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

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

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

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

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Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

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

Translated by Rev Dr John Palmer

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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 harm 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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