Our friend, Fr. Gregorie, doing the service of Lesser Agiasmos at my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment in Greece.

The nuns always stressed how important it is to have our home blessed regularly with agiasmos (holy water). I remember when we first moved to Greece I was speaking with the Abbess of a nearby monastery about the trouble we were having with our neighbours and to my surprise she asked, “Have you had your house blessed?” And I said we hadn’t. She told me to get it done as soon as possible, especially since the owner’s son had left furniture behind in our apartment when he moved out.

When it comes to anything second-hand Greeks always suggest sprinkling a little agiasmos on it. “You never know who previously owned this or that thing, or what they did while wearing it,” etc., my Nona (godmother) would always tell us.

We save some holy water from the feast of the Theophany and keep it year round in order to use it. The agiasmos which we receive on the feast of the Theophany can only be drunk after fasting (ie. this Friday morning we can drink it because we’ll fast on Thursday), and before eating antidoron. However, the holy water that is blessed on the first day of every month, for example, can be drunk when we wake up in the morning (ie. after fasting six hours while we sleep).

Something else about agiasmos that I found helpful to learn is that it’s a good idea to sprinkle some in one’s home after a couple has gotten into an argument, or if one feels particularly tempted in the home. The Church offers us so many blessings and so many ways to sanctify our life, we should take advantage of them as much as we can.

In the photo on the right you can see a Romanian custom: The priest melts some of the beeswax from the candles used in the service of agiasmos and puts a cross with the initials IC XC NI KA (Jesus Christ Conquers) in each room of the home after the service is over. So as not to tick our landlord off too much [when we lived in Greece], we only had our friend do it in our living room.

To read more about these services of blessing the water, and when and how we partake of agiasmos see here.


Elder Leonid

(1768 – October 11, 1841)

Commemorated on October 11


Southwest of Moscow, in the city of Karachev, was born Leo Danilevich Nagolkin, the future Elder Leonid. Little is known of his early life except for an incident during which he was carting flax to a neighboring city and was attacked by a wolf. He managed to fight off the wolf with his bare hands but was left lame for the rest of his life after the wolf tore a large portion of flesh from his leg.

Leo began his monastic life in Optina but then moved to the White Bluff Hermitage where he was tonsured and given the name Leonid. He then went on to stay at the Chelnsky monastery where he met Fr. Theodore of Svir who had learned the monastic life under St. Paisius Velichkovsky. From Fr. Theodore, Fr. Leonid learned the “science of science and art of arts,” the labour of unceasing prayer. These holy men were together for nearly twenty years. After Fr. Theodore’s repose, Fr. Leonid went to the St. Alexander of Svir Monastery and the Ploschansk monastery, where the future Elder Macarius also lived. In 1829, after thirty years of ascetic experience, he came to Optina at the invitation of Bishop Philaret of Kaluga and Abbot Moses. Here, he began the line of the great Elders of Optina.

At sixty-one years old he is described as a “tall, majestic man, who had in his youth acquired strength of mythic proportions and had, even in his old age, graceful movements despite his portliness” (which was due to hypothyroidism). He is noted as being full of pity and love for mankind but at other times he would act abruptly.

Wherever he was placed, he was flocked with visitors looking for healing or comfort for their ailing souls. From morning to late at night his cell was filled with people looking for spiritual care. His life contains many examples of how this rigorous ascetic would, with gentleness and profound spiritual jokes help people who came to him from outside the monastery. He was clairvoyant and healed people. He had a “different” kind of simplicity and so was able to attract people from all walks of life. The people appreciated his jokes and proverbs which made more sense to them than most academic instructions.

During Elder Leonid’s time at Optina, suspicions arose accusing him of holding views that were unorthodox and bordered on heresy. (To place this persecution in perspective, we should recall that during this time the monasteries were just beginning to be repopulated after the general monastic persecutions of Peter I through Catherine II. As a result most knew very little about eldership and the “source material” on this until it was disseminated by St. Paisius and his disciples). Because of this, Elder Leonid was forbidden to receive any further visitors. Soon his spiritual children began to be also persecuted as were the nuns who were under his care. Much grief was caused to the Elder in his God-pleasing work. Despite the persecution, the care of the brethren of the Optina Monastery was given into the hands of Elder Leonid by its Abbot, Fr. Moses. Fr. Moses only took care of the administrative aspect of the monastery and placed the spiritual responsibility totally on the shoulders of Elder Leonid. Due to increased persecutions of the Elder, he was relocated from the Skete to a cell in the main monastery and was frequently moved to different cells. He took all of this in good humor, carrying the icon of the Vladimir Mother of God given to him by St. Paisius around to each new cell.

