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Monday, September 16, 2019

The boy stopped short: "In my heart you will find Christ"


A young boy was rushed to a hospital emergency room. After urgent examinations, the doctor said: "I will open your heart ..."



The boy stopped short: "In my heart you will find Christ"

The surgeon looked at him strangely, and as he did not believe, he nodded his head and said:
"I will open your heart to see the damages caused by your illness ..."

"Yes, but when you open my heart, you will find Christ."

The doctor took a curious look at his parents sitting quietly beside him and continued, "When I see the damage, I will close your heart and chest and decide what to do."

"Yes, but you will find Christ in my heart. The Bible says that Christ dwells there. All the hymns of the church say that Christ dwells there, in our heart. You will find him in my heart. "

The cardiac surgeon said: "I'll tell you exactly what I'll find in your heart. I will find a damaged heart muscle, a decreased blood flow and weakened blood vessels. And then I can, once I know, do you good. "

"And you will also find Christ, who is there ..."

The doctor came out of the exam room annoyed by the child.

As he had predicted, he underwent surgery ... The injuries were significant, as he had predicted, according to the image of the exam. He couldn't do anything ...

When the surgery was over, he sat down at his desk to write down notes on the operation: a broken aorta, a damaged pulmonary vein, extensive muscle degeneration. No hope of a transplant. No hope of healing. Treatment: painkillers and complete rest. Prediction (paused): death will come in time ...

He left the computer and got up ... Addressing the little Christ: "Why, " he exclaimed "why did you do this? You sent him here. You sent him with this evil. He is sentenced to die of this evil. Why; Why;"

Then in the depths of it, he heard a voice answering: "This child is not destined to live in your flock long term. This child belongs to My flock and so it will be forever. Here, in My flock, there is no pain. He will be comforted as much as you can imagine. Someday, his parents will meet him here and get to know the peace. My flock will continue to grow. "

Tears were running in the eyes of the cardiac surgeon. But his sentiments against God, full of selfishness, responded within him: "You have created this creature, You have made this heart. He is doomed to die within a few months ... why? "

The voice inside replied: "The child has to go back to my flock because he has done his job. I did not bring My child to earth to lose him, but to find another lost sheep. "

The doctor understood that this child did not come here by accident ... he came for him ... He had received a Christian education ... Memories danced in his mind. Because of his many professional accomplishments, his soul had become his last care.

He went into the child's ward, sat on his bed, facing his parents.

The boy woke up and yelled, "Did you open my heart?"

"Yes!" The doctor replied excitedly.

"And what did you find?" The young man asked.

"I found Christ," the surgeon replied, crying like the little child he was, fifty years ago ...

The child and the doctor became best friends ..
http://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.com

The Proper Understanding and Use of Antidoron



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

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

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

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


Most Orthodox Christians are aware that one should keep a strict and complete fast from midnight before receiving the Holy Mysteries, but one should also receive holy water and the antidoron (the blessed bread given out at the end of the Liturgy) fasting. If, as many do, you keep a supply at home, use a little each day to break your fast, when you have said your morning prayers and before eating anything else. If you are attending the Divine Liturgy, then keep a fast until the service is over (as in any case one should) and you receive your antidoron from the priest. If for some reason, you have eaten when you attend the Liturgy, then take the antidoron home as a blessing and consume it on another day, thus showing reverence for the things of God and the blessing which this bread has received.


It is a pious custom to keep some holy bread and holy water in one's icon corner—to consume, breaking the night's fast, with one's morning prayers. 

“O Lord my God, may Thy holy gift and Thy Holy Water be unto forgiveness of my sins, unto enlightenment of my mind, unto strengthening of my spiritual and bodily powers, unto health of my soul and body, unto vanquishing of my passions and weaknesses, by Thy boundless merciful kindness, through the prayers of Thy Most-pure Mother and all Thy Saints. Amen.” 

Taken from the Parish Newsletter of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist (May 2011).

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ημέρα Μνήμης της Γενοκτονίας των Ελλήνων (14 Σεπτεμβρίου) - Greek Genocide Remembrance Day (September 14)



Γενοκτονία των Ελλήνων 1914-1923

Η Γενοκτονία των Ελλήνων αναφέρεται στη συστηματική εξόντωση των Ελλήνων της Οθωμανικής Αυτοκρατορίας πριν, κατά τη διάρκεια και μετά τον Α 'Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο (1914-1923). Διεξήχθη από δύο διαδοχικές κυβερνήσεις της Οθωμανικής Αυτοκρατορίας - δηλαδή από το Κομιτάτο Ένωσις και Πρόοδος
(ΚΕΠ) και το Τουρκικό Εθνικιστικό Κίνημα του Μουσταφά Κεμάλ Ατατούρκ. Περιλάμβανε σφαγές, εξαναγκαστικές εκτοπίσεις και πορείες θανάτου, απελάσεις, μποϊκοτάζ, βιασμό, αναγκαστικός εξισλαμισμός, στρατολόγηση σε τάγματα εργασίας, αυθαίρετες εκτελέσεις και καταστροφή πολιτιστικών, ιστορικών και θρησκευτικών μνημείων. Σύμφωνα με διάφορες πηγές, περίπου 1 εκατομμύριο Έλληνες της Οθωμανικής Αυτοκρατορίας έχασαν τη ζωή τους κατά τη διάρκεια αυτής της περιόδου.
Η πρώτη φάση της Γενοκτονίας των Ελλήνων ξεκίνησε το 1914 στην Ανατολική Θράκη, όπου ολόκληρες ελληνικές κοινότητες εκδιώχθηκαν βίαια και απελάθηκαν στο εσωτερικό της Μικράς Ασίας. Άλλα μέτρα που χρησιμοποιήθηκαν για την καταδίωξη των Ελλήνων σε αυτή την περιοχή ήταν το μποϊκοτάζ των ελληνικών επιχειρήσεων, δολοφονίες, βαρειά φορολογία, κατάσχεση περιουσίας και η πρόληψη από την εργασία στα κτήματα τους. Την άνοιξη και το καλοκαίρι του 1914 πραγματοποιήθηκε η εθνοκάθαρση των Ελλήνων της δυτικής ακτής της Μικράς Ασίας. Αυτές οι επιχειρήσεις, περιλαμβανομένων εκείνων της Ανατολικής Θράκης, σχεδιάστηκαν και εκτελέστηκαν από την ΚΕΠ χρησιμοποιώντας τακτικές και άτακτες δυνάμεις, συμπεριλαμβανομένων μελών της παραστρατιωτικής μονάδας της ΚΕΠ, της λεγόμενης Ειδικής Οργάνωσης (δηλαδή η Teşkilât-i Mahsusa).

