Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On the Role of Women in the Church

A transcript of a talk given at St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Orthodox Retreat on 7 September 2009 in Guerneville, CA

The issue of women in the Church has been raised many times during the history of Christianity, beginning with the very first decades of the Church’s existence. That is why, when in the twenty-first century one asks about the role of women in the Church, one does not speak of this role—Christ Himself spoke about it and the Apostle Paul wrote about it in his letters—but the continuing problem of the relationship between genders in the family, society, and the Church. In Church consciousness, this problem is usually expressed in terms of bearded men in black possessing administrative authority which they withhold from women, even if the latter choose to glue on a mustache and don a black robe. From the point of view of modern Western culture—to which not only immigrants making their lives in the United States belong, but also in a significant way Orthodox people living in the European part of Russia—there is clear evidence of the discrimination of the Church against women only because they were born women. This is why it seems somewhat strange to me that I, a bearded man in a black robe who possess some limited administrative authority in my parish—a small part of the Church, have been invited to tell women about their place in the Church.

Well, in my opinion, the woman’s place in a church is on the left; that is to say, on the side where the icon of the Theotokos is found on the iconostasis. It must be noted that this placement gives more honor to women than it does to men. Practically, when the priest prays as one of us—facing the east—then men stand on his right, but when Christ Himself comes to us from the royal doors—whether in a blessing or in the Holy Gifts—then it is the women who end up on His right hand. Thus, if we were to imagine Christ Who stands in the royal doors and separates His sheep from goats (Matt. 25:32), then it is the women who end up on His right, but the men—on His left (33).

Of course, all of this has been said only in a half-joking manner. The issue of the interrelationship between genders in the Church is complex, that is to say, it consists of several parts. Let us take a closer look at some of them.

Introduction: A Few Notes on Society and the Church

It is no secret that society, with its philosophy, ideology, and culture has a great influence on Christian thought. Preaching the Gospel in the Hellenistic world, the Church used terminology and methodology that could be understood by Hellenistic society; existing within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, the Church expressed its theology through political and legal imagery and allegories; having faced Soviet persecution, the Church was forced to look for ways to survive; and living in a modern materialistic society, the Church enters into a polemic with it, exposing its spiritual bankruptcy.

On the other hand, the Church consists not only of our heavenly patrons, but also of us, quite earthly people, who are influenced by our upbringing, ideology, propaganda, various fads, fallacies, and trendy philosophies. We not only take something from the Church, but also bring something to the Church, into its life and worldview. This is not always bad. Imagine that when you were three years old you were told that your life experience was complete, that from that point on you must learn only from examples found in the lives of previous generations, and that your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences must be either treated with suspicion or rejected altogether. As absurd as this sounds when applied to a person, it would be equally absurd to apply such as standard to the Church, as if preserving it somewhere in the fourth or fifth century, like a jar of pickles.

However, we must remember that our personal feelings cannot always be a measure of all things, and that it makes sense to reinvent a wheel only after we have familiarized ourselves with already existing models, but not sooner. I think it was Fr. Deacon (now Protodeacon) Andrei Kuraev who once offered the following example. We would never think of telling a neurosurgeon how to operate on a human brain or a pilot of a jetliner which button to push. Why then do we not think twice before doubting the wisdom of those who have been leading the Church on the path of sanctity for the last two millennia?

It is easy to understand that some of the charges brought up against the Church stem from a misunderstanding of the goals that Christ has set for his Bride. For example, establishing gender equality is not the purpose of the Church. This does not at all mean that the Church cannot occupy a certain position with respect to discrimination, inequality, or slavery. However, rooting out earthly slavery is not a direct task of the Church, which is charged with proclaiming Christ’s victory over the slavery of sin; and both men and women, slave and free (Gal. 3:28), white and black can equally partake of this victory.

The Church has always perfectly and consistently preached the Good News that it received from the Lord Himself: “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). But this does not mean that every member of the Church—even from among the hierarchy—has always followed the spirit and letter of the Gospel. Our close ties with the earthly all too often reveal themselves in our relationship with the heavenly. Desiring earthly goods for ourselves, we imagine that Christ is an earthly king, forgetting that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Striving for earthly authority, we turn Christ into some kind of a tyrant, forgetting that He came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45). Finally, trying to trample down a wife who “raised her voice” (Luke 11:27), we like to cite the words “let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph. 5:33), and shy away from “husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (25). It is not the fault of the Church if we prefer such perverted “theology,” rather, it is the fault of our sinful nature. Certainly, there are such treatises written by the clergy as “Domostroi,” but they do not reflect the Christian view on the roles of men and women as much as they comment on the contemporary situation of the society. By the way, the author of “Domostroi” consciously tried to soften contemporary morals by pointing out to the barbarians the principles of Christian love. In other words, such treatises present more of a socio-historical interest than serve as a standard of Christian relations between a husband and a wife.

But the most striking is not the fact that a seal of our sinfulness can be found on various works by the clergy, but that even the Sacred Scripture must allow for our hard-heartedness. A surprising example of this can be found in the dialogue between Christ and Pharisees: “Why then did Moses command…—For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you… but from the beginning it was not so… And I say to you…” (Matt. 19:7-9). Thus, we must be very careful when citing the Scripture, and not look at the divine revelation through the prism of our hard-heartedness, but through the loving eyes of the Source of this revelation.

Women in the Church

Orthodoxy does not have a gender problem, as there is no question about the role of women in the Church. Such problems and questions are brought into the Church from society and family by people who live in the society and family. Bickering with his wife, for example, a man may throw at her a citation from an epistle of the Apostle Paul, an act that will surely be reflected on both his and her Christian self-awareness. Having watched feminist warnings of discrimination on television, a person may consciously or unconsciously bring them into the Church and begin to compare the life of the Church—at least as he or she sees it—with humanist and feminist principles. Additionally, the problem can be worsened by some clergy who—some jokingly, some not—cite from the Fathers something like: “Stay away from women and bishops,” forgetting to disclose that this advice was given by a particular elder to a particular novice and does not represent the worldview of the Church.

Of course, we may wonder whether there is such a thing as scholastic or abstract Orthodoxy. Most likely, we will be compelled to say that such Orthodoxy does not exist, just as a scholastically-abstract unhypostasized human cannot exist. As my painfully-famous compatriot Vladimir Lenin once wrote: “There is no abstract truth; truth is always concrete.” [1] This, however, does not mean that we cannot examine the foundational principles of the Orthodox faith which are true always, everywhere and for everyone. And it is in the principles of the Orthodox faith that we do not find a gender problem. Unlike some other faiths such as Hinduism[2] or certain Islamic sects,[3] Orthodoxy teaches absolute equality of people in their relationship to God, salvation, and eternal life, regardless of their gender, nationality, social status, etc.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). This, of course, does not mean that Paul no longer considered himself a Jew, a freeman, and a male, but rather some sort of transnational, genderless, and undefined creature. Quite the opposite—the Apostle understood and accepted the reality of this earthly life. But the life of a Christian, just as the life of Christ Himself, is the union of that which cannot be united: the earthly and the heavenly, the temporal and the eternal, the dust and the breath of life (Gen. 2:7)—a union, not a rejection of one in favor of the other. The purpose of Christian life as Orthodoxy sees it is theosis, that is to say, the theosis of our entire being: “…enter Thou into my members, into all my joints, my reins, my heart” (from Prayers of Thanksgiving following the Holy Communion, Prayer 3). Christ came to make the whole man well (see John 7:23)—not to kill the body and free the soul, as if from a cage. And the resurrection is not a resurrection of souls only, but also of bodies. Finally, it is our temporal earthly life that determines the trajectory that leads into eternity; and it was Christ’s earthly life—with His incarnation, service, crucifixion, and resurrection—that brought salvation to the world.

