Thursday, 31 May 2012

Soul Sabbath

On the day before Pentecost we commemorate all those Orthodox Christians who have reposed in faith and in the hope of the resurrection of eternal life. The service for the Saturday of Souls or 'Soul Sabbath' is quite different from the usual Saturday matins and liturgy. The 17th kathisma is read in two stases and between the stases there is a litany for the departed during which the names of the Orthodox Christians who have fallen asleep are read. A special Evlogitaria is also sung which has the same refrain, 'Blessed art Thou O Lord, teach me Thy righteousness', as the Evlogitaria of the Resurrection but different troparia. 

It is customary for the relatives of reposed Orthodox Christians to make kolyva and bring it to be blessed at the end of the service.  There are many different recipes for kolyva depending on family and national traditions. A basic recipe is given below:

How to make kolyva

1) Ask the priest if he can perform a memorial service and arrange a date and time.

2) Find some whole wheat grain (not buckwheat or cracked wheat). Buying the wheat is the most difficult step in the whole process. Ethnic shops (Cypriot or Arab) normally have some in stock.

3) On the day before, boil the wheat (500g of wheat grain is enough for about 30 people) until it is soft. Don’t make tons of kolyva- there are no prizes for size. Drain the wheat and dry it between kitchen towels overnight.

4) On the next day, before going to Church, mix the wheat with  dried fruits, sugared peel, chopped nuts, glacé cherries, pomegranate seeds etc.

5) Put the wheat and fruits in a nice glass bowl. Sprinkle a little crushed biscuit on top of the wheat — this helps to absorb any moisture.

6) Sieve some icing sugar on top of the wheat to make a layer about 1cm thick.  Press down the icing sugar gently and then decorate the top of the kolyva with nuts or glacé cherries in the form of a cross.

7) When you get to Church, push a candle into the centre of the kolyva.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Pastoral Address by Metropolitan Anastasy

Today a memorial service was chanted after matins for the ever-memorable Metropolitan Anastasy who reposed on 9th/22nd May 1965. The following sermon by him was published in Orthodox Life, 1959, No. 6.

THE OPENING OF THE SOBOR OF BISHOPS OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OUTSIDE OF RUSSIA held during October 5th-18th, 1959.

Today we have heard the sacred words: “Today the grace of The Holy Spirit has brought us together". They are said not only with our lips, but with our hearts. Every good deed is the gift of God’s grace, and especially so is the Church Council - the Sobor. The Lord already has manifested to us a whole series of graces. Before we were able to meet together, it was necessary to make careful preparations. It was not an easy task to bring together the bishops from all parts of the world. 

The Lord God helped us to overcome all the difficulties, and we were able to gather here even in greater number than in former years. It was pleasing to the Lord that we should assemble not in some other place, but in a city which is the center and source of many political influences, where often the fate of the whole world is decided upon. It was favorable to the Lord that by this time we would be able to meet in this wonderful building, which corresponds to the significance of our task. 

We have come together at an appropriate time, when the Church is in need of showing a right path that is to be followed in these frightful times. Never before has our Church been exposed to such great danger as in the present time. It is with most intense fury that evil has struck at our homeland, Holy Russia. There in the sacred Kremlin, where the relics of the Moscow saints commemorated today repose, Satan has entrenched his throne, and spreads evil from there throughout the world.

If previously this evil was held separate by the iron curtain, now this iron curtain has fallen and the doors are wide open for its dissemination throughout the world. The Bolsheviks are especially endeavoring to spread their influence in this country, as in a main center, from where the struggle is being waged with them. We see how the flame of sacred faith is gradually dying throughout the world, and the number of believers is diminishing and everywhere corruption and evil grows increasingly. Everywhere the number of saintly persons is diminishing; pure, innocent living has become rare, and even children are committing heinous crimes. In vain is our culture called Christian. 

