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The Lanier Library Lecture Series – Saint Catherine’s Monastery – An Ark in the Wilderness – Father Justin – recorded 11-06-10

Subjects include Codex Sinaiticus, manuscripts of Mt Sinai and Greek Orthodoxy.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the world’s oldest continuously inhabited monastery, with a history extending back over 1700 years. In the mid-nineteenth century, it was at this monastery that what became known as codex Sinaiticus was discovered. It is the only known complete copy of the Greek New Testament in uncial script. Although this codex is now kept in the British Museum, St. Catherine’s library contains manuscripts famous throughout the world for their antiquity and for the range of languages that appear in the collection. Father Justin will show five manuscripts in particular that have been studied by scholars within the last year, as a way of demonstrating the continuing significance of the Sinai manuscripts for our understanding of the Scriptures and of the heritage of the Church.

Father Justin was born in Ft Worth, Texas, in 1949. He lived in Chile until the age of nine, after which his family moved to El Paso. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1971, he entered a Greek Orthodox monastery three years later. He was tonsured a monk in 1977, and ordained deacon and priest the following year. He has been a member of Saint Catherine’s Monastery since 1996, where his responsibilities have included the photography of the Sinai manuscripts with a high-resolution digital camera. Five years ago, the members of the community elected him librarian.

The Lanier Theological Library is an exciting new resource for all students and scholars of the Bible. The LTL is a research library and is open to everyone who will use it responsibly. Within the library, you will find a comprehensive collection of books, periodicals, historical documents and artifacts with topics ranging from Church History and Biblical Studies to Egyptology and Linguistics. The LTL regularly hosts events with noted authors, guest lecturers, and researchers who will challenge you both academically and spiritually. Come to the Lanier Theological Library and find serious tools for serious study.

For more info on this: http://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org/

 

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“Beyond Torture” – though difficult at times to watch – is a documentary that gives us an all-important glimpse into the sufferings of our Romanian brothers in the awful communist prison camp, the Pitesti gulag. Brace yourself, the content is graphic at times.

O Holy New-martyrs of Romania, pray to God for us!

 

 

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scent-of-holinessWhen The Scent of Holiness was first published a few friends jokingly asked, “When’s the sequel coming out?” I would usually just laugh thinking I had expended my supply of interesting stories. But out of curiosity I sat down one day to write down a list of ideas, stories I didn’t record in the first book, stories that hadn’t happened until after The Scent of Holiness was published. I think I came up with 35 stories in that first sitting. Since then the list has more than doubled and I’ve steadily been working away at writing them all down with the intention of publishing them in the future (God willing). The focus of this second book is not relegated to women’s monasteries; it will contain stories of encounters with monks, nuns, elders, and laypeople, experiences in North America, South Korea and Greece. As tomorrow is the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, I thought I’d share this rough draft of a story I recently wrote for this second book.

Contemplating the Virtue of the Theotokos

During the winter months the sun had already set by the time I reached the Holy Dormition Monastery of the Mother of God. Vespers was most often held in the large catholicon outside the monastery gates. Entering the outer narthex I would light a beeswax candle in front of the festal icon the sisters had laid out on an icon stand. As soon as I opened the large wooden door to the nave I would be greeted by the sound of the nuns melodic chanting and surrounded by the sweet fragrance of burning incense. I would then proceed to the large icon of the Mother of God, depicted with the Lord on her lap. In those sacred, if fleeting, moments a person could feel genuinely connected to the Mother of God. In the dim light of the church, one could even supplicate the Theotokos with tears and be noticed by no one. As far away as she seemed out in the world at times, that much and more close she seemed in the sacred space of her holy monastery.

To stand in the presence of a holy icon is to stand in the presence of the person depicted therein, and so whether we stand before a large icon encased in an elaborately decorated wooden icon stand or before a paper icon taped on the wall of our bedroom, we stand before the holy person whose countenance is painted in line and colour. But in the peaceful, prayerful atmosphere of a holy monastery, we often become more attuned to the spiritual reality surrounding us, and being more attuned to this spiritual reality not only makes our prayer flow more readily but contemplation of holy mysteries comes within our grasp.