In early September 1841, after being at Optina for twelve years the Elder fell ill. He reposed after much suffering, with his cell attendant at his side.

Sayings of Elder Leonid of Optina

On Prayer

Whoever the Lord visits with a difficult ordeal, sorrow, the bereavement of a dearly beloved one, such a person involuntarily prays with all his heart, all his understanding, all of his mind. Consequently, there is a wellspring of prayer in everyone, but it is revealed either by gradually going deeper and deeper into yourself, according to the teaching of the fathers or by a sudden Divine drilling into one’s soul.


For us who seek salvation, what is most needed in fulfilling the Divine commandments is humility, which attracts to us Divine Grace and illumines all our actions. But without it, no ascetical struggles and labors can bring us much-desired peace.

Hope in God

Be brave and firm in spirit in your faith and hope in the mercies of the gracious Lord that in the situations that seem to be opposing us He is working out our salvation. Acknowledge your weakness and your failure to submit to the will of God and to fulfill His commandments. From this acknowledgment you will obtain humility for yourself and you will see the help of God.

– Subdeacon Matthew Long



Kontzevitch, I.M. “The Great Elder Leonid of Optina (Leo in Schema)” in The Orthodox Word (March-April, 1985): 56-70.

Kontzevitch, I.M. “Optina Monastery and Its Elders” in The Orthodox Word (July-August, 1984): 156-162.

Makarios, Hieromonk of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. Christopher Hookway, vol. 1 (Chalkidike: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia, 1998).

Optina’s Elders: “Instructor of Monks and Conversers with Angels” athttp://www.roca.org/OA/97/97k.htm accessed on Dec. 17, 2013.

Schaefer, Archimandrite George (trans.) Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, 2009).

Sederholm, Fr. Clement. Elder Leonid of Optina (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2002).

Smolych, I.K., The Era of the Optina Elders on the official site of Optina Monastery athttp://www.optina.ru/041113/, accessed on Dec. 17, 2013 (in Russian).



Today we commemorate 26 Monk-Martyrs of Zographou of Mt Athos


In July of 1274, the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII accepted a union with the Roman Church at Lyons, France. Faced with dangers from Charles of Anjou, the Ottoman Turks, and other enemies, the emperor found such an alliance with Rome expedient. The Union of Lyons required the Orthodox to recognize the authority of the Pope, the use of the Filioque in the Creed, and the use of azymes (unleavened bread) in the Liturgy. Patriarch Joseph was deposed because he would not agree to these conditions. The monastic clergy and many of the laity, both at home and in other Orthodox countries, vigorously opposed the Union, denouncing the emperor for his political schemes and for his betrayal of Orthodoxy.

On January 9, 1275 a Liturgy was celebrated in Constantinople in which the Pope was commemorated as “Gregory, the chief pontiff of the Apostolic Church, and Ecumenical Pope.” The emperor’s sister remarked, “It is better that my brother’s empire should perish, rather than the purity of the Orthodox Faith.” Recalling the infamous Crusade of 1204 when Latin crusaders sacked Constantinople, many of the people also preferred to submit to the infidels than to abandon the Orthodox Faith.

Twenty-six martyrs of Zographou Monastery on Mt. Athos were among those who were persecuted by Emperor Michael VIII Paleologos (1261-1282) and Patriarch John Bekkos (1275-1282) because they would not obey the imperial command to recognize the Union of Lyons. They steadfastly kept the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, and fearlessly censured those who accepted Catholic doctrines.

When the authorities came to Mt. Athos to enforce the imperial policy, the monks of Zographou shut themselves up in their monastery. From the tower they reproached those in favor of the Union, calling them lawless men and heretics. The attackers set the monastery on fire and burned the twenty-six martyrs alive.

The names of the martyrs are: Igumen Thomas, the monks Barsanuphius, Cyril, Micah, Simon, Hilarion, James, Job, Cyprian, Sava, James, Martinian, Cosmas, Sergius, Menas, Joasaph, Joannicius, Paul, Anthony, Euthymius, Dometian, Parthenius, and four laymen who died with them.


