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My_Elder_Joseph_lgI’ve had this post planned for a month or so. I had even translated a story from the Greek edition of My Elder (O Gerondas Mou) and planned to link to the new, amazing English edition (pictured above). But then I received my Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law: the English translation! So, instead of a shotty translation by yours truly, below is an excerpt from the newly-released, most complete biography of Elder Joseph (not only in the English language, but world-wide!). This edition includes even more stories and anecdotes than the original Greek, thanks to the efforts of the fathers of St. Anthony’s Monastery, shedding light on the person, life and works of this great saint of our times, Elder Joseph the Hesychast!

Now that it is finally available in English I highly recommend you read it immediately! (I was at the end of a 500 page book, and 150 pages into another book, but everything gets put on hold for My Elder!)

Every Orthodox Christian should own this book! Buy your copy here.

That evening as light was falling, he had become completely exhausted from the pain and fasting, and his tears dried up. In this state, feebly gazing at the chapel of the Transfiguration at the summit of Mount Athos, he beseeched the Lord: “O Lord, as Thou wast transfigured to Thy disciples, transfigure Thyself also to my soul! Stop the passions and bring peace to my heart! Grant prayer to him who prayeth and restrain my unrestrained nous!”

As he was praying like that with great pain, a subtle breeze full of fragrance came from the chapel. His soul was filled with joy, illumination, and divine love; and from within his heart the prayer began to flow with so much bliss that he thought to himself: “This is Paradise! I don’t need any other Paradise.”

He saw that the prayer was being said within him with mathematical precision like a clock. He was amazed that the prayer continued on its own without any effort on his part.

As soon as he saw this, he was astounded and said: “What’s happening to me now? How is the prayer being said within me? I tried so hard for so long, and I never felt what I feel now.”

When he saw that the prayer was continuing and that he felt so much bliss and happiness, he joyfully said to himself: “So, is this the noetic prayer that I read about in the books of the Philokalia? Is this how it tastes? Is this the light?

He then got up, invigorated by this miracle of noetic prayer, went inside the cave and began saying the prayer synchronized with his breathing, just as the holy Fathers teach. As soon as he had said the prayer a few times, his nous was immediately caught up into theoria. It was to be the first of many times his nous was raptured by God’s grace. He would later wrote about this event in the third as if it had happened to someone else (My Elder Joseph the Hesychast, p. 59).

παππού

Photo from here: http://www.diakonima.gr

Have you bought your copy yet? No? Well, what are you waiting for?

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Below is a translation I have done – through Gerontissa Macrina’s prayers – concerning the great rewards God has prepared for those who practice patience when confronted with great trials and temptations, and the spiritual exhalation the soul experiences (in this life or in the next) when we abstain from passing judgement, even on those who openly hate and do harm to us.

The passage is from Λόγια Καρδίας (pp. 246-250), a collection of homilies by Abbess Macrina of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Odigitria in Volos, Greece. At this time the book is only available in the Greek language; I hope it will be available in multiple languages in the near future. I read it and my soul soars, such is the power of this holy abbess’ divinely-inspired words. She is a saint like the saints of old: wise in spiritual matters, reverent in every regard and virtuous beyond compare! Words cannot express the effect she has on me, a stranger. And yet reading her words makes me feel as though I am sitting at her feet, learning from her firsthand the art of Christian spiritual struggle. Although I am an unworthy, self-proclaimed “disciple” of this holy abbess I laboured to share with you one of the most spiritually potent passages I have yet come across in her book.

May we have her prayers and her blessing!

tree2 Let’s be watchful concerning the matter of passing judgment. Let’s be very watchful concerning passing judgement! It is indescribable how fearful this matter is! “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Do we safeguard this saying? Even if we don’t have virtues, Christ will save us, He will take us into Paradise if we abstain from judging.

I will tell you something else, again from experience. Once a sister* in the world wanted to say something about me that didn’t happen to me; it was slander. For the glory of Christ I tell you this. Was it a temptation that put her up to it? Was it from hatred? Was it from jealousy that she did it? In any case, I said many, many prayers for her, I mean many prayers. I cried neither for my father, nor for my mother as much as I cried for this sister. With much pain I cried and I said: “My God, save me, help me, give me strength.” The prophet David said: “Deliver me from the slander of men and I will keep thy commandments” (Ps. 119: 134). I felt a great deal of pain inside.

sm treeI saw her coming to me in a vision. Her face had two indentations on account of her tears. It was so real! In the indentations she had clots of perspiration. Her whole face was covered in perspiration and black from suffering and fatigue. She had a sack on her back, too heavy to be lifted. And as soon as I saw her, I wanted to go and help her, to lift the weight from below, but it was like a stone wall and the weight lay there immovable. I said to her: “You are tired!”

“Yes, I am tired of lifting this weight!” she said. It was a stone like the porters used to carry on their backs a long time ago.

She said to me, “This evening is the Queen’s reception and she wants you to go.”

“The Queen wants me?” I asked.

Gerontissa Theophano and Gerontissa Macina

And suddenly a vehicle arrived, not like any carriage or car, it was very different, and Gerontissa Theophano was sitting inside. She looked like a young child, like a young lady of fifteen years. She said: “Come, the Queen will have us at the reception this evening.”

I made the sign of the cross and I got into the vehicle. We proceeded to a beautiful turnpike. I saw a church in front of us – it was like looking at the church of Panagia in Tinos – such a nice church; it was bright, resplendent! I made the sign of the cross as I passed by. Across the way, toward the east, was what seemed to be a palace. The door to the palace was huge, just as doors are in large buildings. There in the middle of the doorway was the Queen, who, from her neck up I couldn’t see on account of the light of her face, because she was shining so brightly. I saw her resplendent sandals; she wore a feloni** and vest, each had two inches of piping embroidered around them.

Two lines were configured in front of her: one line with children who were wearing lace and ribbon in their hair, dressed just as the angels are, while the other line seemed to be composed of widows***, as though they were nuns, wearing monastic clothing, just like we wear.

I started toward the nuns and they told me it wasn’t my turn yet, I would go when it was my turn. Suddenly I heard chanting, “This is the day of the Resurrection, let us be radiant…” And the Queen began to say, “Come martyrs to the platform, come great-martyrs!” They were taking her blessing and going to the platform. From within the palace was heard, “This is the day of the Resurrection…”

weedWhen I approached, I took the hand of the Queen: her slender hand, those nails, that gentle hand has been imprinted on my soul. Padding me on the back she said, “Patience, patience, patience.” Then she addressed one of her maids of honour: “Escort Maria**** to the royal garden.”

I paused for a moment to see where they were chanting “This is the day of the resurrection”. And I saw that inside the palace a banquet was laid out with very beautiful white tablecloths. What could you desire that the banquet didn’t have!

I lingered to listen and the maid took me by the hand and said, “That is for the martyrs, those who endured great temptations” and she gave me to understand that patience is needed. Afterward she took me to the royal garden, and I saw a vast place which had something like lilies, the brown lily had a cross. Just as the wind blew, so the lilies swayed. A vast place: green, beautiful, enchanted! Within this beautiful exhalation which I found myself, the sorrow in my soul fled, and pleasantness and joy came!

In the morning I went and found this sister who had slandered me, and hugged and kissed her. I didn’t know what to do for her; I didn’t know how to thank her for the false words she had said, I really didn’t know.

This treeexperience stayed in my soul and from that time I have kept the commandment of God: judge not, so as not to be judged – even if I see the act committed in front of me, whatever I happen to see in front of me.

That which I saw in the vision stirred me and left me such comfort. I forgot everything. A purity entered into my nous, a passionlessness, a peacefulness, a heavenly thing entered my soul and I didn’t know how to thank that sister who was the cause of such good.

And I say what a good thing it is for someone to be patient! For this reason the Queen said, “Come martyrs of Christ, come great-martyrs of Christ, enter into the platform…” How can I have the boldness to touch such a banquet? It was the banquet for the martyrs who had struggled, who had endured martyrdom and for whom God had prepared greatness!

*Although Gerontissa calls this woman “sister” it seems that she was a laywoman.

**A feloni (φελόνι) is a chasuble, which in its origin was a traveling garment in the late Roman Empire. It is like a poncho, a circular garment with a hole in the middle for the head.    

***It is a tradition in Greece for widows to wear black headscarfs and dress.

****Gerontissa Macrina’s name before monastic tonsure was Maria.

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djavo

(Source)

The following story is told by John Chrysopoulou, an architect from Alexandroupoli:

I’m married to Evanthia Siontopoulou, and we have three children. A few years ago when my son Christos was three and a half years old, he was watching his mother burn incense in the home. He followed her around the whole house with a wooden rattle which looked like a censer, while she censed [the house], repeating, “Lord have mercy.”

One day, while playing his censing game as he usually did, he neglected toburn” incense in the corner of the living room where the TV was. My wife noticed this and asked why he didn’t cense the whole living room.

