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Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

Below is an excerpt from Knot Twenty-Eight of the book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, published by Ancient Faith Publishing and available for purchase both as a paperback and an e-book.

Mavroudis the Martyr

Kalliopi lived in the village nearest the monastery. I met her for the first time when we both visited the monastery to help the sisters with the olives from their orchard. As we sorted olives together, we began a conversation about new martyrs. I asked her if there were any martyrs among the local saints. Kalliopi mentioned Mavroudis, a martyr who had lived in her father’s town. Mavroudis’s martyrdom is recounted in a folk song written by the locals, which she sang for us.

Similar to Byzantine chant, some older Greek folk songs have a haunting feel to them. I found some to be quite melancholic. They never reminded me of our Atlantic Canadian folk songs—some of which are sailors’ songs, making light of hardships. Many Greek folk songs cause suffering and longing experienced long ago to come back and settle in your chest.

The song Kalliopi sang to us explains how Mavroudis was killed by Muslim Turks for refusing to denounce his Christian faith and embrace Islam. He had an argument with some Turks and insulted their faith. So the Turks threatened to throw him into the fire if he didn’t agree to become a “Turk”—in other words, a Muslim. He asked them to give him some time to make up his mind, and they granted him permission.

On seeing his mother approach, he asked her, “Mama, what shall I do? They want me to become a Turk or they will throw me into the fire.”

“Better to be a Turk and live, than dead in the fire!” she advised him.

He was very sorrowful when he heard her answer in this way, and crying and pulling his hair he said to her, “No, I will wait for my love to come and tell me what she thinks.”

He waited, and when his wife arrived he asked her, “Tell me, my love, should I become a Turk or be thrown into the fire?”

“It’s better for you to enter the fire than to become a Muslim,” she answered. On hearing this, the Turks threw them both into the fire, granting them a martyr’s death.

The song ends, “Like candles they burned; like incense they smelt. Doves they became; to the heavens they flew.”

There were, of course, a few wet cheeks by the time Kalliopi finished singing.

 

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unnamedA Review of Metropolitan Augustinos N. Kantiotes: A Short Biography

by Rev Dr John Palmer

For years I have read with great pleasure the works of the ever-memorable Metropolitan of Florina Augustinos (Kantiotes) and have drawn enormous benefit from them. In fact, since my ordination to the holy priesthood, hardly a week passes when I do not consult his books when preparing for my Sunday homily. Moreover, while reading Greek editions of his writings, I have often found material so spiritually helpful that my conscience has compelled me to render an English translation for circulation among the faithful in my parish. Even before my ordination, however, while I was yet a doctoral student in Thessaloniki, Metropolitan Augoustinos’ writings greatly impacted me. Not a single text left me indifferent: each and every time I read something His Eminence wrote, I felt moved to labour more diligently in the vineyard of my own soul in order to draw closer to Christ. His simple manner, born of great spiritual depth; his unswerving adherence to, and unflinching belief in the tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church; his bold and fearless proclamation that all that matters in this life is that we keep Christ and our soul. These qualities drew me towards this great personality of the modern Church. The pull was so strong, in fact, that I remember deciding in the Spring of 2010 that I needed to make a pilgrimage to Florina and take the blessing of the then-aged Metropolitan. When I returned to Greece following summer vacation in late August, however, I was greeted with the news that His Eminence had just reposed and was thus deprived the opportunity for a personal meeting. Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes: A Short Biography has proved a great consolation in the face of this missed opportunity, allowing me – and all who read it – an important and intimate encounter with this pillar of the modern Church.

As one might expect from a biography, Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes generally follows the course of His Eminence’s life chronologically. The first section, covering from his birth on the island of Paros in 1907 up to the end of his theological studies in 1929, offers a valuable example of the importance of surrounding children with good spiritual influences, proving that pious parents and teachers, an experienced spiritual father, and exposure to the monastic life, are instrumental in the formation of future saints.

