29 January 2010

The Holy Martyrs Romanos, James, Philotheos, Hyperichios, Habib, Julian and Parigoreas

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyrs Romanos, James, Philotheos, Hyperichios, Habib, Julian and Parigoreas suffered in the year 297, during the persecution by Diocletian (284-305), in the city of Samosata (in Syria on the River Euphrates). They bravely denounced the foolish serving of idols, for which they were arrested and given over to various terrible tortures: they cut at their bodies with iron, they hung on their necks heavy iron fetters, they locked them up in prison, and finally, nailed their heads while suspended on a cross.

26 January 2010

Holy Noble-Born David III the Restorer, Emperor of Iveria and Abkhazia

from the Synaxarion:

Holy Noble-Born David III the Restorer, Emperor of Iveria and Abkhazia (1089-1125; by other accounts 1084-1125; in the contemporary writings of David IV the Builder), -- influenced the working of government, culture and church in Georgia. He was educated by his priest -- the monk Arsenii of Ikaltoi (+ 1127, Comm. 6 February), reknown for his theological and encyclopaeic learning.

The Georgian nation gave Holy Tsar David the title "Restorer" (Vozobnovitel') for his great efforts to renew Georgia for his great effort in the restoration of Georgia and the re-invigoration of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Georgia, mercilessly devastated by the Turks and suffering from internal strife, was united under the sceptre of David the Restorer into a strong centralised state. The Georgian Church, whose flourishing the tsar considered to be a guarantee for the security and unity of the state, became an object of his particular care. Saint David was distinguished for his deep piety -- he sacredly honoured the church canons and by his power kept and affirmed them. Through the initiative of Saint the Restorer, a Church Council was convened in the year 1103 at Ruisa, the decrees of which contributed to the strengthening of the canonical life of the Church and affirming church piety.

An highly educated man, Saint David patronised a diversity of sciences. He founded the scholarly academies at Gelatia and Ikaltoi. During the reign of Saint David the Restorer, tens of churches and monasteries were built in Georgia, and he built new cities and renewed old ones. The pious tsar displayed great concern for the well-being and prosperity of Georgian monasteries in Palestine and on Sinai, in Antioch and on Holy Mount Athos. When Saint David decided to erect a church in the name of the Great-Martyr George, to whose patronage he constantly resorted in his wars for liberation, Saint George appeared to him then in a vision and showed him the place for raising up the temple.

Thinking of peace-making as fulfillment of the Lord's commandment (Mt. 5: 9), Tsar David reconciled the Kipchak khan Atrak with the Ossetian people and brought peace into the Dar'yal' Valley.

In 1123, shortly before his death, the pious tsar liberated Armenia from Turkish dominion. He ordered churches to again be reconsecrated, having been transformed by the Turks into mosques. According to tradition, when the Tsar entered into one of the churches to the grave of his grandmother -- the spouse of the Armenian emperor Gagik I, and said: "Rejoice, Tsaritsa! God hath delivered thy church from the Hagarites", suddenly a voice was heard: "Thanks be to God!" The concern of Tsar David about reunion with the Armenian Church resulted in the convocation of a Church Council in the city of Ano, at which a part of the Armenian monophysite bishops swayed towards an acceptance of Orthodoxy (but in its entirety the Sobor did not arrive at the desired results). The patriotic efforts of Saint David did not hinder him from accomplishing spiritual efforts. From his early years the saint had the foundation of wisdom -- the fear of God (Proverbs 1: 7), inspiring him to good deeds and aims. A beloved preoccupation of saint David was the reading of Holy Scripture. The "Penitential Kanon" composed by him testifies to his profound spirituality, and consists of nine sorrowful and moving odes.

Sensing the approach of death, holy Tsar David composed a spiritual testimony in which, having transferred the ruling of the country to his son Dimitrii, he wrote: "Now doth the Divine Providence of the Righteous God call me away, and it summon to the destined kingdom... All that I have accomplished is by the power of the Venerable LifeCreating Wood of the Cross and to it I do account its Sign bringing me bliss". Having been communed the Holy Mysteries, "with praise on his lips he offered up his soul to the Lord in his 53rd year of life, on Saturday 24 January 1125". The Tsar was buried at Gelatia Monastery, under the entrance to the church at the gate. Some while later his relics, having been glorified by signs of Divine mercy, were transferred beneath the altar-table of the cathedral church. At the end of the 13th Century holy Tsar David III the Restorer was beatified, and a service then was composed to him. His commemoration is celebrated on 26 January.

