Friday, July 31, 2020

Homily on the Holy Maccabees by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes

Icon of the Holy Maccabees with their Mother St. Solomone, and their teacher Eleazar (source)
Homily on the Holy Maccabees by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes: "Our Faith is True"
We will speak, my beloved, on the Holy Maccabees. They are a star cluster of nine stars, one being their teacher Eleazar, the second was their mother Solomone, and the other seven are her distinguished children of this large family.

These heroes lived in the 2nd century before Christ, during the reign of the King of Syria and Judea of one of the successors of Alexander the Great, Antiochos the Epiphanes (175-163BC). This man, a fanatical idolater, had endless hatred of the Jews, who were the only ones who believed in the true God. He tried with his whole being to uproot from their hearts their faith which had been given to them by Moses. And he slaughtered, slaughtering like a wild beast, more wild than a tiger or a lion. A beast might eat three or four people, but can't eat more. He, however, slaughtered 80,000 Jews, and blood poured through the streets of Jerusalem like a river. And in order to put an end to their religion, he organized an idol-worshiping feast. In the center of the city, he placed a great and large altar, and there sacrificed sheep and goats and bulls and rams, like the Jews would do typically, but--in order to corrupt them--he also sacrificed pigs, hundreds of pigs, to the gods of the idols. And in order to defile the Jews and to strike their religious consciences, he forced them to consume the meat. We must know that the Jews never ate pork. To this day, if you go to a Jewish home, they never eat pork. I won't go into the reasons that they do it, but in any case they continue to keep this.

The Jews fast. Do we? We also need to fast. And here I will make an aside. Are you a Christian, are you Orthodox? I'm not sure. If you were Orthodox, if you firmly believed in our Orthodoxy, you must keep the fasts. Which fasts? You should fast on Wednesday and Friday: Wednesday because on that day was our Lord Jesus Christ betrayed, and Friday, because on that day He was crucified. If you were Orthodox, you would fast during holy and Great Lent, and the other fasting periods, including January 5th, the day before Theophany, August 29th, the day of the Beheading of the Forerunner, and the Exaltation of the Precious Cross.

Do Christians fast today? Unfortunately, this holy practice seems to be going by the wayside. You can break whatever you wish, and you see people even breaking the fast on Holy Friday. During fasting periods, the meat markets are full and the restaurants at night dish out tons of meat. We [Greeks] have become among the largest meat-eaters in the Balkans. We even buy and ship in meat from Bulgaria and Serbia. All of this eating of meat is very serious for our health as well.

So the Jews therefore fasted, and to mock their fasting, Antiochos forced them to eat pork that had been sacrificed to the idols. First, he called the teacher Eleazar, who was an honorable priest. He told him: "I am 90 years old. Until now I have kept the fast according to the divine law, and I cannot even begin to think about abandoning our holy tradition..." He was seized by the soldiers of Antiochos, bound, and thrown into the fine. Thus, he gave up his soul to God.

After this, one by one he called the seven brothers, the Maccabees. He hold them: "Take pity on your youth." He told the first: "I will give you honor, glories, respect." "Keep your honors, I will remain in the home of my fathers/ I will never taste pork sacrificed to the idols..." Thus, the first said not. The same occurred with the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth and the seventh. And after they all denied, each began their terrible martyrdom, which one shudders to even think about. Open the Old Testament to the end and turn to the book of Fourth Maccabees (5-12). Don't just read magazines and newspapers. If you are a Christian, read the holy Scriptures. You will say, I don't have time, or I'm tired...Good try!

Let me make another aside. I tell you to fast, but you don't fast. I tell you to read the Holy Scriptures, but you don't read them. The one you don't do, neither do you do the other. What Christian are you, can you tell me? I tell you to pray, but you don't pray. I tell you to confess, but you don't confess. I tell you to commune, but you don't commune. I tell you to go to church, but you don't go. You only go to church when you're invited to a sacrament [i.e. a baptism or a wedding]. Many go for a memorial service. But this is a sin. Because every church every Sunday is a memorial service. What memorial?  Not of our father or our mother. Every Sunday, we serve a memorial for the Lord. And if you go to the memorial of your father or mother, even more so should you go to the memorial of our Lord Jesus Christ. What does faith cost you? To the martyrs it cost terrible pains and death.

The Maccabees therefore said no, and began their martyrdom. A martyrdom that makes man shudder to read it, as is described in the Holy Scriptures. They put a trident between their eyes. Another they cut off his right hand. Another they cut off the left with a saw. Another they cut off his fingers. Another, they pulled off his nails. Another they raked his flesh with iron nails. Another they skinned him alive, like the butcher skins an animal... But it was as if nothing to them! They remained steadfast.

And in front of all of this, in the presence of the martyrdom of the seven children, who was there, I ask? Their mother, St. Solomone. O, what a mother! She was not at all like some mothers today who would say: "Eat, my child, a little meat, it's nothing..." Today, many mothers are only thinking of their children's bodies, their flesh, in other words. Above the body, they don't see anything else. St. Solomone was a unique mother, a historic mother, a rare example throughout the ages. "No, my children!" she said, "Do not pollute our religion, do not loose the crown of glory!" And their mother prepared them, her seven children, for a terrible martyrdom. It was their faith in God, and this faith showed her to be a heroine, a unique and grand and lady of a woman. How did she find the strength to support all her children to be sacrificed? Don't you think that she felt pain? Of course she felt pain. As her children were being martyred, and she saw them one by one being put to death in the most terrible manner, she suffered. She was pained for each separately, and for them all together. Her pain was greatly multiplied. Mothers, when their children get sick with a fever, they entreat God for the fever to flee from their children and to come to them instead. If, therefore, each child of St. Solomone was martyred once, then she was pained for each, and it was as if she was martyred seven times, multiplied by seven. And, having endured steadfastly and unshaken throughout this trial, in the end, she herself fell into the fire (IV Maccabees 17:1). Thus, they were all burned and became a sacrifice for the love of God, martyrs before Christ.

