Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Suffering


An exert from a sermon by St John Chrysostom:

"Some people, if they stumble at all, or are slandered by anyone, or fall ill with a chronic disease, gout or headache or any such ailment, at once begin to blaspheme.  They submit to the pain of the disease, but deprive themselves of the benefit.  What are you doing, man, blaspheming your benefactor, savior, protector, and guardian?  Or do you not see that you are falling down a cliff and casting yourself into the pit of final destruction?  You do not make your suffering lighter, do you, if you blaspheme?  Indeed, you aggravate it, and make your distress more grievous.  For the devil brings a multitude of misfortunes for this purpose, to lead you down into that pit.  If he sees you blaspheming he will readily increase the suffering and make it greater, so that when you are pricked you may give up once again; but is he sees you enduring bravely, and giving thanks the more to God, the more the suffering grows worse, he raises the siege at once, knowing that it will be useless to besiege you any more.  A dog sitting by the table, if it sees the person who is eating continually throwing it scraps of food from the table, stays persistently; but if stopping at the table once or twice it goes away without getting anything, it stays away thereafter, thinking that the siege is useless.  In the same way the devil continually gapes at us; if you throw to him, as to a dog, some blasphemous word, he will take it and attack you again; but if you persevere in thanksgiving, you have choked him with hunger, you have chased him away and thrown him back from you.  But, you say, you cannot keep silent when you are pricked by distress.  I certainly do not forbid you to make a sound, but give thanks instead of blasphemy, worship instead of despair.  Confess to the Lord, cry out loudly in prayer, cry out loudly glorifying God.  In this way your suffering will be lightened, because the devil will pull back from your thanksgiving and God's help will be at your side.  If you blaspheme, you have driven away God's assistance, made the devil more vehement against you, and involved yourself even more in suffering; but if you give thanks, you have driven away the plots of the evil demon, and you have drown the care of God your protector to yourself."

St. John Chrysostom, "Third Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man," On Wealth and Poverty, trans. by Catharine P. Roth (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), 69-70. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Memoirs of a Greek Taxi Driver - My New Birthday



A few years ago, I was returning from Poligyros, Halkidiki, where I had taken some customers. On the way back, I passed through a village where construction crews were laying asphalt. I didn’t pay close attention to the detour signs, and the road I took brought me to a dead end and to the very last homes of the village before I realized that I had made a mistake. As I was backing out, an elderly man came out of his house, looked at me somewhat puzzled, and asked, “Where are you going, my lad? You can't get out from here. It’s a dead end.”
“I see it, but I realized it a little too late.”
“One moment; are you going to Thessaloniki?”
“Yes, I am”.
“Can you take me along? I was just about ready to walk to the bus station to take the bus.”
“Very gladly; come on in."
“How much will it cost me?”
“Get in, blessed one, and don’t worry.  I will charge you the same amount you would have paid for the bus ticket.”
Once he entered the taxi, the conservation centered on the new asphalt and the workers who were completing the road. He introduced himself to me as the former president of the village, who was currently retired. I couldn’t help notice that every time I tried to start a conversation topic, the president would skillfully shift the discussion to political parties and their agendas. He was so well versed and confident in his political beliefs, as if politics were the only possible way to solve the problems of the world.
At some moment, I interrupted his monologue and said to him, “Mr. President, I have been listening to you for some time now. So I will ask you, in the spirit of democracy which you seem to espouse, that you also give me a few minutes of your time to offer you my humble opinion. After you hear it, you can reject it if you wish. It is your inalienable right; but for now, please listen to me, and try to overlook the fact that I may be thirty to forty years younger than you.
“In order for this country to go forward, it truly needs a radical change. This change will never come from the political arena and ideological party ranks because this same show has been on stage for decades now. We are sick and tired of being served the same reheated meal. Personally, I’m very sad when I see people so divided by political parties and fanatically attached to their political convictions. So, Mr. President, if we really want to see real change, each of us must personally seek it and cultivate it inside himself, first. First, we must change, Mr. President, before we expect others to do so. For this to happen, we will have to get our dusty New Testament down from the shelves or the iconostas,[1] in order to study it and hear the voice of the Lord that says, “Without me you are able to do nothing” (John 15:5). Unless we understand this, we will not accomplish anything worthwhile. When the Lord himself assures us that without His will nothing happens, then we cannot speak about any significant change, but only about some patchwork.”
“You are right, my lad, you really are right. I tend to agree with you because I also happen to be a religious individual. Saying that, I can also say that my family may not go to church every Sunday; but I have made it four times to the Holy Land and venerated Christ’s All-Holy Tomb. I was also baptized in the Jordan River.”
“Mr. President, can I ask you a personal question? with good intentions and out of love, of course.”
“Ask me whatever you want, my lad.”

