Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Christ comes only at the end of the world to begin the eternal kingdom of heaven (Fr. Seraphim Rose)
So, to repeat the first point: we watch the signs of the times in order to recognize Christ when He comes, because there have been many false Christs, many more false Christs will come, and at the very end of the world there will finally come one who is called Antichrist. The Antichrist will unite all those who are deceived into thinking he is Christ, and this will include all those whose interpretation of Christianity has gone off. Often you can look at some people who confess Christianity, and it seems that many of their ideas are correct—they go according to the Bible. Then you look here and there, and you see that here’s a mistake, there’s a mistake.
Just recently Fr. Dimitry Dudko, in the little newspaper he puts out, said there came t him someone who claimed to be Christian. As he began to talk to him, he began to feel that this person wasn’t Orthodox, and he said, “What confession are you?” “Oh, that’s not important. We’re all Christians. The only important thing is that we be Christians.” He said, “Well, no, no, we have to be more precise than than that. For example, if you’re a Baptist and I’m an Orthodox, I believe that we have the Lord’s Body and Blood, and you don’t.” We must be precise because there are many differences. It’s good to have the attitude: I have respect for you, and I won’t interfere with your faith, but nonetheless there’s a true way of believing and there are ways which go away from the truth. I must be according to the truth.
In the same way we can see that many people who ae not Orthodox have many good things about them, and then they go off in some respect. In the end it’s up to God to judge, not to us. But we can see what will happen if all these little ways people go off now are projected into the last times, if people still believe that way when the last times come. These mistakes cause people, when they see Antichrist, to think that he is Christ. There are very many sects now which believe that Christ is coming to rule for a thousand years form the Temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, when the Jews start building the Temple, these sects will only rejoice because, to them, this is the sign of Christ’s coming. On the contrary, we know that this isn’t he sign of the Antichrist coming, because Christ will no more come ot the Temple. The Temple has been destroyed. Christ comes only at the end of the world to begin the eternal kingdom of heaven. The only one who will come to the Temple is Antichrist.
So, this is why the correct Orthodox Christian understanding and preparation based upon this understanding are absolutely necessary. The closer we get to the very last times, the more indispensable this understanding and preparation are.
Fr. Seraphim Rose
The Elder (Paisios) was in the front yard of his retreat when he was visited by one of his spiritual children. He was repeating, from the heart, "Glory to You, O God", over and over again.
"Can someone be rendered useless - in a good sense?" the Elder suddenly asked him.
"Who would that be, Elder?"
"Well, I was sitting in my cell quietly, then she came here and drove me crazy with excitement. They are having such a good time, 'up there'."
"What's troubling you, Elder?"
"I will tell you, but don't you tell anyone."
He went on to narrate the following:
I had just returned from the world, to deal with an ecclesiastic matter (he had a meeting with the late Mayor of Athens, Mr.Tritsis). It was Tuesday, around ten in the morning, I was in my cell reciting the Hours. I hear a knock on my door, and a woman's voice saying:
"With the blessings of our Holy Fathers" (the traditional monastic manner of requesting permission to enter another's quarters).
I thought to myself: "How did a woman come to be on the Holy Mountain?" And yet, I could feel a divine sweetness flow through me, so I asked: "Who is it?"
"Euphemia" (replied the voice).
I thought to myself: "Who is this Euphemia? Could it be a woman who did something foolish and came to the Mountain wearing men's clothes? What am I supposed to do now?" A second knock was heard. I asked again: "Who is it?"
"Euphemia" (replied the voice again).
I thought it over and decided to not open the door. At the third knock, the door opened on its own, even though it was bolted from the inside. I heard footsteps outside, in the corridor. I dashed out of my cell and saw a woman who was wearing a head veil. She was accompanied by someone who resembled Luke the Evangelist, but he vanished. Despite my certainty that this was not a sinister phenomenon because the woman's presence glowed with a radiant light, I asked her who she was.
"The martyr Euphemia"* (she replied).
"If you are indeed the martyr Euphemia, come with me, and let us prostrate ourselves before the Holy Trinity. Whatever I do, you must do."
I went into the chapel, prostrating myself and saying "In the name of the Father..." She repeated it, also prostrating herself.
"And of the Son..."
"And of the Son..." she repeated in a soft voice.
"Louder, so I can hear you" I said to her, and she repeated it, in a louder voice.
While still in the corridor, her prostrations were not in the direction of the chapel, but towards my cell. At first I was puzzled, but then I remembered I had a tiny paper icon of the Holy Trinity pasted onto a piece of wood, which was hanging above the door of my Cell. After our third prostration, saying, "And of the Holy Spirit," I said to her:
"Now, let me prostrate myself before you." I prostrated myself and kissed her feet and then the tip of her nose. I thought it too impertinent to kiss her face.
