Thursday, July 18, 2019

Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes: On the Prophet Elias and the Wonders of Prayer

The Holy Prophet Elias (source)
Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes of Florina: On the Prophet Elias and the Wonders of Prayer
Today, my beloved, we celebrate one of the greatest Saints of our faith, the glorious Prophet Elias. He lived before Christ, but he is also "the second forerunner of the coming of Christ" (from the Apolytikion of the Saint). He is one of the most beloved Saints, and many bear his name, and on many hills there are built chapels in his name, and many villages celebrate his name.

Should we tell of his life? It would take much time and you don't have much stamina. So that I might not tire you, I will tell of a few essential things from the life of the Prophet Elias. I will mention three of the wonders out of the many that he had done.

The one was that once, with his prayer, there was a drought that hit along with a famine in Judea. He also was hungry, because the Saints suffer hunger. He went to a village and everyone closed their doors to him. Only one house, a hut, opened their door. And who lived there, a rich man? It was a poor widow with her children. She received him. She had nothing to offer him hospitality, only a handful of flour and a little oil. And these she did not hold back. As soon as she saw him, even though she didn't know who this old man was, she said: "Come in, Elder." She immediately took the flour, made bread and gave him to eat, because he was tired from his journey. This occurred in Zarepta of Sidonia. And then--let the faithless disbelieve; it is their right, but we believe--from that hour on, the widow's house was never lacking in flour and oil. (Third Kings 17:8-16).

What does this mean?  Where there is the blessing of God, everything is riches. One can have incomparable fields, vineyards and olive groves, one can have sacks of gold and silver, one can have it all, but die from hunger. And one can have a handful of flour, a little piece of earth, a bucket of soil, and this will sustain you, as long as one blesses the Lord. These are not just words, they are reality. Because of this our Church chants: "The rick have become poor and hungry, but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing." (Psalm 33:11) Everything, therefore, is a blessing. Some place too high an emphasis of work alone, because above work is the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Another miracle: While the house of the widow had flour and oil, the rest of the village was suffering hunger, for it had not rained for three and a half years. The impious King Ahab gathered the people of Israel on Mount Carmel, and there, the Prophet Elias censured them for their lack of steadfastness. Until when, he said, will you stand limping with your two feet? If our God is true, then follow Him. If Baal (the idol) is true, then follow him. They heard him without speaking, how would they be justified? Then he told them, I will only preach the true God, while the priests of the idols were about 1000. Today, therefore, we will test who is the true God. Bring two calves, and you will choose whichever you wish, and let us prepare a sacrifice with wood, but we will not light them on fire. And I will prepare the other for sacrifice and will not light it on fire. And you will entreat your god, and I will call upon the Lord my God. And He will hear me and will light and burn the calf of sacrifice, because He is the true God.

They agreed. The priests of shame placed their altar, and their calf upon it, and began to entreat, calling out: "Hear us, Baal". Noon passed, evening came, nothing. Their god was shown to be false. Afterwards, Elias places the clean altar, places wood and the calf upon it in pieces, and tells the others to sprinkle it three times with water (in order that there not be any possibility of fire). And as soon as he prayed, fire descended from heaven and consumed the whole calf, and the wood and the stones and even the water! Nothing remained. Then everyone believed that the only true God is the Lord. Immediately, the Prophet Elias commanded: cease all of the priests of shame, the priests of idolatry. And he took them to the brook of Kisson, and there--terribly--he slaughtered them all (ibid 18:19-40).
The Holy Prophet Elias (source)
Let us now return again to the house of the widow. What happened there? One day her child fell deathly ill and died. The mother said to the Prophet Elias: "Come to my house to explain to me for which of my sins my son was put to death." "Give me your son." he told her. He took him to the upper room, laid him in his bed, and having prayed to the Lord, breathed three times on the child, and then--let the faithless disbelieve, we believe that there is a God Who works wonders through the Panagia and the Saints--the child was resurrected. "I see that you are a man of God", the widow said. (ibid 17:17-24)

I told you a few things, my beloved, about the Prophet Elias. One more thing I will mention. When it came the time for him to flee from the world, he did not die like we do. As he was walking, a fiery chariot took him and lifted him high. The Prophet Elias still lives. He is hidden somewhere, in one corner of the universe. And we expect him to come again. You don't fear the Prophet Elias, because it seems that you are Saints? I am afraid of him. He is a thunderbolt against sinners, prostitutes, adulterers, blasphemers, atheists, shameful people and all who remain unrepentant. His word is burning. He is the "second forerunner of the coming of Christ", the forerunner of the Second Coming of the Lord. And the Second Coming of the Lord is approaching, it is coming! The signs are many. There are signs which will precede the end of the world, and one of them is the appearing of the Prophet Elias.

One sign of the end of the ages is, as Christ Himself said, that there will be earthquakes, terrible earthquakes (Matthew 24:7). And continuous earthquakes are occurring. Another sign was mentioned by St. Kosmas Aitolos. When they asked him when the end of the world was coming, he replied: "When you see women walking naked in the street." And we see this in reality. Women walking around [naked], corrupting the world*, and even in the church they dare to enter naked. Another sign is the divorces that are increasing, while formerly divorce was unknown and only the shovel of the undertaker separated couples. Another sign that will appear is the 666. The devil will come out and begin to seal people, all, small and great will take this identification. These are the signs of the times. Go and sell your shirt and buy the Book of Revelation and read it, it is all written in there, what will occur.**

Within your houses, have fear of God. How will we be saved? With prayer. With what prayer? Not dead prayer, but living prayer which comes through tears. In the old blessed days the Christians listened in the Church of Christ with contrition. Today, we find the church dead. In the old days, in the crags of our homeland dwelt holy people. And what did they do? Were they partying at night? Before they would go to sleep, the father and mother, along with their seven or eight children would kneel in prayer to God. Show me today a family that prayers together! We have lost the mind of God. Where is prayer, family prayer? Where are the tears, the contrition? Where is Confession and Holy Communion? Where is almsgiving? Where are the wonders of our people?