The above martyrs’ confession of the Orthodox faith is perhaps not dissimilar to the below confessors of our own time.


The final versions of the texts of the Cretan Council are now available online at theolcom.ru, where you can see which hierarchs signed which documents, reports Orthodox Ethos.

Of particular interest is the controversial “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World” text, which, as is now known, thirty-three of the 162, or twenty percent, hierarchs present declined to sign, including five from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Notably, seventeen of the twenty-four Serbian hierarchs attending the council withheld their signatures, only seven signing. Given that a primate’s signature was said to express the consensus or majority of his Church, it raises the questions of what Patriarch Irenej intended by signing the document, and how it represents the conciliarity which was to be a touchstone of this council.

As the text deals with ecclesiology, that is, the theology of Christ’s very Body, it is inseparable from Christology, as all Orthodox theology is a seamless whole. In this light it remains a question how a text could be passed with such a large dissenting minority, or, in other words, how such differences in profession of faith could be tolerated and pass without comment or action.

Readers can find the English version of the texthere, and the Greek version here.

For convenience, Orthodox Ethos has listed those who did not sign the text below, in order of their appearance in the text:

From the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

1. Isaiah of Denver

2. Nicholas of Detroit

3. Amphilochios of Adrianopolis

4. Antonios of Hierapolis, Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox in the USA

5. Gregory of Nyssa, Head of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox in the USA

It is interesting to note that four of the five dissenting hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate serve in America.—O.C.

From the Patriarchate of Alexandria

6. Jonah of Kampala

7. Seraphim of Zimbabwe and Angola

From the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

8. Benedict of Philadelphia

9. Theophylaktos of Jordan

From the Patriarchate of Serbia

10. Amphilochios of Montenegro and the Littoral

11. Porfirije of Zagreb and Ljubljana

12. Vasilije of Sirmium

13. Lucian of Budim

14. Longin of Nova Gracanica

15. Irinej of Backa

16. Hrizostom of Zvornik and Tuzla

17. Justin of Zicha

18. Pahomije of Vranje

19. Jovan of Sumadija

20. Fotije of Dalmatia

21. Hrizostom of Bihac and Petrovac

22. Joanikije of Niksic and Budimlje

23. Milutin of Valjevo

24. David of Krusevac

25. Jovan of Slavonija

26. Ilarion of Timok

From the Church of Cyprus

27. Athanasios of Limassol

28. Neophytos of Morphou

29. Nicholas of Amathus

30. Epiphanios of Ledra

From the Church of Greece

31. Chrysostomos of Peristerion

32. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Aghios Vlasios

33. Anthimos of Alexandroupolis


elder anthony

Elder Anthony

(March 9, 1795 – August 7, 1865)

Commemorated on August 7

    Responding to a letter from his older brother who was then at Sarov Monastery, the future Elder Anthony wrote: “One of the books you sent me greatly impressed me, and I want to follow a rule from it, which is: To hold the world in contempt and to seek the heavenly Kingdom as the highest wisdom. By stillness and silence, the pious soul is greatly strengthened and understands the mysteries of the Scripture. Thus, if anyone abandons the world, God, and His holy angels will visit him. I wish and desire to be as you are…”

Born Alexander Ivanovich Putilov, brother to Elder Moses, the future Elder Anthony, from his childhood was inclined towards monasticism. He was sick for most of his life. As a youth, he almost drowned, once he cracked his skull and his life was in danger ten times. Later in life, he would develop sores on his legs which were constantly painful and drained frequently; they would open up to the point of exposing the bone even.

Desiring to be like his brother, Alexander left to live with the Roslavl forest ascetics and placed himself under obedience to Moses. It was here that he learned the monastic life. When Elder Moses left to establish the Skete at Optina, Elder Anthony went with him. In 1825, at the age of thirty, the elder became the Abbot of the Optina Skete. It is said that there was no one more humble than Elder Anthony.  He would not give any orders without the blessing of his older brother. Under his guidance, the skete became a magnet drawing men of spiritual inclination.

Life at Optina was difficult for him. He did not have a cell attendant and therefore had to complete many tasks such as the cooking, gardening and baking himself. The flourishing of eldership in the Skete was due to these brother Elders, Moses and Anthony. They planted it there but also nourished it by bringing Elders Leonid and Macarius to live with them and supporting them in every way possible. Elder Macarius would say of Elder Anthony that “both in rank and in spirit [he is] wiser than myself.” Elder Anthony was known to be very tender and full of compassion.