Christos replied, quite naturally, that the stranger sitting on the TV would not allow him to burn incense there.

“But what stranger?” my wife asked.

Him, dear mother, who sits on the TV, don’t you see [him]?

Christos saw, with the pure eyes of his soul the devil on the TV, who inhibited even Christos’ make-believe incense.

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ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA FEDERATION - JUNE 29:Interior of Church Savior on Spilled Blood . Picture takes in Saint-Petersburg, inside Church Savior on Spilled Blood   on June 29, 2012.Our Orthodox faith,

our wealth, and our glory,

our stock, our crown,

our pride.

We will never deny you, O beloved Orthodoxy,

nor lie to you, O time-honoured reverence,

nor walk away from you, O mother piety.

We have been born in you, we live in you,

and we will die in you.

If time asks for it,

we will sacrifice ten thousand times our lives for you.

-Joseph Vriennios (Spiritual Father o f St. Mark of Ephesus)

Russian New-martyrs: “we will sacrifice ten thousand times our lives for you”.

This post is the last in our series Truth of Our Faith – a week of posts honouring the confessors of Orthodoxy who did not, or do not, shy away from preaching the truth and enlightening the darkness of ignorance and pointing out the fruitlessness of heresy. I felt that this beautiful poem was the perfect ending to our Lenten “Sunday of Orthodoxy” week. I hope and pray that I and all of you have the courage to live the words of this poem. And if we don’t have the courage, may we strive to acquire it during this time of prayer and fasting. Tomorrow is another brilliant feast day, our own saint and archbishop of Thessaloniki – St. Gregory Palamas. May we have his blessing!

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This is my finished icon of St. Nektarios. (Well actually I still need to do the outline around his head, but that's it).

This is my finished icon of St. Nektarios. (Well actually I still need to do the outline around his head, but that’s it).

Part One is here, Part Two is here

B)  Letters dating to his time as principal of the Rizareio School (1894-1908)

The accusations levied by those in the Patriarchal court in Alexandria did not hinder the Saint’s appointment as director of the Rizareio Ecclesiastical School which became radiant as a result of his presence and holy life.  During this relatively calm but arduous fourteen year period of his life, Saint Nektarios authored not only many great writings, but also many – in fact, most – of his letters.  The first series of letters belonging to this period are related to Saint Nektarios’ efforts to rehabilitate his relationship with the Alexandrian Patriarchate following the death of Sophronios and the election of his successor in 1890.  Writing to the new Patriarch, Photios, in October of 1902, he asks that justice be done and that his position as a Hierarch of the Church of Alexandria be affirmed.[1]  In September of 1903, however, having yet received no response, he wrote a letter to Joachim III, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, asking direction specific to his situation, but also to generally “…settle his position as a Hierarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church”.  Joachim III immediately brought the issue before the Patriarchal Synod but, because the matter involved a clergyman belonging to another jurisdiction, the Synod simply addressed a letter to Photios of Alexandria, “…to whose sovereign judgement and evaluation the matter is referred.”  At the same time the Synod informed the Metropolitan of Pentapolis by letter that the only thing that it could do was to forward his letter and the related documents to the Patriarch of Alexandria, since, “…as will be evident to His Eminence, beyond these actions, our Church can take no further action with regard to this issue.”[2]

Other series of letters dating to this period are connected either with his sending copies of his books to the monasteries on the Holy Mountain or individual monks, or with his efforts to keep up correspondence with different persons,  though particularly with the well-known elders and spiritual fathers of his era.  Eleven of these letters which were addressed to Vatopedi Monastery between 1900 and 1906, have already been published, while one letter addressed to Hilandar Monastery (1903) and three addressed to the Simonas Petras Monastery (1902-1907) have also been preserved.[3]  One particularly impressive letter has been preserved from his correspondence with Elder Joasaph Agioannitis of the Saint John Chrysostom Skete in which he seeks to put ecclesiastical offices in perspective.  Highlighting the significance of the monastic life, he writes:  “Truly, what is more honorable, more radiant, than the monastic way of life?  I must confess in all sincerity my conviction, according to which I consider the ascetic to be greater than the hierarch.”  Referring to this letter, Fr Theoklitos Dionysiatis writes that it constitutes, “…a wonderful analytical comparison of the importance of the office of hierarch in relation to that of a virtuous monk.”[4]

During this same period the Saint also wrote a series of letters to Elder Daniel of Katounakia, the founder of the Danielite brotherhood.  These four letters, along with sections of a fifth which has been lost, reveal something of the period between 1903 and 1908.  The first of these letters is of particular value since in it Saint Nektarios consoles the Elder, writing concerning the pedagogical and spiritual value of sorrows.  We ourselves had the greet blessing of overseeing the Danielite brotherhood’s efforts to publish this correspondence between Saint Nektarios and Elder Daniel, and to survey its contests in our introduction to the subsequent edition.[5]

In addition, there exist a series of letters which the Saint wrote to Elder Pachomios of Chios.  Pachomios, a hesychast who initially took up the monastic life in the New Monastery of Chios but later withdrew to a hesychasterion on Mount Provateio near the monastery, established a coenobitic women’s monastery in Frankovouni which lived in desert-like austerity.  It is to Elder Pachomios that the Saint owed his own initiation into the monastic life, and he refers to him frequently in his letters to the nuns at Holy Trinity Monastery in Ageina.[6]

Also worthy of mention is Saint Nektarios’ letter to Metropolitan Spyridon of Kephalonia, in which he argues strongly that the risen Lord appeared first to the Most-Holy Theotokos, and not to Mary Magdalene who, he also notes, ought not to be numbered among the sinful women.[7]

By far the largest division in the corpus of Saint Nektarios’ letters, however, are the 136 which are addressed to the nuns of Holy Trinity Monastery between 1904 and 1908 when he was yet principal of the Rizareio School, but had already established the monastery and had set the sisterhood up there.  This separation indeed proved fortunate, for we would have been deprived of this great treasure if things had occurred any other way.  From the Rizareio School the Saint took care of all the novice monastic’s necessities, both material and spiritual, demonstrating tireless concern for them.  He guided the sisterhood towards spiritual perfection with humility and love, but above all with discretion, guarding it from ascetical extremes, but also confronting serious lapses with the utmost strictness.  Nor did he neglect his responsibility to teach the sisters, presenting at length in his letter the homilies which he was preaching in the different churches of Athens, and sending them copies of the hymns to the Most-Holy Theotokos which he had composed.  He also shows a touching concern for their health, sending them medicine, asking them if they are taking what has been prescribed, and scolding them when they neglected to do so; he even looked after their rassos and their shoes.  This he did that their love might increase; not their love for him, but rather for Christ, the heavenly bridegroom.  These letters constitute an excellent guide, an excellent outline, of the monastic life.  Knowledge of them would undoubtedly serve as an aid to today’s abbots and abbesses in their own efforts to provide discerning, humble and loving spiritual direction to monastic communities.  As we have already said, these letter were first published by Metropolitan Titus of Paramythia, though a selection has also been published by Fr Theoklitos Dionysiatis, who himself writes:  “These letters are truly a treasure, not solely because they were written by the Saint when he had matured, when he was brimming with spiritual experience and when he was a ready vessel of the Holy Spirit, but also because they are possessed of a certain urgency which his writings lack since these are addressed to anonymous, unknown readers…They are replete with most-valuable teachings and they manifest, apart from his great fatherly love and humility, that most refined discernment by means of which directed those souls who had only recently tasted of the monastic life.  One is also impressed by his deep knowledge of monasticism, his appreciation of the spiritual and ascetical mindset, his emphasis of humility, of prayer, and above all of the will of God, the fundamental principle which he himself had followed from his youth.”[8]

C)  Epistles dating to the period of his retirement to Holy Trinity Monastery (1908-1912).

We have relatively few epistles dating this final twelve-year period of the Saint’s life, for, having withdrawn to the desert – as it was at that time – of Aegina, he primarily occupied himself with the building of the monastery and the spiritual direction of the sisters.  Most of the letters dating to this period are addressed to his disciple and spiritual son, Constantinos Sakopoulos, who had proved himself a faithful aid, serving the Saint during his time as principal of the Rizareio School.  Before retiring to the monastery, the Saint wondered how he would manage to put “Costas” up without turning a blind eye to the monastic canons.  In the end, however, Costas did not accompany the Saint to Aegina, remaining instead in Athens ever serving the Saint and the monastery.[9]  The ten letters between them which have been preserved are connected either with matters involving necessities, or to the publication and distribution of his books.