The Saint sat down on a stool and I sat myself down on the small chest, and she proceeded to give me the solution to my concern (regarding the ecclesiastic matter).
Then she told me about her life. I knew that a Saint Euphemia existed, but I didn't know anything about her life. When she described her martyrdoms, I didn't only hear them being described; it was as though I could actually see them and feel them. I shuddered...oh my God!!
"How did you survive such tortures?" I asked.
"If I had known what kind of glory the Saints have, I would have done whatever I could to undergo much worse tortures."
Well, after that occurrence, I was unable to do anything for three whole days. I was beside myself with elation and was constantly praising God. I didn't want to eat, I didn't want anything. I was constantly glorifying!
In one of his letters the Elder had mentioned:
"In all my life, I will never be able to repay my huge obligation to Saint Euphemia, who, although entirely unknown to me, and without being obliged to, bestowed on me such a great honour...."
When describing the incident, he added very humbly that Saint Euphemia appeared before him, "not because I was deserving, but only because I was preoccupied at the time with an issue that had to do with the state of the Church in general, and for two other reasons."
What had especially impressed the Elder was "how that petite, frail person could last through such tortures.... If she were more of a...(implying a woman of a bigger and stronger physique), but she was so tiny...."
While in that paradisiacal state, the Elder composed a Canon in honour of the Saint:
"With what complimentary songs can we praise Euphemia, who condescended from above and visited a wretched resident monk in Kapsala? On knocking the third time, the door opened miraculously and she, the Martyr of Christ, entered with heavenly glory, and we worshipped together the Holy Trinity."
He also composed a closing hymn, which began with the words:
"Glorious Great Martyr of Christ, Euphemia, I love you very very much, after the Most Holy Mother...."
(Of course he did not intend these compositions for liturgical use, nor did he chant them in public.)
Contrary to his custom, the Elder left (Kapsala) for the town of Souroti and made the sisters of the monastery there participants of that celestial joy. With his help and his instructions, they painted an icon of the Saint exactly as she had appeared before him (depicted above).
The Elder himself had fashioned a negative of the Saint's icon onto a metal mold, which he used to print small, stamped icons that he distributed as blessings to visitors, in honour of Saint Euphemia. While sculpting the mold of the icon, he had trouble fashioning the fingers of her left hand. He said: "I struggled to fashion her hand, but then I put forward a positive thought to explain it: 'Perhaps it is because I had also oppressed the poor girl'...."
*During the Fourth, Holy and Ecumenical Synod, which was convened in Chalcedon by the pious emperors Marcian and Pulcheria in the grand basilica of Saint Euphemia, the 630 Fathers undertook the retraction of the heretical views of Archmandrite Eutychius, who was supported by Archbishop Dioscorus of Alexandria. To resolve the dispute through a divine decision, the Patriarch - Saint Anatolius - proposed to both sides to compose a tome containing their respective Confession of Faith, and both documents would then be placed inside the reliquary of Saint Euphemia. The two parchments, on which were inscribed the definitions of the Faith with regard to the Person of Christ, were placed on the Saint's chest and after the reliquary was sealed shut, the Fathers began to pray. After eight days, they all went to the witnessing place, where, upon opening the reliquary, they discovered to their amazement that the Saint was hugging the Orthodox tome in her arms, as though she wanted to place it inside her heart, whereas the tome of the heretics appeared to have been thrown down to her feet. In the face of such a splendid proof of the truth, the Orthodox offered up thanks to God, and the heretics were scorned and jeered by the crowd of faithful.
Other miracles have been mentioned, which the precious relics of saint Euphemia have performed. During a Persian invasion, the barbarians stormed Chalcedon and attempted to destroy her relics with fire. However, they remained intact and furthermore, blood was seen pouring out of the hole that was made to open the reliquary. This miracle repeated itself occasionally at later times and would heal the faithful who came to collect some of the blood of Saint Euphemia. However, her tomb would more frequently exude a fragrant aroma, thus witnessing the favour that God had bestowed on the Saint.
To protect them from another vandalization, the precious relics were translated to Constantinople where they were deposited in the Church of Saint Euphemia, near the Hippodrome. During the years of Iconoclastic persecutions by Constantine V Kopronymos, her temple was turned into an arsenal, while her precious relics were thrown into the sea and were washed ashore on the coast of Limnos Island, where they were salvaged by two fishermen. They were rediscovered during the reign of the Empress Irene and were transferred officially to the Capital (Constantinople) in 796, where they continued to work miracles. After many other adventures, the relics are now venerated in the Church of Saint George of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Phanar.
