Sunday, December 30, 2012

Elder Hadji-Georgis the Athonite (+1886)

Elder Hadji-Georgis the Athonite (+December 17th/30th 1886) (source)
This great, yet previously little-known Elder of the Holy Mountain, was brought to light by St. Paisios, in his book on his life: Elder Hadji-Georgis the Athonite, translated into English and published in 1996 by Holy Monastery "Evangelist John the Theologian", Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece.
The Elder's life is truly incredible, and worth reading. From his youth, he served Christ, and experienced countless wonders. He lived as a very strict ascetic on Mount Athos, and serves as a great example for monastics and laity. As Elder Paisios writes: "It does not matter that the Church has not [officially] proclaimed him a Saint, in order to give him a halo. That which has great significance is the radiant life of the Elder, his simple and innocent and silent example. He was full of virtue and Divine powers, which he possessed within himself in order to help his fellow men. He preached Christ, even from afar. He worked wonders, he saw divine visions, and had the gift of clairvoiyance. He had much grace from God, which did not abandon him! When the uncovering of his Holy Relics occurred, an unspeakable fragrance permeated from the Relics."

May we all have his blessing!
Elder Hadji-Georgis the Athonite, written by St. Paisios (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Hymn III on the Nativity of Christ, by St. Ephraim the Syrian

