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Below is a homily on the awesome theme of eternity by Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina. I have added a photo of Fr. John reading the Gospel in our Mission during Agape’s Vespers on Pascha, a day in which we rejoice that a joyful eternity awaits us on account of Christ’s glorious resurrection! Christ is risen!

pascha 2015 (2)Eternity[1]

             “For here have we no enduring city, but we seek one to come.”[2] In other words, the here-and-now offers Christians no permanent residence, but rather we are left to long for the day when we will enter into our future abode. Commenting on this very passage, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite says, we must leave behind this passing, vain world, together with its mindset and passions, and run towards our heavenly, eternal homeland. This is a most beautiful line; a shining star. Here I will attempt to draw out its practical implications for you.

Eternity! My brothers and sisters, the first thing one requires if he wants to take hold of eternity is faith. Do you know what today’s people are like? Until the year 1500 AD, everyone believed that the whole earth was the area in and around the Middle East; that Gibraltar was the world’s end. For thousands of years they were completely ignorant of the existence of America. Thus, when Christopher Columbus appeared on the scene and began talking about the existence of another, new world, they were convinced that he had lost his mind. It was therefore no easy task to persuade the king to give him a ship to make his journey. Imagine how long it took to traverse the Atlantic in a tall ship! Seeing nothing before them but endless sky and water, even own crew began to murmur and complain. Columbus heard them and began to pray, and finally they spotted the coast of the new world! We find something similar going on in our own day: they didn’t believe Columbus and we don’t believe Christ, who assures us that there indeed exists a world beyond our own. If we don’t believe Christ, if we don’t take him at his word, we will lose eternity – God have mercy!

The other thing we need is concern and cultivation: Christ tells us that we must turn ourselves toward eternity and make it our concern. And we must cultivate faith in eternal life, asking God to ever increase this faith in us. We must fix our gaze upwards, toward Heaven: “Let us lift up our hearts!” This is what the line, “For here have we no enduring city, but we seek one to come,” means practically. If each of us were to show just a fraction of the concern for eternal life that we show for material things, this world would look entirely different. Sadly, our only desires are material; we lack spiritual aspirations. Materialism and Epicureanism prevail: “…let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.”[3] Let us cultivate faith in eternity, then. Its beauty is indescribable; there are no words to convey it.

But faith and concern alone are not enough; sacrifices are also required if we are to acquire eternity. If we have to make sacrifices for the sake our earthly homeland, how much more ought we to make sacrifices for our heavenly homeland?   Our life will eventually set on this earth, but just like the sun, we rise elsewhere – in eternal life. Thus, eternity is worth every sacrifice.

If we cast the desire for eternity out of Christianity, what is left? A colourless, scentless flower; it will lack the beautiful fragrance of eternity. Thus we find this desire established amongst the twelve fundamental tenets of the faith: the Creed ends with the words, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen,” does it not?

So as a German philosopher has said, man has many noteworthy characteristics, but chiefly he is a metaphysical being rooted in God, and as the ancient philosopher Plato has said, man is like a tree whose roots are not below him in the ground, but in the eternal realm, where he desires to be translated.

Also of great important is the hour of our departure for eternity, the hour of death. Then the devil fiercely wars against us, but God will send his grace to those faithful who are found worthy of it. Then brilliant, great things often happen. As the ever-memorable Androutsos has said,[4] “Do not lose faith concerning anyone. We do not know what occurs between the soul and God even in the last moment. This is known to God alone.”

In older times, when someone lay at home and the time for the departure of his soul drew nigh, everyone knelt down around him and prayed. We in our day have forgotten about this practice, even those of us who are in some sense ‘religious.’ We have erased the metaphysical world from our minds. “What agony has the soul when it is parted from the body!” sings the Church.[5] Moreover, Christ, when he came to the end of his earthly life, said, “Now is my soul troubled.”[6] The soul of every man is troubled. Saint Basil the Great, too, writing about all these things, says that some wrongly put off repentance until the final hours of their life. At that time, brothers and sisters, the soul will be troubled. Holy people, like the Blessed Augustine, often sent those who were close to them away as death approached for it was their desire to be alone with God: ‘Farewell world and those things associated with it! Farewell relatives and friends!’

