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"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

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Monday, 30 December 2013

JANUARY 1st THE FEAST OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

Mary, God-bearer of Tendernous, 
to be blessed by the Abbot of Belmont after 1st Vespers
Feast of the Mother of God, January 1st, 2014.
Painted by a monk of our monastery in Peru.

A HAPPY AND HOLY FEAST TO ALL
WHO ARE SONS & DAUGHTERS OF THE
 THEOTOKOS

 One of my favourite videos ever:


The Third Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 431 in the city of Ephesus (Asia Minor) during the reign of the emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450). The Third Ecumenical Council condemned the heresy of Nestorius and confirmed the Orthodox teaching on these matters: that it is necessary to confess the Lord Jesus Christ as One Person (Hypostasis) in two natures, the Divine and the Human, and that the All-Pure Mother of the Lord be acclaimed as Ever-Virgin and truly the Theotokos (click).



Vatican Liturgical Commission
MARY, AN ICON OF THE CHURCH THAT BAPTIZES IN JESUS CHRIST
Corrado Maggioni

The Virgin Mother not only reveals the Mystery of the Son to believers, but she gives Him to them for all time: indeed her motherhood is ordered to the continual presence of Christ among humankind. Now since Christ is present among us in a very special way in the liturgy (cf. SC 7), it is in the sacramental economy that also Mary's mediation acquires meaning.

In this perspective, St Cyril of Alexandria (+ 444) exclaimed, «Through you, Mary, believers come to the grace of Baptism» (Homily 4). Unless we want to persist in spiritualism or fall into sentimentalism, we must agree that Mary's maternal action in the life of the faithful is expressed supremely well in liturgical actions: it is here that the relationship willed by Jesus on the cross between Mary and her children is expressed and deepened (cf Jn 19,25-27).

Mary's indispensable presence in the historical event which we profess in our baptismal belief (Do you believe in Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary?), leads us to reflect on her commemoration in the sacramental event. In fact, reflection on baptismal rebirth developed from the first centuries onwards, in the light of Christ's conception by the power of the Holy Spirit. In her understanding of Baptism, the Church is naturally oriented to the mystery of Christ's conception from the Virgin who believed: the human birth of the Son of God, destined for the rebirth of men and women as God's children, led to a spontaneous connection between the mysteries.
Already in the second century, in speaking of the Incarnation, St Irenaeus praises the work of the Son of God, the "Pure One who, in a pure way, opened that pure womb that regenerates men in God" (Adversus haereses IV, 33,11). The Virgin's womb comes to coincide mystically with the Church's baptismal womb. Through Christ who re-lives in Baptism, it can be said that in a certain sense Mary's motherhood re-lives in the motherhood of the Church.

From the Christological reason for remembering the Virgin in the baptismal profession, we come to the ecclesial dimension of her commemoration in the celebration of Baptism: Mary is the icon of the Church, virgin and mother, who, by the power of the Spirit, brings Christ to new birth in the faithful. This is what the inscription in the baptistry of St John in the Lateran says: «At this font, the Church, our mother, gives birth from her virginal womb to the children she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit».

The patristic testimony

The typological relationship between Christ's conception in Mary's womb and that of Christians in the baptismal font, was indicated sagely by the Fathers of the Church: the Spirit who begot Christ in the Virgin's womb, begets Christ in the faithful, making them his Body.

This is how St Ambrose (+ 397) comments to his neophytes about the mystery of holy Baptism: «In coming upon Mary, the Holy Spirit brought about the conception and accomplished the redemption; in the same way, by resting on the baptismal font and on those who receive baptism, the same Spirit effects the reality of rebirth» (De mysteriis 53, 59).

Also St Augustine (+ 430), introducing the newly baptized to the mystery of the Church's motherhood, feels the need to recall the Mother of the Lord: «Mary gave birth to your Head, the Church gave birth to you. Also the Church is a mother and virgin: a mother through the womb of charity, a virgin through the integrity of faith and piety. She gives birth to peoples, but they are members of one people only, of which she is the body and bride. Also in this she can be likened to the Virgin, because, though she gave birth to many, she is the mother of unity» (Sermo 195, 2).

In his famous Christmas homilies St Leo the Great (+ 461) explains that the birth of Christ is the beginning of the re-birth of Christians, showing in this regard Mary's unique role: «In the sacrament of rebirth we are united to Christ's spiritual birth, since, for every man who is reborn, the water of baptism is a little what was the Virgin's womb, in the sense that the same Spirit who filled the Virgin fills the water of the font; the sin that was abolished there by the holy conception, is abolished here by the mystic washing» (Tractatus 24, 3).
And again: "The birth that Jesus assumed in the Virgin's womb, has placed it in the baptismal font: it gives to the water what it gave to his mother; the power from the Most High and the shadow of the Holy Spirit that made Mary the Mother of the Saviour, now brings the faithful new birth through this water" (Tractatus 25, 5). The theme continues also in later tradition, as is testified, for example, by Blessed Isaac of Stella (+ 1178), who shows the complementarity between the fruitfulness of the Virgin and that of the Church: «Mary gave birth to the absolutely sinless Head for the Body; the Church gave birth, in the forgiveness of every sin, to the Body for the Head. Each is the mother of Christ, but neither without the other gives birth to the whole Christ» (Sermo 51).

Liturgical prayer

The mystic connection between Mary and the Church is also confirmed in the ancient Roman liturgy of Easter night, a baptismal time par excellence. It is significant that in the Gelasian Sacramentary, the preface of this night recalls Mary's virginal parturition, the model of the motherhood of the Church that, in Baptism, begets children for the Father: «O mystic and venerable exchanges of this night! O holy eternal blessings of our holy mother Church! (...). Mary exulted in the most holy (kind of) birth, the Church exults in the birth of her children». The most holy attitude recalls the work of the Spirit, the same Spirit who is at work in Christ's birth of the Virgin and in the birth of the members of his Body in the baptismal font. Also to be noted is the verb exulted, relating to Mary's parturition, alluding to the fact that it was painless because it was virginal: the Virgin's joy at Christmas night is the Church's joy at Easter night.

Also in the Supplement to the Gregorian Sacramentary the Preface of Easter night develops the mystery of the Church's birth in the waters of baptism following the pattern of Mary's virginal and joyful birth,. This is the text: «O night that destroyed the darkness and opened the way to eternal light. O night that deserved to see the devil defeated and Christ arise. O night when hell was despoiled, the saints freed from the underworld, the way opened to their heavenly home. On this night countless sins are washed away in the waters of baptism, and the children of light are born. Like the Mother of the Lord, our holy Mother Church conceives them without stain, she gives birth to them painlessly, and leads them with joy to the heavenly realities».

