Monday, November 22, 2010

Holy Grand Prince and Martyr Michael of Tver...

Dear Friends and Family,

It has been forever since I have had a chance to post anything. Various obligations just do not allow this to happen at the moment. I did, however, want to post the life of Grand Prince and Martyr Michael, as I enjoyed reading it and thought you might as well:

“Saint Michael, born at Tver in 1272, was the son of Prince Yaroslav Yaroslavovich, who was himself the brother of Sinat Alexander Nevsky (23 Nov.). Michael was brought up in the faith and in the pracice of the virtues by his mother, who later became a nun. The strong monastic influence in his upbringing led him to see hi future in terms of a simple choice between becoming a monk or dying a martyr. God however laid on him the heavy burden of government when he succeeded his elder brother as Prince of Tver (1285). Nineteen years later he was to become, in addition, Grand Prince of Vladimir, the capital of Russia during the Mongol occupation and the seat of the Metropolitan of Kiev. In the meantime, he had married Princess Anna Dimitrievna of Rostov, who gave him four sons and four daughters.
        After some years, Michael was deprived of the Principality of Vladimir through the machinations of his kinsman Prince George Danielovich of Moscow. Michael’s counsellors urged him to take up arms against George but he preferred to give up powere rather than have his people shed their blood for him. But when George threated Tver, Michael took the advice of the Bishop to go to war agains his cousin, and he was victorious. Among his princers was George’s wife, Princess Agatha, who happened to dier in captivity as a result of an accident. Her death unleashed the fury of George against Michael and also roused up the Tatar Khan, who was Agatha’s brother. A Tatar expedition against Tver seemed all too probable, unless Prince Michael would agree to go to the Golden Horde to be judged at the court of the Khan. All Michael’s kinsmen could foresee the fatal outcome of such a proceeding, and they did their best to dissuade him from it. However, after discussing the matter with his spiritual father, the holy Prince made up his mind to go to certain death in order to spare his people.
        Held prisoner with a wooden yoke around his neck which kept his hands and arms at shoulder-height, Michael spent his days and nights chanting the services of the CHurch and Psalms of David. His son, a hostage of the Tatars, was allowed to keep him company. He turned the pages of the sacred books for his father, who was consoled by his presence. Obliged to kneel before the Khan and become a laughing-stock of the Tatars, all Michael uttered by way of complaint were the words of the Psalmist: I am an object of scorn to them: they have looked on me and they have shaken their heads. Help me, O Lord my God: O save me according to Thy mercy (Ps. 108:25-6). Thereafter the tears flowed continuously from his eyes. During the night of 21 and 22 November, he had a revelation of his approaching death. He attended the Liturgy, communicated in the holy Mysteries and having embraced the members of his family who were present, he opened the Psalter and read the words uttered by the Prophet, foreseeing the Passion of Christ: My heart is in angiusih within me: and the terrors of death have fallen upon me (Ps. 54:4). Then he added: Cast thy burden on the Lord, and He will sustain theee: He will never permit the righteous to be moved (ibid. v. 22). So, filled with courage and hope, he calmly greeted George and his henchmen who threw themselves on him like wild animals and mauled him ferociously before running him through with their swords.
        The relics of the holy Prince were returned to Moscow where they owrked many miracles. On 6 September 1320, they were translated with great solemnity to Tver. When the city was besieged by the Poles and Lithuanians in 1549, the inhabitants were encouraged by Saint Michael, who appeared in the form of an armed and mounted knight.

Through the prayers of Thy Saints, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon us. Amen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Making room for others...

May the following quote from a moving short story by Checkov serve as a reminder to us all to slow down and look beyond the surface in our day-to-day interactions with others...

Help us to slow down enough to see this!