At the present time it is leading mankind into a condition of folly, where science has arrived at the revelation of such destructive means, that today the world is standing at the edge of a bottomless abyss, and nobody knows what is capable of taking place on the morrow. And so in these frightful days, the Lord has scattered us throughout the world in order that we could be witnesses of His Gospel and spread it everywhere. But the world does not want to forgive us because we are not of the world. For this reason the world hates us and in every way tries to arm itself against us. We have many enemies, on the right and on the left, because we carry on the spreading of this Sacred Word. We are weak, but the Lord has granted grace to us to keep His True faith in its purity, and we carry this sacred treasure everywhere for the salvation of mankind. There stands before us the very important problem of missionary activity, - and we must show ourselves to be worthy and be zealous in its promotion, asking the Lord to give us wisdom with his grace. 

Now the decisive days are approaching, for the world is coming close to the end of its existence. “His coming is close at hand...” and we must not only teach others, but ourselves also fulfill, following the examples of the Moscow saints, whom we have commemorated today. They stand before us as Orthodox Zealots, and we must follow their example, turning aside completely from the dishonesty of those who have now occupied their throne. Oh if they could but arise; they not only would not recognise any of their successions, but rather would have turned against them with severe condemnation.
 
With what zeal St Phillip would be set aflame against the weak-faith representatives of the Church, who indifferently look and see how the innocent blood of their flock flows, and yet do not condemn the enemies of the Church, but endeavour in every manner to flatter the atheists in authority. How the great adamantine Patriarch Germogen would have arisen in righteous indignation, seeng the hierarchy remain deceitfully silent at a time when atheistic propaganda is being circulated widely, forgetting that by their silence they are betraying God. Let us in every way turn aside from them, but at the same time let us arm ourselves with apostolic zeal. We must avoid as a pestilence every kind of contact with them. You know that these people with thoroughly burned consciences will never cease from waging war on us, although they constantly change their methods of warfare.

At times they openly attack and at times they utilise a circumventing maneuver in order to conceal their true purpose. Often they appear as angels of light, in order to delude even the chosen ones if possible. Unfortunately, many are not aware of this and fall victims into their nets. We have enemies everywhere, not only among them, but far beyond the boundaries of our church fortress. Catholics and Protestants arise against us. Protestants do no want to forgive us because we stand firmly on the rock of Orthodox Tradition. And for Catholics there exists one aim, our enslavement and subjugation, and for this reason all means are permissible. They do not desire to forgive us for our firm stand, and wish by every means to weaken our authority. 

And so we must today, more than ever, shield ourselves with the armour of faith, and ask God for wisdom, remembering the saying of the Apostle: “take care how ye walk in danger, not as fools, but as wise men”. We shall cherish these words, and we shall have but one purpose, to save the sheep entrusted to us by Christ. Let us look upon the ikons of the saints of Moscow and emulate them, let us gird ourselves in the armour of truth, and then the grace of God will not be taken away from us. We saw today a multitude of people who gathered for the Moleben prayer. What had caused them to be brought together? Again it was the grace of God. May it continue to manifest itself in action, and dwell within our Church Council (Sobor), which I declare opened.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Orthodox Ecclesiastical Mind-Set

By Bishop Klemes (Clement) of Gardikion
Secretary of the Holy Synod

Your Grace, Reverend Fathers and Mothers, 
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Χριστὸς Ἀνέστη! Christ is Risen!

When we speak of the Orthodox ecclesiastical mind or mind-set (φρόνημα), we do not simply mean thereby the acquisition and grasp, by each one of us, of the principles of the Faith and Life of the Orthodox Church theoretically, cognitively, and ideologically. Rather, we mean something deeper: a consistent attitude and perspective towards life that is imbued with the ethos of the Church. And the bearer of this ethos expresses and manifests it in every detail of his life.

Since, by Divine Grace, we are Orthodox and belong to the Holy Orthodox Church, we constitute the “members” of the Body of Christ and “branches” of the Life-Giving Divine Vine. We have been given new birth in very same Baptismal Font, have received the same Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and commune of the very same Holy and Spotless Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ. The same Holy Gospel nourishes our hearing and vivifies our souls; the same sacred virtues permeate us, the same lofty ideals beckon us, and we tread upward on the same path towards Heaven. 