The Nativity of Christ (source)
Hymn III on the Nativity of Christ, by St. Ephraim the Syrian
Blessed be that first day of thine, Lord, wherewith this day of Thy Feast is stamped I Thy day is like Thee, in that it shows mercy unto men, in that it is handed down and comes with all generations.
This is the day that ends with the aged, and returns that it may begin with the young! a day that by its love refreshes itself, that it may refresh by its might us decayed creatures. Thy day when it had visited us and passed, and gone away, in its mercy returned and visited us again: for it knows that human nature needs it; in all things like unto Thee as seeking us.
The world is in want of its fountain; and for it, Lord, as for Thee, all therein are athirst. This is the day that rules over the seasons! the dominion of Thy day is like Thine, which stretches over generations that have come, and are to come! Thy day is like unto Thee, because when it is one, it buds and multiplies itself, that it may be like Thee!
In this Thy day, Lord, which is near unto us, we see Thy Birth that is far off! Like to Thee be Thy day to us, Lord; let it be a mediator and a warranter of peace.
Thy day reconciled Heaven and earth, because therein the Highest came down to the lowest.
Thy day was able to reconcile the Just One, who was wroth at our sins; Thy day forgave thousands of sins, for in it bowels of mercy shone forth upon the guilty!
Great, Lord, is Thy day; let it not be small upon us, let it show mercy according as it used to do, upon us transgressors!
And if every day, Lord, Thy forgiveness wells forth, how exceeding great should it be upon this day! All the days from the Treasure of Thy bright day gain blessings. All the feasts from the stores of this feast have their fairness and their ornaments. Thy bowels of mercy upon Thy day make Thou to abound unto us, O Lord! Make us to distinguish Thy day from all days! for great is the treasure-house of the day of Thy Birth; let it be the ransomer of debtors! Great is this day above all days, for in it came forth mercy to sinners. A store of medicines is this Thy great day, because on it shone forth the Medicine of Life to the wounded! A treasure of helpful graces is this day, for that on it Light gleamed forth upon our blindness! Yea, it also brought a sheaf unto us; and it came, that from it might flow plenty upon our hunger. This day is that forerunning Cluster, in which the cup of salvation was concealed! This day is the first-born feast, which, being born the first, overcomes all feasts. In the winter which strips the fruit of the branches off from the barren vine, Fruit sprang up1 unto us; in the cold that bares all the trees, a shoot was green for us of the house of Jesse. In December2 when the seed is hidden in the earth, there sprouted forth from the Womb the Ear of Life. In March3 when the seed was sprouting in the air, a Sheaf4 sowed itself in the earth. The harvest thereof, Death devoured it in Hell; which the Medicine of life that is hidden therein did yet burst open! In March when the lambs bleat in the wilderness, into the Womb the Paschal Lamb entered! Out of the stream whence the fishers came up,5 He was baptized and came up Who incloses all things in his net; out of the stream the fish whereof Simon took, out of it the Fisher of men came up, and took him. With the Cross which catches all robbers, He caught up unto life that robber!6 The Living by His death emptied Hell, He unloosed it and let fly away from it entire multitudes! The publicans and harlots, the impure snares, the snares of the deceitful fowler the Holy One seized! The sinful woman, who was a snare for men, He made a mirror for penitent women! The fig that cast its fruit, that refused fruit,7 offered Zacchaeus as fruit; the fruit of its own nature it gave not, but it yielded one reasonable fruit! The Lord spread His thirst over the well, and caught her that was thirsty with the water that He asked of her. He caught one soul at the well, and again caught with her the whole city:8 twelve fishers the Holy One caught, and again caught with them the whole world. As for Iscariot, that escaped from His nets, the strangling halter fell upon his neck! His all-quickening net catches the living,9 and he that escapes from it escapes from the living.
And who is able, Lord, to tell me up the several succours that are hid in Thee? How shall the parched mouth be able to drink from the Fountain of the Godhead! Answer today the voice of our petition; let our prayer which is in words take effect in deeds. Heal us, O my Master; every time that we see Thy Feast, may it cause rumours that we have heard to pass away. Our mind wanders amid these voices. O Voice of the Father, still [other] voices; the world is noisy, in Thee let it gain itself quiet; for by Thee the sea was stilled from its storms. The devils rejoiced when they heard the voice of blasphemy: let the Watchers rejoice in us as they are wont.10 From amongst Thy fold there is the voice of sorrowfulness; O Thou that makest all rejoice,11 let Thy flock rejoice! as for our murmur, O my Master, in it reject us not: our mouth murmurs since it is sinful. Let Thy day, O Lord, give us all manner of joy, with the flowers12 of peace, let us keep Thy passover. In the day of Thy Ascension we are lifted up:13 with the new Bread shall be the memorial thereof. O Lord, increase our peace, that we may keep three feasts of the Godhead. Great is Thy day, Lord, let us not be despised. All men honour the day of Thy birth. Thou righteous One, keep Thou the glory of Thy birth; for even Herod honoured the day of His birth! The dances of the impure one pleased the tyrant; to Thee, Lord, let the voice of chaste women be sweet! Thee, Lord, let the voice of chaste women please, whose bodies Thou guardest holily. The day of Herod was like him: Thy day too is like Thee! The day of the troubled one was troubled with sin; and fair as Thou art is Thy fair day! The feast of the tyrant killed the preacher; in Thy feast every man preaches glory. On the day of the murderer, the Voice14 was put to silence; but on Thy day are the voices of the feast. The foul one in his feast put out the Light, that darkness might cover the adulterers. The season of the Holy One trims lamps, that darkness may flee with the hidden things thereof. The day of that fox15 stank like himself; but holy is the feast of the True Lamb.16 The day of the transgressor passed17away like himself; Thy day like Thyself abideth for ever. The day of the tyrant raged like himself, because