Because of this, I advise you to take the Gospel and the Revelations and all of you read them, men and women. Pray night and day, at noon and in the evening. And if you can't say many prayers, say only one prayer: "Lord, have mercy", "Lord, have mercy", "Lord, have mercy". And if you say it with your whole heart, you will be heard, and you will work wonders, and the stars will descend to earth.

Let us live like this, therefore, my beloved and blessed ones, with Christ, awaiting the return of the Prophet Elias, and entreating God to save the world. Amen.

(+) Bishop Avgoustinos, recorded from a homily given in the Holy Church of the Prophet Elias, Xanthogeion, Amyntaiou, on July 20th, 1987) (Source)

*Note I: This described lack of modesty, and lust in general is of course not only seen in women, but in men as well, as day by day, filth of body, mind and soul is growing and is being exhibited more externally, in society, TV, the internet, etc.
**Note II: Thankfully, there are many good Orthodox guides to reading the Book of Revelation, including the most famous commentary by St. Andrew of Caesarea (translated here), published talks by Fr. Athanasios Mitilinaios, a series by Fr. Thomas Hopko, the series of talks by Fr. Josiah Trenham, etc. Metropolitan Avgoustinos ends this sermon very poignantly, focusing not on fear of the 666 or the Antichrist, but on fear of the Lord, and emphasizing the need for prayer, repentance, contrition, the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Mysteries of our Church.
The Holy Prophet Elias, with scenes from his life (Source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Akathist to St. Marina the Great Martyr

St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
Akathist to St. Marina the Great Martyr,
written by Dr. Charalampos Bousias

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone.
She who mindfully abandoned the impiety of her father, and followed the untrodden path of martyrdom out of love for her Bridegroom [Christ] in Heaven, O comely virgin Marina, we praise you who destroyed the enemy, and cry out with fervor: Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

O Marina, perfect and comely martyr and famed sheep of the Chief Shepherd and Word, (3) as His all-praised bride, you reclined your neck unflinchingly in the stadium and were beheaded on behalf of piety, rousing the faithful to cry out to you:
Rejoice, great champion and comely martyr,
Rejoice, greatly-suffering child martyr.
Rejoice, you who were nourished by the love of the Creator,
Rejoice, you who were delivered by the power of the King of all.
Rejoice, for you bore pains in your flesh gently,
Rejoice, for you followed the path of martyrdom.
Rejoice, the chastity of all spiritual champions,
Rejoice, the gladness of youth brave in soul.
Rejoice, greatly-flowing spring of graces,
Rejoice, unending source of wonders.
Rejoice, through whom Pisidia takes boast,
Rejoice, through whom the guile of the serpent is conquered.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

An all-beautiful offspring of Pisidia, O Marina, you saddened your father who was a priest of the idols, as you showed his belief to be utter delusion, and you proceeded towards faith in Christ until martyrdom, reclining your neck to beheading, while crying out to Him: Alleluia.
St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
Being founded upon the truth, O Marina, you remained unshaken by the assaults of the deceiving enemy, O Martyr, therefore you trampled upon his wretched attack through your struggle, therefore we cry out to you with fervor:
Rejoice, elite adornment of the youth,
Rejoice, the healer of all those suffering.
Rejoice, you who dispersed the darkness of your father,
Rejoice, you who struggled mightily and radiantly.
Rejoice, sweet fragrance of the love of Christ,
Rejoice, aromatic myrrh-vessel of manly*** martyrdom.
Rejoice, for you received your call to preach of your Bridegroom,
Rejoice, for you delivered from the delusion of the idols.
Rejoice, radiant jewel of youth,
Rejoice, joyous type of struggle.
Rejoice, bold vessel of the youth,
Rejoice, you who freeze the deception of the idols.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

As a tree steadfast in soul, you deposed Olymvrios, who was under the influence of the serpent, and was a faithless ruler, while you gladdened the multitude of the faithful through your godly-wise words and sacred sayings, crying out to the Redeemer: Alleluia.
St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
You willingly bore in your flesh the raking and being burnt by torches, O Marina, and you offered to Jesus a holy regiment of Martyrs, who denied delusion and who cry out to you out of fervent faith:
Rejoice, boast of steadfastness,
Rejoice, adornment of piety.
Rejoice, you who shone with the light of Christ,
Rejoice, you who dispersed the darkness of delusion.
Rejoice, very precious dwelling-place of spiritual manliness,
Rejoice, God-chosen boast of the martyric path.
Rejoice, for you were shown to be more steadfast than iron,
Rejoice, for you appeared as the bride of the Lord.
Rejoice, you who endured the raking of your flesh,
Rejoice, shaming of the multitudes of the faithless.
Rejoice, the wound of the soulless idols,
Rejoice, speedy dispeller of the demons.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

Being arrayed in the zeal of martyrdom, O Marina, you wisely put off the garment of fearful nature and manfully proceeded towards steadfast struggles, and the cutting off of your head, as you hastened to Christ, crying out from your depths: Alleluia.