“Do you take Holy Communion?”
“Why of course, I commune every Pascha,[2] Christmas, and all the great feasts.”
“Have you ever gone to confession with sincere repentance?”
“No, I have never done this; it’s the only thing which I have not done, and I am very much afraid that I will never get to it.”
“Then, believe me, you have done absolutely nothing. Forgive me if I am upsetting you, but if you do not participate in the sacrament of confession, you don’t commune, and you don’t believe as you say. Not four, but even if you go fourteen times to the Holy Land, you will be ruining the soles of your shoes and wasting your money for nothing.”
“Hey! Why are you saying this now?”
“Because it is not a difficult matter for us to open our mouth to take Holy Communion, not to mention that it doesn’t cost us anything. But we have much difficulty in opening our heart to admit our faults and our sins so all the collected debris can come out; only then, with a clean conscience, and properly prepared, can we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.
“People run today to various pilgrimages, and they do well, of course. They go to Jerusalem, to Panaghia of Tinos, to St. Raphael [Nicholas and Eirini], and many times we hear them saying, ‘At such-and-such pilgrimage a miraculous icon shed tears.’ Yes, some of our icons truly shed tears. However, did we shed even one tear for our sinfulness, Mr. President? We shed many tears in this life: we cry for our family, our children, our grandchildren, our finances, and our failures; life can be full of tears. Yet very rarely do we shed even one tear for our own sinfulness, and this is a result of our spiritual bankruptcy. That’s why today’s man toils in vain, and then he amputates himself by his bad choices, because he refuses to hear the voice of God: “Without me you are not able to do anything.’"
“You know, my dear Thanasi, I cannot truly express to you how much your words have touched my heart. For years now, I remember myself expounding political speeches from various podiums and from balconies of houses, attracting and convincing people that my party will bring a better tomorrow. Unfortunately, you are right. The promises for a better tomorrow have not materialized from any one of our political parties.  I admit it, because I believe there is still some integrity left inside of me. The strange thing is that all my life I was doing the speaking, and others were listening. Today, however, I heard things that I have never heard before. Perhaps you can also answer this question that has been torturing me for many years now. Why does God allow some of his children, the faithful people who are members of the Church, to be tried so much?”
“You know, Mr. President, an apostle once asked the Lord the same question about the man born blind. He asked, ‘“Rabbi, who sinned for him to be born blind, he or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither did he sin, nor his parents but so that the works of God could be revealed in him”’ (John 9:2-3).
“We cannot, of course, give precise answers to the volitions and works of God, because the works of God cannot be judged by our human minds. The volitions of the Lord are untraceable. If we take a beautiful fragrant herb, such as basil, for example, and we rub its leaves in our hands, its fragrance is not only sensed by us but by all those around us, don’t you agree? Unless it is crumbled a bit, it does not release its fragrance. Likewise, God allows his faithful servants to be tested, like a refiner tests gold through fire, so that those around them can be spiritually benefited. If the farmer doesn’t trim the vineyard, it does not produce fruits. If the incense does not sit on the lit charcoal, it will not offer a sweet fragrance. Afflictions are the active presence of God’s love. These are some of the reasons why God allows these pedagogical disciplines in order for his faithful children to be tried, so that even the indifferent ones can take heed and profit spiritually. I will now share with you some things from my personal life experience, Mr. President.
 “For years, I was living in indifference and sin. I frequented cafés for many years, as both a single and married man, wasting my time. A childhood quadriplegic friend of mine was a frequent patron at one cafe. Every Monday afternoon, he would plead with me to take him to some sermon to hear the Word of God. It was only five minutes away. Since I had a close relationship with him, I had no trouble telling him, ‘Why should I? Can’t you see I am in the middle of an important backgammon game? Get someone else to take you.’ Unfortunately, no one wanted to take him. The paralytic would humbly lower his head deeply saddened, missing many sermons for many years. However, he prayed for everyone there at the café and much more so for me, saying, “My dear Christ, please help my friend Thanasi to meet You, to believe You, to love You, because he does not know You, Lord."
“It seems that his prayer was heard one winter afternoon in 1992. I decided to go ahead and take my quadriplegic friend to the sermon at the small chapel of Saint Theodore, with the understanding that I would simply drop him off and go. Upon entering the church, I saw people of all age groups piously observing the speaker who had just begun. I settled the paralytic in a corner. Then, I sat in the first row convincing myself to stay for only five minutes. I was curious to see why all these people chose to waste their time there. The sermon was about repentance. It was like a megaton bomb. The speaker's words were dripping like honey, and like a double-edged sword, they pierced my heart. I began wiping my tears with both hands. I left the front row quickly and went to the back seats, but there, the same thing happened. Carefully listening to the speaker and thinking of all my sinfulness, I wanted to shout with all the strength of my soul inside that little church, “My Christ, you had his sermon for me on hold for so many years!’ Those five minutes in 1992, at that moment, added up to many years, and to this day, together with my paralytic friend, we observe the same speaker, who has become our most beloved teacher.[3]
“Please, tell me, Mr. President, who was the real paralytic? Who helped whom? he who was pushing the wheelchair for five hundred yards, or the one praying for me for many years while in his wheelchair?”
I didn’t even manage to finish my last word, when a kind of earthquake occurred in the heart of the president. He stopped listening to me because he had placed his hand on his forehead and began crying with sobs and wailing so much, that for a moment I became afraid. It is not very common to see a 75-80-year-old white-haired man crying so much. After he wiped and re-wiped his tears, giving me a thousand blessings and thanksgivings, I told him, “Now I think we can both see, Mr. President, the reason why the taxi entered your dead-end street?” I wish I hadn’t said that because he began crying again like a little infant, worse than the first time; he then fell into my embrace and told me, “Can I kiss you, my dear Thanasi?”
“Of course,” and now we began crying together, embracing each other for quite a while.
After he recovered from the great intoxication of tears, he told me, “Thanasi, I will celebrate this day every year, and I mean every year, because today is my real birthday. I give you my word that as soon as get off, I will go to Holy Confession.” O dear Lord, what beautiful, heavenly words, came out of a contrite and humbled heart that had just decided to implement those things we spoke about!  Let's reflect a bit to see how this taxi driver took a wrong turn and arrived at a dead end. Do you think he came across the last house of the village by chance? Was it a mere coincidence? Not so, because Christians don’t believe in coincidences, nor in luck, but only in the providence of God. Besides, the Lord himself assures us, “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Not even one will fall of them, without the will of my father” (Luke 12:7). Not even one hair or one leaf falls from the tree, if His love does not allow it. So, I close this story and invite you to remember the final words of the president, that if God grants me, I will share with my grandchildren one day: “Thanasi, on this day I will celebrate every year-believe me every year-because today is my real birthday." The question is, how many of us celebrate or even remember such spiritual birthdays?




[1] Prayer screen or icon stand. 
[2] The Jewish Passover, was a foreshadowing of Christ’s Passover from Death to Life, His glorious Resurrection from the dead-the greatest Feast of the Church: Great and Holy Pascha.
[3] The teacher was the late lay theologian and preacher Panagiotis Panagiotides  of Thessaloniki.

Used by permission of CZ, www.saintnicodemos.org 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What do I need?


There is nothing on earth that I need, except that which is most essential. What do I need, what is most essential? I need the Lord, I need His grace, His kingdom within me. On earth, which is the place of my wanderings, my temporary being, there is nothing that is truly mine, everything belongs to God and is temporal, everything serves my needs temporarily.

