Τετάρτη 29 Απριλίου 2020

Apostles Jason and Sosipater of the Seventy, the Virgin Kerkyra, and those with them

All Saints in Achaia (from here)

The Apostle Jason was from Tarsus (Asia Minor). He was the first Christian in the city. The Apostle Sosipater was a native of Patra, Achaia. He is thought to be the same Sosipater mentioned in Acts 20:4. They both became disciples of Saint Paul, who even called them his kinsmen (Rom 16:21). Saint John Chrysostom (Homily 32 on Romans) says that this is the same Jason who is mentioned in Acts 17:5-9. Saint Jason was made bishop in his native city of Tarsus, and Saint Sosipater in Iconium. They traveled west preaching the Gospel, and in 63 they reached the island of Kerkyra [Korfu] in the Ionian Sea near Greece.
There they built a church in the name of the Protomartyr Stephen and they baptized many. The governor of the island learned of this and locked them up in prison, where they met seven thieves: Saturninus, Iakischolus, Faustianus, Januarius, Marsalius, Euphrasius and Mammius. The Apostles converted them to Christ. For their confession of Christ, the seven prisoners died as martyrs in a cauldron of molten tar, wax and sulfur.
The prison guard, after witnessing their martyrdom, declared himself a Christian. For this they cut off his left hand, then both feet and finally his head. The governor ordered the Apostles Jason and Sosipater to be whipped and again locked up in prison.
When the daughter of the governor of Kerkyra (Korfu), the maiden Kerkyra, learned how Christians were suffering for Christ, she declared herself a Christian and gave away all her finery to the poor. The infuriated governor attempted to persuade his daughter to deny Christ, but Saint Kerkyra stood firm against both persuasion and threats. Then the enraged father devised a terrible punishment for his daughter: he gave orders that she be placed in a prison cell with the robber and murderer Murinus, so that he might defile the betrothed of Christ
But when the robber approached the door of the prison cell, a bear attacked him. Saint Kerkyra heard the noise and she drove off the beast in the name of Christ. Then, by her prayers, she healed the wounds of Murinus. Then Saint Kerkyra enlightened him with the faith of Christ, and Saint Murinus declared himself a Christian and was executed.
The governor gave orders to burn down the prison, but the holy virgin remained alive. Then on her enraged father’s order, she was suspended upon a tree, choked with bitter smoke and shot with arrows. After her death, the governor decided to execute all the Christians on the island of Kerkyra. The Martyrs Zeno, Eusebius, Neon and Vitalis, after being enlightened by Saints Jason and Sosipater, were burned alive.
The inhabitants of Kerkyra, escaping from the persecution, crossed to an adjoining island. The governor set sail with a detachment of soldiers, but was swallowed up by the waves. The governor succeeding him gave orders to throw the Apostles Jason and Sosipater into a cauldron of boiling tar. When he beheld them unharmed, he cried out with tears, “O God of Jason and Sosipater, have mercy on me!”
Having been set free, the Apostles baptized the governor and gave him the name Sebastian. With his help, the Apostles Jason and Sosipater built several churches on the island, and increased the flock of Christ by their fervent preaching. They lived there until they reached old age. 

Icon from here

Κυριακή 19 Απριλίου 2020

"Christ is risen from the dead - Let us forgive all things on the Resurrection": Two Greek Easter hymns from the Orthodox Church

1. "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!" (Vatopedi Monastery of Athos)

2. "It is the day of Resurrection let us be radiant for the festival and let us embrace one another. Let us say, O brethren even to those that hate us; Let us forgive all things on the Resurrection, and thus let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." (George Darlasis)

Πέμπτη 16 Απριλίου 2020

Life experiences - A message from Mother Thekla

Gerondissa Thekla, Abbess of the Holy Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Consolation  


Having entered the fourth week of quarantine, and in view of the coming of the Holy days of Pascha, being pressured by the stress and fear that is being imposed on us; with the pressure developing from trying to govern the monastery under such circumstances and with deep sadness filling my heart from the pain and sadness of the people around us, due to their lack of certain basic necessities but mainly due to the deprivation of the consolation and strength offered by the church attendance and the strongest medicine, Holy Communion, brought me to seclusion and prayer. I implored and I continually implore God to send His ineffable mercy to the world, to heal the sick to strengthen them, to comfort the elderly and those that are struck by loneliness and are living difficult situations.

