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Saturday, 22 September 2018

Explanation of the Nativity of the Theotokos Icon

On 8th September we celebrate the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. Saint Andrew of Crete refers to this feast as the ‘beginning of feasts’ and the ‘door to grace and truth’. Saint John of Damascus says that this festival is a ‘feast of universal rejoicing because in the Theotokos all the race of man is renewed and the sorrow of the foremother Eve is changed to joy’.

The Nativity of the Theotokos is the first Great Feast of the Church New Year which begins on 1st September. In celebrating the feast on this day, the Church recalls the first six days of Creation which were followed by a Sabbath rest on the seventh day. The eighth day starts a new cycle, a new week, and for this reason is used in Scripture and by the Fathers as an image of the life of the age to come. Through the incarnation of Christ we have been inaugurated into the life of that age, becoming part of a New Creation. The Church therefore begins the cycle of the Great Feasts on the eighth day of the New Year.

The names of the Theotokos’s parents are not recorded in the Gospels, but an account or her birth is preserved the early second century Protoevangelium of James. This collection of writings has never been completely accepted by the Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, parts of it have been accepted as true and without error. Many Orthodox saints, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have theologised about the events concerning the birth of the Virgin Mary and their significance. Saint Andrew of Crete says the following about Saints Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Theotokos:

Joachim and his spouse lamented that they had no successor to continue their line, yet the spark of hope was not extinguished in them completely. Both intensified their prayer for a child to continue their line. In imitation of the prayer of Hannah (see 1 Kings 1: 10), both remained in the Temple fervently beseeching God that He would undo Anna’s sterility and make her fruitful. They did not cease their efforts until their wish was fulfilled, and the Bestower of gifts did not deny them the reward of their hope. The unceasing power came quickly to help those praying and beseeching God, and it made capable both the one and the other to produce and bear a child. In such manner, from sterile and barren parents, as it were from irrigated trees, was borne for us a most glorious fruit — the all-pure Virgin. The constraints of infertility were destroyed — prayer and an upright manner of life made the couple fertile; the childless man begat a child, and the childless woman became a joyous mother.
In the sixteenth century Greek icon (below) St. Anna is shown reclining on a bed, supporting her head with her left hand as she contemplates the miracle that has come to pass. She gazes at the Mother of God who is depicted wrapped in swaddling bands in a cradle as one of the attendant women sits by her holding a fan. 




St. Joachim is shown twice in this particular icon. Both parents are shown hugging joyfully in top-left hand corner at the gate of the house. He is also shown underneath the canopy on the right-hand side raising his hands in a prayer of thanksgiving as an angel delivers the good tidings that Anna would conceive and give birth.

The icon depicts the inside of Joachim’s house, but the house is shown cut-away rather than enclosed with walls and a ceiling so the figures on the icon appear to be outside the house. The unique way the building is depicted expresses the uniqueness of the spiritual event in which grace overcomes the boundaries of space and time. The red cloth draped between the canopy and the rooftop acts as a reminder that this event took place indoors.


In the Russian icon (below) the Mother of God is depicted twice. As well as being shown in the cradle she is also shown being washed by two midwives. In this icon, the parents are not shown embracing, but St. Joachim is shown alone, looking down on the scene in wonder.





In both these icons, women are shown attending to St. Anna and offering her food to help her recover from the rigours of childbirth. The depiction of the women illustrates that the birth of the Theotokos from St. Anna was a natural childbirth. Even though the conception of the Theotokos was miraculous and beyond nature, her birth was not.


Although this Feast is of the birth and not Anna's conceiving of the Theotokos we will briefly mention the confusion some people experience with the modern Roman Catholic dogma of the ‘Immaculate Conception’. Some Orthodox Christians think that this term refers to the universally accepted and ancient dogma of the Virgin Birth – it does not! The Immaculate Conception is the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church that declares that the Virgin Mary ‘at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin’.


The Orthodox Church rejects this new idea that the Theotokos was born without ancestral (original) sin for a number of reasons. This teaching is contrary to Scripture which speaks of Christ as the only One free from sin (see 1 Peter. 2:22). In contrast, the Mother of God was purified from ancestral sin at the Annunciation when, as St. Gregory the Theologian says Christ ‘sanctified womankind, shook off bitter Eve and overthrew the laws of the flesh’. St. John of Shanghai states clearly that the Mother of God' was not placed in the state of being unable to sin, but continued to take care for her salvation and overcame all temptations’. [1]


If the Virgin Mary had been unable to sin then her human nature would have been somehow more exalted and different to ours. As a consequence, the human nature Christ assumed from her would not have been like ours thus defeating the whole purpose of the incarnation. St. Paul rejects any idea of Christ's human nature being superior to ours when he says: 'We have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our weaknesses; but was in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin' (Heb. 4: 15).