What do I need? I need true and active Christian love; I need a loving heart which takes compassion on its neighbours; I need joy over their prosperity and well-being, and sorrow over their sorrows and illnesses, their sins, failings, disorders, woes, poverty; I need warm and sincere compassion for all the circumstances of their lives, joy for those who are joyous and tears for those who are in tears.
Enough of selfishness, egoism, living only for oneself and acquiring everything only for oneself: riches, pleasures, the glory of this world; enough of spiritual dying instead of living, grieving instead of rejoicing, and carrying within oneself the poison of selfishness, for selfishness is a poison that is continuously poured into our hearts by Satan.
O, let me cry out with King David: Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart. Grant me, O Lord, true life, dispel the darkness of my passions, disperse their power with Thy strength, for with Thee all things are possible!

From the Spiritual Diary of St. John of Kronstadt, “My Life in Christ”

Friday, August 14, 2015

Excerpt of a Homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos by St John of Damascus (+749AD)


[171] THERE is no one in existence who is able to praise worthily the holy death of God's Mother, even if he should have a thousand tongues and a thousand mouths. Not if all the most eloquent tongues could be united would their praises be sufficient. She is greater than all praise. Since, however, God is pleased with the efforts of a loving zeal, and the Mother of God with what concerns the service of her Son, suffer me now to revert again to her praises. This is in obedience to your orders, most excellent pastors, so dear to God, and we call upon the Word made flesh of her to come to our assistance. He gives speech to every mouth which is opened for Him. He is her sole pleasure and adornment. We know that in celebrating her praises we pay off our debt, [172] and that in so doing we are again debtors, so that the debt is ever beginning afresh. It is fitting that we should exalt her who is above all created things, governing them as Mother of the God who is their Creator, Lord, and Master. Bear with me you who hang upon the divine words, and receive my good will. Strengthen my desire, and be patient with the weakness of my words. It is as if a man were to bring a violet of royal purple out of season, or a fragrant rose with buds of different hues, or some rich fruit of autumn to a mighty potentate who is divinely appointed to rule over men. Every day he sits at a table laden with every conceivable dish in the perfumed courts of his palace. He does not look at the smallness of the offering, or at its novelty so much as he admires the good intention, and with reason. This he would reward with an abundance of gifts and favours. So we, in our winter of poverty,* bring garlands to our Queen, [172] and prepare a flower of oratory for the feast of praise. We break our mind's stony desire with iron, pressing, as it were, the unripe grapes. And may you receive with more and more favour the words which fall upon your eager and listening ears.

What shall we offer the Mother of the Word if not our words? Like rejoices in like and in what it loves. Thus, then, making a start and loosening the reins of my discourse, I may send it forth as a charger ready equipped for the race. But do Thou, O Word of God, be my helper and auxiliary, and speak wisdom to my unwisdom. By Thy word make my path clear, and direct my course according to Thy good pleasure, which is the end of all wisdom and discernment.

To-day the holy Virgin of Virgins is presented in the heavenly temple. Virginity in her was so strong as to be a consuming fire. It is forfeited in every case by child-birth. But she is ever a virgin, before the event, in the birth itself, and afterwards. To-day the sacred and living ark of the living God, who conceived her Creator Himself, takes up her abode in the temple of God, not made by hands. David, her [174] forefather,* rejoices. Angels and Archangels are in jubilation, Powers exult, Principalities and Dominations, Virtues and Thrones are in gladness: Cherubim and Seraphim magnify God. Not the least of their Praise is it to refer praise to the Mother of glory. To-day the holy dove, the pure and guileless soul, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, putting off the ark of her body, the life-giving receptacle of Our Lord, found rest to the soles of her feet, taking her flight to the spiritual world, and dwelling securely in the sinless country above. To-day the Eden of the new Adam receives the true paradise, in which sin is remitted and the tree of life growl, and our nakedness is covered. For we are no longer naked and uncovered, and unable to bear the splendour of the divine likeness. Strengthened with the abundant grace of the Spirit, we shall no longer betray our nakedness in the words: "I have Put off my garment, how shall I put it on?" The serpent, by whose deceitful promise we were likened to brute beasts, did not enter into this paradise. He, the only begotten Son of God, God himself, of the same substance as the Father, took His [175] human nature of the pure Virgin. Being constituted a man, He made mortality immortal, and was clothed as a man. Putting aside corruption, He was indued with the incorruptibility of the Godhead.

To-day the spotless Virgin, untouched by earthly affections, and all heavenly in her thoughts, was not dissolved in earth, but truly entering heaven, dwells in the heavenly tabernacles. Who would be wrong to call her heaven, unless indeed he truly said that she is greater than heaven in surpassing dignity? The Lord and Creator of heaven, the Architect of all things beneath the earth and above, of creation, visible and invisible, Who is not circumvented by place (if that which surrounds things is rightly termed place), created Himself, without human co-operation, an Infant in her. He made her a rich treasure-house of His all-pervading and alone uncircumscribed Godhead, subsisting entirely in her without passion, remaining entire in His universality and Himself uncircumscribed. To-day the life-giving treasury and abyss of charity (I know not how to trust my lips to speak of it) is hidden in immortal death. She meets it [176] without fear, who conceived death's destroyer, if indeed we may call her holy and vivifying departure by the name of death. For how could she, who brought life to all, be under the dominion of death ? But she obeys the law of her own Son, and inherits this chastisement as a daughter of the first Adam, since her Son, who is the life, did not refuse it. As the Mother of the living God, she goes through death to Him. For if God said: "Unless the first man put out his hand to take and taste of the tree of life, he shall live for ever," how shall she, who received the Life Himself, without beginning or end, or finite vicissitudes, not live for ever.

