Thursday, June 25, 2015

St. Ephraim of Nea Makri, and the Repose of Photios Kontoglou (+1965)

The prototype icon of St. Ephraim of Nea Makri, painted by the famed iconographer of the 20th century Photios Kontoglou (+1965). He was asked to paint the Saint's icon, and thus prayed to the Saint to enlighten him to depict his form. The Saint appeared to him, and Kontoglou's icon later became the inspiration for all other icons of St. Ephraim (source)
Photios Kontoglou was born in Aivali of Asia Minor on November 8th 1895, and reposed in Athens on July 13th, 1965. The following event occurred at the last moments of his life in the hospital, and the wondrous appearance of St. Ephraim the Wonderworker to his wife.

The ever-memorable Photios Kontoglou was enduring difficult days in the hospital, and his wife, Maria Kontoglou, was kneeling and praying for his healing, calling upon our great St. Ephraim. Let us not forget that the sanctified hand of this grace-bestowing iconographer had fashioned the first icon of our Saint! Maria Kontoglou was awaiting something from the Saint.
Detail from the first icon of St. Ephraim, by Photios Kontoglou (source)

Another copy of the icon (source)
And what greater help could she expect from him, for at that exact hour when she was praying, she saw the soul of Photios Kontoglou being held by St. Ephraim, who was leading him to Heaven with great glory!

She was astonished to see all of this! What did this mean? At that hour, her question was solved, when she received a phone call from the hospital, which informed her that her husband was ascending weightlessly to Heaven! In reality, the Saint was his guide!

(amateur translation of text from source, from the book "Visions and Miracles of the Holy Greatmartyr Ephraim the Wonderworker - 3rd Volume, published by the Holy Monastery of the Theotokos of Mount Amomon)
The tomb of Photios Kontoglou, in the courtyard of the Monastery of St. Ephraim of Nea Makri. Of note, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the repose of this most blessed and influential iconographer, one of the greatest masters of Byzantine art and a true Christian (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"The voice of the Word of grace has come..."

The Nativity of St. John the Forerunner (source)
"The voice of the Word of grace has come: The preacher of the Light of Light! He is born from the barren womb of Elizabeth. Rejoice, people; he comes, preparing the way of salvation for us. He leaped in the womb and worshipped his Master: the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, and grants us great mercy."
-Idiomelon of the Aposticha in the Second Tone
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Another astonishing miracle of St. Luke the Surgeon

St. Luke the Surgeon, Archbishop of Simferopol in Crimea (source)
Doctors in Greece diagnosed a woman with metastatic cancer. The hopes of F. where minimal.
She traveled to England to begin a series of chemotherapies. The therapy was very strong, and during one of them, F. couldn't bear it any more.
Medical science confirms that if the heart of a man ceases to function for 3 minutes (at most), the person is considered dead.
Her heart stopped for 6 minutes. All the doctors stopped their efforts to bring her back. The most experienced doctor and overseer—who was present and following the sick man—was a muslim. He was ready to order them to disconnect the patient from the monitors.
The monitor for 6 minutes showed a flat line.
And though everything seemed to signify that F. had died, at that instant, she opened her eyes.
The muslim doctor lost it, as did everyone else. For a few seconds, no one moved. All of them could see that F. was alive.
After a few breaths, F. opened his mouth and said (in English): “St. Luke the Physician visited me...I know it, but I did not call upon him. St. Luke...St. Luke visited me...St. Luke.”
The miracle had occurred. St. Luke worked his wonder at that instant when F.'s heart had stopped.
Time passed and F. totally recovered. The muslim doctor however could not recover. He was astonished by the miracle that he had experienced. He asked F. who that St. Luke was and what exactly was his faith.
After a few days, he himself asked to go to an Orthodox Church in London. He asked to be baptized.
He himself chose the name “Theodore”, which he considered because the miracle that he experienced which helped him come to know the true faith, was a gift of God.
F. is still is in good health and her case is an extraordinary one for medicine. Theodore also still lives amidst the Truth and the Light.
(amateur translation of text from source)
See here for the life of the Saint.
St. Luke the Surgeon, Archbishop of Simferopol in Crimea (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Holy Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion (+1900)