Με την έναρξη του Μεγάλου Πολέμου, ο Ελληνικός αρσενικός πληθυσμός μεταξύ 21-45 ετών στρατολογήθηκε βίαια σε τάγματα εργασίας (τα Amele Taburlari). Οι περισσότεροι από αυτούς έχασαν τηζωή τους κάτω από άθλιες συνθήκες εφόσον αναγκάζονται να εργάζονται όλο το εικοσιτετράωρο με λίγη τροφή ή νερό. Το 1915, με τη συμβουλή του γερμανικού στρατιωτικού προσωπικού, το ΚΕΠ απέλασε τις
ελληνικές κοινότητες από τα Δαρδανέλλια και την Καλλίπολη με το πρόσχημα της στρατιωτικής
αναγκαιότητας. Αυτοί οι Έλληνες δεν είχαν το δικαίωμα να πάρουν τίποτα μαζί τους. Τα εμπορεύματα στα καταστήματά τους πωλήθηκαν αργότερα από τις οθωμανικές αρχές. Απελάθηκαν στο εσωτερικό της χώρας και σε μουσουλμανικά χωριά όπου αναγκάστηκαν να επιλέξουν μεταξύ του Ισλάμ ή του θανάτου.
 Στις περισσότερες περιπτώσεις, πριν από τις απελάσεις, οθωμανικοί χωροφύλακες (αστυνομία) και οι τσέτες (ένοπλοι συμμορίτες) κατέλαβαν χρήματα και τιμαλφή από τις κοινότητες, διαπράττουν σφαγές και καίνε εκκλησίες και σχολεία. Τον Δεκέμβριο του 1916 αρχίζει η δίωξη των Ελλήνων στην περιοχή του Πόντου.
Μέχρι το 1917, πηγές αναφέρουν ότι πάνω από 700.000 Έλληνες είχαν πέσει θύμα ενός προκατειλημμένου και καλά ενορχηστρωμένου σχεδίου αφανισμού.

Σύμφωνα με στοιχεία που συνέταξε το Οικουμενικό Πατριαρχείο, μέχρι το 1918, 774.235 Έλληνες είχαν  απελαθεί από τα σπίτια τους, πολλοί από αυτούς στο εσωτερικό της Τουρκίας και χάθηκαν τα ίχνη τους.

Μετά την ήττα της Οθωμανικής Αυτοκρατορίας στο Α' Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο, εξέχοντες ηγέτες της ΚΕΠ έλαβαν θανατικές ποινές σε οθωμανικό στρατοδικείο για το ρόλο τους στη διοργάνωση της σφαγής των Ελλήνων κατά τη διάρκεια του πολέμου. Αλλά, ο μεταπολεμικός σχηματισμός του Τουρκικού Εθνικιστικού Κινήματος υπό την ηγεσία του Μουσταφά Κεμάλ Ατατούρκ διέκοψε τη διαδικασία για να φέρει τους δράστες στη δικαιοσύνη. Οι εθνικιστές Κεμαλιστές συνέχισαν την πολιτική της ΚΕΠ να διώκουν τους
Έλληνες και κατέληξαν στην καταστροφή της κοσμοπολίτικης πόλης της Σμύρνης (σήμερα Ιζμίρ) και στην απέλαση όλων των Ελλήνων που απομένουν στην Τουρκία. Οι αρχές απαγορεύουν την έξοδο από την Τουρκία στον υγιής Ελληνικό αρσενικό πληθυσμό και, αντίθετα, στάλθηκαν στο εσωτερικό όπου οι περισσότεροι έχασαν τη ζωή τους σε στρατόπεδα εργατικής δουλείας ή σφαγιάστηκαν.
Μέχρι το 1923, διάφορες πηγές αναφέρουν ότι περίπου 1 εκατομμύριο Έλληνες έχασαν τη ζωή τους στη γενοκτονία.




The Greek Genocide of 1914-1923

The Greek Genocide (or Ottoman Greek Genocide) refers to the systematic extermination of the native Greek subjects of the Ottoman Empire before, during and after World War I (1914-1923). It was instigated by two successive governments of the Ottoman Empire; i.e. the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP)
party, and the Turkish Nationalist Movement of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It included massacres, forced deportations and death marches, summary expulsions, boycotts, rape, forced conversion to Islam, conscription into labor battalions, arbitrary executions, and destruction of Christian Orthodox cultural, historical and religious monuments. 
According to various sources, approximately 1 million Ottoman Greeks perished during this period.
The first phase of the Greek Genocide commenced in 1914 in Eastern Thrace where entire Greek
communities were forcibly and often violently expelled or deported to the interior of Asia Minor. Other measures used to persecute Greeks in this region were the boycotting of Greek businesses, killings, heavy taxation, seizure of property and prevention from working on their lands. In the Spring and Summer 1914, the ethnic cleansing of Greeks along the western shoreline of Asia Minor was carried out. These operations, including those in Eastern Thrace, were planned and executed by the CUP using regular and irregular
forces including members of the CUP's paramilitary unit, the Special Organization (Teşkilat-i Mahsusa).

With the outbreak of the Great War, all Ottoman Greek males aged between 21-45 were forcibly
conscripted into labor battalions (Amele Taburlari). Most of them perished under appalling conditions being forced to work around the clock with little food or water. In 1915, under the advice of German military personnel, the CUP deported Greek communities from the Dardanelles and Gallipolli regions under the pretext of military necessity. These Greeks were not permitted to take anything with them. Goods in their shops were later sold by Ottoman authorities. They were deported to the interior and to Muslim villages
where they were forced to choose between Islam or death. In most cases, before deportations took place Ottoman gendarmes (police) and chetes (armed irregulars) seized money and valuables from communities, committed massacres and burnt churches and schools. In December 1916, the persecution of Greeks in the Pontus region commences. By 1917, it was reported that over 700,000 Greeks had fallen victim to a
preconceived and well orchestrated plan of annihilation.
According to figures compiled by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, by 1918, 774,235 Greeks had been
deported from their homes, many of them to the interior of Turkey, never to be seen again. Following the Ottoman Empire's defeat in WW1, prominent leaders of the CUP were given death sentences in Ottoman Courts-Martial for their role in organizing the massacre of Greeks during the war. But the post-war formation of the Turkish Nationalist movement under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk interrupted
proceedings to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Kemalist Nationalists continued the CUP policy of persecuting Greeks which culminated in the burning of the cosmopolitan city of Smyrna (today Izmir) to the ground and the expulsion of all remaining Greeks from Turkey. All able-bodied Greek males were refused exit from Turkey and instead were sent to the interior where most perished in slave labor camps or were massacred.

By 1923, various sources state that around 1 million Greeks perished in the genocide.

