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Today is Clean Monday, the beginning of our Lenten journey to the Feast of the Holy Resurrection. I am usually quite excited about Great Lent. I get excited about the Sundays in Great Lent and the special customs that go with them, excited about simplifying our lives and abstaining from certain foods and activities that draw our attention away from God. This year I’m excited but also a little apprehensive. I’ve been feeling a little dismayed lately by all the wars and rumours of wars (Mark 13:7) and a question keeps forming in the back of my mind: What if this was the last Great Lent you ever got to participate in? That small but probing question seems to cause many to follow after it and I begin an internal inquisition: What if this was your last chance to really make an effort, to keep the Fast with zeal and love for the Lord? What if it was the last time you were able to attend Holy Week services, to give alms, deny yourself, repent? Would it make a difference? Would you try harder? Complain less? Be more conscientious, more rigours, less selfish?

We look at Great Lent as a test, a race even, that we run in order to successfully cross the finish line, to reach the celebration of the Lord’s Saving Passion and His life-giving Resurrection. Great Lent is a microcosm of our Christian life. We are only given a short period of time in life to push ourselves to keep the commandments of Christ in order to successfully cross the finish line on the Day of Judgment. We do not know how long or how short the race will be, so we must “arise and be going” (Mt. 26:46) now. We must pray now; we must fast, repent, and confess our sins now because we don’t know if we’ll be granted a then. Great Lent reminds us of the now, of the race we are a part of but perhaps haven’t taken the time to truly run.

If this were my last Lent, my last days, I hope and pray that I would reach the end and hear the blessed words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Mt. 25:23).

I wish you all a Good Lent, beg your forgiveness and ask for your continued prayers!

forblog

Below is a description of the history and miracles of the Archangel Michael at the monastery of his namesake on the island of Mytilene.

MIXAHL TAXIARXIS-LESBOS

(Source)

Dear People,

Having read this wonderful contemporary miracle performed by the Archangel Michael, I would like to also share with you the history of Archangel Michael’s miraculous appearance at this Orthodox Monastery in Mandamadou, Mytilini, Greece in the 10th century.  I have personally made pilgrimages to this shrine many times during my visits to Greece.  In fact, the photograph of the bas-relief at the end of this article [lessonsfromamonastery has placed this photo at the beginning of this post] was taken by me personally. It is truly a special feeling to be in the presence of this unique sculpture that was created from the elements of martyred Christian blood and fine white sand.   During the tenth century when the Byzantine Empire was at the height of its development, the Saracen pirates were also very active in the Mediterranean.  They would attack the islands of the Aegean and especially the Monasteries.  They would plunder, burn, murder and take hostage many of the inhabitants of the islands and the Monasteries.  These hostages would end up in the slave markets of the Middle East.

We learn the details of this miracle and the history of these islands from the local inhabitants which have been handed down to us from generation to generation.  The Monastery of Archangel Michael was built like a fortress with high thick walls and towers.  The pirates had taken notice of this particular Monastery and they were determined to plunder it.  This particular attack took place during the springtime when the monks were preparing the Monastery buildings for Holy Week and Pascha.  The leader of the pirates that wanted to attack this Monastery was called Sirhan.  He was a giant of a man.  He always looked fierce and angry.  He gathered his men together and said to them: “This time we will enter the Monastery.  The only thing that I want from the Monastery is the gold cup with which the monks use for the Divine Liturgy.  You may have everything else that you find there.  Sirhan was armed with an ax and a sword.  They set sail for Mytilini.  They arrived at the Monastery about midnight and hid amongst the trees surrounding the Monastery.

As we said previously, the monks had been white-washing the buildings of the Monastery in preparation for the Easter holidays.  That particular night the monks felt secure because it was still winter and they did not assign a lookout to protect the Monastery from the marauding pirates.  At one point during the night, the simantron was sounded calling the monks to prayer.  The simantron is a long carved piece of wood that is struck with a mallet.  Tradition tells us that this is what Noah used to call the animals to his Ark.  One could hear the footsteps of the monks as they hurried on the wooden verandah as they came down to the Church.  In a little while everything was quiet.  At that very moment the leader of the pirates gave the signal.  One of the pirates threw a hooked rope over the Monastery wall.  He climbed over the wall, jumped down into the courtyard and proceeded to unlock the large main door of the Monastery.  The pirates entered the Church while crying Alu Akbah.  Before the monks could come to their senses from the sudden attack, they were quickly put to death.