Our way is a common one, though each one of us must walk upon it and experience it in a personal way, in accordance with one’s particular gifts and calling, whether in the parish or in a monastic community, under the guidance of his or her spiritual Father. Indeed, all of this occurs within the confines of the Mysteriological and Ecclesiastical structure of our Holy Metropolis in the Holy Synod in Resistance, which stands firm against the heresy of ecumenism. This structure is made secure and functions unimpeded by virtue of the vigilant solicitude and attentive care of its Archpastors. For this reason, as St. Ignatios the God-Bearer so concisely says, a group without Bishops and Priests “cannot be called a Church.”

It goes without saying that we, by God’s mercy the Shepherds of the Church, are called first to uphold the Orthodox Faith and the Orthodox ethos, both in word and in deed, so as to constitute healthy and shining examples.

Within the Holy Church, we all hold forth as a “holy Family,” as we have noted, the family of the children of God, who rest in the Divine Embrace of the Father. And what should be achieved in each of us—Clergyman, Monk, and Lay Person—is that we be harmonious in our experience of the life of redemption in Christ with the ecclesiastical reality of our communion with one another in the Holy Spirit, that we might truly be distinguished by our true ecclesiastical mind-set. This is what we pursue in life, and it is accomplished with toil and struggle, for the effort to acquire and to make firm an ecclesiastical mind-set is a constant struggle for love, obedience, and unity.

Within the holy Family of the Church, our first and foremost trait should be love. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  And we will have love when we are of the same mind in faith and virtue, according to our Lord: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” And we shall ensure love and oneness of mind, and hence unity among us, when we have “the mind of Christ” and have faith in and obey our Godly shepherds, to the end that we might overcome our egotism, cleanse our passions, and be churchified. And what does “churchification” mean? The life of Grace, blessedness, and sanctification; life freed from the delusions of one’s own self and characterized by a transformation of the individual “I” into the ecclesiastical “we”!

St. Basil the Great beautifully summarizes these things when he pithily writes: “For one to cut himself off from interdependence with the brethren is not the mark of one who is walking by love, nor of one who is fulfilling the commandment of Christ.”

For, unfortunately, even within the holy aura of the Church, we may embrace “earthly things,”9 allow “the mind of the flesh” to prevail within us, and remain prisoners of our ego, thus being unable to undergo the virtuous transformation of the ecclesiastical life of Grace and fated to provoke problems, divisions, scandals, and turmoil.

Precisely what is happening within us and around us in our surroundings may be ascertained easily: Does love for God and for our neighbor predominate? Do we have sincere reverence for, and do sincere obedience to, our spiritual Father? Are we ready to sacrifice our own interests for the common good and the greater benefit of the Church? Do we show martyric perseverance, with love and hope, in the face of woes and unanticipated difficulties?

If our reply in all, or even one, of these instances is negative, then let us not deceive ourselves by saying that we are walking in a God-pleasing manner and that we have an Orthodox ecclesiastical mind-set. If, indeed, we are ready in all circumstances to put forward our own will—considering it better and more perfect—and to quarrel with our brothers, or even with our Shepherds, then let us be aware of the fact that we are dreadfully ill, working in an anti-ecclesiastical and catastrophic manner, and are in urgent need of great and profound repentance.

It is certainly not required or expected of us to agree on every single action or matter of a practical nature in daily life or even in ecclesiastical matters; but this does not mean that one should assail the sacred bond of faith and love between us. Again, in this circumstance, let us call to mind the elegantly simple observation of St. Basil the Great: “Nothing, thus, is so distinctly Christian as to be a peacemaker.”

It is for this reason, moreover, that the virtuous and splendid fruits of a spiritual mind-set are “life and peace.” He who is inspired by the Holy Spirit continually turns to God, beseeches His mercy, observes the Divine Commandments, undertakes good works, repents sincerely, respects and honors his spiritual Father and his Bishop, is eager to retreat from his own desire when he sees—or when others assure him—that the general good of the Church requires that he do so.