- When the righteous Akakios, who did his ascesis in a desolate skete of Kafsokalyvia (Mount Athos), was asked to speak on sleep and vigil, he replied: "Half an hour of sleep is enough for a true monk!" He himself either stood up all night long or knelt, praying and chanting with great courage, in spite of the fact that he suffered from a hernia and was very old. He would sleep very little in the mornings, sometimes leaning on his arm or on anything else, long enough not to lose clarity of mind from extreme sleeplessness. He viewed sleep as a treacherous and undermining enemy of the soul. He said that nothing increases sinful desires more than excessive sleep. And nothing subdues them as much as sleeplessness.
- One monk made a bed with thick, knotted tree branches nailed sparsely together, without a mattress, so that he could not rest his body as well as it would have liked, and so that he could be awakened easily. He slept no more than four hours a day.
- Even the blessed St. Gregory Palamas had an ongoing battle against the flesh and sleep. For three whole months in his hermitage above the Holy Monastery of Lavra he remained sleepless and in prayer. He did, however, then interrupt this ascetic labour so that his mind might not be harmed by too extended a vigil.
- The Athonite Russian, St. Silouan the New, who was canonized in 1987, was born in 1866 and died in 1938. He was a monk of St. Panteleimon's Monastery. He lived a righteous and pure life of universal love, unceasing prayer, and humility. His life came to a peaceful end in peace, and he left behind the memory of a holy man. His biography was written by Archimandrite Sophronios, the hegumen of the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of the Honoured Forerunner in England.
St. Silouanos, among his many virtues, laboured especially for sleeplessness, as he knew from experience how much it contributes to attaining cleansing of mind, uplifting in prayer and cultivation of joyful mourning. He would not lie on a bed to sleep; instead he would spend the entire night praying, either standing up or sitting on a stool. He would sleep for only fifteen to twenty minutes and then rise again to pray. He would rest again later, intermittently. His entire sleep in twenty-four hours would total only two hours.
- We asked the blind elder Simeon the Kafsokalyvitan: "How can the soul be cleansed from impure thoughts, desires and other passions?" and he replied: "By not knowing what it is like to get any sleep."
- In an Iviritan skete there lived a most pious hieromonk, Gerasimos the Hymnographer. When he was to celebrate the Divine Liturgy the next day, he would stay awake all night long in reading and in prayer. God took him away at a young age. His brief life had been very full, for he had pleased the Lord.
- A struggling hermit said: "By sleeping a lot, our mind becomes opaque."
- Hadji-Giorgis rested standing up at his bench in the church all night long. He hardly knew his cell. He devoted his entire days to his suffering brothers and his nights to prayer.
- One day a young monk asked Father N., who was 86 years old: "Elder, how many hours should a monk sleep?"
"Listen, my brother: St. Theodore the Studite and St. Symeon the New Theologian say that four to five hours a day should be enough sleep. But Abba Arsenios in the Gerontikon declares that for a labouring monk, one hour of sleep should be sufficient. St. Akakios the Kafsokalyvitan used to say that 'I find half an hour of sleep not enough, but if the saints say so ... we should try it'."
"And you, how long do you rest?"
"My brother, what is the need for such a question?"
"For my benefit and for the love of Christ, tell me."
"I'll tell you. One hour in twenty-four is enough."
"Do you sleep one hour through or with interruptions?"
"With interruptions of course! A quarter of an hour, here or there."
"And how is your time spent?"
"Unfortunately, now that I have a double hernia, I do not stand to read the Psalter or the Gospels and to say the Jesus Prayer."
"The entire Psalter and New Testament?"
"Naturally, the entire ones."
"Every day, every day. The only thing is, I cannot read standing up any more. That is what happens with old age."
- An elder said: "Sleep should become a servant, not a master."
- An Hagiorite conclusion:
It is not possible for a spiritual life to exist without vigil. According to his contemporaries, Elder Artemios the Gregoriatan never sat down on his chair during any service, including the all-night vigils. Until his death, he remained an upstanding steadfast pillar of the Church and of prayer.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
Continuing our commentary on the Beatitudes by Saint Gregory of Nyssa:
We have now climbed great heights. In this beatitude we are promised “for they shall see God.” But John says, “no man hath seen God at any time.”(John 1:18)
This is the slippery, steep rock that affords no basis for our thoughts, which the teaching of Moses, too, declared to be so inaccessible that our mind can nowhere approach Him. For all possibility of apprehension is taken away by this explicit denial, No man can see the Lord and live.(Exodus 33:20) Yet to see the Lord is eternal life.
What does Jesus mean when he promises we will see God?
