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This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read concerning the difficult points in one’s struggle to attain holiness. I thought you’d all benefit as well from the elder’s divinely-inspired words. From Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios.  Homilies on the Book of Revelation. trans. Constantine Zalalas (St.Nikodemos Publications: Bethlehem, 2009), 201-202:

When you begin to climb spiritually, at some point you will reach a critical point.  And the crisis is that you will have that feeling that you cannot climb anymore because you are tired.  This is a crisis that we meet along the way.  Everyone goes through this.  Those that set out toward a spiritual life go on and on and on and then at some point they become afraid, they panic…We need to understand that when we come to the point of panic or exhaustion, it means that we have reached that critical plateau.

…Let us consider an example from the area of supersonics.  When a jet takes off, and its speed increases, the behaviour of the air changes as the plane goes faster and faster.  The air becomes increasingly a solid mass.  At a certain point, as the speed of the plane increases and comes close to the speed of sound, the air takes on the dimension of a solid, and the jet feels like it is cutting through a mountain.  The jet feels almost ready to fall apart because the air acts like a solid mass.  Now if the jet succeeds in passing this critical level, which is called the sound barrier, then the airplane glides very nicely.  Not only does it escape danger but now this plane becomes supersonic.  It went beyond the sound barrier; it flies very comfortably and it feels that the air does not exist anymore.  Well, my friends, this very thing happens in the spiritual life.  The moment you have reached this critical point, you will succeed – if you do not lose heart.

…Now if you do not cower, if you do not give up from exhaustion, and you succeed in passing this barrier, then the spiritual life that awaits you is wonderful; it is actually great.  It feels so great and so natural that you could not consider living in any other way.  If feels like it is in your blood, like something woven into your entire existence.  So if you happen to meet a very spiritual person, an ascetic, he will act surprised if you tell him that you cannot reach that sort of spirituality, that you cannot possibly reach his level.  He will say, “How can you say that?  But it is so easy.  It is not hard at all.”  It feels like the easiest thing for him because he went beyond the critical point and now that he is beyond that point, the life of the spirit is for him something very natural and effortless.

Fr. Theodoros Zisis – the speaker in the below video – is Emeritus Professor of Patrology and former Chair of the Department of Pastoral and Social Theology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. At one time he was personally involved in the preparations for this Council, and thus brings first-hand knowledge and experience to his critical insight on the preparations and themes of the upcoming Council. It was originally uploaded in Greek a few months ago, and thus addresses the proposed themes that have since been agreed upon.

 

Below is an excerpt from Knot Twenty-Eight of the book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, published by Ancient Faith Publishing and available for purchase both as a paperback and an e-book.

Mavroudis the Martyr

Kalliopi lived in the village nearest the monastery. I met her for the first time when we both visited the monastery to help the sisters with the olives from their orchard. As we sorted olives together, we began a conversation about new martyrs. I asked her if there were any martyrs among the local saints. Kalliopi mentioned Mavroudis, a martyr who had lived in her father’s town. Mavroudis’s martyrdom is recounted in a folk song written by the locals, which she sang for us.

Similar to Byzantine chant, some older Greek folk songs have a haunting feel to them. I found some to be quite melancholic. They never reminded me of our Atlantic Canadian folk songs—some of which are sailors’ songs, making light of hardships. Many Greek folk songs cause suffering and longing experienced long ago to come back and settle in your chest.

The song Kalliopi sang to us explains how Mavroudis was killed by Muslim Turks for refusing to denounce his Christian faith and embrace Islam. He had an argument with some Turks and insulted their faith. So the Turks threatened to throw him into the fire if he didn’t agree to become a “Turk”—in other words, a Muslim. He asked them to give him some time to make up his mind, and they granted him permission.

On seeing his mother approach, he asked her, “Mama, what shall I do? They want me to become a Turk or they will throw me into the fire.”

“Better to be a Turk and live, than dead in the fire!” she advised him.

He was very sorrowful when he heard her answer in this way, and crying and pulling his hair he said to her, “No, I will wait for my love to come and tell me what she thinks.”

He waited, and when his wife arrived he asked her, “Tell me, my love, should I become a Turk or be thrown into the fire?”

