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The Monastery of St. Panteleimon

0107johnbaptist11(Source) In the Orthodox Church it is customary, on the day following the Great Feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God, to remember those saints who participated directly in the sacred event. So, on the day following the Theophany of the Lord, the Church honors the one who participated directly in the Baptism of Christ, placing his own hand upon the head of the Savior.

St John, the holy Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, whom the Lord called the greatest of the prophets, concludes the history of the Old Testament and opens the era of the New Testament. The holy Prophet John bore witness to the Only-Begotten Son of God, incarnate in the flesh. St John was accounted worthy to baptize Him in the waters of the Jordan, and he was a witness of the Theophany of the Most Holy Trinity on the day of the Savior’s Baptism.

The holy Prophet John was related to the Lord on His mother’s side, the son of the Priest Zachariah and Righteous Elizabeth. The holy Forerunner, John, was born six months before Christ. The Archangel Gabriel announced his birth in the Temple at Jerusalem, revealing to Zachariah that a son was to be born to him.

Through the prayers offered beforehand, the child was filled with the Holy Spirit. St John prepared himself in the wilds of the desert for his great service by a strict life, by fasting, prayer and sympathy for the fate of God’s people.

At the age of thirty, he came forth preaching repentance. He appeared on the banks of the Jordan, to prepare the people by his preaching to accept the Savior of the world. In church hymnology, St John is called a “bright morning star,” whose gleaming outshone the brilliance of all the other stars, announcing the coming dawn of the day of grace, illumined with the light of the spiritual Sun, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Having baptized the sinless Lamb of God, St John soon died a martyr’s death, beheaded by the sword on orders of King Herod at the request of his daughter Salome. (On St John the Baptist, see Mt.3:1-16, 11:1-19, 14:1-12; Mark 1:2-8, 6:14-29; Luke 1:5-25, 39-80, 3:1-20, 7:18-35, 9:7-9; John 1:19-34, 3:22-26).

Fr. John venerating the holy saint's grave, 2012.

Fr. John venerating the holy saint’s grave, 2012.

According to the website of Romfea, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has made the decision today, January 13, 2015, to enlist the monk Paisios the Athonite among the ranks of the saints.

Glory to God! God is with us and is wonderful in His saints!

Although the website does not state what date St. Paisios’ feast day will be celebrated, he repose on July 12 and is buried at the Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti (outside Thessaloniki) where thousands of pilgrims visit his holy grave every July 12 (as well as throughout the year). So, my guess (but it is only a guess) is that his feast day will be July 12. But, I will update this post if I learn differently.

May we have the much-needed prayers and blessing of the holy father among the saints, Paisios the Athonite!

My family, waiting in line to venerate the saint's grave on a typical Sunday evening after Vespers.

My family, waiting in line to venerate the saint’s grave on a typical Sunday evening after Vespers.

The bells at the monastery in Souroti ringing out in celebration the day St. Paisios was canonized! (Thanks to a friend for sending me the link).

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

 Metropolitan Augustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3]               Luke 22:62

In the face of many trials and tribulations – especially in the modern era – it can be difficult for us to keep our zeal for the Christian faith. Sometimes we hear the voice of others, see their actions – even those we love, respect, admire and look up to – and like the Holy Martyrs Marcellinus and Mark we begin to feel ourselves being persuaded to turn away from the faith handed down to us (1 Corinthians 11: 2), to rear to the left, onto the easy path that leads to the wide gate (Mt. 7:13).

But then we read the lives of the saints and all of a sudden the clouds that had formed over our hearts dissipate and we remember “whereof we were made” (Ps. 103:14), for what purpose and goal, and we become convicted once again to hold firm to the traditions of our Fathers. We hearken to the words spoken by those who had the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, whose words are written in the book of life (Rev. 20:15), and we say: Ah, yes. It is for this reason I struggle to live for Christ; it is for this reason I fast when the Church prescribes fasting; it is for this reason I confess my sins, do my prayers, attend the divine services; it is for this reason I strive to live in the world and not be of it: for the sake of the Kingdom of God (Lk. 18: 29).

