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In a carefully detailed narrative the Gospel relates how Christ, six days before His own death, and with particular mindfulness of the people “standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me” (John I I :42), went to His dead friend Lazarus at Bethany outside of Jerusalem. He was aware of the approaching death of Lazarus but deliberately delayed His coming, saying to His disciples at the news of His friend’s death: “For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14).

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus was already dead four days. This fact is repeatedly emphasized by the Gospel narrative and the liturgical hymns of the feast. The four-day burial underscores the horrible reality of death. Man, created by God in His own image and likeness, is a spiritual-material being, a unity of soul and body. Death is destruction; it is the separation of soul and body. The soul without the body is a ghost, as one Orthodox theologian puts it, and the body without the soul is a decaying corpse. “I weep and I wail, when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb dishonored, disfigured, bereft of form.” This is a hymn of St John of Damascus sung at the Church’s burial services. This “mystery” of death is the inevitable fate of man fallen from God and blinded by his own prideful pursuits.

With epic simplicity the Gospel records that, on coming to the scene of the horrible end of His friend, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). At this moment Lazarus, the friend of Christ, stands for all men, and Bethany is the mystical center of the world. Jesus wept as He saw the “very good” creation and its king, man, “made through Him” (John 1:3) to be filled with joy, life and light, now a burial ground in which man is sealed up in a tomb outside the city, removed from the fullness of life for which he was created, and decomposing in darkness, despair and death. Again as the Gospel says, the people were hesitant to open the tomb, for “by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).

When the stone was removed from the tomb, Jesus prayed to His Father and then cried with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out.” The icon of the feast shows the particular moment when Lazarus appears at the entrance to the tomb. He is still wrapped in his grave clothes and his friends, who are holding their noses because of the stench of his decaying body, must unwrap him. In everything stress is laid on the audible, the visible and the tangible. Christ presents the world with this observable fact: on the eve of His own suffering and death He raises a man dead four days! The people were astonished. Many immediately believed on Jesus and a great crowd began to assemble around Him as the news of the raising of Lazarus spread. The regal entry into Jerusalem followed.

Lazarus Saturday is a unique day: on a Saturday a Matins and Divine Liturgy bearing the basic marks of festal, resurrectional services, normally proper to Sundays, are celebrated. Even the baptismal hymn is sung at the Liturgy instead of Holy God: “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.”

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“Lazarakia” for the Feast of St. Lazarus

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True Christian Unity

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“What Unity are We Talking About? Those Who Departed from the Church are Heretics and Schismatics”
February 11, 2016

There are serious gaps in the theological and canonical discussions at the upcoming meeting of the Pan-Orthodox Synod, notes Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol.

In a letter, of which the Agency of Religious News Romfea.gr has published extracts, the eminent hierarch does not consider there to be any problem of restoring the unity of Christians, since this, in his opinion, was never disrupted. Rather, certain Christians chose a path different to the one we follow, that of the original Orthodox truth.

There are no churches or confessions. Rather, these have cut themselves off from the Church and must be considered heretics and schismatics, notes His Eminence, expressing confusion as to why such an important issue has been ignored.

The stance of His Eminence, who invokes the right of each hierarch to express his opinion regarding such an important event, is sure to cause discussion and debate within Orthodoxy.

“Since, in agreement with regulations sent to us regarding the organisation and operation of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church, and in particular article 12, paragraphs 2 and 3, indicate that we are entitled first to express our views at our local Synod, I, having examined my conscience, humbly submit to the Holy and Sacred Synod of our holy Church my views and opinions regarding the following matters,” the Reverend Metroplitan Athanasios underlines in his letter.

In his letter, to which Romfea.gr gained exclusive access, His Eminence Athanasios speaks about the text of the 5th Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference held in Chambesy in October entitled “Decision – Relations of the Orthodox Church to the rest of the Christian world,” stating the following:

“I am in total agreement with the first three articles of the text. However, at article 4 onwards, I have made the following observations: “The Orthodox Church has always prayed ‘for the union of all’ – I believe this to mean the return to and union with Her of all those who broke away and distanced themselves from Her, of heretics and schismatics, once they have renounced their heresy and schism and flee from those things with repentance and are integrated and joined – united – with the Orthodox Church in accordance with the teachings of the sacred canons,” remarks His Eminence Athanasios.

His Eminence continues: “The Orthodox Church of Christ never lost the ‘unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit” and does not accept the theory of the restoration of the unity of those ‘who believe in Christ,’ because it believes that the unity of those who believe in Christ already exists in the unity of all of Her baptised children, between themselves and with Christ, in Her correct faith, where no heretics or schismatics are present, for which reason She prays for their return to Orthodoxy in repentance.”

