Archive for the ‘Contemporary Monasteries’ Category

I saw this documentary posted on Byzantine Texas and watched it a few weeks ago. The monastic wisdom captured in the documentary’s dialogue with seasoned monastics is spiritually rich while being simple and applicable.

One of the sisters says, “If I were born again a thousand times I would do the same thing [choose the monastic life]”. When I heard this I thought, “How incredible it would be to live my life in such a way that I could honestly say that if I were born one thousand times, one thousand times I would choose this life.” May God enlighten and guide us all to walk on the straight and narrow path of pleasing Him and gaining Paradise in this life and the next! And may we look to our “big brothers and sisters” in Christ who shine before us as great examples of life in Christ.


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One of the monasteries in Meteora, Greece.

(Source) The monastery is the sacred home of God, but also home to the nuns and monks who have dedicated their lives to God. Romania’s monasteries are known worldwide for their magnificent beauty, but what do we know about the people that live there? How different is the life they lead? How different is the way they see the world?

Behind the Monastery Walls presents a selection of intimate and inspiring interviews in which nuns and monks in Romanian monasteries lay bare their thoughts and real beliefs.

Behind the Monastery Walls is one Orthodox Christian’s graduation film from the BA in Media Production program at Coventry University. Having received a scholarship from the Peter Kirk Memorial Fund supported by the European Parliament he produced 2 short documentaries which talks about monastic life in Romania (Behind the Monastery Walls) and in England (Sisters in Love).

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A small but wonderful Russian documentary on the Holy Monastery of St. Anthony the Great in Arizona and the spiritual father of the brotherhood, Archimandrite Ephraim of Philotheou. English subtitles accompany the video.

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From the video description on Youtube:

Filmed and edited by the monks themselves, From the Little Mountain takes you through a year at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross in West Virginia. Herein is portrayed some of the beauty and struggle of monastic life using quotes from the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church. Insights about monastic life from one of the senior monks at the monastery are given as you are visually taken through the Church liturgical year and the changing seasons in the mountains. This is a unique documentary of an Orthodox monastery in the 21st century, but the imagery and principles set forth are as ancient (and relevant) as those written by the 6th century instructor of monks, Abba Dorotheos. For more info, please visit: http://www.holycross-hermitage.com

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



Dear People,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones

*To read this miraculous account see here.

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unnamedI know that many of you cannot read Modern Greek, but Athonite fathers have released a very important and timely document concerning ecumenism. I have translated the Greek description of the document (rather poorly, for which I apologize, but at least it will give you the gist of the important topics addressed by the document). If you can read Greek you can view the PDF below. If you can’t read Greek you may still want to look through the many photos of the world-wide ecumenical events the fathers have included in this document, as well as icons of confessor saints and Athonite martyrs or even the long list of Athonite signatures. Hopefully a proper English translation will be available in the future.

“With the grace of our All-holy Lady, the Athonite fathers take an opposing position to the impermissible ecumenical actions* of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In a last conscious effort of the Holy Community of the Holy Mountain and the Orthodox group [of] abbots, coenobitic monastics, monks of kellis, monks of sketes and ascetics, they offer their testimony with boldness and a mindset of confession.”

*the Greek word used here literally means “openings”, but for the sake of clarity in the English language I’ve translated it “actions”.

UPDATE: the previous title of this post was “Athonite Fathers Release Important and Timely 70-page Document”. The document is 69 pages as a PDF but it is in fact 127 pages.


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