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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.  

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It was a tradition in our home to go around the table at Thanksgiving and say one thing we’re thankful for.

I’m thankful for the sacrifice, example, and holy prayers of our monastics (but also my husband of 13 years – today).

“Thanks to monastics, prayer continues unceasing on earth, and the whole world profits, for through prayer the world continues to exist; but when prayer fails the world will perish.” -St. Silouan the Athonite (pp. 407-408 in his biography)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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“I remembered the days of old; I mediated on all Thy works” (Ps. 142:5)

For the last few months I have been making audio recordings of my book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery as Ancient Faith Publishing will be releasing an audio version of the book in the near future.

I haven’t read The Scent of Holiness for years. It was published in 2012 and although I was very happy to have shared my experiences, it was also strange to see them displayed in typeset, in a bound book that wasn’t filled with my own cursive writing. Having written in a personal journal for over twenty years it’s a surreal experience to have those thoughts and feelings usually reserved for myself distributed for all to see. So, I was a little embarrassed when I would read The Scent of Holiness. Now, re-reading those words, reading them aloud, and being confronted with vivid memories of it all I’m so, so, so thankful I took the time to write it all down in detail.

 

I have always prided myself on having a good memory. However, between working as a social worker and helping my husband serve the Mission my mind and memory have little room left for “the days of old” it seems. Reading The Scent of Holiness again I’m re-immersed in a world that usually feels very far away, almost like a vivid dream you suddenly remember out of nowhere.

I used to think of the spiritual life as an ascent, where we go from darkness and slowly move into the light. But even my own experience contradicts this. I once lived in a land full of light, interacted with living saints and living monuments of our historical Church. Then I moved to Newfoundland and it was like coming to a land of perpetual twilight. I moved from Thessaloniki to an island that first encountered Orthodoxy over one thousand years ago but remained un-Christianized for centuries.

 

And so, when I read about my experiences with the nuns I have a hard time seeing the continuity between then and now. But, the more I read the more I gain clarity about a few things: 1.) The positive experiences we have are never just for our own benefit. We simply need to figure out our own unique way of sharing them in a variety of contexts, and;  2.) The spiritual struggle is real, man. It’s as simple as that. We have periods of grace where we can (and should) do a lot more, and periods of dry spells where we need to cling to “the days of old” so we don’t give up altogether.

The sisters gave me a lifetime worth of blessings. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. Even after five years of living away from them, their love and lessons, the memory of their laughter and simplicity still fill my heart to the brink with gratitude. And I am left with the words of St. Paul, challenging me to become more like them: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are worthy of respect, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, be considering these things. And what ye learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things be practicing; and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

P.S. As soon as The Scent of Holiness is available as an audio book I’ll be sure to let you know!

 

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Below is an amateur translation I did. It’s an excerpt from Λόγια Καρδίας (pp. 246-250), a collection of homilies by Abbess Makrina of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Odigitria in Volos, Greece. It is a beautiful story that tells of the great rewards God has prepared for those who practice patience when confronted with great trials and temptations, and the spiritual exhalation the soul experiences when we abstain from passing judgement, even on those who openly hate and harm us. 

Let’s be watchful concerning the matter of passing judgment. Let’s be very watchful concerning passing judgement! It is indescribable how fearful this matter is! “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Do we safeguard this saying? Even if we don’t have virtues, Christ will save us, He will take us into Paradise if we abstain from judging.

I will tell you something else, again from experience. Once a sister[1] in the world wanted to say something about me that didn’t happen to me; it was slander. For the glory of Christ I tell you this. Was it a temptation that put her up to it? Was it from hatred? Was it from jealousy that she did it? In any case, I said many, many prayers for her, I mean many prayers. I cried neither for my father, nor for my mother as much as I cried for this sister. With much pain I cried and I said: “My God, save me, help me, give me strength.” The prophet David said: “Deliver me from the slander of men and I will keep thy commandments” (Ps. 119: 134). I felt a great deal of pain inside.

I saw her coming to me in a vision. Her face had two indentations on account of her tears. It was so real! In the indentations she had clots of perspiration. Her whole face was covered in perspiration and black from suffering and fatigue. She had a sack on her back, too heavy to be lifted. And as soon as I saw her, I wanted to go and help her, to lift the weight from below, but it was like a stone wall and the weight lay there immovable. I said to her: “You are tired!”

