Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Όλα τα κτίσματα έχουν προσφέρει, το κάθε ένα με τη σειρά του, τον τρόπο της εξυπηρετήσεως τους στο θέμα της σαρκώσεως τού Θεού Λόγου. Εκείνο δε πού προσφέραμε εμείς, η ανθρώπινη φύση, ως αντιπροσφορά για το μέγιστο δώρο της θείας κενώσεως του Ιησού μας, το κατ’ εξοχήν τελειότατον των δώρων, είναι η Παναγία μητέρα Του και μητέρα όλων μας.
Έτσι εδώ έγινε κάτι το απερίγραπτο. Πώς ευρέθη η ικανότητα σε αυτήν την Κόρη, ούτως ώστε να μπορέσει να εξυπηρέτηση έναν τέτοιο σκοπό, όπου όλα τα υπόλοιπα κτίσματα δεν ήσαν πλέον ικανά να προσφέρουν αυτό πού έλειπε; Εάν ο άνθρωπος δεν είχε την δυνατότητα να προσφέρη την Παναγία ως δώρο, τότε θα μπορούσε να πή κανείς ότι έματαιώνετο το θέμα της θείας οικονομίας· έτσι η σωτηρία του ανθρώπου, η επιστροφή και επαναφορά των κτισμάτων στην θέση τους και η αποκατάσταση στην ισορροπία της διεφθαρμένης κτίσεως, δεν θα έγίνετο.
Αυτό το επίτευγμα πού η ανθρώπινη φύση κατόρθωσε, είναι το μεγαλύτερο πού έγινε και δεν πρόκειται ποτέ να επαναληφθή. Διεθέσαμε αυτό το μεγάλο δώρο στο να κολακεύσωμε, τρόπον τινά, τήν θείαν αγάπη για να μας πλησίαση.
Άπαξ δοθείσα η χαριτωμένη αυτή Κόρη, η οποία τώρα είναι Θεοτόκος, μένει πλέον στο διηνεκές να έχη ίδιαιτέραν θέση έναντι στον Θεό και σε ‘μάς. Μέσω της δικής της μεσολαβήσεως ο Υιός του Θεού απέκτησε την ανθρωπινή φύση και έγινε ταυτοχρόνως Θεάνθρωπος. Ο,τι είχε, αυτή του το έδωσε όλο, αφού του πρόσφερε ολόκληρη την ανθρώπινη φύση της. Έτσι και Αυτός με την σειρά Του της μετέδωσε την θέωση, όσο μπορεί βέβαια να χωρέση η ανθρώπινη φύση. Διότι να την μεταβάλη σε κατά φύσιν Θεόν ήταν αδύνατο. Κατά Χάριν όμως την έθέωσε στο σημείο εκείνο πού, κατά τους θεολόγους της Εκκλησίας, να μην της λείπη τίποτα.
Με την προσφορά μας αυτή κατορθώσαμε και ανεβήκαμε και εμείς και πλησιάσαμε τον Θεό. Διότι έχομε από την δική μας φύση πλέον, τέτοιας μορφής συγγένεια, μέσω αυτής της Κόρης, πού απεκτήσαμε τον εναθρωπισμό σε τέτοιο αναφαίρετο και πλούσιο σημείο, ώστε να είμεθα όντως «κληρονόμοι του Θεού και συγκληρονόμοι του Υιού Αύτού».
Γι’ αυτό και η Εκκλησία μας μετά τα Χριστούγεννα, πού εορτάζει την έξ αυτής άσπορο Γέννηση του Θεού Λόγου, εορτάζει την Σύναξη της. Την παρουσιάζει στην θέση της μητρότητος πλέον και τιμά την προσφορά της, πού συνήργησε σαν κανένας άλλος στο ύπέρτατον αυτό μυστήριο.
Και κοιτάξετε με ποιά σοφία η Θεία Πρόνοια αναμόρφωσε την «παλαιωθείσαν» εικόνα! Ο διάβολος κατόρθωσε να πλανέση το ένα έκ των δύο όντων πού έδημιούργησε ο Θεός. Επλάνεσε την γυναίκα και την έκανε όργανο απάτης και αφορμή καταστροφής. Η Θεία Πρόνοια οικονόμησε να συγκεντρωθή σ’ αυτή την άγνή Κόρη ολόκληρη η αρετή της ανθρώπινης τελειότητος, ούτως ώστε το όργανο της απωλείας και της απάτης να γίνη τώρα όργανο σωτηρίας και επιστροφής. Και όχι μόνο να γίνη, αλλά να παραμείνη στον αιώνα.
Στην θέση πού ευρίσκεται τώρα η Δέσποινα μας Θεοτόκος, θεωθείσα πλέον, απέκτησε και ολόκληρη την μητρότητα, διότι είναι η πηγή της πραγματικής και αδιάφθορου μητρότητος. Η πρώτη Εύα, σαν πρώτη μητέρα, απώλεσε την αξία της μητρότητος, έφ’ όσον μαζί με μας γέννησε και τον θάνατο και μαζί του την έχθρα, το μίσος, την φθορά, την καταστροφή. Δεν είχε πλέον προσωπικότητα μητρότητος. Η Δέσποινα μας Θεοτόκος με το άδιάφθορον της αγνότητας της, ολοκλήρωσε την μητρότητα στην εντέλεια. Όπως στον Θεό Πατέρα ευρίσκεται ολόκληρος η πατρική στοργή, ώστε «ουδέ του ιδίου Υιού να φεισθή», αλλά «υπέρ πάντων ημών» να παραδώση Αυτόν, έτσι και τώρα στα σπλάχνα της Δέσποινας μας Θεοτόκου, της Θεωθείσης αυτής Κόρης, ευρίσκεται ολόκληρος η προσωπικότης, ολόκλη¬ρος η θέση της τελείας μητρότητος.
Και τώρα μετά παρρησίας προσερχόμεθα σ’ αυτόν τον θρόνον της Χάριτος της μητρότητος και σαν υιοί προς την μανούλα μας την ίκετεύομε και είναι αδύνατο να μην μας άκούση. Είναι αδύνατον διότι πώς γίνεται στην τελειότητα της μητρότητος να κλείσουν τα σπλάχνα, όταν φωνάζουν και ζητούν τα παιδιά;
Δεν είναι δύσκολο να δανεισθούμε από την οικογενειακή μας πείρα, ζωντανά παραδείγματα της μητρικής ιδιότητος. Αντικρύσαμε κάποτε να μεταβάλλεται η στοργή και η αγάπη της μητέρας έξ αιτίας της αταξίας και σκληρότητος του παιδιού, ώστε να πάρη την θέση της αγάπης η απειλή. Όταν όμως το παιδί πόνεσε, ταπεινώθηκε και έκλαψε, μεταβλήθη αμέσως η όργή της μητέρας σε συμπάθεια και φίλτρο και όλο το δυσάρεστο το αντικατέστησε η μητρική αγκάλη. Εάν αυτά υπάρχουν μέσα στην ευτελή, την ατελή, την διαβεβλημένη, την ασθενή ανθρώπινη φύση, σε πόση έκταση ευρί¬σκονται αυτά μέσα στην τελειότητα της πνευματικής, της θεοπρεπούς μητρότητος;
Έχοντες αυτήν την μητέρα σαν εχέγγυο και ίσταμένην μεταξύ ημών και του Θεού, έχομε την τελεία ελπίδα ότι καμμιά προσδοκία μας, καμμιά επιθυμία μας έν Θεώ, κανένα αίτημα μας, αλλά και καμμιά ανάγκη τωρινή και μέλλουσα είναι δυνατόν να μην ικανοποιηθούν, Διότι, όταν τρέχωμε στην μητρικήν της αγάπη, δεν μπορεί να άρνηθή, δεν θέλει να το κάνη. Αρκεί φυσικά από μέρους μας να γίνεται η ελαχίστη προσπάθεια, να στεκώμεθα σαν λογικά όντα πάνω στην βάση του προορισμού μας. Και έτσι, έχοντας την Δέσποινα μας Θεοτόκο σαν εγγύηση, καθ’ ότι έγινε αφορμή της σωτηρίας μας, λύνομε κάθε πρόβλημα μας και στο παρόν και στο μέλλον.
Άρα λοιπόν τί απόκειται σε ‘μάς; Να έρευνήσωμε βαθύτερα την υιϊκή μας πλέον κατάσταση απέναντι της, να την όγαπήσωμε ειλικρινέστερα, πιστότερα, υπολογίζοντες την πραγματική της θέση και να είμεθα βέβαιοι ότι το θέμα όλων μας των προβλημάτων είναι ήδη λελυμένο διότι, είναι μεσίτης μεταξύ ημών και του Υιού της, διότι, πλέον γι’ αυτήν ο Θεός, ο Σωτήρ του κόσμου, ο Χριστός, δεν είναι Κύριος και Θεός μόνον, αλλά είναι και ο κατά φύσιν Υιός της. Και δεν είναι δυνατόν, όπως έχομε πείρα, να πλησίαση η ιδανική μητέρα τον ίδανικόν υιόν ζητώντας του κάποια χάρη και αυτός να της άρνηθή. Αυτό δεν γίνεται.
Εκείνο το όποιο απομένει σε μας είναι να έρεθίσωμε μέσα μας ο,τιδήποτε υπάρχει έναντι της μητρικής της αγάπης και ο,τιδήποτε άφορα αυτό, στην υμνολογία της, στην ευχαριστία της, στην δοξολογία της, στην παράκληση της, στην επίκληση της, ακόμα και σε κάθε άλλο το οποίον ευρίσκεται και αρμόζει στον θεοπρεπή χαρακτήρα της.
Αυτή είναι κατάφορτη με όλες τις αρετές. Ιδιαίτερα όμως περισσεύει η ταπεινοφροσύνη και η άγνότης, γι’ αυτό λέγεται Αειπάρθενος. Δεν είναι μόνο Αειπάρθενος στο ότι πράγματι ήταν Παρθένος και δεν έγνώρισε ούτε καν την έννοια του ανδρός αλλά και μέσα στην αγνότατη της ύπαρξη δεν συνελήφθη η αμαρτία ούτε κατά διάνοιαν. Ούτε στον άγνό ψυχικό της κόσμο εισήλθε η φθορά και η αμαρτία. Και έτσι ακριβώς είναι και μένει Παναγία και Άειπάρθενος.
Στους νέους, στους άγαμους, στους μοναχούς, πού το κέντρο της ιδιότητος τους είναι η παρθενία απευθύνομαι. Όποιος θέλει να την τιμήση, ας κάνη περισσότερη προσφορά κρατώντας την αγνότητα του. Να πώς δοξάζεται αυτή.
