Thursday, May 24, 2018

Filled with love, the holy Apostles went into the world, preaching salvation to mankind and fearing nothing, for the Spirit of God was their strength. ( St. Silouan the Athonite )


“Filled with love, the holy Apostles went into the world, preaching salvation to mankind and fearing nothing, for the Spirit of God was their strength. When St. Andrew was threatened with death upon the cross if he did not stay his preaching he answered: ‘If I feared the cross I should not be preaching the Cross.” In this manner all the other Apostles, and after them the martyrs and holy men who wrestled against evil, went forward with joy to meet pain and suffering. For the Holy Spirit, sweet and gracious, draws the soul to love the Lord, and in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit the soul loses her fear of suffering.”


St. Silouan the Athonite

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The source of all sins - Pride ( St. Justin Popovich )



The sin, which synthesizes all the sins of the world is: “the pride of life.” That is the first sin in all the worlds: the sin of Satan. The source of all sins, which always was and will forever stay as such. It can be said: pride is the ultimate sin. Every sin, through its life force, comes from it and holds to it: “the pride of life”–woven from countless multifarious prides, both great and small, both short-term and long term. Let us remember the primary things: the pride of glory (scientific, government, in any rank or position in general), pride of beauty, pride of wealth, pride of benevolence, pride of humility (yes! of humility), pride of charity, pride of success…There is not a virtue that pride cannot convert into a vice. The pride of prayer converts the person praying into a Pharisee, and the ascetic into a self-murderer. So, every sin, in reality is a sin through pride, because Satan in in reality Satan through pride. If it were not for pride, sin would not exist, neither in the angelic or the human world. All this “is not of the Father.” That which is of the Father is the Only Begotten Son of God. He is incarnate and personified humility before all of His divine perfections. In His Gospel, the beginning virtue, the ultimate virtue is humility (Matt. 5:3). Humility is the only medicine for pride and all other sins.

St. Justin Popovich

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Crossing One’s Legs ( Church Etiquette )

In many cultures throughout the world, crossing one's legs is taboo and considered very disrespectful. In North America there are no real taboos against such action, rather, we tend to cross our legs to get comfortable. Should we do so in church? No. Not because it is “wrong” for us ever to cross our legs, but because it is deemed too casual—too relaxed—for being in the presence of God. 
When we get settled in our favorite chair at home, we lean back, kick up our legs, and allow our minds to wander. Remember, sitting in church is a concession, not the norm of prayer. We strive to remain attentive (i.e.: “Let us attend”) at all times as a soldier prepared for (spiritual) battle before his commander. Should we sit, we do so attentively, that our minds not wander from the “one thing necessary.”

Sunday, May 13, 2018

On control of the tongue (St Nicodemos)

The greatest necessity of all is to control and curb our tongue. The mover of the tongue is the heart: what fills the heart is poured out through the tongue. And conversely, when feeling is poured out of the heart by the tongue, it becomes strengthened and firmly rooted in the heart. Therefore the tongue is one of the chief factors in building up our inner disposition.


Good feelings are silent. The feelings which seek expression in words are mostly egotistical, since they seek to express what flatters our self-love and can show us, as we imagine, in the best light. Loquacity mostly comes from a certain vainglory, which makes us think that we know a great deal and imagine our opinion on the subject of conversation to be the most satisfactory of all. So we experience an irresistible urge to speak out and in a stream of words, with many repetitions, to impress the same opinion in the hearts of others, thus foisting ourselves upon them as unbidden teachers and sometimes even dreaming of making pupils of men, who understand the subject much better than the teacher. ‘ This refers, however, to cases when the subjects of conversation are more or less worthy of attention. But in most cases loquacity is a synonym of empty talk, and then there are no words to express the many evils, which arise from this ugly habit. In general, loquacity opens the doors of the soul, and the devout warmth of the heart at once escapes. Empty talk does the same, but even more so. Loquacity distracts one’s attention out of oneself, leaving the heart unprotected. Then the usual passionate interests and desires begin to steal into it, at .times with such success that at the end of such empty talk the heart has not only consented, but has decided to commit passionate deeds. Empty talk is the door to criticism and slander, the spreader of false rumours and , opinions, the sower of discord and strife. It stifles the taste for . mental work and practically always serves as a cover for the absence of sound knowledge. When wordy talk is over, and the fog of self-complacency lifts, it always leaves behind a sense of frustration and indolence. Is it not proof of the fact that, even involuntarily, the soul feels itself robbed’?

Wishing to show how difficult it is for a loquacious man to refrain from saying something harmful, sinful and wrong, the Apostle James said that keeping the tongue within its rightful bounds is the property only of the perfect: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body’ (James iii. 2). As soon as the tongue begins to speak for its own pleasure, it runs on in speech like an unbridled horse, and blurts out not only the good and seemly, but also the bad and harmful.

