Saturday, February 22, 2020

Greek Archbishop of America declares open Communion for non-Orthodox spouses

Archbishop Elpidophoros, the primate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, caused a stir yesterday at the opening of the 29th annual Leadership 100 Conference at the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

The Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Fund Incorporated is a corporation that supports the National Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in advancement of Orthodoxy and Hellenism.

As multiple participants in the conference are reporting, in front of dozens of participants, Abp. Elpidophoros declared that anyone who was married in the Orthodox Church can receive Communion in the Orthodox Church, regardless of whether they are Orthodox or not.

His statement came during the question and answer portion of his talk.

As the Orthodox Church firmly teaches that only baptized and chrismated members of the Church can commune, the Archbishop’s statement upset many people.

He previously addressed the issue of mixed marriages at the Archdiocesan Council meeting in October, hinting at what he openly declared yesterday. After noting that nearly 50% of all Orthodox Christians in America are converts, including 25% in the Greek Archdiocese, the Archbishop stated:

With this in mind, I would make this suggestion: instead of calling marriages with non-Orthodox spouses “mixed marriages,” might we not better refer to them as “miracle marriages?” For these marriages are the main road that ushers converts to the Faith. As the Apostle Paul says: How do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (I Cor. 7:16).

While speaking above about marriage leading to spouses converting to holy Orthodoxy, Abp. Elpidophoros went on say:

Every faithful marriage is a miracle marriage—a miracle of God’s love and a Mystery to be celebrated with joy and embraced with thanksgiving. Whether or not the spouse joins the Church in a formal way through Chrismation, they are still 100% part of our community, and should be embraced as such. If we are to be a Church that truly serves and embraces our young people who live in a technologically advanced and pluralistic world, we must embrace the strangers in our midst—make them strangers no more, and embrace all the members of our community and our Country.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople previously made waves when it announced that it would allow priests whose wives died or abandoned them to enter into second marriages, thereby contradicting the long-standing canonical Tradition of the Church.

In October, the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Archdiocese in America announced that it was petitioning Constantinople to allow three clergymen to remarry.

Article updated to note that the statement came during the question and answer session.

Friday, February 21, 2020

A Christian must be courteous to all. ( St. Nektarios of Aegina )

A Christian must be courteous to all. His words and deeds should breathe with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which abides in his soul, so that in this way he might glorify the name of God. He who regulates all of his speech also regulates all of his actions. He who keeps watch over the words he is about to say, also keeps watch over the deeds he intends to do, and he never goes out of the bounds of good and benevolent conduct. 
The graceful speech of a Christian is characterized by delicateness and politeness. This fact, born of love, produces peace and joy. On the other hand, boorishness gives birth to hatred, enmity, affliction, competitiveness, disorder and wars.

St. Nektarios of Aegina

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Holy Mountain: a universal presence and a heavenward orientation ( Metropolitan of Nikolaos of Mesogaias and Lavreotikis )

Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaias

The spiritual influence of Mount Athos is indisputable and certainly stems from the fact that many men have attained holiness through their secret ascetic struggles there. In recent years many pilgrims have found peace of mind and repose on the Mountain, together with spiritual guidance and support.

The higher one rises, scientists tell us, the weaker the force of gravity becomes, the less one feels the pull of the earth, the looser one’s connection with it becomes, the easier one can shrug off its pressures and demands, the lighter one becomes.

The closer, too, one feels to heaven, which, though so vague, is so real and so desirable. Although less tangible, it seems more real than the earth. The higher one rises, the clearer the air becomes, the sharper one’s hearing, the broader the horizon, the closer one draws to the truth, and the truth is more convincing than reality.

Of all the holy sites in the Orthodox world, Mount Athos is the place where for over a thousand years the monastic life has been lived in its most absolute form. The passing centuries may have stamped their ‘worldly’ influence on the Mountain; even there men may display their weaknesses or even passions, which is only natural, and modern ‘civilisation’ may have done its damage, but in an inexplicably mystical way the Mountain has retained its blessed character, the constant and unique evidence of its grace, its rare and singular spiritual strength, and its dynamic relationship in space and time with the Lord God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Its philosophy of life has not been jeopardised by wrong choices, has not been harmed by a bad process of modernisation, and has not been corrupted by the times or by men, whoever they may be. Its truth endures.

It is like a rock which problems like changing political influences, the immoderate use of technology, tourism, parochial views, inter-monastic feuds, rivalries and even hatred, and all kinds of hostile forces only succeed in briefly washing over or moistening the surface of, without in the least disturbing its inner core.

There is something that does indeed protect it. Perhaps it is its monastic diversity, perhaps it is its enduring quality, perhaps the naturalness of its monastic expression, perhaps its treasures, relics and splendour, perhaps the abaton1 and its administrative autonomy, perhaps its ecumenical character, perhaps the care and protection of the Mother of God, perhaps its special grace. Despite its theocratic character, after eleven centuries of glorious existence Byzantium fell. Athos, on the other hand, is now in its fourteenth century of life but it moves at the pace of the world to come and gives you the impression that it is a place which is ‘not of this world’ (John 18: 36), one whose relationship with time is like that of its surface with the air and whose ‘citizens dwell in heaven’ (Philippians 3: 20).

‘A rich mountain, a firm mountain’ (Psalms 68: 15)

With its slender connection with ephemeral and worldly things and its attention constantly focused on lofty matters of the soul, the Holy Mountain seems to embrace the whole of mankind and to possess a gaze that can see beyond the limits of time and reason. In geographical terms, the Mountain is situated in Greece but it does not belong to her.

Perhaps it is that part of Orthodox life which best emphasises the catholicity and universality of the Church. Its monasteries include a Russian, a Serbian and a Bulgarian foundation. There are two Romanian sketes2 and monks from distant countries and civilisations, such as Peru and Colombia. Within its geographical borders God is worshipped in numerous languages and a wide variety of cultures and traditions find expression here: there is a marvellous, well-balanced diversity. Nothing in all this obstructs the unity of faith, the catholicity of the Orthodox spirit, the universality of the Church’s witness.

On the contrary, all of this proves that the Word of God is not restricted by language or confined within borders, and is not stifled by different forms of cultural expression or perhaps even different religions. It is an interesting fact that only a third of the members of the ‘Friends of Mount Athos’ society in England are Orthodox. The number of non-Orthodox writers recording their admiration of Athos and their sense of its mystical power is increasing all the time. The Mountain moves all people.

Here space and time acquire another dimension and perspective. One’s relationship with earthly, ephemeral and perishable things is an entirely perfunctory one. Concepts like ‘money’, ‘property’, ‘wealth’, ‘investment’, ‘entertainment’, ‘competition’ and ‘interest’ completely lose their importance. Here only the most essential worldly concerns are allowed to occupy one’s thoughts. The soul opens itself up to heavenly things. Here the main focus of interest is eternity and God’s kingdom. The purpose of history is not to serve as an object of worship but to build the foundations of the present. The future is not seen as a way of relieving suppressed emotions but as a way of transforming the present. The whole of time is held within its embrace. Athos follows the Old Style Calendar knowing that it is wrong but without being bothered by the fact, believing that it is a system that works well for it. Even the Byzantine cycle of daily time, which is so cumbersome in practice, seems to have a good reason for existing here. The Mountain lives in its own time. It has escaped the most pressing demands and defeated the most powerful oppressors.

Time is not binding. Tradition is not restrictive. The liturgical rite is not a shackle. National identity and language do not count for everything. Education is not a privilege. There is no discrimination. Comparisons are avoided. The most important thing is being constantly in God’s presence and embracing the whole world.

