Sunday, April 26, 2015

St. George Cathedral, Covasna, and Blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959)

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
From the interior of the Chapel of Panagia Pantanassa, St. George Cathedral, Covasna, Romania (source)
St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Covasna Romania, has dedicated one of its chapels to Panagia Pantanassa, the wondrous icon of the Theotokos from Vatopedi Monastery, through which many healings have occurred especially of cancer.
This church is also blessed to treasure among its holy relics, those of Blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) (see the link for the life of the Elder). As such, this chapel is adorned with beautiful icons from the life of Elder Joseph.
Elder Joseph in prayer while still a layman (source)
Elder Joseph receiving Holy Communion at the hands of an Angel (source)
Christ and the Theotokos appearing to Elder Joseph in a vision (source)
The repose of Elder Joseph on the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (source)
Elder Joseph was truly a spiritual giant of the 20th century, and continues to help thousands throughout the world through his example, his writings, and his prayers to the Lord. We pray that we all might have his blessing, and that we might soon celebrate his canonization by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Icons of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, St. George Cathedral, Covasna, Romania (source)
Christ is risen from the dead, by death, trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life!
Truly, the Lord is risen!

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Prison and Instruments of Torture of St. George the Trophy-bearer

St. George the Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer, being tortured on the wheel for Christ (source)

Pilgrims to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George (seat of the Patriarch of Alexandria) can have the opportunity to visit the purported prison where St. George the Trophy-bearer was held by the Emperor Diocletian, the chains that bound him, and some of the instruments of torture, including the wheel that he was tied to, but soon freed from by an Angel. Below are photos from the Greek site Agioritikovima and also from Mystagogy (see the respective links for more info).
I post this not at all to emphasize anything masochistic or macabre. The great sufferings of the Martyrs of Christ reveal their great love for Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, and from their great love for Him, they would sacrifice anything and endure everything. This is especially poignant, as there are Christians still today who are giving their lives for Christ throughout the world. May the example of the Martyrs inspire us all, whether in a small or great way, to sacrifice and live lives pleasing to Christ, Who suffered for us all and rose from the dead. To Him be glory and dominion unto the ages. Amen.
The wheel that St. George was tortured on (source)
Close-up on some of the instruments of St. George's torture (source)
The chains that bound St. George in prison (source)
Be entreated, O Lord, by the sufferings endured for You by the Saints, and we pray You, heal all our pain.
Christ is risen from the dead, by death, trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life! Truly the Lord is risen!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

St. Paisios Velichkovsky on the Jesus Prayer

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the World (source)
The Jesus Prayer is a work common to the angels and to men. With this prayer, men quickly approach the life of the Angels.

The Prayer is the source of all good deeds and virtues, and drives far away from man the dark passions. In a short time, it makes man worthy to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit. Obtain it, and before you die, you will obtain an angelic soul. The Prayer is divine rejoicing.