Not one of us has experienced death. At that time the bodily senses give way and man sees and lives another reality. He passes through the toll-houses, he comes face-to-face with, “…dark visions of evil demons.”[7] While the minds of great thinkers, as well as the imagination of the laity, have given rise to works centered on the mystery of death and the next life, it must be remembered that whatever is useful for our salvation, God has shown us, God has revealed to us! These things we ought to hold on to, and not seek to penetrate the mysteries of God out of curiosity.

We should not be indifferent towards the world and its blessings, brothers and sisters; God created these things and they are indeed beautiful. However, it is wrong and un-Christian to think that the earth is our permanent residence and that here all the yearnings of the soul are fulfilled. “For here have we no enduring city, but we seek one to come.” This is the proper mindset!

This is why all of us – each one of us to ourselves, parents to their children, catechists to the catechetical schools, teachers to their students, spiritual fathers to their spiritual children – need to begin emphasizing the metaphysical world: remember the end times, remember the end of this life, prepare for the future life. Where were we a hundred years ago? In the mind of God. And where will we be in a hundred years? Close to God, in boundless eternity, “For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”[8]

Thus we ought to live and chasten ourselves with the belief that, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Amen.

May we contemplate the great mystery of eternity during these holy days of festal celebration: Christ is risen and death is destroyed!

May we contemplate the great mystery of eternity during these holy days of festal celebration: Christ is risen and death is destroyed!

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli: Thessaloniki, 2011), 418-422. Translated by Fr John Palmer.

[2]               Hebrews 13:14.

[3]               Isaiah 22:13, 1 Corinthians 15:32.

[4]               Christos Androutsos (1869-1937) was a well-known Greek theologian who taught dogmatics and Christian ethics.

[5]               Idiomelon (tone 2) from the Funeral Service.

[6]               John 12:27.

[7]               Prayer to the Theotokos at Small Compline.

[8]               Luke 20:38.

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christ the high priest

Christ the High Priest, for our home chapel.

From my Master’s thesis:

The basis of iconography is the divine Incarnation of God the Word.  When God the Word became Man He gave a visible image to the invisible God and thus facilitated the existence of icons of the God-Man: “in the icon of Christ the person of Christ is made visible according to His human nature, just as He became visible and historical in His incarnation of the flesh.”[1]

God the Word became circumscribed in His historical incarnation and thus the iconographer can now circumscribe Him in icons: “But if He assumed humanity in truth, as we confess, then the hypostasis of Christ is circumscribable: not according to its divinity, which no one has ever beheld, but according to the humanity which is contemplated in an individual manner in it (10)”.[2]  However, this does not mean that the iconographer merely depicts the human nature of Christ, rather he depicts Christ’s person (hypostasis). That is, he depicts His full humanity and His full divinity as they are contained in His divine person: “neither the divine nor the human nature alone is depicted, but the hypostasis of Christ with the particular characteristics which define His human nature, that which the icons of Christ present is the person of the God-Man, the person of the whole God and of the whole man and it is understood and exists with His two natures.”[3] Wherefore, the iconographer ought to take care when painting icons, for he is clothing – in line and colour – the invisible God according to His visible image, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

Iconography Trivia: The first part of painting an icon is to place gold on the board or paint it ochra (yellow). However, here I’m setting a bad example. St. Nektarios doesn’t have gold yet because my teacher doesn’t let us apply the gold until the end. He thinks the gold will be ruined while we paint. Obedience before custom, I guess.

This is the foundation not only of icons of the God-Man, but of His saints as well: “The embodiment of God in Christ, the true humanity of Christ which can be seen and touched, is precisely the basis and fount of the icon. If there had been no Incarnation, no descent of God to earth, there could be no icons of God. Similarly, if there had been no Ascension of man into heaven in Christ, and if there had been no Pentecost, which is the descent of God into man, there could be no saints and therefore no icons of humans.”[4]

Since saints are dwelling places of the Holy Spirit, when they are painted in icons it is not merely their human nature that is depicted but their whole person which participates in the uncreated grace of God and thus once again, the iconographer puts into colour and line what is invisible, “I cherish… everything connected to God’s name, not on their own account but because they show forth the divine power…  I venerate and worship angels and men, and all matter participating in divine power and ministering to our salvation through it”.[5]


[1] Tselengidis, Iconological Works, 124.

[2] St. Theodore Studite, On the Holy Icons, 87, 24, Refutation 3.

[3]Tselengidis, Iconological Works, 124.

[4] Hart, “Transfiguring Matter”, 5.