After charting the course of his studies, and demonstrating himself to be more than capable in academic spheres, the book arrives at the beginning of his public life following his monastic tonsure and ordination by the Metropolitan of Aitolia in 1935. This first period of public ministry (1935-1967) was deeply impacted by the German and Italian occupations of Greece during the Second World War, as well as the Greek Civil War. The out-spoken Fr Augustinos, who refused to tolerate any encroachment on Church’s spiritual life or injustice, was seldom able to remain anywhere for very long, passing from Aitolia to Ioninna, to Macedonia, to Kozani, to Gravenna, and finally to Athens where he remained for roughly fifteen years between 1951 to 1967. He undertook similar work in each of these places: he published soul-profiting periodicals and catechetical materials to be distributed free of charge, he untook Modern Greek translations of the writings of the Holy Fathers and articles promoting the teachings of the Philokalia (something the biography’s author rightly points out was rare at the time, this treasure having largely been forgotten outside of monasteries). He also established soup kitchens, orphanages, and boarding houses, he promoted confession and repentance, and he preached tirelessly, “…with admonitions and censuring evil” (p.31). This practice often endangered his very life when his voice turned against secular forces, but Fr Augustinos faced such threats bravely and as a true Christian. Characteristic is his response to the future Metropolitan of Nafpaktos upon being informed that the latter had uncovered and negotiated the cancellation of a German order for his execution: “My life is not worth a penny…Let me die serving and defending our martyric and completely abandoned nation. If I don’t see you again, farewell unto eternity!” (p.44). He proved equally firm and fearless with regard to unfitting practices within the Church. He once resigned from his position as secretary in a Metropolis because the bishop tried a priest on the testimony of one sole witness, rather than on the testimony of three as is required by the Scriptures and the Holy Canons.

In post-war Athens, “His voice [continued to be] that of the healthy conscience of the Church which he objectively raised against kings, patriarchs, hierarchs, monks, political figures, clergy, and laity, often incurring the wrath of the corrupt and the powerful” (p.74). There are a number of stories highlighting this last point recounted in the book but here I will mention only one which is particularly indicative of the sharpness of his Christian conscience. When beauty pageants were first introduced in Greece, “…and became a lure to relinquish the virtue of modesty in young Greek men and women, while everyone else remained silent on the subject, Fr Augustinos wrote a whole article in Christianike Spitha. This was followed by protests that were organized by religious associations as well as people in positions of power; rallies; all-night prayer vigils; night processions. The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece condemned beauty pageants. Hierarchs personally supported Fr Augustinos. The conscience of the people rejected the pageants. The newspapers who organized the events withdrew, one after the other. The participation of young Greek women in these events decreased dramatically…This protest [initiated by Fr Augustinos] was characterized by one of the biggest newspapers in America as, ‘the most unique reaction in the whole world against profligate beauty pageants'” (p. 69-70). Sadly we in our age look upon things a thousand times more corrupting than these pageants in our use of television and the internet and yet we manage to silence our consciences and remain unbothered: not Fr Augustinos! Not only did he avoid such things himself, but he laboured to preserve countless others from this spiritual pitfall at the risk of exposing himself to the criticism of the world.

Moving on from this Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes next details Fr Augustinos’ election to the Metropolitan See of Florina in 1967 and the years of his episcopal ministry. Greatly valuable here is the book’s reproduction of a significant section of the homily he preached at his enthronement. Although at the time this homily represented a presentation of ideals and aspirations, in retrospect it paints an exact picture of all that he did during his years as Metropolitan. There is perhaps no better testimony to His Eminence’s spiritual character: what he said, he did with God’s help. Here the book breaks slightly from chronological order, dealing with his particular accomplishments one at a time. No summary can do these accomplishments justice; here I will simply mention the most notable. His episcopacy was marked by the building of monasteries, churches, orphanages, nursing homes, boarding houses, and the erection of crosses. He was also deeply concerned with the cultivation of priestly vocations and their proper training: when he inherited the widowed Metropolis it had 140 parishes and only 50 priests; by the time of his retirement he had ordained 184 candidates to the priesthood, most of who passed through ecclesiastical schools he himself had founded. He openly and boldly taught against the use of birth control, opposed abortion, and rightly denied sacraments to those who were not married in the Orthodox Church but were illicitly cohabitating. He was again a tireless teacher, preaching 5,629 homilies which furnished a large portion of the contents of his 82 published books. He opposed the political regime fearlessly whenever it impeded the spiritual life of the Church and Christians.

His concern that the word of truth be rightly divided, that the Orthodox Faith be proclaimed without adulteration, and thus that the faithful be not mislead and fall away from Christ, was further manifested when he took a stand against Athenagoras of Constantinople for his uncanonical statements and actions within the context of the Ecumenical ‘dialogue’ with the Roman Catholics. Along with Metropolitan Amvrosios of Eleutheropolis, Metropolitan Paul of Paramythia, and the fathers of the Holy Mountain, Metropolitan Augustinos canonically ceased commemoration of Athenagoras, invoking the 15th Canon of the 1st-2nd Council which states: “As for those persons who on account of some heresy condemned by holy Councils, or Fathers, withdrawing themselves from communion with their president, who, that is to say, is preaching the heresy publicly, and teaching it barehead in church, such persons not only are not subject to any canonical penalty on account of their having walled themselves off from any and all communion with the one called a Bishop before any conciliar or synodal verdict has been rendered, but, on the contrary, they shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honor which befits them among Orthodox Christians. For they have defied, not Bishops, but pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers; and they have not sundered the union of the Church with any schism, but, on the contrary, have been sedulous to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions.” God alone knows how many souls he saved by openly demonstrating his disapproval of the Patriarch’s activities.

