Thursday, June 25, 2020

Acquire the Love of Paul and You’ll Have a Perfect Crown


(Saint John Chrysostom: In Praise of the Holy Apostle Paul, III)

Demonstrating the power of human will and the fact that we can fly even to the heavens themselves, leaving the angels and archangels and the other powers, Saint Paul urges believers to become imitators of Christ, sometimes through him (“Become imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”) and sometimes without him (“Therefore become imitators of God, like beloved children.”).

Then, in order to show that nothing befits this imitation so much as living for the common good and looking out for what is useful for each other he adds: “Behave with love”. This is why, when he said “Become imitators of me”, he immediately speaks of love, demonstrating that it is principally this virtue that brings people closer to God, because all the other virtues are certainly inferior to it and all revolve around the human person: the struggle against desire, the war against gluttony, the fight against avarice, the battle against anger. This is why Christ says: “Pray for those who bother you, so that you may be like your Father Who is in heaven”.

So because Paul knew that this was the most important of the virtues, he applied it with great care. Nobody loved their enemies as he did; nobody did so much good to those who envied them; nobody suffered so much for those who had grieved them. He didn’t look at what they were suffering, he saw them as human beings and the more furious they became, the more he forgave their rage. And in the same way as parents treat a child in a tantrum (because the more a child speaks badly and lashes out, the more the parents feel sorry for it), so Paul, thinking about the illness of those who were acting in this way towards him, was stimulated towards ever greater care.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Selected Miracles of St Haralambos the Blessed Hieromartyr


A modern miracle took place in the small Peloponnesian town of Filiatra in 1943, during the dark days of the occupation of Greece by the Germans. This miracle has moved and continues to move, to this today, not only the people of Filiatra but also the people of all Greece.

From the German Headquarters in Tripoli, orders were issued to Officer Kondau, in charge in Filiatra, to burn the town, because of a sabotage that the rebels had instigated. The Commander was ordered to kill a certain number of notable Filiatrians, to take as prisoners the 1,500 other citizens, and to send them to Germany, after which it is was obvious they would never return.

Officer Kondau, feeling no pity, in turn, gave the orders to his soldiers to follow through with implementing the destruction, on the following day at 6:00 in the morning.

In Tripoli, the priest, Archimandrite Theodore Kotsakis, who was originally from Filiatra, learned of this plan. Grief and worry overcame everyone; no one knew what to do to save Filiatra and its people. So, the priest Theodore found someone who knew German, and together they went to the house of the German Officer in Tripoli. But while they waited outside his office, loud voices, cursing and a great upheaval were heard. A Greek woman pulled on the priest’s cassock, urging him to leave, so that they might not be killed there, right on the spot!

Thereby, upon leaving, the Priest notified all the people from Filiatra who were living in Tripoli, to pray that night to Saint Haralambos, who was Patron Saint of Filiatra, asking him to intercede for the town and its people. Then the Priest Theodore closed himself in his room and prayed with much pain and sorrow. And the citizens of Filiatra did the same, as they had caught wind of something going on, themselves.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Christ’s Descent Into the Tenebrous Realms of Death


The service has already given us all the grace and joy, the perfection of the meaning of the Holy Days. We’ve been able to proceed liturgically, together with the Lord, from the garden at Gethsemane to the dread Golgotha and as far as the life-bearing and life-receiving Tomb, the alien tomb, in which He spent three days. I note this, the alien tomb, because the Lord came ‘to his home and his own kin did not receive him’, He came ‘to his own’ and ‘his own’ wouldn’t open the door to Him, so He remained, perforce, a stranger. A stranger to the world He’d created. Α stranger to his special, beloved people. A stranger till His death, when there wasn’t a single grave anywhere to receive Him, but that of the righteous Joseph of Arimathea, which welcomed Him.

Today the Lord has descended into the repositories of Hades. Saint Peter says he descended there ‘in order to preach to the spirits in prison’. He descended into the dour kingdom of death, the sombre reaches where there’s never a smile, to seek ‘all Adam’s kin’, the whole of humankind, from Adam and Eve down to those who had just died at that moment.

He descended into Hell and illumined it; and with His presence Hell became Paradise. The departed spirits of the righteous, who had been thirsting for His presence, with longing and with the desire for redemption, life, light and joy, leapt and rejoiced.

