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Dear readers, I do not know who this brotherhood of Orthodox clergy is, but I wish to say them AXIOS! AXIOS! AXIOS! I offer them my metanoia and kiss their holy right hands. The tone of their open letter reflects the core of our Orthodox faith: repentance and personal accountability for the failings of the Church. We, as laypeople, ought also apologize and seek God’s forgiveness for the role we may have played, both locally and globally these past 18 months or so, in contributing to the weakening of our faith, the dilution of our resolve to love and serve God more than ourselves. May God grant us repentance and enlighten us to remain on the straight and narrow path! Let us never cease to pray for our priests and hierarchs to lead by example, teaching us to treasure and cling to our Orthodox Faith above all else as the pearl of great price.

-Matushka Constantina

Open Letter: TO OUR BELOVED HIERARCHS, BROTHER CONCELEBRANTS, AND OUR FAITHFUL FLOCKS

From the Burning Bush Brotherhood

“Gird yourselves with sackcloth and wail you priests.

Mourn, you who serve the altar” Joel 1:13.

TO OUR BELOVED HIERARCHS, BROTHER CONCELEBRANTS, AND OUR FAITHFUL FLOCKS,

Greetings in the name ofour Lord Jesus Christ!

We write this letter in anguish and pain of heart, carrying a burden we have borne in silence for too long. Today we write with boldness, a boldness that is found not in ourselves but in our desire to hold fast to the Holy Traditions of our beloved Orthodox Faith—the true medicine of the world. We write as a brotherhood of clergy in America not bound by jurisdiction or diocese. The fires of current trials have brought us together, and our brotherhood has been forged in tears, brokenness, and prayer. It is in the ashes of what this past year and a half has wrought that we have felt the disruption of the Church at many levels, but have found like-minded brother priests whose resurrectional joy, silent suffering, and confessor-like endurance kept the spark of zeal ignited. Sadly, because of the nature of our testimony, we cannot publicly disclose ourselves, but we judge our voice to be a necessary voice crying in the wilderness out of love and pain for the Church. We are keeping anonymity not on account of cowardice but for the reason we have been silent for many months: we have deep concern what may happen to our flocks if we are identified. Truly, a lamentable predicament to be in! It is the suffering cries of the laity and our flocks, however, that have inspired us to speak out with a necessary tone of repentance and healing. We will address the laity whom we have neglected, exhort our brother priests to awake, and exhort our beloved fathers and chief hierarchs to fervent apostolic witness.

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Firstly, to the faithful. The past year has revealed much in our hearts. It would be easy to place the blame on some outside circumstances or some other person—society at large or authorities in the government or in the Church. Yet we acknowledge that, above all else, sin starts in our own hearts. Above all else, we are personally responsible for the shortcomings and failings that the Lord has laid bare. It is He who has allowed the many tribulations and temptations of the past year on account of our many sins. These trials are for our chastisement and healing; they are for the turning of our hearts back once again to the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe, as the saints testify, “Because of your sins the Lord has allowed this trouble to come upon you, because you keep forgetting God” (St. John of Kronstadt).

As clergy, we take responsibility for the many stumbling blocks set before the flock of Christ the Lord, especially in the turbulent year 2020. We acknowledge that, in many ways, we, the clergy, acted out of weakness and ungodly fear. We humbly ask for forgiveness. We know that the actions of clergy made dire prophecies ring true. “The time will come when we will not find even a tiny piece of antidoron, and we will say to ourselves, ‘Where can I get a little antidoron? I used to have it every day. I took and ate it by the handful. Where are you my little antidoron, that I might partake of you?’ The time will come when we will not have either antidoron or holy water.”[1]

Forgive us for not sounding a clear call to repentance. Forgive us for closing churches in a time of deep spiritual need. Forgive us for limiting services and restricting attendance. Forgive us for turning the people of God away from Church and the Holy Mysteries in a time of profound need, effectively “not allowing those who are entering to go in.” Forgive us for allowing the altering of the mode of Holy Communion for fear of the spread of illness, such as the use of multiple spoons and the wiping of the communion spoon in a disinfectant. Forgive us for refusing in-person holy confession during a time of great crisis. Forgive us for forbidding the proper veneration of icons held by the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council, a veneration our forefathers and mothers shed blood for. Forgive us for making face-masks a requirement for entering the Holy Temple of our Lord. Forgive us for placing secular narratives above the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Faith.