This is why we can find two elements: the heavenly and the earthly in the way that the Church relates to each person. The heavenly angelic element is manifest in the fact that in a church all stand equally before God, all equally participate in the service of the Divine Liturgy, prayer rules are the same for everyone, all equally partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, the fasts are the same for all, and in all matters of salvation and theosis Orthodoxy does not know any differences between men and women.

However, the earthly element is also present in the Church. For example, the Church sanctifies marriages only between a man and a woman, thus acknowledging this essential distinction among people. Note that Christian marriage is not a toll to be paid to our sinful nature or some unnatural encroachment of the socio-biological element on the life of the Church, but quite the opposite—the restoration and sanctification by the Church of the institution established by the Creator before the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:22).

Therefore, insisting on the equality of people, the Church also insists on their uniqueness. Remembering that every person in an hypostasized nature, the unity of nature and the uniqueness of hypostases can be shown on the example of the Holy Trinity. Each Person of the Trinity possesses one and the same divine nature, but is different and unique in His hypostasis: the Father gives birth, the Son is born, the Spirit proceeds; the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. The hierarchy within the Trinity is established through the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity, that is to say, through love, rather than through some supremacy of the nature of the hypostasis of the Father over nature or the hypostases of the Son and the Spirit. Examine, for example, St. Andrei Rublev’s icon “The Trinity”: while the Father is depicted at the head of the table,[4] all three Persons of the Holy Trinity take part in the pre-eternal council, and it is the Son Who is making the decision.

In the same way, in the way the Church relates to men and women we may sometimes observe a certain “primacy of honor” of men, while maintaining the absolute equality of male and female hypostases and the unity of nature. However, more honorable than not only men but even the cherubim is a woman—the Most Holy Theotokos, whom Orthodoxy, unlike Roman Catholicism, considers to be like us in every way and in everything, except personal sin. Sometimes, this “primacy of honor” of men is cited as the reason for the impossibility of female priesthood in the Orthodox Church. But it would be incorrect to think that only men can be priests in the Church.

The fact is that according to the Apostle Peter, priesthood belongs to all Christians without exception: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” (1 Peter 2:9) That is to say, a priest standing at the Holy Table does not possess and cannot possess anything that the whole Church does not already possess. Outside of the Church there cannot be priesthood, because priesthood is the inherent quality of God’s people. This quality or, more correctly, this grace is as if guided toward and focused upon the person of a bishop and through him a priest, but it is not a unique quality of just these persons, but rather of Christ and His Body—the Church.

Priesthood is possessed by the Church as the Body of the High Priest Christ. In some ways it can be said that priesthood is the relationship between Christ and His Church. Let us recall what it is that a priest does—he offers and accepts a sacrifice: “Sacrifice, master.—Sacrificed is the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world…”[5] But Christ’s sacrifice is offered for all of us, and all Christians accept it and in turn give themselves to Christ, offer themselves as a sacrifice to their God. Apostle Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20) Thus, priesthood is not something inaccessible to women, but rather it is their inherent Christian calling. The Liturgy (Gr.—“common work”) is the service of the whole Church, and a priest by himself cannot serve the Liturgy.[6] Unlike in a synagogue, where a quorum of ten men is necessary for a public service,[7] in Christianity it is two or three gathered in Christ’s name—regardless of the worshipers’ gender.

As far as the priest’s stole is concerned, we do not know why Christ chose to be incarnate in a male body, but it was so, and all of the apostles were men, and from the first days of the Christian Church the obedience of priesthood has been given only to men, and even then only to some of them. This did not happen due to some socio-historical reasons—Christians broke quite a few of the ancient social norms; nor was it because the ancient world did not have women-priestesses—for it certainly had plenty. Apparently, it was pleasing to the Holy Spirit and the apostles that the institute of male priesthood be established in the Church. I must admit that in addition to that which has been said, I do not have a more definite answer to the question “why?” But some theological opinions exist which may be interesting.

Since a detailed theological treatment of the mystery of creation is not the topic of this paper, I shall point out only a few broad themes. Perhaps some may find it novel, but the first divinely ordained order of relationships between men and women can be referred to as “matriarchate”: “…a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife…” (Gen. 2:24) Noting that the first man did not have a mother and father but only his Creator-God, we may understand these words as establishing a social order for future generations. In other words, if John Smith and Mary Jones decide to become “one flesh” (ibid.), then John must leave his family (mother and father) and cleave to that of his wife, that is to say, he must become John Jones. Nonetheless, the dynamic of the relationship between a man and a woman was not supposed to include elements of lordship or primacy.

In reality, things turned out to be different. Eve not only disobeyed God’s commandment and not only made a unilateral decision to become “like God” (Gen. 3:5), but then she fed[8] Adam after she had eaten, thus establishing her primacy over him.

Considering the punishment that followed after the fall, we must remember that God is not a vengeful torturer Who remembers wrongs, but rather a loving and merciful Physician Who willed to be tortured and crucified for our healing and salvation. Therefore, God’s punishment must be understood not as deserved torture, but rather as medicine. And by the type of prescribed medicine we can sometimes guess at the nature of the illness. “To the woman [God] said, ‘…your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you’” (Gen. 3:16). Perhaps, in the very sin that plagued Eve there was an element which is cured through obedience to her husband. And maybe this is why the Church has traditionally placed the burden of priesthood upon men and not women. Certainly, there can be other interpretations of these verses in the Scripture.

However, it must be repeated that no interpretation of Scripture changes the fact that the role of women in the Church is the same as the role of men—theosis. Why then are only men allowed in the altar? This is also not true. Actually, only clergy are allowed in the altar. The sixty-ninth canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council forbids all laity—men or women—from entering the altar. The modern custom of letting non-clergy boys serve in the altar speaks of the lack of clergy, rather than of some privileged treatment of boys. Girls can also serve as acolytes in the altar until they turn twelve, in other words, until they enter the age of sexual maturity and menstrual bleeding that is associated with it. In the same way older women can receive a blessing to enter the altar. Although these practices are rare in most parishes, they do exist.

Finally, the last topic that should be discussed is the role of women in the family. The Apostle Paul likens the sacrament of marriage to the sacrament of Christ and His Church. Thus, examining the Orthodox understanding of marriage may help us to better understand the role of women in the Church.

Women in the Family

The most common opinion about the relationship between men and women is based—and for a good reason—on the texts from the Scripture read aloud during the wedding service. As was mentioned earlier, a one-sided understanding of the verse about wives being subject to their husbands (Eph. 5:22) often draws applause from the male crowd, but let us try to examine the true meaning of what the Apostle writes. Might it be that the Apostle Paul is more spiritual than we are, and that our comprehension of the mystery of Christ and His Church is no more insightful than that of the ancient Jews who wagged their heads unable to comprehend the mystery of our salvation (Matt. 27: 39:43)? Writing about women’s subjugation to their husbands, the Apostle Paul bases this principle on the parallel of the husband being the head of his wife in the same way that Christ is the head of His Church (Eph. 5:23). But what kind of headship is this? Is it the same as we observe among some “zealots” for piety? Let us refer to the relevant verses from the Scripture.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder…” (Isa. 9:6) What is “the government upon shoulders”? Is it some kind of epaulettes or shoulder boards—the usual symbols of government? Not quite. He was “bearing his own cross” (John 19:17), “He bore the sin of many” (Isa. 53:12). Is this the image of a general in epaulettes?—“He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isa. 53:2, 3).

A secular leader acts on the following principle: “Come to me, all ye to whom I have not yet ordered anything, and I will give you duties.” Christ says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Who is the greatest in a secular kingdom?—He whose hat is the tallest and servants are many. But when Christ was asked who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, “calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them…” (Matt. 18:1, 2).

“And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:35).

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

Verses such as these are plentiful; all of them point to a very important quality of Christ’s headship—it is quite different from that of secular rulers and leaders. That is why the headship of a husband can have secular or heavenly qualities. These qualities are not mutually exclusive and can coexist in the same relationship. But without Christ’s kenosis, without His “emptying” Himself, there cannot be a Christian marriage, and all that is left is a socio-financial relationship.

