Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The healing mission of the Church ( Metropolitan of Limassol, Athanasios )


The main mission of the Church is to heal a person. In other words, when a person becomes part of the Church is healed if he follows the therapeutic regime which aims to assist him to return to the natural state which God gave him when He had created him.

After the fall of our forefathers, our nature was corrupted. When man severed his relationship with the Lord after disobeying His command, all his mental and physical capacities were immediately corrupted and perverted; his mind turned away from its unbreakable communication with the Lord, which was his natural state, towards the creation and matter, passions and sin. From that moment sickness and perversion entered man’s nature.

This is the reality of the fall, the sin of the forefathers, namely the hereditary sickness which passes on from one generation to another because we are natural descendents of our forefathers. Thus, each man has inherited this condition of spiritual sickness; the perversion of his nature.

Jesus Christ is called the ‘New Adam’, because He enters history at a certain point in time and accomplishes a mission. Christ’s mission was not so much to hand over the Gospel, namely His teachings, neither to give us a book called ‘Gospel’, but to give us Himself. In other words, just as we have inherited the sickness of our nature through the first Adam, Jesus offers us Himself, so that through the baptism we unite with Him, become one with Him, and then through the Holy Eucharist we acquire the capacity to unite with Him organically and ontologically (actually). This means that the actual unity with the Body and Blood of Jesus flows into our being, into our soul and our body. This is the reason why we become children of God and why the Church exists. The Church would have no reason to exist if it did not administer the holy mysteries, particularly the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.

The Church is not an institution aiming to increase its followers for various reasons. It is the place where man is healed spiritually and is given the opportunity to unite with Jesus Christ. However, man needs to follow a certain therapeutic treatment called ‘askesis’. It entails obeying all of the Lord’s commands handed over to us by Jesus in the Gospel. Jesus’ commands are the medication which treats our sickness. In fact, the Lord shouldn’t have given us any commands since He had created us in His image; His commands are inherent in our nature and our conscience reminds us about them. Nevertheless, as the holy fathers say, the Lord did give us the appropriate medication to cancel out wickedness.

A sick man goes to the doctor and receives a certain treatment, not because the doctor impinges on his freedom or his dignity, but because his advice if heeded, may cure him. If he doesn’t follow the doctor’s instructions his illness will persist and may even cause his death. In the same way the Lord’s commandments act as a therapeutic treatment.

There are many commands and on the outset it seems difficult for someone to remember and obey all of them. Nevertheless, the most essential command is one and has to do with our entire being. It is: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and with all your strength.’ And it goes on ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. This part is the result and the evidence of our genuine love towards the Lord. In other words, it is not possible for someone who does not love God, to love himself, his neighbor, nature or the rest of the creation. Therefore, all the commandments have a common mission; they converge on the love towards the Lord. This is the natural state of man; this is how the Lord created him, namely, to move towards the Lord with a loving force. This is easy to understand since as the Scriptures say ‘The Lord is love’. But we must appreciate that we are not moving towards an idea, namely ‘love’, but towards a person.

The Church moves man towards a personal meeting with the specific, personal God. In other words, the Church is the place which develops man as a person and not as an individual (an ‘individual’ means someone who is engrossed in his self). That is, it smashes his individualism, develops him as a person and turns him into someone who for the most part has a personal relationship with the Lord. This is also the main difference between the Orthodox Church and eastern religions which speak about a vague and faceless deity. This is the reason why prayer differs from meditation. Prayer is a personal motion towards a personal God; meditation is an impersonal motion from one man to another through the invocation of a vague deity.

The personal motion towards the Lord presupposes that the Lord also moves towards man. Since God is love, it follows that man, who has been created in the image of God, is also love. This loving motion enables man to come out of his self and offer himself to another person, just as Jesus did when He ‘emptied Himself’.

When man empties himself he meets the Lord in a loving union which is totally personal and totally fulfilling for man as a whole. Man’s union with the Lord does not only take place on a mental, philosophical, metaphysical or psychological level. It is a perfect union at all levels. We ought to understand these things if we are to appreciate our true mission in this world. Therefore, by understanding the numerous commandments, we also understand why we ought to obey them.