This, my brethren, in a few words, is the martyrdom of the seven Maccabee children, of their mother Solomone, and their teacher Eleazar. What does it teach us?

One lesson comes forth today. Our faith is not a myth. It is living and wondrous. We have the most true religion, the only truth in the world. Because of this, the Prophets prophesied and gave their lives, including the Maccabees in the Old Testament, and because of this, the Apostles and Martyrs were sacrificed in the New Testament, and because of this, the Fathers and the Teachers of the Church lived in asceticism, and preached theology, and confessed the faith.

Let us as well honor and imitate their struggles out of love, that we might, together with them, become partakers in the glory of the Kingdom of God, to Whom be glory and might unto the ages of ages. Amen.
(+) Bishop Avgoustinos
(Delivered in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Ptolmaidos, on Sunday August 2nd, 1987)
The Holy Maccabee Martyrs (source)  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy in us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

" for behold, she stands among us at the annual feast of her memory, granting the gifts of peace..."

St. Irene Chrysovalantou (source)

Come, all the faithful, let us hasten with diligence to Irene the God-bearer, for behold, she stands among us at the annual feast of her memory, granting the gifts of peace, distributing to each as they are worthy, as we have all been blessed by her gifts, and we behold the grace-filled mind with which she was rightly made worthy of. The lamp of virginity, the treasury of dispassion, the overflowing vessel of mystical fragrances, for in the house of God, she received this anointing, having the honor of rest. Therefore, she was adorned like the Angels with the angelic glory with which she was made worthy, and she ceaselessly intercedes with God, the Bestower of Peace, to grant peace to the world, and to save our souls.
-Doxastikon of the Aposticha for St. Irene Chrysovalantou

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A Study on the Apolytikion of St. Paraskevi

St. Paraskevi the Great Martyr (source)
Note: The short but powerful Apolytikion (troparion) of St. Paraskevi, is often times not fully or clearly translated from the original Greek, and is even less often explained regarding its deep meaning and how the Saint illustrates Christ. This is an excerpt from a very lengthy study on the Saint's hymn, including many pertinent scriptural references. May the Saint's love and diligence for the Lord help us to prepare ourselves, and may the Lord make us worthy of His Kingdom, through her prayers.
Excerpt from a Study on the Apolytikion of St. Paraskevi
By Archimandrite Theophilos Lemonzi, PhD
Together with the holy icons, it is undeniable that the most beautiful hymns of the Church serve as teaching on the spiritual life, as the faithful person receives the knowledge of the wondrous deeds of the Saints, and is moved to imitate them. While the holy icons spiritually nourish the sight of the faithful, the hymns spiritually nourish the hearing of the faithful.

A special place in the heart and the pious lips of the Orthodox Christians is the Apolytikion of St. Paraskevi, which is as follows:
"Τὴν σπουδήν σου τῇ κλήσει κατάλληλον, ἐργασαμένη φερώνυμε, τὴ ὁ μώνυμόν σου πίστιν εἰς κατοικίαν κεκλήρωσαι, Παρασκευὴ ἀθληφόρε· ὅθεν προχέειςἰ άματα, καὶ πρεσβεύεις ὑπὲρ τῶν ψυχῶ ἡμῶν."
"Working with a diligence proper to your calling, corresponding to your name, you inherited your faith of the same name as a dwelling-place, O Champion Paraskevi, therefore you pour forth healings, and you intercede on behalf of our souls."
The author of this perfectly-worked hymn is unknown, however, we can surmise that he was learned and had a deep knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and of Theology. From our pastoral experience we believe that very many have discussed the great teaching that this brings, and the deepest meaning of this Apolytikion, and have tried to translate it into modern Greek...
In the first part: "Working with a diligence proper to your calling, corresponding to your name" the main issue is the address «φερώνυμε» ("corresponding to your name", "name-bearer" or "namesake"). This is one who receives his name from someone, and the author is likely using the deepest meaning of the name "Paraskevi" which the Saint bears. The name that we are given at Holy Baptism has a deepest spiritual significance, and we are called to express throughout our life as a Christian that which our name means in reality. The author, with this word, tries to give the reason for which the Saint not only was named "Paraskevi", but also lived this name out in deed, because with her holy life was given meaning corresponding to her name: she correspondingly prepared herself with dedication for Martyrdom, and for the Kingdom of Heaven.
The word "Paraskevi" comes from the word "παρασκευάζω", meaning I prepare, but also I make myself something in order to obtain an identity, and it further means preparation, production, and ascesis. The sixth day of the week "Paraskevi" ("Friday") received its name from the Jews, for during that day they prepared for Sabbath rest with whatever they would need for that day, e.g. the food that they would eat. In the same way, St. Paraskevi, through the working of the commandments and asceticism of virtue, she prepared, in other words, she made herself worthy, preparing herself beforehand for her Martyrdom, and for her entrance into eternal life.