Το δεύτερο στοιχείο πού την χαρακτηρίζει αν και είναι πλήρης από αρετές είναι ειδικά η ταπεινοφροσύνη. Όταν ήλθε ο Αρχάγγελος και της είπε καθαρά: «Χαίρε, Μαρία, εύρήκες χάριν από τον Θεό και σύ θα γίνης μητέρα του Θεού», δεν ύπερηφανεύθη και να σκεφθή· «ώστε λοιπόν, εγώ θα είμαι πλέον μητέρα του Θεού;» Άλλά απάντησε ταπεινά. «Ιδού η δούλη Κυρίου, γένοιτο μοι κατά το ρήμα σου». Αρπάζει την πρακτική ταπείνωση, ονομάζοντας τον εαυτό της «δούλην Κυρίου» και προσφέρει την απόλυτη υποταγή, «γένοιτο μοι κατά το ρήμα σου». Άμέσως τώρα, τί προστάζεις, Κύριε μου; Έτοιμη είμαι».
Βλέπετε με ποιό χειρισμό; Με δυο απλες λέξεις, με δυο απλες κινήσεις αυτό το τρυφερό κοριτσάκι, όπως ήτο τότε, προσέφερε όλη την δύναμη της τελειότητας της αρετής. Ταπείνωση και υποταγή. Αυτές οι αρετές είναι και για μας οι βάσεις. Διότι αυτές συγκροτούν το κεφάλαιο της ιδιότητος μας της πρακτικής για μας τουλάχιστον τους μοναχούς μέσω του οποίου και προσωπικά θα κρατήσωμε την μοναχική μας ιδιότητα, αλλά και στους συνανθρώπους μας και στην Εκκλησία θα φανούμε ποίοι είμεθα και θα δώσωμε το παράδειγμα και την γραμμή πλεύσεως στο υπόλοιπο χριστεπώνυμο πλήρωμα.
Όποιος λοιπόν θέλει να τιμήση την Πανάχραντο μας Δέσποινα και να την προκαλέση να σκορπίση πάνω του την μητρική της στοργή, θα καλλιεργήση αυτές τις αρετές, την ταπείνωση και την υποταγή. Όσο για την αγνότητα, δεν θα μιλήσω, διότι άλοίμονο αν δεν ύπάρχη στον μοναχό άγνότης! Τότε χάθηκαν όλα τα κεφάλαια!
Και σεις λοιπόν, εκεί πού εύρίσκεσθε, μπορείτε να πήτε έναν δικό της ύμνο. Ψάλλετε ένα τροπάριο δικό της. Φέρτε στα χείλη σας την εύωδία του ονόματος της.
Είδατε τί είπε μόνη της; Μόλις επλήσθη Πνεύματος Αγίου, άρχισε να προφητεύη για τον εαυτό της, ότι: «Ιδού γάρ από του νύν μακαριούσι με πάσαι αί γενεαί».
Αυτό της το φανέρωσε η Χάρις του Αγίου Πνεύματος πού κατοίκησε μέσα της μόνιμα. Την ανάγκασε να το πή. Εδανείσθη τα χείλη της η ένοικούσα σε αυτήν Χάρις του Αγίου Πνεύματος, σαν ενας μουσουργός πού κινεί τις χορδές για να παραγάγη μέλος. Και άρχισε να λέη μέσα της ταπεινά: «Ιδού γάρ από του νύν μακαριούσι με πάσαι αί γενεαί, ότι εποίησέ μοι μεγαλεία ο δυνατός».
Βέβαια μεγαλεία! Έφ’ όσον κατοίκησε μέσα της ολόκληρο το πλήρωμα της θεότητος σωματικώς, τί άλλο μπορούσε να γίνη; Μία ακτίνα Χάριτος, μία μόνον ακτίνα εάν επιλάμψη σε ολόκληρη την κτίση, είναι ικανή αυτή και μόνη να την μεταφέρη σε θέση θεότητος, κατά Χάριν. Εδώ όμως, σ’ αυτήν δεν πήγε απλώς ακτίνα Χάριτος. Κατοίκησε μέσα της ολόκληρο το πλήρωμα της Θεότητος σωματικώς.
Αυτά ήθελα να ενθυμίσω σήμερα στην αγάπη σας και να σας κάνω θερμούς και φλογερούς απέναντι της δικής της αγάπης. Διότι έχομε και ένα ζωντανό παράδειγμα, του αειμνήστου μας Γέροντα, πού τόσο πολύ τον αγαπούσε, γιατί και αυτός την αγάπησε. Ήταν αδύνατον, αν ήταν εδώ ο αείμνηστος και άκουγε αυτά, να μην χύση άφθονα δάκρυα. Μόνο πού άκουγε το όνομα της, σκιρτούσε σαν μωρό! Άλλά του έδειξε τόσες φορές την αγάπη της αισθητά και τον αξίωσε να φύγη την ήμερα πού και αυτή έφυγε από τον κόσμον αυτόν.
Η Χάρις της και οι πρεσβείες της και πάντων των αγίων να ενισχύουν και ‘μάς. Αμήν.
Πηγή: Γέροντος Ιωσήφ, Αθωνικά μηνύματα, Ψυχωφελή Βατοπαιδινά,Έκδοσις Ιεράς Μεγίστης Μονής Βατοπαιδίου, Άγιον Όρος 1999.
Islamists have taken over a southern Egyptian city, vandalizing its Christian institutions and terrorizing its Coptic population.
Since Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown on July 3, Islamists have ruled Dalga, a city of 120,000 people, 20,000 of whom are Christians. Immediately after Morsi was forced to step down, attackers plundered Christian institutions, stealing ancient churches icons and electrical equipment and burning the buildings after they had finished.
Father Yoannis Coptic Orthodox priest told the Associated Press that the Islamists' actions were meant to break the Christian population.
"They don't want to see any Christian with any power, no matter how modest," Yoannis said. "They only want to see us poor without money, a trade or a business to be proud of."
In addition to the loss of their churches, many Christians have also had their homes and small businesses attacked, set on fire and looted. One Christian who fired shots in the air from his roof meant to scare off gang members was reportedly dragged off and murdered.
In response, 40 families have fled the city since the violence started. Many of those who have remained have been forced to bribe Muslims to protect them from the violence. Coptic women, often the targets of Muslim verbal harassment, have stayed inside to avoid uncomfortable situations, though many men, fearing for their own safety, have joined them.
"The Copts in Dalga live in utter humiliation," local rights activist Ezzat Ibrahim told the Associated Press. "They live in horror and cannot lead normal lives."
Most Christians stores have closed and some churches have missed weeks of Sunday services. Those open have seen their attendance dramatically falter. In one church that normally averaged 500 people weekly, only 25 showed up recently for a weekly service.
Although the Egyptian army has nationally filled the power vacuum after Morsi was ousted, their influence is weak in the southern part of the country. Since the Islamists took over Dalga, the army has only attempted to confront Islamists twice. Both times they were turned away after their armored vehicles were showered with gunfire.
While Dalga represents the Islamists strongest and harshest rule, their influence in the southern part extends throughout the provinces of Assiut and Minya, where Dalga is located. These provinces are also home to Egypt's largest Christian population.
There is no precedent in recent history of this type of aggression towards Copts, Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, civil liberties group, told Bloomberg Businessweek.
"There is a faction that is against the state and its law enforcers and it's taking revenge from the weaker groups, namely the Copts," said Ibrahim. "Probably at no point in modern Egypt was there a similar wave when it comes to the number, scope and patterns of attacks."
"There are no words that can describe the state of panic," said Ibrahim. "You sit expecting that at any minute dozens of armed people could attack your home, possibly even kill you or drive you out."
For all the violence, Christians have refused to respond violently.
"Even if we had firearms, we would be reluctant to use them," said Yoannis. "We cannot take a life. Firing in the air may be our limit."
Μετά από τόσα πολλά χρόνια αδιάκοπης σχεδόν αλληλοεξοντώσεως των ανθρώπων επάνω στη γη, για την οποία δικαιολογούνται όλοι αδιάκοπα μπροστά στον ίδιο τον εαυτό τους, είναι αδύνατο να περιμένουμε ότι αυτοί θα τολμήσουν να ατενίσουν το ύψος του Ουρανού και να ονομάσουν τον Θεό Πατέρα τους. Στις ημέρες μας η “αποκτήνωση” του κόσμου έλαβε φοβερές διαστάσεις. Η έκπτωση από την αυθεντική χριστιανική πίστη έχει γίνει καθολικό φαινόμενο. Η λέξη που χαρακτηρίζει τον αιώνα μας είναι η «αποστασία».
Φοβάμαι λοιπόν ότι μόνο η αύξηση των συμφορών μπορεί τώρα να οδηγήσει τους ανθρώπους στα παθήματα εκείνα που θα φανούν πραγματικά κρίσιμα, και τα οποία θα διεγείρουν σ’ αυτούς πάλι την ικανότητα να αντιληφθούν την πρωταρχική τους φύση κατ’ εικόνα Θεού. Τότε θα βασιλεύσει η ειρήνη στη γη. Όσο όμως οι άνθρωποι παραμένουν όμοιοι με τα άγρια θηρία, δεν πρέπει να αναμένουμε ειρήνη επάνω στη γη. Είναι μάταιες όλες οι προσπάθειες με τις οδούς της διπλωματίας και με άλλα παρόμοια μέσα για την αποτροπή της συμφοράς του πολέμου. Είναι πρωτίστως απαραίτητη η πνευματική αναγέννηση του ανθρώπου, απαραίτητη η “ανθρωποποίηση” του θηριώδους αυτού κόσμου.
Καταλαβαίνεις ότι τα γραφόμενά μου είναι μόνο μικροί υπαινιγμοί, σύντομα αποσπάσματα από την εικόνα που παρουσιάζεται στον νου μου, ιδιαίτερα κατά τις ώρες της Λειτουργίας, της αιώνιας αυτής θυσίας για τις αμαρτίες όλου του κόσμου. Βέβαια θα ήθελα να συνομιλώ μαζί σου επί ώρες για τα ζωτικά αυτά θέματα, αλλά να που δεν μας δόθηκε αυτό στις ημέρες μας.