Both the icon and the hymns of the Feast illustrate the miraculous birth of the Virgin Mary from parents who were previously thought to be unable to have children. This was an act of the Providence of God and prepared the way for the incarnation of the Son of God. It is fitting that one of the final hymns in the service of the Feast of Nativity references the good tidings still to come at the Annunciation:

O glorious wonder! A fruit has shone forth from a barren womb, at the command of the Almighty Maker of all, that has wholly ended the world’s barrenness in good. Ye mothers, dance with the Mother of the Theotokos and cry: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee, granting great mercy to the world through thee.

[1] [1] St. John Maximovitch The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994) p. 58

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God

by Saint Philaret of Moscow (1783-1867)


Today we celebrate the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, but what does the word ‘dormition’ mean? It literally means ‘to fall asleep’, but it is also used to mean the end of the Mother of God’s earthly life. Now we have to ask why the word ‘dormition’ came to be used in this particular way.

In the Old Testament the end of life is called ‘death’. In general, when speaking of the Patriarchs, Scripture says: ‘he lived … and he died’ (Gen. 5:5). For example, Abraham died (see Gen. 25:8) and Samuel died (see Sam. 25:1). The Patriarch Jacob uses an especially sad expression when speaking of his own death: ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave’ (Gen. 37:35).

Notice, however, that the Saviour calls death ‘falling asleep’ or ‘repose’. For example when by His divine omnipotence He announced the death of Lazarus to the disciples He said: ‘Our friend Lazarus sleepeth’ (John 11:11). Only when the disciples did not understand this expression did He make it clear to them: ‘Lazarus is dead’ (John 11: 14).

The custom of calling death ‘falling asleep’ or ‘repose’ is confirmed in the writings of the apostles. The Apostle Paul wrote of those who had seen the risen Lord with their own eyes that ‘the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:6).

St. Paul also refers to the resurrection of the dead: ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed’ (1. Cor. 15: 51). In other words, we shall not all die because on the last day of the world there will still be some people living on earth. Nevertheless, we shall all be changed because the bodies of those who are still alive will be instantaneously changed from corruptible into incorruptible. The bodies of those that have never died or been buried will be changed like those who will be raised from the dead.

The New Testament attitude towards death is cheerful when compared to the Old Testament view of it, and this can be explained by the change in the human condition caused by the redeeming sacrifice of the Saviour of the world.

The human race was under sentence of death because of the deeds of our ancestors, and every day that sentence was confirmed by our willful sins. If we had not been redeemed from that sentence of death by the passion and death of Christ, the Son of God, then the death of the body would still inexorably lead to eternal death without any hope of resurrection unto the blessed life in God.

However, when Christ died for us we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son (see Rom. 5:8,10) and ‘God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us made us alive together with Christ even though we were dead in sin’ (Eph. 2:4-5). The righteous will now live in the eternal life and blessedness that only the life in Christ can give.

Death has truly been destroyed by death and changed into sleep because ‘as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive’ (1 Cor. 15:22). This sleep is of a short duration compared with the eternal life that will follow; it is a peaceful sleep, being a rest from labours, the shedding of sorrows, a rest for the conscience granted by Christ to the peacemakers. This sleep, however, is not unconscious, because although the body sleeps, the soul does not, but is sweetly conscious as if foretasting the eternal blessedness.

Now we know why in the Old Testament there was no such comforting and calming understanding of death. But how can we understand this? From the fact that, as the Apostle explains, death reigned (see Rom. 5:14), and was not yet conquered by the life-creating death of Christ; the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest (see Heb. 9:8). In other words, the gate into the holy of holies, which is heaven, had not been opened by our forerunner even Jesus Himself (see Heb. 6:20).

Even the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets and righteous ones did not receive the promised things, they only saw them from a distance and welcomed them. They were excluded because they were strangers on earth (see Heb. 11:13). This is why the darkness of imminent death made a more powerful impression upon them than the far-off glory of the resurrection.

Christianity, by renaming death as ‘sleep’ or ‘dormition’, inspires us with the knowledge that just as he who falls asleep in the evening arises in the morning with renewed powers of life, so he who falls asleep in physical death will arise unto a new immortal life in the day of the general resurrection.

We must not forget that though the gift of New Testament grace is open to all and may be achieved by all, it does not belong to us all just because we live in New Testament times.