It is in moments such as these that I contemplate the person of the Most Holy Theotokos. Thinking on her life and works, her sufferings and sacrifice, I feel as though she offers us the answer to all our problems. The example of her life is the cure to our illness, the source of joy to heal our sorrow. By means of merely two of her countless virtues – obedience and purity – she teaches us everything. In her obedience to God she shows us that perfect freedom and attaining our “full potential” is found in submitting our fallen and corrupted will to the all-good Father, thus molding our will into His will and therefore being able to (eventually) not only “know the good”, but will it and do it.

With her outward and inward purity she points us to the easy path of sanctification. By keeping our souls and bodies pure, by not even accepting corrupted thoughts, we maintain the ability to hear and communicate with God, and thus know how to live in conformity with His will. If we have long ago lost our purity – whether it be mental, spiritual and/or physical purity – we have the opportunity to restore it through confession and repentance. Confession and repentance are our constant means to imitate her virtue and please her Son and our God, as she does best of all.

And so, no matter how ill we are, no matter our upbringing, no matter the genetic weaknesses we have inherited (of body and soul), no matter the state of the world around us, we have the opportunity by God’s grace, through the prayers of the Theotokos, to become healthy, to become holy. We too can, in our own dormition, pass from life to life through a mere “falling asleep”, if only we would imitate her virtue.dormition-3

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nun sepphora(Source) Schema-nun Sepphora, in the world Daria Nicholaevna Shnyakina (nee Senyakina) was an Orthodox ascetic and eldress. She was born in 1896, and desired from her early years to dedicate herself to God in monasticism, but due to her father’s early death she was compelled by her mother to marry in order to help support the family. Darya did not wish to disobey her mother. She went through many trials during the much-suffering twentieth century—“raskulachivanie”, or the confiscation of all property by the soviet authorities, famine, war, and persecution against the faithful. In 1967 she received the monastic tonsure in the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, but she continued to live in the world. Her move to Klykovo was foretold to her in 1993, when the monastery was just being built, and no one knew about its existence. Schema-nun Sepphora reposed in the Lord at age 102 in Klykovo Monastery. Many people had found a in her a spiritual mother, consoler, and witness to faith in Christ.

Excerpt from Julia Posashko’s interview with Igumen Mikhail (Semenov):

Igumen Mikhail: …We had to restore the church having no money whatsoever for it—not a cent. So we went to ask the prayers of Schema-nun Sepphora.

How does one take a blessing from a woman?

Igumen Mikhail: Schema-nun Sepphora was waiting for us. It just so happens that in 1993, when Matushka prayed to the Mother of God to show her where she would end her days, the Heavenly Queen appeared to her and said, “Wait—the priests will come from Klykovo Monastery to take you there.” She waited for two years. At first there simply was nowhere to take her. We ourselves were living in very bad conditions here; we were building a building, and when we met her in 1995 it was half completed. Matushka starting hurrying us. “Build it faster, I am going to live with you.” We did what we could to finish the building and just before Christmas of 1996 we brought her here.

How did you meet Schema-nun Sepphora?

Igumen Mikhail: We met her in Optina. I had been there a month when one day I heard that an eldress had arrived, and everyone had a high opinion of her. They said that she was spiritual, clairvoyant, and a great woman of prayer… Naturally everyone was trying to see her; many of us had only begun the religious life, and we all had a great many questions. Well, I also went to see her. I was told, “Forget it! There are abbots waiting in line to see her. You won’t get in!” On the first night I did not get in, and I resigned myself to the probability that I would not see her. However, the next day I was leaving the Church of the Entrance of the Mother of God, and a laborer said to me, “Look, they are taking Matushka. Let’s go and get her blessing!” I thought, how does one get a blessing from a woman, and what is going on? But then I saw her blessing each person carefully with three fingers. I went up to her; she made the sign of the cross over me and asked, “Who are you?” I said, Sergei. She said with surprise, “And what are you doing here?” I said, “I am laboring in the steward’s department, helping the fathers.” She was silent, and then said, “But you and I are going to live together.” Her cell attendant whispered to me, “Listen to what Matushka says to you, she is an eldress!” We stood for a bit, were silent, and then Matushka Sepphora patted me on the shoulder. “Well, run on, run on for now!” I of course walked away perplexed. Where are she and I supposed to live together? Then I just put it out of my head. I remembered that conversation only when we were bringing Matushka here to Klykovo. She lived in our monastery until her death. We do not do anything to “advertise” Schema-nun Sepphora. It all happens by itself. People know her, and she really does help people. Some people told me, for example, that she stood during an operation next to one woman… The Hermitage of the Savior “Made Without Hands” in the village of Klykovo.