“It’s better for you to enter the fire than to become a Muslim,” she answered. On hearing this, the Turks threw them both into the fire, granting them a martyr’s death.

The song ends, “Like candles they burned; like incense they smelt. Doves they became; to the heavens they flew.”

There were, of course, a few wet cheeks by the time Kalliopi finished singing.

 

51wy9gzguql-_sx321_bo1204203200_Abbess Thaisia of Leushino: An Autobiography of a Spiritual Daughter of St. John of Kronstadt: How could I read anything written by this uncanonized saint and not absolutely love it, especially her own autobiography? I first read this while Fr. John and I spent four weeks at a women’s monastery in Canada one summer. Reading it again brought back a lot of good memories; it was also really nice to become reacquainted with the incredible person of Abbess Thaisia in such intimate detail.

0b2351d9-c59d-11e1-a7b0-889ffadf43f7_40892163-920b-11e2-b998-0015174458e8-resize1Instructions for the Immortal: Or, What to do if You Still Die by Fr. Daniel Sysoev: Readers of this blog know how much I love and admire Fr. Daniel. This book, with its witty title, is wonderful. It’s very small, almost like a long pamphlet but bound like a tiny hard-cover book. And yet, Fr. Daniel manages to go into detail concerning death, life after death, and the aerial toll-houses. The topic of aerial toll-houses is often labeled “controversial” but anyone who reads the Fathers of the Church know they are an accurate image of a spiritual reality experienced by all who have and will repose.

homilies-revelation-large-1Homilies on the Book of Revelation (Vol. 1) by Archimandrite Athanasius: I only have a few more pages to go in this book and I have high praise for it. It is jam-packed with information. It not only offers incredible insight into the Book of the Revelation, but gives detailed accounts of the geographical and social histories of the seven churches to whom Christ has St. John the Theologian address an epistle. Translated by Costas Zalalas, this book should be read by all Orthodox Christians, not merely those who are inclined toward reading commentaries on Scripture. It is very informative and yet also manages to challenge the reader to become a more authentic Christian.

nopnikona-01Letters to Spiritual Children by Abbott Nikon: The small size of this book is deceiving for great spiritual grandeur is contained within its few pages. I literally have nearly as many sticky notes attached to the pages as it has paragraphs. The book is a composition of the elder’s letters to his spiritual children. Reading it gives you the impression that he has condensed into these select letters all that is necessary for an Orthodox Christian to find and remain on the straight and narrow path that leads to life. If you only read one book from this list, let it be this one. But, please don’t just read it, struggle to put the Abbot’s words into practice!

41pjjqruu2l-_sy344_bo1204203200_1Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives by Elder Thaddeus: Elder Thaddeus’ well known work is a joy to read. This text is very applicable to modern man: it both admonishes and inspires the reader to lead a proper Christian life. Having lived and reposed in our times, Elder Thaddeus shares wonderful personal insight, insight into his own character and development. This allows the reader to not only learn more about this holy person but to see his own character and development in light of the elder’s inspired words.

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The Art of Salvation by Archimandrite Ephraim: This is an English translation of a collection of 33 homilies by Elder Ephraim of Arizona. Every homily is rich in wisdom and yet the spiritual depth of each is conveyed in a simple and applicable way. Although likely delivered to his monastic brotherhoods, I believe there is not one sentence in the book that does not apply to the modern layman who wishes to also taste of God’s grace and goodness.

51ro95u4rbl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Life of the Virgin Mary by St. Maximos the Confessor: Fr. John gave this book to me Christmas, 2014. I read it just before Christmas 2015 and loved it. The information is predominately drawn from the Proto-evangelium, the same primary source the book The Life of the Theotokos – published by Holy Apostle’s Convent – draws from. While much of what it contains was not something unfamiliar to me as I’ve read The Life of the Theotokos, it was very beautiful to read St. Maximos the Confessor’s description of the events and person of the Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos. It’s a more condensed version of her life and I highly recommend it. We can never read enough insights into this all-holy person who was made worthy to contain the Uncontainable God in her holy womb.

