THE LETTER OF METROPOLITAN ATHANASIOS OF LIMASSOL TO THE HOLY COUNCIL OF CYPRUS REGARDING THE PROPOSED DOCUMENT FOR THE UPCOMING PAN-ORTHODOX COUNCIL “THE RELATIONS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH WITH THE REST OF THE CHRISTIAN WORLD”

Your Eminence and Holy Fathers,

          I received the texts that were evaluated as decisions within different pre-council conferences that have taken place lately for the preparation of the Holy Great Council of the Orthodox Church and that officially supports the subjects of the texts that will be handed over to the upcoming Holy Great Council for approval. I thank you very much for sending these to me.

          Since, in agreement with the regulations sent to us regarding the organization and operation of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church, and in particular article 12, paragraphs 2 and 3, indicate that we are entitled first to express our views at our local Synod, I, having examined my conscience, humbly submit to the Holy and Sacred Synod of our holy Church my views and opinions regarding the following matters.

          In his letter, His Eminence Athanasios speaks about the text of the 5th Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference held in Chambesy in October entitled “Relations of the Orthodox Church to the rest of the Christian world,” stating the following:

“I am in total agreement with the first three articles of the text. However, at article 4 onwards, I have made the following observations: “The Orthodox Church has always prayed ‘for the union of all’ – I believe this to mean the return to and union with it of all those who broke up with it and distanced themselves from it, of heretics and schismatics, once they have given up to their heresy and schism and flee from those things with repentance and are integrated and joined – united – with the Orthodox Church in accordance with the teachings of the sacred canons. The Orthodox Church of Christ has never lost the “unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit” and does not accept the theory of the restoration of the unity of those ‘who believe in Christ,’ because it believes that the unity of those who believe in Christ already exists in the unity of all of its baptized children, between themselves and with Christ, in its right faith, where no heretics or schismatics are present, for which reason the church prays for their return to Orthodoxy in repentance.

I believe that what is stated in article 5 regarding ‘the lost unity of Christians’ is incorrect, because the Church as God’s people, united among themselves and with the Head of the Church which is Christ, has never lost this unity and therefore is not in need of rediscovering or seeking it, because it always was, is, and will be just as the Church of Christ has never ceased and will never cease to exist.

          It happened that groups, peoples or individuals left the body of the Church and the Church prays, and is required to try through mission that they all return in repentance to the Orthodox Church via the canonical route. In other words, there do not exist other Churches, only heresies and schisms, should we wish to be more precise in our definitions. The expression ‘towards the restoration of the Christian unity’ is incorrect because the unity of Christians – the members of the Church of Christ – has never been broken, as long as they remain united with the Church. The separation and flight from the Church have unfortunately happened numerous times due to heresies and schisms, but there has never been a loss of the internal unity of the Church.

          I question why the text contains multiple references to ‘Churches’ and ‘Confessions’? What difference and which element allow us to call some ‘Churches’ and others ‘Confessions’? Which is a Church and which a heresy and which a schismatic group or confession? We confess one Church and that all the others are schisms and heresies. I maintain that giving the title ‘Church’ to heretical or schismatic communities is entirely incorrect from a theological, dogmatic and canonical perspective because the Church of Christ is one, as also stated in Article 1, and we cannot refer to a heretical or schismatic community or group outside the Orthodox Church as ‘Church’.

          At no point does this text state that the only way that leads to union with the Church is solely the repentant return of heretics and schismatics to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, which according to Article 1 is our Orthodox Church. The reference to the ‘understanding of the tradition of the ancient Church’ gives the impression that there is an ontological difference between the ancient Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the genuine continuation of the same until the present day, namely our Orthodox Church. We believe that there is absolutely no difference between the Church of the 21st century and the Church of the 1st century, because one of the attributes of the Church is the fact we also confess in the Symbol of Faith, namely that it is Apostolic.

The Bishop subsequently underlines that in Article 12, the impression is given that the Orthodox are looking to restore the right faith and unity, giving cause for an unacceptable view.

          Article 12 states that the common purpose of the theological dialogues is ‘the final restoration of the unity in right faith and love’. This gives the impression that we Orthodox are seeking our restoration to correct faith and the unity of love, as if we had lost the right faith and are seeking to discover it through the theological dialogues with the heterodox. I maintain that this theory is theologically unacceptable for us all.

          The reference of the text to theWorld Council of Churches’ [WCC] gives me the opportunity to make a complaint against occasional syncretistic events which took place therein, but also against its title, since it regards the Orthodox Church as ‘one of the Churches’ or a branch of the one Church which seeks and strives for Her realisation at the World Council of Churches. For us, however, the Church of Christ is one and unique, as we confess in the Symbol of Faith.

          The view that the preservation of the genuine Orthodox faith is guaranteed only through the synodal system as the only ‘competent and final authority on matters of faith’ [art 22] is exaggerated and ignores the truth that many synods throughout Church history taught and exposed incorrect and heretical doctrines, and it was the faithful people who rejected them and preserved the Orthodox faith and championed the Orthodox Confession. Neither a synod without the faithful people, the fullness of the Church, nor the people without the synod of Bishops, is able to regard themselves as the Body of Christ and Church of Christ and to correctly express the experience and doctrine of the Church.

 I understood your Eminence and Holy Synodal brethrens that the use of hard or insulting language cannot be made in ecclesiastical encyclicals of this kind, nor do I think anyone desires the use of that form of expression. However, the truth must be expressed with precision and clarity, though naturally with pastoral discernment and genuine love towards all. We owe it also to our brothers who find themselves in heresy or schism to be entirely honest with them, and with love and pain to pray and do everything possible to bring about their return to the Church of Christ.”