Forgive us, for we should have served more services. We should have had public repentance, prayer and fasting. We should have had processions with holy icons and fervent supplications. We should have served the service of blessing of holy water and the sprinkling of the people of God therewith. We should have served Holy Unction, for the healing of soul and body. We should have called, in both word and action, the people of God first and foremost to a hope, trust, and faith in God above all else. We should have shown forth steadfast courage and faith in the holy things of the Faith. Forgive us for failing to walk in the way of our Holy Fathers. Forgive use for blurring the divine lines of the Holy Liturgy with the dark ink of fleshly reasoning and justification.

Forgive us for neglecting your children and reversing their catechism, asking them to experience God through a screen and forcing them to conceal their angelic faces behind an iconoclastic mask. We did not heed the words of our Savior, Who calls your children to Him, and we allowed the millstone of directives to drag us into the dark depths of a burdened conscience. We beg for your forgiveness and for theirs, seeking the life giving breath of repentance.

We firmly resolve never to abandon you or your families again, no matter the circumstance or the cost—to the shedding of our blood.

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Secondly, to our brother priests and deacons. We must confess, in the words of the New Hieromartyr Peter, “But this is our grief – we have invented all the wrong means by which we think to be saved from this terrible sickness that has mercy on no one. We try to utilize various serums and vaccines … and the vast majority of people almost completely leave out the spiritual starting point in a person—his soul.” We started from externals and not from the spiritual starting point. Our weakness and sin, manifest in the past year, are but symptoms of a more profound ailment, one that surpasses COVID in gravity and it appears has infected a large amount of people.

We have led Orthodox Christians to reason more according to the spirit of the fallen world than by the Life and Spirit of Holy Orthodoxy. Our hearts have gradually grown accustomed to worldly thinking rather than having the mind of Christ. The past year was not the ailment, it but revealed in a more acute light the ailment already afflicting us. When, as priests, we received the Holy Body of our Lord into our unworthy hands at ordination, we pledged to preserve it whole and unharmed until our last breath, acknowledging our accountability at the Second Coming. How have we slipped so far as to forget our promise before God and become so foreign to the ways of our holy fathers who served worthily before us?

We have permitted a humanistic ecumenism to supplant the Divine One Holy Catholic and Ecumenical Church, which is the very Body of the Theanthropos. The predominance of our placing faith in the resolutions of men reveals that we have begun, in the words of St. Justin Popovic, “to replace faith in the God-man with a belief in man, to replace the Gospel of the God-man with a gospel according to man, to replace the philosophy of the God-man with a philosophy according to man, to replace the culture of the God-man with a culture according to man. In brief, they [we] seek to replace life according to the God-man with life according to man.”

In many places we allowed our liturgical life to cease, depriving the world of the sacred power of the divine liturgy which restrains the power of the evil one. “Do you know how much this guards us? An elder once told us that when a person carries the Gospel with him, it protects everyone in the surrounding neighborhoods. Just imagine then, the power of Christ’s sacrifice that happens every day.”[2] Today, clergymen stand in awe at the evil that has escalated over this past year but have neglected to see the cosmic significance that our vocation plays in it. “The Divine Liturgy is the way we know God and the way God becomes known to us,” says St. Sophrony. It is the Church’s greatest mission, and we laid it aside! In this great work, the Lord’s work, the same Saint says, “We feel His Divine presence within us, outside of us, at the highest grandeur of the universe, in the face of man and in the radiant intellect. And in the hours that the unwaning light illumines, our hearts we realize we will not die.” However, many of us allowed the divine presence of God that is imprinted on the dear faces of our people to be concealed under a mask and abandoned them to be pursued by the jaws of wolves without participation in divine services. Furthermore, we let down the world and ceased to sanctify it, allowing evil to unmask itself and act more openly.

