Saturday, March 31, 2012

St. Mary of Egypt, the Righteous, and a true Icon of Repentance

St. Mary of Egypt, the Righteous, and a true Icon of Repentance - Commemorated on April 1, and on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent (
St Zosimas (April 4) was a monk at a certain Palestinian monastery on the outskirts of Caesarea. Having dwelt at the monastery since his childhood, he lived there in asceticism until he reached the age of fifty-three. Then he was disturbed by the thought that he had attained perfection, and needed no one to instruct him. "Is there a monk anywhere who can show me some form of asceticism that I have not attained? Is there anyone who has surpassed me in spiritual sobriety and deeds?"

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, "Zosimas, you have struggled valiantly, as far as this is in the power of man. However, there is no one who is righteous (Rom 3:10). So that you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land, like Abraham from the house of his father (Gen 12:1), and go to the monastery by the Jordan."

Abba Zosimas immediately left the monastery, and following the angel, he went to the Jordan monastery and settled in it.

Here he met Elders who were adept in contemplation, and also in their struggles. Never did anyone utter an idle word. Instead, they sang constantly, and prayed all night long. Abba Zosimas began to imitate the spiritual activity of the holy monks.

Thus much time passed, and the holy Forty Day Fast approached. There was a certain custom at the monastery, which was why God had led St Zosimas there. On the First Sunday of Great Lent the igumen served the Divine Liturgy, everyone received the All-Pure Body and Blood of Christ. Afterwards, they went to the trapeza for a small repast, and then assembled once more in church.

The monks prayed and made prostrations, asking forgiveness one of another. Then they made a prostration before the igumen and asked his blessing for the struggle that lay before them. During the Psalm "The Lord is my Light and my Savior, whom shall I fear? The Lord is defender of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" (Ps 26/27:1), they opened the monastery gate and went off into the wilderness.

Each took with him as much food as he needed, and went into the desert. When their food ran out, they ate roots and desert plants. The monks crossed the Jordan and scattered in various directions, so that no one might see how another fasted or how they spent their time.

The monks returned to the monastery on Palm Sunday, each having his own conscience as a witness of his ascetic struggles. It was a rule of the monastery that no one asked how anyone else had toiled in the desert.

Abba Zosimas, according to the custom of the monastery, went deep into the desert hoping to find someone living there who could benefit him.

He walked into the wilderness for twenty days and then, when he sang the Psalms of the Sixth Hour and made the usual prayers. Suddenly, to the right of the hill where he stood, he saw a human form. He was afraid, thinking that it might be a demonic apparition. Then he guarded himself with the Sign of the Cross, which removed his fear. He turned to the right and saw a form walking southward. The body was black from the blazing sunlight, and the faded short hair was white like a sheep's fleece. Abba Zosimas rejoiced, since he had not seen any living thing for many days.

The desert-dweller saw Zosimas approaching, and attempted to flee from him. Abba Zosimas, forgetting his age and fatigue, quickened his pace. When he was close enough to be heard, he called out, "Why do you flee from me, a sinful old man? Wait for me, for the love of God."

The stranger said to him, "Forgive me, Abba Zosimas, but I cannot turn and show my face to you. I am a woman, and as you see, I am naked. If you would grant the request of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so I might cover my body, and then I can ask for your blessing."

St. Zosimas meeting St. Mary of Egypt, and giving her the Holy Mysteries (
Then Abba Zosimas was terrified, realizing that she could not have called him by name unless she possessed spiritual insight.

Covered by the cloak, the ascetic turned to Zosimas: "Why do you want to speak with me, a sinful woman? What did you wish to learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great labors?"

Abba Zosimas fell to the ground and asked for her blessing. She also bowed down before him, and for a long time they remained on the ground each asking the other to bless. Finally, the woman ascetic said: "Abba Zosimas, you must bless and pray, since you are honored with the grace of the priesthood. For many years you have stood before the holy altar, offering the Holy Gifts to the Lord."

These words frightened St Zosimas even more. With tears he said to her, "O Mother! It is clear that you live with God and are dead to this world. You have called me by name and recognized me as a priest, though you have never seen me before. The grace granted you is apparent, therefore bless me, for the Lord's sake."

Yielding finally to his entreaties, she said, "Blessed is God, Who cares for the salvation of men." Abba Zosimas replied, "Amen." Then they rose to their feet. The woman ascetic again said to the Elder, "Why have you come, Father, to me who am a sinner, bereft of every virtue? Apparently, the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you to do me a service. But tell me first, Abba, how do the Christians live, how is the Church guided?"

Abba Zosimas answered her, "By your holy prayers God has granted the Church and us all a lasting peace. But fulfill my unworthy request, Mother, and pray for the whole world and for me a sinner, that my wanderings in the desert may not be useless."

The holy ascetic replied, "You, Abba Zosimas, as a priest, ought to pray for me and for all, for you are called to do this. However, since we must be obedient, I will do as you ask.

The saint turned toward the East, and raising her eyes to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper. She prayed so softly that Abba Zosimas could not hear her words. After a long time, the Elder looked up and saw her standing in the air more than a foot above the ground. Seeing this, Zosimas threw himself down on the ground, weeping and repeating, "Lord, have mercy!"

Then he was tempted by a thought. He wondered if she might not be a spirit, and if her prayer could be insincere. At that moment she turned around, lifted him from the ground and said, "Why do your thoughts confuse you, Abba Zosimas? I am not an apparition. I am a sinful and unworthy woman, though I am guarded by holy Baptism."

Then she made the Sign of the Cross and said, "May God protect us from the Evil One and his schemes, for fierce is his struggle against us." Seeing and hearing this, the Elder fell at her feet with tears saying, "I beseech you by Christ our God, do not conceal from me who you are and how you came into this desert. Tell me everything, so that the wondrous works of God may be revealed."