‘I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?’ (Psalm 121: 1)

The first thing that can be said about Athos is that it is a mountain, and in a notional sense at that. It is a high point. It represents a life that consists of an uphill struggle, that can be enjoyed ‘in a state of spiritual exaltation’, that involves a ‘heart which contemplates the heavens’ and seeks the ‘one who dwells on high’, the Almighty. It is an interesting fact that in the Orthodox tradition there are four hagiographical allusions to mountains on which revelations took place.

On Mount Sinai Moses received the Ten Commandments, the expression of God’s will. Moses spoke with Him, heard His voice and saw Him from behind (Exodus, chapters 19 and 20).

On Mount Carmel the Prophet Elijah prayed and God heard his prayer and answered it. Elijah felt God’s presence and experienced the manifestations of His power (I Kings, chapters 18-20).

The Mount of Olives was the scene of the Lord’s ascension into heaven. Christ deified human flesh and ‘took sinful human nature upon himself and offered it up to God the Father’, thus revealing a glimpse of the glory and honour of human nature (Acts 1: 12).

Finally, on Mount Tabor the Lord revealed as much of His glory as could be borne by human nature and emanated His divine light (Matthew 17: 1-8).

The Mountain is a place where God reveals His commandments; it is a place for a practical way of life, a place where patience, humility and love prevail, a place where man can clothe himself in divine raiment. It is a place where ‘nature is constantly constrained and the senses ceaselessly imprisoned’, a place of extreme, unceasing and persistent askesis3 and submission.

It is a place of prayer and signs. Prayer is unceasing, and in the cases of many monks extensive and long-lasting. At sundown the ascetics begin their all-night vigil, the coenobites take over with nocturns, in the morning the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, and during the day the Hours are performed by the monks in the course of their duties or while in their cells; during the times of quiet and pious chatter the repetition of the divine meanings of the Jesus Prayer can be constantly heard on numerous lips. Tongues pray; the architecture of the churches underscores the intensity of the prayers; the daily routine, the long services, the hearts of the monks are all imbued with the sweet melody of prayer.

The Mountain reveals the extremity of human situations. It is moderate in its discreet character but also displays a divine extremeness – though without foolish extremes – in its absolute and uncompromising lifestyle and philosophy. The daily vigils, the absence of a comforting female presence (even in pictorial form), the customary obedience, the life devoid of personal choices emphasises the naturalness of the ‘supernatural’ state. The Mountain is a place where the majesty of human nature is displayed. It functions as a kind of training ground for achieving deification. ‘The angels’ ranks were awed by thy life in the flesh’, chants the Athonite world, in honour of its father, St. Athanasios of Athos. Human limits are pushed to their utmost. Here saints like Gregory Palamas become beholders of divinity. Saints like Maximos the Kafsokalyvitan cast off their earthly gravity and appear to fly. Saints like Nikodemos Hagioreites express their intelligence as light, while their knowledge assumes the character of revelation. Saints like our modern-day saints Païssios, Ephraim and Elder Joseph the Hesychast combine rigorous discipline in their lives with grace, like the old elders in our ascetic literature. Saints like Kosmas the Aetolian or Fathers Sophronios and Porphyrios, also from our own time, draw strength from Athos’s springs for a few years and then become lifelong reformers, preachers and theologians of worldwide renown.

But the Mountain is not only a place for man’s spiritual glory. On all of the four mountains mentioned earlier God’s presence is marked by the appearance of a cloud. On Mt. Sinai as a ‘dense cloud’ which Moses enters, sensing but not actually seeing the Lord (Exodus, chapters 16, 19 and 24). On Mt. Carmel the ‘cloud’ breaks the silence of the heavens and brings forth rain in a miraculous manner (I Kings 18: 44). On the Mount of Olives, the Mount of the Ascension, the Lord ‘was taken up into a cloud’ and carried off to Heaven (Acts 1: 9). Finally, on Mt. Tabor ‘a bright cloud overshadowed’ the disciples and the voice from the cloud saying ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased: listen to Him’ shows that God the Father was present there with them (Matthew 17: 5).

The Mountain lives within a cloud of God’s graces. Sacred relics emit a sweet fragrance, holy icons exude myrrh, events take an unexpected turn, expectations are exceeded, rare surprises occur, God works with a power greater than the force of natural laws and logic. You enter the cloud of Athos as a visitor and, like Moses, you discover the tablets with God’s commandments in your hands. You find it easier to observe them. You are surprised by the presence of the cloud and are startled by the ‘sign’ of God’s grace flowing down like rain. You are struck by the cloud’s mystical character and ‘fall on your face in great fear’, like the disciples on Mt. Tabor. You behold the cloud and hear the voice of God the Father within you. You sense its intangible divine majesty and ‘gaze up at heaven’ like the Apostles on the Mount of Olives and you ‘return’ with great mystical ‘joy’.

If the Mountain of God’s presence illuminates with its apocalyptic visions, the cloud of the divine mystery fills the heart with the humility of uncreated grace. On the Holy Mountain you experience miracles, you perceive holiness, you are illuminated by whatever you can see, you are nourished by whatever lies within your reach, you have the ‘same mind that was in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 2: 5).

A long time ago I was approached by a young student. Very hesitantly, but with the intensity of someone who is determined to find out something, he declared that, although he was an atheist and found it hard to believe, he very much wanted to find faith. He had tried and searched for years but all to no avail. He had talked with professors and educated people but his thirst for something serious was not satisfied. He heard about me and decided to share his existential need with me. He asked me for a scientific proof of God’s existence.

‘Do you know anything about integrals or differential equations?’ I asked him.

‘Unfortunately not,’ he replied, ‘I’m an Arts student.’

‘What a shame! I knew a proof like that,’ I said in a deliberate attempt to be funny.

He felt awkward and fell silent for a while.

‘Look,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry I teased you like that but God is not an equation or a mathematical proof. If He was, then all educated people would believe in Him. You know, there is a different way of approaching God. Have you ever been to Mount Athos? Have you ever met any ascetics?’

‘No, father, but I’m thinking of going. I’ve heard so much about it. If you tell me to, I’ll even go tomorrow. Do you know any well-educated person I could meet?’

‘Which would you prefer: a well-educated person who would confuse you, or a saint who might wake you up?’

‘I’d prefer a well-educated person. I’m afraid of saints.’

‘Faith is a matter of the heart. Try talking to a saint. What’s your name?’ I asked him.

‘Gabriel’, he replied.

I sent him to an ascetic. I told him how to get there and gave him the necessary instructions. We even drew a sketch-map.

‘You must go and ask the same thing,’ I said. ‘“I’m an atheist”, you must say, “and I want to believe. I want some proof of God’s existence”.’

‘I’m afraid, I’m too shy,’ he replied.

‘Why are you afraid and shy of the saint when you’re not afraid or shy of me?’ I asked him. ‘Just go and ask him the same thing.’

A few days later he went, and he found the ascetic talking with a young man in the yard of his cell. Opposite, four other young men sat waiting on some logs. Gabriel gingerly took his place amongst them. About ten minutes later the elder finished his discussion with the young man.

‘How are you, boys?’ he asked. ‘Have you had a loukoumi?4 Have you had a drop of water to drink?’

‘Yes, thank you, father,’ they replied with conventional worldly politeness.

‘Come here,’ he said to Gabriel, picking him out from the others. I’ll get some water and you take this box with the loukoumia. And come closer so that I can tell you a secret: it’s okay being an atheist, but to be an atheist and have an angel’s name, well… It’s the first time I’ve ever come across anything like that.’

Our friend almost fainted with shock at this sudden revelation. How did he know his name? Who had told him about his problem? And what did the elder want to say to him?