In other words, the Church is not the sum of certain commandments and laws but it is the place with a specific mission. The Saints of our Church, all the children of the Church who are indeed living children of God and of the Church, prove that what the Church says and promises is true. These people have followed the treatment offered by the Church and became the temple of the Holy Spirit and the chosen vessel of the Lord. Namely the Holy Spirit is present inside them. Indeed there are several such people who are experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit inside their souls. They know what ‘grace’ means.

When dealing with the reality of our worship, along with all the preconditions and evidence presented by the lives of our saints, we are faced with the entire range of the spiritual struggle. In other words, we understand why all these things happen, why the commandments are given, why askesis and the spiritual regime are necessary and what happens with the presence of Jesus and with the existence of the Church. Thus we understand what will happen to us. The only matter which still needs to be resolved is how to practically begin the process of our relationship with God, how to find Him and how to taste all the things promised by the Church.

The Lord does not discriminate. He does not offer His mercy to one but not to the other, neither does He give gifts to one but not to the other. There are no ‘chosen ones’ for the Lord. The Lord gives to each one the same grace and the same love. It is man who regulates his relationship with the Lord. Man is free to love the Lord absolutely. One may love Him a lot, another very little and yet some may hate Him.

Nevertheless, one has to be aware of his own intentions; he ought to be able to say that he will remain steadfast in his faith even though the Lord sometimes seems to leave him alone in his struggles. In other words, one must never lose heart. He ought to recognize that this mission is not up to him but it is a task accomplished by the Lord. Jesus said to His disciples: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’ (John 15, 16). The disciples may have offered their good intention, but unless the Lord was present with His grace to strengthen them, they could not have accomplished a single thing.

Bearing in mind the Lord’s presence we ought to wage our struggle with immense courage. One of the weapons the enemy uses is trying to prevent us from dealing with our sins and passions with courage and zeal.

The Lord offers us a medicine to help us with this process. It is the medicine of repentance in the face of the Lord. This means that one ought to repent not as someone who feels guilty, but as one who is the son of the Lord. Neither any trespass nor the devil are able to take away from us the privilege of being children of the Lord. Thus we may stand before the Lord and say: ‘Indeed, I have sinned; I have been misled. Nevertheless, I have not denied You and I am still seeking my deliverance’.

People ought not to be miserable inside the Church, because they have been called by the Lord to become gods through grace. This means that a person who lives the life of the Church becomes lord and not a miserable man. This is how the Lord makes him. The Saints, instead of feeling depressed, placed great emphasis on repentance because it made them feel children of the Lord. Repentance was like a life-giving force which led them straight to the throne of their Father.

In the Church there is no place for disappointment neither for backtracking, no matter what happens. Nevertheless, when someone begins his spiritual life, the enemy may succeed in stealing his soul and his heart, enslaving him into worldly matters and causing him to drop his first love towards the Lord.

Therefore, let us not be enslaved by the affairs of this world despite all our responsibilities and duties. Our heart must only move towards the Lord.

The end

Excerpts from a homily by the Metropolitan of Limassol, Athanasios, published in the ‘Paraklisi’ magazine, March 2012.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Satan's Worst Enemy ( Anonymous Desert Father )



One of the old men of the Thebaid used to tell the following story: 
"I was the son of a pagan priest. When I was small I would sit and watch my father who often went to sacrifice to the idol. 
Once, going in behind him in secret, I saw Satan and all his army standing beside him; and behold one of the chief devils came to bow before him. 

Satan said, 'Where have you come from?' He answered, 'I was in a certain place and made much blood flow, and I have come to tell you about it.' Satan asked, 'How long did it take you to do this?' He replied, 'Thirty days.' Then Satan commanded him to be flogged, saying, 'In so long a time have you done only that?' 

And behold, another demon came to bow before him. Satan asked him, 'And you, where have you come from?' The demon replied, 'I was on the sea, and I made the waves rise, and small craft foundered, and I have killed many people, and I have come to inform you of it.' He said to him, 'How long did it take you to do this?' and the demon said, 'Twenty days.' Satan commanded that he also should be flogged, saying, 'That is because in such a long time you have only done this.' 