“Iona turned round to tell them how his son died, but at that moment the hunchback gave a
little sigh of relief and announced that, thank God, they had come to the end of the journey. Having
received his twenty kopecks, Iona gazed after the revelers for a long time, even after they had
vanished through a dark gateway. Once more he was alone, once more silence fell on him. The grief
he had kept at bay for a brief while now returned to wrench his heart with still greater force. With an
expression of anxiety and torment, he gazed at the crowds hurrying along both sides of the street,
wondering whether there was anyone among those thousands of people who would listen to him. But
the crowds hurried past, paying no attention to him or to his grief. His grief was vast, boundless. If his
heart could break, and the grief could pour out of it, it would flow over the whole world; but no one
would see it. It had found a hiding place invisible to all: even in broad daylight, even if you held a
candle to it, you wouldn't see it.”

~ from “Heartache” by Anton Checkov

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Towards an Asceticism of Hospitality...

Dear Family and Friends,

After having returned from a trip to England (London, Darby, Cambridge and Essex) and a pilgrimage to Mt. Athos, an overarching theme has come to mind which was referenced continuously throughout our journeys. This theme can best be summed up with one word: hospitality. It is something that requires, in my mind, a few prerequisite notions:

  1. That we consider our brother to be our life. Or as others put it, our brother to be our salvation (1 John sums this up pretty well).
  2. That we leave room in our lives for our brother. This, of course, can take on many different forms, but in our busy society this might have to do with evaluating our jobs, family lives, recreation, and asking ourselves to what extent these are carried out for our own good, or that of others. With a job, for example, the prevailing philosophy nowadays can often very self-centered--everything being set up for success, even if it means stepping on others’ to do so. Our jobs, though, can be transformed in most cases into arenas for practicing this very principle of leaving room for others, even though it may cost us (financially, or in terms of self-respect or reputation etc.). Another aspect of this point, however, which is very important in our day and age is that we leave room for our neighbor in the busyness that is superficially created in our minds. Often the nature of our jobs and our pace of life can be associated with stress that builds up within our minds--the pounding and swirling of thoughts in our heads, whether its remembering an appointment, replaying an intense meeting or conversation, etc etc...All of these things that cause our minds to scatter and eventually snap under pressure, distract us from the still simplicity that is reality. If we clutter our minds with all of these false realities (because they are not actually even helping our every day realities, but only acting as pale distortions of them) we certainly DO NOT LEAVE ROOM FOR OUR BROTHER, which as many fathers say, is a door to meeting Christ. Sometimes humility means slowing down to the point of being able to listen. Often we say, “how can I slow down, I have so much to do.” Two points arise: either we need to re-evaluate how much we are doing in light of eternal values and consequences and maybe try to trim off the unnecessary time-fillers, or we need to come to grips with the fact that it is not the excess of jobs but the internal pace and scatterdness with which we meet these jobs. If we met them with a natural internal pace and one that we singly focused (usually on the prayer of Jesus or something similarly simple), maybe these things would not seem so difficult, and MAYBE they might even take on a whole new level of meaning and beauty...the mundane and even tedious suddenly becoming overwhelmingly brilliant and beautiful.
  3. That we do not see our spiritual life and our obligation towards our neighbor (i.e. family, friends, co-workers and everyone) as existing in conflict. Someone asked a monk at an active and frequently visited monastery, “how do you keep unceasing prayer active in your monastery with all of the noisy visitors?” The monk replied, “if our prayer ceases as a result of our interaction with the visitors it means that we were not praying for them as we should have been.” Other examples in the Gerontikon show that, in fact, an ascetic’s interaction with guests shows the true state of his/her heart and the fruit of their labors (i.e. whether their labors in prayer were purely out of pride and a sense of human accomplishment, or out of humble recognition that his labors are solely dependent on God’s Grace in transforming his heart in that of Christ’ that loves the whole world)Just as we see in the Old Testament with the visit of the Angels and many other examples in every day life, we do not know when we will be hosting Christ or angels. And this is not just an ethical metaphor or lesson but an ontological reality: that when we treat those made in God’s image as we would treat Christ, we are truly meeting Christ (“Lord when did you come to visit us?”). Leaving room for others (i.e. loving them) is an enormous act of asceticism, and requires an upheaval of our own will and a humble taking on and acceptance of the gift of Grace of the will of God in order to carry out this awesome love.
These were a few meditations that were picked up (among many) along our rich and profitable journey. The following is a nice story from the Gerontikon that might encourage us along the way (especially us perfectionists who constantly look at results instead of process :)):