The relationship between Mary and the Church outlined by the Fathers and set forth in the ancient liturgical texts, we find today in the prayer for the blessing of a baptismal font: «Almighty God... you give us the joy of inaugurating with solemn rite this font of salvation which flows from the womb of our mother Church (...) We ask you to send the life-giving presence of your Spirit upon this font... The power of the Spirit made the Virgin Mary the mother of your Son; send forth the power of the same Spirit, so that your Church may present you with countless sons and daughters and bring forth new citizens of heaven» (Blessing, 1187). In the Church that baptizes we can discern the mysterious image of the motherhood of the Virgin, in whose womb was formed the body of Christ, «the first-born among many brethren» (Rom 8,29).

Finally, the relationship between Mary and Baptism is expressed, in the form of a prayer, in the formulary n. 16 of the Mass to the Blessed Virgin Mary, entitled Virgin Mary, source of light and life. This is the text of the entrance antiphon: «Hail, Mother of light: a Virgin, you gave birth to Christ and became the model of the Church, our Mother, bring to new birth in the chaste waters of Baptism a people of faith». It is a greeting addressed to the Virgin Mother, acclaimed as the model of the Church, our Mother, who gives life to believers. In order to understand her spiritual motherhood, the Church turns her gaze to Her who shed eternal Light on the world: Mary cannot but be present at the rebirth of the children of light, since she, with her fiat, made possible Christ's coming and in him, his Body.

Mother of the baptized in Christ

The miracle of the Spirit in Christ's Incarnation is renewed in a certain sense in the generation of his Mystical Body: Mary is the Mother of Christ, the Head, and the Mother of the members of his Body (cf. Lumen Gentium, 53). St Louis de Montfort writes: «if Jesus Christ is born of Mary, also the elect, who are members of the Head, must as a necessary consequence be born of her» (Treatise on true devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 32).

The subject was also recalled by John Paul II at the Angelus of 12 February 1984: «The blessed Virgin is intimately united to Christ and to the Church, and she is inseparable from one and the other. She is therefore united to them in what constitutes the very essence of the Liturgy: the sacramental celebration of salvation to the glory of God and for the sanctification of man. Mary is present in the memorial - the liturgical action - because she was present at the saving event. She is at every baptismal font, where in faith and in the Holy Spirit the members of the Mystical Body are born to divine life, because with faith and with the power of the Spirit, she conceived its Head, Christ» (in L'Osservatore Romano [English edition], 20 February 1984, p. 10).

The Holy Father's invitation, for this year, to a «renewed appreciation of Baptism» and the «strengthening of faith» (cf TMA, 41-42) can rightly be united to the other: to contemplate Mary «in the mystery of her Divine Motherhood» and as the «model of faith» (cf. TMA, 43). The Virgin Mother's faith lives again in the faith of the Church which baptizes and is a model for Christians in living the gift of baptismal union in Jesus Christ. The Baptismal rite for children contains significant references to Mary, which help us to perceive and show the Mother's presence beside her children, who are born again of water and the Spirit: the invocation to Mary in the litanies; the mention of the Virgin in the profession of faith; the invitation to parents and the community to sing the Magnificat as a hymn of thanksgiving; the discrete suggestion to bring the child «to Our Lady's altar»; the memory of the Mother of the Lord in the words of the final blessing.


The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to Mary, a virgin subject to a husband, undid the evil lie that seduced Eve, a virgin espoused to a husband.
As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve'
 
St Irenaeus (130 - 202)

Every Christian mystery is ultimately about "persons in relationship" by the power of the Holy Spirit, reflecting the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.  Our Blessed Lady is the personification of the Church in its relationship with Christ as the New Adam. - Fr David

Ecclesiologically Pope John Paul II speaks within “the redemptive economy of grace” of
a unique correspondence between the moment of the Incarnation of the Word and the moment of the birth of the Church. The person who links these two moments is Mary: Mary at Nazareth and Mary in the Upper Room at Jerusalem. In both cases her discreet yet essential presence indicates the path of ‘birth from the Holy Spirit'. Thus she who is present in the mystery of Christ as Mother becomes–by the will of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit–present in the mystery of the Church. In the Church too she continues to be a maternal presence. - Pope John Paul II (Redemptoris Mater)






MARY'S PART IN THE INCARNATION by St Louis de Monfort

1. Mary's part in the Incarnation

14. With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, "I am he who is". Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of his will and the manifestation of his glory. To do all things he has only to will them.

15. However, I declare that, considering things as they are, because God has decided to begin and accomplish his greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since he created her, we can safely believe that he will not change his plan in the time to come, for he is God and therefore does not change in his thoughts or his way of acting.

16. God the Father gave his only Son to the world only through Mary. Whatever desires the patriarchs may have cherished, whatever entreaties the prophets and saints of the Old Law may have had for 4,000 years to obtain that treasure, it was Mary alone who merited it and found grace before God by the power of her prayers and the perfection of her virtues. "The world being unworthy," said Saint Augustine, "to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father, he gave his Son to Mary for the world to receive him from her."

The Son of God became man for our salvation but only in Mary and through Mary.

God the Holy Spirit formed Jesus Christ in Mary but only after having asked her consent through one of the chief ministers of his court.

17. God the Father imparted to Mary his fruitfulness as far as a mere creature was capable of receiving it, to enable her to bring forth his Son and all the members of his mystical body.

18. God the Son came into her virginal womb as a new Adam into his earthly paradise, to take his delight there and produce hidden wonders of grace.

God-made-man found freedom in imprisoning himself in her womb. He displayed power in allowing himself to be borne by this young maiden. He found his glory and that of his Father in hiding his splendours from all creatures here below and revealing them only to Mary. He glorified his independence and his majesty in depending upon this lovable virgin in his conception, his birth, his presentation in the temple, and in the thirty years of his hidden life. Even at his death she had to be present so that he might be united with her in one sacrifice and be immolated with her consent to the eternal Father, just as formerly Isaac was offered in sacrifice by Abraham when he accepted the will of God. It was Mary who nursed him, fed him, cared for him, reared him, and sacrificed him for us.

The Holy Spirit could not leave such wonderful and inconceivable dependence of God unmentioned in the Gospel, though he concealed almost all the wonderful things that Wisdom Incarnate did during his hidden life in order to bring home to us its infinite value and glory. Jesus gave more glory to God his Father by submitting to his Mother for thirty years than he would have given him had he converted the whole world by working the greatest miracles. How highly then do we glorify God when to please him we submit ourselves to Mary, taking Jesus as our sole model.

19. If we examine closely the remainder of the life of Jesus Christ, we see that he chose to begin his miracles through Mary. It was by her word that he sanctified Saint John the Baptist in the womb of his mother, Saint Elizabeth; no sooner had Mary spoken than John was sanctified. This was his first and greatest miracle of grace. At the wedding in Cana he changed water into wine at her humble prayer, and this was his first miracle in the order of nature. He began and continued his miracles through Mary and he will continue them through her until the end of time.