1068192Shepherd of Souls: Life and Teachings of Elder Cleopa: I bought this book while in Boston, MA at Holy Apostle’s Bulgarian Orthodox Church during a retreat I was invited to speak at. I started reading it while waiting for my plane back to Newfoundland and finished it rather quickly. I was incredibly impressed by the person of Elder Cleopa. In particular I found the description of his childhood and his early inclination toward asceticism very beautiful. I loved this book and already feel like re-reading it.

What good books have you read lately?

We glorify God and celebrate the opening of a new Orthodox Church by our brothers and sisters in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can read all about it in the article below. May God, in His goodness, grant the same fortune to Newfoundland someday!

halifax

‘We’re in awe’: New Orthodox church in Halifax opens doors at former Saint Matthias Anglican Church

Parishioners at Saint Antonios waited years for a more spacious place to worship

Fifteen years ago, Affaf El-Jakl remembers there was talk of building a new church to accommodate the growing congregation of Saint Antonios Orthodox Church.

And on Sunday, that hope finally became reality.

“We’re in awe,” El-Jakl, president of the parish council said Sunday morning, as hundreds of parishioners filed into the sanctuary, filling it to capacity until there was only standing room and the upper balcony left to sit.

“It’s not everyday a new church is built and opened.”

The crowd gathered to celebrate the unveiling of the new church with the first of what would be many Sunday masses to follow, sitting in pews that originally belonged to the building when it served as Saint Matthias Anglican Church.

The former church, located across the street from Saint Antonios’ original home on Windsor Street, was saved from demolition and renovated over the past four years to offer a more spacious and modern place for Orthodox worshippers to gather.

“We were sitting on top of each other, literally. Our Sunday school kids were squished 20 to a row,” El-Jakl recalled of their former church.

Mass starts on Sunday during the grand unveiling of Saint Antonios Orthodox Church in Halifax.

Jeff Harper/Metro

Mass starts on Sunday during the grand unveiling of Saint Antonios Orthodox Church in Halifax.

El-Jakl said in many ways, their new church preserves the history of Saint Matthias and acts an architectural hybrid of the Anglican and Orthodox faith traditions.

For example, the stained glass windows found along the side aisles of the sanctuary were preserved, along with the broken arches and some of the interior woodwork.

Meanwhile, the main altar was transformed to glow with the golden icons and decor from the Byzantine tradition seen in Orthodox churches worldwide.

Most striking of all was the dome above that illustrates a massive vision of the Virgin Mary, embolden in a red robe against a golden wall, with her arms outstretched to the congregation below.

“You feel when you’re sitting in the pews that she’s going to envelope you in her hug and embrace you. It feels so warm and beautiful,” El-Jakl said.

unnamedA Review of Metropolitan Augustinos N. Kantiotes: A Short Biography

by Rev Dr John Palmer

For years I have read with great pleasure the works of the ever-memorable Metropolitan of Florina Augustinos (Kantiotes) and have drawn enormous benefit from them. In fact, since my ordination to the holy priesthood, hardly a week passes when I do not consult his books when preparing for my Sunday homily. Moreover, while reading Greek editions of his writings, I have often found material so spiritually helpful that my conscience has compelled me to render an English translation for circulation among the faithful in my parish. Even before my ordination, however, while I was yet a doctoral student in Thessaloniki, Metropolitan Augoustinos’ writings greatly impacted me. Not a single text left me indifferent: each and every time I read something His Eminence wrote, I felt moved to labour more diligently in the vineyard of my own soul in order to draw closer to Christ. His simple manner, born of great spiritual depth; his unswerving adherence to, and unflinching belief in the tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church; his bold and fearless proclamation that all that matters in this life is that we keep Christ and our soul. These qualities drew me towards this great personality of the modern Church. The pull was so strong, in fact, that I remember deciding in the Spring of 2010 that I needed to make a pilgrimage to Florina and take the blessing of the then-aged Metropolitan. When I returned to Greece following summer vacation in late August, however, I was greeted with the news that His Eminence had just reposed and was thus deprived the opportunity for a personal meeting. Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes: A Short Biography has proved a great consolation in the face of this missed opportunity, allowing me – and all who read it – an important and intimate encounter with this pillar of the modern Church.