Hence the man who sees God possesses in this act of seeing all there is of the things that are good. By this we understand life without end, eternal incorruption, undying beatitude. With these we shall enjoy the everlasting Kingdom of unceasing happiness; we shall see the true Light and hear the sweet voice of the Spirit; we shall exult perpetually in all that is good in the inaccessible glory.
Jesus tells us here that seeing God depends on having a pure heart. But if the effort is impossible as Moses says, what’s the use, Gregory asks. The Lord surely would not tell us to do something that is impossible.
First Gregory reasons the Divine nature is beyond all mental concepts. Therefore the way to knowledge of Divine Essence cannot be through thought. So how doe we grasp what is not know by mental concepts?
Since such is He whose nature is above every nature, the Invisible and Incomprehensible is seen and apprehended in another manner. Many are the modes of such perception. For it is possible to see Him who has made all things in wisdom by way of inference through the wisdom that appears in the universe. It is the same as with human works of art where, in a way, the mind can perceive the maker of the product that is before it, because he has left on his work the stamp of his art. In this, however, is seen not the nature of the artist, but only his artistic skill which he has left impressed on his handiwork. Thus also, when we look at the order of creation, we form in our mind an image not of the essence, but of the wisdom of Him who has made all things wisely. And if we consider the cause of our life, that He came to create man not from necessity, but from the free decision of His Goodness, we say that we have contemplated God by this way, that we have apprehended His Goodness–though again not His Essence, but His Goodness. It is the same with all other things that raise the mind to transcendent Goodness, all these we can term apprehensions of God, since each one of these sublime meditations places God within our sight.
Hence it is clear through what has just been said that the Lord speaks the truth when He promises that God will be seen by those who have a pure heart; nor does Paul deceive when he asserts in his letters that no one has seen God nor can see Him. For He is invisible by nature, but becomes visible in His energies, for He may be contemplated in the things that are referred to Him.
Η προφητεία του Αββά Παμβώ προς μαθητήν του
…Σου λέγω και τούτο Τέκνον μου, ότι θα έρθει καιρός, οπόταν οι χριστιανοί θα προσθέτουν και θα αφαιρούν και θα μεταβάλουν τας βίβλους των Αγίων Ευαγγελίων και των Αγίων Αποστόλων και των Θεσπέσιων Προφητών και των Ιερών Πατέρων και θα μαλακώνουν τας Αγίας Γραφάς και θα γράφουν τροπάρια και άσματα και λόγους τεχνολογικούς.
Και ο νους των θα ξεχυθεί εις αυτούς, θα απομακρυνθούν δε από τα Θεϊκά πρότυπα.
Και δια τούτον τον λόγον οι Άγιοι Πατέρες είχαν προαναγγείλει ότι οι μονασταί της ερήμου πρέπει να γράφουν τους βίους των Πατέρων όχι επάνω εις μεμβράνας, αλλά επάνω εις χάρτινους διφθέρας, διότι η ερχόμενη γενεά θα τους μεταβάλλει σύμφωνα με την δική των αρέσκεια. Όθεν και το κακό που μέλλει να προέλθει θα είναι φρικτόν.
Κατόπιν λέγει ο μαθητής:
-Ώστε λοιπόν, Γέροντα, πρόκειται να αλλάξουν οι παραδόσεις και τα έθιμα των Χριστιανών; Μήπως δεν θα υπάρχουν πλέον ιερείς εις την Εκκλησίαν αφού θα βαδίσει προς αυτό το κατάντημα;
Τότε ο αββάς εσυνέχισεν:
-Εις τους καιρούς εκείνους πλέον, θα κρυώσει η αγάπη του Θεού από τις περισσότερες ψυχές και θα πέσει θλίψις μεγάλη εις τον κόσμον.
Το ένα έθνος θα ρίχνεται εναντίον του άλλου. Οι λαοί θα μετακινούνται από τους τόπους των.
Οι άρχοντες θα ανακατωθούν, οι ιερωμένοι θα το ρίξουν εις την αναρχίαν, οι δε μοναχοί θα ξεκλίνουν εις την αμέλειαν.
Οι εκκλησιαστικοί ηγέτες θα θεωρούν ανάξιον πράγμα να φροντίζουν για την σωτηρίαν τόσον της ιδικής των ψυχής, όσον και του ποιμνίου των και θα περιφρονούν παντελώς ένα τοιούτον ζήτημα.
Όλοι θα δείχνουν προθυμίαν και δραστηριότητα προ πάντων δια τα τραπέζια και διά τας ορέξεις των. Θα είναι οκνηροί εις τας προσευχάς και πρόχειροι εις τας κατακρίσεις.