A brother said to Abba Poimen:

“If I give to my brother a bit of bread or something else, the demons pollute this act as if it was done out of the desire to be liked by people.”

The Elder replies:

“And even if it happens out of people-pleasing, we will give to our brother whatever it is that he needs.”

And he told him the following parable:

“Two men were farmers and lived in the same city. One of them sowed his seed and produced a small and unclean harvest.

The other was negligent and did not sow, for this reason he did not have any harvest at all. If a famine were to occur, which out of the two would have enough to live?”

“The one who got the small and unclean harvest,” responded the brother.

“Thus, we too,” says the Elder, “let us sow a bit, even in an unclean way, in order not to die from hunger.”

Well, I think that’s all for now.

with much love,

Monday, April 26, 2010

Trip to England...

Dear Friends and Family,

Christ is Risen!

The semester is racing by, and we're nearly approaching the final month of classes! The month of May is full of exciting events. On Wednesday I'll be heading to the UK for an Orthodox Youth Festival, and hopefully a trip to the Monastery in Essex. Directly after I return three parishioners from my church in Boston will be coming for a pilgrimmage to the Holy Mountain and Thessaloniki, and directly after that some other folks will be coming, and then a trip to Romania to meet Vera, Teo and Sophia and a journey home with them to Boston for the summer!

Nothing to share in the way of insights, except for the following gem from Fr. Justin Popovich:

"It is essential to create in our people (speaking to the Serbian nation, but really to all of us) the sense that the faith of Christ is a virtue beyond nationhood, being ecumenical and catholic, trinitarian; and that for someone to believe in Christ entails their waiting on Christ, and only on Christ, with every event of their lives."

Glory to Thee for All Things!

with love,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In Light of the Volcano...

Dear Friends and Family,

Today, while reading an editorial in the greek paper Kathimerini entitled "The Lesson of the Ash," something struck home very clearly. In the article the author reminds his audience that we as humans only understand our innate dependence and limitations when the works of our own hands begin to fail us, or when nature intervenes (referring specifically to the recent volcano eruption, and the consequent halt in sky travel all over the globe). His article reminded me quite vividly that we, the "enlightened" ones, have become very sure of ourselves, of our cleverness and capabilities. We undermine reality to philosophize about multiple realities because we have come up with advanced methods to avoid the only true one, one that, if we do not act, meets us with the bitter kiss of death; by taking pain-killers, drugs, "injections" of emotional and sexual highs from various forms of media, among other things, our religion (the avoidance of reality) has truly become our opiate.

It is times like these however, when the surprising silence in the air, reminds us that we do not rule the earth or the skies, but are rather completely dependent to their beck and call. We often only realize this when the rug is pulled out from underneath us (when we lose our ever-present "oxygen" as it were...the system that we have spent lifetimes building) When our economic system, like an enormous teetering mountain, begins to come crashing down upon us, we realize that our are inventions are built on the straw foundation of our human confidence. Human ingenuity is truly a marvel to behold, as we are capable of so much! But a denial of our dependence and a confidence leading back to ourselves, makes it all seems so vain. When we grasp on to our own intelligence and craftsmanship as if it is the ultimate mind, we find in the end, that we have been fooled...but it's often too late.

