EXPAND YOUR READING!!

"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Sunday, 29 September 2013

THE WORST PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS BY FANATICAL ISLAMISTS FOR MANY CENTURIES, AND WHAT DO OUR LEADERS DO? "OUR NATION IS A NATION OF FAITH2,, SAID OUR PM. NO SIGN OF IT HERE!

The remains of the Amir Tadros Coptic Church in Minya, southern Egypt. (VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG/AFP/Getty Images)
Beirut - Jihadist fighters linked to al-Qaeda set fire to statues and crosses inside churches in northern Syria on Thursday and destroyed a cross on a church clock tower, a watchdog said.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters entered the Greek Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation in the northern city of Raqa and torched the religious furnishings inside, the Syria Observatory for Human Rights said.

They did the same at the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs, and also destroyed a cross atop its clock tower, replacing it with the ISIL flag, the Observatory said.

Most of Raqa, located on the banks of the Euphrates River and capital of the province of the same name, fell to anti-regime fighters in March.

Where the ISIL dominates in the city, it imposes a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) on the populace.

The London-based Observatory denounced these attacks "against the freedom of religion, which are an assault on the Syrian revolution".

Not only have there been attacks on Christian places of worship in Syria, a predominantly Sunni Muslim country wracked by more than two years of civil war, but also on Shi'ite Muslim mosques.

Additionally, Christians clerics have been kidnapped, and some brutally murdered, by jihadists.

In January, the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson, said: "The destruction of religious sites is furthering sectarian fears and compounding the tragedies of the country."

"Syria will lose its rich cultural and religious diversity if armed groups do not respect places of worship."

The New York-based group said that "while some opposition leaders have pledged to protect all Syrians, in practice the opposition has failed to properly address the unjustified attacks against minority places of worship".

At the outset of the rebellion against President Bashar Assad, rebels welcomed the support of jihadist groups, largely made up of foreign fighters.

But the jihadists, where they have reached a position of dominance in specific parts of the country, are increasingly alienating the native population.

On Thursday, an ISIL commander from the United Arab Emirates was killed in fighting with Kurds in the north of Syria, the Observatory said.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Russian Patriarch to Obama: Syria's Christians Nearing 'Extermination'
SOURCE:  Middle East Forum
by Raymond Ibrahim

While many were fixated on Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent letter to the American people, another letter from another Russian leader—this one directly addressed to the U.S. president—was missed.

On September 10, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill issued a letter addressed to "His Excellency Mr. Barack Obama, President, United States." Whether one wishes to interpret this communique as a product of politics or sincerity, it accurately highlights the plight of Syria's Christians, especially in the broader context of a larger civilizational struggle.
I repost major portions of the letter below, interspersed with my observations for added context:
Your Excellency, Dear Mr. President,
The tragic events in Syria have raised anxiety and caused pain in the Russian Orthodox Church. We receive information about the situation there not from the news reports but from living evidence coming to us from religious figures, ordinary believers and our compatriots living in that country.
http://www.pravoslavie.ru/sas/image/101177/117712.p.jpg?0.1974014278654853
This is an important point: the "news reports" evaluated by the Russian church are from "living evidence coming to us from religious figures, ordinary believers and our compatriots living in that country." The fact is, outside of America's biased "mainstream media," the evidence concerning what is going on in Syria—namely, that Islamic militants are committing human rights atrocities, including possibly the chemical attacks in question—is overwhelming. Countless eyewitness testimonies, videos, pictures—all those things that rarely make it to the U.S. MSM—make this abundantly clear.
Ask the average Syrian about the current turmoil engulfing their land—and I have, as have numerous Russian Orthodox representatives in communion with Syria's ancient Christian community, as noted by Kirill—and few have any illusions as to its nature: an authoritarian, but secular, Assad vs. radical Islamists and jihadis.
Naturally most Syrians choose Assad.
Only in America, and to a lesser extent Western Europe, is the myth of "freedom fighters" trying to "liberate" Syria still being peddled.
Patriarch Kirill:
Syria today has become an arena of the armed conflict. Engaged in it are foreign mercenaries and militants linked with international terrorist centres. The war has become an everyday golgotha for millions of civilians.
To be sure, one of the most obvious indicators that this is no "civil war" in the name of "liberty" is the fact that the majority, up to 95%, of those fighting Assad are not even Syrian, but rather al-Qaeda linked jihadis—from Chechnya to the Philippines—trying to form an Islamic emirate in Syria as they did in the 1980s-90s in Afghanistan. Back then, foreign jihadis like Saudi Osama bin Laden and Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri—again, also supported by the U.S.—traveled to Afghanistan, "liberated" it from the U.S.S.R, and then gave us 9/11 in return a decade later.

Here, for example, is a video of foreign militants in a conquered Syrian town singing praises in honor of Osama bin Laden: "They called me a terrorist and I said 'that will be my honor,' this is a divine call …. We defeated America … the Trade [Center] became a bunch of rubble … Greetings from the Taliban and its leader mullah Omar… Victory is ours, winning is ours, and Allah with all his strength is with us, the infidel masses have come together to defeat us but they will not defeat us."

Patriarch Kirill:
We were deeply alarmed to learn about the plans of the US army to strike the territory of Syria. Undoubtedly, it will bring ever greater sufferings to the Syrian people, first of all, to the civilian population. An external military intervention may result in the radical forces coming to power in Syria who will not be able and will not wish to ensure inter-confessional accord in the Syrian society.

U.S. military intervention would undoubtedly lead to even more human rights abuses, first and foremost at the hands of al-Qaeda jihadis—who in fact are on record vowing to slaughter Christians after the U.S. intervenes and overthrows Assad; Obama just waived a U.S. law prohibiting the banning of terrorist organizations simply to arm and ultimately help them realize their ambitions.

U.S. military intervention would undoubtedly lead to even more human rights abuses, first and foremost at the hands of al-Qaeda jihadis—who in fact are on record vowing to slaughter Christians after the U.S. intervenes and overthrows Assad; Obama just waived a U.S. law prohibiting the banning of terrorist organizations simply to arm and ultimately help them realize their ambitions.