This is why the Apostle calls it ‘an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James iii. 8). Long before him Solomon too said: ‘In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin’ (Prov. x. 19). In general, let us say, like Ecclesiastes, that a loquacious man shows his folly, for as a rule only ‘a fool . . . is full of words’ , (Ecclesiastes x. 14).

Do not prolong your conversation with a man, who is not listening to you with a good heart, lest you weary him and make your-self abhorrent, as is written: ‘He that useth many words shall be abhorred” (Ecclesiasticus xx. 8). Beware of speaking in a severe or superior manner; for both are highly disagreeable and make people suspect you of great vanity and a high opinion of your self. Never speak about yourself, about your affairs or your relatives, except when it is necessary, and even then be brief and say as little as possible. When you see that others speak too much of themselves, force yourself not to imitate them, even if their words appear humble and self-reproachful. As regards your neighbour and his affairs, do not refuse to discuss them, but always be as brief as you can, even when you have to speak of such things for his good.

While conversing, remember and try to follow the precept of St. Thalassius who says: ‘Of the five attitudes in conversation with others, use three with discrimination and without fear; use the fourth infrequently and refrain from using the fifth altogether”

(Philokalia, the first century, 69). One writer understands the first three as follows: ‘yes”, ‘no”, ‘ of course” or ‘this is clearly so”; by the fourth, he understands doubtful things and by the fifth, things totally unknown. In other words, about things you know for certain to be true or false, or self-evident, speak with conviction, saying that they are true, or false, or evident. About doubtful things better say nothing, but when necessary, say that they are doubtful and reserve your judgment. Of what you know nothing, say nothing. Someone else says: we have five forms’ Or modes of speech: the vocative, when we invoke someone; the interrogative, when we ask a question; the desiring or soliciting form, when we express a desire or request; the defining, when we express a decisive opinion on something; the commanding, when masterfully and authoritatively we express a command. Of these five, use the first three freely; the fourth, as rarely as possible; the fifth, not at all.

Speak of God with all homage, especially of His love and goodness; at the same time be fearful lest you commit a sin by speaking wrongly, confusing the simple hearts of the listeners. Therefore, listen rather to others on this subject, collecting their words in the inner treasure-house of your heart.

When the conversation is of other things, let only the sound of the voice enter into your ear, but not the thought into your mind, which must remain unwaveringly directed towards God. Even when it is necessary to listen to the speaker, in order to understand what he speaks of and to give a suitable answer, do not forget, in the midst of listening and speaking, to raise the eye of your mind on high where your God is, thinking of His greatness and remembering that He never loses sight of you and looks at you either with approval or disapproval, according to what is in the thoughts of your heart, in your words, movements and actions. When you have to speak, before expressing what has entered your heart and letting it pass to your tongue, examine it carefully; and you will find many things that are better not let past your lips. Know moreover that many things, which it seems to you good to express, are much better left buried in the tomb of silence. Sometimes you will yourself realise this, immediately the conversation is over.

Silence is a great power in our unseen warfare and a sure hope ‘of gaining victory. Silence is much beloved of him, who docs not rely on himself but trusts in God alone. It is the guardian of holy prayer and a miraculous helper in the practice of virtues; it is also a sign of spiritual wisdom. .St. Isaac says: ‘ Guarding your tongue not only makes your mind rise to God, but also gives great hidden power to perform visible actions, done by the body. If silence is practised with knowledge, it also brings enlightenment in hidden doing” (ch. 31 in Russian edition). In another place he praises it thus: ‘ If you pile up on one side of the scales all the works demanded by ascetic life, and on the other side—silence, you will find that the latter outweighs the former. Many good counsels have been given us, but if a man embraces silence, to follow them will become superfluous” (ch. 41). In yet another place he calls silence ‘the mystery of the life to come; whereas words are the instruments of this world” (ch. 42). St. Barsanuphius places it above preaching the word of God, saying: ‘•’If you are just on the very point of preaching, know that silence is more worthy of wonder and glory.” Thus, although one man ‘holdeth his tongue because he hath not to answer”, another ‘keepeth silence, knowing his time” (Ecclesiaaticus xx. 6), yet another for some other reasons, ‘for the sake of human glory, or out of zeal for this virtue of silence, or because he secretly communes with God in his heart and does not want the attention of his mind to be distracted from if (St. Isaac, ch. 76). It can be said in general that a man, who keepeth silence, is found wise and of good sense (Ecclesiasticus xx. 5).