Source: http://www.balamandmonastery.org.lb/index.php/st-john-of-damascus-three-sermons-on-the-dormition-feast 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Memoirs of a Greek Taxi Driver


A Little Before Death

Shortly before the year 2000, my mother came over to my house and said, “Son, a few blocks away there is a distressed family with two elementary school girls. They need to live with their grandmother because they are going through a terrible ordeal. Their father, who is about your age, is a drug addict. I know his mother. Please drop by to see what you can do, because his wife and his mother told me that he is in his last days.”
“And what do you think I can do, mum? I can hardly keep up with my own dirty messes, and now all of a sudden you think I can help others?”
“Come on, my boy, you need to go; please, don’t upset me.”
The next day, I complied with my mother’s wish. With the blessing of my mother and my spiritual father, I prayed briefly and said, “My Panagia, I will go, but you lead and I will follow.” When I arrived at the home, his mother welcomed me with a hug and a kiss. Then she drew me aside, and while she wept, she explained her Golgotha and the heavy cross the entire family had had to bear. As she was unfolding their very painful family drama to me, occasionally, she would use her apron to wipe her eyes. The poor woman had suffered so much all these years. She had gone to various neighbourhoods and local businesses to borrow money to help her son get his drugs. What pain this mother had endured! What a Golgotha! What crises families in similar situations must be going through! I couldn't endure so much pain. I hugged her, and told her to have her hope and faith in Christ. When I went to the other room, and I saw her son lying in bed, the truth is that I wasn't prepared for it; I was shocked. I went to give him my hand, but he couldn't even exchange a handshake, because his fingers had become deformed. I grabbed him from the wrist and attempted to speak to him, but he would fade in and out of consciousness. With a little patience, however, we became acquainted and shared a few words.
“My brother, I am your neighbour,” I told him “I don’t know you, of course, but you don't know me either. So, since we have become acquainted now, what do you say, can we help one another?”
“It’s too late for me, Thanasi,” he told me in a whispering voice, “I am in the last stage. There is no recovery for me. The doctors can't do anything.”
“Humanly, yes, we agree, but don’t forget the power and grace of our God; what is impossible for man is possible for God” (cf. Luke 18:27).

“I believe in God, Thanasi, but I have fallen into a snake pit. I have made repeated efforts to detoxify myself for many years now but all in vain. I know that I upset my mother, my wife and especially my children. What can I do? I'm not to blame. It’s the deprivation of heroin.”
“So fine, since you believe that you are in a pit with snakes, stretch out your hand and ask the help of Christ. He is the only one who is able to take you out of this pit.”
“What must I do; and how?”
And he faded out again. I needed to wait a few minutes, for him to regain consciousness. In the meantime, I prayed and said, “My Christ, is he listening to what I’m telling him? Can he even think, understand, or remember? Please Lord, only You are able to help us, especially me.” A few moments later, he opened his eyes, and we spoke a bit more. In the end I told him, “I need to leave you now, my brother. The next time I come, if you like, I can bring a priest to read some prayers over you. I think this will do you much good.”
“Yes, Thanasi, I will wait for you. Bring the priest also. I don’t have a problem with that.”
When I came out of the room, there in the hall, I met his wife and their two charming little girls for the first time. They had red swollen eyes. As soon as they saw me they lowered their heads, probably out of shame for the condition of their father. I don’t know, but my heart went out to these little innocent girls; I shared their pain and loved them very much from the first moment. I talked for quite a while with his wife. We said many things, and the poor woman was constantly crying. I left in shambles.
Two days later, I went to his home with a priest, and he read some prayers of Saint Basil over him. I will not forget that I needed to hold him from the shoulder, so he wouldn't fall down. At the end, we told him what his next steps were. He needed to go confess with sincere repentance, to be able to commune, to take Christ in him so that he could be strengthened.
 By the grace of God, my friends, he accepted all this joyfully. Not only he, but his entire family, even his little girls came and confessed to Father , filled with joy and hope for a new beginning. When everyone was finished, Father  pulled me aside and told me, “Thanasi, this man needs all the help he can get; do as much as you can for him, because he is in dire straits, he is not at all well. He needs to recover for the sake of his family. Under the circumstances, he has my blessing to receive Holy Communion whenever he is able.”
“Yes father, he’s going down fast, but please let me share a thought with you.”
“Go ahead, speak up.”
“This coming Sunday, I am thinking of going to church as a family to the monastery of Saint Nicodemos at Goumenissa. I will go with Glykeria, and the young man and his wife. Allow me also to take my friend Savvas, the paralytic, with me, so he can envelop us in prayer. On Monday, with your blessing, I'd like for all three of us to venture to the Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos, for all of us to venerate the Precious Belt of our Panagia. I will make all the necessary arrangements with the fathers.”
“Very well, but are you sure you can manage all this?”
“I cannot without God’s grace and your blessing and prayers.”
“Do accordingly, however God enlightens you. As far as I am concerned I bless you with all my heart.”
Then I proceeded to relay to the lad and his wife my ideas, to see if they would agree. They joyfully accepted my suggestions, especially his wife who responded with tears of joy, perhaps because a gleam of hope was finally on the horizon. I then turned to her husband and firmly told him, “My brother, I ask you, and I beg you. Between now and Sunday, while preparing yourself for Holy Communion at St. Nicodemos monastery and during the days of our pilgrimage to  Mount Athos, don’t even think about using heroin.”
“Listen, Thanasi, I will speak to you with all sincerity, especially since I just confessed. I give you my word, here and in the presence of my wife, that I will not use heroin. I will take some kind of opiate substitute, so that I can stand on my feet. If I don’t do this, my bones will be creaking. My temple blood vessels will begin to burst; I will scream uncontrollably, because the pain is excruciating at the final stage of heroin addiction.”
“What are these substitutes?”
“They come in the form of pills[1], and they help me to stand on my feet.”
“Mr. Thanasi, don’t worry. I will be very careful, and I will not let him leave from my sight. I promise you,” his wife told me.
So, early Sunday morning, we all headed out. Savvas, my paralytic friend, was sitting in the front seat, and I asked him to pray unceasingly. The young man in the back however was sweating profusely and nonstop. The sweating continued and several times during the Divine Liturgy we had to exit the Church so he could catch his breath. I made sure always to be at his side to console him and help him as needed.
Soon enough, the voice of the priest was heard, “With the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near”; I held him by the arm and we waited for all others to commune first. Then as we slowly walked towards the chalice, I turned to the large icon of the Virgin Mary and silently asked her, “My Virgin Mary, please, help us to commune today and be with us as we travel to your perivoli[2] tomorrow." It seems that my prayer was heard.
That morning, everything went well at the monastery, thank God. The Abbot, who sensed the gravity of the situation, and learned that we would be leaving the next day for the Holy Mountain, was quite moved. Upon our departure, he walked towards the lad and prayed and said in a loud voice, “May Angels accompany you." His poor wife couldn’t control her tears all day long.
The next morning, we took a taxi, and all three of us arrived at the bus station[3]. I helped the young man onto the bus, and guided him to the open seats toward the back. I then lifted Savva the paralytic on my back, carried him onto the bus and placed him next to the young man. I reminded Savva to continue with unceasing prayer.