Of course, the bearing of one’s cross does not apply to men only, as it does not apply to Christ only. The way of the Church and the way of each one of the spouses in a Christian marriage lies through self-denial: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Let us see how the Apostle Paul treats the issue of headship in a marital relationship: “Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement” (1 Cor. 7:5). That is to say, not by “the will of man” (John 1:13), or by the will of “the contentious and fretful woman” (Prov. 21:19), but “by agreement” (εκ συμφωνου).

Although we call ourselves slaves and servants of Christ, He calls us His friends (John 15:15) and lays down His life for us (13). This means that our slavery is not that of a captive who is bound by violence, but that of a loving heart which is captured by Christ’s love. In other words, the obedience of a wife who biblically refers to her husband as “lord” must be the free obedience of love. This may seem like an unattainable ideal, but was it not to us that Christ said: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)?


The role of women in the Church is the same as the role of every Christian regardless of gender, nationality, social status, health, etc.—collaboration with Christ in the task of our salvation (1 Cor. 3:9). According to her individual gifts, a woman can choose to serve the Church as an administrator, a theologian, an iconographer, or a choir director, pursue sanctity on a monastic path, or as a mother—but all these are merely outward expressions of some of the aspects of Christian life. The most important is “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). This is because the Body of Christ does not consist of administrators, theologians, or iconographers, not even of clergy, but of Christians. And the role of each Christian—man or woman—according to Saint Seraphim of Sarov, is the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.”

A passenger’s experience in a plane about to crash!

This is a true account of events as described by a passenger aboard a plane, returning from the Holy Land on the 29th August 2003

We had a magnificent time. The previous day we had celebrated the Assumption of our Lady, at her Church were her resting place is, since this feast is celebrated in Jerusalem on the 28th August, that is, 13 days later than the date celebrated in Greece. We lived through a unique experience. Late in the afternoon we packed our bags and took part in the all night vigil at the Holy Sepulcher. Soon afterwards we boarded the bus which was waiting for us just outside the old city. The weather was good and the sky clear and starlit … When we eventually boarded the plane- if I remember correctly it was a twin engine Airbus- I noticed that its lights were twinkling all the time… I thought that some wire was not making contact properly and I sat deeply into my seat. .. When we took off the problem was less noticeable. I was sitting with my mother on the left side of the aircraft, in front of the wing….
Twenty minutes later we heard a loud noise and the aircraft started trembling and leaning on one side and then the other…The pilot told us in Hebrew and then in English to remain seated and fasten our seats. The stewardesses did the same. In the beginning we did not pay much attention to this, until I turned and saw one of the engines on fire. Pieces of burning metal were strewn in the air. After a reassuring preamble I showed it to my mother and my other friends. We tensed somewhat, but we didn’t show our concern. As I have learnt afterwards, some of us started praying with Jesus prayer.
A few minutes later the pilot confirmed that we had lost the left engine and that he was going to try to land at Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens, using the other engine…
Less than twenty minutes later we heard a similar, less loud noise and felt the same strong vibrations, mixed with turbulence. Some people, sitting on the right hand side shouted: “the engine is on fire”!
The atmosphere in the plane which up to then was mostly calm changed into panic. The aircraft was losing altitude quickly. I remembered that the noise which I was hearing, like a whistle, resembled the whistle bombs were making when falling. The stewardesses, which had started offering refreshments, secured the trolleys and run to their seats, fastened their seatbelts and put their heads on their knees.
Several people with heart problems and some elderly were taking pills two at a time. Spouses were publicly confessing when and where they had committed adultery and were asking for forgiveness. Grandfathers and grandmothers were asking for forgiveness from their grandchildren because they had not included them in their will, and grandchildren were apologizing for past inappropriate behavior. They were all receiving forgiveness. Friends were revealing that they had lied and calumniated against each other….
The plane started leaning on one side and we realized that the pilot was trying to turn back to either Tel Aviv, or Cyprus…
One priest stood up and said: “Do not be frightened, my brothers, let us pray. God will not abandon us”. The other priests put on their petrachili and started reading prayers, some others were reciting the Jesus prayer and the rest divided themselves into two groups and started reading the Prayers to our Lady ( Paraklisi tis Panayias) and the Salutations to our Lady (Xairetismoi) on the left and the right hand side of the cabin. We placed our hopes in our Lord and felt a lot better.
Non Christian passengers, a lot more scared than us, thought we had been singing and believed we had gone crazy.
This soothing attitude was suddenly broken by the voice of the captain: “As you have already realized we have lost the second engine a while ago, we have emptied our fuel tanks, and we will try to return to Ben Gurion airport but…” He suddenly stopped. We froze…. It is one thing to imagine something awful is about to happen and another thing to have it officially confirmed! After the initial uncomfortable moments we continued our prayers from where we had left off…. I was surprised that people, who seemed not to believe, had started praying feverishly…
I started to behave rationally, to the point of being accused of insensitivity. Hoping to console those who had been crying, I explained calmly: “We will all die one day. This cannot be changed. What is important therefore? How many years we will live and how we will live them. We all want to live for many years, but if God has decided otherwise, this cannot be changed. Besides, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves and we have not done it. Therefore, let’s take it for granted that today we will be called to account for our lives. What is therefore, left for us to do? …To honestly pray and ask sincerely for the forgiveness of our sins. But we must also place our hope in God. Why? Because, His infinite love for us, would not permit something to happen to the detriment of our souls. That means that if He decides to take our souls today, He will take us at the best moment of our lives. Most of us have confessed and took Holy Communion yesterday; therefore, we are ready as much as we will ever be. Think about what would have happened had we not been ready? Those of us who visited the Holy land did not do it as tourists but as worshipers. Do you think the Lord and our Lady, for whom we had made this trip, will abandon us?
Turbulence was continuing again quite strongly. We were flying low; I could distinguish the islands and the far away terrain. Then suddenly, the same priest who had pressed us to pray got up and said in a loud voice, full of conviction and with tears in his eyes:
“My children, please believe me. I can see our Lady, huge, standing in front of us, holding the plane by the belly!!!. We will be saved! We will be saved! And weeping he said: “Let us pray to thank her!”
Then all the passengers took heart and started chanting the Paraklisi, louder and happier this time. Even the stewardesses realized that something good was happening and they were consoled, looking amazed at us.
Soon, we could see clearly the buildings in Tel Aviv, since we had already been flying very low….The runaway was covered in white foam and many ambulances were already standing by. No other plane was in sight. They had obviously given us priority to land. We seemed to descend very quickly compared with other times ..
When the plane touched down it miraculously stopped after 50 meters, without anyone of us moving from his place even by a centimeter….( Even in a car, when one breaks suddenly, the passengers move forward) Nothing like this happened. The plane did not stop according to the law of physics but as if it was placed softly on the ground!
We all started praising the Lord and our Lady… Only the stewardesses had began having panic attacks….
After a while we got off the plane, accompanied by police, doctors and nurses and went to the waiting rooms. We had been offered refreshments and the officers were trying to comfort some people. Our mouths were dry, but none of us cared! We were alive, thanks to our Lord’s providence and we were feeling very thankful for this…

In the days that followed, I continued to be thankful. I was seeing everything as God’s creation; I would love it and admire it. I had stopped being angry and immerse myself in superficial things. I was trying to respond to God’s love by behaving with leniency, without judgment and helping others, as much as I could.
Unfortunately a week later, I returned to my daily routine. I am embarrassed to say but I could not preserve inside me the same unique feelings of serenity, prayer, love, gratitude….
(I have decided to write about this true experience at the instigation of a dear friend, as a show of gratitude to our Lord, and as an effort to spiritually support my brothers who maybe wavering. Please forgive the personal note of the account. I merely wished to describe my feelings and the events exactly as we had lived through them. Thank you for your understanding.)