I shall indicate to you the most direct and simple method to acquire the habit of silence: undertake this practice, and the practice itself will teach you how to do it, and help you. To keep up your zeal in this work, reflect as often as you can on the pernicious results of indiscriminate babbling and on the salutary results of wise silence. When you come to taste the good fruit, of silence, you will no longer need lessons about it. […]


St. Nicodemos

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Bored or Lonely? ( Saint Theophan the Recluse )

Boredom can easily lead to loneliness and loneliness to depression. Saint Theophan gives us some good advice how to avoid boredom. He says that each time you feel yourself alone, think of God and your guardian angel who is with you at all times. Take advantage of all such opportunities for a moment of solitude with God and have a conversation with Him. Then learn to fill your day with meaningful activities.


He shares advice a father gave to his daughter.


Everyone has a number of daily chores, which they work off like some sort of quitrent. There are many people, however, for whom these quitrent chores are simple and do not take much time. there is a lot of time left over whereby, if it is not filled with anything, there is no way to avoid boredom. Here is the most reliable way for you to avoid it: Arrange things so you do not have a single moment and al your time is filled with suitable occupations so that , upon completion of one activity, you have another one ready to begin.
What kind of activities should these be? 1) Aesthetic occupations: music, singing, painting. 2) Some sort of handicraft: knitting, needlework and the like. 3) The best remedy for boredom, however, is to acquire a taste for serious reading and the study of subjects that you are unfamiliar with. It is not so much the reading that drives away boredom as the study. If you follow this smile advice you will find shortly you will not a enough time to do everything you want to do. You will lose that feeling of loneliness and avoid the terrible problem of depression. Even one who lives alone and rarely has guests will have a life filled with activity, one without boredom or loneliness.


Take up the reading of spiritual books and avoid frivolous novels and such. Dig into something that will engage your mind fully. Avoid the trap of TV which can dumb the mind. If you do go to the TV when bored then seek out something that will give you new insight about our world and that will engage your mind in an active way.


You can also seek out regular activities such as volunteering at Church or with another agency in town. But it's not necessary to become over active in social activities as these for many create to many tensions and often includes engaging with people who distract you spiritually. Each person has a different makeup so you need to seek activities that fit your personality, especially those that keep you learning. To be alone does not mean to be lonely. In reality we are never alone. God is always with us along with our guardian angel.


The more you study spiritual matters, including the Church history, teachings of the Fathers, as well as Holy Scripture, you will discover forever new topics which you are not aware of. Each one will broaden your world view and open you to greater and greater spiritual awareness at the same time. Your desire to learn will never be satisfied. Read and keep busy and you will become wise, devoid of loneliness. You will become more aware of God's ever presence.

Saint Theophan the Recluse
Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 265-266

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A paralyzed boy healed by St. John the Russian



St. John the Russian, depicted with St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. John of Kronstadt


In one of the two children's hospitals of Athens, a mother lied at the head of her child day and night. She brought the child from Patras, because the child's chronic affliction, paralysis of the lower extremities, had worsened in the last few days...

One evening, while the sun was setting, and the last few sunbeams lit up the hospital room, the mother remembered how she would go to a chapel of the Panagia high above Patras, and prayed, lighting the vigil lamps, sometimes with her husband, other times with her children. Her nous was fixed on that chapel. She prayed noetically: “My Panagia, my sweetest Mother who feels our pain, help my child. My Panagia, send me a Saint, look at my poor child, how in his life, he is struggling to stand on his feet. Help, my poor little boy.”

“Mother,” the child said, “who are you talking to?”

“My Georgie, remember when you read in your church book how our Lord lived in Palestine, and healed demoniacs, opened the eyes of the blind, lifted up Paralytics and made them to walk, and raised the dead? Tell him, my Georgie, and He will hear you, my good boy, tell Christouli to make you well.”

The helpless child, with his innocent gaze, looked at his mother, and at the sun which was setting. He looked on high towards the heavens.

That midnight, George saw a dream of a beautiful horseman, on a glorious horse. He stopped before him and said:

“Get up, Georgie, jump up on my horse!”

“But I am a paralytic, my feet don't move and hold me up.” he replied.

“Give me your hand, Georgie, get up on my horse. I am St. John from Russia, and our Lord sent me to bring you His grace and His healing power!"

The child, half awake, then awoke his mother, who picked him up so that he wouldn't fall out of bed.

“Mother, hold me, St. John from Russia told me to get up.”

In the morning when the night resident told the professor that the paralyzed child from Patras began walking that night, went with a hammer in hand, checked the child's reflexes, and plucked his feet with a sharp instrument, and he saw that his body was functioning normally.

“Go,” said the professor, “God had something to do with you."

Friday, May 4, 2018

St. Ephraim and the Greek-American Drug Addict

The following account is a timely story which occurred in 1990 to a young Greek-American teenager, heavily addicted to drugs. The Athenian taxi driver wrote this word-for-word as the young man in the story told it to him while being driven to a drug rehabilitation center after an encounter with Saint Ephraim of Nea Makri, who is the patron saint of those suffering from drug addiction. The taxi driver then had the story published in the Greek newspaper Orthdoxos Typos.
It was afternoon, one of the usual tumultuous afternoons in downtown Athens. There was a line of people at the Omonia taxi-stop.