While on the bus and later on the ferry boat, we were able to discuss various nice things. The lad was listening to me carefully although he was sweating quite a bit due to acute withdrawal symptoms. He was constantly wiping his sweat, and he struggled to stay on his feet. In less than two hours we disembarked and continued on a minibus towards Vatopedi. The driver dropped us off a few hundred yards outside of the monastery. I looked around for some help but there was no one in sight. It was very difficult to roll the wheelchair on an uphill gravel road. I remember holding the lad with one hand, and pushing the wheelchair with the other. I will not be ashamed to tell you that my tears were running, while I was pleading to the Virgin Mary, silently saying to her, “My dear Mother, help me first, and then my brethren because I am the sickest one of all." When we entered inside the gates of monastery, it was noon, and everyone was resting. There were many stairs for us to climb. I first helped the lad up the stairs and then I lifted up the paralytic on my shoulders since there was no other solution at the moment. Finally I went back down once more to bring up the wheelchair.
When we found the Archondari[4], he received us with much love. We had notified the fathers about the purpose of our visit a few days prior. They were happy to see us because Savvas and I had visited Vatopedi before.
When we got settled in a room, another monk came and told me, “Thanasi, the Geronda (Abbot) wants to see you." I immediately went to him, did a prostration and received his blessing. We talked for quite a while, about the condition of the lad. The Abbot was very moved, asked that we write down our names, and promised to commemorate us during forty successive liturgies[5]. He asked us to come to one of the chapels in the afternoon, to venerate the Holy Relics and the Precious Belt (of the Virgin Mary). Upon entering the church, the father told the lad to kneel so that he could place the Precious Belt on his head, and to pray over him. I sat back and savoured every second of this most beautiful hour. These were truly heavenly moments. When the priest finished with the young man he asked the paralytic to bow and receive the Precious Belt on his head as well. Then the father took the Belt, and went to leave. While he was preparing to depart, I asked him, “Father, please, don’t deprive me of this blessing, because I am the sickest one in the group. My body is healthy, but my soul is paralysed." The father turned back, looked at me with a blank stare, and asked, “What’s your name, my son?”
“Thanasi.”
“Kneel, Athanasios[6], and may you have all the blessings of our Virgin Mary.”
The very Belt of the Virgin Mary was now resting on my head! What an indescribable feeling this was. I have no words even to begin to tell you what this felt like. Even if I did, you would not be able to understand it.
This was such an uplifting and truly beneficial pilgrimage. When we returned home, I went to find Father, to inform him how things went. He was very pleased and said, “Thanasi, don’t worry, the Virgin Mary will do her miracle." After this the recovering young man, stayed close to Fr. Triantafyllos[7] and continued to go to holy Confession, with his entire family.
Now, I am sure you are probably anxious to find out what happened to this young man and his family. Well, he is well, very well. The same man who could hardly even exchange a handshake, nor stand on his feet without being held, now returned to his old job of hard physical labour, and even works overtime. The smile returned to his family, especially to his charming little girls. They were no longer ashamed of their father at school. More importantly, he returned to our Christ. For this we are ever so grateful to the blessing of our Virgin Mary, to the supplications of the fathers, and to the prayer of the paralytic.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Information session on the proposed same sex marriage legislation


INFORMATION SESSION ON THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE SAME SEX ‘MARRIAGE’ LEGISLATION THIS SUNDAY – PARRAMATTA N.S.W. – (for directions see www.stioannis.org/)
Same sex ‘marriage’ legislation may be introduced into Federal Parliament as early as next week. Perhaps never before has there been such a potential risk to the rights of Australians, especially Christians. Come and hear four presentations that will touch on the consequences that same sex marriage will have over your workplace, local school, church and family. Come hear what the media is not prepared to tell you. Will the overseas experience with same sex marriage also happen here? Same Sex Marriage is not just about equal rights – there is more to it than you think.
The Parish of St. Ioannis, Parramatta in collaboration with Pantanassa Monastery, have organised an Information Session on the proposed Same Sex ‘Marriage’ legislation (a repeat of the Information Evening that occurred at Mascot last Sunday).
WHERE: St Ioannis (St John’s) Greek Orthodox Church, corner of Purchase and George Streets, Parramatta N.S.W. (enter through Purchase St, instructions on how to get there can be found in the section below called "how to get to our new Church")
WHEN: Sunday 9th of August at 11.30 a.m.
After the Liturgy, which finishes at 11am, we will serve light lunch, then the information session will start, so it will run from about 11.30am till 1.30pm
THE SPEAKERS ARE:
Very Rev. Archimandrite Fr. Eusebios Abbot of Pantanassa Monastery: (Bachelor of Laws, B.Theol.) ‘The Orthodox Church’s understanding of Marriage, ‘same sex ‘marriage’ and our duty to contribute to the national discussion.’
Dr. Anna Dimitriou: (PhD. in literary critique & cultural identity) ‘The Social impact of the proposed same sex ‘marriage’ legislation’.
Mr Nicholas Augustinos: (Senior Lecturer of Law, The University of Notre Dame, Sydney) ‘The proposed same sex ‘marriage’ legislation and the impact on religious liberty and other legal consequences.’
Mrs Helen Magdas: (B.A. Dip.Ed.) ‘The possible impact of the same sex ‘marriage’ legislation on Education and Children.’
The presentations will be for 10 – 15 minutes each and then a Q&A WILL FOLLOW.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Miracle that took place in Russia


Through the will of God, the account of this miracle, which took place 24 years ago [1965], has reached America. It's authenticity is verified by the fact that it records the year, day, hour, city, address, names... etc. Reading it, we behold the great care which God has for the salvation of our sinful souls. Read it with attention, and compare it to the other miracles which are occurring today throughout the world. [Various weeping icons and Apparitions] You will observe that the same message is repeated: We must repent, for the Son of Man will come soon, and then it will be too late for us to be saved even if we wanted to be. Work, while it is light...!

—Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God, Rives Junction, Michigan

I used to be an atheist mocking God and persecuting the Holy Church. I lived my life in sin, and spiritually I was completely dead. But suddenly, in His great mercy, God called me, His creation, to repentance so that I would not perish.