Three brief sections follow and are devoted to the outcome of his labours, a brief account of the persecutions he suffered gladly for Christ’s sake, and to his co-struggles who laboured with him in Christ’s vineyard. The final section deals with his life after his resignation, tendered to the Holy Synod in September 1999 and accepted as of January 2000 when he was an astonishing 93 years old. In retirement, Metropolitan Augustinos continued to labour until he suffered a stroke and reposed in August 2010, “…after hundreds, if not thousands, of admirers and spiritual children came from all over Greece to receive their final blessing from him, ask for forgiveness, and say goodbye” (p.147).

As should be easily ascertainable from the brief summary of the work above, Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes is extremely didactic, though unobtrusively so. His Eminence’s life is presented in a way that lessons for modern Orthodox Christians are easily drawn – for example, how children ought to be raised, the importance of and the spiritual pitfalls associated with education, the fearlessness with which we ought to stand before the forces of secularity both within and outside of the Church, and so on – but not in such a manner that feels like the author is editorializing. Also notable is the fact that large sections of the text are taken directly from Metropolitan Augustinos’ own writings, giving the book a sort of autobiographical flavour and adding spiritual depth. One notable instance of this occurs early in the book when discussing the success he enjoyed throughout his education and the spiritual problems this caused him early in life: “These highest honors that I continued to receive, from my early years of elementary education up until I finished college, harmed me spiritually,” he writes. “I confess it publically. Some sort of conceit possessed me because of my theological knowledge. And God humbled me for my arrogance” (p.26). The book is full of such edifying, self-reflective looks into His Eminence’s inner spiritual life which betray his spiritual sensitivity.

It bears mentioning that Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes is a translation of a Greek work bearing the same title. Unfortunately, a number of treasures of Greek Orthodox literature have been poorly translated in recent times and as a consequence these important works have so far failed to mark English-speaking Orthodox culture as deeply as they perhaps should have. Happily no such problem exists here: Alexander Filip has rendered a smooth translation which reads easily and enjoyably.

Turning attention to the physical aspects of the book, the reader will find himself greeted with a nice, roughly 150-page volume, well-bound, with glossy pages – important since the book is filled with beautiful photographs of His Eminence and those persons referred to throughout the course of the narration. My only complaint – if it can be called that! – is that the cover is a little plain by North American standards. Given the value of the book, I would suggest a more eye-catching cover for the second edition.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend Metropolitan Augoustinos N. Kantiotes: A Short Biography highly enough. We live in an age – and sadly within an ecclesiastical environment – permeated by luke-warmness. Far too often we let ourselves get drug along with those trends which prevail in our culture and run contrary to the Gospel of our Lord when we should be rebelling against them by word and by our manner of life so as to become leaven for the world around us. Far too often we show ourselves indifferent towards the faith, ignoring violations of the spirit-inspired traditions of Orthodoxy simply because it may result in drawing the ire of some of those around us; by doing this we leave our brethren within the Church prey to the noetic wolf. Far too often we take the easy route in our own spiritual lives, avoiding the narrow path of the Gospel. An age like ours stands in dire need of a reminder of the Apostolic zeal characteristic of true Christians: such a reminder is Metropolitan Augustinos. May we have his blessing!

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

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

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

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

Christmas 1945 (A letter from Valeriu)

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

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

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

First Christmas Poem:

O roaming star from the East,

With white rays of gold,

Glides toward the bright blue

Of the heavens vividly blooming.

And the star announces the Child Messiah

Born of the Virgin Mary.

A gentle lamb looks at Him and wants to kiss

The child bathed in light.

A mother with her child at breast,

Pure in love, looks with wonder

At the fulfillment of the Annunciation.

A Holy Child is born in the starry night

Of the Holy Virgin and the Holy Spirit;

The true Word of Father

Comes down today on earth

A beacon forever lit!

Second Christmas Poem:

In the heart of the servant

The Lord makes His manger

On the night of Christmas…

Lilies rain down from heaven

Upon His new manger

And dew drops down from heaven.