She replied, "It distresses me, Father, to speak to you about my shameless life. When you hear my story, you might flee from me, as if from a poisonous snake. But I shall tell you everything, Father, concealing nothing. However, I exhort you, cease not to pray for me a sinner, that I may find mercy on the Day of Judgment.

St. Mary of Egypt, with scenes from her life (
"I was born in Egypt and when I was twelve years old, I left my parents and went to Alexandria. There I lost my chastity and gave myself to unrestrained and insatiable sensuality. For more than seventeen years I lived like that and I did it all for free. Do not think that I refused the money because I was rich. I lived in poverty and worked at spinning flax. To me, life consisted in the satisfaction of my fleshly lust.

"One summer I saw a crowd of people from Libya and Egypt heading toward the sea. They were on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I also wanted to sail with them. Since I had no food or money, I offered my body in payment for my passage. And so I embarked on the ship.

"Now, Father, believe me, I am very amazed, that the sea tolerated my wantonness and fornication, that the earth did not open up its mouth and take me down alive into hell, because I had ensnared so many souls. I think that God was seeking my repentance. He did not desire the death of a sinner, but awaited my conversion.

"So I arrived in Jerusalem and spent all the days before the Feast living the same sort of life, and maybe even worse.

"When the holy Feast of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross of the Lord arrived, I went about as before, looking for young men. At daybreak I saw that everyone was heading to the church, so I went along with the rest. When the hour of the Holy Elevation drew nigh, I was trying to enter into the church with all the people. With great effort I came almost to the doors, and attempted to squeeze inside. Although I stepped up to the threshold, it was as though some force held me back, preventing me from entering. I was brushed aside by the crowd, and found myself standing alone on the porch. I thought that perhaps this happened because of my womanly weakness. I worked my way into the crowd, and again I attempted to elbow people aside. However hard I tried, I could not enter. Just as my feet touched the church threshold, I was stopped. Others entered the church without difficulty, while I alone was not allowed in. This happened three or four times. Finally my strength was exhausted. I went off and stood in a corner of the church portico.

"Then I realized that it was my sins that prevented me from seeing the Life-Creating Wood. The grace of the Lord then touched my heart. I wept and lamented, and I began to beat my breast. Sighing from the depths of my heart, I saw above me an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Turning to Her, I prayed: "O Lady Virgin, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word! I know that I am unworthy to look upon your icon. I rightly inspire hatred and disgust before your purity, but I know also that God became Man in order to call sinners to repentance. Help me, O All-Pure One. Let me enter the church. Allow me to behold the Wood upon which the Lord was crucified in the flesh, shedding His Blood for the redemption of sinners, and also for me. Be my witness before Your Son that I will never defile my body again with the impurity of fornication. As soon as I have seen the Cross of your Son, I will renounce the world, and go wherever you lead me."

St. Mary of Egypt, in prayer to Christ (
"After I had spoken, I felt confidence in the compassion of the Mother of God, and left the spot where I had been praying. I joined those entering the church, and no one pushed me back or prevented me from entering. I went on in fear and trembling, and entered the holy place.

"Thus I also saw the Mysteries of God, and how God accepts the penitant. I fell to the holy ground and kissed it. Then I hastened again to stand before the icon of the Mother of God, where I had given my vow. Bending my knees before the Virgin Theotokos, I prayed:

"'O Lady, you have not rejected my prayer as unworthy. Glory be to God, Who accepts the repentance of sinners. It is time for me to fulfill my vow, which you witnessed. Therefore, O Lady, guide me on the path of repentance.'"

"Then I heard a voice from on high: 'If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest.'

"I immediately believed that this voice was meant for me, and I cried out to the Mother of God: 'O Lady, do not forsake me!'

"Then I left the church portico and started on my journey. A certain man gave me three coins as I was leaving the church. With them I bought three loaves of bread, and asked the bread merchant the way to the Jordan.

"It was nine o'clock when I saw the Cross. At sunset I reached the church of St John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the church, I went down to the Jordan and washed my face and hands in its water. Then in this same temple of St John the Forerunner I received the Life-Creating Mysteries of Christ. Then I ate half of one of my loaves of bread, drank water from the holy Jordan, and slept there that night on the ground. In the morning I found a small boat and crossed the river to the opposite shore. Again I prayed that the Mother of God would lead me where She wished. Then I found myself in this desert."

Abba Zosimas asked her, "How many years have passed since you began to live in the desert?"

"'I think," she replied, "it is forty-seven years since I came from the Holy City."

Abba Zosimas again asked, "What food do you find here, Mother?"

And she said, "I had with me two and a half loaves of bread when I crossed the Jordan. Soon they dried out and hardened Eating a little at a time, I finished them after a few years."

Again Abba Zosimas asked, "Is it possible you have survived for so many years without sickness, and without suffering in any way from such a complete change?"

"Believe me, Abba Zosimas," the woman said, "I spent seventeen years in this wilderness (after she had spent seventeen years in immorality), fighting wild beasts: mad desires and passions. When I began to eat bread, I thought of the meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also missed the wine that I loved so much when I was in the world, while here I did not even have water. I suffered from thirst and hunger. I also had a mad desire for lewd songs. I seemed to hear them, disturbing my heart and my hearing. Weeping and striking myself on the breast, I remembered the vow I had made. At last I beheld a radiant Light shining on me from everywhere. After a violent tempest, a lasting calm ensued.

"Abba, how shall I tell you of the thoughts that urged me on to fornication? A fire seemed to burn within me, awakening in me the desire for embraces. Then I would throw myself to the ground and water it with my tears. I seemed to see the Most Holy Virgin before me, and She seemed to threaten me for not keeping my vow. I lay face downward day and night upon the ground, and would not get up until that blessed Light encircled me, dispelling the evil thoughts that troubled me.

"Thus I lived in this wilderness for the first seventeen years. Darkness after darkness, misery after misery stood about me, a sinner. But from that time until now the Mother of God helps me in everything."

Abba Zosimas again inquired, "How is it that you require neither food, nor clothing?"