Bill V. Thomopoulos

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Holy Theotokos – Image of an Ideal Woman



One of the most terrible manifestations of our times is the complete distortion of the image of an ideal woman. The ideal image depicted for us by the mass media shows a sort of attractive witch, unashamedly half-naked, with loose and disheveled hair, impudent glance, business-like, energetic, fearless, unfettered by moral laws or conscience. In consequence, unfortunate young girls and women – mothers, wives, daughters, – striving to imitate this devilish image, corrupt their souls, ruin their families, hopelessly destroy their own and others’ lives.

Yet at the same time we – Orthodox Christians – always have before our eyes the image of the One Who was more beautiful and wondrous than all the people on earth and even all the celestial denizens, the cherubim and the seraphim, the One Whom the Pre-eternal Council chose to become the Mother of God. As St. Dimitry of Rostov says: “After Adam’s transgression the Word of God did not forthwith come down to earth to be incarnated and save fallen mankind,” because “there was not yet a single maiden on earth who was pure not only in body, but also in spirit.” Thus the Theotokos’s major characteristic is Her virginal purity.

Another characteristic of this greatest Handmaiden of God is Her humility. Of all the personages in the Gospel, there is no one about whom we know so little as the Holy Virgin; Her entire life is shrouded in mystery, and yet She was undoubtedly the spiritual center of the first Christian Church after Her Divine Son’s Ascension; however, under the cover of modesty, She preferred to remain in the shadows.

The third characteristic of the Holy Virgin, according to St. Dimitry of Rostov, was Her all-encompassing and boundless love for God, which is mentioned in the following spiritual song: “O Mother-Virgin, miracle of chastity! Thou art daughter of the heavenly Father, the bride of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of Christ – the Son of God.”

There was not a single one among the Holy Fathers who did not laud the Theotokos! Foretold and presaged by the Old Testament prophets, She is glorified by all the ancient and contemporary Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.
As St. Gregory of Neocaesaria says, what amazes us in the Holy Virgin is not only Her chaste and pure physical beauty, but above all the beauty of Her soul. She was holy both in body and soul. Her garments were modest, Her gait was dignified, Her speech was brief, pouring out of a humble heart; all Her thoughts and all Her desires were turned only towards God.




The Church historian Nikiforos Kallistos adds: in conversing with others She retained Her modesty, did not laugh immoderately, did not express indignation, did not argue, never thought of Herself, and was characterized by total humbleness.
More than anything else in the world She loved Her Son, loved Him so much that She was ready to die with Him, yet with what courage and firmness She accompanied Him when He went on His path of suffering, was present at Golgotha when He was being crucified, stood at His Cross and attended His burial. “She wears the crown of martyrs, – says Leo the Philosopher, – because as She stood at the Cross, with Her soul pierced by the greatest anguish, She suffered more than all the martyrs.”




She loved and respected Her family members, but also loved and welcomed all strangers. St. Ambrose of Milan says: “She never offended anyone, never denigrated anyone, even the poorest person. Her modest belongings, consisting of two robes, She gave away before Her death to the two widows who served Her.”

Each person’s death sums up his life and brings recompense from the Lord – either reward or punishment. The most-glorious Dormition of the Mother of God revealed Her in all Her majesty and glory. Three days before Her death the Archangel Gabriel appeared before Her, announced Her repose and gave Her a shining branch from paradise – symbol of victory over death and corruption. On the third day after Her Dormition, the Mother of God appeared to the apostles in indescribable glory, surrounded by a multitude of angels, and said: “Rejoice, I am with you forever.” The apostles, filled with joy, instead of saying their usual “O Lord Jesus Christ, help us!”, exclaimed: “O Holy Mother of God, help us!”

And thus all Christians pray to the Holy Mother of God to help them. Help us then, O Most Holy Theotokos, grant our children the enlightenment to see in Thee the purest and most beautiful example of behavior, save and protect them from the vices and temptations of these evil times!



Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 16, 2003..

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Holy Relics ( St. Justin Popovich )



The Place of Holy Relics in the Orthodox Church

Without doubt, matter is represented in the human body in a manner which is most puzzling, most mysterious, and most complex. The brain: What wondrous mysteries pass between its physical and spiritual parts! How vast is the experience of the human race. In no manner can one ever fully comprehend or grasp these mysteries. Indeed, little of this is accessible to the human senses or intellectual investigation. So it is also with the heart of man, formed as it is entirely and solely from cosmic mysteries. So formed, too, are every cell, every molecule, every atom. Everyone and all are set on their mystical path toward God, toward the God-Man. Inasmuch as it was created by God, the Logos, matter possesses this same theocentricity. Moreover, by His advent into our earthly world, by His all-embracing condescension as God and Man for the redemption of the world, the Lord Christ clearly demonstrated that not only the soul, but matter also was created by God and for God, and that He is God and Man; and for it, matter, He is all and everything in the same manner as for the soul. Being created by God, the Logos, matter is, in its innermost core, God-longing and Christ-longing.


The most obvious proof of this is the fact that God the Word has become Incarnate, has become man (St. John 1:14). By His Incarnation, matter has been magnified with Divine glory and has entered into the grace- and virtue-bestowing, ascetic aim of deification, or union with Christ. God has become flesh, has become human, so that the entire man, the entire body, might be filled with God and with His miracle-working forces and powers. In the God-Man, the Lord Christ, and His Body, all matter has been set on a path toward Christ —the path of deification, transfiguration, sanctification, resurrection, and ascent to an eternal glory surpassing that of the Cherubim. And all of this takes place and will continue to take place through the Divine and human Body of the Church, which is truly the God-Man Christ in the total fullness of His Divine and Human Person, the fullness "that fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23). Through its Divine and human existence in the Church, the human body, as matter, as substance, is sanctified by the Holy Spirit and in this way participates in the life of the Trinity. Matter thus attains its transcendent, divine meaning and goal, its eternal blessedness and its immortal joy in the God-Man.


The holiness of the Saints—both the holiness of their souls and of their bodies—derives from their zealous grace- and virtue-bestowing lives in the Body of the Church of Christ, of the God-Man. In this sense, holiness completely envelopes the human person—the entire soul and body and all that enters into the mystical composition of the human body. The holiness of the Saints does not hold forth only in their souls, but it necessarily extends to their bodies; so it is that both the body and the soul of a saint are sanctified. Thus we, in piously venerating the Saints, also venerate the entire person, in this manner not separating the holy soul from the holy body. Our pious veneration of the Saints' relics is a natural part of our pious respect for and prayerful entreaty to the Saints. All of this constitutes one indivisible ascetic act, just as the soul and body constitute the single, indivisible person of the Saint. Clearly, during his life on the earth, the Saint, by a continuous and singular grace- and virtue-bestowing synergy of soul and body, attains to the sanctification of his person, filling both the soul and body with the grace of the Holy Spirit and so transforming them into vessels of the holy mysteries and holy virtues. It is completely natural, again, to show pious reverence both to the former and to the latter, both to soul and body, both of them holy vessels of God's grace. When the charismatic power of Christ issues forth, it makes Grace-filled all the constituent parts of the human person and the person in his entirety. By unceasing enactment of the ascetic efforts set forth in the Gospels, Saints gradually fill themselves with the Holy Spirit, so that their sacred bodies, according to the word of the holy Apostle, become temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19; 3:17), Christ dwelling by faith in their hearts (Ephesians 3:17) and by fruitful love also fulfilling the commandments of God the Father. Establishing themselves in the Holy Spirit through grace-bestowing ascetic labors, the Saints participate in the life of the Trinity, becoming sons of the Holy Trinity, temples of the Living God (II Corinthians 6:16); their whole lives thus flow from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. By piously venerating the holy relics of the Saints, the Church reveres them as temples of the Holy Spirit, temples of the Living God, in which God dwells by Grace even after the earthly death of the Saints. And by His most wise and good Will, God creates miracles in and through these relics. Moreover, the miracles which derive from the holy relics witness also to the fact that their pious veneration by the people is pleasing to God.


