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St. Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia was not merely a saint in martyrdom but was considered by many to have lived a saintly life. St. Seraphim of Sarov even wrote him a letter decades before he became Tsar and had it delivered to him while the Tsar was attending ceremonies in Sarov in honour of St. Seraphim.

Hear all about St. Nicholas on this wonderful episode of Christian Message from Moscow here. It begins:

Beloved brothers and sisters! This time we will tell you the story of the Holy Martyr, last Russian Emperor Nicholas II.

It is quite significant that long before Nicholas II’s ascension to the throne a monk at the Glinsk monastery in Russia, Iliador, chanced to have an enigmatic vision at end of the 19th century.

Iliador was attending a prayer when he felt some change in his senses. Then he saw a dark horizon. There came bright light. A sun rose in the East and started to move slowly to the West… All of a sudden the sun grew red, stopped moving and a voice from above said: “This is the road of the royal martyr Nicholas II.”

Nicholas II was not understood by the Russian people and he has remained so to this day.

Read the transcript of the episode here.

The Creator of All [1]

Metropolitan Avgoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

             All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:3)

             Who is Christ? We hear one, two thousand different opinions. One person says he is a philosopher, another that he is a sociologist, and yet another that he is a poet. Others say still other things. Today’s Gospel reading gives us the correct answer: it says that Christ is God. You believe this? Then you are a Christian. You don’t believe this? Then you are not. You may well belong to one school of philosophy or another, but you are not a Christian!

Christ is God, then. He is not just a man; he is the God-man Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified and who is God. In this passage, we hear that there was never a time when the Son and Word of God did not exist. There was indeed a time when man did not exist – science even concedes this – but there was never a time when Christ, the second person of the Triune God, did not exist. The Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three suns in one sun; three-sunned Divinity. All Holy Trinity, have mercy on your world!

Further on, the Gospel says that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is he through whom all things were made – all things both seen and unseen. “All things,” it says, “were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3). This requires analysis.

These God-inspired words speak of the world’s ontology, of the creation of things in other words. One of humanity’s ten greatest spiritual men, Blessed Augustine (whose name I unworthily bear), says that all the created things around us, from those we see through a telescope to those which may only be seen through a microscope, belong to the following four categories.

To the first category belong those things which are endowed with ‘being’ and being alone. In other words, they simply exist. What are these? They are the dust of the earth, the water, stones, the hills, priceless and useless metals, minerals, but also the heavenly bodies – the stars and even the galaxies.

To the second category belong those things which have something beyond being: they grow. What are these? They are the plants and the trees. Beyond existence, these things grow. Where does a tree begin? As a small seed. This seed then falls to the earth and grows. It is watered and it grows. It sprouts; it grows and develops, becoming a great tree.

On to the third category. According to Blessed Augustine, those things which belong to this category have something beyond existence and growth: they feel. Which things are these? These are the animals. A cute little lamb, for example, exists, grows and feels. It feels pain. O how it suffers these very days at the hands of men who slaughter it for their Paschal feast! Animals feel. Some of them even have senses which are stronger than those of other beings. The eagle, for example, has a sharp eye, he has crystal-clear vision, or what we call an ‘eagle-eye’, which allows him to soar as high as the sun and yet from this height he is able to discern the most miniscule thing on the earth below. The dog has both a very keen sense of smell and excellent hearing. I have read somewhere that in London the police have special dogs, as well as officers equipped with whistles which, when blown, cannot be heard by man. Only the dogs can hear these whistles. When the dogs hear these whistles they run immediately to find the officer calling them. The dog is also the first animal to sense an earthquake; he senses it even before the seismograph.

Creation of Eve

In summary; rocks have ‘being’, they just ‘are'; the trees both ‘are’ and ‘grow'; the animals ‘are’, ‘grow’ and ‘feel’. And now we have arrived at the peak of the ladder of beings; we have arrived at man. Man is matter, he is earth – we do not deny it! – and thus he has ‘being’. He grows, since from an embryo, from a little child, he grows into a full-grown man. He also feels, for he too experiences pain. He does not have these things alone, however; he also has something beyond these. What does he have beyond these? It is that he thinks; he has a mind. O, the human mind! Let them say, let them shout, that man comes from the ape, from the orangutan! This is a grave error. What separates us from the animals is the ability to think. The mind is a great thing. Next to it, the computer is nothing. The computer is nothing – a toy – next to that incomprehensible piece of equipment which we call the human intellect. It is this which separates us from all other beings. It is by means of the intellect that man understands, that he plans, that he invents, that he creates. Take an ape. Put him in school for ten years. He will not learn the alphabet; he will only grunt! From the time he is a young student, man grows in knowledge, eventually becoming a wise researcher or inventor. He is capable of progress on account of his intellect.