She answered, "After finishing my bread, I lived on herbs and the things one finds in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed over the Jordan became torn and fell apart. I suffered both from the summer heat, when the blazing heat fell upon me, and from the winter cold, when I shivered from the frost. Many times I fell down upon the earth, as though dead. I struggled with various afflictions and temptations. But from that time until the present day, the power of God has guarded my sinful soul and humble body. I was fed and clothed by the all-powerful word of God, since man does not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3, Mt.4:4, Luke 4:4), and those who have put off the old man (Col 3:9) have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks (Job 24:8, Heb 11:38). When I remember from what evil and from what sins the Lord delivered me, I have imperishible food for salvation."

When Abba Zosimas heard that the holy ascetic quoted the Holy Scripture from memory, from the Books of Moses and Job and from the Psalms of David, he then asked the woman, "Mother, have you read the Psalms and other books?"

She smiled at hearing this question, and answered, "Believe me, I have seen no human face but yours from the time that I crossed over the Jordan. I never learned from books. I have never heard anyone read or sing from them. Perhaps the Word of God, which is alive and acting, teaches man knowledge by itself (Col 3:16, 1 Thess 2:13). This is the end of my story. As I asked when I began, I beg you for the sake of the Incarnate Word of God, holy Abba, pray for me, a sinner.

"Furthermore, I beg you, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, tell no one what you have heard from me, until God takes me from this earth. Next year, during Great Lent, do not cross the Jordan, as is the custom of your monastery."

Again Abba Zosimas was amazed, that the practice of his monastery was known to the holy woman ascetic, although he had not said anything to her about this.

"Remain at the monastery," the woman continued. "Even if you try to leave the monastery, you will not be able to do so. On Great and Holy Thursday, the day of the Lord's Last Supper, place the Life-Creating Body and Blood of Christ our God in a holy vessel, and bring it to me. Await me on this side of the Jordan, at the edge of the desert, so that I may receive the Holy Mysteries. And say to Abba John, the igumen of your community, 'Look to yourself and your brothers (1 Tim 4:16), for there is much that needs correction. Do not say this to him now, but when the Lord shall indicate."

Asking for his prayers, the woman turned and vanished into the depths of the desert.

For a whole year Elder Zosimas remained silent, not daring to reveal to anyone what he had seen, and he prayed that the Lord would grant him to see the holy ascetic once more.

When the first week of Great Lent came again, St Zosimas was obliged to remain at the monastery because of sickness. Then he remembered the woman's prophetic words that he would not be able to leave the monastery. After several days went by, St Zosimas was healed of his infirmity, but he remained at the monastery until Holy Week.

On Holy Thursday, Abba Zosimas did what he had been ordered to do. He placed some of the Body and Blood of Christ into a chalice, and some food in a small basket. Then he left the monastery and went to the Jordan and waited for the ascetic. The saint seemed tardy, and Abba Zosimas prayed that God would permit him to see the holy woman.

St. Mary miraculously crossing the Jordan River to receive the Holy Mysteries from St. Zosimas (
Finally, he saw her standing on the far side of the river. Rejoicing, St Zosimas got up and glorified God. Then he wondered how she could cross the Jordan without a boat. She made the Sign of the Cross over the water, then she walked on the water and crossed the Jordan. Abba Zosimas saw her in the moonlight, walking toward him. When the Elder wanted to make prostration before her, she forbade him, crying out, "What are you doing, Abba? You are a priest and you carry the Holy Mysteries of God."

Reaching the shore, she said to Abba Zosimas, "Bless me, Father." He answered her with trembling, astonished at what he had seen. "Truly God did not lie when he promised that those who purify themselves will be like Him. Glory to You, O Christ our God, for showing me through your holy servant, how far I am from perfection."

The woman asked him to recite both the Creed and the "Our Father." When the prayers were finished, she partook of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Then she raised her hands to the heavens and said, "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation."

St. Mary of Egypt communing the Holy Mysteries from St. Zosimas (
The saint turned to the Elder and said, "Please, Abba, fulfill another request. Go now to your monastery, and in a year's time come to the place where we first time spoke."

He said, "If only it were possible for me to follow you and always see your holy face!"

She replied, "For the Lord's sake, pray for me and remember my wrechedness."

Again she made the Sign of the Cross over the Jordan, and walked over the water as before, and disappeared into the desert. Zosimas returned to the monastery with joy and terror, reproaching himself because he had not asked the saint's name. He hoped to do so the following year.

A year passed, and Abba Zosimas went into the desert. He reached the place where he first saw the holy woman ascetic. She lay dead, with arms folded on her bosom, and her face was turned to the east. Abba Zosimas washed her feet with his tears and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else. For a long while he wept over her and sang the customary Psalms, and said the funeral prayers. He began to wonder whether the saint would want him to bury her or not. Hardly had he thought this, when he saw something written on the ground near her head: "Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust what is dust. Pray to the Lord for me. I reposed on the first day of April, on the very night of the saving Passion of Christ, after partaking of the Mystical Supper."

Reading this note, Abba Zosimas was glad to learn her name. He then realized that St Mary, after receiving the Holy Mysteries from his hand, was transported instantaneously to the place where she died, though it had taken him twenty days to travel that distance.

Glorifying God, Abba Zosimas said to himself, "It is time to do what she asks. But how can I dig a grave, with nothing in my hands?" Then he saw a small piece of wood left by some traveler. He picked it up and began to dig. The ground was hard and dry, and he could not dig it. Looking up, Abba Zosimas saw an enormous lion standing by the saint's body and licking her feet. Fear gripped the Elder, but he guarded himself with the Sign of the Cross, believing that he would remain unharmed through the prayers of the holy woman ascetic. Then the lion came close to the Elder, showing its friendliness with every movement. Abba Zosimas commanded the lion to dig the grave, in order to bury St Mary's body. At his words, the lion dug a hole deep enough to bury the body. Then each went his own way. The lion went into the desert, and Abba Zosimas returned to the monastery, blessing and praising Christ our God.