Ωστόσο, σου εύχομαι όλα τα καλύτερα, ανάμεσα στα οποία και υγεία, αλλά πάνω απ’ όλα και πριν απ’ όλα την Άνωθεν έμπνευση, για να περάσεις επάξια τη γεροντική ηλικία που αρχίζει, και που είναι η πιο ευλογημένη περίοδος της ζωής μας επάνω στη γη. Όλα τα μικρά και ταπεινά πράγματα υποχωρούν, εξαφανίζονται με φυσικό τρόπο, και η σκέψη για άλλη τάξη του Είναι γίνεται αδιάκοπη, εξαιτίας της προσεγγίσεως της θριαμβευτικής στιγμής της εξόδου μας από εδώ. Δεν γνωρίζουμε ακόμη τί θα γίνει με μας, διότι η πείρα μας δεν επαρκεί για να κρίνουμε πλήρως το θέμα αυτό. Γνωρίζουμε μόνο ότι ο Χριστός αναστήθηκε και εν Αυτώ όλοι εμείς θα αναστηθούμε.
Όταν συντελεσθεί αυτό τελείως, ως πραγματοποίηση πλέον της δημιουργίας του Θεού, τότε σε όλους μας, με μεγαλύτερη από “μαθηματική” αξιοπιστία, θα αποκαλυφθούν όλα όσα υπάρχουν στον κόσμο, και η γνώση μας θα πάρει εκείνο τον απόλυτο χαρακτήρα προς τον οποίο ορμά το πνεύμα του ανθρώπου σε όλους τους αιώνες.
Γράμματα στη Ρωσία. εκδ.Ι. Μ. Τιμίου Προδρόμου, Έσσεξ
«Μή παραζήλου εν πονηρευομένοις, μη δε ζήλου τους ποιούντας την ανομίαν, ότι ωσεί χόρτος ταχύ αοξηρανθήσονται » , λέει ο προφήτης Δαβίδ. Πολλές αδικίες και ανομίες γίνονται σήμερα στον κόσμο.
Και αυτοί που τις πράττουν φαίνονται να έχουν ευτυχία και μακαριότητα. Αντίθετα, οι ευλαβείς και ενάρετοι φαίνονται να έχουν διάφορες θλίψεις και βάσανα. Όμως, μην απορείς με αυτό, άνθρωπε, και ζηλεύεις τον πονηρό και προτιμάς το μέρος των αμαρτωλών νομίζοντας ότι τάχα αυτοί είναι καλότυχοι· γιατί τους αγαπά ο κόσμος και τους δίνει πρόσκαιρο πλούτο και μακαριότητα. Σχετικά με αυτό απορούσε και ο προφήτης Αββακούμ και έλεγε: «Γιατί, Κύριε, οι ασεβείς καταδυναστεύουν τους δικαίους και εσύ δεν τους βοηθάς;» Το ίδιο έλεγε και ο προφήτης Ιερεμίας και άλλοι: «Γιατί, Κύριε, έχουν οι άνομοι τόση ευτυχία στη ζωή τους; Από πού αποκτάει τόσα αγαθά κάποιος που ζει κακώς;»
Αυτά είπαν οι προφήτες, όχι επειδή δεν ήξεραν ότι είναι δίκαιες οι κρίσεις του Θεού αλλά για να μας φανερώσουν πόση διαφορά υπάρχει ανάμεσα στη σοφία του Θεού και σε τούτη την ανθρώπινη, η οποία δεν μπορεί να κατανοήσει την πάνσοφη οικονομία του Πανάγαθου, ο οποίος δε δίνει θλίψεις στους ανόμους εδώ, για να τους κολάσει αιώνια, και παιδεύει περισσότερο αυτούς που αγαπά, για να τιμηθούν πιο πολύ στην ουράνια Βασιλεία και να λάβουν ανώτερο στέφανο. Τα βόδια που σχεδιάζουν να τα σφάξουν στο σφαγείο τα αφήνουν και βόσκουν όπου θέλουν, για να παχύνουν, τα εργατικά, όμως, που τα φυλάνε για δουλειά, τα κρατάνε κοντά τους και τα βασανίζουν.
Έτσι και ο Θεός, αφήνει στη ζωή τούτη και παχαίνουν οι μοχθηροί με τις ηδονές της σάρκας και τις απολαύσεις, γιατί είναι προορισμένοι για την αιώνια κόλαση· όμως, τους δίκαιους τους πειράζει και τους βασανίζει, για να τους έχει παντοτινά στο ουράνιο παλάτι του. Τα κάρπιμα δέντρα, που δίνουν όφελος και κέρδος, τα ραβδίζουν οι άνθρωποι κάθε χρόνο και τα μαστιγώνουν και τα κλαδεύουν, για να βγάλουν καρπό· τα άκαρπα όμως, που δε δίνουν καμία ωφέλεια, αν και δε τα ραβδίζουν, όπως τα εύκαρπα, αλλ ‘ όμως, όταν μεγαλώσουν, τα κόβουν και τα ξεριζώνουν εντελώς, και τα καίνε επειδή είναι άχρηστα.
Έτσι και οι ενάρετοι, που δίνουν όφελος με τα έργα τους, έχουν στον κόσμο θλίψεις και μάστιγες· αντίθετα, τους αμαρτωλούς δεν τους τιμωρεί εδώ ο δίκαιος Κριτής, αλλά τους φυλάει για να τους κάψει αργότερα στο πυρ της κολάσεως. Λέει το βιβλίο των «Βασιλειών» ότι τις πέτρες με τις όποιες έχτιζαν το Ναό του Σολομώντος τις πελεκούσαν και τις λέπταιναν έξω από τον Ναό και αφού τις έφτιαχναν και τις έκαναν ίσιες με πολλή επιμέλεια, τις τοποθετούσαν στη θέση τους χωρίς πρόβλημα και χωρίς να χτυπάνε και να έχουν φύρα ούτε χρειάζονταν άλλο εργαλείο. Έτσι ακριβώς, και όσοι πρόκειται να τοποθετηθούν ως πολύτιμοι λίθοι στη θεία οικοδομή της επουράνιας Ιερουσαλήμ είναι ανάγκη να πελεκηθούν εδώ έξω σε τούτο τον κόσμο με σφυριές τιμωριών και θλίψεων γιατί σε κείνο τον θειο οίκο δεν υπάρχει καμία θλίψη ή σύγχυση ή πείνα ή δίψα ή τιμωρία ή βάσανο, όπως λέει ο Ιωάννης στην Αποκάλυψη. Αυτή, λοιπόν, είναι η αιτία για την οποία αφήνει τους φίλους του και πάσχουν εδώ διάφορες θλίψεις, με τις οποίες πρέπει να έχουμε μεγάλη χαρά όταν έρχονται, να τις υποδεχόμαστε ως δώρο και χάρισμα και ως γιατρειά που μας στέλνει με πολλή αγάπη ο Πατέρας μας ο ουράνιος.
Εάν ο Κύριος, όταν ήθελε ο Πέτρος να εμποδίσει το Πάθος του με τη μάχαιρα, τον καταδίκασε λέγοντας: «Βάλε τη μάχαιρα στη θήκη. Το ποτήριο που μου έδωσε ο Πατήρ δεν θέλεις να το πιω;» , ονομάζοντας ποτήριο σταλμένο από τον Πατέρα τους εμπαιγμούς, τις τιμωρίες και το θάνατο που έμελλε να πάθει για τη σωτηρία μας, γιατί να μην πούμε και εμείς το ίδιο και να μην πιστεύουμε ότι όλες οι θλίψεις και οι συμφορές που μας έρχονται είναι θεραπευτικό ποτήριο και γιατρειές που μας στέλνει ο επουράνιος ιατρός με πατρική αγάπη για τη σωτηρία μας; Να, λοιπόν, χριστιανέ, μια παρηγοριά που μπορείς να έχεις πιστεύοντας ότι όλες οι θλίψεις, είτε έλθουν από επήρεια δαιμόνων είτε από ανθρώπους είτε από κάποια άλλη περίσταση, είναι μια ωφέλιμη θεραπεία που σου στέλνει ο ουράνιος Πατέρας για να καθαριστεί η ψυχή σου· και αν αισθάνεσαι πικρότητα στη γεύση, όταν το πίνεις, μην απελπιστείς, γιατί η πικρότητα αυτή θα σου φέρει την ποθούμενη υγεία, όπως τα φάρμακα και τα γιατρικά του σώματος, που φτιάχνουν οι γιατροί, είναι άνοστα και πικρότατα.
Πολλές φορές μάλιστα βγάζουν και αίμα, και καίνε και κόβουν τα άχρηστα και μολυσμένα μέλη και τα αφαιρούν, και όλα αυτά προκαλούν πολύ πόνο και οδύνη στον πάσχοντα, αλλά τα υπομένει με καρτερία γνωρίζοντας ότι έτσι θα αποκτήσει την υγεία που ποθεί- έτσι και όλες οι θλίψεις και οι συμφορές που μας έρχονται σε τούτη τη ζωή είναι γιατρειές πνευματικές που στέλνονται από τον ουράνιο γιατρό για την ωφέλεια της ψυχής μας.
Αυτό προτύπωνε η χολή εκείνη που έβαλε στα μάτια του ο Τωβίτ και με την οποία απέκτησε το φως του. Με την πικρία των θλίψεων λυτρώνεται ο αμαρτωλός από την ψυχική τυφλότητα, σύμφωνα με τον μέγα Γρηγόριο, που λέει ότι τα μάτια που είναι τυφλωμένα από την αμαρτία φωτίζονται με την τιμωρία. Όταν έριξαν τον Ιωσήφ οι αδελφοί του στο ξεροπήγαδο, δεν συναισθάνθηκαν το βάρος της αμαρτίας τους μέχρι που έστειλε ο Θεός τη μεγάλη θλίψη, και τότε ομολόγησαν: «Δικαίως τα παθαίνουμε όλα αυτά για την αμαρτία που κάναμε εναντίον του αδελφού μας». Βλέπεις πόση ωφέλεια δίνει η θλίψη, που φωτίζει τους τυφλούς και δίνει σύνεση στους ανόητους; Δεν ήθελε ο Πέτρος να του νίψει τα πόδια ο Κύριος, γιατί δεν καταλάβαινε τότε την πάνσοφη γνώμη του δασκάλου του, όπως του είπε: « Εκείνο που κάνω εγώ εσύ δεν το καταλαβαίνεις τώρα, αλλά ύστερα θα το καταλάβεις». Όταν όμως του είπε ότι εάν δεν του πλύνει τα πόδια δεν θα είναι μαζί του, σταμάτησε με πολύ φόβο και του τα έπλυνε.