Much of this was done under the guise of love—but it was not Christian love. It was a “love” defined by politicians and slick spokesmen who also advocate for the “right” to murder unborn children, who bomb our Orthodox countries on Pascha, and who will not even lift a finger for the poor of their own cities. Some of our people died without the Holy Mysteries, without the faithful by their bed, without proper burial. Others withered away in loneliness, battled thoughts of suicide, and were lost to the clutches of this world.

Open and common prayer with heretics and schismatics, contrary to the canons, has become all-too common. And this sad sin has widened its wound now to encompass prayer with non-Christian groups. “What harmony,” we ask, “has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever.”[3] Blatant rejection of the clear Orthodox teaching on morality is permitted in broad daylight, bareheaded, and those who uphold the Orthodox Faith remain silent. The broad and easy path of compromise is continually sought and the healing traditions of the Holy Fathers are neglected.

For these things, we ought to offer the world our public repentance. We have forgotten God by trusting more in the powers of this world. The world now needs priests and deacons who are confessors, men of prayer, and who strive for an austere life of asceticism. If we are lukewarm, not only will we be spit out by our Lord, but also by the world—for it knows all too well the wretched stench of a compromising clergyman.

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Lastly, to our beloved shepherds, the bishops. Often when we look back upon the deep wounds experienced by the Church throughout history, we see the abnormal break between the people and their shepherd as the cause of that wound. We, as a brotherhood of your priests whom you endearingly call sons, have now experienced such a break and suffer feelings of orphanhood. The biggest anguish this year has brought is the absence of courageous apostolic shepherds.

The voice of your fatherly guidance and protection became to us the voice of a stranger, for no longer did we hear the consoling voice of the Lord, the Holy Fathers, or the healing medicines of the Church, but the voice of the world, corrupt politicians, and medical advisors that are now profiting off a dire situation. The wolves in politicians’ dress co-opted Christian morality, and the same that teach our women to murder their children in their womb pontificated “love for neighbor”—and the hierarchy parroted this shamelessly. “Love for neighbor” became not burying our dead properly and isolating our flocks to the point of suicide. It contributed to the escalating rise in household abuse, and more. Fear and this pseudo “love for neighbor” led our bishops [you!] to instruct us not to allow our people into the temple for healing. All of us in this brotherhood began to realize that your voices had become foreign worldly, full of fear, and not the voice of Whom we pledged our lives to serve—our One Good Shepherd.

We love you and we long for your care, but if you continue to be strange voices we cannot do anything but heed the One True Voice that leads us to the pastures of life. We do not see this path as disobedience, but the ultimate obedience to our Lord and His Bride—the Holy Church. For, under the guise of obedience, we were told to follow this strange new path that is unprecedented in our history as a people of God. In many cases, we have silently resisted this new strange voice that we have heard and have led our people as best we could—struggling on our own in silence. In heartache and despair, we have watched our shepherds become drunk with the drink that this world offers and uncover themselves; we have labored to hide your nakedness from your sheep. They love you—they thank you in their prayers for not shutting them out, not forcing masks upon them, not changing the method of communion, etc., when in reality you told us to force these deadly ideas upon them. Forgive us, but we had to find the Voice of the Master and in grief we had to resist the strange path we have seen you sadly forge because there is no life in it—all we saw in the parishes from these worldly measures was spiritual death.

Please return to us once again as loving shepherds with the Voice that brings us life. We have felt orphaned, without apostolic guides, and have suffered the unnatural severance between father and son. Whether you have been silent or have outright supported the deterioration of our parishes through worldly mandates, you have grieved us and have shaken the innermost depths of our hearts. We cannot fully express in words how this betrayal has affected us—you saw the wolf and ran, you have scattered the sheep, but there is time to return to care for the flock. In great sadness we have watched you now pat yourselves on the backs, congratulating yourselves and boasting that the impositions over the past year were right and correct. Yet, when your people for long months were deprived of the medicines of the Church, were pushed to the brink of darkness, were seized in the clutches of the children of hell, and forced to participate in the liturgy through a screen like starving children watching a feast through a window, you must admit that this truly was not a victory.