Dear Fathers and Brothers and Sisters;

It is time to cultivate and intensify in ourselves the true ecclesiastical spirit, which so many have forgotten. If we truly wish to see a regeneration in our spiritual life, a renewal—indeed, of the necessities of life—in the place in which we dwell and fulfill our duties and our ministry, and an intensification of our Godly witness, it is imperative that we wage war against any divergence from the true ecclesiastical spirit! Let us see several of the things that we can do:

• Put a stop to independent, egomaniacal activity, even where it is found detached from the domain of the Church, since it introduces a morbid ecclesiastical mind-set.

• At all costs, avoid factionalism, as well as the acceptance of alien influences by a secular way of thinking; the creation of rivalries, tension, and hostility and enmity; condemnation, accusations against the clergy; and constant complaints, and whispering and murmuring about others, for all these are part of a spurious ecclesiastical mind-set.

• Let there be maturity and discretion with regard to both essential and non-essential matters of ecclesiastical practice and life, and not uncritical adherence to formulas and rules supposedly passed down from the Fathers that have no substance or meaning, but are simply and solely a matter of stubborn insistence on something fixed and erroneous, eroding the progress of the Body of the Church, since this entails a degraded ecclesiastical mind-set.

• Bring to a halt the obvious deficits, in some believers, of a spirit of spiritual discipleship and obedience, such as inactivity and excuse-making in the name of secular duties; the secularization of Church life, and especially, indeed, the Divine Mysteries, with a corresponding fall to errors and arbitrariness, since all of these things clearly constitute the lack of a genuine and authentic ecclesiastical mind-set.

Matters are serious. These points, wholly indicative of this fact, are not theoretical or of little significance. They are enumerated with pain in one’s soul, yet with a sense of responsibility to recognize and to correct whatever improprieties occur, whether systematically or occasionally.

The Sacred Legacy of us Old Calendarists in resistance, which we inherited from our enlightened and perspicacious Shepherd, is a legacy of balanced moderation and God-pleasing discretion: steadfast commitment to the whole Truth of the Faith and to the Catholicity of the Church, but also to the whole of the Orthodox ethos: that handed down by Christ, that handed down by the Apostles, and that handed down to us by the Fathers.

Let us preserve all of these things in humility, and let us cultivate them with respect for, and obedience to, our Godly Shepherds and with harmonious accord and love for our brothers. Only then shall we have the sure hope of imparting such to those coming after us, that our ministry might gain a favorable judgment and defense before God.

To read this homily with accompanying footnotes click here

Friday, 11 May 2012

The New Martyr Eugene the Soldier

 Received His Martyr’s Crown
  10th / 23rd May, 1996, His 19th Birthday

EUGENE was born 23rd May, 1977, in the village of Kouilovo, near the town, Podolsk, just outside of Moscow. He was an only child, and was baptised an Orthodox Christian as an infant.  His mother’s name is Lioubov (Love) Vasilievna.

In 1989, his grandmother took him to church to confess for the first time and to commune the Holy Mysteries.  The priest noticed that the child was not wearing a cross, and during confession he placed a cross around his neck.  The young Eugene never took it off; he made a thick cord and hung the cross on it. When his mother noticed that he was wearing a cross, she advised him to take it off because his school friends would make fun of him. Eugene did not answer, but neither did her obey her.

He finished his studies in 1994 and was then employed as a cabinet-maker, which gave him a good income.  He joined the army on 25th June, 1995, and after his basic training (on 13th January, 1996) was stationed for guard duty at the border of Chechnya-Ingushetia.  On 13th February, 1996, exactly one month later, he was captured.  Here is how it happened.

Four soldiers were sent by the army service (Eugene being one of them) to check vehicles which came from a particular road.  Unfortunately, the officials sent the soldiers without any previous organization or preparation; there wasn’t even lighting or any type of security. Chechens would frequently pass along that road transporting weapons, prisoners and drugs.  That night an ambulance passed along the road.  When the soldiers stopped it for inspection, suddenly more than ten heavily armed Chechens jumped out of it.  A brawl followed and the four soldiers were taken prisoner by the Chechens.  It was 3 a.m.  At 4 a.m., other soldiers arrived at the road for guard duty, to relieve Eugene and his companions.  When they did not find them, they immediately realized what must have happened. A few days later, the army service informed the soldiers’ parents of their disappearance.