A novice monk, Gabriel, was in the altar with the abbot when the attack took place.  He quickly exited the altar through a window and ended up on the roof of the Church.  The pirates saw the young novice exit the altar.  They followed him up onto the roof.  Almost immediately a load noise was heard.  The roof of the Church appeared to be transformed into a ragging ocean.  Above the foaming waves appeared a huge and angry Soldier.  He was holding a sword that was giving off tongues of fire.  He lunged at the pirates.  The pirates fled for their lives as they abandoned their weapons, the stolen items and fled in panic.  The novice Gabriel was the only one that remained alive from the attack.  He was overwhelmed by the appearance of the Archangel Michael.  When he came to his senses, he quickly ran down from the roof and went into the Church to see if any of his fellow monks had survived the attack.  When he ascertained that they were all dead, he went up to the icon of the Archangel Michael in the Church and prayerfully asked:  “What kind of face was that that I saw on the roof of the Church?  My beloved Archangel Michael intercede to the Lord that He will grant repose to the souls of my brother monks, also inspire me to be able to form the beauty of your face the way I saw you on the roof of the Church.”  Suddenly, as if inspired by the Archangel, he looked for a sponge and an earthen vessel.  He knelt reverently in the Church next to each of his dead brother monks and sponged up their martyred blood and filled the earthen vessel with it.  He then went outside the Church to get white fine sand.  He mixed the blood with the white fine sand that was all around the Monastery.  He took the mixture and immediately began the task of shaping the face of the Archangel as he saw him on the roof of the Church.  From the very beginning of his effort to form the face of the Archangel, he felt the very physical presence and help of the Archangel.  His hands felt as if they were being guided by an invisible force.  He quickly formed the face of the Archangel.  It was the same angry face that also had a divine countenance.

As this drama unfolded at the Monastery of the Archangel Michael, the people who lived nearby were unaware of the horror that was taking place at the monastic community.  But there was a shepherd boy that night that could see the ocean from high on a hill.  He suddenly saw the pirate ships anchored near the shore.  He mounted his horse and proceeded toward the Monastery in an effort to warn the monks.  When he arrived at the Monastery the scene that he found there caused him to faint.  When he came to his senses, he proceeded to inform Alexi, the village elder of Stenaka what happened at the Monastery.  Alexi immediately left for the Monastery accompanied by fifty others on horseback.  When he entered the Church he could not believe what he saw.  He found the slaughtered monks.  They were all bathed in blood.  The abbot was found dead in front of the altar table.  He clinched his teeth as he went into the courtyard desiring very much to avenge the killings.  The men mounted their horses and followed the trail to find the pirates.  They approached a high point on the hill that looked down over the sea.  They stopped suddenly for the scene they saw before them made them shudder.  They saw those whom they had been chasing dead and scattered all over the hill.  They had been killed by one thrust of a sword.  The thrust of the sword went from the forehead all the way down to the belly.  Their bodies had been literally cut in two.  The cut of the sword was exactly the same on each of the pirates.  They all believed it was divine retribution meted out by the Archangel.

In the meantime, two pirates who had been waiting on the shore for their fellow pirates to return from the Monastery began to worry about their delayed return.  They decided to climb the hill and look for their brother pirates.  When they reached the top of the hill and saw their dead fellow pirates they immediately returned to their boats.  Their leader was also waiting for their return.  They informed him about the tragedy that had befallen their fellow pirates.  As soon as he heard the news, he hit the table with his hand and pledged to someday seek revenge.  This revenge came the following year when Sirhan put a plan together to capture the village of Stenaka.  A year later the pirates disembarked quietly on the shore and prepared themselves to attack the city at sunrise.  They believed that the residents would be sleeping without being aware of the impending attack.

During this very crucial moment for the city of Stenaka, the Archangel Michael intervened again.  Stephen, the son of the mayor Alexi, had just prepared to retire for the night, suddenly saw before him the Archangel Michael. He was very striking in his silver attire.  His blond hair fell upon his shoulders and his silver clothing reflected off his wings.  He held a fiery sword in his right hand.  His left hand was lifted up and outstretched.  He smiled at the young man and with a sweet voice said: “Get up Stephen.  Go immediately with your father to prepare for the defense of the city.  The Saracens are coming to obliterate you.  Do not be afraid!  I and your patron Saint will be at your side.  We will protect you and we will direct you.  The pirates have anchored their ships down below where your city is.  A few of them will attack the castle first so that you will think they are not attacking the city.  They will then unlock the doors of the castle.  Then they will attack you at sunset.  You should be prepared to defend the city.”