As your sons, we must tell you that we cannot be obedient to the voice of the murderous spirit of this age and that we have found it coming from your chanceries in the form of mandates, sermons, political conferences, and zoom meetings. We have great love for you and reverence your office, but sadly cannot follow you down a foreign road so we beg you to return to bold apostolic speech. We know that obedience is discriminate, not indiscriminate, from both our Holy Fathers and the divine Scriptures, for both speak of true and false shepherds. We know the holy examples of St. Maximus the Confessor and the erring hierarchy who aligned with the impious Emperor. We remember St. Athanasius and the heretical presbytery who opposed him. We recollect the faithfulness and boldness of St. Mark of Ephesus and how the compromising hierarchy were shamed by the laity on the docks of Constantinople. We are inspired by the recent boldness of the Russian martyrs who were imprisoned and suffered under Sergianism and its allegiance to an atheistic regime. The path of schismatics is riddled with disaster, and this path we will never take, but we discern in the lives of these holy ones the painful path of blessed disobedience. “Obedience makes the subordinate one with the one he obeys. The Holy Writ says: ‘and the flocks conceived before the rods’ (Gen. 30, 39) […]. One may say: the subordinate’s faith can replace the elder’s inadequacy. Wrong! Faith in truth saves. Faith in lies and in diabolical deceit harms!”[4]

St John of the Ladder writes, “Above all, you should leave the integral faith and the pious dogmas as a legacy to your children, so that not only your children but your grandchildren too will you manage to guide towards the Lord by walking the path of Orthodoxy.”[5]This is the legacy that is not foreign, and in these times it is impossible to be silent as a shepherd in the face of treachery. Teach us, lead us, and leave us the legacy of Truth and Life. St Paisios warned us saying: “If Christians don’t begin to witness their faith, to resist evil, then the destroyers will become even more insolent. But today’s Christians are no warriors. If the Church keeps silent, to avoid conflict with the government, if the Metropolitans are silent, if the monks hold their peace, then who will speak up?” Truly, we must recognize that it is because of the Church’s silence that evil has all the more prevailed in these times.

Speak, beloved hierarchs! Speak out against the mandates that have deprived us of spiritual life, speak out against the immoral agendas of the LGBTQ movement that publicly seeks to snatch your children, speak out against false unions! Embolden your priests and do not deprive us of shepherds for the sake of ease, of legal immunity, or out of indifference. We are the prey of this current age, save us! We feel as the prophet wrote, “As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock. Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I shall visit the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock…”[6] Return to feed us, your poor priests and people.

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To all, in humility before God, we vow not to return to the strange path of the past year that so many have experienced and are still suffering under. We will not return to practicing the following.

  1. We will not deprive the people of the life-giving sacraments of the Church out of fear.
  2. We will not change the method of Holy Communion.
  3. We will not limit the occupancy in the Temple of God.
  4. We will not deprive the faithful of the veneration of holy icons, relics, and other holy objects or vessels.
  5. We will not require the iconoclastic masking of our people.
  6. We will not urge or require our people to inject themselves with experimental injections, especially those manufactured and/or tested on aborted fetal cell lines.

We therefore resolve to uphold the Holy Orthodox Faith of our Fathers and we call upon all faithful Orthodox to do the same. First and foremost, this is a call to deeper repentance and spiritual resolve. We all have a responsibility to identify ­the sickness of the modern age and to heal it by calling on the sweetest name of our Lord Jesus, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

Your Servants,

THE BURNING BUSH BROTHERHOOD

July 31st/July 18th P The Year Of Our Lord 2021

[1] Gerondissa Makrina Vassopoulou, Words of the Heart, pg 504. She said these prophetic words on the 19th of December, 1992.

[2] Gerondissa Makrina Vassopoulou, Words of the Heart, pg 504. She said these prophetic words on the 19th of December, 1992.

[3] 1 Corinthians 6:15

[4] Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, op. cit., tome I, pp.141.143.146ff

[5] Saint John of Sinai, On the Shepherd 97, edition Holy Monastery of Paraclete, Horopos Attica,

1946, p.402 (PG 88, 1201A).