‘Father, can I have a brief word with you?’ he uttered in a faint voice.

‘Look, my son, the sun is going down: take the loukoumi, have a drink of water and go to the nearest monastery for the night.’

‘Father, I’d like to speak to you, if that’s possible.’

‘What is there for us to say, my child? Why have you come?’

‘On hearing this question I immediately felt a huge weight off my chest,’ he told me later. ‘My heart began to overflow with faith. My inner world began to glow. My questions began to be solved without any logical arguments, without any discussion, without any clear answers. All the “ifs”, “whys” and “maybes” were banished at a stroke, leaving only the “hows” and “whats”.’

What the knowledge of educated men was unable to give him he gained from the kind allusion of a saint, who had completed only four years at junior school. Saints are very discreet. They operate on you without an anaesthetic and there is no pain. They perform a transplant without cutting you open. They raise you to lofty heights without using the steps of earthly logic to get there. They plant faith in your heart without tiring your mind.

‘Inviolate and God-trodden mountain’

The Holy Mountain is a training school of the heart, a place of healing for the inner man. It raises you up to spiritual heights which cannot be reached even by the most modern balloon of worldly reasoning. Here Grace expresses truth in unexpected ways.

The basic question on the Mountain is not whether God exists. This question seems to have been decisively resolved a long time ago. Neither is it whether our God is better than other people’s gods. Here ‘our’ does not have a possessive sense – as in the phrase ‘God is mine’ – but the sense of a child selflessly wishing to join its father – ‘I am striving to become His’. All efforts are directed at partaking of God’s divine nature (2 Peter 1: 4), at making the most of our kinship with Him, at gaining a sense of His presence, of learning the benefits and ways of experiencing Him.

The Mountain’s value does not lie in its individual charismatic monks, however many or great they may be. Its majesty is concealed in the fact that it is a resting-place for God. Just as, for reasons that remain unknown to us, in some icons that depict exactly the same figure as others God works in different ways, and imparts a special grace to some that He does not give to others; just as amongst His twelve beloved disciples the Lord had a favourite; just as from amongst all His peoples he selected His ‘chosen people’; just as He performed the miracles that revealed His glory only in certain places like the Pools of Bethsaida and Siloam, so too does He select certain places in His creation to be special expressions of His grace. The Holy Mountain is the Mountain of God.

Paper presented at the Inter-Orthodox Theological Conference ‘Russia and Athos: A Thousand Years of Spiritual Unity’ held in Moscow, 1-4 October 2006.

All photographies: Copyright Fr. Constantine Prodan

Translator’s notes:

1 The regulation forbidding the entry of women to Mount Athos.

2 Skete (plural sketes): a small monastery.

3 Spiritual exercise or training.

4 A piece of Turkish delight, a traditional hospitality offering on Athos.

Of all the holy sites in the Orthodox world, Mount Athos is the place where for over a thousand years the monastic life has been lived in its most absolute form.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Fasting therapy and energy diets : Fasting of the new age

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth”.

(I Timothy 4:1-3)

The secret recipe of “New Age” philosophy is the reversal of Christian teachings and its false imitation. Within the frames of its “ecological” mask we are being taught vegetarianism (Vegan) as a salvaging nutrition method with soteriological implications.
Man, according to the “New Age Bible”, is a small God, capable to do anything, through knowledge offered to him by the “Great Teachers”. So he is capable of doing everything the teacher Jesus did, and more! The man of the “New Age” can self-heal from any disease, bodily or mental, as long as he follows the primordial laws of…fasting. By avoiding the consumption of food, the body will dedicate every amount of energy available to self-heal even from an incurable disease as cancer.
In the first phase of “Fasting Therapy”: “…we force our body, with positive thought and patient absence from any food, to bypass the stomach and seek the fat which is stored in each and every one of us, for such circumstances. We all posses it even the thinnest among us”*.
In the second phase: “Our wise body, will enter the “general cleaning” process, after consuming the main quantity of fat, it targets to other unnecessary things created by the chronic intoxication, or other un-harmonic manifestations such as, stains, moles freckles, lipomas, cysts, fibroids, benign or malignant tumors etc.
The detoxification of the body, through fasting, affects beneficially and successfully against: rheumatism, arthritis, asthma, uremia, stomach ailments, ulcer, chronic indigestion, conditions of the liver, intestinal disorders, heart disease, anemia, many forms of cancer, conditions of the blood, hormonic disorders, sexual incapability and sterility, stress, depression, mental illness even to its most severe form which is schizophrenia. According to them, there are also some indications that “Fasting Therapy” has beneficial results even against AIDS!”*.
Essential supplement to this “fasting therapy” is: “Daily exercise, fresh air, swimming, daily long baths, massage, protected exposure to the sun, and especially good mood, mental rest and the avoidance of negative emotions. Sexual intercourse must be replaced by tenderly caresses or mild lovemaking, without ejaculation for the men (!).*
Most important however is that: “once we enter this process, we realize the power of resistance and the self-healing mechanisms of our body. The admiration is converted into trust, and that’s the first step towards getting our lives in our hands! In our own strong hands that know how to sow, to reap, to create, but also how to caress…”*.
The prospect of this Self-Theosis through a nutritious technique is a fact, for the followers of the “Fasting Therapy” movement. Positive thought, avoiding negative emotions and sex without ejaculation, refer directly to Hinduistic methods of meditation and “Tantric Sex”. The separation of foods in good and bad, not only does not exist in the Church and has been condemned, but in The Holy Bible is described as teachings of demons (I Timothy 4:1-3).
The Christian is called to reach “Theosis” and not to evolve, through various techniques, the (imaginary) God inside him. Christian fasting is the mean by which the faithful will be released from the passions that deprive him the grasp of Paradise and not some self-healing method…Besides disease in Orthodoxy is evaluated positively towards the goal of “Theosis”.
The “Energy Diet” promises to put an end to food intolerance, with a simple test. This test: “Is based on the measurement, through electrodes, of the bioelectric condition of the various points of acupuncture, according to the “distribution of the 12 meridians of the body” which were discovered and described by the Chinese, and some extra points discovered by Dr. Reinhold Voll .
The purpose of this test is to assess the energetic and functional organs and tissues by measuring the points of acupuncture so that any damage and malfunction can be located through these points. The conductivity of an organ or a tissue is being measured, so that anomalies can be located in the specific parts that reflect on the function of the body.
The energy balance of the organism can present disorders and be affected by medicine, poisons, conservatives, viruses, bacteria, foods, electromagnetic waves etc. The body operates as a transmitter and receiver of various electromagnetic messages. The whole human body is a circuit of vibrations which is capable, if submitted to electromagnetic stimulation, to respond with an echo which corresponds to one of those waves. This particular wave is the one corresponding to the frequency of the circuit”. **
We observe the total absence of scientific terminology and an effort to present the occult technique of acupuncture behind a scientific mask. “For acupuncture, the key of diagnosis lies in the examination of the various nuances of the face as well as the hearts pulse. The acupuncturist must be well aware that the internal organs are projected in specific and predefined positions of the facial midline and, and that in the middle of this line respond the lungs, under that the heart, ever lower the liver and even lower the spleen. At both sides of the facial midline, the bowels are being projected, with each having its own specific position. The acupuncturist, according to them, can by examining the nuance of each organ predict not only the development but also the final outcome of the disease.
The examination of the pulse and the facial nuance, is related to the rules of the “five elements” (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) of the “four seasons” (autumn, winter, spring, summer), of the “eight winds” and the “six pairs” of the “twelve meridians”.
Mans disease, according to them, originates from the imbalance of the “five energies”, and it gets deteriorated if the energy of the sky is not to his favor. These, they say, are “the most hidden secrets of mans destiny”. The most favorable moment to observe the sky’s energy status, in order to perform a correct diagnosis, is during dawn…of New Year’s Day. The five energies of the sky, good or bad, enter man “through the nose” and remain in the heart and the lungs, from where they spread their effect on the body, as the acupuncturists believe.
It’s not easy of course to make a minimum reference on the various diagnoses, and based on which facts they were established, so that they could be the foundation of acupuncture, which can cure, according to them, almost anything!
It still worth mentioning though, on how acupuncture was spread in China starting from the “mythological era”.***
Where is “Energy Diet” based on? The theory of the “Energy Diet” “…is based on the season of the birth, which gives us the biochemical composition of the organism, based on climatological conditions…So people depending on the season of their birth, have a unique chemical composition. Each of us is different”.**
“Energy Diet” is the application of the occult principles of Acupuncture, Alchemy and Astrology for the creation of the “Super Human” through the selective use of certain foods. Besides according to this methods slogan: "What is food to one, is to others bitter poison" (Titus Lucretius 75 B.C.).**
The “Holy Bible” says: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them” (Hebrews 13:9).
The teaching of the “New Age” wants us autonomous and entirely cut off from our Lords grace. It wants us to believe with all our soul (positive thought) not to Jesus Christ, but the small “God” hidden inside us, who can come forward by using various techniques. For that reason disease is evaluated negatively and it relies on our own will and the use of various techniques to self-heal. The people of the “New Age” don’t need salvation, don’t need a Savior. The “New Age” can teach them how to be salvaged on their own…