“Yes, I am tired of lifting this weight!” she said. It was a stone like the porters used to carry on their backs a long time ago.

She said to me, “This evening is the Queen’s reception and she wants you to go.”

“The Queen wants me?” I asked.

And suddenly a vehicle arrived, not like any carriage or car, it was very different, and Gerontissa Theophano was sitting inside. She looked like a young child, like a young lady of fifteen years. She said: “Come, the Queen will have us at the reception this evening.”

I made the sign of the cross and I got into the vehicle. We proceeded to a beautiful turnpike. I saw a church in front of us – it was like looking at the church of Panagia in Tinos – such a nice church, it was bright, resplendent! I made the sign of the cross as I passed by. Across the way, toward the east, was what seemed to be a palace. The door to the palace was huge, just as doors are in large buildings. There in the middle of the doorway was the Queen, who, from her neck up I couldn’t see on account of the light of her face, because she was shining so brightly. I saw her resplendent sandals; she wore a feloni[2] and vest, each had two inches of piping embroidered around them.

Two lines were configured in front of her: one line with children who were wearing lace and ribbon in their hair, dressed just as the angels are, while the other line seemed to be composed of widows[3], as though they were nuns, wearing monastic clothing, just like we wear.

I started toward the nuns and they told me it wasn’t my turn yet, I would go when it was my turn. Suddenly I heard chanting, “This is the day of the Resurrection, let us be radiant…” And the Queen began to say, “Come martyrs to the platform, come great-martyrs!” They were taking her blessing and going to the platform. From within the palace was heard, “This is the day of the Resurrection…”

When I approached, I took the hand of the Queen: her slender hand, those nails, that gentle hand has been imprinted on my soul. Padding me on the back she said, “Patience, patience, patience.” Then she addressed one of her maids of honour: “Escort Maria[4] to the royal garden.”

I paused for a moment to see where they were chanting “This is the day of the Resurrection”. And I saw that inside the palace a banquet was laid out with very beautiful white tablecloths. What could you desire that the banquet didn’t have!

I lingered to listen and the maid took me by the hand and said, “That is for the martyrs, those who endured great temptations” and she gave me to understand that patience is needed. Afterward she took me to the royal garden, and I saw a vast place which had something like lilies, the brown lily had a cross. Just as the wind blew, so the lilies swayed. A vast place: green, beautiful, enchanted! Within this beautiful exhalation which I found myself, the sorrow in my soul fled, and pleasantness and joy came!

In the morning I went and found this sister who had slandered me, and hugged and kissed her. I didn’t know what to do for her; I didn’t know how to thank her for the false words she had said, I really didn’t know.

This experience stayed in my soul and from that time I have kept the commandment of God: judge not, so as not to be judged – even if I see the act committed in front of me, whatever I happen to see in front of me.

That which I saw in the vision stirred me and left me such comfort. I forgot everything. A purity entered into my nous, a passionlessness, a peacefulness, a heavenly thing entered my soul and I didn’t know how to thank that sister who was the cause of such good.

And I say what a good thing it is for someone to be patient! For this reason the Queen said, “Come martyrs of Christ, come great-martyrs of Christ, enter into the platform…” How can I have the boldness to touch such a banquet? It was the banquet for the martyrs who had struggled, who had endured martyrdom and for whom God had prepared greatness!

[1]Although Gerontissa calls this woman “sister” it seems that she was a laywoman.

[2]A feloni (φελόνι) is a chasuble, which in its origin was a traveling garment in the late Roman Empire. It is like a poncho, a circular garment with a hole in the middle for the head.

[3]It is a tradition in Greece for widows to wear black head-scarfs and dress.

[4]Gerontissa Macrina’s name before monastic tonsure was Maria.

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Below is an interview Olga Rozhneva (frequent contributor on pravloslavie.ru) conducted with a Russian monk at the Holy Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Anthony the Great in Arizona, Hierodeacon Seraphim. Originally in Russian, it was translated into English by Jesse Dominick and posted on Orthodox Christianity. A large portion is re-posted below; to read the full article click here

(Source—Fr. Seraphim, the providence of God is at work in the life of every man, but sometimes it is hidden and sometimes it clearly reveals itself in some kind of sign, remarkable encounters, or words. Did you have such signs—a clear manifestation of God’s providence for you in your life?

—You know, the Lord leads every man to Himself when the most opportune moment for him comes. I was born in Moscow. In childhood, like my peers, I was an Octobrist, Pioneer, and Young Communist. I graduated from the Moscow Aviation-Technological Institute with a diploma in mechanical engineering for aircraft engines. I started to get involved in various religious currents, but didn’t arrive at Orthodoxy.

In 1995 a professor of physics from Chicago, David Chesek, came to Moscow. He was a very good Catholic and wonderful family man with eight kids. He died two years ago. We got acquainted, having similar interests in physics, and he invited me to America to study and work. He helped me with my visa.

I was twenty-three and had the opportunity to travel to another country, live and study there, and receive some life experience. The Lord allowed me to do all of it.

Several American universities cooperate with various companies where the companies pay the universities for research. The university in Alabama, where I began to study, collaborated with automotive companies. They looked for students who would do research along with their studies, so they paid for my education and gave me a salary for work in the metal casting department. This was the most ideal option for me. I rented a small house from a family, studied for seven years and received my masters and doctorate. I was offered work at General Motors.

But the Lord already had other plans for me. In America I studied and worked, worked and studied, and was deprived of those human consolations I had in my homeland: interaction with my parents and relatives and friends. People who move to other countries lose these comforts they had at home.

Any Orthodox country is a country of collective communication. You know, you can just drop by a friend’s without calling, and you’ll drink some tea in the kitchen and have a heart-to-heart… But western countries are societies of individualists: “Hello,” “Goodbye.” There’s parties, but the conversation is very superficial. And no matter how well you speak English, you always feel that you’re from another culture.

Being without these human consolations, you begin to look for them in God. My mom, learning of my interest in faith, advised me to get baptized.

When the Lord wants to bring someone to Himself, He creates such circumstances, arranges meetings through which the man can begin to recognize Him. I made some Russian friends, and they turned out to be Baptists. I was always very curious, and here I wanted to immediately know: where is truth? After all, there can’t be several truths. I started to attend the catechumen courses at the Orthodox church and learned about Church history and doctrine. I compared and analyzed, and realized that the truth is in Orthodoxy. I received Holy Baptism.

My life changed dramatically. Prestigious work at General Motors didn’t entice me anymore. I didn’t want to stay with the university department—I had developed an interest in monasticism.

—And why did you choose the Monastery of St. Anthony the Great?

—Once my spiritual father, Archpriest Alexander Fekanin, the rector of the church of St. Symeon the New Theologian in Birmingham, advised me to go to St. Anthony’s Monastery. My first time there I was twenty-six. I met the founder of the monastery, Elder Ephraim—a spiritual child of Venerable Elder Joseph the Hesychast. I said to him in broken Greek: “Father, I want to become a monk,” and he blessed me.

I came here a few more times; I liked it, but I was confused: I wasn’t sure that I was supposed to stay in this monastery. I even wanted to return to Russia and enter seminary.

I had just graduated from my university in Alabama, and after my defense and all my work I felt tired, and my spiritual father blessed me to go on vacation to the west coast. California is a huge, beautiful state: mountains, the Grand Canyon, nature, monasteries… I went to St. Anthony’s and told the fathers that soon, after my vacation, I was going to Russia, and rented a car and drove to California.

I went to the convent of the Lifegiving Spring Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, which Elder Ephraim had also founded, in 1993. There I met one mother, Schemanun Fevronia, who bore obedience in the guest house. We started talking, and I told her: “You know, I’m soon returning to Russia,” to which she replied: “You forget to add a phrase.” “What phrase, mother?” “If it’s God’s will”…

I spent three days there, and somehow Mother Fevronia, and she was a spiritually experienced person, began to talk with me about the monastic life. At the end of the conversation I felt like she wanted to tell me something, but she wasn’t saying it. It’s a sign of a spiritual person, to not enforce his point of view, but to wait until you ask. And if you ask, then he answers. That is, he speaks to those who are ready to listen.

I went to San Francisco and wrote a letter to St. John of Shanghai, requesting that he pray for me. Then I went to St. Anthony’s and immediately felt sure that it was “my” monastery. That’s how I wound up here.

You see, I prayed for several years, from the time I felt the pull of monastic life, that the Lord would teach me: to go to a monastery or not, and if so, which one. I prayed that the Lord would inform me about it in such a way that no doubts would remain about the correctness of my choice, and I received my answer at the most opportune moment—when I had graduated from college, when I was free to choose my path—that is, precisely when I needed it. There are many monastic testimonies that when they had chosen the monastic path in life, they couldn’t immediately leave for the monastery—some obstacles appeared for them. The Lord revealed it to me when it was most necessary, to secure my path.

It’s worth noting that when I would come to the monastery, being unprepared, I tried to meet with Elder Ephraim every time, but he didn’t want to receive me at all. And when I was finally ready to choose my path, the elder immediately received me. And moreover, he summoned me himself and instructed me.

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—Could you tell us about the elder’s instructions?

—I told him I had been baptized as an adult, and he anxiously asked if I had been baptized by full immersion. It was obvious that it’s important to him. When I answered affirmatively he began to smile and joked about me being tall: “And where did they find some a large font?”

He gave me a few pieces of advice for beginning the monastic life. Perhaps they’ll be useful for your readers, because they can be applied to monks or to laypeople. The elder stressed the importance of preserving your conscience everywhere: at work, during our obediences. He advised me to keep that initial zeal with the help of obedience to a spiritual father and unceasing prayer. He said that ascetics have three enemies: the world, the evil one, and our own selves—our passionate nature.

He emphasized that, taking care for our salvation, we mustn’t waste time doing nothing. He gave the example of one nun (I suspect he was talking about his mother, Nun Theophano). When this nun would hear the chiming on the hour, she would say to herself: “Another hour has passed, and I’m another hour closer to death.” Thus she kept the memory of death, helping her to never forget the salvation of her soul.

In September 2002 I arrived at the monastery and became a worker, working in the kitchen. After four months the elder blessed me with the novice’s cassock and gave me an obedience in the bookstore: book orders, receive pilgrims. I speak in English and Greek, so I can also answer phone calls and take care of the mail. In 2012 I received the monastic tonsure and in January 2015 I was ordained a hierodeacon. Perhaps, that’s it… I can tell a few more stories about the providence of God.

—Allow me to thank you, Fr. Seraphim, for the interesting and soul-profiting conversation. What would you wish for the readers of Pravoslavie.ru?

—In Russia, especially amongst the laity, we lost the tradition of the Jesus Prayer. Even some priests look askance at laypeople who carry a prayer rope in their hands. They consider the Jesus Prayer with a prayer rope a monastic tradition, and are afraid of prelest.[1]

Our spiritual father, Elder Ephraim, blesses laity to engage in the Jesus Prayer, to the extent, of course, that their life in the world, work and family allow them. The elder explains that there’s no danger for those praying at the beginning stages of the Jesus Prayer, when a person says it orally, when he has a small prayer rule he does at home or on the road.

Usually our spiritual fathers bless laity new in the faith with a daily rule to do at home in the morning or in the evening. It’s about 50—150 Jesus Prayers with the Sign of the Cross at each knot, and 50—150 prayers to the Mother of God, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us,” also with the Sign of the Cross on each knot, and 20—50 prostrations with the Jesus Prayer and Sign of the Cross at every prostration. You should fulfill this rule given by the spiritual father, and not change it arbitrarily.

The rest of the day you walk around the streets, ride on the bus, in the subway, and pray to yourself, with a small prayer rope in your hand, or without one. When there’s no one else around, it’s useful to say the prayer out loud, quietly. It helps the mind to concentrate on the words of the prayer and not get lost in dreams. The main condition is a feeling of repentance. Don’t strive for spiritual achievements, but ask for mercy and forgiveness of sins.

Elder Ephraim also strongly recommends (and for us it’s part of the monastic rule) to read the Akathist to the Mother of God every day, that she might shield us from all evil, and also when we have to go somewhere.