[6] Ezekiel 34, 8-10 (KJV)

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For any and all who are burdened by their sin, who feel enclosed by darkness, who think they will never change: the Sunday of the Prodigal Son is for you. Whether it be the loss of hope to overcome one’s drug or alcohol addiction; whether it be the suffocating guilt and shame one who commits adultery feels; whether it’s any number of divergent paths from Christ’s commandments: the Sunday of the Prodigal Son reminds us that even while we’re “still a long way off” (Luke 15:20) God’s compassion is near at hand.

From The Great Horologion, The Sunday of the Prodigal Son, p. 598

Through the the parable of today’s Gospel, our Saviour has set forth three things for us: the condition of the sinner, the ruler of repentance, and the greatness of God’s compassion. The divine Fathers have put the reading the week after the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee so that, seeing in the person of the Prodigal Son our own wretched condition – inasmuch as we are sunken in sin, far from God and His Mysteries – we might at last come to our senses and make haste to return to Him by repentance during these holy days of the Fast.

Furthermore, those who have wrought many great iniquities, and have persisted in them for a long time, oftentimes fall into despair, thinking that there can no longer be any forgiveness for them; and so being without hope, they fall every day into the same and even worse iniquities. Therefore, the divine Fathers, that they might root out the passion of despair from the hearts of the people, and rouse to them to deeds of virtue, have set the present parable at the fore-courts of the Fast, to show them to the deeds of virtue, have set the present parable at the fore-courts of the Fast, to show them the surpassing goodness of God’s compassion, and to teach them that there is no sin – no matter how great it may be – that can overcome at any time His love for man.

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St. Haralambos the Hieromartyr

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador we have been very fortunate. We have avoided much of the chaos Covid-19 has wrought on the rest of the nation, nay, the whole world. This past Sunday’s media release announcing 11 new cases of Covid-19 in the province is the highest number of single-day cases we have seen since April. Think about that for a minute. Where elsewhere there are reports of hundreds, sometimes thousands of new cases a day, we got word that we had 11 in a single day. Of course, since Sunday this number as more than quadrupled, and yet compared to other places our numbers are still quite low. The sheer panic on the faces and in the voices of those around us would lead one to believe things are far more dire – and they may be yet – but they are not there yet.

I popped out to the grocery store on my lunch break today simply because I wanted to pick up some frozen veggies. As I stood in the longest line at the grocery store I have literally ever seen in my entire life (keep in mind lines at Christmas, lines before snowstorms, lines after the one-week lockdown due to last year’s epic Snowmageddon), I thought to myself: “Con [yes, I use my nickname to address myself in my internal dialogues :)], you have to be calm because everyone else around you is stressed. When everyone else is giving off a panicked vibe, you need to give off an err of peace!” I reminded myself of the need to pray: for those standing in the lines, for the sick, for those fearful of becoming sick, etc.

We, brothers and sisters, must be Christians. When everyone else fears illness and death we must remind ourselves God is in control. “The Lord gives and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

When everyone else feared the sword, torture, exile, banishment, ridicule, St. Haralambos (who we celebrate today) looked upon those tools of destruction with indifference. He feared separation from God more than fiery torments inflicted on his body. He feared being shut out of the Heavenly Kingdom more than he feared being scraped with iron hooks.

Similarly, nothing should panic us more, fill us with dread more, cause us to feel weak in the knees more than the thought that we will not be saved. This alone, brothers and sisters, should make our heart race and palms sweat. Separation from God is a harm that can only come upon us by our own free violation. Everything else that does or can happen to us happens with God’s permission, to help save us. He Himself tells us not to fear those (or that which) can “kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28).

Be that still small voice, dear friends! The world needs this more than ever before. We may not be hunted down and tortured at the request of a Roman Emperor like saints such as St. Haralambos, but we are still called to confess our Christian faith. This is our opportunity to confess our Faith, to display patience, love, understanding, and mercy when the world is replete with anxiety, fear, paranoia and accusation.

As Christians we have a duty, grounded in love, to be for those around us the still small voice. That “still small voice” is where God is, and what His presence bestows on those who love Him: the ability to stand in the middle of a storm and yet withstand the strong winds, the earthquakes, the fire.