Έτσι και συ, δε γνωρίζεις τώρα την αιτία γιατί σε πλένει ο Κύριος με τα ύδατα των θλίψεων, αλλά όταν θα δεις τη λαμπρότητα που θα πάρει η ψυχή σου από τούτον το νιπτήρα των θλίψεων, θα ευχαριστείς το Δεσπότη, γιατί εάν δεν σε ένιπτε, δε θα ήσουνα μαζί του στη Βασιλεία του. Όσο είχε ο άσωτος γιος τον πατρικό πλούτο , ξόδευε, έτρωγε, έπινε, έκανε τα θελήματα του και δε μετανοούσε ποτέ, αλλά όταν τον έκαψε ο πάνσοφος γιατρός με το πυρ της φτώχειας, της πείνας και της υπόλοιπης ταλαιπωρίας, άφησε τις ηδονές της σάρκας και επέστρεψε σωφρονισμένος στο πατρικό σπίτι. Ό,τι κάνει ο κόπανος στο σιτάρι, το ρινί και η λίμα στο σίδερο, και η κάμινος στο χρυσό, το ίδιο κάνει και η θλίψη στον άνθρωπο, δηλαδή τον καθαρίζει από κάθε ασχήμια και τον λαμπρύνει.
Αν, λοιπόν, μας ωφελούν οι θλίψεις και μας προξενούν τόσο κέρδος, γιατί να τις μισούμε οι άφρονες και να μην ευχαριστούμε τον επουράνιο γιατρό που τις δίνει για υγεία μας, όπως ευχαριστούμε και το σωματικό γιατρό και τον πληρώνουμε με χαρά; Όσοι έχουν το παραμικρό φως και φόβο Θεού πιστεύουν ότι όλα εκείνα που τους συμβαίνουν έρχονται από το θεό, γιατί οι άνομοι δε θα είχαν καμία εξουσία πάνω στους δίκαιους εάν δεν τους την είχε παραχωρήσει ο Θεός, όπως είπε ο Κύριος στον Πιλάτο: « Οὐκ εἶχες ἐξουσίαν οὐδεμίαν ἐν ἐμοί, εἰ μή ἦν σοί δεδομένον ἄνωθεν ». Και αυτό δεν είναι μόνο για τους ορατούς εχθρούς βέβαιο, αλλά και για τους αόρατους· γιατί, αν και προσπαθεί ο δαίμονας πάντα να πειράζει τους δίκαιους και να τους θλίβει, όμως όλη του η βία και η δύναμη είναι μάταιη αν δεν του δώσει την εξουσία ο Κύριος. Αυτό, λοιπόν, γνωρίζοντας οι πιστοί πιέζουν τον εαυτό τους να νικήσουν τον πειρασμό με τη δύναμη του Θεού και δεν παραπονιούνται για το μέσο που τους θλίβει ούτε κοιτάζουν το όργανο που προκαλεί τη ζημιά.
Δεν το λένε τύχη ή ριζικό αλλά τα δέχονται όλα ευχαρίστως οικονομούμενα από το χέρι του Κυρίου προς το συμφέρον. Δε θυμώνουν με αυτούς που τους θλίβουν ή με τα αλλά κτίσματα, αλλά τους αγαπούν πάρα πολύ ως αιτία της σωτηρίας τους. Όπως και ο Ιώβ ο μακάριος, όταν έπαθε τόσες συμφορές, δεν είπε ότι αυτά τα αγαθά μου τα έδωσαν οι γονείς μου, αυτά τα παιδιά τα γέννησε η σύζυγος μου, και οι κακοί άνθρωποι, η φωτιά, οι δυνατοί άνεμοι και οι δαίμονες μου τα στέρησαν, αλλά είπε: « Ο Κύριος μου τα έδωσε, ο Κύριος τα πήρε. Όπως αποφάσισε ο Κύριος, έτσι έγινε. Ευλογημένο να είναι το όνομά του». Ομοίως και όταν ήταν ασθενημένος και πληγωμένος σε όλο του το σώμα, έλεγε: «Τα καλά τα δεχτήκαμε από το χέρι του Κυρίου και τα κακά να μην τα υπομείνουμε;».
Έτσι και ο Ιωσήφ ο Πάγκαλος, ξέροντας ότι ήταν θεϊκή απόφαση να πάθει εκείνο που του έκαναν οι αδελφοί του, δε σκανδαλίστηκε καθόλου ούτε προσπάθησε να αμυνθεί σ’ αυτούς. Οι φιλόσαρκοι και ατελείς άνθρωποι, που εξαιτίας της μικροψυχίας τους, δεν έχουν ποτέ ειρήνη, δε γνωρίζουν την ωφέλεια της θλίψεως ούτε νιώθουν την αιτία αλλά μόνο θυμώνουν εναντίον εκείνων που τους θλίβουν και αμύνονται. Όπως ο σκύλος, όταν του ρίξει κάποιος πέτρα, τον αρπάζει και τον δαγκώνει από το θυμό του, έτσι και αυτοί οι ανόητοι δε βλέπουν το Θεό, που τους τιμωρεί, αλλά πολεμούν τα όργανά του, και εξαιτίας της ανυπομονησίας τους, δε βγάζουν από τη θλίψη κάποια ωφέλεια.
Ο γνωστικός μαθητής, όταν τον δέρνει ο δάσκαλος η ο πατέρας του, δεν κοιτάζει το ραβδί, δεν αμύνεται εναντίον του (επειδή αυτό δεν κινείται από μόνο του), αλλά μόνο παρακαλεί αυτόν που τον χτυπάει να τον λυπηθεί και να τον τιμωρήσει ελαφρύτερα. Έτσι και ο ευγνώμων χριστιανός δεν κοιτάζει ποτέ εκείνον που τον θλίβει, εάν είναι μεγαλύτερος η μικρότερος, εάν δικαίως ή αδίκως τον έβλαψε, αλλά ζητάει βοήθεια από το Θεό λέγοντας από μέσα του τα εξής: «Σου αξίζει αυτό, αμαρτωλέ, και άλλο χειρότερο. Είναι ευλογημένοι αυτοί που σε διώκουν». Και έτσι μεμφόμενος τον εαυτό του και παρακαλώντας υπέρ του πλησίον νικάει το διάβολο και την υπερηφάνεια της σάρκας. Και αν δει ότι ο Σταυρός και η θλίψη αυξάνει περισσότερο, την υποδέχεται με ευλάβεια γνωρίζοντας ότι αυτή είναι ο Κύριος. Τον ευχαριστεί για την αγία του βοήθεια και έτσι την ελαφραίνει πολύ και μένει νικητής και τροπαιούχος και απολαμβάνει μισθό αναρίθμητο. Ω θαυμαστής και αήττητης δύναμης του Σταυρού, και μακάριος όποιος τον γνωρίζει και τον υποδέχεται ευχαρίστως, επειδή είναι σταλμένος από προσώπου Κυρίου για τη σωτηρία του.
In Memory Of The 50 Million Victims Of The Orthodox Christian Holocaust ( Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes )
History Of Asia Minor: 1894-1923
During 1894-1923 the Ottoman Empire conducted a policy of Genocide of the Christian population living within its extensive territory. The Sultan, Abdul Hamid, first put forth an official governmental policy of genocide against the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in 1894.
Systematic massacres took place in 1894-1896 when Abdul savagely killed 300,000 Armenians throughout the provinces. Massacres recurred, and in 1909 government troops killed, in the towns of Adana alone, over 20,000 Christian Armenians.
When WW1 broke out the The Ottoman Empire was ruled by the "Young Turk" dictatorship which allied itself with Germany. Turkish government decided to eliminate the whole of the Christian population of Greeks, Armenians, Syrians and Nestorians. The government slogan, "Turkey for the Turks", served to encourage Turkish civilians on a policy of ethnic cleansing.
The next step of the Armenian Genocide began on 24 April 1915 with the mass arrest, and ultimate murder, of religious, political and intellectual leaders in Constantinople and elsewhere in the empire. Then, in every Armenian community, a carefully planned Genocide unfolded: Arrest of clergy and other prominent persons, disarmament of the population and Armenian soldiers serving in the Ottoman army, segregation and public execution of leaders and able-bodied men, and the deportation to the deserts of the remaining Armenian women, children and elderly. Renowned historian Arnold Toynbee wrote that "the crime was concerted very systematically for there is evidence of identical procedure from over fifty places."
The Genocide started from the border districts and seacoasts, and worked inland to the most remote hamlets. Over 1.5 million Armenian Christians, including over 4,000 bishops and priests, were killed in this step of the Genocide.
The Greek Christians, particularly in the Black Sea area known as Pontus, who had been suffering from Turkish persecutions and murders all the while, saw the Turks turn more fiercely on them as WW1 came to a close. The Allied Powers, at a peace conference in Paris in 1919, rewarded Greece for her support by inviting Prime Minister Venizelos to occupy the city of Smyrna with its rich hinterlands, and they placed the province under Greek control. This action greatly angered the Turks. The Greek occupation was a peaceful one but drew immediate fire from Turkish forces in the outlying areas. When the Greek army farmed out to protect its people, a full-fledged war broke out between Greece and Turkey (the Greco-Turkish war).
The Treaty of Sevres, signed in 1920 to end WW1 and which provided for an independent Armenia, was never ratified. The treaty's terms changed not long after the ink dried as England, France and Italy each began secretly bargaining with Mustafa Kemel (Ataturk) in order to gain the right to exploit oil fields in the Mozul (now Iraq). Betrayed by the Allied Powers, the Greek military front, after 40 long months of war, collapsed and retreated as the Turks began again to occupy Asia Minor.
September 1922 signaled the end of the Greek and Armenian presence in the city of Smyrna. On 9 September 1922, the Turks entered Smyrna; and after systematically murdering the Armenians in their own homes, the forces of Ataturk turned on the Greeks whose numbers had swelled, with the addition of refugees who had fled their villages in Turkey's interior, to upwards of 400,000 men, women and children.
The conquering Turks went from house to house, looting, pillaging, raping and murdering the population. Finally, when the wind had turned so that it was blowing toward the sea so that the small Turkish quarter at the rear of the city was not in danger, Turkish forces, led by their officers, poured kerosene on the buildings and homes of the Greek and Armenian sectors and set them afire. Thus, any remaining live inhabitants of the city were flushed out to be caught between a wall of fire and the sea. The pier of Smyrna became a scene of final desperation as the approaching flames forced many thousands to jump to their death or to be consumed by fire.
The Allied warships and shore patrol of the French, British and American military were eyewitnesses to the events. George Horton, the American Consul in Smyrna, likened the finale at Smyrna to the Roman destruction of Carthage. He is quoted in Smyrna (1922, written by Marjorie Dobkin) as saying: Yet there was not fleet of Christian battleships at Carthage looking on a situation for which their governments were responsible." This horrible act unleashed the last phase of the genocide against the Christians of Turkish Asia Minor.