with his chain it put to silence the righteous Voice. The feast of the Meek One is tranquil like Himself, because His sum shines upon His persecutors. The tyrant was conscious that He was not a king, therefore to the King of kings he gave place. The whole day, Lord, suffices me not to balance Thy praise with his blame. May Thy Gracious day cause my sin to pass away, seeing that it is with the day of the impure one, that I have weighed Thy day! For great is Thy day beyond comparison! nor can it be compared with our days. The day of man is as of the earthy: the day of God is as of God! Thy day, Lord, is greater than those of the prophets,18 and I have taken and set it beside that of the murderer! Thou knowest, O Lord, as knowing all things, how to hear the comparison that my tongue hath made. Let Thy day grant our requests for life, since his day granted the request for death. The needy king swore on his feast that half his kingdom should be the reward of the dance! Let Thy feast then, O Thou that enrichest all, shed down in mercy a crumb of fine wheat flour! From the dry land gushed the Fountain, which sufficed to satisfy the thirst of the Gentiles! From the Virgin's womb as from a strong rock sprouted up the seed, whence was much fruit! Barns without number did Joseph fill;19 and they were emptied and failed in the years of the famine. One true Sheaf gave bread; the bread of Heaven, whereof there is no stint. The bread which the First-born brake in the wilderness,20 failed and passed away though very good. He returned again and broke the New Bread21 which ages and generations shall not waste away! The seven loaves also that He brake failed,22 and the five loaves too that He multiplied were consumed;23 the Bread that He brake exceeded the world's needs, for the more it was divided, the more it multiplied exceedingly. With much wine also He filled the waterpots; they drew it out, yet it failed though it was abundant: of the Cup that He gave though the draught was small, very great was its strength, so that there is no stint thereto. A Cup is He24 that contains all strong wines, and also a Mystery in the midst of which He Himself is! The one Bread that He brake has no bound, and the one Cup that He mingled has no stint!25 The Wheat that was sown,26 on the third day came up and filled the Garner of Life.27 The spiritual Bread, as the Giver of it, quickens the spiritual spiritually, and he that receives it carnally, receives it rashly to no profit. This Bread of grace let the spirit receive discerningly, as the medicine of Life. If the dead sacrifices in the name of devils were offered,28 yea eaten, not without a mystery; at the holy thing of the offering, how much more does it behove us that this mystery be circumspectly administered by us. He that eateth of the sacrifice in the name of devils, becomes devilish without all contra- diction. He that eateth the Heavenly Bread, becomes Heavenly without doubt! Wine teaches us, in that it makes him that is familiar therewith like itself: for it hates much him that is fond of it, and is intoxicating and maddening, and a mocker29 to him! Light teaches us, in that it makes like unto itself the eye the daughter of the sun: the eye by the light saw the nakedness, and ran and chastely hid the chaste man.30 As for that nakedness it was wine that made it, which even to the chaste skills not to show mercy!
With the weapon of the deceiver the First-born clad Himself, that with the weapon that killed, He might restore to life again! With the tree wherewith he slew us, He delivered us. With the wine which maddened us, with it we were made chaste! With the rib that was drawn out of Adam, the wicked one drew out the heart of Adam. There rose from the Rib31 a hidden power, which cut off Satan as Dagon: for in that Ark a book was hidden that cried and proclaimed concerning the Conqueror! There was then a mystery revealed, in that Dagon was brought low in his own place of refuge!32 The accomplishment came after the type, in that the wicked one was brought low in the place in which he trusted! Blessed be He Who came and in Him were accomplished the mysteries of the left hand, and the right hand.33 
Fulfilled was the mystery that was in the Lamb, and fulfilled was the type that was in Dagon. Blessed is He Who by the True Lamb redeemed us, and destroyed our destroyer as He did Dagon! In December when the nights are long, rose unto us the Day, of Whom there is no bound! In winter when all the world is gloomy, forth came the Fair One Who cheered all in the world! In winter that makes the earth barren, virginity learned to bring forth. In December, that causes the travails of the earth to cease, in it were the travails of virginity. The early lamb no one ever used to see before the shepherds: and as for the true Lamb, in the season of His birth, the tidings of Him too hasted unto the shepherds. That old wolf saw the sucking Lamb, and he trembled before Him, though He had concealed himself; for because the wolf had put on sheep's clothing, the Shepherd of all became a Lamb in the flocks, in order that when the greedy one had been bold against the Meek, the Mighty One might rend that Eater.34 The Holy One dwelt bodily in the womb; and He dwelt spiritually in the mind. Mary that conceived Him abhorred the marriage bed; let not that soul commit whoredom in the which He dwelleth. Because Mary perceived Him, she left her betrothed: He dwelleth in chaste virgins, if they perceive Him.35The deaf perceive not the mighty thunder, neither does the heady man the sound of the commandment. For the deaf is bewildered in the time of the thunderclap, the heady man is bewildered also at the voice of instruction; if fearful thunder terrifies the deaf, then would fearful wrath stir the unclean! That the deaf hears not is no blame to him; but whoso tramples [on the commandments] it is headiness. From time to time there is thunder: but the voice of the law thunders every day. Let us not close our ears when their openings, as being opened and not closed against it, accuse us; and the door of hearing is open by nature, that it might reproach us for our headiness against our will. The door of the voice and the door of the mouth our will can open or close. Let us see what the Good One has given us; and let us hear the mighty Voice, and let not the doors of our ears be closed.