Arriving at the monastery, Abba Zosimas related to the monks and the igumen, what he had seen and heard from St Mary. All were astonished, hearing about the miracles of God. They always remembered St Mary with faith and love on the day of her repose.

Abba John, the igumen of the monastery, heeded the words of St Mary, and with the help of God corrected the things that were wrong at the monastery. Abba Zosimas lived a God-pleasing life at the monastery, reaching nearly a hundred years of age. There he finished his temporal life, and passed into life eternal.

The monks passed on the life of St Mary of Egypt by word of mouth without writing it down.

"I however," says St Sophronius of Jerusalem (March 11), "wrote down the Life of St Mary of Egypt as I heard it from the holy Fathers. I have recorded everything, putting the truth above all else."

[See the following link for the full account of St. Mary of Egypt by St. Sophronius of Jerusalem:]

"May God, Who works great miracles and bestows gifts on all who turn to Him in faith, reward those who hear or read this account, and those who copy it. May he grant them a blessed portion together with St Mary of Egypt and with all the saints who have pleased God by their pious thoughts and works. Let us give glory to God, the Eternal King, that we may find mercy on the Day of Judgment through our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor, majesty and worship together with the Unoriginate Father, and the Most Holy and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."
St. Mary of Egypt, the Righteous (
Troparion - Tone 8
The image of God was truly preserved in you, O mother, for you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away; but to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal. Therefore your spirit, O holy Mother Mary, rejoices with the Angels.

Kontakion - Tone 3
Having been a sinful woman, you became through repentance a Bride of Christ. Having attained angelic life, you defeated demons with the weapon of the Cross; therefore, O most glorious Mary you are a Bride of the Kingdom!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, March 26, 2012

St. Lavrentios (Lawrence) of Salamina, founder of the Monastery of Panagia Phaneromene

St. Lavrentios (Lawrence) of Salamina, founder of the Monastery of Panagia Phaneromene (amateur translation)
Our righteous father Lavrentios (Lawrence) was born in Megara of Attica during the first half of the 17th century to simple parents: Demetrios and Kyriake, who were pious in the Orthodox faith and dedicated to the Church.

His name in the world was Lampros Kanellos. When he came of age, he was married to Vasilo, with whom he bore two children: Demetrios and John. He lived a pious and simple life with his family, during those difficult days of the Turkish occupation.

He was a farmer by trade, and he also knew about construction work. His life was utterly virtuous, with traditional Orthodox piety and prayer in his heart, gifts which made him a friend of God and His Saints.

Because of this, when once he was with others tilling the fields, during the night, the Most-Holy Theotokos appeared to him in a vision, in which she called him to go to the place that she showed him, to build her Church. This place was on the north side of the island of Salamis (Salamina), across from the shore of Megara named Megalo Pevko (today Nea Pergamos). The elder did not agree to complete this command, so the Panagia appeared to him again the next night, appearing more serious. But as he still kept his doucts, the third time the Panagia appeared to him, saying: “Go quickly, O man, to the island which I told you, to complete that which is protected by me.”

Then the humble elder returned to the city of Megara, and related the vision to some of his close friends, of which some believed and some did not. Thus returned to his house without a decision.

One night, the Most-Holy Theotokos again appeared to him, ordering him to go to Salamina to complete her command.

Then he made the great decision to go to the opposite shore. However, there was a great storm in the sea, and there were no boats to take him across to Salamina. As he sat pondering and worried, he heart an other-worldly voice tell him: “Throw your cloak on the sea and sit upon it, and you will be taken without danger to the island”. With total faith in the divine command, and driving out all fear and hesitation, he threw his cloak on the sea, and was transported safe and unharmed to the island of Salamina. He immediately went to the place that the Theotokos had showed him, and having excavated the remains of an ancient holy Monastery, with much toil, he uncovered the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God, which had been darkened by the moisture, but is truly the treasure of the island of Salamina, and the whole Orthodox Church.

The miraculous icon of Panagia "Phaneromene" ("The Revealed One"), Salamina - celebrated on the Apodosis of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 23) (,
This icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos, was named “Phaneromenh”, because thus it was revealed to the Righteous Saint. The Holy Monastery took the same name, and the Righteous man continued with much toil to rebuild it. It was here that he became a Monk, taking the monastic name “Lavrentios”. In this Monastery he was made the Abbot, and he gathered Hieromonks and Monks, teaching them and giving to them an example of the righteous life in God, and a sacred example in their days.

At first he built the small Chapel, which today bears the name of St. Nicholas, and later the great Katholikon, which he also had decorated with amazing frescos, which exist to this day.

Icon from the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner, Megara, depicting St. Lawrence of Salamis and St. Meletios beside the Monastery of Panagia Phaneromeni. In the top of the icon are depicted the Holy Ten Martyrs of Megara, protecting the City of Megara (source)
This simple man, the Righteous Lavrentios, God granted wondrous spiritual gifts, among which is the gift of wonderworking, as the Saint demonstrated during his life. One such wonder was the healing of the wife of an Ottoman general, whom the doctors could not heal. The fame of St. Lavrentios, that he could heal the sick through his prayer, reached her years, and against the protestations of her husband, she went from their home in Athens to the area, where with prayer and the sign of the cross on her body, she was saved from certain death. This miracle not only struck her husband with deep respect, but he proceeded to grant the Holy Monastery land with olive trees, which are in the area of Megara, which is today called Vlychada, which the Ottoman seized against the law.

The Saint lived many years in asceticism and prayer, and reposed in the Lord on the 9th of March, 1707, the day of the holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, as it appears in a manuscript preserved in the Holy Monastery from those days. He passed on the position of Abbot to his son John, who became a Monk with the Monastic name Joachim.

St. Lavrentios' memory, however, was transferred to March 7th by Monks in his Monastery, that it might not fall on the same day as the great feast of the Holy Forty Martyrs.

