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Christ is born!

NATIVITY

Bethlehem hath opened Eden: come, and let us see.  We have found joy in secret: come, and let us take possession of the paradise that is within the cave.  There, the unwatered Root hath appeared, from which forgiveness flowereth forth: there is found the undug Well, whence David longed to drink of old.  There, the Virgin hath borne a Babe, and made the thirst of Adam and David to cease straightway.  Therefore, let us hasten to this place where now is born a young Child, God before the ages.

-Oikos of the Nativity of Christ

Merry Christmas!

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Related imageToday is the feast of St. Juliana of Nicomedia. Here is an excerpt from an anglo-saxon poem written about her and her martyrdom:

I.

Listen—we have heard of heroes deliberating,
deed-brave men determining what occurred in the days
of Maximian, who throughout middle-earth raised up
persecution, an infamous king killing Christian men
and felling churches—a heathen war-leader pouring out
upon the grassy field the sainted blood of the God-praising,
the right-performing. His realm was broad, wide and mighty
across human nations—very nearly across the enormous earth. (1-10)

They traveled among the cities, as he had commanded,
the Emperor’s awful thanes. Often they roused strife with perverted acts,
those that loathed the Lord’s law through criminal skill.
Fiend-ship was aroused, heaving up heathen idols
and slaying the holy, breaking the book-crafty and burning the chosen,
terrifying the champions of God with spear and flame. (11-17)

There was a certain wealthy man of noble kind,
a mighty count. He ruled over guard-cities, ever defending
that ground and holding hoarded treasure in the city of Nicomedia.
Often he eagerly sought an idol, heathen-worship
over the word of God. His name was ascribed as Eleusius
and he had a great and renowned authority.
When his mind began to yearn after the virgin Juliana
curiosity broke him. She bore in her soul the holy troth,
eagerly intending that her maidenhood would be preserved
for the love of Christ, pure from any sin. (18-31)

Then was that woman, with the wish of her father,
betrothed to that wealthy man. He did not fully know the outcome—
how she, young in spirit, despised espoused friendship.
Fear of God was greater in her mind than all the riches that rested
in the possession of that nobleman. Then the wealthy one,
that gold-rich man, was eager in his heart for marriage,
when the woman would most promptly be prepared for him,
a bride unto his home. She firmly set herself against
that warrior’s love, although he owned wealth acquired
within hoard-locks, uncountable jewels upon the earth. (32-44a)

Condemning it all, Juliana spoke a word amongst
a multitude of men: “I can say to you that you need not
trouble yourself so greatly. If you adore and believe
in the True God and exalt his praise, you would recognize
the Comfort of Souls and I would immediately, without faltering,
be prepared to submit to your desire. Likewise I say to you,
if in fact you confide in an inferior god through devil-worship,
or call to heathen idols, you cannot have me
nor can you compel me to be your wedded wife.
Never will you, through your violent spite,
prepare so harsh pain of severe torments
that you should turn me from these words.” (44b-57)

 

You can read the rest here.

May she intercede for us!

Source: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2018/12/13/103531-martyr-eustratius-at-sebaste

The Holy Martyrs Eustratius, Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius, and Orestes (the Five Companions) suffered for Christ under the emperor Diocletian (284-305) at Sebaste, in Armenia.

Among the first Christians imprisoned and undergoing torture at that time was Saint Auxentius, a presbyter of the Arabian Church. One of those who witnessed the steadfastness of the Christians was the noble military commander Saint Eustratius, the city prefect of Satalios, and archivist of the province. He was secretly a Christian, and when he openly confessed his faith, he was subjected to torture. They beat him, and put iron sandals studded with sharp nails on his feet, then forced him to march to the city of Arabrak.

Witnessing the arrival of Saint Eustratius in Arabrak, one of the common people, Saint Mardarius, confessed that he was also a Christian like Saint Eustratius. He was arrested and cast into prison. Holes were drilled in his ankles, and ropes were passed them. He was suspended upside down, then heated nails were hammered into his body. He died a short time later. To him is attributed the prayer “O Master Lord God, Father Almighty …” (which is read at the end of the Third Hour).

As for Saint Eugene, they ripped out his tongue, they cut off his hands and feet, and then they beheaded him with a sword. Saint Auxentius was also arrested and beheaded. The young soldier Saint Orestes confessed himself a Christian and stood trial for this “crime.” He was sentenced to be stretched out upon a red-hot iron bed, and became frightened when he approached it. Encouraged by Saint Eustratius, he made the Sign of the Cross and got onto the heated bed, where he surrendered his soul to God.

Saint Eustratius was sentenced to be burned alive on December 13. As he was being led to his death, he prayed aloud (“I magnify Thee exceedingly, O Lord, for Thou hast regarded my lowliness…”). This prayer is still read at the Saturday Midnight Office.

svesk-convent.jpg

Sevsk Convent

A story about Abbess Magdalena of Sevsk Convent from Elder Macarius of Optina, by Fr. Leonid Kavelin, published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, pg. 281-282.

