Tuesday, January 29, 2013

St. Romanos on Christ as the True Physician

The following is an excerpt from the famed Kontakion of St. Romanos the Melodist "On the Passion and the Mourning of the Theotokos", the first two strophes of which form the Kontakion and Oikos of the Orthros of Holy Friday. The full Greek text is available here, and the full English translation is available from Fr. Ephraim Lash here. Below is my amateur translation.

In the 13th strophe, St. Romanos, in an absolutely beautiful and fascinating metaphor, compares Christ and the instruments of His Passion to a physician with his medical tools. This is a vivid image of  how Christ's passion truly is healing for our broken souls and bodies. May He have mercy on us all and save us!
   
Jesus Christ "Extreme Humility", with the Most-holy Theotokos (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
   
ιγ´
Μικρὸν οὖν, ὦ μῆτερ, ἀνασχοῦ καὶ βλέπεις, 
πῶς καθάπερ ἰατρὸς ἀποδύομαι καὶ φθάνω 
ὅπου κεῖνται, 
καὶ ἐκείνων τὰς πληγὰς περιοδεύω, 
τέμνων ἐν τῇ λόγχῃ τὰ πωρώματα αὐτῶν καὶ τὴν σκληρίαν, 
λαμβάνω καὶ ὄξος, καὶ ἐπιστύφω τὴν πληγήν, 
τῇ σμίλῃ τῶν ἥλων ἀνευρύνας τὴν τομὴν χλαίνη μοτώσω, 
καὶ δὴ τὸν σταυρόν μου ὡς νάρθηκα ἔχων 
τούτῳ χρῶμαι, μῆτερ, ἵνα ψάλλῃς συνετῶς, 
«πάσχων πάθος ἔλυσεν 
ὁ υἱὸς καὶ θεός μου».

   

XIII.
A short time, O Mother, wait and you will see
How as a physician I strip myself and go
Where [the sick man] is laid,
And examine his wounds,
Lancing with the Spear his wounds and callouses,
And taking vinegar, I disinfect the wound,
Exploring the incision with the probe of the Nails,
Applying the [Purple] Robe as a dressing,
And having my Cross as a splint.
These I make use of, O Mother, that you might chant with understanding,
“By suffering the passion, You dissolved the passions,
My Son and my God.”
   
Christ as the Good Samaritan, 6th Century Codex Rossanensis (source)
   
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, January 28, 2013

St. Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Ninevah and Great Hesychast


St. Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Ninevah and Great Hesychast - Commemorated on January 28 and September 28 (source)
   
Saint Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Ninevah, lived during the sixth century. He and his brother entered the monastery of Mar Matthew near Ninevah and received the monastic tonsure. His learning, virtue, and ascetic manner of life attracted the notice of the brethren, and they proposed that he head the monastery. St Issac did not want this burden, preferring a life of silence, so he left the monastery to live alone in the desert. 

His brother urged him more than once to return to the monastery, but he would not agree. However, when the fame of St Isaac's holy life had spread, he was made Bishop of Ninevah. Seeing the crude manners and disobedience of the inhabitants of the city, the saint felt that it was beyond his ability to guide them, and moreover, he yearned for solitude. 

Once, two Christians came to him, asking him to settle a dispute. One man acknowledged that he owed money to the other, but asked for a short extension. The lender threatened to bring his debtor to court to force him to pay. St Isaac, citing the Gospel, asked him to be merciful and give the debtor more time to pay. The man said, "Leave your Gospel out of this!" St Isaac replied, "If you will not submit to Lord's commandments in the Gospel, then what remains for me to do here?" After only five months as bishop, St Isaac resigned his office and went into the mountains to live with the hermits. Later, he went to the monastery of Rabban Shabur, where he lived until his death, attaining a high degree of spiritual perfection. 

From the early eighth century until the beginning of the eighteenth century, nothing was known about St Isaac of Syria in Europe except for his name and works. Only in 1719 was a biography of the saint published at Rome, compiled by an anonymous Arab author. In 1896, more information on St Isaac came to light. The learned French soteriologist Abbot Chabot published some eighth century works on Syrian history by Iezudena, bishop of Barsa, where the account of St Isaac the Syrian was found.
(source)
    
Sts. Ephraim and Isaac the Syrians (source)
   
St. Paisios and St. Isaac
In the Greek Orthodox calendar there is no official feast day of St. Isaac the Syrian. Traditionally, however, he has been celebrated on January 28th together with the other great Syriac father of the Church, St. Ephraim the Syrian. The Slavic Churches celebrate St. Isaac officially on January 28th.

Not too many years ago Elder Paisios (+1993) sought to change this fact due to his great veneration for St. Isaac. He commissioned a Service to be written in his honor and chose to celebrate his feast on September 28th. The Service was written by the eminent hymnographer Fr. Gerasimos Mikragiannanites (+ 2002). Today the feast of St. Isaac is celebrated on Mount Athos on September 28th.

Furthermore, the first church dedicated to St. Isaac was built on Mount Athos, in the cell of a monk of the brotherhood of Elder Paisios in Kapsala.

Elder Paisios, who would read the Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac beneath the icon of the Saint, would say of St. Isaac: "If anyone went to a psychiatric hospital and read to the patients Abba Isaac, all those who believed in God would get well, because they would recognize the deeper meaning of life."

He also said:

"First you must read the GerontikonPhilotheos History, and Evergetinos. All these books are practical not theoretical. Their simple patristic spirit and holiness will help you remove secular logic from your mind. Next, you should read Abba Isaac, and this way you will not see him as a philosopher, but as a man illumined by God."

It should also be noted that before the establishment of September 28th as the feast of St. Isaac by Elder Paisios, when he heard rumors that scholars accused St. Isaac of being a Nestorian, he prayed about this situation. Through divine revelation it was revealed to him that in fact St. Isaac was Orthodox and he wrote in his Menaion for January 28th the following words after the description of the feast of St. Ephraim the Syrian: "...and Isaac the Great Hesychast and much unjustly accused."

Below is the text of the Service in honor of St. Isaac commissioned by Elder Paisios. It is distributed by the Kalyva of the Resurrection of Christ in Kapsala on Mount Athos, where lived Fr. Isaac of Lebanon, a spiritual child of Elder Paisios. His ascetical tradition is maintained by Fr. Euthymios and his brotherhood.

(source)
   
St. Isaac the Syrian (source)
   
Selected quotes of St. Isaac the Syrian

  • What salt is for any food, humility is for every virtue. To acquire it, a man must always think of himself with contrition, self-belittlement and painful salf-judgment. But if we acquire it, it will make us sons of God.
  • Let us love silence till the world is made to die in our hearts. Let us always remember death, and in this thought draw near to God in our heart--and the pleasures of this world will have our scorn.
  •  Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind. Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God.
  • As a man whose head is under water cannot inhale pure air, so a man whose thoughts are plunged into the cares of this world cannot absorb the sensations of that new world.
  • It is a spiritual gift from God for a man to perceive his sins.
  • Ease and idleness are the destruction of the soul and they can injure her more than the demons.
  • The purpose of the advent of the Saviour, when He gave us His life-giving commandments as purifying remedies in our passionate state, was to cleanse the soul from the damage done by the first transgression and bring it back to its original state. What medicines are for a sick body, that the commandments are for the passionate soul.
  • A life of spiritual endeavor is the mother of sanctity; from it is born the first experience of perception of the mysteries of Christ--which is called the first stage of spiritual knowledge.
  • To bear a grudge and pray, means to sow seed on the sea and expect a harvest.
  • A small but persistent discipline is a great force; for a soft drop tailing persistently, hollows out hard rock.
  • The key to Divine gifts is given to the heart by love of neighbor, and, in proportion to the heart's freedom from the bonds of the flesh, the door of knowledge begins to open before it.
  • Dispassion does not mean that a man feels no passions, but that he does not accept any of them.
  • This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.

   
Note: the full Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian has recently been republished in English by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, MA.
   
St. Isaac the Syrian (source)
   


Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone
He that thundered on Sinai with saving laws for man hath also given thy writings as guides in prayer unto monks, O revealer of unfathomable mysteries; for having gone up in the mount of the vision of the Lord, thou wast shown the many mansions. Wherefore, O God-bearing Isaac, entreat the Saviour for all praising thee.
   
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
As an ascetic and God-bearer great in righteousness and an instructor of monastics do we honour thee, thou revealer of things sacred, and our protector. But, O Isaac, since thou hast great boldness with the Lord, intercede with Him for all of us who sing thy praise and who cry to thee: Rejoice, O Father most wise in God.
 © Holy Transfiguration Monastery (source)
   
Oikos (amateur translation below)
An Angel in asceticism, in the flesh, you were shown to be, O all-blessed God-bearer Isaac, and through your angelic voice, you imparted to us words of salvation, and we who are led towards the life to come, cry out to you:
Hail, the star from Syria,
Hail, the lamp of hesychia.
Hail, you who overcame daily cares,
Hail, partaker of heavenly illumination.
Hail, God-inscribed pillar of holy Hesychasts,
Hail, sweet-flowing mouth of spiritual teachings.
Hail, for you were filled with God-given wisdom,
Hail, for you deliver from evil passions.
Hail, most-fervent healer of Christ,
Hail, our godly teacher.
Hail, O wise God-bearer Isaac,
Hail, our godly guide.
Hail, O Father most wise in God.

Synaxarion
On the 28th of this month (September), we keep the memory of our Righteous and God-bearing Father Isaac the Syrian, who was the Bishop of the city of Ninevah.
   
Verses
There is need to praise Isaac the Venerable,
For through him, we bring to mind the things to come.
On the 28th, I behold the imperishable boast that is Isaac.
   
Doxastikon of the Aposticha in the Second Tone
The equal to the angels in asceticism, and divine-appearing in virtues, Isaac the godly-minded one, let us praise with hymns and odes, for rising as a phoenix, being watered through streams of tears, he brought forth fruit through the activity of the Spirit for the Church of Christ. And he intercedes ceaselessly to Christ, the Giver-of-Light, that we be granted mercy, and the remission of offenses.
   
Doxastikon of the Praises in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The fear of things to come ordered your life, and you abandoned corrupting notions from your soul, O Venerable one, through much hesychia and continence and nepsis, you inscribed upon your nous the ascetical way of life, and from the treasure of your heart, you bestow upon all saving teachings. And therefore, our Father Isaac, as you stand before the Three-sun light [of the Holy Trinity], deliver us from the darkness of passions.
   
Megalynarion
Hail, O divine canon of hesychia, hail, O wise teacher of monastics, hail, you who offer the grace of your word to everyone, O venerable Isaac.
(source)

   
St. Isaac the Syrian, his scroll reading: "Above all, love silence..." (source)
   
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, January 25, 2013

St. Silouan the Athonite: "The best church of God..."

Icon of Christ: "Angel of Silence" (source)
 
St. Silouan the Athonite: "The best church of God..."
In churches are served the holy services, and the spirit of God dwell within them. The soul, however, is the best church of God, and whoever prayers internally, for him the whole world has become a church of God.

This, however, is not for everyone. Many pray externally, or prefer to pray with books. This is also good, and the Lord accepts their prayer.

If someone, however, prays, but thinks about other things, the Lord does not hearken to his prayer.
(source)
 
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

St. Makarios the Great on Christians and the World


St. Makarios the Great (source)
 
St. Makarios the Great on Christians and the World (from HOMILY 4)
 1. THE world of Christians, and their way of life, and their mind, and discourse, and practice, is one thing; and that of the men of this world, another. And the difference between them is very wide. For the children of this world are tossed to and fro by unsettled seasonings, by earthly desires, and a variety of gross imaginations, whereby SATAN is continually sifting the whole sinful race of men.
2. For the word that was spoken to Cain by his Maker, “You shall go mourning and trembling, and be tossed about upon' the earth," is a type and image of all sinners, as to their inward state. For thus is the race of Adam tossed about with the incessant suggestions of fear and dread, and every kind of disturbance, the prince of this world tossing to and fro the soul that is not born of God; and variously disturbing the thoughts of mankind, as corn that is continually shifted about in a sieve; and shaking and ensnaring them all in worldly deceits, and the lusts of the flesh, with fears and troubles.
3. As from one Adam the whole race of mankind was spread over the earth,-so one taint in the affections was derived down into the sinful stock of men; and the prince of malice is sufficiently able to shift them all in restless, and gross, and vain, and troublesome reflections. For as one and the same wind is enough to stir, and shake all plants and seeds whatever,-so the prince of wickedness, as an hidden and blustering wind, tosseth to and fro all the race of men upon earth, and, carries them about with unsettled thoughts, and enticing them with the lusts of the world, fills every soul with ignorance, blindness, and oblivion, if it is not born from above.
4. For in this do true Christians differ from the whole race of mankind besides. They have their heart and mind constantly taken up with the thoughts of heaven; and, through the presence and participation of the Holy Spirit, do behold, as in a glass, the good things which are eternal, being born of GOD from above, and thought worthy to become the children of GOD in truth and power; and being arrived, through many conflicts and labors, to a settled and fixed state, to an exemption from trouble, to perfect rest, are never sifted more by unsettled and vain thoughts.Herein are they greater and better than the world; their mind and the desire of their soul are in the peace of CHRIST, and the love of the Spirit; a they have passed from death to life." Wherefore the alteration peculiar to Christians does not consist in any outward fashions, but in the renovation of the mind, and the peace of the thoughts, and the love of the Lord, even the heavenly love. Herein Christians differ from all men besides. The Lord has given them truly to believe on him, and to be worthy of those spiritual good things. For the glory, and the beauty, and the heavenly riches of Christians are inexpressible, and purchased only with labor, and pains, and trials, and many conflicts. But the whole is owing to the grace of God.

 5. Now if the sight of. even an earthly king is desired by all men, (except those persons that are spiritual, who look upon all his glory as nothing, through their having experimentally known another heavenly glory;) if, I say, the men of this world are so desirous to behold an earthly king, with his splendor and glory-how much more are those upon whom that dew of the Spirit of life has dropped, and wounded their hearts with love for CHRIST; bound fast to that beauty, and the unspeakable glory, and the inconceivable riches of the true and eternal King; with desire and long- suffering after whom they are captivated, turning wholly to him, to obtain those unspeakable good things, which through the Spirit they actually behold already; and for whose sake they esteem all the glories, and honors, and riches of earthly kings as nothing? 
6. For they arc wounded with the Divine beauty; their desire is towards the heavenly King; and placing him only before their eyes in the abundance of their affection, they, for his sake, disengage themselves from all love of the world, and draw back from every earthly clog, that so they may be able ever to retain in their hearts that only desire. And they that are Christians in truth and power, rejoice at their departure out of the flesh, because they have " that house which is not made with hands." And therefore, if the house of the body be destroyed, they are in no fear; for they have the heavenly "house of the Spirit," and that "glory which is incorruptible." 
7. Let us therefore strive by faith to be possessed of that clothing, that when we resume the body, there be nothing wanting which may glorify our flesh in that day. For every one, so far as he has been thought worthy by faith to be made partaker of the Holy Spirit, in the same proportion shall his body also be glorified in that day. For that which the soul has treasured up within, in this present life, shall then be made manifest outwardly in the body.
8. For as the trees that have got over the winter do, by an invisible power, put forth from within, and shoot out leaves., and flowers, and fruits, as their clothing.and in like manner, as the flowers of the grass come out of the bosom of the earth, and the earth is covered and clothed-so, in the, day of the resurrection, and through the power of the a Sun of Righteousness," there shooteth out from within the glory of the Holy Spirit, covering the bodies of the saints, which glory they had before, within hidden in their souls. For whatever (the soul) has at present, the same comes forth at that time outwardly in the body.
9. Therefore ought every -one of us to strive, and be diligent in all virtue, and to believe and to seek it of the Lord; that the inward man may be made partaker of that glory in this present life, and have that holiness of the Spirit, that we may have at the resurrection wherewith to cover our naked bodies, and refresh us to all eternity in the kingdom of heaven. For CHRIST will come down from heaven, and raise to life all the kindred of Adam that have slept from the beginning of the world and he shall separate them all into two divisions; and them that have his own mark, that is, the seal of the Spirit, he shall place on his right hand. And then shall the bodies of these -be surrounded with a Divine glory from their good works, and themselves shall be full of the glory of the Spirit, which they had in their souls in this present life. So that, being thus glorified in the Divine light, and snatched away to " meet the Lord in the air, we," as it is- written, "shall ever be with the Lord," reigning with him world without end. Amen.
   
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

St. Paisios: "Abortions are a terrible sin"

An instructive image: Christ, the Most-holy Theotokos and St. Stylianos blessing and protecting those who carry the blessed Cross of family life in Christ. A repentant woman wails of her sin of abortion. To the right, the New Herod of Abortion is depicted personified, with the physician helping her, and women bringing them their babes out of love of pleasure, hardness of heart, indifference, etc. (source)
 
Note: Here Elder Paisios, with the divine illumination that he has, shares what a terrible sin and blight upon the entire world the sin of abortion is. He (and I) are not using this as a ruse to support any specific political candidate or party. And the Elder would never support those who would use violence to make a statement against abortion providers or patients. But may his words grant us all the contrition to realize how great a sin abortion is, and how we might all return to Christ in repentance, acknowledging the sacred image of God that is every human being, even from our mother's womb.
 