Eugene’s mother understood that they had been captured and, placing her life in danger, went to Chechnya to find her son.   After many attempts, she came in touch with the leaders of various rebel groups in Chechnya, trying to find the whereabouts of Eugene.  She knew that the Chechens do not kill their prisoners immediately, but wait to see if they can get a ransom and only then set them free.

The Chechens told her that her son was alive but was a prisoners.  They motioned to each other and then became silent trying to approximate the amount of money they could get from her.  At that time, the price for an imprisoned soldier was 10,000 dollars, while for an officer 50,000 dollars.  When they realized that they would not get much for Eugene they decided to kill him. His mother went everywhere searching for him, she went past villages, roads with mines, battle fronts, and met many Chechen officers.  As she herself says, “I went through all the circles of Hades.”

From the first day of Eugene’s imprisonment (which lasted 100 days), the rebels noticed that he was wearing a cross.  They tried forcing him to deny his Faith, to take off his cross and become a Muslim, with the intention of making him an executioner and thus a murderer of other Russian prisoners. Eugene refused all their proposals and, despite continuous beatings, many tortures and promises (that he would live if he took off his cross), they couldn’t manage to make him deny his Faith. Later, the same rebel leaders said to his mother: “If you son had become like one of us, we would not have been unjust to him."

On 23rd May, 1996, (the day of his birthday), the four imprisoned soldiers were taken to be executed.  First they killed his three fellow prisoners.  Then they asked Eugene for the last time to remove his cross, saying: “We make an oath to Allah that you will live.”  Eugene refused again, and thus went through his horrifying martyrdom.  They cut off his head completely with a knife, but they did not dare take the cross off his neck.  They buried him with the cross, but without his head. Finally, after nine months, Eugene’s mother found him. The Chechens wanted 4,000 dollars in return for his body.  They gave her a video of he son’s martyrdom and told her about his imprisonment and torture.

Eugene’s mother sold her apartment and everything else she could - even clothes - in order to be able to give the ransom and also pay for the exhumation, a suitable coffin, transportation, etc., which was not a small amount. Finally, on 20th November, 1996, she transported the relics to their village and buried them in the cemetery.  A few days later, Eugene’s father died next to the grave from his sorrow. Immediately, the Holy martyr Eugene began appearing and performing miracles n different areas of Russia.  Below we mention some testimonies and miraculous interventions.

A little girl who lived in an Orthodox orphanage said that once a tall soldier with a red cloak appeared to her and told her that his name was Eugene.  He took her by the hand and directed her to the church.  The little girl said: “I was startled when I saw he was wearing a red cloak, because soldiers don’t wear cloaks like that, and I thought to myself that it must be the cloak of a Martyr.” In many churches people have seen a soldier with a flaming red cloak who helps prisoners in Chechnya escape from their captivity and from every other danger, such as mines, etc.

In a hospital with war casualties, the wounded soldiers testify that a Holy Martyr with the name of Eugene helps them, especially when they are in a lot of pain.  When some of them went to the church dedicated to the saviour in Moscow, upon seeing the icon of the Martyr, they immediately recognized him as the one who had helped them.  Even prisoners recognize the soldier with the red cloak.  He especially helps those who are very weak and spiritually down because of their imprisonment.

In 1997, with the blessing of Patriarch Alexis, a book was published with the title “New Martyr of Christ Soldier Eugene.”  A priest by the name of Vadim Skliarensko from Dnipropetrovs K sent a report to the Patriarchate where he mentions that the cover of the book with a photograph of the Saint sends forth fragrant myron. Three years and three months after Eugene’s martyrdom, the leader and all the members of the rebel gang (Eugene’s killers) were themselves killed in a confrontation with their fellow Chechens.

Many faithful visit Eugene’s tomb throughout the year but mostly on the day of his martyrdom (10th / 23rd May).  On that day one can hear of many miracles worked by him.  He has not yet been glorified as a saint, so as the avoid any misunderstanding.