We had a novice here in the monastery, a Greek (he’s a monk now). During obediences and at other times he often said the Akathist to the Mother of God aloud, which he knew by heart. One night he was walking around the monastery, praying his favorite Akathist aloud. He went a little beyond the bounds of the monastery, and not noticing it in the dark, stepped on a rattle snake. Usually if a snake touches you, it bites you. But a miracle occurred here: the Mother of God covered the novice and the snake didn’t bite him, but simply slithered away. That’s the benefit of reading the Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos.

God bless!

Olga Rozhneva spoke with Hierodeacon Seraphim (Molibog)
Translated by Jesse Dominick Pravoslavie.ru 12/8/2016

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This beautiful article (and the photos that accompany it) is on our holy mother among the saints, Abbess Makrina of Portaria. As many of my readers know, I love blessed Makrina very much and so I wanted to share this lovely article.Eldress Macrina

(Source) Chosen of God from her mother’s womb

The blessed eldress experienced many sorrows—her parents’ untimely death, mortal illnesses, hunger, the horrors of war, and hard physical labor.

She was chosen of God from her mother’s womb. When Maria was only seven years old, during prayers with other children she heard an inner voice calling her to the angelic life of monasticism. At that same moment, the girl experienced a divine presence in her heart and began to weep with copious tears. She left her friends, ran home, and fell weeping before the holy icons.

On the same evening, after her father had returned home, Maria told him that she would like to become a nun. When her father asked whether she knew what it meant to become a nun, his little daughter didn’t answer. Then he understood that this was a call from God. He smiled at Maria, and strengthening her holy desire said, “Be a good nun, my child!”

How Maria was healed from a mortal illness

From her earliest childhood, Maria always had great reverence for the Most Pure Theotokos. During the German occupation, the girl was diagnosed with pleurisy. Once she was sitting alone in a dark room, dying from hunger and praying to the Mother of God, peacefully waiting for her to take her from this life. At a certain moment the room was filled with light, and Maria saw a nun who came up to her and lovingly promised to heal her. In a moment the pain and feeling of hunger disappeared, and Maria felt as if she had just eaten a satisfying dinner. After this miraculous vision she was also healed of that serious case of pleurisy.

I have never seen such pure thoughts in any other person.”

The blessed eldress was closely acquainted with several Greek ascetics of piety, several of whom have recently been glorified as saints by the Church. When she first met the now canonized St. Paisios the Hagiorite and made a full prostration to the ground before him, the elder responded quickly by making a full prostration before her. He would not rise until the eldress rose first. St. Paisios reposed only two months after blessed Macrina’s soul had passed to eternity.* When he heard about the blessed nun’s reposed, the saint said, “there will not be another one like her.”

The blessed elder Iakovos (Tsalikis) of Euboa said to some people who lived near Abbess Macrina’s monastery, “If I were you I would walk every day to the monastery to receive a blessing from Eldress Macrina before going to work.” St. Porphyrios of Kapsokalyvia and Elder Ieronymos of blessed memory both also spoke very highly of Gerondissa Macrina.

Elder Ephraim of Arizona wrote of blessed Macrina: “She was an extraordinarily virtuous person and was distinguished by her humility, meekness, attentiveness, and ceaseless prayer. She had a wondrous purity of mind. I have never seen such pure thoughts in any other person.”

Abbess Macrina’s monastery became a “divine nursery”.

Thanks to Abbess Macrina, the Panagia Hodigitria Monastery became a “divine nursery,” out of which grew several new monasteries in the U.S. and Canada. Today in the Greek Archdiocese of North America there are already ten convents, and all of them trace their history to St. Joseph the Hesychast.

Five stories of the blessed eldress Macrina.

We would like to share with you, dear readers, several stories that blessed Macrina related to her spiritual children for their edification.

The first story, about the pious widow

One day a widow heard someone knocking at her door. When she opened it she saw a young, pregnant woman whom she had never seen before. The woman said to her, weeping, “You are my mother, you are my protector, you are my salvation!” Without any hesitation the widow let the woman into her home and over the next few months secretly took care of her. Every evening when it was dark outside, she took the woman out for a walk so that she would remain strong and healthy, but in such a way that no one else would see her. Not long before the woman gave birth, with her consent the widow found a pious couple who agreed to adopt the child.