There are, then, four categories of beings. First, those things that ‘are'; second those things that ‘are’ and ‘grow'; third, those things that ‘are’, ‘grow’ and ‘feel'; and fourth, those things that ‘think’. Have we finished with the ladder of beings, I wonder? No! Because there exist not only those being that we see, but also those we cannot see. Those things that we see are few in comparison with those we cannot see. Beyond the world we see is found the invisible world which is infinite and wondrous. It is in this world that the bodiless hosts, the heavenly powers, the angels and archangels, are found, as well as the souls of men which have passed from the earth, and the demons who of their own will fell away from the aim for which they were created.

My brothers, this is the pyramid of beings, “of all things visible and invisible,” and at the peak of this pyramid is the Creator, the Triune God. As the Fathers and teachers of our Church teach, all things are made by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. This dogma, this truth of our faith, is affirmed in today’s Gospel which says concerning the Son and Word of the Father: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” The Son and Word of God, who humbled himself and came down to the earth, was incarnate, was crucified, and who arose from the dead and whose resurrection we celebrate today, is he, “by whom all things were made”.

All things, everything, from the smallest to the greatest, from the grass which we walk on to the huge trees, from the mite to the elephant, and from the atom to the planets and galaxies which swirl in outer space, all things were made by Christ. Do you believe this? Then you are a Christian. You don’t believe this? That is your right. Christ and the Church do not need followers. I am in favour of a Church of quality, not a Church of quantity. Thousands of faithless people are not worth one faithful Christian. He who believes does not say, “I have my opinion”. What is your opinion, sir? What God says here in the Gospel: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.”

To Christ himself, the eternal God – in spite of the atheists and unbelievers of all ages – to him be glory, honour and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli: Thessaloniki, 2011), 22-26. Translated by Fr John Palmer.

orthodoxpathAs quite a few readers of Lessons from a Monastery are from various countries and know various languages, I wanted to introduce you to a new website called The Orthodox Path, a multilingual Orthodox website. It is a great resource and has made spiritual articles available in many languages, including Greek, English, German, Albanian, Romanian, Turkish, as well as others. Below is just one of the website’s many jewels. It is a translation of a talk given by the renowned Elder Symeon of Panorama. Enjoy!

People today are complicated, multi-faceted, confused, and in one way or another, their souls are layered: layer upon layer of blindness, layer upon layer of callousness, layer upon layer of pride. For this reason they are never healed once and for all. As soon as you take a humble attitude, though, Grace intervenes and works a miracle: you are freed. But the work does not end here. This Grace, this light, this healing that comes proceeds also to the next layer further down. And here the sin is more unyielding, is more strongly rooted, the resistance is uncompromising. If you say, “May it be blessed, My God. I will look even deeper and I will acknowledge my stubbornness and my sin, and will humble myself”, then another miracle takes place. And in some incomprehensible way, the second and the third, the fourth and the fifth layers of the soul are put right. But some people will not accept this. They remain at the superficial layers, and spend their life like this and are never healed.” 

Transcribed talks by Arch. Symeon Kragiopoulos (trans. by Fr. Matthew Penney)

Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers, may we have the courage to continually look deep within ourselves and receive the grace of healing!

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(Source) This following story is recounted by Nun Cornelia (Rees).

About fifteen years ago, I heard this story about an event that took place in Northern California—an unusual story, about a miracle of St. Xenia of Petersburg. Nun Nina, now Abbess Nina of St. Nilus Skete in Alaska, had heard it from Fr. Weldon Hardenbrook, who at the time was the rector of a church in Santa Cruz County. I wrote it down immediately, but unfortunately the notebook I wrote it in is located somewhere far away from me now, and I am writing it again from memory—so that people might know that Blessed Xenia the fool-for-Christ of St. Petersburg helps people everywhere, even people who previously knew nothing about her. She helps not only those who have prayed to her, but even those who will pray to her.

This priest, Fr. Weldon, served in a parish that consisted of former Evangelical Christians who had embraced Orthodox Christianity. There was a time when their flourishing community was not Orthodox, and all kinds of people came to them to hear their Christian message. One day, a young man rode up to the church on his Harley Davidson. His appearance betrayed the life of a prodigal, but he was sincerely interested in hearing about Jesus. A relationship formed with the Fr Weldon, now an Orthodox priest (who told this story), and the young man began to gradually change his ways. He had given up one vice after another when the pastor told him that his “biking” would have to go if he wanted to truly follow Christ. This was too much for the newly-born Evangelical to bear, and he left the community and his pastor’s care, never intending to return.