The pious veneration of holy relics, based on their miraculous nature, originated from Divine Revelation. Even in the Old Testament God deigned to celebrate with miracles the holy relics of certain of those who were well-pleasing to Him. Thus, by the touch of the holy relics of the Prophet Elisea, a dead man was resurrected. The tomb and bones of this Prophet, who had prophesied to Jeroboam the destruction of idolatrous altars, were greatly revered in Judea. The Patriarch Joseph also left a testament to the sons of Israel to preserve his bones in Egypt and, during their exodus, to carry them to the promised land (Genesis 50:25).


The New Testament raised the human body to the sublime and divine heights, endowing it with a glory which the Cherubim and Seraphim do not possess. The Good News of the New Testament concerning the body—the significance and goal of the human body—is that, together with the soul, it achieves and inherits immortal life in Divine eternity. The Lord Christ has come to deify, to make Christ-like, the entire man, that is, the soul and body, and this by the resurrection, insuring thereby victory over death and eternal life. No one ever elevated the human body as did the Lord Christ by His bodily resurrection, the ascension of His body into heaven, and its eternal session at the right hand of God the Father. In this way, the Resurrected Christ extended the promise of resurrection to the nature of the human body—"having made for all flesh a path to eternal life." Thus man now knows that the body is created for eternity through union with the God-Man and that his divine work on earth is to struggle, with the soul, for eternal life; to struggle, with all those means that convey grace and virtue, to make himself grace-filled, fulfilled by Divine grace, and created anew as the temple of the Holy Spirit, the temple of the Living God.


Bearing in mind that this New Testamental notion of the human body has been achieved and realized in the persons of the Saints, Christians show a pious veneration for the bodies of the Saints, towards holy relics, the temples of the Holy Spirit, Who by God's grace abides within them. But Holy Revelation indicates that by God's immeasurable love for man, the Holy Spirit abides through His grace not only in the bodies of the Saints, but also in their clothing. So it is that the handkerchiefs of the holy apostle Paul healed the ill and expelled unclean spirits (Acts 19:12). With his mantle the Prophet Elias struck the water, separating the waters of the Jordan, and along the dry bed of the river crossed the Jordan with his disciple Elisea (IV Kings 2:8). The prophet Elisea did the very same thing, himself, with the same mantle, after the taking-up of Elias into heaven (IV Kings 2:14). All this has its verification and source in the Divine power that rested in the garments of the Savior, which encompassed His most pure and Divine body. Moreover, by His inexpressible love for man, the Divine Lord allows the servants of His Divinity to work miracles not only through their bodies and clothing, but even with the shadow of their bodies, which is evident in an occurrence with the holy apostle Peter: his shadow healed an ill man and expelled unclean spirits (Acts 5:15-16).


The eternal good news of Holy Revelation about sacred relics and their pious veneration is proved, and is continually being proved, by Holy Tradition from Apostolic times to the present day. Innumerable are the sacred relics of the holy Chosen Ones of God throughout the Orthodox world. Their miracles are innumerable. The pious veneration of these relics by Orthodox Christians is everywhere to be found. And without doubt this is because the holy relics, through their miracles, incite the Orthodox toward their pious veneration. From the very beginning, in Apostolic times, Christians piously preserved the honored relics of the Holy Forerunner and the holy Apostles, so that these could be preserved even for us. As well, during the times of persecution the sacred remains of the bodies of the holy Martyrs were taken away by Christians and hidden in their homes. From that time until now, the sacred relics of the holy Chosen Ones of God have, by their miracles, poured forth the immortal joy of our faith into the hearts of Orthodox Christians. The proofs concerning this are countless. We shall cite only several.


The way that the holy relics of the Saints were translated and greeted is in a touching manner described by St. Chrysostomos in a eulogy on St. Ignatios: "You, inhabitants of Antioch, have sent forth a bishop and received a martyr; you sent him forth with prayers, and received him back with crowns; and not only you, but all the cities which lay between. For how do you think that they behaved when they saw his remains being brought back? What pleasure was produced! How they rejoiced! With what laudations on all sides did they beset the crowned one! For as with a noble athlete, who has wrestled down all his antagonists, and who comes forth with radiant glory from the arena, the spectators receive him, and do not suffer him to tread the earth, bringing him home on their shoulders and according him countless praises. So also every city in turn received this Saint from Rome, and bearing him upon their shoulders as far as this city, escorted the crowned one with praises, hymning the champion.... At this time the holy Martyr bestows grace to the very same cities, establishing them in piety, and from that time to this day he enriches this city."


Speaking of the miraculous power of holy relics, Saint Ephraim the Syrian relates the following concerning the holy Martyrs: "Even after death they act as if alive, healing the sick, expelling demons, and by the power of the Lord rejecting every evil influence of the demons. This is because the miraculous grace of the Holy Spirit is always present in the holy relics."


During the finding of the relics of Saints Gervasius and Protasius, St. Ambrose, in speaking to his listeners, relates this with pious enthusiasm: "You know—indeed, you have yourselves seen—that many are cleansed from evil spirits, that very many also, having touched with their hands the robe of the Saints, are freed from those ailments which oppressed them. You see that the miracles of old times are renewed, when through the coming of the Lord Jesus grace was more abundantly shed forth upon the earth, and that many bodies are healed as it were by the shadow of the holy bodies. How many napkins are passed about! How many garments, laid upon the holy relics and endowed with the power of healing, are claimed! All are glad to touch even the outside thread, and whosoever touches it will be made whole."


Speaking of the miracles produced by holy relics, the blessed Augustine says: "To what do these miracles witness, but to this faith which preaches Christ risen in the flesh and ascended with the same flesh into heaven? For the martyrs themselves were martyrs, that is to say, were witnesses of this faith.... For this faith they gave their lives, and can now ask these benefits from the Lord in whose name they were slain. For this faith their extraordinary constancy was exercised, so that in these miracles great power was manifested as the result. For if the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life had not taken place in Christ, and were not to be accomplished in His people, as predicted by Christ..., why do the martyrs who were slain for this faith which proclaims the resurrection possess such power? ...These miracles attest this faith which preaches the resurrection of the flesh unto eternal life."