[5] St. John Damascus, Apologia to those who decry Images, [109].

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thy cross1The History of the Cross[1]

by Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

Help us, O Cross of Christ!

Today, beloved brothers and sisters, we mark a great feast, a great celebration: it is the Exaltation of the Precious Cross. This feast carries us off to Golgotha on the day that the Son of Man and the Son of the Virgin was crucified. Today we will speak of the Cross, then. But who is able to sing the praises of the Lord’s Cross as is meet? We, who are but worms, let us dare to sputter out a few words.

The Cross is the flag of Christendom, it is an invincible weapon, it is, “…the beauty of the Church,”[2] it is the ethereal pulpit from which the greatest of words were heard. The Cross is the daystar, it is Noah’s ark, it is the rainbow, it is the sun which shines upon and warms the world. “Help us, O Cross of Christ!”

Much to the chagrin of the demons and the powers of darkness, the Cross has preformed, performs, and will perform miracles; miracles not only in the New Testament era, but even in the days of the Old Testament. The history of the Cross is divided into three periods: before the Crucifixion, the time of the Crucifixion itself, and after the Crucifixion – this is when the great miracle occurred.

When Christ was crucified at Golgotha amongst thieves the earth shook, the tombs opened and the dead were resurrected, the Sun was darkened from the sixth unto the ninth hour, and the curtain of the Temple of Solomon was torn in two. These are all small things. The great miracle is that at that precise hour the devil was defeated, for the blood of Christ became another Jordan in which every sinner is washed clean. Just a drop of the God-Man’s blood washes away the sins of the world: “…with his stripes we are healed,”[3] Isaiah tells us, and, “…the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,”[4] according to John. This is the great miracle.

The enemies of the Cross – how can we not say this? – are those who blaspheme, those who open their filthy mouths and blaspheme the precious Cross. In Greece, where the Cross is our national symbol, there ought not to be even a single person who utters blasphemies.

But we too are enemies of the Cross, my beloved brothers and sisters. How can this be? It might be that we venerate the Cross; that we weep in front of it; that we fast on account of it today. Our works, however, are unworthy of the Cross. What does the Cross mean? Take some chalk and write this on the blackboard. The Cross is truth, justice, humility, forgiveness, respecting the other: it is whatever is beautiful and exalted. Above all the Cross is sacrifice and love; love even for enemies. We have been taught to, “…love one another,”[5] and to, “…love [our] enemies.”[6] We have these virtues? Then let us venerate the Cross. We don’t have them? Then we too are enemies of the Cross – not directly, but indirectly.

The Cross ought to be everywhere, then: in churches, in our homes, in schools, in the marketplace, in courthouses, on military bases, in prisons, on the chests of our children and young people. The Cross in the morning when we wake up; the Cross when we eat; the Cross in the evening – even in the middle of the night! “I fall down and make my cross, and an angel is at my side,” our unlettered ancestors used to say. The Cross ought to be everywhere. Above all, however, the Cross ought to be in our hearts. And when the end of our life comes (which is like a small version of the end of the world) and like the thief we say, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom,”[7] then on our grave a wooden cross will stand declaring that we are true children of he who was crucified. O ye Christians praise the Lord and supremely exalt him unto the ages!

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli: Thessaloniki, 2011), 260-262. Translated by Fr John Palmer.

[2]               From the exapostolarion for Wednesday and Friday.

[3]               Isaiah 53:5

[4]               1 John 1:7

[5]               John 13:34

[6]               Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27-35.