The Holy Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion - Commemorated on June 10, or in another tradition, the Second Sunday after Pentecost (source)
The Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion (+1900)
Contributed by Father Geoffrey Korz.
Orthodox Christianity has often been described as the faith of the martyrs. Without doubt, the centuries have shown among the Orthodox an unparalleled degree of suffering for the sake of Christ's name. Yet despite the dramatic increase in Orthodox martyrdom in the last century, Orthodox believers living in the comforts of North America remain largely isolated from the suffering of the saints.
Ironically, the Western world has become a more potent—and indeed, more subtle—enemy of Christian Orthodoxy than any regime of the past. Cut off from the struggles of our Christian forebears, we have too readily accepted materialism and hedonism. To be a Christian, especially an Orthodox Christian, has become a fundamentally countercultural calling.
The arrival of the year 2000 marks the centennial of the first martyrs of the last century, and the first known group of Orthodox martyrs from China—a group who knew well the meaning of standing against the social tide of their day. Some of the 222 Orthodox martyrs of June 10/23, 1900, were direct descendants of the Russian mission set up at the end of the seventeenth century, after Russia lost its Albazin outpost to Chinese forces.
The Holy Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion (source)

Orthodoxy's Beginnings in China

With the Chinese recapture of Albazin, the Chinese Imperial Court looked with curiosity and tolerance upon the Russians in their territories, allowing them a surprising level of religious freedom. A former Buddhist temple near Beijing was converted into a church dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and church vestments and holy objects were sent from the Imperial Court in Russia. The Chinese and Russian governments proceeded to establish diplomatic relations, a move facilitated by the presence and work of the Albazin Chinese Orthodox. Since the Russian soldiers were viewed as a loose equivalent of the warrior class of Chinese society, they moved easily among the Chinese aristocracy, with many marrying Chinese noblewomen. Just as many of the first converts at Rome were noble patrons of the Church, Orthodox Christianity in China was to see a similar beginning.
St. Mitrophan of China (source)
In the years following, Orthodoxy made significant inroads among the Albazin Chinese population, becoming a kind of ethnic religion of the people. Emperor Kangxi was favorable toward these Christians, and for a time it was hoped the emperor might become a kind of Saint Constantine of the Orient. When the Chinese court later discovered that local Roman Catholic missionaries followed orders from Western masters, however, Emperor Kangxi and his successors began persecutions against Christians. Because of their position at court and their foothold among the Albazin Chinese faithful, the Orthodox were spared much of this persecution for a time.
St. Mitrophan of China (source)
Orthodox missions in China were cautious from the beginning. Emperor Peter the Great observed: "This is a very important enterprise. But, for God's sake, let us be cautious and circumspect, not to provoke either the Chinese authorities or the Jesuits whose den is there since long ago. To this end, the clergymen are needed not so much as scholarly, but rather reasonable and amicable, lest this holy effort suffers a painful defeat because of a certain kind of arrogance."
While the growth of the Orthodox Chinese mission was modest, its faithful were solid witnesses for their faith in Christ. Just as pagan Rome saw Christian devotion to Christ as a rival to imperial loyalty, so too did the Imperial Chinese of the late nineteenth century see Christians as enemies of the Emperor. While some in China were embracing Western modernist ideas, others including the Dowager Empress, nationalists, and those who practiced martial arts'sought to eliminate any challenges to tradition, including foreign influences. This conservative movement was dubbed by foreigners the "Boxer movement."
St. Mitrophan Tsi-Chung the Hieromartyr (source)