          I humbly maintain that texts of such importance and prestige as those of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church must be very carefully formulated with theological and canonical precision in order that these ambiguities or untested theological terms do not also give rise to incorrect expressions which could lead to misconceptions and distortions of the correct attitude of the Orthodox Church. Moreover, for a Synod to be valid and canonical, it must not depart in any way from the spirit and teaching of the Holy Synods that preceded it, the teaching of the Holy Fathers and Holy Scriptures, and it must be free from any ambiguity in the precise expression of the correct faith.

          Never did the holy Fathers nor ever in the holy canons or rulings of the sacred Ecumenical or Local Synods, are heretical or schismatic groups referred to as churches. If the heretics are indeed churches, where is the single One Church of Christ and the Apostles?

          I humbly express my disagreement with the fact that the practice of all Sacred Synods until the present of allowing each bishop a vote is abolished. There had never been before a system of ‘one Church, one vote,’ which renders the members of the Holy and Great Synod, with the exception of the primates, mere decorative items by refusing them the right to vote.

          I do have some other unclarities and objections regarding some other articles from the texts but I do not want to insist that much on this matter and I refer only to the issues that I consider to be the most important and on which I express my disagreement, point of view and faith.

          I do not want to upset anyone with what I wrote, nor do I want to be seen to be teaching the judgment of my brothers and fathers in Christ. I simply feel the need to express what my conscience asks from me.

          I request my opinions to be taken into consideration by the Holy Council.

         

          Asking for your holy prayers for me, I remain your least brethren in Christ,

          + Athanasie de Limassol

The Saints of the Holy Mountain

If it is true that there are places in the world of such a beauty and irradiance that they can infuse man with enthusiasm and veneration and can lead him to spiritual revival, then certainly the Holy Mountain holds a prominent position among them.

The Holy Mountain is embellished of course with all the beauties of nature that the grace of God generously bestowed upon it like on another heaven. It is also adorned with the beautiful holy monasteries and hermitages with their gorgeous architecture, perfectly adapted to the natural environment and with very precious holy relics and other religious objects that are treasured here. All these embellish it making it look like another heaven with their splendor.

Even more than with these, the Garden of the Theotokos – this is how the faithful Greek people call the Holy Mountain – is proud, exults, is enlightened and is honored by the virtuous men and saints who practiced asceticism there in different times.  For its saints! Because since the early years of the Athonite history, ascetics, wonderful holy fathers shone in this place with the help of God and the protection of the Holy Virgin and their memory is eternal. All these blessed men, like other athletes, spent their life here, in uncountable labors and hardships and having this Holy Mountain as a ladder they rose to heaven.

The vivid presence of the Mother of God who is the protector of the Holy Mountain and the ascetic struggles of the remarkable holy men make of each part of Athos a place of theophany. The modern pilgrim who travels in the Holy Mountain and gets acquainted with the place and its history feels this thing and senses the presence of God at each step he takes.

At this point I would like to thank the organizers of today’s event which takes place within Philokalia, the international festival of sacred art. I thank them for the opportunity they offered me to come here from the remote Athos bringing on the blessed land of Romania  the blessing of the Mother of God and the Athonite fathers and to speak to such a distinguished and philocalic public. I hope – with the prayers of the reverent fathers – this conference would become an useful companion in this spiritual search of each one of us.

The communal monasteries, the hermitages, the recluse cells, the huts, the graveyards, caves and places of ascesis that hang in  remote and inaccessible places are quiet witnesses of the blessed, angelic lives of the pious Athonite elders and for us, the young ones, monks and worshippers a permanent invitation to follow their example.

In the Holy Mountain  more than four hundred saints lived from the IXth century until today. There are of course many other saints unknown to us who pleased God and were honored by Him. The Holy Mountain is maybe the only place in the world where nobody was born but it was and by the help of the divine grace still remains a place where thousands of people were reborn in Christ.

The Saints of our Church may be purposefully honored in a certain place but they belong to the pleroma of the entire Church.

And we know very well that on the Orthodox land of Romania many Athonite saints are extremely honored by the believers.

What Romanian doesn’t know about saint Athanasios the Athonite, saint Gregory Palamas, saint Niphon, the patriarch of Constantinople, saint Nicodemus the Athonite? Who did not benefit of the wisdom and teaching of our contemporary saints, elder Paisios the Athonite and elder Porphyrios the Kavsokalivite? Or who’s the Romanian that doesn’t know about saint Paisios Velicicovski (+1794) who after spending a part of his life in the Holy Mountain lived in Romania, in Iasi and in the monasteries Neamt and Dragomirna bringing here the spirit of the Athonite monarchism and of the Philokalia.

Saint Paisios and his disciples made for the Romanian people elaborated translations of the Greek fathers of the Church. It is significant the fact that only after ten years from the publication of the first edition of Philokalia in Greek in 1793, we have its first translation in Slavonic, language in which were written then the religious texts in Romania.This work was republished several times and aroused a high interest for the hermit fathers of the Church in Romania and other Balkanic countries.

In accordance with the sources, we have Romanian monachal presence in the Holy Mountain even from the XIth century. From the fall of the Byzantine Empire and afterwards rulers from Valachia, knowing the spiritual benefit your country would get from the contact with the Holy Mountain, offered many gifts, consecrated metochions and proved to be founders of many Athonite monasteries, contributing to their restoration. At the same time, Hariton (+1381) one of the first metropolitans of Valachia, who established the groundwork for the organization of the Romanian church was Athonite.

