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Archive for the ‘Hymns and Prayers’ Category

(Soure) Valeriu Gafencu was born on the 24th of January* 1921, in the Northern part of Romania, near the Russian border of that time. His parents were both active Orthodox Christians. His father was to be deported to Siberia by the Russians in 1940 for his pro-Romanian activity. When he was in high-school, Valeriu joined an Orthodox youth organization called the Cross Brotherhoods, and, when this became illegal during the second World War, he was arrested and condemned to 25 years of hard labour. He was only 20 and, at his trial, his fellow students and teachers would come and defend him, pointing out his innocence and wonderful human qualities. At first he was sent to a prison called Aiud.

The first years were a time to reflect upon his Christian legacy. He would soon become engaged in a life of prayer, while avidly reading the Fathers of the Church. During the war, although Romania had a dictatorial regime, prison life was not so strict and some fundamental human rights were still considered: the prisoners could go to the prison’s church, confess to a priest and receive the Holy Communion and also meet with each other and read books of their own choice. So Valeriu read a lot: the Holy Bible, the first 4 volumes of the Philokalia (which were then just being translated into Romanian by another holy figure of the church, Father Dumitru Staniloaie, who would also encounter the communist prisons some years later) and other Church Fathers.

Valeriu spent time in Aiud prison, Pitesti prison, and finally died at Tirgu Ocna prison. Much could be said about this holy person, but for the time being we will let his poetry be an example of the great spiritual depth he acquired through suffering.

I offer three excerpts of the saint’s own writings regarding his experiences and expression of Christmas during his years as a prisoner. These are taken from the book The Saint of the Prisons:

Christmas 1945 (A letter from Valeriu)

It is night. I have just finished reading the Akathist to the Lord. Christmas was more beautiful than a fairy tale. Spiritually, I feel better prepared than I have in other situations. Through the weight of the suffering I endureed for the resurrection of my soul, I felt the resposibility that bore down on me for the salvation of my soul, and those of my family, relavtives, friends, enemies, all people.

And the more I climbed up the ladder of ideals, the more I saw my own smallness, my sinfulness, while I saw the ideal ever more lofty, perfect: Christ! And behold, little by little, all ideals of my adolence came tumbling down. My struggle with sin removed the veil that covered my eyes and what remained before me, vivid and serene, was the icon of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Thus we succeeded in establishing peace with all our neighbours, through being trod underfoot, through recognizing our sins, through love. And I felt so much peace on Friday, when I stood before the priest! Many of us received Communion. What a great day, what a beautiful day! I experienced it fully, with all the blessings sent by the Lord!

First Christmas Poem:

O roaming star from the East,

With white rays of gold,

Glides toward the bright blue

Of the heavens vividly blooming.

And the star announces the Child Messiah

Born of the Virgin Mary.

A gentle lamb looks at Him and wants to kiss

The child bathed in light.

A mother with her child at breast,

Pure in love, looks with wonder

At the fulfillment of the Annunciation.

A Holy Child is born in the starry night

Of the Holy Virgin and the Holy Spirit;

The true Word of Father

Comes down today on earth

A beacon forever lit!

Second Christmas Poem:

In the heart of the servant

The Lord makes His manger

On the night of Christmas…

Lilies rain down from heaven

Upon His new manger

And dew drops down from heaven.

May the holy, suffering martyr Valeriu bestow upon us his blessing!

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Father John and I hope and pray you all have a very Blessed Feast of the Holy Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We thank you all for your continued prayers and encouragement and glorify God for His great goodness in connecting us with so many of you.

Please keep our ministry and our wonderful parishioners in your prayers!

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0711euphemiaOn this day in the Holy Orthodox Church we commemorate the miracle that occurred at the tomb of the Holy Virgin-Martyr, Euphemia the All-Praised. You can read about the miracle here. Below is a poem written in the virgin-martyr’s honour by St. Nikolai Velimirovich.

O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,

an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.

Neither did she cry out nor sigh, nor did she sorrow,

but gave warm thanks to God for her tortures.

Angels then appeared to her standing in the flame,

and extinguished the embers with refreshing rain.

O such is our golden faith: invincible;

O such is the love for God: unquenchable.

O wise virgin Euphemia, virgin of Christ,

He gave you the Kingdom for your suffering.

You have boldness before the Lord and the Mother of God,

and you help them in their work by your holy prayers.

O all-blessed Euphemia, pray for sinners,

and convert them, O holy one, to repentance.

O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,

an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

Paraclesis1

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As the Lord went to His voluntary Passion, He said to His apostles on the way:“Behold we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of man shall give Himself up as it is written of Him.”Come then and let us journey with Him with pure minds, let us be crucified with Him and die for His sake to the pleasures of this life,that we may also live with Him and hear Him say, “No longer do I ascend to the earthly Jerusalem to suffer, but I ascend to My Father and your Father and to My God and your God and I shall raise you up to the Jerusalem on high in the Kingdom of heaven”.

I wish you all ‘Good Strength’ for Holy Week and a ‘Good Resurrection’! I hope and pray we all experience being risen to “the Jerusalem on high” through our efforts to “ponder in our hearts” (Lk. 2:19) the great mysteries of our God during these holy days.

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Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Today Christ is born of the Virgin in Bethlehem.

Today He who knows no beginning now begins to be,

and the Word is made flesh.

The powers of heaven greatly rejoice,

and the earth with mankind makes glad.

The Magi offer gifts, the shepherds proclaim the marvel,

and we cry aloud without ceasing:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.

(by John the Monk)

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orthodoxpathAs quite a few readers of Lessons from a Monastery are from various countries and know various languages, I wanted to introduce you to a new website called The Orthodox Path, a multilingual Orthodox website. It is a great resource and has made spiritual articles available in many languages, including Greek, English, German, Albanian, Romanian, Turkish, as well as others. Below is just one of the website’s many jewels. It is a translation of a talk given by the renowned Elder Symeon of Panorama. Enjoy!

People today are complicated, multi-faceted, confused, and in one way or another, their souls are layered: layer upon layer of blindness, layer upon layer of callousness, layer upon layer of pride. For this reason they are never healed once and for all. As soon as you take a humble attitude, though, Grace intervenes and works a miracle: you are freed. But the work does not end here. This Grace, this light, this healing that comes proceeds also to the next layer further down. And here the sin is more unyielding, is more strongly rooted, the resistance is uncompromising. If you say, “May it be blessed, My God. I will look even deeper and I will acknowledge my stubbornness and my sin, and will humble myself”, then another miracle takes place. And in some incomprehensible way, the second and the third, the fourth and the fifth layers of the soul are put right. But some people will not accept this. They remain at the superficial layers, and spend their life like this and are never healed.” 

Transcribed talks by Arch. Symeon Kragiopoulos (trans. by Fr. Matthew Penney)

Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers, may we have the courage to continually look deep within ourselves and receive the grace of healing!

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