There is no other spiritual weapon that can so efficiently hinder the demons. It burns them like fire burns the brush.
-St. Paisios Velichkovsky
Christ is risen from the dead, by death, trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life! Truly the Lord is risen!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Homily on St. George the Trophy-bearer by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
St. George the Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer, offering to Christ his head, which was severed out of love for Him (Source)
Homily on St. George the Trophy-bearer by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes (+2010)
Today is the feast of one of the greatest martyrs of our faith, of St. George the Trophy-bearer. This feast coincides with the most beautiful season. And, as our church chants today, let us run to the fields to pick flowers and weave wreaths to crown the hero of our Christian faith.
But to pick flowers is the easiest thing. We must do something else today, something higher and greater. What is this? We must get to know who this St. George was. And through this, I will try to give you a short answer.
The homeland of St. George was Asia Minor. He was born in the area of Caesarea, and was a compatriot with St. Basil the Great. His parents were rich and noble. His father was martyred for Christ while St. George was still small in his cradle. His mother, who was only 20 years old then, was one of those mothers who believed in God. Because of this, she did not enter into a second marriage, like many do today, whose husbands have not even decomposed yet in the grave, when they are looking for a new man. No! In Asia Minor, there was one marriage, one and only. Like the birds, where if you kill one of a pair of mates, the other remains until the end crying in its cage. The same as then. I don't say that those who enter a second marriage sin, but that the primary marriage is the one which is blessed by God, the Holy Trinity, the All-Holy Spirit.
Therefore, his mother remained a widow. Are you listening you women, are you listening you men? These feasts did not occur so that we can eat and have a good time. They occurred so that we might live like the Saints. Then St. George blesses us and is with us.
The young widow had George when she was young. And together with her milk, she raised him and formed him. Blessed therefore is the mother. Behind every Saint is a mother. And behind St. George is a mother, who took him to her chest, and together with her milk, nursed him on the faith, the faith in Christ.
George, the only son of the widow of the martyr, grew and discerned his inclinations. Early, he decided to enlist and become a soldier. He joined the military, therefore. He was distinguished as a soldier and as a general. He was first in battles. He had the heart of a lion. Thus he reached the rank of soldier, and even higher, of commander.
But St. George, beyond military metals, had God. Because above everything else is God. Later, everything else comes as well. And if the faith in God is endangered, we must be ready to sacrifice metals and ranks and positions and staffs and miters and everything. A thousand times a monk on the Holy Mountain would die rather than betray Orthodoxy. A thousand times an honored soldier [would die] rather than a soldier who does not believe. A thousand times a villager who has God inside of him [would die], instead of an atheist scientist. A thousand times a worker or farmer that had God inside of him, instead of the riches of the world. This is our holy faith. Our Church does not come from the great and strong of the day, it is founded on the faith of the humble and down-trodden.
The hour of St. George's trial came. It was the time of the final persecution of the first centuries. On the throne of Rome was one of the wildest beasts, the Emperor Diocletian (284-304). He had wild hate against the Christians. Because of this he ordered that whoever was a Christian, should loose their rank, and if they remained in the faith, they would be put to death.
When the order arrived, George's hour had come. Before everyone, he confessed and said: “I am a Christian, and above the Emperor, I have Christ!”
Diocletian ordered him to be seized. They took removed his metals, they took his weapons, and they threw him bound into prison. From the heights to the depths! But he had joy and exaltation.
Should I now relate his martyrdoms? They are many. Whoever wishes to, read the Synaxarion to see. In short I will tell you. They beat his stomach with an iron rod. Afterwards, they put on him an iron helmet which around the inside had bloodletting nails, and they let them cut into the head of the Saint. His flesh was torn and the ground was covered [in blood]. Then they made him wear iron shoes with nails and forced him to run. Then, they put him in a pit of lime, to dissolve him. But the lime he conquered, and the iron he conquered, and everything else. This is not strange. Christ said this: Do not fear, you will tread upon scorpions and serpents, and not a hair from your head will fall, unless God desires it. (Luke 10:19, 21, 18, Matthew 10:29)

After these, outside of Caesarea, there was a temple of idols full of statues. They seized St. George therefore, and took him there, that he might sacrifice. He appeared with the face of an angel. He looked at the idols, and said with a loud voice: "In the name of Jesus the Nazarene, I ask you, O statues and idols, what are you?" And they responded: "We are not gods, but demons!" Then the Saint prayed, and immediately an earthquake struck the temple, and the statues fell and broke into pieces and dust.
And only this? And the other miracle of St. George is wondrous. Outside of Caesarea, in a ravine, there was a spring of beautiful water, but no one dared to approach it, because near there was a great dragon, a gigantic serpent, which would come out and eat men and beasts. St. George approached the spring with his spear. The beast growled, exited with speed and opened its huge mouth to swallow him. But St. George--let the faithless disbelieve, we believe--what did he do? He pierced it within its bowels and the beast was torn apart and died. Because of this, you see St. George in icons depicted on horseback with his spear, which on its tip has the Cross of the Lord, in order to kill the dragon.

These things seem unbelievable today. People of the world perceive these as myths. But we know that St. George did not only this, but things thousands of times higher occur. History is full of miracles worked by the Saints of our Faith, with the power of Christ. We have a living faith, totally alive, and we must love it and devote ourselves wholly to it.
This is, therefore, my beloved, the life of the Saint in short. Because of this, St. George is one of the most beloved Saints.

One more thing I want to tell you, and I'll stop. We saw the fearsome dragon which was at the spring, and did not allow anyone to refresh themselves. But besides that dragon, which St. George killed with his spear and with the Cross, in our days first and foremost, another dragon appears much worse than that dragon which St. George killed. And that worse dragon, which chokes all of mankind and endangers with the greatest destruction, is atheism, God-less materialism. With this dragon, our small country must struggle heroically, to not fall into its mouth.

Because of this, even though others might betray their faith and their ideals, you poor children, the heroic children of the Church and the fatherland, remain faithful to God, and struggle with bravery, chest to chest, for everything that is most-holy of our land.