This is what happened: In 1962 I became ill with cancer and suffered from the disease for three years. The doctors treated me in vain, for my health deteriorated more and more each day; it reached the point where I couldn't even drink water without vomiting. I was transferred to another hospital where two doctors were called in from Moscow to operate on me. That was on February 19, 1965, at 11:00 a.m. They discovered during the operation that my intestines had decomposed. That was when I died.

While they were making their incisions on my body, my soul was standing with the two doctors. I looked on in horror at the disease which affected my body, seeing my stomach full of cancer. As I watched, I thought to myself. "How am I in two places; how am I standing here and lying down at the same time?"

The doctors removed the intestines and placed them on the table, saying that instead of being fleshy and pliable, they were nothing but liquid—in other words, they had already decayed. Then they put all of the rotted tissue in a pile and said: "She couldn't have lived any longer; there was nothing healthy inside of her, everything was decomposed." This operation was performed by Doctor Izdrael Igaevici Newman, a professor, who was assisted by ten other doctors.

The doctors decided to give my body to the young interns to practice on, and thus, it was taken to the morgue where I was laid down naked, covered only with a sheet up to my chest.

Just then my brother came in with my son, Andrusha. My little boy came up to me, kissed me on the forehead, and broke out in tears, saying: "Mommy, why did you die? I'm still little, how will I live without you?"

I hugged him and kissed him, but he paid me no attention at all. I saw that everyone in the room was crying.

After that, I found myself in my own house. My mother-in-law from my first marriage came in, followed shortly by my sister and her husband. (I didn't live with my first husband—he believed in God.) They began dividing up my belongings. I was well-to-do, but everything which I had was gained by sin, not by honest work. My sister began to take everything which was of any value, and my mother-in-law asked for something for my little boy. My sister then began ranting at her, saying: "The child is not your sons. You aren't even related to him."

While my sister was yelling these accusations, I saw demons, smiling with delight and writing down every word which she said! After that, my sister and mother-in-law left, locking the door, and going home with sacks full of my things.

Just then I, Claudia the sinner, flew very high. I was amazed at the fact that I was flying. I flew over Barnal, then everything became dark. The darkness lasted for a long time during my journey. Someone showed me the places I had lived while I was young. I didn't know what I was flying on: through the air? on a cloud? I couldn't tell; but when I reached the first place below heaven, at first it was overcast, like a gloomy day, then the light became so strong that it was impossible to see.

Someone sat me down on a place which was very high, although during the entire time I was flying, I was lying down—I don't know on what, it seemed like some sort of platform, but whatever it was, it was flexible and black. I started going down a long pathway; on the sides of the path were bushes, not very tall, but they had leaves which were very thin and sharp. In the distance I saw tall trees with beautiful leaves of all colors. Between the trees were small new houses, but I didn't see anyone in them. There was beautiful green grass running along this valley, and I wondered where I was: was it a village, a city? There was no one to be seen. But who lived here? I looked about and saw that a short distance away a woman, tall and very beautiful, was approaching. She was wearing a long garment covered by a cape. A young man was following her, weeping uncontrollably. It seemed like he was saying something, asking for something, but she ignored him. I wondered to myself, What kind of mother can this be; her child begs for something and she doesn't even look at him!

When the woman came closer to me, she said: "Lord, where should I take her?" She was standing with her hands lifted to her breast, her eyes raised to heaven.

It was then that I realized with a terrible shock that I had died; my soul was in heaven, but my body was on earth. At that same time I realized that I had so many sins which I had to answer for. I began to cry bitterly. I looked about to see the Lord, but couldn't see anyone; yet, I heard the voice of the Lord. He said: "Send her back to earth; it's too soon for her to be here. Her father is compassionate and has been praying to me constantly, and I have decided to have mercy on her."

Then I knew that this woman was the Mother of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, the Queen of heaven and earth; and the young man who was crying was my guardian angel.

The Lord went on to say: "I'm tired of her mockery against God, and her foul life. I wanted to wipe her off the face of the earth without any sign of repentance, but her father has prayed so much. Show how her all the places she deserves to be sent to."

Suddenly I was in some water, with the most horrific snakes climbing all over me. They had long tongues with flames of fire coming out of their mouths. There were many other forms of reptiles which all gave off an insufferable stench. These dragons climbed all over me, attaching themselves to me. There were also all kinds of worms wrapping themselves around my neck. They were as thick as a finger, a quarter of a yard long, with spikes on their tails. These worms found their way into my body through every orifice: genitals, eyes, nose, mouth, piercing my insides and fastening themselves to me. They were absolutely revolting and unbearable! I cried out with all my strength, but it was not my voice which I heard. But, there was no mercy to be found in that place, no help from anyone.

While I was there, a woman who died while having an abortion came in. She began to cry out and ask God to have mercy on her. But He answered: "Why didn't you ask me for help while you were alive on earth? You killed an infant in your womb and advised people not to have children, saying that it only made poverty worse. In my eyes, there is not an over-abundance of children. I give children to everyone. In my house, there are many rooms."

The Lord God said to me: "I sent you sickness so that you would repent, but you lived right up to your last moment blaspheming against me. You didn't acknowledge Me until you came here. Now I don't recognize you either."

I felt like the ground was spinning. I flew away from there toward the noisy earth. Then I saw my village church, the very church which I used to ridicule. When the doors of the church opened, a Priest dressed in white, with bright rays emanating from him, came out. He stood with his head bowed. Then the voice of God asked me: "Who is this?" I answered that it is our Priest.

The Lord said to me: "You used to always say that he is a lazy bum. He is not a bum, not a hired-hand. Whatever he may be personally, above all, he is a servant of the Lord among the little ones. If the Priest does not read the prayer of absolution over you, neither will I forgive you."

The Priest is living even to this day, serving his office of the Priesthood. What I saw there was his soul. That was when I began to beseech the Lord: "Lord, set me free and let me go back to earth. I have a little boy there; have mercy on him!"