Everything unfolded just as the Archangel had said it would.  When the pirates attacked they found the defenders at the ramparts of the city.  At that very moment, a group led by Stephen, who had quietly gone down the embankment to the shore, set fire to the pirate ships.  The pirates saw the light from the fires; they panicked and ran for their lives.  The panic that followed is beyond description.  As they were running toward the ocean the defenders of Stenaka pursued them on horseback and the pirates were decimated.  One group of pirates led by Sirhan, managed to escape the attack and attempted to hide themselves in the forest.  But the group of defenders from the city that set fire to the ships encircled and annihilated them.

Since that time many centuries have intervened.  The Monastery was eventually destroyed by the constant attacks of pirates.  In the eighteenth century an old small Church was replaced with a new and larger one.  But the bas-relief of the Archangel Michael has been preserved there since the tenth century.  It is the very same one that was formed by the hands of the novice monk Gabriel.  It continues to have the same life-like features.  It has been unscathed over the centuries in spite of the fact that thousands upon thousands of pilgrims reverence it by kissing it.  Some the faithful try to take chips from the bust.  These of course leave marks on the face.  But miraculously these marks quickly heal themselves.  You must remember that the bust has been created from the mixture of human blood and sand.  Also remember this is no ordinary human blood, it is the blood of martyrs.  Every now and then the eyes of the Archangel become filled with tears.  The faithful gather up these tears with cotton balls.  To this very day astounding miracles are performed for those who hasten to the shrine with faith.  The Archangel continues to perform profound miracles like the one that is referred to at the beginning of this article* with Sudan Air.

+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones

*To read this miraculous account see here.

stkraljA monastery I was fond of visiting in Northern Greece had a frescoed icon of this saint in the catholicon that dated to the 13th century (if I remember correctly). I always thought that was really neat!

(Source) Saint Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher, King of Serbia Stephen Nemanya was the Great Zhupan of Serbia, and lived during the twelfth century. The saint toiled much for his fatherland: he united a large portion of the Serbian lands, and strove for the political independence of his country from the Byzantine Empire. In his zeal for the Orthodox Church, he defended his nation against heresy and false teaching.

At the age of eighty, Stephen went to Mt. Athos, where his son St Sava (January 12), was glorified by the holiness of his life. Together they restored the desolate Hilandar monastery, to which monks from various lands began to gather.

St Simeon was a great ascetic and wise guide for the monks. He died on February 13, 1200, and his relics began to exude myrrh. St Sava transported his father’s relics back to Serbia, and placed them in a church of the Most Holy Theotokos at the River Studenitsa. St Simeon had richly adorned this church while he was still ruler of Serbia.

The oldest lighthouse in Newfoundland. Image retrieved here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/21096258@N05/3946472184/

I don’t often write about our life here in Newfoundland but at the behest of one of my readers in Romania I thought I’d offer an update and a little “behind the scenes” look at some of the elements that go into serving the Orthodox Church on the island of Newfoundland in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Mission communityOur community is growing, but it is small and may always be so because a lot of people come and go here. Although it has only been one year and a couple of months since we moved here a number of parishioners joined our community and some had to leave for work on the mainland. This constant flux can be disheartening at times because our community really clings to one another like family members, and so it hurts when family moves away. But, like a lighthouse safely guiding the ships to and from the port we remain, lighting candles and offering the divine services here in St. John’s. This image of our little Mission being like a lighthouse is pertinent since many come and go from Newfoundland on boats – why, sometimes we even get a sailor or two stop by our Mission while his ship is docked at the port.

Fr. John's prosphora.

Fr. John’s prosphora

phanouropita

My phanouropita

Making candles.

Making candles

In addition to serving the divine services, confessing and counseling the parishioners, doing translations, writing homilies and articles, giving lectures, studying the Scriptures and reading the Fathers, Fr. John also bakes the profora and recycles the candle stubs to make votive candles to burn before the icons in our make-shift iconostasis  (I like to call them “recycled prayers”).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcandles

We started offering Sunday school last January. We offer one class (for all ages) the first Sunday of the month. Last year our curriculum focused on the Great Feasts. This year we’ve been doing the lives of the saints. So, I choose a saint for each month, make up a slideshow of images (both icons and photos or paintings of historical characters – mostly emperors – and places related to the saint’s life). all saintsThen while I show the slides on my computer I tell the children a basic biography of the saint and some details about the setting in which he or she lived. At the end of class we have a pop-quiz. Despite the fact that the ages range from 4 to 14 I’m always impressed with how much all the children get out of our lesson. It’s a great deal of fun for me too, but I need to be very enthusiastic and expressive when I give them the lesson to hold their attention (which isn’t all that difficult for me as I’m a natural born wide-eyed hand-talker).