May God Have Mercy.


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Cremation (St. Nikolai Velimirovich)

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich (Written in 1956)

You ask me, why is the Orthodox Church against cremation. First of all, because it considers it violent. The Serbs still shudder with the crime of Sinan Pasha, who burned the dead body of St. Sava in Vratsa.

Do people burn dead horses, dogs, cats and monkeys? I have not heard of this. I have heard of and seen them buried. Why should the dead bodies of people who are the lords of all animals on earth endure violence? Would it not be in all respects much more reasonable to incinerate dead animals, especially in big cities, than people?

Second, because this pagan and barbaric habit disappeared from Europe thanks to Christian civilization two thousand years ago. Anyone who wants to reinstate it doesn't do anything else, neither civilized nor modern nor new, but something ancient which has long expired.

In England, which one can hardly call uncivilized, this form of Neopaganism is very much hated by the people. To tell you a case: during the years of World War II a famous Yugoslav lost his mind. When asked before he died, he said his only desire was to have his body burned.

In our day, our little Yugoslavian community was reduced in the incinerator of Golders Green. When the dead bodies entered the burning furnace we began to tremble with horror. Then they shouted to us on the opposite side of the furnace, "wait a quarter of an hour to see your compatriot in the form of ashes". We waited over an hour and were mystified why the fire struggled with the dead body, and we asked the stoker about this. He apologized saying the furnace was cold, "it is not heated every day, since rarely do volunteers get handed over to the fire". Listening to this we were dissolved, unable to wait at the edge for our compatriot. And we know that in London over a thousand human beings die every day.

I am in America, I saw the graves of the great Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Lincoln and many other important persons. None of them are cremated. Now this surprised me, that among the descendants of Saint Sava there could be found those who are like-minded with Sinan Pasha!

But why create an issue that has already been solved? If we want to be loaded with unnecessary worries, then someday we could be troubled by the question on whether to kill our decrepit men and women as do some primitive tribes? And we will create clubs to propagate this "idea"!

Finally, what sense is there in fighting the cemeteries, particularly in this country where the cemetery serves as a national pride, as a source of inspiration, and if you will as the book of the state?

Peace to you and health from God.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Rules to live a pious life ( Bishop Platon of Kostroma )

Force yourself to get up early and on a set schedule. 
As soon as you wake up, turn your mind to God: make the Sign of the Cross, and thank Him for the night that has passed and for all His mercies towards you. Ask Him to guide all your thoughts, feelings and desires, so that everything you say or do will be pleasing to Him.
After washing yourself, get down to morning prayers. Pray kneeling, with concentration, and with reverence. Ask Him to give you faith, hope, and charity, as well as calm strength to accept all that the coming day may bring to you , its hardships and troubles. Ask Him to bless your labors. Ask for help: to accomplish some particular task that you face; to steer clear of some particular sin.
If you can, read something from the Bible, especially from the New Testament and the Psalms. Read with intent to receive some spiritual enlightenment, inclining your heart to compunction.
Try to devote at least fifteen minutes to spiritually contemplate the teachings of the Faith and the profit to your soul in what you have read.
Start every morning as if you had just decided to become a Christian and to live according to God's commandments.
As you enter upon your duties, strive to do everything towards the glory of God. Start nothing without prayer, because whatever we do without prayer later turns out to be futile or harmful. The words of the Lord are true: "Without me, you can do nothing."
If your labors are successful, give thanks to the Lord; If not accept all hardships as a penance for your sins , in the spirit of obedience and humility.
Before every meal, pray that God will bless the food and drink; and after the meal give thanks to Him and ask Him not to deprive you of spiritual blessings. In everything, avoid excess. 
Following the example of Christians of old, fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Do not be greedy. Be content having food and clothing, imitating Christ Who became impoverished for our sake.
Strive to please the Lord in everything, so that you will not be reproached by your own conscience. Remember God always sees you, and so be carefully vigilant concerning the feelings, thoughts and desires of your heart.
Never argue or make excuses. Be gentle, quiet and humble; endure everything, according to the example of Jesus. He will not burden you with a cross that exceeds your strength. He will also help you carry the Cross that you have. 

Having done a good deed, do not expect gratitude, but temptation: for love towards God is tested by obstacles. Do not hope to acquire any virtues without suffering sorrows. In the midst of temptations do not despair, but address God with short prayers: "Lord, help... Teach me to... Do not leave... Protect me... " The Lord allows temptations and trials; He also gives the strength to overcome them.
Ask God to take away from you every thing that feeds your pride, even if it will be bitter. Avoid being harsh, gloomy, nagging, mistrustful, suspicious or hypocritical, and avoid rivalry. Be sincere and simple in your attitude. Humbly accept the admonitions of others, even if you are more wise and experienced.
When you feel slack, or a certain coolness, do not leave off the usual order of prayer and pious practices which you have established. Everything that you do in the name of the Lord Jesus, even the small and imperfect things, becomes an act of piety.
If you desire to find peace, commit yourself completely onto God. You will find no peace until you calm down in God, loving Him alone.
From time to time seclude yourself, following the example of Jesus, for prayer and contemplation of God. Contemplate the infinite love of our Lord Jesus Christ, His sufferings and death, His Resurrection, His Second Coming and the Last Judgment. 

Visit the church as often as possible. Confess more often and receive the Holy Mysteries. Doing so you will abide in God, and this is the highest blessing. During Confession, repent and confess frankly and with contrition all your sins; for the unrepented sin leads to death. 

Devote Sundays to works of charity and mercy; for example, visit someone who is sick, console someone who is in sorrow, save one who is lost. If anyone will help the lost one turn towards God he will receive a great reward in this life and in the age to come. Encourage your friends to read Christian spiritual literature and to participate in discussing spiritual matters. 

Let the Lord Jesus Christ be your teacher in everything. Constantly address Him by turning your mind to Him; ask yourself: what would He do in similar circumstances? 