Patriarch Kirill:
Our special concern is for the fate of the Christian population of Syria, which in that case will come under the threat of total extermination or banishment. It has already happened in the regions of the country seized by militants. An attempt made by the armed groups of the Syrian opposition to seize the town of Ma'loula whose residents are predominantly Christians has become a new confirmation of our concerns. The militants keep shelling the town in which ancient Christian monasteries are located—the sites of special veneration by the faithful all over the world.
All absolutely true—especially "the threat of total extermination or banishment," which has been the case wherever and whenever U.S.-backed Islamists come to power:

Afghanistan: Under U.S. auspices, the supposedly "moderate" Karzai government still upholds the apostasy law—persecuting those who seek to convert to Christianity, making them just as intolerant as the Taliban—and, under U.S. auspices, destroyed the nation's last Christian church.
Iraq: After the U.S. "liberated" the nation from Saddam Hussein, the "chemical-weapon-using-tyrant"—sound familiar?—Christians are still being terrorized into extinction, more than half leaving their homeland.
Libya: Since U.S-backed terrorists came to power—giving American the Benghazi consulate attack on the anniversary of 9/11—the tiny Christian community there has been persecuted, including bombed churches and threatened nuns—things unprecedented under the "tyrant" Gaddafi.

Egypt: After coming to power, the Obama administration's Muslim Brotherhood allies enforced draconian blasphemy codes against Christians and are currently destroying countless churches and in some regions forcing Christians to pay jizya.
Syria: Atrocities against Christians by the U.S.-backed jihadis know no bounds—such as the recent gang rape and slaughter of a 15-year-old Christian girl by the U.S.-supported "freedom fighters." And now in Ma'loula, Christians are being forced to choose between converting to Islam or dying and other atrocities.

Patriarch Kirill:
The Christian hierarchs of Aleppo, Metropolitans Paul and John Ibrahim, have been held captive by militants since April 22. Nothing is known about their fate despite of the fact that a number of religious figures appealed to the leaders of their states to help to release them.
Indeed, here is yet another example of the nature of the people the U.S. government is supporting. Paul and John Ibrahim were traveling in Syria doing "humanitarian work" when their driver was killed and they were kidnapped. Maybe John McCain can phone his al-Qaeda kidnapping allies and ask them to release them? At any rate, there is no end to the amount of Christians, like Fr. Murad, who have been kidnapped and/or slaughtered by the jihadis in Syria.
Patriarch Kirill:
I am deeply convinced that the countries which belong to the Christian civilization bear a special responsibility for the fate of Christians in the Middle East.
Here the good patriarch speaks a language that may have once resonated with Americans and Europeans—that is, the people from "the countries which belong to the Christian civilization"—but which is increasingly meaningless to those whose "humanitarian concerns" extend to anyone but those unfashionable Christians, and to some American Protestants who are unaware that Christians actually exist outside of the U.S.

As do all eastern churches, however, the Russian Orthodox Church has centuries long experience with Islamic oppression and violence—beginning with the "Tatar yoke" and continuing to the present—and hence, not only sympathizes with the plight of Near East Christians, many of whom are Orthodox, but, as Putin himself recently asserted in a Russian conference dealing with the plight of Christians under Islam, "Russia has tremendous experience in reaching and maintaining inter-confessional peace and accord, and is ready to share it."

Patriarch Kirill:
The Russian Orthodox Church knows the price of human sufferings and losses since in the 20th century our people survived two devastating world wars which claimed millions of lives and ruined many people's lives. We also regard as our own pain the pain and losses the American people suffered in the terrible terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001.
Alas, some people remember the lessons of history, to their benefit; others forget, to their regret.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (Regnery, April, 2013) is a Middle East and Islam specialist, and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.


THE EXTINCTION OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST


my source~ Mosaic Magazine ( The Spectator)

The last month and a half has seen perhaps the worst anti-Christian violence in Egypt in seven centuries, with dozens of churches torched. Yet the western media has mainly focussed on army assaults on the Muslim Brotherhood, and no major political figure has said anything about the sectarian attacks.

Last week at the National Liberal Club there was a discussion asking why the American and British press have ignored or under-reported this persecution, and (in some people’s minds) given a distorted narrative of what is happening.

Among the four speakers was the frighteningly impressive Betsy Hiel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, who has spent years in Egypt and covered Iraq and Afghanistan. There were lots of stories of Muslims protecting Christian neighbours, but there were also incidents with frightening echoes; Hiel described a man riding on his bike past a burned down church and laughing, which brought to my mind the scene in Schindler’s List when local Poles make throat-slitting gestures to Jews en route to Auschwitz.

Some of this has been reported, but the focus has been on the violence committed against the Brotherhood. Judging by the accounts given by one of the other speakers, Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom, the American press is even more blind, and their government not much better; when Mubarak was overthrown one US agency assessed the Muslim Brotherhood as being ‘essentially secular’.

The night ended with historian Tom Holland declaring sadly that we are now seeing the extinction of Christianity and other minority faiths in the Middle East. As he pointed out, it’s the culmination of the long process that began in the Balkans in the late 19th century, reached its horrific European climax in 1939-1945, and continued with the Greeks of Alexandria, the Mizrahi Jews and most recently the Chaldo-Assyrian Christians of Iraq. The Copts may have the numbers to hold on, Holland said, and the Jews of Israel, but can anyone else?

Without a state (and army) of their own, minorities are merely leaseholders. The question is whether we can do anything to prevent extinction, and whether British foreign policy can be directed towards helping Christian interests rather than, as currently seems to be the case, the Saudis.

The saddest audience question was from a young man who I’m guessing was Egyptian-British. He asked: ‘Where was world Christianity when this happened?’

Nowhere. Watching X-Factor. Debating intersectionality. Or just too frightened of controversy to raise Muslim-on-Christian violence.

Bishop Angaelos, leader of the UK Copts, also expressed disappointment at the response from other religious leaders, saying that if Christians burned down 10 synagogues or mosques, let alone 50, they’d be going over to show their sympathy and shame.


The most outspoken British religious leader has been Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and the debate brought to mind something Rabbi Sacks recently said about Middle Eastern Christians, comparing their fate with those of the Jews in Europe, and quoting Martin Luther King: ‘In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’


Saturday, 28 September 2013

HOW DO WE TEACH/LEARN THEOLOGY

 LINTULA CONVENT IN FINLAND


FATHER JOHN BEHR: LIFE, FAITH, LEARNING & CULTURE IN ORTHODOXY

 VALAAM MONASTERY CHOIR

Friday, 27 September 2013

A BIG HEART OPEN TO GOD & Sept 27th: Feast of St Vincent de Paul: SPIRITUAL INSIGHTS.


There is a lot of nonsense talked about Pope Francis in the secular press and among liberals who do not really understand Catholicism; and there are a lot of fears from people who have come to believe that we can only meet the modern world and Catholics who are confused by it by harping on our differences - orthodoxy with a snarl; and many are disappointed by his different attitude towards liturgy.

One clue to help explain him is that South America is still Catholic, in spite of the reverses it has suffered and is suffering as governments and some people rush to imitate the West.   He is neither defensive nor sectarian in his Catholicism and believes in embracing everyone, just as in Buenos Aires.   I believe people would understand his liturgical priorities if their pastoral experience included celebrating Mass among the South American poor, among people with a very strong sense of the holy which, nevertheless, is very different from that of people who attend Brompton Oratory.

However, the key to many of his off the cuff remarks can be understood if it is borne in mind that he is what George Weigel calls a "Catholic Evangelical".   Perhaps one of the people who would have understood his remarks about continuing to harp on abortion, same sex marriage and women priests,, would have been the late David Wilkerson of "The Cross and the Switchblade" fame, if he could have got over the fact that the Pope is a Catholic .   In that book, he wrote:

"You win over people just like you win over a dog. You see a dog passing down the street with an old bone in his mouth. You don't grab the bone from him and tell him it's not good for him. He'll growl at you. It's the only thing he has. But you throw a big fat lamb chop in front of him, and he's going to drop that bone and pick up the lamb chop, his tail wagging to beat the band. And you've got a friend. Instead of going around grabbing bones from people... I'm going to throw them some lamb chops. Something with real meat and life in it. I'm going to tell them about New Beginnings.” 
― David Wilkerson, The Cross and the Switchblade

Let us tell people that the Lord is Risen! Let them absorb all that this means for them.   Let them savour it.   Let them rejoice in it.   Bring them to a point where they are happy to respond, where they are eager to do what the Lord wants.   Let them reach a point when whatever God wants them to do is the most important thing in their lives.   THEN they will see the prohibitions within the only context in which they make sense.   

The world around us is not like in the past.   It is not a Christian world that has heard the Gospel but only needs to be kept on the straight and narrow.   It is a secular world that has not heard the Gospel; but, too often, only hears of obligations and prohibitions.   This is the preoccupation of the Pope.   The message that the Church has to give is Jesus - nothing less and nothing more. Everything flows from that.


"I Am a Son of the Church": A Big Heart Open to God, the Papal Interview Which Confounded the Media:
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) -  Fr. Antonio Spadaro is one of a growing number of people who have received unexpected phone calls from Pope Francis. He was not in the office so the Jesuit Pope called his cell phone. He told the Jesuit priest that he wanted to give him an exclusive interview. 

Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit Journal edited by Fr. Spadaro, released the 10,000 word interview on September 19, 2013 in sixteen Jesuit Journals and magazines. It is appropriately entitled "A Big Heart Open to God". 

The entire interview is available in English (in the United Kingdom) in the Jesuit publication entitled Thinking Faith They also offer it here in PDF format. In the United States, the interview is available in the Jesuit magazine America. However, for reasons I do not understand, they have restricted the use of their translation. 

Like most things Francis, this wide ranging, honest and open interview has the Media confounded and abuzz with reporting which ranges from surprise to sincere confusion and some misguided analysis. However, the fact that so many members of the media are truly rife with interest in the message of this Pope and the Church is truly exciting. 

I believe he knew this would happen and that is why he gave the interview. He is a missionary Pope with a big pastoral heart. Though there are misinterpretations in the media fueled by political and cultural agendas - just as there were when he gave his interview on the plane coming back from World Youth Day - the numbers are beginning to decline.  

The interview must be read in its entirety in order to understand the profundity and simplicity of its message- as well as to experience the soul of the man who gave these responses to some excellent questions posed by Fr Antonio Spadaro. 

I invite all readers of Catholic Online to take the time and read this interview for yourself right here. Please, as a Catholic or other Christian reading this article, do not accept the media reports as accurate. Read the interview for yourself!

These responses were given by a very human Pope named Francis. They are warm, lively, honest, pastoral, compassionate, candid, evangelical, big hearted, and faithful to the teaching of the Church and the unbroken, ancient but ever new, Catholic Christian faith.  

What the interview confirms to me is that Pope Francis is an evangelical Catholic in the best sense of the adjective, wanting all men and women to come to know Jesus, the Evangel, and to find a home in His Body, the Church. He calls the whole Church, and her Bishops, priests, and deacons, to a proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed, in what he refers to as having a missionary style. How appropriate, given the fact that we are living in a new missionary age.  

This Pope has a big heart open to God and open to all of those whom God loves. That means all men and women, at every stage of their journey through life. He is encouraging all of us who bear the name Christian to open our own hearts to God - and to all men and women in the love of God - realizing the magnitude of God's mercy. God always allows us to begin and begin again.   

When the interview was released, Fr. Spadaro told the Press it was "one of the most beautiful spiritual experiences of my life." After reading it several times, I can understand why. 

For any readers who may worry, perhaps because they have read or heard some media reports which suggested wrongly that Pope Francis is veering away from the truth as taught by the Catholic Faith on major matters of profound moral importance, nothing could be further from the truth. 

He is, in his own words, a "son of the Church." He cannot change her teaching and he does not seek to do so. He fully embraces this teaching precisely because he knows it is true. It also informs his compassionate, pastoral outreach to a world in need of hearing its liberating and saving message. As for its practices, some of its disciplines and applications, that may be a different matter.

