Our Age of Ego and Self Centeredness

Abba Sisoes the Great at the Tomb of Alexander the Great

I read a beautiful reflection on the icon  of  Abba  Sisoes the Great at the tomb of Alexander the Great and wanted to share it. In our present day climate of “likes” and “internet influencers,” I thought this to be very relevant and something for us all to think about as we consider the ego driven pursuit of fame and the values of our age.

Abba Sisoes  was born in 367 and died in AD 429. He became an ascetic in the desert of Thebes in Egypt. His memory is celebrated on July 6  and belongs to the first generation of great ascetics who followed St. Anthony the Great.

The monastery of Abba Sisoes, located in the valley of Nitria in the region of Wadi el Natroun in Egypt, is one of the ancient monasteries of the Skete, the cradle of Christian monasticism, which has been operating since the 4th century AD. The monastery contains the relic of Saint Sisoes which is said to be perfectly preserved on a red cloth.

The monks claim that it is common for Saint Sisoes to perform miracles for the true believers and is also considered one of the most important monastic saints of Orthodox and  Coptic Christians.

The disciples of Saint Sisoes, who are considered to be the first to depict the relevant scene, describe it as follows: ‘Sisoes the Great, at the tomb of the glorious King of the Greeks, Alexander, is terrified and expresses his sorrow over the ephemeral glories of this life.

Saint Sisoes stands at the open tomb of Alexander the Greatso he weeps and exclaims:

‘Seeing you in a grave, I am timid and frightened at your sight and I shed tears from my heart, bringing to my mind the debt that all people have to pay (that is, death), so I will suffer such an end. Ah, ah death, who is the one who can avoid you?’

We hear in the Funeral Service of our Holy Church this prayer:

“Where is the pleasure in life which is unmixed with sorrow? Where the glory which on earth stood firm and unchanged? All things are weaker than shadow, all more elusive than dreams; comes in one fell stroke, and Death in turn, prevails over all these vanities. Wherefore in the Light, O Christ, of Your countenance, and in the sweetness of Your beauty, to him (her) whom You have chosen grant repose, for you are the Friend of Mankind.”  

The reality of death viewed through the saving grace of the Lord is the only comfort and solace we as Orthodox Christians have in our lives. This is the lesson of this beautiful story of Abba Sisoes. God Bless….FrG

ABCs of Orthodoxy Class 5 – The Divine Liturgy

Below find the link to Class 5 in the ABCs of Orthodoxy series. This class was presented October 28, 2021. Please start the playback at 4.00 Min. to avoid early class conversation, not part of the presentation. Thank you and God Bless… FrG

 

Pantokrator Monastery at Ntaou Pendeli

Entrance to Transfiguration Chapel at Pantokrator

Monastery

Today we visited and venerated the relics of the Holy Fathers of the Pantokrator Monastery at Ntaou Penteli. Our Transfiguration Parish in Austin TX is blessed to have  relics of these martyred Fathers  in our Holy Altar. This link will relate the  history of the Monastery for your understanding: http://www.pantokratoros-tao.gr/index.php/en/     The convent is growing and building a new Church Temple to the Glory of God. The Commemoration of these Martyrs is the Tuesday of Bright Week

God Bless ….Fr. G.

Why build an Orthodox Church Temple

St Savas Cathedral – Belgrade

This quote explains why we build churches to God’s glory. It is a quote from St. Philaret of Moscow on the occasion of a church consecration.

“God is everywhere and doesn’t need churches, which are small for him and cannot contain Him. But man is limited, and thus needs limited revelation of God’s presence. God condescended to the need of man and granted that this  church exist, granting it the grace of His particular presence. We know of only one state of man in which he has no need of churches: the eternal life in the New  Jerusalem, under a “new heaven and a new earth…” the seer of heaven (St. John the Evangelist) notes a special  distinguishing feature of the New Jerusalem, namely that there is no church there: “and I saw no church there: (Rev. 21, 22). But we are not yet in the New Jerusalem, which will descend from the heavens, therefore we need a church temple.  Belonging to the creation, after the fall, our own flesh, rough and unpurified, blocks our entrance into the grace-filled presence of God. This is why it is necessary for His charismatic presence to reveal itself to us in holy churches. The heavens –  where Christ, our light, ascended – have not yet opened up and revealed to us the radiance of His glory. because of this we need for the time being at least a small heaven on earth, as well as light – even though it may be hidden in mystery. We can find all this in the church, through prayer, the word of God and the sacraments

God Bless…….Fr G.  

 

It’s Just a Face

This Sunday our Holy Church turns our attention to the restoration of the holy icons into the Church. We celebrate this event with the commemoration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. I could say much in discussing this feast and as a matter of fact my entire dissertation studies the details of this event. Nonetheless, I would ask you to think a moment on this questions. What do the faces in this icon or any icon really say to us?

The icon above is the icon of St Methodios l, Patriarch of Constantinople, the Confessor. He can also be seen in the icon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy standing next to the icon within the scene.  When I talk to people about icons many times I hear:  “but they don’t look like real people.” In making this observation people touch on the very truth of the icon. Even though the image depicts “real people” they are shown in their deified reality. What does this mean? As Orthodox Christians we are all called to struggle ascetically towards our deification in Christ. The saints depicted in the icons are the truth of this endeavor. In their lives, they have ascended the ladder of deification and are shown in their glorified reality. They are no longer of this world, but belong to the reality of God. Their image in the icon reflects this truth. Byzantine icons reflect the world of God and not the world of fallen man. As the viewer of the icon, we should not be drawn to the beauty and form of the world but the radiance of God’s kingdom. The images are stylized to reflect this glory. 