11 Then He said [to Elijah], “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19)

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Written by one who intimately knows the bitter taste of death, Presvytera Katherine Baker’s reflection on death and (so-called) living during the global pandemic is a must-read. It is entitled A Pandemic Observed and can be found here.

Fr. John and I are both very grateful to her thoughts. I am deeply impressed by her insight, her candor, and her call for all to live well, as faithful Christians, despite the surety of our death, whether today from Covid or tomorrow from something else.

Friends, if you have allowed fear or fear of illness or death to cripple you during these dark days of constant media attention on the potential risks of contracting or spreading Covid, take a minute, read this reflection from a priest’s wife whose husband died suddenly and tragically in a car accident in 2015. Take a minute to ask yourself if closing churches, refraining from venerating icons or taking the priest’s blessing, or shying away from corporeal worship honours the Christian Way, the Incarnation of the God-Man Christ, or in any way exemplifies the life of the Gospel we are called to live. When you come to the conclusion these things are foreign to our life in Christ then arise quickly and go to the Father and even while you are “still afar off” (Luke 15:20) He will see you and  meet you before you have even arrived to offer your prayer of repentance!

Be emboldened to live again as Christians. Christians were always known for their bravery in the face of death, for their refusal to cease good deeds even when threatened with torture, and for cherishing faith in Christ as their most prized possession. Call on the names of such saints and they will encourage you to do likewise!

An excerpt from Presvytera Katherine’s article follows, but please read the whole article HERE.

May her words inspire us to make a new beginning in our spiritual life!

I fully expect, if we are living as Church, there could be large outbreaks of COVID-19 in Christian communities, just like in any other human encounter, should God will it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” And if we are blamed by the authorities for being “super-spreaders,” it would not be the first time in history.

No one blames a person for going to the store for groceries and spreading or picking up germs there, but it seems worship is being approached more like a concert than like “daily bread.” But gathering for Sunday liturgy and fellowship should be a help to facing the possibility of death, which is exactly what we need right now. A priest’s job is not to keep me alive; it’s to help me live and die well.

Christians should never judge someone who chooses safety from suffering and death as did the early Donatist heretics who cast out of the church those who fled persecution. However, Christians should neither judge nor exclude those who choose honorable risk either. A principal of non-judgment is our example. Force and manipulation should be rejected whether that force or manipulation be in favor of risk or against it.

My husband wrote in a sermon shortly before his death: “God created man in the year 33, on a hill called Golgotha.” Christ, declared his great work “accomplished” from the agony of the cross. It is in union with Christ that we become who we ought to be, and so how can we escape death when even Christ did not? In one of his last sermons, my husband suggested to his flock, “….may we make our own these words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, written to his fellow Christians on his way towards martyrdom for refusing the idolatry of pagan Rome: ‘It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth… The pains of birth are upon me. Allow me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to be stillborn… Allow me to imitate the passion of my God …when I shall have arrived there, I shall become a human being.’” (Epist. ad Rom., 6).

The question isn’t will I die? Or will the people I love die? The answer to that has always been, yes. A better question might be will I let the anticipation of death make me and my world, better or worse?

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While eating breakfast this morning with Fr. John we started listening to this homily by a spiritual son of St. Paisios the Athonite. This spiritual son is in fact the “young man” in the book The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios. If you have not read this book I highly recommend it.

The “Young Man”, whose real name is Athanasios Rakovalis, begins the homily with these words, “I’d like to thank you all for being here, and to say that I am happy you are all here because your presence here shows that you wish to learn about St. Paisios, and this contains a type of grace. Before I begin my talk, I’d like to request from all of you if you are able to say an internal prayer to St. Paisios now, to ‘lend a hand’ to help me make my talk and for us all to leave here benefited – both you and I.”

When I heard these words by St. Paisios’ lay-disciple I paused the video and turned to Fr. John, “That is what it was like in Greece!” I said.

While it is customary for different cultures to have words of greeting, the charm of the Orthodox mindset is the humility and mutual love shared amidst Orthodox Christians.

