Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category
Elder Simeon Kragiopoulos passed away at 6:00 a.m. on September 30, 2015. He was the Abbot of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Panorama, Thessaloniki and known throughout as a true elder and teacher. I had the opportunity to hear him speak once, after years of keeping silent on account of his failing health, he gave a homily in the summer of 2012. I was blessed to be in attendance. (Actually the above photo was taken that very day).
Here is just one of the many spiritual gems he has offered us through his wise teachings:
(Source) Spiritual work happens secretly in the heart. Externally, let everything else threaten us. Like the sea: The wind blows, waves rise. But deep down it’s all quiet, peaceful, serene.
This is how a man who trusts in God lives. There might be a wild rage out there, but deep down nothing hinders the soul from having a mystical communion with God, a mystical love for God. Quietly and mystically, in a special way that the heart perceives, the Lord is whispering: “Don’t be afraid. I am here. Keep walking this path. Keep loving me, keep believing in me, keep following me”.
It’s not enough to suffer myriad things in life. When, though, you believe in God and accept all these –whatever it is that happens to you- gladly, for the love of God, God will make a saint out of you.
To read more of Elder Symeon’s God-inspired words check out this link.
(Source) There had begun a persecution of Christians under the emperor Nero (56-68). They took the Apostle John for trial at Rome. St John was sentenced to death for his confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but the Lord preserved His chosen one. The apostle drank a cup of deadly poison, but he remained alive. Later, he emerged unharmed from a cauldron of boiling oil into which he had been thrown on orders from the torturer.
After this, they sent the Apostle John off to imprisonment to the island of Patmos, where he spent many years. Proceeding along on his way to the place of exile, St John worked many miracles. On the island of Patmos, his preaching and miracles attracted to him all the inhabitants of the island, and he enlightened them with the light of the Gospel. He cast out many devils from the pagan temples, and he healed a great multitude of the sick.
Sorcerers with demonic powers showed great hostility to the preaching of the holy apostle. He especially frightened the chief sorcerer of them all, named Kinops, who boasted that they would destroy the apostle. But the great John, by the grace of God acting through him, destroyed all the demonic artifices to which Kinops resorted, and the haughty sorcerer perished in the depths of the sea.
The Apostle John withdrew with his disciple Prochorus to a desolate height, where he imposed upon himself a three-day fast. As St John prayed the earth quaked and thunder rumbled. Prochorus fell to the ground in fright. The Apostle John lifted him up and told him to write down what he was about to say. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord, Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8), proclaimed the Spirit of God through the Apostle John. Thus in about the year 67 the Book of Revelation was written, known also as the “Apocalypse,” of the holy Apostle John the Theologian. In this Book were predictions of the tribulations of the Church and of the end of the world.
After his prolonged exile, the Apostle John received his freedom and returned to Ephesus, where he continued with his activity, instructing Christians to guard against false teachers and their erroneous teachings. In the year 95, the Apostle John wrote his Gospel at Ephesus. He called for all Christians to love the Lord and one another, and by this to fulfill the commands of Christ. The Church calls St John the “Apostle of Love”, since he constantly taught that without love man cannot come near to God.
In his three Epistles, St John speaks of the significance of love for God and for neighbor. Already in his old age, he learned of a youth who had strayed from the true path to follow the leader of a band of robbers, so St John went out into the wilderness to seek him. Seeing the holy Elder, the guilty one tried to hide himself, but the Apostle John ran after him and besought him to stop. He promised to take the sins of the youth upon himself, if only he would repent and not bring ruin upon his soul. Shaken by the intense love of the holy Elder, the youth actually did repent and turn his life around.
St John reposed when he was more than a hundred years old. He far outlived the other eyewitnesses of the Lord, and for a long time he remained the only remaining eyewitness of the earthly life of the Savior.
When it was time for the departure of the Apostle John, he went out beyond the city limits of Ephesus with the families of his disciples. He bade them prepare for him a cross-shaped grave, in which he lay, telling his disciples that they should cover him over with the soil. The disciples tearfully kissed their beloved teacher, but not wanting to be disobedient, they fulfilled his bidding. They covered the face of the saint with a cloth and filled in the grave. Learning of this, other disciples of St John came to the place of his burial. When they opened the grave, they found it empty.
Each year from the grave of the holy Apostle John on May 8 came forth a fine dust, which believers gathered up and were healed of sicknesses by it. Therefore, the Church also celebrates the memory of the holy Apostle John the Theologian on May 8.
The Lord bestowed on His beloved disciple John and John’s brother James the name “Sons of Thunder” as an awesome messenger in its cleansing power of the heavenly fire. And precisely by this the Savior pointed out the flaming, fiery, sacrificial character of Christian love, the preacher of which was the Apostle John the Theologian. The eagle, symbol of the lofty heights of his theological thought, is the iconographic symbol of the Evangelist John the Theologian. The appellation “Theologian” is bestown by Holy Church only to St John among the immediate disciples and Apostles of Christ, as being the seer of the mysterious Judgments of God.