Before you go to sleep, pray frankly and with all your heart, look searchingly at your sins during the past day. You should always compel yourself to repent with a contrite heart, with suffering and tears, lest you repeat past sins. As you go to bed, make the Sign of the Cross, kiss the cross, and entrust yourself to the Lord God, who is your Good Shepherd. Consider that perhaps this night you will have to appear before Him. 
Remember the Lord's love towards you and love Him with all your heart, your soul and your mind.
Acting in this way, you will reach the blessed life in the Kingdom of Eternal Light. 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Cross Preserves the Universe ( St. John Maximovitch )

In the Prophet Ezekiel (9:6), it is said that when the Angel of the Lord was sent to punish and destroy the sinning people, it was told him not to strike those on whom the "mark" had been made. In the original text this mark is called "tau," the Hebrew letter corresponding to the letter "T," which is how in ancient times the cross was made, which then was an instrument of punishment.

So, even then, it was foretold the power of the Cross, which preserves those who venerate it. Likewise, by many other events in the Old Testament the power of the Cross was indicated. Moses, who held his arms raised in the form of a cross during the battle, gave victory to the Israelites over the Amalekites. He also, dividing the Red Sea by a blow of his rod and by a transverse blow uniting the waters again, saved Israel from Pharaoh, who drowned in the water, while Israel crossed over on the dry bottom (Exodus, ch. 14, 17).

Through the laying on of his hands in the form of a cross on his grandsons, Jacob gave a blessing to his descendents, foretelling at the same time their future until the coming of the "expectation of the nations" (Genesis, ch. 48).

By the Cross, the Son of God, having become man and accomplished our salvation. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the Cross (Phil. 2:8). Having stretched out His hands upon the Cross, the Savior with them as it were embraced the world, and by His blood shed on it, like a king with red ink, He signed the forgiveness of the human race.

The Cross of the Lord was the instrument by which He saved the world after the fall into sin. Through the Cross, He descended with His soul into hell, to raise up from it the souls who were awaiting Him. By the Cross Christ opened the doors of paradise which had been closed after our first ancestors had been banished from it. The Cross was sanctified by the Body of Christ which was nailed to it when He gave Himself over to torments and death for the salvation of the world. Then it was filled with life-giving power. By the Cross on Golgotha the prince of this world was cast out (John 12:31) and an end was put to his authority. The weapon by which he was crushed became the sign of Christ's victory.

The demonic hosts tremble when they see the Cross, because the kingdom of hell was destroyed by the Cross. They do not dare to draw near to anyone who is guarded by the Cross.

The whole human race, by the death of Christ on the Cross, received deliverance from the authority of the devil, and everyone who makes use of this saving weapon is inaccessible to the demons.

When legions of demons appeared to St. Anthony the Great and other desert-dwellers, they guarded themselves with the sign of the Cross, and the demons vanished.

When there appeared to St. Symeon the Stylite, who was standing on his pillar, what seemed to be a chariot to carry him to heaven, the Saint, before mounting it, crossed himself and it disappeared. The enemy, who had hoped to cast down the ascetic from the height of his pillar, was put to shame.

One cannot enumerate all the various incidents of the manifestation of the power of the Cross. Invisibly and unceasingly, Divine grace that gushes from it saves the world.

The sign of the Cross is made at all the Mysteries and prayers of the Church. With the making of the sign of the Cross over the bread and wine, they become the Body and Blood of Christ. With the immersion of the Cross the waters are sanctified. The sign of the Cross looses us from sins. "When we are guarded by the Cross, we oppose the enemy, without fearing his nets and barking." Just as the flaming sword in the hands of the Cherubim barred the entrance into paradise of old, so the Cross now acts invisibly in the world, guarding it from perdition.

The Cross is the unconquerable weapon of pious kings in the battle with enemies. Through the apparition of the Cross in the sky, the dominion of Emperor Constantine was confirmed and an end was put to the persecution against the Church. The apparition of the Cross in the sky in Jerusalem in the days of Constantius the Arian proclaimed the victory of Orthodoxy. By the power of the Cross of the Lord, Christian kings will continue to reign until Antichrist, barring his path to power and restraining lawlessness (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on II Thes. 2:6-7).

The "sign of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:30), that is, the Cross, will appear in the sky in order to proclaim the end of the present world and the coming of the eternal Kingdom of the Son of God. Then all the tribes of the earth shall weep, because they loved the present age and its lusts, but all who have endured persecution for righteousness and called on the name of the Lord shall rejoice and be glad. The Cross then will save all who conquered temptations, from eternal perdition by the Cross, who crucified their flesh with its passions and lusts, and took up their cross and followed afar Christ.

However, those who hated the Cross of the Lord and did not engrave the Cross in their soul will perish forever. For "the Cross is the preserver of the whole universe, the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings, the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the scourge of demons" (Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins). 
St. John Maximovitch  
Shanghai Exaltation of the Cross, 1947

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Be patient my brethren ( Father Seraphim Rose )

Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

"By taking one small step at a time, and nobody not thinking that in one big step we are going to get any place, we can walk straight to the Kingdom of Heaven––and there is no reason for any of us to fall away from that ."

Fr. Seraphim Rose

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A novice of her own son: On Gerontissa Theophano, the mother of Archimandrite Ephraim of Philotheou

Gerontissas Theophano (left), and Macrina
The Monastery of the Archangel Michael on the Greek island of Thassos is a podvoriye of Philotheou Monastery on Mt. Athos. Gerontissa Theophano, the mother of Elder Ephraim of Philotheou and Arizona, spent the final years of her life there and departed to the Lord on February 27, 1986. The gerontissa of the monastery, Abbess Ephraima, blessed us to record stories of Gerontissa Theophano, as well as recollections about her from sisters of the monastery.

In the Monastery of Archangel Michael and generally in Elder Ephraim’s spiritual family everyone calls Gerontissa Theophano “Grandma.” “Grandpa” is Elder Joseph the Hesychast, the spiritual father of Archimandrite Ephraim, and “Grandma”—Gerontissa Theophano. About how this common woman, spending the large part of her life in the world and having raised three sons, one of whom became an Athonite abbot and great elder, ascended to such spiritual heights, we will try to speak in this article.

We hope that the example of this Orthodox Christian, having combined within herself the virtues of motherhood and monasticism, would inspire our God-loving readers, both laity and nuns, to try to imitate her measure of strength in podvigs and prayerful labor. We also hope that readers of this article will come to love Mother Theophano, and begin to turn to her for prayerful help and beseech her intercession and teaching, undoubtingly believing that she has found boldness before the Lord God, Whom she so loved and Whom she sincerely served with her whole heart until her final breath.

Person of prayer

Gerontissa Theophano (in the world Victoria Moraitis) had true maternal love for people. Her character was strict, but with love. She was severe first with herself and only then with others, with those whose souls were given to her to care for by the Lord, for her children and the young novices. Gerontissa was a person of prayer, and moreover was quite merciful and gracious, despite her severity.

She was always a faithful woman, regularly going to church, but in early childhood she lived without any special podvigs and had no elder who could direct her in the spiritual life. She loved to visit new places and go on various trips. But after a fire in her house, and after a miracle associated with this fire, she turned to Christ with her whole heart. Soon afterwards the Lord sent her a spiritual father.

“All together we’re not worth one Victoria”

As is known from Elder Ephraim’s book My Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Fr. Ephraim (Karaiannis), a disciple of Elder Joseph who had left the Holy Mountain and settled in the city of Volos, became her family’s spiritual father. He became the spiritual father of the community of which Victoria and her friends were members. Some of them got married and others chose the monastic path in life. Victoria stood out among them; she was so modest and God-loving, and had such a gift of prayer, vigil, and philanthropic works that her spiritual father Elder Ephraim said of her: “All together we’re not worth one Victoria.”