With the growth of the Skete came many trials and temptations. Due to the sores on his legs, there were times when he was not even able to leave his cell; he, therefore, committed himself to more reading and prayer until he had the strength for work. The work of eldership in the skete was opposed by Bishop Nicholas of Kaluga that is why Bishop Nicholas appointed Elder Anthony to the Abbacy of the St. Nicholas of Maloyaroslavets monastery in 1835. The monks there lacked fervor and unity, and this was a great trial for Elder Anthony. He was the Abbot here for fourteen years and became so sick that many times he would give orders while lying down. In 1859 he came back to Optina.

Elder Moses reposed in 1862, and Elder Anthony remained in seclusion for a year afterward. If anyone mentioned his brother’s repose, he would begin to cry. His increasing infirmities left him bound to his cell where he devoted himself entirely to prayer.

In 1864, foreseeing his repose, he informed his spiritual children of the same in discrete ways. He began to struggle – to labor in prayer despite increasing pain and to attend the church services.  He had a sign hung up over his bed that read “Don’t waste time!” and would tell those that came to visit him, “Here I am at the beginning.”

On the last day of his life on earth, he received the blessing of Abbot Isaac and then reposed.

Sayings of Elder Anthony of Optina

 On Thoughts

Do not be confused because dark thoughts often trouble you, for dark thoughts, like autumn clouds, come one after another and darken everything. But then they pass, and the sky remains clear and pleasant. And so our thoughts wander, they wander around the wide world, but the mind remains planted in its place, and then it is quiet, and the soul becomes joyful. But our mind, from wandering here and there, becomes accustomed to the brief but often repeated Prayer of Jesus, which may God grant you the habit of saying, and then your days will be bright.

On Prayer

According to your wish, I am sending you a prayer rope for use in your cell. Pray fervently to the Lord God and your cold heart will be warmed by His sweetest name, for our God is fire. This cry destroys impure dreams and warms the heart for all His commandments. For this reason, the prayerful calling upon His sweetest name must be the breath of our soul, must be more frequent than the beating of our heart.

Learning and the Ascetic Life

Purify your heart and you will learn everything.

– Subdeacon Matthew Long



Kontzevitch, I.M. “The life of Hegumen Anthony, Founder of the Skete at Optina (+1821)” in Orthodox Life (March-April, 1990):3-7.

Makarios, Hieromonk of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. Christopher Hookway, vol. 1 (Chalkidike: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia, 1998).

Schaefer, Archimandrite George (trans.) Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, 2009).

Sederholm, Fr. Clement. Elder Anthony of Optina (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood: Platina, 1994)

Smolych, I.K., The Era of the Optina Elders on the official site of Optina Monastery at HTTP://www.optina.ru/041113/, accessed on Dec. 17, 2013 (in Russian).

St. Anthony of Optina: Short Life at http://www.optina.ru/starets/antoniy_life_short/, accessed on Dec. 17, 2013 (in Russian).

Optina’s Elders: “Instructor of Monks and Conversers with Angels” at http://www.roca.org/OA/97/97k.htm accessed on Dec. 17, 2013.



Work with a Blessing!

Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina[1]

 “At that time…”  Thus begins the Gospel, my beloved brethren.  By means of these words we are called to think on that time when he to whom no one can compare – our Lord Jesus Christ – walked upon the face of the earth.

“At that time…”  Some hear this and say, ‘If only I had lived in Christ’s era!  If only I had seen him; if only I had heard him; if only I had partaken of the blessings he distributed!’  In the Church, however, we not only hear him, we not only see him with our spiritual eyes, but if we so desire we can even take hold of him and put him in our hearts by means of Holy Communion. On the diskos and in the chalice he is wholly present!

This same Christ loves work; he honours those who labour both on the land and at sea, and he has proven this with his whole life.  When it came time to choose his disciples and apostles, he did not go to Plato’s Academy, or to the great centers of Rome, Alexandra, or Babylon where the powerful lived.  Instead, he chose his ‘staff’ from the working class, from the fishermen of Galilee.  The Lord is the archetypal worker.  There is no one who loved workers more than our Lord Jesus Christ.  He was the archetypal worker.  He himself was a worker and all his disciples – Peter and Paul – were workers.