Soon afterwards, the widow’s son, who lived in America, contacted her and asked her to find him a good and pious girl to take in marriage. His mother asked him to come to Greece as soon as possible, because she had found him a wonderful girl whom he could marry. Before introducing him to the young woman, she told him all about how she had met the girl, and that she had given birth out of wedlock.

At first the son was disturbed, because he couldn’t believe his mother would choose a bride for him who had already lost her purity. But she was able to convince him that this was God’s will and that they would live happily together. So, the marriage took place in the widow’s village, and then the son returned to the United States with his young wife.

During that year of 1919, a flu pandemic broke out in Europe resulting in 20 million deaths, and the pious widow became one of those victims. Since her son could not arrive in time for his mother’s funeral, he decided to come when her body would be exhumed after three years for internment in the ossuary (according to the Greek tradition).

When three years later they were nearing the place of burial, the air was filled with a wondrous fragrance that everyone noticed. But that was not the entire miracle: God had covered the widow’s bones with a filigree of pure gold. When her son’s wife saw this she fell to the ground on her knees, broke into tears and said to all, “This is because she protected me!” When this became known, a multitude of people came from all over Greece to venerate the pious widow, and they became the witnesses of this event. This included many bishops and priests!

How many wounded souls Gerondissa Macrina “protected” with her unconditional love! And how many more does she continue to protect with her constant intercession and prayer for us before the heavenly throne of God!

The blessed eldress always taught her sisters and those who came to her for spiritual advice to give glory to God for all things: for the so-called good and the so-called bad. Here is a story she related regarding this:

In one of the villages near her monastery there lived a pious couple who had a ten-year-old son. Their next-door neighbor was an old woman with an intolerable personality. She was constantly berating everyone, angrily and unfairly scolding her neighbors, and when their son would return from school she would throw sticks and stones at him.

One day the father turned to God with fervent prayer and decided to ask Him how to deal with that old woman’s bad temper. The Lord answered him, “She will live another thirty years!” And what was the man’s response to this news? He unmurmuringly said, “Glory to God!” He shared God’s answer with his wife and she likewise said, “Glory to God!” When the son came home from school and heard the news about God’s answer to his father’s prayer he also said, “Glory to God!”

The next day, total silence reigned in the old woman’s house. She did not go outside to pour out her wrath upon her neighbors. The father went to see how she was doing and discovered that she had apparently died in her sleep. He began to pray to God in order to understand how this could happen, and the Lord said to him, “When you answered, ‘Glory to God!’ I shortened her life by ten years. When your wife gave the same reply I took away another ten years. And when your son said the same thing and also glorified Me, I took away the final ten years of her life.”

The third story, about the need for struggle with the spirit of contradiction

There is another story that Eldress Macrina often retold about the prophet Moses. When Moses was with the Israelites in the desert, they were dying of thirst. God commanded the prophet Moses to strike his staff against the rock so that a spring of water would come out. The prophet doubted: “Is it possible for water to come out of a rock?”

During her pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the blessed Eldress Macrina went to find this place. She called it the “rock of contradiction”.

Moses did not show immediate obedience to the Lord—he showed it late. Afterwards the Lord said to him, “Because you gainsaid Me you will never enter Canaan, the Promised Land.”

The eldress said that we should war with the spirit of contradiction and try to always show obedience. That is why obedience is the first and foremost thing taught in a monastery.

This story was told by the eldress’s spiritual daughter Alexandra Lagou, professor of medical history at the University of Medicine of Ioannina in Greece. One of blessed Macrina’s favorite teachings was about God’s great goodness—it was often found in her talks. She often spoke a great deal about patience. I remember how she taught me with her characteristic gentleness. “Is there any end to God’s great goodness? No! So should human patience also be endless.”

I remember, after 1992, when blessed Macrina went to America to see Gerondissa Taxiarchia of blessed memory. The flight over the ocean that lasted many hours produced such a strong impression on her that later she said to me, “What a miracle that is: You fly and fly, and beneath you is nothing but ocean! God’s great goodness is endless like the ocean. So should human patience be endless, like the ocean.”