Apolytikion in the First Tone (amateur translations below)
The offspring of Megara, and adornment of ascetics, the protector of the Monastery of Salamina, the God-bearer Lavrentios, let us honor rightly, O brethren, in hymns and spiritual odes, for he finished the good fight of virtue and faith. Entreat on our behalf, O all-blessed Lavrentios, and protect your monastery and your city through your prayers.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The boast of the city of the Righteous, O godly-minded, blessed one, you desired Christ, and the Fashioner bestowed upon you a crown of glory.
Abandoning the temporary things of life, and desiring the incorruptible things, O all-blessed, Righteous One, you endured all things in patience, and struggled well in your Monastery, praying ceaselessly to the Lord and enduring bravely the temptations of the invisible enemies, not paying them any heed, O Father, but you trampled upon them with the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, the Fashioner bestowed upon you a crown of glory.
On the 7th of this month (March), we commemorate the memory of our righteous Father Lavrentios (Lawrence), the founder of the Monastery of Panagia Phaneromene on the island of Salamina.
You now have heaven as your dwelling-place, O father,
For you abandoned the things of earth and corruptible things, O blessed one.
Every intercede, therefore, for your servants,
That they might be kept unharmed from the snares of temptation.
For the full service of the Saint in Greek, see:

St. Lawrence of Salamis miraculously traversing the waters (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Second Homily of St. Gregory the Wonderworker on the Annunciation to the Theotokos

Second Homily of St. Gregory the Wonderworker on the Annunciation to the Theotokos
It is our duty to present to God, like sacrifices, all the festivals and hymnal celebrations; and first of all, the annunciation to the holy mother of God, to wit, the salutation made to her by the angel, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured!” For first of all wisdom and saving doctrine in the New Testament was this salutation, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured!” conveyed to us from the Father of lights. And this address, “highly favoured,” embraced the whole nature of men. “Hail, thou that art highly favoured” in the holy conception and in the glorious pregnancy, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” And again the Lord, who came for the purpose of accomplishing a saving passion, said, “I will see you, and you shall rejoice; and your joy no man takes from you.” And after His resurrection again, by the hand of the holy women, He gave us first of all the salutation “Hail! ‘ And again, the apostle made the announcement in similar terms, saying, ‘Rejoice evermore: pray without ceasing: in everything give thanks.’ See, then, dearly beloved, how the Lord has conferred upon us everywhere, and indivisibly, the joy that is beyond conception, and perennial. For since the holy Virgin, in the life of the flesh, was in possession of the incorruptible citizenship, and walked as such in all manner of virtues, and lived a life more excellent than man's common standard; therefore he Word that comes from God the Father thought it meet to assume the flesh, and endue the perfect man from her, in order that in the same flesh in which sin entered into the world, and death by sin, sin might be condemned in the flesh, and that the tempter of sin might be overcome in the burying of the holy body, and that therewith also the beginning of the resurrection might be exhibited, and life eternal instituted in the world, and fellowship established for men with God the Father. And what shall we state, or what shall we pass by here? Or who shall explain what is incomprehensible in the mystery? But for the present let us fall back upon our subject. Gabriel was sent to the holy virgin; the incorporeal was dispatched to her who in the body pursued the incorruptible conversation, and lived in purity and in virtues. And when he came to her, he first addressed her with the salutation, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ Hail, thou that art highly favoured! For you do what is worthy of joy indeed, since you have put on the vesture of purity, and are girt with the cincture of prudence. Hail, thou that art highly favoured! For to your lot it has fallen to be the vehicle of celestial joy. Hail, thou that art highly favoured! For through you joy is decreed for the whole creation, and the human race receives again by you its pristine dignity. Hail, thou that art highly favoured! For in your arms the
Creator of all things shall be carried. And she was perplexed by this word; for she was inexperienced in all the addresses of men, and welcomed quiet, as the mother of prudence and purity; (yet) being a pure, and immaculate, and stainless image herself, she shrank not in terror from the angelic apparition, like most of the prophets, as indeed true virginity has a kind of affinity and equality with the angels. For the holy Virgin guarded carefully the torch of virginity, and gave diligent heed that it should not be extinguished or defiled. And as one who is clad in a brilliant robe deems it a matter of great moment that no impurity or filth be suffered to touch it anywhere, so did the holy Mary consider with herself, and said: Does this act of attention imply any deep design or seductive purpose? Shall this word ‘Hail’ prove the cause of trouble to me, as of old the fair promise of being made like God, which was given her by the serpent-devil, proved to our first mother Eve? Has the devil, who is the author of all evil, become transformed again into an angel of light; and bearing a grudge against my espoused husband for his admirable temperance, and having assailed him with some fair-seeming address, and finding himself powerless to overcome a mind so firm, and to deceive the man, has he turned his attack upon me, as one endowed with a more susceptible mind; and is this word ‘Hail’ (Grace be with you) spoken
as the sign of gracelessness hereafter? Is this benediction and salutation uttered in irony? Is there not
some poison concealed in the honey? Is it not the address of one who brings good tidings, while the end of the same is to make me the designer's prey? And how is it that he can thus salute one whom he
knows not? These things she pondered in perplexity with herself, and expressed in words. Then again
the archangel addressed her with the announcement of a joy which all may believe in, and which shall
not be taken away, and said to her, ‘Fear not, Mary, for you have found favour with God.’ Shortly have
you the proof of what has been said. For I not only give you to understand that there is nothing to fear,
but I show you the very key to the absence of all cause for fear. For through me all the heavenly powers hail you, the holy virgin: yea rather, He Himself, who is Lord of all the heavenly powers and of all creation, has selected you as the holy one and the wholly fair; and through your holy, and chaste, and pure, and undefiled womb the enlightening Pearl comes forth for the salvation of all the world: since of all the race of man you are by birth the holy one, and the more honourable, and the purer, and the more pious than any other: and you have a mind whiter than the snow, and a body made purer than any gold, however fine, and a womb such as the object which Ezekiel saw, and which he has described in these terms: ‘And the likeness of the living creatures upon the head was as the firmament, and as the
appearance of the terrible crystal, and the likeness of the throne above them was as the appearance of a
sapphire-stone: and above the throne it was as the likeness of a man, and as the appearance of amber;
and within it there was, as it were, the likeness of fire round about.