St. Paisios: "Abortions are a terrible sin" (amateur translation)
-Elder, one forty year-old woman, who has grown children, is three months pregnant. Her husband threatened that, if she does not have an abortion, he would leave her.

If she has an abortion, her other children would pay with sicknesses and accidents. Today, parents kill their children with abortions and do not have the blessing from God. In olden times, if a small child was born sick, they would baptize him, and he would die like an angel, and was more secured.

Parents had other older children, but they also had the blessing of God. Today, they kill their older children through abortions, as they strive to keep them alive while they are sick. Parents run to England, to America to heal them. And they continue to bear children even more sick, because they, if they sought to make a family, they could again give birth to sick children, at which point, what would happen? If they bore a few children, they would not run so much for the one who is sick. He would die and go forth as a little angel.

-Elder, I read once that every year, in total there are 50 million abortions and 200,000 women die from complications.

They kill the children because they say that, if the population would increase, there would not be enough to eat, in order for humanity to be preserved. There are so many uncultivated areas, so many woods, so that, with today's tools, for example, they could plant olive groves to give to the poor. It's not that they would cut the trees and there would be no Oxygen, because there would be trees to replace them.

In America, the wheat burns, and here in Greece, the fruit falls into the rubbish heap, etc. while in Africa, the people are dying from hunger. When people were dying from hunger in Abyssinia, because they had a great drought, I told a well-known ship-owner friend to help in these circumstances, to go to the rubbish dump and to load up a boat to take [the surplus foodstuffs] there for free. They didn't allow him to do this under any circumstance.

-How many thousands of embryos are killed every day!

Abortion is a terrible sin. It is murder, and of course a very great murder, to kill unbaptized children. Parents must understand that life begins from the instant of conception.

One night, God allowed me to see a terrible vision, to inform me regarding this matter! It was the evening of the Tuesday of Bright Week 1984. I had lit two candles in two tin cans, as I always do even while asleep, for all those who suffer spiritually or bodily. To those I include the living and the reposed. At midnight, as I was saying the [Jesus] Prayer, I saw a great field surrounded by a fence, studded by wheat that had just begun to grow. I stood outside the field, and I lit candles for the reposed and placed them on the wall of the fence.

To the left there was a dry place, full of rocks and cliffs, which was shaking continuously from a very strong cry from thousands of voices that break your heart and make you shudder. And even the toughest man, if he would hear it, would be unable to remain unmoved. As I was experiencing these heartbreaking cries, I asked within where these voiced were coming from, and what was happening with all that I saw, and I heard a voice tell me: “The field studded with wheat that has just sprouted, is the Cemetery with the souls of the dead that would be raised. At the place which was shaking from the heartbreaking cries are found the souls of children who were killed through abortions!”

Following this vision, I was unable to rest from the great pain that I experienced for the souls of the children. I could neither lie down to rest, though I had been busy that whole day.

-Elder, can something be done to remove the law regarding abortions?

Yes, but the Nation, the Church, etc. must be moved to inform the people about the consequences of declining birth rates. The Priest should explain to the world that the law regarding abortions is against the commandments of the Gospel. Doctors, from their own positions, should speak of the risks that follow the woman who has an abortion. See, the Europeans had royalty, and left this as an inheritance for their children. We had the fear of God, but we lost it and did not leave an inheritance for the next generation, and for this we legalize abortions, political marriage, [etc.]...When a man disobeys one commandment of the Gospel, he alone is responsible. When, however, something that clashes with the commandments of the Gospel becomes the law of the land, then the wrath of God falls upon the whole nation, that it may be chastened.
   
Christ blessing the children: "Let the children come to me, and do not forbid them, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven..." (source)
   
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Selected hymns to St. Anthony the Great

St. Anthony the Great (source)
 
Selected hymns to St. Anthony the Great
   

Stichera in Tone 4. Called from on high.
You were enlightened by the rays of the Spirit when love inspired by God set you aflame and gave wings to your soul to long for the true highest point of love. Then you despised both flesh and blood and, united to this love by great ascetic toil and stillness, you lived far from the world. Therefore, Antony, you were filled, as you had sought, with good things from there, and, like a shining Star, gave light to our souls.

By the grace of God’s Spirit you smashed the arrows and darts of the demons, and you unmasked their wickedness and ambush for all by godlike teachings, as you blazed with godlike radiance and became the brightest beacon of monastics, and the first ornament of the desert, most experienced and revered physician of the sick and archetypal model of virtuous living, Father Antony.
          
Filled with God’s gifts of grace, Christ, having found you as an unsullied mirror of the manifestations of God, made the bright lightning flashes of his own light blaze for you. From this you appeared as an unstinted source of healings, nourishment for the starving and quenching through abundant rains the desire of the thirsty, while seeing the dispositions of souls, by your word you wisely made them better for God. Implore him to save and enlighten our souls.
   
Pure in soul and heart, an Angel on earth, a heavenly mortal, teacher of virginity, accurate measure of self-mastery, blessed Antony, united to your Master and bringing to him with the Angels, all the holy Ascetics and Martyrs the never silent hymn of glory, free from dread dangers and faults all those who ever celebrate your sacred memory.
   
GloryTone 6. By Sykeotes.
Having preserved unblemished that which is according to God’s image, by ascetic endeavour determining the mind as leader against destructive passions, you ascended as far as possible to that which is according to God’s likeness. For bravely overmastering nature, you hastened to submit the worse to the better, and to make the flesh the slave of the spirit. Therefore you were named ‘summit of monastics’, ‘founder of the desert’, ‘trainer of those who run well’, ‘most accurate rule of virtue’, and now in heaven, Antony, where mirrors are abolished, you look directly at the holy Trinity, appealing with no intermediary on behalf of those who honour you with faith and love.
   