I read this story the other day and found it so funny I had to share!

During Magdalena’s Abbacy, one of her nuns was a great beauty.  Once during a church service she was noticed by a dashing bachelor hussar*, who decided to lure her out of the Convent, first by writing her letters, and then, as his regiment was very close to the Convent, by ordering his troops to perform military maneuvers in front of it.  The army band played loudly, and he displayed his skillful horsemanship and cavalry drills.  He gave no peace to the poor Convent.  At first the wise Abbess Magdalena pleaded with him by letter, but then, gathering a synaxis of eldresses, she made the following plan:

The terrified beauty wrote the hussar a letter of invitation for tea in the Abbess’ quarters, which he gladly accepted, already sensing his victory.  Without hesitation he entered the walls of the Convent, only to be locked in the Abbess’ quarters, where Abbess Magdalena instituted a trial, with the eldresses as the jury.  They demanded a sentence of death for the military hero, whereat she told him: “Now prepare yourself to die.”  At first the hussar thought it was a joke; but then, at her abbatial gesture, two dozen nuns entered with ropes and tied him hand and foot to a chair.  The Abbess asked them:”What kind of punishment does this man deserve for his shameless attacks against our Monastery?”  And all answered: “He is worthy of death!”  The poor hussar began to tremble with fear, the more so as the Abbess informed him that the gates were locked tight, and no earthly power could free him from them.  He began to repent of his light-mindedness and abased himself before the women, begging mercy from the Abbess and the nuns.  After frightening him to their satisfaction, they made him sign a document promising to leave their Monastery.  And the lesson worked, for the very next day the whole regiment left town, and the Convent received its long-awaited peace and tranquility.  After that, whenever Abbess Magdalena appeared in Optina, Elder Leonid would say: “Here comes the General!”

*A hussar was a member of a class of light cavalry, originating in Central Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries, originally Hungarian.

Below is a loosely translated transcript of a homily by Metropolitan Athanasius of Limmasol. While I have tried my best to be faithful to the Modern Greek, because the source is audio in some places I’ve only captured the essence of what the Bishop is saying. It’s not a word-for-word translation but it gets the point across, I think.

I find these two stories perfectly illustrate the state of our hardened hearts toward those we believe are “lesser” human beings simply because we refuse to see our own sins and passions as equal or worse than the sins of others.   

agia skepi

Agia Skepi Therapeutic Community

The Bishop begins, “I want to share two stories with you.”

The first story:

Christmas was on a Sunday that year. It was the Friday before Christmas and the monastic brotherhood had just finished their meal. Leaving the Trapeza (dining hall) the Bishop’s eyes fell on three young men sitting outside in the courtyard. He recognized one of them who had come to speak with him some months prior; some young people had brought him. Seeing the youths, the Bishop asked if perhaps they were hungry and he brought them into the Trapeza to eat. In fact, they were so hungry they nearly ate the table, he said.

After they had eaten the Bishop asked the young man how he was. At their previous meeting the young man had confessed and informed the Bishop that he had a serious drug addiction and was ready to go to detox.

So the Bishop asked him, ‘Did you go to detox?’

And the young man responded, ‘I did but unfortunately all they did was put me on meds and place me in a psych ward with a bunch of psychiatric patients. I didn’t find any support. Unfortunately, I left and returned to what I was doing, and in fact it’s worse than it was.’

‘And the young men with you are they your friends and do the same things?’ the Bishop asked

‘Yes,’ he responded.

One was 20, one 21, and one is 18. They were like outcasts. They were in a difficult situation because they were all living in a room together and the woman who rented the room to them was going to kick them out because they owed her a lot of money. Likely they had never paid rent.

The young man continued, ‘And there is a place we would go to eat, where they would give us sandwiches, but they won’t give us anymore food because we haven’t paid them anything.’

So the Bishop told him, ‘Tell your landlady the monastery will pay the rent you owe and the bill for the food you ate.’

The Bishop continued his homily, saying:

“But a bad thought entered my mind to make sure they weren’t lying to me and looking for me to give them money. So we drove them down to the apartment so I could see where they were living. There was nothing in the room, not even a bed. There was an old rug and two blankets on the rug. There was no toilet or sink in the room.

“That night we had vigil, as we do in the monastery, for the feast of the Nativity of Christ. And we sang those wonderful hymns that speak about Christ, that Christ was born in a stable in the presence of animals. And the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, the person who created the Sea and the Earth and all the things in the Earth. And I thought of those young men; I thought of where we, the monastic brotherhood, lived and where some others find themselves.