I know there is much going on in the world that confuses us, but like Sts. Marcellinus and Mark we must listen to the voice of the saints, observe their actions and follow their example. We must watch and pray lest we fall into temptation. So, we can keep informed about current events if we so choose but we must never become despondent. We place our trust in Christ, Who governs the Church, and Who reassures us that “the gates of hell will not prevail against her” (Mt. 16:18). We read the lives of the saints and we pray to them for guidance, endurance, and enlightenment. Just reading the speech of St. Sebastian to the faltering martyrs (offered below) is enough to remember: It is for this that I cling to Christ and strive to “lay aside all earthly care” (Cherubic Hymn) in hopes of experiencing the unending joys of the heavenly kingdom. 

(Source) The noble Christian brothers Marcellinus and Mark had been locked up in prison, and at first they firmly confessed the true Faith. But under the influence of the tearful entreaties of their pagan parents (Tranquillinus and Marcia), and also their own wives and children, they began to waver in their intent to suffer for Christ. St Sebastian went to the imperial treasurer, at whose house Marcellinus and Mark were held in confinement, and addressed the brothers who were on the verge of yielding to the entreaties of their family.

“O valiant warriors of Christ! Do not cast away your everlasting crowns of victory because of the tears of your relatives. Do not remove your feet from the necks of your enemies who lie prostrate before you, lest they regain their strength and attack you more fiercely than before. Raise your banner high over every earthly attachment. If those whom you see weeping knew that there is another life where there is neither sickness nor death, where there is unceasing gladness and everything is beautiful, then assuredly they would wish to enter it with you. Anyone who fears to exchange this brief earthly life for the unending joys of the heavenly Kingdom is foolish indeed. For he who rejects eternity wastes the brief time of his existence, and will be delivered to everlasting torment in Hades.”

Then St Sebastian said that if necessary, he would be willing to endure torment and death in order to show them how to give their lives for Christ.

May we follow the saint’s example and also be inspired to give our lives for Christ. Amen.

This beautiful Christmas carol was the inspiration for my novelette about the great king and martyr Wenceslas (Vacslav). You can read a sample of this novelette – Chapters 1 & 2 here and Chapters 3 & 4 here.

The above video is great because after the hymn (sung by the great Canadian band Crash Test Dummies) it gives some of the history around the saint’s martyrdom.

Merry Christmas!

holly

Last year I posted Chapters One and Two (you can read them here) of my novelette – The King, the Page and the Hermit – about the great Czech king and martyr Weneceslaus (or St. Vaclav as he is also called in the Orthodox Church). Below I’ve posted Chapters Three and Four; eventually the whole novelette (consisting of sixteen chapters) will be published by Lumination Press (possibly for Christmas 2015), but in the meantime enjoy this little taste!

St-Wenceslas-2Chapter 3
“He that humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12)

Entering the hut the page noticed how cozy it seemed. What seemed small on the outside seems much greater in size on the inside, Podevin thought to himself.

There was a bright fire blazing, and hot wine steaming from a pot hung on a stick placed above the fire. With the exception of a small wooden table and chair to one side of the room with books and papers scattered across the top, two small wooden stools near the hearth, and one rather long, weaved mat in the corner, furniture was scarce in the hut.

The mat was woven out of long grass that grows on the Bohemian hillsides in summer. It appeared to be the hermit’s bed. It would appear that he made it himself since there seemed to be much of that long grass stored in a large basket with tools next to it. On the wall was a shelf with a few belongings – some plates, cups, and a few utensils. Although the belongings were clearly that of a poor man, the atmosphere felt much nobler than the things which occupied the space.

Such a poor dwelling, and yet it omits such a rich, indescribable fragrance, the page reflected. While Podevin took in the atmosphere of the hut, he knew by his master’s fixed gaze he was captivated by the ambience of the hermit.

“We’ve brought you some bread and wine, dear Father, and also some wood for your fire,” the Duke told the old hermit, handing him the basket of gifts. “We saw you gathering some kindling near the castle and we thought you might like a visit.”

“And how nice it is to have company on such a fine feast! Please take a seat, Sire,” the hermit said, pulling out the chair from the table and placing it in front of the fire. “Perhaps you would like to remove your cloak so we can place it before the fire to dry.”

“Oh, is it wet? Why yes, I suppose it is,” the Duke said, looking at himself.

The Duke handed the hermit his large, fur-lined, gold and red woven cloak.