In viewing the icon we are given subtle clues to the reality of the saints life.  The icon of St. Methodios above was taken from a drawing of his icon from the Vatican Library. The icon was once present in the loge of Hagia Sophia but was destroyed by an earthquake many years ago.  The icon shows a white scarf encircling the patriarch’s face. This detail testifies to the suffering of Methodios as a confessor to the faith, in that he was tortured in prison by having his teeth removed and his jaws broken; because of his support of the holy icons. He required this white scarf around his chin for the rest of his life even when he became patriarch. So the icon testifies to his suffering for Christ and his faithfulness to the truth of the Church.

In icons we have the reflection of Christ alive in the life of the person depicted for us in the holy image. Each saint in an icon is truly the reflection of Christ in their life. This is why we place a vigil lamp in front of the icon because the saints depicted there, in the icon, always reflected Christ and His light to their community, in their time and in time in memoriam. So as we see there is more than just a face in the reality of the icons. How very apt is our prayer when we ask the holy saint’s of God to intercede  for us!

God Bless and have a Blessed Great Lent……..Fr. G.  

The Journey

 

Before I answer the question below, I want to point out the great loss of our heritage. The above icon is from the Exo-narthex of the Great Church of Chora in Constantinople now turned into a mosque by the Turkish government. May Our Lord, the Saviour, protect His Church in Chora and keep it safe.

When Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to pay their taxes, how long would the trip have taken?

A. The distance “as the crow flies” from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles. Under normal circumstances, without too many winding roads or rough spots to traverse, people might well have been able to travel (on foot or by donkey) about 20 miles a day, for a total one-way trip of perhaps four days. However, we must keep in mind several factors that might have made this particular journey last longer.

First, the land of Samaria lay along the most direct route between Nazareth and Bethlehem, and in Jesus’ day, there was considerable hostility between Jews and Samaritans. Even if, as I think we can assume, Our Lady and St. Joseph bore no animosity toward Samaritans, it would have been difficult and even dangerous for them to travel through that country. They might have been harassed and would almost certainly have been refused lodging, just as Jesus and His disciples were treated some years later (see Luke 9:51-56).

Surely St. Joseph would have sought to protect his wife, and the Child she carried, from such a threat. So, as was common among the Jews of the day, the holy couple would probably have journeyed far off the “direct” route to avoid Samaria, taking a detour from Galilee across the Jordan River and then back again into Judea farther south. That would have added many miles, and several days, to the journey.

Second, remember that Mary was close to the end of her pregnancy. No doubt they had to travel much more slowly than normal to avoid excessive discomfort for her and risks to the health of both mother and Child.

Given these factors, the one-way trip may have taken a week or ten days, and perhaps much longer.

Second, remember that Mary was close to the end of her pregnancy. No doubt they had to travel much more slowly than normal to avoid excessive discomfort for her and risks to the health of both mother and Child.

Given these factors, my guess is that the one-way trip took at least a week or ten days, and perhaps much longer.

Basic Question

Do I know what the Church is? 

This might at first appear to be a foolish questions to ask and I do not ask it lightly. This fundamental question is most appropriate as we prepare to welcome Christ being born in the world. Most adults in the Church are too embarrassed to admit what we don’t understand or what we don’t know. For many of us asking ourselves this question we really must answer, “I don’t truly know what the Church is!” We might answer it is a place I go to pray or a place I go to be with other Orthodox Christians. The basic truth of our faith is that our God is a personal God who humbly came to earth, being born in a manger, so that each of us could enjoy a personal relationship with Him. This is the miracle of Bethlehem. Knowing this, the most basic question we should ask to help answer the question: “What is the Church?” is another question: “Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” 

Through God’s Holy Spirit, we are no longer lonely individuals. We become personally united with Christ and through Him with each other. The Church transcends time and space. It has cosmic dimensions that connects us with Christ and all our fellow Orthodox Christians. This bond is not limited even by physical death. The Church is Christ and all who are joined with him.  This miracle is the mystery of faith.  As St. Paul explains in his letter to the Hebrews: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11, 1). We cannot see the Church, yet it is! It is for us the ultimate reality, the Kingdom of God on earth and a foretaste of heaven. This is as personal a relationship as we can experience. This is the answer to the ultimate question that makes the Church a reality in our lives. Once again, St. Paul says it best, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”    

 After His Crucifixion and Resurrection and Ascension, Our Lord sent His Holy Spirit to empower us; so that we could truly live our life with Him. With our Baptism, we become new creatures in Christ. At our Chrismation, we are given, as a free gift, His Spirit to allow us to grow in Him.  By partaking in Holy Communion, we become united to Christ. The added dimension is that we are also united to everyone who participates in His Body and His Blood. The Church is actualized when we, as the faithful, come together and become the Body of Christ. This is the mystery that began in that manger in the cave of Bethlehem.  As His Nativity approaches, let us look to Christ to enlighten us to truly be the Church, to have Christ born in our hearts as He was born of the Virgin. Only in this way can we know Him and know within our being that we are the Church. 

I pray you all have a blessed Nativity.  May Our Lord continue to bless you, your family and all of us. ….Fr G

Clergy at Risk

As you know I have only recently been ordained into the Holy Priesthood. As the son, nephew and cousin of priests, I can attest to the truth of this article. I know and respect George Stavros who  is the  Clinical Associate Professor of Pastoral Psychology and serves as the Executive Director of the Danielsen Institute at Boston University. He is a a world authority and expert in this field. He is also a devoted family man and pious Orthodox Christian.  As you interact with your parish priest please be aware of the demands on his time and the effect on his family. God Bless…..fr g

https://publicorthodoxy.org/2020/11/19/clergy-at-risk/