There were people in those far off Old Testament times who lived according to the spirit of the New Testament. Christ Himself said of the Patriarch Abraham, that he rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad (see. John 8:56). Of course Abraham inherited all the good things which have been made available to mankind in Christ. On the other hand, in the time of the New Testament grace, there are people who, in their inner disposition, remain hostile to the grace-filled covenant of God, even though outwardly they bear the name of Christian.

The door of grace has been opened to all by Christ Who said: ‘I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved’ (John 10:9). However, we must make sure that we enter by this door, and we can only do so through our living and active faith in Christ, the Son of God, as the Apostle Paul says: ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God’ (Gal. 2:20). Those who live in the grace-filled life through faith in Jesus Christ, and who maintain that life within, will not sleep unto death even though dwelling in the grave. From the bed of corruption they will rise again unto incorruption, heavenly life and blessedness in glory.

On the other hand, those who do not struggle to participate in the grace-filled life in Christ live the life of the old Adam. They live a life of sinfulness. Even though they show signs of life, they are actually submerged in an inner death, because sin brings forth death (see Jam. 1:15). If they do not turn and repent, they will surely die and undergo the death of sinners, which is evil (see Ps. 33:21), and which inherits eternal torment.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Saint Peter's Clinic

CHURCH OF TRUE ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS OF GREECE
DIOCESE OF KANANGA

Administrator: Ambrose, Bishop of Methoni

18/31 July 2018
                   
Bishop Ambrose with Father Philippe Mutombo and Doctor Patrice Kamfufu

APPEAL FOR SAINT PETER’S CLINIC

For the first time in the twenty-six years that I have been bishop, I have decided to launch a general appeal for a project that is close to my heart, hoping that all those who are able to do so may contribute to this worthy cause. In the city of Kananga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (population around one million), there functions, under the auspices of our diocese, a small clinic. The director is the Reverend Philippe Mutombo, a trained nurse, and the medical and surgical procedures are performed by Doctor Patrice Kamfufu, a pious and dedicated Orthodox Christian, assisted by two other trained nurses. Medical services are offered free of charge to all our parishioners. The buildings used at present are a miserable pair of mud-built cottages, and the medical equipment available is utterly inadequate even for the simple procedures carried out there: appendicitis, hernia, and cesarian operations, as well as treatment of malaria, typhus and so on. I would like firstly to house the clinic in a more suitable building, and then provide the basic equipment - hospital beds, sterilising equipment, microscopes, drugs etc - to assure proper treatment and a clean environment. For this purpose, a special account has been opened, and I request that any aid be sent directly to this account, not to myself; I do, however, request that you inform me by email at ambrose@hsir.org of any sums sent, so that I can keep account. On the sum received depends the nature of the projected work: either the construction of a new building to be built on the territory of our mission headquarters in Kananga, or the acquisition and transformation of an existing structure. May God richly bless all those who are able to contribute either with funds or their prayers

Bank: Rawbank, Kananga, Kasai Central, Democratic Republic of Congo Account name: Mutombo Mukadi Swift Code: RAWBCDKI Account Number: 05190-00156247201-37

+Ambrose, Bishop of Methoni, administrator of the Kananga Diocese

Monday, 20 August 2018

Explanation of the Transfiguration Icon




On 6th August we celebrate the Great Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The icon of the Feast depicts the account we hear read in Matins (Luke 9:28-36) and at the Divine Liturgy (Matt. 17:1-9). This particular icon dates from the fourteenth century and was painted by Theophanes the Greek who was renowned for his work in Russian churches of that period.


The word ‘transfiguration’ means ‘change of form’. At the moment of the Transfiguration Christ revealed the glory of His divinity to the chosen disciples Peter, James and John who, as we hear in the Vespers of the Feast, cast themselves down upon the ground, unable to gaze upon the Form that none may see.

St. Peter is depicted on the bottom left of the icon, shielding himself from the Light with his left hand. St. John the Theologian is in the middle of the three disciples and his brother St. James, the Son of Zebedee, to his right.

This particular icon has some unusual features that are not found on most icons of the Transfiguration. Firstly, at the top of the icon, angels are shown summoning Moses and Elias to appear at the Transfiguration. Secondly, on the left-hand side of the icon Christ is depicted leading the three apostles up the mountain and leading them down again on the right-hand side.

In His left hand Christ holds a scroll symbolizing His Gospel and is surrounded by a circular ‘mandorla’ which represents His glory and divinity. The geometric shape within the mandorla represents the bright cloud which overshadowed the disciples (cf. Matt. 17:5). St. Gregory Palamas explains that the bright cloud cast a shadow because on this occasion the cloud was both light and darkness, overshadowing them by comparison because of its exceeding brightness.[1] St. Dionysius the Areopagite describes this paradoxical cloud as a dark cloud of unapproachable light.