St. Anthony the Great (source)
   
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Imitating the manners of Elijah the Zealot, and following the straight paths of John the Baptist, O Father Anthony, you colonized the desert, and you supported the Empire by your prayers. Therefore intercede with Christ our God to save our souls.
   
Kontakion
You retreated from the tumult of daily life and led your life in stillness, imitating John the Baptist in every way. We honor you and him together, most holy Father of Fathers, Saint Anthony.
   
Oikos
Heeding the voice of the Lord, you followed after His commandments. You stripped off the worldly life, and rid your- self of all concern for money, property, and servants, and even the love of your sister, O God-bearer Anthony. Then you most clearly conversed with God alone, and you received the grace of spiritual knowledge. Send me this knowledge, as I am about to sing your praise, most holy Father of Fathers, Saint Anthony.
   
Doxastikon of the Praises
You boarded a chariot that rode the heavens, and by ascetic endeavor you reached the pinnacle of the virtues, O God-inspired Saint. And coming from the desert, you reached the transcendent destination of the Jerusalem on high. You worthily received the honors for your laborious efforts, and you rejoice together with the celestial hierarchies, O all-blessed one, as an heir to eternal blessings and a resident of the Kingdom. We pray you, O God-bearing Father Anthony, to intercede with the Savior of all, that He grant peace to the world and that He save our souls.
   
St. Anthony the Great (source)
   
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"I am Raphael...Remember it, for sometime you will need me"


St. Raphael of Lesvos, the Newly-revealed Hieromartyr and Wonderworker (source)
   
"I am Raphael..." (amateur translation)
I share, with great moving feelings and longing, after a whole 18 years, to my Christian brethren, the great miracle which St. Raphael worked for my family.

After our marriage, we had three sons. Our third son was born premature, in October 1994, at 30 weeks of pregnancy. He remained for a period of time in the incubator, during which he was able to withstand, and grow like a normal child.We rejoiced, and there was nothing to cast a shadow on our happiness.

Like every summer, the summer of 1994 (18 years ago), we spent our vacation at our home on the island. One day at noon, having paged through a weekly periodical and solved crossword puzzles, I fell asleep. Then I saw a strange dream: A monk with a dark gray robe, with a sharp and well-defined beard, of medium height, stood straight amid sparse vegetation and short trees.

“I am Raphael,” he told me, and he pointed with his hand at a rocky cave near him, as he continued: “Here is my home. Remember it, for sometime you will need me. Remember my name!”

I awoke.

“Raphael,” I thought, “I don't know any Saint named Raphael.” Not wishing to forget my name, I wrote it down on the periodical which I was reading before I went to sleep. Later, I continued my mid-day sleep, not knowing what a great role this dream would play a few days later.

When I awoke, I asked my mother if she knew of some Saint with that name. “No” was her response.

The days passed and our vacation came to an end. We returned to our home in Nea Makri. Everything returned to its daily pace. One day, straightaway my small son (who was 9 months at the time) was playing in his play pen, when he fell on the side, between his toys. He looked as if he were dying. He was dark, and covered with sweat, and his stomach was moving in and out like a baby bird on its last breath. Immediately, we took him to the hospital, where the doctors diagnosed unconsciousness. Most likely, they said, some small toy was in his mouth, and for awhile, it blocked his breathing. Nothing significant. Thus we returned home. However, the same day, he experienced the same event for a second and third and fourth times. At that point, we took him to the children's hospital. The doctors, after many tests, diagnosed him with some problem in his brain. A problem that would follow him for the rest of his life.

Above medical diagnosis, however, and beyond medical therapy, stands our religion with her Saints. Thus, amidst our worry and distress, when I though that my life turned black, and that the joy from my family would be lost forever, the door to the department opened, and an old woman entered, selling icons of Saints for her living. In her large back, my eyes happened to fall on one icon. It was of St. Raphael.

“Take the icon, my child.”

Then I remembered the dream that I had seen. That same day, I called a pediatrician relative of ours, who told me: “Where we physicians stop, the Saints continue. Tomorrow, my mother-in-law will complete a vow of hers to St. Raphael in Mytilene, and will light a candle for the child.”

Then I understood that I was not alone and helpless as I had thought. And the miracle did not wait, for St. Raphael led me to him through these two events, bringing to mind my dream. Therefore, day and night I entreated St. Raphael to heal my child: “O my Saint Raphael, pray for us, help us, do not leave us without help in bearing this Cross.”

Later, I was thinking that temptations are for all men... “You know, O Saint Raphael, you will lead us. If you think that this is the will of our God, help us to think that our Cross is lighter.”

Days passed. The doctors came to their conclusions. These events in my child seemed epileptic. The medical treatment that they came my child was treatment for epilepsy. However, Saint Raphael had worked his miracle, for amidst epilepsy, the new tests did not show anything wrong with my child's brain, that he was not in any danger.

Several days later, we visited Panagia of Tinos, in order to light a candle for the health of the child, and to thank her for the great gift that she gave us through her intercessions. On the road to this pilgrimage, a small boy came up to us.

“Do you know what my name is?” he asked.

“What's your name, my boy?”

“Raphael, ma'am.” And he disappeared into the crowd. He disappeared like an angel. I could not understand this. However, to me, at that instant, he appeared like an angel of the Lord, saying: “Saint Raphael is the one who saved your child. You should thank him.” And in reality, St. Raphael worked a great miracle for us. The months passed, and all of the medical tests all diverged, and even more than before, my child continued to grow without any problem with his health at all.

We thank St. Raphael, who made us strong like iron. And all these years, we would visit every church that treasured Holy Relics of the Saint to venerate. 18 whole years have passed. One day, we saw a sign on the street, calling the faithful to the feast of St. Raphael in Ano Souli of Marathon. Who would have thought that the Saint who had brought joy again to our home, was so near our home for all these years. My greater astonishment was when I visited the Monastery of St. Raphael in Ano Souli, I saw the place that St. Raphael was indicating in my dream 18 years before, when he told me: “This is my home.”