One of the most honored Athonite saints in Romania is saint Nicodemus the Hesychast, of Greek-Serbian descent, founder of Tismana monastery. St. Nicodemus came in Valachia from the Holy Mountain around 1360. He was a transmitter of holy irradiance and contributed to the revival of monarchism in the Romanian countries for he with the help of his disciples founded and organized in Romania monasteries after the model and order from the Holy Mountain. Tismana monastery is the oldest monastery that was preserved in Romania and it became among others a famous centre for calligraphy and replication of manuscripts.

Ending this brief paranthesis referring at the Athonite saints who are in close relation with your blessed country and who left a valuable and everlasting legacy and who continue to pray for us all, we shall refer at saint Niphon the IInd, the patriarch of Constantinople (+1508), this illustrious illuminator of the Romanian land. Saint Niphon, Athonite monk from Dionisiou Monastery contributed decisively at the reorganization of the Romanian Church and at the defense of Orthodoxy, while giving a new impetus to the spiritual  life. A part of his holy relics are kept at Curtea de Arges, where thousands of believers come every year for honoring his memory.

Ultimately the spiritual benefit gained by the Romanian people from the work of the Romanian Athonite saints Gheorghe from Cernica (+1806), Antipa from Caldarusani (+1882) and the new martyr Pachomius (+1810) was great.

My beloved brothers in Christ!

The Athonite saints coming from all Orthodox peoples devoted themselves completely to God.

By means of their various ascetic struggles, they purified themselves of passions and became noble vessels, worthy to receive the divine charisms. And afterwards they became brilliant successors of the true Orthodox monastic tradition.

At the end of the XVIIIth century st.Nicodemus the Athonite, that was the first who wrote the Holy service of the Athonite saints as well as the word of praise about them remark that the Athonite saints have shown themselves to all of us who live in the Holy Mountain but also to all the Orthodox people, permanent benefactors, defenders and guardians not only by their words but also by their deeds. Not only with their soul, but also with their body, not just while being alive on earth, but also after their death.

The Holy Mountain was named so from its saints. According to st. Nicodemus the Athonite the Holy Mountain means ”place of holiness, place of purity.” Place that was treaded by so many holy feet. Place where the ground was watered by the blood, ascetic sweat and tears of the hundreds and thousands of pious elders. The Holy Mountain is a place of virtue and holiness.

The way to apotheosis, the cultivation of the Orthodox spirituality and its acquisition through ascetic struggles represented and continues to represent, with the grace of God, the strongest support of life on the Holy Mountain.

In this land of repentance and laboratory of godliness countless saints, videlicet friends of God, who illuminate with the sweet rays of their lives and miracles the crowd of the believers, were led over the centuries on the paths of salvation.

According to the Orthodox tradition the best suited for talking about saints and holiness are the saints themselves. They can understand and interpret correctly in the light of their own experience of sanctity, the deeds and teachings of those holy persons who had as main aim they accomplished – to please God and unite with Him.

My humble self who does not have their holiness and spiritual feeling and who, by the grace of the Lord and the maternal love of the Holy Mother of God, lives in the same holy places with hallowed Athonite persons, can only outline broadly, by reflection and guess, some of the rich charisms – fruits of their ascetic struggles and of their bright teachings. As elder Porphyrios the Kavsokalivite, one of the latest personalities from the golden chain of pious Athonites, said: ”Indeed these must be experienced by man for understanding them…Only the one who experiences this state, lives it and feels it.”

The motivation of the Athonite hermits to subject their bodies willingly to tribulations and different privations is not hate against flesh and material life, but the richer life that springs out of Christ’s love, when this works and lights up the heart. They wished to crucify themselves for the world and to kill their passions completely, to bury themselves in the tomb of humbleness and to revive with Christ through passionlessness.

With their bodies they worked and served their brothers and with their mind and heart talked ceaselessly with God, through prayer. Ravished in ecstasies and contemplations of the glory of God, they foretasted here the relishes that should delight those who love God.

On the Holy Mountain is preserved the uncreated flame of the church life. And the holy Athonite personalities represent one of the manifestations of this pure, divine light and another testimony of the divine grace: of the Athonite life and experience nowadays.

These heroes of volition have set faith as steadfast foundation of their salvation. Everything, from their divine experiences full of grace to their revealing foresights and prophecies as well as their pious teachings, testifies the permanent presence of the Holy Spirit in these holy personalities of the Athonite elders, who wrote by their lives a new Patericon, proving the truth, the actuality of the stories and descriptions from Sinaxars.

They by living in the holy cloud of God themselves, were able to lead others to the heavenly Jerusalem, to teach them the mental prayer, to offer them guidance in spiritual life, to strengthen them in trials and temptations. Many of these enhanced elders helped not only a lot of Athonite monks with whom they lived, but also the people of God, transmitting them the ethos of the Athonite spirituality and showing them the freedom of the age to come.

Through their word full of divine experience, they touched the thirsty souls, they united the enlightened word with vivid feeling and transferred theology from the sphere of thought in that of personal life. They inspired in faith countless people, otherwise lost. They soothed hopeless souls, they enlightened with their wisdom and grace the crowd of truth seekers. Others, like the blessed elder Porphyrios the Kavsokalivite spread from their own inner self the light and joy of Resurrection they experienced and received from the Athonite life and praxis. They gained powers from the inexhaustible Athonite springs for a few years and transformed themselves in universal reformers of the spiritual life in Christ.

The Athonite enhanced elders of the past century continued the bimillenary tradition of the Holy Mountain and they set themselves in the golden chain of the pious fathers.Actually the Athonite time may be contemporary only with eternity.

The truly impressive personality so rich in charisms of our elder Porphyrios the Kavsokalivite was cultivated in a place where spiritual tradition remained alive till nowadays. From the first dwellers of the old Athos till the latest enhanced elders, they all make a spiritual family, where everything is in common: the ascetic thought, the spiritual accomplishments and charisms. Actually the feeling of historical continuity of the Athonite tradition represents the cornerstone for the spiritual itinerary of the Holy Mountain.