22 January 2010

The Monk-Martyr Anastasias the Persian

from the Synaxarion:

The Monk-Martyr Anastasias the Persian was the son of a Persian sorcerer named Babo. As a pagan, he had the name Magundates and served in the armies of the Persian emperor Chosroes II, who in a victorious war against the Greeks in 614 ravaged the city of Jerusalem and carried away to Persia the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord. Great miracles occurred from the Cross of the Lord, and the Persians were astonished. The heart of young Magundates blazed up with the desire to learn in detail more about this sacred object. Asking everyone about the Holy Cross, the youth learned, that upon it the Lord Himself endured crucifixion for the salvation of mankind. He became acquainted with the truths of the Christian faith in the city of Chalcedon, where for a certain while the army of Chosroes was situated. He was baptized with the name Anastasias, and then accepted monasticism and dwelt for seven years in monastic works and efforts in one of the Jerusalem monasteries.

Reading about the acts of the holy martyrs, Saint Anastasias was inspired with the desire to imitate them. A mysterious dream in particular urged him to do this, which he had on Great Saturday, the day before the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. Having fallen asleep after his daily tasks, he beheld a radiant man, giving him a golden chalice filled with wine, with the words "take hold and drink". Driving from the chalice given him, he sensed an inexplicable delight. Saint Anastasias then perceived that this vision was a portent of his own martyr's end. He went secretly from the monastery to Palestinian Caesarea. There they arrested him for being a Christian and brought him to trial. The governor tried every which way to sway Saint Anastasias into a renunciation of Christ, threatening him with tortures and death and promising him honours and earthly blessings. But the saint remained unyielding. Then they subjected him to torture: they beat at him with canes, they lacerated his knees, they hung him up by the hands and tied an heavy stone to his feet, they exhausted him with confinement, and then wore him down with heavy work in the stone-quarry with other prisoners.

Finally, the governor summoned Saint Anastasias and demanded he say only the words: "I am not a Christian", promising him freedom. The holy martyr answered: "Let me be with this. Neither before thee, nor before others wilt I renounce my Lord, neither openly nor secretly even in sleep, and no one nowhere and in no way can compel me to do this while in my right mind". Then by order of the emperor Chosroes, they strangled the holy Martyr Anastasias (+ 628). After the death of Chosroes, the relics of the Monk-Martyr Anastasias were transferred to Palestine, to the Anastasias monastery.

20 January 2010

St. Gregory Palamas on the Saints of the Church

from his homily "On All Saints":
Truly "God is glorious in his saints." Let us call to mind the martyrs' superhuman struggles, how in the weakness of their flesh they put to shame the evil one's strength, disregarding pain and wounds as they struggled bodily against fire, sword, all different kinds of deadly tortures, patiently resisting while their flesh was cut, their joints dislocated and their bodies crushed, and keeping the confession of faith in Christ in its integrity, unharmed and unshaken. As a result there were bestowed on them the incontrovertible wisdom of the Spirit and the power to work miracles. Let us consider how the patience of holy men and women, how they willingly endured long periods of fasting, vigil and various other physical hardships as though they were not in the body, battling to the end against evil passions and all sorts of sin, in the invincible inner warfare against principalities, powers and spiritual wickedness. They wore away their outer selves and made them useless, but their inner man was renewed and deified by Him from whom they also received gifts of healing and mighty works. When we think on these matters and understand that they surpass human nature, we are filled with wonder and glorify God who gave them such grace and power. For even if their intentions were good and noble, without God's strength they could not have gone beyond the bounds of their nature and driven away the bodiless enemy while clothed in their bodies.

