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Archive for the ‘Orthodox Customs and Tradition’ Category

Below is a beautiful story our priest in Thessaloniki read us every year after we cut the Vasilopita. (To read about the tradition of St. Basil’s bread see here, particularly ‘Origins’).
Happy (Secular) New Year! May we take every opportunity we can to start our spiritual life anew!
Blessed John
by Photios Kontoglou

The Nativity Feast having passed, St. Basil took his staff and traversed all of the towns, in order to see who would celebrate his Feast Day with purity of heart. He passed through regions of every sort and through villages of prominence, yet regardless of where he knocked, no door opened to him, since they took him for a beggar. And he would depart embittered, for, though he needed nothing from men, he felt how much pain the heart of every impecunious person must have endured at the insensitivity that these people showed him. One day, as he was leaving such a merciless village, he went by the graveyard, where he saw that the tombs were in ruins, the headstones broken and turned topsy-turvy, and how the newly dug graves had been turned up by jackals. Saint that he was, he heard the dead speaking and saying: “During the time that we were on the earth, we labored, we were heavy-burdened, leaving behind us children and grandchildren to light just a candle, to burn a little incense on our behalf; but we behold nothing, neither a Priest to read over our heads a memorial service nor kóllyva, as though we had left behind no one.” Thus, St. Basil was once again disquieted, and he said to himself, “These villagers give aid neither to the living nor to the deceased,” departing from the cemetery and setting out alone in the midst of the freezing snow.On the eve of the New Year, he came upon a certain hamlet, which was the poorest of the poor villages in all of Greece. The freezing wind howled through the scrub bush and the rocky cliffs, and not a living soul was to be found in the pitch-dark night! Then, he beheld in front of him a small knoll, below which there was secreted away a sheepfold. St. Basil went into the pen and, knocking on the door of the hut with his staff, called out: “Have mercy on me, a poor man, for the sake of your deceased relatives, for even Christ lived as a beggar on this earth.” Awakening, the dogs lunged at him.

But as they drew near him and sniffed him, they became gentle, wagged their tails, and lay down at his feet, whimpering imploringly and with joy. Thereupon, a shepherd, a young man of twenty-five or so, with a curly black beard, opened the door and stepped out: John Barbákos—a demure and rugged man, a sheepman. Before taking a good look at who was knocking, he had already said, “Enter, come inside. Good day, Happy New Year!”

Inside the hut, a lamp was suspended overhead from a cradle that was attached to two beams. Next to the hearth was their bedding, and John’s wife was sleeping. As soon as St. Basil went inside, John, seeing that the old man was a clergyman, took his hand and kissed it, saying, “Your blessing, Elder,” as though he had known him previously and as though he were his father. And the Saint said to him: “May you and all of your household be blessed, together with your sheep, and may the peace of God be upon you.” The wife then arose, and she, too, reverenced the Elder and kissed his hand, and he blessed her. St. Basil looked like a mendicant monk, with an old skoúphia, his rása worn and patched, and his tsaroúchia [a traditional leather slipper, usually adorned with a pompom at the end of the shoe] full of holes; as well, he had an old empty-looking satchel. John the blessed put wood on the fire. Straightway the hut began to glisten, as though seemingly a palace. The rafters seemed to be gilded with gold, while the hanging cheesecloth bags [filled with curing cheese] looked like vigil lamps, and the wooden containers, cheese presses, and all of the accessories used by John in making cheese became like silver, as though decorated by diamonds, as did all of the other humble things that John the blessed had in his hut. The wood burning in the hearth crackled and sang like the birds that sing in Paradise, giving off a fragrance wholly delightful. The couple placed St. Basil near the fire, where he sat, and the wife put down pillows on which he could rest. Then the Elder took the satchel from around his neck, placing it next to him, and removed his old ráson (outside cassock), remaining in his zostikó [inner cassock].

Together with his farmhand, John the blessed went out to milk the sheep and to place the newborn lambs in the lambing pen, and afterwards he separated the ewes that were ready to birth and confined them within the enclosure, while his helper put the other sheep out to graze. His flock was sparse and John was poor; yet, he was blessed. And he was possessed of great joy at all times, day and night, for he was a good man and he had a good wife. Anyone who happened to pass by their hut they cared for as though he were a brother. And it is thus that St. Basil found lodging in their home and settled in, as if it were his own, blessing it from top to bottom. On that night, he was awaited, in all of the cities and villages of the known world, by rulers, Hierarchs, and officials; but he went to none of these. Instead, he went to lodge in the hut of John the blessed.