In a response touching upon this topic of the major moral issues so often discussed when the Catholic Church is discussed, he told Father Spadaro that "when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

I have decided that the best thing I can do as Editor in Chief of Catholic Online is to expose our readers to this extraordinary interview in order to pique their interest so that they will go here and read it completely, from beginning to end.  

In the excerpts which I offer below I begin about half way through the interview. Pope Francis is speaking of the holiness of ordinary folks. He offers some of his own life experience and insights. 

Following that, I offer only  two of the questions posed by  Fr Antonio Spadaro and the response of this Pope who is so appropriately named after the little poor man of Assisi named Francis.

***** 

EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW WITH POPE FRANCIS
A Big Heart Open to God

I see the holiness," the pope continues, "in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. 

"I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypomoné [the New Testament Greek word], taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day. This is the sanctity of the militant church also mentioned by St. Ignatius.

This was the sanctity of my parents: my dad, my mom, my grandmother Rosa who loved me so much. In my breviary I have the last will of my grandmother Rosa, and I read it often. For me it is like a prayer. She is a saint who has suffered so much, also spiritually, and yet always went forward with courage.

"This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be. 

You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: 'Here's an unfruitful bachelor' or 'Here's a spinster.' They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life. Instead, for example, when I read the life of the Salesian missionaries who went to Patagonia, I read a story of the fullness of life, of fruitfulness.

"Another example from recent days that I saw got the attention of newspapers: the phone call I made to a young man who wrote me a letter. I called him because that letter was so beautiful, so simple. For me this was an act of generativity. I realized that he was a young man who is growing, that he saw in me a father, and that the letter tells something of his life to that father. The father cannot say, 'I do not care.' This type of fruitfulness is so good for me."

Pope Benedict XVI, in announcing his resignation, said that the contemporary world is subject to rapid change and is grappling with issues of great importance for the life of faith. Dealing with these issues requires strength of body and soul, Pope Benedict said. I ask Pope Francis: "What does the church need most at this historic moment? Do we need reforms? What are your wishes for the church in the coming years? What kind of church do you dream of?"

Pope Francis begins by showing great affection and immense respect for his predecessor: 

"Pope Benedict has done an act of holiness, greatness, humility. He is a man of God.

"I see clearly," the pope continues, "that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.

"The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. 

The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, 'This is not a sin' or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.

"How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherd. The church's ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary¬ - that is, they come afterward. 

The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people's night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. 

The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.

"Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage." 

I mention to Pope Francis that there are Christians who live in situations that are irregular for the church or in complex situations that represent open wounds. I mention the divorced and remarried, same-sex couples and other difficult situations. What kind of pastoral work can we do in these cases? What kinds of tools can we use? 

"We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner," the pope says, "preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are 'socially wounded' because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. 

During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person. 

"A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: 'Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person. 

Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.

"This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord's mercy motivates us to do better. 

I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?

"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

"The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. 

Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. 

The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

"I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. 

Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. 

But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. 

The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor's proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ."

-The Jesuit Who Humiliated the Generals
The story never told before of the clandestine network with which the young Bergoglio saved dozens of "subversives" from the ferocity of the Argentine dictators

by Sandro Magister


ROME, September 27, 2013 – In his interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica" that has gone all around the world, Pope Francis describes the Church as “a field hospital after battle,” where the very first thing to do is “heal wounds.”

But what changes when the battle is fully underway?

In his Argentina, between 1976 and 1983, Jorge Mario Bergoglio lived through the 'years of lead' of the military dictatorship. Kidnappings, torture, massacres, 30,000 disappeared, 500 mothers killed after giving birth in prison to children who were taken away from them. 

What the young provincial of the Argentine Jesuits at the time did during those years long remained a mystery. So dense as to prompt the suspicion that he had passively witnessed the horror, or worse, had exposed to greater danger some of his confrères, those most committed among the resistance. 

Last spring, immediately after his election as pope, these accusations were issued again.

They were also immediately contradicted by authoritative voices, albeit highly critical of the overall role of the Argentine Church in those years: the mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Nobel peace laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Amnesty International. The Argentine magistracy itself had exonerated Bergoglio of all accusations, after having subjected him to questioning in a proceeding between 2010 and 2011.

But if at this point it was established that the current pope had done nothing worthy of condemnation, it was still unknown what good he might have done during those terrible years, to “heal wounds.”

*

Unknown until yesterday. Because to lift the veil from this hidden face of the past of Pope Francis for the first time a book has now been published by EMI, small in its dimensions but explosive in its content. It will be in Italian bookstores as of October 3, and then gradually in eight other countries of the world where translations are already underway. “Bergoglio's List" is its title. And one thinks immediately of “Schindler's list” immortalized by the film of Steven Spielberg. Because the substance is the same, as the subtitle of the book says: “Those saved by Francis during the dictatorship. The story never told.”

There is in the final part of the book the complete transcription of the questioning to which the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires was subjected on November 8, 2010.

In front of three judges, Bergoglio was hammered for three hours and forty-five minutes with insidious questions, above all by the attorney Luis Zamora, the lawyer for the victims. A key passage of the questioning comes when Bergoglio is asked to justify his meetings with the generals Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, in 1977.

Two priests very close to him, Frs. Franz Yalics and Orlando Yorio, had been abducted and confined in a secret location. The first had been for two years his spiritual director, and the second his professor of theology, before they dedicated themselves to working with the poor of the "villas miseria" of Buenos Aires, which had made them a target of the repression. When they were captured, the then-provincial of the Jesuits found out where they were being kept. He learned that they were at the infamous Escuela Superior de Medicina of the naval officers, from which few came out alive.

To ask for their liberation, Bergoglio wanted to meet above all with General Videla, who at the time was the first in command of the junta. And he was able to do so twice, the second time convincing the priest who said Mass at the home of the general to pretend to be sick so that he could replace him. From his conversation with the general he received definitive confirmation that the two Jesuits were in the prisons of the navy.

So there was nothing else to do than to go to Admiral Massera, an irascible and vindictive personage. Again there were two meetings. The second was very brief. "I told him: Look, Massera, I want them back alive. I got up and left,” Bergoglio stated during the questioning of 2010.