THIS ACCOUNT was sent us by Abbess Taxiarchia and the sisters of the Sacred Convent of the Holy Angels in Afidnai, Greece, along with a beautiful icon print of the New Martyr in his red cloak.  Sister Myrofora of the Convent writes: “The article on St Evgenios was published on [the] internet in Greek.  Someone sent it to one of the brothers in the Monastery [Fili] and then they passed it on to us.  The icon which we sent to you of St Evgenios was painted by one of the sisters in our Convent.”  In view of the current cross-wearing controversy in Britain, the witness of St Eugene is particularly instructive for Orthodox Christians.  May his holy prayers strengthen us in our confession of the Faith.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Sunday of the Paralytic

On the third Sunday of Pascha the Orthodox Church commemorates Christ's healing of the paralytic which is recounted in the Gospel of St. John (John 5:1-15). In this miracle the paralytic, who was waiting in vain for the healing that occurred at a certain season, was healed by the word of Christ - the universal Word.

In the Gospel reading we hear the paralytic say to Christ: 'I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool'. This theme is developed in the stichera of Vespers where the hymnographer uses the voice of Christ to say: "For thee I became man, for thee I am clothed in flesh and sayest thou: I have no man". This belief in Christ as God-man or Theanthropos is reinforced in every service we hear read or sung in the Orthodox Church. 

In the canon of matins, the paralysis of the man at the sheep's pool is compared to the paralysis of our souls by sin which we ask Christ to make whole so that we can walk in His ways. This theme is also repeated in the kontakion of the Sunday of the Paralytic which is read after the sixth ode in matins and sung after the Little Entrance of the Divine Liturgy.

On every Sunday of the Pentecostarion (except that of Pentecost itself) we sing the hymns of the Resurrection in the appointed tone - these are the same hymns that we hear on every Sunday of the year. There is no special dimissal hymn for the Sunday of the Paralytic, so we use the Resurrectional dismissal hymn of the third tone which begins: 'Let the heavens rejoice; let earthly things be glad.' This hymn is used even on Monday and Tuesday and it is only in the period of the Pentecostarion that we can hear these dismissal hymns being sung on weekdays.


Thursday, 3 May 2012

Services of the Pentecostarion

The services from Pascha to the Sunday of All Saints are found in the service book called the Pentecostarion also known as the  'Flowery Triodion'. The period of the Pentecostarion contains the feasts of Pascha, Ascension and Pentecost as well as the important, but lesser known feast of Mid-Pentecost which falls on the Wednesday after the Sunday of the Paralytic. On this feast we chant the dismissal hymn which begins 'In the midst of the feast give thou my thirsty soul to drink of the waters of piety...'.   and we commemorate the occasion at mid-feast when Christ went to the temple to teach the Jews which is recounted in the Gospel of St. John (John 7: 14-30). We also hear, throughout the service, references to Christ's command that 'If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink'. This reference to Christ as the 'living water' is the reason why the Church appoints the Lesser Blessing of the Waters to be served on the Wednesday of Mid-Pentecost.

From the Sunday of Pascha to its leave-taking on the eve of the Ascension we start every service with the Paschal troparion 'Christ is risen from the dead, by death hath He trampled down death, and on those in the graves hath He bestowed life' sung three times. On those services which normally have a full beginning with 'Glory to Thee O God, Glory to Thee' followed by 'O heavenly King' we say or sing  the Paschal troparion three times and then move straight on to the trisagion (Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us'.  On those services which begin with just  'O come let us worship...' we use the Paschal troparion three times and omit the former prayer entirely.

After the leave-taking of Pascha we omit both Christ is Risen and 'O heavenly King' and start the services with the trisagion  or 'O come let us worship...' as appropriate.  The prayer 'O Heavenly King' is used again during the feast of Pentecost.

From Pascha to Pentecost we do not prostrate in Church even on weekdays. Prostrations begin with the reading of the 'kneeling prayers' which are read at the Vespers of the Sunday of Pentecost. In many churches this service is celebrated straight after the Liturgy on Pentecost Sunday morning.