18 January 2010

Fr. Seraphim of Platina on "Modern Life"

from Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future:
The life of self-centeredness and self-satisfaction lived by most of today's "Christians" is so all-pervading that it effectively seals them off from any understanding at all of spiritual life, and when such people do undertake "spiritual life," it is only as another form of self-satisfaction. [...] But this is not the Christian ideal at all, which if anything may be summed up as a fierce battle and struggle. The "contentment" and "peace" described in these contemporary "spiritual" movements are quite manifestly the product of spiritual deception, of spiritual self-satisfaction--which is the absolute death of God-oriented spiritual life. [...] Christian spirituality is formed in the arduous struggle to acquire the eternal Kingdom of Heaven, which fully begins only with the dissolution of this temporal world, and the true Christian struggler never finds repose even in the foretastes of eternal blessedness which might be vouchsafed to him in this life; but the Eastern religions, to which the Kingdom of Heaven has not been revealed, strive only to acquire psychic states which begin and end in this life.

15 January 2010

The Monk John the Tent-Dweller

From the Synaxarion:

The Monk John the Tent-Dweller was the son of rich and illustrious parents living in Constantinople during the Fifth Century, and he received a fine education. He loved to read spiritual books, and having perceived the vanity of secular life, he preferred "rather than the broad path one that was narrow and infirm and extremely rigorous". Having persuaded his parents to give him a Gospel, he set out secretly to Bithynia. At the monastery "Unceasing Vigilance" he received monastic tonsure. The young monk began to asceticize with zeal, astonishing his brethren with unceasing prayer, humble obedience, strict abstinence and perseverance at work.

After six years he began to undergo temptations: thoughts about his parents, about their love and fondness, about their sorrow -- all this began to overtake the young ascetic.

Saint John disclosed his situation to the archimandrite and he asked to be released from the monastery, and he besought the brethren not to forget him in their prayers, hoping that by their prayers he would with the help of God, both see his parents and overcome the snares of the devil. The archimandrite gave him his blessing.

Saint John returned to Constantinople in the clothes of a beggar, and known to no one. He settled at the gates of his parental home. The parents sent him food from their table, for the sake of Christ. For three years, oppressed and insulted, he lived in a tent (or hut), enduring cold and frost, unceasingly conversing with the Lord and the holy Angels. Always with him was the Gospel, given him by his parents, and from which he unceasingly gathered out sayings of life eternal. Before his death the Lord appeared in a vision to the monk, revealing that the end of his sorrows was approaching and that after three days he would be taken up into the Heavenly Kingdom.

Only then did the saint show his parents the Gospel, which they had given him shortly before he had left his parental home. The parents recognized their son. With tears of joy they hugged him simultaneously with tears of sorrow, in that he had endured privation for so long at the very gates of his parental home. Saint John gave final instructions to his parents to bury him on the spot where stood his tent, and to put in the grave the beggar's rags that he wore during life.

The saint died in the mid Fifth Century, when he was not yet 25 years of age. On the place of his burial the parents built a church to God and alongside it an house of hospitality for strangers. In the Twelth Century the head of the saint was taken by Crusaders to Besacon (in France), and the other relics of the saint were taken to Rome.

13 January 2010

Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Christianity

I was recently invited on an internet radio show, The Black Fridays, to talk about Christianity as it existed in the Pre-Norman period of British history. The title links to the Fridays' webpage, where you can listen to yours truly expound on the topic for a bit. While the information I gave out was sound, I fear I was a little scatter-shot in the approach. It was much more conversational, and less informational, than I might have preferred. So, I thought that I'd give a little outline, more or less, to make things make more sense (if people bother to read this at all).

Despite all the craziness and weirdness that has been published about the Celts in the last few decades, the truth is we really do not know all that much about their indigenous religion. There is a good reason for this; they didn't write things down. It was only after the Christian era that Celtic myths, legends, and stories were compiled by Christian monks, for the reason of preserving them. The Celts are a curious people, though, because of their seeming uniqueness in Christian history. With few exceptions, the Celts converted to Christianity without suffering martyrdoms or conquests. They simply embraced the religion--and it flowered in the British Isles in beautiful ways for centuries.

The indigenous Celtic Church seems to have been, from its beginning, eastern in orientation. Legend has it that St. Joseph of Arimathea brought the Christian faith to Brittania near the time of the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. These early Christians, many of whom knew Christ and the Apostles, brought with them the Johannine traditions (liturgical and calendrical) that marked them as having continuity with the other communities founded by the beloved disciple. The Celtic Christians also kept to some of the same customs as the Jewish Christians, even into late period, such as the matrilineal descent of kings, and the vocation of priesthood passed down through families.