Podvig in the world

Victoria’s husband, Dmitry Moraitis, was also a believer. He went to church but didn’t have the same zeal for God that his wife had. However, he never put up any obstacles in her spiritual life and podvigs. For example, Victoria constantly labored in fasting, both during and outside the Church fasts. Preparing to receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ, she, according to pious Greek tradition, kept the so-called “triimeron”—a complete three-day fast, eating absolutely nothing for three days. At the same time she had to do all of the necessary housework, and raise her children. After three full days of abstention she communed of the Holy Mysteries of Christ and would eat a little food that day, to begin again the next day preparing for Communion, and, accordingly, to begin a new three-day fast.

At night she often awoke and arose to pray, locking herself in the kitchen. She prayed on bended knee, with tears and many prostrations. Her son John, the future Elder Ephraim, would say to her: “Mama, when you finish praying, wake me up and we’ll pray a little together.” Thus, from childhood, thanks to his mother, he loved nighttime prayer. When he was small it was hard for him to pray for a long time, but he tried to arise and pray at least a little bit, as much as he was able.

As I already said, Gerontissa Theophano’s husband allowed her everything connected with fasting and the spiritual life, but himself did not seek to emulate her in her podvigs. He was a so-called “moderate Christian.” He had his own work—a small carpenter’s workshop, where he worked with his sons, from an early age teaching them his craft and dreaming of leaving them his workshop as an inheritance. In the end this work was inherited by Elder Ephraim’s older brother Nicholas. He works there to this day, now together with his sons and grandsons.

In wartime

Elder Ephraim's family Dmitry and Victoria had four children. First they had a daughter, Elena, born in 1924. Victoria was an orphan, and before marriage she had to clean the neighbors’ houses to feed herself. So from eleven years old she was out in society. One of the women she worked for was especially kind to her, took care of her, and even helped her get married. When Victoria had a daughter, she named her after this woman, Elena. Elenitsa, as they called her at home, died in early childhood. Then three sons were born to Victoria: Nicholas (1926), John (the future Elder Ephraim, 1928) and Christos (1930).

During the Second World War Greece was occupied. A famine began in Volos and other cities. They had to collect and gather grass to survive. Additionally, the peaceful inhabitants were constantly in danger from the occupiers, but Victoria’s prayer saved her family and children in these difficult years. More than once the future elder and his brothers avoided death literally by a miracle.

In these years, to help his parents somehow feed the family, John and his brothers would haggle for every little thing at the city market: bagels, quinine, buttons, matches… One of these days, when John and Nicholas had just gone off to trade, the market was surrounded by Germans who seized everyone there, saying that everyone would be immediately shot. Just a few minutes before, Nicholas had briefly left the market for some necessity, and therefore he wasn’t captured, but John was among those whom the Germans took to be shot.

At that last moment the residents convinced the Germans to release at least the women and children. John was about fifteen years old, but he was short and thin from hunger and of weak health, looking younger than his age. In Greece in those years the young boys wore short pants, like shorts, in winter or summer. The elder was a head shorter than the boys his age and at fifteen still wore these short pants. In those years clothes were generally worn for a long time, literally to tatters. It saved him: thanks to his children’s clothes, small stature and thinness he passed for a child, and at the last moment they released him together with the women and other children, and the Germans shot all the boys and men that day.

Another time at the same market the soldiers captured and beat the elder’s older brother Nicholas half to death, for no reason.

They often saw people hanged in those days. In those years they lived in an atmosphere of constant fear and terror. Only faith and prayer supported Victoria and her family. When the bombing began, all their neighbors fled to the bomb shelter or hid in basements, but Victoria stood on her knees before her icons and prayed. So strong was her faith.

Notice from the Lord

From the very beginning Victoria knew that one of her children would become a monk. She received two notices from the Lord about it. Here’s the story about how I learned about these notifications. When I spoke with Gerontissa Ephraimia and the sisters of the Monastery of the Archangel Michael they couldn’t exactly remember what kind of notice it was.

Then Gerontissa Ephraimia concluded: “There is only one way to find out how it was: we have to talk with someone that Gerontissa Theophano personally told about this event, with some person who knew her well in her lifetime.” Then I mentally asked Gerontissa Theophano and Elder Ephraim to send me such a person, because I didn’t want to write something not corresponding to truth.

On the last day of my stay in Greece, when I was at one of the elder’s monasteries, the Monastery of the Ascension of the Lord in the village of Proti in the district of Serros, a group of pilgrims from the city of Volos came there—the birthplace of the elder and Mother Theophano. Among the pilgrims was Elena Ksenia; learning that I came from Arizona, she spoke with me and said she had been a spiritual child of Elder Ephraim since she was twelve (she is now sixty-five). Immediately after that she began to tell me, of her own initiative, the story of this vision, for which my own narration would not be good enough. I recorded the story in her words:

“Gerontissa Theophano, whom I met in Portaria, once told my mother about how the Lord had sent her two signs about Elder Ephraim. They were like visions between dreams and reality. The first time she saw three crowns flying to heaven. Two of them were laurel crowns, and one was golden and this crown flew in the direction of the Holy Mountain. She was pregnant then and didn’t know then how many children she would still have.

When her third child was born, the future Elder Ephraim, in the first forty days after birth, one day, also between sleep and waking, she heard a voice: ‘Victoria, come forth, look at your son, an elder, who came from the Holy Mountain.’ She thought in amazement: ‘How can it be? I just bore this child! When did he manage to become a monk?’ But still she went outside and saw the elder: her newborn child a few days from birth, but in the form and image of a hieromonk, in full abbatial vestments, decorated with flowers and gold.”

“Not halfway, but completely and exactly as demanded”

Elder Ephraim in youth Knowing that John should become a monk, Victoria was especially exacting towards him. But she was a loving, albeit strict mother. The elder’s brother Nicholas notes that she always demanded that the children precisely carry out her instructions: “Not halfway, but completely and exactly as demanded.”

In 1947, Elder Ephraim left for Athos. His father didn’t want to let him leave the house and didn’t bless him to become a monk: he needed a helper at the carpentry workshop, where there was always a lot of work. Then John’s mother helped him secretly leave. She went against her husband’s will in this case, because she knew that the will of God was that her son become a monk.

When John turned nineteen and the family’s confessor, Fr. Ephraim, blessed him to go to Athos, his mother helped her son prepare in secret everything he needed for the trip. His father, knowing his son’s strong desire to leave for Athos, strictly controlled him and required him to be report in on where he was and when he would return. At that time there were catechism courses at their parish, something like a school for youth, which John regularly visited. His father didn’t allow him to go to these lessons, which his spiritual father, Fr. Ephraim, held. On the day he left for Athos his mother advised him to write a note to his father that he had gone to the catechism class and would return later. In his talks the elder would say that even this corresponded to reality: for how many catechetical lessons did he have to endure on Athos in the beginning?

John left a note, grabbed the things he had prepared and headed on foot for the port, to the pier to get on the boat to Athos. His father, returning from work, asked Victoria where their son was. She showed him the note and, having read it, he calmed down. However, later, when the hour had passed when John usually returned from the lessons, his father got worked up and began to interrogate his wife. In the end she was obliged to reveal the whole truth. Then his father, angrily shot back: “This will not be,” grabbed a bike and dashed for the pier, hoping to catch up with his son and bring him back home. Along the way he fell off the bike and hurt himself pretty badly, such that he was in no condition to continue his pursuit. He had to return home with nothing. In his conversations the elder concluded that, obviously, it was the will of God that he got on the boat that day and sailed for Mt. Athos.