The phrase "Working with a diligence proper to your calling, corresponding to your name" furthermore expresses the whole Christian life of the Saint. The phrase "your calling" refers to the call from God towards the Saint for salvation, but also for every person. The meaning of divine call plays a central role in holy history. God called Abraham (Genesis 12:1-2), Moses in the desert of Sinai (Exodus 3:2), and the Holy Prophets. The Holy Apostles (Matthew 4:18-25) and the Apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-19) were called by Jesus to follow and to preach the Gospel. God calls all men "with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago," (II Timothy 1:9) through His Grace (Galatians 1:15). What distinguishes this is the freedom of man, and if he will respond to this call, for, as St. John of the Ladder says, even God directs Himself towards all men, because He does not remove their free will, He becomes life and salvation for those alone who desire Him. Because of this, the faithful become partakers in their heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1), and are called "called and chosen" (Romans 1:6, Revelations 17:14). The significance of this calling is one's participation in eternal life (I Timothy 6:12), however, the faithful must show their love of struggle: ["For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps."] (I Peter 2:21)

With the phrase: "Working with a diligence" is expressed this response to the calling of God towards the Saint for salvation. On Holy Friday, Jesus "worked salvation in the midst of the earth" (Psalm 73:12), through His life-giving death, and St. Paraskevi "worked with diligence", in other words, worked with dedication, zeal and willingness to respond to the divine calling for salvation (see the phrase of St. Paul:  "For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves" (II Corinthians 7:11)) being obedient to the commandment of St. Paul "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

The participation through "working", describes the working of the commandments of the Gospels, and the asceticism of virtue, as a struggle and agony of freedom. The Christian, as a worker of virtue, ought to work with goodness and to turn away from evil: "lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love." (Ephesians 4:1-2) As the Saints, who "worked righteousness", and also "received promises" (Hebrews 11:33), thus, the faithful should "work goodness" (Romans 2:10), because God will give to each "according to his works" (Romans 2:6).

The word «σπουδή» comes from the verb "σπουδάζω", which means I hasten, I am going, I am paying attention to details, willingly in order to accomplish something, I am dedicated to something with a unique interest, zeal and care. The faithful should work with care towards their salvation: "be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (II Peter 3:14), according to the Apostle Peter, and as the Apostle Paul commands St. Timothy: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed" (II Timothy 2:15).

St. Paraskevi was detail-oriented regarding the words of the Gospel, and she showed special care, willingness and zeal to be diligent to the Holy Scriptures, such that she was shown a missionary of Christ, and embodied non-possessiveness, giving away all her goods to the poor, studying the ascetical life "and through purity, making her soul beautiful", working ceaselessly for the Gospel and life according to God, confessing her faith in Christ and hastening towards Martyrdom.

The diligence and care of the Saint is further adorned through all of her working of the commandments and through her virtue, her struggles of asceticism and martyrdom, and her uncompromising love, to the point that she healed her persecutor, Antoninus. And all of these occurred with a special desire to be obedient to the word of the Apostle Paul "Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord." (Romans 12:11), and because of this, she was continuously witnessing to Christ, even after the first tortures that she suffered. She did not shy away, she was afraid, but continued "receiving the good witness".

The author, therefore, using this word "diligence", wishes to bring to the mind of the faithful the response of the Saint to the call of God towards salvation, her love of struggle, her willingness and care for asceticism in her Christian life, and her bearing witness. The spiritual life, even though it does not come from man, requires the consent of man to bear fruit. This presupposes an unending struggle against the passions, and simultaneously a working towards the keeping of the virtues of the Gospel, as noted by blessed Fr. Michael Karadamakes. The phrase, therefore "Working with a diligence proper to your calling", has the same content as the suggestion of the Apostle Peter to the faithful: "therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (II Peter 1:10-11) and reveals the consent of the Saint to the divine calling towards asceticism and the keeping of the commandments. And all of these she worked with a corresponding and illustrative manner, with humility and love, for the asceticism of virtues, when they do not occur according to the commands of the Gospel, they are not pleasing to God: "An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules." (II Timothy 2:5) Similar to the Pharisee of the Parable (Luke 18:1-14), who worked to keep the commandments of God, but his inspiration was to please men, and because of this, he was not justified...

In the second part: "you inherited your faith of the same name as a dwelling-place, O Champion Paraskevi", a most important point is point is the word "inherited", which serves as the immediate continuation of the beginning phrase "working with a diligence proper to your calling, corresponding to your name", and reveals that which the Saint received as a gift and inheritance from God due to the diligence and willingness that she showed. The word «κληροῦμαι» means to receive something through lot, and the hymnographer says that the Saint received through her lot, as a lawful inheritor, this faith of the same name as a dwelling-place.

St. Paraskevi with scenes from her life and martyrdom (source)
But what does this phrase mean: "your faith of the same name"?

That which she herself possesses is called synonymous, because it shares the same name with something. Synonymous unites two words which have the same meaning. In this specific case, the word «ὁμώνυμον» has the final meaning of the word and means that the two words «πίστις» and «παρασκευή» ("faith" and "preparation") have the same meaning. But why does the hymnographer use this meaning to unite these two words? The reason is most deep and theological. As we mentioned above, the name of the Saint means preparation for martyrdom and for the Kingdom of Heaven, through her working of the commandments of God, her asceticism and love of struggle. As a consequence, the Christian faith is not possible as a theoretical religious ideology, but, as was remarked by Blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopedi, if we keep the commandments, this is a confession. As long as sin is a denial of God, then love of struggle and the taking up of one's Cross is a practical outcome of one's Christian identity. Through Holy Scripture, the meaning of faith plays an essential role.