St. Marina the Great Martyr and Christ's Vanquisher of demons (source)

You deposed the ancient enemy who appeared to you as one barren, O Marina, through the power of Christ God, to Whom you gave the beauty of your youth as a dowry, and therefore we cry out to you in joy:
Rejoice, the depth of mighty strength,
Rejoice, the measure of perfection.
Rejoice, rampart of martyrdom founded by God,
Rejoice, utter deposition of the enemy.
Rejoice, unconquerable Martyr, who dashed apart Olymvrios,
Rejoice, all-spotless girl, the sweetness of the pious.
Rejoice, for you endured painful blows,
Rejoice, for you were set afire with torches.
Rejoice, crown of grace plaited with flowers,
Rejoice, stream of healings flowing from God.
Rejoice, healing for the greatly-pained faithful,
Rejoice, great pain to the enemy.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

Divine light shined upon you, O Martyr Marina, transforming your dark and unspeakable [prison], filling you with joy as you beheld your wounds being greatly healed, O chaste one, and therefore you opened your all-sacred lips to cry out to Christ: Alleluia.
St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
You trampled upon the strength of Belial the enemy through the power of the Cross, O Marina, and through the sword of your fervent prayers, you speedily cut off the head of his guile, trampling upon him, and rousing all of the faithful to cry out to you:
Rejoice, virgin bearing virtues,
Rejoice, all-glorious champion.
Rejoice, the fellow-dweller with all the Martyrs,
Rejoice, speaker with the Holy Angels.
Rejoice, fervent boast of pious strugglers,
Rejoice, unassailable surrounding wall for mighty young people.
Rejoice, for you rejoice together with the choirs in Heaven,
Rejoice, for you shine upon the minds of those bearing the name of Christ.
Rejoice, fervent refuge of the faithful,
Rejoice, steadfast destroyer of enemies.
Rejoice, protection for pious souls,
Rejoice, lamp full of spiritual boldness.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

Bearing the beauty of virginity, and manliness in soul, you gave your spotless wealth to your Bridegroom Christ, O Marina, and you suffered terrible tortures for Him, ceaselessly changing to Him with a thankful tongue: Alleluia.
St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
Shining with love for the Most-high, O Marina, you bore the pain of tortures manfully as one without flesh, and the sharp cutting of your sacred neck with the sword you endured, therefore we magnify you, crying out in worthy manner:
Rejoice, perfect soul of Christ,
Rejoice, icon of radiant virginity.
Rejoice, the divine adornment of the stadium,
Rejoice, the all-spotless lamb of the Lord.
Rejoice, for you were patient out of your fervent reverence,
Rejoice, for you cast down the head of Satan through your faith.
Rejoice, you who in no way spared your flesh,
Rejoice, you who received the cutting of your neck.
Rejoice, jewel of the love of Christ,
Rejoice, boast of His faith.
Rejoice, chaste cypress of Paradise,
Rejoice, pure one, who tramples upon the enemy.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

O Martyr of Christ Marina, you lawfully struggled in the stadium, proclaiming your calling from your Bridegroom, and together with Him, you rejoice in the heavenly mansions, and you ever entreat Him, O one who greatly suffered, on behalf of those who cry out with faith: Alleluia.
St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
You bore the deadening of your flesh, O Martyr Marina, through your timely struggles, and through your divine might, you wondrously showed the enemy to be a weakly dog, and you open the mouths of the faithful to cry out to you:
Rejoice, the casting down of the worship of idols,
Rejoice, the deliverer of the ailing.
Rejoice, you who triumphed over the ancient enemy,
Rejoice, you who love to alleviate illnesses.
Rejoice, fruitful vine of the new life in Christ,
Rejoice, support showing athletic virtue.
Rejoice, for you received the crowns of reward for the virgins,
Rejoice, for you show forth the ways of salvation.
Rejoice, support of the faith of Christ,
Rejoice, driving out of the dangers of the enemy.
Rejoice, spring of many kinds of healings,
Rejoice, all-fragrant incense of wonders.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

A strange spring of all kinds of wonders, and a fountain of healings, you are seen to be, O Marina, working together with your Bridegroom Who is sacred and the One desired. We cry out to Him loudly, Who makes those lacking music to be composers, as we cry out to you, O Great Martyr: Alleluia.
St. Marina the Great Martyr, and Christ's Vanquisher of the demons (source)
You have been numbered with the heavenly ranks, O Marina, for you passed through the great sea of life, with Christ being the guide towards peace in soul, and rejoicing, you ever entreat Him on behalf of those who cry out to you with faith:
Rejoice, the giver of healings,
Rejoice, the destroyer of demons.
Rejoice, the first champion in the stadium of martyrdom,
Rejoice, partaker of heavenly rejoicing.
Rejoice, for you despised the prime of youth,
Rejoice, for you offered your head as a gift to Christ.
Rejoice, the speedy protection of those who hymn you,
Rejoice, the guide of your entreaters towards the heavens.
Rejoice, you who shame the boldness of the enemy,
Rejoice, you who were raised through the power of Christ.
Rejoice, breath and helping hand for the youth,
Rejoice, wound of the faithless tyrants.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

With fervor in your nous, O Marina, you were directed towards Christ your pure Savior from childhood, and you speedily spat upon the vanity of the idols and the delusion of your father, as you shown with the light of Christ, to Whom you cry out unflinchingly: Alleluia.