Two letters have also been preserved which are addressed to Heiromonk Sophronios Kehagiolou, the well-known elder of the Monastery of the Honourable Forerunner in Skopelos where the Saint himself had initially wanted to take up the monastic life after his retirement from the Rizareio School.  Elder Sophronios, by descent a Thracian from Raidesto, located near Sylivria, the place of the Saint’s birth, even took part in the vigils at Prophet Elisha’s Church for a period of time.[10]  These letters are dated July 1912 and July 1916 respectively.  In the first, he invites Elder Sophronios to visit his monastery, and in the second he informs the Elder that he has fallen ill and that he will have to postpone his planned visit.[11]

aegina

The Church of St. Nektarios in Aegina, 2008

Saint Nektarios also maintained correspondence with heterodox Christians – Roman Catholics, Old Catholics and Anglicans – in hopes of bringing them to the Orthodox Church, whose doctrine he presented objectively and with precision.  On several occasions, Saint Nektarios, by means of letter, referred Old Catholics and Anglicans interested in the ideas of union with the Orthodox Church to the Patriarchate, and several of Patriarch Joachim III’s letters responding to the Saint’s request have been preserved.[12]  Also a letter between Saint Nektarios and the Kryproferes Monastery has also been preserved, in which the Saint presents the difficulties surrounding the question of Christian unity – a topic they had broached in a previous letter.  He refers them to his work on the causes of the Schism between the Eastern and Western churches, but avoids taking a position on the matter out of politeness, instead referring those interested to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  “This matter is of the utmost importance for the Eastern Church, and thus, if the Church does not take up the matter and make some ruling concerning it at the present time, then, I believe in accord with my humble opinion, all individual efforts not conclude in the desired end.”[13]

 4.         Conclusion.

It is not possible for us to present here the vast field of virtues, the holy avarice of this meek, innocent, humble and discerning Saint, this saint of our century, nor all the creases and folds of his holy life as these appear in his letters.  If we are found worthy by God, through the prayers of the holy hierarch, we will complete the collection and publication of his Collected Works and we will thus be able dedicate more time to the analysis and appraisal of this lover of virtue and holiness.


[1]      Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1984), 81, 83, 84, 86.

[2]     Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1984), 54-55 and Dimitrakopolous (1998), 112-123.

[3]     See Monk Moses of the Holy Mountain, “Saint Nektarios and the Holy Mountain” in Saint Nektarios:  Spiritual, Monastic, and Ecclesiastical Leader.  Proceedings of the Pan-Orthodox Theological Conference marking the 150th Anniversary (1846-1996) of Saint Nektarios’ birth (Aegina, 21-23 October 1996). (Athens 2000), 224-225.

[4]     Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1984), 187-188 and Dimitrakopolous (1998), 230.

[5]     See Strongili (1995).

[6]     Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1984), 81, 83-84, 86.

[7]     Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1985), 176-177.

[8]      Theoklitos Dionysiates ‘Introductory Comments’ in 35 Pastoral Epistles, Athens (1993), 6-7.

[9]      Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1985), 250.

[10]      A small chapel, well-known for being the church where Alexandros Papdiamantis attended services, and where he often chanted.  (ed.)

[11]      Dimitrakopolous (1998), 143-145.

[12]      Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1985), 74-79.

[13]      Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1985), 84.

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(You can read Part One here.)

The following is Part Two of an article by Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis, translated by Fr Dn John Palmer

3.    A brief presentation of his letters’ contents.

In what follows we will undertake a chronological survey of the letters authored by the Saint, pausing to make a few references to their contents which depict, albeit faintly, the wealth of the Saint’s virtues.  An adequate presentation of these virtues would require much time and space, since this humble, poor, and ascetical Saint was in this sense alone covetous; he coveted virtue and holiness.  This treasure which he amassed, then, which finds particular expression within his letters, will be presented here only superficially.

Chronologically, we might divide the Saint’s letters into three periods; first, those written prior to his becoming principal of the Rizareio Ecclesiastical School, that is to say prior to 1894; second, those written during his fourteen years as principal at the Rizareio School, from 1894-1908; and third, those written during the final twelve years of his life when he lived at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Aegina (1908-1920).

A) Letters dating prior to his assuming the position of principal at the Rizareio School.

The letters belonging to this period mostly relate to the Saint’s unjust exile from Alexandria, the result of the envy which both his holy life and the love which the faithful bore for him provoked in unworthy clergymen.  Relating to his pastoral activities in Egypt, one of the Saint’s letters, written while he was still an Archimandrite and the Patriarchate’s representative to Cairo, has been preserved.  In this letter addressed to the Archbishop of Sinai, the Saint intervenes to settle a debt with a Muslim coachman who had not been paid in two years, despite the fact he had provided his coaches to be used in the funeral service of an Orthodox Christian of Italian descent.  As the editor of this letter observes, “The sensitive soul of the then forty-year old Archimandrite Nektarios Kephalas could not abide such an injustice, especially, as he writes, when someone of another race or religion was the target.  This minor event in 1884 is an indication of the great heart, of the holy life of this persecuted saint.”[1]

All of the remaining letters belonging to this period relate to his expulsion from the Patriarchate of Alexandria, his suspension from his ecclesiastical positions, and the general uncertainly of his status.  On 15 January 1889, Patriarch Sophronios of Alexandria consecrated him Metropolitan of Pentapolis in Saint Nicholas Church in Cairo, having ordained him a priest and made him an Archimandrite, entrusting him to be the Patriarchate’s representative in Cairo three years previous (1886).  One other letter from his time as an Archimandrite serving in Cairo dating to 1887 has been preserved.  Addressing Matthew of Thebes, Saint Nektarios refers to some epidemic illness from which he himself had suffered.[2]  Not even a year passed from the date of his consecration to the episcopate before the persecution against him began, persecutions in which even Patriarch Sophronios himself took part, having been lured into participation by “…a few self-serving, devious, scheming, and ambitious clergymen, who, as their letters reveal, had no moral compass.”[3]  On 3 May 1890, by decision of the Patriarchate, Saint Nektarios was re-released from his position as director of the Patriarchate’s offices in Cairo, as well as from his duties as representative of the Patriarchate, and as the area’s Ecclesiastical administrator. He was permitted, however, to keep his room, if he so desired, “…studying, writing, and partaking of the food of the common table with the other priests.”  A month and a half later, on 11 July 1890, “…His Holiness [Saint Nektarios] is requested to leave our Patriarchal See, and if he has not yet done so, to do so when he wishes,” since, “…His Holiness’ further presence in Egypt has been deemed unnecessary.”  Also, he was not given, without first asking for it, “…a letter of discharge from the Patriarchate, as might be used according to necessity.”[4]

The meek and forbearing hierarch, “deaf and dumb”, accepted this unexpected development without complaint, not exploiting the protests of the faithful in an attempt to challenge this decision, but rather bearing this cross of sorrow and injustice with patience and resignation.  In accordance with the Patriarchate’s command, then, he left Egypt, homeless and left hanging in mid-air ecclesiastically, to search for some position in Athens.  There he did not attempt to find for himself some enviable ecclesiastical position: though a Metropolitan, he applied to become a simple ierokyrakas in an attempt to secure his daily bread.[5]   Concerning ecclesiastical offices the Saint would later write succinctly to the Monk Ioasaf that, “…offices do not raise on high the one who possesses them.  Virtue alone has the power to lift a man up and betroths one to prefect glory.”[6]  He then sealed these words with his own example.  Much the same can be said for that which he writes to Elder Daniel of Katounakia concerning sorrows and their pedagogical importance.[7]

The unresentful Nektarios did not even cease from communication with his persecutor, Patriarch Sophronios, sending him the books which he published.  Five of the Saint’s letters to the Patriarch have dating between August 1893 and April 1894, opening this period of his life to us.  In the first of these, he asks the Patriarch to be accepting of his good disposition, and to forgive him his many sins, and whatever in particular he did to embitter him, while at the same he extends his forgiveness to those who had embittered him.  “Since it is required that we first forgive the sins of others, I have already forgiven all, and pray for those who sinned against me.”  In the third letter, dated 11 November 1893, he asks the Patriarch if he might permit him, “an extended stay in the Patriarchal See near the library, or at the Patriarchate, or even at Saint George’s” since his work as a preacher in Fthiotida left him no time to for study and writing.  Though he received no response to this request, in March of 1894 he sent a letter to the Patriarch, greeting him on account of his Name’s day.  In this same letter he also informed the Patriarch of the happy news concerning his appointment as principal of the Rizareio School, asking him to pray for the school’s success and that he might be able to fulfill his new, lofty duties.  It would seem that Patriarch Sophronios responded warmly to this letter since Saint Nektarios sent another, even warmer letter back to the Patriarch in April of 1894.[8]