I was somehow feeling guilty because we at the Monastery, at these times are comforted by the sacramental life, where on the contrary our brethren are lacking this, and I was looking for a way to comfort them. Then I heard a voice telling me; “Remember what you used to do?” Then, as if my mind opened, I saw and believe me, I relived (in feeling) those unique moments. 

When I first entered the Monastery in 1975 (forty five years ago), it was at a time that the Holy Monastery of Philotheou on Mount Athos did not number many monks and there were very few priests. Therefore there were not enough priests to serve the Metochia. Our Monastery was a Metochi (dependence) of the Monastery of Philotheou, so for many years we did not have a priest to serve our needs. Someone would come, (very rarely), throughout the year, but never on Great Feasts: i.e. the Nativity of Christ, Pascha, Annunciation, Pentecost…, we were always left on these holy days with no priest.

If such a situation would take place at a Parish, the parishioners would complain, would yell, use indecent words, maybe even curse and the only one happy from all of this would be the “tempter” with his angels.

For us it would be the opposite. We would fast as if preparing for Holy Communion, we would gather together in our chapel which was an extension to a hallway, (¼ of the size of our Monastery’s church here). We would read the services and at the end, our Most Holy Gerondissa Makrina would “commune” us by giving us Great Holy Water and Holy Bread. She would always counsel us that, “If we would be as we should be spiritually, then it is possible noetically to receive Holy Communion from Holy Angels, just like we have read many times in the lives of the Saints.”

Believe me, back then we lived many heavenly moments which we never encountered again even after when we had a permanent priest and would serve forty day liturgies. Now I realize that due to the deprivation but also to the great zeal and patience we had, the Lord would bless us with grace that accompanies martyrdom.

The chapel would be fragrant as if someone had sprinkled it all over with myrrh. Our eyes would stream with endless tears. Our heart would leap from the Grace of God. On the days that we supposedly “communed”, without even realizing it, we would speak softly because we felt as if we had partaken in some sacred ceremony. Saying the prayer, our mouth would taste as if we had taken a very fragrant candy. We would feel the presence of Holy Communion, even though we had not received it, and throughout the day we would be cautious not to spit, nor chew gum and throw it out. So great was the sense of the presence of Holy Communion. No matter what I write, it is not possible to describe the feeling of Christ’s grace that we lived back in those days of deprivation, because there are not words to express this. A few years later, at the Holy Monastery of Philotheou, the number of priests grew and we no longer had a problem needing a priest; everything found its place in our monastery.

After 19 years, when obedience brought myself and sister Ephraimia here to Canada, we again encountered the same problem; the lack of priests. For 7 years, our Monastery did not have a priest. But now it was not so bad because the priests here had the order from the Archbishop to come during the week and serve the Divine Liturgy, so that we would commune. However, again Saturdays and Sundays and feast days we would not have a priest. The priests had to serve at their own parishes and communities. So, we would read the services, on our own, decorate the icons, the Cross for the Elevation of the Holy Cross, and for the Sunday of the veneration of the Cross during Great Lent; we would bring out the Lord’s Cross on Holy Thursday; and we would try to raise the morale of the young novices, who had complete inexperience of these things.

These, along with so many more are now a wealth of experiences that exists inside of us and whenever it is needed we open the “treasure box” of experiences and we choose whatever is needed depending on the circumstance.