Monastic Grades

When one desiring the monastic life enters a monastery, he normally passes through three steps or stages: 1) Probationer (Novice including Riasaphor), 2) Monk of the Lesser Schema (Cross-bearer or Stavrophore), and 3) Monk of the Great Schema (Russian Skhimnik). The Probationer who enters a monastery desires to do so in order to acquit himself worthily in the angelic state, so called because Monks renounce all wordly things, do not marry, do not acquire and hold property, and live as do the Angels in Heaven, glorifying God night and day and striving to do His Will in all things.

Read more…

The first act of anyone who desires to perform any strenuous task is that of preparation. If, for example, one is an athlete, he would train and condition himself physically and mentally, so as to better perform in the chosen event. If one wishes to be a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman or whatever, he first prepares himself with the proper education, apprenticeship training under the skilled guidance of one more experienced, and so on. A soldier first spends time in Boot Camp, being trained physically and mentally to be a good soldier. And so, in like manner, he who wishes to be a Monk must prepare himself for the task at hand, thus entering as a Probationer (or Novice).

For a period of at least three years, the Novice must train himself under the guidance of one skilled in the monastic life and the direction of souls, by immersing himself in the life of the Monastery, struggling to perform the obediences given to him and preparing himself physically (through his labors, fasting, vigils, etc.) and spiritually (through his rule of prayer and obedience to an elder), for the monastic life. This three-year period of preparation has existed from the earliest times, for, in the Life of St. Pachomius, the founder of the Common Life, we learn that he was commanded by an angel: Do not admit anyone to the performance of higher feats until three years have passed…. Let him enter this domain only when he has accomplished some hard work.

Traditionally, a Novice, after spending a short time in lay clothing, is vested in part of the monastic habit, that is, the Inner Riasa and the Skouphos (or monastic cap). The Inner Riasa is simply a narrow-sleeved robe reaching to the ankles (Podriznik in Russian) and the Skouphos is a cup-shaped cap common to all Orthodox clerics and monastics. These garments are always black in color (as are all the monastic garments), signifying penitence and deadness to the ways of the world.


After one has been a Novice for a while, he could take the next step, which is that of Riasaphor Monk, who, it must be noted, is still considered to be a Novice, but in a special sense. He does not make solemn vows, as do the Monks of the Lesser and Greater Schemas, but he is still considered to be, although imperfect, a true Monk. He cannot marry, he cannot leave the Monastery without censure, and if he were to leave and marry, he would be subject to excommunication. Nonetheless, he is still a Novice.

The Order of the Riasa is usually performed after one of the canonical Hours. Standing before the Abbot, the candidate is tonsured (hair cut in a cross-wise form) in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, signifying that he casts from himself all idle thoughts and acts, and takes upon himself the yoke of the Lord. The Abbot then vests him with the Outer Riasa (a wide-sleeved outer robe) and Kamilavka (a flat-topped hat).

In ancient times the Riasa was worn on days of mourning and it signifies to the Novice that he must grieve for his sins. The Kamilavka (cap protecting from the heat) signifies to the Novice that he must tame the heat of the passions. Henceforth the Novice is called Riasaphor (Wearer of the Robe), but, as noted, no vows have been made. [In our times, the Riasaphor Monk is also allowed the monastic veil with the Kamilavka, as is worn by the Monks of the Lesser and Greater Schemas.]

He who has attained the dignity of Riasaphor is under no obligation to advance further in the monastic grades, and many do not of their own choice, but neither is the Novice obligated to advance to the dignity of Riasaphor prior to making solemn vows and attaining to the next step in monasticism, which is that of the Lesser Schema (habit, dignity, or aspect).

Order of the Lesser Schema.

Originally in monasticism there were only two grades: Probationer and Monk of the Angelic Habit (or Great Schema). Thus we can say that for every Monk the most desired feat of the soul the feat of attaining perfection is the taking of the Great Schema. Since ancient times Monks have spoken of the Great Schema as the culmination of Monkhood, wherein the Monk loves God with a perfect love in accordance with the Gospel command, with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt. 22:37). In time the Lesser Schema became a kind a preparatory step to the Great Schema. The Common Life (that of a Monk of the Lesser Schema) came to be known as betrothal, and Seclusion (the life of a Monk of the Great Schema) within a Monastery as actual matrimony.

The Tonsure.

The main feature of the Order of the Lesser Schema is the Tonsure and the making of solemn vows. The Monastic Tonsure (or Profession) can be seen as the mystical marriage of the soul with the Heavenly Bridegroom, but it also can be seen as a second Baptism, inasmuch as the very ceremony parallels the actual Baptism ceremony. The candidate for the Monastic Tonsure comes as a penitent, as though to Baptism. [In the original Greek of the rite, the candidate is referred to as a catechumen, and he fulfils, in a sense, a catechumenate prior to the Monastic Tonsure in his three-year probation.]

The candidate stands unclothed in the Narthex of the church as though about to be baptized by immersion, signifying that the Old Man is being put off and the New Man put on. Vows are made, as at Baptism, similar to the Baptismal vows of renunciation, faith and obedience to the end of life, and these are given in response to specific questions, as at Baptism. A new name is given, as at Baptism, and the hair is shorn in the tonsure, just as at Baptism. The new monastic is given a cross, just as a cross is placed around the neck of the newly-baptized, and he is also given a lighted candle to hold, just as is the newly-baptized.

Thus, it is obvious that the resemblance of the Monastic Tonsure to Baptism is not accidental; indeed, in the instructions given to the monastic Catechumen in the Order of the Great Schema (with parallels in the Order of the Lesser Schema), the following words are said: A second Baptism you are receiving…and you shall be cleansed from your sins.

We can also see in the Monastic Tonsure the mystical re-enactment of the return of the Prodigal Son to his father’s house, for, at first, he stands at a distance from his father’s house (in the Narthex the entrance to the Sanctuary) as a penitent, having abandoned the world after drinking the cup of its deceitful delights. He is seen from afar (as the Prodigal was by his father), for the Monks come to greet him and escort him to the gates of the Altar where his father (the Abbot) awaits him.

In the Order of the Lesser Schema, as noted above, the Novice stands unclothed and unshod in the Narthex, wearing only a sort of shirt (in ancient times a hair shirt), waiting, as a penitent, to be conducted into his father’s house.’ As he is conducted to the Abbot, the Novice performs three prostrations on the way, and then stops before the Holy Doors where the Abbot is waiting. Before him stands a lectern upon which are laid a Cross and a Testament.

The Abbot then asks him what he seeks in coming here. The reply is given, I seek a life of mortification. The Abbot then questions him further as to whether he aspires to the angelic estate, whether he gives himself to God of his own will, whether he intends to abide in the Monastery and lead a life of mortification until his last breath, whether he intends to keep himself in virginity, chastity, and piety, whether he will remain obedient to the Superior and to the brethren even unto death, and whether he will endure willingly the restraints and hardships of the monastic life. When he has answered all these questions, Yes, Reverend Father, with the help of God, the Abbot then exhorts him as to the nature of the monastic life and the Novice pledges himself to keep his vows, which were included in the Order of Monastic Profession by St. Basil the Great.

Then, in order to test his willingness, the Abbot hands the scissors, with which the Tonsure is to be effected, three times to the Novice, asking him each time to take these scissors and give them to me. Each time the Novice takes the scissors and hands them back to the Abbot, kissing his hand. Then the Abbot tonsures the Novice’s head in the form of a cross, saying, Our brother N. is tonsured by the cutting of the hairs of his head in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and in doing so changes the Novice’s name for another, in token of complete renunciation of the world and perfect self-consecration to God. Indeed, the first act of obedience of the new Monk is his acceptance of the new name given him.

The Monastic Habit.