The faith of holy people goes together with works: the Apostles, having believed in Christ, at the same time: "immediately left their nets and followed Him" (Mark 1:18), and Abraham believed "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go" (Hebrews 11:8), he left his homeland according to the directive of God and "you see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works" (James 2:22). Therefore, Blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopedi teaches us that: "our Lord convinces us that it is not enough, and it does not benefit us to know only abstractly that God exists. ['Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)] ["He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” (John 14:21)]. He who "has", in other words, he who cared to learn the meanings and the goal of my commandments, and who afterwards "keeps" them, in other words, uses them. And He notes the meaning of the commandments "and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (John 14:21) and He confirms again: " He who does not love me does not keep my words."" (John 14:24)

Blessed Fr. John Romanides remarks that, according to Orthodox Theology, man cannot, like Protestant heresies, become a perfect and saved Christian by himself, through some rational decisions regarding the faith and compliance with some general idea about love. He requires ascesis, trial and struggle against the schemes of the devil. This is what St. Paraskevi did. She was not only faithful in words, but expressed this through her asceticism of virtue "faith worked through love" (Galacians 5:6), being obedient to the command of the Apostle Peter "supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge" (II Peter 1:5)...

Therefore, the phrase "your faith of the same name" shows that faith means struggle and ascesis for virtue, and serves as a practical confession, for "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). It means that I prepare myself, through the keeping of the commandments, to receive the Grace of God and to enter the Kingdom of God. The Christian faith does not have a notion of stasis, in other words, that I simply accept an ideology, for "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?" (James 2:14) but it has a dynamic meaning, to confess my faith in Christ with my deeds according to St. Paul's exhortation to Timothy: "Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (I Timothy 6:12) In essence, the phrase "your faith of the same name" summarizes the whole meaning of the "life in Christ".

The hymnographer says that the Saint received from God through lot, "inherited", to have it as a dwelling place sharing the same name with this faith. The word "κλήρος" has to do with the casting of lots (see Acts 1:26), but also the meaning of the lawful part which one receives as an inheritance. The Apostle Paul offers thanksgiving "to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." (Colossians 1:12) and the sacred Chrysostom, interpreting this says that the Apostle Paul wishes to teach that sanctification and theosis is not the outcome of human virtue, but serves as a gift of God....

The author, therefore, wishes to show the great gift of the Grace of God to the Saint due to her holy life, and that this gift is given, for she obtained adoption, she became a child of God, and as a result, inherited from Him, according to the word of the Apostle Paul "and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (Romans 8:17) God the Word became man "that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:5). The presupposition, however, is for us to "suffer together with Him", as St. Paul says, in other words, ascesis and love of struggle, the diligence for which the Saint showed, and therefore having kept this, "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12)

The Saint faithfully kept this presupposition, to "suffer together" through asceticism of the virtues and martyrdom, and through this manner she allowed herself to receive the grace of adoption, and because of this, to become a genuine inheritor of His Kingdom.

The content of this lot, of the inheritance which the Saint received was given to her as a dwelling-place sharing the name of the faith. This phrase is difficult to explain, and for us to understand this, we need to understand what we mean by "place" (II Corinthians 5:1-5), as St. Paul compares the biological and mortal status of man with a "tent", in which dwells sin and the passions. We the faithful dwell in this house as well ["Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling"] as we experience the consequences of corruption from the passions, and we long to come to dwell in "a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens...For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee..."

St. John Chrysostom, interpreting this, says that this place specifically is not a dwelling made by hands in which we are called to dwell, it is not some stable of the body, but sanctification and incorruption which the faithful receive through Divine Grace...

The person who finds himself under the slavery of the passions comes to dwell in this "earthly tent", in other words, in corruption and sin. He is called to respond to the call from God to repent with a disposition of self-denial, to deny the devil and his words and to walk the path of asceticism, that he might become a recipient of Divine Grace. Blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopedi teaches that, as long as we keep the commandments, we confess our faith in God, and turn our freedom towards God, then Divine Grace is moved, which destroys the old man and builds within us the new, dispassionate one. Divine Grace gives such strength that the Holy Martyrs could endure all the inhumane tortures from their persecutors.

This new reality, the new man, the life in Christ, is the tent not made by human hands, which the faithful hope to be adorned with, and which was received by St. Paraskevi as a gift from God. the hymnographer wishes to show that the Saint, by holding steadfast to her faith, "for we walk by faith, not by sight." (II Corinthians 5:7), endured the struggles of asceticism, and through the keeping of the commandments, of obedience and self-denial, she became a recipient of Divine Grace, receiving "grace sent from above", which works salvation within us...
St. Paraskevi the Great Martyr (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Homily II on St. Panteleimon by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes

St. Panteleimon the Great Martyr and Unmercenary (source)
Homily II on St. Panteleimon by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes: "A Lesson of Love"
"This I command you, to love one another." (John 15:17)
"The feast of a martyr is to imitate the martyr." [Quote of St. John Chrysostom]
The stars, my beloved, are not only contained in heaven, but our Church has its own, and the stars of the Church are the Saints (Martyrs, Confessors, Venerable Saints, Teachers and Fathers). The stars illumine heaven, but the noetic firmament of the Church is also illumined by the noetic stars, the Saints. They shine with their life, their virtues, their wonders. And like in heaven "star differs from star according to its radiance" (I Corinthians 15:41), thus among the Saints there are differences. One star of great prominence is today's Saint, the Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon. Let's take courage to utter a few words, weaving a humble encomium to his memory.

St. Panteleimon was born in the era of terrible persecutions against Christianity, during the reign of Maximian (286-305AD), in a land whose name brings forth tears, in a land which gave birth to so many of the Saints and Martyrs: Asia Minor. Specifically, his homeland was Nicomedia of Bithinia. There was his church, but on a dreadful day in August 1922, the children of Hagar reduced it to rubble. Today in Nicomedia, the bells do not ring. I believe, however, that one day they will ring there again!

