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volos-monasteries-2012-110(Originally posted in 2013)

Below is a translation I have done – through Gerontissa Macrina’s prayers – concerning the great rewards God has prepared for those who practice patience when confronted with great trials and temptations, and the spiritual exhalation the soul experiences (in this life or in the next) when we abstain from passing judgement, even on those who openly hate and harm us.

The passage is from Λόγια Καρδίας (pp. 246-250), a collection of homilies by Abbess Macrina of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Odigitria in Volos, Greece. At this time the book is only available in the Greek language; I hope it will be available in multiple languages in the near future. I read it and my soul soars, such is the power of this holy abbess’ divinely-inspired words. She is a saint like the saints of old: wise in spiritual matters, reverent in every regard and virtuous beyond compare! Words cannot express the effect she has on me, a stranger. And yet reading her words makes me feel as though I am sitting at her feet, learning from her firsthand the art of Christian spiritual struggle. Although I am just an unworthy, self-proclaimed “disciple” of this holy abbess, I laboured to share with you one of the most spiritually potent passages I have yet come across in her book.

May we have her prayers and her blessing!

Let’s be watchful concerning the matter of passing judgment. Let’s be very watchful concerning passing judgement! It is indescribable how fearful this matter is! “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Do we safeguard this saying? Even if we don’t have virtues, Christ will save us, He will take us into Paradise if we abstain from judging.

I will tell you something else, again from experience. Once a sister* in the world wanted to say something about me that didn’t happen to me; it was slander. For the glory of Christ I tell you this. Was it a temptation that put her up to it? Was it from hatred? Was it from jealousy that she did it? In any case, I said many, many prayers for her, I mean many prayers. I cried neither for my father, nor for my mother as much as I cried for this sister. With much pain I cried and I said: “My God, save me, help me, give me strength.” The prophet David said: “Deliver me from the slander of men and I will keep thy commandments” (Ps. 119: 134). I felt a great deal of pain inside.

I saw her coming to me in a vision. Her face had two indentations on account of her tears. It was so real! In the indentations she had clots of perspiration. Her whole face was covered in perspiration and black from suffering and fatigue. She had a sack on her back, too heavy to be lifted. And as soon as I saw her, I wanted to go and help her, to lift the weight from below, but it was like a stone wall and the weight lay there immovable. I said to her: “You are tired!”

“Yes, I am tired of lifting this weight!” she said. It was a stone like the porters used to carry on their backs a long time ago.

She said to me, “This evening is the Queen’s reception and she wants you to go.”

“The Queen wants me?” I asked.

And suddenly a vehicle arrived, not like any carriage or car, it was very different, and Gerontissa Theophano was sitting inside. She looked like a young child, like a young lady of fifteen years. She said: “Come, the Queen will have us at the reception this evening.”

I made the sign of the cross and I got into the vehicle. We proceeded to a beautiful turnpike. I saw a church in front of us – it was like looking at the church of Panagia in Tinos – such a nice church, it was bright, resplendent! I made the sign of the cross as I passed by. Across the way, toward the east, was what seemed to be a palace. The door to the palace was huge, just as doors are in large buildings. There in the middle of the doorway was the Queen, who, from her neck up I couldn’t see on account of the light of her face, because she was shining so brightly. I saw her resplendent sandals; she wore a feloni** and vest, each had two inches of piping embroidered around them.

Two lines were configured in front of her: one line with children who were wearing lace and ribbon in their hair, dressed just as the angels are, while the other line seemed to be composed of widows***, as though they were nuns, wearing monastic clothing, just like we wear.

I started toward the nuns and they told me it wasn’t my turn yet, I would go when it was my turn. Suddenly I heard chanting, “This is the day of the Resurrection, let us be radiant…” And the Queen began to say, “Come martyrs to the platform, come great-martyrs!” They were taking her blessing and going to the platform. From within the palace was heard, “This is the day of the Resurrection…”

When I approached, I took the hand of the Queen: her slender hand, those nails, that gentle hand has been imprinted on my soul. Padding me on the back she said, “Patience, patience, patience.” Then she addressed one of her maids of honour: “Escort Maria**** to the royal garden.”

I paused for a moment to see where they were chanting “This is the day of the Resurrection”. And I saw that inside the palace a banquet was laid out with very beautiful white tablecloths. What could you desire that the banquet didn’t have!