 The following night fathers Yalics and Yorio were drugged, loaded onto a helicopter, and unloaded in the middle of a swamp.

But the two priests, during six months of imprisonment and torture, had been made to believe that they had been informed on by their father provincial. And in a file of the secret service someone wrote: "In spite of the good will of father Bergoglio, the Society of Jesus in Argentina has not cleaned itself up," insinuating complicity with the repression.

"A dirty trick" was the dismissive comment on this insinuation from the prosecutor of the 1985 trial that sentenced to life in prison both Videla and Massera.

As for Frs. Yalics and Yorio, both of them acknowledged the falsity of the accusations against their superior, with whom they were publicly reconciled.

*

The provincial of the Jesuits at the time had succeeded in giving the generals the idea that he had taken refuge at his Colegio Máximo of San Miguel, waiting for better days. But what the book reveals for the first time is a great deal more.

Nello Scavo, a legal affairs reporter for "Avvenire" and the author of the investigation, discovered by tracking down numerous escapees and putting their testimonies together like a puzzle that Bergoglio had silently stitched together a clandestine network that succeeded in saving many dozens if not hundreds of persons in danger of their lives.

While General Videla was hatching his bloody plans from the great halls of the Casa Rosada, a few steps away, down the alley that leads to the quarter of Monserrat, there was the church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, with an adjoining Jesuit residence and school. And there the provincial of the Jesuits met with the targets of persecution for their last instructions before they clandestinely boarded boats that were carrying fruit and merchandise from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, in Uruguay, an hour away by water. The military officers could never have imagined that this priest would defy them from so nearby.

The success of every operation was tied to the secrecy that held even among those who conducted them or benefited from them. The persons who entered the network of protection organized by Bergoglio did not know about the others who were in the same condition as themselves.

At the college of San Miguel there arrived and departed, apparently in order to study or for a spiritual retreat or the discernment of a vocation, men and women who in reality were wanted as “subversives.” To get them to safety the destination was often Brazil, where there was an analogous network of protection organized by the local Jesuits.

But Bergoglio was the only one who held all the strings. The elderly Jesuit Juan Manuel Scannone, who is today the most important theologian of Argentina and the one most esteemed by the current pope, was also at San Miguel at the time. But he didn't have a clue. Only after many years did he and others begin to confide in each other and understand. "If one of us had known and had been abducted and subjected to torture, the whole network of protection would have fallen apart. Father Bergoglio was aware of this risk, and for this reason he kept everything secret. A secret that he maintained even afterward, because he never wanted to boast about that exceptional mission of his.”

The "list" of Bergoglio is a collection of highly diverse personal stories, which make for exhilarating reading, whose common characteristic is that the people in them were saved by him.

There is Alicia Oliveira, the first woman to become a judge in the criminal courts in Argentina and also the first to be dismissed after the military coup, non-Catholic and not even baptized, who went underground and was taken by Bergoglio, in the trunk of his car, to the college of San Miguel, to see her three children.

There are the three seminarians of the bishop of La Rioja, Enrique Angelelli, who was killed in 1976 by members of the military in a staged auto accident, after he had discovered who was truly responsible for numerous assassinations.

There is Alfredo Somoza, the scholar saved without his knowledge.

There are Sergio and Ana Gobulin, who worked in the slums and were married by Father Bergoglio, he arrested and she wanted, both saved and expatriated with the help of the Italian vice-consul in Argentina at the time, Enrico Calamai, another hero of the story.

As pope, but first as a man, Francis does not cease to amaze.

__________


The book, on sale as of October 3:

Nello Scavo, "La lista di Bergoglio. I salvati da Francesco durante la dittatura," preface by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Editrice Missionaria Italiana, Bologna, 2013, pp. 192, euro 11.90.
--
Sept. 27th: The Feast &Spiritual Insights from St. Vincent de Paul

“No matter what others say or do, even if the wicked succeed, do not be troubled: commit everything to God and put your trust in him.”

“Extend mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His mercy from us?”

"You have been chosen to be at the disposition of Divine Providence and, if you do not fully submit ot It, you will lose much."

"But do you know what it is to labor in charity? It is to labor in God, for God is charity, and it is to labor for God purely and entirely; it is to do so in the grace of God."

"Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances."

"We must love our neighbor as being made in the image of God and as an object of His love."

"Free your mind from all that troubles you; God will take care of things. You will be unable to make haste in this (choice) without, so to speak, grieving the heart of God, because he sees that you do not honor him sufficiently with holy trust. Trust in him, I beg you, and you will have the fulfillment of what your heart desires."

"It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer.... Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity."

"Perfection consists in one thing alone, which is doing the will of God. For, according to Our Lord's words, it suffices for perfection to deny self, to take up the cross and to follow Him. Now who denies himself and takes up his cross and follows Christ better than he who seeks not to do his own will, but always that of God? Behold, now, how little is needed to become as Saint? Nothing more than to acquire the habit of willing, on every occasion, what God wills."

"He who allows himself to be ruled or guided by the lower and animal part of his nature, deserves to be called a beast rather than a man."

"Whoever wishes to make progress in perfection should use particular diligence in not allowing himself to be led away by his passions, which destroy with one hand the spiritual edifice which is rising by the labors of the other. But to succeed well in this, resistance should be begun while the passions are yet weak; for after they are thoroughly rooted and grown up, there is scarcely any remedy."

"We ought to deal kindly with all, and to manifest those qualities which spring naturally from a heart tender and full of Christian charity; such as affability, love and humility. These virtues serve wonderfully to gain the hearts of men, and to encourage them to embrace things that are more repugnant to nature."

"It ought to be considered a great misfortune, not only for individuals, but also for Houses and Congregations, to have everything in conformity with their wishes; to go on quietly, and to suffer nothing for the love of God. Yes, consider it certain that a person or a Congregation that does not suffer and is applauded by all the world is near a fall."