His Eminence completes his letter, of which Romfea.gr has released excerpts, thusly: “I believe that what is stated in article 5 regarding ‘the lost unity of Christians’ is incorrect, because the Church as God’s people, united among themselves and with the Head of the Church which is Christ, never lost this unity and therefore is not in need of rediscovering or seeking it, because it always was, is, and will be just as the Church of Christ has never ceased nor will cease to exist.”

His Eminence Athanasios adds that, “what happened is that groups, peoples or individuals left the body of the Church and the Church prays, and is required to try through mission, that they all return in repentance to the Orthodox Church via the canonical route. In other words, there do not exist other Churches, only heresies and schisms, should we wish to be more precise in our definitions.”

“The expression ‘towards the restoration of Christian unity’ is incorrect because the unity of Christians – the members of the Church of Christ – has never been broken, as long as they remain united to the Church. Separation from the Church and flight from the Church have unfortunately happened numerous times due to heresies and schisms, but there was never a loss of the internal unity of the Church,” His Eminence continues in his letter.

Elsewhere, His Eminence Athanasios states: “I question why the text contains multiple references to ‘Churches’ and ‘Confessions’? What difference and which element allows us to call some Churches and others Confessions? Which is a Church and which a heresy and which a schismatic group or confession? We confess one Church and that all the others are schisms and heresies. I maintain that giving the title ‘Church’ to heretical or schismatic communities is entirely incorrect from a theological, dogmatic and canonical perspective because the Church of Christ is one, as also stated in Article 1, and we cannot refer to a heretical or schismatic community or group outside the Orthodox Church as ‘Church’.”

“At no point does this text state that the only way that leads to union with the Church is solely the repentant return of heretics and schismatics to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, which according to Article 1 is our Orthodox Church. The reference to the ‘understanding of the tradition of the ancient Church’ gives the impression that there is an ontological difference between the ancient Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the genuine continuation of the same until the present day, namely our Orthodox Church. We believe that there is absolutely no difference between the Church of the 21st century and the Church of the 1st century, because one of the attributes of the Church is the fact we also confess in the Symbol of Faith, namely that it is Apostolic,” stressed the Metropolitan of Limmasol.

The Bishop subsequently underlines that in Article 12, the impression is given that the Orthodox are looking to restore the right faith and unity, giving cause for an unacceptable view.

“Article 12 states that the common purpose of the theological dialogues is ‘the final restoration of unity in correct faith and love’. This gives the impression that we Orthodox are seeking our restoration to correct faith and the unity of love, as if we had lost the right faith and are seeking to discover it through the theological dialogues with the heterodox. I maintain that this theory is theologically unacceptable for us all,” underlines Metropolitan Athanasios.

Elsewhere, His Eminence expresses objections to the text, stressing that “the reference of the text to ‘the World Council of Churches’ gives me the opportunity to make a complaint against occasional syncretistic events which took place therein, but also against its title, since it regards the Orthodox Church as ‘one of the Churches’ or a branch of the one Church which seeks and strives for Her realisation at the World Council of Churches. For us, however, the Church of Christ is one and unique, as we confess in the Symbol of Faith, and not many.”

His Eminence further states: “The view that the preservation of the genuine Orthodox faith is guaranteed only through the synodical system as the only ‘competent and final authority on matters of faith’ is exaggerated and ignores the truth that many synods throughout Church history taught and espoused incorrect and heretical doctrines, and it was the faithful people which rejected them and preserved the Orthodox faith and championed the Orthodox Confession. Neither a synod without the faithful people, the fullness of the Church, nor the people without the synod of Bishops, is able to regard themselves as the Body of Christ and Church of Christ and to correctly express the experience and doctrine of the Church.”

Addressing the Archbishop of Cyprus and the members of the Holy Synod, the Metropolitan of Limassol stresses: “Use of hard or insulting language cannot be made in ecclesiastical encyclicals of this kind, nor do I think anyone desires the use of that form of expression. However, the truth must be expressed with precision and clarity, though naturally with pastoral discernment and genuine love towards all. We owe it also to our brothers who find themselves in heresy or schism to be entirely honest with them, and with love and pain to pray and do everything possible to bring about their return to the Church of Christ.”

“I humbly maintain that texts of such importance and prestige as those of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church must be very carefully formulated with theological and canonical precision in order that these ambiguities or untested theological terms do not also give rise to incorrect expressions which could lead to misconceptions and distortions of the correct attitude of the Orthodox Church. Moreover, in order for a Synod to be valid and canonical, it must not depart in any way from the spirit and teaching of the Holy Synods which preceded it, the teaching of the Holy Fathers and Holy Scriptures, and it must be free from any ambiguity in the precise expression of the correct faith,” adds His Eminence Athanasios.