At the completion of the Tonsure itself, the new Monk is now vested in the Monastic Habit. He is given to wear a square of cloth, called the Paraman (something added to the mantiya) upon which are represented the Cross of Christ with the lance, reed and sponge, and the inscription, I bear on my body the wounds of the Lord. This is fastened about the shoulders and waist by means of strings or cords sewn to the corners, and serves to remind the new Monk that he has taken on himself the yoke of Christ and must control his passions and desires. At the same time a Cross is hung on his neck (often fastened to the same cords with which the Paraman is bound), signifying that he is to follow Christ.

Then the Monk is given the Inner Riasa, which is the same as that worn by Probationers. A leather belt, made of the skin of a dead animal signifying deadness to the world is fastened about his loins. This girding of the loins also signifies bodily mortification and readiness for the service of Christ and His return (Luke 12:35-37).

Next, the Monk is given the Mantiya (mantle or cloak), a long, sleeveless robe, also called the robe of incorruption and purity, the absence of sleeves signifying the restraining of worldly pursuits. Upon his head the Monk is given the Kamilavka with veil (called, in Russian, klobuk), or the helmet of salvation. The veil signifies that the Monk must veil his fact from temptation and guard his eyes and ears against all vanity. The wings of the veil date from the time of St. Methodius ( 846), Patriarch of Constantinople, who was wounded in the face during the reign of the iconoclast Emperor Theophilus. In order to conceal his wounds, the Saint wore wings with his veil and fastened them about his lower face. And so, the wings of the veil have been in use since that time in memory of the sufferings of the Saint. Finally the Monk is given sandals for his feet.

After the vesting, the Monk is given a Prayer Rope (chotki in Russian) with many knots, to count prayers and prostrations by. This Prayer Rope is the Monk’s spiritual sword, helping him to conquer absent-mindedness while at prayer and to drive away evil thoughts from his soul. Then he is given a hand cross as the shield of faith, with which to put out the flaming darts of the Evil One. Finally, he is given a lighted candle, signifying that he must strive, by purity of life, by good deeds, and good demeanor to be a Light to the World.

At the conclusion of this, the Great Litany is recited by the Deacon with the addition of special petitions on behalf of the new Monk. The hymn, As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, is sung as at the Baptism, and then Epistle and Gospel readings, reminding the new Monk that he must wage war against the enemies of salvation and how love of God must be greater than love of parents, etc. At the conclusion of the Rite, the Kiss of Peace is exchanged by the new Monk and the other brethren of the Monastery.

Order of the Great Schema.

As noted earlier, the ultimate goal of a Monk is the Order of the Great Schema (or Angelic Habit). One who aspired to that dignity usually struggled for many years in the monastic life and often it was not conferred until the end of a Monk’s life. Those who reached that state usually spent the rest of their lives in complete seclusion and silence within the Monastery or a specially-prepared Skete or Hermitage, where laymen could not enter even to pray.

It should be noted, however, that not all the fathers and ascetics of the Church divided monasticism into Greater and Lesser Schema. For example, St. Theodore of Studium ( 826) disagreed with this practice, since he considered that as there was only one Sacrament of Baptism, likewise there should be only one form of monasticism. The practice, however, became widespread, although, in Athonite Greek monasteries, for example, the practice of St. Theodore is generally adhered to.

The Order of the Great Schema differs from that of the Lesser Schema in the following particulars: 1) the monastic vestments are laid on the Holy Table the night before, signifying that the candidate receives them from the Lord Himself; 2) the name of the Monk is again changed; 3) instead of the Paraman, the Monk of the Great Schema receives a garment called the Analavos (to take up in Russian Analav), or the mystical Cross which the Monk is to take up daily in imitation of Christ. This is worn around the neck and reaches to the ankles at the end. Upon it is depicted the Cross of Christ, together with the spear, reed and sponge, as well as the skull and crossbones. Like the Paraman, the Analav is made from the skin of a dead animal and for the same reason; 4) instead of a Kamilavka with veil, the Monk of the Great Schema is given a pointed hat and veil called Koukoulion or Cowl (often called a Cowl of Guilelessness), upon which are depicted five crosses one on the forehead, one on the back between the shoulders, one on the back further down, and one each on the ends of the wings of the veil.


In conclusion, we must make note that in Orthodoxy monasticism embraces both men and women. The general rules for the organization of monastic life, the Monastic Grades, Tonsure, Habit, etc., are the same for all monastics, and the goals and aspirations of monastic life likewise are the same for both men and women. Customarily, female monastics are styled Nuns and their monasteries Convents, and as the Monks are addressed as Brother or Father, so too, the Nuns are addressed as Sister or Mother. The Superior of a Convent is entitled Abbess (Igumena in Russian; in Greek Hegumenissa). Nonetheless, although sequestered in separate monasteries, each isolated from the opposite sex, all Orthodox monastics, Monks and Nuns alike, are united in a common quest for the Angelic State.

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459. To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Akathist to the Mother of God

Having secretly received the command, the Archangel hastened into Joseph’s abode and spoke to the Holy Virgin. He Who bowed the Heavens with His descending, is wholly contained, yet unchanged in You. And seeing Him taking the likeness of a servant in your womb, I stand in amazement and cry unto you:
Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride [3 times].
Kontakion 1
Unto you, O Theotokos, invincible Champion, your City [or "we your people"], in thanksgiving ascribes the victory for the deliverance from sufferings. And having your might unassailable, free us from all dangers, so that we may cry unto you:
Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Eikos 1
The Archangel was sent from Heaven to cry ‘Rejoice!’ to the Theotokos. And beholding You, O Lord, taking bodily form, he stood in awe, and with his bodiless voice he cried aloud to her such things as these:
Rejoice, you through whom joy shall shine forth. Rejoice, you through whom the curse will vanish.