"Humility and charity are the two master-chords: one, the lowest; the other, the highest; all the others are dependent on them. Therefore it is necessary, above all, to maintain ourselves in these two virtues; for observe well that the preservation of the whole edifice depends on the foundation and the roof. "

Thursday, 26 September 2013

FROM ST ELIZABETH'S ORTHODOX CONVENT IN MINSK (See page button above among pages). AN ABBESS, A PRIEST & A FAMOUS ATHLETE


Interview with Mother Anastasia, the Abbess of Devič Convent


You said there are six sisters in your convent now?

Yes, there are. One of the sisters is young, I am middle-aged like one other sister, and three sisters are older than me. I have been here since the autumn of 1968, and the older sisters have been here since 1957 or even 1953.

How did you find yourself in this convent?

I was born in central Serbia. There was a nun in this convent from my native land of Valjevo. She was visiting her relatives, and when she was about to return to the convent, I decided to go with her..

Why did you choose this convent?

It happened as a matter of course. I had long wanted to become a nun. It was unusual for a would-be novice to take a tour of convents in order to choose the one that suits her best. If a girl wanted to become a nun, everything depended on who she would meet. She would go to the convent which her spiritual adviser had chosen for her, and she would remain at that convent forever.

So it was out of obedience?

Yes. I was twelve at that time. As I grew up, I used to think a lot, and finally I came to the conclusion that I would like to remain in this convent forever. My path inevitably led me to this convent. Of course, I was looking for the meaning of life as hard as I could when I was 12.

What was the convent like at the time when you came here? How many sisters were there?

There were twelve of us. Two more girls came from my native land a while later. However, one of them abandoned monastic lifestyle later, and the other one is now in another convent, not far from Valjevo.

What was the rule of life at the convent at that time?

Those were hard times, the times of Communist persecution. Monasteries and convents had many difficulties, we had to work very hard. Lay people also worked hard, especially peasants and farmers.

We had 18 hectares of arable land, just like now. We used to employ paid labourers in order to plough the land at that time, but later, when the regime softened its grip on religion, the faithful would come and help us.

Each time has its advantages and disadvantages. People were choosing the monastic life wholeheartedly in those days, and it was hard to imagine anyone who left her convent, especially the one that was one's first convent. One thing we knew for certain: one must never even think of leaving her convent.

What is the life at the convent like now?

You see, we now cannot have a special rule because there are too few of us here. However, we stick to the general monastic rules, we celebrate matins and vespers, we make crosses and prayer ropes, which we send to other monasteries and convents on the pilgrim trail.

Is the exit from the convent restricted for security reasons?

We do not have absolute freedom of movement. We can travel as far as Mitrovica but we do not feel at ease, like in a free and safe country, we cannot stay anywhere for a long time.

We have only recently begun our monastic life. Please tell us what do you consider to be the most important in monasticism.

It is hard to say what is the most important. It is vital that we understand that if we decide to follow Christ, we must never give up. If only we follow this rule, everything else will be added unto us. It is very difficult to struggle with doubts, and proper sequence of doing things is essential. It is a very crucial thing to know during the moments of temptation that we must stand up to it. This is very important. It is during these hard moments (sometimes they even do not last long) that we are prone to mistakes. For instance, we are sometimes ready to leave our monastery and go to another monastery – if not abandon monastic life altogether – even due to a minor and insignificant quarrel, although things will not be different there, or anywhere, for that matter.

Our convent is big. There are numerous workshops and lots of obediences… It is hard to maintain inner peace. What can we do?

We should take care of ourselves because we do not know the scope of our responsibility for other people. First of all, we will bear responsibility for ourselves.

Unfortunately, sometimes there is too little time to pray the monastic prayer rule or to attend church services……

You see, if someone is tired because of doing something really useful, this is tantamount to prayer. With that said, we should be careful not to look for justification of neglect, not to justify ourselves when we are not really tired. You know, sometimes people start paying too much attention to their physical condition, “Oh wait, I’m tired and it hurts…” If this is really so, it is justifiable because it is the consequence of his or her effort.

What can we do with the prayer rule then?

We should make sure that we are not too lax about our prayer rule because otherwise it may lead us too far. If we do not accomplish everything that we had to, we should feel guilty but not depressed.

I often think that it is extremely difficult to live in accordance with monastic vows…
Abbess Anastasia near the convent demolished by Albanians.

This work is not important in itself. For example, if we travel somewhere and have God on our minds, it does not matter if we read an akathist during that trip or not. We can read an akathist formally, while having our thoughts wandering far and wide. However, this formal effort can also be useful. A saint told his disciple, “Read the prayers aloud, my son.” – “Father, I do not understand anything.” – “You just have to go on reading, my son.” This is meaningful in some respect but it is wrong to place too much emphasis on it. On the other hand, the results will be seen later, so the process is also essential. You see, even if our thoughts ramble far and wide while reading, it does not mean that this will always be true of us. In the meantime we will read this or that prayer again, and perhaps be more focused and be more capable of grasping what we read.

How can we keep the grace of our monastic tonsure within our souls? Sometimes it is very problematic to allocate time for contemplation about our sins,to take a closer look into our souls, because all we have time to think about is our daily obedience.

Yes, but you still have some time left because everything we do is for God's sake. If we spade a field, we know that we spade God's field, and this is prayer already. We are here in order to enjoy the fullness and the richness of everything that the Lord created.

Sometimes resolving a spiritual problem is quite complicated and one has to search for the right answer a long time...

If we always have our final goal in front of our eyes, if we are always eager to achieve it, everything else will seem (and, in fact, be) transient. I believe that every person has certain blessed moments when everything is easy. We should remember those moments when we are in for hard times and hope for a happy return to this blessed state, until we are granted the Everlasting Bliss. I do not think that there is anyone who would never have experienced it, even among the lay people who are less focused on their spiritual life. This bliss is revealed to us both to support us in our struggle and to make us responsible: we will not be able to justify our neglect if we have already received the proof of the eternal bliss. However, no one could possibly expect this blessed state to be permanent. Perhaps, we will reap the fruit of our labour when we grow old. When one is still young, everything is bound to change: sometimes there is consolation and joy, and sometimes there are hardships.