But isn’t there a certain spiritual danger in people always coming to the monastery, to her relics, to pray by the grave of the eldress not because they are seeking God, but only to solve their problems of everyday life?

Igumen Mikhail: Yes, often people have a poor understanding of God, but when they come up against an obvious miracle from a specific saint it strengthens their faith. After that, God looks for action from a person. But in order to light the flame in him a miracle is often needed. He is smart enough to turn to one or another saint and prays, and the miracle happens. It is a little push, and the person begins his first spiritual steps. He may not receive the same “advance pay” the second or third time—you can’t deceive God.

Did you have such a launching point?

Igumen Mikhail: I did not seek out miracles, and it was not my goal to pray one out. I simply lived my life with the thought that I wanted the Lord to do what was necessary in me. My sole desire was to learn from people of holy life. The Lord aided me in this—I knew many elders.

*A nun’s head-covering

 

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Holy Virgin-Martyr Evpraxia

25_efpraxia(Source)

Antigonus and his wife Eupraxia were pious and bestowed generous alms on the destitute. A daughter was born to them, whom they also named Eupraxia. Antigonos soon died, and the mother withdrew from the imperial court. She went with her daughter to Egypt, on the pretext of inspecting her properties. Near the Thebaid there was a women’s monastery with a strict monastic rule. The life of the inhabitants attracted the pious widow. She wanted to bestow aid on this monastery, but the abbess Theophila refused and said that the nuns had fully devoted themselves to God and that they did not wish the acquisition of any earthly riches. The abbess consented to accept only candles, incense and oil.

The younger Eupraxia was seven years old at this time. She liked the monastic way of life and she decided to remain at the monastery. Her pious mother did not stand in the way of her daughter’s wish. Taking leave of her daughter at the monastery, Eupraxia asked her daughter to be humble, never to dwell upon her noble descent, and to serve God and her sisters.

In a short while the mother died. Having learned of her death, the emperor St Theodosius sent St Eupraxia the Younger a letter in which he reminded her that her parents had betrothed her to the son of a certain senator, intending that she marry him when she reached age fifteen. The Emperor desired that she honor the commitment made by her parents. In reply, St Eupraxia wrote to the emperor that she had already become a bride of Christ, and she requested of the emperor to dispose of her properties, distributing the proceeds for the use of the Church and the needy.

St Eupraxia, when she reached the age of maturity, intensified her ascetic efforts all the more. At first she partook of food once a day, then after two days, three days, and finally, once a week. She combined her fasting with the fulfilling of all her monastic obediences. She toiled humbly in the kitchen, she washed dishes, she swept the premises and served the sisters with zeal and love. The sisters also loved the humble Eupraxia. But one of them envied her and explained away all her efforts as a desire for glory. This sister began to trouble and to reproach her, but the holy virgin did not answer her back, and instead humbly asked forgiveness.

The Enemy of the human race caused the saint much misfortune. Once,while getting water, she fell into the well, and the sisters pulled her out. Another time, St Eupraxia was chopping wood for the kitchen, and cut herself on the leg with an axe. When she carried an armload of wood up the ladder, she stepped on the hem of her garment. She fell, and a sharp splinter cut her near the eyes. All these woes St Eupraxia endured with patience, and when they asked her to rest, she would not consent.