“To Koukaki, please!”

“With pleasure,” I answered. And that was the extent of our dialogue until the end of the drive, because my passenger’s expression and manner did not leave any room for conversation.

He got out at the summit of Agios Ioannis (in Gargareta) on Veikos Street and, a few meters further on, another hand stopped me with the characteristic wave.

My new passenger was young — around twenty-five to twenty-seven years old — and of medium height, and he was holding a suitcase. As I put his things in the trunk, the young man sat down in the front passenger seat.

And with a poetic phrase that I infrequently used to use in the past: “While departing on your journey to Ithaca, I wish that your road be long and your voyage great.” I meant: “Where to?”

“Yes, my friend, to Ithaca, but not to the island, as you would imagine, but to the Ithaca Detoxification Center,” was his answer, which left me speechless for a few seconds. “To the Larisa train station, please,” he added.

My young passenger’s reply was truly unexpected, because nothing about his outward appearance (eyes, expression, clothing, behavior) betrayed the accursed passion of his addiction to drugs. A multitude of feelings (pain, sorrow, sympathy, love) came over me one after another, an intense wringing of my heart made it move irregularly in my chest, and a tear rolled down my cheek over the plight of my brother, God’s creature. I tried to contain myself, as I wanted to learn under what circumstances he had ended up where he did, because I was also a father with children approaching adolescence.

After we introduced ourselves to each other, I asked Paul if he could tell me something about his life and his addiction, if recalling such events would not hurt or tire him. He readily agreed to my request, for which I thank him.



"To begin with, it has been two months since I’ve taken that poison, and I now feel like any other normal person. I have no desire whatsoever to put it into my bloodstream again, and I owe this not to any effort of my own, but entirely to the wondrous power of God and His Saints. But let me take it from the start, since you so wish to hear about it.

I was born in Athens, in Koukaki to be precise, where you picked me up, and lived there until I was eight years old. I am an only child and my parents love me pathologically and indulge my every whim. When I was eight, my parents and I left for America for a better life.

My relatives there helped my parents find work and I attended school. As I grew up, however, my senseless desires and vices also grew along with me. On account of my character, I easily got mixed up in bad company and very soon tried marijuana and hashish. As the years went by, the light drugs no longer satisfied me or my friends. So we all threw ourselves into the heavy drugs, which we found in the same surroundings and just as easily as the light drugs. These, however, were expensive, and I did not have a job. At first, I stole from my parents’ pockets and wallets. But when, with time, I was in need of greater doses, and when my parents had found me out, it reached the point that I even beat them to take the money. I understood that my condition was critical, but there was no way I could turn back. My parents rushed me to doctors and psychologists in the hope that they could do something, but to no avail; there was no light from anywhere. Some of them, and eminent scientists at that, told them that if I did not soon get out of that environment, I would not have long to live.

During that time, as I was home alone one day in a state of despair, a strange visitor, whom I had never seen before, appeared in front of me. He was of medium height, had large round eyes that rolled about, and black bushy fur that was over fifteen centimeters in length. He also had horns and a tail. His booming, firm voice and fearsome persuasiveness left no room for objections.

He began to make a thoroughly detailed account of my life from the time that I was born up until that very moment, while I simply said, ‘yes.’ ‘You have enjoyed every-thing,’ he said to me at the end, ‘there is nothing more left for you but to come with me....’ ‘How?’ I asked.

'You will take the car,’ he said, ‘and you will follow such-and-such a road. You will speed along so many miles an hour (I don’t remember the number), and I will be waiting for you there....’ The road in question was straight for many miles and at a certain point it had a slight bend, so that whoever was driving at too great a speed would go off the road and crash into a wall and be killed. I had heard about many such accidents at that spot in the past. Doing exactly as he told me, I, too, ended up smashing into the wall. The car was left almost unrecognizable, but they took me out with only minor injuries. After they gave me first aid, I went home.

About ten days had passed since the accident, when the same strange visitor appeared in my house again, in the kitchen this time. A grimace of displeasure was on his wild and imposing face. With a nod of his head backwards, he said to me in the same distinctive voice, ‘You didn’t accomplish anything.’

I was sitting there staring at him, petrified, and could just barely ask, ‘What should I do?’

‘Now you will take triple your usual dose, and you will surely come with me.’

He disappeared, and I did not even ask myself how he had entered the house or who he was.

I immediately put the plan into action.

I prepared the drug in the syringe and tried to find a place on my much-pierced body. The dose was a large one and I immediately fell unconscious. While I was in this condition, I saw a tall man wearing a cassock and a black monastic cap with a Cross engraved on the front. ‘Do not be afraid,’ he told me. ‘You will get well, and when you return to Greece, come to my house. I am Ephraim.’