St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
As a fragrant and beautiful divine rose, you sprouted from a terrible and foul-smelling root, filling all the faithful with the breeze of your spiritual graces, O all-chaste Marina, and with the joy of your manliness, therefore we cry out:
Rejoice, you who struggled gloriously,
Rejoice, you who were rightly glorified.
Rejoice, fragrant vessel of springtime,
Rejoice, light-bearing Queen of graces.
Rejoice, for you endured the cutting of your head,
Rejoice, for you dyed the stole of your soul in your blood.
Rejoice, most delicious apple of goodness,
Rejoice, unemptying abyss of perfection.
Rejoice, you who emphatically loved Christ,
Rejoice, hypostasis of His love.
Rejoice, shame of the enemy that hates Christ,
Rejoice, victory of the choir of champions.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

You were adorned with the crown of incorruption as a steadfast Martyr and virgin, and you join pasture with the choirs of the Angels, in the bridal chamber above, in which, O all-praised one, you entreat the Lord on behalf of those who piously cry out: Alleluia.

St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
You are a surrounding wall for the chaste youth and a precious protection, O joyous Marina, the comeliness of steadfast women and the sacred type of champions. Keep under your protection those who entreat you and who cry out in faith:
Rejoice, Queen of graces,
Rejoice, depth of healings.
Rejoice, God-inscribed statue of truth,
Rejoice, you who are the longed for piety founded in God.
Rejoice, foundation of famed women champions strengthened by God,
Rejoice, mighty bravery of athletes.
Rejoice, for you endured unbearable beatings,
Rejoice, for you trample upon the frost of the enemy.
Rejoice, you who dwell in the court of unwaning light,
Rejoice, nourishment for the whole world.
Rejoice, steady ray of Christ,
Rejoice, spring of boldness and well-being.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

We place the crowns of our hymns upon you for your struggles, O Marina, to the heavenly glory of your sacred Bridegroom, Christ God, Whose might we praise, we who are upon the earth, singing sweet songs and crying out with fervent voices: Alleluia.

St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
You shine upon all creation with the rays of your virtues, and with the radiance of your beautiful youth, O comely and chaste Martyr Marina, and your soul was set aflame with the divine, therefore all who praise your memory cry out with faith:
Rejoice, creation of the love of the Lord,
Rejoice, sword against the delusion of the enemy.
Rejoice, example of the perfect truth,
Rejoice, adornment of the spotless way.
Rejoice, priceless emerald of spiritual beauty,
Rejoice, many-colored sapphire of athletic virtue.
Rejoice, you who bury the unclean spirits,
Rejoice, deliverance from incurable illnesses.
Rejoice, mighty strength of the faithful given by God,
Rejoice, ever-flowing spring of wonders.
Rejoice, container bestowing joy,
Rejoice, beautiful trophy of manliness.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

Rejoice, O Martyr Marina, for you counted the fire of tortures as nourishment, and the cutting off of your head as a cause for joy, as you proceeded to the heavenly mansions to meet your Bridegroom, crying out to Him: Alleluia.

St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
Having been enriched with your prayers as with gold, O Marina, we entreat the Giver-of-life that we be granted good things, though we are dead of good deeds, O child Martyr, chaste and full of faith and shining with light, and we cry out these things from our depths:
Rejoice, pillar of godly piety,
Rejoice, gate leading to God.
Rejoice, greatly-fragrant pasture of Christ,
Rejoice, juicy apple of His flower.
Rejoice, golden diadem of steadfast youth,
Rejoice, all-precious one lifted up by the Savior of souls.
Rejoice, the speedy protection of those who honor you,
Rejoice, healing from dangers for those who hymn you.
Rejoice, all-radiant light of struggle,
Rejoice, sheltered forest of manliness.
Rejoice, canon of steadfastness for those in dangers,
Rejoice, mystical verdant tree.
Rejoice, O all-spotless Martyr.

O Martyr of the Lord who suffered greatly, adornment of spiritual youth (3), unflinchingly entreat your Bridegroom that we be granted dual health [of soul and body], as the ranks of virgins praise you, and all cry out in reverence: Alleluia.
And again the Kontakion.
***Note: The author of the akathist, like many other hymnographers, praises the "manliness" of St. Marina. This does not minimize the attributes of her female gender, but means to praise her steadfastness and endurance of terrible martyrdom more than many men on behalf of her love for Christ.
St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Elder Aimilianos: How does the Holy Trinity create a person?

The Holy Trinity creating Adam (Source)
Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra: How does the Holy Trinity create a person?
‘At one exceptional and unique moment in history, the heavenly Father wished to create the material world. Once this had been done, He then went on to make the human body, in collaboration with the other two Persons of the Holy Trinity, and breathed the ‘breath of life’ into it. So God’s creation became ‘a living being’ [2]. God then ceased merely to hover above the waters [3] and entered into the created and material elements and living things. He dwelt in a unique, supreme being who became the king and the reason for the creation. Now the reason for the creation is God Himself. From that moment, the conjunction, the path towards identification and union with God became inevitable, and it’s now impossible to conceive of the human person, the image of the invisible God, without the Holy Spirit.
 So the Holy Spirit, as one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, collaborates in the birth of every person. Together with the Father and the Son, He gives to the maternal womb the material which is taken from the father and mother, and the embryo thus conceived is flesh, dust. We people give birth to dust: we’re dust and return to dust [4]. To this dust, the parents give all the capacities and characteristics of their personalities, they give themselves, the image of their flesh.
What the heavenly Father did to the first human person, He also does at the birth of every one of us, the difference being that then He first created the dust and afterwards breathed into it the Holy Spirit, whereas now the Holy Spirit enters the person as soon as conception occurs. So from the very first moment, the embryo is alive and is a person, because it’s received the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It has rational control, is a complete image of the divinity and, until its last moments, bears the features of divine and human nature, unfailingly and unabatedly. There is also internal communication within the person between the human and divine nature, as there is in Christ.
It follows, then, that at everyone’s birth there are, on the one hand, divine actions and, on the other, a human contribution, in accordance with the ancient saying and will of the Godhead: ‘increase and multiply’[5]. The husband and wife, one flesh- ‘you shall be one flesh’ [6]- communicate with the Holy Spirit, and the all-powerful Son brings everything together, puts everything into the womb of the woman and in this way we have a complete person, both God and human. The new persons, created by God and created for God, are endowed, at baptism, with divinity, with the charismatic life, at which point the Holy Spirit becomes the inheritance of their existence. From then on, they’re constantly being challenged internally by the Holy Spirit and also project from themselves the sparks, the light of the divinity. In this way, the dust of the earth becomes a radiant life, through vigilance’.
The Creation of Adam (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Photios Kontoglou (+ July 13, 1965): The Greatest Icon Painter of 20th Century Greece

Photios Kontoglou of Blessed Memory (November 8th, 1895 - July 13th, 1965), a self-portrait (source)

Photios Kontoglou: The Greatest Icon Painter of 20th Century Greece

by Dr. Constantine Cavarnos (of blessed memory)

19 February 2017
            Photios Kontoglou, the greatest icon painter of modern Greece and one of her most important theologians and literary writers, died in Athens on July 13, 1965. His death, during surgery, passed almost entirely unnoticed in America, even among Greek-Americans, but he was deeply mourned throughout Greece.
            I was in Greece when he died and had the good fortune of seeing and talking with this great and holy man just five days before his “falling asleep.” The editor of an Athenian religious monthly asked me to write an obituary . . .  I have undertaken to write this brief biography.
Archangel Gabriel, by Photios Kontoglou (source)
            Photios Kontoglou was born on November 8, 1895, at Kydoniai (Aivali), on the west coast of Asia Minor, across from Mytilene. Kydoniai was a city consisting of about 30,000 Greeks and three persons—the district governor, the judge, and the tax collector—who were Turks.
            Kontoglou came from a devout family, which had its own chapel containing precious articles including a carved ancient crucifix and a large panel icon depicting Saint Paraskevi. Many of his ancestors were monks, and an uncle, Stephanos Kontoglou, was abbot of the Monastery of Saint Paraskevi near Kydoniai. Stephanos was an important influence in Photios’s life. In his book Vasanta (1923), Kontoglou dedicates the chapter of translations from the Psalms of David “to the austere soul of the Hieromonk Stephanos Kontoglou, my uncle, whose virtue I perpetually have before me as a model and rule.”
Photios Kontoglou (right) and his friend Yiannis Tsarouchis (left), dressed as novice monks at Meteora in 1932 (source)
             The young Kontoglou was extremely fond of the sea, sailing, and the solitude of the deserted neighboring islets. He liked to live alone, like Robinson Crusoe. Daniel Defoe’s hero fascinated Kontoglou; he mentions him in many of his writings.
            After graduating from the famous Academy of Gymnasium of Kydoniai, Kontoglou spent several years in Europe, especially in France, studying art and acquiring painting techniques. He lived in Paris during the First World War, where he first gained attention, winning prizes for his paintings and his writings. His first book, a novel entitled Pedro Cazas, was written and published there in 1919.
            After the armistice, Kontoglou returned to Kydoniai. In 1920 he wrote a remarkable prologue for the second edition of Pedro Cazas which was published in Athens in 1922. In this prologue he set forth some of the basic ideas by which he abided ever after.
Archangel Michael, by Photios Kontoglou (source)
            Persecuted by the Turks, he and his family went to Thermi, Mytilene, in 1922. Later he resided in Athens, but always lived on the outskirts, as he disliked the distractions of cities. When the Kontoglou family left Kydoniai, they took only the sacred articles mentioned above and a few Church books. These were his most cherished possessions. After his death his wife, Maria, fulfilling his wish, gave them to the Monastery of Saint Paraskevi at Nea Makri in Attica.
            In Athens Kontoglou soon became well-known in literary circles as a result of his highly-praised book, Pedro Cazas. His reputation as a writer grew with the appearance of two additional books: Vasanta (a Sanskrit word meaning “springtime”) in 1923, and Taxidia (“Travels”) in 1928, and the literary and art periodical Filikh Etairia (“Friendly Society”) which he founded in 1925. Within a few years, Kontoglou had won an enviable place in the Greek world of letters, admired for his style—which is characterized by clarity, simplicity, vigor and warmth—as well as his remarkable observations and profound thoughts.
The Holy Apostle Paul, by Photios Kontoglou (source)
            As a painter, Kontoglou was slow in winning recognition. He had to overcome difficult obstacles. After leaving Europe, he became increasingly impressed by the Byzantine traditions of painting and decided to master this style of painting. But he had to become his own teacher and learn the secrets of Byzantine art. He did this by reading old manuscripts and visiting Byzantine monuments, patiently studying the works of the old masters.
            Further, Kontoglou had to overcome strong prejudice on the part of the public against Byzantine art. Having won their liberation from the Turks, the Greeks began to turn the West for prototypes in art, especially the adoption of European (particularly Italian Renaissance) models and techniques. According to the European view at that time, Byzantine civilization was a lower civilization, not worthy of serious study, and Byzantine art especially was lower, almost barbaric art. Kontoglou succeeded magnificently in overcoming both obstacles, but it took time.
The Holy Mandylion, by Photios Kontoglou (source)
            The first obstacle was by far easier to overcome. He learned his most important lessons about Byzantine art at the Holy Mountain of Athos and at Mystra. It is significant that while at Athos, he wrote several chapters, the preface and profound concluding chapter on the fine arts of his second book, Vasanta. It was also at Athos that one of his three poems in this book was inspired by a Byzantine painting in a very old chapel there. His debt to Athos in his development as an iconographer is evinced by a volume published in 1925 containing photographs of copies, executed by him, of Byzantine frescoes at Athos; and also by the illustrations in two issues of Filikh Etairia that year showing panel icons of the Monastery of Iviron rendered by him.
            Kontoglou visited Mystra not long after. He made copies of some of the wall paintings in the Byzantine churches at Mystra. He later worked there for a long time cleaning wall paintings in the Church of Peribleptos.
Photios Kontoglou before his icon of the Precious Forerunner (Source)
            Comparing Byzantine and European religious art, Kontoglou says in his book Taxidia, “In the countries of Europe there are churches with paintings that are famous for their artistic merit; yet they do not have the mystery and the power of evoking contrition (katanyxis) possessed by the icons that were done by some unlettered and simple Byzantine painters.”
            Around 1930, Kontoglou was appointed technical supervisor at the Byzantine Museum in Athens. He possessed both great love for the works in the museum, and technical knowledge for cleaning and preserving them.
Panagia and Christ "Sweet-kissing", by Photios Kontoglou (source)
            In 1932, Kontoglou published a slender volume entitled Icones et Fresques d’Art Byzantine, with twenty plates of Byzantine panel icons and frescoes he copied. He continued to paint panel icons during this period.
            During the later thirties, Kontoglou decorated three large rooms of the City Hall of Athens with historical frescoes. This was his first large scale work as a fresco painter, and his only extensive secular one. His next major achievement as a fresco painter was the iconographic decoration of the large Church Zoodochos Peghi at Liopesi (Paiania), a town near Athens. He began the work in 1939, but could not resume it until after the Second World War. When I met Kontoglou in 1952, he showed me the beautiful Byzantine murals he had painted at Liopesi.
Kontoglou's famous frescos in the City Hall of Athens, depicting Saints and historical figures in the history of the Greek Nation (source)
            Kontoglou wrote at least eight books between 1942 and 1945, during the war. Most are rather short. The longest and important is Mystikos Kepos (“Mystical Garden”) in 1944. His chapters on Piety (Theosveia) and Saint Isaac the Syrian are masterpieces, full of deep religious feeling. He speaks of other remarkable ascetics of Syria and Mesopotamia, and stresses the virtues of faith, humility and purity.