Rejoice, the Restoration of fallen Adam. Rejoice, the Redemption of the tears of Eve.
Rejoice, O Height beyond human logic. Rejoice, O depth invisible even to the eyes of Angels.
Rejoice, for you are the King’s throne. Rejoice, you bear Him, Who bears the universe.
Rejoice, O Star revealing the Sun. Rejoice, O Womb of divine Incarnation.
Rejoice, you through whom creation is renewed. Rejoice, you through whom the Creator is born a Babe.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Kontakion 2
Beholding herself in purity, the holy one courageously said to Gabriel: Your strange voice seems almost unbelievable to my soul; for how do you speak of birth-giving without seed? And she cried aloud:
Eikos 2
Seeking to know the incomprehensible knowledge, the Virgin cried to him who ministered to her: How may a Son be born from a virginal womb? Tell me! To her he answered in fear, yet crying thus:
Rejoice, O seer of the ineffable Will. Rejoice, O surety of those praying in silence.
Rejoice, you the Preface of Christ’s miracles. Rejoice, you the Pinnacle of His commandments.
Rejoice, O heavenly Ladder, by which God descended. Rejoice, O Bridge leading those from earth to Heaven.
Rejoice, O Miracle, much marveled of Angels. Rejoice, O trauma, much dirged of demons.
Rejoice, you who ineffably gave birth to the Light. Rejoice, you who revealed the mystery to none.
Rejoice, O knowledge superseding the wise. Rejoice, You who enlighten the minds of the faithful.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride
Kontakion 3
The power of the Most High then overshadowed the Virgin, that she might conceive; and her fruitful womb He made a fertile meadow for all those desiring to reap salvation, as they chant:
Eikos 3
Carrying God in her womb, the Virgin hastened to Elizabeth, whose unborn babe forthwith recognizing Mary’s salutation rejoiced, and with leaps as it were with songs, he cried out to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O branch of the unwithering Vine. Rejoice, O Land yielding the untainted Fruit.
Rejoice, O Husbandry of the merciful Husbandman. Rejoice, O birthgiver to the Planter of our life.
Rejoice, O Field bearing abundant compassion. Rejoice, O Table laden with an abundance of mercies.
Rejoice, for you make the meadow produce contentment. Rejoice, for you prepare a haven for souls.
Rejoice, acceptable Incense of intercession. Rejoice, Oblation for all the world.
Rejoice, Favour of God to mortals. Rejoice, Access of mortals to God.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Kontakion 4
Having doubtful thoughts, the righteous Joseph was troubled; for he suspected a secret union as he beheld you unwed, O blameless one; but when he learned of your conception through the Holy Spirit, he cried:
Eikos 4
On hearing the Angels praising the incarnate presence of Christ, the shepherds hastened as to a Shepherd, and beholding Him as a spotless Lamb pastured in Mary’s womb, her they hymned and said:
Rejoice, Mother of the Lamb and Shepherd. Rejoice, Fold of the rational sheep.
Rejoice, O Defense against invisible foes. Rejoice, Opener of the gates of Paradise.
Rejoice, for the things of Heaven rejoice with the earth. Rejoice, the things of earth join chorus with the Heavens.
Rejoice, never-silent Voice of the Apostles. Rejoice, never-conquered Courage of the Martyrs.
Rejoice, firm Support of the Faith. Rejoice, shining Token of grace.
Rejoice, you through whom Hades was laid bare. Rejoice, you through whom we are clothed with glory.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Kontakion 5
Beholding the Godward-pointing Star, the Magi followed its radiance; and holding it as a lantern, they sought through it the mighty King. And having approached the Unreachable, they rejoiced and cried to Him:
Eikos 5
The sons of the Chaldees saw in the hands of the Virgin Him Who by His hand fashioned man; and sensing Him as Lord, even though He had taken the form of a servant, they hastened with gifts to do homage, and they cried out to her who is blessed:
Rejoice, Mother of the never-setting Star. Rejoice, Dawn of the mystic Day.
Rejoice, you who have quenched the fiery furnace of error. Rejoice, you who enlighten the initiates of the Trinity.
Rejoice, you who have removed the inhuman tyrant from power. Rejoice, you who have shown Christ, the man-befriending Lord.
Rejoice, you who have redeemed us from the pagan religion. Rejoice, you who have rescued us from the works of mire.
Rejoice, you who ceased the worship of fire. Rejoice, you who saves us from the flames of passions.
Rejoice, Guide of the faithful to chastity. Rejoice, O Delight of all generations.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Kontakion 6
Having become God-bearing heralds, the Magi returned to Babylon. Fulfilling Your prophecy, and having preached You as the Christ to all, they left Herod as a trifler, who knew not how to chant:
Eikos 6
Having shed the light of truth in Egypt, You expelled the darkness of falsehood; and unable to bear Your strength, O Saviour, her idols fell; and they that were set free from them cried to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, Uplifting of men. Rejoice, Downfall of demons.
Rejoice, you who trampled upon the delusion of error. Rejoice, you who censured the deceit of the idols.
Rejoice, Sea which drowned the symbolic Pharaoh. Rejoice, Rock which refreshed those thirsting for life.
Rejoice, Pillar of fire, guiding those in darkness. Rejoice, Protection of the world, more spacious than a cloud.
Rejoice, Nourishment, successor to manna. Rejoice, Minister of holy joy.
Rejoice, Land of promise. Rejoice, you from whom flows milk and honey.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Kontakion 7
When Symeon was prepared to leave from this age of deception, You were presented to him as a newborn Babe, but he recognized You as perfect God. Wherefore, he marveled at Your ineffable wisdom, chanting:
Eikos 7
New was the Creation which the Creator showed to us His creatures when He sprang forth from the seedless womb; and He preserved it incorrupt, even as it was, that we, seeing this Miracle, may praise her and say:
Rejoice, Flower of incorruption. Rejoice, Crown of self-restraint.
Rejoice, O shining Token of Resurrection. Rejoice, you whom reflects the life of the Angels.
Rejoice, Tree of delectable Fruit that nourishes the faithful. Rejoice, well-shaded Tree under which many find shelter.
Rejoice you who bears the Guide of those astray. Rejoice, you who gives birth to the Redeemer of captives.
Rejoice, Intercession before the righteous Judge. Rejoice, Forgiveness for many transgressors.
Rejoice, Robe of confidence for those bare of courage. Rejoice, Tenderness conquering all desire.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Kontakion 8
Seeing a strange childbirth, let us estrange ourselves from the world by transporting our minds to Heaven; to this end the Most High God appeared on earth a lowly man, that He might draw to the heights those who cry out to Him:
Eikos 8
The Infinite Word was wholly present with those on earth, yet never absent from those in Heaven; for this was a divine condescension and not a mere change of place; and His birth was from a Virgin chosen of God, who heard such words as these:
Rejoice, Land of the Uncontained God. Rejoice, Gate of the sacred mystery.
Rejoice, doubted Rumor of the faithless. Rejoice, undoubted Pride of the faithful.
Rejoice, all-holy Chariot of Him Who is above the Cherubim. Rejoice, most excellent Dwelling-place of Him Who is above the Seraphim.
Rejoice, you who conducts the opposites of unity. Rejoice, you who has woven maidenhood into motherhood.
Rejoice, you through whom transgression is annulled. Rejoice, you through whom Paradise is open.
Rejoice, Key of the Kingdom of Christ. Rejoice, Hope of eternal blessings.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride
Kontakion 9
All angel-kind was amazed by the great deed of Your Incarnation; for they saw the inaccessible God as Man accessible to all, dwelling among us and hearing from all:
Eikos 9
Orators most eloquent do we behold mute as fish before you, O Theotokos; for they are at loss to explain how you could remain a virgin and yet give birth. But as for us, marveling at this mystery, we cry with faith:
Rejoice, Vessel of the Wisdom of God. Rejoice, Treasury of His providence.
Rejoice, you who prove the philosophers fools. Rejoice, you who prove the logicians illogical.
Rejoice, for the subtle debaters are confounded. Rejoice, for the inventors of myths are faded away.
Rejoice, you who break the webs of the Athenians. Rejoice, you who fill the nets of the Fishermen.
Rejoice, you who draw us from the depths of ignorance. Rejoice, you who enlighten many with knowledge.
Rejoice, Raft for those who desire to be saved. Rejoice, Haven for those who fare on the sea of life.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Kontakion 10
Wishing to save the world, to this end did the Ruler of all come of His own will; and though as God He is the Shepherd, for us He appeared as a Man like us; for by this likeness He called those of like kind, yet as God He hears:
Eikos 10
You are a fortress protecting all virgins, O Theotokos and Virgin; for the Master of heaven and earth prepared you, O Immaculate One, and dwelt in your womb, and taught all to cry out to you:
Rejoice, Pillar of virginity. Rejoice, Gate of salvation.
Rejoice, Leader of spiritual restoration. Rejoice, Bestower of divine goodness.
Rejoice, for you regenerated those conceived in shame. Rejoice, for you gave guidance to the thoughtless.
Rejoice, you who abolished the corrupter of hearts. Rejoice, you who gave birth to the Sower of chastity.
Rejoice, bridal Chamber of a seedless marriage. Rejoice, you who joined the faithful to the Lord.
Rejoice, fair Nursing-mother of virgins. Rejoice, bridal Escort of holy souls.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Kontakion 11
Defeated is every hymn that strives to pay homage to the multitude of Your many compassions; for even should we offer You, O holy King, odes of praise numberless as the sands, we should still have done nothing worthy of what You have given to us who cry to You:
Eikos 11
As a brilliant beacon-light shining to those in darkness do we behold the holy Virgin; for she kindles the celestial Light and leads all to divine knowledge; she illuminates our minds with radiance and is honoured by these our cries:
Rejoice, Ray of the spiritual Sun. Rejoice, Beam of the innermost Splendour.
Rejoice, Lightning, enlightening our souls. Rejoice, Thunder, striking down the enemy.
Rejoice, for you caused the many-starred Light to dawn. Rejoice, for you caused the ever-flowing River to gush forth.
Rejoice, you who depict the image of the Font. Rejoice, you who wash away the stain of sin.
Rejoice, Laver purifying conscience. Rejoice, Wine-bowl over-filled with joy.
Rejoice, sweet-scented Fragrance of Christ. Rejoice, Life of mystic festival.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride
Kontakion 12
Wishing to bestow His grace, He that forgives the ancient debts of all mankind came of His own will to dwell among those who departed from His favour; and tearing up writ of indebtedness, He hears from all:
Eikos 12
Whilst praising your Offspring, we all praise you, O Theotokos, as a living temple; for the Lord, Who holds all things in His hand, dwelt in your womb, and He sanctified and glorified you, and taught all to cry to you:
Rejoice, Tabernacle of God the Word. Rejoice, Holy one, holier than the Holies.
Rejoice, Ark made golden by the Spirit. Rejoice, inexhaustible Treasury of Life.
Rejoice, precious Diadem of godly kings. Rejoice, venerable Boast of faithful priests.
Rejoice, unshakeable Tower of the Church. Rejoice, impregnable fortress of the Kingdom.
Rejoice, you through whom trophies are raised up. Rejoice, you whom enemies are cast down.
Rejoice, Healing of my flesh. Rejoice, Salvation of my soul.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.
Kontakion 13 [3 times]
O all-hymned Mother, worthy of all praise, who brought forth the Word, the Holiest of all Saints, as you receive this our offering, rescue us all from every calamity, and deliver from future torment those who cry with one voice:
Eikos 1 Repeated
The Archangel was sent from Heaven to cry: Rejoice! to the Theotokos. And beholding You, O Lord, taking bodily form, he stood in awe, and with his bodiless voice he cried aloud to her such things as these:
Rejoice, you through whom joy shall shine. Rejoice, you the Redemption of the tears of Eve.
Rejoice, Height hard to climb for human thought. Rejoice, Depth hard to explore even for the eyes of Angels.
Rejoice, for you are the Throne of the King. Rejoice, for you sustained the Sustainer of all.
Rejoice, Star that causes the Sun to appear. Rejoice, Womb of the divine Incarnation.
Rejoice, you through whom creation is renewed. Rejoice, you whom the Creator is born a Babe.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride
Kontakion 1 Repeated
Unto you, O Theotokos, invincible Champion, your City, in thanksgiving ascribes the victory for the deliverance from sufferings. And having your might unassailable, free us from all dangers, so that we may cry unto you:Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.