His parents were nobles, aristocrats. His father was Eustorgios, an idolater in the close court of the king. His mother, Euboule, was a Christian according to tradition, and implanted in the heart of the child the seed of the faith and of virtue. The Saint, however, had the misfortune of losing his mother. Only those who have lost their mothers can sense the loss which is left in a family by her absence.

However, the seed which his mother had sown within him was not lost. The child grew, became a man and was noted for his goodness. His rich father made provisions to send him to the best teachers, and even to the famous professor of medicine, Euphrosynos. He studied near him, excelled in his lessons and later finished as a great physician. He, however, was still an idolater, and did not believe in Christ.

One encounter, however, changed his life. While he was still young, he met a pious priest of Nicomedia, Ermolaos, who led him into the mystery of Christianity . "If you wish to become a physician," he told him, "you must know the first and greatest physician of souls and bodies, and this is our Lord Jesus Christ!" He related His life and miracles, and from then, the young man began to take care to believe.

The young physician wished to test if things said by Ermolaos were true. And one day, as he was traveling through the countryside, he saw a child who had died, and next to him was a serpent fleeing who had poisoned him. He knelt beside the body, and lifted up his eyes on high and said: "In the name of Jesus Christ, O child, arise, and you, O beast, depart." And immediately, the child came to life, and the serpent died. This event, along with others like it, strengthened within him faith in Christ. He told this to Ermolaos, and was baptized.

The healings which he continued to work were many and are written in his Synaxarion. Only one I will say, that he was serving as a physician in Nicomedia, which had at that time, before the founding of Constantinople, served as the first city of the nation. His fame had spread. He healed with medical drugs, but there where science lifted up its hands out of weakness, in those difficult situations, St. Panteleimon prayed and said: "In the name of Jesus Christ...", and the sick were healed wondrously. His successes however brought about the wrath of his fellow doctors. They condemned him to the king, and thus he was brought before him. Maximian tried to coerce him to become an idolater and to sacrifice to the idols, but he stood immovable. And thus began his martyrdom.
St. Panteleimon the Great Martyr and Unmercenary (source)
I will not relate his martyrdom in detail. The Saint's faith was great, and he was victorious through fire, and the sword, and iron nails, and ravenous beasts, and the wheel, and the sea, through everything. Many believed in Christ, not just through his wondrous healings, but through his manliness at the hour of his martyrdom. And aristocrats of the court and courtiers and patricians of the highest ranks, in addition to simple people came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Because through all of the Saint's wonders, I discern that the greatest thing was his daily way of life: his love and his philanthropic offering, the sacrifice of himself in order to help his neighbor, his virtuous and chaste way of life, that which is sought of every Christian by the Lord.

In the end, according to the command of the emperor, the military guard led him two kilometers outside of Nicomedia, and there, before the sun had risen, around dawn, the lightning strike of the executioner's sword cut off the head of the Saint. And then, instead of blood, milk poured forth, according to the Synaxarion. And though his precious Relic was laid in the earth, it became a treasury and spring of wonders, while his holy soul flew to the heavenly mansions, to dwell among the Angels and Archangels, and from there, to intercede for everyone, and especially for his homeland of Nicomedia, that again she might see the glory of the faith and that the bells might ring there joyously through a national and religious resurrection.

As I said in the beginning, my beloved, "The feast of a martyr is to imitate the martyr", as described by the sacred Chrysostom. Are we celebrating a martyr? Then we should imitate him. Today, therefore, from the world of the bodiless spirits beyond, the voice of St. Panteleimon reaches us, and mystically speaks to the ears of our souls: "O Christians who are honoring me, become my imitators!"

The Saints are the most clear sign that Christianity is not a utopia, a theory, a philosophy, it is a reality, a harmonious life. They reveal that Christianity crosses the ages and rules in all stations. The Saints are the heroes of the faith and of virtue, the pinnacles of prototypes worthy of imitation.

Today, St. Panteleimon compels us, as the teacher of all, and especially those who are educated, rational, and who are scientists and physicians. There is a false idea that is cultivated by the children of darkness that science is not compatible with our faith. It is false, a satanic lie. Because we see today's Saint was an educated and wise scientist, and through this also believed in the Lord. And not only St. Panteleimon, but many other Saints of the Church. And not only Saints of the ancient eras, but many contemporary and great scientists of national fame (physicians, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, astronomers, and every specialty) believe in God and confess Christ. I know of scientists in Athens who believe, fast and pray, and--it may seem strange to you--arise at midnight to pray the prayer rope! I know of a surgeon in "Evangelismos" Hospital who never takes up the scalpel without kneeling to say: "Lord Jesus Christ, help me, the sinner." Science, not of dimwits, but of great minds, kneels before the Crucified One. In Germany, a surgeon wrote a book with the title: "Behind us stands God", in other words, behind our science is found Christ, the Physician of souls and bodies.

But the Saint is not just the teacher of learned scientists, but of all Christians. He teaches us a lesson which is most simple, but also the most difficult. It is the two words of the Nazarene, which we heard in today's Gospel: "This I command you, to love one another." (John 15:17) It is the lesson of love. And this is taught by St. Panteleimon, because he applied this himself [in his own life]. Whatever he had, he offered, and he became a servant of the people, and suggests to us that we become benefactors, philanthropists and merciful in our social circles. Because of this, I entreat you to be moved even more deeply to deeds of love and philanthropy. Do not wait for everything from the government, from others.