One of the first icons of Sts. Raphael and Nicholas of Thermi, Lesvos, painted by Photios Kontoglou and treasured by the Monastery of St. Raphael to this day (source)
            The most fruitful period for Kontoglou, as both painter and writer, was the last twenty years of his life. Assisted by several of his talented pupils, he painted numerous panel icons in churches in many parts of Greece, as well as in the United States and other countries, and many thousands of square yards of wall paintings. After the church at Liopesi, mentioned above, Kontoglou frescoed the entire interior of the Church of Saint Andrew off Patission Street at Athens. He did wall paintings for the new Metropolitan Church of Evangelismos in Rhodes and the Church of Saint George at Stemnitsa, Arcadia. Finally, he decorated with fresco icons the eastern apse, central dome, pendentives and barrel vaults below the dome, and other surfaces of the following Athenian churches: Kapnikarea, Saint George at Kypseli, Saint Haralambos in the park Pedion tou Areos, Saint Nicholas at Kato Patissia, and others.
Self-portrait of Photios Kontoglou with his wife and daughter (source)
            Through these works, through the training of many gifted young artists in the techniques of Byzantine iconography, and through his long, luminous and spirited defense of Byzantine art which culminated in 1961 in the monumental two-volume work entitled Ekphrasis (“Expression”) in which he teaches the theory and practice of Byzantine iconography, Kontoglou succeeded in making this art prevail in Greece. His influence spread to America, where many churches have been decorated with panel icons, frescoes and mosaics by his pupils.
            During the same period, he wrote such edifying books as  A Great Sign (1945), with accounts of many extraordinary recent miracles at Thermi, Mytilene; The Life and Conduct of Blaise Pascal (1947); The Life and Ascesis of Our Holy Father Saint Mark the Anchorite  (1947, translated in The Orthodox Word, no. 1, Sept.-Oct., 1966, with illustrations by Kontoglou); Fount of Life (1951), presenting brief descriptions of the lives and selections from the teachings of some of the great Saints of the Orthodox Church; The Holy Gospel According to Matthew, Interpreted (1952); Expression (1961); and What Orthodoxy Is and What Papism Is (1964). Kontoglou also translated into Greek Leonid Ouspensky’s L’Icone: Quelques Mots sur son Sens Dogmatique, and published it with a preface and notes of his own. Together with the young theologian Basil Moustakis, Kontoglou founded and edited Kivotos (1952–1955), a religious periodical concerned especially with Orthodox spirituality.
Jesus Christ the Merciful, by Photios Kontoglou (source)
            Kontoglou contributed many articles to various other periodicals and encyclopedias. His articles in the Athenian daily Elephtheria are so numerous that they would fill several volumes. Many of them are among the most profound written by a Greek. Most are concerned with religious themes, such as faith and reason, religion and philosophy, religious versus secular art, Byzantine iconography and music, the lives of Martyrs and other Saints, and so on.
            Kontoglou won the Academy of Athens Prize for his book Ekphrasis, in 1961, and the Purfina Prize for his book Aivali; My Native Place, in 1963. The latter is the first volume of his Erga (“Works”) which began to be published by Astir Publishing Company at Athens in 1962.
            In recognition of his great achievements as an author, the Academy of Athens, the highest cultural institution in Greece, awarded him on March 24, 1965, its Aristeion Grammaton, its highest prize in letters.
            Kontoglou also carried on an enormous correspondence. He once told me that he wrote about fifty letters a month, corresponding not only with Greeks, but also Americans, Finns, Frenchmen, Germans, Russians, Ugandans and others. He had countless friends and admirers throughout the world who sought his guidance on iconography, and on Orthodox doctrine and living.
St. Charalampos the Hieromartyr, by Photios Kontoglou (source)
            In Kontoglou’s writings, we encounter a man who has unshakable religious faith, free from all skepticism and metaphysical anguish. We encounter a man who is steeped in the Holy Scriptures and writings of the Eastern Church Fathers, particularly the great mystics such as Saint Macarios the Egyptian, Saint John Climacos, Saint Isaac the Syrian, Saint Symeon the New Theologian, and Saint Gregory the Sinaite. We find a man who has the profoundest respect for the Sacred Tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, including all its dogmas, canons and sacred arts (architecture, iconography, music), tolerating no deviations. Orthodoxy was for him the sacred Kivotos, the sacred Ark, and these its precious contents, which must be carefully guarded and not cast away, or exchanged for counterfeits.
            Kontoglou was strongly opposed to the participation of Orthodoxy in “ecumenism,” seeing in such participation the dangers of compromise on matters which admit of no compromise. He was especially critical of the maneuvers of Patriarch Athenagoras, in whom he saw an apostate . . . a betrayer of Greece and Orthodoxy. In his last book, entitled Ti Einai he Orthodoxia kai ti Einai ho Papismos (“What Orthodoxy Is and What Papsim Is”) Kontoglou stressed the abyss that separates Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism, which renders utterly absurd Athenagoras’s assertions that there are no real differences between the two.
The Holy Prophet Elias, by Photios Kontoglou (source)
            Kontoglou was a man of adamantine Orthodox faith and impeccable character, adorned with the virtues of great humility, long-suffering, courage, wisdom, purity, hope and love. He was a devout man, a holy man, a man of God. All that he did bears the impress of these qualities.
The grave of Photios Kontoglou of Blessed Memory, in the Holy Monastery of the Annunciation - St. Ephraim in Nea Makri. For more on his relationship with St. Ephraim, see here. (source)
            As during his life, so at his death, it was evident that Kontoglou was free from worldly attachments, a citizen of the City of God, not of the earthly city, whose glory is temporary and whose power is doomed to pass away. He died poor, ignored by the State. His body was not accompanied to the grave by any State dignitaries, but only by friends and admirers, who loved him deeply.
This article was originally published by the Monastery of St. John,, in The Divine Ascent Vol. 3/4.  This and other publications can be found on their bookstore website,  (source)
See the following sites for Photios Kontoglou on Orthodox Iconography and Byzantine Music. May his memory be eternal!
Christ Pantocrator, by Photios Kontoglou (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