May his name be glorified, who made me worthy, after so many years, to be found at “his home”, and to venerate his grace! May the whole world have his protection!

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, January 14, 2013

St. Nina (Nino) the Equal-to-the-Apostles, and Enlightener of Georgia


St. Nina (Nino) the Equal-to-the-Apostles, and Enlightener of Georgia - Commemorated on January 14 (source)
 
The virgin Nino of Cappadocia was a relative of Great-martyr George and the only daughter of a widely respected and honorable couple. Her father was a Roman army chief by the name of Zabulon, and her mother, Sosana, was the sister of Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem. When Nino reached the age of twelve, her parents sold all their possessions and moved to Jerusalem. Soon after, Nino’s father was tonsured a monk. He bid farewell to his family and went to labor in the wilderness of the Jordan. 



Two Saints and Kinsmen: St. George the Trophy-bearer, and St. Nino the Equal-to-the-Apostles (source)
 
After Sosana had been separated from her husband, Patriarch Juvenal ordained her a deaconess. She left her daughter Nino in the care of an old woman, Sara Niaphor, who raised her in the Christian Faith and related to her the stories of Christ’s life and His suffering on earth. It was from Sara that Nino learned how Christ’s Robe had arrived in Georgia, a country of pagans. 



St. Nina of Georgia and her holy parents (source)
 
Soon Nino began to pray fervently to the Theotokos, asking for her blessing to travel to Georgia and be made worthy to venerate the Sacred Robe that she had woven for her beloved Son. The Most Holy Virgin heard her prayers and appeared to Nino in a dream, saying, “Go to the country that was assigned to me by lot and preach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will send down His grace upon you and I will be your protector.” 



St. Nino of Georgia (source)
 
But the blessed Nino was overwhelmed at the thought of such a great responsibility and answered, “How can I, a fragile woman, perform such a momentous task, and how can I believe that this vision is real?” In response, the Most Holy Theotokos presented her with a cross of grapevines and proclaimed, “Receive this cross as a shield against visible and invisible enemies!” 



The Theotokos appearing to St. Nina and giving her the Holy Cross (source)
 
When she awoke, Nino was holding the cross in her hands. She dampened it with tears of rejoicing and tied it securely with strands of her own hair. (According to another source, the Theotokos bound the grapevine cross with strands of her own hair.) 



The Holy Cross of St. Nina of Georgia (source)
 
Nino related the vision to her uncle, Patriarch Juvenal, and revealed to him her desire to preach the Gospel in Georgia. Juvenal led her in front of the Royal Doors, laid his hands on her, and prayed, “O Lord, God of Eternity, I beseech Thee on behalf of my orphaned niece: Grant that, according to Thy will, she may go to preach and proclaim Thy Holy Resurrection. O Christ God, be Thou to her a guide, a refuge, and a spiritual father. And as Thou didst enlighten the Apostles and all those who feared Thy name, do Thou also enlighten her with the wisdom to proclaim Thy glad tidings.”

When Nino arrived in Rome, she met and baptized the princess Rhipsimia and her nurse, Gaiana. At that time the Roman emperor was Diocletian, a ruler infamous for persecuting Christians. Diocletian (284–305) fell in love with Rhipsimia and resolved to marry her, but St. Nino, Rhipsimia, Gaiana, and fifty other virgins escaped to Armenia. The furious Diocletian ordered his soldiers to follow them and sent a messenger to Tiridates, the Armenian king (286–344), to put him on guard.

King Tiridates located the women and, following Diocletian’s example, was charmed by Rhipsimia’s beauty and resolved to marry her. But St. Rhipsimia would not consent to wed him, and in his rage the king had her tortured to death with Gaiana and the fifty other virgins. St. Nino, however, was being prepared for a different, greater task, and she succeeded in escaping King Tiridates’ persecutions by hiding among some rose bushes. 



St. Nina of Georgia (source)
 
When she finally arrived in Georgia, St. Nino was greeted by a group of Mtskhetan shepherds near Lake Paravani, and she received a blessing from God to preach to the pagans of this region.

With the help of her acquaintances St. Nino soon reached the city of Urbnisi. She remained there a month, then traveled to Mtskheta with a group of Georgians who were making a pilgrimage to venerate the pagan idol Armazi. There she watched with great sadness as the Georgian people trembled before the idols. She was exceedingly sorrowful and prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, send down Thy mercy upon this nation …that all nations may glorify Thee alone, the One True God, through Thy Son, Jesus Christ.” 



St. Nina of Georgia (source)
 
Suddenly a violent wind began to blow and hail fell from the sky, shattering the pagan statues. The terrified worshipers fled, scattering across the city.

St. Nino made her home beneath a bramble bush in the garden of the king, with the family of the royal gardener. The gardener and his wife were childless, but through St. Nino’s prayers God granted them a child. The couple rejoiced exceedingly, declared Christ to be the True God, and became disciples of St. Nino. Wherever St. Nino went, those who heard her preach converted to the Christian Faith in great numbers. St. Nino even healed the terminally ill Queen Nana after she declared Christ to be the True God. 




Sts. Mirian and Nana (source)
 
King Mirian, a pagan, was not at all pleased with the great impression St. Nino’s preaching had made on the Georgian nation. One day while he was out hunting, he resolved to kill all those who followed Christ.

According to his wicked scheme, even his wife, Queen Nana, would face death for failing to renounce the Christian Faith. But in the midst of the hunt, it suddenly became very dark. All alone, King Mirian became greatly afraid and prayed in vain for the help of the pagan gods. When his prayers went unanswered, he finally lost hope and, miraculously, he turned to Christ: “God of Nino, illumine this night for me and guide my footsteps, and I will declare Thy Holy Name. I will erect a cross and venerate it and I will construct for Thee a temple. I vow to be obedient to Nino and to the Faith of the Roman people!” 