The cloud overshadowed the disciples like a tent and provided more than the earthly shelter that St. Peter asked for when he said: ‘ Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias (Matt. 17:4). The Fathers teach that this cloud is the grace of the Holy Spirit that still shelters us.

At the Transfiguration the Trinity was therefore made manifest. The Son was transfigured, and the voice of the Father came out of the cloud revealing the consubstantiality of the Father with the Holy Spirit.

Because of this revelation, Mount Tabor is represented as a mountain with three peaks. At Christ’s right hand is depicted the Prophet Elias, and at his left the Prophet and God-seer Moses. Moses holds a stone tablet representing the Ten Commandments of the Law. Elias is portrayed as he is in other icons as an old man with long hair and beard.

At the Transfiguration Moses represented the Law and Elias the Prophets. Moses also represented the dead and Elias (who had been taken up into heaven on a chariot of fire) the living. In the service of the Transfiguration we hear: ‘Talking with Christ, Moses and Elias showed that He is Lord of both the living and the dead, the God who spake of old though the Law and the prophets.’[2]
The Venerable Bede teaches us that ‘by Moses, who was dead and buried, we can understand those who at the judgement are going to be raised up from death. By Elias, on the other hand, who has not yet paid the debt of death, we understand those who are going to be found alive in the flesh at the judge’s coming. [3]

Saint John Chrysostom offers another reason why Moses and Elias were chosen to appear with Christ as He was transfigured:

Both the one and the other had courageously withstood a tyrant: one the Egyptian (Pharaoh), and the other Ahab; and this on behalf of a people who were both ungrateful and disobedient… And both were simple unlearned men. One was slow of speech and weak of voice. The other a rough countryman. And both were men who had despised the riches of this world. For Moses possessed nothing. And Elias had nothing but his sheepskin. [4]
Even though he represents the Law in this icon, Moses was also a prophet. He saw the glory of the Lord in the cloud and the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites in the wilderness and prefigured the Transfiguration. The Prophets Moses and Elias also have something important in common. Both these saints had already experienced a secret vision of God on Mount Sinai and Horeb. We hear the accounts of these encounters with God during the Vespers service of the Feast.

Nevertheless, there is one vital difference between these Old Testament encounters with God and the New Testament Transfiguration. In the Old Testament the Prophets beheld the unincarnate Word of God; at the Transfiguration they saw the Word as God and Man.

Moses and Elias are depicted with halos in some icons. The three apostles Peter James and John are not, because at this stage they were not able to bear the brightness of the light as they had yet to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit that they would receive at Pentecost. The Prophets Moses and Elias are able to bear the divine glory without being blinded – they are able to stand next to Christ as He is transfigured. In the icon, Moses and Elias stand touching the outer edge of Christ’s glory, signifying their previous illumination. Although both Moses and Elias were seen in this same glory, neither of them shone like the sun. The disciples were aware of the light, but were not able to look at it. This is because, as St. Maximus the Confessor teaches:

The Lord does not always appear in glory to all who stand before Him ‘To beginners He appears in the form of a servant (cf. Phil. 2:7); to those able to follow Him as He climbs the high mountain of His transfiguration He appears in the form of God (cf. Matt. 17: 1-9), the form in which He existed before the world came to be (cf. John 17:5). It is therefore possible for the same Lord not to appear in the same way to all who stand before Him, but to appear to some in one way and to others in other way, according to the measure of each person’s faith.[5]

Both St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian clearly stated that the light of the Transfiguration is divinity – the light of the Godhead. This light is the uncreated energies of God.

No one has ever seen or can even comprehend God’s essence (what He actually ‘is’). We read in the prophecy of Jeremias that ‘no one hath stood in the substance and essence of the Lord’ (Jer. 23:18). Nevertheless, we can partake of God’s energies which are called grace. As Orthodox Christians we are called to become heirs of God and coheirs with Christ (cf. Rom 8:17). This union with God is what the saints have achieved; they have become gods by grace becoming, as Saint Maximus the Confessor teaches, in every respect as God is, except for His very essence.

In the icon, the uncreated light is symbolized by Christ’s white clothing and the golden lines illuminating His clothing and shining forth from Him. The radiant clothing also represents the letter of the Scripture which is bright to those who see in spirit the things of the spirit. It remains dark, however, to those who are not illuminated by grace.

This illumination will be granted to us if we truly draw near to God by practising the virtues and purifying ourselves of sin and the passions. We will then be changed and shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of our Father (cf. Matt. 13:43).