20. God the Holy Spirit, who does not produce any divine person, became fruitful through Mary whom he espoused. It was with her, in her and of her that he produced his masterpiece, God-made-man, and that he produces every day until the end of the world the members of the body of this adorable Head. For this reason the more he finds Mary his dear and inseparable spouse in a soul the more powerful and effective he becomes in producing Jesus Christ in that soul and that soul in Jesus Christ.

21. This does not mean that the Blessed Virgin confers on the Holy Spirit a fruitfulness which he does not already possess. Being God, he has the ability to produce just like the Father and the Son, although he does not use this power and so does not produce another divine person. But it does mean that the Holy Spirit chose to make use of our Blessed Lady, although he had no absolute need of her, in order to become actively fruitful in producing Jesus Christ and his members in her and by her. This is a mystery of grace unknown even to many of the most learned and spiritual of Christians.


Catechism on the Blessed Virgin
by Saint John Vianney

 The Father takes pleasure in looking upon the heart of the most Holy Virgin Mary, as the masterpiece of His hands; for we always like our own work, especially when it is well done. The Son takes pleasure in it as the heart of His Mother, the source from which He drew the Blood that has ransomed us; the Holy Ghost as His temple. The Prophets published the glory of Mary before her birth; they compared her to the sun. Indeed, the apparition of the Holy Virgin may well be compared to a beautiful gleam of sun on a foggy day. 

Before her coming, the anger of God was hanging over our heads like a sword ready to strike us. As soon as the Holy Virgin appeared upon the earth, His anger was appeased. . . . She did not know that she was to be the Mother of God, and when she was a little child she used to say, "When shall I then see that beautiful creature who is to be the Mother of God?" The Holy Virgin has brought us forth twice, in the Incarnation and at the foot of the Cross; she is then doubly our Mother. The Holy Virgin is often compared to a mother, but she is much better still than the best of mothers; for the best of mothers sometimes punishes her child when it displeases her, and even beats it: she thinks she is doing right. But the Holy Virgin does not so; she is so good that she treats us with love, and never punishes us. 

The heart of this good Mother is all love and mercy; she desires only to see us happy. We have only to turn to her to be heard. The Son has His justice, the Mother has nothing but her love. God has loved us so much as to die for us; but in the heart of Our Lord there is justice, which is an attribute of God; in that of the most Holy Virgin there is nothing but mercy. Her Son being ready to punish a sinner, Mary interposes, checks the sword, implores pardon for the poor criminal. "Mother, " Our Lord says to her, "I can refuse you nothing. If Hell could repent, you would obtain its pardon. " 

The most Holy Virgin places herself between her Son and us. The greater sinners we are, the more tenderness and compassion does she feel for us. The child that has cost its mother most tears is the dearest to her heart. Does not a mother always run to the help of the weakest and the most exposed to danger? Is not a physician in the hospital most attentive to those who are most seriously ill? The Heart of Mary is so tender towards us, that those of all the mothers in the world put together are like a piece of ice in comparison to hers. See how good the Holy Virgin is! Her great servant Saint Bernard used often to say to her, "I salute thee, Mary. " One day this good Mother answered him, "I salute thee, my son Bernard. " 

The Ave Maria is a prayer that is never wearisome. The devotion to the Holy Virgin is delicious, sweet, nourishing. When we talk on earthly subjects or politics, we grow weary; but when we talk of the Holy Virgin, it is always new. All the saints have a great devotion to Our Lady; no grace comes from Heaven without passing through her hands. We cannot go into a house without speaking to the porter; well, the Holy Virgin is the portress of Heaven. 

When we have to offer anything to a great personage, we get it presented by the person he likes best, in order that the homage may be agreeable to him. So our prayers have quite a different sort of merit when they are presented by the Blessed Virgin, because she is the only creature who has never offended God. The Blessed Virgin alone has fulfilled the first Commandment--to adore God only, and love Him perfectly. She fulfilled it completely. 


All that the Son asks of the Father is granted Him. All that the Mother asks of the Son is in like manner granted to her. When we have handled something fragrant, our hands perfume whatever they touch: let our prayers pass through the hands of the Holy Virgin; she will perfume them. I think that at the end of the world the Blessed Virgin will be very tranquil; but while the world lasts, we drag her in all directions. . . . The Holy Virgin is like a mother who has a great many children--she is continually occupied in going from one to the other.


Sunday, 29 December 2013

BEAUTY SHALL PREVAIL by Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok of St Elizabeth'e Convent, Minsk


Why am I publishing an article on the Transfiguration at Christmas?   Because the Transfiguration reveals the secret of Christmas - Fr David

Meeting of Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok with the House of Love of Labour Staff 

Dear Father, can you please tell us about the spiritual meaning of the feast of Transfiguration?

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: There was a miracle on Mount Tabor – the Lord was transfigured. However, there had been lots of miracles – healings, resurrections, etc. - why did this act of God become one of the twelve major Christian feasts? What bearing does this feast have on us who live two thousand years later?

You know, I have been to Mount Tabor. It is very beautiful. There is a very nice Greek monastery and picturesque landscape. A cloud is said (and it is not a myth or legend, it is a fact just like the Descent of the Holy Fire) to descend on Mount Tabor every year on the feast of Transfiguration.

You see, the disciples witnessed the divine nature of Christ on Mount Tabor. The light that shone on them was the uncreated divine light. The Orthodox believe it to be the sovereign act of God, the spiritual light, rather than the light that we use for illumination.

This uncreated light is present in every human being. I saw this light in Father Nicholas on the Isle of Zalit. It was a precious moment! The light we are talking about is completely different from the light perceived by our senses. In spite of this difference, it cuddles up our souls and makes them satisfied, delighted, and vibrant. God touches humanity, and we can see it with our own eyes.

Is it a mystery. This miracle was revealed not for no reason. Before the Crucifixion, before the fading of the earthly light, the Apostles could see the light of God's love, the beauty that made Apostle Peter spellbound; he could only say, “It is good for us to be here” (Cf. Matthew 17:4). He was shocked...

There was a voice from above after their meeting with God. The Apostles descended from Mount Tabor and went to another mountain, where they saw the wounded and dying body of their Master instead of this light. This is what happens in our lives sometimes: we come to God and the light of God's love is revealed to us, our souls are revived but then they lose touch with God and suffer, ache, and die. Nevertheless, the memories of this beauty, of these moments of genuine life must revitalise us and give us strength to follow Christ.