The well in which were baptized Sts. Mirian and Nana (source)
 
Suddenly the night was transfigured, the sun shone radiantly, and King Mirian gave great thanks to the Creator. When he returned to the city, he immediately informed St. Nino of his decision. As a result of the unceasing labors of Equal-to-the-Apostles Nino, Georgia was established as a nation solidly rooted in the Christian Faith. 

   
The tomb of St. Nina of Georgia (source)
 
St. Nino reposed in the village of Bodbe in eastern Georgia and, according to her will, she was buried in the place where she took her last breath. King Mirian later erected a church in honor of St. George over her grave.



(http://oca.org/FSlives.asp?SID=4)
 
St. Nino of Georgia (source)
 

Troparion (Tone 4)
O handmaid of the Word of God, who in preaching hast equaled the first-called Apostle Andrew, and hast emulated the other Apostles; O enlightener of Iberia and reed-pipe of the Holy Spirit, Holy Nino, equal to the Apostles: Pray to Christ God to save our souls

 
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Discourse on the Holy Theophany, by St. Hippolytus of Rome


Holy Theophany (source)
   
Discourse on the Holy Theophany, by St. Hippolytus of Rome
1. Good, yea, very good, are all the works of our God and Saviour— all of them that eye sees and mind perceives, all that reason interprets and hand handles, all that intellect comprehends and human nature understands. For what richer beauty can there be than that of the circle of heaven? And what form of more blooming fairness than that of earth's surface? And what is there swifter in the course than the chariot of the sun? And what more graceful car than the lunar orb? And what work more wonderful than the compact mosaic of the stars? And what more productive of supplies than the seasonable winds? And what more spotless mirror than the light of day? And what creature more excellent than man? Very good, then, are all the works of our God and Saviour. And what more requisite gift, again, is there than the element of water? For with water all things are washed and nourished, and cleansed and bedewed. Water bears the earth, water produces the dew, water exhilarates the vine; water matures the grain in the ear, water ripens the grapecluster, water softens the olive, water sweetens the palm-date, water reddens the rose and decks the violet, water makes the lily bloom with its brilliant cups. And why should I speak at length? Without the element of water, none of the present order of things can subsist. So necessary is the element of water; for the other elements took their places beneath the highest vault of the heavens, but the nature of water obtained a seat also above the heavens. And to this the prophet himself is a witness, when he exclaims, "Praise the Lord, you heavens of heavens, and the water that is above the heavens."

2. Nor is this the only thing that proves the dignity of the water. But there is also that which is more honourable than all— the fact that Christ, the Maker of all, came down as the rain, and was known as a spring, and diffused Himself as a river, and was baptized in the Jordan. For you have just heard how Jesus came to John, and was baptized by him in the Jordan. Oh things strange beyond compare! How should the boundless River that makes glad the city of God have been dipped in a little water! The illimitable Spring that bears life to all men, and has no end, was covered by poor and temporary waters! He who is present everywhere, and absent nowhere— who is incomprehensible to angels and invisible to men— comes to the baptism according to His own good pleasure. When you hear these things, beloved, take them not as if spoken literally, but accept them as presented in a figure. Whence also the Lord was not unnoticed by the watery element in what He did in secret, in the kindness of His condescension to man. "For the waters saw Him, and were afraid." They wellnigh broke from their place, and burst away from their boundary. Hence the prophet, having this in his view many generations ago, puts the question, "What ails you, O sea, that you reddest; and you, Jordan, that you were driven back?" And they in reply said, We have seen the Creator of all things in the "form of a servant", and being ignorant of the mystery of the economy, we were lashed with fear.

3. But we, who know the economy, adore His mercy, because He has come to save and not to judge the world. Wherefore John, the forerunner of the Lord, who before knew not this mystery, on learning that He is Lord in truth, cried out, and spoke to those who came to be baptized of him, "O generation of vipers, why do you look so earnestly at me? I am not the Christ; I am the servant, and not the lord; I am the subject, and not the king; I am the sheep, and not the shepherd; I am a man, and not God. By my birth I loosed the barrenness of my mother; I did not make virginity barren. I was brought up from beneath; I did not come down from above. I bound the tongue of my father; I did not unfold divine grace. I was known by my mother, and I was not announced by a star. I am worthless, and the least; but after me there comes One who is before me — after me, indeed, in time, but before me by reason of the inaccessible and unutterable light of divinity. There comes One mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy [Spirit], and with fire. I am subject to authority, but He has authority in Himself. I am bound by sins, but He is the Remover of sins. apply the law, but He brings grace to light. teach as a slave, but He judges as the Master. I have the earth as my couch, but He possesses heaven. I baptize with the baptism of repentance, but He confers the gift of adoption: He shall baptize you with the Holy [Spirit], and with fire. Why do you give attention to me? I am not the Christ."

4. As John says these things to the multitude, and as the people watch in eager expectation of seeing some strange spectacle with their bodily eyes, and the devil is struck with amazement at such a testimony from John, lo, the Lord appears, plain, solitary, uncovered, without escort, having on Him the body of man like a garment, and hiding the dignity of the Divinity, that He may elude the snares of the dragon. And not only did He approach John as Lord without royal retinue; but even like a mere man, and one involved in sin, He bent His head to be baptized by John. Wherefore John, on seeing so great a humbling of Himself, was struck with astonishment at the affair, and began to prevent Him, saying, as you have just heard, "I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me? What are you doing, O Lord? You teach things not according to rule. I have preached one thing (regarding You), and You perform another; the devil has heard one thing, and perceives another. Baptize me with the fire of Divinity; why do you wait for water? Enlighten me with the Spirit; why do You attend upon a creature? Baptize me, the Baptist, that Your pre-eminence may be known. I, O Lord, baptize with the baptism of repentance, and I cannot baptize those who come to me unless they first confess fully their sins. Be it so then that I baptize You, what have You to confess? You are the Remover of sins, and will You be baptized with the baptism of repentance? Though I should venture to baptize You, the Jordan dares not to come near You. I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?"