"Blessed are you, O God-bearer Paisios..."

Icon of Jesus Christ as he was described by St. Paisios to the Nuns of Souroti Monastery after his divine visions of the Lord (source)
Blessed are you, O God-bearer Paisios, for you were made worthy to behold the comely beauty of Christ God, He Who is all light, all sweetness, all inexpressible beauty. Therefore in ecstasy you cried out, saying: How could men dare to spit upon Your radiant face, O Lover of mankind? How could I the wretched one be made worthy to behold this sight, of which only some of all of the struggles of the ascetics from the ages were made worthy to behold? Now, therefore, O all-blessed and Venerable One, as you ceaselessly behold Christ the Savior face-to-face, we entreat that you intercede for us on the Day of Judgment that we be made worthy, with an unhindered conscience, to behold His face.
-from the Litia of the Great Vespers for St. Paisios the Athonite

St. Paisios in prayer (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes on the Miracle of St. Euphemia

St. Euphemia the Great Martyr and All-praised (source)
Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes on the Miracle of St. Euphemia
Today, my brethren, the Church honors the holy Great Martyr Euphemia. Her memory of course is honored in September. One is astonished at how she struggled against Diocletian, against the idolaters. One is astonished at how she was martyred. Her struggles do not end there, however. Years later, she made another struggle and again was victorious. She worked a great wonder, and that is what we honor today.

My beloved, 170 years passed from the martyrdom of St. Euphemia. The persecutions had largely ceased. The Church however was then found in a dogmatic struggle, which led to the recording of her teaching. The great issue which the faithful were facing during that period was the teaching on the God-man person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church preached that Christ is God and man. But many, and even today, do not want to understand this. They receive Christ like a poet, like a philosopher, like a community-organizer, like a rebel. They lift Him up very high, but they do not want to confess that Christ is God. This therefore exactly is the dogma of the Godhead of Christ which the Church preaches, and is the rock of scandal around which our Holy Fathers fought great battles.