Our biker rode off on his Harley Davidson, and soon had a terrible accident, which cost him his legs. Eventually he landed back in the company of his old “friends”, in a run-down apartment in a low-rent neighborhood in the bad part of a crime-ridden city. One evening, as he and his companions were abusing drugs and alcohol in a particularly vigorous way, he slipped over the edge and lost consciousness. The others were also far from sober and took him for dead. Not understanding clearly what they should do, and as usual avoiding all contact with the police, they simply dragged his limp, legless body to the street and threw him into the nearest garbage dumpster. In there, the next morning, he came to his senses. It was a rude awaking indeed to find himself in a dumpster, wallowing in refuse. Climbing dazedly out of that would-be coffin, he sat down on the curb, thinking the darkest thoughts. “So, this is what I have come to. Useless, human trash. Thrown away like garbage.”

Sunk in these pessimistic thoughts, he was suddenly stirred by the presence of an old lady in tattered clothes—what people call a “bag lady”. She was coming closer to him with a fierce, accusatory expression. “You know where to go,” she said, pointing at him. “So, go there!” At that moment the man remembered his former pastor, and the church where he had almost reformed. Determined to find it again, he made his way back to the town where it is located.

When he returned to that church it was different. There were gold domes with crosses on the roof, and the interior was completely changed. No pews; and there was a sort of screen at the front, with strange images of holy people. He looked around in wonder, when his gaze caught the image of a woman—the very “bag lady” who had told him where to go in that hour of dire depression. It was Holy Blessed Xenia, the fool-for-Christ of Petersburg.

He met his old friend, now an Orthodox priest in a cassock, wearing a cross. He received holy Baptism himself, and began to live the life of a dedicated parishioner, this time truly transformed.

I do not know what has come of this man since. I have no reason to believe that he is anywhere other than at that parish, but as I have said, this story was related to me fifteen years ago. However, the fact remains that this miracle of St. Xenia happened to person who knew nothing of her, who lived in a place very far from Russia, and when he needed it the most.

Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

One of [Elder Epiphanios'] spiritual children held a high-ranking administrative position, and when he confessed he would often confess the same sin involving his subordinates over and again.  One time during confession the Elder threatened him, saying that if he fell into the same sin again he would receive a very particular penance.  “If you fall into this sin again,” the Elder informed the man, “I will make you sit down and allow me to wash your feet.”  Unfortunately the spiritual child did fall into the same sin again and Elder Epiphanios made good on his threat.  Naturally, this event proved quite a spiritual trial for the spiritual child.  After the washing, the Elder said:  “Since I know that this makes you uneasy, I will wash your feet every time you fall into that particular sin.”  The man never fell into the sin again, though every time his subordinates pushed him to the brink he would shout:  “You owe a great deal to the man who washed my feet!”  They never knew what he was talking about.

Translated by Rev Dr John Palmer

Image retrieved from http://stpaisiusmonastery.org/

Dn. Michael Hyatt interviews his wife Gail about her trip to St. Paisius Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Safford, Arizona (in 2011): You can hear the interview here.

Divna - Divine Light - 1500x1500The well-known Serbian chantor Divna Ljubojevic has a new CD out, “In Search for Divine Light”. When I was offered a copy in exchange for a review I quickly said yes as I have, like many of you no doubt, been moved by Divna’s beautiful voice on many occasions. In this CD Divna is joined by her ensemble, the Melodists; the recorded it at the Vavedenje Monastery in Belgrade. Her hauntingly beautiful voice gently invokes a peaceful, grace-filled environment. Similar to her other pieces of work, this CD brings liturgical hymns to life in a new way but does not detract from traditional Orthodox music to the point where you don’t recognize it.

Although one or two of the tracks are a little “too choral” for my liking, for instance in Track 8, Come Let us Bless Joseph of Everlasting Memory, I found the accompanying choir a tad overpowering. But, for the most part, the Melodists add to the beauty of the hymns, they do not detract from them. I would recommend this CD to anyone who enjoys Divna’s incredible voice, and the melodies of hymns that speak to the soul despite the language sounding foreign to some ears.

You can purchase the CD on Valley Entertainment’s website here.

Below is a video featuring the track “Blessed is the Man”.

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