[1] C. Veniamin (trans.) St. Gregory Palamas The Homilies (Dalton: Mount Thabor Publishing 2014) p. 277

[2] K. Ware, M. Mary The Festal Menaion (London: Faber and Faber, 1969) p. 470

[3] T. C. Oden, C.A. Hall (Eds.) Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Vol. 2 Mark (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 1998) p.119

[4] Ibid. p.119

[5] G.E.H Palmer. P. Sherrard, K. Ware The Philokalia Vol.2 (London: Faber and Faber, 1981) p.140.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Concerning Holy Relics

By Saint Nicolas Varzhansky


This translation appeared in the September 1996 edition of The Shepherd. All Old Testament verses are from the Septuagint.

The incorrupt bodies of those who have pleased God are called holy relics, as are those parts which remain after the dissolution of the body: their bones and other remains. They are revealed as sanctified because they are memorials of a person dear to Christianity, and because through holy relics the Lord imparts His wonders to people.

Honour was always shown to the remains of the Prophets and Righteous Ones:


The pious King Josias, who destroyed the bones of the dishonourable ones, would not touch the dust of the Prophet Achia:

Josias said, What memorial is this that I see? And the dwellers of the city told him, It is the sepulchre of the man of God, which came from Judah, and proclaimed these things which thou hast done against the altar of Bethel. And he said, Leave him in peace; let no man disturb his bones. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria (4 Kings 23: 17-18). 

'May their memory be blessed! May their bones flourish from their place, and may their name pass on to the sons of their glorification' (Ecclesiastes 46:11-12).

The Lord notes the adornment of the graves of the righteous (Matthew 23:15, 29-36). The Lord did not condemn the Pharisees because they garnished the sepulchres of the righteous, but because they did not honour them, and because they killed and pursued the prophets, the wise men and the scribes, as had their fathers. In exactly the same way, He did not condemn the Pharisees for compassing land and sea to make one convert, for this itself is a good deed, but rather because having done so they did not wish to support the newly converted in the life of righteousness and thus made him even worse.

Even the clothes and the shadows of the Righteous worked wonders:

Eliseus 'took the mantle of Elias, that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elias – Where is He Himself? And he smote the waters and they parted hither and thither, and Eliseus passed over' (4 Kings 2: 14).

'They brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them' (Acts 5:15).

‘Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched [St. Paul's] body were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them’ (Acts 19: 12).

The relics of those pleasing to God worked miracles:  

Eliseus died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that they spied this band, and they cast this man that they were burying into the grave of Eliseus; and he, as he fell, touched the bones of Eliseus, and he revived and stood on his feet (4 Kings 13:20-21).

Concerning the Prophet Eliseus we read: 'after his repose his body prophesied; in his life he did wonders, and after death his deeds were marvellous' (Ecclesiastes 48: 14-15).

No one among the Christians dismisses the wonders wrought either by the clothes or the aprons. In the same way we all reverently and piously accept the wonder working power of sacred relics. We should ask the sectarians: How are you Christians when you reject the holy relics of Christ's Apostles and the holy God-pleasers, which through the power of God work miracles to this day? Give us an answer.

A selection of refutations of the dissenters

The dissenters say: The fact that no one knows where Prophet Moses is buried (cf. Deut.34:6) shows that God does not desire relics to be honoured.
 
The Orthodox reply: But why then did God work such a miracle through the relics of Eliseus? If his relics (bones) had been of no matter, then the dead man would not have been resurrected. The grave of Moses is unknown for a reason which God knows, and not because relics are not necessary.

The dissenters say: 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God' (1 Cor. 15:50) which means that relics are not necessary. 

The Orthodox reply: The Orthodox do not believe that relics will appear before the second Resurrection in their present state. No, they will be changed, as are changed the bodies of all peoples (1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:52), and they will be like the glorious Body of Christ (cf. Phil. 3:21).

The dissenters say
: The annihilation of the bones and the destruction of the graves of the Jewish idolators (cf. Jer. 8:1-3) shows that relics should be destroyed.

The Orthodox reply: This passage does not speak of the bones of the righteous, but of the lawless 'evil tribe'. The relics and tombs of the righteous were honoured in the Old Testament (4 Kings 23:1-18; Ecclesiastes 46:13-15).

Friday, 22 June 2018

Saint Glicherie of Romania

On 15th June on the Church Calendar we commemorate the Holy Hierarch and Confessor Glicherie of Romania. St. Glicherie was born on 9th February 1891 and named Gheorghe after the Holy Great Martyr George. His father died soon after he was born, and by the age of seven he was an orphan. Gheorghe spent his youth in purity of body and spirit and this naturally led him to the monastic life. He placed himself under obedience to Hegumen Theophil, abbot of the ancient monastery of Cetățuia. 