The fact that we live two thousand years after this event... You know, there is no such thing as time for the Church because eternity dwells here. When we take part in the service, we break through time, and it ceases to exist... This is a mystery. When we partake of the Flesh and Blood of Christ, it is the otherworldly life, the eternal life, that we partake of. This is the reason why the entire Orthodox calendar is based not on memorable dates but on leading us humans into the new life where Christ reveals His divine self and beauty to us, so that we could follow Him all the way through to the Great Friday, when the Holy Shroud is venerated, when we see the sepulchre where the Saviour lies. And then we experience the most crucial moment in our lives – the Resurrection, the victory over death. Indeed, you see that there is no death but life instead! We simply have to believe it, we should enter into this life, and everything will definitely change.

Father Andrew, do you watch fiction films? If yes, what are your favourite films? Would you like to watch certain old films again? What would you recommend to watch?

In fact, I dreamed of becoming a film director, and I still dream of making a film. I like films that inspire and call the audience to eternity. It does not necessarily mean religious films: in fact, such films are the least likely to inspire. I feel bored when I watch religious films: sometimes they resemble a theology textbook for schools. They are boring and uninteresting.

There are plenty of wonderful films, both old and new ones. I watched Solaris soon after I graduated from school, and it overwhelmed me. Such films require a special mood to watch. For example, Human Fate – I do not think there is a better film about the Great Patriotic War. The Ascent is also a great film. Unfortunately, there are few films like these.

I suppose that the following films are the best out of the more recent ones: “Yurev Den”, “Wild Steppe”, “Journey with Domestic Animals.” “Ostrov” is a very good film; it is evident that God blessed and inspired this work. However, in The Tsar the same director made attempt to do better than he could – and failed.

I believe that every film has both positive and negative sides. Time is money, so it seems to me that if you want to watch a film, you can decide whether it is worth watching at a glance. If the film deserves your attention, every shot must be concise and harmonious. If it isn't, don't waste your time: there is enough ugliness and pain in life nowadays. If you watch a film, it must be useful for your soul.

I have watched Olga Sergeyevna film series recently, starring Doronina; I was astonished...  Tenderness, starring Nakhapetov, is also a good film.

We use cinema therapy for the residents of our metochions. Our idea was to show to the people who had spent their entire lives in jail and who had never had families the films that they had never seen. It seems to me that art has a powerful influence on every person. I told the sisters, “You should discuss the films with the brothers and sisters after watching: allow everyone to share their impressions and thoughts inspired by the films.” It is like a sermon because an artist is a preacher; regardless of whether he is a musician, or a writer, or a film director, he is able to share the thoughts and ideas that he has accumulated. Art is both a sermon and a pulpit.

This is why we have a cinema studio in honour of St John the Warrior at the Convent. We hope that we will finally be able to make films that will spread the light, make people think, feel, and get rid of indifference and apathy. I think it is one of the ways to preach. Unfortunately, cinema nowadays is possessed with the spirit of destruction; the ideas that it propagates are devastating and destructive. The fact that they are propagated, that the contemporary cinema is based on special effects while at the same time exterminates the living and the authentic, is terrible.

Are there spiritual authors, apart from Archimandrite Sophrony, whom you like most? Whose works do you like to read and re-read?

My dear friends, I do not have enough time to read and re-read books. I read accounts of sins: I always have a pile of diaries where our sisters write down their sins and let me read them. These diaries are a supplement to confession. They are a great support to those who write them. The sisters feel that when I read their diaries, they get closer to God.

Now I perceive life as a book into which I should write everything I see and hear. You can be reading all the time even if you do not read anything at all, if you are attentive and able to hear what other people say or hide. Confession is when people share things that they were previously unable to admit even to themselves, and it is like thick volumes.

Of course, I would like to read more but unfortunately, I am lazy and careless. One needs to read books. I used to read a lot; I literally swallowed books. When I went to the library of the House of Officers, it was like a miracle – too much choice. We would read books by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoi, Goncharov even during classes, hiding the books under the school desk. As a matter of fact, the Russian language and the classic Russian literature is so rich!

Now one's perspective is limited to a display where you can simply click on some buttons, and do not need to read anything and think about anything because everything is ready for use. You know, when food is cooked – it is a mystery, too. I even wanted to be a cook. I like cooking very much but my wife protests against it, so I do not cook in order to maintain peace in the family. One must have intuition and desire to make food tasty. That is when he can invent new techniques and understand what to put into the meal so that it would be really delicious. There is no comparison between homemade food, made with love and tenderness, and instant noodles brewed in cup.

When people gather at the table and talk, when they are close to each other and start to feel each other better, this is a real mystery. If you do not gather at the table for lunch or dinner at home, even once a week, you are missing out on something. It could unite your family. I understand that there are products that hardly anyone could afford but even fish or chicken (it can be so yummy if properly cooked!) will unite you and your beloved ones. This moment will be so precious, you will enjoy it! I have recently found out that rice can be very tasty.  In fact, whenever one makes anything with prayer, it is great!

We have been to Nikandrova Pustyn. They cook simple meals, such as potato, cabbage, home-baked bread. However, their meals are so delicious! It is because the monks cook with prayer and in an oven. Therefore, food can be used not as a temptation but as an expression of God's grace.

Cinema or computers – everything can become a sermon; everything can help people to acquire spiritual knowledge. Everything can be transformed and sanctified if only we were willing to change our lives and to look for God. We can find Him everywhere, even in the most unexpected places – even where they call us “hey, you!” instead of “brother” or “sister.”

We have taken a small break from our work, haven't we? Forgive me if I undertook more than I should have, but I have told you everything I have been thinking about. I am a weak person, naturally, and I cannot cope with my duties today but sometimes I have to put up with it. If God wants me to leave this obedience, I will leave it. As long as I have to carry it out, I will carry it out, no matter how difficult it might be. I was hearing confessions until 4:30 AM last night, and I will be doing the same tonight. It is hard, I do not complain but it is hard to do it because I want to sleep, etc. Notwithstanding this fact, I have to get up and go on living; I must not allow myself to sleep.

I feel sad when I come and try to speak, and see the monastic sisters falling asleep. On the contrary, you are not sluggish, you are vibrant, good, and nice. May the Lord save you all, dear brothers and sisters! You are holy people who work in the holy place, who carry out your holy obediences; each one of you shows their talents, each one of you deserves a biography film, and I think everything will happen in its own time.

November 24, 2013

Saturday, 28 December 2013

OLD MICAH by Natallia Klimova ( courtesy of St Elizabeth'e Convent in Minsk) & THE NATIVITY FAST by Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok


Chapter 1 of The Stories by Natallia Klimova

It was a misty morning in the city of N. An elderly nun was getting nervous as she looked at the clock on the wall of the hotel hall. Guests were late. Her eyes were watering from strain but she could hardly see the road through the gray fog. 

- Mother Salomia, why are you so nervous? Your guests will come soon, what else would they do? – Andrew chuckled, as he was chewing his sandwich.

Lida looked at her husband and sighed,

- Why are you pestering Mother Salomia? She worries about others, unlike you. 

A bus came in view round the bend. Nun Salomia ran outside, and the newly-weds looked at the newcomers out of the window with interest. 

Pilgrims entered the hall of The Ancyra in just a couple of minutes. Lida figured out that there were eight of them: an elderly couple, two mums with kids, a dwarfish old man who looked as if he were 100, and a girl wearing a miniskirt and high-heeled shoes. Nun Salomia smiled cheerfully as she was telling the pilgrims about the life at the guesthouse. 

– We are like one big family. The Pilgrim's House has four floors. We almost never have spare rooms. This is understandable because so many people want to visit our convent. I have been on obedience here for five years already. Please feel free to contact me anytime with all your questions! We will find some work for everyone who wishes to take part in the daily life of the convent, so I hope that your stay here will be useful for your soul. Now let me introduce myself. I am Nun Salomia, and they – Nun Salomia pointed at the young couple – are Andrew and Lida. You will get to know the rest of our guests a little bit later.

The guests introduced themselves one by one. The old man was the only one who kept silent. Andrew looked at him closely with growing interest, and soon he was unable to contain his curiosity:

– Well, Grandpa, what's your name?

– Micah, - the pilgrim replied and frowned.

– So you are Michael? – Lida wondered.

- No, I am not Michael. My name is Micah! – the old man retorted, and everyone could see that the old man had a character!

There was a tradition at The Ancyra to read the morning and evening prayers in turn. There was a small iconostasis on every floor, and the pilgrims gathered for prayer at one and the same time. The newcomers joined in the prayer today. Only the old Micah and Ruslan were missing. Ruslan was a so called “deviant youth” who had been forced by his mother to come to the convent. The boy was brought up by the single mother, and by the time he was fourteen, he was absolutely out of control. It was evident that this pilgrimage was unlikely to be beneficial for him. Ruslan did not want to attend the services, he shunned work and skipped the prayer rule most of the time. Frankly speaking, there was only one place where the boy could sit for hours, not thinking about anything, just gazing at the beauty of the sky full of stars. One day, when he was wandering around the building of the guesthouse, he noticed that the door leading to the attic was unlocked. The windows were shut and fastened with planks, making it impossible for anyone to get out onto the roof, but the attic itself was much more interesting than the rest of the guesthouse. Ruslan found a small ramshackle stool in a pile of old stuff and began to use it as a table. He had used to take his dinner into his room, despite his mother’s protests, and then eat it secretly in the attic, gazing out of the window at the black sky, when everyone went to the prayer rule.

However, today the privacy of the youth was violated. The old Micah appeared at the door. He gave the boy a stern look, saw the empty plate and quickly got the grasp of the situation. He grumbled,

– Done?

Ruslan was embarrassed but soon pulled himself up. He rose up from the floor and perked up his head,

– Yeah. So what?

– If you’re done with your meal, get out of here, I’m going to pray.

The boy paused for a moment, searching for the most appropriate answer, and then snorted,

– No way! I was the first to come here.

The old man did not say anything. He approached the window, yanked the curtain and sighed when he figured out that it was closed. Ruslan smirked,

– You wanted to climb onto the roof, didn’t you?

– Yes, I always pray on the roof at home. Okay, dude, stop jabbering. If you don’t want to leave, don’t interrupt me, or else I’ll send you down the ladder.

Ruslan was somehow convinced that the old man wasn’t joking.

The old Micah made the sign of the cross and started mumbling the Our Father. He finished one prayer, took a short breath and started the same prayer all over again. At first, Ruslan thought that the old man forgot what he had prayed about but soon realised that he wouldn’t be hearing any other prayer from the old man. After about forty minutes, Micah stopped, made the sign of the cross and slowly dragged himself to the door. The boy was consumed with curiosity,

– Hey, wait! Why did you read just one prayer?

– I don’t know any other prayer.

– How can that be? Aren’t you Orthodox? 

He saw that he could not expect an explanation from the old man.

– Why do you pray on the roof?

– I am closer to God because of that, – the old man shrugged his shoulders and vanished in darkness.

Ruslan sat by the window for a while and went to his room.

Three days passed. The old man would pray in the attic every day, and the boy would sit in the corner and watch him. It seemed to Ruslan that there was a mystery of some sort. The old man was certainly unusual! A normal believer could never be seriously convinced that the higher you climb, the closer to God you get! Stranger yet was the fact that he did not know any prayers, except for the Our Father.

A sudden blow for the entire guesthouse happened on the fourth day. Someone stole Lida's purse. Not that there was a lot of money, but that was not the case... The woman saw her acquaintance and left the purse on the table in the hall. While they were having a chat, the purse disappeared. Who could have taken it? All the pilgrims were taken aback.

While everyone discussed the theft, the old Micah climbed the stairs to the attic as usual. Ruslan would always be waiting for him there. They did not talk with one another all that time. Each one did his own job — the old man prayed, and the youth watched. However, something was different this time. The old man suddenly ordered the youth:

– Get up, let's pray.

The youth did not raise his eyes.

– Can you hear me? Get up. 

Ruslan rose to his feet obediently, which was surprising even to himself. For some reason, he did not want to show his teeth or argue.

Micah read the Our Father once and was about to leave.

“Are you done with your prayers?” The boy wondered.

“Yes, I am. I have something to do downstairs.” 

Ruslan was curious what the weird and unsociable old man was going to do and followed him. 

The old Micah went to each of the four groups of praying people and said one and the same phrase to each group, “It was me who stole the purse. Forgive me a sinner.” People silently made the sign of the cross and started whispering to one another only after he left them. Ruslan witnessed all that from a distance, and acute pain pierced his heart. The boy could not sleep the following night. In the morning, he went to the church voluntarily for the first time since he came to the convent.

Micah was standing next to him in the queue for confession. They did not utter a single word to one another.

The boy stood in front of the analogion and whispered, “I stole the purse. Lord, forgive me!” Micah came for the confession right after him. The old man sighed heavily and articulated distinctly, “I repent of lying.”  The priest was waiting for the continuation but the old man said dismissively, “I cannot recognise any other sins in my heart.”

The old man would pray in the attic every day, and the boy would sit in the corner and watch him. It seemed to Ruslan that there was a mystery of some sort. The old man was certainly unusual! A normal believer could never be seriously convinced that the higher you climb, the closer to God you get! Stranger yet was the fact that he did not know any prayers, except for the Our Father.