Sadly, this attempt at reconciliation was completely overturned.  Events turned suddenly, and without cause, as well as in a matter which hurt the Saint deeply.  His enemies in the Patriarchal court were in no mood to forgive.  When the government had sought information from Greece’s diplomatic representative in Egypt, a Mr. Gryparis, in January of 1894 concerning whether it should proceed to appoint Saint Nektarios as principal, this same civil servant, upon presenting the Saint’s career and his good relations with the Patriarch in his confidential letter to the Minister of Public Education, writes that, “…later, becoming displeasing [i.e., Saint Nektarios] to the Patriarch in as much as he exhibited a disposition towards acting without restraint and independently.  The Patriarch considered this disposition insubordinate and sought to punish him and it was for this reason that His All-Holiness thought it best that he leave Egypt.  According to Patriarchal sources it was on account of moral indiscretions that the Metropolitan of Pentapolis left Egypt, though according to other sources, equally trustworthy, the Metropolitan was a victim of intrigue and slander.”  Wanting to be as objective as possible, Gryparis concludes:  “In conclusion, I have the honour to report to you that I know from His Eminence that beyond all this, the Metropolitan of Pentapolis is considered an excellent cleric, both energetic and effective, even by those in the Patriarchate.”[9]

The sixth and final letter which Saint Nektarios sends to Patriarch Sophronios upon being informed of the diplomat’s letter and consequently the renewal of false accusations against him is indeed moving.  He neither protests the accusations, nor makes threats, nor even reviles.  He does not even complain about the unfounded accusations which lead to his being exiled from Egypt for being some sort of immoral revolutionary.  Instead, he asks:  “What ecclesiastical court has tried and condemned me?  Where are their records?  Where are the witnesses?  Where is corpus delicti?[10]  Upon what grounds are the accusations against me, on account of which I have already been sentenced to moral death, supported?  What great evil have I done either to You, Your All-Holiness, or to those of the Patriarchal court, that warrant being put to death?  Why are you so enraged with me that your wrath has followed me such a distance seeking my complete destruction?”  Then, calling on God as his witness, he says that he never taken in mind to do anything evil to another human being, describing himself as a lover and worker of the good alone:  “I have sought to do solely what is good all my life, and of this good I was both a lover and a worker.”[11]


[1]    Hadjigeorgiou, Michael.  Saint Nektarios’ Visit to Syros and to Paraskevi and other Texts. (Syros, 1996), 130-132.

[2]    See Sophokles Dimitrakopolous.  Saint Nektarios of Pentapolis, the First Holy Figure of our Times:  A Historical Biography based in Authentic Sources.  (Athens, 1998), 73.

[3]    Dimitrakopolous (1998), 86.

[4]    Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1985), 46-47 and Dimitrakopolous (1998), 91.

[5]    An ierokyrakas is a clergyman who is granted special permission to preach homilies.  The office developed at a time when clerical education was generally very low and preaching licenses were granted only to specific clerics in order to ensure that the faithful heard dogmatically correct, edifying sermons.

[6]    See Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1985), 186-187.

[7]    Saint Nektarios and Daniel of Katounakia, two Great Figures of our Century:  A Presentation of their Correspondence. (The Holy Mountain, 1997), 115-117.

[8]    Dimitrakopolous (1998), 102-108.

[9]    Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1985), 48-49 and Dimitrakopolous (1998), 108-109.

[10]    The principle of Western jurisprudence which states that one is innocent until proven guilty.  (ed.)

[11]    Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia. (1984), 81, 83-84, 86.

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Icon of St. Macrina the Abbess and photo of Gerontissa Macrina the Abbess.

Today I will share with you a small (rough) translation I’ve done from the newly released book on the Ever-memorable Abbess Macrina of VolosΛογία Καρδιάς (Words from the Heart). Although I only planned on translating the section on the angel’s instructions on prayer, I decided that since the Gospel for this past Sunday entreated us to cultivate memory of death, “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you’… He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 12:19-21), it would be more fitting to translate the whole passage.I found Gerontissa’s vision of hell rather disturbing; it is disturbing. But then again so is the “worm that dies not and the fire that never ceases to burn” (Mark 9:48).Gerontissa Macrina had the gift of prayer, [a gift] which she had cultivated since she was young. Her soul found respite and she confided all her requests [to God] in prayer. Once with tears she asked God to show her how we ought to pray so as [to have] pure prayer,free from self-conceit, so that the one who prays might freely be united to God.   That evening an angel of the Lord appeared to her [dressed] all in white. He taught her how a person should pray according to his spiritual state. According to the suggestions of the angel, when the soul feels perfect love toward God, a person raises his hands high [in prayer]. When humility and the memory of the Lord’s Passion overcome him, a person crosses his arms and lowers his head. When from warring with his passions the soul feels the highest [level of] humility, then the person prays with his hands behind his back, like a convict. At some point the angel began to pray kneeling down and weeping as if he was clasping the feet of Christ, showing how, when a person becomes aware of his nothingness, he prays like so and he is met with inexpressible joy and consolation from God.

Following [the angel’s instructions] an enormous ladder appeared which stood in the air; the rungs of which had large distances between them. The angel told [Gerontissa] to follow [him] and holding her by the hand, he began to ascend. Gradually a dark, black, tangible darkness encircled [them] which smelt [like] sulfur. The higher they climbed the more difficult it became for Gerontissa to breath. They finally arrived at a prison which enclosed those [who committed] mortal sins. In that undesirable place with deep darkness, the roar of those burning was overwhelming; the sound was horrible. From everywhere wailing and lament were heard. In all her life Gerontissa was never able to forget [the sound of] that wailing.

During this [experience] Gerontissa didn’t notice the passage of time and her tears ran ceaselessly. [Even afterward] she was overcome with weeping; for ten days she was not able to stop her tears. On the one hand, she felt exaltation at the angelic visitation and the angel’s teachings on prayer, but on the other hand, mourning on account of the vision of hell. [But] after this [angelic] visit she [experienced even] more compunction in prayer.     

Don’t be disheartened by Gerontissa’s vision, be encouraged! We should take the angel’s advice and pray with reverence, love, and (if we can) tears. And since the whole Nativity fast is a preparation to receive Christ, let’s take this opportunity to put into practice the above methods of prayer and cleanse our hearts, making them proper dwelling places for the Lord Almighty.

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Saint Kosmas the Aetolian as a Missionary

+Metropolitan Augustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina[1]

Translation by Fr John Palmer

1.    Introduction.

A holy anniversary has recently been celebrated in Greece: this past 24th of August marked the passage of 180 years from the very day on which a glorious son of a Northern Epirian village on the shore of the Apsus River, next to the city of Veratios, finished the course of his life as a martyr.  His very name – Kosmas that Aetolian (1714-1779) – continues to stir us even today.

Newspapers and periodicals of both the Capital and the provinces published articles marking this anniversary, however, as one journalist has remarked, most of these do not paint a true picture of Saint Kosmas.  Each attempts to shade the picture according to his own preferences, thoughts, and sentiments so that the ideas of worldly circles have found expression through the mouth of the saint:  were he alive today to hear these things, the saint would be distraught, seeing that the meaning of his struggle had been so manipulated and distorted.  For example, because in some exceptional case the saint allowed the materials from a destroyed church to be used in order to erect a school, the conclusion has been drawn that Saint Kosmas did little more than destroy churches in order to build schools.  Who did this?  He who, if he commended learning, did so solely as an aid to moral and religious man’s formation, saying that the school ought to open the way to the Church, to monasteries?  Thus any school which lacks a religious foundation, which does not have as its foundation the great commandment of love – love of both God and neighbour – but which is instead cold, indifferent, an enemy of the true faith, this school has become destructive, it has fallen away from its true end, and is dynamite to the foundation of Orthodox community.  As the Saint has prophetically said, “Great evils will come to humanity through those who are well read.”  In another case, because Saint Kosmas sought to stop the flow of sin and immorality, checking the lack of compassion and the injustice exhibited by the wealthy and those in the community who held high offices, some drew the conclusion that the Saint was nothing more than a social reformer, suggesting that he was simply engaging in class conflict, rousing the weak against the strong.  In yet another case, because he checked certain shortcomings of the clergy, and even of the hierarchs, there were those who concluded that Saint Kosmas was against the hierarchy.  Since he spoke in the language of the people – thus say the proponents of the ‘vernacular’ language – Kosmas was a demotikistis,[2] who thought that the world would be saved through language!  Finally, judging from certain of his sayings and actions, others said that he was an agent of foreign powers, of the Muscovites, and that he was in league with Orloff and his movement (1770).  This accusation was used against him primarily by his enemies the Jews.

How limited was their understanding of Saint Kosmas!  Saint Kosmas was certainly a multi-faceted personality, like a multi-faced diamond.  Each face of this spiritual diamond, however, reflected the same light; the unfading light of the Resurrected Lord.  At the depths of his being, Saint Kosmas was purely spiritual, purely evangelical, and purely metaphysical; he was an ambassador of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ.  He was a true missionary, fulfilling the commandment of the Lord to, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,”[3] a commandment which even today has yet to be fulfilled in many corners of the earth.  How many millions of people await new evangelists!

If we are to grasp the full meaning of Saint Kosmas’ mission we must turn to look at the era in which he lived and what he did; we must, in other words, look at the historical context within which his missionary activities took place, as well as what he did and how he did it.