May God, through the intercessions of St. Panteleimon, protect our whole people, that we might with peace and love worship our Lord Jesus Christ unto the ages of ages. Amen.
(+) Bishop Avgoustinos
From a homily recorded in the old Church of St. Panteleimon in Florina on Saturday July 27th, 1968(source)
St. Panteleimon the Great Martyr and Unmercenary (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercu on us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Homily II on St. Paraskevi by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes

St. Paraskevi the Great Martyr (source)
Homily II on St. Paraskevi by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes: "A Sacrifice out of Love"
Who, my beloved, was St. Paraskevi whom we are celebrating? What was her life, her words and her miracles? It is not easy to relate these in detail. But let us reverently approach her sacred face.

St. Paraskevi was born in the capital of the ancient world, in Rome, during the reign of Emperor Antoninus (138-161AD). Her upstanding parents, Agathon and Politia, were Christians, but were childless. They promised, therefore, if they would be granted a child, to dedicate it to the Lord. God in reality granted them this girl, and because she was born on Friday, they gave her the name "Paraskevi" [Greek for "Friday", literally the "Day of Preparation", i.e. for the Sabbath]. They raised her as a Christian. But this girl had the misfortune of losing her two parents while she was still young. She had, however, the great blessing to have had the faith in Christ taken root within her at the proper time. As she grew, her love for the Lord lit a fire within her soul. This holy fire, which is not from the earth, but which is lit from Heaven, was so great, that all the waters could not quench it (Song of Songs 8:7). Blessed are all those who experience this.

She loved Christ with her whole heart. Not simply with words, but with deeds. The sign of this was how she responded to the voice of the Gospel: "Sell your goods and give to the poor..." (Matthew 19:21). If this voice were heard in our community, would there be souls that would thus respond? St. Paraskevi, the orphan who inherited a great fortune, distributed her goods to the poor.

She embraced the monastic life and began to preach Christ in Rome, and the surrounding areas. She founded a convent, in which were gathered girls who loved the Lord, and she made a missionary sisterhood, whose goal was to show mercy on the poor and to teach women. With the good example of this sisterhood, and with the fiery preaching of St. Paraskevi, many women who were idolaters came to believe in Christ.

She shown like a star at dawn, like an Angel. Other women and girls of her time were dressed in silk. The patricians of Rome and the ladies of the great families would be seen with their adornments worth more than their whole fortunes. Vain women like these were like swallows who carried their whole nests on them, and thus they would carry the whole fortunes of their husband.

St. Paraskevi did not wear silk. She had another garment, one incorrupt and eternal. She was adorned with modesty, a garment which is not corrupted by time.

Other women then and today attempted to appear beautiful externally. They would pain with makeup and lipstick on their lips, put on their cheeks, their eyebrows, their eyelashes. But if you were to ask me which woman were more beautiful, I would respond that the more beautiful woman is she who weeps when she hears the name of Christ, when she prayers, when she beholds the Epitaphios and the Holy of Holies. This was the beauty that St. Paraskevi had. She was not adorned with accessories but only with tears, which ran from her eyes, when she arose at midnight and prayed beneath the stars of Heaven. These were her very precious diamonds, which were taken by the Angels and brought to Paradise, to adorn the garment of her virginity.

Other women adorn their ears with earings, very precious and very expensive. But if you were to ask me, which woman were more beautiful, I would say: It is not those ears adorned with that kind of earings, which eventually will be destroyed or stolen. The more beautiful woman is she who readily turns to hear the voice of her husband, and this readiness had the ears of St. Paraskevi, who hearkened to the voice of the Gospel, to the voice of Christ Who said: "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it." (Luke 11:28)

Other women of her time, like the queens of Rome, wore luxurious belts on their waist. For St. Paraskevi, her belt was the self-control which she wore. This was the adornment of St. Paraskevi, and thus all women and girls who desire to be called Orthodox Christians should be adorned.
St. Paraskevi the Great Martyr (source)
Her activities, however, brought about a backlash; this is the law of life. Whoever is struggling, will be fought against. Only the dead do not fight. Those who struggle in the world "fighting the good fight" (I Timothy 6:12) will face all kinds of backlash from the enemy. Evil children don't throw rocks at fruitless, but at fruitful trees. And St. Paraskevi, who was a tree full of fruit, was next to receive the stones thrown by the instruments of Satan. She was fought first by Hebrews who were fighting Christianity. Two of them condemned her to the King Antoninus, that there was a woman who was stirring up his kingdom, and if she were to continue thus, there would remain no one who would not believe in Christ. According to the command of Antoninus, St. Paraskevi was seized, and led before the Emperor. He remained astonished before her physical beauty, and suggested to her: "Deny Christ and I will make you the Queen." She responded: "I would be very senseless to deny the light and to accept the darkness, to deny Christ and to worship the devil, because the idols are the devil."

He tried again with sweet words and promises to shake her, but she stood immovable. "I will give you three days to think properly and to decide, either to become Queen or to suffer martyrdom."

"O King, do not think that three days, or thirty days or thirty years that you might give me could change my mind. Whatever you have to do, do it immediately."
Do you see, my beloved, how this woman stood unshaken? Whoever believes in truth and loves Christ, either a woman or a man, does not fear neither seduction nor threats, neither men nor the devil, nor this whole world. The true Christian is a hero, because the Gospel brings forth heroes. A heroine and an unshakable rock of the faith was St. Paraskevi shown to be.

Her martyrdom is one of the most moving. I will only offer a small detail. Antoninus ordered that she be placed in a large cauldron, in which was boiling pitch. And even though the pitch was boiling over, St. Paraskevi was swimming in the cauldron. Many don't believe this, it is their right. We believe in Christ and in the wonders of the Saints. As soon as the Saint entered the cauldron, she made the sign of the Cross, and boiling was transformed into refreshment, as if in soothing water! Antoninus was astonished. He wondered whether this were a trick: "Throw me some of that", he said. She threw some into his face, and the Emperor was blinded, his whole face was burned, and he began to entreat the Saint. And she, with her prayer, healed him, and all the people cried out: "Great and true is the God of the Christians!" Thousands of people believed on the day of her martyrdom.