Glory to that Voice Which became Body, and to the Word of the High One Which became Flesh! Hear Him also, O ears, and see Him, O eyes, and feel Him, O hands, and eat Him, O mouth! Ye members and senses give praise unto Him, that came and quickened the whole body! Mary bare the silent Babe, while in Him were hidden all tongues! Joseph bare Him, and in Him was hidden a nature more ancient than aught that is old! The High One became as a little child, and in Him was hidden a treasure of wisdom sufficing for all! Though Most High, yet He sucked the milk of Mary, and of His goodness all creatures suck! He is the Breast of Life, and the Breath of Life; the dead suck from His life and revive. Without the breath of the air no man lives, without the Might of the Son no man subsists. On His living breath that quickeneth all, depend the spirits that are above and that are beneath. When He sucked the milk of Mary, He was suckling all with Life. While He was lying on His Mother's bosom, in His bosom were all creatures lying. He was silent as a Babe, and yet He was making His creatures execute all His commands. For without the First-born no man can approach unto the Essence, to which He is equal. The thirty years He was in the earth, Who was ordering all creatures, Who was receiving all the offerings of praise from those above and those below. He was wholly in the depths and wholly in the highest! He was wholly with all things and wholly with each. While His body was forming within the womb, His power was fashioning all members! While the Conception of the Son was fashioning in the womb, He Himself was fashioning babes in the womb.36 Yet not as His body was weak in the womb, was His power weak in the womb! So too not as His body was feeble by the Cross, was His might also feeble by the Cross. For when on the Cross He quickened the dead, His Body quickened them, yea, rather His Will; just as when He was dwelling wholly in the womb, His hidden Will was visiting all! For see how, when He was wholly hanging upon the Cross, His Power was yet making all creatures move! For He darkened the sun and made the earth quake; He rent the graves and brought forth the dead! See how when He was wholly on the Cross, yet again He was wholly everywhere! Thus was He entirely in the womb, while He was again wholly in everything! While on the Cross He quickened the dead, so while a Babe He was fashioning babes. While He was slain, He opened the graves;37 while He was in the womb, He opened wombs. Come hearken, my brethren, concerning the Son of the Secret One that was revealed in His Body, while His Power was concealed! For the Power of the Son is a free Power; the womb did not bind it up, as it did the Body! For while His Power was dwelling in the womb, He was fashioning infants in the womb! His Power compassed her, that compassed Him. For if He drew in His Power, all things would fall; His Power upholds all things; while He was within the womb, He left not His hold of all. He in His own Person shaped an Image in the womb, and was shaping in all wombs all countenances. Whilst He was increasing in stature among the poor, from an abundant treasury He was nourishing all!38While she that anointed Him was anointing Him, with His dew and His rain He was anointing all! The Magi brought myrrh and gold, while in Him was hidden a treasure of riches. The myrrh and spices which He had prepared and created, did the Magi bring Him of His own. It was by Power from Him that Mary was able to bear in Her bosom Him that bears up all things! It was from the great storehouse of all creatures, Mary gave Him all which she did give Him!39 She gave Him milk from Himself that prepared it, she gave Him food from Himself that made it! He gave milk unto Mary as God: again He sucked it from her, as the Son of Man. Her hands bare Him in that He had emptied. His strength; and her arm embraced Him, in that He had made Himself small. The measure of His Majesty who has measured? He caused His measures to shrink into a Raiment. She wove for Him and clothed Him because He had put off His glory. She measured Him and wove for Him, since He had made Himself little.
The sea when it bore Him was still and calmed, and how came the lap of Joseph to bear Him? The womb of hell conceived Him and was burst open, and how did the womb of Mary contain Him? The stone that was over the grave He broke open by His might, and how could Mary's arm contain Him? Thou camest to a low estate, that Thou mightest raise all to life! Glory be unto Thee from all that are quickened by Thee! Who is able to speak of the Son of the Hidden One who came down and clothed Himself with a Body in the womb? He came forth and sucked milk as a child, and among little children the Son of the Lord of all crept about. They saw Him as a little Child in the street, while there was dwelling in Him the Love of all. Visibly children surrounded Him in the street; secretly Angels surrounded Him in fear. Cheerful was He with the little ones as a child; awful was He with the Angels as a Commander: He was awful to John for him to loose His shoe's latchet: He was gentle to sinners that kissed His feet! The Angels as Angels saw Him; according to the measure of his knowledge each man beheld Him: according to the measure of each man's discernment, thus he perceived Him that is greater than all. The Father and Himself alone are a full measure of knowledge so as know Him as He is! For every creature whether above or below obtains each his measure of knowledge; He the Lord of all gives all to us. He that enriches all, requires usury of all. He gives to all things as wanting nothing, and yet requires usury of all as if needy. He gave us herds and flocks as Creator, and yet asked sacrifices as though in need. He made the water wine as Maker: and yet he drank of it as a poor man. Of His own He mingled [wine] in the marriage feast, His wine He mingled and gave to drink when He was a guest. In His love He multiplied [the days of] the aged Simeon; that he, a mortal, might present Him who quickeneth all. By power from Him did Simeon carry Him; he that presented Him, was by Him presented [to God]. He gave imposition of hands to Moses in the Mount,40 and received it in the midst of the river from John. In the power of His gifts John was enabled to baptize, though earthy, the heavenly. By power from Him the earth supported Him: it was nigh to being dissolved, and His might strengthened it. Martha gave Him to eat: viands which He had created she placed before Him. Of His own all that give have made their vows: of His own treasures they placed upon His table.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hymn II on the Nativity of Christ, by St. Ephraim the Syrian