"Look, you have compassion for one single person, but I have innumerable souls to consider. I have compassion for all of you, three thousand times more! But, what path did you choose in life? A wrong path! You work to accumulate riches which you use for all sorts of iniquity. Did you see now how I took away all your possessions? Everything is gone. They took your son to an orphanage, and your sinful soul has come here. You served Satan, an idol, offering him sacrifice, and now you ask me to release you from the punishment which you deserve. All you ever did was amuse yourself, going out to movies, theaters, dances; you gave money to Satan, but didn't so much as want to go into the Church of God. I waited and waited for you to wake up from this sinful state and repent."

After that, the Savior said: "Look after your souls, for there is a short time left. Very soon I will come to judge the world"

Then I asked the Lord: "Lord, how should I pray?"

He answered: "The most precious prayers are not theories which you learned by heart, but rather the prayer which you offer from a pure heart, from the depth of your soul. Say to the Lord, 'Lord, forgive me! Lord, help me!' offering these words with tears." That is what the Lord told me.

Then the Mother of God was near me and I found myself again on that small platform, but now, instead of lying down, I was standing up. The Queen of heaven said: "Lord, how can I release her, she has short hair!?"

The Lord said: "Put a braid, the same color as her own hair, in her right hand."

When the Queen of heaven went off to get the braid, I saw that she drew near to some large gates, constructed and sculpted along curved lines, like the Royal Doors of the Altar. They were indescribably beautiful, with a light coming out of them which was so bright that it was not possible to look at it or even explain. As the Mother of God approached, these gates opened on their own, and she went into a palace surrounded by a courtyard. I remained standing in my own place, with my guardian angel, who would not let me see his face, standing next to me. I decided to ask the Lord if I could see paradise. He said nothing when I asked.

When the Queen of heaven returned, the Lord said: "Show her heaven!"

The Queen of heaven gestured with her hand over me and said: "Earth was your heaven; this is the place for sinners; look and see what it is like."

She lifted up something like a sheet and then I saw men far off: black, as though they were burned, and they looked like skeletons. There were so many of them, and they gave off an intolerable stench I was terrified that I would be left there. Then all of them, -at once, stood up and with parched throats, begged that someone give them at least a drop of water to drink. I was horrified when they said: "This soul has come to us from the earthly paradise! There is a sweet smell coming from her. Man, while on earth, has the ability and the time to gain for himself the heavenly paradise. He has to put forth spiritual effort on earth for the Lord, otherwise he will not escape this place of tortures.'"

The King of heaven said: "For those of you on the earthly paradise mercy is something so very precious: offer charity to others, giving them water to drink, as much as you possibly can. Do this with a pure heart, as I said in the Gospel: 'if someone offers at least a cup of cool water in My Name, he will have recompense from the Lord!' You not only have an abundance of water, but you also have all kinds of other good things which you much share with those who are in need, offering them water above all. Give water, so that the innumerable people who are suffering here can be relieved! This is the very reason why your rivers and seas are so full and never dry up."

Then I found that I was in the very depths of hell. This was not just hell, it was worse. There I saw people and fire, and demons came running toward me with documents on which were written all of my sins and evil deeds. They said to me:" Look, we wrote down here that you served us on earth."

I read all of my sins myself, which were written with large letters, and I was terrified by them. There was fire burning all around the demons, the flames shooting upwards; then suddenly they began beating me on the head and sparks from the fire pierced right into me.

Then, Oh! I heard feeble moans, like the crying of a tiny bird. They were asking for something to drink, and when the fire gave off some light, I saw all of them. They were weak and tortured. They said to me: "See, friend. you came here where we live. Come here to us! From now on you will live here. While we all lived on earth, we had no love for anyone; not for those who served God's churches, not for the poor, we were just filled with pride. We mocked God, serving only that which was godless, and laughed at the shepherds of the Orthodox Church. We never confessed our sins. We never par-took of Holy Communion. The sinners who repented for their sins with their whole hearts, went to church, received strangers, had mercy on the poor, helped those in need, and did other good deeds, all those souls are to be found there, up above."

I was terrified, trembling with fright. It seemed like I was in this place for a hundred years. I felt completely crushed, but still they went on saying to me: "You will be here with us, you'll be tormented for all eternity and will live like we do!"

Then the Mother of God appeared. Light shone all around. The demons fell one by one, and all the souls turned toward her with their weeping and began to pray to her:' 'O Mother of God, Queen of heaven, don't abandon us here alone where we are so terribly tormented. We don't have even a drop of water, and the fire is unbearable." All of them were weeping bitterly.

The Mother of God also wept and said to them: "When you were living on earth, you didn't call to me for help; you didn't pray to my Son and your God. Now I cannot help you; I cannot go against the will of my Son. and He cannot go against the will of the heavenly Father. This is why I can't intercede for you. I can show mercy to only those suffering souls in hell who are prayed for in the Church, and for those pilgrims who prayed, who performed deeds of virtue and who were worthy of mercy while they lived on earth."

While I was in hell I was given all kinds of worms to eat: alive, dead, rotten, putrid. I cried out and said: "How can I eat them? It turns my stomach!"

The demons said: "You didn't observe fasting periods while you were on earth. You ate meat, not worms. Now, eat worms. "Instead of milk, they gave me all sorts of foul things to drink.

Then, we began going upwards, but they were left in hell and began yelling: "Don't leave us, 0 Mother of God.!"

We left the darkness behind, and I again found myself on that same platform. After the Queen of heaven had shown me all of these dreadful places, she lifted her hands to her breast, raised her eyes toward heaven and asked what she should do with me, where should she take me?

The Lord said: "Let her go back to earth. Take hold of her hair and set her free."

Immediately twelve wheelbarrows appeared, but they had no wheels. In order for me to move, the Mother of God told me to lean on them with my right foot and push with my left. I did as the Queen of heaven told me, with her coming along beside me. But when I reached the last wheelbarrow I saw a bottomless abyss. She told me to step down first with my right foot and then with my left, but I told her that I was afraid and feared that I would fall I. She answered that it was essential that I not fall, and she put the thick end of the braid of hair in my right hand. When she let go of it I flew toward earth.

While I was flying, I saw cars moving about on earth and people going to work. I was lying down on the platform in the middle of a new outdoor market-place. I flew gently toward the morgue where my body had been taken. Then, all of a sudden, I was standing on solid ground. It was noon, the third day after I had died.