On 9 September 1997, a series of speakers and memorial services, honoring the memory of the 3.5 million Christians who were murdered by Turkish persecutions from 1894-1923, were held in the greater Baltimore Washington area. The memorial service was conducted by the choirs of St. Mary's Armenian Church, St. Katherine's Greek Orthodox Church, Fr. George Alexson of St. Katherine's, Fr. Vertanes Katayjian of St. Mary's and other Orthodox clergy.
The 75th anniversary of the Christian Holocaust was memorialized on 9 September 1997, the date in 1922 of the destruction of the city of Smyrna. This memorial honors the memory of over 3.5 million Christians who were murdered by Turkish persecutions from 1894-1923. Not only was this the memorial of the Holocaust of Smyrna (now Izmir) and the martyrdom of Smyrna's Metropolitan Chrysostomos, but also of the 3.5 million Christians who perished during the first Holocaust of this century. But the events of 1922 are not an isolated incident. The atrocities committed by Turkish forces against a civilian population began before WW1 and have never ended. This event seeks to expose the continuum of a Turkish campaign of persecution, deportation, and murder designed to rid Asia of its Christian populace.
1914 400,000 conscripts perished in forced labor brigades
1922 100,000 massacred or burned alive in Smyrna
1916-1922 350,000 Pontions massacred or killed during forced deportations
1914-1922 900,000 perish from maltreatment, starvation and massacres; total of all other areas of Asia Minor
TOTAL: 1,750,000 Greek Christians martyred 1914-1922
1894-1896 300,000 massacred
1915-1916 1,500,000 perish in massacres and forced deportations (with subsidiaries to 1923)
1922 30,000 massacred or burned alive in Smyrna
TOTAL: 1,800,000 Armenian Christians martyred 1894-1923
SYRIANS AND NESTORIANS
1915-1917 100,000 Christians massacred
The native population of Asia Minor traces its Christian roots to the early days of Christianity. the Armenians, an ancient people, trace their origins back 2500 years. In 301 AD. the Armenian King Dftad declared Christianity as the kingdom's official religion, making Armenia the first Christian political state in the world. The migration of Greek tribes to Asia Minor began just before 2,000 BC and the Greeks built dozens of cities such as Smyrna, Phocaea, Pergamon, Ephesus and Byzantium (Constantinople). The native inhabitants of Asia Minor, among the first to accept the message of Christianity, were later to be persecuted and uprooted from their lands because of that same faith. Turkish tribes plagued the region. Later another tribe, the Oyuz Turks who embraced Islam and ultimately produced the Ottoman Turks, conquered Persia, the Caliphate of Baghdad, and then the whole area presently occupied by Syria, Iraq and Palestine.
Under the Ottoman Empire the Christians suffered a steady decline. Forced conversions to Islam, the abduction of children to serve in the fanatical Janissary corps, persecutions and oppression reduced the Christian population. Oppression intensified, leading to Genocide. Christian clergy were a constant target of Turkish persecution, particularly once the 1894 policy of Armenian genocide had been declared by sultan Abdul Hamid.
Victims of horrible torture, many Orthodox clergy were martyred for their faith. Among the first was Metropolitan Chrysostomos who was martyred, not just to kill a man but, to insult a sacred religion and an ancient and honorable people. Chrysostomos was enthroned as Metropolitan of Smyrna on 10 May 1910. Metropolitan Chrysostomos courageously opposed the anti Christian rage of the turks and sought to raise international pressure against the persecution of Turkish Christians. He wrote many letters to European leaders and to the western press in an effort to expose the genocide policies of the Turks. In 1922, in unprotected Smyrna, Chrysostomos said to those begging him to flee: "It is the tradition of the Greek Church and the duty of the priest to stay with his congregation."
On 9 September crowds were rushing into the cathedral for shelter when Chrysostomos, pale from fasting and lack of sleep, led his last prayer. The Divine Liturgy ended as Turkish police came to the church and led Chrysostomos away. The Turkish General Nouredin Pasha, known as the "butcher of Ionia", first spat on the Metropolitan and informed him that a tribunal in Angora (now Ankara) had already condemned him to death. A mob fell upon Chrysostomos and tore out his eyes. Bleeding profusely, he was dragged through the streets by his beard. He was beaten and kicked and parts of his body were cut off. All the while Chrysostomos, his face covered with blood, prayed: "Holy Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Every now and then, when he had the strength, he would raise his hand and bless his persecutors; a Turk, realizing what the Metropolitan was doing, cut off his hand with a sword. Metropolitan Chrysostomos was then hacked to pieced by the angry mob.
Among the hundreds of Armenian clergy who were persecuted and murdered were Bishop Khosrov Behrigian and Very Reverend Father Mgrdich' Chghladian.
Bishop Behrigian (1869-1915) was born in Zara and became the primate for the Diocese of Caesarea/Kayseri in 1915. He was arrested by Turkish police upon his return from Etchmiadzin where he had just been consecrated bishop. Informed of his fate, the bishop asked for a bullet to the head. Deliberately ignoring his request, the police tied him to a "yataghan" where sheep were butchered an then proceeded to hack his body apart while he was still alive.
Father Chghladian was born in Tatvan. In May 1915, as part of the campaign of mass arrests, deportations and murders, the priest was tortured and displayed in a procession, led by sheiks and dervishes while accompanied by drums, through the streets of Dikranagerd. Once the procession returned to the mosque, in the presence of government officials, the sheiks poured oil over the priest and burned him alive.
Four of the martyred bishops who were murdered between 1921-1922 are today elevated to sainthood in the Greek Orthodox Church: They are, in addition to Metropolitan Chrysostomos, Bishops Efthimios, Gregorios and Ambrosios.
Bishop Efthimios of Amasia was captured by the Turkish police and tortured daily for 41 days. In the last days of his life he chanted his own funeral memorial until finally dying in his cell on 29 May 1921. Three days later a written order for his execution arrived from Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk).
Metropolitan Gregorios of Kydonion remained with his church until the end, helping 20,000 of his 35,000 parishioners escape to Mytilene and other free parts of Greece. On 3 October 1922, the remaining 15,000 Orthodox Christians were executed; the Metropolitan was saved in order to be buried alive.
Metropolitan Ambrosios of Moshonesion, along with 12 priests and 6,000 Christians, were sent by the Turks on a forced deportation march to Central Asia Minor. All of them perished on the road, some slain by Turkish irregulars and civilians, the remainder left to die of starvation. Bishop Ambrosios died on 15 September 1922 when Turkish police nailed horseshoes to his feet and then cut his body into pieces.
"I was five or six years old in 1922, and I still remember the songs of Akrita and the mourning of the Greek women who carried baskets full of severed heads down from the mountains. I will never forget the women who suddenly realized that one of the heads in the basket she carried was that of her son." - Constantine Koukides, refugee from Pontius
"I have given orders to my Death Units to exterminate without mercy or pity, men, women, and children belonging to the Polish speaking race. It is only in this manner we can acquire the vital territory which we need. After all, who remembers the extermination of the Armenians?" - Adolf Hitler, 22 August 1939
THE UKRAINIAN HOLOCAUST OF 1932-33
Sixty-five years ago, between seven and twelve million Ukrainians were systematically and deliberately starved to death in Ukraine, the "Bread Basket of Europe".
Long before there was a Russia, Kyivan Rus' (Ukraine) was a free and fiercely independent nation. Indeed, it was to Ukraine that Christianity was first delivered by St. Andrew - the First called Apostle - and only much later, from Ukraine, on to Russia. In the 13th century Kvivan Rus' was decimated by invasions from Asia; and by the time the invaders were driven back, the base of power had shifted North to Muscovy. For centuries thereafter, Ukraine was subjugated to Tsarist Russia. Then in 1918, following the murder of the Tsar and his family by the Communists, the Ukrainians declared Ukraine a free and independent country, just as it was centuries before there even was a Russia.
Communist forces eventually recaptured the land and once again, as in the time of the Tsars, Ukraine would become little more than a part of a larger whole. But as never before in their long history, Ukrainians would be forced to pay a dreadfully high price in their survival as a people. Probably more than other Bolsheviks, Stalin had an exceedingly low opinion of peasants; for he considered them to be incurably conservative and a major barrier to revolutionary change. And because Ukrainians were an overwhelmingly peasant people, among whom native nationalism was on the rise, they were doubly vulnerable to his designs. Ukraine continued to be a land of innumerable villages of peasants working the land, with the Orthodox Church and traditional values dominating their lives. Perhaps most galling for the Bolshevik revolutionaries was the fact that the peasant showed little inclination for sharing their dreams of a Communist utopia.
Stalin's plans for industrial expansion were based on the state purchasing cheap grain, from the peasants, which would be sold abroad at a profit; the proceeds would then be used to finance the industrialization of the nation. But the prices that the state offered, often at one eighth of the market price, were so low that the peasants refused to sell their grain. Infuriated by what he called "sabotage". Stalin ordered an all-out drive for total collectivization. All land and all property, including livestock, were to be taken away from private ownership and given over to the state. Small farms were to be incorporated into huge Collectives. The plan was accompanied by such brutality and horror that it can only be described as war waged by the regime against the peasantry. It was to be one of the most traumatic events in Ukraine history.
Those who resisted most stubbornly were shot. Others were deported to forced labor camps in the Arctic and Siberia. The rest were deprived of all their property - including their homes and personal belongings - barred from the collective farms, and told to fend for themselves. In the winter of 1929-30 hundreds of thousands of peasants and their families were dragged from their homes, packed into freight trains, and shipped thousands of miles to the north where they were dumped amidst Arctic wastes, often without food or shelter. In this way a large part of Ukraine's most industrious and efficient farmers ceased to exist.
When even these severe measures failed to have the desired effect, the government dispatched thousands of urban workers to implement its policies in the villages. Their efforts produced pandemonium and outrage; often officials were beaten or shot. The most common form of protest, however, was the slaughter of farm animals. Determined not to let the government have their livestock, peasants preferred to kill their animals instead. Between 1928 and 1932 Ukraine lost about 50% of its livestock. Because of poor transportation facilities, much of the grain which was produced either spoiled or was eaten by rats. Even more serious was the lack of draught animals, many of which had been slaughtered earlier. Government officials were confident, however, that they could provide enough new tractors to replace the missing horses and oxen. But the production of tractors fell badly behind schedule, and a very high percentage of those which were delivered broke down almost immediately. As a result, in 1931 almost one third of the grain yield was lost during the harvest. To make matters worse, a drought hit southern Ukraine in 1931.