Accepting the monastic tonsure

He wrote his mother just one letter from Athos, in which he wrote: “Here, mama, we don’t wash ourselves with water. We wash ourselves with tears.” Then there was no news from him for many years. As we know, the first time the elder left Mt. Athos, according to the last will of Elder Joseph, after his death, was to visit his hometown of Volos, and take upon himself the spiritual direction of the sisterhood which at that time lived in one house in the village of Stagiares in the Pelion region. It was then that he met his mother again, and, as we know, she didn’t even recognize him—so much had the elder changed over the years, spent in ascetic labors.

In 1962, with the blessing of Elder Ephraim, the sisterhood from Volos bought a small plot in the village of Portaria on the mountain in Upper Volos to build a monastery there. There was no monastery there before that. The miraculous icon of the Mother of God which had been in the house in Stagiares before that was immediately transferred here.

After transferring the icon to the new place they began to work on building repairs, and the beautification of the territory, and in 1963 the sisterhood relocated to Portaria. Soon Elder Ephraim celebrated the first tonsure in the newly-constructed monastery—over his own mother Victoria, who was named in tonsure Theophano, and her friend who was named Matrona. Elder Ephraim named his mother in honor of the blessed queen Theophano († 893/894), the wife of Leo the Wise. The elder greatly reveres her and therefore named his mother in her honor, and after her many of the elder’s abbesses and nuns also received this name.

The first and best novice

After her tonsure, Gerontissa Theophano did not stay in Portaria, but returned home for some time. By this time her husband, Elder Ephraim’s father, had already died, but her youngest son, Christos, was not yet married. Gerontissa lived at home with her youngest son until he got married, and then finally relocated to Portaria, to the monastery.

Soon after the tonsure of his mother, Elder Ephraim tonsured Maria who he named Macrina—she became the abbess of the monastery in Portaria. Gerontissa Theophano was her sponsor in the tonsure, and therefore Matushka Macrina considered her her gerontissa and spiritual mother. For many years in Portaria they shared one cell and continued in joint prayerful podvigs, as they had done in the world, in Victoria’s home, locking themselves at night in the kitchen, to spend hours kneeling in collective prayer. They were great women of prayer. The locals bear witness: they saw how two pillars of fire would rise from the monastery at night to Heaven—the prayers of Gerontissas Theophano and Macrina.

Thus Gerontissa Theophano became the first and best novice of her own son. As the nuns say, she had true obedience and unceasing prayer, and therefore she had a lot of temptations.

Gerontissa was always the first to church

Gerontissa Theophano lived in Portaria until 1983. By that time her health had worsened, and the climate in Portaria did not suit her. Then, because of her sickness, Elder Ephraim decided to transfer her to the newly-opened Monastery of the Archangel Michael on the island of Thassos.

The Monastery of the Archangel Michael

During the final period of Gerontissa Theophano’s life in the monastery on Thassos, the sisters said that she was always the first to church. She always stood during the services, never sitting anywhere. In Greek churches, in addition to stasidi along the wall, usually there are rows of chairs, usually in the back but sometimes in the front of the church, and the faithful periodically sit down to rest, because services in monasteries are very long.

Gerontissa Theophano always prayed standing with her prayer rope, never letting go of her prayer rope. Because of her unceasing prayer she endured much from demons who heard and saw firsthand. She told the sisters that only had she just entered her cell to rest before the night services, and lied down upon her bed, when demons came to her, not allowing her to sleep. They called her: “Hey, old woman! old woman!” and pulled her from every side, tossing her blanket, and she saw them. Once they pestered her so much that she absolutely could not fall asleep in the evening. They finally left her not long before the beginning of the service, and matushka dozed off. Then came the pounding on the semantron, gathering the sisters for the service. Seeing that she hadn’t come to the church, Sister Isidora went to her cell to wake her. She began to knock on the door of her cell, and Matushka Theophano thought it was the demons again harassing her, and answered from behind the door: “Go away, stop hitting me!” Later she said the devil beat her all night, not letting her sleep.

The final test

When gerontissa turned 92 (Decemebr 20, 1983) she had a stroke and became paralyzed. Until the very last day before her illness she independently took care of herself and helped in the kitchen, making food for the sisters and teaching them how to make prosphora and various other household things. She was a great homemaker, and whatever she undertook turned out well. Moreover, she was very hard-working, never stopping for rest, all the time either praying or working.

The first Lent after her stroke everyone thought she would die. Elder Ephraim came to Thassos from the Holy Mountain and spent forty days—the whole of Great Lent—with his mother. He saw a great number of demons all around her, who gave her soul no rest. He began to fervently pray and beseech the Lord to deliver his mama from the demonic powers. By his prayers, Gerontissa received relief from her illness, came to and remained lucid until her blessed repose which occurred two years later. In one of his recorded talks, Elder Ephraim talks about his mother’s blessed repose.

Elder Ephraim’s story about the blessed repose of Gerontissa Theophano

Elder Ephraim at the grave of his mother

“The climate on the island of Thassos suited her better than in Portaria, so I moved her there. She gradually drew near to the end of her life. Two years before her death, at the age of 92, she was paralyzed. From that time she didn’t completely raise herself from her bed. But, glory to God, as the Gospel says: And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life (Mt. 19:29).

This is what happened with my mother: during her illness she was surrounded by caring daughters—the sisters of the monastery who took care of her with great zeal. And where in the world will you find such love now?! Her nurse, one of the sisters of the monastery, so loved my mother that there are no words! She was so nice, so kind, and even slept together with her, head to head…

When a crisis came during my mama’ illness, something happened which happens very rarely, but when it happens it’s only with spiritual people for the sake of testing them and for gaining experience. It happened one night. Mama was as if dead already several days—she didn’t eat, didn’t drink, and didn’t open her eyes. She didn’t drink a single drop of water. She was dehydrated, with closed eyes—how dying people usually look…

When she was in such a state I was there with her, together with the nun-nurses and Gerontissa. It was dark, lampadas were burning. The night before, at about the same time, her eyes opened at some point. She opened her eyes and looked around, as if she was expecting something to happen or that already happened, with some kind of uneasiness, as if listening to something, or seeing something or someone. This was the first time after being unconscious for so many days that she showed some attention to the world around her. Lying, because she was unable to move, with open eyes, she looked all around, to the right, left, up, and down. And as the moments flowed by, her face more strongly revealed a state of terrible agony and terrible fear—a whole river of fear. I saw such fear reflected on her face as when some killer is drawing near with a knife, ready to cut you.

I began to cover her with the sign of the Cross, repeating aloud the Jesus Prayer to calm her. I understood that what was happening was a demonic temptation. After a while the danger passed, and the invisible powers departed. Mama calmed down, and she was still conscious. Then I asked her: ‘Mama, what happened? What’s with you’—‘Oh… so many, they are so many!’ And from that moment mama began to pray: ‘O Mother of God, save me! O Mother of God, save me!’ Day and night! From that point her mouth never stopped. Day and night she besought salvation from the Mother of God.

It is striking that she had no thoughts, only prayer—sick people usually easily succumb to thoughts. By her way of life—constant podvigs and labors—mama acquired exceptional patience, and this patience helped her maintain prayer this whole time. I asked her: ‘What happened?’—‘The Mother of God helps me!’ And again the prayer continued: ‘O Mother of God, save me! O Mother of God, save me!’

After some time, when the torment was over, she completely calmed down and shut her eyes. The next day at the exact same time her eyes again opened. The same fear and agony was again displayed on her face. The exact same scenario happened again. It was all quite excruciating.