Many times at the end of our talks I would incline my head on her knees so that she would bless me, and she would bless me and say, “Like an enormous ocean, like great rivers and valleys, may the Lord grant us so much patience.” At the word “patience” she would use the plural. She would also say, “The grace of patience is the strongest grace,” because patience is at the foundation of all virtues. We cannot perform a single virtue without patience.

The fifth story, about Maria’s miraculous healing

Many of blessed Macrina’s instructions point to the primary importance of prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer. The eldress often emphasized the acute need for us to have “spiritual assertiveness”, in praying the Jesus prayer and in the reading of our daily prayer rule. Here is one of her favorite stories, which she would relate when talking about prayer.

One woman named Maria had a stroke, after which she remained totally paralyzed below the waist and to some degree on her upper right side. Eldress Macrina had taught her five years before her stroke to repeat the Jesus prayer and the prayer, Most Holy Theotokos, save us” as often as possible throughout the day, and when some essential need has arisen.

So now, confined to her bed and motionless, with her prayer rope in her left hand, Maria ceaselessly, with pain and boldness, called out, “Most Holy Theotokos, help me!” and “Most Holy Theotokos, save me, a sinner!”

After several days of this heartfelt prayer, one time the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to her during her prayers. She was radiant, bright as the sun, and followed by a multitude of Angels and Archangels; and Maria felt that the Mother of God literally covers and protects the whole world!

The Most Holy Theotokos said with her heavenly voice, “Maria, my child, what can I do for you?” This pious woman at first asked her to give her back her ability to turn from one side to the other, because she was in great pain. But then she started begging, “In fact, most of all I want to be saved. I thirst for salvation, and that’s why I am calling out to You.” And our most kind Protectress replied, “I will give you what you ask; that is what I came for, because you called to me day and night. I want all of you to call to Me! Call out to Me constantly, and I will hear you and come to you.”

The entire room and the whole house were filled with radiance and a heavenly fragrance that came from the Mother of God. But in the words of the blessed Eldress Macrina, all of this woman’s family members were witnesses to this living miracle. The heavenly fragrance remained in the house for many days, especially in the sick woman’s room. Maria’s face shone with the grace she had received. She not only began gradually to turn from one side to the other, but in just a few days she was completely healed and rose from her bed of pain.

At the end of this story, Gerondissa Macrina concluded that the Most Holy Theotokos wants for EVERYONE to call upon Her for help. The eldress said, “What did she say? ‘I want you all to call upon Me. I want you to call me, and then I will hear you and come. I want you to call to Me, ‘Help me, Most Holy Theotokos, Most Holy Theotokos save me, Most Holy Theotokos save my child,’ and tell Me everything you want from the depths of your heart’.”

The blessed eldress showed through this story that the Most Holy Theotokos WANTS for us to turn to Her and She promises us that She will help us by her presence!

Through the prayers of blessed Gerondissa Macrina, Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Prepared by Olga Rozhneva, Olga Zatushevskaya
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

* St. Paisios actually reposed one year prior to that of Gerontissa Makrina.

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small-book

There is a new book published by St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery on the departure of the soul that I wish to draw your attention to. It is called The Departure of the Soul: According to the Teaching of the Orthodox Church. This book not only contains numerous citations of Scripture, liturgical services, Patristic writings, and lives of the saints but also includes photos of many beautiful icons from monasteries and manuscripts depicting, in colour, the great mystery of death. My personal favourite is the chapter which contains about 140 pages of excerpts from the lives of the saints, many of whom are Irish.

This book is a reference edition that aids the reader in locating important sources of information on the departure of the soul at death. It will not, necessarily, be read from cover to cover but contains a treasury of wisdom that will doubtlessly help both pastor and layman obtain insights into the final moments every person born into the world will have to endure.

Here is a small excerpt:

st. john chrys

The publisher has put together a website which offers excerpts, numerous endorsements, and images of icons depicting the aerial toll-houses. You can visit the website here.

You can order your copy here.

We thank the brotherhood of St. Anthony’s Monastery for undertaking such a great and lengthy work. May this book help us “pray to our Lord,” as Abbott Paisios writes in the Prolegomea, “that His infinite mercy may prevail at that inevitable hour, and that we may also be receptive of this great mercy.” Amen, so be it!

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