I got up as if I had not taken the accursed poison at all. I felt a desire to leave for Greece and, when I told my mother of this desire, she marvelled and considered it a miracle, because my parents had many times before unsuccessfully tried to get me out of that environment.

I related to my mother all that had happened to me, and she wanted to accompany me on my journey. When we arrived in my old neighborhood, we went to the Priest of the parish there, and I learned from him who the strange visitor had been and what he had wanted from me. It was the Devil and he wanted my immortal soul. I thank God from the depths of my soul. Fifteen days after I had confessed and fasted, the Priest gave me Holy Communion. When I saw the Icon of St. Ephraim, I understood that it was he who had delivered me from my terrible addiction.

I went to Nea Makri and had Liturgy served and thanked the Saint. Now I am going to this institution to get away from the world for a while and to make sure that I do not need the drugs anymore."




***

Overdose
I. Monk Ephraim

In the year of 1425 a monk was taken captive and tortured to death in his monastery in Greece for being a Christian. He was slowly tortured to death over a period of a year. After each episode his wounds were allowed to heal, and then he was subjected to new and worse punishments. Finally they executed him. He was hung upside down from a tree in his monastery grounds and run through with a pole which had been sharpened to a point and set on fire. All traces of his life and martyrdom were forgotten until this century, when he appeared to the abbess of a convent and told her of his life and sufferings. He also revealed the spot where his bones, which had never decomposed, were buried. They dug up the bones for the glory of God.

II. The Addict and the Saint

Some years later an American teenager in the Midwest was grappling with his own life. He was heavily using drugs (cocaine and heroin) and was quickly sliding to destruction. He had neither a stable family life nor a religious upbringing, and though still young was in serious trouble.

One night an ugly old man appeared to him and said, "I am your friend, I want to make an appointment with you to meet me." He directed him to get into his car and drive as quickly as he could down a certain road which had a hairpin turn at the end with a sheer cliff at the bend. The young man did as he was told, got into his car and drove as fast as he could down the road. Losing his nerve at the last minute he managed to slam on his brakes and barely made the turn. He arrived home shaken.

Two nights later, the old man appeared again and said with anger and indignation, "I am very disappointed that you didn't meet me. Get into your car again and drive as fast as you can and this time don't put on the brakes." The young man felt strangely compelled to do this. Once again he got into his car, drove as fast as he could and this time didn't stop but drove at high speed off the cliff. The car was demolished but, surprisingly, he escaped with only cuts and bruises, and with a concussion.



A few weeks after he was out of the hospital, the ugly man appeared to him once again and said, "I am furious with you for not keeping our appointment. Tonight without fail you will meet me! Put a double dose of the drug in your needle." Again the boy felt compelled to do this, and after injecting himself went into a coma from the overdose. He was taken to the hospital where doctors told his family that he probably wouldn't live. And if by chance he did live he would only be semi-conscious - in a vegetative state. There was almost no chance of recovery. In two weeks, however, the young man did awake, fully conscious. He told those around him that he had seen a man which looked like some sort of radiant monk. He came to him and said, "I have been praying for you.... God has given you another chance. You will live, but you must correct your life. You are to go to Greece so as to visit the resting place of my bones, giving thanks to God for your salvation. My name is Ephraim".

A spiritual resurrection by St. Ephraim of Nea Makri

 

“O honored Abbess and Holy Mother, with respect I kiss your hand, the servant of God, A.

To begin, I ask for great forgiveness from St. Ephraim, because I was slow in relating the miracle that I was made worthy of (in order for it to be included in the books of miracles), due to many problems, after roughly nine years, when the Saint visited me the sinner.

I hope unshakably that our Lord, the Most-holy Theotokos, and our Saint will forgive me. I had very many family troubles, sicknesses and deaths, which absorbed me such that I forgot to write of the miracle. But I will never forget the great benefaction of our Saint, and I will not cease thanking him and praying to him.

It was an afternoon in November 1990, when my phone rang. It was one of my friends, who told me: “A., I learned that in Nea Makri there is a Monastery, where there is a Saint named Ephraim. Do you want to go venerate?”

Here I should say as an aside that then I was very far from God, not that I didn't believe, but I had so many family troubles, as I mentioned above, that my faith was shaken, it was lukewarm, I was going backwards, nothing was going right. I was indignant and burdened therefore, and I blasphemed with very evil words, like those used by lower classes of society [spiritually], who might be far from God, like I was.

I was working in Athens, and for 25 years, I did not go to Church of Sundays or take Holy Communion.

I would only go to Church on Pascha, along with everyone else, without understanding the deep sentiments of the faith.

I was very greatly influenced by the Killer of Man (the Devil), and he did with me whatever he wished...

Thus, that afternoon when my friend called me and told me to visit the Saint, I was still very lukewarm. My friend, in contrast, believed in God together with her family, and performed all of their religious duties. They were people of God...