[7]               Luke 23:42

cross

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stgregorypopeofrome Below is a very beautiful story from St. Gregory the Pope of Rome’s Dialogues (written in the 5th century). Interestingly, there is a very similar story found in Protopresbyter Stephanos Anagnostopolou’s twenty-first century book, Experiences During the Divine Liturgy on pp. 203-204. Truly, our faith is an unchanged one! Chapter Twenty-three: Of certain nuns absolved after their death GREGORY: His common talk, Peter, was usually full of virtue: for his heart conversed to above in heaven, that no words could in vain proceed from his mouth. And if at any time he spoke aught, yet not as one that determined what was best to be done, but only in a threatening manner, his speech in that case was so effectual and forcible, as though he had not doubtfully or uncertainly, but assuredly pronounced and given sentence. For not far from his Abbey, there lived two Nuns in a place by themselves, born of worshipful parentage: whom a religious good man served for the dispatch of their outward business. But as nobility of family does in some breed ignobility of mind, and makes them in conversation to show less humility, because they remember still what superiority they had above others: even so was it with these Nuns: for they had not yet learned to temper their tongues, and keep them under with the bridle of their habit: for often by their indiscreet speech they provoked the aforesaid religious man to anger; who having borne with them a long time, at length he complained to the man of God, and told him with what reproachful words they entreated him: whereupon he sent them by and by this message, saying: “Amend your tongues, otherwise I do excommunicate you”; which sentence of excommunication notwithstanding, he did not then presently pronounce against them, but only threatened if they amended not themselves. But they, for all this, changed their conditions nothing at all: both which not long after departed this life, and were buried in the church: and when solemn mass was celebrated in the same church, and the Deacon, according to custom, said with loud voice: “If any there be that do not communicate, let them depart”: the nurse, which used to give to our Lord an offering for them, beheld them at that time to rise out of their graves, and to depart the church. Having often times, at those words of the Deacon, seen them leave the church, and that they could not tarry within, she remembered what message the man of God sent them whiles they were yet alive. For he told them that he deprived them of the communion, unless they amended their tongues and conditions. Then with great sorrow, the whole matter was signified to the man of God, who immediately with his own hands gave an oblation, saying: “Go your ways, and cause this to be offered to our Lord for them, and they shall not remain any longer excommunicate”: which oblation being offered for them, and the Deacon, as he used, crying out, that such as did not communicate should depart, they were not seen any more to go out of the church: whereby it was certain that, seeing they did not depart with them who did not communicate, that they had received the communion of our Lord by the hands of his servant. PETER: It is very strange that you report: for how could he, though a venerable and most holy man, yet living in mortal body, loose those souls which stood now before the invisible judgment of God? GREGORY: Was he not yet, Peter, mortal, that heard from our Saviour: “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, it shall be bound also in the heavens: and whatsoever you shall loose in earth, shall be loosed also in the heavens?” [Matt. 16:19] whose place of binding and loosing those have at this time, which by faith and virtuous life possess the place of holy government: and to bestow such power on earthly men, the Creator of heaven and earth descended from heaven to earth: and that flesh might judge of spiritual things, God, who for man’s sake was made flesh, vouchsafed to bestow on him: for from there our weakness rose up above itself, from where the strength of God was weakened under itself. PETER: For the virtue of his miracles, your words do yield a very good reason.

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sts. pertpetua and felicity2Having recently received a blessing from His Grace Bishop Irenee of Ottawa and all of Canada, I am pleased to offer – on the feast of the African martyrs – the akathist I wrote for St. Perpetua and her companions quite a few years back. I wrote the akathist in acrostic (in alphabetical order) as the akathists of old were written in Ancient Greek so the faithful could more readily memorize them. (It wasn’t easy finding a word that started with “X”). In any case, I am happy to share it with you all. And so, although you can read a portion of it below, I have created a page for the akathist called “Akathist to the African Martyrs”. The tab is located at the top of the blog; here is a direct link.

If you would be so kind as to remember me in your prayers if or when you read it I would be very grateful.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

african martyrsWhen the Lord deemed it fitting He called His saints out of the African lands: holy Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus, to witness to their faith through suffering death. Thus, we have as an inheritance the flourishing tree of Orthodoxy, for they shed their blood, watering the seedling. Wherefore we cry aloud:

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity, and your companions

As a catechumen, O holy Perpetua, thou wast taken captive and while in prison thy father besought thee to denounce Christ. But boldly thou didst proclaim that thou couldst be called by no other name but Christian. Wherefore we marvel at thy conviction and cry out to thee thus:

Rejoice, thou who art a shining example for all catechumens

Rejoice, thou who chose the heavenly over thine earthly father

Rejoice, thou who refused to be called anything other than a Christian

Rejoice, being freed from the bondage of sin through baptism while yet in prison

Rejoice, for being informed by the Spirit thou prayed only for endurance of the flesh