“And you, what is your name, young man?” the hermit asked the page.

“Podevin,” the page answered, bowing slightly.

“You ought to give me your cloak as well my boy, and take a seat too,” the hermit said, gesturing to a stool. “I’ve prepared some mulled wine for us. I thought it would warm us up on this fine evening. That is, if we needed more warmth in our already warm hearts,” the hermit said, his smile barely visible through his thick, long, grey moustache.

The page found it odd that the hermit said he had prepared mulled wine for them, since he couldn’t possibly have known beforehand that they would be visiting him. But being only the page it was not his place to go on pointing out such peculiar statements.

“I can pour the wine, dear Father,” Podevin volunteered, rising from his seat.

“Can you now? And who do you suppose is greater, the one who sits or the one who serves?” the hermit asked him.

“The one who sits, Father,” the page quickly responded.

“Yet Christ came to serve, not to be served,” the hermit stated emphatically.

“Yes, I suppose He did, Father,” Podevin answered, looking bashful for having answered too hastily, and as it turned out, incorrectly.

“That’s okay, my son,” the hermit said, laughing and gently ruffling the page’s sandy hair.

“Tonight I’ll serve, next time you will.”

Podevin sat down again, wondering if there really would be a next time. He also wondered why the hermit did not seem at all surprised to have the Duke of Bohemia visit him in his own hut, and on Christmas, for no other reason but that he saw him from outside his window.

Chapter 4

Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name(Psalm 63:4)

The old hermit took the steaming pot over to the table and placed the three mugs he owned down beside it. He served the Duke first and then Podevin. He brought over his own and said:

“Let us drink to the Virgin birth of Our Lord and Saviour, who for us men and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and was made Man, and was born in a cave of dumb beats that we might attain the gift of His indwelling in us also, sinful though we may be!”

“Amen!” Vácslav and Podevin responded in unison, tipping the bottom of their mugs up together, they took in the warm, spicy wine.

Sitting down again the three looked quite cozy in front of the fire.

“So, tell me my good fellow, how do you pass your days, and from where do you collect enough money to feed yourself?” Duke Vácslav asked.

“My days are spent working and praying. Although I’m an old man I keep my hands busy so my mind can be free. I wake in the morning before the sun rises and I lift up my voice in prayer to the Lord. Afterward I begin weaving baskets out of the long grass I save and dry from the hills. My mind prays while my hands weave: as my fingers pull the blades of grass, my prayer pulls my attention. I struggle to recite the Psalter, which I have committed to memory, in order to cultivate constant remembrance of God.

“Around the ninth hour I lay aside my work to cook and eat a little. I rest for an hour or so and then continue my work until the twelfth hour, at which point I begin the evening service which consists of Vespers, the Greetings to the Mother of God, and Compline. After these prayers again I have a small portion of food and drink. And after this I complete my own personal rule of prayer which includes prostrations and the Prayer of Jesus,” the hermit finished, lowering his head and looking at the bottom of his mug, no longer housing any wine.

“Your days are spent in blessedness, my dear friend,” the Duke responded.

Podevin’s hands involuntarily fidgeted with the ties on his tunic as he visibly struggled to keep himself from interrupting the conversation.

“Podevin, what is it? Share your thoughts with us,” the Duke kindly invited him into the conversation.

“It’s just, I can’t help but wonder how it is that you support yourself. I mean, if you spend all day praying and working do you ever sell any of the baskets you make?” Podevin said, allowing the words to spill out of his mouth. He waited in silence looking sheepish, for although some of his actions reflected his childish nature, as he approached manhood he was slowly becoming aware of himself and those around him. And so, he occupied that awkward stage of “knowing better” but not being able to restrain the natural curiosity that comes to those who are young.

“He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven,” the hermit answered him, smiling and looking up to meet the page’s eyes.

“He shall say unto the Lord: Thou art my helper and my refuge,” Vácslav interjected, staring at the hermit.

“He is my God,” the old hermit continued, “and I will hope in Him,” the two finished in unison.

“But to answer your question in a more precise manner my good boy, a woman who lives not far from here comes and collects my baskets and sells them for me in the marketplace. This way I do not have to venture into the world except when it’s necessary to exchange a profitable word with our fellow countrymen,” the hermit answered, laying a hand on the young page’s shoulder.

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