Because, therefore, she was a very good friend who helped me psychologically and morally, I didn't want to hurt her feelings, and I agreed to go, myself the sinner, when I was talking on the phone. When I understood what she wanted to tell me, I groaned within myself, saying:
“Oh...now she's going to tell me to go to the Monastery, like I would ever run to Monasteries!” (I was very far away them then).

How mistaken was my thought, however. Without my knowing that this was my first visitation to the Saint, whom I had never even heard of before.

When she told me his name, and I heard it for the first time, I asked:
“What did you say the Saint was called?”

“St. Ephraim” she told me.

“What did you say? Ephraim? That's the first time I heard the name. What is it, Turkish? Egyptian? What is it?”

She told me, “No, it's Greek...”

Ultimately, we came to his grace, and venerated with reverence, because he is a Saint, but not with deep religious sentiments as every faithful person. When we exited the Holy Monastery into the courtyard, I saw the tree on which they hung our Saint, but I did not think much of this, I was very lukewarm.

In the courtyard was a bookstore. I went in alone, while my friend was likely giving priority to the Saint. There, I was reading some of the book covers:
“Visions and wonders of the Holy Great Martyr Ephraim the Wonderworker."

At that instant, I murmured:
“Ok, now we are talking about miracles? What are they saying? What miracles occur in the 20th century? Why are you talking about miracles?”

I was utterly curious and doubtful, I had darkness in my soul, and I mocked what I read at that instant.

However, at the same time that I was mocking, I was intrigued by the book, and something within me told me: “Get it...get it...”

With great hesitation and without knowing what I was doing, I stretched out my hand and bought it, as if someone was pulling my hand and telling me: “Get it...”

Ultimately, I made the decision: “I will get it out of curiosity, to see what they write...” How would I have known that the sinner, at that instant, began to experience the salvation of my soul from our Lord, while naturally, at that instant, I did not understand all the depth, but only later I understood...

I don't wish to tire you, and I ask forgiveness, but I should write this in detail. When I ultimately bought the book, I began to read it every day during my afternoon nap, and slowly I began to read more and more.

The 2-3 chapters increased, and I soon wasn't sleeping at all at noon in order to finish the book. It began to please me, and it was something that interested me, and by the time I reached the middle of the book, I greatly began to love our Saint, and I sensed that I had known him for many years, while in reality, I had never known a Saint At that instant I sensed that noetically, I was very near the Saint.

Those hours when I was reading the book, I sensed that I knew the Saint well, and I thanked him for healing all of those sick people, as if I had sent him. I sensed this joy, and wholly thanked him.

At one point, I sensed how I had been affected by those 25 years that I had not gone to Church. I had never gone to Confession, and naturally I did not take Holy Communion, and straightaway, as I was sitting on me bed, I lifted up my eyes to heaven and said:

“My God, my Christ, thank You for healing those sick people, and forgive me as well...I, O Lord, have not walked in Your Church for 25 whole years...” (even though there were four churches in my neighborhood).

And later, I began to thank our Saint again, and said:
“My Saint Ephraim, I embrace you and kiss you, for you healed those sick people through the Lord...”

And, O the wonder, at that instant, as I put in the bookmark, I turned over the book, and kissed the icon on the cover, and thanked the Saint with indescribable joy and exaltation...

Before I kissed the icon of the Saint, within me passed a very beautiful smell, like cologne.

At that instant, I did not understand that this smell was called divine fragrance, because as I wrote above, I was far from the Church and did not know these things...

At that same instant, I began to have great curiosity and I asked within myself what that beautiful smell was, and I smelled the book to understand what was that beautiful smell. The clothes that I was wearing smelled, along with the air in my room. It did not leave me thus, but my whole studio smelled beautiful. And I asked, what was this?

My ignorance, my curiosity and my intrigue was solved by my friend who had called me before, who told me: “A., St. Ephraim visited you!”

On the phone I asked: “Where is the Saint? I didn't see him enter my house.”

My friend replied: “The Saint visited you through his divine fragrance, because we went to venerate him. The smell that you sensed is called divine fragrance, and this is the presence of the Saint, because the Saint wanted to visit you...”

My friend then asked me: “Did you light your vigil lamp?”, and I responded: “Paradoxically, yes.”

In reality, I don't know how, but I had lit my vigil lamp, and all that I remember was that I was kneeling and thanking God and the Saint who enlightened me, and entreating that I be forgiven, who had been so many years away from them.

O my honored Abbess, there when I was kneeling and crying, without any depression, I felt an internal change within me, and I put my head to the ground, and sought forgiveness for all my sins, for all of the years that I was very far away from God.

At that instant I asked myself, and had the thought: how could I learn all that is read within the Church, and come to know Christ better. How could I learn that which the priest and the chanters chant, and how could I learn about our Saints?