2.    Context.

The century within which St Kosmas lived and suffered martyrdom was one of great trial for the Orthodox Faith, for Christianity in the East.  Satan, to use the expression found in the Gospel, held the sifter and was sifting the Christians of that era (Luke 22:31).[4]  His tools, the lesser and greater rulers of the Ottoman Empire, all fanatical followers of Mohammed, pressured Christians to abandon their faith in a variety of ways.

With little cause these rulers seized thousands of Christians, putting them in prison.  The iron-clad doors of these dreadful jails would only open to free prisoners once they had denied their faith and shown themselves to have embraced the religion of their false prophet.  In addition, heavy taxes, difficult to bear, and which had to be collected no matter what, were laid on the shoulders of Christian slaves.  From these there existed only one means of escape – conversion; in other words, he who was free of these taxes was he who had converted.  The eunuchs of the Sultan’s palace snatched the most beautiful young Greek girls from the arms of their mothers and entrapped them in dens of debauchery – the notorious harems.  Officers of the Ottoman army rounded up the Christian’s healthiest and most intelligent children in order to make them Janissaries.[5]

Under such pressures, weaker characters broke:  not only individual, but even whole families and villages, together with their priests abandoned their faith.  It is no exaggeration to suggest that many Turks living in the wealthiest areas of Asia Minor today are the direct descendants of Christians who betrayed their faith.  The ever-memorable Chrysanthos, Archbishop of Athens, and former Metropolitan of Trebizond, writes, “…none of Turkish descent are found in the whole area surrounding Trebizond, nor even within the more expanded circumference of Chaldia.  All of these (Turks) are Greeks, descended from Greeks.  All of these people, as a whole, renounced their faith.”  Islamification proved particularly serious in Macedonia and Epirius, but above all in Albania where the number of Christians was reduced from 550 thousand to 50 thousand – and even these stood in danger of falling away.  Those who remained stable in the faith of the Fathers met with harsh persecution, often spilling even the last drop of their blood in martyrdom: during this catastrophe in Asia Minor, Christians were like marked sheep.[6]  In all, the number of these new martyrs totals 2.5 million.

At the end of the 18th century (concerning which we have been speaking), a most ferocious beast, Sultan Mustafa IV, appeared on the forefront of history.  He conceived of a satanic plan for a new Babylonian exile, to move, in other words, all of the Christians from Greece into the Middle East, to Mesopotamia, and to settle in their place violent peoples – the Abkhazians, the Cicussians, and the Kurds.  Had this plan been successfully carried out it would have meant the complete annihilation of Christian Greece.

The sons of Satan conceived of a plan for the complete eradication of the Orthodox Christian world and sought to execute it.  The most-high God, however, who planted the tree of Orthodoxy that it might flower and bear fruit, and that under its shadow the weary and heavy laden of all ages might find rest, did not allow these plans to come to fruition.  For this task God chose the right tools, breathing a spirit of zeal, of holy enthusiasm, of self-denial, of courage, and of wisdom into certain souls, and sending them out as new apostles, and evangelists wherever the faith was in danger.  One of these tools selected by Divine Providence was Saint Kosmas.[7]

3.    St Kosmas in historical context.

Where was Saint Kosmas during this dark period of the Orthodox Church’s history?  He lived in the desert of the Holy Mountain, having taken up the monastic life in Philotheou Monastery.  Oh, how beautifully he spent those days of his life!  Psalmody, vigils, the reading of the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, conversations with holy brethren and spiritual guides, and, above all, communion with the Heavenly Father through noetic prayer. These things created an ideal spiritual climate which was reminiscent of the summit of Mount Thabor.   Here he was far from the noise of the world, from the tempest which raged in the cities and villages of the Orthodox.  As far as he was, however, the heartbreaking cries, the lamentations of the countless Christians who suffered various forms of martyrdom reached his ears.  Sorrowful news arrived each day, telling of the havoc Satan was wreaking everywhere, but especially in Macedonia, Epirus, and Albania.  Orthodox Christians were abandoning their faith, trampling on the Lord’s cross and bowing before the crescent moon of Mohammed.  Saint Kosmas was unable to remain indifferent in the face of all this.  In solitude he began to think:  “Am I to remain here on the summit of a mountain, immune to the torment and suffering while those in the foothills, in the villages and cities, are suffering martyrdom?  Should I not be rushing to their aid?  Yes, I help them from here by my prayer, since praying for others with faith and a pure heart is equal to contending for the faith, but in the case of such harsh trials is not some active participation required?  Do those in prison not stand in need of visitation?  Do those brethren who are afflicted not need personal contact, a comforting word, some small advice, some display of mercy – one tear shed in solidarity with those who are suffering – are these not invaluable contributions to the struggle for the faith?  Am I capable of such a mission?  Will I be a help, or will I just cause more harm?  Do I have the strength to withstand the temptations of the world?  Is there a danger that I will lose my own soul trying to save the souls of others?  What am I to do, Most High?  ‘Cause me to know, O Lord the way wherein I should walk’”.[8]

Saint Kosmas wrestled with his thoughts.  Now in agony, he had reached his life’s Gethsemane as happens to every man who is called to undertake a significant mission in the world.  A bitter cup has been prepared for him.  In his anguish, the voice of God provided him with an answer to his question. Opening the Scriptures, his gaze fell on a line from Saint Paul which read, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth”.[9]  The line cast heaven’s light on his heart; it was as if the Holy Spirit was saying, “Kosmas!  Think not solely of your own spiritual advantage, but also of that of your brothers.  This requires that you leave your hermitage, take up your walking stick and launch yourself into the great tasks of leading souls to the Gospel.

The illumination which he received through this scriptural saying alone was not enough to satisfy Saint Kosmas, however.  He desired to see if he had properly understood the Holy Spirit’s advice.  He sought out the advice of spiritual fathers, and even travelled to Constantinople to visit Patriarch Seraphim, expressing to him his innermost thoughts and desires.  The Patriarch approved his plan and provided him with written permission to preach.  Now convinced through the voice of his conscience through the voice of the Scriptures, through the advice he received from spiritual fathers, that he was called to work for the salvation of souls, Saint Kosmas departed for his mission.  To battle Lucifer, to battle the beast on his own ground, to awaken the oppressed conscience, to console, to wipe away tears, to rouse the mind, to stir the emotions of the faithful, to stop the wave of Islamification, to exalt the horn of the Orthodox Christians, and ultimately to fall in defense of the faith: behold, Saint Kosmas’ mission!

4.    Saint Kosmas’ Method.

Saint Kosmas would indeed fulfill this important mission; through this faithful servant of God consciences were awoken, minds were roused, emotions were stirred, and the wave is Islamification was stopped.  How did he do this?  What was his method?  What means did he use to fulfill his holy aims?

Preaching

One might ask, ‘What kind of preaching’?  Did he employ the kind in which the preacher tries to wow his audience through rhetorical devices and fireworks?  What kind of preaching?  The kind where the preacher employs lofty language, inaccessible and incomprehensible to most people?  What kind of preaching?  The kind which is continually speaking of social problems and never turns its attention to the most central of matters, the kingdom of the heavens?  No!  Saint Kosmas’ preaching bore the mark of genuine apostolic preaching.  First, that which the Apostle Paul said concerning himself together with the remaining apostles, that, “we also believe, and therefore speak,”[10] is fully applicable to this holy man.  Saint Kosmas believed in all the saving truths of the Orthodox faith.  “I have read much concerning the Jews, the impious, the heretics and the atheists. I have studied the depths of wisdom.  This I understand to be true:  the faith of the Orthodox alone – to believe and to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – this alone is good and holy.  To conclude I tell you this:  you ought to rejoice in the fact that you are Orthodox Christians and weep for the impious and the heretics who are in darkness.”  He preached this faith with impressive simplicity, with such simplicity, in fact, that even children were able to understand him.  He preached with emotion.  He preached with tears.  He preached in the shadow of the Cross.  He cut the spiritual bread into small pieces and distributed it to all just as the priest distributes Holy Communion, the precious body and blood of the Lord, with the holy spoon.  The one who preaches the Gospel truly undertakes a holy work.  United to God through prayer, he knew how to communicate to the souls of his listeners for whom his words represented spiritual elation.  Even today, whoever reads his teachings, which were preserved by his disciples, feels as if he has been grasped by a spiritual power, lifted up above the earth, and transported to some spiritual and immaterial world on the wings of eagles, on the wings of angels.  Such was the impression that this simple preaching – simple but yet endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit – created.  Thus, with tears in their eyes his listeners entreated him to remain with them and speak again, while thousands of laymen and clergy followed him great distances, not wanting to be deprived of such a precious preacher of the Gospel, such a director of souls.