5. And what says the Lord to him? "Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness. Suffer it to be so now, John; you are not wiser than I. You see as man; I foreknow as God. It becomes me to do this first, and thus to teach. I engage in nothing unbecoming, for I am invested with honour. Do you marvel, O John, that I am not come in my dignity? The purple robe of kings suits not one in private station, but military splendour suits a king: am I come to a prince, and not to a friend? Suffer it to be so now for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness: I am the Fulfiller of the law; I seek to leave nothing wanting to its whole fulfilment, that so after me Paul may exclaim, Christ is the fulfilling of the law for righteousness to every one that believes. Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness. Baptize me, John, in order that no one may despise baptism. I am baptized by you, the servant, that no one among kings or dignitaries may scorn to be baptized by the hand of a poor priest. Allow me to go down into the Jordan, in order that they may hear my Father's testimony, and recognise the power of the Son. Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness." Then at length John suffers Him. "And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and the heavens were opened unto Him; and, lo, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and rested upon Him. And a voice (came) from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

6. Do you see, beloved, how many and how great blessings we would have lost, if the Lord had yielded to the exhortation of John, and declined baptism? For the heavens were shut before this; the region above was inaccessible. We would in that case descend to the lower parts, but we would not ascend to the upper. But was it only that the Lord was baptized? He also renewed the old man, and committed to him again the sceptre of adoption. For straightway "the heavens were opened to Him". A reconciliation took place of the visible with the invisible; the celestial orders were filled with joy; the diseases of earth were healed; secret things were made known; those at enmity were restored to amity. For you have heard the word of the evangelist, saying, The heavens were opened to Him, on account of three wonders. For when Christ the Bridegroom was baptized, it was meet that the bridal-chamber of heaven should open its brilliant gates. And in like manner also, when the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the Father's voice spread everywhere, it was meet that the gates of heaven should be lifted up. And, lo, the heavens were opened to Him; and a voice was heard, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

7. The beloved generates love, and the light immaterial the light inaccessible. This is my beloved Son, He who, being manifested on earth and yet unseparated from the Father's bosom, was manifested, and yet did not appear. For the appearing is a different thing, since in appearance the baptizer here is superior to the baptized. For this reason did the Father send down the Holy Spirit from heaven upon Him who was baptized. For as in the ark of Noah the love of God toward man is signified by the dove, so also now the Spirit, descending in the form of a dove, bearing as it were the fruit of the olive, rested on Him to whom the witness was borne. For what reason? That the faithfulness of the Father's voice might be made known, and that the prophetic utterance of a long time past might be ratified. And what utterance is this? "The voice of the Lord (is) on the waters, the God of glory thundered; the Lord (is) upon many waters." And what voice? "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This is He who is named the son of Joseph, and (who is) according to the divine essence my Only-begotten. "This is my beloved Son"— He who is hungry, and yet maintains myriads; who is weary, and yet gives rest to the weary; who has not where to lay His head, and yet bears up all things in His hand; who suffers, and yet heals sufferings; who is smitten, and yet confers liberty on the world; who is pierced in the side, and yet repairs the side of Adam.

8. But give me now your best attention, I pray you, for I wish to go back to the fountain of life, and to view the fountain that gushes with healing. The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and He, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the breath (spirit) of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God. And if he is made God by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the layer he is found to be also joint-heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead. Wherefore I preach to this effect: Come, all you kindreds of the nations, to the immortality of the baptism. I bring good tidings of life to you who tarry in the darkness of ignorance. Come into liberty from slavery, into a kingdom from tyranny, into incorruption from corruption. And how, says one, shall we come? How? By water and the Holy [Spirit]. This is the water in conjunction with the Spirit, by which paradise is watered, by which the earth is enriched, by which plants grow, by which animals multiply, and (to sum up the whole in a single word) by which man is begotten again and endued with life, in which also Christ was baptized, and in which the Spirit descended in the form of a dove.

9. This is the Spirit that at the beginning "moved upon the waters"; by whom the world moves; by whom creation consists, and all things have life; who also wrought mightily in the prophets, and descended in flight upon Christ. This is the Spirit that was given to the apostles in the form of fiery tongues. This is the Spirit that David sought when he said, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Of this Spirit Gabriel also spoke to the Virgin, "The Holy [Spirit] shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you." By this Spirit Peter spoke that blessed word, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." By this Spirit the rock of the Church was established. This is the Spirit, the Comforter, that is sent because of you, that He may show you to be the Son of God.

10. Come then, be begotten again, O man, into the adoption of God. And how? Says one. If you practise adultery no more, and commit not murder, and serve not idols; if you are not overmastered by pleasure; if you do not suffer the feeling of pride to rule you; if you clean off the filthiness of impurity, and put off the burden of sin; if you cast off the armour of the devil, and put on the breastplate of faith, even as Isaiah says, "Wash, and seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow. And come and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, I shall make them white as snow; and though they be like crimson, I shall make them white as wool. And if you be willing, and hear my voice, you shall eat the good of the land." Do you see, beloved, how the prophet spoke beforetime of the purifying power of baptism? For he who comes down in faith to the layer of regeneration, and renounces the devil, and joins himself to Christ; who denies the enemy, and makes the confession that Christ is God; who puts off the bondage, and puts on the adoption,— he comes up from the baptism brilliant as the sun, flashing forth the beams of righteousness, and, which is indeed the chief thing, he returns a son of God and joint-heir with Christ. To Him be the glory and the power, together with His most holy, and good, and quickening Spirit, now and ever, and to all the ages of the ages. Amen.
   
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!