So, John, after pasturing the sheep, came back in and said to the Saint, “Elder, I am greatly joyful. I wish to have you read to us the writings about St. Basil [i.e., the appointed hymns to the Saint]. I am an illiterate man, but I like all of the writings of our religion [once again, the hymns and services of the Church]. In fact, I have a small book from an Hagiorite Abbot [i.e., from Mt. Athos], and whenever someone who can read and write happens to pass by, I get him to read out of the booklet, since we have no Church near us.”

In the East, it was dimly dawning. St Basil rose and stood, facing eastward, making his Cross. He then bent down, took a booklet from his satchel, and said, “Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” John the blessed went and stood behind him, and his wife, having nursed their baby, also went to stand near him, with her arms crossed [over her chest]. St. Basil then said the hymn, “God is the Lord…” and the Apolytikion of the Feast of the Circumcision, “Without change, Thou hast assumed human form,” omitting his own Apolytikion, which states, “Thy sound is gone forth unto all the earth.” His voice was sweet and humble, and John and his wife felt great contrition, even though they did not understand all of the words. St. Basil now said the whole of Matins and the Canon of the Feast, “Come, O ye peoples, and let us chant a song unto Christ God,” without reciting his own canon, which goes, “O Basil, we would that thy voice were present….” Thereafter, he said aloud the entire Liturgy, pronounced the dismissal, and blessed the household. As they sat at the table, having eaten and finished their food, the wife brought the Vasilopeta [a sweet bread or cake baked in honor of St. Basil on the New Year] and placed it on the serving table. Then St. Basil took a knife and with it traced the sign of the Cross on the Vasilopeta, saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He cut a first piece, saying, “for Christ,” a second, afterwards, saying, “for the Panagia,” and then “for the master of the house, John the blessed.” John exclaimed, “Elder, you forgot St. Basil!” The Saint replied, “Yes, indeed,” and thus said, “And for the servant of God, Basil.” After this, he resumed: “…and for the master of the house,” “for the mistress of the house,” “for the child,” “for the farmhand,” “for the animals,” and “for the poor.” Thereupon, John the blessed said, “Elder, why did you not cut a piece for your reverendship?” And the Saint said, “But I did, O blessed one!” But John, this blissful man, did not understand.

Afterwards, St. Basil stood up and said the prayer, “O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under the roof of the house of my soul.” John the Blessed then said: “I wonder if you can tell me, Elder, since you know many things, to what palaces St. Basil went this evening? And the rulers and monarchs—what sins do they have? We poor people are sinners, since our poverty leads us into sin.” St. Basil said the same prayer, again—with tears—though changing it: “O Lord my God, I have seen that Thy servant John the simple is worthy and that it is meet that Thou shouldest enter into his shelter. He is a babe, and it is to babes that Thy Mysteries are revealed.” And again John the blissful, John the blessed, understood nothing….

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Below is a link to a podcast by Fr. Seraphim Aldea of the Orthodox Monastery of All Celtic Saints.

In this particular episode, entitled “Imitating Monastics”, Fr. Seraphim shares some of the ways in which laypeople can imitate the life and prayer of monastics.

You can hear the episode here.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAncient Faith Radio has uploaded recordings from the Orthodox Young Professionals Retreat held in Santa Fe, NM in October.

While only three of the four talks were recorded, they have also shared the recording of the panel discussion that featured all four speakers.

To the left is a photo of Archimandrite Gerasim; he was the Keynote speaker and I was delighted to meet him and hear him speak. You can hear his talk, entitled “Now You Are the Body of Christ and Members in Particular” here.

You can find Ashley-Veronika’s talk entitled “How Our Ancient Tradition Speaks to Modern Ecology” here.

I’m sorry to say that Joshua’s talk was not recorded. It was fabulous, but you’ll just have to take my word it.

Below is a photo of all the speakers during the panel discussion. You can hear this discussion here.

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If you wish you can hear my talk “Work as Prayer: Uniting our Divided Selves” here. Hearing the recordings I am reminded of why people tell me to slow down when I speak. However, in defense of ‘speaking quickly’ I will share the following: :)

“I have heard criticism against Fr. Daniel [Sysoev] that he hurries, talks too fast, and people can’t keep up. But he was in a hurry to pour the source of living waters out upon people, to make all of us partakers of Divine truth, to lead us from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge. For me, Fr. Daniel’s trait of “speaking quickly” was a great plus, because I myself was in a hurry to know everything.” (Source)

OYP

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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.

_______________________________

meteora 073

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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September 1 is the beginning of the Orthodox ecclesiastical year. According to Tradition, it was on September 1 that our Lord and Saviour entered the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth and was given to read a scroll from the prophet Isiah. It was customary at that time for the Jewish male to read in the synagogue once he had reached his thirtieth year. It was not a coincidence that Christ read prophetic words which referred to Him personally. It was the will of God for Him to be revealed in this manner. When He stood to read these were the words He uttered:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isiah 61:1-2).