Icon of Jesus Christ "O Anapeson" (source)
Hymn II on the Nativity of Christ, by St. Ephraim the Syrian
Blessed be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem to-day! Blessed be the Babe Who made manhood young again to-day! Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our famished state! Blessed be the Good One, Who suddenly enriched our necessitousness and supplied our needs! Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!

Praise to the Fountain that was sent1 for our propitiation. Praise be to Him Who made void the Sabbath by fulfilling it! Praise too to Him Who rebuked the leprosy and it remained not, Whom the fever saw and fled! Praise to the Merciful, Who bore our toil! Glory to Thy coming, which quickened the sons of men!
Glory to Him, Who came to us by His first-born! Glory to the Silence,2 that spake by His Voice. Glory to the One on high, Who was seen by His Day-spring! Glory to the Spiritual, Who was pleased to have a Body, that in it His virtue might be felt, and He might by that Body show mercy on His household's bodies!
Glory to that Hidden One, Whose Son was made manifest! Glory to that Living One, Whose Son was made to die! Glory to that Great One, Whose Son descended and was small! Glory to the Power Who did straiten His greatness by a form, His unseen nature by a shape! With eye and mind we have beheld Him, yea with both of them.
Glory to that Hidden One, Who even with the mind cannot be felt at all by them that pry into Him; but by His graciousness was felt by the hand of man! The Nature that could not be touched, by His hands was bound and tied, by His feet was pierced and lifted up. Himself of His own will He embodied for them that took Him.
Blessed be He Whom free will crucified, because He let it: blessed be He Whom the wood also did bear, because He allowed it. Blessed be He Whom the grave bound, that had [thereby] a limit set it. Blessed be He Whose own will brought Him to the Womb and Birth, to arms and to increase [in stature]. Blessed He whose changes purchased life for human nature.3
Blessed He Who sealed our soul, and adorned it and espoused it to Himself. Blessed He Who made our Body a tabernacle for His unseen Nature. Blessed He Who by our tongue interpreted His secret things. Let us praise that Voice whose glory is hymned with our lute, and His virtue with our harp. The Gentiles have assembled and have come to hear His strains.
Glory to the Son of the Good One, Whom the sons of the evil one rejected! Glory to the Son of the Just One, Whom the sons of wickedness crucified! Glory to Him Who loosed us, and was bound for us all! Glory to Him Who gave the pledge, and redeemed it too! Glory to the Beautiful, Who conformed us to His image! Glory to that Fair One, Who looked not to our foulnesses!
Glory to Him Who sowed His Light in the darkness,4 and was reproached in His hidden state, and covered His secret things. He also stripped and took off from us the clothing of our filthiness.5 Glory be to Him on high, Who mixed His salt6 in our minds, His leaven in our souls. His Body became Bread, to quicken our deadness.
Praise to the Rich, Who paid for us all, that which He borrowed not;7 and wrote [His bill], and also became our debtor! By His yoke He brake from us the chains of him that led us captive. Glory to the Judge Who was judged, and made His Twelve to sit in judgment on the tribes, and by ignorant men condemned the scribes of that nation!
Glory to Him Who could never be measured by us! Our heart is too small for Him, yea our mind is too feeble. He makes foolish our littleness by the riches of His Wisdom. Glory to Him, Who lowered Himself, and asked;8 that He might hear and learn that which He knew; that He might by His questions reveal the treasure of His helpful graces!
Let us adore Him Who enlightened with His doctrine our mind, and in our hearing sought a pathway for His words. Praise we Him Who grafted into our tree His fruit. Thanks to Him Who sent His Heir, that by Him He might draw us to Himself, yea make us heirs with Him! Thanks to that Good One, the cause of all goods!
Blessed He Who did not chide, because that He was good! Blessed He Who did not spurn, because that He was just also! Blessed He Who was silent, and rebuked; that He might quicken us with both! Severe His silence and reproachful. Mild His severity even When He was accusing; for He rebuked the traitor, and kissed the thief.
Glory to the hidden Husbandman of our intellects! His seed fell on to our ground, and made our mind rich. His increase came an hundredfold into the treasury of our souls! Let us adore Him Who sat down and took rest; and walked in the way, so that the Way was in the way, and the Door also for them that go in,9 by which they go in to the kingdom.
Blessed the Shepherd Who became a Lamb for our reconcilement! Blessed the Branch Who became the Cup of our Redemption! Blessed also be the Cluster, Fount of medicine of life! Blessed also be the Tiller, Who became Wheat, that He might be sown; and a Sheaf,10 that He might be cut![Blessed be] the Architect Who became a Tower for our place of safety!11 Blessed He Who so tempered the feelings of our mind,12 that we with our harp should sing that which the winged creatures' mouth knows not with its strains to sing! Glory to Him, Who beheld how we had pleased to be like to brutes in our rage and our greediness; and came down and was one of us, that we might become heavenly!
Glory be to Him, Who never felt the need of our praising Him; yet felt the need as being kind to us, and thirsted13 as loving us, and asks us to give to Him, and longs to give to us. His fruit was mingled with us men, that in Him we might come nigh to Him, Who condescended to us. By the Fruit of His stem He grafted us into His Tree.
Let us praise Him, Who prevailed and quickened us by His stripes! Praise we Him, Who took away the curse by His thorns! Praise we Him Who put death to death by His dying! Praise we Him, Who held His peace and justified us! Praise we Him, Who rebuked death that had overcome us! Blessed He, Whose helpful graces cleansed out the left side!14
Praise we Him Who watched and put to sleep him that led us captive. Praise we Him Who went to sleep, and chased our deep sleep away. Glory be to God Who cured weak manhood! Glory be to Him Who was baptized, and drowned our iniquity in the deep, and choked him15 that choked us! Let us glorify with all our mouths the Lord of all creatures!
Blessed be the Physician Who came down and amputated without pain, and healed wounds with a medicine that was not harsh. His Son became a Medicine, that showed sinners mercy. Blessed be He Who dwelt in the womb, and wrought therein a perfect Temple, that He might dwell in it, a Throne that He might be in it, a Garment that He might be arrayed in it, and a Weapon that He might conquer in it.
Blessed be He Whom our mouth cannot adequately praise, because His Gift is too great for skill of orators [to tell]; neither can the faculties adequately praise His goodness. For praise Him as we may, it is too little.
And since it is useless to be silent and to constrain ourselves, may our feebleness excuse such praise as we can sing.
How gracious He, Who demands not more than our strength can give! How would Thy servant be condemned in capital and interest, did he not give such as he could, and did he refuse that which He owed! Ocean of glory Who needest not to have Thy glory sung, take in Thy goodness this drop of praise; since by Thy Gift Thou hast supplied my tongue a sense for glorifying Thee.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The wondrous icon of the Theotokos of Bethlehem, and her appearance to a muslim man