On the other hand from the life of the contemporary Athonite elders emerges the continuity of the Athonite tradition. These hermits with the authenticity of their simplicity and of their ascetic life permanently restate the mystery of faith and testify the presence of God in our world, confirming the possibility we all have to be in communion with God and to share eternity. The life of many people who knew saints and other enhanced Athonite elders and were in contact with them, changed radically, for their presence was determined and sealed their existence. The Athonite saints and other holy personalities of the Holy Mountain were true spiritual fathers, reached a high spiritual level and for this reason they could act as teachers and counselors in family matters, in a certain way.

The pedagogy they applied, based on the ministry of spiritual fatherhood was no other than the pedagogy of the church fathers, which is preserved till nowadays, through the hesychast and philocalic tradition of our Church.

According to saint Simeon the New Theologian, the spiritual father is the vivid presence of Christ. He is the perfect one, the man reborn in Christ. He is a reverberator of the divine light in our world. We could say that he is the absolute teacher. Such models of teachers, of advisers for the youth and old people as well, through their word, were and continue to be, by the grace of God, the Athonite saints and other holy Athonite personalities. Men of complete love, of sacrificial love, of inner spiritual perfection and of holiness.

Saint Athanasios the Athonite is considered the founder of the Athonite monasticism from the building of the Great Lavra (year 963). The following fact expresses the ascetic character of saint Athanasios’pedagogy.

Once the demons urged an idle monk to kill the saint. And that man got out heading for the starets’cell with the knife in his hand. When he opened his door and the saint embraced him friendly then the ungrateful disciple, with killing thoughts, let the knife fall down from his hand, knelt down and confessed his intention. Saint Athanasios forgave him immediately. And didn’t stop just at this, but from that moment he showed even more love to that monk. The voluntary humility is a mark of the authentic life in Christ and spring of immortality. The pious freed of his own self, deepening in the bottomless divine grace from where he gained love for his potential killer. In the effort of becoming a model for his disciples, saint Athanasios took care of the needs of all the monks from his monastery and especially of the sick ones, whom he personally served.

By spiritual guidance, namely in a mystagogical and spiritual way, the holy personalities of Athos contributed at their own birth and rebirth being in contact with these spiritual fathers.

They did not teach proposing abstract moral rules. They mainly guided the others within a very close personal relationship. They loved man right as he was, with his weaknesses and flaws. In the same time they acted with pedagogical caution and with psychological vision, using flexible pedagogical methods.

They taught not only by their word, but by their silence as well and very often by their simple presence. For instance, in the Life of the pious Acacius the Kavsokalivite (+1730), a great Athonite saint of the XVIIIth century is told that among his numerous charisms, he had a pacifying spirit in such a degree that even those who were possessed by revengeful thoughts when they saw him, his face so full of grace calmed their evil thoughts.

Remembering in all these years the honored person of elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994) and his bright counsels and teachings that were dripping balm in the hearts of all who had more or less the blessing to meet him, I got the feeling that everything he suffered patiently in his ascetic life, meaning: privations, pains, temptations, exhausting travels, derangements and fatigue from the countless pilgrims and in the end terrible illnesses, he all suffered out of love for God and man. And in the monasteries where he served, inside and outside the Holy Mountain and while he lived in solitude, his life was a continuous ministration of love. A boundless love, so sincere and resulting from the deification of his soul  that soothed all who tasted it. Even in the period before his pious end, though cause of his terrible illness, had excruciating pains, he sacrificing himself for his brothers, served with self-denial and self-sacrifice all those who ran to him for help.

In his rich teaching which refers in detail at all the themes of life in Christ and which awakens us spiritually, we see the elder talking with pain and love about us all.

From the pantheon of virtues, love – distinct among the others – seems to enliven the entire life and teaching of elder Paisios. He told his listeners, emphasizing the power of love: ”For we do not know what awaits us, cultivate love as much as you can. This is the most important thing of all: to have among yourselves true, brotherly love, not false love. Every time when there is good concern, compassion, love, things are done right. Kindness and love mean power.”

One of the best ways to express our love is to pray for others. This truth and its value are highlighted by the elder: ”The prayer uttered from the heart helps not only the others but ourselves as well, for it supports the apparition of inner kindness. When we try to walk in someone else’s shoes love, pain, humility, gratefulness for God with ceaseless doxology come out naturally and then our prayer for our neighbor is welcomed by God and helps him.

At the question about the way in which he understood when someone else got a benefit from his prayer, he answered: ”He is announced by the divine comfort he feels inside after the painful heartly prayer he had made. But first you should make from the pain of the other your own pain and then pray from the heart. Love is a divine virtue and announces you.” Love is the condition for reaching the aimed result from searching the mistakes of the other and this fact is highlighted by elder Paisios: ”When we explore someone out of love, either he becomes aware of our love or not, a change takes place in his heart, for we are driven by pure love. While the search made without love and empathy makes a beast of the other one, for our malice strikes his selfishness. When we tolerate the other out of love, he feels it.”

Sacrifice for our brother is imitation of Christ. ”Learn to rejoice when you give to others”, the blessed father said and stated as follows: ”These people who give themselves without taking themselves into account will judge us after tomorrow.”

Christ himself is moved when we love our brother more than we love ourselves and fills us with divine joy. You see the One who did not limit himself to the syntagma ” love your neighbor the way you love yourself”, but sacrificed himself for man. And he adds: ”It is not possible for the love of Christ to come inside ourselves if we do not eliminate our self from our love and we do not offer ourselves to God and to our brothers, without expecting to get anything in return from the others. Insisting upon the sacrificing self-abnegation as an expression of perfect love the elder advices us: ”The sacrifice for our brother implies to have a great love for Christ. All those who have the disponibility for being generous but do not have anything and suffer from this reason, give alms with the blood of their hearts.” And for strengthening those who cultivate the empress of virtues, he adds: ”The generous ones, for they always feed the others with love, are always fed by the love of God and his plentiful blessings.”