We, the children of the Enlightenment, call the children of the "dark continent" (or of the pre-settler America's or any other "unenlightened" land) barbarians and fools. We conquered them, educated them, civilized them and taught them a religion that we ourselves would not uphold, only to discover that we had successfully beaten most of the precious, God-given, wisdom out them--wisdom that we could have done well to listen to and to apply!

10 years of higher education often opens the door to...

...a suffocating world of hyper-analysis, inability to smile, and depression. We are so advanced and educated that we are able to (or rather, forced by our diseased minds, to) deconstruct the view of a marvelous sunrise or a breath-taking mountain-range. While we blow our minds up like balloons, filling them with numbers and information, we allow our life-giving organ, our heart, to wither like an unwatered flower in the hot sun. Never before has man been so in need of his Creator. Never before have we been so defiant and desirous to lead our own destiny. But destiny in our hands inevitably leads to confusion and despair. Confusion, because it is not our natural state, and we know this. Despair, because life has a way of showing us that we are not in charge. Beloved friends, let us wake up to this reality and seek within ourselves the answers that have for so long lain dormant and untouched...and that we have been taught to keep that way.

Let us allow the prophetic words of Fr. Justin Popovich (and others) to soak into our very being and lead us to the TRUE Enlightenment:

"The more a man devotes himself to the ways of natural knowledge [whose chief characteristic is its approach by examination and experimentation], the more he is seized on by fear and the less can he free himself from it. But if he follows faith, he is immediately freed and "as a son of God, as the power to make free use of all things." "The man who loves this faith acts like God in the use of all created things," for to faith is given the power "to be like God in making a new creation." Thus it is written: "Thou desiredst, and all things are presented before thee" (cf. Job 23:13 LXX). Faith can often "bring forth all things out of nothing," while knowledge can do nothing "without the help of matter." Knowledge has NO POWER OVER NATURE, but faith has such power. Armed with faith, men have entered into the fire and quenched the flames, being untouched by them"

(Fr. J. Popovich "The Theory of Knowledge of Saint Isaac The Syrian").

We all know that natural knowledge is not evil, but a work of creation at which we can marvel and for which we can give thanks. But just for a moment, let's unplug and go within, let's turn down the noise of our calculations and analysis and see if there is a message in the "un-productive" stillness.

Let us turn from our father the Enlightenment, and become children of Faith, where instead of a fatal and false self-deification we find a confidence and foundation based in a sure, never-failing reality. Then we can marvel at the never-ending sun-rise of our lives as we plunge deeper and deeper into the ocean of true knowledge.

Glory to Thee!

with love,

Monday, April 12, 2010

Inspirational Gem #1

Dear Friends and Family,

A good friend, John M, came and visited Greece in January. In our efforts to “seize the day” while he was here, we briefly recorded (both audio and text) some thoughts and “gems” that we picked up throughout the course of our time together. These gems come from conversations that took place between us, with others (priests, monks, lay people), in “dialogue” with some books that we were reading, and just from life itself. We had intended to send them out bit by bit in the form of a mass e-mail, and still hope to do so, but life has a way of delaying these worthy efforts and making it difficult to complete. Thus, I have decided to start posting them slowly but surely on my blog, so that at least you all will be able to benefit from these moments as we did as well.

The following text is made up of some notes taken during an informal conversation with a local priest and confessor here in town, Fr. Spiridon. We were discussing various topics relating to ministry and work in the Church and this is mostly from the mouth of Fr. S:

We as humans, when we undertake any kind of work, we need to focus on two things: our effort and God’s blessing (hope, prayer, effort) and in trusting that He will complete the work in His time. We need to leave the results (and worrying about them) for God and be happy at all times even when things don’t go our way, knowing that our success lies in our effort and in God’s seeing our effort and blessing it (maybe not in such a way that matches with our understanding of human “results” but still a blessing nonetheless).
We don’t need too much experience or expertise when we begin a particular work in service to Christ and His Church, we just need to strive from our hearts to do God’s will out of love and not worry (i.e. if we are teacher) about how much someone understands something, but instead to focus on our effort and knowing that He will bless.
We never want to be slaves to a program. We make schedules and have a course of action. When you live like that, you are easily disappointed, and you switch things around by saying that, instead of God being in control and giving the blessing, we are in control and wait for God to be obedient to us. We have a list of things to do, and one step at a time, it leads us to become more and more anxious at every step. Anxiety comes when we trust ourselves and take things into our own hands. If you are confident and want to be in control then God says: ok, you can do it on your own? Fine, go ahead, and he “leaves you” to try.
A word of caution: hoping does not mean carelessness and saying that God will take care of everything and so I can sit back and watch, but rather means that we begin with respect and acknowledge that our human attempt is weak and poor and that God will complete and perfect our weakness.
A priest or layperson doesn’t start his labors thinking that he is capable, but rather because he loves the children of God and by his ministry in performing the sacraments (in the case of the priest), he puts his hope in God’s blessing.
The priest in the parish has to first have a fatherly relationship with his parishioners, and then be a teacher, otherwise they won’t listen (this is a mentality that seeks to avoid the trap of guruism).
Teachers have to have the sense of being life-long students, and must have the inspiration and desire to learn from their students. Only in this way will their students respect them. They have to be human first.
More to come!

with love,

Monday, April 5, 2010

Χριστός Ανέστη!

Christ is Risen!

Although this is a bit late, I hope and pray that everyone who is celebrating Orthodox Easter (both yesterday and continuing through Bright Week and beyond) has a peaceful, joyful few weeks, infused with the renewing Grace of the resurrection of Christ which happened at a particular historic point, but effects us drastically even today, if we would have the eyes to see!

with much love,

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pig Farmer For a Day

It occurred to me that it's been a while since I've posted a personal segment, as opposed to the occasional translation or interesting quote. The pictures that you will find below were added before the text, because I wanted to give you all a sense of what I had been up to last weekend while it was still fresh. Now, however, a bit of an explanation is due:

Last weekend (i.e. before Holy Week) an American friend of mine, Peter, who has lived for about 1 year at the monastic community of St. Dionyius at the foot of Mt. Olympus GR, invited me to join him for a weekend at this beautiful historic monastery. Because school is out for Pascha, I decided to go for it, and took the train with him to the small town of Litohoro which sits at the base of the renowned Olympus mountain. One can really understand, to an extent, why the ancient Greeks considered it the home of the God's, at least from an aesthetic perspective, as its beautiful slopes and sprawling picturesque valleys provide a mystical contrast--juxtaposing the flat "earthly" agriculture terrain to the looming "heavenly" peaks.

Due to its mythological significance, the mountain is not as well known for housing the monastery of St. Dionysios, even though it is apprx 500 years old, and famous due to its holy founder, and for its welcoming but austere monastic atmosphere. But in the Orthodox world it is a fairly frequented non-Athonite pilgrimage site, and therefore something that I too had been interested in visiting, but never had a found a good excuse to go. Finally, my time had come :).

So after arriving at the train station in Litohoro, we decided to walk to the monastery and see if someone would decide to pick us up along the way (Peter was fairly well known by the locals as being the representative American staying at the monastery and so it was not improbable that someone would be pass by and recognize him). It was about a 2 hour walk and as we started out we knew that we would not regret it as the fresh rural air blew through our hair and refreshed us (especially me, the urban academic that I have become :)). The walk was paradisiacal to say the least. Going from highway roads with fields on both sides and mountains painting a beautiful background landscape in the distance, to quaint village houses and tiny cobble stone roads, we wound our way through the center and up towards the monastery itself. We passed ancient churches and monuments and were fortunate to have been picked up by a pleasant local who took us through the ugliest part of our journey and gave us a bit of a break from walking. We arrived safe and sound and settled in having found me a room in the guest house.