The wonderworking icon of the Theotokos of Bethlehem (source)
The wondrous icon of the Theotokos of Bethlehem ("Bhthleemitissa"), and her appearance to a muslim man

 This is the story of the miraculous appearance of the Holy Mother to a Muslim in Bethlehem on the first day of Holy Week 2012.  The Orthodox monastic community of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem related this story to Mr. Lycourgos Markoudes who writes here as he heard it. 

            The story begins on Holy Monday afternoon when the Church of the Nativity was practically empty of pilgrims.  The monks were in the area of the Church where they attend to the needs of the Church.  This is a short distance from the steps that lead to the Cave of the Birth of Christ.  At one point, they saw a man approach them and he appeared to be very emotional.  He took two candles and with great emotion he approached the icon of the Holy Mother of Bethlehem.  He lit the candles before the icon and with tears flowing from his eyes he turned towards the monks who were looking at him with concern.  He told them that he was a Muslim from the area around Bethlehem and that during the previous day he saw the Holy Mother in his sleep.  The Holy Mother invited him to visit the place where She had given birth to Her Son and he was to enter the area through a low doorway.  He was told to proceed to the right and then go to the area where he would find Her and then light two candles before her icon.

            This man had not visited this Church since he was a very young child and he did not remember anything about the Church.  When he arrived there on that afternoon, he left his car running with its emergency lights flashing in front of the main entrance of the Church, in an area that has restricted parking.  His wife had remained in the car.  When he arrived, he proceeded to enter walking briskly toward the low doorway of the Church.  He realized as he was proceeding ahead that everything was exactly the way that our Holy Mother had described it to him.  He then went right and down some stairs of Justinian’s Church and he entered the right area of the Church. This is the area that is under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church and it leads to the Cave where Jesus was born.  The icon of the Holy Mother was exactly in the place where She had indicated it would be.  And the icon was exactly the same one he had seen in his dream.

            It was the icon of the Holy Mother of God of Bethlehem.  This miracle-working icon is the resident icon of the Church of Bethlehem and it is located on a prominent icon stand on the right side of the steps that lead to The Cave of the Birth of Christ.  The facial features of this icon overflow with an infinite expression of love and calmness while the faint smile on her face brings joy to the hearts of pilgrims.  The icon is surrounded with precious fabrics and jewels.  There are no solid details about the origin of the icon but tradition says that it comes from Russia and it is connected with the Russian Empress Katherine.  This Empress visited the Holy Land after a miracle that was performed by the Mother of God. As a result of this, she gave her imperial clothing so that the Mother of the World could be dressed in them.  She also gave her jewelry so that they could be placed on the icon.  She also directed that future empresses should not wear rubies so that henceforth this distinctive honor would only belong to the Holy Mother. This is the icon that this Muslim came to reverence when he arrived at the Church of the Birth of Christ late afternoon of Holy Monday.  He naturally did not know how to speak Greek and the conversation with the monks was in Arabic.

            This was unbelievable news that this Muslim brought to the monks.  The monks offered him a small icon of our Holy Mother which he accepted with thanksgiving.  He left the Church quickly, just the way he arrived, but he then returned again in a few moments. He had forgotten that Our Holy Mother had also told him that while entering the Church, he should see her friends on the columns of the Church.  The monks then took him to see the columns of the Church which have  icons of saints painted on them; some of these icons today are just shadows, some are blackened and others are completely faded.  These are life size figures of the Saints of our Church.  These are the friends of our Holy Mother.

            After seeing the columns the Muslim again left quickly and has never again returned to the Church. But the All-Holy One, the Mother of God and our Mother, through this miraculous occurrence came to show Her support for us so that we will have patience, hope and consolation and also to assure us that: “Her Son will come again and He will gather up all those who are close to Him.”  Let us, therefore, not dare to distance ourselves from Him, so that we can taste His salvation. Amen.      
+Fr. Constantine J. Simones, June 2, 2012 (source)
Close-up of the icon of the Theotokos of Bethlehem (source)

Apolytikion of the Icon of the Theotokos of Bethlehem (amateur translation)
You bless all those who hasten with faith to venerate your sacred image, O Mother of God, gushing forth healings, O Lady of Bethlehem, and a greatly-flowing river. And do not cease to protect those who radiantly glorify your all-sacred Son, Who did not depart from the Father's bosom, and, in an unspeakable manner, received mortal flesh from your blood.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

St. Dionysios of Zakynthos, the Bishop of Aegina

St. Dionysios of Zakynthos, the Bishop of Aegina - Commemorated December 17 (his repose) and August 24 (the transfer of his Relics) (source)
For a fuller life of this great Saint, see:
Saint Dionysius of Zakynthos, the Bishop of Aegina was born in 1547 on the island of Zakynthos. Though born into a noble family, he was determined to flee the world and set his mind upon heavenly things. He entered the monastery of Strophada, and after the prescribed time, he was clothed in the angelic schema by the abbot. Though young in years, he surpassed many of his elders in virtue, and was found worthy of ordination to the holy priesthood.

Although he protested his unworthiness, St Dionysius was consecrated Bishop of Aegina. In that office he never ceased to teach and admonish his flock, and many were drawn to him in order to profit from his wisdom. He feared the praise of men, lest he should fall into the sin of vainglory, so he resigned his See and returned to Zakynthos.

In 1579 the diocese of Zakynthos was widowed (when a bishop dies, his diocese is described as "widowed"), and Dionysius agreed to care for it until a new bishop could be elected. Then he fled from the worldly life which gave him no peace, and went to the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos Anaphonitria, twenty miles from the main village. 

St. Dionysios of Zakynthos (source)
A certain stranger murdered the saint's brother Constantine, an illustrious nobleman. Fearing his victim's relatives, the stranger, by chance or by God's will, sought refuge in the monastery where St Dionysius was the abbot. When the saint asked the fugitive why he was so frightened, he confessed his sin and revealed the name of the man he had murdered, asking to be protected from the family's vengeance. St Dionysius wept for his only brother, as was natural. Then he comforted the murderer and hid him, showing him great compassion and love.

Soon the saint's relatives came to the monastery with a group of armed men and told him what had happened. He pretended to know nothing about it. After weeping with them and trying to console them, he sent them off in the wrong direction. Then he told the murderer that he was the brother of the man he had killed. He admonished him as a father, and brought him to repentance. After forgiving him, St Dionysius brought him down to the shore and helped him to escape to another place in order to save his life. Because of the saint's Christ-like virtue, he was granted the gift of working miracles.

Icon depicting St. Dionysios forgiving and protecting his brother's murderer (source)
Having passed his life in holiness, St Dionysius reached a great age, then departed to the Lord on December 17, 1624.