Τους βίους και τας διδαχάς και τα παραδείγματα των αγίων Πατέρων δεν θα ενδιαφέρονται μήτε να τα μιμηθούν, μήτε καν να τα ακούσουν, αλλά μάλλον θα κατηγορούν και θα λέγουν ότι, εάν εζούσαμε και μεις εις εκείνα τα χρόνια, έτσι θα συμπεριφερόμεθα.
Οι δε αρχιερείς θα υποχωρούν μπροστά στους ισχυρούς της γης. Και θα λύνουν τις διάφορες υποθέσεις, βγάζοντες από πολλές μεριές δώρα και απολαβές λογιών λογιών για λογαριασμό των.
Τον πτωχόν δεν θα τον υπερασπίζουν, θα θλίβουν τας χήρας γυναίκας και θα καταπονούν τα ορφανά. Αλλά και εις τον λαόν θα εισχωρήσει ασωτία.
Οι περισσότεροι δεν θα πιστεύουν εις τον Θεόν, θα μισούνται αναμεταξύ των και θα αλληλοτρώγονται ωσάν τα θηρία, θα κλέπτουν ο ένας τον άλλον και θα μεθύουν και θα περπατούν ωσάν τυφλοί.
Τέλος ξαναρωτά ο μαθητής:
-Τι λοιπόν πρέπει να κάνει κάποιος σε κείνη την περίστασιν;
Και ο Γέρων Παμβώ απεκρίθη:
-Τέκνον μου, εις εκείνους πλέον τους καιρούς, όποιος αν ημπορέσει να σώσει την ψυχή του και να παρακινά και τους άλλους δια να σωθούν, αυτός θα ονομασθεί μέγας εις την βασιλείαν των Ουρανών.
The All-Holy Virgin: the spiritual adornment of Orthodoxy
The Virgin Mary is the spiritual adornment of Orthodoxy. For us Greeks she is the pained mother, the comforter and the protector, who stands by us in every circumstance. In every part of Greece countless churches and monasteries are built, palaces of this humble queen, and a large number of small country-churches are scattered on the mountains, the plains and the islands, sweet-scented by the fragrance of her virginity and spirituality. Within each of these shrines, one finds the old and venerable icon with the dark and golden-waxed face, which is constantly wet from the tears of our tortured people, because we have no other to help us, except the All-Holy Virgin Mary, "for as sinners we have no other constant mediator before God in times of trouble and affliction as we bend beneath our multiple faults." The beauty of Mary is not carnal, but spiritual, because where there is pain and holiness, there is only spiritual beauty. Carnal beauty brings carnal excitement, whereas spiritual beauty brings devotion, respect and pure love. This is the beauty that the All-Holy Virgin has. And this beauty is imprinted on her Greek icons which were made by pious people who were fasting, chanting and clad in broken-heartednesss and spiritual purity. It is this mystical beauty, depicted on the face of the Virgin, that draws like a magnet pious souls, quietening and comforting them. And this spiritual fragrance is the so-called Joyful Mourning (1), which is granted to us by the religion of Christ, an herb unknown to people who do not go near Him who is the good shepherd. This joyful sorrow is depicted in every creation of Orthodox art, and sheds a fragrance like myrrh and aloe, whether this creation is an icon, or hymnody, or chanting, or manuscript, or vestments, or words, or actions, or blessings, or greetings, or monastery, or monastic cell, or carved wood, or embroidery, or candel, or lectern, or candelabra, or whatever is a vehicle for sanctification.
The Orthodox names of the All-Holy Virgin
From the names alone that Orthodoxy gave to the All-Holy Virgin, they fully adorned Her person – not as a theatrical spectacle, as is done elsewhere, namely, depicting Her as a doll that was loaded with rings and earrings and a whole cluster of other profane and senseless things – from these alone, I say, it becomes obvious how truly spiritual is the veneration of the All-Holy Virgin in Greek Orthodoxy. First of all is Her holiest name: Panagia (All-Holy One). Then, the other names: the Superbly-Blessed, the Theotokos (God-bearer), the All-pure One, More Honorable than the Cherubim and More Glorious than the Seraphim, the Living and Plentiful One, the Fountain, the Ensouled Ark, the Undefiled One, the Immaculate One, the Fully-Graced One, the Ever-Blessed and All-Blameless One, the Protection, the Listening One, the Speedily-Acting One, the Quick-Responding One, the Sanctified Temple, the Rational Paradise, the Unwithering Rose, the Golden Censer, the Golden Light, the Mana-Receiving Jar, the Heavenly Ladder, the Fervent Intercessor, the Unconquerable Fortress, the Source of Mercy, the World’s Shelter, the King’s Throne, the Gold-Claded Tower and Twelve-fold Walled City, the Sun-Illumined Throne, the Protective-Shelter of the World, the Fine-Fruit-Bearing Tree, the Good-Shading Tree of Rich Foliage, the Ray of the Spiritual Sun, Holy Zion, God’s Habitation, the Heavenly Gate, the Patron of the aggrieved, the Staff of the Blind, the Joy of the Afflicted, and a thousand others, which are recorded in the books of the Church. Close to them are the names that hagiographers inscribe upon Her holy icons: the Guide, the Sweet-Kissing One, the One that is Wider than Heaven, the Hope of the hopeless, the Speedy Visitation, the Spotless One, the Hope of the Christians, the Consolation, the Merciful One, and many others, which are written under the abbreviation: ΜΡ ΘΥ, which means Mary Mother of God. How much love, how much reverence and how many tears of devotion these names alone reveal, which were not pronounced as easily as the words that exit from the mouth, but as names that were engraved in souls with pain and humility and faith.
