Archive for the ‘Art and Iconography’ Category

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).


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st. john beloved and theologian(Source) The Church commemorates St John on this day because of the annual pilgrimage to his grave.

When St John was more than one hundred years old, he took seven of his disciples and went to a spot outside the city of Ephesus. There he told them to dig a grave in the form of a cross. Then he climbed into the grave and told his disciples to cover him with earth. Later, the grave was opened and the saint’s body was not there.

Each year on May 8 a red dust would arise from the grave which the faithful collected in order to be healed of their illnesses.

St John’s main Feast is on September 26.

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The ever-memorable Abbess Makrina

The ever-memorable Abbess Makrina

I am overjoyed to introduce you to The Blessed Makrina Project. Fiery Furnace Productions is currently in the writing/development stages of a documentary on the life of Blessed Gerontissa Makrina. (Gerontissa was an abbess of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Odigitria – the All-holy Directress – in Portaria, Greece and reposed in 1995). Traveling to Greece in May 2015, Fiery Furnace Productions will interview the many people touched by the life, wisdom and sanctity of Gerontissa Makrina. According to the website this documentary will:

  • Help promote the English translation of the book Λόγια Καρδίας (Words from the Heart): 500 pages of the life and wisdom of Gerontissa Makrina
  • Reveal previously unknown stories of how Gerontissa Makrina touched the lives of the faithful
  • Capture the beauty of Orthodox Monasticism in America and Greece
  • Tell the story of Gerontissa Makrina’s work in revitalizing Orthodox Monasticism
  • Create opportunity to establish an Orthodox voice in the digital video revolution

As many of you may know I have a deep love and devotion for the ever-memorable Abbess Makrina. I have posted numerous posts about her, a number of amateur translations of excerpts from her book Λόγια Καρδίας, and even had the blessing of giving a 40-minute talk in London, Ontario about her holy life that you can watch here.

When Innocent first wrote me to ask if I would help with this very worthy project I jumped at the chance. Although I regret that I will not be able to accompany them to Greece I want to help spread the word about this documentary and beg you to consider donating to help with expenses that will not only help the production of this documentary, but with the English translation of her God-inspired book Λόγια Καρδίας (Words from the Heart).

You have all heard of the newly-canonized Saint Paisios. Well, let me tell you a story about St. Paisios’ love and respect for the holy Abbess, Gerontissa Makrina: Once, Gerontissa Makrina traveled to a monastery in Halikidi where St. Paisios was staying. When they met he and she both prostrated to each other (just like St. Mary of Egypt and St. Zosimas).

Furthermore, he was not the only contemporary holy elder who recognized the height of her sanctity: Elder Iakovos Tsalikis – who lived in a monastery in Evia – used to say, “If I lived in Volos I would go on foot to kiss Gerontissa’s hand and get her blessing before going to work each day.” Elder Ephraim of Katounakia also loved and respected her very much. When she went to visit him at a hospital he was staying in his disciple asked him if he would receive her and he proclaimed, “Open wide the doors!” In fact, Elder Ephraim of Katounakia prayed and received confirmation (πληροφορία) from God that Gerontissa occupied a very high spiritual state like that of Blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast.

Now, can you possibly doubt her holiness and the worthiness of this project? Please consider making a monetary donation, spreading the word through social media, and offering your prayers for the successful completion of this project so that the English-speaking world can learn more about this dynamic and holy woman who lived in our dark times and yet became a Mother of the Church, a saint like the saints of old: wise in spiritual matters, reverent in every regard and virtuous beyond compare!

Once again the website for The Blessed Makrina Project can be found here.

May we have her blessing!

At Gerontissa's grave, May 2012.

At Gerontissa’s grave, May 2012.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was a child my uncle always referred to me as “the artist” since I was forever drawing, colouring, sculpting and doing just about anything that could be considered art (I used to even put together “nature displays” – nicely arranged sticks, stones and leaves inside boxes). So, when Xenia Kathryn asked if I would review her calendar on my blog I jumped at the chance to promote a fellow artist. Her calendar is so delightful – full of colour and artistic skill –  I am excited to have it hang in my home for the 2015 year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI highly recommend purchasing one (and perhaps one for a friend) and supporting an Orthodox artist. And if that isn’t encouragement enough for you, the proceeds from the calendars will go to the Building Fund of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Oregon: so you get a calendar and get to contribute to the building of an Orthodox temple!