A Courageous Witness

By June 1900, placards calling for the death of foreigners and Christians covered the walls around Beijing. Armed bands combed the streets of the city, setting fire to homes and "with imperial blessing" killing Chinese Christians and foreigners. Faced with torture or death, some of the Chinese Christians did deny Christ, while others, emboldened by the faith of the martyrs and the prayers of the saints, declared boldly the Name of the Lord. Among these were Priest Mitrophan Tsi-Chung, his Matushka Tatiana, and their children, Isaiah, Serge, and John.
Baptized by Saint Nicholas of Japan, Saint Mitrophan was a shy and retiring priest, who avoided honors and labored continually for the building of new churches, for the translation of spiritual books, and for the care of his flock. Yet in Christ, who gives more than we can ask or imagine, Saint Mitrophan and his flock became lions in the face of marauding wolves.
The Holy Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion (source)
It was with this reassurance that Saint Mitrophan met his martyrdom on June 10, 1900. About seventy faithful had gathered in his home for consolation when the Boxers surrounded the house. While some of the faithful managed to escape, most—including Saint Mitrophan—were stabbed or burned to death. Like the priests of old slaughtered in the sight of Elijah, Saint Mitrophan's holy body fell beneath the date tree in the yard of his home, his family witnesses to his suffering.
His youngest son, Saint John, an eight-year-old child, was disfigured by the Boxers the same day. Although the mob cut off his ears, nose, and toes, Saint John did not seem to feel any pain, and walked steadily. Crowds mocked the young confessor, as they mocked his Lord before him, calling him a demon for his unwillingness to bend to make sacrifice to the idols. To the amazement of onlookers, although he was mutilated, mocked, and alone, young Saint John declared that it did not hurt to suffer for Christ.
Saint Isaiah, 23, the elder brother of Saint John, had been martyred several days earlier. Despite repeated urging, his nineteen-year-old bride, Saint Mary, refused to leave and hide, declaring that she had been born near the church of the Mother of God, and would die there as well.
St. Ia the New Martyr (source)
Saint Ia (Wang), a mission school teacher also among the martyrs, was slashed repeatedly by the Boxers and buried, half-dead. In an attempt to save her, a sympathetic non-Christian bystander unearthed her, carrying her to his home in the hope of safety. There, however, the Boxers seized her again, torturing her at length until she died, a bold confession of Christ on her lips. Thereby did Saint Ia the teacher gain the crown of martyrdom not once, but twice.
Among those who died for Christ were Albazinians whose ancestors had first carried the light of Holy Orthodoxy to Beijing in 1685. The faith of these pioneers has now been crowned with the glory of martyrdom conferred upon their descendants. Albazinians Clement Kui Lin, Matthew Chai Tsuang, his brother Witt, Anna Chui, and many more, fearless of those who kill the body but cannot harm the soul (Matthew 10:28), met agony and death with courage, praying to the Savior for their tormentors.
The Church built over the site of the martyrdom of the Chinese Martyrs, but which has since been destroyed (source)

Honoring the Martyrs

When the feast of the Holy Chinese Martyrs was first commemorated in 1903, the bodies of Saint Mitrophan and others were placed under the altar of the Church of the All Holy Orthodox Martyrs (built in 1901—1916). A cross was later erected on the site of their martyrdom, standing as a testimony of the first sufferings of Orthodox faithful in a century of such great suffering. The church, along with others, was destroyed by the communists in 1954; the condition and whereabouts of the relics are not known.
In 1996, the first Greek Metropolitan of Hong Kong was consecrated, just prior to the reunification of the city-state with mainland China. There began the first attempt in decades to reach the remnant Orthodox community on the mainland. Many of the Orthodox faithful had fled the country years before. Knowledge of the only remaining Orthodox church in China—the Protection of the Mother of God, located in Harbin—is sketchy, and attempts by Greek authorities in Hong Kong to contact the parish have seen little success. The Church of the Annunciation was converted into a circus; it was closed only when an acrobat fell to his death there. The Shanghai Cathedral of Saint John Maximovich (+1966)—a great champion and shepherd of Orthodox Christians of non-Orthodox ancestry—was turned into a stock exchange.
The only stone which remains to signify the place of martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs of China (source)

