Κυριακή 30 Μαΐου 2021

The Light of the Christ Illumines Even Samaritans and Gentiles: Homily for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman in the Orthodox Church

Acts 11:19-30; John 4:5-42

Christ is Risen!

There is a lot of truth in the saying that familiarity breeds contempt.  It is possible for even the best things in life to become so familiar that we become blind to their true importance. We can do that even with our celebration of the Savior’s victory over death, as though the Paschal season were simply about singing joyful hymns and enjoying rich food.  It is certainly possible to reduce any dimension of the life of Church to a mere cultural observance that we assume is only for some people, usually those we think are like us in some particular way.  Both today’s gospel and epistle readings challenge us, however, to consider how the good news of the resurrection impacts the world in a way that is so unfamiliar as to be unsettling, and which challenges our assumptions about who God’s people are.

The Samaritan woman certainly took nothing for granted about Jesus Christ.  The Jews viewed the Samaritans as heretics who had intermarried with Gentiles, and they had nothing to do with them; as well, men did not strike up conversations with women in public in that time and place.  So when the Lord asked her for a drink of water and engaged her in an extended theological discussion, she was completely surprised.  He knew the details of her broken personal history and obviously related to her very differently than had the men in her community.  This encounter made such an impression that “she left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.  Can this be the Christ?’” She  did something quite shocking herself in that moment, proclaiming to her fellow Samaritans that this Jewish rabbi was the Messiah. “Many Samaritans from that city believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He said to me all that I ever did.’  So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His words.  They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’”

A Samaritan woman with an immoral lifestyle became the Great Martyr Photini, an unlikely evangelist whose testimony led many in her village to belief in Christ. Her transformation occurred because she received by faith the living water of which the Savior spoke, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”   Here is a foreshadowing of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, for she is empowered from the depths of her soul to participate in the healing of the human person that our Risen Lord has brought to the world.  As we chanted at Great Vespers last night about Photini after her encounter with Christ, “that chaste woman hastened at once to the city and said to the crowds: Come and see Christ the Lord, the Savior of our souls.”  Yes, she was truly restored to the dignity of a beloved child of God in the divine image and likeness.

Remember that in the chapter of John’s gospel right before the Lord’s conversation with Photini, He spoke with the Pharisee Nicodemus, an expert in the Jewish law.  At that point, Nicodemus could not understand even the most basic points of the Lord’s teaching.  How shocking, then, that a Samaritan woman with a notorious past came to faith so quickly and even preached to others.  Through her witness, the Lord Himself spent two days in a Samaritan village, which must have been the last thing that anyone expected the Jewish Messiah to do.  His salvation does not operate according to the conventional categories of this world, but transcends and subverts them.  How odd:  Great religious teachers miss the point, while disgraced women from despised communities become glorious saints.

Our reading from Acts describes the foundation of the first Gentile church in Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians.  It took a good bit of debate and discernment for the Church to determine how to respond to Gentiles who wanted to become Christians, for the origins of the faith are so clearly in Judaism.  At the council held by the apostles in Acts 15: 8-9, St. Peter said of the Gentile Christians, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us.  He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”  That, of course, is a very good description of what the Lord had done with St. Photini.  The letter to the Gentile Christians from that council did not require them to become circumcised or convert to Judaism, but “to abstain from food sacrificed to idols…and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:20) It is not surprising that the Jewish Christian leaders of the Church made a point of reminding Gentile converts to distance themselves from forms of spiritual and moral corruption so common in their culture.

The inclusion of Samaritans like Photini and Gentiles like the original Antiochian believers provides a powerful sign that the resurrection of Christ is not about business as usual in a world where people divide up according to all kinds of human characteristics.  When we do that, we define ourselves over against enemies, real and imagined, and tend to think that all the evil and wickedness are on the side of those we oppose.  Among the many dangers of such ways of thinking is that we easily become the self-righteous judges of others and inflame our own passions to the point that we see neither ourselves nor our neighbors clearly.  A Jew of the first century would typically have viewed Photini as a terrible sinner who did the wretched kinds of things expected of Samaritans.  The apostles could have easily put up almost insurmountable roadblocks to keep the Gentiles at arm’s length.  That the Church developed very differently is an indication that it is not simply another human institution of a world enslaved to the fear of death, but truly the Body of our Risen Lord in Whom “strangers and foreigners” become “fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God” by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Eph. 2:19)  As St. Paul taught, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (Gal. 3:28)  He offers living water to all people who come to Him in humble faith as did St. Photini, the Samaritan woman.