“And the next day I saw again the young man sitting outside the monastery and he was crying. He said the woman kicked them out on Saturday and they had nowhere to go. So he spent the night in an abandoned building and he laid on a board and put one over him for warmth and spent the night like that. He hadn’t eaten since Friday when they ate at the monastery.

“And I told him not to be sad, to think of Christ, who also had no place to lay His head…

“That night we called a taxi to come get him but the taxi wouldn’t come because it was Christmas. So we left to take him down to the city. And we searched for a place to get food for him. We took him to a room we have at a Metochian so he could sleep there. I searched and found a phone number for the number, you know the one they say, ‘If you have a drug addiction call this number…’

“And they asked the young man some questions, ‘Do you want to stop doing drugs?, etc.’ Such questions, that to us, we understand… Does ‘I want to’ mean ‘I am able?’ No. But from their perspective they believe ‘I want to’ means ‘I am able.’ Don’t we all want to cut our passions? But does that mean we stop having passions.

***

“When people heard we were helping young people on drugs, they said, ‘Oh no, Father, stay far away from such people!’

There was a woman I knew who told me, ‘If you every know anyone who needs any help, please tell me and I’ll help.’ So I called her and told her ‘I know some kids, they’re the best in all of Cyprus, only they have some problems with drugs.’ And she responded, ‘Ah, Father! That’s dangerous! Stay far away from them.’

“Okay, now I will tell you the second story:

“[The next week,] on Friday morning a dog appeared at our monastery. All night it was outside barking. What could we do? We called animal control. We told them about this dangerous dog that had come to the monastery. We told them, ‘We have a rabid dog here, it will eat us. But it doesn’t matter if it eats us, it’s dangerous for the children that come to the monastery.’  They responded, ‘Just show it love. Put some milk out for it; give it some food.’ They instructed us how to make a special pasta for the dog, told us to give it warm milk… all these things,” the Bishop says laughing. “Two hours later the manager called us, ‘I hear you have a dog there at the monastery. Have you fed it?’

‘Fed it? No. It will eat us, we can’t go near it,’ I said.

“And the man tells me we need to make a warm place for the dog to go because it was Christmas weekend and no one could get the dog until Monday. So he tells us, ‘Take care of the dog. Don’t treat it poorly so it won’t suffer any psychological harm.’ And every two hours they called us to check on the dog.”

“Don’t think I’m kidding,” the Bishop continues. “This is what transpired at the monastery these past days. And then something happened to the dog. I don’t know. It disappeared.

“Everyone was concerned about the dog. But no one cared about the drug addicts.

“In the Gospel it says a young man asked Christ,

“What should I do to inherit eternal life?” And Christ answered, “What is written in the law?’

And he answering said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And he said unto him, “You have answered right: this do, and you shall live.”

And the Bishop tells the story of the Good Samaritan and how the Priest and the Levite all passed by the man who fell among robbers.

“These young men are like the man who fell among robbers,” the Bishop says.

The Bishop goes on to speak about the following passage in the Gospel:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

“Who are the least of these?” the Bishop asks. “Aren’t they these young men?”

***

The Bishop goes on to tell the people his monastery decided to do something “crazy”. They planned to donate land for a treatment facility to be built for drug addicts: a place where young people can learn life-skills, have a safe place to live (in community) and have the opportunity to work, with animals, in the gardens, etc. That night he was asking for the people’s financial support. By the grace of God the treatment facility was built. It’s called Agia Skepi (Holy Protection)

Let’s be like the Bishop, and show love and compassion for human persons suffering in the depths of despair. Let’s allow our hearts to be softened by such individuals and let’s leave criticism and judgment of them to God, who alone knows the heart of man.  

audio book

Hear sample here

I’m pleased to announce The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, published by Ancient Faith Publishing (2012)is now available as an audio book! It is narrated by yours truly.

The book is a collection of stories – hearing them narrated brings them to life in a whole new way. You can hear a sample here.

I hadn’t read the book in over five years and so narrating it brought back many vivid, cherished memories (as described in more detail in this blog post). I found myself becoming rather emotional at some points. Doing the audio recordings allowed me to re-live some of the best days of my life. I’m thankful Ancient Faith Publishing made the decision to introduce this book to an even wider audience through offering an audio book version.

Just in time for Christmas: buy your copy at Audible.com here or at Amazon here.

An excerpt from a review of the audio book:

Hearing the book left me with a decidedly different viewpoint than when I read it via Kindle in 2017. The book was narrated by the author and, even though she was striving to be neutral in her reading, it was very easy to tell that she was deeply affected by her experiences at the monastery/monasteries she visited. The stories came to life and I found myself smiling and re-winding and sometimes even cringing in sympathy with her stories. Her engagement with the story is what gave it more life than the printed version. I imagine she spins quite a good yarn in person. -ElzabetG

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A friend sent me this; I thought you’d enjoy it too.