Elsewhere, invoking the Holy Fathers, His Eminence Athanasios stated: “Never did the holy Fathers nor ever in the holy canons or rulings of the sacred Ecumenical or Local Synods, are heretical or schismatic groups referred to as churches. If the heretics are indeed churches, where is the single One Church of Christ and the Apostles?”

The Metropolitan of Limassol also expressed his strong opposition, stressing that those who do not have the right to vote and participate in the Synod are merely ornamental.

“I humbly express my disagreement with the fact that the practice of all Sacred Synods until the present of allowing each bishop a vote is abolished. There was never before a system of ‘one Church, one vote,’ which renders the members of the Holy and Great Synod, with the exception of the primates, mere decorative items by refusing them the right to vote,” His Eminence Athanasios says in his letter.

In closing, the Hierarch of the Church of Cyprus states that: “I do not want to upset anyone with what I wrote, nor do I want to be seen to be teaching judgement of my brothers and fathers in Christ. I simply feel the need to express what my conscience requires me to.”

To read the Metropolitan’s entire letter, see the site of the Holy Metropolis of Limassol: http://www.imlemesou.org/images/20016/keimeno-g-sinodo.pdf.

Greek original: http://www.romfea.gr/epikairotita-xronika/6446-lemesou-gia-poia-enotita-milame-osoi-efugan-apo-tin-ekklisia-einai-sxismatikoi-kai-airetikoi

Translation by: Fr. Kristian Akselberg

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iakovosA Glimpse of His Holy Life:

From a young age little Iakovos (which was his name even at baptism) loved the Lord and His Bride, the Church. Born in Livisi, in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), he and his family were forced to immigrate to Greece during the exchange of populations. Eventually settling on the island of Evia, he lived with his family in a storehouse with other refugees, blankets separated the individual living quarters. Little Iakovos would lift these blankets in order to “cense” his neighbours with the toy censor he made out of a roof tile. His holiness was noticed very early, though he wasn’t fully understood and suffered a great deal of derision; children would call him “geronda” and “father”. He would arise in the night for vigil, chant throughout the day, and was even entrusted with the keys to the village church since a priest came only twice a month to serve the divine services.

Throughout his life he lived in great poverty and fasting. As a young man he would chant in the church barefoot because he could not afford shoes. People ridiculed him but he often had visions of saints and angels which would comfort and strengthen him in his resolve to live for Christ. After serving in the Greek army and working to save enough money for his sister’s dowry, he was free to become a monk. Wanting to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps (seven generations of priest-monks, a bishop and a saint), he initially wanted to become a monk in the Holy Land. Before setting out he visited St. David’s Monastery for what he thought would be the last time and was instead spiritually persuaded to stay there by St. David himself. Through many hardships the elder increased in holiness and grace during his time at St. David’s, eventually becoming the abbot and receiving countless souls whom he guided and comforted. St. David was like his own spiritual father, appearing to him on many occasions and hearkening to his many prayers and supplications. The elder reposed on November 21, 1991, the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple. May we have his blessing!

Wise Counsel from the Elder: (from Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit)

“We are not sanctified by the place in which we live, but by the way we live.”

“The faithful shouldn’t tell others of things they have confessed, of details of their life or their spiritual endeavour.”

“Chase away the bad thoughts and fantasies that the devil presents. Don’t even notice them.”

“Don’t hesitate [to come to confession]. Don’t be ashamed. Whatever you may have done, even the greatest of sins, the spiritual father has power from the Lord Christ Himself and from the Apostles to forgive you with his stole.”

“I asked God in prayer for the gift of discerning men’s hearts by looking at their faces, so that I might be able to help them; and God granted it.”

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Could there be another incorrupt hierarch in America? Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas appears to be incorrupt. Read the news here.

You can read about other incorrupt holy hierarchs in America here, here, and of course about St. John Maximovitch (possibly the most well known), here.

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repentance

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An image from the 11th Century, believed to be a representation of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople

The Apostles and the Mission [1]

 Metropolitan Avgoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

The twelve Apostles! These are the twelve foundation stones upon which the Church is built, while Christ himself is the cornerstone; these are the twelve trumpets whose sound goes out to the ends of the earth; these are the twelve stars which illumine the spiritual sky of the Church! I am not here today to show the spiritual film of the lives of the Holy Apostles, but rather I will have to be satisfied with providing a general picture of their work and making a few observations.

The life of the Apostles is divided into two periods: the period before they met Christ and the period following their meeting with him. The day of that meeting was a moment of great change in their lives. Indeed, whoever has met Christ and has repented of his sins has lived this experience; his life too is divided into two epochs, one dark and one light. Do you see your life as being divided in this way? Have you marked that day when you cut your life in two with a knife?