Then suddenly, as if my nous opened and I relived all of this spiritual state very intensely, as it being an answer to my prayer; the message being that whoever prepares themselves with humility, without grumbling and protesting, but with much prayer and faith in the Providence of God, and receives Holy water and Holy Bread in replacement of Holy Communion and contemplates that theoretically “God did not permit me to receive Holy Communion, as being “unworthy and unprepared”, then this person will be filled by God’s grace of endurance of martyrdom, of which Saint Luke the doctor would say: “I loved much the grace of martyrdom, which so wonderfully cleanses the soul”.

The tempter wanted to close the churches; let us make our homes into churches. He shut 11 churches; let us open 11 thousand. May each home become a church; let prayer be raised like a torch of fire towards heaven; let the incense fragrance all the neighbourhoods; may the candle and the vigil lamp always be lit. Let us attend the services through electronic correspondence, praying together, and not lying down, or eating, or smoking. If we do this, instead of closing down the churches, they will grow and spread and whole cities will become churches. Then God will give His blessing, and seeing our repentance and our faith He will cast away this evil plague and give us the freedom along with our churches to live many years working for Him.

I wish you a Blessed Holy week, a spiritual ascent, a double well-being of spirit and soul, patience and unwavering trust in God’s Providence, so that the light of the Resurrection will shine forth in our hearts and replenish us with the gifts of the Most Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Blessed and Bright Resurrection!”

With infinite love in Christ

Τhe least in Christ,

Abbess Thekla & the sisters

Source: monasterevmc.org

Τρίτη 7 Απριλίου 2020

How an Atheist Cancer Patient Came to Believe in God

By Antonios Tenedios (Skalohori, Mytilini, Greece)

Quite a few years ago the following real-life story took place. This story was told to me by my good friend, Fr. Demetrius, the parish priest of the St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church located at Sahtouri Street, Piraeus, Athens, Greece. I present this story to you just as it was narrated to me by Fr. Demetrius himself.

“One morning after the Divine Liturgy, I went to the Church office. A fifty year old man came in to talk to me. I did not know him neither had I ever seen him before in my Church. He spoke to me about a forty-two year old man who was admitted to the hospital in Piraeus, Athens, Greece. He was diagnosed with cancer. The disease had spread throughout his body and had metastasized into his brain. Following an examination, the doctors had told him that there nothing that could be done to save his life. He was taking large doses of medicine but they did not help him. This gentleman told me that the hospitalized man was a close relative of his. He requested that I go to the hospital as soon as possible in order to give him Holy Communion.

As requested, I went to the hospital to fulfill this obligation to administer Holy Communion to the sick man. As soon as I entered the patient’s room, it became apparent to me that he was in bad shape. It was further verified to me that the disease had spread to the brain and there was no chance of survival. His days were numbered. The patient was the only person in the room. The other bed was empty. At a certain point, the patient awakened from his coma and opened his eyes. He immediately saw me and with great difficulty told me the following story:

“My family admitted me to this hospital facility thirty-five days ago. An eighty year old man was already in the room that I was assigned to. This patient was suffering from bone cancer. He was suffering horrific pains. In spite of his pain, he would continuously pray: “Glory to you Oh God, Glory to you, Oh God” and this would be followed by a series of prayers. I was an atheist and I was hearing this for the first time in my life. I had never in my life stepped foot in a Church. This is why I became so startled when I observed that after saying his prayers he would calm down and sleep peacefully for two or three hours. But when he woke up again he would groan from unbearable pain. And then he continued to pray “Glory to You, Oh God!”

I was also groaning suffering from immense pain and yet he, in spite of his pain, continued to glorify God. But I, in my frustration from my pain blasphemed the name of Christ and His Holy Mother. The old man was actually thanking God for giving him cancer. Hearing him go on like this constantly and I, suffering my own pain, became upset with him. In addition to his constant praying, he would daily request to receive Holy Communion.

