to the extent that he decided to shave his beard and defrock himself in Cairo, Egypt! I cannot even begin to imagine how traumatic all this experiences must have been for him!



What a most sobering book! “For Whom the Bells Toll” indeed. How often have I betrayed the Lord and disobeyed my spiritual father in the past! How dire the consequences of my disobedience have always been! Indeed, how fragile our faith is, how precarious our decision to follow the Lord at any cost like a true disciple, how unpredictable our falls and how uncertain our salvation until the very last moment of our life!


Striving for Knowledge of God: Correspondence with David Balfour is a treasury of wisdom distilled from Fr. Sophrony’s reading of the Fathers of the Church, from his conversations with St. Silouan, and from his own experience. Since most of these letters were written to someone new to the Orthodox Church and to Orthodox monasticism, they are of greatest interest to anyone contemplating converting to Orthodoxy.


In particular, the correspondence touches and elaborates on the difference between Eastern Orthodox and Western thought, in both Christian and philosophical writings. Thus Fr.Sophrony mentions Schleiermacher, Spinoza and Kant, and St John of the Cross (The Dark Night of the Soul). He dedicates a few pages to the concepts of the heart and prayer. In Eastern Christianity, he argues, the spiritual heart is not an abstract notion but is linked with our material heart and has its physical location. In opposition to the Western search for some visionary mystical experience, Fr.Sophrony advocates the prayer of repentance, which is the basis of all spiritual life.


As a reply to Balfour’s doubt over the importance of specifically Eastern ascetic and dogmatic traditions, Fr.Sophrony asserts the organic integrity and integrality of ascetic life, dogma and the Church. Criticising Schleiermacher in connexion with this issue, he writes:


“There are three things I cannot take in: nondogmatic faith, nonecclesiological Christianity and nonascetic Christianity. These three – the church, dogma, and asceticism – constitute one single life for me.” – Letter to D. Balfour, August 21, 1945.


“If one rejects the Orthodox creed and the eastern ascetic experience of life in Christ, which has been acquired throughout the centuries, then Orthodox culture would be left with nothing but the Greek minor [key] and Russian tetraphony.” – Letter to D. Balfour.


Fr.Sophrony also warns against attributing to intellectual reasoning the status of being the sole basis for religious search:


Historical experience has demonstrated that natural intellectual reasoning, left to its own devices, fatally arrives at pantheistic mysticism with its particular perception of reality. If this takes place in the soul of the Christian who does not want to reject Christ (as in the case of Leo Tolstoy), he arrives at Protestant rationalism or at spiritualism, which stands mystically close to pantheism… I am convinced that the rejection of the Church will lead to the rejection of the Apostolic message about Сthat which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes… and our hands have handled (1Jn.1:1) [148].



On a more general level, these letters are full with profound theological and spiritual insights. What a most blessed golden ‘chain’ of Grace and Sainthood! Elder Sophrony, already under consideration for glorification, was ordained to the diaconate by St Nicolai (Velimirovic) of Zicha and became a disciple of St Silouan the Athonite. Can you imagine? All these Saints were also ‘connected’ with the greatest probably Saint of our century, St. John Maximovitch! St. Nikolai Velimirovich is often referred to as Serbia’s New Chrysostom. St. John Maximovitch, who had been a young instructor at a seminary in Bishop Nikolai’s diocese of Ohrid, called him “a great saint and Chrysostom of our day [whose] significance for Orthodoxy in our time can be compared only with that of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). … They were both universal teachers of the Orthodox Church.”


Coming back to the book, of all theological concepts touched upon in this book, the one which most interests me  is the concept of Godforsakenness, as outlined by Fr.Sophrony, who worked out a distinction between two types:The first one is when man deserts God: To the extent that we live in this world, to that same extent we are dead in God. The second one is when God hides from man: a horrific state of Godforsakenness. When man has no more life in this world, i.e. cannot live by this world, the memory of the divine world draws him there, yet despite all this darkness encompasses his soul. He explains: these fluctuations of the presence and absence of grace are our destiny until the end of our earthly life. Fr.Sophrony saw suffering as a necessary stage in ascetic development: Divine grace comes only in the soul which has undergone suffering.


“We must have the determination to overcome temptations comparable to the sorrows of the first Christians. All the witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection were martyred. We should be ready to endure any hardship.”


“The most important thing in the spiritual life is to strive to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. It changes our lives (above all inwardly, not outwardly). We will live in the same house, in the same circumstances, and with the same people, but our life will already be different. But this is possible only under certain conditions: if we find the time to pray fervently, with tears in our eyes. From the morning to ask for God’s blessing, that a prayerful attitude may define our entire day.”


“Whoever gives up his cross cannot be worthy of the Lord and become His disciple. The depths of the Divine Being are revealed to the Christian when he is crucified for our Savior. The Cross is the foundation of authentic theology.”


Not for the faint of heart, indeed!

Pebbles and Pilgrimages


I’ve been travelling for the last two weeks. It was simply wonderful, but I’m waiting for a few free hours to put together a post about all this, my moving to the UK, the Archdiocesan Conference with our Father and Metropolitan His Eminence Silouan which I attended, and all the new friends I made and the living signposts (newly baptised ‘converts’ with amazing stories to share, clairvoyant priests who would read your thoughts across the room! …) I met in just two weeks!


Meanwhile …


While unpacking here, I discovered a small box with 4 pebbles and put it in my icon corner (under construction …)

IMG_3033Orthodox Christian Celtic Pilgrimage

It all started with 3 pebbles I was given by my spiritual father back in 2015. (All but the pebble in the middle above) They were from St Patrick’s ChapelSt Herbert’s Island (Celtic Pilgrimages) and Sambata de Sus (Romania).

Heysham — St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham, Lancashire, UK




St Herbert’s Island

st herbert's 5

st herbert's1

st herbert's 3

st herbert's



Sambata de Sus

arsenie boca1For Fr. Arsenie Boca – the blessed Romanian elder and prophet, who “made Christ transparent to us”, watch the documentary The Man of God.

Little did I know then how those tiny pebbles would affect my life! They were not just a memento of my visit to the UK, but “relics” blessed with extraordinary Grace of most mighty Saints who were to turn my life upside down.

Back in Greece, these 3 pebbles started to exert a magnetic “attraction” in my icon corner and soon “assembled” there dozens of Saints’ relics from all over the world!

This Easter I was offered by my spiritual father yet one more …


This pebble was picked by him when he was 10 (!) from Iona Island, another major Celtic pilgrimage.





I now know better …