Before the day they met Christ, the Apostles lived a quiet life. Have you been to the islands? Have you seen how the fishermen live? This is roughly how the Apostles lived. They went out fishing at night and when they returned in the morning they sold the fish they had caught; this is how they earned their bread. And, most of them being married, they knew the joy of being the head of a family, of seeing their wives and children gathered around their table.

They did not live their whole lives like this, however. They did not die at home with their families, but instead they abandoned quietude, entered into the great battle, and finished their lives in prison. Why? Why such a change in their lives? How could they leave their homes and get caught up in such an affair? What drew them into this? It is an easy thing for a man to leave his wife, his children, his home and go roaming far away? What was it that changed everything? What happened? Something happened that human words cannot describe!

One day they were throwing out their nets and there appeared before them on the seashore someone unknown to them, someone who today continues to be the Great Unknown! Who is this ‘unknown’? Let us bear his name! Let us go to church and light candles to him! He is unknown. He is Christ! If you ask a thousand people, only one will know Christ. Why? Because if you were to open the hearts of men you will find only three loves: the love of money, the love of pleasure, and the love of glory. If we were to open the hearts of the Apostles however, we would find no such loves. Within them a great fire was lit, a divine fire, a heavenly fire which is called the love of Christ. And what was Christ’s commandment to them? What did he say that caused them to change? “Follow me”![2] And from that time forward they followed him and their life changed.

It is as if I can now see before me these men whose feet we are not worthy to kiss. They are preparing to leave behind their nets, houses, their weeping wives, their homeland, their world. There, as they are about to start out, I approach them and ask, “Who has caused you to get up and go? Where are you going?” And they all answer with one accord, “We are going to subject the world to Christ!” “Who are you to undertake such a thing?” I ask, “And by what power will you accomplish this? Where is your money, your knowledge, your weapons?” “We have none,” they answer. “Our only weapon is our faith in Christ.” And off they go. Blessed is that moment when they set out on the path of the Gospel, flying from hill to hill to preach Christ!

In order that you might understand what a difficult thing it was that they did, I will give you an analogy. Imagine that you took twelve sheep and threw them into a pen full of hungry wolves. Would there be anything left of them? Christ told them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.”[3] The Pharisees, the emperors, the officers, the philosophers – all wolves! But now, what do see? What do I hear? The sheep have defeated the wolves! And not only did they defeat them, but they turned the wolves into lambs! They made the wild holy, and the idolaters Christians! How did this happen? If you read the scriptures, you will find a prophesy which says, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb.”[4] This has come to fruition through the Holy Apostles. They have made the wolves into sheep, taming them and making them part of Christ’s flock, too.

A pious emperor, seeking to honor their memory, built the famous Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and ordered that the manner of death of each be inscribed on a marble plaque so that the whole city might remember and honor them. The Apostles did not die in their homes with their wives by their side; rather, they died scattered at the ends of the earth. They died for us; they are the world’s greatest benefactors. On that plaque is written the following: first, Peter was beheaded at Rome; second, Andrew was crucified on Patra; third, John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, died in exile on Patmos; fourth, James was beheaded like a lamb in Jerusalem; fifth, Bartholomew was martyred in India; sixth, Thomas was run through with spears in India, and so on until the thirteenth, Paul, was beheaded in a Roman prison. Never has the world owed so much to so few!

These, my beloved brethren, were the Apostles. But we today, what are we? Priests, bishops, archbishops, patriarchs, all of us clergy, we are their successors. But I wonder, do we bear the apostolic character? Do we have the Holy Spirit, do we preach, do we live selflessly, innocently, like angels? Now is not the time for me to rebuke the holy clergy, to ask whether they have faith, love, or zeal. I am now addressing the laity and to them I would say the following:

Roughly how many people have come to church today? Maybe a little more, maybe a little less than two hundred? There were only twelve Apostles and they changed the world! What might two-hundred Christians accomplish! I am not saying that you should do what they did, that you should go to far-off Africa, Asia, India, or somewhere else. Let us instead become little apostles. Somewhere nearby there are people who are waiting. There are the poor who do not have bread to eat, there are the sick who are looking for a visit, there are heretics who are suffering in their delusion, there are sinners who have not confessed in decades. What are these waiting for? They are waiting for us! Let us run to them! Assembled here today we are two hundred. Do you want to honor the Apostles? I put on my stole and give you a kanona: you will go to Hell if you do not lead one soul to Christ. Who will be that soul that you bring close to him? Try to free one soul from the nets of the devil this year. A Christian who does not benefit others, who does not bring others close to Christ, is no Christian! Amen.

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli: Thessaloniki, 2011), 41-45. Translated by Rev Dr John Palmer.

[2]               Matthew 4:19.

[3]               Matthew 10:16.

[4]               Isaiah 11:6.

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