Clearly, then, did the prophet behold in type Him who was born of the holy virgin, whom you, O holy
virgin, would have had no strength to bear, had you not beamed forth for that time with all that is
glorious and virtuous. And with what words of laudation, then, shall we describe her virgin-dignity?
With what indications and proclamations of praise shall we celebrate her stainless figure? With what
spiritual song or word shall we honour her who is most glorious among the angels? She is planted in
the house of God like a fruitful olive that the Holy Spirit overshadowed; and by her means are we
called sons and heirs of the kingdom of Christ. She is the ever-blooming paradise of incorruptibility,
wherein is planted the tree that gives life, and that furnishes to all the fruits of immortality. She is the
boast and glory of virgins, and the exultation of mothers. She is the sure support of the believing, and
the succourer of the pious. She is the vesture of light, and the domicile of virtue. She is the everflowing
fountain, wherein the water of life sprang and produced the Lord's incarnate manifestation. She is the monument of righteousness; and all who become lovers of her, and set their affections on virginlike
ingenuousness and purity, shall enjoy the grace of angels. All who keep themselves from wine and
intoxication, and from the wanton enjoyments of strong drink, shall be made glad with the products of
the life-bearing plant. All who have preserved the lamp of virginity unextinguished shall be privileged
to receive the amaranthine crown of immortality. All who have possessed themselves of the stainless
robe of temperance shall be received into the mystical bride-chamber of righteousness. All who have
come nearer the angelic degree than others shall also enter into the more real enjoyment of their Lord's
beatitude. All who have possessed the illuminating oil of understanding, and the pure incense of
conscience, shall inherit the promise of spiritual favour and the spiritual adoption. All who worthily
observe the festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, acquire as their meet
recompense the fuller interest in the message, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured!’ It is our duty,
therefore, to keep this feast, seeing that it has tilled the whole world with joy and gladness. And let us
keep it with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Of old did Israel also keep their festival, but then it was with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, of which the prophet says: ‘I will turn their feasts into
afflictions and lamentation, and their joy into shame.’ But our afflictions our Lord has assured us He
will turn into joy by the fruits of penitence. And again, the first covenant maintained the righteous
requirements of a divine service, as in the case of our forefather Abraham; but these stood in the
inflictions of pain in the flesh by circumcision, until the time of the fulfilment. ‘The law was given to
them through Moses’ for their discipline; ‘but grace and truth’ have been given to us by Jesus Christ.
The beginning of all these blessings to us appeared in the annunciation to Mary, the highly-favoured, in
the economy of the Saviour which is worthy of all praise, and in His divine and supra-mundane
instruction. Thence rise the rays of the light of understanding upon us. Thence spring for us the fruits of wisdom and immortality, sending forth the clear pure streams of piety. Thence come to us the brilliant splendours of the treasures of divine knowledge. ‘For this is life eternal, that we may know the true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.’ And again, ‘Search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life.’ For on this account the treasure of the knowledge of God is revealed to them who search the divine oracles. That treasure of the inspired Scriptures the Paraclete has unfolded to us this day. And let the tongue of prophecy and the doctrine of apostles be the treasure of wisdom to us; for without the law and the prophets, or the evangelists and the apostles, it is not possible to have the certain hope of salvation. For by the tongue of the holy prophets and apostles our Lord speaks, and God takes pleasure in the words of the saints; not that He requires the spoken address, but that He delights in the good disposition; not that He receives any profit from men, but that He finds a restful satisfaction in the rightly-affected soul of the righteous. For it is not that Christ is magnified by what we say; but as we receive benefits from Him, we proclaim with grateful mind His beneficence to us; not that we can attain to what is worthy therein, but that we give the meet return to the best of our ability. And when the Gospels or the Epistles, therefore, are read, let not your attention centre on the book or on the reader, but on the God who speaks to you from heaven. For the book is but that which is seen, while Christ is the divine subject spoken of. It brings us then the glad tidings of that economy of the Saviour, which is worthy of all praise, to wit, that, though He was God, He became man through kindness toward man, and did not lay aside, indeed, the dignity which was His from all eternity, but assumed the economy that should work salvation. It brings us the glad tidings of that economy of the Saviour worthy of all praise, to wit, that He sojourned with us as a physician for the sick, who did not heal them with potions, but restored them by the inclination of His philanthropy. It brings us the glad tidings of this economy of the Saviour altogether to be praised, to wit, that to them who had wandered astray the way of salvation was shown, and that to the despairing the grace of salvation was made known, which blesses all in different modes; searching after the erring, enlightening the blinded, giving life to the dead, setting free the slaves, redeeming the captives, and becoming all things to all of us in order to be the true way of salvation to us: and all this He does, not by reason of our goodwill toward Him, but in virtue of a benignity that is proper to our Benefactor Himself. For the Saviour did all, not in order that He might acquire virtue Himself, but that He might put us in possession of eternal life. He made man, indeed, after the image of God, and appointed him to live in a paradise of pleasure. But the man being deceived by the devil, and having become a transgressor of the divine commandment, was made subject to the doom of death. Whence, also, those born of him were involved in their father's liability in virtue of their succession, and had the reckoning of condemnation required of them. ‘For death reigned from Adam to Moses.’ But the Lord. in His benignity toward man, when He saw the creature He Himself had formed now held by the power of death, did not turn away finally from him whom He had made in His own image, but visited him in each generation, and forsook him not; and manifesting Himself first of all among the patriarchs, and then proclaiming Himself in the law, and presenting the likeness of Himself in the prophets, He presignified the economy of salvation. When, moreover, the fullness of the times came for His glorious appearing, He sent beforehand the archangel Gabriel to bear the glad tidings to the Virgin Mary. And he came down from the ineffable powers above to the holy Virgin, and addressed her first of all with the salutation, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured.’ And when this word, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured,’ reached her, in the very moment of her hearing it, the Holy Spirit entered into the undefiled temple of the Virgin, and her mind and her members were sanctified together. And nature stood opposite, and natural intercourse at a distance, beholding with amazement the Lord of nature, in a manner contrary to nature, or rather above nature, doing a miraculous work in the body; and by the very weapons by which the devil strove against us, Christ also saved us, taking to Himself our passible body in order that He might impart the greater grace to the being who was deficient in it. And ‘where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’ And appropriately was grace sent to the holy Virgin. For this word also is contained in the oracle of the evangelic history: ‘And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house and lineage of David; and the virgin's name was Mary; ’ and so forth. And this was the first month to the holy Virgin. Even as Scripture says in the book of the law: ‘This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month among the months of the year to you.’ ‘Keep the feast of the holy passover to the Lord in all your generations.’ it was also the sixth month to Zacharias. And rightly, then, did the holy Virgin prove to be of the family of David, and she had her home in Bethlehem, and was betrothed rightfully to Joseph, in accordance with the laws of relationship. And her espoused husband was her guardian, and possessor also of the untarnished incorruption which was hers. And the name given to the holy Virgin was one that became her exceedingly. For she was called Mary, and that, by interpretation, means illumination. And what shines more brightly that the light of virginity? For this reason also the virtues are called virgins by those who strive rightly to get at their true nature. But if it is so great a blessing to have a virgin heart, how great a boon will it be to have the flesh that cherishes virginity along with the soul!