For her efforts, the Lord granted St Eupraxia a gift of wonderworking. Through her prayers she healed a deaf and dumb crippled child, and she delivered a demon-possessed woman from infirmity. They began to bring the sick for healing to the monastery. The holy virgin humbled herself all the more, counting herself as least among the sisters. Before the death of St Eupraxia, the abbess had a vision. The holy virgin was transported into a splendid palace, and stood before the Throne of the Lord, surrounded by holy angels. The All-Pure Virgin showed St Eupraxia around the luminous chamber and said that She had made it ready for her, and that she would come into this habitation after ten days.

The abbess and the sisters wept bitterly, not wanting to lose St Eupraxia. The saint herself, in learning about the vision, wept because she was not prepared for death. She asked the abbess to pray that the Lord would grant her one year more for repentance. The abbess consoled St Eupraxia and said that the Lord would grant her His great mercy. Suddenly St Eupraxia sensed herself not well, and having sickened, she soon peacefully died at the age of thirty.

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Looking through old files of photos and videos I found this video of the holy icon of Axion Esti (It is Truly Meet) arriving at the port of Thessaloniki from Mount Athos for the feast of St. Demetrios the Great Martyr and the 100th anniversary of the city’s liberation from Ottoman rule (October, 2012). We were blessed to be there and to record the procession which began at the port and led to the Church of St. Demetrios.

Below is the history of the icon, from the Pemptousia’s website here:

The icon or “Axion Esti”, which is said to be miraculous, is kept in the sanctuary. This is the most saintly icon of the whole monastic state. Placed on a throne behind the altar, it is about 3′ l’ by 2′ 2″ in size. The center of the icon is domi­nated by the Virgin holding the Child Jesus, while its oblong perimeter is occupied by twenty small medallions, each picturing the patron saints of the monasteries of Mt Athos. The following story is told about this icon. North-east of Karyes, in the direction of Pantokratoros monastery and at a place called Sakkos, there were a few kellia, one of them dedicated to the Assumption of the Bles­sed Virgin. One Saturday afternoon the Elder of this Kelli before starting for Karyes, where he intended to attend the vigils at the church of the Protaton, instructed his hypotaklikos to read the vespers himself. That evening a young monk who was a complete stranger appeared at the kelli and begged leave to stay for the night, which was granted. During matins next morning, the hypotaktikos was preparing to chant Kosmas’s hymn to the Virgin Mother before her icon. This begins with “Την τιμιωτέραν των χερουβείμ” (“More honourable than the Cherubim”) but he was in­terrupted by the visitor who started chanting the then unknown hymn “‘Αξιον εστίν ως αληθώς μακαρίζειν σε την Θεοτόκον, την αειμακάριστον και παναμώμητον και Μητέρα του Θεού ημών” (“It is truly meet to call thee blessed, the Theotokos and ever-virgin, all-immaculate and Mother of our God”).

Having finished this he continued with that of “Την τιμιωτέραν των χερουβείμ.” Greatly moved, the hypotaktikos begged the guest to write down the hymn for him. Finding no paper or ink he produced a marble slab on which the stranger carved the hymn with his bare finger. He ordered the monk that the hymn should thereafter be sung in praise of the Virgin. He then vanished. When the elder returned and was told what had passed between the hypotaktikos and the stranger, he at once notified the Assembly of the Elders at Karyes. Those had both the icon of the Virgin before which the angel-carved hymn was first sung, as well as the marble slab brought to the Protaton. The icon was placed on a throne in the sanctuary, with a hanging lamp burning before it day and night while the marble slab was sent to Constantinople and both the Emperor and the Patriarch were accordingly informed. Furthermore they communicated the event to al1 the fathers on the Holy Mountain, whom they instructed that the hymn should be sung henceforth. The kelli in question was named “Axion Estin” and its locality is still called “the Pit of Singing”.