With the help of St. George, we will go forward, we will overcome the obstacles.

I pray that you remain fixed and immovable in the faith, through the intercessions of St. George, and all the Saints. Amen.

+Bishop Avgoustinos
(From a homily in the Holy Church of St. George Lakkias, April 23rd, 1968. Amateur translation of text from source)
St. George the Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer, on horseback, killing the dragon (source)
Christ is risen from the dead, by death, trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life! Truly the Lord is risen!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

St. Nikolai Velimirovic on Christ appearing to St. Thomas

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
St. Thomas touching the Risen Christ (source)
"The Lord appeared this second time for Thomas' sake - for the sake of one man, one sinner. He who is surrounded by the angelic choirs that joyfully hail Him as Conqueror of death, leaves His heavenly flock and hastens to save one wandering sheep. Let all those who, coming to great glory and power in this world, forget their weak and humble friends and, with shame and scorn, draw back from them, be ashamed at His example. In His love for mankind, the Lord turned from no sort of humiliation or effort. In His love for mankind, He - glorified and almighty - came down a second time into one simple room in Jerusalem. Oh, that blessed room, out of which there poured more blessings on the human race that there could ever be from all the palaces of emperors!"
-St. Nikolai Velimirovic, "Homilies"
"The firmness of faith depends on God's grace. Who can comprehend the mysterious depths of God's providence? Who can say that God, in His providence, did not wish here to make use of Thomas' unbelief for the belief of many? In any case, two things have here been clearly shown: the terrible sickness of human nature, revealed in the stubborn unbelief of one of the apostles (who had innumerable reasons to believe), and God's most abundant wisdom and love. In His purity and holiness, God does not use evil that good may come, nor make use of evil means to achieve good ends, but, in His wisdom and His love for mankind, He corrects our evil ways and turns them to good."
-St. Nikolai Velimirovic, Homily: "The Gospel on the Apostle Thomas' Doubt and Faith"
St. Thomas touching the Risen Christ (source)
Christ is risen from the dead, by dead, trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life! Truly the Lord is risen!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

St. Raphael helps a pregnant woman

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
St. Raphael helps a pregnant woman (amateur translation)
I wanted to write to you of a miracle that St. Raphael worked for me. My name is Eleni X. from Alexandria, Hematheias. In November 2011, I learned from my gynecologist that I was pregnant with my second child. My doctor told me to return the next month, in other words, December to listen to the baby's heartbeat.

The time passed, and the day came that we were to do the ultrasound to hear the baby's heartbeat. We went to the doctor, and he puts the ultrasound on, and looks here and there, and nothing. The sac was larger than last time, but it was empty. Nothing was there. My husband and I froze. We heard the doctor tell us that he couldn't hear the baby's heartbeat, and he couldn't see any embryo. He called us into his office, and told us that we had to proceed with induction, so that there would not remain any products of conception, because there was a danger of causing sepsis and death. It was Tuesday when all of this took place. We set up the appointment for Friday (three days later). Those days, we were very saddened. I therefore called one of the fathers of the Brotherhood of St. Raphael, Ano Souli, Marathon, whom I met over the telephone, and who supported me with his good words, and with his blessings and prayers. Full of pain, I related to him everything that took place, and I entreated him to pray for me and for my child. He gave me courage and strength. He said that I shouldn't loose hope, but that I should have faith in God and His Saints. He said that he would pray for me, but that I must pray as well, and entreat St. Raphael to take up the situation, and that I should say to St. Raphael: "O saint Raphael, go ahead in front of me, and I will follow you!" This I did. Friday came, and we went to the doctor to do the procedure. We reached the doctor's office. The doctor was in the operating room, because he had a delivery. As soon as he finished, I would go have the procedure. I waited a short time together with my husband and a friend of ours.

The phone rang, and it was the doctor, who asked his employee if I had arrived yet, and told him that he was ready for the procedure. Then, the doctor said to wait because he wanted to see me first, because he wanted there to be no doubt [of no heartbeat] before the procedure. The doctor came down, and again put on the ultrasound.

My husband was sure that there was no baby, and so he was waiting outside. The doctor put on the machine, and what did he see!

My God, the little heart of the embryo was beating normally, and even I could see it!! The doctor lost it. He looked again 2-3 times. He went out perplexed to go look at his computer to see my history. (How could he know that St. Raphael's had his hand in the matter).