Saint Damascene, summarizing the life-giving teaching of Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition concerning the pious veneration of holy relics, preaches in a Cherubic manner from the altar of his God-bearing and Christ-like soul: "The Saints have become according to grace that which the Lord Christ is according to nature. That is, they have become gods according to grace: pure and living habitations of God. For God says: 'I will dwell in them, walk in them, and I will be their God' (II Corinthians 6:16; Leviticus 16:12). The Holy Scriptures likewise say: 'the souls of the righteous are in God's hand, and death cannot lay hold of them' (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1). For death is rather the sleep of Saints than their death. Further: 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints' (Psalm 119:6). What, then, is more precious than to be in the hand of God? For God is life and light, and those who are in God's hand are in life and light. Further, that God dwells even in their bodies in a spiritual manner the all-divine Apostle attests: 'Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you?' (I Corinthians 3:16). And, 'the Lord is Spirit' (II Corinthians 3:17). Thus, the evangelical truth: 'If anyone destroy the temple of God, him will God destroy—for the temple of God is holy, and ye are that temple' (I Corinthians 3:17). Surely, then, we must ascribe honor to the living temples of God, the living dwelling-places of God. These, while they lived, stood with boldness before God. The Lord Christ granted us the relics of the Saints to be fountains of salvation unto us, pouring forth manifold blessings and abounding in sweetly fragrant oil. Let no one disbelieve this! For if water burst in the desert from the steep and solid rock according to God's will (Exodus 17:6), and from the jawbone of an ass to quench Samson's thirst (Judges 15:14-19), is it then unbelievable that fragrant oil should spring forth from relics of the holy Martyrs? By no means, at least to those who know the omnipotence of God and the honor which He accords to His Saints. According to the Old Testament law, everyone who touched a dead body was considered impure (Numbers 19:11). However, the Saints are not dead. For from the time when He Who is Himself Life and the Author of life was counted among the dead, we do not call those dead who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and with faith in Him. For how could a dead body work miracles? And how, through the holy relics, are demons driven off, diseases dispelled, the sick made well, the blind restored to sight, lepers cleansed, temptations and tribulations overcome; and how does every good gift come down from the Father of lights (St. James 1:17) to those who pray with sure faith?"


The universal faith of the Church concerning the pious veneration of holy relics was confirmed by the God-bearing Fathers of the Seventh Œcumenical Synod in its decrees: "Our Lord Jesus Christ granted to us the relics of Saints as a salvation-bearing source which pours forth varied benefits on the infirm. Consequently, those who presume to abandon the relics of the Martyrs: if they be hierarchs, let them be deposed; if however monastics or laymen, let them merely be excommunicated."


....That a pious veneration of the holy relics is a constituent part of the salvation rendered by the God-Man is also evidenced by the following facts: from the depths of sacred antiquity, churches were built on the graves and relics of Saints, and the holy Liturgy is performed only on antimensia, in which are placed parts of the holy relics. Moreover, the divine service books, especially the Menaion, are replete with prayers and hymns which refer to the pious veneration of holy relics....


All in all, the mystery of holy relics is at the heart of the universal mystery of the New Testament: the incarnation of God. The full mystery of the human body is explained by the incarnation, the embodiment of God in the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, then, the Gospel message concerning the body: "The body for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (I Corinthians 6:13). And through a human body also the entire creation, all of matter, received its divine significance, the universal meaning of the God-Man. By man, who is sanctified in the Church by the holy mysteries and the holy virtues, the creation and even matter are sanctified, united to Christ. There accrues to this also a joy—the myrrh-streaming property of many relics. This wonder of myrrh has been given to the holy relics in order to indicate that Christians are truly "a sweet-savour of Christ unto God" (II Corinthians 2:15), sweet-smelling to God and to heaven. The truth of the Gospel is that the sin of man is a foul odor before God and every sin pleases the devil. Through the holy mysteries and holy virtues, Christians become "a sweet-savour of Christ unto God." For this reason, then, the holy relics of the Saints pour forth myrrh.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. VII, No. 1, p. 9. Translated from the Serbian by the Reverend Gregory Telepneff.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Matins of the Ecclesiastical New Year: Bless the crown of the year with Thy goodness . . .


O Word of the Father from before the ages, Who, being in the form of God, broughtest creation into being out of nothing;
 Thou Who hast put the times and seasons in Thine own power: 
Bless the crown of the year with Thy goodness; give peace unto Thy churches, victory unto Thy faithful hierarchs, fruitfulness unto the earth, and Great Mercy unto us.

Matins of the Ecclesiastical New Year, Tone 3

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Science leads to belief in GOD


“The more I study science, the more I believe in God.”
Albert Einstein 
as quoted in The Wall Street Journal, December 24, 1997, in the article: “Science Resurrects God.”
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“If you study science deep enough and long enough, it will force you to believe in God.”
 Lord William Kelvin
Mathematical physicist best known for his contributions in the development of the second law of thermodynamics.
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“In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”
 Sir Isaac Newton
Mathematician, physicist, astronomer, and author regarded as one of the most influential scientists of all time.
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“Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations.... To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view.”
Max Planck 
German theoretical physicist who founded the quantum theory (Nobel Prize in Physics 1918).
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“For myself, faith begins with a realization that a supreme intelligence brought the universe into being and created man. It is not difficult for me to have this faith, for it is incontrovertible that where there is a plan there is intelligence. An orderly, unfolding universe testifies to the truth of the most majestic statement ever uttered: ‘In the beginning, God.’”
Arthur Compton 
Physicist who discovered the “Compton Effect” (Nobel Prize in Physics 1927).
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“Those who say that the study of science makes a man an atheist must be rather silly.”
Max Born
Physicist and mathematician (Nobel Prize in Physics 1954).
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“God is a mathematician of a very high order and He used advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.”
Paul Dirac
Theoretical physicist (Nobel Prize in Physics 1933).
https://www.stnektariosmonastery.org

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Demonic Possession , Magic, Spiritualism explained ....


Miracles

“If a prophet rises among you....”

The Lord said if a prophet (i.e., charlatan) performs signs and wonders, don’t get excited about it (like little children). Don’t get carried away like a leaf on the wind. Don’t believe in other gods. Stay true to the Lord.

The Lord is testing you to see if you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul.

So it’s possible that mediums and so on can, as a concession by God and with the power of the Evil One, work “wonders.” Here are some of them:

“Communication” with the Dead

“There are some people who are so heartbroken by the loss of a loved one that they go to a medium (i.e., the devil), in order to hear the voice of the departed person, to talk to them, to find some kind of relief. Do they really hear the voice of the dead? Victor H. Ernest, the former medium, gave a blunt answer. The voice they heard isn’t that of their loved one but of a devil. And the poor unfortunate people are left with the illusion that they’re in contact with the soul of the person who passed away!