A mother's letter to her unborn child

I write this letter to my unborn child from the depths of my soul.

You’ve entered my womb and made my life complete and whole.

I never thought I would be chosen for such an awesome task.

It is a greater blessing than what I ever could ask.

I can almost imagine you in my mind.

Beautiful, Happy, Bouncing, flashing a smile so kind.

Feeling you flutter is a sensation like no other.

It does wonders for the joy of this soon-to-be-mother!

You create a glow in me I never knew I would see.

It is true happiness that sets me on cloud nine manifested deep inside of me!

You’re my baby, my child, my heart, and my wonder.

I pray we create a bond that no one can put asunder.

You’re a designers’ original! A creation from the King!

I can hardly wait for you to enter the world and see the joy you bring.

Sweet baby of mine, you’re a magnificent gift from above.

Living proof of how your father and I have shared our love.

I hope you have your fathers’ eyes

Then you will go into the world able to look at all things wise.

I hope you inherit my ability to plan.

With that you will be able to face all things in life as a strong woman or man.

I hope you receive from your father his selfless ways.

For this the Heavenly Father will bless you, as he did him, all of your days.

I hope you learn from me, spirit and let no one take it.

Believe me you will need it in life, and many will try to break it.

But with that spirit you must have your father’s center.

With that you will be cautious of any door you enter.

I want you to have my curiosity.

There’s nothing wrong with questions you may blurt!

But receive your fathers’ discernment,

so you’ll know when to let go before getting hurt.

Have my big heart; know what emotions are and how to be real.

Share your fathers’ strength so you can handle what you feel.

Share my sense of humor! Laugh a lot it helps you through life.

Share your fathers’ sense of duty. Know how to be serious and take strife.

I’m emotional so I tell you its okay to blubber once and a while like your Mom.

But learn to develop what your father has; an excellent sense of calm.

But most of all the things I wish for your father and I to share.

I wish we teach you to love, respect, strength of mind, and to care.

These are my feelings, wishes and hopes for you.

You make my heart and soul sing!

I welcome you to the world and thank you for the joy,

my little queen or king.

Thank you God for this blessing .....

Α Teacher's Prayer

Lord, you who taught, forgive me that I teach; forgive me that I bear the name of teacher, the name you bore on earth.

Grant me such devoted love for my school that not even beauty's flame will detract from my faithful tenderness.

Master, make my fervor long-lasting and my disillusion brief.

Uproot from me this impure desire for justice that still troubles me, the petty protest that rises up within me when I am hurt. Let not the incomprehension of others trouble me, or the forgetfulness of those I have taught sadden me.

Let me be more maternal than a mother; able to love and defend with all of a mother's fervor the child that is not flesh of my flesh.

Grant that I may be successful in molding one of my pupils into a perfect poem, and let me leave within her my deepest-felt melody that she may sing for you when my lips shall sing no more.

Make me strong in my faith that your Gospel is possible in my time, so that I do not renounce the daily battle to make it live.

Let your luminous radiance descend upon my modest school as it did upon the barefoot children who surrounded you.

Make me strong even in my weakness as a woman, and particularly as a poor woman. Make me scorn all power that is not pure, and all duress that is not your flaming will upon my life.

Η Ιστορία της Μονής Παναγίας Δέσποινας (Σεϊνδάγια) Συρίας.

Το Μοναστήρι της Παναγίας Σαϊνδανάγια ή Σεϊντανάγια,χτίστηκε το 547 μ.Χ. από τον ευσεβή Αυτοκράτορα Ιουστινιανό, όταν στρατοπέδευσε στην περιοχή προετοιμαζόμενος να πολεμήσει τους Πέρσες.

Τότε και ενώ οδιψασμένος στρατός μας είχε ξεμείνει από νερό και βρισκόταν σε απελπιστική θέση, ο Θρακιώτης Αυτοκράτοράς μας βλέπει ξαφνικά ένα ελάφι να ανεβαίνει σε ένα ψηλό λόφο και τρέχει να το κυνηγήσει! Σαν έφτασε στην κορυφή, είδε έκπληκτος άφθονο γλυκό, πόσιμο νερό, ενώ στη θέση του ελαφιού φάνηκε μέσα σε λαμπρό φως η Παναγιά και ακούστηκε η φωνή της, που του ζητούσε να χτίσει εκεί επάνω, μια Εκκλησία προς τιμήν της, προς τιμήν της Κυρίας Θεοτόκου!

Και έτσι, ο βασιλιάς μας έδωσε αμέσως εντολή να σχεδιάσουν το Ναό οι αρχιτέκτονες. Όμως ο καιρός περνούσε και εκείνοιδεν μπορούσαν να καταλήξουν στο σχέδιο.

Τότε εμφανίστηκε πάλι η Παναγία, αυτή τη φορά στον ύπνο του Ιουστινιανού και του έδειξε το σχέδιο του Μοναστηριού της, λέγοντας πως εκείνη θα ήταν η προστάτιδά του!

Και βάση εκείνου του σχεδίου χτίστηκε τελικά από τον ευλαβή Ιουστινιανό το καστρομονάστηρο της Παναγιάς στη Σεϊντανάγια της Συρίας!

Η Ορθόδοξη αυτή Μονή της Συρίας είναι γυναικείο Μοναστήρι, που εορτάζει στις 8 Σεπτεμβρίου, κατά το Γενέθλιον της Θεοτόκου! Σεϊντανάγια δε, θα πει “Δέσποινα“!