(Source) We solemnly celebrate, dear brothers and sisters, the Nativity of the Most Holy Virgin Mary from her barren parents, pious Joachim and Anna. The Holy Church established this feast during the first centuries of the Christian Faith. The event that we celebrate—the birth of the God-Chosen maiden—brought joy to all the world, for the God-man, Jesus Christ, Who shone forth from Her, destroyed God’s curse which weighed heavily upon the transgressing and accursed human race, and brought God’s blessing upon it; having trampled down inherent death, He gave people eternal life. Thus the Holy Church explains the cause of the present joy.
The parents of the Ever-Virgin sorrowed long over their barrenness; they prayed long and fervently to the Lord that He loose this barrenness, which was considered a punishment from God for sins. They gave much alms in order to incline the mercy of the All-Merciful, endured the reproach of their countrymen, and through this sorrow and ceaseless prayer and good works, they gradually purified their spirits, and burned ever greater with love and dedication to God, thus being prepared by God’s Providence to give blessed birth to the Most Blessed Daughter, chosen out of all people to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word.
The Lord leads His chosen ones to glory by a narrow and sorrowful path; for even She, the Mother of God according to the flesh, received the prophecy of Simeon that a sword shall pierce Her soul, and She will experience heavy sorrows in her soul during Her Son’s suffering life, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (Lk. 2:34–35). The path of all God’s chosen is thus sorrowful and narrow, for the world and the prince of this world—that is, the enemy of God and people, extremely presses the people of God. The Lord Himself allows them to go by the narrow way, inasmuch as He enables them to strive for God and put all their hope in Him.
But let us turn our gaze from the sorrow to the joy. What joy does the Nativity of the Mother of God bring us? Let us explain in more detail the Church hymn which explains the meaning of this feast’s joy. Through the birth of the Ever-Virgin, through Her only-begotten Son and God, cursed and outcast mankind makes peace with God Who is immeasurably offended by man’s sins, for Christ became the mediator of this peace (cf. Rom. 5:10-11). Man is freed from the curse and eternal death, made worthy of the blessing of the Heavenly Father; he is united and co-mingled with the Divine nature; he is raised to his first inheritance by this co-mingling, according to the Church hymn. Mankind, once an outcast, has been made worthy of sonship to the Heavenly Father, received the promise of the glorious resurrection and eternal life in the heavens together with the angels.
This has all been and is being wrought by the Son of God incarnate from the Most Pure Virgin from the Holy Spirit, and by the intercession of His Most Pure Mother. How honored and magnified is mankind through the Holy Virgin Mother of God, for it has been made worthy of renewal and sonship by God; She Herself was made worthy by Her immeasurable humility and exceedingly great purity and holiness to be the Mother of the God-man! She is ever the most powerful Intercessor for the Christian race before Her Son and God! She is our Hope unashamed; She turns away from us the dark cloud of God’s righteous wrath, opens to us the ancient paradise by Her powerful intercessions; She upholds the thrones of kings, and preserves them unshakeable to the ages. She has saved Russia thousands of times and continues to save her; She has made her strong, glorified her, established her, and continues to do so; She is the Surety of Sinners for salvation. To Her do Christians direct their numberless prayers, requests, and praises, doxologies and thanksgiving; She has worked and continues to work miracles without number in the Church, to the ends of the world.
Let us brightly celebrate the feast of the Nativity of the Most Pure Virgin Mary, adorning ourselves with all the Christian virtues.
Modern Saints is a new series wherein I post a small biography and a few inspiring words from contemporary holy men and women who have not yet been included in the Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church (ie. have not formerly been glorified).
A Glimpse of Her Holy Life:
Abbess Thaisia was born in 1840 to a noble family in Novgorod. She was named Maria in honour of the Most Holy Theotokos who had granted Maria’s parents the safe arrival of their baby after two previous children reposed at birth. Little Maria was enrolled in the Pavolovsky Institute for young women in St. Petersburg where she received the (prophetic) nicknames ‘nun’ and ‘abbess’. Even at this young age Maria’s spiritual nobility began to emerge as she received multiple visitations of divine grace. To her mother’s dismay Maria disclosed that she wished to pursue monasticism. After her mother received a vision of the Mother of God reprimanding her for prohibiting Maria from following in the footsteps of countless holy fathers and mothers, Maria became a novice in Tikhvin at the Holy Monastery of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (the feast day is November 21). In 1870, at the age of 30, Maria was tonsured a nun with the name Arcadia. She was tonsured again, into a higher degree of monasticism, with the name Thaisia in 1872. Over the next 10 to 13 years or so Mother Thaisia lived in three or four different monasteries, suffering on account of poor living conditions and cruel treatment by the sisters. In 1885 Mother Thaisia was made Abbess of a convent in Leushino. Here she laboured to establish a firm foundation for the holy monastery, as well as set up a school for orphans of clergymen which later became a centre for spiritual education as an ecclesiastical college for girls. In 1891 she met her beloved spiritual father, St. John of Kronstadt, to whom she “poured out her soul”* even after his repose. In 1915, after serving as abbess for some 30 years, Mother Thaisia reposed on January 2. May we have her blessing!