Telepathy

There are two kinds of telepathy.

A) Reading other people’s thoughts: According to Victor H. Ernest, this happens when a person’s intelligence is working hand in glove with an evil spirit, or when the whole person is actually under the control of an evil spirit. Doreen Irvine, a former prostitute and stripper who was actually crowned Queen of the Witches of Europe, had no difficulty, as a Satanist, in reading other people’s thoughts.

B) Seeing something that’s happening far away in a dream or in a trance: Two people at the séance attended by Victor H. Ernest were able to read the headlines of morning newspapers while they were still being run off at the printer’s, hours before they were delivered to the town. Some, who are even more “advanced”, can see into your house as if with a camera and can find hidden objects, etc.

“Miracles” with Fire

In Kalamata, some years ago, an occultist did the following in front of the audience: He drew lines on his hand with a lighted cigarette without feeling any pain at all.

Something similar happens every year in the village of Agia Eleni in Northern Greece on the day of the feast of Sts Constantine and Helen. A group of people holding icons of the saints dance in their bare feet on burning charcoal without getting burnt.

Victor H. Ernest comments that this is not an illusion. He says that fire-walkers really do walk on burning coals or sometimes on molten lava. Behind firewalking, he maintains, is the total surrender of the practitioner to the forces of darkness.

“Soap Bubbles”

A while ago, in the main street of the town of Patras, in Greece, a magician, with the aid of evil spirits, was doing tricks. Through a variety of invocations, chairs and tables were lifted into the air as if made of paper. A crowd of people rushed to see this devilish spectacle. But by God’s providence a certain priest of the city, Fr A. K., was passing by and he made the sign of the Cross over these flying chairs and tables. They fell to the ground and remained there no matter what the occultist tried to do to move them. The power of the Cross had deadened that of the evil spirits.

Conclusion

No matter how impressive are the “wonders” performed by the agents of Satan (mediums, magicians, etc.), they can’t stand up to the power of the presence of the Cross. They disperse. They burst just as if they were soap bubbles. As indeed they are.

The Devil: Demonic Possession

The best proof of the existence of the devil is a person who is possessed. To anyone who doesn’t believe in the existence of the devil, we would say, “Come and see. Come and see the devil alive within a possessed person.”

Distress

Possessed people (when the fit is upon them) become unrecognizable: the face becomes distorted, the head twists, the mouth gapes. The tongue is thrust out and the victim howls. It is truly a horrible sight.

In this state, a possessed person is capable of revealing all your “achievements” (i.e., sins). It is not just general and vague, either, but specific and in detail. Without knowing you, they can tell you for example, your name, where you were and what you were doing the previous evening, and who you were with. (It’s worth noting that if you’ve confessed to a priest, the possessed are unable to do this).

Questions:

- How do they manage to know your secrets?

- Why is it that sins confessed aren’t able to be seen?

Trembling

During their fit, however, they show other symptoms.

- At the Divine Liturgy they feel as if they’re burning (although when they see fire they don’t).

- Before the Precious Cross, they feel as if they’re being cut to ribbons (although when they see a butcher’s knife they don’t).

- When a priest makes the sign of the Cross over them with the “spear” used in the Divine Liturgy by the priest to cut the Communion Bread, they feel as if their flesh is being pierced. One priest did this and the possessed person howled: “Why are you sticking that spear into my flesh. Why are you pulling at the spear and tearing my flesh?” (Yet the same person was able to bear the touch of a sharp knife without howling).

- When they look upon holy relics, they feel as if they themselves are on fire.

Questions:

- Why should the possessed fear the Divine Liturgy yet not fear, for example, heart surgery?

- Why do they fear the Precious Cross, which, after all, is only two bits of wood, yet don’t fear a sharp butcher’s knife?

- Why is it that they feel they’re being cut open when the sign of the Cross is made over them?

- Why do they fear the relics of saints such as St Gerasimos, a poverty-stricken little monk who was full of love, yet don’t fear the remains of bloodthirsty Lenin, who slaughtered millions of his fellow-citizens?

“Something...”

All the above show us that there’s something about the possessed person that is very badly disturbed by the Precious Cross, the Divine Liturgy, and the relics of our saints. And this “something” is the same thing that can reveal your secret sins, unless you’ve confessed them.

For us Christians, this “something” is the devil. What about unbelievers? Do they just put it down to parapsychology and be done with it?

There are of course, those scientists who declare that all of this will one day be explained by the goddess of “science”. They’re sure of this. Yet this may not be the case, since it’s still in the future, so why are they so sure? What sort of logic is that? But never mind. If in the future science demonstrates that this something really is the devil, will they then believe it?

The Devil’s Bloodthirstiness


The possessed show just how bloodthirsty the devil is and how cruelly he tortures people. Here are a few instances:

The father whose son was possessed said to Christ: “Every time the devil bothers him, it throws him down, foam comes from his mouth and he gnashes his teeth and becomes catatonic" (Mark 9:18). Some know-it-alls explain this by saying the boy was epileptic. But so was Julius Caesar, who lived before Christ. People in the ancient world were familiar with the difference between epilepsy and possession. They weren’t as “backward” as we like to think.

Another possessed man never stayed at home, but went wandering around the deserts and graveyards. Summer and winter he walked around stark naked (Luke 8:27-39).

Another threw himself into the fire to be burnt and yet another into the water to drown (Matthew 17:16). The two possessed men of the Gaderenes were “exceedingly fierce”. They were so wild and aggressive that no one could approach them They were the bane of people’s lives (Matthew 8:28).

Unnatural Strength

If a criminal is arrested by the police and is handcuffed, then no matter how strong he is, he can’t break his bonds. His hands are tied, as it were. This isn’t true of people possessed. If they’re handcuffed, for example, even if they’re paralyzed, they’re capable of breaking open handcuffs. St Luke tells us in the Gospel that the Gadarene man who was possessed “was kept bound in chains and fetters, and he broke the bonds.” He was completely immobolized, but despite that he broke the chains!

It wasn’t the man who broke the chains, but the devil who was in the man. This demonstrates quite clearly that the devil has superhuman strength. So, he can work signs and wonders. If he wanted, he could:

- Bring up a hurricane to destroy houses and uproot trees.

- Whip up a storm that would sink all the shipping in the area.

- Drown men and beasts.

- Make an earthquake that would level towns and cities.

But he refrains from this. Why?

Wouldn’t he like to turn everything upside down? Certainly he would, if he could. He’s prevented from doing so by God. If God didn’t keep the mania of the demons in check, we’d see them playing with the world like a ball.