As one might expect from a biography, Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes generally follows the course of His Eminence’s life chronologically. The first section, covering from his birth on the island of Paros in 1907 up to the end of his theological studies in 1929, offers a valuable example of the importance of surrounding children with good spiritual influences, proving that pious parents and teachers, an experienced spiritual father, and exposure to the monastic life, are instrumental in the formation of future saints.

After charting the course of his studies, and demonstrating himself to be more than capable in academic spheres, the book arrives at the beginning of his public life following his monastic tonsure and ordination by the Metropolitan of Aitolia in 1935. This first period of public ministry (1935-1967) was deeply impacted by the German and Italian occupations of Greece during the Second World War, as well as the Greek Civil War. The out-spoken Fr Augustinos, who refused to tolerate any encroachment on Church’s spiritual life or injustice, was seldom able to remain anywhere for very long, passing from Aitolia to Ioninna, to Macedonia, to Kozani, to Gravenna, and finally to Athens where he remained for roughly fifteen years between 1951 to 1967. He undertook similar work in each of these places: he published soul-profiting periodicals and catechetical materials to be distributed free of charge, he untook Modern Greek translations of the writings of the Holy Fathers and articles promoting the teachings of the Philokalia (something the biography’s author rightly points out was rare at the time, this treasure having largely been forgotten outside of monasteries). He also established soup kitchens, orphanages, and boarding houses, he promoted confession and repentance, and he preached tirelessly, “…with admonitions and censuring evil” (p.31). This practice often endangered his very life when his voice turned against secular forces, but Fr Augustinos faced such threats bravely and as a true Christian. Characteristic is his response to the future Metropolitan of Nafpaktos upon being informed that the latter had uncovered and negotiated the cancellation of a German order for his execution: “My life is not worth a penny…Let me die serving and defending our martyric and completely abandoned nation. If I don’t see you again, farewell unto eternity!” (p.44). He proved equally firm and fearless with regard to unfitting practices within the Church. He once resigned from his position as secretary in a Metropolis because the bishop tried a priest on the testimony of one sole witness, rather than on the testimony of three as is required by the Scriptures and the Holy Canons.

In post-war Athens, “His voice [continued to be] that of the healthy conscience of the Church which he objectively raised against kings, patriarchs, hierarchs, monks, political figures, clergy, and laity, often incurring the wrath of the corrupt and the powerful” (p.74). There are a number of stories highlighting this last point recounted in the book but here I will mention only one which is particularly indicative of the sharpness of his Christian conscience. When beauty pageants were first introduced in Greece, “…and became a lure to relinquish the virtue of modesty in young Greek men and women, while everyone else remained silent on the subject, Fr Augustinos wrote a whole article in Christianike Spitha. This was followed by protests that were organized by religious associations as well as people in positions of power; rallies; all-night prayer vigils; night processions. The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece condemned beauty pageants. Hierarchs personally supported Fr Augustinos. The conscience of the people rejected the pageants. The newspapers who organized the events withdrew, one after the other. The participation of young Greek women in these events decreased dramatically…This protest [initiated by Fr Augustinos] was characterized by one of the biggest newspapers in America as, ‘the most unique reaction in the whole world against profligate beauty pageants'” (p. 69-70). Sadly we in our age look upon things a thousand times more corrupting than these pageants in our use of television and the internet and yet we manage to silence our consciences and remain unbothered: not Fr Augustinos! Not only did he avoid such things himself, but he laboured to preserve countless others from this spiritual pitfall at the risk of exposing himself to the criticism of the world.