Teaching Individuals

Saint Kosmas did not rely on his preaching alone, though it reached thousands of hearers.  In imitation of Paul, the leader of the apostles, who giving a brief apology for the work of the apostles in Ephesus said, “by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears,”[11] and following the God-man who beside the Well of Sychar had an audience of one lone soul, the Samaritan woman, Kosmas taught each person individually, as much as it was possible.  During the period of his missionary work, he came into contact with people living in a variety of conditions.  He conversed with the poor, but also with the rich and those who held office at that time.  He even held conversations with men of other religions.  This he did with one sole aim:  to enlighten, to save, to draw each soul out of darkness and towards the glorious light.  He had a great talent for speaking to souls; he was able to communicate with ease and precision.  He also held the secret to answering each person with what was useful and necessary for him particularly, and for informing the mind, and comforting the heart.  As a well-experienced doctor, he correctly diagnosed spiritual illnesses and prescribed the right medicine in its proper dosage.

Let us here make mention of two anecdotes taken from his years as a missionary.  Besieged by an illness which no doctor could cure, a certain Bey turned to the Saint for help.[12]  Saint Kosmas listened to him with great attention and after some thought said, “Listen to me!  If you want to be cured the first thing you must do is stop drinking raki (for the Bey was an alcoholic),[13] second, in proportion to the evil that you have done, you must now do good, and third, you must ever be giving charity – at least one-tenth of your goods.”  The Bey was worried, particularly on account of the first medication prescribed by the Saint, i.e., that he cease from drunkenness and from the consumption of alcoholic drinks, but in the end consented.  After demonstrating that he had heeded this advice, he was cured and thus became an admirer of the Saint.

On another occasion he met a band of thieves, the leader of which (followed by his band) approached to kiss his hand.  Such devotion breathed even within these savage natures!   Seeing this devotion, the Saint offered them spiritual instruction and the thieves were moved by his advice.  What was the result?  Laying down their weapons, some left to take up the monastic life, lamenting the evil they had done, while others went on to live a quiet life in the world, amongst those Christians from whom they had previously stolen.

On many occasions, he would call upon one of his listeners in the middle of one of his homilies, entering into a dialogue with him.  He did this with the aim of learning through his questions if, or to what extent, his listeners kept the royal commandment, the commandment of love, if they possessed love for God and neighbour.  “I want,” he would say, “to test your love, to see if it is genuine.”

Groups

Saint Kosmas did not want that which he had taught through his homilies and personal conversation to be forgotten after his departure; he did not want the valuable seed of truth which he had planted in those who came to hear him to be uprooted by the evil spirits, leaving nothing behind in their memories.  He wanted this divine teaching to be guarded in the depths of his listeners’ existence that they might continually be reminded of their moral and religious obligations.  To this end he called on them to gather together somewhere and, instead of discussing useless and vain things, discuss his homily, or some passage of the Holy Scriptures which he had interpreted.  “Now, since I have come here and toiled, is it not proper that I receive some consolation, some payment?  What payment do I seek?  Money?  What would I do with it?  By God’s grace I have no sack, no house, no second cassock; the stool which I have belongs to you.  It represents my grave. This grave has the authority to teach kings, patriarchs, bishops, priests, men, and women, young and old, and the entire world.  If I were to travel about for money, I would be crazy and foolish.  What is my payment, then?  It is for you to sit five or ten together and discuss the divine teachings, to put them inside your heart so that they may bring you eternal life…Now if you were to do these things and put them in your mind, my labour would seem to me to be nothing. But if you don’t do them, I shall leave saddened with tears in my eyes.”[14]

The Radiance of his Love

Saint Kosmas did not want his listeners to stop on the theoretical level, at the beneficial discussion of the Scriptures and other religious books, in the dry fulfillment of their basic duties as Christians.  He did not want their faith to be dead.  He wanted their faith to be alive, a motivating power behind all that is beautiful and good in the world.  He wanted the faithful to play a leading role in every good work; he wanted those who heard his homilies to carry out all of the Lord’s commandments, from the greatest to the smallest, that they might be found worthy to be called ‘blessed’.  “[B]lessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”[15]

Following in the footsteps of the Apostle to the Gentiles, who, writing to his faithful disciple Titus, advises him to continually exhort the faithful to good works:  “And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.”[16]  Thus the Saint too, having the heart of a father, continually urged his listeners to do good works.  He felt the pain of others; he suffered together, and was crucified together with the Lord’s people, who daily suffered a myriad of crucifixions.  He felt the needs of the Christian community – both spiritual and material – as if they were his own and heard the cries of pain issuing from those who were experiencing hardship.  Moved by the sight of human sorrow, the Saint, spoke artfully, plucking the heartstrings of his listeners, inspiring sympathy in them, rousing philanthropic sentiments in them like no other and moving them to work for the common good.

What did this man not do for the benefit of the Greek nation!

First, the young Christian women serving as wet-nurses to the tyrants’ children in the palaces of the Beys and Paschas were in constant danger of being lured away from the faith through various temptations, or of being lead into debauchery, and therefore of being lost completely.  Saint Kosmas succeeded in convincing many Turks to release such women from their service by telling them that they would insight the wrath of Uranus on account of their debauchery and their mingling with women of foreign religions, and that their race would thus be wiped off the face of the earth.  “Where,” he asked, “has your former glory gone?  Are you not the ones who under Sulayman conquered lands as far away as Vienna?  Your debauchery had humbled and destroyed you.  Repent, cast out the Christian women you have in your palace.”  On the other hand, he advised Christian women not to become wet-nurses to Turkish children lest they suffer the same fate as the hen who hatched the viper’s eggs in the Aesopian fable.[17]  According to Vasileios  Zotos, author of The Dictionary of all the Saints of the Orthodox Church, some 1500 Christian wet-nurses who had been serving in the palaces of the Paschas and the Beys were set free as a result of the Saint’s activities.

Second, the villages of Epirius, Macedonia and Albania did not, for the most part, have baptismal fonts, and thus their infants were not receiving proper baptism.[18]  Saint Kosmas was shocked by this sin, i.e., that Orthodox children were not being baptized canonically and thus convinced the wealthy Greeks of Constantinople, Ioannina, and other Hellenic cities to donate money in order to have baptismal fonts crafted.  As a result, 4000 copper-plated baptismal fonts were made and sent to all the village churches which did not have them.

Third, a great number of starving, half-dressed orphans, whose heroic fathers had been killed by the Turks, were found wandering the streets during this period.  What could be done for these forgotten victims of the nation’s tragedy?  Here again the love of a caring father worked wonders.  In his teachings he strongly encouraged all Christians, particularly those couples which had no children, to take into their families one or two orphans.  He encouraged them to do so irregardless of their financial status and as a result the rich blessing of God was visited upon their homes.  Oh, how many orphans and poor children were saved as a result of the fatherly interest shown by this missionary preacher!

Fourth, from his touring the Greek countryside Saint Kosmas concluded with deep sorrow that there were virtually no schools to be found that Greeks might attend.  Nearly all of the Christians, both men and women, were illiterate; one could, in fact, count on the fingers of a single hand the number of people in each village who were able to read and write.  He spoke to the people with fervour concerning the great worth of education, of the necessity of Christian education, and of the how the next generation ought to be brought up, things which would later lead to the miracle of the revolution in 1821.  “Open schools!” he cried everywhere, “Study, learn letters to the extent that you are able, my brothers.  If you are unable to learn, fathers, have your children study and learn Greek instead since everything in our Church is in the Greek language.  If you do not learn Greek, my brothers, then you will not understand that which our Church confesses.  Better it is for you to have a Greek school in your village than for you to have springs and rivers, for when your child learns letters then he can truly to be called a man.  The school opens churches; the school opens monasteries.”[19]

As a result of the Saint’s activities, some 210 Greek schools were erected, and 1100 other smaller schools began to function at which Greek children were taught to read and write.  A light – the light of Christian education, lit by the Saint himself – was cast upon a people who sat in darkness of ignorance.  One lone man stood in for the Ministry of Education which remained inoperative during Turkokratia.

Where did the Saint find the sum of money needed to fund the construction and day-to-day operation of these schools, one might ask?  He had no money of his own; like Christ he was poor and had nothing of his own.  “I, my brothers,” he said, “by the grace of our Lord and God Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, I have neither purse, nor house, nor chest, nor another cassock than the one I am wearing. And I still beseech my Lord to never allow me to acquire until the end of my life a purse, for if I ever begin to take money, I have immediately lost my brethren.  I cannot serve both; it is either God or the devil.”[20]  And yet this monk who possessed nothing of his own managed to collect such huge amounts of money for his work.  How did he do this?  Listen and I will tell you!  During his travels, this missionary preacher, he noticed that women, no matter what their financial status, loved luxury, dressing in silken clothing, wearing rings, bracelets, earrings, chains, and ribbons of gold in their hair.  Great wealth rested on the fingers, chests and heads of wealthy women; they were adorned with vanity!  Saint Kosmas put a stop to this adornment.  Through his teaching against such luxury, he persuaded Christian women to give up all this useless treasure, this gold, this silver, there precious stones for the good of the nation, for the establishment and operation of schools and, what wonder, they gave it all up!  These treasures which he collected, then, represented the very beginning of a special fund, a fund from which alms might be given.  The aforementioned author (V. Zotos) lifts up his voice to the most-high God in praise of these women who, at the moment they heard the Saint preach hastened to offer their expensive adornments, in praise of these admirable women as well as the Saint’s other co-labourers, offering the following moving words:  “Merchants, builders, iconographers, teachers, priests, monastics and those living in the world followed the Saint’s teachings, facilitating the work of establishing schools and churches.  We sing, ‘Memory Eternal’ to those women of Epirius who built 210 schools from the money attained from their jewellery and who endowed them with the extra which they had.  A thousand times ‘Memory Eternal’!”[21]

Fifth, by means of his fiery preaching the Saint managed to end the practice of opening the markets on Sunday, seeing that these were moved to Saturday (a fact which caused the Jews great sorrow, and lead them to bear a hatred-unto-death for him).  He taught the importance of Sunday like no other, heaping burning coals on those who profaned it.  He wanted Christians to love labour, to be ever cultivating the earth, and particularly to be planting trees.  “Those who do not love trees and plants will live in poverty.”[22]  On account of the emphatic recommendation of the Saint, thousands of wild trees were grown and eventually bore fruit.