Against this dogma appeared three great beasts, three great heretics, who wanted to shake this truth. The first was Arias, who did not accept the Godhead of Christ and said, that there was a time when Christ did not exist, and that Christ was not God. Afterwards appeared another heretic, Nestorius, did not accept the union of the Godhead and humanity, and sharply divided the humanity and the Godhead. And later appeared Eutyches, who was an archimandrite and an abbot of a monastery. He preached that the divine nature of Christ swallowed up the human, that within Christ there was only the Godhead, and that the Body of Christ was different from our own. This was a blasphemy, which diminished the God-man person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Euphemia the Great Martyr and All-praised (source)
I am tiring you a bit, but you will see that the new heresies as well which are appearing now with great conquests in the world, if we analyze them, we will see that within them is Arias, Nestorius and Eutyches, and every ancient heretic.

Against the heresy of Eutyches the Fathers struggled. In Chalcedon, where there was the magnificent Church of St. Euphemia, during the reign of Pulcheria the Empress, the Fourth Ecumenical Council gathered. There gathered 630 Holy Fathers, whose memory we honor every year during the month of July on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers. There was recorded the dogma of the two natures of Jesus Christ. There, the Fathers put forward the healthy teaching and condemned the phronema of delusion. What did they say? I will give you an example, which St. Cyril of Alexandra offered, who was one of the defenders of Orthodox dogma.

If one takes a piece of iron and places it in the furnace, you will see that it becomes totally red. But even though the iron is united with the flames, it does not cease to be iron. The black has simply become red. And the fire, however, even though it is united with the iron, and cannot be separated from it, despite this, it does not cease to be fire. In this way somewhat, my beloved, is the person of Christ. The iron is the human nature, the fire is the Godhead. The two are united, and thus Christ appeared as the God-man. The natural is united with the spirit, the man is mystically united with God.

My brethren, I do not wish to tire you with dogmatic homilies. It would be good for the preacher to speak about dogmas, in order to analyze the Symbol of our Father. But unfortunately, our Christians desire easy foods, and they have need of the alphabet of our faith.

I will return to our topic therefore and say: In Chalcedon there were two groups. The one was of St. Cyril the Patriarch of Alexandria together with the Orthodox, and the other with the heretic Eutyches. The very faithful and simple people could not understand these meanings. They were confused and their faith was endangered. Then, the difference of this faith was solved by St. Euphemia. How?

In that place was preserved the Holy Relic of St. Euphemia. 170 years it rested in her Church in Chalcedon. The two groups, therefore, agreed to write their teachings into two books, one with the ideas of the Orthodox and the other of the heretics. The two books were placed within the reliquary which held her Holy Relic, upon her holy chest. Then, they proceeded to prayer and vigil for three days and nights together with all of the people of Chalcedon with fasting. They entreated St. Euphemia to respond. Clerics of the two groups guarded the Holy Relic as well. And when the third day came, they opened the reliquary, and then they saw the wonder. The book of the heretics was below the Saint's feet, and the book of the Orthodox was in her hands upon her chest, above the Saint's heart! Thus, wondrously, she showed that the faith of the Orthodox is true.

But what thing is this? What are you saying now? Those things are only from books...

St. Euphemia the Great Martyr and All-praised (source)
Books? Here it is written. The apolytikion of the Saint says: "You greatly gladdened the Orthodox, and deposed those of evil faith, and with this wonder you confirmed what the Fathers of the Fourth Synod dogmatized well", you sealed what the Holy Fathers said with wisdom.

Thus this miracle confirms our Holy Church and this is described in the Saint's apolytikion. I do not know what will occur. At least I will never become a modern preacher and theologian. I will continue to believe and I will not teach anything other than that which our Holy Church teaches. If you do not believe and do not receive the teaching of the Church, I will keep the things of our homeland together with all of the faithful and we will believe the lives of the Saints, their miracles, their Holy Relics, and [take refuge] in the shadows of the Saints and in their memories.

I will say two more words and close. Unfortunately, this heresy of monophysitism (thus it is named the heresy of Eutyches which the Church condemns to this day), has not been abandoned totally. A relic of this great heresy which shook the ship of the Church exists to this day. And there are around 15 million Armenians, Abyssinians, and Copts of Egypt [i.e. the Oriental orthodox]. They have even their own patriarchates. They not receive the decisions of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod and why were they cut off from the Church. All of the rest until the Fourth Ecumenical Council...they accept, and they also are a martyred nation. Among these there is one difference only. They agree with everything until then, but from then on they cease. And to this day, they do not wish to accept the Fourth and the other Ecumenical Synods. Behold our disagreement.

Therefore, this day brings to our mind the Copts of Egypt, the Armenians and the Abyssinians. And I will greatly entreat today, that it is the memory of St. Euphemia, who wondrously confirmed the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, that we all might pray that the Saint might work another great wonder, that they all might return to Orthodoxy and agree on the tome of the Orthodox dogma, that they might come to agree with our Holy Church, in a manner that they might not be separated from their noble nations--for they are truly noble nations--and that we might pray to God "on behalf of the union of all". It is our holy duty, to try to bring these nations, who fled due to the heresy of Eutyches, to return to the bosom of our Holy and Great Mother Church.
(+) Bishop Avgoustinos.
Recorded from a homily that occurred in the Holy Church of St. Euphemia, New Chalcedon, Athens, on 7/10/1960 during the festal Great Vespers of the Saint.
St. Euphemia the Great Martyr and All-praised (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

St. Paisios the Athonite on the Condition of the Modern World

This is a short but poignant audio recording of St. Paisios the Athonite with English subtitles in which he discusses the condition of modern man with regards to faith, works, thoughts, etc., and how to receive the true joy and peace of God. May he intercede to the Lord for us all and for all who are sick, suffering and distressed throughout the whole world! (source)
St. Paisios the Athonite (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!