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Abba Sisoes’ humility and longing for repentance was epitomised by the manner of his departure from this life. When he lay upon his deathbed, the disciples surrounding the Elder saw that his face shone like the sun. They asked the dying man what he saw. Abba Sisoes replied that he saw St Anthony, the prophets, and the apostles. His face increased in brightness, and he spoke with someone. The monks asked, “With whom are you speaking, Father?” He said that angels had come for his soul, and he was entreating them to give him a little more time for repentance. The monks said, “You have no need for repentance, Father” St Sisoes said with great humility, “I do not think that I have even begun to repent.” After these words the face of the holy Abba shone so brightly that the brethren were not able to look upon him. St Sisoes told them that he saw the Lord Himself. Then there was a flash like lightning, and a fragrant odour, and Abba Sisoes departed to the Heavenly Kingdom.

St. Sisoes is today well known for his depiction in an icon which became popular upon its appearance in Greek monasteries following the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 15th Century. This icon, the “Astonishment of Sisoes”, is a contemplation on death, but not only the death of a man, but of an earthly empire. The icon shows St. Sisoes over the dead bones in Alexander the Great’s open tomb and with the following inscription:

“SISOES, THE GREAT ASCETIC, BEFORE THE TOMB, OF ALEXANDER, KING OF THE GREEKS,WHO WAS ONCE COVERED IN GLORY.

ASTONISHED, HE MOURNS FOR THE VICISSITUDES OF TIME AND THE TRANSCIENCE OF GLORY, AND TEARFULLY DECLAIMS THUS:

‘THE MERE SIGHT OF YOU TOMB, DISMAYS ME AND CAUSES MY HEART TO SHED TEARS, AS I CONTEMPLATE THE DEBT WE, ALL MEN, OWE.

HOW CAN I POSSIBLY STAND IT? OH, DEATH! WHO CAN EVADE YOU?‘”

ossuary in meteora

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In Honour of the Holy Apostles

holyapostles_iconIn honour of the Apostles, whose Synaxi we will celebrate on June 30, the day after our celebration of the great beacons of the Gospel, Sts. Peter and Paul, I wanted to share this excerpt from Bishop Augoustinos Kantiotis’ book Follow Me, p. 359:

What mission can compare to that of the Apostles, and what offering of love to theirs? In their entirety, they are the first after the One. Therefore, the Church, founded on their labours and their blood, is called the Apostolic Church. It is a name, which, so as not to remain a simple title, makes the deepest obligations on Christians of every age who are members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which Orthodoxy is. Our Church is called “Apostolic.” In everything we should maintain apostolic teaching, apostolic life and polity, for woe to us if below the epigraph “Apostolic” we hide an ideology and life that does not bear the apostolic stamp.

The Apostles demolished the pagan world, enlightened nations, and created a new world. These twelve led thousands of souls to Christ. How did they do this? By their simple teaching, which sketched before their listeners Jesus Christ Crucified and Resurrected from the dead. They attracted people by the miracles they worked and through which they confirmed their divine teaching, which seemed so strange to the ears of the idolaters and Jews, for whom the preaching of the Cross was foolish and offensive. They attracted people by their holy example. In the Apostles, Christ’s words found complete harmony. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). Through all these things – brilliant teaching, astonishing miracles, and radiant way of life – the Apostles were shown to be shinning mirrors of the Logos, in which people saw the wondrous image of Jesus Christ. They were shown to be suns shinning, warming, and giving life. They were sown to be the clearest proof of our religion’s heavenly origin.

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The Holy Martyr Agrippina, was by birth a Roman. She did not wish to enter into marriage, and totally dedicated her life to God. During the time of persecution against Christians under the emperor Valerian (253-259) the saint went before the court and bravely confessed her faith in Christ, for which she was given over to torture. They beat the holy virgin with sticks so severely that her bones broke. Afterwards they put St Agrippina in chains, but an angel freed her from her bonds.

The holy confessor died from the tortures she endured. The Christians Bassa, Paula and Agathonike secretly took the body of the holy martyr and transported it to Sicily, where many miracles were worked at her grave. In the eleventh century the relics of the holy Martyr Agrippina were transferred to Constantinople.