Wise Counsel from the Abbess:
“It is through sorrows that the great designs of God’s Providence are manifested to us. ‘God is known in His burdens.’ But how heavy and hopeless our sorrows appear to our short-sighted and faint-hearted minds! We do not understand, we do not even want to see in the sorrows that befall us the great purposes of Providence; we are unable to obey God without murmuring” (Abbess Thaisia: An Autobiography, p.131)
“Commit yourself, I repeat, without defence to the will of your [spiritual] guides – give way to them, like clay to the potter, like iron to a smith; let them mold and hammer on the forge of obedience (as was expressed by St. John, author of the Ladder) your unruly and proud will, until it will be ground into the soft wax of humility, so that with understanding and discernment you may repeat the words of the Psalmist: “In our humiliation the Lord remembered us” (Ps. 135:23), or, “It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I might learn Thy statutes (Ps. 118:71).” (Letters to a Beginner, p. 47)
*This is a line from a poem the abbess wrote about her spiritual father after his repose
On this day in the Holy Orthodox Church we commemorate the miracle that occurred at the tomb of the Holy Virgin-Martyr, Euphemia the All-Praised. You can read about the miracle here. Below is a poem written in the virgin-martyr’s honour by St. Nikolai Velimirovich.
O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,
an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.
Neither did she cry out nor sigh, nor did she sorrow,
but gave warm thanks to God for her tortures.
Angels then appeared to her standing in the flame,
and extinguished the embers with refreshing rain.
O such is our golden faith: invincible;
O such is the love for God: unquenchable.
O wise virgin Euphemia, virgin of Christ,
He gave you the Kingdom for your suffering.
You have boldness before the Lord and the Mother of God,
and you help them in their work by your holy prayers.
O all-blessed Euphemia, pray for sinners,
and convert them, O holy one, to repentance.
O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,
an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.
(Source) Today the Holy Church piously remembers the sufferings of the Holy Glorious and All-Praised Apostles Peter and Paul.
St. Peter, the fervent follower of Jesus Christ, for the profound confession of His Divinity: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” was deemed worthy by the Savior to hear in answer, “Blessed art thou, Simon … I tell thee, that thou art Peter [Petrus], and on this stone [petra] I build My Church” (Mt.16:16-18). On “this stone” [petra], is on that which thou sayest: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” it is on this thy confession I build My Church. Wherefore the “thou art Peter”: it is from the “stone” [petra] that Peter [Petrus] is, and not from Peter [Petrus] that the “stone” [petra] is, just as the Christian is from Christ, and not Christ from the Christian. Do you want to know, from what sort of “rock” [petra] the Apostle Peter [Petrus] was named? Hear the Apostle Paul: “Brethren, I do not want ye to be ignorant,” says the Apostle of Christ, “how all our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor.10: 1-4). Here is the from whence the “Rock” is Peter.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the final days of His earthly life, in the days of His mission to the race of man, chose from among the disciples His twelve Apostles to preach the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardor was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt.10:2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. Therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession: “I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in the heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth: shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt.16: 19). Therefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these “keys” and the right “to bind and loosen.” And that it was actually the Church that received this right, and not exclusively a single person, turn your attention to another place of the Scriptures, where the same Lord says to all His Apostles, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” and further after this, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whose soever sins ye retain, are retained” (John 20: 22-23); or: “whatsoever ye bind upon the earth, shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosened in heaven” (Mt.18:18). Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational cornerstone, Jesus Christ Himself (Eph 2:20), doth bind and loosen. Let both the binding and the loosening be feared: the loosening, in order not to fall under this again; the binding, in order not to remain forever in this condition. Therefore “Iniquities ensnare a man, and everyone is bound in the chains of his own sins,” says Wisdom (Prov 5:22); and except for Holy Church nowhere is it possible to receive the loosening.
After His Resurrection the Lord entrusted the Apostle Peter to shepherd His spiritual flock not because, that among the disciples only Peter alone was pre-deserved to shepherd the flock of Christ, but Christ addresses Himself chiefly to Peter because, that Peter was first among the Apostles and as such the representative of the Church; besides which, having turned in this instance to Peter alone, as to the top Apostle, Christ by this confirms the unity of the Church. “Simon of John” — says the Lord to Peter — “lovest thou Me?” — and the Apostle answered: “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee”; and a second time it was thus asked, and a second time he thus answered; being asked a third time, seeing that as it were not believed, he was saddened. But how is it possible for him not to believe That One, Who knew his heart? And wherefore then Peter answered: “Lord, Thou knowest all; Thou knowest that I love Thee.” “And sayeth Jesus to him” all three times “Feed My sheep” (John 20:15-17).