The Orthodox hymns to the All-Holy Virgin
The same is the case with the hymns to the All-Holy Virgin, which are innumerable like the stars of heaven and are exquisite in beauty, and which were composed by saintly hymnographers who “constituted a spiritual chorus!” In this fragrant orchard are placed all the unfading flowers and sweet herbs of speech. Indeed, it was the All-Holy Virgin herself that prophesied of herself, when she went to the house of Zachariah and Elizabeth embraced Her, that all generations will call Her blessed: "In those days, Mary arose and went to the mountainous region in the region of Judah and entered the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth. And as Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary the child jumped inside her womb (2).
And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried with a loud voice and said: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And from where did this good come to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Because, as soon as the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the child jumped in my womb, and blessed is she who believed in what the Lord said of her (3).” And Mariam said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because He condescended to look upon His humble servant. Henceforth, all generations will call me blessed, because the Mighty One has made great things in me, and sanctified is His name, and His mercy goes on from generation to generation to those who have the fear of Him.”
The Orthodox Icons of the All-Holy Virgin
Just as there are countless hymns of the Virgin Mary, so there are countless icons of Her in unobtrusive colors, which embellish our churches and are painted on plank or wall. In every Orthodox church there stands her icon on the iconostasis at the right side of the Holy Gate. In other icons she is painted as a nun, but in the icons of the iconostasis she is always depicted holding Christ in her arms on her left side, but rarely on her right (then she is called Dexiokratousa=Right-holder). Her head is covered modestly and solemnly with a maphorion, a loosely fitting and priestly dress, of dark crimson color, falling on her shoulder in a spacious setting, leaving uncovered only her elongated face and her hands. Inside the cover is shown a narrow strip from the bonding of her head which tightens her forehead and allows only the edges of the ears to appear. Her forehead is like dark ivory, pure, simple and crystal clear. The eyebrows are arched, vibrant and long, reaching near her ears, her eyes almond-like, with shadowy, brown, deep, serious but luscious, as egg whites clean but shaded. Her look is melancholic, simple, direct, quiet, nice, dear, but sorrowful and joyous together, strict but also compassionate, most holy, spiritual, innocent, thoughtful, unblemished, hopeful, patient, meek, most unassuming, distant from all carnal consideration, a mystical mirroring of paradise, royal and humble, human and divine, harmless, brotherly, courteous, examining, alert, serene, philanthropist, motherly, maiden, cool, caustic for those who have evil thoughts, tender, piercing, searching, unpretentious, pedominant, condescending, supplicatory, unshakable. Her nose is long and narrow, moderate, Jewish, fleshless, with thin nostrils, slightly overturned, modest. Her mouth small, shy, prudent, closed, clean, shaded in the cheek, as if smiling slightly. Her chin is flared, respectable, unpretentious, humble. Her cheek, virginal, clean, soft, fragrant, shy, pale with very slight redness. Her neck, bent humbly, joins the chin with a gentle shade which was called sweetness by the older icon-painters. Her whole face is priestly and religious, and reveals an ancient tribe. Her immaculate hands are small, narrow with long fingers and thin nails. With the left hand she holds Christ, while her right hand is leaning modestly on her chest, in a supplicatory position, with the index finger away from the others. In more ancient icons this hand is more upright and higher, near the neck.
The most severe type of the All-Holy Virgin is the so called Odegetria=The Guide, which has her head erect, her expression more impassive and her whole posture more priestly. On the other hand the Glykofilousa=Sweet-kissing Virgin has her head reversely curved towards her Child, whom she embraces more tightly, and her expression is more emotional. The Platytera=Wider than the Heavens Virgin is depicted seated on the throne, rigorous and unbending, and holding Christ on her knees, leaning one of her hands on his shoulder and with the other holding his foot or a cloth.