Thus the holy Virgin, while still in the flesh, maintained the incorruptible life, and received in faith the
things which were announced by the archangel. And thereafter she journeyed diligently to her relation
Elisabeth in the hill-country. ‘And she entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth,’ in
imitation of the angel. ‘And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe
leapt with joy in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy [Spirit].’ Thus the voice of Mary
wrought with power, and filled Elisabeth with the Holy [Spirit]. And by her tongue, as from an everflowing fountain, she sent forth a stream of gracious gifts in the way of prophecy to her relation; and while the feet of her child were bound in the womb, she prepared to dance and leap. And that was the sign of a marvellous jubilation. For wherever she was who was highly favoured, there she filled all
things with joy. ‘And Elisabeth spoke out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should
come to me? Blessed are you among women.’ For you have become to women the beginning of the
new creation. You have given to us boldness of access into paradise, and you have put to flight our
ancient woe. For after you the race of woman shall no more be made the subject of reproach. No more
do the successors of Eve fear the ancient curse, or the pangs of childbirth. For Christ, the Redeemer of
our race, the Saviour of all nature, the spiritual Adam who has healed the hurt of the creature of earth,
comes forth from your holy womb. ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your
womb.’ For He who bears all blessings for us is manifested as your fruit. This we read in the clear
words of her who was barren; but yet more clearly did the holy Virgin herself express this again when
she presented to God the song replete with thanksgiving, and acceptance, and divine knowledge;
announcing ancient things together with what was new; proclaiming along with things which were of
old, things also which belong to the consummation of the ages; and summing up in a short discourse
the mysteries of Christ. ‘And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God
my Saviour,’ and so forth. ‘He has helped His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy, and of the
covenant which He established with Abraham and with his seed for ever.’ You see how the holy Virgin
has surpassed even the perfection of the patriarchs, and how she confirms the covenant which was
made with Abraham by God, when He said, ‘This is the covenant which I shall establish between me
and you.’ Wherefore He has come and confirmed the covenant with Abraham, having received
mystically in Himself the sign of circumcision, and having proved Himself the fulfilment of the law
and the prophets. This song of prophecy, therefore, did the holy mother of God render to God, saying,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour: for He that is mighty has
done to me great things, and holy is His name.’ For having made me the mother of God, He has also
preserved me a virgin; and by my womb the fullness of all generations is headed up together for
sanctification. For He has blessed every age, both men and women, both young men and youths, and
old men. ‘He has made strength with His arm,’ on our behalf, against death and against the devil,
having torn the handwriting of our sins. ‘He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;
’yea, He has scattered the devil himself, and all the demons that serve under him. For he was
overweeningly haughty in his heart, seeing that he dared to say, ‘I will set my throne above the clouds,
and I will be like the Most High.’ And now, how He scattered him the prophet has indicated in what
follows, where he says, ‘Yet now you shall be brought down to hell,’ and all your hosts with you. For
He has overthrown everywhere his altars and the worship of vain gods, and He has prepared for
Himself a peculiar people out of the heathen nations. ‘He has put down the mighty from their seats, and
exalted them of low degree.’ In these terms is intimated in brief the extrusion of the Jews and the
admission of the Gentiles. For the elders of the Jews and the scribes in the law, and those who were
richly privileged with other prerogatives, because they used their riches ill and their power lawlessly,
were cast down by Him from every seat, whether of prophecy or of priesthood, whether of legislature
or of doctrine, and were stripped of all their ancestral wealth, and of their sacrifices and multitudinous
festivals, and of all the honourable privileges of the kingdom. Spoiled of all these boons, as naked
fugitives they were cast out into captivity. And in their stead the humble were exalted, namely, the
Gentile peoples who hungered after righteousness. For, discovering their own lowliness, and the hunger that pressed upon them for the knowledge of God, they pleaded for the divine word, though it were but for crumbs of the same, like the woman of Canaan; and for this reason they were filled with the riches of the divine mysteries. For the Christ who was born of the Virgin, and who is our God, has given over the whole inheritance of divine blessings to the Gentiles. ‘He has helped His servant Israel.’ Not any Israel in general, indeed, but His servant, who in very deed maintains the true nobility of Israel. And on this account also did the mother of God call Him servant (Son) and heir. For when He had found the same labouring painfully in the letter and the law, He called him by grace. It is such an Israel, therefore, that He called and has helped in remembrance of His mercy. ‘As He spoke to our fathers, I to Abraham and to his seed for ever.’ In these few words is comprehended the whole mystery of the economy. For, with the purpose of saving the race of men, and fulfilling the covenant that was made with our fathers, Christ has once ‘bowed the heavens and come down.’ And thus He shows Himself to us as we are capable of receiving Him, in order that we might have power to see Him, and handle Him, and hear Him when the speaks. And on this account did God the Word deem it meet to take to Himself the flesh and the perfect humanity by a woman, the holy Virgin; and He was born a man, in order that He might discharge our debt, and fulfil even in Himself the ordinances of the covenant made with Abraham, in its rite of circumcision, and all the other legal appointments connected with it. And after she had spoken these words the holy Virgin went to Nazareth; and from that a decree of Caesar led her to come again to Bethlehem; and so, as proceeding herself from the royal house, she was brought to the royal house of David along with Joseph her espoused husband. And there ensued there the mystery which transcends all wonders,—the Virgin brought forth and bore in her hand Him who bears the whole creation by His word. ‘And there was no room for them in the inn.’ He found no room who founded the whole earth by His word. She nourished with her milk Him who imparts sustenance and life to everything that has breath. She wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes who binds the whole creation fast with His word. She laid Him in a manger who rides seated upon the cherubim. A light from heaven shone round about Him who lightens the whole creation. The hosts of heaven attended Him with their doxologies who is glorified in heaven from before all ages. A star with its torch guided them who had come from the distant parts of earth toward Him who is the true Orient. From the East came those who brought gifts to Him who for our sakes became poor. And the holy mother of God kept these words, and pondered them in her heart, like one who was the receptacle of all the mysteries. Your praise, O most holy Virgin, surpasses all laudation, by reason of the God who received the flesh and was born man of you. To you every creature, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, offers the meet offering of honour. For you have been indeed set forth as the true cherubic throne. You shine as the very brightness of light in the high places of the kingdoms of intelligence; where the Father, who is without beginning, and whose power you had overshadowing you, is glorified; where also the Son is worshipped, whom you bore according to the flesh; and where the Holy Spirit is praised, who effected in your womb the generation of the mighty King. Through you, O thou that art highly favoured, is the holy and consubstantial Trinity known in the world. Together with yourself, deem us also worthy to be made partakers of your perfect grace in Jesus Christ our Lord: with whom, and with the Holy Spirit, be glory to the Father, now and ever, and unto the ages of the ages. Amen.
(Note: hosted by a non-Orthodox site:
Most-Holy Theotokos, save us!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