Besides this, the triple appealing of the Savior to Peter and the triple confession of Peter before the Lord had a particular beneficial purpose for the Apostle. That one, to whom was given “the keys of the kingdom” and the right “to bind and to loose,” bound himself thrice by fear and cowardice (Mt.26:69-75), and the Lord thrice loosens him by His appeal and in turn by his confession of strong love. And to shepherd literally the flock of Christ was acquired by all the Apostles and their successors. “Take heed, therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock,” the Apostle Paul urges church presbyters, “over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of the God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28); and the Apostle Peter to the elders: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof not by constraint, but willingly: not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when is appeared the Prince of pastors, ye will receive unfading crowns of glory” (1 Pet. 5:2-4).
It is remarkable that Christ, having said to Peter: “Feed My sheep,” did not say: “Feed thy sheep,” but rather to feed, good servant, the sheep of the Lord. “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor.1:13). “Feed My sheep”. Wherefore “wolfish robbers, wolfish oppressors, deceitful teachers and mercenaries, not being concerned about the flock” (Mt.7:15; Acts 20:29; 2 Pet 2:1; John 10:12), having plundered a strange flock and making of the spoils as though it be of their own particular gain, they think that they feed their flock. Such are not good pastors, as pastors of the Lord. “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11), entrusted to Him by the chief Shepherd Himself (1 Pet 5:4). And the Apostle Peter, true to his calling, gave his soul for the very flock of Christ, having sealed his apostleship by a martyr’s death, is now glorified throughout all the world.
The Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, was changed from a robbing wolf into a meek lamb. Formerly he was an enemy of the Church, then is manifest as an Apostle. Formerly he stalked it, then preached it. Having received from the high priests the authority at large to throw all Christians in chains for execution, he was already on the way, he breathed out “threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1), he thirsted for blood, but “He that dwells in the Heavens shall laugh him to scorn” (Ps 2:4). When he, “having persecuted and vexed” in such manner “the Church of God” (1Cor.15:9; Acts 8:5), he came near Damascus, and the Lord from Heaven called to him: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” and I am here, and I am there, I am everywhere: here is My head; there is My body. There becomes nothing of a surprise in this; we ourselves are members of the Body of Christ. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me; it is hard for thee to kick against the goad” (Acts 9:4-5). Saul, however, “trembling and frightened”, cried out: “Who art Thou, Lord?” The Lord answered him, “I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest.”
And Saul suddenly undergoes a change: “What wantest Thou me to do?” — he cries out. And suddenly for him there is the Voice: “Arise, and go to the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6). Here the Lord sends Ananias: “Arise and go into the street” to a man, “by the name of Saul,” and baptize him, “for this one is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9: 11, 15, 18). This vessel must be filled with My Grace. “Ananias, however, answered: Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints in Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Thy Name” (Acts 9:13-14). But the Lord urgently commands Ananias: “Search for and fetch him, for this vessel is chosen by Me: for I shall show him what great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:11, 15-16).
And actually the Lord did show the Apostle Paul what things he had to suffer for His Name. He instructed him the deeds; He did not stop at the chains, the fetters, the prisons and shipwrecks; He Himself felt for him in his sufferings, He Himself guided him towards this day. On a single day the memory of the sufferings of both these Apostles is celebrated, though they suffered on separate days, but by the spirit and the closeness of their suffering they constitute one. Peter went first, and Paul followed soon after him. Formerly called Saul, and then Paul, having transformed his pride into humility. His very name (Paulus), meaning “small, little, less,” demonstrates this. What is the Apostle Paul after this? Ask him, and he himself gives answer to this: “I am,” says he, “the least of the Apostles… but I have labored more abundantly than all of them: yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me” (1 Cor.15:9-10).
And so, brethren, celebrating now the memory of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, remembering their venerable sufferings, we esteem their true faith and holy life, we esteem the innocence of their sufferings and pure confession. Loving in them the sublime quality and imitating them by great exploits, “in which to be likened to them” (2 Thess 3: 5-9), and we shall attain to that eternal bliss which is prepared for all the saints. The path of our life before was more grievous, thornier, harder, but “we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12: 1), having passed by along it, made now for us easier, and lighter, and more readily passable. First there passed along it “the author and finisher of our faith,” our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Heb 12: 2); His daring Apostles followed after Him; then the martyrs, children, women, virgins and a great multitude of witnesses. Who acted in them and helped them on this path? He Who said, “Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15: 5).