I lingered to listen and the maid took me by the hand and said, “That is for the martyrs, those who endured great temptations” and she gave me to understand that patience is needed. Afterward she took me to the royal garden, and I saw a vast place which had something like lilies, the brown lily had a cross. Just as the wind blew, so the lilies swayed. A vast place: green, beautiful, enchanted! Within this beautiful exhalation which I found myself, the sorrow in my soul fled, and pleasantness and joy came!

In the morning I went and found this sister who had slandered me, and hugged and kissed her. I didn’t know what to do for her; I didn’t know how to thank her for the false words she had said, I really didn’t know.

This experience stayed in my soul and from that time I have kept the commandment of God: judge not, so as not to be judged – even if I see the act committed in front of me, whatever I happen to see in front of me.

That which I saw in the vision stirred me and left me such comfort. I forgot everything. A purity entered into my nous, a passionlessness, a peacefulness, a heavenly thing entered my soul and I didn’t know how to thank that sister who was the cause of such good.

And I say what a good thing it is for someone to be patient! For this reason the Queen said, “Come martyrs of Christ, come great-martyrs of Christ, enter into the platform…” How can I have the boldness to touch such a banquet? It was the banquet for the martyrs who had struggled, who had endured martyrdom and for whom God had prepared greatness!

*Although Gerontissa calls this woman “sister” it seems that she was a laywoman.

**A feloni (φελόνι) is a chasuble, which in its origin was a traveling garment in the late Roman Empire. It is like a poncho, a circular garment with a hole in the middle for the head.

***It is a tradition in Greece for widows to wear black headscarfs and dress.

****Gerontissa Macrina’s name before monastic tonsure was Maria.

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For Greek original see: http://www.impantokratoros.gr/42D5D1B1.el.aspx

Observations on the text: “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”

Professor of the Theological School at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Dr. Dimitrios Tselengidis has sent his first theological observations to the Orthodox hierarchs of several Local Orthodox Churches (including those of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Alexandria, and Antioch) concerning the text: “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.”

Thessaloniki, 03 Feb 2016

This text displays recurrent theological inconsistency and contradiction. Thus, in the first article it proclaims the ecclesiastical self-identity of the Orthodox Church, considering Her—and very rightly—as the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” In article six, however, there is a contradiction with respect to the formulation of the above article (1). It notes characteristically that the “the Orthodox Church recognizes the historic existence of other Christian Churches and Confessions not in communion with Her.”

Here the reasonable theological question arises: If the Church is “One” according to our Creed and the Orthodox Church’s own self-identity (art. 1), then how is there mention of other Christian Churches? It is clear that these other Churches are heterodox.

Heterodox “Churches”, though, cannot at all be called “Churches” by the Orthodox. Considering things from a dogmatic perspective it is not possible to speak about a plurality of “Churches” with different dogmas, and this, indeed, with regard to many different theological issues. Consequently, as long as these “Churches” remain firm in the erroneous beliefs of their faith, there is no theological justification to grant them ecclesial recognition —and this officially —outside of the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”

In the same article (6), there is another serious theological contradiction. At the beginning of the article the following is noted: “According to the ontological nature of the Church, it is impossible for [Her] unity to be shattered.” At the end of this same article, however, it is written that, by Her participation in the Ecumenical Movement, the Orthodox Church has as its “objective aim the paving of the way which leads toward unity.”

Here the question is put: Given that the unity of the Church is an acknowledged fact, what type of unity of Churches is being sought in the context of the Ecumenical Movement? Does it perhaps mean the return of Western Christians to the ONE and only Church? Such a meaning, though, does not emerge either in the letter or the spirit of the entire text. On the contrary, indeed, the impression is given that there exists a long-established division in the Church and that the prospects of the [Ecumenical] dialogues focus on the disrupted unity of the Church.

Theological confusion is also caused by the ambiguity in article 20, which reads: “The prospects of the theological dialogues of the Orthodox Church with the other Christian Churches and Confessions shall always be determined on the basis of Her canonical criteria of the already established ecclesiastical tradition (canon seven of the Second Ecumenical Council and canon 95 of the Quinisext Council).”