St. James the Faster

"Sometimes we do not see any outlet, any escape from our sins, and they torment us: on account of them, the heart is oppressed with sorrow and weary. But Jesus looks upon us, and streams of tears flow from our eyes, and with the tears all the tissue of evil in our soul vanishes. We weep with joy that such mercy has suddenly and unexpectedly been sent to us."
St. John of Kronstadt
St. James the Faster - Commemorated on March 4 (
Saint James the Faster lived a life of asceticism near the Phoenician city of Porphyrion in the sixth century. For fifteen years, he lived in a cave devoting himself to monastic deeds, and he received the gift of wonderworking from the Lord. Under his influence many of the local inhabitants were converted to the Christian Faith. 

News of the ascetic spread everywhere, and so went to another place so that he would not fall into temptation. He found a new cave, and lived there for thirty years. The devil set terrible snares for the ascetic. James healed a young girl from demonic possession, but then fell into sin with her. In order to conceal his sin, he killed the girl and threw her into a river. 

Distraught over this sin, he repented for what he had done. For a long time he hid himself away in the wilderness, bereft of shelter and peace, tormented by the pricks of conscience, and he was on the point of forsaking the monastic life and returning to the world. But the immeasurable mercy of God, against which the sins of this world cannot prevail, and which desires salvation for all mankind, would not permit the ruin of this monk who had toiled so many years for the Lord. 

The Lord thwarted the devil's intent to destroy the ascetic, and returned him through repentance to the path of salvation. Wandering about the wilderness, James saw a monastery, and entering it, he confessed his sin before the igumen and the brethren. The igumen urged him to remain with them, fearing that he would ultimately fall into despair. But James went off and again he wandered the wilderness for a long time. 

Finally the All-Beneficent Providence of God brought him to a certain desert-dweller filled with grace and wisdom. Lifting the burden from him, the desert-dweller suggested that James remain with him. But James would not remain with the Elder, though encouraged and given hope by him, and he secluded himself in a cave and there for ten years offered repentance to God, weeping and wailing, and asking forgiveness for the sin he committed. The Lord heard the prayers of the penitent monk and granted him His mercy. James reacquired his gift of wonderworking. He remained in the cave until the time of his death. He was also buried there.

Who from the greater height falls, is injured more,
To the heights whoever is lifted, let him cautiously shield himself.
The holy apostle writes: "Whoever thinks that he is standing secure
should take care not to fall," (I Corinthians 10:12) let him fear God.
James the Faster, according to the height of his soul, a giant was he,
But, he, from the heights slipped, and the devil toppled him;
One sin, to the other hastens, adultery rushes to murder,
James the Faster, himself, punishes, and God comforted him.
All virtues, one sin, is able to erode;
One hole in the granary, all the wheat pours out.
A house filled with fragrances, one handful of filth
Empties it of redolence and fills it with stench.
One-hundred victories nor one-hundred celebrations do not help
When in the final battle, the head is lost.
The spiritual life is a struggle against the hordes of the devil,
In this battle, from the beginning the proud are defeated.
Whoever invokes the Name of God with profound humility
That one, in battle, will be protected by God's mercy.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
With the rivers of your tears, you have made the barren desert fertile. Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you, your labors have borne fruit a hundred-fold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O James, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.
(alterred from:
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!