5.    Prophesies and miracles.

Saint Kosmas’ great influence cannot be entirely explained without taking into account another important element which contributed significantly to the tremendous progress he made in his missionary work.   This element is exactly that which is noted at the end of Saint Mark’s gospel:  “And they [the Apostles] went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen”[23]  And signs followed the Saint’s teaching for he has not only the gift of speech, but also the gift of working miracles and prophesying concerning the future.

6.    Conclusion.

Beloved!  What a missionary – a missionary “equal to the Apostles” as the hymnographer who wrote his service writes – Saint Kosmas was shown to be.  Honouring his holy memory, let us give thanks to the Lord for this new luminary of the Orthodox Church, and let us also ascribe honour to those people who cooperated in Divine Providence, in the development of this great missionary figure of the later times.  Let us first ascribe honour to his devout parents, who from his infancy nourished him with the pure milk of Orthodoxy, then to his teachers, to the wise Evgenios of Bulgaria, to his spiritual fathers and brethren on Mount Athos amongst whom he trained to become a true struggler for the faith.  Finally, let us ascribe honour to the Patriarchs Seraphim and Sophronios of blessed memory, who encouraged him in his missionary work and furnished him with letters commending him to all the bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

This last aid was inestimable since without the permission and commendation of the Patriarchate, Kosmas would not have been able to circulate freely in Turkish-occupied Greece.  This immediately brings the thought to mind:  if Kosmas lived in our day, would he have received such support from the hierarchy of the contemporary Church?  It is our fear that this apostolic man, who did not sugar-coat the weaknesses of those in ecclesiastical authority, but rather checked vice wherever he saw it (even if it was in Episcopal or Patriarchal courts), would not have been granted permission to preach.  He would have been sentenced to return to the monastery of his repentance as a troublemaker and a threat.

Any who would cast a glance at the life of the contemporary Church would sigh bitterly at the lack of missionary figures like Saint Kosmas the Aetolian.  If he tries to find the reason for this lack, he will find a multitude of causes; one of these, in my own view, is that the missionary inclinations of pure servants of the Gospel do not only receive no support in our day, but are condemned.  They are condemned first and foremost by those who ought to be supporting them.  This is a sorrowful observation.

[1]    This article may be found under the title “Ὁ Ἱεραπόστολος” in Metropolitan Avgoustinos’ book, “Κοσμᾶς ὁ Αἰτωλός”, 29-50. (ed.)

[2]     One who is an advocate of simplified Demotic Greek as opposed to the more complex katharevousa. (ed.)

[3]     Matthew 28:19 (ed.)

[4]    “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat…” (Luke 22:31). (ed.)

[5]    The Janissaries were an elite infantry unit which served as bodyguards to the Sultan. (ed.)

[6]    “For Thy sake we are slain all the day long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter”  Psalm 43:23 (ed.)

[7]     We write here that Saint Kosmas was one of these tools since, beside the Saint, other preachers of lesser ability and spiritual radiance had also been raised up for the salvation of the people.  According to certain historical information another five heiromonks, burning with the fire of divine zeal, joined the mission.  Of these, however, only the heiromonk Naum (and the most remarkable of all, Kosmas) never returned to base of his mission, having met a martyric death at the hands of the Muslims in Serbia.

[8]     Psalm 142:8 (ed.)

[9]     1 Corinthians 10:24 (ed.)

[10]    2 Corinthians 4:13 (ed.)

[11]    Acts 20:31 (ed.)

[12]    ‘Bey’ is the title given to a local governor in the Ottoman system of administration. (ed.)

[13]    Raki is an anise-flavoured hard alcohol which is popular in the Balkans. (ed.)

[14]    From Saint Kosmas’ First Teaching. (ed.)

[15]    Luke 11:28 (ed.)

[16]    Titus 3:14 (ed.)

[17]     There was a hen who had no nest of her own. One day she found some little eggs in the field. ‘Dear me!” said the kind-hearted old hen. “Here are some little eggs and nobody to care for them! I will take care of them myself.” So she sat upon them for several days and kept them warm. By-and-by little snakes began to peep out of the eggs. “Hiss, hiss!” said the little snakes. “Bad luck! bad luck!” cried the hen. “I should say bad luck,” answered a swallow from the tree top. “It is a good thing to be kind-hearted. But it is well to be sure what kind of people you are helping.” “O what shall I do?” wept the hen. “The best thing you can do now is to get out of their way before they bite you,” answered the swallow. And away he flew, saying, “What fools hens are!” See Pratt-Chadwick, Mara Louise.  Aesop’s Fables (Educational Publishing Company, 1892), 38-39. (ed.)

[18]    Saint Kosmas describes what is meant by uncanonical baptism in the following passage found in Seventh Teaching:  “Holy priests, you must have large baptismal fonts in your churches so that the entire child can be immersed. The child should be able to swim in it so that not even an area as large as a tick’s eye remains dry. Because it is from there (the dry area) that the devil advances, and this is why your children become epileptics, are possessed by demons, have fear, become unlucky; they haven’t been baptized properly.” (ed.)

[19]    See Saint Kosmas’ Fifth Teaching. (ed.)

[20]    See Saint Kosmas’ First Teaching (ed.)

[21]    Zotos, Vasileios.  The Dictionary of All Orthodox Saints.  620.

[22]    From Saint Kosmas’ Prophesy Ninety-Six. (ed.)

[23]    Mark 16:20 (ed.)

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A photo from a monastery’s calendar: The sisters busy at work.

Here are some words from the Ever-Memorable Gerontissa Macrina to her nuns about work, taken from the newly published book about her life and words  Λόγια Καρδιάς [Words from the Heart] pp. 353-354:

We shouldn’t [have] disdain for anything in the monastery, rather we should care for it [all] like the pupil of our eye, because we will [have to] give an account to God. We should think that we are in a palace and we are the servants. Because we are all servants for the love of Christ, servants for our Panagia, and for the love of Christ we work for her…

When we go to work we shouldn’t diddle-dally. And if we meet an obstacle in our work, we should have [yarn for] a prayer rope that we can make during that time. A person shouldn’t sit idly… We should have a [small] Gospel book. Did our hands get tired of making the prayer rope? We should open the Gospel.

…In your obediences, in the icon shop, in the embroidery room, in the tailor shop, begin the [Akathist hymn] to Panagia, don’t [bring up things] that won’t offer us any benefit… So, prayer and watchfulness. Through the prayers of our Geronda I pray to the all-good God that we make a good beginning [so that] we have a good end. Work and prayer are two conjoined rings. With these two [things] let’s [also] be conjoined, so that we will live the will of God… 

We can apply these divinely-inspired words to our own lives as well. Whether at home or at work, we too can serve our family and co-workers for the love of Christ. We can always make sure that we have something in our purse, something in our hands, so that when we have a free moment we can “sweat” to receive grace; that is, we can keep our hands busy so that we can pray without distracting thoughts, or at very least so that we work for the glory of God. We can keep a prayer rope, a spiritual book, or a prayer book close by at all times so that when we have a moment we can spend time conversing with God. When we have something we want to say we can first ask ourselves if we think it will benefit ourselves or those around us.

Through the prayers of the Holy Abbess Macrina of Volos, may we never be found sitting idly without prayer on our lips or work in our hands!

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The following is Part One of an article by Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis, translated by Fr Dn John Palmer

The saint with the Razareio School and students in the background.