We may find ourselves in a situation when we have no spiritual advisor around. However, we still have the examples of the Holy Fathers. In the times of turmoil, the great spiritual counsellors ask, “What does God teach you?” It means that there is no clear advice.

Father Sava from the Gorioč Monastery told us that he had been called up for military service when he was young. He went to his elder to ask what he should do in the Communist army: there is no such thing as fast there... His spiritual father answered, “Act according to what God teaches you.” They spent a lot of time talking, and Father Sava asked his elder about fasting in the army again. The answer was the same, “Act according to what God teaches you.” They went on talking, but Father Sava was uneasy about his problem so he asked the same question again. His spiritual father replied again, “I have already told you that you should act according to what God teaches you.” So he went to the army (the term of military service was two or three years back then). He told us that he always managed to fast somehow: sometimes it was very difficult and impossible to do because of strict control but generally there was always a way out. His friends helped him; they would exchange their foods for his. That was how he went through the military service. When he returned to his elder, the latter told him, “If I had told you that you had to keep on fasting, you might be tempted to say that it would be impossible. You would be really depressed to have trespassed the commandment. If I said, “Of course, you won't be able to do everything you have to,” you would be negligent and would not make efforts to fast. In fact, you did just what you had to do.”

“MINSK IS IN OUR MIDST!”


Jadranka Uskoković

Blessed is he who deserves the eternal life. His birth was not in vain.” This is a quotation from a poem by Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, the ruler of Montenegro in the 19th century... These are the words I would like to use as I begin my story about our Father Luke of Cetinje, Dajbabe and Belarus. These were the words that our ruler of old used to establish the law for us, poor and oppressed, yet Christ-loving Montenegrins: “Bear your crosses and follow Christ...”

Father Luke, whose name literally means “light”, was tonsured in front of the relics of the brave Peter I of Cetinje whom God had glorified, as well as in the presence of the right hand of St John the Forerunner and a particle of the Holy Cross. He used to visit St Elisabeth Convent in Minsk several times.

He visited the Convent for the first time when he had the obedience of accompanying a delegation who brought the right hand of St John the Forerunner to Minsk. This visit left a deep impression on the soul of Father Luke. The way how His Eminence Philaret, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, met him - “glorifying St John” - filled Fr Luke's heart with joy. He told me afterwards that he had not expected such warm welcome.

When he returned from Minsk and told me that it was as though he had been in paradise, I also began visiting this Convent. It was his first visit to Minsk that opened the doors of the Convent of Saint Elisabeth to me.

Ядранка Ускокович When I heard that the only obedience there is “to love one another”, I went to Minsk in 2010, with God's help. My first encounter with Father Luke was a blessing to go to the “Pure Russia” (that was how Fr Luke saw your country). He was right because “all things are clean unto the clean ones.”

When I returned he met me with his arms wide open and greeted me saying, “Minsk is in our midst!” and I replied, “It is and it will be!” Then I saw how much he loved your Convent and all of you. Father Luke used to tell me that he had been very surprised when Father Andrew invited him to the sanctuary in order to concelebrate. He was a little spellbound from happiness. After the service, he addressed the faithful in Serbian saying that he came from a remote country. Father Andrew added, “... but it is close to our hearts.”

С монахом Василием в Свято-Елисаветинском монастыре
С монахиней Верой
Each visit of Father Luke to Minsk was full of grace. He told me that a five-year-old girl named Barbara pleaded with the Lord to allow him to come here again. And then a miracle happened! Just a couple of days passed when the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral received a letter of invitation for Father Luke to come to Minsk.

В Свято-Елисаветинском монастыре When he told me that he was going to Minsk again, I was very glad. I told him, “See how they love us! There are no limits for God's love!” His love was the answer to your great love. He followed Christ whom he faithfully served with all his heart and mind and with a joyful liturgical song.

His clean eyes saw everyone as clean and holy. He loved and appreciated Father Andrew very much. He used to say that Father Valery and Father Sergius were “the souls of his own soul.” His soul was so simple and pure that he used to say that all the deacons and monks will go to the Heaven! He could not find the words to speak about the Sisterhood of the Convent, and the rite of forgiveness among the sisters was a revelation to him!

Общение с сестрами Свято-Елисаветинского монастыря
С дьяконом Артемием в Свято-Елисаветинском монастыре
С мальчиком Мишей в Троице-Сергиевой Лавре He said, “Mother Augusta loves you very much, Mother Athanasia sent you some sweets, Joanna of Decani sends an icon of St Elisabeth to you, Novice Alla sends you a CD...” What can I say about the fact that they managed to make a vestment for him in just one night! He could not believe that. His soul was like the soul of a child. Often, he was hit hard because of his patience, joy and light. He was a friend to both the rich and the poor.

Христос Воскресе, отче Лука!
Father Luke went to the Lord peacefully, with a radiant face and a prayer rope in his hand.


I am exceedingly grateful to the Lord that He allowed Father Luke to visit your Convent, And that everyone, guards, sisters of mercy, novices and nuns alike, loved him. Thank you for praying for him! We should not be sorrowful because of Fr Luke's death. Let us rejoice that the Lord decided to take him to the Heaven.

Translated by Fyodor Vaskovsky

Photos by Nun Helena (Strashnova), Novice Alla (Prokudina), Svetl


FEELING HIS LOVE...
Helena Gulidova

Since 2004, the city of Brest in Belarus has become known not only as the city where the famous Brest Fortress is situated but also as the place where Yulia Nestsiarenka, the quickest female runner in the world, lives. Mass media have informed the public what her way towards the Olympic gold medals was like: countless training sessions and constant self-improvement... However, few people know that not long before her triumph in Athens, Yulia visited the Pochaiv Lavra, and this was her first pilgrimage and her first steps towards the Church.

Yulia recalls, “The sports event that I had to take part in was really important for me, but when I was standing in front of the holy relics, I did not dare ask the Lord to grant me a victory and an award... I simply asked Him to help me to go through all this. Even now I remember how I felt after my pilgrimage to Pochaiv: I had a feeling that the world around me had changed, I fell in love with this gracious place, and I wanted to bring everyone to Pochaiv so that they could feel what I felt. Before I went to the Olympic Games, I confessed, took communion, and asked a priest to bless me.