Athanasios, a physics teachers, is there to give a homily, to teach and instruct, but rather than show himself to be “an expert” he first calls on his Christian brothers and sisters so that through their prayers – not his words – all might be benefited. This kind of mindset is not easily taught. It is the kind of mindset we must “put on” (Galatians 3:27) ourselves as Orthodox Christians. This, I believe, is what is meant by “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Brothers and sisters, this is the mind of Christ!: to humbly ask others’ for their prayers, to firmly believe with all your heart and mind that the only profit we can give one another is founded on Christ’s love, not on our own intellect or talents.

More than everything else about Greece I miss this mindset the most. It permeated so many faithful, and did not produce words like “clanging brass” (1 Corinthians 13: 1) but Spirit-filled, God-inspired words that drilled into your heart and soul a desire to emulate the love and humility you saw in your fellow Christians.

I’m sure Athanasios goes on to say many more beautiful things in his homily. But I stopped just a few minutes in to reminiscence and contemplate how it’s in the little things (as St. Paisios often said) that we make large gains or big loses.

St. Paisios defined reverence as “the fear of God and spiritual sensitivity”. He said that reverent people “behave carefully and modestly, because they intensely feel the presence of God.” In my opinion, just one minute into this homily Athanasios Rakovalis illustrates what it means to douse your words and thoughts with reverence.

May we be made worthy, through the prayers of St. Paisios, to do the same in our own lives!

 

 

 

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eldersFrom one of the most beautiful homilies I’ve heard by Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol. I encourage you to listen to the whole homily. It is less than 10 minutes long and has English subtitles. What follows are just my favourite parts.

On Charismatic Elders:

…these people, in my experience, were characterized by great balance, they were very well-adjusted people, not unbalanced. They were well-adjusted and charitable. They never presented you with a dilemma; they got you out of one. Nor did they present you with a God who’d be a problem, but one who’d be the answer to all problems. That’s why people flocked to them, because they found relief. People didn’t go to them to leave troubled and weary; they left relaxed and light-hearted.

They were people who know how to have their own views, but also how to exploit the potential of each person and to know how to arrange things for each soul, what each person was capable of, what they could do from where they were. And they’d each decide in accordance with their own situation. They didn’t say: ‘Look, I’m a hermit and to become the way I want you you’ll have to become like me.’ They came to where you were; you didn’t go to where they were.

In general, I think that as time went on I saw that everything they did brought them to a perfection in Christ, which is in no way extreme, but is a mean, an endless balance and peace. There was no sharpness about them; it was something absolutely clear, something like a calm sea that you sail over with great joy. They weren’t at all sharp, those people. It’s not the Gospel’s fault, it’s ours for the way we live out our misery and express it to others. As a continuation of what I was saying about these holy people, they showed us exactly the image of the person who is perfect in Christ. All those people were in harmony, balanced, not at all facetious. They didn’t make you feel: ‘But he’s a simpleton, he’s ingenuous, he’s somebody who walks on the clouds, he’s not properly grounded’. Because that’s no good either. It’s not a good thing to be fatuous, nor to be ingenuous, or facile or obtuse. Just as it’s not good to be pessimistic and all miserable. At the same time as they mourned human pain, the saints were joyful, very sweet people who embraced everyone. They wouldn’t put up with darkness in people’s souls.

You might say that’s easy for everybody. No, it isn’t. We’ve got a long way to go to get there; it’s not easy, nor can it be feigned. You can’t say: ‘What was Elder Aimilianos like? I’ll imitate him.’ It can’t be done. You have to tread the path that Aimilianos trod and you have to be Aimilianos to do so. Because if you’re not Aimilianos, you’ll be a caricature, you’ll be a poor imitation. You have to find yourself. You’re not Aimilianos. You’re Adrianos, you’re Athanasios, you’re Ignatios. You’ll become who you are, given the qualities you have. Let the grace of God work in your soul without preconditions. I don’t believe the Gospel is there to batter the human personality or tread it underfoot. The Gospel saves the human person, it doesn’t trample it down. It removes the toxins and the passions and the sin, but saves the person.