On Christmas Eve 1916 Gheorghe was tonsured a monk taking the name Glicherie which means ‘one who is sweet’ in Greek. The new monk Glicherie’s obedience was to work in the kitchen, preparing food and tending the kitchen fire. Whilst fulfilling this hard obedience, he was careful not to miss the church services. 

During World War One, a temporary hospital was set up in the monastery to care for the sick and wounded. Undisciplined soldiers, however, often stole from the monastery. When Fr. Glicherie found a soldier stealing vegetables from the monastery garden he told the soldier that there was no need to steal, but only to ask for food and he would be given it. The soldier’s heart, however, was unrepentant. The next day, Fr. Glicherie found the soldier dead, his hand still holding a green pepper which he had stolen. The unexplained death of another soldier stealing vegetables led to the Metropolitan of Moldavia visiting the monastery to advise the soldiers to ask for more food from the monks rather than stealing it. 

Fr. Glicherie was ordained deacon in January 1918 and priest two years later. He continued in his various monastic obediences and was later appointed abbot of the Pokrov skete in Neamț where he was joined by his fellow-ascetic Hierodeacon David. 

The introduction of the New Calendar by the Romanian Church in 1924 caused turmoil throughout Romania. That year, October 1st on the Church calendar became October 14th. To make matters worse, two years later the Romanian Church started to calculate the date of Pascha according to the New Calendar as well. 

The Fathers of the Pokrov skete had been studying the calendar question carefully. Rejecting both pressure and promises of earthly glory Fathers Glicherie and David fled to the mountains so they could worship according to the Church calendar. 

Father Glicherie was troubled by the thought that he might be making a mistake considering that the Church leaders and intellectuals had accepted the New Calendar. One night he beheld himself in a vision swimming alone against huge waves. As he began to despair, he saw Christ coming to him, walking on the water. Christ raised him up from the sea and from his despair. 

In 1927 the two fathers travelled to Mount Athos where they were tonsured to the Great Schema. On their return to Romania they settled again in their little hut, surrounded by the other monks that they had gathered. 

On the Great Feast of Theophany, 1929, the persecution of the Fathers started in earnest when they were denounced by the local New Calendar priest. As a result the police raided the huts and arrested the two fathers. Although they were released by a judge, the same priest accused them of being ‘enemies of the state’ later in that year. This priest joined the police in looting the chapel even sitting on the Holy Table and smoking cigarettes. As a result of his false accusation Fr. Glicherie spent three months in prison where he was severely tortured.

The courts refused Fr. Glicherie permission to return to his hut after his release from prison. He also had to live in hiding due to the frequent police raids. During this time he was given aid and shelter by pious Orthodox Christians. 

Fr. Glicherie travelled to Jerusalem in the following year where he served the Liturgy in many of the churches. On Pascha he served with Archbishop Anastassy who later became First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. 

This was an important period for the traditional Orthodox Christians of Romania. A new church was built in Rădășeni and others in neighbouring districts. Fr. Glicherie was serving in this church on the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul when he was attacked and viciously beaten by the police. His parishioners rescued him and hid him, tending his wounds. Throughout this time of persecution Fr. Glicherie taught his flock not to repay evil with evil, but to demonstrate their fear of God by their peaceful demeanour. 

In 1936 Fr. Glicherie travelled to the Holy Mountain to find an Old Calendar bishop to return with him to Romania but he was unsuccessful. On his return, he blessed sites for new churches, but the growing number of Old Calendar Orthodox Christians caused certain New Calendar priests to react with hatred. 

Fr. Glicherie was slandered by them for being both a communist and a member of the fascist Iron Guard movement. They did this in order to have him found guilty of a crime that carried the death penalty; he was duly arrested in 1939 and sentenced to death. 

Fr. Glicherie was imprisoned in a camp as part of a group of eighty prisoners who were scheduled to be shot in two groups of forty. Fr. Glicherie was assigned to the second group. After hearing the shots and screams as the first forty were killed he prepared for death with prayer, as did the other prisoners. However, it was revealed to Fr. Glicherie as he was praying that all their lives would be spared and so it came to pass. Just before the scheduled execution of the second group the government decided that the prisoners should be released. 

Nonetheless, the persecution of the traditional Romanian Orthodox Christians continued. Fr. Glicherie, in particular, was targeted by the authorities. In 1941 he was forced to flee again and hid in the forests near the village of Slătioara where he and Fr. David were given help by the villagers. It was here that the Monastery of the Transfiguration (below) was constructed. 