The Orthodox Churches of the All-Holy Virgin
In Greece, most of the churches of the All-Holy Virgin hold their Feast on the Dormition of the Theotokos, i.e. on the 15th of August. The hymns chanted on this Feast are the most exquisite. The Doxastikon of Vespers is the only hymn that is chanted in the eight tones, each phrase has a different tone. It starts with the first tone and ends again with the first. But the whole of Greece praises the All-Holy Virgin not only with the chanters and the priests in the churches, but also with everything it has, with the villages, the mountains, the islands, which bear Her holy name. The boats sail in the cool sea, passing by the headlands where Her monasteries are built, having carved on their stern Her much loved and venerated name. Anyone sailing in Greek waters, in whatever place may find himself on the Feast Day of the All-Holy Virgin, will hear bells ringing from the sea. Some come from the Holy Mount Athos which is known as the Garden of the All-Holy Virgin, others from Tinos, where one of Her most famous palaces is located, others from Salamis where the Monastery of the Phaneromeni=The Revealed One keeps Her Feast, others from Mytilene, from the All-Holy Virgin of Agiassos and Petra, others from the Monastery of Siphnos, others from Skiathos, others from Naxos - from every island, from every headland, from every dry land.
Η σύγχρονή μας «χριστιανική»κοινωνία έχη μια παράξενη τάση: Να ψάχνη για θαύματα και να κάνη θαύματα! Την τάση αυτή δεν πρέπει να την αφήσωμε να περάση απαρατήρητη. Με κανένα τρόπο. Και για πολλούς λόγους. Και ιδιαίτερα, γιατί την τάση αυτή, την τάση που έχουν πολλοί να θέλουν να κάνουν θαύματα και να ψάχνουν για θαύματα, οι άγιοι πατέρες μας την καταδικάζουν πολύ αυστηρά. Και την καταδικάζουν, επειδή κάτω από το «ευσεβές» κάλυμμα της τάση αυτής κρύβεται η φιλαυτία. Και είναι πολύ φοβερό να μπορή η φιλαυτία να κρύβεται στην ψυχή. Γιατί τότε δεσπόζει σ’ αυτήν ανενόχλητα. Και την διαλύει.
Ο μεγάλος διδάσκαλος των μοναχών άγιος Ισαάκ ο Σύρος λέγει τα εξής:
Ο Κύριος είναι πάντοτε κοντά μας, έτοιμος να βοηθήση τους εκλεκτούς Του. Μα ποτέ και σε τίποτε δεν δείχνει φανερά την δύναμή Του, αν δεν υπάρχη σοβαρός λόγος. Και αυτό για να μη καταντήσωμε να παρανοήσωμε την βοήθειά Του. Γιατί τότε θα μας βγη σε κακό. Και ενεργεί έτσι από την φροντίδα Του για τους εκλεκτούς Του. Επειδή θέλει να τους δείξη, ότι ούτε στιγμή δεν παύει να φροντίζει γι’ αυτούς, έστω κι αν δεν γίνεται αντιληπτός. Τους αφήνει, λοιπόν, ο,τιδήποτε κι αν τους συμβή, να κάμουν ένα αγώνα• ο καθένας ανάλογα με την δύναμή του• κοπιάζοντας στην προσευχή. Και μόνο, να κάτι είναι τόσο πολύ δύσκολο, ώστε να τους καταβάλη, (όταν δηλαδή φανούν ανίκανοι να το αντιμετωπίσουν μόνοι τους, όταν είναι έτοιμοι να εγκαταλείψουν τον αγώνα τους, επειδή η φύση τους δεν είναι άξια για τέτοιο αγώνισμα), τότε τον αγώνα τον τελειώνει Εκείνος με την μεγάλη Του δύναμη. Τότε τους βοηθεί. Με τον τρόπο που Εκείνος ξέρει. Και στο μέτρο που είναι άξιοι. Τους ενισχύει σε όσο μέτρο απαιτούν οι περιστάσεις, χωρίς εκείνοι να το καταλαβαίνουν. Και τους βοηθεί, μέχρι που να δυναμώσουν οι ίδιοι, και να μπορούν πια να ξεπερνούν τις δοκιμασίες τους μόνοι τους. Τους βοηθεί να λύσουν το δύσλυτο γι’ αυτούς πρόβλημα των δοκιμασιών τους με την γνώση, που τους χαρίζει. Και η γνώση αυτή, και μόνο που την σκέπτονται, τους ξυπνάει σε προσευχή που τους ωφελεί κι από τις δύο πλευρές. Και όταν υπάρχη λόγος, να φανερωθή η εργασία τους και να έλθη η υπόθεση αυτή σε γνώση πολλών, και τότε, ο Θεός αναγκάζεται και το κάνει. Και ο τρόπος, που ακολουθεί, είναι σοφώτατος. Και αντέχει και στην ανάγκη και στην φτώχεια. Γιατί δεν ενεργεί ποτέ ανόητα.