Then I wondered: why does the devil have authority over this holy soul? I, of course, understood that this temptation was allowed so she could obtain a crown, that through this ordeal she could acquire boldness before God. And at some point, when she was in such a state, I said to myself: ‘It’s not fitting that this should continue. It’s time to end this.’ I went to my cell, got on my knees and began to pray: ‘O Lord, I beg Thee, do one of two things. Either take her right now, that she could have peace already, because she is worthy of peace, or banish the devil away from this holy soul. She has already labored for Thee so much, and now her time for rest has arrived.’ This is how I prayed.

When her eyes opened again the next day at the same time, she was calm. ‘Mama, how are you?’—‘They left…’ The trial was over. From that very moment began the blessed final period of her blessed life. Days passed in this blessed state. Her appearance gradually changed, she became more and more beautiful. Of course, this beauty was not physical, but spiritual. I wanted to photograph her. The grace in her was clearly apparent. Thus she gradually drew nearer to death.”

“I saw how her soul ascended unhindered to Heaven”

“The following year, after Nativity, in Christmastide, I went to the monastery to see her again,” continues Elder Ephraim’s narration. “She spoke and understood what was happening, and unceasingly repeated the prayer. In the final moments of her life her face was transfigured, blessedness shining upon it. She turned to the right, revealing her widely shining eyes and glanced off to the side as if she saw something there. In that moment I felt such Paschal joy in my soul, such resurrection, as if I had suddenly gathered the grace of ten Paschal nights.

It was the first time I felt this in my life. Of course, when my elder Joseph departed to the Lord there was something special then too, but here it happened with my own relative. I felt such happiness at that moment, and also felt and saw … I don’t know, in what manner it happened, but I saw how her soul ascended unhindered to Heaven.

When the doctor arrived he couldn’t believe that she had already died—she looked so alive. Her body was warm and soft, like the body of someone living. ‘Lord, have mercy! I can’t believe it!’ the doctor exclaimed. It was incorruption. I told the doctor that Christ said: death is but a dream, and every person will awaken on the day of the Second Coming at the sound of the archangel’s trump.

When the doctor left, we sewed her up in a monastic habit, with three crosses sewed on top. Meanwhile I continued to feel such strong Paschal joy, that I wanted to go out on the street and sing ‘Christ is Risen!’ She was so beautiful after death. She was 95, but she looked like she was 15. It was the result of her whole life, all her labors; it was a reward for all her labors.”

Her relics were found to be “very beautiful”

Gerontissa Theophano's grave at the cemetery. There is no cross on it because her relics have already been removed.

The sisters of the monastery told me that when Gerontissa Theophano’s coffin was carried to the monastery cemetery, sheep came and doves flew over. The sheep managed to get themselves out of their pen, ran to the grave, all bleating at the same time, and turned around and ran back to their pen. Then from somewhere above their appeared a flock of doves which flew over the grave and disappeared into the heights.

Her relics were found to be “very beautiful.” In Greece the tradition still exists of taking bones around the third year after death and placing them in an ossuary—not only on Athos but in other monasteries and even among the laity in regular cemeteries. By the color and smell of the relics you can hypothesize about the postmortem state of the soul of the departed. For example, there are cases when the body does not dissolve, or the relics emit a foul odor—then it is considered that things are bad for the soul of the departed and it stands in need of prayerful help. Family members begin to order forty-day prayers for the dead and distribute alms for the repose of the soul. There are particular signs by which you can know that the soul of the departed found grace from the Lord: an amber color to the relics and a sweet fragrance emanating from them. It even happens that the relics of some Orthodox acquire incorruptibility.

So, when they opened Gerontissa Theophano’s grave, her relics were fragrant and had the most amber color, by which it could be determined that her soul found salvation. A reliquary was made for her head which is now kept in the Monastery of the Archangel Michael on the island of Thassos.

Through the prayer of holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us!

Olga Rozhneva, Olga Zatushevskaya
Translated by Jesse Dominick

11 ноября 2016 г.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Theophany - More than Blessing of Waters

On January 6th we celebrate the Theophany, the full manifestation of God, the Holy Trinity revealed to us. Too often we only think about this as the time when we get Holy Water from the Church or when the Priest comes to bless our homes, but the significance of this event is so much more.
We are fortunate to have commentary from the second century by St Hippolytus [a.d. 170–236.] who was the disciple of Irenæus. We often raise the question, "Why did Jesus have to be baptized if He was sinless?" He explains why John, who resisted baptizing Jesus because he felt unworthy and inferior to Him thinking that he should be baptized by Jesus, baptized Him who was God Himself.
Hyppolytus shows how Christ comforted John,
And what saith the Lord to him? “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matt 3:15) “Suffer it to be so now,” John; thou art not wiser than I. Thou seest as man; I foreknow as God. It becomes me to do this first, and thus to teach. I engage in nothing unbecoming, for I am invested with honour. Dost thou marvel, O John, that I am not come in my dignity? The purple robe of kings suits not one in private station, but military splendour suits a king: am I come to a prince, and not to a friend? “Suffer it to be so now for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness:” I am the Fulfiller of the law; I seek to leave nothing wanting to its whole fulfilment, that so after me Paul may exclaim, “Christ is the fulfilling of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (Rom 10:4) “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” Saint Hyppolytus tells us why Jesus was baptized, speaking from viewpoint of Jesus,

Baptize me, John, in order that no one may despise baptism. I am baptized by thee, the servant, that no one among kings or dignitaries may scorn to be baptized by the hand of a poor priest. Suffer me to go down into the Jordan, in order that they may hear my Father’s testimony, and recognise the power of the Son. “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then at length John suffers Him. “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and the heavens were opened unto Him; and, lo, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and rested upon Him. And a voice (came) from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:16-17) Jesus wanted to emphasize the role of the priest in baptizing those who chose to follow Him. He wanted all to hear the testimony of the Father so others would accept Him as His Son as this was the time He began His public ministry.
Saint Hyppolytus continues uplifting our sight even higher,
Do you see, beloved, how many and how great blessings we would have lost, if the Lord had yielded to the exhortation of John, and declined baptism? For the heavens were shut before this; the region above was inaccessible. We would in that case descend to the lower parts, but we would not ascend to the upper. But was it only that the Lord was baptized? He also renewed the old man, and committed to him again the sceptre of adoption. For straightway “the heavens were opened to Him.” A reconciliation took place of the visible with the invisible; the celestial orders were filled with joy; the diseases of earth were healed; secret things were made known; those at enmity were restored to amity. For you have heard the word of the evangelist, saying, “The heavens were opened to Him,” on account of three wonders. For when Christ the Bridegroom was baptized, it was meet that the bridal-chamber of heaven should open its brilliant gates. And in like manner also, when the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice spread everywhere, it was meet that “the gates of heaven should be lifted up.” (Ps 24: 7) “And, lo, the heavens were opened to Him; and a voice was heard, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Most significantly we see in this event that the heavens are opened for all mankind who follow Him and join with Him through Baptism to become His adopted children. Christ shows us that we begin our Journey with Him through baptism. This is a Holy Sacrament where heavens are opened and we join with The Holy Trinity to be transformed, born again, so we can become like Him and have eternal life in His kingdom as one of His children.

Christ’s baptism in the Jordan was A “theophany,” in that the world was granted a revelation of the Holy Trinity. The Father testified from on high to the divine Sonship of Jesus; the Son received His Father’s testimony; and the Spirit was seen in the form of a dove, descending from the Father and resting upon the Son.
In the hymn of the Feast we sing, “Christ has appeared and enlightened the world.” Thus, January 6 is also known as the Feast of Lights. The Church celebrates on this day the illumination of the world by the light of Christ.

Reference: Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol 5, Hyppolytus, Discourse on Holy Theophany