As World War Two drew to a close, work began to rebuild the churches destroyed by the pre-war persecutions.  However, the Romanian Old Calendar Church still had no bishop. They were not able to invite bishops from abroad because of the danger involved in visiting Romania at this time. This situation could not be allowed to continue. 

The Old Calendar clergy therefore approached Bishop Galaction, a well-respected Romanian New Calendar bishop known for his deep faith and love for traditional Orthodoxy. Bishop Galaction had previously warned against changing the calendar and was persuaded to join and lead the Old Calendar Church of Romania. 

On May 21st 1955 Bishop Galaction arrived at the newly finished Monastery of the Transfiguration and was met by Fathers Glicherie and David who had suffered so much for the Orthodox faith. Bishop Galaction was forced by the authorities to leave the monastery shortly afterwards, but while in exile he consecrated Bishops Evloghie, Meftodie and Glicherie. On the day after his consecration, Bishop Glicherie returned to the Monastery of the Transfiguration at Slătioara which he had founded. He remained there until his repose on June 15th/28th 1985.

Holy Hierarch Glicherie pray to God for us!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

On Truth and Love in the Writings of Saint John the Evangelist

By Saint Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894)

THE HOLY APOSTLE and Evangelist John the Theologian, the beloved disciple of the Lord, is above all an example and a teacher of love.  Love breathes through his Gospel; lessons about love fill his epistles, and his life serves as a striking example of love.

He expounded on all the mysteries of love – its source, its movement in deeds, and its culmination – and where it leads all that follow it, to the heights.  On this subject of love St. John is especially well known, and no matter who would begin to reflect upon love he would immediately bring to mind Saint John as the model of love and turn to him as to a teacher of love.

Now let us examine how contemporary wise men have made use of this teaching.  They possess a special kind of vain wisdom called “Indifferentism” by which they reason and say: Believe as you like, it makes no difference – just love everyone like brothers, be charitable to them, and have a good influence on them.  They point out that the Evangelist John the Theologian writes only about love.  For him love is light and life and all perfection.  According to his words the person who does not love walks in darkness, abides in death, and is a murderer.  It is well known that when St. John grew old and was unable to walk they carried him to church.  There he only admonished, “Brethren! let us love one another.”  So much did he value love.  They tell us that we also should love like that and only love, believing any way we wish.

I myself have had to listen to such “wisdom.”  Perhaps you have also had to listen to, or will hear, something similar to this.  Let us contrast their false teaching with the true teaching of St. John the Theologian, and then protect our thoughts from wavering from the fundamentals of Christian good sense into the vain wisdom of the “indifferent ones.”  These so-called “wise” people desire to build everything without God – their external welfare and their morality.  From this they strive wherever possible to craftily weave a school of thought where there is no need to talk about God.  And they beat their drums about love.  They tell us to love one another, and here there is no need to think about God.  It is especially on this point where the Holy Evangelist routs them.  

Although St John continuously, and exactingly reminds us to love one another, he also places love in such a close bound with God, with love for God and the knowledge of God, that it is impossible to separate them.  Behold where St. John’s love originates: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  And he adds, Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another (I Jn 4:10, 11).  According to his reasoning, our mutual love must be built up by the action of faith in the Lord, Who came to save us, and consequently it is not alright to believe as you want.  Further he teaches, Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God (1 Jn 4:7).  If we love one another, God dwelleth in us … (I Jn 4:12).  God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him (I Jn 4:16).  You see, he does not say a word about love without speaking about God and the Saviour.  Love is from God, and leads to God.  Thus he who says that he loves his brother, and does not know and love God and the Saviour, is a liar and the truth is not in him (cf. 1 John 4:20, 2:4).  

Therefore it is possible to summarize the entire teaching of the Holy Evangelist on love in the following words: in order to love your neighbor you must love God, and in order to love God, you must, of course come to know Him within yourself and especially in His salvific activity on us.  We must know and believe.  What does the will of God consist of?  In faith and love: thus the commandment says: That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another (1 Jn 3:23).  It does not only command us to love but to believe in the Lord, and in such a way that faith is the source of love.  If one were to gather into one all the places where Saint John the Evangelist speaks only of love, one could still not conform his teaching to the false reasoning: only love and believe as you want.
 
Besides his teaching on love he also speaks of faith, independent of the law of love.  Behold how he categorically rejects those who say, believe as you want.  What does he preach about from the very first verses: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looketh upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (I Jn 1:1-3)?  The most important point with St. John, and all the Apostles, is the teaching about communion with God though the Lord Jesus Christ, from which proceeds communion of the faithful with one another.  How can we have the one without the other?  Further St John asks the question: who is a liar?  and answers thus: Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?  He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.  Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father… Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God (I Jn 2:22, 23; 4:15).  The whole matter is summed up in confessing the Lord Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and to be God.  How then could one possibly say, “Believe any way you want”?