Όποιος, χωρίς τίποτε να τον αναγκάζει, προχωρεί τολμηρά (ή επιθυμώντας τα θαύματα, παρακαλεί τον Θεό να γίνουν «δυνάμεις» δια των χειρών του), είναι φανερό, ότι πειράζεται στον λογισμό του από τον διάβολο, που προσπαθεί να γελοιοποιήση τα πάντα• ότι είναι υπερήφανος και ότι εσωτερικά, κατά βάθος, είναι άρρωστος. Την βοήθεια του Θεού πρέπει να την ζητούμε μόνο σε ώρα δοκιμασίας. Όταν δεν υπάρχει λόγος, είναι επικίνδυνο σε μας να πειράζωμε τον Θεό. Δεν είναι αληθινά άγιος εκείνος που ζητεί την βοήθεια του Κυρίου, εκεί που δεν εξάντλησε ακόμη τις δικές του δυνάμεις. Μη ξεχνάμε ότι πράγματα, που τα κάνει μεν ο Θεός, αλλά όχι γιατί Του αρέσουν, τα βρίσκομε στους πιο πολλούς αγίους. Μα όποιος αυτά τα γυρεύει και τα επιθυμεί ολόψυχα, με όλη του την καρδιά, χωρίς να υπάρχη κάποιος λόγος, ακόμα κι αν τον φυλάη ο Θεός, πέφτει μόνος του• γιατί μόνος του ξεφεύγει από την γνώση της αληθείας. Γιατί, αν ο Θεός τον ακούση σε εκείνο, που από εγωκεντρικό φρόνημα ζητάει, ο πονηρός βρίσκει σ’ αυτόν τόπο και τον κάνει σιγά-σιγά να πέση σε πολύ μεγάλα κακά. Οι αληθινά άγιοι άνθρωποι, όχι μόνο δεν τα επιθυμούν αυτά, αλλά και όταν τους τα δίδη από μόνος Του ο Θεός, στενοχωριούνται και δυσαρεστούνται. Και δεν τα θέλουν αυτά τα χαρίσματα. Όχι μόνο γιατί είναι δυνατό να γίνουν γνωστά στους ανθρώπους. Δεν τα θέλουν• έστω κι αν πρόκειται να μείνουν χωρίς καμμιά δημοσιότητα. Δεν τα θέλουν αυτά καθ’ εαυτά*.
Ένας από τους αγίους πατέρας, από την πολύ του καθαρότητα, έλαβε (πριν ακόμη φθάση σε τελειότητα), το χάρισμα να προγνωρίζη, ποιος επήγαινε να τον επισκεφθή. Και τι νομίζετε έκαμε; Παρακάλεσε τον Θεόν, και έβαλε και άλλους να Τον παρακαλέσουν, να του πάρη πίσω το χάρισμα.
Όσοι επήραν χαρίσματα, ο Θεός τους τα έδωσε• ή επειδή είχαν πολλή απλότητα, ή επειδή το απαιτούσε κάποιος ιδιαίτερος λόγος. Χωρίς αυτές τις προϋποθέσεις, να το ξέρετε ότι εκείνους που φαίνονται πως έχουν χαρίσματα, δεν τους κινεί το θείο νεύμα• πάντως όμως δεν πρέπει και να φαντασθούμε ότι το «χάρισμά» τους είναι εντελώς τυχαίο.
Ἡ αἰωνιότητα εἶναι φρικιαστικὴ δίχως Θεάνθρωπο, γιατὶ καὶ ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἶναι φοβερὸς δίχως τὸν Θεάνθρωπο. Καθετὶ τὸ ἀνθρώπινο, μονάχα στὸν Θεάνθρωπο ἔχει τὴν τελικὴ καὶ λογικὴ του ἑρμηνεία. Δίχως τὸν θαυμαστὸ Κύριο Ἰησοῦ Χριστό, ὅλα τὰ ἀνθρώπινα μεταβάλλονται ἀναπόφευκτα σὲ χάος, σὲ φρίκη, σὲ θάνατο, σὲ κόλαση: ἡ φρόνηση σὲ ἀφροσύνη, ἡ αἴσθηση σὲ ἀπόγνωση, ἡ ἐπιθυμία σὲ αὐτοδιάσπαση μέσα ἀπὸ τὴν αὐτοθέωση ἤ τὴν αὐτοεξουθένωση.