Archive for the ‘Like Footnotes’ Category

When I asked if he knew the words to the Akathist hymn to the Most Holy Theotokos – since it is common in Greece for many faithful and monastics to have this hymn memorized – Elder Isidoros the Blind of Philotheou monastery on Mt. Athos answered:

“No, I know Kyrie Isou Xriste eleison me (Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me).”

I bowed my head and felt a little ashamed of my question. But impressed by his simplicity and natural humility, I marveled at his childlikeness. He knew the most important prayer – supplication for God’s mercy while prophesying the Divine Incarnation of the Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

Learning that  prayer well would be sufficient I believe.

“The goal of this all-virtuous work [namely, prayer] is to turn and keep the mind of man on God. For this purpose our Fathers devised easier methods and simplified the prayer, so that the mind might more easily and more firmly turn to and remain in God.

…Primarily for this reason they selected just a few words in a single, simple prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”, so that the mind would not require a great effort in order to hold on to a long, protracted prayer.

…I repeat once again my exhortation to all who love God and their salvation not to put off trying this good labor and practice for the sake of the Grace and mercy which it holds out to as many as will strive a bit at this work. I say this to them for courage, that they don’t hesitate or become fainthearted due to the bit of resistance or weariness which they will encounter. Contemporary elders that we have known had many disciples living in the world, men and women, married and single, who not only arrived at the beginning state but rose to higher levels through the Grace and compassion of our Christ. “It is a trifle in the eyes of the Lord to make a poor man rich.” (Sir. 11:23) I think that in today’s chaos of such turmoil, denial and unbelief there exists no simpler and easier spiritual practice that is feasible for almost all people, with such a multitude of benefit and opportunity for success, than this small prayer.” (Prayer of the Heart for the Faithful Living in the World, written by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi moanstery, Mt. Athos)

(If you enjoyed the above little anecdote about Elder Isidoros the Blind, and would like to read more – including stories that elaborate on my conversations with this holy, God-seeing Elder – I think you’ll enjoy my upcoming book, The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery.)

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Newly-revealed incorrupt relics of Elder Visarion

I am so pleased that Khouria Frederica Mathews-Green interviewed Fr. Dn. Mark and Matushka Elizabeth Barna on their book, a manual for Ancient Christian burial! Finally, conversation about the sacredness of the reposed Christian body is springing up. I haven’t read the book myself, I just learned about it from this interview. But I will purchase it as soon as I can. It’s so important for us, as Orthodox Christians, to know how to prepare a body, and to know what is inappropriate treatment of Christian bodies.

You know, cremation was illegal in Greece until six years ago. The parliament legalized it on March 1, 2006. And, almost as a testament against it, incorrupt relics of Elder Visarion (see above photo) of the Holy Monastery of Agathon, outside Evlomia, Greece, were discovered the very same day! He had died 15 years earlier, but when exhumed his body was found intact. My godmother is the one who took and sent me these photos of him, a year before my husband and I moved here.  Let the photos speak for themselves: the Holy Spirit lives in His chosen ones! (To hear a wonderful podcast on this very topic, go here, where Fr. Peter Heers speaks about Cremation and Relics).

If we burn our bodies like the pagans, how will holy relics, like the newly-revealed Visarion, remain as witnesses to the indwelling of the All-holy Spirit? We must honour and cherish the body even at the very end, our death. Which, we know to be the true beginning.

Holy hands clutch the Holy Gospel even after death

This past summer, while staying at a holy monastery, we had a conversation with the Abbess about burial and the inappropriate practices she had witnessed in the past. She spoke about how important it is for us to treat the body with respect, since it is (still) the temple of the Holy Spirit. She also told us some disturbing stories about what goes on at some funeral homes.

She told us about a priest she knows who went to the funeral home to pick up the body of his bishop (who was being prepared by the funeral home). When he arrived he couldn’t find anyone available so he went into the room and saw his bishop’s body hanging. I won’t mention the other details. Suffice it to say the priest was horrified.


The Abbess also told us about a baby that was brought to her monastery after its preparation by a funeral home. Gerondissa (the Abbess) told us she opened the casket to see the child and was dumbfounded when she saw the baby merely wrapped in a blanket with no clothes on. Worse still was that the infant was covered in chemicals. When Gerondissa asked the funeral home why, they told her they couldn’t inject the body with the chemicals because the veins were too small, so they just rubbed the chemicals on the outside of the body. Well, Gerondissa took the baby and washed and clothed it herself. Then she told the funeral home to never bring her a body like that again.

I don’t blame the funeral homes. I understand they must look at reposed bodies as business, not as something sacred. But we as Orthodox Christians must see them for what they are, and treat them with the respect they deserve.

I am so overjoyed at the work Father Dn. Mark and his Matushka Elizabeth are doing. May God bless them a hundredfold for their incredible ministry, and for taking the time to write a book that will be helpful to many more Christians wanting to treat the bodies of their loved ones with appropriate love and respect. I encourage you all to at very least listen to the interview, and buy the book if you are able.