December 21, 2013
  and I concelebrated
Christmas is 13 days after us because that is Decenber 25th in the Julian Calebdar.   We are still waiting for the Orthox Christmas.   When I was in England, I concelebrated with Abbot and community on December 25th, and I concelebrated in the Byzanting Liturgy on January 7th. - P. David.
THE NATIVITY FAST
by Father Andrew Lemeshonok
 Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok

Orthodox Christians have the Nativity Fast from November 28 to January 6. Fasting is voluntary But people are terrified and think, “How can I read all prayers and abstain from food when my health is so poor?” The person does not trust God. We should be aware of the fact that we need God because without Him we will fall prey to the devil. This is for real. We start to sin without God. The holy life, the divine life appears to be an intolerable burden. The Lord tells us, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). My soul shall be joyful in my God (Is.61:10). The Lord invites everyone to the feast of faith. The fast, the worship, and everything that is and will be going on in the church aims at uniting man with God, at helping man to find God and get to love Him so much, get drawn to him to such an extent that he would acknowledge that he cannot do anything without God. How much time do we have? Not much. Therefore, we should use it rationally. We cannot waste it on trifles. One can become holy in any place. Who makes it impossible for us? God is everywhere. Wherever there is God, there is goodness. We all are sinners but we all can become saints. We should get off the earth. It does not mean that we should stop paying attention to what happens to us and around us. No, but we should not pay attention to the temporary and vanishing things, and seek for the everlasting and authentic things instead. We should look for the only thing we need. The Lord says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33). 
 November 27, 2013

Friday, 27 December 2013



22nd International Ecumenical Conference
on Orthodox Spirituality

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS 
(Mt 5,9)

Bose, Wednesday 3 - Saturday 6 September 2014

in collaboration with the Orthodox Churches 

“Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5,9). The announcement of this evangelical beatitude, so often repeated in the Divine Liturgy, unceasingly interrogates the conscience of every man and the practice of the Church.

The 22nd International Ecumenical Conference on Orthodox Spirituality desires to listen to the Gospel of peace, which asks the Churches to be a ferment of reconciliation and of peace among today’s men and women. The hope of peace announced in Christ is not a utopia extraneous to a world dominated by the logic of power and of conflict, but is an event in history, incarnated in every age in men and women of peace and reconciliation.

The conference, which takes its impulse from the theological dimension, that of Revelation, wishes to propose an itinerary through listening to and studying Scripture and liturgy, the words regarding peace in the fathers, the teaching of the monastic and spiritual experience of the Christian East, so as to discern the roots of violence and to offer reasons for an authentic education for peace in welcoming what is different, in sincere efforts towards reconciliation, in the struggle to forgive and to ask forgiveness.

For the believer, peace is a gift. The psalms sing of God’s gift of peace to his people, which is also a pressing appeal to conversion. If men deal justice and show mercy, peace inhabits the earth and “mercy and truth will meet, justice and peace will kiss” (Ps 85/84,11). In the New Testament peace is the gift of the risen Christ to his community (Jn 20,19–21), it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5,22), it is the seal of the new alliance between God and all humanity and the entire creation, reconciled through the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ (Rm 5,11).

The eastern and western fathers establish an essential tie between peace in the world and Christ, “our peace” (Eph 2,14). Commenting on Jesus’ words to his disciples in the fourth Gospel, (“I give you my peace”, Jn 14,27), St Cyril of Alexandria identifies the gift of peace with the sending of the Holy Spirit. “The peace that surpasses principalities, powers, thrones, dominations, and every intelligence (cf. Phil 4,7 and Eph 1,21) is the Spirit of Christ. Through him the Son has reconciled all creation with God the Father.”

The cosmic dimension of this reconciliation through Christ “of all things that are on earth and in the heavens” (Col 1,19–20) is forcefully perceived in the commentaries of the fathers. “They had already been reconciled,” writes John Chrysostom, “but a perfect reconciliation was necessary, without any trace of enmity.” This theological nucleus is the foundation of the Church’s unity and of reconciliation between the Churches, according to a current of thought that develops from St Clement of Rome to St Ireneus of Lyons, from St Basil to St Gregory of Nazianzus.

The fathers concentrate their attention on the spiritual aspect of peace rather than on its political and social dimension, which will be the preoccupation of modern theological and philosophical reflection. It is more difficult to acquire interior peace than exterior, John Chrysostom observes in his commentary on Psalm 4. A saying of Serafim of Sarov, the great nineteenth-century Russian monk, summarizes the teaching of the ascetic tradition on this point: “Acquire peace, and thousands will be saved around you”.

Christians in the world are called upon to live as reconciled persons, so as to translate the novelty of Christian peace into the today of history. The topic of peace remains an open challenge for contemporary theology. The tradition of Orthodox sanctity offers a response to this search in the beatitude lived by innumerable witnesses of peace. St Antony the Great “received from God the gift of reconciling those who were in disagreement”/ Like him, a path of reconciliation was shown by saints like Francis of Assisi in the West and the great spiritual figures of the Orthodox tradition wherever it exists, reaching the pioneers of dialogue among the Churches and the new martyrs of the twentieth century, who, like their Lord, lived love to the extreme, to forgiveness of their persecutors.

“Who will teach us the beauty of peace?” asks Basil the Great. “The artisan of peace himself. Through the blood of his cross he has established peace between the things of heaven and of earth” (Col 1,20). To become artisans of peace means to train oneself to see the beauty of peace and to live it, so as to rediscover its power of attraction and to diffuse the hope of peace in the world. 

SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE

Enzo Bianchi (Bose), Lino Breda (Bose), Sabino Chialà (Bose), Lisa Cremaschi (Bose), Hervé Legrand (Parigi), Adalberto Mainardi (Bose), Antonio Rigo (Venezia), Luigi d'Ayala Valva (Bose), Michel Van Parys (Chevetogne)

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

DECEMBER 25th; CHRISTMAS DAY







URBI ET ORBI MESSAGE 
OF POPE FRANCIS

CHRISTMAS 2013

Wednesday, 25 December 2013




Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours (Lk 2:14)

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the whole world, Greetings and Happy Christmas!

I take up the song of the angels who appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem on the night when Jesus was born. It is a song which unites heaven and earth, giving praise and glory to heaven, and the promise of peace to earth and all its people.

I ask everyone to share in this song: it is a song for every man or woman who keeps watch through the night, who hopes for a better world, who cares for others while humbly seeking to do his or her duty.

Glory to God!

Above all else, this is what Christmas bids us to do: give glory to God, for he is good, he is faithful, he is merciful. Today I voice my hope that everyone will come to know the true face of God, the Father who has given us Jesus. My hope is that everyone will feel God’s closeness, live in his presence, love him and adore him.

May each of us give glory to God above all by our lives, by lives spent for love of him and of all our brothers and sisters.

Peace to mankind

True peace - we know this well - is not a balance of opposing forces. It is not a lovely “façade” which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment, but making peace is an art, starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.

Looking at the Child in the manger, Child of peace, our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of wars, but we think too of the elderly, to battered women, to the sick… Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!

Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance. Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid. We have seen how powerful prayer is! And I am happy today too, that the followers of different religious confessions are joining us in our prayer for peace in Syria. Let us never lose the courage of prayer! The courage to say: Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world. And I also invite non-believers to desire peace with that yearning that makes the heart grow: all united, either by prayer or by desire. But all of us, for peace.

Grant peace, dear Child, to the Central African Republic, often forgotten and overlooked. Yet you, Lord, forget no one! And you also want to bring peace to that land, torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty, where so many people are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare necessities of life. Foster social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused too many victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state.

Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue. Look upon Nigeria, rent by constant attacks which do not spare the innocent and defenseless. Bless the land where you chose to come into the world, and grant a favourable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of violence.

Lord of life, protect all who are persecuted for your name. Grant hope and consolation to the displaced and refugees, especially in the Horn of Africa and in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Grant that migrants in search of a dignified life may find acceptance and assistance. May tragedies like those we have witnessed this year, with so many deaths at Lampedusa, never occur again!

Child of Bethlehem, touch the hearts of all those engaged in human trafficking, that they may realize the gravity of this crime against humanity. Look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become soldiers.

Lord of heaven and earth, look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity. Help and protect all the victims of natural disasters, especially the beloved people of the Philippines, gravely affected by the recent typhoon.

Dear brothers and sisters, today, in this world, in this humanity, is born the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. Let us pause before the Child of Bethlehem. Let us allow our hearts to be touched, let us not fear this. Let us not fear that our hearts be moved. We need this! Let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God; we need his caress. God’s caresses do not harm us. They give us peace and strength. We need his caresses. God is full of love: to him be praise and glory forever! God is peace: let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world. Let us allow ourselves to be moved by God’s goodness.

Christmas greetings after the Urbi et Orbi Message:

To you, dear brothers and sisters, gathered from throughout the world in this Square, and to all those from different countries who join us through the communications media, I offer my cordial best wishes for a merry Christmas!

On this day illumined by the Gospel hope which springs from the humble stable of Bethlehem, I invoke the Christmas gift of joy and peace upon all: upon children and the elderly, upon young people and families, the poor and the marginalized. May Jesus, who was born for us, console all those afflicted by illness and suffering; may he sustain those who devote themselves to serving our brothers and sisters who are most in need. Happy Christmas to all!


© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Christmas Day 2013: Abbot Paul's homily

                                Abbot Paul                                

            “From his fullness we have all received grace in return for grace, for grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” With this powerful image, St John ends the Prologue to his Gospel. But it is far more than an image: it is the reality that Christians live each day of their lives as, through grace, Jesus makes known to us his Father’s love and teaches us the truth which sets us free from the tyranny of sin, purifies our hearts and prepares us to see God face to face. This is the mystery of Christmas: this is the Christmas story.

            This morning we come together to thank God for the birth in human flesh of his Only Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father before time began, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, a man like us in all things but sin. We have prepared for today by faithfully keeping Advent, the season of hope and consolation. We have heard the message of the prophets. We have prayed earnestly for his Second Coming at the end of time. We have longed to celebrate this memorial of his Nativity, praying that he prepare in our hearts a manger in which he can lie and there fill our hearts with grace and truth. Today, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, we see lying in the manger “the radiant light of God’s glory, the perfect copy of his nature,” he who “sustains the universe by his powerful command,” who having “destroyed sin, has gone to take his place in heaven at the Father’s right hand.”

The new-born babe we kneel before and adore, Mary’s son, is God incarnate, God made man, in the words of Charles Wesley’s famous hymn, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the’incarnate Deity, pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” In Jesus, God is with us as never before. He is not simply with us but in us. St Irenaeus wrote, "The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself." God’s vocation for us is far greater than we can imagine or understand. What can we do but accept it with humility and thanksgiving, with awe and rapture, as an act of faith, love and surrender to his Divine will? That God should become what we are in order that we might become what he himself is, shows us the unfathomable riches of the poverty and humility of God. In the Incarnation God opens his heart to man and lays himself bare before us, for Jesus reveals to us the naked truth about God, that God is love and that God’s love for us is absolute and all-embracing.

Obviously, at Christmas, a lot is made of the details of the Christmas story, and that’s not surprising: they’re quite irresistible. What with Christmas cards, Nativity plays and carol services, it’s easy to get sidetracked into a romantic rereading of the events of Christmas without any real theological basis: well-intentioned, no doubt, but ignorant of the very truth that Christ came to teach us and of the faith which is the gift of grace. This is no criticism, because God works in a mysterious way and looks for those who truly seek him with a sincere heart. But the real poverty of the Child in the manger has little to do with the picturesque circumstances surrounding his birth. Rather it is the fact that this Child is God, God who lays aside his divinity to take upon himself the condition of sinful humanity, the Lord who becomes a servant, the Creator who enters fully into the fragility of creation, God who throughout his life on earth will know the vulnerability and precariousness of human life, from being a foetus in his mother’s womb and a new-born baby in swaddling bands to being taken prisoner, tried and scourged, condemned to death by crucifixion and buried in a tomb. All this he did for love of us, wretched and sinful as we are; all this to save us from hell and eternal damnation; all this to reconcile us with himself; all this to open for us the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven; all this to wrap us eternally in his embrace. In 2nd Corinthians St Paul writes, “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

The truth of Christmas is not above and beyond us: Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the angels, the ox and the ass, the Wise Men with their gifts, the star of Bethlehem, the sun and moon, indeed the whole of creation, worship and adore the Infant Jesus and recognize in him their Lord and God, their Saviour and their King, the Word through whom all things were made, the Light that darkness cannot overpower, the Source of grace and truth. Let us join with them as we celebrate our Christmas Mass this morning.

On behalf of Fr Prior and the Monastic Community, I wish you all a very happy and a holy Christmas.

The Byzantine Origins of the Christmas Tree

By John Sanidopoulos

The idea behind the Christmas tree and its decoration, does not have Northwest European roots, as many believe. In fact there was a similar ancient custom that began with the Greeks and adopted by the Romans of the East. Evidence suggests that this is the origin of the custom of the Christmas tree as we know it today.

While today we know a Christmas tree to be usually an evergreen conifer such as spruce, pine or fir, in ancient Greece it was something called "Eiresioni" (είρος = wool). Eiresioni was an olive branch or laurel decorated with garlands of red and white wool as well as early winter fruits (figs, walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, grains, etc. besides apples and pears). This was done as an expression of thanksgiving for the harvest and fertility of the past year and so that it would continue into the next. Usually they were dedicated to a pagan god such as Apollo, Athena, or the Horae (Eunomia, Diké, and Eirene).