As much as the devil was embittered, together with his kingdom, at receiving within it the presence of the Victor of life, so much and more did the spirits of the departed Saints and Righteous rejoice, delight and exult, and they hastened to receive the life-giving embrace from Him Who descended into the depths of Hell to save the human race. And after Christ’s resurrection, ‘many bodies of the departed’ Saints arose and went into the holy city of Jerusalem and appeared to many. This means that God permitted a partial resurrection, not of all people but of some of the recently departed. In other words, people who had died a little while, a few years previously and who were still remembered by those who knew them. They may have died 20 years previously, but there still would have been people who remembered that Isaiah, that Jacob, that Zachariah, that Esther as a next-door neighbor, or as a friend, a grandfather, an uncle, a mother, father, or elder brother. They were easily recognized and God permitted this great miracle so as not to leave the slightest margin for doubt, not only regarding His own Resurrection, but of the general resurrection of all the dead.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Division and Content of the 24 Verses of the Akathistos Hymn


The Service of the Akathistos Hymn is sung at Mattins on the Saturday of the fifth week of Lent or in the evening of Friday of that week, attached to the service of Small Compline. It is sung in full on these days, but in parts on the four Fridays of Lent before then, “as a pre-festal and post-festal” feature. This is because there are elements of the Feast of the Annunciation which are not celebrated because of the “mourning” and compunction of Great Lent.

If we examine the Service of the Akathistos Hymn for its content, we see that the individual parts of which it consists (the canon of the Mother of God and the 24 verses of the Salutations to the Mother of God) are of a glad and cheerful nature, projecting a sense of joy with the repetition of the word “rejoice” [connected in Greek with the word for joy, rather as “rejoice” is in English] and the phrases “Rejoice, you who are full of grace”, “Rejoice, Bride Unwedded”, which recall the salutation of the Archangel as recorded in the Gospel according to Saint Luke: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you” (1, 28). They also highlight the unique role of the Mother of God in the Divine Dispensation and in the salvation of the human race.

The canon of the Service of the Akathistos Hymn, “I shall open my mouth”, which includes many of the troparia also found in the canon for Mattins on the feast of the Annunciation, is a poem by Iosif the Hymnographer [feast day April 3]; while the irmi (the first tropario in each ode) were written by Saint John the Damascan.

Both hymnographers focus on four main points:
  1. the prefigurations of Christ and the Mother of God in the Old Testament,
  2. the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ,
  3. the personality and role of Our Most Holy Lady, the Mother of God in the completion of the plan of God’s dispensation, and
  4. the salvation of the world, in Christ.
The twenty-four verses of the Akathistos Hymn form an acrostic, that is to say they are written with the first letter of each verse in the same order as in the Greek alphabet. This acrostic is evidence of the overall integrity of the hymn but, alas, reveals nothing about the poet, whose identity remains a mystery to this day.

The verses are divided into two large units, each with two sub-units. In the first, the hymn-writer attempts to present the historical revelation of God, while in the second he aims to describe Christology and soteriology.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Proper Understanding and Use of Antidoron


Please help me to understand the significance of antidoron. How should one receive it and handle it? If one takes it home during the week for daily "communion" is this wrong? Is there a proper way of doing it—before a prayer, before a meal, etc.? When can you or should you take prosphora to Church? Should you also take wine and oil? Do you bring the names of people to be commemorated with these gifts? (G.M., IL)

This is a subject of great importance which we have several times addressed in the pages of Orthodox Tradition. When we do not commune at Liturgy, we receive antidoron (an-dee-tho-ron, with a hard "d" and a soft "d," as in "the") at the end of Liturgy (that is, blessed bread which substitutes for the Gifts; thus, antidoron, "instead of the Gifts"). Those who commune during the Liturgy receive antidoron or antidoron and wine immediately after communing and should not take it again at the end of Liturgy. Since it is blessed, the antidoron should be carefully handled and no particles of it should be allowed to fall on the ground. This means that children must be carefully watched while consuming antidoron and taught to treat it with pious reverence. It should be received from the Priest at the end of Liturgy and immediately consumed. Since antidoron is given in place of the Gifts, it is also received on an empty stomach, for which reason Orthodox Christians do not eat or drink anything from the midnight before the Divine Liturgy, whether communing or not.

Antidoron may also be taken home for use during the week. It is a pious custom for Orthodox Christians to begin the day, after their morning prayers and before eating, by consuming a particle of antidoron and drinking agiasmos, or blessed water.

Prosforo(n), the word for the bread which we offer at the Divine Liturgy, comes from the Greek word for an offering, prosfora. It is customarily baked in the home with prayers and taken to Church, where it is offered for the Divine Liturgy. (Incidentally, women, out of piety, should not prepare prosforon during their monthly periods.) One may also give oil and wine along with prosforon—other "offerings"—so as to provide for the oil lamps and the remaining element of the Eucharist, though this is not mandatory. This can be done for any Liturgy. It is also customary to offer the names of Orthodox Christian family members, of friends, and of relatives with the prosforon, so that the Priest may commemorate them at the Service of Preparation (Proskomide).