How Does He Fight Us?

The misanthropic devil doesn’t fight us with weapons that can be seen and which make a noise (stones, clubs, etc.), but with silent, invisible ones. ONE of these is THOUGHTS. He puts (bad) thoughts into our minds in order for us to put them into practice. If the bad thoughts don’t take root, then he’ll fight us with supposedly good ones, in order to trap us. Given this, you should be concerned and should ask yourself:

- Is what you have in mind perhaps seed sown by the devil? Is it perhaps misleading you towards seemingly good thoughts?

- Is, perhaps, your philosophy of life and death (which you think is correct), really a set of thoughts from the devil?

- Are even your thoughts on spiritual matters, as an Orthodox Christian, perhaps really thoughts of the devil? Perhaps.

One thing you can be sure of: the devil hasn’t made an exception of YOU.

From the book Confronting the Devil, Magic & the Occult, Orthodox Book Centre, Athens 2003

Archimandrite Vasilios Bakoyiannis

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Objections to Confession...


So frequently we here all the excuses about why people do not participate in Confession when this is one of the most loving and powerful sacraments of the Church. Archimandrite Seraphim Alekslev examines some of these excuses in his beautiful book The Forgotten Medicine.



"HOW GREAT must be our wickedness! We do not turn to Confession not only because we forget about it, but we do not practice it even when we know about it. What can be more imprudent than this?

Confession is so important to us sinners that we must boldly say: there is no salvation for us without Confession. Abba Isaiah expresses the same thought: "If there were no repentance, nobody would be saved. just as Baptism cleanses us from original sin and from all sins committed prior to Baptism, so repentance, involving a confession of our sins, cleanses us from all lawlessness committed after Baptism."

We do not confess because we have objections to Confession. What are our objections usually?

Here are the main ones:

1) One says: "I am so sinful! Can God forgive my sins?
I do not believe this! That is why there is no use for me to go to Confession."
But if a man repents sincerely, any sin can be forgiven him. "The power of repentance is based on the power of God. The Doctor is all-powerful, and the Medicine given by Him is all-powerful" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov).

St. John Chrysostom, pondering on the miraculous results of sincere repentance, says: "Repentance is a medicine which destroys sin. It is a heavenly gift, a marvelous force which through the grace of God conquers the might and strictness of the laws. It accepts all and transforms all…

Do not tell me: "I have sinned much, how can I save myself?" You cannot, but your God can, and He can do it so that all your sins will be destroyed….

Sin is to God's love for man what the spark is to the sea, not even that, but something much smaller! The sea, however big it may be, has an end, but God's love for man is limitless.

2) Another says: "Why should I go to Confession? I have no special sins.
Let those who have murdered, stolen, raped, or committed some other sin go to Confession."
This objection to Confession is the complete opposite of the first one... Here, there is a lack of any realization of wickedness….

Let those who say, "I have no special sins," answer whether they have Christ in their hearts. He likes to inhabit pure hearts. But are their hearts pure? Hardly! They imagine that they are pure, but imagination is not reality. lf we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). And where there is a lie, there Christ is not.

The Holy Fathers teach us that It Is very hard for a man to see his sins….

It turns out that those who think that they do not have any great sins are actually blind. They must pray to God to enable them to perceive their sins and to save themselves from the extremely fatal spiritual delusion that they do not have any particular sins. Even if their sins are as small as specks of dust, if they are not cleaned with constant Confession, they pile up and dirty the room of the heart so that the high heavenly Guest cannot enter there.

The small sins are often more dangerous than the greatest crimes, because the latter weigh heavily on the conscience and insist on being atoned for, confessed, settled, erased, while the small sins do not weigh too much on the soul, but they have that perilous property of making it insensitive to the grace of God and indifferent to salvation. ….

In order for man to restore his spiritual life, he needs to confess even the smallest of his sins.

3) A third man says: "All this is true. But why should I confess when I know that tomorrow I will sin again? Is there any point In such confession? I see that one should confess only if one would sin no more after that!"
This objection to Confession contains both something which is very true and something which is not. The right thing here is the desire not to sin any more after Confession. But we are feeble humans, and we cannot attain right away such a firmness which makes falling into voluntary sins impossible. If we cannot reach such steadfastness in virtue right away, should we surrender to vice? Or should we stop confessing? Which is better––to roll in the mud of the spiritual swamp, or to pick yourself up after each fall and go on with the hope that someday you may reach the solid and beautiful shore of virtue? If you do not confess, you remain in the mud. If you confess, you pick yourself up from the mud and clean yourself. "But why should I get up if tomorrow I will fall again?" you say. When you fall again, then get up again! Every day begin all over again! This is undoubtedly better than falling out of the habit of getting up….

Leave your house unswept, uncleaned, and unventilated for one year! Will it not turn into a pigsty? Now think about what the soul of a man is like when he has not cleaned it through Confession, not only for a year, but for twenty, forty, sixty, or seventy years!...

4) A fourth man says: "I am confessing before God. What need is there for me to go to the priest?"
... God has ordained the priest to administer the Holy Sacraments so that we can receive through them heavenly all-saving grace. Confession is a sacrament, too. If you confess before God, you are doing well, because you are moving your conscience, remembering your sins, and maybe even shedding tears for them. Yet you do not receive God's grace of forgiveness through all that. ...until you go to the priest to whom Jesus Christ Himself has given the power to bind and loose, no matter how much you confess before God, you do not receive forgiveness for your sins, because God Himself has condescended to say to the priest: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them (John 20:23).

Besides, Confession before a priest has an enormous instructive meaning. It humbles us. It cures our pride; it makes us blush savingly; It instills in us shame and fear and thus protects us from future sins.

"But how can the priest absolve sins?" you ask. He can, since God has ordered it so. "But is the priest himself not a sinful man?" If lie is sinful, what do you lose from that? He is sinful for himself and will answer before God for his sins. The Holy Sacraments administered by him do not cease to be active for you because of his sinfulness if you accept them with faith and humility. Does the sunray get dirty when it falls on mud? In the same way, God's grace does not lessen by being transmitted by a priest muddled with sins. He himself may be denied grace on Judgment Day because of his sinfulness, but you, accepting through him God's grace, will not deprive yourself of it if you show yourself to be worthy.

"But will the priest not give away the secret of my confessed sins?" No! No priest has the right to tell of that which he has heard during Confession. He has to take the secret of the Confession to his grave. So do not worry that the shame of your sinfulness may be announced to society.

But remember that if you avoid Confession because of zeal for your honor, you will shame yourself If you are ashamed to admit your weaknesses before one man, everyone will begin talking about them! Such is the spiritual law. People sense our weaknesses, no matter how diligently we hide them. If you confess them before one man, God, because of your humility before this single witness, will cover you with His grace before the many.