Η θαυματουργή εικόνα της Παναγιάς – El Chagoura όπως την ονομάζουν οι ντόπιοι, που σημαίνει «η διάσημη» – είναι έργο του Ευαγγελιστού Λουκά και ήρθε εδώ πολλά χρόνια αφότου κατασκευάστηκε η Μονή από τον Ιουστινιανό.

Συγκεκριμένα, προς το τέλος του όγδοου αιώνα, κάποιος Έλληνας μοναχός ονόματι Θεόδωρος, στο ταξίδι του προς τους Αγίους Τόπους, σταμάτησε για ανάπαυση στη Μονή. Φεύγοντας για Ιεροσόλυμα, η σεβαστή Ηγουμένη της Σεϊντανάγια του ζήτησε να αγοράσει από εκεί κάποια συγκεκριμένη πολύτιμη και λεπτή, μικρή εικόνα της Θεοτόκου!

Ο Μοναχός όμως ξέχασε τελείως το ζήτημα και αφού προσκύνησε στους Αγίους Τόπους, ξεκίνησε να γυρίσει πίσω.

Όμως δεν είχε φύγει μακριά, όταναπότομα τον σταμάτησε μια άγνωστη φωνή λέγοντάς του: “Μήπως έχεις ξεχάσει κάτι στην Ιερουσαλήμ; Αυτό που σου ζήτησε η Ηγουμένη;”!

Ο Μοναχός επέστρεψε τότε αμέσως στα Ιεροσόλυμα και βρήκε την όμορφη Εικόνα του Θεοτόκου που του παρήγγειλε η Ηγουμένη του Μοναστηριού και την αγόρασε!

Κατά τη διάρκεια δε του ταξιδιού πίσω στη Μονή, έμεινε κατάπληκτος από τα θαύματα που γινόταν μέσω της Εικόνας! Διότι ενώ τη μια φορά τους επιτέθηκαν αδίστακτοι ληστές και την άλλη άγρια κτήνη, ο Θεόδωρος κράτησε με δέος τη συγκεκριμένη Εικόνα της Παναγίας προσευχόμενος στη Χάρη της και ω του θαύματος, σώθηκαν δυο φορές και αυτός και το υπόλοιπο καραβάνι από τρομερό κίνδυνο!

Επιστρέφοντας λοιπόν στη Μονή και γνωρίζοντας πόσο πολύτιμη και θαυματουργή θεία χάριτι ήταν η συγκεκριμένη Εικόνα της Θεοτόκου, αποφάσισε να παρακάμψει τη Σεϊντνάγια και να τραβήξει με πλοιάριο για την Αίγυπτο!

Σηκώθηκε όμως μια τόσο άγρια θύελλα, που θα βυθιζόταν και αυτός μαζί με το σκάφος, οπότε αμέσως τον έλεγξε η συνείδησή του και αποφάσισε να γυρίσει την Εικόνα στη Σαϊντνάγια.

Έτσι, βγήκε πάλι στην ακτή και έφτασε τελικά στο Μοναστήρι. Έμεινε τέσσερις ημέρες εκεί, αλλά πάλι του ήρθε μια ακατανίκητη επιθυμία – πειρασμός, να κρατήσει για δική του τη θαυματουργή Εικόνα! Έτσι το επόμενο πρωί μαζί με την Εικόνα της Παναγίας Δέσποινας πήγε να φύγει κρυφά, αλλά ω του θαύματος! Ένας αόρατος τοίχος σαν από πολλές πέτρες έφραξε ξαφνικά την πόρτα της Μονής!

Με αστείρευτα τότε δάκρυα, έπεσε και ζήτησε μεταμελημένοςσυγνώμη από την Ηγουμένη, ομολογώντας την πράξη του, αλλά καιδοξάζοντας το Θεό και ευχαριστώντας την Παναγιά, που τόσα μεγάλα θαύματα τον αξίωσε να δει μέχρι τότε!

Από εκείνη την ημέρα, η ιερή Εικόνα έχει παραμείνει στη Μονή, όπου καταφθάνουν χιλιάδες προσκυνητές από όλη την Ανατολή και τη Δύση!

Αναμεσά τους και εκατοντάδες Μουσουλμάνοι, που προστρέχουν σε κάθε ανάγκη στη χάρη της Θεοτόκου και ομολογούν οι ίδιοι και εγγράφως τα αμέτρητα θαύματά της! Και έτσι ξέρουν…


Πολλοί κατά καιρούς καταφέρονται εναντίον του χριστιανισμού και της Εκκλησίας ότι δήθεν δεν έχουν δείξει ή δεν δείχνουν ουσιαστικό ενδιαφέρον για τα παιδιά. Αυτό είναι πέρα για πέρα λάθος γιατί αγνοούν σε βάθος τα πράγματα. Απεναντίας η συμβολή του χριστιανισμού στην εξύψωση και προστασία του παιδιού είναι μοναδική. Και αυτό φαίνεται από τους παρακάτω λόγους:

1. Ο Χριστός γίνεται άνθρωπος- νηπιάζει- και περνάει όλα τα στάδια της ανθρώπινης ζωής. Με τη γέννησή Του εξυψώνει την αξία της παιδικής ηλικίας.

2. Δέχεται ο Κύριος με πολλή αγάπη τα παιδιά, τα ευλογεί και τα εγκωμιάζει: «Αφήστε τα παιδιά και μην τα εμποδίζετε να έλθουν κοντά μου, γιατί σ’ αυτά ανήκει η βασιλεία των ουρανών».

3. Τα παρουσίαζε ως υπόδειγμα στους μεγάλους ανθρώπους για να μπουν στη Β. τ. Ο. « Αν δεν γίνεται σαν τα παιδιά, δεν πρόκειται να μπείτε στη Β. τ. Ο.

4. Ακόλουθοι του Χριστού, εκτός από τους μαθητές και τις μαθήτριες, ήταν και οι νέοι, που ονομάζονται στα ευαγγέλια «παιδία», «παίδες», «νεανίσκοι», «μικροί».

5. Ο Χριστός συγκινείται από τον θάνατο δύο νέων και τους επαναφέρει στη ζωή. Τον υιό της χήρας της Ναίν και την κόρη του Ιαείρου.

6. Η Εκκλησία εφαρμόζει τον «σαραντισμό» του νηπίου και τον νηπιοβαπτισμό.

7. Αναγνωρίζει την αξία του ανθρώπου από την εμβρυακή ηλικία έως ψυχοσωματικής ύπαρξης. Γι’ αυτό και καταδικάζει τις εκτρώσεις, αφού έκτρωση σημαίνει φόνος.

8. Η Εκκλησία ενδιαφέρεται ανέκαθεν για τα ανάπηρα παιδιά, γι’ αυτό ίδρυσε ιδρύματα για την περίθαλψή τους.

9. Αγαπά το παραστρατημένο και ορφανό παιδί, γι’ αυτό διατηρεί ορφανοτροφεία και επισκέπτεται τα ανήλικα φυλακισμένα παιδιά.

10. Καλλιεργεί, διαμορφώνει και ολοκληρώνει την προσωπικότητα του παιδιού (Κατηχητικά σχολεία, έκδοση παιδικών βιβλίων, περιοδικών κατασκηνώσεις κ. α.).

11. Ο Απ. Παύλος κάνει λόγο για την παιδαγωγία των τέκνων και τις αμοιβαίες υποχρεώσεις γονέων και παιδιών.

12. Οι Πατέρες της Εκκλησίας μίλησαν για την ανεκτίμητη αξία των παιδιών και φρόντισαν γι’ αυτά.

13. Στη Θ. Λειτουργία η Εκκλησία εύχεται για το παιδί : «Τα νήπια έκθρεψον, την νεότητα παιδαγώγησον».

14. Η Εκκλησία έχει ορίσει προστάτη των παιδιών τον Άγ. Στυλιανό.

Μοναστική σύναξις εις την Πεντηκοστή

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...