Moving on from this Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes next details Fr Augustinos’ election to the Metropolitan See of Florina in 1967 and the years of his episcopal ministry. Greatly valuable here is the book’s reproduction of a significant section of the homily he preached at his enthronement. Although at the time this homily represented a presentation of ideals and aspirations, in retrospect it paints an exact picture of all that he did during his years as Metropolitan. There is perhaps no better testimony to His Eminence’s spiritual character: what he said, he did with God’s help. Here the book breaks slightly from chronological order, dealing with his particular accomplishments one at a time. No summary can do these accomplishments justice; here I will simply mention the most notable. His episcopacy was marked by the building of monasteries, churches, orphanages, nursing homes, boarding houses, and the erection of crosses. He was also deeply concerned with the cultivation of priestly vocations and their proper training: when he inherited the widowed Metropolis it had 140 parishes and only 50 priests; by the time of his retirement he had ordained 184 candidates to the priesthood, most of who passed through ecclesiastical schools he himself had founded. He openly and boldly taught against the use of birth control, opposed abortion, and rightly denied sacraments to those who were not married in the Orthodox Church but were illicitly cohabitating. He was again a tireless teacher, preaching 5,629 homilies which furnished a large portion of the contents of his 82 published books. He opposed the political regime fearlessly whenever it impeded the spiritual life of the Church and Christians.

His concern that the word of truth be rightly divided, that the Orthodox Faith be proclaimed without adulteration, and thus that the faithful be not mislead and fall away from Christ, was further manifested when he took a stand against Athenagoras of Constantinople for his uncanonical statements and actions within the context of the Ecumenical ‘dialogue’ with the Roman Catholics. Along with Metropolitan Amvrosios of Eleutheropolis, Metropolitan Paul of Paramythia, and the fathers of the Holy Mountain, Metropolitan Augustinos canonically ceased commemoration of Athenagoras, invoking the 15th Canon of the 1st-2nd Council which states: “As for those persons who on account of some heresy condemned by holy Councils, or Fathers, withdrawing themselves from communion with their president, who, that is to say, is preaching the heresy publicly, and teaching it barehead in church, such persons not only are not subject to any canonical penalty on account of their having walled themselves off from any and all communion with the one called a Bishop before any conciliar or synodal verdict has been rendered, but, on the contrary, they shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honor which befits them among Orthodox Christians. For they have defied, not Bishops, but pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers; and they have not sundered the union of the Church with any schism, but, on the contrary, have been sedulous to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions.” God alone knows how many souls he saved by openly demonstrating his disapproval of the Patriarch’s activities.

Three brief sections follow and are devoted to the outcome of his labours, a brief account of the persecutions he suffered gladly for Christ’s sake, and to his co-struggles who laboured with him in Christ’s vineyard. The final section deals with his life after his resignation, tendered to the Holy Synod in September 1999 and accepted as of January 2000 when he was an astonishing 93 years old. In retirement, Metropolitan Augustinos continued to labour until he suffered a stroke and reposed in August 2010, “…after hundreds, if not thousands, of admirers and spiritual children came from all over Greece to receive their final blessing from him, ask for forgiveness, and say goodbye” (p.147).

As should be easily ascertainable from the brief summary of the work above, Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes is extremely didactic, though unobtrusively so. His Eminence’s life is presented in a way that lessons for modern Orthodox Christians are easily drawn – for example, how children ought to be raised, the importance of and the spiritual pitfalls associated with education, the fearlessness with which we ought to stand before the forces of secularity both within and outside of the Church, and so on – but not in such a manner that feels like the author is editorializing. Also notable is the fact that large sections of the text are taken directly from Metropolitan Augustinos’ own writings, giving the book a sort of autobiographical flavour and adding spiritual depth. One notable instance of this occurs early in the book when discussing the success he enjoyed throughout his education and the spiritual problems this caused him early in life: “These highest honors that I continued to receive, from my early years of elementary education up until I finished college, harmed me spiritually,” he writes. “I confess it publically. Some sort of conceit possessed me because of my theological knowledge. And God humbled me for my arrogance” (p.26). The book is full of such edifying, self-reflective looks into His Eminence’s inner spiritual life which betray his spiritual sensitivity.

It bears mentioning that Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes is a translation of a Greek work bearing the same title. Unfortunately, a number of treasures of Greek Orthodox literature have been poorly translated in recent times and as a consequence these important works have so far failed to mark English-speaking Orthodox culture as deeply as they perhaps should have. Happily no such problem exists here: Alexander Filip has rendered a smooth translation which reads easily and enjoyably.

Turning attention to the physical aspects of the book, the reader will find himself greeted with a nice, roughly 150-page volume, well-bound, with glossy pages – important since the book is filled with beautiful photographs of His Eminence and those persons referred to throughout the course of the narration. My only complaint – if it can be called that! – is that the cover is a little plain by North American standards. Given the value of the book, I would suggest a more eye-catching cover for the second edition.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes: A Short Biography highly enough. We live in an age – and sadly within an ecclesiastical environment – permeated by luke-warmness. Far too often we let ourselves get drug along with those trends which prevail in our culture and run contrary to the Gospel of our Lord when we should be rebelling against them by word and by our manner of life so as to become leaven for the world around us. Far too often we show ourselves indifferent towards the faith, ignoring violations of the spirit-inspired traditions of Orthodoxy simply because it may result in drawing the ire of some of those around us; by doing this we leave our brethren within the Church prey to the noetic wolf. Far too often we take the easy route in our own spiritual lives, avoiding the narrow path of the Gospel. An age like ours stands in dire need of a reminder of the Apostolic zeal characteristic of true Christians: such a reminder is Metropolitan Augustinos. May we have his blessing!

Blessed John

Below is a beautiful story our priest in Thessaloniki read us every year after we cut the Vasilopita. (To read about the tradition of St. Basil’s bread see here, particularly ‘Origins’).
Happy (Secular) New Year! May we take every opportunity we can to start our spiritual life anew!
Blessed John
by Photios Kontoglou

The Nativity Feast having passed, St. Basil took his staff and traversed all of the towns, in order to see who would celebrate his Feast Day with purity of heart. He passed through regions of every sort and through villages of prominence, yet regardless of where he knocked, no door opened to him, since they took him for a beggar. And he would depart embittered, for, though he needed nothing from men, he felt how much pain the heart of every impecunious person must have endured at the insensitivity that these people showed him. One day, as he was leaving such a merciless village, he went by the graveyard, where he saw that the tombs were in ruins, the headstones broken and turned topsy-turvy, and how the newly dug graves had been turned up by jackals. Saint that he was, he heard the dead speaking and saying: “During the time that we were on the earth, we labored, we were heavy-burdened, leaving behind us children and grandchildren to light just a candle, to burn a little incense on our behalf; but we behold nothing, neither a Priest to read over our heads a memorial service nor kóllyva, as though we had left behind no one.” Thus, St. Basil was once again disquieted, and he said to himself, “These villagers give aid neither to the living nor to the deceased,” departing from the cemetery and setting out alone in the midst of the freezing snow.On the eve of the New Year, he came upon a certain hamlet, which was the poorest of the poor villages in all of Greece. The freezing wind howled through the scrub bush and the rocky cliffs, and not a living soul was to be found in the pitch-dark night! Then, he beheld in front of him a small knoll, below which there was secreted away a sheepfold. St. Basil went into the pen and, knocking on the door of the hut with his staff, called out: “Have mercy on me, a poor man, for the sake of your deceased relatives, for even Christ lived as a beggar on this earth.” Awakening, the dogs lunged at him.

But as they drew near him and sniffed him, they became gentle, wagged their tails, and lay down at his feet, whimpering imploringly and with joy. Thereupon, a shepherd, a young man of twenty-five or so, with a curly black beard, opened the door and stepped out: John Barbákos—a demure and rugged man, a sheepman. Before taking a good look at who was knocking, he had already said, “Enter, come inside. Good day, Happy New Year!”

Inside the hut, a lamp was suspended overhead from a cradle that was attached to two beams. Next to the hearth was their bedding, and John’s wife was sleeping. As soon as St. Basil went inside, John, seeing that the old man was a clergyman, took his hand and kissed it, saying, “Your blessing, Elder,” as though he had known him previously and as though he were his father. And the Saint said to him: “May you and all of your household be blessed, together with your sheep, and may the peace of God be upon you.” The wife then arose, and she, too, reverenced the Elder and kissed his hand, and he blessed her. St. Basil looked like a mendicant monk, with an old skoúphia, his rása worn and patched, and his tsaroúchia [a traditional leather slipper, usually adorned with a pompom at the end of the shoe] full of holes; as well, he had an old empty-looking satchel. John the blessed put wood on the fire. Straightway the hut began to glisten, as though seemingly a palace. The rafters seemed to be gilded with gold, while the hanging cheesecloth bags [filled with curing cheese] looked like vigil lamps, and the wooden containers, cheese presses, and all of the accessories used by John in making cheese became like silver, as though decorated by diamonds, as did all of the other humble things that John the blessed had in his hut. The wood burning in the hearth crackled and sang like the birds that sing in Paradise, giving off a fragrance wholly delightful. The couple placed St. Basil near the fire, where he sat, and the wife put down pillows on which he could rest. Then the Elder took the satchel from around his neck, placing it next to him, and removed his old ráson (outside cassock), remaining in his zostikó [inner cassock].