One of the contemporary Athonite elders who was one of the most significant spiritual presences of the past century is the elder Porphyrios the Kavsokalivite (+1991), already known in the entire Orthodox world. We witness an extraordinary phenomenon of divine life and call.

He remained in the memory of people as a spiritual confessor full of discernment. In this way he could help in various ways, by various means. He considered each man as an unique and unrepeatable personality, respecting everyone’s distinct features as well as their personal freedom. He listened carefully, patiently, with condescension their problems. He became receiver of their troubles. He answered kindly to their various questions. He adviced and supported the weak ones. He did not get upset because of the annoying presence of certain spiritual sons or because of their indiscretions and exasperating attitudes.

He accepted his fellow just as he was, with his weaknesses and the peculiarities of his behaviour. He never tried to make them be imitations of himself. He was not interested in the exterior look of people, especially of the young ones.

He looked deep inside their souls for he knew that if it was made order in their inner world, the exterior aspects would be put in order as well.  Because he knew about the tragedy of nowadays regarding the lack of love which causes loneliness, sadness, insecurity, stress and fears.

Elder Porphyrios said: ”What you want to tell your children say it in your prayers. The children do not listen with their ears. Only when the divine grace comes and enlightens them they listen to what we want to tell them. When you want to tell something to your children, tell it to Virgin Mary and she will work. This prayer of yours will become a strong blow, a spiritual comfort that will sooth, embrace and draw the children near.”

My beloved brothers in Christ!

The high spiritual life of the Athonite elders, always incentive, vivid and full of vigor breaks the weir of time, surpasses the unabated historical storms and the human ventures for echoing as a spiritual alarm for the restless, blurry and noisy present.

Contemporary man dominated by the digital technology and the scientific discoveries of historical importance learnt how to handle the machines, but did not learn how to handle himself. He does not succeed to live uninfluenced by the dissolving syndromes which enslave the entire creation. He is smashed by huge ideologies.

The sanctified path crossed by the Athonite saints and enhanced elders for meeting Christ may enlighten our future and inspire us to fill our lives with the ”good fight” in the ”trenches” of the divine grace, which is the insatiable love, as saint Silouan the Athonite says.

The way and the modality for the deification and salvation of man is eternal and safe: is the path of the saints! The sanctified Athonite personalities of the past and of nowadays, from the pious Peter the Athonite, the first inhabitant of Athos till our contemporary elders Paisios the Athonite and Porphyrios the Kavsokalivite, reached the beloved place where we were all called to live.

And because we are facing hard times when the economic crisis mills our society I’d like to end with an optimistic message, I’d like to believe is addressed to my listeners.

As Dostoievski said: ”beauty will save the world.” The beauty of soul will save the world, even if around us everything seems to fall apart in our times. But we must not lose our courage. We should get back into our soul for uniting it with God and from inside this unity and concentration we would be able, by the help of God, to cross safely the stormy sea of our life.

Thank you very much! Christ is risen!

Lecture held at Arad, on May 25, 2013, with the occasion of the festival Philokalia.

Source: pemptousia.ro

And You, in whom people believe…where are You ?

Around the year 2003, while waiting in Uranopolis to buy a ticket for the ship, a young man between 27 and 30 years old came to me and asked me something. I answered and as it usually happens, we started talking…If wind would let us get into Athos…where we were going each one of us and all the other stuff.

We continued our talk on the ship and we began to approach much deeper topics. I was telling him that I had three years since I had returned to the Church and I had started from scratch. Then he told me the story of his life.

”I was a Satanist…deeply immersed in the Satanist practices…We were making rituals…in some underground where were performed orgies above the Orthodox icons… We were doing things that cannot be described in the Passion Week, even near churches. I began to be very initiated in such practices…After some time I locked myself up in the house, shot down by depression and having suicide attempts. I didn’t even pull up the shutters so as not to let the light get in…I heard inside myself urges like: <Throw yourself down! End up your life to calm yourself down…What’s the use of living more?> And other similar thoughts. One day I decided to end it up… I couldn’t bear it anymore…I went out on the balcony and wanted to throw myself down…I was full of anger and revolt…Then I shouted out loudly: <And You, in whom people believe and about whom they talk…where are You? Ultimately You are nowhere to be found…>

In that moment I felt an indescribable inner peace…And everything around me was nice and pleasant… I was so strongly feeling a presence…But I did not see, nor hear anything. I fell down not knowing why and cried for long hours…When I could get up again and went out everything had already changed inside and outside myself. I retrieved myself…My steps were directed towards the Holy Mountain, to the Filotheu Monastery. Since then I’ve got as spiritual confessor one of the priest from the monastery. I also found a good girl and got married…I found a job as well…God be glorified that I’m fine!”

Ilie Daslis

Source : http://synaxipalaiochoriou.blogspot.gr/2016/blog-post 52.html

An American general was baptized Orthodox after he stayed for several years in Moldavia. The chief of the European Regional Medical Command of NATO says that the Mother of God spoke to him

An American general on mission in Basarabia fell in love with the Moldavian style of life and was baptized Orthodox.

Norvel Coots is the chief of the  European Regional Medical Command of NATO and has the rank of brigadier general of the US army. Arrived in Chisinau, the American was deeply touched by the thousands of institutionalized children and the difficult conditions in which they lived daily. In 2000 he started a project for aiding them, project that is carried on even today.