Peter works with the pigs. He had suggested that I help him the following day, because he really loved his job and thought that I would enjoy it as well. I eagerly accepted his offer, although internally I was curious to see how my city-boy self would fair "wallowing" with the swine; but my idealistic side one over, and I figured that it would be a good break from the books to get down and dirty with the unclean ones.

This was the best decision I think I have made since coming to Greece.

Honestly it was a day full of external filth and internal joy. With ever splash of mud that found its way on my pants, with every lump of manure that oozed betwixt my boots and every speck of dirt that lodged itself behind my ear, I found a renewed strength and energy rushing through me. After I had overcome my fear of being trampled by 100 hungry piglets as I dumped feed into their troughs, I found it rather enjoyable to quite literally rub shoulders with these piggish...pigs, and if they were blocking my way, to give them a loving, but firm, boot out of my way. All day we went from pen to pen feeding hundreds of them (the monastery owns around 600 total, operating one of Greece's few organic pig farms), running around screaming "Roy, roy, roy", which in Greek pig language means, "eat, food, eat, food" or something like that. I got to see how the male breeding pigs, who bore a striking resemblance to some high school football players that I have encountered, would be set up with a couple of females to produce, in the way that comes quite naturally to them, itty bitty oinkers (I say SOME, not no comments about not being PC please ;)).

I guess that if I was doing this all day everyday and had known no other life (like a very kind Albanian fellow that I befriended there), and then I had seen American movies and all of the lazy young people who are seen partying away, I would think that the grass WAS really greener on our side of the fence; but coming from the wealth of American society, and from the cement sterility of urban life, it gave me a new sense of being...just a nice glimpse of another aspect of the life of the world that I don't see too much of at the moment. Maybe someday that will change, life will become a bit more balanced (I pray that this is the case), and I am not unsatisfied with the beautiful life that God has given me in Thessaloniki, but this was a taste of another cuisine that opened up a side of me that needed to come up for a bit of air I believe.

So there it is. Hate to say it, but the highlight of the monastery was the PIGS! Let this be a lesson to all of use: let's not look only what we might consider the cookie-cutter examples of our Faith (the ideal clergyman, that best monastery, the most active parish) to teach us the important lessons. Sometimes its the pigs that make our day! (don't take me too seriously please).

So here's some shots of the the pigs and the monastery! Enjoy!

with love,

Friday, March 26, 2010

Before the Crucified One

By Fr. Eusebius Vittis (+2009)

O soul, you who are weary and saddened by many things that, out of politeness, you would rather not mention. Instead, you hold them within you, not wanting to offend, hurt or scandalize any other soul around you--from near or far. You, o restless soul, who search for peace, run to the Crucified One, the Sweet Jesus; kneel before Him with contrition. Tell Him the following words with courage, slowly, purely, and honestly, and with steadfast faith that you will be heard:

O Lord my Jesus, meek and humble in heart, I wholeheartedly beg and beseech You:

Release me from the desire to be admired by others.
Release me from the desire to be loved by others.
Release me from the desire to be sought out by others.
Release me from the desire to be honored by others.
Release me from the desire to be praised by others.
Release me from the desire to be preferred by others.
Release me from the desire to give advise to others.
Release me from the desire to be commended by others.
Release me from the desire to be cared for by others.

Release me from the fear that they will humiliate me.
Release me from the fear that they will scorn me.
Release me from the fear that they will reject me.
Release me from the fear that they will slander me.
Release me from the fear that they will forget me.
Release me from the fear that they will offend me.
Release me from the fear that they will suspect me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be loved more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be esteemed more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that the good view of others increase, and that my own decrease.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be put to use more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be praised more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be remembered, and not me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be preferred and chosen over me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others make progress in virtue more than me, if of course I could achieve something like that on my own.