And again a divine illumination came to me! I should go purchase the Lives of the Saints, and other Christian books, in order to learn the Divine services, and everything that has to do with the Church, along with the hymns and apolytikia of the Saints. This is what happened.

During my first Holy Confession, I said this all to my Spiritual Father, and when I left for my home, I couldn't relate to you what a weight had fled from on top of me, and I walked as if I wasn't walking at all, but like a bird in the air (I became free in reality)...

From then when I was enlightened and as if re-baptized by St. Ephraim, I entered again to a religious road, and this I attribute to our Lord and to the Most-holy Theotokos, who intervened, sending our Saint Ephraim to enlighten me. Therefore, I owe a great thank-you to the Holy Great Martyr Ephraim.

From then on, I go to Church every Sunday and Great Feast, I confess and I commune.

Because of the wonder which St. Ephraim worked for me, I glorify and thank him every day, and confess his wonder to the world, and I give people his Paraklesis, his icons and his books to read. O my honored Mother and Abbess, I ask forgiveness from the Lord and our Saint for neglecting to write of the good that he did, and I ask forgiveness for tiring you...

I hope and pray that our Saint will protect your Holy Monastery, together with the sisters, and that you might pray for me, the sinner.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

How to Recognize the Holy Apostles in Icons...


Icons are painted as windows into Heaven, and therefore to show the Heavenly, rather than earthly, reality. Nevertheless, Icons are made of the people we love: of the heroes of the faith who are remembered and whose earthly lives are considered instructive and worthy of imitation. Therefore it is natural that, as well as depicting them in a stylized “spiritual” way, the Saints are also depicted as recognizable people, with distinct features. This guide is just a brief description of how the Holy Apostles are depicted in Icons, so that they can be more easily recognized when encountered in churches, monasteries, or wherever else an icon is found.
St. Peter



The fiery and impulsive Leader of the Twelve, Peter is easily recognizable by his white, short, curly hair and beard. He is often shown holding a scroll, which may have words taken from one of his Epistles written upon it. In some icons he may also be shown with keys hanging from his belt, a reference to the words Jesus said to him: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He is often found in Icons with St. Paul, who were both martyred in Rome, holding together the Church, and showing their shared pre-eminence among the Apostles.

St. Paul



Though not one of the original Twelve, St. Paul has always been known as an Apostle (literally meaning “one who is sent out”), and moreover a leader of the Apostles. As such, he is often shown in Icons of the Apostles, including the one at the top of the page. Paul is always depicted with brown hair and beard tapering to one or two points. He is balding with a high forehead (signifying great wisdom and learning) but with a tuft of brown hair in the centre. He is often shown carrying a large Gospel book, an affirmation of the number of epistles he contributed to what became the New Testament. In addition, the Evangelist Luke was a physician who followed St. Paul on his missionary trips, so it is fair to say that Paul would also have had an influence upon the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

St. John



John the “Beloved Disciple”



St John theTheologian
There are two common depictions of the Apostle John: as the “Beloved Disciple” and as “the Theologian”. The former Icon is of the young Apostle John – the John who rested upon the breast of Christ during the Last Supper. In any icon showing scenes from the life of Christ (e.g. the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion) or those depicted in the Acts of the Apostles (e.g. the Ascension or Pentecost) then St. John is shown as the beardless brown-haired youth, little more than sixteen years of age.

When John is painted in a “portrait”, rather than as part of a Biblical scene, then he is usually shown as the elderly John “the Theologian”. This is the John who, sixty years or so after the Resurrection of Christ, is exiled upon Patmos and writing both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. He is shown with long white beard and high forehead, holding the Gospel book which led to his title “the Theologian”, often shown open to reveal some verses from the book. He may also be shown with an Eagle, the symbol of both John and his Gospel.

St. Matthew


Like John, St. Matthew also authored a Gospel account, and so likewise is usually depicted holding a large Book. Whether in portrait or in Icons depicting Biblical scenes, Matthew has long, wavy, white beard and closer-cropped hair. As a deliberate anachronism to aid identification, he may also be shown holding the Gospel Book in Icons with Christ depicting Biblical scenes. Matthew may sometimes be shown with a winged man, the symbol associated with his Gospel.

St. Andrew “the First Called”


Andrew, the brother of the Apostle Peter, was formerly a disciple of St. John the Baptist. Because of this, Andrew is depicted with long unkempt hair, in the manner of the prophet he followed. This makes him one of the most recognizable of Apostles when depicted in scenes showing Jesus’ earthly ministry. Andrew holds a small scroll not to indicate he authored any famous works, but to identify him as a preacher of the Gospel, “one who is sent out”, i.e. an Apostle.