I, the filthy one, swore at him constantly. I would say to him “shut up, shut up finally! Can’t you see that the God that you glorify is torturing us severely with this cursed illness? What God? There is no God!” The old man would calmly hear me and reply: “He exists, my child, God does truly exist and He is a loving Father. Through the illness that He has given us, we are being cleansed of our many sins.” These replies of the old man made me angrier and I began once again to blaspheme both God and demons. I started yelling out and saying: “God does not exist! I don’t believe in anything; neither in God, His Heavenly Kingdom nor in the other world.”

Following this exchange between us, the old man would calmly reply: “Wait and you will see with your own eyes how the soul of a believing Christian is separated from his body. I am a sinner but the Grace of God will save me. Wait, you will see and believe!” He continued to glorify God and His Holy Mother. He would say a specific prayer that repeated the word “hail” for the Virgin Mary (taken from the Salutations of the Akathist Hymn). He also chanted the hymns “Oh Virgin, Birth-Giver of God” and “It is truly meet to bless you.”

At one point, he suddenly stopped praying and I heard him say: “Welcome, my guardian angel! I thank you for coming with such a resplendent party of angels to take my soul.” In great shock, I opened my eyes to see before me the heavenly host. The old man then made the sign of the Cross; crossed his arms on his chest and took his last breath. Suddenly the hospital room was filled with brilliant light that was brighter than ten suns. I, the unbeliever, the atheist, the materialist, saw this miracle with my own eyes. Then an extremely beautiful fragrance filled the room. I was dumbfounded by what I saw because I realized at that point that the old man was right all along.
I then called my parents and told them everything that I had witnessed and experienced. I angrily told them off because they had never spoken to me about the existence of God. I then invited my friends and relatives to come close to me and asked them to tell me everything about faith in God which I had never been taught by anyone. Dear Father, I now believe that God truly exists. This is why I am asking you to hear my confession and for you to give me Holy Communion.


“The Heart in Orthodox Spirituality”

