The Mystery of Tomorrow

A dear sister in Christ, a nun in a Greek monastery, recommended Mother Gavrilia’s book to me a month ago, to study again, and draw inspiration and courage and faith in my poor, little missionary endeavours, by that Missionary and Unmercenary Giant. I am so grateful for this Holy Mother and her book. I have had it for many years and read it many times. Each time it goes deeper, deeper. I am reading this again after many years of traveling and the book was packed away. She always, through the message of the Holy Spirit-alive in her, has a word or two about my/your struggles. Especially now. I feel her so close to my side. Mother Gavrilia is such a role model in her fearlessness, her humility and obedience to God’s Will, her dedication to the service of all mankind, her Faith! May we have her blessing!

 

A poem in the book touched my heart so deeply: 

 

THOU HAST made me known to friends

whom I knew not.

Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own.

 

Thou hast brought the distant near

and made a brother of the stranger.

I am uneasy at heart

when I have to leave my accustomed shelter;

I forget that there abides the old in the new,

and that there also thou abidest.

 

Through birth and death,

in this world or in others,

wherever thou leadest me, it is thou the same,

the one companion of my endless life,

who ever linkest my heart

with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.

 

When one knows thee,

then alien there is none,

then no door is shut.

 

Oh, grant me my prayer

that I may never lose the bliss

of the touch of the one

in the play of the many.

 

 [R. Tagore, Gitanjali, LXIII]

This poem, dated March 24, 1964, exactly ten years after she was “reborn”, was found among her papers. On the top of that page, she made the sign of the Cross

ic xc ni ka

and added:

24-3-1954

Athens-Israel-Cyprus-Lebanon-Jordan-Syria-Iraq-Iran-Pakistan-INDIA

24-3-1964

Jordan-Greece-Turkey-France-Switzerland-USA-France-Belgium-Danemark-Sweden-Germany-Greece-Lebanon-INDIA

 

Arvo Pärt – And then came the evening and the morning (1990)

 

 Mother gavrilia orthodox pilgrim missionary

“God is Love” … and Mother Gavrilia‘s entire life, which was a hymn to the Lord, became thanks to Him, a burnt offering, a holocaust to His Love.

 

mother-gavrilia orthodox pilgrim missionary

 

“Only one thing do I know that I have always, and it is not pride, nor fantasy, but that which I have day and night, wherever I find myself–three things: first, Faith; second, Faith; third, Faith. That’s all! Nothing else can I say to you. It has directed all my life.”

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

Prayer By Night

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Pray by night. Pray alone. Pray using no book, no image, no thought. Just stay awake for ten minutes after you wake up to have a glass of water, after your child or a nightmare wakes you. Stand there in the dark, and make no move or sound. Make time stand still, capture that moment and bring it before Christ as your humble offering: this is me; this is who I am; THIS is who You must save.

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In fact, it may be useful to even forget that you need to pray. Most of us have such terribly deformed ideas about what prayer is, that it is better to simply forget you are meant to pray. Just stand there and look into the darkness outside your window. Other times, make a prostration and even close your eyes while you are on the floor; and stay there; wait there. Keep your body in a state of tension, but your mind empty. Say nothing. Think nothing. Imagine nothing. Do not pray. Do not move. Just wait for His presence. Wait for Him to notice your silence, your stillness, your death. Wait for Christ, and He will come, because Love forces Him.

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This is the advantage of praying at this time; night is a shield against thoughts, against images and feelings. Try to be present in that moment, try to be aware of the silence that surrounds you, let the void of that darkness embrace you, let it enter you and fill you with peace and silence. There is something almost sacramental in this hidden silence and stillness before Christ. This darkness, this solitude, this instinctive awareness of one’s mortality, they all force one to open up in ways which would be impossible by daytime.

Be aware that you are awake before Christ while the world lies asleep, defenseless and vulnerable. You are awake before Christ, fighting for the world; you have become an intercessor for this fallen, sleeping world which is one with you, and for which Christ has died.

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Ten minutes alone with Christ, night after night, will change your life. When you wake up and you face the worries of the new day, there is something in you that rejoices – you and Christ share a secret, you and Christ share a fight. Your soul knows that it has been fed, and it also knows that, whatever happens during the day, the night will always return with its silence and its stillness. You will live through the day waiting for the night, because when the night falls, you will again bring yourself as an offering before your Creator, and your Creator will feed you once more.

Source: Father Seraphim http://www.mullmonastery.com/monastery-blog/prayer-by-night/

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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Temet Nosce

know-thyself

Legion

Lord, hear my voice, my present voice I mean,
Not that which may be speaking an hour hence
(For I am Legion) in an opposite sense,
And not by show of hands decide between
The multiple factions which my state has seen
Or will see. Condescend to the pretence
That what speaks now is I; in its defence
Dissolve my parliament and intervene.
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Thou wilt not, though we asked it, quite recall
Free will once given. Yet to this moment’s choice
Give unfair weight. Hold me to this. Oh strain
A point – use legal fictions; for if all
My quarrelling selves must bear an equal voice,
Farewell, thou has created me in vain.

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“And He asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.” Mark 5:9 (KJB)

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As the Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
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Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
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Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.
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For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

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“Selfishness cries to Thee: My Father! But Love cries: Our Father!” — St. Nikolai Velimirovic