”I saw orphanages that worked according to the Russian system from the former Soviet Union, they were huge, without any electricity or water supply. Practically just a place where to stay over night. Though the children had food and education, they equally needed care, affection and other basic things for living better.”

”The wish to help those children become responsible adults and live a normal life came in an instant in 1999 but the effective charity activity started one year after, in 2000”, he said in an interview for Romania Libera.

General Coots benefits of support from the Orthodox Church of Moldavia, under the rule of his eminence Vladimir of Chisinau. The American says that the money came through donations, through the Orthodox Church but also from his own pocket.

His experience in the country over Prut made him change his life. He was baptized Orthodox and says that he heard the Mother of God telling him to help the children from Moldavia.

”I became Orthodox Christian, my children have Moldavian names, Maximilian and Catalina. I became Orthodox for supporting the project, when I went for the second time in Moldavia, I visited an old monastery from Orhei and then I heard Virgin Mary speaking to me and telling me that I must help those children I had seen. I already live and feel like a Moldavian, I am an active member of that society and together with the Orthodox Church from there and with the metropolitan Vladimir wish to develop many projects. I am a Moldavian Orthodox Christian and though I was baptized in the Russian rite, I feel that I am Romanian and Russian Orthodox in the same time!”, he said.

As for the unification of Basarabia and Romania, the American general says that the Moldavian society is divided.

About a third of the population militates for a reunification of Moldavia with Romania, another third is nostalgic after USSR and would like to have a strategic partnership with Russia and there is one more third that doesn’t care of anything.

”Ten years ago I felt there was a strong unionist trend, with public demonstrations pro Romania but which did not materialize and decreased in intensity”, Norvel Coots declared.

Source: activenews.ro

How can I find God ?

A ”starets” was asked by a young man:

”How can I find God? By fasting, by ascetical struggles, vigils or alms?”

”There were many who, as you say, exhausted their body but without discernment and therefore they remained hollow, fruitless. It may be possible to have a mouth full of sourness because of severe fasting, to learn the Scripture by heart, to read the entire Psalter but to lack all the other things God requires from us, namely the fear of God, love and humility.”

Why do we honor the holy relics?

We believe that the body of the man who enters the Church becomes a vessel of the uncreated divine energy, bearer of Christ and bearer of holy spirit: ”Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?…Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6, 15-20) ”May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless till the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5, 23-24)

Human body is raised in the Church and has an eternal purpose. Meaning that Christ will transform, will change our humble body so that it will become like the body of His glory in order to receive the same shape with Christ’s glorified body. And this will happen at His Second Coming ”by the power that enables Him to subject all things unto Himself.” (Philip 3, 21)

The veneration of the holy relics represents the prefiguration of this new and glorious body state. The honor that is given to them in the Orthodox Church means as well the testimony of our faith in the synodial glory of man (I Thessalonians 5, 23-24)

The sanctifying grace manifests in the holy relics by the fragrance mentioned in the Holy Scripture ( II Corinthians 2, 15,  Isaiah 66, 14) and accomplishes miracles (IV Kings 13, 20-21) The same grace is transmitted to the objects that come in contact with the bodies of the saints, these accomplishing miracles as well (IV Kings 2, 8-14) Matthew 9, 20-22, Marcus 6, 13, the Act 19, 12).Because we descend from Adam, we are not in harmony with God’s creation (Genesis 3, 17-19) but the man of God’s grace spreads peace and blessing even by his shadow (Acts 5, 15-16).

Thus, God himself honors the saints’relics and permeates them with His divine uncreated grace.

That is why the Orthodox Church honors them and places them under the holy altar (Hebr. 13,10) prefiguring by this the heavenly altar not made by hands (Apocalypse 6,9) for our altars are symbols of the true ones, namely of the heavenly altar (Hebr.9, 24)

The early church honored the holy relics. Saint Polycarp’s martyrdom (+156) tells us that they were considered ”more valuable than the most precious stones and finer than the most refined gold” (Polycarp’s martyrdom, 18). Christians gathered at martyrs’tombs for celebrating the Divine Eucharist and the commemoration of saints.

These were transmitted to the following generations and there is no information to tell us that the veneration of the holy relics would not be accepted in assembly.

Saint Gregory the Theologian (329-390) mentions the numerous wonders accomplished by the holy relics of Saint Cyprian ”when there is faith”. And adds that ”this is known by all those who experienced it and transmitted it to us and we will transmit it to the next generations” (The Word 24,18 at St.Cyprian)

In the first accusatory word against Julian, st.Gregory says about the saints:

”These deserve great honors and celebrations. They chase away demons and heal diseases…Their bodies alone have the same power with that of their souls, if touched or just honored. Their drops of blood and the small objects of their martyrdoms act just like their bodies.” (St. Gregory the Theologian, Word 4,69) St. John Chrysostom says that ”even the emperor clothed in purple hastes to worship the saints’tombs and prays to them so that they would  intercede for him before God.” (St.John Chrysostom, Comment at II Corinthians, Word 26,5).

The same saint expressing the faith of the Church urges: ”visit the resting places of the martyrs where you will find healing for body and avail for soul.” (Comment at Matthew, Word 37,7) In another homily he urges the Christians to go to churches and to the reliquaries of the saint martyrs so that after receiving their blessing to become invincible againts the devil’s wiles (Genesis, homily 15, 6) ”The bones of the saints subdue and torment the demons and free those who were tied with those painful ties.” (Comment at II Corinthians, Word 26,5)

According to the faith of the early church, divine grace is transmitted to anyone who gets in contact with the saints. Even the clothes of the saints are honored in all creation st.John Chrysostom says and recalls st. Elijah’s sheepskin coat (IV Kings 2, 8-14), the clothes of the three young men who overcame the fire (Daniel 3, 27-28) , the rod of Moses that accomplished so many miracles, st.Paul’s clothes (Acts 19, 11-12), st.Peter’s shadow (Acts 5, 12-16) and others (St.John Chrysostom, At statues, homily 8,2)

St. Basil tells us that the veneration of st.Judith’s relics sanctifies the city and all those who enter the church.