The Ukraine continued to resist and to dream of a free and independent nation; and since Joseph Stalin could not kill that dream, he first decided to deport all Ukrainians to other parts of the Soviet Union. Discovering that there were too many of them to move, Stalin decided to kill the dreamers instead; and his weapon of choice was a man-made, artificial famine which was designed to eliminate the troublemakers and force the survivors into total, complete submission. The famine which occurred in 1932-33 was to be for Ukrainians what the Holocaust was to the Jews, and what the Massacres of 1915 were for the Armenians. A tragedy of unfathomable proportions, it traumatized the nation, leaving it with deep social, psychological, political, and demographic scars that it still carries to this very day. The central fact about the famine is that is did not have to happen. Food was available; but the state confiscated most of it for its own use. All crops were requisitioned by the Soviet government and shipped elsewhere. This confiscation of food included seed which was intended for spring planting. Any man, woman or child caught taking even a handful of grain from a government silo could be, and often was, executed. In Moscow a law was enacted stipulating that no grain could be given to the peasants until the government's full quota had been met. Gangs of party activists conducted brutal house-to-house searches, tearing up floors and delving into wells in search of any grain which remained. In fact, if a person did not appear to be starving, he was suspected of hoarding food.
Famine, which had been spreading throughout 1932, hit full force early in 1933. Lacking bread, peasants ate pets, rats, bark, leaves, and the garbage from the well provisioned kitchens of Communist Party members. Whole villages were erased and people were dying by the tens of thousands. Cannibalism existed. At first cannibals were shot on the spot, but later were thrown into concentration camps. The most terrifying sights were the little children with skeleton limbs dangling from balloon like abdomens. Cordons of troops prevented peasants from entering cities; those who managed to break through wandered about until they fell in the streets. Such people were loaded onto trucks, together with the corpses, and dumped into pits outside of the city.
With the climbing death rate during the famine, the publication of death statistics was forbidden by the Soviet government. When deaths due to famine took on major proportions in Ukraine in 1932-33, physicians certifying the cause of death were forbidden to name the killer - starvation. The word "holod" (hunger) was decreed as counter-revolutionary, and no one valuing his own life and those of his relatives dared use it publicly. When the results of the census of 1937, for example, revealed shockingly high mortality rates, Stalin had the leading census takers shot.
Elsewhere there was no famine - much of Russia proper barely experienced it - but the borders of Ukraine had been sealed by the secret police; there was no escape. The Ukrainians had been sentenced to death. And thus, the greatest genocide in history was systematically accomplished. A noteworthy aspect of the famine was the attempt to erase it from public consciousness; the Soviet position was to deny that it had occurred at all. To curry Stalin's favor, for example, Walter Duranty - the Moscow based reporter of the New York Times, repeatedly denied the existence of a famine in his articles (while privately estimating that about ten million people may have starved to death). For the "profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and exceptional clarity" of his dispatches from the USSR, Duranty received the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
Yet, even to this very day, there are those who deny or minimize the Ukrainian Holocaust to such a degree that it is being referred to as "the hidden holocaust of the twentieth century". In 1984, for example, a documentary film entitled HARVEST OF DESPAIR was shown on Canadian television. This film won numerous prizes at World Film Festivals and a 1986 Academy award nomination; yet all three top commercial networks in America refused to show it. As recently as 1994, the New Jersey state legislators were being pressured to exclude the Ukrainian Holocaust from Resolution A-589 (The Holocaust Education Bill). Media coverage has been just as one-sided about the Greek, Armenian, Syrian and Nestorians Holocausts of 1984-1923 and, more recently, the Serbian Holocaust. The atrocities against Christians - especially Orthodox Christians - continue to this day!
ORTHODOX PERSECUTIONS TODAY
Of all the Christian confessions, it has been the Eastern Orthodox Church which has suffered the brunt of persecutions in the 20th century.
In the first two decades, there were massacres of Orthodox Greeks, Slavs, and Armenians in the Ottoman empire, culminating in the 1915 genocide of the Armenians in Anatolia and the near destruction of the ancient Assyrian community in Iraq. In 1923, the entire Orthodox population of Asia Minor was forced to leave their homes, bringing to a close a 2000 year Christian presence.
During the Second World War, two groups of Orthodox Christians were especially targeted for genocide by the Nazis and their allies - the Gypsies and the Orthodox Serbs of Bosnia and Croatia, while the population of Greece, Serbia, European Russia, and Ukraine were designated by the Nazis to serve as slave labor for the Third Reich. By special order of Heinrich Himmler (21 April 1942), clergyman from the East (as opposed to their counterparts from Western Europe) were to be used for hard labor.
At the same time the Orthodox suffered in greater proportion to any other Christian group at the hands of the Communists, who sought to completely eliminate religion.
First in Russia and Ukraine, then in Eastern Europe, in Greece during its civil war (1945-49), and in Ethiopia, the Orthodox Church was the principle target for attach, subversion, or destruction.
Finally, the Orthodox of the Middle East have found themselves caught in the crossfire of the conflicts between Muslim and Jew in Israel and the West Bank, and the civil war between Maronites, Muslims, and Palestinians in Lebanon.
Between the tolls exacted from prisons, concentration camps, forced marches and exiles, warfare, famine, and brutal military occupation, it is reasonable to conclude that up to 50 million Orthodox Christians have perished in the first eight decades of the twentieth century.
Even in the United States, where so many Orthodox have found refuge, the Orthodox Native Americans of the Aleutian Islands were forcibly interned during World War II and many of their churches deliberately destroyed by the U.S. Army.
Unfortunately, the depth and range of the Orthodox suffering throughout the world in this century, remains largely unknown and unappreciated in the West.
1987 - 1997
Harassment of the Orthodox Church in the former Soviet Union continued through the Gorbachev era. Many of the churches supposedly returned to the Orthodox between 1988 and 1990 were in Western Ukraine. This was part of an attempt by the KGB to sow open discord between Orthodox and Catholics - only 100 churches were returned in Russia itself. The KGB continued to target Orthodox clergymen involved in the struggle for religious freedom and democratization; in 1990 several prominent priests, among them Fr. Alexander Men, were murdered. It was only under President Boris Yeltsin that full freedom was restored to the Orthodox and other Russian based confessions. In other parts of the former Soviet Union, notably in Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan, the governments have continued to limit the rights of the religious and ethnic minorities.
The triumph of democracy in Poland has not led to full religious freedom for members of its 1 million strong Orthodox minority. Although the height of anti Orthodox activity seems to have peaked in 1991 after several Orthodox churches and an historic monastery were vandalized, Orthodox continue to be viewed as second-class citizens in Poland; where they are described in a secret Foreign Ministry report as an "alien body in Poland's state organism." Laws on religious education in the schools have virtually established the Roman Catholic Church to the detriment of both the Orthodox and the Lutherans; and Orthodox believers continue to complain of petty harassment endured at the local level.
In Slovakia, the government in 1991 announced its intention to review ownership of the country's 125 Orthodox parishes. Since that time, over 90 church buildings have been taken away from the Orthodox and given to the Catholics; and the Orthodox have been blocked by local officials from constructing new edifices, opening schools, or holding services. Even the official policy of the vatican announced 16 July 1990, which counseled Slovak Catholics to share disputed properties with the Orthodox, has been ignored.
The wars in the former Yugoslavia have been disastrous for the Orthodox. The Croatian government has all but liquidated the Orthodox Church in its territory, beginning with the dynamiting of the residence and library of the Orthodox Metropolitan of Zagreb on 11 April 1992. Following the Croatian offensive of fall 1995 and the departure of over 200,000 Orthodox Serbs in Diocese in Krajina. (which brought a total of over 800,000 displaced Orthodox Christians), four dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church ceased to exist. In Croat controlled territory in Bosnia, the Orthodox Bishop of Mostar was driven from his see, and most of the Orthodox population was expelled. Estimates are that over 154 Orthodox churches in the territory of Bosnia and Croatia were deliberately destroyed. On March 25, 1999 NATO began bombing of Kosovo in Serbia. It is one of the tragic ironies of History that Western "Christian" nations have joined forces to eradicate Serbs in Kosovo who are accused of "Ethnic cleansing". History repeats itself ----Kosovo was the site 500 years ago of the Christian Resistance to the Turks.
In Turkey and Turkish occupied Cyprus the position of the Orthodox continues to deteriorate. Despite international guarantees contained within the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the Turkish government continues to enforce the closure of the famous Halki Orthodox Theological Academy in Istanbul. Families of those Orthodox illegally expelled in the 1950's and 1960's have never been allowed to return to their homes, again in contravention of the 1923 treaty guaranteeing their right to do so. On Cyprus, 450 Orthodox Churches on the northern part of the island have been desecrated; some have become night clubs while others have been turned into public toilets. Other churches and historical monuments, some dating back to the 5th century, have been looted and left to rot away. There is a sustained campaign to remove entirely the last traces of the 2000 year old Orthodox presence from occupied Cyprus.
In Egypt, the Orthodox continue to suffer from the many restrictions placed on their ability to function in the economic and political life of the country. There are many rules hindering their ability to build and repair churches, and they are increasingly becoming targets for armed attacks by Muslim extremists. In the past two years, dozens of Orthodox villagers in Upper Egypt have been murdered by Islamic gunmen.
In India Orthodox Christians report increased harassment on the part of both Hindu and Muslim extremists, with isolated attacks and vehement rhetoric demanding their removal from the Indian landscape.
THE CURRENT ATTITUDE OF THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT
The government of the United States prides itself on its commitment to defending religious liberty. In the Middle East and Eastern Europe, however, the United States is seen as supporting only those churches who possess sufficient "influence" in Washington, while ignoring the plight of the Orthodox. Events over the last ten years have tended to confirm that assessment.
During the 1980's, the Immigration and Naturalization Service gave refugee status to any Soviet citizen who applied on religious grounds - except for members of the Orthodox Church. The very church which had suffered the most under Soviet rule, whose churches continued to be closed and her clergy arrested until 1988, was not considered to be a "persecuted" church by the American government.
After 1989, Orthodox Christians in both Poland and Slovakia warned the United States government that they were "at risk" as religious minorities. In 1991 the Congress of Russian Americans prepared two reports for the Commission of security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE: July & september 1991) warning of the dangers and asking that guarantees be obtained for the rights of the Orthodox in those nations. No action was taken, and at this time there is no indication that the US has pressed to secure the rights of these minorities in either Poland or Slovakia. There is also no indication that the US has ever linked economic assistance to either country or entry into the NATO alliance with improvements in the situation of their religious minorities.