St. Luke’s gospel tells us Christ then “closed the book, and gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:20-22).

The Church, in her wisdom, decided the appropriate day to begin the Church year was the very day on which Christ began His ministry, the day He began to “preach the acceptable year of the Lord”.

Interestingly, the ecclesiastical year begins and ends with the Theotokos. On September 8 we celebrate her nativity, just one week into the new Church year. We celebrate her dormition, or falling asleep, on August 15, two weeks before the end of the Church year.

I don’t think we can view this as a coincidence. Our salvation begins with her as she was the long-awaited one; without her Christ would not have been born. So her own nativity is a kind of “beginning of our salvation” (Troparion of the Nativity of Christ). Her falling asleep and being escorted by her Son to Paradise is the appropriate ending. Taking our cue from the Lady Theotokos an appropriate “new year’s resolution” should be to die with Christ so that we can live with Him, to endure so that we too will reign.

“For if we have died with him, we will also live with him; and if we endure we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:11).

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Christ is Risen!

Today on Bright Friday we commemorate the Life-Giving Spring which is Panagia herself, but more specifically it is a spring in Constantinople. This spring was our first stop when a friend, Fr. John  and I went to Istanbul in the summer of 2008 with a tour group. The photos in this post are from that trip.

(From Wikipedia on The Life-giving Spring)

The tradition surrounding the feast concerns a soldier named Leo Marcellus, who would later become the Byzantine Emperor Leo I. On April 4, 480, as Leo was passing by the grove, he came across a blind man who had become lost. Leo took pity on him, led him to the pathway, seated him in the shade and began to search for water to give the thirsty man. Leo heard a voice say to him, “Do not trouble yourself, Leo, to look for water elsewhere, it is right here!” Looking about, he could see no one, and neither could he see any water. Then he heard the voice again, “Leo, Emperor, go into the grove, take the water which you will find and give it to the thirsty man. Then take the mud [from the stream] and put it on the blind man’s eyes…. And build a temple [church] here … that all who come here will find answers to their petitions.” Leo did as he was told, and when the blind man’s eyes were anointed he regained his sight.

After he became emperor, Leo built a church dedicated to the Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring over the site where the spring was located. After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the church was torn down by the Turks, and the stones used to build a mosque of Sultan Bayezid. Only a small chapel remained at the site of the church. Twenty-five steps led down to the site of the spring surrounded by railing. As a result of the Greek Revolution of 1821, even this little chapel was destroyed and the spring was left buried under the rubble.

In 1833 the reforming Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II gave permission for the Christians to rebuild the church. When the foundations of the original church were discovered during the course of construction, the Sultan issued a second firman permitting not only the reconstruction of the small chapel, but of a large church according to the original dimensions. Construction was completed on December 30, 1834, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Constantius II consecrated the church on February 2, 1835.

Another small chapel has been rebuilt on the site, but the church has not yet been restored to its former size. The spring still flows to this day and is considered by the faithful to have wonderworking properties.

The feast day is observed on Bright Friday; i.e., the Friday following Pascha. The propers of the feast are combined with the Paschal hymns, and there is often a Lesser Blessing of Waters performed after the Divine Liturgy on Bright Friday. In old Russia, continuing Greek traditions, there was a custom to sanctify springs that were located near churches, dedicate them to the Holy Mother, and paint icons of her under the title The Life Giving Spring.

There is also a commemoration of the Icon of the Theotokos, the Life-giving Spring, observed on April 4.

While there at the spring our tour guide told us that some people were able to see multicoloured fish in the spring along with the regular goldfish, but that it was a miracle unnoticed by most. She said that of all the times she had visited the spring she never saw the “invisible fish” as they were known. One time though, a woman on one of her tours pointed the multicoloured fish out thinking everyone could see them, but she was the only one. I don’t know what the significance is of seeing the “invisible fish”, but it’s interesting nonetheless. 

Apolytikion for the Life-giving Spring:

As a life-giving fount, thou didst conceive the Dew that is transcendent in essence,O Virgin Maid, and thou hast welled forth for our sakes the nectar of joy eternal,which doth pour forth from thy fount with the water that springeth upunto everlasting life in unending and mighty streams;wherein, taking delight, we all cry out:Rejoice, O thou Spring of life for all men.

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Come receive the light from the unwaning Light;

and glorify Christ Who is risen from the dead!

The video is of the Holy Fire at Christ’s tomb, April 11, 2015. Who is as great as our God?

(To learn more about the Holy Fire – the world’s best kept secret – see here.)

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