The dormition of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos (source)
Not only are the saint's relics incorrupt, but he is also one of Greece's "walking saints" (St Gerasimus and St Spyridon are the others). He is said to leave his reliquary and walk about performing miracles for those who seek his aid. In fact, the soles of his slippers wear out and must be replaced with a new pair from time to time. The old slippers are cut up, and the pieces are distributed to pilgims. On August 24, we celebrate the Transfer of his Holy Relics. Through the prayers of Saint Dionysius, may Christ our God have mercy upon us and save us.
The holy, incorrupt and wonderworking Relic of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A contemporary miracle of St. Sabbas of Kalymnos

St. Sabbas of Kalymnos (source)
A contemporary miracle of St. Sabbas of Kalymnos (amateur translation)
On the radio station of the Metropolis of Piraeus, on the feast of St. Sabbas of Kalymnos, Lykourgos Markoudes relates the following astonishing miracle:

Every Friday, I work a shift at the church bookstore of Kalymnos. About three years ago, an elderly tourist couple entered the bookstore, and having bought something, I gave them a small icon of St. Sabbas as a blessing.

They asked: “Who is this?”

I told them that this was the Saint of our island, St. Sabbas.

They asked, again in English: “Why is he a Saint? What has he done?”

I told them that he is a Saint because he loved God very much, he lived in asceticism, and works many miracles, heals those with cancer, and helps childless couple have children...

As soon as they heard this last point, they immediately called to their daughter and her husband who were outside, and told them what I said. They said that St. Sabbas helps many childless couples bear children. This couple was married for many years, and could not bear a child. They asked if they could go to the Monastery of St. Sabbas.

This girl was not Orthodox, but she had great reverence and piety, and she asked if she could go inside the church as she was not Orthodox. I told them that they of course could, and she also asked permission from the Abbess if she could venerate the reliquary, where is kept the whole relic of St. Sabbas, and she said of course she could.

Having venerated, she kneeled for about 10 minutes before the Saint, and with tears prayed, saying, among other things: “O Saint Sabbas, I am not Orthodox, I don't know many things about Christ, but I believe in God, and I believe that you can help me.”

After she stood up, the Abbess gave her holy oil from the vigil lamp of the Saint to anoint herself with. Having thanked her, they all left.

One year later...
One Friday, the same older parents of the couple came to the bookstore, found Niko, greeted him with joy, and asked if he remembered him. They then called their daughter and her husband, and they entered, holding their newborn baby in their arms.

They said: “This is Sabbina!”

They had a beautiful little girl in their arms, and in addition, they admitted that they all—parents, children—were baptized Orthodox, through the help of the well-known Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in England.

They asked if they could visit the Monastery of St. Sabbas to thank the Saint. As soon as they reached the church, with great emotion, they placed the little Sabbina on top of the reliquary of the Saint, and said: “Take it, this is yours, it's not mine!”

This girl had brought from England a whole envelope full of tests and doctor's opinions from the best hospitals, which mentioned that it would be impossible for her to remain pregrant, as she had a problem with her fallopian tubes. They told Mr. Niko to read these to confirm the greatness of this miracle. They had been tested scientifically, and had spent much money, even selling a plot of land, in order to afford it.

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

Selected hymns from the Orthodox Funeral Service for Infants

Jesus Christ: "Let the children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven" (source)

Selected hymns from the Orthodox Funeral Service for Infants
Tone 8
Who would not lament for you, my child, as your end journey begins from this world to another home? For while still a little child, all too soon from your mother's arms, as might a birdling on speeding wing upborne, are you departed to Him that made all things. O child, who from lament could refrain when he beholds your lovely face, which was like a gladsome rose, now fading fast away?
Who would not with groaning sighs, my child, and floods of clamorous tears mourn the wealth of your comeliness and the beauty shining forth from the innocence of your heart? For like a caravel which leaves no wake behind, so are you vanished, and from my eyes are sped. Come, my beloved friends, kinsfolk, neighbors, now draw nigh to join with me in the kiss of last farewell, and bear him (her) to his (her) grave.
O Lord Who watches over children in the present life and in the world to come because of their simplicity and innocence of mind, abundantly satisfying them with a place in Abraham's bosom, bringing them to live in radiantly shining places where the spirits of the righteous dwell; receive in peace the soul of Your little servant (Name), for You Yourself have said: "Let the little children come to Me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." For only Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven and to You we ascribe glory, together with Your Eternal Father and Your All; Holy, Good, and Life-creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

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

A miracle for a newborn from St. Ephraim of Nea Makri

St. Ephraim of Nea Makri (source)

An astonishing miracle for a newborn from St. Ephraim of Nea Makri (amateur translation)
I wish, in my own manner, to thank God and St. Ephraim for the miracle which I was made worthy to experience.

I was pregnant, and 12/29/01 was my given due date. When that date came, and I still was not in labor, my doctor gave me another week. On the morning of January 2nd 2002 I began to experience strong pains, and I went to the Hospital. I was checked, and told that my Obstetrician would be called, because I was most likely in labor.