...Your confession will teach you to struggle with your passions; and if you are really fighting against them, the multitude of people will not find out about them. You, with God's help, will be healed before you have shamed yourself. But if you do not want to be healed through Confession, then you will both expose your name to abuse here and then be disgraced before the whole universe at the Last Judgment!"

From: The Forgotten Medicine, pp 29-39

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Dormition of the Mother of God: a liturgical approach



The feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God is celebrated on August 15 by the Christian world and is the greatest of those established by the Church in honour of the Mother of the Lord. It may be the oldest of all. The first evidence we have for it dates from the 5th century, round about the time when the 3rd Ecumenical Synod was called in Ephesus (451), at which the dogma of the Mother of God was defined and the honour due to her was developed. It appears that it was first held in Jerusalem on 13 August and was transposed soon afterwards to the 15th of the same month. It was a general feast of the Virgin, without particular reference to her Dormition.

It was called “the day of Mary, the Mother of God”. The centre for the celebrations initially was a kathisma (seat), a church in her name, which was located outside Jerusalem, some three miles along the road leading to Bethlehem. The association of the feast with the Dormition of the Mother of God occurred at the famous church of Our Lady in Gethsemane, “Mavrikios’ house of prayer”, where her grave was. This church quickly acquired the status of the most important pilgrimage site of the Mother of God, and its renown became the reason why the feast on 15 August quickly spread throughout the Christian world, East and West, as the feast of the Dormition.


The feast was later elevated, with a preparatory fast and the extension of the feasting until 23 August or even to the end of the month and so it became not only the greatest of the feasts of the Mother of God but also one of the most important in the Church’s year. It was only natural that this should be so, because Our Lady is the best-loved and holy person after Christ, which is why she has attracted the honour and veneration of all generations of Christians. Countless churches and monasteries have been built in honour of her Dormition; in every church, behind the main entrance, wonderful wall-paintings of astonishing composition depict her funeral; her service his been embellished with choice hymns; and fine words and encomia have been expressed by the Fathers and modern Church figures on the day when we commemorate her. All generations of humankind have rivalled each other in presenting the best they have to offer, to praise and bless the Virgin Mary in word and deed.

THE FESTAL CONTENT OF THE FEAST

If we are to understand the festal content of the feast of the Dormition, and indeed, that of the other feasts of the Mother of God, the Conception, the Nativity, and the Entry, we need to look back briefly at the sources from which the information concerning her was drawn. Otherwise, it’s impossible to interpret all the things associated with this celebration: the narratives, the hymnography and the iconography. The authentic historical sources, the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament have not preserved any information about her life before the Annunciation or after the Ascension of the Lord. The intention of the authors was to narrate the life and the work of salvation of Christ, and whatever was directly linked with Him; not to satisfy the devout curiosity or the historical interests of their readers. By word of mouth, however, the tradition of the Church preserved various pieces of information having to do with the life of the Mother of God before the Conception of the Lord and after His Resurrection. Thereafter different authors, devout for the most part, took this information and embellished it throough their imagination, and, to give their works greater kudos, affixed great apostolic names to them. The Church rejected these works and called them apocryphal and falsified. In later times, many of these narratives, in their most basic forms, provided the subject matter for the formation of feasts, the construction of narratives, the poetry of hymns and the composition of icons. In any case, as we’ve said, the core of these narratives had as its base very old historical traditions concerning the person of the Mother of God.

STORY OF THE EVENT OF THE DORMITION

The event of the Dormition, in particular, is told, apart from elsewhere, in an apocryphal narrative which bears the name John, the disciple beloved of Christ. We shall present a summary of this lengthy text here. At each point, the reader will recall corresponding phrases from the hymns and synaxarion of the feast and details from the icon of the Dormition, which was composed by Byzantine artists.

After Christ’s Ascension, the Mother of God went to the life-receiving tomb every day and prayed. One Friday, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and saluted her: “Hail, you who bore Christ our God. The Lord has heard your prayer and you will leave the world and enter the true and eternal life”. The Mother of God returned home, burned incense and prayed to Christ to send her John and the other apostles, so that they could be present at her death. Her petition was heard and the first to arrive, snatched up in a cloud was John and then the others were borne by clouds and came from the ends of the earth, to which they had scattered. The Lord arrived in his radiant glory and, with thousands of angels, He received the soul of His Mother. She blessed the apostles and the world, interceded for the salvation of all and, having been given the assurance that any soul invoking her name would not be put to shame but would find mercy and comfort and defence and boldness in the present life and that of the future, she gave up her holy soul into the hands of her Son.

The apostles surrounded the body and, chanting, lifted up her bed with the body lying upon it, to be buried. A Jew by the name of Jeronias made to attack the bed, but an angel of the Lord, with a sword of fire, cut off his arms at the shoulder, and they remained attached to the bed. He repented and they were re-attached, while the apostles continued the cortege undisturbed. The body was buried in a new tomb in Gethsemane, but on the third day was transported to Paradise.

CHURCH POETRY

The poetry of the Church has embellished this simple narrative. The three stikhira (poetic hymns) in the first tone at Vespers (the first an automelos [contrafactum] and the others based upon it) praise the Mother of God and her Dormition in a wonderful manner. The substructure, however, can easily be recognized as the apocryphal narrative: Gethsemane, the words of Gabriel, the presence of the angelic powers, the transition from the grave to heaven.

The stikhira at Lauds in the 4th tone have the same theme. In the first, the whole cosmos, heavenly and earthly, rejoices, accompanying the mother of Christ and singing a funeral song for her. The other two describe the arrival of the apostles and their chanting at the graveside, as well as the presence of the angelic powers and the reception of her spotless soul by Christ.

Finally, let us take a look at the most exceptional tropario of her feast, and, indeed, of all our troparia. It is the doxastiko at Vespers. It takes its subject matter from the apocryphal narrative. The exceptional nature of the hymn lies in the fact that it is not sung in only one tone, as are all the other Church hymns, but in all eight.

Tone 1

By the royal command all the God-bearing apostles were snatched up into clouds on high

Tone Plagial 1

On reaching your immaculate and life-giving body, they embraced it fervently.

Tone 2

The highest powers of heavens attended, with their own master,

Tone Plagial 2

Seized with awe, they accompanied your inviolate body which had held God, and went on high before you, calling, unseen, to the ranks above: “Behold the Maid of God, the Queen of all, is at hand”.

Tone 3

Open wide the gates and welcome the mother of the everlasting light.

Tone Plagial 3

For through her the salvation of mortals has come; we are not strong enough to look upon her and are unable to render honours worthy of her.

Tone 4

For her excellence is beyond all conception

Tone Plagial 4

Therefore, most pure Mother of God, living forever with your Son and life-bearing King, pray without ceasing that your young people may be sheltered and saved from every adverse assault, for we have your protection.

Tone 1

And we bless you in beauty and light unto all ages.