Here is the write-up about the book (taken from Amazon’s page here):

Holy feet that stood and walked in holy service to the Lord!

A handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition. While aimed at Orthodox Christians, this book would be a very helpful guide to anyone who is interested in preparing for a funeral within the context of community, without the use of corporate funeral homes, and using green and sustainable methods. From the foreward: “How should Christian people prepare for death, their own and that of loved ones? No question can be more important than this, since death is the final reality of our earthly life. Yet particularly in the United States, we tend to avoid the question as much as we can. We consider death to be brutal and tragic, whatever its circumstances and causes. It marks an end to our ambitions, while it underscores the ephemeral nature of our existence. Therefore we treat it like a “last enemy” from which there is no escape, no salvation. Death appears as a specter, a menacing evil, that evokes a reaction of dread. Written in a genial, conversational style, this book offers the Christian reader a solid foundation in both the theology and the psychology of death: its place within God’s creative and saving work, and the personal impact it makes on those facing death and those who grieve for them. It also clarifies a great many misconceptions held by most people concerning professional funeral practices, making clear that a truly “Christian ending” to our life can mean beauty and utter simplicity both in the rituals that surround it and in the burial itself. Many readers will be surprised to learn that it is not at all necessary, legally or practically, to use the services of a funeral home. There is indeed “another way,” one more in keeping with the Gospel imperative to honor the physical body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. This work includes a section on the actual preparation of the body of the deceased, together with prescribed readings of psalms and prayers, all of which can be accomplished with or without the participation of clergy. Finally, an extensive bibliography is followed by a list of items needed for preparation, as well as various post-mortem forms the reader will find indispensable.” -Fr. John Breck

What do you think? How do you plan to be buried?

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In my book, The Scent of Holiness, I mention how certain saints and holy people have a connection to other saints. Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountian (may his memory be eternal!) had a special relationship with St. Euphemia the Great Martyr, who I also love and admire very much. The above is a practice icon I painted of her when I was first teaching myself how to paint icons with egg tempra. The framing words are taken from a poem by the Serbian bishop, martyr and poet, St. Nikolaoi Velimirovitch. The nuns at the holy monastery of St. Paisius in Arizona put his poem to music on their cd Treasury of Spiritual Songs, they did a wonderful job too.
Much like St. John Chrysostom’s relationship with St. Paul the Apostle, Elder Paisios had a special relationship with the virgin-martyr Euphemia. In fact, the above icon is a copy of an icon the sisters at the holy monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti (just outside of Thessaloniki) painted of St. Euphemia under the direction of Elder Paisios. He was able to tell them what she looked like because he had seen her. Below is the story of their encounter. It is taken from HERE, but I took the liberty of editing it just to try to smooth out the tranlsation kinks.

The frequently visited grave of Elder Paisios the Athonite. Souroti, Greece

Elder Paisios and St. Euphemia

“Father Paisios was going through a very difficult time. At that time a problem had arisen in the Church and many bishops had gone to him asking for his help. However, it was a very complicated problem and even if he wanted to, he was unable to help them. As he himself said, no matter from which angle you look at the problem, you come face to face with a spiritual impasse. So, he decided to turn his efforts in solving the problem into prayer. Father Paisios constantly prayed for God to give a solution to the Church’s problem; he prayed especially to St. Ephemia:
“St. Euphemia, you who miraculously gave a solution to the serious problem the Church was facing in the fourth century, take the Church out of its current difficulty!”
One morning, at nine o’ clock, when Father Paisios was reading the service of the third hour, he suddenly heard someone discreetly knocking on his door. The Elder asked: “Who is it?”
Then, he heard a woman’s voice answering: “It is me, Euphemia, Father.”
“Which Euphemia?” he asked.
There was no answer. There was another knock on the door and again he asked: “Who is it?”
The same voice was heard saying: “It is Euphemia, Father.”
There was a third knock and the Elder felt someone coming inside his cell and walking through the corridor. He went to the door and there he saw St. Euphemia, who had miraculously entered his cell through the locked door and was venerating the icon of the Holy Trinity, which the Elder had placed on the wall of his corridor, on the right hand side of the church’s door.
Then the Elder told the saint: “Say: Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
St. Euphemia clearly repeated those words and immediately Father Paisios knelt and venerated her.
Afterwards, they sat and talked for quite a while; he could not specify for how long, as he had lost all sense of time while being  in the presence of the saint. She gave the solution for all three matters he had been praying about.
In the end he said to her: “I would like you to tell me how you endured your martyrdom.”
The saint replied:“Father, if I knew back then how eternal life would be, and the heavenly beauty souls close to God enjoy, I honestly would have asked for my martyrdom to last for ever, as it was absolutely nothing compared to God’s gifts of grace!”