But, canon seven of the Second Ecumenical Council and canon 95 of the Quinisext address the reception of specific heretics that had demonstrated their desire to join the Orthodox Church. However, it is apparent from the letter and spirit of the text, as judged from a theological perspective, that there is no discussion whatsoever of the return of the heterodox to the Orthodox Church, the only Church. Rather, in the text, the baptism of the heterodox is considered an accepted fact from the outset—and this without a Pan-Orthodox decision. In other words, the text endorses “Baptismal Theology.” Simultaneously, the text deliberately ignores the historic fact that the contemporary heterodox of the West (RC & Protestant) have not one, but heaps of dogmas that differ from the Orthodox Church (besides the filioque, created grace in the sacraments, the primacy of the pope, papal infallibility, the rejection of icons, and the rejection of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, etc.).

Article 21 also raises appropriate questions, where it notes that, “the Orthodox Church … has a favorable view of the documents adopted by the Commission [referring to the Committee for ‘Faith & Order’] . . . for the rapprochement of the Churches.” Here it must be observed that these documents [of the Committee] have never been adjudged by the Hierarchs of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Finally, in article 22 the impression is given that the Upcoming Holy and Great Council is prejudging the infallibility of its decisions, since it considers that, “the preservation of the authentic orthodox faith is ensured only through the synodical system, which has always rested in the Church and which constitutes the appropriate and final judge on all matters of faith.” In this article, the historic fact is ignored that in the Orthodox Church the final criteria is always the living dogmatic consciousness of the fullness of the Church, which in the past confirmed even Ecumenical Councils considered robber councils. The synodical system by itself does not mechanically ensure the correctness of orthodox faith. This only happens when the Synod of Bishops has the Holy Spirit and the Hypostatic Way—Christ—working within it, and thus as “syn”—“odikoi” [i.e., “traversing together on the way”] they are, in practice, “following the Holy Fathers.”

General Assessment of the Text

With all that is written and what is clearly implied in the text above, it is clear that its initiators and authors are attempting the institutional and official ratification of Christian Syncretistism-Ecumenism by means of a Pan-Orthodox Synod. This, however, would be catastrophic for the Orthodox Church. For this reason I humbly propose the text’s total withdrawal.

In closing, one theological observation on the text, “The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments” (See: https://mospat.ru/en/2016/01/28/news127389/). In article 5.i, it notes: “The marriage of an Orthodox person with a heterodox person is not permitted according to canonical akrivia [the ‘rule’] (canon 72 of the Quinisext Council in Trullo). However, it is possible to be blessed through condescension and love for man under the express condition that the children of this marriage will be baptized and raised in the Orthodox Church.”

Here, the express condition that, “the children of this marriage will be baptized and raised in the Orthodox Church” clashes with the theological guarantee of marriage as a sacrament of the Orthodox Church. The reason for this: because child-bearing shows itself—in connection with the baptism of children in the Orthodox Church—to legitimize the service of mixed marriage, something clearly forbidden by a Canon of the Ecumenical Councils (canon 72 of the Quinisext). In other words, a synod that is not Ecumenical, such as is the upcoming Holy and Great Council, explicitly turns a decision of an Ecumenical Council into something relative. This is unacceptable.

And finally this: If the blessed marriage does not provide children, is this marriage theologically legitimized simply on account of the intention of the heterodox spouse to place any possible children in the Orthodox Church?

For the sake of theological consistency, article 5.i, needs to be removed.

+  Translation by: Rev. Fr. Matthew Penney, Feb. 7th, 2016, with assistance by Fr. C. A, and edited by Fr. Peter Heers.

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Fr. Theodoros Zisis – the speaker in the below video – is Emeritus Professor of Patrology and former Chair of the Department of Pastoral and Social Theology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. At one time he was personally involved in the preparations for this Council, and thus brings first-hand knowledge and experience to his critical insight on the preparations and themes of the upcoming Council. It was originally uploaded in Greek a few months ago, and thus addresses the proposed themes that have since been agreed upon.