Like her, we all encounter Christ as people with a history of personal brokenness in thought, word, and deed.  We may doubt, however, whether the Savior’s victory over death, the wages of sin, may truly become active in us.  The Church highlights the example of so many notorious sinners who have become great saints by receiving the Lord’s mercy through repentance.  Perhaps we have heard their stories so many times that we take them for granted and assume that, after their conversion, they were no longer troubled by temptations, doubts, and sorrow for their failings.  That would be an unrealistic assumption, of course.  Remember that St. Mary of Egypt spent her first seventeen years in the desert in fierce struggle with passions for all that she had left behind.  She said of this period, “Darkness after darkness, misery after misery stood about me, a sinner.”  If we are genuinely embracing the new life our Risen Lord, we will face battles in our own souls as we turn away from the darkness of the tomb and toward the brilliant light of His kingdom.

As the eyes of our souls gain the focus to behold His radiant glory more fully, the darkness within us will become all the more apparent.  We will then be like Photini when the Savior mentioned her history with men.  Instead of shutting down in shame or making excuses, she simply said, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet” as she continued to open herself to the healing mercy of the Lord through faith.  If we truly believe that Christ has conquered death, the wages of sin, then we must become as courageous as she was in offering even the most painfully broken dimensions of lives to the Savior for healing.  Like her, let us do so with the confident hope of those who know that something worth living and dying for has come into the world, for Christ is Risen!


Παρασκευή 28 Μαΐου 2021

Τετάρτη 26 Μαΐου 2021

Saint John the Russian and Confessor, whose relics are on the island of Euboia, Greece (May 27)



The Holy Confessor John the Russian was born in Little Russia around 1690, and was raised in piety and love for the Church of God. Upon attaining the age of maturity he was called to military service, and he served as a simple soldier in the army of Peter I and took part in the Russo-Turkish War. During the Prutsk Campaign of 1711 he and other soldiers were captured by the Tatars, who handed him over to the commander of the Turkish cavalry. He took his Russian captive home with him to Asia Minor, to the village of Prokopion.

The Turks tried to convert the Christian soldiers to the Moslem faith with threats and flattery, but those who resisted were beaten and tortured. Some, alas, denied Christ and became Moslems, hoping to improve their lot. Saint John was not swayed by the promise of earthly delights, and he bravely endured the humiliation and beatings.

His master tortured him often in the hope that his slave would accept Islam. Saint John resolutely resisted the will of his master saying, “You cannot turn me from my holy Faith by threats, nor with promises of riches and pleasures. I will obey your orders willingly, if you will leave me free to follow my religion. I would rather surrender my head to you than to change my faith. I was born a Christian, and I shall die a Christian.”

Saint John’s bold words and firm faith, as well as his humility and meekness, finally softened the fierce heart of his master. He left John in peace, and no longer tried to make him renounce Christianity. The saint lived in the stable and took care of his master’s animals, rejoicing because his bed was a manger such as the one in which the Savior was born.

From morning until late evening the saint served his Turkish master, fulfilling all his commands. He performed his duties in the winter cold and summer heat, half naked and barefoot. Other slaves frequently mocked him, seeing his zeal. Saint John never became angry with them, but on the contrary, he helped them when he could, and comforted them in their misfortune.

The saint’s kindness and gentle nature had its effect on the souls of both the master and the slaves. The Agha and his wife came to love him, and offered him a small room near the hayloft. Saint John did not accept it, preferring to remain in the stable with the animals. Here he slept on the hay, covered only by an old coat. So the stable became his hermitage, where he prayed and chanted Psalms.

Saint John brought a blessing to his master simply by living in his household. The cavalry officer became rich, and was soon one of the most powerful men in Prokopion. He knew very well why his home had been blessed, and he did not hesitate to tell others.

Sometimes Saint John left the stable at night and went to the church of the Great Martyr George, where he kept vigil in the narthex. On Saturdays and Feast days, he received the Holy Mysteries of Christ.

During this time Saint John continued to serve his master as before, and despite his own poverty, he always helped the needy and the sick, and shared his meager food with them.

One day, the officer left Prokopion and went to Mecca on pilgrimage. A few days later, his wife gave a banquet and invited her husband’s friends and relatives, asking them to pray for her husband’s safe return. Saint John served at the table, and he put down a dish of pilaf, his master’s favorite food. The hostess said, “How much pleasure your master would have if he could be here to eat this pilaf with us.” Saint John asked for a dish of pilaf, saying that he would send it to his master in Mecca. The guests laughed when they heard his words. The mistress, however, ordered the cook to give him a dish of pilaf, thinking he would eat it himself, or give it to some poor family.

Taking the dish, Saint John went into the stable and prayed that God would send it to his master. He had no doubt that God would send the pilaf to his master in a supernatual manner. The plate disappeared before his eyes, and he went into the house to tell his mistress that he had sent the pilaf to his master.

After some time, the master returned home with the copper plate which had held the pilaf. He told his household that on a certain day (the very day of the banquet), he returned from the mosque to the home where he was staying. Although the room was locked, he found a plate of steaming pilaf on the table. Unable to explain who had brought the food, or how anyone could enter the locked room, the officer examined the plate. To his amazement, he saw his own name engraved on the copper plate. In spite of his confusion, he ate the meal with great relish.

When the officer’s family heard this story, they marveled. His wife told him of how John had asked for a plate of pilaf to send to his master in Mecca, and how they all laughed when John came back and said that it had been sent. Now they saw that what the saint had said was true (Compare the story of Habakkuk, who miraculously brought a dish of pottage to Daniel in the lions’ den [Dan. 14:33-39], in the Septuagint).

Toward the end of his difficult life Saint John fell ill, and sensed the nearness of his end. He summoned the priest so that he could receive Holy Communion. The priest, fearing to go to the residence of the Turkish commander openly with the Holy Gifts, enclosed the life-giving Mysteries in an apple and brought them to Saint John.

Saint John glorified the Lord, received the Body and Blood of Christ, and then reposed. The holy Confessor John the Russian went to the Lord Whom he loved on May 27, 1730. When they reported to the master that his servant John had died, he summoned the priests and gave them the body of Saint John for Christian burial. Almost all the Christian inhabitants of Prokopion came to the funeral, and they accompanied the body of the saint to the Christian cemetery.

Three and a half years later the priest was miraculously informed in a dream that the relics of Saint John had remained incorrupt. Soon the relics of the saint were transferred to the church of the holy Great Martyr George and placed in a special reliquary. The new saint of God began to be glorified by countless miracles of grace, accounts of which spread to the remote cities and villages. Christian believers from various places came to Prokopion to venerate the holy relics of Saint John the Russian and they received healing through his prayers. The new saint came to be venerated not only by Orthodox Christians, but also by Armenians, and even Turks, who prayed to the Russian saint, “Servant of God, in your mercy, do not disdain us.”

In the year 1881 a portion of the relics of Saint John were transferred to the Russian monastery of the holy Great Martyr Panteleimon by the monks of Mount Athos, after they were miraculously saved by the saint during a dangerous journey.

Construction of a new church was begun in 1886, through the contributions of the monastery and the inhabitants of Prokopion. This was necessary because the church of the holy Great Martyr George, where the relics of Saint John were enshrined, had fallen into disrepair.

On August 15, 1898 the new church dedicated to Saint John the Russian was consecrated by the Metropolitan John of Caesarea, with the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine V.

In 1924, an exchange of the populations of Greece and Turkey took place. Many Moslems moved out of Greece, and many Christians moved out of Turkey. The inhabitants of Prokopion, when they moved to the island of Euboia [or Euboea], took with them part of the relics of Saint John the Russian.

For several decades the relics were in the church of Saints Constantine and Helen at New Prokopion on Euboia, and in 1951 they were transferred into a new church dedicated to Saint John the Russian. Thousands of pilgrims flocked here from all the corners of Greece, particularly on his Feast, May 27. Saint John the Russian is widely venerated on Mount Athos, particularly in the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon.

Saint John’s help is sought by travelers, and by those transporting things. 

Saint John the Russian and Confessor c.
The Healing of the Unbelieving Physician suffering from cancer (icon from here)

From here

Saint John Chrysostom in his interpretation of Matthew 8:4.in which Christ says to the leper he has just cured “see thou tell no man, but go thy way…”, writes that in the Gospels, for reasons of modesty and to avoid praise, Christ twelve times commands those who had been miraculously cured or who were present at such a cure not to tell anyone of the miracle or of what they had seen

On other occasions, such as in Luke 8:39, our Lord tells the man from whom he had cast out the devils, and who had asked Christ if he could stay with Him, to return to his home and show what great things God hath done unto thee”.

Until His resurrection, the most usual behaviour of Christ was to keep certain miracles and great events hidden, as was the case with his spiritual teachings, for he spoke in parables. In the words of Saint John Chrysostom: “the more that is said, the more difficult it is to accept.”

Many people who have been miraculously cured, and whose full details are kept in the church archives, do not want their addresses made public in books or on the Internet. Wherever they may live or work, be it in the city or a village, they wish to avoid discussion and investigation of these things – the how, the when and the why – whether such interest is well-meaning or not.

We also know that hermits and ascetics from Mount Athos and other monastic centres who witness many miraculous events and who participate in heavenly spiritual experiences, because of their great humility and modesty usually say nothing of these things to anybody except those in their close circle of spiritual confidants. It is with these things in mind that my personal decision was to leave the publication of these people’s addresses for a later time, if it should be needed.

During the some thirty years I have served in the church of Saint John, the miracles that have taken place amount to many hundreds. I have personal knowledge of them and the spiritual responsibility of their witness is mine.

Let us take joy from the simplicity and also the grandeur of these rare and wondrous events.


The doctors were categorical: “Your child”, they explained to the parents, “was born with this rare disease and indeed in its worst form. He is very weak and whatever treatment we might prescribe for him in order to prepare him for the complicated operations necessary, he will not have the strength to cope with it. The only thing to be done is to wait for the uncertain progress of his health.”

The head doctor responsible for this case was the famous specialist Mr Choremis.

The child’s mother refused to accept what the doctors told her.

She persuaded her husband to sell all they had and to go to Paris, to a large children’s medical institute. There they received exactly the same advice from the French doctors and were told that they should not involve themselves anymore in so much trouble and expense.

The doctors say one thing, but the child’s mother thinks and says another, for as a mother created by God she is, with Him, a co creator and helper in His work. A mother truly suffers and offers all for her children who are her very being, and cries out in her heart: “Save my child.”

The child then developed a very high fever. Fearing for its life, its mother seized it in her arms like a she-wolf and ran to find a way out of the hospital. Out in the street, she knocked on doors left and right.

People looked at her strangely. She then found a taxi and asked to be taken to Vichy , a well-known spa town in central France. At Vichy is a Russian Orthodox Monastery dedicated to the Mother of God which she had known about from a previous visit she had made while studying in France. She entered the monastery and went straight to the icon of the virgin Mary.

“All-holy Mother”, she said, “my courage is exhausted. If my child is to die, let him die before your icon. I implore you. You are also a mother and you saw your precious son hanging from the cross and blood spilling all around Him. You were able to bear that I cannot. See what I have brought into this world.”

In the monastery church was a Russian whose name was Sergius Ivanovitch, who knew a little Greek from working in Athens at one time. He heard the mother’s words, approached her, and in his limited Greek said: “You in Greece have a fellow countryman of ours who is a saint, Saint John the Russian. He is a great miracle worker.

For years I have carried his icon with me and have often asked for his help. I will make the sign of the cross over you and your child with the icon and God be with you.”

When the icon touched the child’s forehead he writhed like a fish and broke out into a cold sweat. The mother bent to put her lips to the child’s forehead, not to kiss him but to see whether he still had the raging fever. The skin was cool. An all night vigil was held in the monastery church and prayers were offered for the child.

In the morning the mother returned to the hospital to secure the child’s admission.

Three months later, without any operation having being carried out, it was ascertained that the child’s bones were growing normally and that his deformed arms and legs were being brought back into balance.

“An exceptional scientific event”, said the French doctors.

“An exceptional event of faith and of the saints”, says the child’s mother who now delights in her son who, full of life, walks to and from his school.

12th November 1974

A Hundred Kilometre Walk

In the town of Istiaia, in northern Euboea, a baby is born with its legs bent backwards and joined to its shoulders. For three and a half years doctors strived to correct this tragic deformity and after repeated operations they managed to detach the child’s legs from its shoulders and bring them back to their right position.

“We have done whatever it is possible to do for your son”, the doctors told his parents, “but he is never going to be able to walk because there are virtually no nerves in his legs. Go, and God be with you.”

Back in their house, the father, looking at his paralytic child laying in bed, remembered Saint John and called out to him with unbearable pain: “My Saint John, how will I be able to bear seeing this unfortunate boy bed-ridden for the rest of my life? How can I cope with such a burden? You have cured so many people all over the world, make this poor child able to stand on his feet, make him walk. I will walk barefoot to your shrine on your feast day. I have nothing else to offer you as a gift, except a baby lamb which is in my garden; this I will bring to you.”

And so the father and mother set out walking barefooted, taking it in turns to carry the child and the lamb. For two and a half days they walked through the forests and precipitous gorges of northern Euboea, from Istiaia to Prokopi, with only the inner hope that Saint John would listen to their grief and give them what they desired.

In the Saint’s church they prayed fervently before the holy relic.

Even the lamb, which had been tied to the shrine, began to bleat as if it understood its masters’ grief. The priest was chanting, the mother and father were weeping, the child, who had been laid at the marble base of the shrine, looked round mutely, the votive lamb was bleating: all was as a hymn, an unbearable grief, one of the uncountable tragedies that are lived by our fellow men and which so often we are unaware of.

That night the parents did not want to sleep either in the church’s guest house or in a hotel but they unfolded a blanket before the locked door of the church on which they lay down to sleep.

It is after midnight. The father wakes up his paralytic son. His wife wakes too and says to him: “Anastasi, what time is it? Why have you woken up the child? What do you want of him?”

“Wake up, wife, Saint John has worked his miracle.” He then says to the child: “Get up my son, come on, bring me a little water to drink.” Nearby there was a jug of water, but it is not water that the father is thirsty for, he is thirsty to see the miracle. The boy stands up and makes the first steps of his life.

The parents begin to cry out in the middle of the night. The whole village and all the visiting pilgrims wake up and participate in the miraculous event of God’s energy working through his Saint.

Since then, every year at about the same time in the autumn, a sturdy fellow with a lively lamb in his arms, brings this votive symbol of his life as an offering to the Saint. He embraces and kisses the reliquary in which the Saint’s holy body lies, then returns home to continue life’s daily struggle.

19th September 1976

A Shipwreck Averted

A loaded merchant ship sailing in the North Sea on its way to a port in the Netherlands suddenly encountered a terribly heavy sea. It seemed that the ship would be sunk at any moment by the enormous waves and that its crew of Greek sailors were facing the last moments of their lives. The ship’s steering gear and radar had ceased working and there was no way of knowing where the ship was being driven. Amid the roaring of the storm the voice of the captain could be heard. He was not giving orders, for they were not needed.

Experienced sailor that he was, he was telling his crew the truth: “We are going down. Pray to God for our salvation.”

He himself went to the ship’s icon shrine where there was an icon of Saint John the Russian. Aware of what was about to happen, he knelt and prayed: “My Saint John, I am not asking you to save me or this valuable ship, but I am praying for these poor sailors who travel in foreign places and who eat the bread of exile kneaded with the salt of the sea so that they can support their families, and who tonight will be lost. Saint John, I want you to save them.

All night, while the sea boomed and the freezing north wind howled, the captain beseeched Saint John continually in his heart.

The dreadful night passed. Dawn came. And what did the sailors see? Their ship was moored and safe in the port of Rotterdam.

Who was the “great captain” who had guided the ship through the storm and brought them there? It was Saint John the Russian.

Nobody could persuade Captain Dimitris Varoutsikas, who over the years had seen many things on the high seas, otherwise. Stunned by this miracle he telephoned the shipping company to say that he was laying up the ship for repairs and coming to Greece.

In his own way he wanted to express a spontaneous “thank you”

to Saint John. Once in Greece he took his wife to a big shop where ecclesiastical items are sold and bought a ciborium, a book of the Holy Gospels, a chalice, liturgical fans, a cross for blessing, and oil-lamps, all made of gold, enamel and silver – gifts for Saint John the Russian. These valuable treasures now upon the Holy Altar remind us of the miracle of faith and of prayer and of the salvation of those anguished and distraught sailors.

23rd January 1978

A Walking Stick

As you enter the church of Saint John the Russian you will see hanging before the shrine of the Saint, like a spoil of victory, a simple and poor gift: a walking stick. It belongs to Maria Siaka, an old lady from the village of Frenaro near Ammohostos in Cyprus.

For eighteen years she had been a hunchback and bent so double that her face was but a short distance from the ground. On 11th August 1978 relatives of the old lady, together with some hundred Cypriots, brought her to the church of Saint John. They lifted her up to enable her to reverence the Saint’s holy and uncorrupted body. Looking at the blessed relic the old lady wept and beseeched Saint John to grant her a little divine help for the remainder of her life. Saint John saw the grandeur of her soul, her grief and also her deep faith. At that moment, before the eyes of everyone there, it seemed that an invisible arm seized her shoulders with tremendous power and slowly began to unfold her body. Her spine creaked and returned to its original form; the old lady stood upright.

Her fellow villagers wept, the bells of the church rang, prayers of thanksgiving were offered by all the Cypriots who could not hold back their tears. Anyone who has had the fortune to be present when a miracle occurs can understand these lines.

Finally, the voice of the old lady was heard: “What can I give you my young man, my Saint? I am poor I will give you my walking stick which I will not be needing for the rest of my life.

The daily papers of Nicosia reported: “Maria Siaka, after her pilgrimage to the church of Saint John the Russian in Greece, can now, after nearly twenty years of being bent double and seeing only the ground, see the faces of her fellow villagers. Thanks to the miracle of the Saint she is restored and completely well.”

11th August 1978

A Little Boy’s Tragedy

In a small, low-roofed house, in a narrow street that leads to the beautiful church of Pantanassa in the town of Patras, a family is living through a tragedy. On being given her new born baby by the midwife after awakening from the anaesthetic, its mother saw that the infant’s tongue was protruding from its mouth. She felt something horrible inside her. The baby tried to suckle its mother’s breast but it was unable to do so because its tongue was too long and was hanging three to four centimetres out of its mouth. A tragedy had begun

At home the mother confined herself in her house with the child.

She went up and down to Athens hoping the doctors would be able to find a cure, but the child’s tongue grew even longer and hung down to its chin and saliva ran continually from its mouth. “Oh my God”, begged the mother, “tell me what to do.”

The doctors recommended that the child’s tongue should be cut.

However, this would mean the little boy would never be able to speak. His parents did not agree to this, and so they sold whatever they could so as to be able to take the child abroad for medical advice. They took the baby to a special clinic in Stockholm in Sweden, but there the findings of the doctors were the same as those of the Greek doctors: the child’s tongue must be cut. Both parents said: “No.”

They telephoned their relatives in Patras to say they were returning home, their grief did not allow them to say anything more.

Back at home their family – parents, brothers and sisters – welcomed them with restrained eagerness but the child’s unchanged appearance, the weak morale of its parents after their long, tiring and unsuccessful journey, cast them all into a state of depression.

They greeted them tearfully. What could they say? What consolation could they give them? Suddenly a voice was heard. An enlightened and truly Christian lady of 50 whose life was devoted to the Church and her saints began to speak:

“Listen to me”, she said to the child’s parents. “I believe that God will listen to our prayers”.

She then spoke directly to the mother: “Pledge your child to Saint John the Russian whose body remains entire and uncorrupted and who goes wherever God sends him. Ask him now, fervently, to visit your child. And even though you are tired, let us all go now to the church of Pantanassa to pray.”

The prayers we offer for others, as the French surgeon and biologist Alexis Carrel tells us, are the best prayers and are heard by God.

The old priest at the church chanted the Invocationary Canon to Saint John, then celebrated a short vigil service in the Saint’s honour.

The sad group of relatives then returned home. They entered the house, and switched the light on. The child’s mother gave a cry:

“My Saint John, did you come so quickly to take away our unbearable pain? What do my tired eyes see that for three years have wept such bitter tears?”

Everyone present witnessed the end of the little boy’s tribulations:

his tongue had receded to its right position and he began to talk.

Such events are inexplicable to human reason. For those who deny it is possible to go beyond cold logic and the evidence of the senses, such things are nothing more than fictitious stories. But for people who have faith these things are simple and they can be explained. In the words of Saint Paul: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

16th May 1966

Troparion — Tone 8

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship, / the enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs: / all-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things. / Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.

See the side of the Holy Shrine of St John the Russian

Παρασκευή 14 Μαΐου 2021

Great Martyrs Isidore & Myrope of Chios & st Serapion "with the linen" of Egypt (May 14)...

Martyrs Isidore and Myrope of Chios

Orthodox Church in America

Eλληνικά: ο άγιος Ισίδωρος & η αγία Μυρόπη της Χίου

Saint Isidore lived during the reign of Emperor Decius (249-251) and came from Alexandria in Egypt. He was an officer in the Roman Navy when the fleet commanded by Admiral Numerius chanced to be anchored off the Greek island of Chios. There Christianity was not persecuted, and perhaps Saint Isidore was not as cautious as he should have been. Somehow, the centurion Julius discovered that Isidore was a Christian, and denounced him to Admiral Numerius.

The Admiral summoned him in order to determine whether or not the allegation was true. Saint Isidore admitted that he was indeed a Christian, and refused to offer sacrifice to inanimate idols. Numerius urged him to obey the Emperor's decree to offer sacrifice so that he would not be subjected to torture. Saint Isidore replied, "You may be able to kill my body, but you have no power over my soul. The true, living God, Jesus Christ, abides in me; even after my death He shall be with me, and I with Him. I shall abide in Him, and I shall never cease to confess Him while breath still remains in my body."

Saint Isidore was led away to be tortured. In the midst of his suffering, he praised Christ God and mocked the pagan idols. Since Saint Isidore still refused to offer the prescribed sacrifice, he was thrown into prison.

When the Saint's father heard about this, he went to Chios to convince Isidore to deny Christ. He was able to persuade Numerius to place Isidore in his custody, saying that he would try to convert him. The Saint, however, begged his father to open the eyes of his soul and to learn the truth about Christ. His father was most displeased by these words, and he could not accept that his son chose to believe in Christ rather than follow the idolatry of his ancestors. Seeing that Saint Isidore would not change his mind, he disowned him and sent him back to Admiral Numerius, asking him to execute his son right away.

Holy icon from here

First, the Admiral ordered Isidore to be beaten with whips, and then dragged along over rocky ground. After that, his tongue was cut out. Even without his tongue, Saint Isidore was still able to speak, by the grace of God, and he continued to confess Christ. Meanwhile, God punished Numerius by causing him to loose the power of speech. Finally, the Admiral gave the signal to behead Isidore. When he heard the sentence the holy martyr was overjoyed. Praising God, he was led to the place of execution, where he was beheaded.

After the Saint's martyrdom his body was thrown into a well to be devoured by animals, but two Christians, Saints Ammonios (September 4) and Myrope ([or Merope] December 2) secretly took his body, and buried it in a secret place, with all due honor. The evil Numerius heard that the martyr's body had been stolen and wanted to kill the two guards who had been ordered to prevent the body from being taken. Learning that innocent men would suffer for her good deed, Saint Myrope appeared before the authorities and acknowledged that she had stolen the martyr's body and buried it, but she refused to tell them where.

Numerius commanded that the holy virgin should be whipped, and finally she was confined in a prison, covered with wounds. But the Lord did not leave His martyr without consolation. At midnight a heavenly light illumined the prison, and many angels appeared to her with Saint Isidore in their midst. "Peace be with you, Myrope," he said to her. "God has heard your prayer, and soon you shall be with us and shall receive the crown which has been prepared for you."

The holy martyr rejoiced and surrendered her soul to God at that very moment. A sweet fragrance emanated from her body, filling the entire prison. One of the guards, seeing all of this and smelling the fragrance, told a priest about the vision. He believed in Christ and was baptized. Soon afterward, he also suffered martyrdom. Later, Saint Ammonios himself was put to death in the city of Kyzikos.

Saint Myrope's body was interred beside that of the martyr Isidore, and a chapel was built over the graves. In the fifth century, Saint Markian (January 10), the Oikonomos of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople, built a chapel by the church of Hagia Eirene (Holy Peace). He also transferred the Saint's skull and a portion of his relics to Constantinople, which he placed in the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos at Peran.

Holy icon from here
In the sixth century, the existence of the rest of the Saint's relics on the island of Chios, and the numerous miracles which occurred, is affirmed by Saint Gregory of Tours (November 17) in his book Liber in Gloria Martyrum (Book of the Glory of the Martyrs):

"The martyr Isidore is buried on the island of Chios. In the Saint's church there is a well into which he is said to have been thrown. After drinking from the water of this well, possessed people, those with fevers, and others who are sick, are often cured. It is said that believers often see a light there, similar to a burning candle. I myself met a priest who insisted that he had often seen this light from the mouth of the well. On this island a seed is picked from the mastic trees which, so they say, are not found in other regions."

Local tradition agrees that at the place where Saint Isidore was martyred, the mastic trees shed fragrant tears because of the Holy Martyr's suffering. Tradition holds that the mastic, which is a major product of the island of Chios, may be gathered and prepared only from the trees near the site of the Saint's martyrdom. 

Byzantine Pilgrim Stamp of Saint Isidore (6th Century), photo from here

Troparion & Kontakion

Troparion — Tone 4

Enlisted by the King of the Ages, / you spurned the earthly king and his army to boldly preach Christ our God. / Therefore, you have completed your contest and shine forth as His glorious martyr. / Entreat Him to save our souls, for we honor you, blest Isidore.

Kontakion — Tone 3

In your combat with the dragon, / you gained the victory, O martyr Isidore. / As a radiant beacon from Egypt, / you shone forth to illumine all under the sun, / advancing towards Him who shone forth from the Virgin Mother of God, / for whose sake you were slain, O Passion-Bearer, / offering yourself as a fragrant sacrifice.

Kontakion — Tone 4

You have been revealed as a great guide to the world through your prayers, O holy one. / Therefore, we praise you today, / divinely-wise martyr, glorious Isidore.

St Isidore & a branch of a mastic tree (from here)
Venerable Serapion of Egypt

Saint Serapion lived during the fifth century in Egypt. He was called the linen cloth-wearer (Sindonite) since he wore only a coarse linen garb called a “sindon.” From his youth the monk lived like the birds of the air, without a shelter.

For several days at a time he did not eat, not having the means to buy bread. He gave away his sindon to a beggar who was shivering from the cold, and he himself was naked.

A certain Greek philosopher, wishing to test the non-covetousness of the monk, gave him a gold coin and watched him. The saint went to the bakery, bought one loaf of bread, gave the merchant the gold coin and left, having no regard for the value of the money.

Saint Serapion led many on the way of salvation. Once, he was the servant of a Greek actor, whom he converted to Christ. The actor, imitating the example of the holy life of the saint, believed and was baptized together with all his family. He asked Saint Serapion to remain with him not as a servant, but as a guide and friend, but the monk went away, not taking any of the money offered him.

Traveling to Rome, Saint Serapion got on a ship, but paid nothing to the ship owners. At first they began to reproach him for this, but noticing that the Elder had gone five days already without eating, they began to feed him for the sake of God, and in this they fulfilled the command of the Lord.

At Rome, the saint continued to wander about, going from house to house, having nothing, accumulating only spiritual wealth for himself and for his neighbor.

Troparion — Tone 8

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile, / and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance. / By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe! / O our holy father Serapion, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!

The holy icon is from the article
Life and Sayings of Holy Abba Serapion the Sindonite

Πέμπτη 13 Μαΐου 2021

Knocking Down the Gates of Hell

The language of the Classic View was obscured in the West by the later popularity of propitiatory suffering (and the various theories surrounding it). Aulen claimed that Luther tended to prefer this older imagery. I had opportunity to do a research paper in grad school on the topic. I surveyed all of the hundreds of hymns written by Luther and analyzed them for their atonement theology. All but about two used the Classic View. Aulen seems to have been right.

In Orthodoxy, this imagery is the coin of the realm in the hymns surrounding Pascha. All of Holy Week is predicated on the notion of Christ’s descent into hell and His dynamic actions in destroying death and setting free those held in captivity. St. John Chrysostom’s great Paschal Homily, read in every Orthodox Church on the night of Pascha, is an “Ollie, Ollie, in come free!” of salvation
[“Ollie, Ollie, in come free!” and other similar phrases (“oxen free!”) is a children’s cry that ends the game of Hide ‘n Seek].

I have written on this topic before. I thought, however, to share some of the verses from the hymns of the Matins of Holy Saturday. Their language is a pure expression of the spirit of Orthodox Pascha and the atonement teaching of the Fathers.

Hell, who had filled all men with fear,
Trembled at the sight of Thee,
And in haste he yielded up his prisoners,
O Immortal Sun of Glory!

Thou hast destroyed the palaces of hell by Thy Burial, O Christ.
Thou hast trampled death down by thy death, O Lord,
And redeemed earth’s children from corruption.

Though thou art buried in a grave, O Christ,
Though Thou goest down to hell, O Savior,
Thou hast stripped hell naked, emptying its graves.

Death seized Thee, O Jesus,
And was strangled in Thy trap.
Hell’s gates were smashed, the fallen were set free,
And carried from beneath the earth on high.

O Savior, death’s corruption
Could not touch Thy holy flesh.
Thou hast bound the ancient murderer of man,
And restored all the dead to new life.

Thou didst will, O Savior,
To go beneath the earth.
Thou didst free death’s fallen captives from their chains,
Leading them from earth to heaven.

In the earth’s dark bosom
The Grain of Wheat is laid.
By its death, it shall bring forth abundant fruit:
Adam’s sons, freed from the chains of death.

Wishing to save Adam,
Thou didst come down to earth.
Not finding him on earth, O Master,
Thou didst descend to Hades seeking him.

O my Life, my Savior,
Dwelling with the dead in death,
Thou hast destroyed the iron bars of hell,
And hast risen from corruption.

These examples could be multiplied many times over. The section of Matins from which these are taken has over 100 verses! Orthodox Holy Week and Pascha has many ways of acting out this theology. Lights go up at the hint of victory, particularly as we sing the Song of Moses celebrating the drowning of Pharaoh’s army. In some parishes, bay leaves are tossed in the air by the priest in a fairly violent and joyous celebration of the victory. In yet others, at certain points during the Vesperal Liturgy of Pascha,  loud noises such as the banging of pots and pans are heard as the liturgy describes the smashing of hell’s gates. There’s is one village in Greece where two parishes have developed a custom of firing rocket fireworks at each other in the Paschal celebration.

Such antics completely puzzle the non-Orthodox and even seem comical. The Paschal celebration in Orthodoxy is far more akin to the wild street scenes in American cities when the end of World War II was announced – and for the same reason!

All of this also explains why many Orthodox are very reluctant to engage in “who’s going to hell” discussions with other Christians (though some Orthodox sadly seem to relish the topic). The services of Holy Week, as illustrated in these verses, are filled with references to hell. I daresay that no services elsewhere in all of Christendom make such frequent mention of hell. But the language is just as illustrated above. It’s all about smashing, destruction and freedom. It is the grammar of Pascha. It is the grammar of Christianity itself.

Hell is real. Jesus has come to smash it. It is the Lord’s Pascha. It is time to sing and dance.

Easter Rocket War of Vrontados in Chios