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Patient Endurance Is the Fruit of Virtue, Nourished by Prayer


A conversation with Metropolitan Athanasios of Limasol about his book, "The Church's Open Heart". 

In the book, The Church's Open Heart, (Sretensky Monastery Press, [in Russian] 2014) the memoirs of Metropolitan Athanasios about elders—contemporary ascetics with whom he studied in a spiritual school—are collected, as well as the sermons and teachings of Vladyka, who is well-known not only to the Orthodox world, but also beyond it. Thus, what examples do elders give by their life to us Christians who live in a very complicated world today? And what can and must we contrast with the troubles that come crashing down on us like an avalanche? Our correspondent from Pravoslavie.ru talks about these questions and more in an interview with the archpastor of Limasol while he was in Moscow.

"Pray Always"

We laypeople like stories about miracles very much, and about grace-filled gifts, but we forget somewhat about the price we have to pay for these things. Your book opens with a conversation about the holy elder Joseph the Hesychast. Tell us a little bit about the labors that he and his community performed, and about what lesson we laypeople can derive from this—without, of course, dreaming of duplicating it all.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast lived on Mt. Athos, though I did not manage to meet him while he was alive, as he reposed in 1959. But I did get to meet all his disciples.

My starets—Elder Joseph from Vatopedi Monastery—was a disciple, the first disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, and so my monastic life began under the influence of his spiritual school.

Elder Joseph was one of the most outstanding spiritual figures on Mt. Athos in the twentieth century. He was a great ascetic, but also a notable hesychast.1 His life was full of miracles and the activity of God and the Most Holy Mother of God. In spite of the fact that he was a hermit—that is, he did not go out anywhere—four of his disciples subsequently became the spiritual fathers of hundreds of monks.

Right now there are approximately a thousand of us—monks who came from Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Out of the twenty monasteries on Mt. Athos, six of them were revived by spiritual children of Elder Joseph. We consider that his prayers and his presence greatly influenced our monastic life.

We inherited three important things from Elder Joseph the Hesychast and his disciples: the first consists in the value of obedience—to the Church and to one's elder. The second, in taking part in the Divine Liturgy, in the Eucharist, that is, in regular Communion. And the third is the practice of mental prayer.

Our whole monastic life was and is dedicated to these three important things. Elder Joseph the Hesychast was occupied in unceasing mental prayer for six hours every evening.

He would spend eight hours at night serving the all-night vigil. Six hours were dedicated to mental prayer and spiritual reading, and two hours to the Divine Liturgy, which was celebrated daily. This all began at sunset. On Athos, if eight hours pass after sunset, it is already sunrise—especially in the summer.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Will of God and Freedom by Saint Silouan the Athonite


It is a great good to give oneself up to the will of God.  Then the Lord alone is in the soul.  No other thought can enter in, and the soul feels God's love, even though the body be suffering.

When the soul is entirely given over to the will of God, the Lord Himself takes her in hand and the soul learns directly from God.   Whereas, before, she turned to teachers and to the Scriptures for instruction. But it rarely happens that the soul's teacher is the Lord Himself through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and few there are that know of this, save only those who live according to God's will.

The proud man does not want to live according to God's will: he likes to be his own master and does not see that man has not wisdom enough to guide himself without God.  And I, when I lived in the world, knew not the Lord and His Holy Spirit, nor how the Lord loves us-I relied on my own understanding; but when by the Holy Spirit I came to know our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, my soul submitted to God, and now I accept every affliction that befalls me, and say: "The Lord looks down on me. What is there to fear?" But before, I could not live in this manner.

Life is much easier for the man who is given over to the will of God, since in illness, in poverty, in persecution he reflects thus: "Such is God's pleasure, and I must endure on account of my sins." 

Thus for many years have I suffered violent headaches, which are hard to bear but salutary because the soul is humbled through sickness.  My soul longs to pray and keep vigil, but sickness hinders me because of my body's demand for rest and quiet; and I besought the Lord to heal me, and the Lord hearkened not unto me.  So, therefore, it would not have been salutary for me to have been cured.

Here is another case which happened to me, wherein the Lord made haste to hearken unto me and save me. We were given fish one feast-day in the refectory, and, while I was eating, a fish-bone found its way deep down my throat and stuck in my chest. I called to the holy martyr St. Panteleimon, begging him to help me, as the doctor could not extract the bone.  And when I spoke the word 'heal,' my soul received this answer: 'Leave the refectory, take a deep breath, fill out your cheeks with air, and then cough; and you will bring the bone up together with some blood.' This I did. I went out, exhaled, coughed, and a big bone came up with some blood. And I understood that if the Lord does not cure me of my headaches it is because they are good for my soul.