Despite the large amount of economic and military assistance received by Turkey, there is no indication that the US has ever been prepared to use this leverage to secure the rights of the Orthodox minority, even though Turkey is bound by its own constitution and its international obligations to allow the Orthodox to maintain schools and other institutions. In contrast, US senators have often publicly and vocally called for American assistance to Russia to be made conditional on Russia's acceptance of American Protestant missionaries.
Persecution and harassment of the Orthodox continues because of a belief that the United States is not interested in their fate, and that America will not undertake any effort (other than occasional lip service) to secure religious freedom for the Orthodox. I turn, Orthodox leaders around the world are watching closely to see whether or not future initiatives on religious freedom which emanate from the US are truly based on principle, or whether American policy will be selective in terms of who is faulted and who is exonerated.
The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church has suffered greatly in this century, and continues to be a martyr church in many parts of the world. If the US chooses to ignore this fact for political gain, then the cause of religious freedom - for all - will be gravely compromised.
Compiled by Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Written by Reverend Father Raphael Moore
(Reprinted from Holy Transfiguration Greek Ortho
During the reign of the impious Roman Emperor Hadrian, a widow of Italian ancestry called Sophia, whose name means wisdom, lived in Rome. She was a Christian, and in accordance with her name, she lived wisely, showing that wisdom praised by the Apostle James, who says, The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits. This wise gentlewoman, Sophia, while living in honorable wedlock, bore three daughters, whom she named after the three great virtues. The first was named Faith, the second Hope, and the third Love, for to what does Christian wisdom give birth other than to God-pleasing virtues?
Soon after the birth of her three daughters, Sophia was widowed. Living piously, she pleased God by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. She reared her three daughters in a manner befitting a wise mother so that they, being the namesakes of virtues, might in truth acquire those traits, the names of which they bore. As they matured, they increased in virtue, and they learned well the books of the prophets and the apostles. They became accustomed to listen to the words of their teachers and earnestly occupied themselves with spiritual reading, prayer, and household chores. Moreover, they submitted themselves in all things to their holy mother, who was filled with divine wisdom. Thus, going from strength to strength, they were successful in all things. As they were exceedingly fair and perfect in wisdom, the eyes of all were soon upon them.
Word spread throughout Rome of the wisdom and beauty of the three sisters, and even the Eparch Antiochus wished to see them. When they were brought before him, Antiochus learned that they were Christians, for they did not hide their faith in Christ. Hoping in Christ, they did not doubt or falter in their love for Him, but before all they glorified Christ, showing disdain for the idols, hateful to God.
Antiochus related all these things to the Emperor Hadrian, who immediately sent his servants to bring the virgins before him. When the servants arrived at Sophia’s house, they found the mother occupied with instructing her daughters. They told her that she was to come, together with her daughters, to the Emperor. Realizing the purpose of this summons, they arose to pray and said, “0 Almighty God, do with us according to Thy holy will, and forsake us not, but rather grant us Thy holy aid, that our hearts be not frightened by the proud tormentor, that we be not terrified by his fearful tortures nor terrorized by bitter death, and that nothing might separate us from Thee, our God.”
After praying and bowing down before God, all four martyrs, the mother and her daughters, took one another by the hand, forming as it were a plaited garland. They went forth, frequently looking up to the heavens, committing themselves with sighs and silent prayers to the help of Him Who commanded us to fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. When they arrived at the Emperor’s palace, they signed themselves with the sign of the Cross and said, “Help us, 0 God our Savior, for the sake of the glory of Thy holy name!”
They were then led before the Emperor, who sat proudly upon his throne. They rendered him fitting honor but stood before him without fear, their faces radiant, their hearts steadfast, their eyes gazing gladly upon all as though they had been summoned to a banquet. Such was their joy with which they came to suffer torment for their Lord!
Seeing their honorable, fair, and fearless countenances, the Emperor questioned the mother as to their lineage, names, and faith. She, being most wise, answered so sagaciously that all were amazed at her prudence. Having spoken but briefly of the maidens’ ancestry and names, she began to tell of Him Whom she confessed and before Whose name every knee should bow. Having confessed her faith in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, she called herself His handmaiden and gave praise to His name. “I am a Christian,” she said, “and in that honorable name I rejoice.” She added that she had betrothed her daughters to Christ so that they might preserve their chastity for the incorruptible Bridegroom, the Son of God.
The Emperor, seeing that Sophia was a wise woman, did not wish at that time to speak further with her or pass judgment on her. He laid the matter aside for a time and sent all four martyrs to a certain noblewoman named Palladia, whom he charged to watch over them and to present them on the third day to be judged.
Staying in Palladia’s house, Sophia had sufficient time to instruct her children. She confirmed them in the faith day and night, teaching them with words inspired by God and saying, “My beloved daughters, the time has now come for you to contend for Christ; the hour has arrived for you to be betrothed unto your immortal Bridegroom. In accordance with your names, may you display firm faith, undoubting hope, and unfeigned and never failing love. The hour has come for you to rejoice, for you shall be crowned with the crown of martyrdom by your most beloved Bridegroom and will enter with gladsome voices into His bridal chamber.
“My daughters, for the sake of the honor in which you will be held by Christ, Who is more comely than the sons of men, do not spare your flesh. For the sake of life eternal, pity not the bloom of your youth nor hesitate to suffer the deprivation of this fleeting life, for your Beloved, Jesus Christ, Who dwells in the heavens, is eternal well-being and beauty inexpressible. When your bodies have been tortured to death for His sake, He will robe them in incorruption, and the wounds which you bear on your flesh will shine like the stars in heaven.
“When you have been deprived of your beauty for His sake, He will adorn you with heavenly beauty, such as the eye has not beheld. When you have laid down your souls for your Lord and suffered the loss of your temporal lives, He will grant you life eternal, and He will glorify you unto the ages before His heavenly Father and before His holy angels. You will be called Christ’s brides and His confessors by all the hosts of heaven; all the holy monastics shall praise you, and the wise virgins will rejoice over you and will receive you into their company.
“My sweet children, do not allow yourselves to be deceived by the enemy’s allurements, for the Emperor will entice you greatly and promise you rich presents, offering you glory, wealth, honor, and all the beautiful and sweet things of this corruptible and vain world. But love none of these things, for they all vanish like smoke and are scattered like dust by the wind and like a flower or grass wither and return to the earth. Neither be daunted by the prospect of grievous tortures, for having suffered them but a short while and having overcome the foe, you will rejoice forever.
“I believe that my God, Jesus Christ, will not forsake you should you resolve to suffer for Him, for He said, Even if a woman should forget her offspring, yet I shall not forget thee. He will remain with you throughout all the tortures you will suffer, looking upon your struggles, strengthening your infirmity, and preparing a plaited crown for your reward.
“My good daughters, remember the pains which I underwent in bearing you! Remember the labors I endured in rearing you, remember my words by which I taught you the fear of God, and comfort your mother in her old age with your good and brave confession of Christ. When I am deemed worthy to be called the mother of martyrs and will behold you suffering bravely for Christ, confessing His holy name and dying for Him, I will have more happiness, joy, honor, and glory than any of the faithful. My soul will be magnified and my spirit will rejoice and I will be strengthened in my old age. Having obeyed the instructions of your mother you will truly be my daughters, if you contest for your Lord even unto the shedding of your blood and with fervor submit to death for Him.”
Having hearkened with compunction to their mother’s words, the daughters were stricken in heart, and they rejoiced in spirit, awaiting the time of their martyrdom as though it were the hour of their nuptials. Being the holy branches of a sacred root, they desired with all their heart that which their most wise mother Sophia had taught them to thirst after. They stored her words in their hearts and prepared themselves for the contest of martyrdom as though they were to enter a bridal chamber. Girding themselves with faith, bolstering themselves with hope, and kindling in themselves the fire of love for the Lord, they strengthened one another and promised their mother that with Christ’s help they would translate into deeds her edifying words to them.
When the third day had come, the saints were brought to judgment before the impious Emperor. Thinking that they were but young maidens who could easily be brought to obey his deceptive words, he began to speak to them thus, “I see, children, that you are fair, and I feel pity for your youth. I advise you as a father to worship the gods who rule the universe. If you obey me and do what I command, then I shall call you my own children. I will summon the eparchs, governors, and all of my counselors and shall adopt you in their presence, and they all will hold you in the highest respect and praise you. But if you do not obey me and do not submit to my ordinance, then much evil will befall you, and you will bring much grief to your mother in her old age. You will yourselves perish at an age when you should be happy and dwell amid the sweet, good things and the joys of this world. I will cause you to perish miserably and will cast out your severed limbs to be food for dogs, and you will be despised by all. Therefore, obey me, that it might go well with you. I care for you and do not wish to destroy your beauty and to deprive you of this present life; rather, I desire to have you as my children.”
The holy virgins answered the persecutor as though with a single voice, saying, “God, Who dwells in heaven, is our Father, Who takes care for our life and has mercy on our souls. His love we desire, and we wish to be called His true children. We keep His commandments, and we spit on your gods. Your threats do not frighten us, for we wish to suffer and bear bitter torments for the sake of our sweet God, Jesus Christ.”
The Emperor, having heard them answer thus, questioned their mother Sophia as to their names and ages. She replied, “My eldest child is named Faith and is twelve years old. The second is Hope, who is ten years of age. My third child’s name is Love, and she is nine years old.”
The Emperor marveled at the maidens’ spirit, intelligence, and ready answers, especially since they were so young. He then began to attempt to force each of them to submit to his impiety, beginning with Faith, the eldest sister, to whom he said, “Sacrifice to the great goddess Artemis!”
But Faith would not agree to submit. Therefore, the Emperor had her stripped naked and ordered that she be beaten severely. The torturers thrashed her mercilessly, saying, “Sacrifice to the great goddess Artemis!” She remained silent, however, as though it were another’s body which bore the suffering. Since the tormentor accomplished nothing by flogging her, he had her virginal breasts cut off. Seeing milk instead of blood flow forth from her wounds, the people shook their heads and secretly reproached the Emperor for his foolishness and cruelty, saying, “In what has this fair maiden transgressed? Why does she suffer thus? What a pity! Such is the mindlessness of the Emperor and his beastly cruelty that he not only tortures to death the aged but young children as well!”