Xenia Kathryn’s own words regarding her calendars:

I hope that you can find a spot for one of these calendars in your kitchen, your office, your dorm room– wherever! May it brighten your day, and encourage in your day-to-day Faith

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe calendar features 13 copyrighted watercolor and/or pen and ink illustrations, running from January 2015 through January 2016. Included are the twelve major feast days, Great Lent and other important dates in the ecclesiastical year, according to the New Calendar (Gregorian). It is printed on medium weight cardstock, and is ready to hang on your wall.

Proceeds from calendar sales will go to the Building Fund of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Oregon. Your purchase benefits my parish, and the spreading of the Orthodox Faith in west Portland.

This wall calendar measurements: 7.5”(height) x 10” (width) folded.
Unfolded, as presented on your wall, it will measure 15”(height) x 10” (width).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can purchase your copy over at Xenia Karthyrn’s Etsy shop Gover Eats Beans.

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Looking through old files of photos and videos I found this video of the holy icon of Axion Esti (It is Truly Meet) arriving at the port of Thessaloniki from Mount Athos for the feast of St. Demetrios the Great Martyr and the 100th anniversary of the city’s liberation from Ottoman rule (October, 2012). We were blessed to be there and to record the procession which began at the port and led to the Church of St. Demetrios.

Below is the history of the icon, from the Pemptousia’s website here:

The icon or “Axion Esti”, which is said to be miraculous, is kept in the sanctuary. This is the most saintly icon of the whole monastic state. Placed on a throne behind the altar, it is about 3′ l’ by 2′ 2″ in size. The center of the icon is domi­nated by the Virgin holding the Child Jesus, while its oblong perimeter is occupied by twenty small medallions, each picturing the patron saints of the monasteries of Mt Athos. The following story is told about this icon. North-east of Karyes, in the direction of Pantokratoros monastery and at a place called Sakkos, there were a few kellia, one of them dedicated to the Assumption of the Bles­sed Virgin. One Saturday afternoon the Elder of this Kelli before starting for Karyes, where he intended to attend the vigils at the church of the Protaton, instructed his hypotaklikos to read the vespers himself. That evening a young monk who was a complete stranger appeared at the kelli and begged leave to stay for the night, which was granted. During matins next morning, the hypotaktikos was preparing to chant Kosmas’s hymn to the Virgin Mother before her icon. This begins with “Την τιμιωτέραν των χερουβείμ” (“More honourable than the Cherubim”) but he was in­terrupted by the visitor who started chanting the then unknown hymn “‘Αξιον εστίν ως αληθώς μακαρίζειν σε την Θεοτόκον, την αειμακάριστον και παναμώμητον και Μητέρα του Θεού ημών” (“It is truly meet to call thee blessed, the Theotokos and ever-virgin, all-immaculate and Mother of our God”).

Having finished this he continued with that of “Την τιμιωτέραν των χερουβείμ.” Greatly moved, the hypotaktikos begged the guest to write down the hymn for him. Finding no paper or ink he produced a marble slab on which the stranger carved the hymn with his bare finger. He ordered the monk that the hymn should thereafter be sung in praise of the Virgin. He then vanished. When the elder returned and was told what had passed between the hypotaktikos and the stranger, he at once notified the Assembly of the Elders at Karyes. Those had both the icon of the Virgin before which the angel-carved hymn was first sung, as well as the marble slab brought to the Protaton. The icon was placed on a throne in the sanctuary, with a hanging lamp burning before it day and night while the marble slab was sent to Constantinople and both the Emperor and the Patriarch were accordingly informed. Furthermore they communicated the event to al1 the fathers on the Holy Mountain, whom they instructed that the hymn should be sung henceforth. The kelli in question was named “Axion Estin” and its locality is still called “the Pit of Singing”.

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(Source) Like the Panagia Portaitissa, the Glykophilousa Icon is one of those which were saved during the iconoclastic period and brought miraculously to Mount Athos. It originally belonged to Victoria, the devout wife of the senator Symeon. Victoria was one who venerated the holy icons, especially that of the Most Holy Theotokos, before which she prayed each day. Her husband was an iconoclast who found her piety offensive, for he, like Emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842), found the veneration of icons distasteful. Symeon told his wife to give him her icon so that he could burn it. In order to save the icon from being destroyed, she threw it into the sea, and it floated away standing upright on the waves. After a few years, the icon appeared on the shores of Mount Athos near the Monastery of Philotheou, where it was received with great honor and rejoicing by the Abbot and Fathers of the Monastery, who had been informed of its impending arrival through a revelation of the Theotokos.