It is into this world that one of the most famous of the Celtic Christians was born--St. David, who became the Patron of Wales. His mother, St. Nona, was a nun who had been raped by sea-raiding pirates, probably from Ireland. She gave birth to him at the spot known now as St. Non's Well, in modern Pembrokeshire, and a stream of water sprang up from the earth. St. David is connected, also, to the legends of King Arthur; while the sources do not agree on their exact relationship, they all agree that he was a relative of the historical Arthur. Indeed, at least one of the legendary accounts say that he presided at the Mass at Arthur's coronation as King of the Britons. St. David was renown for the strictness of his asceticism, and for his love for his flock. He lived a life of astounding holiness, and was known to have been responsible for the rebuilding of the chapel at Glastonbury--where St. Joseph had first brought the Christian Faith to the Isle centuries before. So strong was the connection between St. David and these early Jewish Christians who came to Brittania seeking refuge from persecution at the fringes of the Roman Empire, that he went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was consecrated as a bishop. Thus it is that, alone of episcopal sees in the West, the bishops of St. David's could trace their apostolic succession, not to Rome, but to the mother church in Jerusalem at St. James the Just, the brother of the Lord.

The next century and a half following the repose of St. David saw much trouble in the Isles. The Western Empire had fallen; the Legions, that for so long had protected the British Celts, had been recalled to the continent, never to return. Raiders, first from the pagan Irish, then from the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians began to pillage the Isle of the Mighty. Then, as the European continent became embroiled in warfare through the migrations of the Goths and the Vandals, these Germanic invaders came to Britain to stay. Eventually, over the next century or so, there were established the Heptarchy--the seven kingdoms of Old England: Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, Sussex, and Essex.

After years of struggle with the indigenous Celtic Britons, the Anglo-Saxons kingdoms were, one by one, brought into the Christian fold...mostly through the missionary activities of their Celtic neighbors. Christianity flourished under the Christianized Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until the year 1066.

It was then that William the Bastard (whose good press would later label as "the Conqueror") landed in England, with the backing of the Roman Pope, launching a proto-crusade to bring the local church in Britain firmly under Roman domination, where it was to stay until the English Reformation, which established the English Church as its own entity apart from both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions. The systematic repression of the indigenous church in Britain was carried out with exceptional thoroughness; Celtic and Anglo-Saxon churches were demolished, and new, Norman-styled churches were constructed over their ruins. The local clergy were cast from office, and new bishops from Normandy were brought in to replace them. In fact, the last Anglo-Saxon bishop died in 1069, anathematizing the Pope of Rome.

Of the curious links to the Orthodox east, aside from the foundations of the Church in Britainnia with St. Joseph, and the introduction of monasticism from the Egyptian desert fathers, the links to Constantinople, curiously, come precisely through the Scandinavians who caused so much grief during the period of the Heptarchy. The viking trade routes through what is now Russia, with their major center of power being in Kiev, provided a vehicle for Eastern Roman trade and contact to Britain. This is proved by the fact that, in so many of the Anglo-Saxon archaeological finds, the golden byzant, the official coin of the Byzantine Empire, is found more than any other foreign coinage. Indeed, when the last Saxon king of England, Harold Godwinson, was defeated at the Battle of Hastings, his wife and son fled to, of all places, Kiev Rus to live out their days in exile.

Hopefully, this will help you make some sense of the podcast. I hope you enjoy! If you do, please be sure to leave some comments on The Black Fridays' message board.

A Medieval Welsh Poem

"The Advice of Addaon"

I asked all the priests of the world,
The bishops and judges,
What most profits the soul.

The Lord's prayer, the Beati and holy creed,
All sung for the sake of the soul,
Are best practiced until Judgment Day.

If only you shape your own path
And build up peace,
You shall see no end of mercy.

Feed the hungry and clothe the naked,
Sing out in praise,
For you have escaped the Devil's number.

But the proud and idle, pain on their flesh
On account of excess,
Must be winnowed until they are pure.

Too much sleep, drunkenness and sipping of mead,
Too much pandering to the body,
That is their sweet bitterness before Judgment Day.

They who commit perjury for land and deceive their Lord,
Who pour scorn on the humble,
Shall know regret on Judgment Day.

By rising for matins and by midnight vigils,
By praying to the saints,
Every Christian shall receive forgiveness.