The first commandment given in Paradise was to work: ‘ἐργάζεσθαι’, ‘work’![2]  And this is not just a commandment of God, a universal law, for humanity.  Look around you!  The ant works.  Addressing the lazy person the Holy Scriptures say, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”[3]  Go to the ant and learn from its example.  It lifts a load two-three times its own weight and carries this to its nest so that it will have food for the winter.  The bee flies from flower to flower; birds travel miles upon miles, as do fish; rivers and streams run; the heavenly bodies are ceaselessly in motion.  Everything, from the very small up to the very large, cries out, ‘Work!’  Those who will not work represent dissonance, a bad note, in the harmony of divine creation.

Today’s gospel passage tells us, however, that it is not enough for one to work.  Something else is required.  The first time the fishermen of Gennesaret lowered their nets they didn’t bring up even a single scale, but the second time their nets came up full.  Why?  Because the second time Christ himself was together with them and blessed their labours!  Wherever Christ’s blessing is, there we will find a treasury of good things!  So work, but do so with God’s blessing.  People often strongly emphasize work, and they do well in so doing, but above work is God’s blessing.

Take the farmer as an example.  Let him have the best field; let him cultivate it with great care and wisdom; let him fertilize the soil with the best fertilizer.  If rain does not fall; if the sun does not shine; if the right breeze does not blow; if he does not have the blessing of heaven, then he will sow but not reap.  All of his labours will be wasted.

You must have God’s blessing.  If you do not have it, you will sow but not reap; you will build, but never live in what you have built; you will save up money, but never enjoy it. God’s blessing is a necessary condition of every success.  Work, but do so in obedience to God.  Just as Peter obeyed the Lord’s command, so ought we to do.

But what is God’s commandment with respect to work?  “Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work:  But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God”[4]  Work like ants for six days – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – but on Sunday, rest!  Do you hear the bells ring in the parish?  Run to church!  Work stops!  Only necessary work which absolutely cannot cease may continue; this is permitted according to the spirit of the Gospel.  But all others – except for the elderly and the infirm – to church!

My brothers and sisters, we have work, but we must have God’s blessing.  A week has 168 hours.  During this time we ought to do all that is needed for our life.  God asks that we set aside but one hour to be in church, to pray and supplicate him.  So, from now on, let us not be absent from church, all worshiping the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli:  Thessaloniki, 2011), 178-180. Translated by Fr John Palmer.

[2]               See Genesis 2:15, “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to [ἐργάζεσθαι] dress it and to keep it.

[3]               Proverbs 6:6.

[4]               Deuteronomy 5:13-14.

IMG_8439I remember years ago, while living in Thessaloniki, my husband and I became acquainted with a couple; he was American, she was Greek. We met at church and were invited to lunch with them in their apartment. During the meal we were talking about how we each became Orthodox (including the Greek wife as she had gone through her own experience of repentance and a conscious embrace of the Orthodox faith she was raised in).

The American had been Orthodox for a number of years, whereas my husband and I were only a few years into being Orthodox. He told us, “Well, hopefully you’ll do better than I have, because it’s been 8 years and I have only gotten worse, spiritually.” I remember at the time thinking, He is mistaken; I’m sure he has spiritually progressed and is just exaggerating. Now, years later, I know from my own experience what it is like to start out full of zeal and love and fervor… only to suddenly wake up and feel as though the spiritual life and the presence of God is a far away dream:

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost. (Canto I of Dante’s Inferno)

And yet, I have to fight despairing thoughts and remember all hope is not lost. To feel our weakness in an intimate way, to arise from sleep everyday and know that we must fight hard to acquire grace, this is not spiritual digression so much as it is God gently reminding us that we must rely on Him.

Just listen to what St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain says:

“You advance a little; then you forget your weakness, and Christ removes His Grace.  Deprived of divine Grace, you again see your weakness and begin to recover.  If you had said to me that as you advance you become better, then I would have been scared.  For I would have seen that you are prideful.  But now that you see yourself getting worse, I am glad.  For I see that you are well.  Do not fear.  The more one advances, the more he is able to detect his weaknesses and his imperfections.  And that is progress.”

Inhale deep breath. Exhale sigh of relief.

God is with us by his grace and love toward mankind, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.