Then a metal gridiron was brought, which was placed on a great fire which had been kindled. When it had been heated red hot, giving forth sparks, the holy martyr Faith was placed upon it. She lay there for two hours, calling out to her Lord, but she was not burnt at all, to the astonishment of everyone present. Then she was cast into a cauldron filled with boiling pitch and oil, but there too she remained unharmed, sitting as though she were in cool water, singing to God. The persecutor, not knowing what else to do with her to weaken her faith in Christ, pronounced upon her the sentence of death by the sword.
When Saint Faith heard this, she was filled with joy and said to her mother, “Pray for me, Mother, that I may complete my course and arrive at the end which I desire, to behold my beloved Lord and Savior and be filled with the vision of His divinity.”
Then Faith said to her sisters, “You know, my dear sisters, to Whom we have promised ourselves and to Whom we have been betrothed. You know that we have been signed with the holy Cross of our Lord to serve Him to eternity. Therefore, let us endure unto the end. A single mother has borne us and has reared and instructed us, so let us accept a common death since we are sisters and share a single will. May I be an example to you, that you both might follow me to our Bridegroom, Who summons us to Himself.”
Having said this, Faith kissed her mother, and embracing her sisters, she kissed them and then submitted herself to the sword. Her mother did not sorrow for her daughter, for her love for God overcame her maternal love and pity for her children. She only feared that one of her daughters might renounce the Lord, so she said to Faith, “My daughter, I bore you and on this account endured suffering. But you will redeem my suffering if you die for Christ’s sake, confessing Him and shedding the blood which you received in my womb. Go to Him, my beloved offspring, stained with your blood, as if clothed in crimson. When you appear most fair before the eyes of your Bridegroom, remember before Him your lowly mother and pray to Him for your sisters, that He strengthen them so that they might have the same patience which you possess.”
And so Saint Faith’s honorable head was cut off and she departed to Christ God her Master. Her mother took her much-suffering body, and as she kissed it, she rejoiced and glorified Christ God, Who had received her daughter Faith into the heavenly bridal chamber.
Then the impious Emperor had the second sister, the holy virgin Hope, brought before him, and he said to her, “Good child, I appeal to you as a father who loves you. Heed my advice and worship the great Artemis so that you might not perish as your elder sister did. You have seen her bitter death. Do you wish to suffer likewise? Believe me, child; I pity your youth and would have you as my daughter if you would agree to obey my command.”
But Saint Hope replied, “0 Emperor, was it not my sister whom you put to death? Were we not born of the same mother? Were we not fed with the same milk? Did I not receive the same Baptism as my holy sister? I grew up with her, and from the same books and the same maternal instruction I learned to know the one God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to believe in Him and to worship Him alone. Therefore, 0 Emperor, do not imagine that I shall reason, think, or desire other than as did my sister Faith. I am ready to follow her path; therefore, do not delay or weary yourself with much speaking, but begin that which you have resolved to do. You will see that I am of the same mind as my sister who has gone before me.”
When the Emperor heard this reply, he handed Hope over to the torturers. His henchmen stripped her as they had Faith, and they beat her so long and mercilessly that they grew weary. But she remained silent as though she suffered no pain. She only gazed upon her mother, the blessed Sophia, who stood nearby and who valiantly looked on as her child underwent torment, fervently praying to God that He grant her daughter firm patience.
Then the wicked Emperor commanded that Hope be cast into fire, but she remained unharmed, praising God like the Three Youths. After this, she was suspended and scraped with iron claws. Her flesh was torn off, streams of her blood gushed out, and a wondrous fragrance came forth from her wounds. Her countenance shone with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and she mocked the persecutor because he was unable to overcome even a young maiden. She said, “Having Christ’s help, I fear no torments; rather, I desire them as I desire the sweet things of paradise, so sweet is my Lord to me. But unending fiery torments and the demons which you regard as gods await you in Gehenna.”
These words greatly angered the tormentor, who ordered that a cauldron be filled with pitch and oil and heated over a fire and that the saint be cast into it. When the cauldron had come to a boil and the Emperor’s servants were preparing to hurl the saint into it, the kettle suddenly melted down like wax, and the hot pitch and oil poured forth from it upon all who stood nearby.
Such was the wondrous power of God which guarded Saint Hope. Although the persecutor saw all these things, he did not wish to know the true God, for his heart was ensnared by demonic darkness and pernicious error. Thus, seeing himself put to shame by a young maiden and not wishing to bear further humiliation, he condemned the saint to beheading.
When the maiden heard that she was to be put to death, she hastened joyfully to her mother and said, “Peace and salvation to you, mother: remember your child!”
Her mother embraced and kissed her, saying, “My daughter Hope, you are blessed by the Lord God on high in Whom you trust and for Whose sake you have not spared your blood. Go now to your sister Faith, to stand in the presence of our Beloved.”
Hope then kissed her sister Love, who had been watching her torture, and she said to her, “Do not linger here, sister, but hasten, that we might enter the presence of the Holy Trinity together.” Then she went to the headless corpse of her sister, Saint Faith, and kissed it lovingly. Nature compelled her to shed tears, but love for Christ turned her tears into joy. Then she bowed her head beneath the sword, and thus Saint Hope was beheaded. Her mother took her body and glorified God, rejoicing over the courage of her two daughters. She then inspired her third daughter with sweet words and wise counsels to contest in like manner.
The persecutor summoned Love, the third maiden, seeking to entice her to abandon the Crucified One and to worship Artemis, but the deceiver labored in vain. For no one has so desired to contend for our beloved Lord as did Love, even as it is written, Love is as strong as death; many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.
The many waters of the world’s temptations did not quench the fire of love for God in that maiden, neither was it drowned in the floods of misfortunes and sufferings. Her great love was made manifest in that she was prepared to lay down her soul for her beloved Jesus Christ, for greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for another.
The persecutor, realizing that he was unable to accomplish anything with his flatteries, began to torture Love, hoping by various torments to separate Love from the love of Christ. But she replied with the words of the Apostle, “Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things, I am more than a conqueror through Him that loved me.”
The persecutor began her torture by ordering that she be stretched out upon a wheel and beaten with rods. The saint’s young body was stretched in such a way that her members were pulled from their sockets, and she was beaten until she had been dyed as red as scarlet by her blood, which watered the earth like rain.
The tormentor then showed the saint a furnace which had been heated white hot, and he said, “Maiden, say only that the goddess Artemis is great, and I will release you. But if you will not, you will without delay be burnt in the fiery furnace.”
The saint said, “Great is my God Jesus Christ, but may you perish, together with Artemis!”
The persecutor became enraged, and he ordered those standing nearby to hurl Love into the furnace. The saint did not wait for another to cast her into the furnace, but she hastened to enter it herself. She walked into the furnace but was not burned, and she rejoiced as though she were in a cool place, singing and blessing God. And at once fire shot forth from the furnace, consuming the unbelievers standing nearby, burning some to ashes and scorching others. The Emperor himself was singed, and he fled far from the furnace. Within the furnace other radiant persons could be seen rejoicing together with the martyr. Thus the name of Christ was magnified while the impious were put to shame.
When the furnace was extinguished, the saint, Christ’s fair bride, emerged radiant and unharmed as though from a bridal chamber. The torturers, in accordance with the Emperor’s command, seized her and bored through her members with drills, but God’s help strengthened the saint as she endured these torments so that she did not die. For how could she otherwise bear such torments and not perish immediately? Her beloved Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, strengthened her so that the impious might be filled with shame and so that she might receive a greater reward and that God’s mighty power might be glorified in a frail vessel.
Finally, the persecutor, stricken with pain from being burned by the fire, commanded that the saint be beheaded by the sword. When she heard that she was to be beheaded, she rejoiced and said, “I sing to Thee, and I bless Thy much-hymned name, 0 Lord Jesus Christ, Who hast loved Thy handmaiden Love! Number me together with my sisters, and count me worthy to suffer for Thy name, even as they suffered.”
Her mother Saint Sophia did not cease praying to God for her third daughter, that He grant her patience to the end. She said to Love, “My third offspring, my beloved child: endure to the end! You are traveling along the path which is good, and a crown has already been woven for you. The bridal chamber has been prepared and stands open for you. The Bridegroom awaits you, looking down from on high on your contest so that when you have bent your head beneath the sword, He might receive and embrace your pure and immaculate soul and grant you repose together with your sisters. Remember me, your mother, in the kingdom of your Bridegroom, that He might be merciful to me and not deprive me of an inheritance and portion with you in His holy glory.”
At that moment Saint Love was beheaded by the sword. Her mother took her body and laid it in a beautiful coffin, together with the corpses of Faith and Hope, adorning their bodies as was fitting. She placed them in a chariot, took them several miles outside the city, and reverently buried her daughters there upon a lofty hill, weeping for joy. She sat by their grave, praying with compunction to God for three days, after which she slept the sleep of death in the Lord and was buried by the faithful in that same place, together with her daughters. She was deprived neither of an inheritance with them in the heavenly kingdom nor of a martyr’s crown, inasmuch as she suffered for Christ, not in the flesh but rather in her heart. Thus the most wise Sophia wisely finished her course, having brought as a gift to the Trinity her three virtuous daughters, Faith, Hope, and Love.
O holy and righteous Sophia! What woman hath been thus saved through childbearing as thou, who bore children who were betrothed to the Savior and suffered for Him and now reign and are glorified together with Him? In truth thou art a wondrous mother, worthy of remembrance, for having beheld the cruel and bitter torments which thy beloved children underwent and their death, thou hast not, as is the custom with mothers, suffered grief, but thou dost rejoice, comforted by the grace of God. Thou didst encourage them to accept martyrdom and to pray, that they might not weaken and preserve their fleeting lives but that they should instead resolutely offer to shed their blood for Christ. And now exulting in the vision of His most radiant countenance, together with thy holy daughters, do thou enlighten us, that we may be preserved in the virtues of faith, hope, and love and be deemed worthy to glorify and stand in the presence of the most holy, uncreated, and life-bestowing Trinity, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
On this same day we commemorate the holy martyr Theodota and the one hundred and fifty-six holy martyrs who perished by fire.
From The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume 1: September,
If you want to go straight before God, you need two walls.Not of brick or stone or earth, but two spiritual walls. Have fear of God on the right, because the Prophet Daniel says, '' With fear of God, man is diverted from all evil.''
On the left have fear of death because the Son of Sirach says, '' Son, remember your end and you will not sin.'' These two good deeds, fear of God and remembrance of death, deliver a man from all sin.
Elder Cleopa of Romania
I see today everyone, young and old, tends to justify everything with a rather satanic rationalization. Everything is interpreted for them by the devil, and so they find themselves outside of reality. Self-justification is a satanic interpretation of reality.