Now, a third demon came to bow before him. he asked, 'And where have you come from?' The demon replied, 'There was a marriage in a certain village, and I stirred up a riot, and I have made much blood flow, killing the bride and bridegroom, and I have come to inform you.' He asked him, 'How long have you taken to do this?' and he replied, 'Ten days.' Satan commanded that he also should be flogged because he had taken too long.
After this, another demon came to bow before him. He asked, 'And where have you come from?' He said, 'I was in the desert forty years fighting against a monk, and this night I made him fall into fornication.' When he heard this, Satan arose, embraced him, and put the crown he was wearing on his head and made him sit on his throne, saying, 'You have been able to do a very great deed!'
The old man said, 'Seeing this, I said to myself, "Truly it is a great contest, this contest of the monks," and with God assisting me for my salvation, I went away and became a monk.'"

from "The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers," by Benedicta Ward, (Oxford: SLG Press, 1986)

Monday, May 13, 2019

Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. ( St. Paisios of Mount Athos )

Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. 
If you ignore them, there is no problem. 
If you pay attention to them, you create an airport inside your head and permit them to land!


St. Paisios of Mount Athos

Thursday, May 9, 2019

How to Recognize the Holy Apostles in Icons...




Icons are painted as windows into Heaven, and therefore to show the Heavenly, rather than earthly, reality. Nevertheless, Icons are made of the people we love: of the heroes of the faith who are remembered and whose earthly lives are considered instructive and worthy of imitation. Therefore it is natural that, as well as depicting them in a stylized “spiritual” way, the Saints are also depicted as recognizable people, with distinct features. This guide is just a brief description of how the Holy Apostles are depicted in Icons, so that they can be more easily recognized when encountered in churches, monasteries, or wherever else an icon is found.



St. Peter



The fiery and impulsive Leader of the Twelve, Peter is easily recognizable by his white, short, curly hair and beard. He is often shown holding a scroll, which may have words taken from one of his Epistles written upon it. In some icons he may also be shown with keys hanging from his belt, a reference to the words Jesus said to him: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He is often found in Icons with St. Paul, who were both martyred in Rome, holding together the Church, and showing their shared pre-eminence among the Apostles.

St. Paul



Though not one of the original Twelve, St. Paul has always been known as an Apostle (literally meaning “one who is sent out”), and moreover a leader of the Apostles. As such, he is often shown in Icons of the Apostles, including the one at the top of the page. Paul is always depicted with brown hair and beard tapering to one or two points. He is balding with a high forehead (signifying great wisdom and learning) but with a tuft of brown hair in the centre. He is often shown carrying a large Gospel book, an affirmation of the number of epistles he contributed to what became the New Testament. In addition, the Evangelist Luke was a physician who followed St. Paul on his missionary trips, so it is fair to say that Paul would also have had an influence upon the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

St. John



John the “Beloved Disciple”



St John theTheologian


There are two common depictions of the Apostle John: as the “Beloved Disciple” and as “the Theologian”. The former Icon is of the young Apostle John – the John who rested upon the breast of Christ during the Last Supper. In any icon showing scenes from the life of Christ (e.g. the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion) or those depicted in the Acts of the Apostles (e.g. the Ascension or Pentecost) then St. John is shown as the beardless brown-haired youth, little more than sixteen years of age.

When John is painted in a “portrait”, rather than as part of a Biblical scene, then he is usually shown as the elderly John “the Theologian”. This is the John who, sixty years or so after the Resurrection of Christ, is exiled upon Patmos and writing both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. He is shown with long white beard and high forehead, holding the Gospel book which led to his title “the Theologian”, often shown open to reveal some verses from the book. He may also be shown with an Eagle, the symbol of both John and his Gospel.