In a short time, the next day (January 3rd), the day of St. Ephraim, I gave birth. The child was born with a dark color, however, due to the lack of Oxygen, and began to cry after 30 minutes. This had occurred within me (as my labor was delayed), and I was in immediate danger also. The child was suffering from apnea, and they did not remove him from the incubator, so that they could support him with Oxygen, with the result being suffering continuous seizures. They took him that evening to the Children's Hospital “Agia Sophia”, and the physicians there diagnosed that the child was suffering from cerebral edema. The ground fell from beneath my feet, and the doctors did not give us much hope...They told us to pray that he leave this life (the child would either die, or we would receive him as a vegetable, for the seizures had destroyed his internal organs, and my baby's beating heart was weak). His situation remained critical, and our only hope was God and St. Ephraim, both of whom we entreated daily.

In 13 days, there was a second encephalogram, when the doctors did not want to tell us to results, so that we not be given hope. After two days, they announced the new results, that our child was totally well, and they did not understand how this occurred, as they thought he was doomed. Here I should say that during these 13 days, St. Ephraim revealed himself to us many ways.

My one aunt saw a dream: she was within a Church of St. Ephraim, and there was a little boy who was crying continuously. She picked him up to calm him down, and she got up and walked. When my aunt told us this, she went with my mother to the same Church. On the road, my mother asked St. Ephraim to show her some sign. As she was lighting her vigil lamp, it went out, and she thought that this was a sign that my child had died. When she went to light it again, before she could get the lighter out, it lit itself again alone. Then she understood that my child was alive, and that the very powerful St. Ephraim would help him. In my house, we heard knocking from our icons, and the odor of incense filled all of our rooms.

My baby stayed 17 days in the NICU. After all that I related above, he remained another 13 days in a normal room, where they began to slowly feed him some milk. After this, we were able to bring him home.

Time passed, and we had to go for follow-up in two months. A few days before, my other aunt saw a dream: she was in my house for a visit, and there was a young man with her with a white shirt and black pants. The young man came for the first time to my house, and I began to welcome him. Before I could show him his bedroom, he entered my room by himself, where I had the baby, and began to unbutton his cufflinks. When I prepared something to treat him, my aunt called him, and he told her: “Go ahead, I will stay to watch over the child.”

Then I felt at ease, because I knew that my child would have a protector throughout his life. At his first check-up, we saw a very good professor at the Hospital, and when she read his history, she called her co-workers, saying: “Come see the miracle of the century.”

The whole episode which my child endured left him only with damage to his auditory nerve, for which he wears a hearing aid. I thank the All-powerful God from the depths of my heart, for He is always with us, and grants His might to the Saints to work wonders, and to protect us during the difficult times of our lives.
St. Ephraim of Nea Makri (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Elder Ephraim of Katounakia on the Priesthood

The Divine Liturgy (source)

Elder Ephraim of Katounakia on the Priesthood
When you liturgize, have in mind that you are a mediator. You receive from the world pain, tears, sickness, and supplications and you offer them above to the throne of the Godhead. Then you transfer to the world comfort, therapy, and whatever need someone may have. God has made you worthy of a great office, my child. Cultivate it. The ear of God is at the mouth of the priest.

The stole has great power. The stole is an arbiter of fallen man with the Father, with his Creator. This is why, as much as you can, commemorate more names.

During the time of the Turkish occupation there were many priests circulating around, but one priest circulated and gathered names to be commemorated during the Liturgy. The Turkish officer said to him: "Hey, he is raising a revolution of the people." He took the priest and brought him in. In his sleep all of those the priest had commemorated appeared to him and said: "Listen, either you release the priest, because he commemorated us and consoled us, or we will take your first child." The Turk became fearful. This was during the Turkish occupation. "Come priest, go and be well", he said, "go, for will I lose my child?"

The stole has great power, my child, great power. As much as you can, commemorate more names.

Yes, years ago I was given by Fr. Arsenios, spiritual brother of Elder Joseph, some names from the time he was an immigrant from Russia and came to Greece. I commemorated them. Later he told me: "You know, Elder, what I saw? I saw in my sleep that those names I gave you, well I went to one of their homes. I asked how they were doing here. 'Well,' they said, 'somewhat good, but Papa-Ephraim comes and consoles us.'" It was because I was commemorating his name. Yes. Later he asked another: "How are you doing?" They said: "So so, but it's raining a bit and we're cold, but Papa-Ephraim comes and consoles us." I said to him: "It is, my brother, the names I commemorate."

Why did Papa-Planas become a saint? He commemorated whole papers. Once I remembered some names and I posted them at the Proskomide. There at the clipboard. So in my sleep I saw that certain elderly came, with old clothes, as I heard from the mother of my father, and they said: "You, my child, wrote us down, but the Elder, my child, does not commemorate us."

"Come on," I said to the Elder, "why don't you commemorate them?"

"I could not see them clearly," he said.

"Elder, I saw this and that, and they said that the Elder does not commemorate us," I said.

From that time I received the desire to commemorate as many more names. The more the names, the more the wages you receive. But this is the greatest charity: to unite man with God. This is the greatest charity. And you can do this. As many more names, my child, that you commemorate, so much more the wages do you receive. Yes.
Icon depicting Christ the Great High Priest in the center, surrounded by His Holy Priests that are serving the Holy Sacraments (e.g. Baptisms, Weddings, Holy Confession, etc.) and other pastoral activities (e.g. Catechism, visiting the sick, etc.) as His representatives (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!