 

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Death and Resurrection[1]

Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

I hesitate to speak to you, brothers and sisters, for our times are like those described in a certain prophecy wherein it is said that the ears of men will be open to the devil, but not to Christ.[2] For your sakes, however, I will deign to say a few words, knowing that though not everyone will listen to me, perhaps half will; and if not half, perhaps ten; and if not ten, perhaps one. If even one hears me, this is enough! The reward is great! As Christ himself says, one soul is worth more than the whole visible world.[3]

There is one lone word which causes everyone to quake with fear. What word is it? It is the word ‘death’. When people hear the word ‘death’, they become agitated and uneasy. Once when I was a young ierokyrakas (preacher) visiting a village,[4] I uttered the word ‘death’ somewhere in the context of my sermon, and at that very moment I overheard someone in the crowd cry out with terror, “Knock on wood!” They thought that by doing this they might chase death away. Death will come, however; it is a fact of life.

When will it come? It will come at the moment we least expect it. It comes at night – in the middle of the night; it comes in the morning; it comes while one is at work; it may come anytime. The hour when we will give up our soul to God is unknown to us.

What is death? Is it oblivion? Non-believers say that it is oblivion. You die, they say, and that’s it; you are finished, gone! But we say that beyond the grave there exists another life. The body may dissolve into those elements from which it is composed, but the soul is immortal and eternal and lives on until one day the body will resurrect and the immortal soul will return to it. There will be a resurrection!

‘Are there proofs of this?’ the atheists ask. There are, indeed! What are these proofs? There are three kinds of proofs, in fact: first, we have the testimony of nature; second, we have the various prophesies of the Holy Scriptures; and third, we have the relevant miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So there are proofs of the resurrection! Every seed proclaims this to us. What is a seed? It is but the tiniest little thing. You sow it in the earth, it decays, and then from it a little stem grows, eventually peeking out from the earth and sprouting sometimes thirty, sometimes sixty, sometimes one hundred bean sprouts. During the summer months these plants cover entire fields like a green sea – what a beautiful sight! Once a non-believing scientist visited the Holy Mountain, staying at a kelli whose elder loved flowers. As the courtyard was fragrant with the scent of multi-coloured flowers, the elder asked his visitor, “Do you know where all these came from?” “Where?” replied the scientist. “I will show you,” said the elder. Disappearing for a moment, he returned with a box containing seeds. If you have ever seen a seed, you will know that it is often smaller than the head of a pin, and yet within it hides a flower, a plant, or even a great tree. How can this be? Try as it may, science cannot make a seed. The Apostle Paul himself uses this example. “You doubt that there is a resurrection?” the elder continued, “Just look at the seed. Just as a seed falls to the ground, decays, and then grows into a beautiful plant or tree, so man dies and his body decays under the earth so that one day from that decayed body a new, more beautiful body might proceed.”[5] The whole of nature preaches the resurrection: the sun which rises in the morning, the moon which comes out at night, the stars which shine in the heavens; the whole universe proclaims this!

Prophesies, too, announce the resurrection of the dead. We hear one such Old Testament prophesy read on Holy Saturday. What does it say? The Prophet Ezekiel stood over a plain which was full of bones and suddenly heard a voice saying, “Can these bones live?” To this he replied, “Lord, you know.” God then commanded him, “Preach, speak to these bones.” Then the earth began to shake and the bones came back together forming skeletons, and sinews bound them together and skin covered them. They were yet missing souls, however, so lastly God commanded Ezekiel to preach again, and finally all those bodies resurrected.[6] This vision is a prophesy concerning the resurrection of the dead.

But the greatest argument proving that death has been overcome lies in those miracles where Christ raised men from the dead. There are three such miracles that he worked on others: first, he raised Jarius’ daughter; second, he raised the son of the widow of Nain – weeping loudly over the loss of her only child, Christ approached her and said, “Weep not”;[7] and third, he raised his friend Lazarus who was four days in the tomb.[8] Finally, after enduring death on the Cross and three days in the tomb, Christ then resurrected himself.

There is such a thing as the resurrection then! As certain as you are that tomorrow will be Monday, so certain should you be that the dead will rise! Accordingly, death should not be called ‘death’, but rather ‘sleep’. When a mother sees her child sleeping does she weep? No! For she knows that he will wake up energetic and refreshed. And nekrotafia (graveyards) should not be called nekrotafia, but rather koimitiria (sleep-yards).[9] Death is a sleep – this is what the Gospel, the Church, and Saint Kosmas all tell us – and therefore Christians should not weep inconsolably on its account. Just as one who sleeps eventually wakes up, so one day will all the dead be resurrected in order to be judged in accordance with their works, “…and these (those on the left) shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”[10]