Homer mentions the ancient Greek custom of Eiresioni, which he associated with caroling children. In Samos he put together several songs which a group of children would sing in the homes of the wealthy wishing them continued wealth, joy and peace. This was celebrated twice a year, once in spring in order for the people to request from the gods, especially from Apollo, sun and the seasons to protect the seed, and once in autumn, to thank the gods for the good harvesting of their fruits. Along with their thanks to the gods, they gave good wishes to their fellow brethren also.

During the period of September 22 - October 20 children would go from house to house, holding the Eirosioni, singing carols and receiving gifts from those pleased by their performance. Many of the children would bring home the laurel and olive twigs and hang them on their doors where they stayed the whole year (something which some Greeks still do to this day). The Eirosioni of the previous year would be taken down and burned. The entrance to the Temple of Apollo also had Eirosioni.

This is a traditional Eiresioni carol from the Homeric period:

To this house we came of the rich-landlord
May its doors open for the wealth to roll in
That wealth and happiness and desired peace should enter
And may its clay jugs fill with honey, wine and oil
And the kneading tub with rising dough.



The Christmas Tree in Byzantium

The ancient custom of Eirosioni was not forbidden in Byzantium, but it was Christianized to be a way to thank God for all the goods He provided. In fact, this custom was usually encouraged, as the ruler of each local city would order the local streets be cleaned and decorated at certain intervals with poles of rosemary, myrtle branches and blossoms of the season.1

The custom of decorating a pole with rosemary still survives in the memory of the Greek people, when they sing one of the most popular carols for the New Year: Αρχιμηνιά κι αρχιχρονιά ψηλή μου δενδρολιβανιά (Beginning of the Month and Beginning of the Year oh my dear tall Rosemary).

It is believed that the custom of Eirosioni together with the later custom of decorating the streets with poles of rosemary travelled to Northwest Europe, though there they adorned the trees and branches that were local to them, which are the evergreens we know today.

This transfer of customs may have been done by the Royal Cavalcade Battalion, who were the palace guards of Byzantium. Among others they played a ritual role in official imperial ceremonies - including that of Christmas. They were divided into three companies - the Small, the Medium and the Great Company. The Small Company consisted of those who were of another religion (eg. Pagans, Muslims, etc.), the Medium Company consisted of the heterodox and foreign Christians (eg. Scandinavians, Germans, Russians, British, etc.), and the Great Company consisted of Orthodox Christian Romans. Perhaps it was the foreigners among them who brought these Roman customs of Byzantium to their respective countries.


CHRISTMAS WITH THE  POOR
Quotes from Pope Francis

  I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person's life. God is in everyone's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else -- God is in this person's life." -- Interview with Jesuit Catholic journals around the world.   

Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor.


It is truly an article of faith that poverty is central to the theology of Christmas. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it thus: “Jesus shares the life of the poor, from the cradle to the cross.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church 544.] Blessed John Paul II reiterated this doctrine, preaching that “Christ who was rich became freely poor, was born in a lowly manger, preached liberation to the poor, identified with the poor, made them his disciples and promised them his kingdom.” Benedict XVI has pointed to the fact that Jesus was born into a poor family surrounded by “the poor, and anonymous shepherds ... The little ones, the poor in spirit: they are the key figures of Christmas, in the past and in the present.”  Pope Francis explains the implications from this fact: “to be like Him we must not put ourselves above others, but rather lower ourselves, putting ourselves at the service, making ourselves little with the little and poor with the poor.”
Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador was even more succinct in his formulation: “the Christ of Bethlehem is the divine summation of my entire Gospel preaching,” said Romero. [«Orientación» Weekly, December 25, 1977.] Explaining in more detail, Romero states that, “based on Bethlehem Christians can no longer invent another Christ or another liberating doctrine apart from the authentic Gospel: the Gospel of poverty and austerity, detachment and obedience to the will of the Father, of humility and of the path to the beatitudes and to the cross.”  Id. From poverty and humility to the cross, there is only one step, announced Ab. Romero: the rejection of a world not ready to accept the scandal of a lowly, humble Lord and God.  “Like Christ the Church grows during the darkness of night. The Gospel of Saint John says: ‘He came into the world but the world did not know him’,” preached Romero.
To avoid this ignorance, this lack of understanding, Romero announced the “good news” in the most concrete and urgent language of which he was capable and proclaimed, “Christ was not born twenty centuries ago; Christ is born today in the midst of our people.” He says this to give greater effect to his words not to “look for God among the opulence of the world, or among the idolatries of wealth or among those eager for power or among the intrigues of the powerful.”  To do so would be wasted effort: “God is not there. Let us look for God with the sign announced by the angels: resting in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes made by the humble peasant woman of Nazareth—poor swaddling clothes and a little hay on which this God-made-man rested, on which this King of the ages becomes accessible to humankind as a poor child.” In today’s world, we should “look for him among the children lacking proper nutrition who have gone to sleep this evening with nothing to eat. Let us look for him among the poor newspaper boys who sleep in the doorways wrapped in today’s paper. Let us look for him in the shoeshine boy who perhaps has earned enough to buy a small gift for his mother. Let us look for him in the newspaper boy who, because he did not sell enough papers, is severely reprimanded by his stepfather or stepmother.”
In a famous and widely quoted phrase, Romero said that “no one can celebrate an authentic Christmas unless they are truly poor.” Applying the social doctrine to what the Catechism says, the Martyr Bishop explained that, “The self-sufficient, the proud of heart, those who despise others because they do not possess the material goods of this earth, those who do not need or want God—for these people there is no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, and those who need someone to come to them because they have need of someone, someone who is God, someone who is Emmanuel, God-with-us—only these people are able to celebrate Christmas.” And in words astonishingly laden with common sense, he explained, “people have no desire to eat when they are not hungry. People also have no need for God when they are proud and/or self-sufficient. Only the poor, only those who are hungry can be satisfied.”  And he gives us this Christmas beatitude: “Blessed are those who see the coming of Christmas in the same way that those who are hungry see the gift of food. People cannot desire liberation or freedom unless they are conscious of being enslaved.”
When Benedict XVI inaugurated a 2009 Christmas lunch with the poor, recognizing this important note of the social doctrine at Christmas, he said, “I have come to you precisely on the Feast of the Holy Family because, in a certain way, you resemble it.” The Pope Emeritus’ words remind us of what Archbishop Romero had said thirty years earlier: “Tonight the people of El Salvador are very much like Jesus in Bethlehem, for we are a poor people and we present ourselves to God in the same way that Mary and Joseph and Jesus presented their poverty to God.”

Archbishop Romero reminds us that the poor draw us closer to Christmas and to God.

Posted by Carlos X 

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