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

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On the Feast of Stephen

Below are two chapters of a sixteen-chapter novelette I wrote about the great Czech king and martyr Weneceslaus (St. Vaclav as he is also called in the Orthodox Church). His title was actually Duke of Bohemia but he was named “King” posthumously as an honour. The novelette (which, God willing, will be published with Lumination Press someday) is based on true events and real people in his life. (Podevin, for example, was believed to be the name of the saint’s faithful page). The famous Christmas carol Good King Weneceslaus tells of a miracle the saint worked on the “feast of Stephen” which we in the Orthodox Church celebrate on December 27. St. Vaclav’s feast day is September 28, and his holy grandmother St. Ludmilla’s feast day is September 16. Enjoy!

Chapter One:

He who gives to the poor will lack nothing” (Proverbs 28:27)

The night was dark, the sky rich with the light of many stars. The white snow lay sparkling as it reflected the glow of the half moon. Every now and again a gusty wind swept the snow up into a spiral, dancing.

“Even the earth rejoices in Your birth, O Lord!” the Duke of Bohemia whispered as he gazed out from a large window of Prague castle. 

“Sire, could I offer you a cup of hot wine?” the page asked, interrupting Duke Václav’s thoughts, having entered the room without notice.

“No, thank you, my good page,” the Duke responded, leaning forward and straining to see a moving figure, hindered by the high snow.

“Podevin, that old man there, gathering wood, do you know him?”

            “Why yes, Sire. That’s Old Hermit Jiří. He lives not far from here,” the young page responded, now standing by his master’s side at the window.

“Where exactly does he live?”

“Oh I would say a mile or so hence, just at the foot of Blaník mountain, quite close to St. Agnes’s spring, in fact.”

“Well then, why don’t we go pay him a visit, and wish him a happy Christmas?”

“But Sire, it’s awfully cold out tonight. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have one of your men in arms go in your stead?”

“No, no, my boy, after all, the Lord King our God became incarnate Himself, He didn’t send someone else in His stead, so neither shall I,” the Duke said, patting the page’s back.

“Say, go fetch some wine and bread. It’s best if we bear some gifts with us for the old hermit,” the Duke told the page.

“Oh, and grab a bundle of kindling as well, would you?” he added.

“May it be blessed, Sire,” Podevin said, bowing to his master and exiting the room.

Václav, finding himself alone, walked over to the illumined corner of his bedchamber and stood before a wooden board in front of which burned a small, red glass oil lamp. On the board was painted an image of the Incarnate Lord, gently held in the arms of His mother.

He who holds all creation in His hand, today is born of a virgin. He whose essence none can touch, today is bound in swaddling clothes as a child. He who in the beginning established the heavens, today is laid in a manger.

“I worship Your birth, O Christ, my King!” the Duke finally said aloud. Crossing himself, he bent low, resting his knees on the ground as he lowered his head.

Hearing footsteps echoing through the corridor he quickly stood up, not wanting anyone to see his moment of reverence.

“Here we are Sire, ready for our visit,” the page said, gesturing toward the basket he held, clearly weighed down by generosity.

“Well done, my boy. Let us be off then.”

They walked down the long passageway together, stopping before exiting the large castle in order to dress appropriately for the cold night.

“We should be plenty warm, don’t you think Podevin?” Duke Václav asked cheerfully.

“I should hope so, Sire,” Podevin responded, betraying a look of doubt.

“Well then, may an angel of peace accompany us, directing our way before the Lord,” the Duke proclaimed, and taking the glass lantern from off the wall he set out.

“Amen, so be it,” the young page contributed, a response he had grown accustomed to sharing.

Chapter Two:

“He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12)

 Bundled up, bearing light and gifts, the two set off into the night. Vácslav walking confidently ahead while the page, about ten years the Duke’s junior, trudged along behind him as quickly as he could.

The walk to St. Agnes’s spring was nothing short of a stroll in fine weather. Why, the page had often gone there with his father as a child. But the snow made the walk much longer, and the cold much less pleasant.

As time passed the page, only a teenager, fell further and further behind. For each step he took in the snow, it seemed he slipped two feet back.

“Come now, Podevin, give over the basket. You shouldn’t have been carrying it to begin with!”

“No, Sire, please, it’s disgraceful and inappropriate for you to carry it,” the page protested.

“Now, now, don’t think that way. Why, how is it that you expect me, a ruler, to treat the ruled as less important than myself? And especially on this the very day we celebrate the divine condescension of the King of all!

“He who is worshiped by angels, saw fit to be born in a cave alongside dumb beasts. No, I don’t think myself worthier than any other. I’m just His lowly servant, ruling on earth, but desiring only to be ruled by Him,” the Duke finished, taking the basket from his page.

“I’m sorry, Sire, it’s only that the wind blows hard against us and I find the snow too high to walk through at such a brisk pace.”