The resurrection of Christ and of every mortal man – the common resurrection – is a fact. And this we confess every time we say the Creed: “And I look for the resection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

This is what I had wanted to say to you. And I preach with the hope that what I have said has not fallen on deaf ears for without having met certain preconditions, it is impossible for one to believe in the resurrection: I hope that none among you is an atheist; everything around you cries out that God – the Lord of life and death – exists; I hope that none among you is impious or a blasphemer – he who believes in the resurrection and the judgement does not disrespect the judge; I hope that all of you go to church. Be honorable and hard-working, labour all week. Then, when daybreak comes on Sunday and the bells ring out, fly to the church. Are any of you absent? There are 168 hours in a week; God asks but one! That is how long the Divine Liturgy lasts from “Blessed is the Kingdom…” until, “Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers…”. Come to church, then, say a “Glory to thee, O God”, say a thank-you for the good things he has given you. Finally, I hope that you all long for the Jerusalem-on-High. You love your earthly homeland, boasting that we built the Parthenon and the Hagia Sofia while other peoples were still living in caves and eating acorns. But if we love our earthly homeland this much, how much more ought we to love our heavenly and eternal homeland?

With this hope, then, as a bishop, I bless you. I bless your homes, your families, your work, and I pray that, through the prayers of the Theotokos, God will be with you now and always. Amen.

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli: Thessaloniki, 2011), 413-417. Translated by Fr John Palmer.

[2]               See 2 Timothy 4:4, “And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

[3]               See Matthew 16:26, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” and Mark 8:37, “Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

[4]               One who has a licence to preach in a particular diocese.

[5]               See 1 Corinthians 15:36-38, “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die. And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.

[6]               See Ezekiel 37:1-10.

[7]               Luke 7:13.

[8]               See John 11:39.

[9]               Nekrotafia is a composite word combining the words nekros – dead – and taphos – grave roughly translated as ‘cemetery’. Here Metropolitan Augustinos is telling us to prefer to word koimitirio which also means ‘cemetery’ is rooted in the Greek work koimaw meaning ‘to sleep’.

[10]             Matthew 25:46.

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The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery is now available in Romanian translation, published by Sophia Press. You can order your copy here.

sophia-Mireasma-sfinteniei.-Povestiri-dintr-o-manastire-de-maici---Constantina-PalmerMireasma sfinteniei. Povestiri dintr-o manastire de maici

Povestirile Constantinei Palmer nu sunt nici teologice, nici catehetice. Ele sunt relatări personale, nemijlocite, ale propriilor sale experiențe duhovnicești trăite într‑o mănăstire ortodoxă, prin intermediul cărora autoarea împărtășește cititorilor nu numai trăirile ei de taină într‑un univers existențial plin de iubire și dăruire, ci și invitația de a explora în profunzime acest mod de viață. O astfel de invitație ne deschide paginile cărții de față, îndemnându‑ne să pătrundem într‑o lume mai puțin cunoscută, pentru a afla cât mai multe aspecte interesante, inedite, ziditoare de suflet culese din viața de zi cu zi într‑o mănăstire de maici.

S‑au scris multe cărți și biografii ale părinților stareți contemporani, diferite relatări ale unor experiențe du­hov­ni­cești dobândite în mănăstiri de călugări, dar caracterul unic al viețuirii monahale în mănăstirile de maici a rămas deseori ascuns, departe de ochii pelerinilor. Desigur, în Hristos Domnul nu mai este parte bărbătească și parte femeiască (Galateni 3, 28), însă călugăria femeilor are totuși o calitate distinctă. „Bărbații, după cum spunea o maică stareță, încearcă să taie sfoara cu toporul dintr‑o singură lovitură; femeile se nevoiesc să o desfacă încet. Altfel spus, bărbații încearcă să‑și reteze patimile năpustindu‑se cu forță asupra lor, în timp ce femeile se străduiesc fără încetare să se lupte cu patimile, dar duc această luptă treptat‑treptat, fără a atrage atenția asupra lor.”

COLECȚIE: RELIGIE / DIVERSE RELIGIE / POVATUIRI DUHOVNICESTI

EDITURA: SOPHIA
APARIȚIE: 2015
ISBN:978‑973‑136-459-9
PAGINI: 312
FORMAT: 13X20 CM
TRADUCERE: LUMINIȚA IRINA NICULESCU

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