1.    A Myrrh-streamer and a Wonderworker, but also a great theologian and writer.

Saint Nektarios, the boast of the Orthodox faithful of our age, was honoured by God in the most telling of manners; his holy relics stream myrrh and he miraculously heals many suffering from illness.  He is, then, both a Myrrh-streamer and a Wonderworker.  Greece in particular is full of churches dedicated to his memory, of his icons – which hang in almost every church and in the homes of devout Orthodox Christians, of books recounting his life and works, of editions of his own writings which are continually reprinted, and above all, of countless narrations of his innumerable miracles.  His fame and veneration have already taken on a pan-Orthodox character with the many faithful from countries other than Greece seeking his aid and protection.1  In addition, the Holy Trinity Monastery in Aegina has become a site of pan-Orthodox pilgrimage having been established by the Saint himself, having been sanctified both through the work of his hands and, indeed, by his very presence, for he passed the final years of his life there in humility and ascetical struggle.

Recently, next to the monastery’s humble cells, built not only under Saint Nektarios’ supervision, but through the labour of his own hands, a great and beautiful church was erected in his memory that God’s name might be magnified through the honour bestowed on his Saint:  “God is wonderful in his saints!”2  At the same time, all this serves as a proclamation that, even in our difficult times, God honours and glorifies the humble, the persecuted, and the despised, rather than the proud and the powerful who, through their worldly, arrogant and malicious conduct, cause God’s name to be blasphemed, his holy Church to be attacked and many Christians to be scandalized.  God, the only just judge exalted the humble and obedient Metropolitan of Pentapolis, exiled from Alexandria and despised, above those who had judged him, raising him to the place of eternal joy, where his memory will be eternal.

According to God’s plan and in his providence, persecutions and sorrows are beneficial to those individuals who accept such divine lessons without complaint.  Simultaneously, however, by means of such circumstances, the all-wise God also provides for other of the Church’s needs – needs often indiscernible to the clouded minds of men.  The presence of the exiled Metropolitan of Pentapolis in Greece was certainly something greatly needed. First, through a plethora of illumined writings, Saint Nektarios presented the Orthodox tradition, projecting the theology of the Holy Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils against the rationalistic academic theology brought to Greece through foreign textbooks. Second, as principal of the Rizareio Ecclesiastical School for fourteen years (1894-1908) he laid the foundation for sound theological education, the fruit of which can still be seen today. Finally, his establishing the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Aegina, to whose stillness and isolation the Saint retired after his resignation as principal of the Rizareio School, was an important, God-inspired action which served to promote and encourage Orthodox monasticism which, from the time of the Baron of Othonos, had been unjustly persecuted and slandered.3

Saint Nektarios’ multi-volume written production is also invaluable.  He authored roughly fifty studies which cover not only volumes and volumes of materials, but also a wide variety of themes including history, hermeneutics, dogmatics, ethics, pastoral theology, philosophy, apologetics, poetics, hymnology, liturgics and homiletics.  A number of them are also expositions of Patristic texts.  As Archimandrite Epiphanios Delidemos, a well-read student of Saint Nektarios’ works, has rightly observed, “We find ourselves before a complex intellect, dedicated to the service of the Church, who was concerned to share with the faithful in writing whatever he possessed that was good and beneficial.”4  This is in full agreement with the opinion of A. Alivizatos who writes that, “…his books and writings are worthy of much praise.  A number of these filled what at that time were obvious and well-noted voids in our theological literature, such as his harmony of the Gospels, his work on pastoral theology, his Psalter, his collection of maxims and sayings from the Holy Scriptures and many others.  These works held an eminent place amongst the few theological books published at that time.”5

2.    The letters of Saint Nektarios.

Within the context of his other writings, the Saint’s epistles occupy a special place: in this regard this new Father of the Church takes after the Holy Fathers of antiquity.  He did not write theological works alone but also letters of varied content, letters of living, personal content, by means of which we might trace the path of his holy life, witnessing first-hand the various troubles he encountered, the bitter disappointments he tasted, but also the joy he experienced when he saw the work he had undertaken for the salvation of souls bear fruit.  These also record his aims and hopes for the future.  Most of these letters have already been published in large part thanks to the ever-memorable Metropolitan of Paramythia, who has also made significant contribution to the more general presentation of his character and works. Beyond the letters he has published in his lengthy biography of the Saint,6 His Eminence also published a volume containing 136 of the Saint’s letters written to the nuns of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Aegina between 1904 and 1908.  During this period he was still the principal of the Rizareio School and was therefore obliged to direct the nuns (all of whom were new to the monastic life) by means of letters.  This is the most significant – both in terms of length and content – section of the Saint’s correspondence.7  From out of this body of 130 catechetical letters, Fr Theokletos Dionysiates selected thrity-five, publishing them together with some interesting introductory comments.8  Also, an Athonite monastic brotherhood, the Danielites, who have in their possession letters between Saint Nektarios and the brotherhood’s founder, Elder Daniel of Katounakia, published this correspondence along with an extended introduction which I myself have penned.9  Several individual letters have also been published by other students of his life and work.10  With the blessing of the former Metropolitan of Aegina, Hierotheos, as well as the current Metropolitan, Ephraim, and under the supervision of an editorial committee (of which I am a member, specifically charged with the duty of overseeing the publication of the letters) the entire body of Saint Nektarios letters will be published by the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in a forthcoming volume of the Saint’s Collected Works.  From an academic/research perspective, the two academic conferences in Aegina have already paved the way for the publication of the Collected Works.

1     Particular studies dedicated to the pan-Orthodox veneration of Saint Nektarios (along with papers on other themes) appear in the proceedings from two academic conferences marking the 150th anniversary of the Saint’s birth circulated in 1996 by the Holy Metropolits of Hydra and the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Aegina respectively.  See Nun Anastasia’ article “The Veneration of Saint Nektarios in Agapia Monastery and in Romania more generally” in Woman’s Monasticism and Saint Nektarios:  Conference Proceedings from the Pan-Orthodox Monastic Conference marking the 150th Anniversary (1846-1996) of the Birth of Saint Nektarios (Aegina, 9-11 September, 1996). (Athens, 1998), 349-353 as well as Nun Makaria, “The Veneration of Saint Nektarios in Serbia”, in ibid., 355-359.  Also see Also see Amphilochios, Metropolitan of Mavrovounios and Parathalasa, “The Spiritual Presence of Saint Nektarios in Orthodox Serbia” in Saint Nektarios:  Spiritual, Monastic, and Ecclesiastical Leader.  Proceedings of the Pan-Orthodox Theological Conference marking the 150th Anniversary (1846-1996) of Saint Nektarios’ birth (Aegina, 21-23 October 1996). (Athens 2000), 145-149 and Archimandrite Bartholomaios, “The Veneration of Saint Nektarios in the Holy Monastery of Sichastria and Romania more generally”, ibid., 185-187, and finally Archpriest Valentine Asmous, “The Veneration of Saint Nektarios in Moscow and All-Russia”, ibid., 215-220.

2     Psalm 68:35

3    For more on Saint Nektarios’ contribution to the rebirth of monasticism and to the developing of a correct attitude towards ecclesiastical life see Protobresbyter Theodoros Zisis’ ‘The Person and Works of Saint Nektarios,’ in Saint Nektarios as a Teacher (Thessaloniki, 2000), 39-64 as well as Barnanas Giannakopolous, ‘Saint Nektarios and the Crisis of Monasticism in the Second-half of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th’ in Woman’s Monasticism and Saint Nektarios:  Conference Proceedings from the Pan-Orthodox Monastic Conference marking the 150th Anniversary (1846-1996) of the Birth of Saint Nektarios (Aegina, 9-11 September, 1996). (Athens, 1998), 113-128 and finally, Protopresbyter George Metallinos, ‘Monasticism in Saint Nektarios’ Era’ in Saint Nektarios:  Spiritual, Monastic, and Ecclesiastical Leader.  Proceedings of the Pan-Orthodox Theological Conference marking the 150th Anniversary (1846-1996) of Saint Nektarios’ birth (Aegina, 21-23 October 1996). (Athens 2000), 201-214.

4     See ‘Introduction’ in Saint Nektarios’ work, The Ecumenical Councils (Thessaloniki, 1972), 8.

5     See Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia.  Saint Nektarios Kephalas, Metropolitan of Pentapolis, 1846-1920 (Athens, 1985), 243.  For a list of the Saint’s writings, both published and unpublished, see the same work, 98-101.

6     Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia.  Saint Nektarios Kephalas, Metropolitan of Pentapolis, 1846-1920 (Athens, 1985)

7    Metropolitan Titus (Mathaiaki) of Paramythia.  Saint Nektarios of Pentapolis’ Catechetical Epistles Addressed to the Nuns of Holy Trinity Monastery, Aegina.  (Athens. 1984).

8     Nektarios of Pentapolis.  35 Pastoral Epistles. ed. Theokletos Dionysiates (Athens, 1993).

9     Zisis, Theodoros.  ‘The Correspondence between Saint Nektarios and the Athonite Elder, Daniel of Kotounakia’ in Saint Nektarios as a Teacher.  (Thessaloniki, 2000), 15-37.

10    See Strongili, Kleopas.  ‘Unpublished Correspondence of Saint Nektarios of Pentapolis, Director of the Rizareio Ecclesiastical School’ in Tradition (1995), for example.

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