St. Matthew




Like John, St. Matthew also authored a Gospel account, and so likewise is usually depicted holding a large Book. Whether in portrait or in Icons depicting Biblical scenes, Matthew has long, wavy, white beard and closer-cropped hair. As a deliberate anachronism to aid identification, he may also be shown holding the Gospel Book in Icons with Christ depicting Biblical scenes. Matthew may sometimes be shown with a winged man, the symbol associated with his Gospel.

St. Andrew “the First Called”



Andrew, the brother of the Apostle Peter, was formerly a disciple of St. John the Baptist. Because of this, Andrew is depicted with long unkempt hair, in the manner of the prophet he followed. This makes him one of the most recognizable of Apostles when depicted in scenes showing Jesus’ earthly ministry. Andrew holds a small scroll not to indicate he authored any famous works, but to identify him as a preacher of the Gospel, “one who is sent out”, i.e. an Apostle.

St. Bartholomew



Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, is shown as a middle-aged man, with short beard and hair. He is also shown holding the scroll of an Apostle. After his martyrdom, St. Bartholomew has appeared to a number of people in vision and dream, so his appearance can be deduced. He has appeared to St. Joseph the Hymnographer, blessing him that he might be able to sing spiritual hymns, saying, “Let heavenly water of wisdom flow from your tongue!” He also appeared to Emperor Anastasius I (491-518) and told him that he would protect the new town of Dara.

St. Simon theZealot




Not to be confused with St. Peter, who was previously named Simon bar-Jonah, the Apostle Simon was from Cana, and is the bridegroom of the famous Wedding at Cana. He is always shown with grey curly hair and beard, though with a higher forehead than St. Peter.

St. Thomas



The Apostle Thomas is most famously known as “Doubting Thomas”, on account of his refusal to believe the accounts of the other disciples that Christ had risen. Often maligned for this, in Orthodox teaching it is recognized that through his initial doubts, Thomas came to confess Jesus Christ as “Lord and God” – a greater confession of faith than any of the Apostles had previously uttered. Sometimes this confession of faith is held in Thomas’ hands in icons depicting him, though more commonly it is the scroll denoting his rank of Apostle that is shown. The most striking thing about the Icons of Thomas is that he is shown as a beardless youth, a teenager as John was. This is a consistent feature of how Thomas is shown in icons, as in this Icon of Thomas touching the wounds of Christ.




The youthfulness of the Apostle Thomas is something worthy of consideration when thinking about his “doubts”.

St. James, Son of Zebedee




There are two Apostles named James. The son of Zebedee is the James often nicknamed “the Greater” in the West. This is largely because among the Twelve he was part of the “inner-circle” which also contained St. Peter and St. John. The Apostle John is also the brother of James and together they were known as the “Sons of Thunder”. James is shown with medium length brown hair and beard. Though often difficult to identify by sight alone in Icons of the Twelve, he is recognizable in the bottom-right of this Icon of the Transfiguration,which along with the young John and curly-haired Peter, James was privileged to witness.




He is depicted as a young man (short beard, not white) in all icons, as he never got to live to an old age, being martyred a little over 10 years after the Resurrection.

St. Jude



St Jude Thaddeus


Jude is also sometimes called Levi or Thaddeus, and “Jude” is sometimes rendered Judas. Nevertheless, he is not to be confused with the Apostle Matthew (also called “Levi”), St. Thaddeus one of Jesus’ seventy disciples, or especially Judas Iscariot. The author of the Biblical Epistle which carries his name, the “Apostles’ Scroll” in his hand may sometimes show a quote from his own writing. Otherwise, St. Jude is identified as a mature man with curly brown (sometimes grey) beard and hair. As he was related to Jesus Christ through Joseph, husband of Mary, the appelation “brother of the Lord” (or “adelphos” in Greek) may be found on Icons.

St. James Alphaeus




The son of Alphaeus and the brother of the Apostle Matthew, James is shown with brown wavy or curly hair and a pointed beard. He is not to be confused with St. James “Adelphos”, which means “brother of the Lord”. In iconography, the two Jameses are easily distinguished, as “the brother of the Lord” is always shown in the robes of a bishop, being the first bishop of Jerusalem. Here is an Icon of James Adelphos.