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“I am Constantine the Great…

I descended from heaven to reveal

the glory which monks receive

in heaven, and the closeness and boldness

they have towards Christ…

I blame myself and I condemn myself,

for not having been granted this great rank of the Monastics…

I am unable to bear the loss, which I experienced…

I do not have the same honour as Monastics,

nor equal honour towards them.

Full account of the vision of St. Constantine the Great by St. Paisios by “Neon Eklogion” (Νέον Εκλόγιον) translated by Full of Grace and Truth (as is the above statement):

Therefore (says the righteous John), desiring to see myself as I was able, his special theoria, and to taste of divine grace, I went to him [St. Paisios], and before I knocked on the door of his cell, I heard him speaking with another man. I was reluctant to knock, so I waited outside. The little sound I made, however, was heard by the precious father, and he came outside. He saw me, and was filled with joy and embraced me, and I him. He took me into his cell, where I didn’t see anyone else. I was puzzled, and I wondered: who was in here.

The Elder asked me: “Why are you looking here and there in bewilderment, as if you were looking at something strange?” I replied: “Indeed I see something strange, and I don’t know what to think, for a short time ago, I heard the voice of another man who was speaking with you, and now I don’t see anyone else. What should I think? I beseech your Holiness to reveal to me this strange mystery. The divine father told me: “O John, God wishes to reveal to you a strange mystery today, and I must reveal to you the love which the Giver-of-Good-things has for us. “He whom you heard speaking with me, my perfect friend, was Constantine the Great, the first King of the Christians, who descended from heaven, being sent by God, and told me: ‘Blessed are you who have been made worthy of the monastic life, for truly unique is the godly blessing of the Savior towards you.’

“I asked him: And who are you, my Lord, who are saying these things, and magnifying us Monks? He replied: ‘I am Constantine the Great, and I descended from the heavens, that I might reveal to you the glory which Monks receive in the heavens, and the closeness and boldness which they have towards Christ. And I magnify you, O Paisios, for you guide them in this holy path of asceticism. I therefore blame and condemn myself, for not being granted this greatest rank of the Monastics, and I cannot bear the loss which I experienced.’

“And again I said: ‘Why, O wondrous one, do you judge yourself? Have you not received that eternal glory, and divine illumination?’ He replied to me: ‘Yes, I have received them, but I do not have that boldness of the Monks, neither glory equal to theirs, for I saw the souls of some Monks who had been separated from the body, and flew as eagles, and with great daring rise to the heavens. And the rank of demons did not dare approach them at all. Then I saw that the gates of heaven were opened for them, and they entered in, and appeared before the heavenly King, standing with great boldness before the throne of God. For this reason, therefore, I am amazed by you Monks, and I bless you, and I condemn myself for not being made worthy of boldness life this. For I wish that I could have left my passing kingdom, and the royal robe and crown, and to become poor, and to wear sackcloth, and to accept all those things that the monastic life seeks.’

“Again I said to him: ‘You say this well, O most-holy King, and you console us with these words. However, this must be the judgment of our God, and and we are unable to say anything different regarding divine righteousness. For the Righteous Judge grants to each according to his worth in righteousness, and rewards for the works of everyone, for your unique life did not have the same struggles as the life of Monks, for you had a wife to help you, and your children, and your servants, and different rewards and comforts. For the Monks, disdaining all of the joys of this present life, receive God, instead of the good things of the World. And bearing Him with joy, and special richess, and to be made pleasing to Him, they consider Him their food, and their great reward. And they are, according to the Apostle, ‘destitute, afflicted, ill-treated’. Therefore it is impossible, my King, for you to be equal to them.

“And at that point, therefore, you came, O my brother John, and [St. Constantine] straightaway ascended to the heavens. Therefore, now having learned this mystery that has occurred, how good must the pains of asceticism seem. Strengthen the brothers.”

Through the prayers of St. Constantine the Great, Equal to the Apostles, may the Lord have mercy on us and save us. Amen!
Christ is Risen!

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