St. Bartholomew


Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, is shown as a middle-aged man, with short beard and hair. He is also shown holding the scroll of an Apostle. After his martyrdom, St. Bartholomew has appeared to a number of people in vision and dream, so his appearance can be deduced. He has appeared to St. Joseph the Hymnographer, blessing him that he might be able to sing spiritual hymns, saying, “Let heavenly water of wisdom flow from your tongue!” He also appeared to Emperor Anastasius I (491-518) and told him that he would protect the new town of Dara.

St. Simon theZealot



Not to be confused with St. Peter, who was previously named Simon bar-Jonah, the Apostle Simon was from Cana, and is the bridegroom of the famous Wedding at Cana. He is always shown with grey curly hair and beard, though with a higher forehead than St. Peter.

St. Thomas


The Apostle Thomas is most famously known as “Doubting Thomas”, on account of his refusal to believe the accounts of the other disciples that Christ had risen. Often maligned for this, in Orthodox teaching it is recognized that through his initial doubts, Thomas came to confess Jesus Christ as “Lord and God” – a greater confession of faith than any of the Apostles had previously uttered. Sometimes this confession of faith is held in Thomas’ hands in icons depicting him, though more commonly it is the scroll denoting his rank of Apostle that is shown. The most striking thing about the Icons of Thomas is that he is shown as a beardless youth, a teenager as John was. This is a consistent feature of how Thomas is shown in icons, as in this Icon of Thomas touching the wounds of Christ.




The youthfulness of the Apostle Thomas is something worthy of consideration when thinking about his “doubts”.

St. James, Son of Zebedee




There are two Apostles named James. The son of Zebedee is the James often nicknamed “the Greater” in the West. This is largely because among the Twelve he was part of the “inner-circle” which also contained St. Peter and St. John. The Apostle John is also the brother of James and together they were known as the “Sons of Thunder”. James is shown with medium length brown hair and beard. Though often difficult to identify by sight alone in Icons of the Twelve, he is recognizable in the bottom-right of this Icon of the Transfiguration,which along with the young John and curly-haired Peter, James was privileged to witness.




He is depicted as a young man (short beard, not white) in all icons, as he never got to live to an old age, being martyred a little over 10 years after the Resurrection.

St. Jude



St Jude Thaddeus
Jude is also sometimes called Levi or Thaddeus, and “Jude” is sometimes rendered Judas. Nevertheless, he is not to be confused with the Apostle Matthew (also called “Levi”), St. Thaddeus one of Jesus’ seventy disciples, or especially Judas Iscariot. The author of the Biblical Epistle which carries his name, the “Apostles’ Scroll” in his hand may sometimes show a quote from his own writing. Otherwise, St. Jude is identified as a mature man with curly brown (sometimes grey) beard and hair. As he was related to Jesus Christ through Joseph, husband of Mary, the appelation “brother of the Lord” (or “adelphos” in Greek) may be found on Icons.

St. James Alphaeus


The son of Alphaeus and the brother of the Apostle Matthew, James is shown with brown wavy or curly hair and a pointed beard. He is not to be confused with St. James “Adelphos”, which means “brother of the Lord”. In iconography, the two Jameses are easily distinguished, as “the brother of the Lord” is always shown in the robes of a bishop, being the first bishop of Jerusalem. Here is an Icon of James Adelphos.

St. Phillip



Holy Tradition and Scriptures maintain that the Apostle Philip was well versed in the Old Testament prophecies, and eagerly awaited the coming of the Saviour. He immediately responded to the call of Jesus, and recognized him as the Messiah (John 1:43); and subsequently led Nathaniel (the Apostle Bartholomew) to become a follower of Jesus too. Therefore it is remarkable to come into contact with icons of the Apostle Philip – who is always shown as beardless youth. Like the youthfulness of Thomas, it is something worthy of consideration.

St. Matthias




Matthias is the disciple of Christ who replaced Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve Apostles after the latter’s betrayal and suicide. His appearance in icons is entirely in keeping with what is known about him. Schooled in the Law by the Prophet Simeon, who received the infant Christ in the temple, Matthias was already a man of maturity before becoming a disciple of the adult Christ. By the time of his martyrdom in 63A.D., Matthias would be the elderly man depicted in Icons of him.

Judas Iscariot



Judas Iscariot at the LastSupper




Whilst Judas is obviously not a saint, and isn’t shown in icons of “the Twelve”, he is nevertheless depicted in icons of the Last Supper or else kissing Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. In icons of the Last Supper he is easily recognizable as the one dipping his hand into the dish, thus revealing his future betrayal of the Lord. Often, the Apostles are not shown with halos in scenes prior to Pentecost, but needless to say when they are shown with halos, Judas is conspicuous by not having one.

Whatever it may be worth – and it may be worth nothing – in Orthodox Iconography Judas is almost always shown beardless, like John, Philip, and Thomas; thus, like them, he was perhaps still a teenager at the time he betrayed his Saviour.