In the late 1990s—a century after the martyrdoms at Harbin and elsewhere—a new flowering of zeal for Orthodox Christian missions to the people of China began. A Chinese prayerbook and catechesis was published by Holy Trinity Monastery of Jordanville, New York. Several short histories of the martyrs have been written, and an akathist in their memory was recently composed. In the pattern of Saint Paul, who used the great highways of pagan Rome to spread the gospel, a network of Orthodox Christians dedicated to the spread of the Orthodox faith among the peoples of the Far East has taken to the Internet to make available prayers and church materials in Chinese.
On the occasion of the centenary of the Holy Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion, let us as Orthodox faithful ask their prayers that we may have the courage of their witness in our own time and place, and like them live out the call of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ to go and make disciples of all nations.
Father Geoffrey Korz is priest of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Information for this article was taken from a web site on the Chinese Orthodox martyrs and from the Synaxarion of the Chinese Orthodox Martyrs, produced by Apostoliki Diakonia of Athens, Greece. An edition of this article was previously printed in the Orthodox Messenger, a publication of the Archdiocese of Canada (OCA).
This article originally appeared in AGAIN Volume 22, No. 3. (source)
The Holy Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion (source)


Third Tone
Let us the flock of Christ with love and piety * now glorify with hymns and truly joyous odes * the faithful Martyrs of the truth who suffered for Christ in China. * For having confessed the Faith, * they all bravely went unto death * as lambs which were sacrificed * for our Shepherd and Master Christ. * And therefore to the Martyrs we cry out: * Remember us all, who sing you praises.


Fourth Tone
The divine Metrophanes, * the martyred shepherd, * with his great and faithful flock, * have hallowed China with their blood; * wherefore we praise them with sacred hymns, * for they were faithful to Christ even unto death.


Sixth Tone
Thy holy martyrs O Lord did not see earthly glory as a treasure to be held, * but facing the torments of men and the wisdom of demons* humbled themselves for Thy sake, even unto death. * Wherefore, O Righteous Father, * as through them Thou brought the priceless pearl to an unbaptized land, * grant us Thy Spirit and great mercy for our souls.
Rejoice, O stars of the Orient.


As a new Herod the hand of the Boxers fell on the infants of the Church, writing on the doorpost of each soul the mark of the Lamb in the blood of the lambs, sealing them for the new Passover, that all might cry aloud:
Rejoice, ye righteous ones, tearing down the banner of worldliness.
     Rejoice, ye abandoners of the kingdom that passeth away.
Rejoice, ye resistors of the legions of Hades.
     Rejoice, ye swords in the Hand of the Righteous God.
Rejoice, ye lanterns of the Holy Spirit.
     Rejoice, ye who drench the demonic flame with the waters of baptism.
Rejoice, ye celebrants of the new Passover.
     Rejoice, ye children of the new Israel.
Rejoice, ye pearls of greatest price.
     Rejoice, ye jade diadems in the treasury of God.
Rejoice, ye jewelled gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.
     Rejoice, ye loyal subjects of the true Celestial court.
     Rejoice, O stars of the Orient.
The Holy Martyrs of China of the Boxer Rebellion (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

"Come, let us rejoice in spirit at the memorial of the Saints..."

A Menaion Icon, depicting all the Saints and Feasts celebrated throughout the year (source)
Come, let us rejoice in spirit at the memorial of the Saints; for see, it has come bringing us gifts of grace in rich abundance; and so with a voice of gladness and a pure conscience let us cry out and say: Hail, company of Prophets, who proclaimed the coming of Christ to the world and foresaw near at hand things far off. Hail, choir of Apostles, who caught the nations in a net, and who are the fishers of mankind. Hail, race of Martyrs, who were gathered from the ends of the into one faith, endured for it fierce torments and finally received the crown of your contest. Hail, swarm of Fathers, who trampled down your own bodies by ascetic struggle, and when you had slain the passions of the flesh you gave wings to your mind with divine love and took flight to heaven, and as you rejoice with the Angels, you enjoy eternal blessings. But, O Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs with Ascetics, insistently implore the one who crowned you that those who celebrate with faith and love your ever-revered memorial may be rescued from enemies visible and invisible.
-Idiomelon from the Litia of the Sunday of All Saints
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!