100_4289Bishop Irenee visited us in January for a few days and served Great Vespers on January 16 for the Feast of St. Anthony the Great, as well as Matins and Divine Liturgy the next day. It was so wonderful! Everyone was so joyful and came together to receive our Hierarch with the love and enthusiasm he deserves. The church was cleaned, flowers were bought, our “Trapeza” was decorated, delicious food was prepared and wonderful toasts were offered. 100_4345One of our parishioners who is a musician also shared some beautiful folk songs in his native Ukrainian that we all enjoyed. It was a very special and grace-filled event to have our beloved Vladyka with us, to receive his blessing and have him pray for our community in our community.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn preparation for the Bishop’s visit in November I started teaching the children a song to perform for him. They practiced so much I was (and am) so proud of them! Not only did they practice when we were together on Sunday but almost all of the parents told me the children were practicing the song around the house. The song was, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Between this verse they sang “Lord have mercy”s in various languages since all the children speak two or more languages.

100_4338In between the English “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” they sang “Lord have mercy” in Arabic, Romanian, Slavonic and French (French because not only is our Bishop French-Canadian, but French is the language the children most frequently use to communicate with one another). So, following the Divine Liturgy, just before our shared meal the children performed their song for him. They did so wonderfully I’m so proud of them (did I say that already?)!

100_4332The only “thorn in our side” right now is that the college where we hold our services is functioning full-time this year. So, although we were free to do multiple services a week last year when it functioned part-time since September (2014) our ability to offer services has been severely limited. We also have to transform the college’s chapel from an Anglican chapel into an Orthodox chapel and vice-versa each time we hold services. Truly, necessity is the mother of invention as we create an iconostasis out of the furniture available in the chapel, but our limited access to the chapel and the fact that we have to take down and set up is very difficult for us because we wish to have a permanent place. This would give us the ability to put down deeper roots in the community as well as the freedom to offer services  whenever we wish, not to mention when the liturgical year requires. (As it is now we can’t even have services on some of the Great Feasts!). Please, please, please pray for our community, for Fr. John, and for a solution to this problem!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite little hiccups we continue our struggle to establish an enduring lighthouse here on the Eastern edge of North America, striving to make ourselves available to God and praying for Him to enlighten and guide us. I will leave you with a quotation from the ever-memorable Bishop Augoustinos of Florina whose missionary zeal and spirit never ceases to inspire our own feeble efforts to spread the Gospel here in the North Atlantic: “For real fishermen there are certain days and nights when, despite their toil and sweat, the catch is meager and worthless. This can also happen to spiritual fishermen. There are evil days  when people so sink into the flow of their materialistic lives, so distanced from God, that no hook, no net, and no catechesis, teaching or missionary activity could gather them. One might think there were no fish at all, that the sea was empty! But as true fishermen never despair, so spiritual fishers should never be discouraged. There will come days of abundant catch” (Follow Me, pp. 285-286).

100_4339Again, I supplicate you: please do us the favour of remembering us in your holy prayers!

sts. pertpetua and felicity2Having recently received a blessing from His Grace Bishop Irenee of Ottawa and all of Canada, I am pleased to offer – on the feast of the African martyrs – the akathist I wrote for St. Perpetua and her companions quite a few years back. I wrote the akathist in acrostic (in alphabetical order) as the akathists of old were written in Ancient Greek so the faithful could more readily memorize them. (It wasn’t easy finding a word that started with “X”). In any case, I am happy to share it with you all. And so, although you can read a portion of it below, I have created a page for the akathist called “Akathist to the African Martyrs”. The tab is located at the top of the blog; here is a direct link.

If you would be so kind as to remember me in your prayers if or when you read it I would be very grateful.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

african martyrsWhen the Lord deemed it fitting He called His saints out of the African lands: holy Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus, to witness to their faith through suffering death. Thus, we have as an inheritance the flourishing tree of Orthodoxy, for they shed their blood, watering the seedling. Wherefore we cry aloud:

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity, and your companions

As a catechumen, O holy Perpetua, thou wast taken captive and while in prison thy father besought thee to denounce Christ. But boldly thou didst proclaim that thou couldst be called by no other name but Christian. Wherefore we marvel at thy conviction and cry out to thee thus:

Rejoice, thou who art a shining example for all catechumens

Rejoice, thou who chose the heavenly over thine earthly father

Rejoice, thou who refused to be called anything other than a Christian

Rejoice, being freed from the bondage of sin through baptism while yet in prison

Rejoice, for being informed by the Spirit thou prayed only for endurance of the flesh