(The following is taken from HERE). “Towards the end of June, the doctors informed [Elder Paisios] that he had about 2-3 weeks left. On Monday, July 11, on St. Ephemia’s day, Father Paisios received Holy Communion for the last time, kneeling in front of his bed. During the last 24 hours, he was very serene, and even though he suffered, he did not complain at all. He did not wish to take any more medication. The only medicine he accepted was cortisone, because, according to the doctors, it would not prolong his life span, but it would only give him some strength. On Tuesday, July 12, Elder Paisios humbly and peacefully rendered his soul to God, whom he had deeply loved and served since his early childhood.”

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As I explain in detail in my book, The Scent of Holiness, I managed to meet Elder Evsevios before he reposed. Prior to his death he was sought after by many souls seeking comfort and consolation. I, though unworthy, was  granted the blessing of not only meeting him but hearing a homily he gave and of speaking with him very briefly in private. The memory of his soft hands and piercing eyes have remained forever in my heart.

Since my feeble words cannot properly convey his holiness, nor his pure and all-consuming love for Christ our God, I have taken the liberaty of copying a translation of one of his poems for our spiritual benefit. It was translated by a classmate of mine, Michael Tishel. May God grant him many blessings for his effort in bringing the inspiring writing of a contemporary saint to the English-speaking world!

Before the Crucified One by Elder Evsevios Vittis (+2009)                                                                                                     Translation © by M. Tishel taken from his blog One Pilgrim to Greece…

O soul, you who are weary and saddened by many things that, out of politeness, you would rather not mention. Instead, you hold them within you, not wanting to offend, hurt or scandalize any other soul around you–from near or far. You, o restless soul, who search for peace, run to the Crucified One, the Sweet Jesus; kneel before Him with contrition. Tell Him the following words with courage, slowly, purely, and honestly, and with steadfast faith that you will be heard:

O Lord my Jesus, meek and humble in heart, I wholeheartedly beg and beseech You:

Release me from the desire to be admired by others.
Release me from the desire to be loved by others.
Release me from the desire to be sought out by others.
Release me from the desire to be honored by others.
Release me from the desire to be praised by others.
Release me from the desire to be preferred by others.
Release me from the desire to give advise to others.
Release me from the desire to be commended by others.
Release me from the desire to be cared for by others.

Release me from the fear that they will humiliate me.
Release me from the fear that they will scorn me.
Release me from the fear that they will reject me.
Release me from the fear that they will slander me.
Release me from the fear that they will forget me.
Release me from the fear that they will offend me.
Release me from the fear that they will suspect me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be loved more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be esteemed more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that the good view of others increase, and that my own decrease.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be put to use more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be praised more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be remembered, and not me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be preferred and chosen over me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others make progress in virtue more than me, if of course I could achieve something like that on my own.

O soul, you who art hurt and wounded by that which you have inflicted on yourself, if the Lord hears you–and he will hear you if your prayer is genuine, honest, fervent and comes from the depths of who you are–

–how much peace will reign in your heart!
–how much serenity will take root inside of you!
–how much tranquility will be painted on your face!
–and amongst all of the events of your life, how many blissful moments will you experience, both large and small!

Don’t forget, beloved soul, that most of the offenses that we experience stem from the exaggerated concept that we have of ourselves. They have their beginning when we overestimate what we do and offer, with the hidden intention of increasing our status in the world, however possible.

The greatest thing in the world is to be forgotten by everyone, except by those who we love and who love us (even if we find that those who we love very much do not respond in like manner). Maybe you think, blessed soul, that your love for others is greater than their’s for you. How can you truthfully measure this? The Holy Spirit through the Apostle says: ”owe no man anything, except to love one another“ (Romans 13:8). In other words, your debt is always unpaid! So how are you so bold as to make demands as if you’d paid it? Love, therefore, without waiting for some sort of response. Love the following truth, and carry it in your heart: that anything, except for our ”debt“, creates within us

restlessness, instead of joy,
agitation, instead of peace,
anxiety, instead of certainty,

Don’t ever forget this!
Let’s allow this attitude, therefore to be implanted within us. Let’s not stop walking this road. Let’s not allow prideful thoughts to trick us, such as the following:

I could be doing something else, much more important than what I am doing,

It is a thought, seduced by deceptive aspirations, desires and unfounded zeal to leave our everyday work, as we quite ridiculously want our virtuousness to blossom more than that of our neighbor’s.

Rather, let us keep busy with what we are doing, because that is what God has given us to do.

Let us occupy ourselves by doing it as best as we can.

This means, in short, to do it
with clarity.
with energy.
with joy.

This is how the Elder looked the two times I met him, like a little angel.

May we have his blessing!

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I’ve started this blog both as a means to promote my new book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery and to record the less significant, though still important, “lessons” that I’ve learned and continue to learn from monastics and from Holy Orthodoxy.

I don’t promote the book simply because I wrote it, and therefore want it to do well. I believe the content of the book, the lessons I learned and experiences I share, are invaluable. I wanted others to benefit from reading about my encounters with holy monastics just as I have benefited from the encounters themselves.

Since it’s more blessed to give than to receive, and since I have received my fair share of blessings, I offer you my book (and by extension this blog) as a blessing. I hope you find it beneficial!

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