St. Phillip



Holy Tradition and Scriptures maintain that the Apostle Philip was well versed in the Old Testament prophecies, and eagerly awaited the coming of the Saviour. He immediately responded to the call of Jesus, and recognized him as the Messiah (John 1:43); and subsequently led Nathaniel (the Apostle Bartholomew) to become a follower of Jesus too. Therefore it is remarkable to come into contact with icons of the Apostle Philip – who is always shown as beardless youth. Like the youthfulness of Thomas, it is something worthy of consideration.



St. Matthias





Matthias is the disciple of Christ who replaced Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve Apostles after the latter’s betrayal and suicide. His appearance in icons is entirely in keeping with what is known about him. Schooled in the Law by the Prophet Simeon, who received the infant Christ in the temple, Matthias was already a man of maturity before becoming a disciple of the adult Christ. By the time of his martyrdom in 63A.D., Matthias would be the elderly man depicted in Icons of him.

Judas Iscariot



Judas Iscariot at the LastSupper




Whilst Judas is obviously not a saint, and isn’t shown in icons of “the Twelve”, he is nevertheless depicted in icons of the Last Supper or else kissing Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. In icons of the Last Supper he is easily recognizable as the one dipping his hand into the dish, thus revealing his future betrayal of the Lord. Often, the Apostles are not shown with halos in scenes prior to Pentecost, but needless to say when they are shown with halos, Judas is conspicuous by not having one.

Whatever it may be worth – and it may be worth nothing – in Orthodox Iconography Judas is almost always shown beardless, like John, Philip, and Thomas; thus, like them, he was perhaps still a teenager at the time he betrayed his Saviour.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring


Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring


Outside of Constantinople, towards the district of the Seven Towers, there was in ancient times a very large and most beautiful church named in honour of the Theotokos; it had been built about the middle of the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the Great (also called "Leo of Thrace," he is commemorated on Jan. 20). Before he became Emperor, he had encountered there a blind man, who being tormented with thirst asked him to help him find water. Leo felt compassion for him and went in search of a source of water but found none. As he became downcast, he heard a voice telling him there was water nearby. He looked again, and found none. Then he heard the voice again, this time calling him "Emperor" and telling him that he would find muddy water in the densely wooded place nearby; he was to take some water and anoint the blind man's eyes with it. When he had done this, the blind man received his sight. After Leo became Emperor as the most holy Theotokos had prophesied, he raised up a church over the spring, whose waters worked many healings and cured maladies by the grace of the Theotokos; from this, it came to be called the "Life-giving Spring." The Church of Christ celebrates the consecration of this church on this day.

After the fall of the imperial city, this church was razed to the ground and the materials from it were used for building the mosque of Sultan Bayezid. Nothing remained of that church's ancient beauty, except for a small and paltry chapel, almost completely buried in the ruins. This chapel had twenty-five steps going down into it, and a transom window on the roof, where from it received a little light. Toward the western side of the chapel was the aforementioned holy Spring, fenced about with a railing, and with fish swimming in it. Such was the condition of the Spring until 1821. Then even that little remnant was destroyed, occasioned by the uprising of the Greek nation against the Ottoman Empire; the sacred Spring was buried with it and disappeared altogether.

But in the days of Sultan Mahmud, when those subject to him were rejoicing in their freedom to practice their religion, permission was sought by the Orthodox Christian community to rebuild at least part of the chapel. Thus the work was begun on July 26, 1833. When the excavation had been made, and the foundations of the ancient church were found, there was rebuilt -- by a later writ of permission from the Sultan -- not merely a chapel of the holy Spring, but another new church, constructed upon the foundations of the ancient one. The building of this spacious, beautiful, and most majestic temple began on September 14, 1833, and the work was completed on December 30, 1834. On February 2, 1835, the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine II, serving the Liturgy together with twelve hierarchs and a great company of clergy, as well as a boundless multitude of Christians, performed the consecration of this sacred church and dedicated it to the glory of the Mother of God. On September 6, 1955, however, it was desecrated and destroyed again by the Moslem Turks; it has been restored again, but not to the former magnificence.



The modern-day Spring, with the Icon above it