Rejoice, Married Matron mother of a son

Rejoice, thou who wast tempted by womanly anxiety for thy suckling child

Rejoice, thou who wast ministered to by the holy deacons Tertius and Pomponius

Rejoice, thou who didst commend thy son to the care of thy mother

Rejoice, thou who didst comfort thy brother, a catechumen in the faith

Rejoice, thou who didst look upon the dungeon as a palace

Rejoice, Bold One asking the Lord whether thou wouldst die a martyr’s death

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Beholding a heavenly vision, holy Perpetua wast informed of her martyrdom. She was found worthy to see with spiritual eyes the contest of salvation. And looking upon the bronze ladder she didst see holy Saturus going up ahead of her, calling after her to follow. Wherefore we call to her:

Alleluia

Contemplating the narrow ladder holy Perpetua didst understand the struggle to enter Paradise, for as a vile serpent the devil lies waiting to strike. Yet encouraged by her teacher she didst trod on its head and ascended the ladder, her gaze fixed upward. Wherefore we cry to her:

Rejoice, thou who didst declare the serpent powerless in the name of the Lord

Rejoice, thou who didst proclaim the way to Life impossible for the negligent

Rejoice, thou who didst follow holy Saturus’ example in death as in life

Rejoice, thou who didst ascend and enter a vast garden

Rejoice, thou who didst stand in the company of many clothed in white

Rejoice, thou who wast greeted by the venerable Shepherd

Rejoice, thou who wast given to eat food sweeter than honey

Rejoice, thou who didst awake from thy vision at the word ‘amen’

Rejoice, Holy Saturus who wast found worthy to ascend the ladder first

Rejoice, O father who gave thyself up for the sake of the catechumens

Rejoice, Encourager of Perpetua to follow after thee in thine ascent

Rejoice, you who confidently forsook all hope in this world

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

During their meal the martyrs were all called to the tribunal, and once there they all proclaimed themselves Christians. Refusing to offer sacrifice to the idols for the Emperor’s prosperity, they left the procurator Hilarian baffled, who knew not how to chant:

Alleluia

Two St. Xenias

https://lessonsfromamonastery.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/img_2953.jpg?w=451&h=602

(Originally posted in 2012) Today is the feast day of St. Xenia (Xeni, in Greek) of Rome, and St. Xenia the fool-for-Christ of St. Petersburg. I went to Osia Xeni of Rome’s church here in Thessaloniki last night because there was a vigil. (In Greek St. Xenia of Rome is called Osia – which literally means holy – because that is the most common title given to ascetics, and Xeni because it is the female form of the Greek word foreigner). The vigil began at 8:00PM, and was to end at 1:30AM. Vigil in the Greek typicon consists of Vespers, (in this case also the service for Artoclasia), Hours, Matins, and Divine Liturgy.

I didn’t stay for the full five and a half hour vigil, but I really enjoyed the service for the time I was there. They had a piece of St. Xenia’s holy relics which I was blessed to venerate. And I always love hearing the wonderful sound of Byzantine chant. The church was very dark, only illuminated by the candles at the back and the oil lamps hung in front of the holy icons on the iconostas. I love when services are done in the dark. It makes the whole atmosphere more silent, more focused.

An icon of St. Xenia of St. Petersburg in Osia Xeni’s church.

The two Sts. Xenias are both very wonderful for their own reasons, but the following poem is written about St. Xenia of Rome. It’s taken from St. Nikolai’s Prologue:

The virgin Xenia, as well as Agnes

Or the all-glorious Thecla or Anastasia,

Did not want to be tied to a physical man

But found a Bridegroom in the Immortal Christ.

With all her soul, she loved His beauty

And mercy and tenderness and radiant purity.

And even the senator’s house and wealth, she left

When the Sun of Righteousness shown in her soul.

Soul! Soul ! Soul! is the true bride;

And the body is miserable like the transient grass.

And the bride [her soul] Xenia began to adorn

And by many prayers to wash and nourish it

That the bride [her soul], to be a heavenly apparition,

Pleasant and worthy of the Heavenly Bridegroom.

The labors of Holy Xenia were pleasing to the Bridegroom,

And many wondrous gifts, upon her, He bestowed.

When her pure soul, the flesh, overcame,

Peaceful as a king over a vanquished city,

With the wreath of immortality, the Lord crowned her,

Into the mansion of eternal joy, led her.

There, where the angels hymn the Creator in song,

There, the Lord receives His bride.

Osia Xeni’s holy relics.

 

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