After the strong light up above, I didn't like being on earth, but there was nothing I could do about it. I went to the hospital, toward the morgue, but it was locked. I went in and looked around. My body was laying on a table, dead, the head turned a bit to one side, one arm dangling down, part of the torso touching another corpse. I don't know how my soul entered into the body, but I immediately felt. cold and pulled away from the other cadaver. I drew my knees together, and just then a dead man whose legs had been severed from his body by a train, was brought in on a bier. I opened my eyes and moved. Those carrying the bier ran off in all directions. Then the orderlies came in with two doctors. They gave orders to have me gave taken quickly into the hospital. There, all the doctors gathered quickly and said that my brain had to be warmed beneath the lights.

This took place at 9:00 a.m. on February 23, 1965. There were eight different incisions with stitches on my body; all the doctors had used it for research and study. After two hours, I was warm, I opened my eyes and began to talk. I was fed artificially for twenty days. Then they brought me something to eat: bread with sour cream, and coffee, but I told them that I would not eat. The nurse tried to convince me to eat, and everyone in the room turned their eyes toward me. Just then the doctor came in and asked me why I did not want to eat. I told him: "Today is Friday and I will not eat non-lenten food. If you sit down here next tome, I will tell you what I saw and where I was during the time I was dead."

The doctor sat down and listened attentively. I began by saying that whoever refuses to respect fast. days: Wednesdays, Fridays, and the prescribed fasting periods throughout the year, in the afterlife will be given worms, snakes and reptiles to eat instead of meat. and instead of milk, he will have to drink the foulest things imaginable. This is the nourishment which is given to everyone who died without repenting before the Holy Altar, before a priest. and without Holy Communion. This was the reason I refused to eat cheese and sour cream.

The doctor listened to me, his face turning red, then white, then red again. Other doctors and nurses had gathered there too and listened to what I was saying about what I had seen and heard on the other side of the grave.

After this many people began coming to me and I told them all which had been commanded me from the other side. Later, the secret police started chasing the people away from the hospital, and I was moved to another hospital in the city where I regained complete health.

The doctors were curious to find out how I came back to life, especially since they knew that my intestines were putrid and that other organs were not only diseased. but decomposed. More so, after my operation, all my intestines had been removed, falling where they may.

In order to discover what had happened, they decided to operate on me again. When the doctor in charge made this announcement, Valentina Vasilievna said: "Why should we operate on her again? All of her organs are healthy."

I asked them not to give me anesthesia since I felt no pain. The doctors operated and removed the intestines. I was awake, watching in the mirror on the ceiling. I asked the doctors what was wrong with me, and they answered that I was fine, with no disease at all. Just then the doctor who had performed the first operation together with the other doctors came in. They all looked at me, at my intestines and said: "But where is the disease" Everything in you was rotten before, but now it is all healthy.''

All of the medical personnel were amazed and afraid. They ran through the room in all directions, holding their heads, wringing their hands, and all were as pale and colorless as a corpse.

I told them: "God had mercy on me so that I would go and tell others and so that you would also learn something, that you might believe that heaven and the Power of the Most High are above us.

They themselves were saying these very same things.

I said to a Jewish doctor: "If you believe all of this, then go, be baptized and have your marriage blessed in the Church." He flushed with confusion.

Valentina Vasilievna, who had operated on me, went out into the hall, collapsed on a sofa, and broke down crying. I asked her why she was crying: did someone die? Did Claudia die? She answered: "No, she did not die, but I am completely stupefied by this miracle which is here before us."

God then helped her to tell me that Professor Newman had tried to convince her to kill me, but she refused completely and was caring for me herself because she was afraid that someone would kill me. She personally prepared my food. The director of the hospital was also amazed, saying that this incident was unique in the history of medicine throughout the world.

When I left the hospital, I called the priest whom I had mocked and accused of being a lazy bum when, quite to the contrary, he was a truly great man. The servant of the Altar of God came, heard my confession in which I laid forth all my sins which I had committed during my entire life; then he administered the Sacrament of Holy Communion to me and blessed my house. Up to that time my home was nothing but a place of filth and indecency, drunkenness, beatings, and things for which were are no words to describe.

The next day I went to the office of the Party and handed over my membership card, since the old Claudia, the atheist and activist, no longer existed. She had died!

I am forty years old. With the help of the Queen of heaven, and through the mercy of God, I go to Church and live a Christian life. I go to various institutes and tell everyone there about what I saw and heard in the life on the other side of the grave. Many people come to me at my home and I also tell them all about what had happened. Now I advise everyone to repent so that they will not have to experience the tortures which I told them about. Repent for your evil sins and behavior so that you can receive remission from the priest for all your sins, and thus obtain eternal life.

I live at 99 Crupskaia Street, Banial, Altaiul County - 1, Claudia Vasilievna Ustignia

Source: http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/miracle_russia.aspx

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Message to all Orthodox Christians from His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos


Dearly Beloved,

Further to our Encyclical of 28th May 2013, in relation to a law which the State proposes to vote upon with regard to Marriage between persons of the same gender, we write to you once again because the Federal Parliament is expected very soon to deal with the redefinition of the concept of Marriage.

You might appreciate, then, should such an Act be legalized, what destructive consequences this will have on the institution of Marriage, but also on the institution of the Family more generally.

As Orthodox Christians, therefore, we are obliged, once again, to express in the strongest possible terms, our objection to the enactment of such legislation, as this will assail the sacredness of the Sacrament of marriage and the Family, as has been taught to us through the Ages by our Holy Faith and by the Fathers of the Church.

In the first instance, of course, our reaction must be through prayer to God. That is why the period of the August Fast for the Dormition of our Lady, which is about to commence, is the most appropriate time to beseech the Theotokos, of whom we ask, as "a fervent advocate and invincible battlement, fountain of mercy and sheltering retreat for the world", to protect the People from such an aberration.

We are also called upon to protest by gathering signatures, requesting the defeat of the proposed legislation. Our protest may be expressed by signing the relevant petitions or via the online internet page of the Archdiocese (marriage.greekorthodox.org.au). You shall receive detailed instruction from our Reverend Clergy.

Hopeful that none of us will show indifference to such an important issue, I thank you for your cooperation in this matter and pray that the abundant blessings of God be upon you all during this blessed period of the Sacred August Fast.


Sydney, 17th July 2015
With fervent fatherly prayers,

Archbishop STYLIANOS
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia