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(Source) Today the Holy Church piously remembers the sufferings of the Holy Glorious and All-Praised Apostles Peter and Paul.

St. Peter, the fervent follower of Jesus Christ, for the profound confession of His Divinity: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” was deemed worthy by the Savior to hear in answer, “Blessed art thou, Simon … I tell thee, that thou art Peter [Petrus], and on this stone [petra] I build My Church” (Mt.16:16-18). On “this stone” [petra], is on that which thou sayest: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” it is on this thy confession I build My Church. Wherefore the “thou art Peter”: it is from the “stone” [petra] that Peter [Petrus] is, and not from Peter [Petrus] that the “stone” [petra] is, just as the Christian is from Christ, and not Christ from the Christian. Do you want to know, from what sort of “rock” [petra] the Apostle Peter [Petrus] was named? Hear the Apostle Paul: “Brethren, I do not want ye to be ignorant,” says the Apostle of Christ, “how all our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor.10: 1-4). Here is the from whence the “Rock” is Peter.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the final days of His earthly life, in the days of His mission to the race of man, chose from among the disciples His twelve Apostles to preach the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardor was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt.10:2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. Therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession: “I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in the heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth: shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt.16: 19). Therefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these “keys” and the right “to bind and loosen.” And that it was actually the Church that received this right, and not exclusively a single person, turn your attention to another place of the Scriptures, where the same Lord says to all His Apostles, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” and further after this, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whose soever sins ye retain, are retained” (John 20: 22-23); or: “whatsoever ye bind upon the earth, shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosened in heaven” (Mt.18:18). Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational cornerstone, Jesus Christ Himself (Eph 2:20), doth bind and loosen. Let both the binding and the loosening be feared: the loosening, in order not to fall under this again; the binding, in order not to remain forever in this condition. Therefore “Iniquities ensnare a man, and everyone is bound in the chains of his own sins,” says Wisdom (Prov 5:22); and except for Holy Church nowhere is it possible to receive the loosening.

After His Resurrection the Lord entrusted the Apostle Peter to shepherd His spiritual flock not because, that among the disciples only Peter alone was pre-deserved to shepherd the flock of Christ, but Christ addresses Himself chiefly to Peter because, that Peter was first among the Apostles and as such the representative of the Church; besides which, having turned in this instance to Peter alone, as to the top Apostle, Christ by this confirms the unity of the Church. “Simon of John” — says the Lord to Peter — “lovest thou Me?” — and the Apostle answered: “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee”; and a second time it was thus asked, and a second time he thus answered; being asked a third time, seeing that as it were not believed, he was saddened. But how is it possible for him not to believe That One, Who knew his heart? And wherefore then Peter answered: “Lord, Thou knowest all; Thou knowest that I love Thee.” “And sayeth Jesus to him” all three times “Feed My sheep” (John 20:15-17).

Besides this, the triple appealing of the Savior to Peter and the triple confession of Peter before the Lord had a particular beneficial purpose for the Apostle. That one, to whom was given “the keys of the kingdom” and the right “to bind and to loose,” bound himself thrice by fear and cowardice (Mt.26:69-75), and the Lord thrice loosens him by His appeal and in turn by his confession of strong love. And to shepherd literally the flock of Christ was acquired by all the Apostles and their successors. “Take heed, therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock,” the Apostle Paul urges church presbyters, “over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of the God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28); and the Apostle Peter to the elders: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof not by constraint, but willingly: not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when is appeared the Prince of pastors, ye will receive unfading crowns of glory” (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

It is remarkable that Christ, having said to Peter: “Feed My sheep,” did not say: “Feed thy sheep,” but rather to feed, good servant, the sheep of the Lord. “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor.1:13). “Feed My sheep”. Wherefore “wolfish robbers, wolfish oppressors, deceitful teachers and mercenaries, not being concerned about the flock” (Mt.7:15; Acts 20:29; 2 Pet 2:1; John 10:12), having plundered a strange flock and making of the spoils as though it be of their own particular gain, they think that they feed their flock. Such are not good pastors, as pastors of the Lord. “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11), entrusted to Him by the chief Shepherd Himself (1 Pet 5:4). And the Apostle Peter, true to his calling, gave his soul for the very flock of Christ, having sealed his apostleship by a martyr’s death, is now glorified throughout all the world.

The Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, was changed from a robbing wolf into a meek lamb. Formerly he was an enemy of the Church, then is manifest as an Apostle. Formerly he stalked it, then preached it. Having received from the high priests the authority at large to throw all Christians in chains for execution, he was already on the way, he breathed out “threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1), he thirsted for blood, but “He that dwells in the Heavens shall laugh him to scorn” (Ps 2:4). When he, “having persecuted and vexed” in such manner “the Church of God” (1Cor.15:9; Acts 8:5), he came near Damascus, and the Lord from Heaven called to him: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” and I am here, and I am there, I am everywhere: here is My head; there is My body. There becomes nothing of a surprise in this; we ourselves are members of the Body of Christ. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me; it is hard for thee to kick against the goad” (Acts 9:4-5). Saul, however, “trembling and frightened”, cried out: “Who art Thou, Lord?” The Lord answered him, “I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest.”

And Saul suddenly undergoes a change: “What wantest Thou me to do?” — he cries out. And suddenly for him there is the Voice: “Arise, and go to the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6). Here the Lord sends Ananias: “Arise and go into the street” to a man, “by the name of Saul,” and baptize him, “for this one is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9: 11, 15, 18). This vessel must be filled with My Grace. “Ananias, however, answered: Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints in Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Thy Name” (Acts 9:13-14). But the Lord urgently commands Ananias: “Search for and fetch him, for this vessel is chosen by Me: for I shall show him what great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:11, 15-16).

And actually the Lord did show the Apostle Paul what things he had to suffer for His Name. He instructed him the deeds; He did not stop at the chains, the fetters, the prisons and shipwrecks; He Himself felt for him in his sufferings, He Himself guided him towards this day. On a single day the memory of the sufferings of both these Apostles is celebrated, though they suffered on separate days, but by the spirit and the closeness of their suffering they constitute one. Peter went first, and Paul followed soon after him. Formerly called Saul, and then Paul, having transformed his pride into humility. His very name (Paulus), meaning “small, little, less,” demonstrates this. What is the Apostle Paul after this? Ask him, and he himself gives answer to this: “I am,” says he, “the least of the Apostles… but I have labored more abundantly than all of them: yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me” (1 Cor.15:9-10).

And so, brethren, celebrating now the memory of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, remembering their venerable sufferings, we esteem their true faith and holy life, we esteem the innocence of their sufferings and pure confession. Loving in them the sublime quality and imitating them by great exploits, “in which to be likened to them” (2 Thess 3: 5-9), and we shall attain to that eternal bliss which is prepared for all the saints. The path of our life before was more grievous, thornier, harder, but “we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12: 1), having passed by along it, made now for us easier, and lighter, and more readily passable. First there passed along it “the author and finisher of our faith,” our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Heb 12: 2); His daring Apostles followed after Him; then the martyrs, children, women, virgins and a great multitude of witnesses. Who acted in them and helped them on this path? He Who said, “Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15: 5).

(Source) The Nativity of the Holy Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, John: The Gospel (Luke. 1: 5) relates that the righteous parents of St John the Baptist, the Priest Zachariah and Elizabeth (September 5), lived in the ancient city of Hebron. They reached old age without having children, since Elizabeth was barren. Once, St Zachariah was serving in the Temple at Jerusalem and saw the Archangel Gabriel, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. He predicted that St Zachariah would father a son, who would announce the Savior, the Messiah, awaited by the Old Testament Church. Zachariah was troubled, and fear fell upon him. He had doubts that in old age it was possible to have a son, and he asked for a sign. It was given to him, and it was also a chastisement for his unbelief. Zachariah was struck speechless until the time of the fulfillment of the archangel’s words.

St Elizabeth came to be with child, and fearing derision at being pregnant so late in life, she kept it secret for five months. Then her relative, the Virgin Mary, came to share with her Her own joy. Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” was the first to greet the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God. St John leaped in his mother’s womb at the visit of the Most Holy Virgin Mary and the Son of God incarnate within Her.

Soon St Elizabeth gave birth to a son, and all the relatives and acquaintances rejoiced together with her. On the eighth day, in accordance with the Law of Moses, he was circumcised and was called John. Everyone was amazed, since no one in the family had this name. When they asked St Zachariah about this, he motioned for a tablet and wrote on it: “His name is John.” Immediately his tongue was loosed, and St Zachariah glorified God. He also prophesied about the Coming into the world of the Messiah, and of his own son John, the Forerunner of the Lord (Luke. 1: 68-79).

After the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ and the worship of the shepherds and the Magi, wicked king Herod gave orders to kill all male infants. Hearing about this, St Elizabeth fled into the wilderness and hid in a cave. St Zachariah was at Jerusalem and was doing his priestly service in the Temple. Herod sent soldiers to him to find out the abode of the infant John and his mother. Zachariah answered that their whereabouts were unknown to him, and he was killed right there in the Temple. Righteous Elizabeth continued to live in the wilderness with her son and she died there. The child John, protected by an angel, dwelt in the wilderness until the time when he came preaching repentance, and was accounted worthy to baptize the Lord.

It is a well known fact that all Orthodox faithful greatly love and revere the Most Holy Theotokos. In all faithful Orthodox homes icons of her holy countenance are displayed, venerated and prayed before. But perhaps it can be said that no where is she more revered and honoured than in Orthodox monasteries. On a daily basis hymns of praise are offered to her.

most rightlyLove of and prayer to the Most Holy Lady, the Panagia, was something I became particularly accustomed to while visiting and working alongside the sisters in the monasteries I visited in Greece. If the nuns weren’t softly whispering the Jesus Prayer interspersed with “Most Holy Theotokos save us” then they were overtly praying to her by reciting the Akathist hymn from memory. Additionally, every evening the Supplicatory canon and the Akathist to the Theotokos were chanted in the monastery’s catholicon. Icons of her were found throughout the monastery: in every workroom, every cell and every chapel. Her name was constantly on the sisters’ lips.

Paraclesis3Metropolitan Hierotheos rightly summarizes the Orthodox tradition of praying to the Most Holy Theotokos by stating: “The Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, assumed human nature from the pure blood of the Most holy Theotokos. This unity came into being in her womb, in which human nature was made divine by the divine nature… [Thus,] the honour paid to the Most holy Theotokos is referred in reality ‘to Him who was incarnate of her’” (Saint Gregory Palams as a Hagiorite, p. 269). And so, the whole atmosphere of devotion in a monastery to the Most Holy Virgin creates an environment of prayer and contemplation of Him Who “by the power of the Holy Spirit became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became Man” (the Nicene Creed).

Paraclesis2Inspired by the sisters’ deep devotion I began making small, handwritten prayer books containing hymns to her. As you can see in the photos included in this post I have a very small prayer book in which I wrote her Akathist hymn and the Magnificant (the prayer she says in the presence of her cousin St. Elizabeth as recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke). In the larger prayer book I have written the Small Paraclesis (the Supplicatory Canon) as well as a few apolytikia and kontakia to her that have particular significance for me. I strongly encourage you all to make praying to the Panagia a daily activity (if it is not already). Call out to her continually, pray unceasingly, so that you might acquire her protection and the grace of Her Son and our God!

“She is a promise of the prophets, foundation of Apostles, support of the martyrs, platform of teachers; she is the glory of those on earth, the delight of those in heaven, the adornment of all creation; she is also the principle and source and root of the ineffable good things, she is the summit and completion of every saint” (St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 53 as quoted in Metropolitan Hierotheos’ Saint Gregory Palams as a Hagiorite, p. 297).

Paraclesis1

This is a small excerpt from the article “Meta-Patristic Theology: Are the Fathers Relevant Today?” written by Monk Moses the Hagiorite, translated by Fr. George Dragas. You can read the full article here.

(Source)

The trend for a return to the Fathers that has prevailed in recent years through the work of the great theologian Fr. George Florovsky has rendered much fruit, which we enjoy to this day. Distanced from the western forensic and pietistic theology, Orthodox theology stressed man’s regeneration and transformation in Christ through seeing and participating in God within the body of the Church by means of watchfulness, ascesis, prayer, sacramental life, purification, illumination and sanctification. Western scholasticism became boring and tedious. The liberational, modern, innovative, novel ideas of certain eastern theologians are problematic. Protestantism insisted on faith alone and not on the Dogmas and the Theology of the Church. Saint Diadochos of Photike calls Theology the seeking of God and being in communion with Him, through study and prayer. Theognostos considers pure life and a clear mind to be preconditions for Theology and pure theoria. Theology is the experience of being involved with God. The vision of God (θεοπτία) is superior to Theology and a seer of God (θεόπτης) is superior to a Theologian.

The great Fathers of the Church are her great theologians. They are the God-bearers, the God-inspired, the God-moved, the Enlightened, those who rightly administer the word of truth in their life, their teaching and their works. The strain of their theological ascent is what it is, not only because of their constant study of Holy Scripture, but also because of their experiences, since the Word of Scripture became the earnest acceptance of their heart. All the Fathers of the Church are characterized by the holiness of their lives and orthodox doctrine.

There is a great need today to return again to the sacred patristic sources, which are always inexhaustible and life-giving. Great Fathers are not only the ancient ones but also the newer ones, who continue on the path of those who have greater experience from the useful past of the Church. Contemporary theologians need to study faithfully the works of our holy Fathers…

I’ve decided to create a new series – Modern Saints – wherein I post a very small biography and a few inspiring words from contemporary holy men and women who have not yet been included in the Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church.

A Glimpse of His Holy Life:

Holy Elder Amphilochios was born on December 13, 1889 on the island of Patmos, the holy island on which St. John the Theologian and Evangelist received divine revelation of the apocalypse, later recorded by his disciple St. Procopious and included in the canon of the New Testament. Elder Amphilochios was born into a large pious family and was baptized with the name Athanasios. Like many saints, even as an infant Athanasios piously kept the fasts of the Church and refused his mother’s milk on Wednesdays and Fridays. He preserved himself from the temptations of the world and at the age seventeen became a novice a the Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian on Patmos. After his tonsure into the Great Schema he was later ordained a deacon and subsequently a priest. He was elected abbot in 1935. He went on to found a women’s monastery nearby which opened an orphanage and a house for pregnant women. Two years before his repose, on Pascha 1968, the elder was forewarned of his earthly departure, having prepared himself he reposed on April 16, 1970, just before Holy Week began.

Wise Counsel from the Elder:

“The words of the preachers today [ie. those designated by the Church of Greece to deliver homilies] have the effect of throwing turpentine on a fire. The poor and unlettered laity have been abandoned and now don’t listen. They need to see good works and lives of Christian love…they need to feel that their brother is co-suffering in their pain. Only through love for them and through philanthropic works will we manage to bring our brethren back close to Christ.” (Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit, p. 54)

Monastery courtyard - looking northwest

Monastery courtyard – looking northwest

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