Rejoice, Married Matron mother of a son

Rejoice, thou who wast tempted by womanly anxiety for thy suckling child

Rejoice, thou who wast ministered to by the holy deacons Tertius and Pomponius

Rejoice, thou who didst commend thy son to the care of thy mother

Rejoice, thou who didst comfort thy brother, a catechumen in the faith

Rejoice, thou who didst look upon the dungeon as a palace

Rejoice, Bold One asking the Lord whether thou wouldst die a martyr’s death

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Beholding a heavenly vision, holy Perpetua wast informed of her martyrdom. She was found worthy to see with spiritual eyes the contest of salvation. And looking upon the bronze ladder she didst see holy Saturus going up ahead of her, calling after her to follow. Wherefore we call to her:

Alleluia

Contemplating the narrow ladder holy Perpetua didst understand the struggle to enter Paradise, for as a vile serpent the devil lies waiting to strike. Yet encouraged by her teacher she didst trod on its head and ascended the ladder, her gaze fixed upward. Wherefore we cry to her:

Rejoice, thou who didst declare the serpent powerless in the name of the Lord

Rejoice, thou who didst proclaim the way to Life impossible for the negligent

Rejoice, thou who didst follow holy Saturus’ example in death as in life

Rejoice, thou who didst ascend and enter a vast garden

Rejoice, thou who didst stand in the company of many clothed in white

Rejoice, thou who wast greeted by the venerable Shepherd

Rejoice, thou who wast given to eat food sweeter than honey

Rejoice, thou who didst awake from thy vision at the word ‘amen’

Rejoice, Holy Saturus who wast found worthy to ascend the ladder first

Rejoice, O father who gave thyself up for the sake of the catechumens

Rejoice, Encourager of Perpetua to follow after thee in thine ascent

Rejoice, you who confidently forsook all hope in this world

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

During their meal the martyrs were all called to the tribunal, and once there they all proclaimed themselves Christians. Refusing to offer sacrifice to the idols for the Emperor’s prosperity, they left the procurator Hilarian baffled, who knew not how to chant:

Alleluia

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The Baptism of Christ is a Historical Event of Universal Significance[1]

 Metropolitan Augustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

            As we all know, there are things called Hertzian waves travelling throughout the air around us, carrying the various signals from all the different radio stations from one place to another. In order to receive these waves, however, and hear the voices carried upon them, one needs a radio with an antenna. Well, just as you need an antenna to hear the different radio stations, so we need antenna here in what we are speaking of here!

We live without an antenna, however: we have broken it! Should the radio antenna at home fall over, we run out immediately in order to set it aright. Why? That we might listen to what? Senseless and foolish things! Whoever turns off his radio and television is indeed fortunate since he prevents his mind from being filled up with garbage; the minds of men have become landfills on account of the garbage spewed out by the radios and televisions of the world. So we need an antenna, but what is this antenna? Faith! O faith! This is the antenna! By means of this antenna we hear unearthly messages which are sent, not from earthly radio and television stations, but rather from the ethereal station of the Holy Trinity.

O Holy Trinity, enlighten us all! Give us faith by means of which we might catch such spiritual waves! It is by means of faith that we rendered able to access great mysteries.

Permit us to add something further: if our spiritual antenna is to be pure, thus rendering us capable of hearing these messages; if we are to be men of the spirit, and not men of the simple five senses, Epicureans, followers of Epicurus,[2] then today we ought to go to the River Jordan. Where are we to go? I do not mean the Jordan found in Palestine where a great mob of men from all over the world will gather over the next few days. No, I am not suggesting that we go there. There is another Jordan, a loftier Jordan. This Jordan of which I speak is not one of normal water; no Jordan, no Axios, no Aliakmonas, not even if we were to pass through every river the world over would it be possible for us to emerge purified if we do not pass through this particular Jordan. Of which Jordan do I speak? The Fathers call it tears; tears for the love for God and of repentance for our sins.

O you who orders this present age, give me a tear! Many tears are shed in the world; were an angel to come down and collect all the tears which have been shed, these could easily make up a river! All these tears are worthless, however. There is one lone tear which matters: the tear shed for the sake of our sin-stained conscience, the tear of repentance such as was shed by Peter when he, “…went out, and wept bitterly.”[3]

Let us too shed tears of repentance! May these tears become for us a Jordan within which we will perceive the Holy Trinity, praising Father, Son and Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages! Amen.

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli: Thessaloniki, 2011), 31-32. Translated by Fr John Palmer.

[2]               Epicurus (341-270 BC) was a Greek philosopher who taught that death was the end of both body and soul and thus that attention ought to be focussed on enjoyment of the present life in tranquility and free of pain and suffering.

[3]               Luke 22:62

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