A spring of holy water sprouted forth on the very spot where they placed the icon on the shore. Every year on Monday of Bright Week there is a procession and blessing of water. Numerous miracles have occurred.

Although there are many miracles of the Glykophilousa Icon, we will mention only a few. In 1713, the Mother of God answered the prayers of the devout Ecclesiarch Ioannikios, who complained about the poverty of the monastery. She assured him that she would provide for the material needs of the monastery.

Another miracle took place in 1801. A pilgrim, after seeing the precious offerings (tagmata) hanging from the icon, a certain pilgrim planned to steal them. He stayed in the Temple after the Ecclesiarch closed it. Then he stole the offerings and left for the port of Iveron Monastery. There he found a boat that was leaving for Ierissos. After a while the ship sailed, but despite the excellent weather, it remained stationary in the sea. When the Ecclesiarch saw what had happened, the abbot sent monks out in various directions. Two went to the port of Iveron and when they saw the immobile ship, they realized what happened. Getting into a boat they went to the ship came aboard. The guilty man who committed this fearful sacrilege asked for forgiveness. The monks were magnanimous and did not want the thief to be punished.

A pilgrim from Adrianopolis visited Philotheou Monastery in 1830. He listened attentively to a monk tell the story of the holy Icon and the miracles associated with it, but he regarded the account as a fictitious tale which only a child might believe. The monk was grieved at the man’s unbelief, and tried to persuade him that everything he had said was absolutely true. The unfortunate pilgrim remained unconvinced.

That very day, as the pilgrim was walking on an upper balcony, he slipped and began to fall. He cried out, “Most Holy Theotokos, help me!” The Mother of God heard him and came to his assistance. The pilgrim landed on the ground completely unharmed.

The Glykophilousa Icon belongs to the Eleousa (the Virgin of Tenderness) category of icons, where the Mother accepts the affection shown by the Child Christ. The icon is commemorated by the Church on March 27 and also on Bright Monday. The icon depicts the Theotokos inclining toward Christ, Who embraces her. She seems to be embracing Him more tightly than in other icons, and her expression is more affectionate.

The Icon is located on a pillar on the left side of the katholikon (main church).

The Glykofilousa icon (celebrated today, March 27) is similar to the one celebrated in Russia on March 19:

(Source) The Smolensk “Tenderness” Icon of the Mother of God manifested itself in the year 1103 at Smolensk. There is another Smolensk “Tenderness” Icon from the vicinity of Okopa (down from Smolensk). This icon was in the encampment of the Russian armies of the military commander Shein, restraining the Polish besiegers from destroying Smolensk for twenty months (1611-1613).

Here is an icon of Tenderness from the Orthodox parish behind my old apartment in Greece. Such sweet, tender love depicted in line and colour!

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three hierarchsLet us who love their words gather together

And honor with hymns the three great torch-bearers of the triune Godhead:

Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.

These men have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines.

They are sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom filling all creation

with springs of heavenly knowledge.

Ceaselessly they intercede for us before the Holy Trinity!

The above photo is of my cross-stitch of the Holy Three Hierarchs. St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom are visible, St. Gregory the Theologian is under the fold on the right. I’ve been working on this for just under two years. I pick it up here and there. I used to do it often on Sunday afternoons when our priest in Thessaloniki would give a 2 hour “mathima” (class) on various interesting theological topics. I once got scolded by a lady there for cross-stitching this because it was Sunday but it was difficult for me to concentrate on a 2 hour Greek lecture (without falling asleep) if I didn’t keep my hands busy. So, although I felt bad for scandalizing her I didn’t stop bringing it to “class” with me, I just wouldn’t do it if she were there that day ;)

The reason why I have been cross-stitching an “icon” of the Three Hierarchs (other than because I like all sorts of crafts) is because years ago my husband wanted me to paint on icon of them for our home chapel – I felt three full length saints was a little above my skill level at the time and we so comprised on St. Nektarios (not that I can really saying having such a great patron for our home chapel is a “compromise,” but still). In exchange for a hand-pained icon of the Hierarchs I will frame my cross-stitch for Fr. John, some day. (I probably have a few years left to go).

We had planned on having a vigil for the Three Hierarchs last night at the Mission but we had to cancel because the university campus closed on account of the snow storm we had. Fr. John was very saddened, especially since we haven’t had snow since Dec 25 so it seemed harsh to have a snow storm on the night we planned on a vigil, but God controls the elements so… that’s that. Perhaps next year…

May the Holy Three Hierarchs (the patrons of education) pray for us all who study and seek to become “rich in wisdom”!

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