Then there follows the warning: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.  Herein know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist (1 Jn 4:1-3).  He who says, “Believe as you want” does not confess Jesus Christ, for if he did confess Christ he would not speak thus.  Therefore he cannot be from God.  Where then is he from? – truly from the antichrist.

Finally, the Holy Evangelist describes the whole essence of Christianity thus: And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life (1 Jn 5:11-12).  Who possesses the Son of God?  Those who believe in His name.  Therefore he says, and writes: unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life … (1 Jn 5:13).  Consequently, he who does not believe in the Son of God does not have eternal life.  Could it possibly make no difference how one wants to believe?  No.  We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us light and understanding, that we may know the true God, and that we may be in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life (1 Jn 5:20).

These excerpts should be enough, I suppose, to show the “Indifferentists” that in vain do they seek to find support for their lie in the teaching of St. John the Theologian.  It is more than likely that they make such claims without having ever read St. John’s holy and divinely inspired writings, but rather quote him based on rumors about his overflowing love.  Let them even now find something else besides the above argument, to defend their teaching to us believers.  One word alone from the beloved disciple is sufficient to discredit their teaching and, without any doubt, to confirm our belief explicitly in that which was given to us by the Lord through the Holy Apostles and preserved by the Church.

I would only add the following consideration to the decisive words of the Apostle and Evangelist John.  Having estranged themselves in their minds from the Lord, these unbelievers grasp at acts of charity whose source and support are precisely love.  They act in this way only to be founded on something without the assurance that they have found a solid basis.  If only they had a clear understanding of how it is indeed possible for man to act in a fruitful way, they would never remain fixed on their teaching.  The essence of the matter is – that we are not in the proper state.  Therefore we cannot act in the right way.  In order for us to act in the correct way we must enter into the right state.  By our own powers we are not capable of doing this.  The Lord, having come to the earth, lifted up man to the right state.   He did not lead man into this state for His own sake but rather that man would accept from Him renewed humanness and thus gain the possibility of acting properly.  We obtain this state through Holy Baptism, for those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  

From the time of Baptism we become one with the Lord and begin to live His life and act by His power.  Those who would claim love or the right action (for love is the fullness of the law) should first accept all the premises of Christianity in order to be able to walk rightly and deny their own falseness. This is impossible without faith, for faith is the root of Christianity and beginning of everything.  The Lord Himself says this: Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except ye abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.  I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.  If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (Jn 15:4-6).

When someone begins to expound to you about love or fruitful action independent of true belief, tell him: Wait, first believe correctly.  By faith acquire all the salvific precepts of Christianity.  Through them be united with the Lord, make your life and strength depend on Him like you would on an injection for your health and then you will begin to act in a fruitful way.  It is a fact that the witness to a righteous life is fruitful activity in love, but, in order to attain it and to remain in it, one must accept all of God’s Truth with faith and pass through all of God’s sanctifying actions [on one’s self].  Only under these conditions, i.e., by abiding in True Love, may we grow up into Him in all things, Who is the head, even Christ (Eph. 4:15).  We could summarize thus: he who does not have the right Faith cannot enter into the proper state, and he who does not enter into the right state cannot properly act.  Now do you see how one cannot say: “Believe as you wish, only love”?

Faith is not only the image of the knowledge of God and of our relationship to Him; it also includes all the salvific institutions [not just the Church as establishment but all that is contained within the Church for salvation] given by God. These salvific institutions maintain active faith.  Our so-called wise men might not actually be opposed to Christian teaching, but, more than anything else, they are repulsed by Christian institutions.  Since these institutions are nothing more than faith in reality and in action, then their main sin is that they do not want to act in the spirit of the Faith.  One is only amazed at how these people so persistently expound about deeds and labours but remove themselves from activity in the realm of holy Faith.  There is something amiss here.  Surely they are acquainted with the laws of logical thought.  There is such duplicity here that one must assume that they are not in fact doers, but are acted upon – they are the tools of a foreign spirit, and such a spirit that is itself foreign to Truth.

Brethren, having understood this, let us guard ourselves from the evil reasoning of this world.  Only those who have never tasted the Truth can waver in it.  Let us fulfill with humility and in the spirit of truth all that our holy Faith demands.  Then we will have, and carry within, a witness which will bring to naught all false arguments from without.  May the Lord illumine us by His Truth.  Amen.