This is why these saints accepted others so easily. Even people who are acknowledged to be spiteful and sinful are justified by them to such a degree that you end up thinking they’re saints. …when we went and told [Elder Paisios] about different things that were happening on the Holy Mountain or about monks who were less than careful in their lives, he’d find ways to justify things and you’d say ‘Lord have mercy, this man’s a saint.’ He’d find an excuse for them and put good thoughts into your head and say good things about them. He’d say: ‘Look, don’t concentrate on that. The man’s got good points, so that’s the least thing compared to the many good things he’s done.’ Because he himself was such a man – the way God sees people, not the way we do. …The saints aren’t facile, nor insensitive to the pain of others. They experience the pain and they experience the whole of our apostasy from God, but because they’re now in full health, they deal with things as God does.

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Annunciation
AFTER TWELVE YEARS, God inspired the father and mother of the Theotokos and they saw to her betrothal in accord with the divine dispensation. Later the most gracious God sent the angel who said to the Theotokos: “Mary, you should rejoice more than anyone in the world. You will give birth to the Son and Word of God, Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, without man, as a virgin. And you will remain a virgin so that Jesus Christ can save Adam and Eve and the entire human race.” The Lady Theotokos replied and said: “My Lord, I wonder, and glorify you, I honour and worship you because you have condescended to be born of me, your servant. I am ready, therefore, and let your will be done.” And immediately the Theotokos became pregnant and she gave birth to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God, without man, a virgin, who remained a virgin.
OUR LORD WAS BORN of a woman so that women would be blessed, because women first received the curse and we were expelled from paradise. And so woman had to receive the blessing so that she would put us back into paradise. Our Lord was born of a virgin so that virginity would be preferred. You, my brother, who want to preserve your virginity, hate the world. Then you are good enough to become thrice blessed; then you will safeguard your virginity; then you will become like an angel. Out Lord was born of one affianced to bless marriage.

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early-chruchBelow is an excerpt from Revelation: The Seven Trumpets & The Antichrist (Vol III), a commentary on the book of the Revelation by Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios of Larisa (pp.79-80). The passage the elder is commenting on is Revelation 10:1-4

I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow was on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire. He had a little book open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars. When he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.” 

At this very moment, we should all try to understand that we are living a Pentecost, the presence of the Holy Spirit, where the word of God is heard and worship is offered to God. Could you imagine that this group of ours, made up of just a few people, might have to disperse?* Let’s not forget that the gathering of the faithful is a manifestation of the Church.

Doesn’t it impress you that the faithful met in the catacombs and secret places, using secret methods so as not to be detected by their oppressors?  Yet they insisted on meeting every night. They endangered their very existence and risked confiscation of their property. Did you ever ask yourself why they did it when any one of them could have asked, ‘Why must I leave my house and expose myself to danger by going out to a secret Church gathering?’ Couldn’t each person have stayed home and worshiped God by himself? In fact, the faithful acted this way because it was in this manner that the presence of the Church was established in history. They gathered because they needed to reinforce the presence of the Church among them, regardless if the pagans or non-believers were persecuting them. Rather, they gathered as the faithful who have the presence of the Church and consequently, the Body of Christ. The Church was and is the proof of Pentecost. For us, who are gathered here and for everyone gathered in every Church, we gather, not only for the sermon, but also for the worship, because all the past events can repeat themselves.

According to the prophetic word, the isolation of the faithful is very realistic. One isolated in his home might wonder if there were any other believers in his town. This is much like the prophet Elijah, who was unaware that there were other faithful people and thought he was alone.

…This is why this intermission [of the events unfolding in the book of the Revelation] with the angel clothed in a cloud, which represents both the protection and presence of Christ, is of such consolation and encouragement.

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*The elder is being modest here, on any given Sunday he would minister to around three thousand believers in the city of Larisa. However, in the 1990s Fr. Athanasios was secluded to his monastery and thus not permitted to go into the city to preach to the faithful. As a result only a few hundred faithful were able to attend his homilies – those able to travel to the monastery. 

Take courage brothers and sisters, Christ is in our midst!

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