Together with his farmhand, John the blessed went out to milk the sheep and to place the newborn lambs in the lambing pen, and afterwards he separated the ewes that were ready to birth and confined them within the enclosure, while his helper put the other sheep out to graze. His flock was sparse and John was poor; yet, he was blessed. And he was possessed of great joy at all times, day and night, for he was a good man and he had a good wife. Anyone who happened to pass by their hut they cared for as though he were a brother. And it is thus that St. Basil found lodging in their home and settled in, as if it were his own, blessing it from top to bottom. On that night, he was awaited, in all of the cities and villages of the known world, by rulers, Hierarchs, and officials; but he went to none of these. Instead, he went to lodge in the hut of John the blessed.

So, John, after pasturing the sheep, came back in and said to the Saint, “Elder, I am greatly joyful. I wish to have you read to us the writings about St. Basil [i.e., the appointed hymns to the Saint]. I am an illiterate man, but I like all of the writings of our religion [once again, the hymns and services of the Church]. In fact, I have a small book from an Hagiorite Abbot [i.e., from Mt. Athos], and whenever someone who can read and write happens to pass by, I get him to read out of the booklet, since we have no Church near us.”

In the East, it was dimly dawning. St Basil rose and stood, facing eastward, making his Cross. He then bent down, took a booklet from his satchel, and said, “Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” John the blessed went and stood behind him, and his wife, having nursed their baby, also went to stand near him, with her arms crossed [over her chest]. St. Basil then said the hymn, “God is the Lord…” and the Apolytikion of the Feast of the Circumcision, “Without change, Thou hast assumed human form,” omitting his own Apolytikion, which states, “Thy sound is gone forth unto all the earth.” His voice was sweet and humble, and John and his wife felt great contrition, even though they did not understand all of the words. St. Basil now said the whole of Matins and the Canon of the Feast, “Come, O ye peoples, and let us chant a song unto Christ God,” without reciting his own canon, which goes, “O Basil, we would that thy voice were present….” Thereafter, he said aloud the entire Liturgy, pronounced the dismissal, and blessed the household. As they sat at the table, having eaten and finished their food, the wife brought the Vasilopeta [a sweet bread or cake baked in honor of St. Basil on the New Year] and placed it on the serving table. Then St. Basil took a knife and with it traced the sign of the Cross on the Vasilopeta, saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He cut a first piece, saying, “for Christ,” a second, afterwards, saying, “for the Panagia,” and then “for the master of the house, John the blessed.” John exclaimed, “Elder, you forgot St. Basil!” The Saint replied, “Yes, indeed,” and thus said, “And for the servant of God, Basil.” After this, he resumed: “…and for the master of the house,” “for the mistress of the house,” “for the child,” “for the farmhand,” “for the animals,” and “for the poor.” Thereupon, John the blessed said, “Elder, why did you not cut a piece for your reverendship?” And the Saint said, “But I did, O blessed one!” But John, this blissful man, did not understand.

Afterwards, St. Basil stood up and said the prayer, “O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under the roof of the house of my soul.” John the Blessed then said: “I wonder if you can tell me, Elder, since you know many things, to what palaces St. Basil went this evening? And the rulers and monarchs—what sins do they have? We poor people are sinners, since our poverty leads us into sin.” St. Basil said the same prayer, again—with tears—though changing it: “O Lord my God, I have seen that Thy servant John the simple is worthy and that it is meet that Thou shouldest enter into his shelter. He is a babe, and it is to babes that Thy Mysteries are revealed.” And again John the blissful, John the blessed, understood nothing….

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