Ultimately, Antoninus believed, but his successor continued the persecution against the Christians, and because of this, the Saint was later martyred. A soldier led her to the place of her execution, and with the lightning strike of his sword, her precious head was cut off, but her holy soul flew like a dove to the Heavens, to be together with the Most-Holy Theotokos, the Saints and the Angels, and to pray on behalf of us sinners.

See, my beloved, what one woman accomplished! She astonished the whole world. And what are we doing today, clergy and laity? In comparison to her, we have not accomplished anything. On the occasion, however, of her memory, let us honor her with love, and be taught by her example, and let us live as true Christians, and work in our social circles with philotimo.

Let us entreat St. Paraskevi. And let us light a candle not just for our family and for our children, but for our homeland, that we might continue to walk the path of Christ, because only then there will be blessedness. May the Lord be with us. Amen.
(+) Bishop Avgoustinos
(Homily delivered at the Holy Monastery of St. Paraskevi, Milochoriou, Eordaias, on Wednesday July 26th, 1967, Source)
St. Paraskevi the Great Martyr (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Today, the Church of Christ is shining with the dual lights..."

Sts. Mary Magdalene the Equal-to-the-Apostles and Markella of Chios the Virgin Martyr (source)
Today, the Church of Christ is shining with the dual lights of Mary Magdalene, and His spotless bride Markella, for through divine will, they proceeded through their lives blamelessly, with manliness of mind, and pleased Him in a godly manner, and rightly became partakers of the glory on high. The one, hastened to anoint His spotless body with myrrh, and beheld the light of His Resurrection, bringing the good news to the saddened Apostles.  The other, fled the filthy will of her father, and was dyed scarlet through her blood of martyrdom and her purity. And they ceaselessly intercede on behalf of our souls.
-Doxastikon of the Stichera from the Feast of Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella
Saints Mary Magdalene and Markella of Chios (sources 1 and 2)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

"Rejoice, O noetic swallow, that heralds the springtime of grace for us..."

Sts. Joachim and Anna, together with their daughter, the Most-Holy Theotokos (source)
Rejoice, O noetic swallow, that heralds the springtime of grace for us, she who lived her life well blamelessly with self-control, and who gave birth to the treasury of virginity, the spotless Theotokos, Anna, the precious one, from whose descendant came the calf Who takes away the offenses of the world, the Word, who by a word was conceived by the Unwedded [Theotokos]. Anna, the Ancestor of the Lord, now proceeds from the earth, where she ever entreats that our souls might be granted the great mercy.
-Prosomoion of the Aposticha from the Dormition of St. Anna

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Elder Ephraim of St. Andrew's Skete on the Repose of St. Paisios

The wondrous body of St. Paisios the Athonite during his funeral (source)
"Gerontissa (Eldress) Philothei, from the Monastery of Souroti, told me that, as soon as St. Paisios reposed, his face shown, and his whole body began to pour forth fragrance and lightning!!! And he went from being very pale from his afflictions, to becoming totally white!

"A sign of his great humility and the many signs from God that he had in his life.

"St. Paisios had very many revelations, some of which he revealed to people, but he asked them to not make them known until he had died!

"His life was a martyrical one, and his battle with the devil and with the demons was not insignificant!

"To live one's whole life as a monk, this shows that he had a leonine soul, for otherwise he could not have withstood the attacks of the enemy, being totally alone."
-Elder Ephraim of St. Andrew's Skete, Mount Athos

Icon depicting the dormition of St. Paisios the Athonite (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

"With a voice of rejoicing, and crying out with psalms..."

St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
With a voice of rejoicing, and crying out with psalms, let us hymn the Martyr Marina, for she cast down the delusion of the idols, and manfully trampled the enemy underfoot. Therefore, having been perfected, she is taken up into the heavens, wearing a crown upon her head, crying out: O You, my Bridegroom, as the Object of my love and fervor, for You I have given my flesh to the fire. Make me therefore to dwell in Your heavenly mansions unto the ages, in which those who dwell ever rejoice.
-Doxastikon of the Stichera for the Feast of St. Marina the Great Martyr

St. Marina the Great Martyr (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, July 10, 2020

"In Thy great mercy, keep Orthodox Christians and their pastors and all Thy people in peace..."

Mosaic of Christ from Hagia Sophia, Constantinople (source)

Apolytikion of Robe of Christ in Moscow in the Fourth Tone

On this day let us the faithful run to the divine and healing robe of our Saviour and God, Who was pleased to wear our flesh and pour out His holy Blood on the Cross, whereby He hath redeemed us from slavery to the enemy. Wherefore, we thankfully cry to Him: By Thy precious robe save and defend Orthodox Christians, and bishops, and cities, and all men everywhere, and save our souls, for Thou art the Friend of man.
The famous mosaic of Christ from the Deisis of Hagia Sophia (source)

Kontakion of Robe of Christ in Moscow in the Fourth Tone

Thou hast bestowed upon all men, O Master, Thy precious robe as a divine treasure, as a garment of incorruption, healing, and salvation, for thereby wast Thou pleased to clothe the holy and life-giving flesh of Thine Incarnation. Receiving this relic with faith, we joyfully celebrate this glorious occasion, and praising Thee with fear and love as our Benefactor, we cry to Thee, O Christ: In Thy great mercy, keep Orthodox Christians and their pastors and all Thy people in peace.
Icon depicting the life and Crucifixion of Christ and His wondrous Holy Cross and Robe (source)

Apolytikion of Elevation of the Holy Cross in the First Tone

Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance, granting our rulers to prevail over adversaries, and protecting Your commonwealth by Your Cross.
The Great Church of Christ, Hagia Sophia, or the Holy Wisdom of God, Constantinople (source)
O Lord, remember us in Your Kingdom, have mercy on us and on Your whole world, and grant us blessed Paradise!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

"Comfort, comfort my people, said the Prophet, for our God is a God of consolation..."