St Anthony of the Desert / New Mexico

The heart is central in Orthodox Spirituality. This is biblical: if your heart is pure, your actions are pure. If your heart is impure, so will your actions be.
In our Orthodox tradition, the heart is bigger than the mind and the mind is located in the heart; the combination is referred to as the nous (νους). The heart is not identified with the physical heart, but it is understood to be the center of our spiritual existence.
God takes up residence in the heart (Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 3:17). Christ refers to this residency in the heart as “the Kingdom of God,” which is not a state like New Mexico or Montana, but rather may be understood as a reign  or  rule (βασιλεία). It is a verbal noun; it is not, in other words, static but energetic. When Christ says, “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), he means that we are energized by God’s power through the Holy Spirit. This is where we know the “peace of God that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), to which Paul also testifies at Romans 5:5. In the heart we receive both the grace of God and the enlightenment of our lives (II Corinthians 4:6).
The heart is the location for our feelings, for our will, and for our thinking.
Our objective as Christians is to have these three unified, for the heart to be one. Sin interrupts this process of unification. The mind may be convinced of the good, but the will is not able to follow because of the heat of desire; hence, the unity of the heart is broken.
When trouble comes, it comes in the form of double-mindedness (this concept is found in the Epistle of James, chapters 1 and 4, in particular). We are split apart in consciousness. Jesus uses a different metaphor for the same idea in Matthew 6:22: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good (sound, singular), your whole body will be full of light.” We are to be of one mind and focused. But we do not see the world aright because we are blind. The Slavonic word for this problem is  prelest, or delusion or, better still, spiritual blindness. Ironically, the word has the positive meaning of “lovely” in the sense of “enchanting.”
Because of the dynamic nature of our lives and our hearts, and because we are always strung between good and evil, light and darkness, life and death (see Deuteronomy 30:19), the Evil One may also take up residence in the heart. We may be deluded; we may be spiritually blind; we may not think right! The Orthodox Tradition, however, insists that the Light cannot be overcome (see John 1) by the darkness that Evil brings to it. Because of baptism, our hearts are filled with the grace of God that cannot be extinguished; therefore, the Evil One cannot take up residence in the heart but must remain outside as a goad (St Diadochos of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge, Philokalia Vol. 1). 
Metaphor or not, this is a powerful image that can bring us comfort in dark moments.
The heart is the seat of passion (pathos - πάθος). As our Lord says, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19). Paul writes, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) and goes on to list the virtues of life in the Spirit. But this is again part of the dynamic of life. There is no guarantee that we will remain in this condition; in fact we have every reason to commit ourselves to spiritual warfare for life. At the heart of this is the struggle for self-control (Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:22, and elsewhere) and for what the Tradition calls  apatheia (απάθεια), which means dispassion; it does not mean that we become apathetic, but that we view all things without clinging to them. In a way it relates to our use of the icon. Our vision does not stop with the icon; if it does, then we do indeed make an idol of the icon. Our vision must pass through the icon to see the reality it embodies.
At this point we must consider the process of temptation. The Fathers of the Philokalia clearly labeled this process. We should learn to recognize it in our own lives. At the core of the process is a  logismos, (λογισμός) a thought that potentially leads to action. First there is the suggestion to sin. A temptation arises: let’s be gluttonous. Let’s gorge ourselves on food and wine. Wow! Great idea!  Second, we begin to think about this suggestion, savor it, interact with it, and dwell on it. Third, we accept the premise as possible (to change the temptation: I can find a way to commit adultery with that person). Fourth, we enter into agreement with the suggestion (I want to commit adultery with that person), and we become captive to it. The thought becomes habitual and we become passionate about it. The Fathers say that this is the point when it becomes sin, in accord with Christ’s word (Matthew 5:28). We don’t have to fulfill the act. We have already stepped over the line, and we must repent and repeal our agreement to the suggestion. We must refuse the logismos with its allure. Now, back to our concern with the heart.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” says our Lord. The first step toward purification of the heart is the recognition that we need God’s power; we cannot purify ourselves. We can only invite this act of Grace into our lives. We can turn to it but we cannot purify ourselves.
The logical second step, then, is prayer. The Fathers particularly invite us to the Jesus Prayer. This prayer is performed in quiet (Greek  ησυχία hesychia  – hence, the term hesychast prayer), an injunction that goes back to Christ’s word at Matthew 6:5-6. Since this prayer penetrates deep within us, it is also called noetic prayer, i.e. the prayer of the nous, in this case the word meaning that supplication which embraces both mind and heart (see Mark 12:30).
Repentance (metanoia - μετάνοια) is the next step. Repentance means, literally, re-thinking: we have to enter into the depths of our own hearts to discover all those habits and temptations to which we cling that separate us from God’s Light. This is the capsule sermon with which Jesus begins his ministry, according to Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe this good news.” Reflection on the Love of God draws us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
There is the possibility of return. As we pray at the Divine Liturgy, “Shine in our hearts, Loving Master, with the pure Light of your divine knowledge and open our hearts to the message of your Gospel.”
In the Orthodox tradition, a great deal of emphasis is placed upon tears of mourning for our alienation from God. This is called  penthos (πένθος)  in Greek; the word is the opposite of acedia (ακηδία), which means sloth or despair. Hence these are not tears of despair, but rather of mourning at the loss of paradise, so to speak, in our own lives. St Isaac the Syrian wrote much about the gift of tears, but he is one among many of the fathers who recognized the importance of mourning at loss.
If we desire purity of heart, we must see that the worship life of the church is of central importance. Simply put, we make no solo progress along this pathway; we join together with others in community in the knowledge that we are all seeking purity of heart. We need the sacraments and the Word of God to nourish us and to enable us. The ascetic life includes fasting. This is important but we must always remember that the fast is of the soul as well as the body. Bodily fasting is only the outward manifestation of inward fasting. If it is only outward, the fast is worthless (see Christ’s word at Matthew 6:16-17).