The earth that by the burial of the saint received blessings springs holy water which is for the healthy ones guarding and bearing myrth and for the sick ones is solace (St. Basil the Great, homily 2 about St.martyr Judith, 2)

In the Orthodox Church we honor the holy relics but this as we have proved it does not mean idolatry or pagan adoration. Because an Orthodox Christian has never considered the holy relics ”as gods.”

Priest Anthony Alevizopoulos, Textbook of heretical and sectarian groups, Athens 1994

The analysis of the elaborated ecumenist document for the upcoming Holy Great Council (2016): “THE RELATIONS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH WITH THE REST OF THE CHRISTIAN WORLD”

ARISTOTEL UNIVERSITY OF THESSALONIKI

FACULTY OF THEOLOGY

THEOLOGY DEPARTMENT

DOGMATIC THEOLOGY SECTION

PROFESSOR: DIMITRIOS I. TSELENGHIDIS

To his Eminence VLADIMIR OF CHISINAU AND MOLDAVIA, Metropolitan of Chisinau and entire Moldavia, permanent member of the Permanent Council of the Church of Russia.

          Your Emminence1,

          Regarding the summoning of the Holy Council of the Russian Church, I would piously like to draw your attention to some suggestions and theological observations referring to the already published texts of the Pre-Synodal Pan-orthodox Conference V that you will soon approach to decide on them on a synodal level.

My theological remarks focus on the text entitled:

“THE RELATIONS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH WITH THE REST OF THE CHRISTIAN WORLD”

          The aforementioned text reveals an entire chain of inconsistencies and even theological contradictions. Thus, article 1 proclaims the consciousness of the Orthodox Church, considering it – verily – “The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. However, article 6 includes a formulation that thwarts with the aforementioned article (1). It is mentioned therein “the Orthodox Church acknowledges the historical existence of other Churches and Christian Confessions that are not in communion with it”.

          Here we raise the following very entitled theological question: If the Church is “ONE”, according to the Symbol of Confession and the consciousness of Orthodox Church (Art 1), how come then it refers to other Christian Churches? It is obvious that these Churches are the heterodox ones.

          However, at no point the heterodox “Churches” are entitled to be called “Churches” by the Orthodox because if we approach the thing on a dogmatic viewpoint, it will not be possible to talk about a pluralism of “Churches” that have different dogmas, meaning in many dogmatic aspects. Thereby, as long as these “Churches” stay unchanged in the heresies of their faith, it is wrong to acknowledge them from a theological viewpoint – on an institutional level – the character of Church as long as they are not part of the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

          In the same article (6) there is another serious theological contradiction. At the beginning of this article the following statement was made: “The unity by whom the Church is distinguished in her ontological nature is impossible to shatter”, however at the end of same article is stated that the Orthodox Church, through its participation to the Ecumenical Movement, “pursues an objective goal – to tread the path to unity.”

          Hence, we rise the question: As long as the unity of Church is a fact, then what kind of unity is pursued through the Ecumenical Movement?” Could it refer to the return of western Christians to the ONE and only Church? Yet this conclusion is unlikely to understand from the wording and spirit of the text in its entirety. On the contrary, it gives the impression that the schism from the bosom of the Church is a fact and the perspectives of the participants to dialogue focus exactly on the fragmented unity of Church.

          Through its ambiguity, article 20 from the text as well leads to a theological clutter as it states: “The prospects for conducting theological dialogues between the Orthodox Church and other Christian Churches and confessions shall always be derived from the canonical criteria of the established Church Tradition (canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council and canon 95 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council).”

          However, the canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council and canon 95 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council tell about the acknowledgement of the Baptism2 of some heretics, who express their wish to become part of the Church. Nevertheless, the wording and spirit of the text, judged from a theological viewpoint, shows that by no means is mentioned the return of the heterodox to The One Church, the Orthodox Church. On the contrary, the validity of the Baptism of heterodox is considered from the very beginning to be a matter of course – even without a pan-orthodox decision on this matter. In other words, the text legitimates the “baptismal theology”. In the same time, it is deliberately ignored that the contemporary heterodox from West (Roman-Catholics and Protestants) have not only one but a multitude of dogmas that separate them from the Orthodox Faith (besides Filioque, the created grace of Sacraments, primacy, infallibility, disclaim of icons and decisions of Ecumenical Synods, etc.)

          Article 21 as well raises some legitimate question marks, stating that “the Church has a favorable view on the theological documents adopted by the Commission (meaning the “Faith and Order” Committee)… regarding the approaching way of the Churches.” We have to point out here that these texts were not debated by the Synods of Local Orthodox Churches. Eventually, article 22 suggests that the upcoming Holy Great Council relies on the premise of infallibility regarding its decisions as it considers that “the preservation of the true Orthodox faith is only possible thanks to the conciliar structure which since ancient times has been for the Church the strong and final criterion in matters of faith”. This article overlooks the historical fact that in the Orthodox Church the decisive factor is represented by the dogmatic vigilant consciousness of the pleroma of the Church that in the past happened to validate or even judge as thievish some councils considered to be ecumenical. The synodal system by itself does not automatically ensure the correctness of the orthodox faith. This thing happens only when the synodal bishops have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them as well as the Hypostatic Path, meaning Jesus Christ so that the synodal participants are “successors of the Holy Fathers” in fact.