“Of course, I understand. Why don’t you step in my imprints instead, I think you’ll find it easier to continue that way,” Václav suggested.

To Podevin’s surprise, not only was walking made easier by stepping in the Duke’s footprints, but indescribable warmth emitted from each one.

How can this be? the page thought. How can the snow, imprinted by the Duke’s stride, give off warmth?

But knowing his master well he abstained from asking such burning questions. He knew from experience it always made the Duke uncomfortable when someone pointed out the benefits and comforts that came of his words, his ways, his very gaze.

“Where to?” Václav asked, gesturing toward the wall of forest they had come upon. “Can you remember where the old father’s hut is from here?”

“Yes, Master, it’s there, through the trees and to our right. We’re not at all far now.”

They continued trekking along through the snow, now significantly more high – though noticeably contributing to the Duke’s joy.

“How I love this blessed white!” he exclaimed.

“There, Sire, draw your light over here. I believe that is Old Hermit Jiří’s hut.”

“So it must be,” the Duke said.

And drawing closer the two were both surprised to see the door to the hut open before they were even a stone’s throw away from it.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” the old man called out, opening wide the door of his small hut. His thick grey beard and scruffy hair were illuminated by the light coming from behind him.

“Greetings, my good man,” the Duke said in his deep and cheerful voice. “Christ is born!” he called out, still in the thick of the forest.

“Glorify Him!” the old man responded, smiling and bowing low to greet the ruler of his homeland.

“You were expecting us?” the page asked, surprised by the way the hermit conducted himself, as if he had invited them and was anticipating their arrival for some time now.

            “All who arrive are invited, and not even one passes by who is not,”  the old hermit answered, his eyes sparkling the reflection of light from Václav’s lantern.

“Come in, come in! May my humble abode be as comforting to you as your majestic castle,” the hermit said, guiding them further into the one room that appeared to make up the entire hut.

***You can read Chapters 3 and 4 here.***

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Gerontissa Fevronia of the Holy Dormition Monastery in Panorama, Greece reposed in 2008 at a young age. However, in her time here among us she acquired the wisdom of a great elderess. Below is a translation from this holy mother speaking about the three holy youths whose memory we celebrate today, Decemeber 17.

God was able to interfere so that the three youths would not enter the furnace, and would not that have been a miracle? But there! He let them fall into the forty-some foot furnace. This makes an impression on me. Not that God didn’t act in time to keep them from falling in, but we fall so that we become of God. To face our struggle, to convince God that we are His even while in the furnace, even while in the lion’s den. See, it doesn’t say, “in the fountain of flames they were not burnt”. It could have, but it doesn’t say, “in the fountain of flames they were not burnt,” but rather, “[they] rejoiced in the fountain of flames as though in the waters of rest”.

The great miracle is that [even in the midst of] trials we offer a fountain of rejoicing, of joy, of elation. It is not a great miracle to be thrown to the lions and for them not to eat you. It is, of course, a miracle, but a great miracle is for the lions to become like sheep!

Therefore, for you to be of God is wonderful, even if it is a martyrdom!

-The Ever-Memorable Gerontissa Fevronia Panoramatos

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st. anna

(Source) St Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary, was the youngest daughter of the priest Nathan from Bethlehem, descended from the tribe of Levi. She married St Joachim (September 9), who was a native of Galilee.

For a long time St Anna was childless, but after twenty years, through the fervent prayer of both spouses, an angel of the Lord announced to them that they would be the parents of a daughter, Who would bring blessings to the whole human race.

The Orthodox Church does not accept the teaching that the Mother of God was exempted from the consequences of ancestral sin (death, corruption, sin, etc.) at the moment of her conception by virtue of the future merits of Her Son. Only Christ was born perfectly holy and sinless, as St Ambrose of Milan teaches in Chapter Two of his Commentary on Luke.The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in Her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although She committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, She would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from Her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibilty of our salvation is in doubt.

The Conception of the Virgin Mary by St Anna took place at Jerusalem. The many icons depicting the Conception by St Anna show the Most Holy Theotokos trampling the serpent underfoot.

“In the icon Sts Joachim and Anna are usually depicted with hands folded in prayer; their eyes are also directed upward and they contemplate the Mother of God, Who stands in the air with outstretched hands; under Her feet is an orb encircled by a serpent (symbolizing the devil), which strives to conquer all the universe by its power.”

There are also icons in which St Anna holds the Most Holy Virgin on her left arm as an infant. On St Anna’s face is a look of reverence. A large ancient icon, painted on canvas, is located in the village of Minkovetsa in the Dubensk district of Volhynia diocese. From ancient times this Feast was especially venerated by pregnant women in Russia.

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