St. Paisios the Athonite (source)
Comfort, comfort my people, said the Prophet, for our God is a God of consolation. Therefore, you became like God, O God-bearer Paisios, becoming a spring of consolation, for you fed the souls of those hungry with the bread of your words, and you gave drink to those burning up amidst trials with the water of rest, and clothed those naked of virtues through your virtuous life, becoming a father, and brother and mother to strangers, and through your prayers, you granted healing, and even after your repose, you visit them, O Venerable Father, granting them rest through your prayers. And now, as you have become an inheritor of the kingdom of Christ, do not cease to be our benefactor, and heal the passions of our souls and bodies.
-Doxastikon of the Aposticha from the Feast of St. Paisios the Athonite
St. Paisios the Athonite (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Selected hymns from the Service to St. Sophrony of Essex

Sts. Silouan the Athonite and Sophrony of Essex (source)
Selected hymns from the Service to St. Sophrony of Essex,
Written by Fr. Athanasios of Simonopetra, the Hymnographer of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone. O You Who were lifted up upon the Cross.
You were shown to be a most-fervent son of our Venerable Father Silouan the Athonite, O Sophrony, bearing the mind of Christ and one who studied divine things, through your wise words, you illumined the West, and through your godly life, you led towards the Light, lifting them up towards God the Father, Whom may we ever behold, through your prayers.

Kontakion in the Third Tone. Today the Virgin.
Having been set ablaze by the Spirit, Whom you sought with fervor, by partaking of Him you became all flame, and you beheld the Light of Christ as much as is possible for man, and were filled with many graces, through which you illumined the whole Church, O all-blessed Sophrony.

As a wise man, God revealed mysteries to you which only few have been entrusted with by the Father, as Moses beheld in the Bush on Mount Sinai. His Name "I am" was revealed then with gravity, but lately theology through the power of the Spirit. Through keeping you nous in hell with good hope, as you were taught, through this you drew forth the streams which are treasured in your books, which quenched the thirsting of our souls. Therefore, we all honor you out of thanksgiving, O all-blessed Sophrony.

On this day (July 11), the Memory of our Venerable and God-bearing Father Sophrony the Athonite, the Founder and Builder of the Holy and Stavropegial Monastery of the Precious and glorious Forerunner and Baptist John in Essex, England, where he reposed venerably in the Lord in 1993.

Sophrony shown forth greatly in his life,
Surpassingly radiant he now stands in the choir of the Angels.
On the eleventh, the spirit of Sophrony departed to God.

St. Sophrony of Essex, holding the icon of his spiritual father, St. Silouan the Athonite (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

"You have given us Your Mother, O Lover of mankind, as a help to Your servants..."

The Mosaic of the Theotokos and Christ from the Apse of the Great Church of Christ: Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople (source)
You have given us Your Mother, O Lover of mankind, as a help to Your servants, as the Compassionate One, through whom You worked Your economy in an awesome manner, and You raised up our first-formed father to a divine rank. Therefore, as we honor this all-sacred festival, we hymn Your might, O All-mighty Jesus.
Mosaic from Hagia Sophia depicting Christ and the Theotokos, before the Holy Emperors Justinian and Constantine the Great (source)
The City that honors you, and glorifies you out of need, is cared by you through your precious Robe, O All-hymned [Theotokos], and O Spotless One, she is ever delivered from the most godless barbarians, from famine and earthquake, from civil war, O unwedded Virgin, and therefore she glorifies you, O Panagia and Bride of God, the helper of mankind.
Another mosaic from Hagia Sophia of the Theotokos and Christ (source)
Your precious Robe was granted to your City, O Lady graced by God, as an eternal treasure, a protection and pride and an unassailable wall, and a treasury of healings, and an ever-flowing spring of wonders, as an eternal harbor of salvation for those who are storm-tossed, and therefore we hymn you, O All-hymned Lady.
-Prosomoia of the Stichera from the Feast of the Deposition of the Robe of the Theotokos

On a sad day when the Turkish government votes to turn Hagia Sophia once again into a mosque, we pray that Most-Holy Theotokos might ever protect the Christians and their lands throughout the world, and most-importantly, that she might intercede that we be granted Paradise! (source)
Most-Holy Theotokos, save us!

"Join chorus, ye East and West, ye North and South..."

St. John Maximovitch the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (source)

O blessed John, thou wast truly shown to be a universal instructor, a teacher of piety and the chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit. Wherefore, all the ends of the earth glorify thee, from the rising of the sun even unto the setting thereof; and, hastening to thy relics, the faithful receive healings and help amid tribulations: for having risen unto the joy of thy Lord, thou dost yet remain inseparable from us.
Join chorus, ye East and West, ye North and South, celebrating the memory of the holy hierarch and wonderworker. Rejoice, O heavens, receiving the new angel, the divinely inspired man of prayer and unmercenary pastor, the gracious healer, prophet and herald, John, our merciful helper, the mighty surety for us at the judgment.
-Selected hymns from the Service to St. John Maximovitch, the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco
St. John Maximovitch (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!