GENERAL EVALUATION OF THE TEXT

          It is obvious that the official texts and their suggestions clearly prove that the authors and their inspiring sources pursue a institutional legitimization of syncretism and Christian ecumenism through a pan-orthodox synodal decision. This act can however be catastrophic for the Orthodox Church. Thereby I humbly propose its total cancellation.

          One more theological observation regarding the text “THE SACRAMENT OF MARRIAGE AND ITS IMPEDIMENTS” In article 5 is mentioned: “The marriage of an Orthodox Christian with a non-Orthodox Christian is forbidden in accordance with the canonical acrivia and is not celebrated in the Church (Canon 72 of the Council of Trullo). It can be blessed out of indulgence and love of man if the children from this marriage are to be baptized and raised in the Orthodox Church”.

          Hereby, the clear condition that “the children from this marriage are to be baptized and raised in the Orthodox Church” is in contradiction with the theological validation of Marriage as Sacrament of the Orthodox Church and this is due to the children resulted from the marriage – regarding the baptism of children in the Orthodox Church – a fact that might approve the sacredness of mixed marriages, a clearly forbidden act by some canons of the Ecumenical Synods (72 from the Quinisext Ecumenical Council). In other words, a non-ecumenical Council, as the upcoming Holy and Great Synod is, relativizes a clear decision of an Ecumenical Synod, an unacceptable fact.

          And one more thing, if no children result from the mixed marriage ministered in the Orthodox Church, would the marriage be theologically validated in the virtue of the non-orthodox spouse’s intention to have his possible resulted children, integrated in the Orthodox Church?

          Therefore, from the theological viewpoint, paragraph 5 needs to be obliterated.

          Dimitrios Tselenghidis,

          Professor of Aristotel University from Thessaloniki

1I wrote this answer on the request of the Movement of Orthodox Jurists from the Republic of Moldavia, as organizers of the International Orthodox Theological Conference “Inter-religious syncretism” that approached the issue of the Holy Great Council having the blessing of His Eminence Vladimir, Metropolitan of Chisinau and entire Moldavia, in Chisinau, 21st-22nd of January 2016

2It institutionalizes the transformation of oikonomia into a dogma. According to the Orthodox teaching, oikonomia is a temporary deviation from acrivia and canon of faith due to human weakness, in exceptional cases, focusing on the return of people to the right faith, in spite of objective impediments.

 

Why only the Orthodox psalmodies can raise you to heaven?

The Byzantine music heals depression. It’s the music of the Church, the music of angels. The distressed soul is healed and sanctified by this.

The Church Fathers frequently emphasize in their texts the role of the Church music in the formation and cultivation of the Christian morality and exhort the Christians to praise God by means of music.

For the Holy Fathers music is a means for relieving passions, purifying souls and spiritual rejoicing.

Saint Basil the Great writes: ”Psalmody appeases souls, brings peace, stops the disturbance caused by the flood of thoughts.”

Great Athanasios also writes: ”By psalmody all the disturbance, wildness and disorder  dwelling in the soul calm down and the sorrow gets healed.”

And saint John Chrysostom says that by psalmody even the air gets sanctified. ”The mind hears the voice and changes, the chant gets in and chases away passions.”

Why do we light candles before the holy icons?

When you pray, the triune God watches you with eyes brighter and shinier than the sun!

Why do I offer material light (candles, lamps) to God or to the Mother of God or to an angel or saint? Saint John of Kronstadt wrote:”I offer material light (candles, lamps) to God, to the Mother of God, to an angel or saint so that they would give me with their prayers the light of the divine grace, the spiritual light, so that they would guide me far from the darkness of sin, in the light of the knowledge of God and virtues. I offer material light so that they would light in my heart the fire of the grace of the Holy Spirit and quench from my wretched heart the fire of passions.”

I offer light with the desire to become light myself, so as to warm and lighten all those who are in the church. This is why I light candles in front of the holy icons. These are my thoughts when I light candles and put them in the candlestick.

I confess that I put candles in front of the icons with the hope that I would receive the spiritual blessing from the saints painted on them. I confess my wish for a spiritual benefit. There is the law of reward, that of waiting gift for gift. ”With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you”1, the Lord said.

Likewise when you pray alone and your loneliness grieves you and disheartens you, you should know that the triune God watches you with eyes brighter and shinier than the sun! And your guardian angel, all the angels and saints of God do the same. You should firmly believe this. For they are all united with God. Where is God, they are with Him. Where is the sun, there are the rays.”

1 Matthew 7,2

Theotokos appeared to the president Assad in the Monastery of Saidnaya

It was one evening at the Theotokos monastery of Saidnaya, from the Kalamun Mountain in Syria.

The gates of the monastery had already been closed. An unexpected visitor knocked insistently at the gate. The nun whose duty was to stay at the gate of the monastery opened it, but not before finding out who was there. And it was indeed the president Bashar al Assad. The nuns got stunned by his unexpected and impressive presence. He greeted them respectfully and told them he had come to worship God. He only asked them to leave him alone in the church so as to pray to Theotokos undisturbed. For this reason he persistently asked them to let him be completely alone in the church. Then the nuns felt an unprecedented thrill. They assured him they would take care that his request would be fulfilled.

The president entered the church piously. The door was tightly closed after him. There, in the dim light of the church, he prayed to Theotokos…After a while the president got out of the church. He expressed his full satisfaction but told them that they did not keep their word. ” I asked you let me be alone in the church. Who was then that woman with the baby in her arms, who stayed with me in the church?” The nuns said that no woman entered the church, just as they promised. But that Lady he had seen could not have been anyone else but the Mother of God. The emotion all of them felt was extremely high…This happened during the war from Syria with so many victims.