After a short time, he entered again to the ultrasound, and called my husband and told us that the procedure couldn't take place, because there was a little baby, and its little heart was beating normally. My joy was so great that it couldn't be described with words. We were so happy. We left the doctor and our first thought was to go with our friend to light a candle to St. Raphael.

We thanked St. Raphael from within our hearts for the miracle that he worked. He is my patron Saint, along with the Archangel Michael and our Panagia.

He helps us daily with his presence. I will thank him my whole life! I thank you for everything, my Saint Raphael!

Note: St. Raphael, other than being a protector of many sick people, is also a protector of pregnant women, as many women had experienced this, and he frequently appears himself in a dream, telling them to call upon him to protect them and those children that they are bearing, that they might be helped to have a good delivery.
Christ is risen from the dead, by dead, trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life! Truly the Lord is risen! 

St. Tounom the Emir (+1579)

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
St. Tounom the Emir - Commemorated on April 18th and on Bright Tuesday (source)
From Monk Parthenios, who visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 1846:
"At the Great Gates themselves, on the left side, stands a column made out of marble with a fissure from which the grace, that is, the Holy Fire, came forth. This column is honored by Orthodox as well as non-Orthodox, and even the Armenians. I would like to write a little about this incident, how the Orthodox Eastern Christians unanimously speak of it and the Turks themselves confirm it. In the wall there is an inscribed marble slab, and they say that this very incident is written on it; but we could not read it because it is written in Syrian letters, in the Arab tongue; and I only heard about it, but did not read it. But the incident happened something like this: At one time when the Greeks were completely oppressed by the Turkish yoke, some rich Armenians took it into their heads to force the Greeks out of the Holy Sepulchre and out of the Church of the Resurrection. They gathered a large sum of money and bribed the Ottoman Porte and all the Jerusalem authorities, assuring the unbelievers that the Holy Fire comes forth not simply for the sake of the Greeks, but for all Christians, and "if we Armenians are there, we also will receive it!" And the Turks, who are greedy for money, accepted the bribe and therefore did as the Armenians wished, and they affirmed that only the Armenians would be allowed to receive the Holy Fire. The Armenians rejoiced greatly and wrote to all their lands and to their faithful, that more of them should go on a pilgrimage. And a great multitude of them did come. Holy Saturday approached: the Armenians all gathered in the church, and the Turkish army drove the poor Greeks out. Oh, what unspeakable grief and sorrow filled the Greeks! There was only one comfort for them -- the Grave of the Saviour, and they were being kept away from it, and the Holy Gates were locked to them! The Armenians were inside the church and the Orthodox were on the streets. The Armenians were rejoicing and the Greeks were weeping. The Armenians were celebrating and the Greeks were bitterly lamenting! The Orthodox stood opposite the Holy Gates on the court and around them stood the Turkish army, watching so that there would not be a fight. The Patriarch himself with all the rest stood there with candles, hoping that they would at least receive the Fire from the Armenians through the window. But the Lord wished to dispose things in a different way, and to manifest His true Faith with a fiery finger and comfort His true servants, the humble Greeks. The time had already come when the Holy Fire issues forth, but nothing happened. The Armenians were frightened and began to weep, and ask God that He send them the Fire; but the Lord did not hear them. Already a half hour had passed and more, and still no Holy Fire. The day was clear and beautiful; the Patriarch sat to the right side. All of a sudden there was a clap of thunder, and on the left side the middle marble column cracked and out of the fissure a flame of fire came forth.

The pillar that was cracked and shows the signs of being burnt to this day, in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (source)
The Patriarch arose and lit his candles and all the Orthodox Christians lit theirs from his. Then all rejoiced, and the Orthodox Arabs from Jordan began to skip and cry out, "Thou art our one God, Jesus Christ; one is our True Faith, that of the Orthodox Christians!" And they began to run about all of Jerusalem and raise a din, and to shout all over the city. And to this day they still do this in memory of the incident and they jump and shout, running around the Holy Sepulchre, and they praise the one true God, Jesus Christ, and bless the Orthodox Faith. Beholding this wonder, the Turkish army, which was standing around on guard, was greatly amazed and terrified. From amongst them one named Omir [other places written as Tounom the Emir], who was standing at the St. Abraham's Monastery on guard, immediately believed in Christ and shouted, "One is the true God, Jesus Christ; one is the true faith, that of the Orthodox Christians!" And he jumped down to the Christians from a height of more than 35 feet. His feet landed on the solid marble as if though on soft wax. And to this day one can see his footprints imprinted as though in wax, although the non-Orthodox tried to erase them. I saw them with my own eyes and felt them with my own hands. And the column with the fissure still bears the scorch marks. As for Omir the soldier, having jumped down, he took his weapon and thrust it into the stone as though into soft wax, and began to glorify Christ unceasingly. For this, the Turks beheaded him and burned his body; the Greeks gathered up his bones, put them into a case and took them to the Convent of the Great Panagia, where they gush forth fragrance until this day."
St. Tounom The New Martyr (source)
Selected hymns to the New-martyr Tounom the Emir (amateur translations below)