When I reached the finals, I was totally worn out and very exhausted. Nevertheless, I reminded myself of my native country, of my relatives and friends rooting for me. I continued to think that I should not dare ask God about anything so I said, “Thy will be done, O Lord.” Later I realised that these were the most important words in my entire life. The Lord performed a miracle. Needless is to say that I had done a lot of training and made many efforts, and my coach had also done a lot to help me win but I believe that it was the Lord who granted me the victory at the Olympic Games in Athens because everything happens according to His will. There are many miracles in the life of each individual but unfortunately not everyone is able to acknowledge it: some people believe that these miracles are mere coincidences, while others consider these miracles to be the result of their own hard work. There are few people who can thank God for the miracles that He makes.

Yulia Nestsiarenka is now a parishioner of St Nicholas Garrison Cathedral in Brest, which is located in the Brest Fortress. “I have been a parishioner of this church for several years already, and I try to have the Lord on the first place in my life,” she says. “It was hard for me at first to understand how one could love the Lord more than his own parents, children, friends, and himself. However, now I come to realise that all our relatives and friends are a gift from God, and it is He who gives us everything we love and appreciate; this is why we ought to have Him in the centre of our lives.”

Yulia has many Orthodox Christian friends and acquaintances. They also contributed to her spiritual development and her becoming a practising Christian. For instance, the Belarusian athlete made a pilgrimage to the Pochaiv Lavra together with Jana Zareckaja who sings in a church choir. Yulia has also visited Diveevo, the holy places of Serpukhov and Smolensk, the Holy Trinity–St Sergius Lavra, and even St Basil of Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro. The Olympic champion regularly goes on pilgrimages to the holy springs, monasteries, churches, and shrines, both in Belarus and abroad.

Yulia got to know about St Elisabeth Convent in the summer of 2012. A friend from Serbia came to Jana so she asked Yulia to help her show the holy places and tourist attractions of Minsk and Brest. Together they visited St Elisabeth Convent where Yulia got to know Nun Magdalene who left an indelible mark on Yulia's soul. Yulia visited our Convent several times thereafter, and she managed to meet Nun Magdalene again during her pilgrimage on foot to the Holy Mount of Grabarka. It was then that the famous athlete got to know other sisters of our Convent.

It was Jana again who invited her to this pilgrimage, and they travelled together. Yulia recalled that Nun Magdalene came from Poland so she was looking forward to meeting her somewhere in the booths selling church goods. Her guess was accurate; better yet, Nun Magdalene also remembered Yulia and Jana.

It might seem that a pilgrimage on foot is an easy task for a person who can run 100 metres in 10 seconds. Nonetheless, Yulia confessed that it was the most difficult pilgrimage for her. “I had anticipated some hardships because the day before our trip I was so depressed that I did not want to go anywhere and see anyone. Despite that, I made up my mind to go to the pilgrimage. On our first day, I was apathetic, depressed, and maybe to some extent even indifferent to what was going on around me. There were pilgrims from Poland walking side by side with me but I do not know Polish... Jana was walking in the front row and singing aloud together with other pilgrims all the time. So I was alone with my thoughts, so to say. My emotional and physical state changed several times during the walk. Although I do regular workouts and my body is well trained, this walk was very hard for me: it seemed to me that each cell of my body ached but I still tried to walk forward because I realised that I was doing this for Christ's sake and that everything that happened to me was just a temptation. Cars were provided for those who could not continue their ascent but I decided that I would use them only if I could no longer make even a single step; fortunately, this never happened. We walked just seventy-six kilometres (47 mi): thirty-four kilometres (21 mi) on the first day, twenty-five kilometres (16 mi) on the second day, and seventeen kilometres (10 mi) on the third day. As we approached the Holy Mount of Grabarka, I felt so excited; it was as if I did not walk but flew... like a bird. Having experienced such a blessing, I learned why this pilgrimage is held every year on the feast of Transfiguration: an individual climbs this mountain carrying his cross, his sins, his problems and needs; and his soul is cleansed and truly transfigured as he walks up.”


Once the pilgrims are on top of the Holy Mount of Grabarka, they get down to their knees and crawl around the church three times. Yulia knew about it so she had taped up her knees in advance to avoid pain but she still could not avoid it altogether. There was a young family with a 1-year-old baby among the pilgrims. Yulia saw the parents carry the baby and crawl around the church on bare knees, and she could not help crying because she knew how painful it was. At the same time, Yulia was very happy when she saw this family. She recalls, “This episode moved me deeply and I am certain to remember it forever. I am happy that the Lord allowed me to see such a family. After we erected all our crosses on Grabarka, when the service was over, I wished my family had been there to share this moment with me, and I hope that, God willing, this dream will come true next time.” Yulia adds, “My family supports me in everything I do. When I told my relatives about this pilgrimage, they could not contain tears. 'You are our hero!' they said. Now we all are glad that our cross stands on the Holy Mount of Grabarka.”

Unfortunately, Yulia has had to encounter various temptations not only on her spiritual journey but also in her sport career: she had a trauma and could neither participate in the London Olympics, nor get ready for the World Championship, which was held in Moscow earlier this year. In spite of that, she is no longer distressed about it because she knows that the Lord has given her the opportunity to visit holy places, to acquire a different world outlook, to get spiritual insight and to feel His love.

September 19, 2013

CONCERT IN FRANCE

It has been two months since the Monastic Choir of St Elisabeth Convent toured Western Europe: the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. The programme of their concerts consisted of two parts. The first part featured church chants; the second part consisted of spiritual hymns and canticles. The sisters were warmly welcomed everywhere they went... A man named Marc Guichard who was present during one of the concerts in Seichamps, France, recorded a video of this concert. We decided to post this video to our website to let you feel the atmosphere at the concerts.



 THERE WILL BE MORE FROM ST ELIZABETH'S NEXT WEEK
Those in black veils are nuns of the convent, while those in white veils are Sisters of Charity.   Founded in 1994, there are now 300 Sisters of Charity; founded in 1999, there are now 100 nuns.

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