Doxastikon of the Stichera
Plagal of the Second Tone
Today, as a radiant lamp shining on the heavenly firmament, is the memory of Tounom, who was enlightened by God, and he was the deposer of error, mystically shining upon the hearts of the faithful. For he, having beheld the Holy Light mystically, saw it sent from God to the pillar in the courtyard of the Church of the Resurrection, and lighting the lamps of the Orthodox, who were locked out by the wrath of the Heterodox. This dissolved the darkness of faithlessness, and this made him a confessor, and a fervent preacher, and now he is an inheritor of the heavenly Kingdom, as a confessor and all-perfect Martyr, who ceaselessly intercedes to Christ that we be granted the good transformation before our end.

Doxastikon of the Aposticha
Plagal of the Fourth Tone
He Who sent down from on high the Holy Light like a tongue of fire upon the Orthodox Patriarch alone, and consumed and rent the pillar of the courtyard of the All-sacred Church of the Resurrection, filled you with wonder, and changed you towards the good, O Martyr Tounom, therefore you were born again as not only a confessor, but also a Martyr of piety. You became an inheritor of the good things prepared as reward for the world, and you beheld the Lord, the Giver-of-Light. Do not cease to intercede that He might dissolve the darkness of soul-destroying ignorance and the trials of life.

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone.
Like the Thief who cried, "Remember me", O Christ, at the eleventh hour, and proceeded to faith in Christ, Tounom the Emir steadfastly suffered with holiness at the hour of the receiving of the Holy Light by the Orthodox. Let us honor him with hymns.

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone.
Let us hymn him who beheld the Holy Light as fire descending strangely upon the Orthodox, in the pillar of the courtyard of the Church of the Resurrection, and was changed for the good, and became a preacher of Christ and a Martyr at the eleventh hour. Let us cry out with fervor: Rejoice, O blessed Tounom.
A perfect Champion, you were shown to be before your end, O Tounom the Emir, honored by God, for you saw the Holy Light descending strangely upon those of true dogma, and you faithfully glorified Christ, Who rose radiantly. We cry out to you:
Rejoice, O lamp of Jerusalem,
Rejoice, energy of noble Martyrs.
Rejoice, wondrous adornment of the faith,
Rejoice, holy impress of struggle.
Rejoice, for you confessed Christ before your end,
Rejoice, for you drove out the error of the sons of Hagar.
Rejoice for you increased the army of the Lord,
Rejoice, you who struggled perfectly as in the stadium.
Rejoice, the deposing of the error of the faithless,
Rejoice, the boast of Martyrs of the faith.
Rejoice, you who were equal to the [Good] Thief,
Rejoice, you who took up Christ's calling.
Rejoice, O blessed Tounom.
On the 18th of this Month (or Bright Tuesday), the Holy New Martyr Tounom the Emir, who believed through the miracle of the Holy Light in the year 1579, and was perfected with in fire.

The Holy Light, O Tounom, enlightened your darkness,
Leading you towards Christ, the Light of the world.

Doxastikon of the Praises
Plagal of the First Tone
Let us praise the Martyr of Jerusalem, who came forth as a rose from among thorns, pouring forth fragrance through his martyrical confession for the world. Let us cry out: O Tounom who was glorified by God, who received the crown of the eleventh hour from the hands of the Lord, Who grants the rewards to the last as to the first, and made you worthy to partake of the Tree of Life in the heavenly pasture. Do not cease to intercede on behalf of those who honor your memory.

Rejoice, O you who confessed the name of Christ, having seen the divine Light, O martyr Tounom, the lamp of the Orthodox, and lamp-lighter of the Martyrs, who received a crown.
The Resurrection of Christ (source)
Christ is risen from the dead, by dead, trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life! Truly the Lord is risen!