O soul, you who art hurt and wounded by that which you have inflicted on yourself, if the Lord hears you--and he will hear you if your prayer is genuine, honest, fervent and comes from the depths of who you are--

--how much peace will reign in your heart!
--how much serenity will take root inside of you!
--how much tranquility will be painted on your face!
--and amongst all of the events of your life, how many blissful moments will you experience, both large and small!

Don’t forget, beloved soul, that most of the offenses that we experience stem from the exaggerated concept that we have of ourselves. They have their beginning when we overestimate what we do and offer, with the hidden intention of increasing our status in the world, however possible.

The greatest thing in the world is to be forgotten by everyone, except by those who we love and who love us (even if we find that those who we love very much do not respond in like manner). Maybe you think, blessed soul, that your love for others is greater than their’s for you. How can you truthfully measure this? The Holy Spirit through the Apostle says: ”owe no man anything, except to love one another“ (Romans 13:8). In other words, your debt is always unpaid! So how are you so bold as to make demands as if you’d paid it? Love, therefore, without waiting for some sort of response. Love the following truth, and carry it in your heart: that anything, except for our ”debt“, creates within us

restlessness, instead of joy,
agitation, instead of peace,
anxiety, instead of certainty,

Don’t ever forget this!
Let’s allow this attitude, therefore to be implanted within us. Let’s not stop walking this road. Let’s not allow prideful thoughts to trick us, such as the following:

I could be doing something else, much more important than what I am doing,

It is a thought, seduced by deceptive aspirations, desires and unfounded zeal to leave our everyday work, as we quite ridiculously want our virtuousness to blossom more than that of our neighbor’s.

Rather, let us keep busy with what we are doing, because that is what God has given us to do.

Let us occupy ourselves by doing it as best as we can.

This means, in short, to do it

with clarity.
with energy.
with joy.

As Before the Lord!
So let them forget us, let them despise us, let them not understand us, let them slander us, let them persecute us, let them...

How important is this in the end? It will all pass away one day or another, and that which will remain is the friendship and love of God. Both of these He will increasingly magnify. We will grow in patience and faithfulness in our friendship and love for Him. Our endeavors and efforts to become increasingly more receptive to His love will also grow. When we are made worthy to receive the Lord himself through Holy Communion, how can we have even the smallest complaint regarding everything that has been mentioned above.

Perhaps the mistaken thought will arise, my beloved soul, if you’ve devoted yourself to the monastic life, that these things which are written above absolve you from the duty of disclosing your interior life to those who bear the responsibility of your soul and who guide you on the road of the Lord. This would be a very grave mistake!

Everything that was mentioned above should in no way do away with the revealing of thoughts and sins which ought to occur with your Geronda or Gerondissa; rather, they assume this! These things which were written are meant to show you what you must do in your cell, when, face to face with your Beloved Lord, you pour out your entire existence in fervent, loving prayer.

May the grace of the Lord be with you, beloved soul!


Translation © by M. Tishel

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


by Fr. Eusebios Vittis

The selfish man is characterized by his enslavement to the pleasures, and by a lack of patience amidst unpleasant circumstances, whatever they may be. For this reason, when he succeeds in satisfying his own will, he finds himself in a state of pleasure and arrogance, and, when he doesn’t succeed, he is tyrannized by pain and pleasure and feels a sense of choking in his soul, which is a foretaste of the Gehenna of fire.

The wise man acts exactly the opposite, because wisdom constitutes the source of self-restraint and patience. With temperance, the wise man bridles his will and with patience endures all of the unpleasant events in life. According to that which is written above, all of which comes from the teaching of the bishop and holy-martyr Peter of Damascus, ascesis takes on the following process:

1. Denial of one’s own mind-set (φρόνημα), which is the starting point.
2. Acceptance of the Divine Will in place of that which he previously possessed.
3. Keeping the commandments of God, as a specific expression of God’s will.
4. An ordering of things, where man wants the will of God.*
5. Automatic denial of selfish delight, and an acceptance of suffering--something that is implied in the usurping of the Divine Will.

This is ascesis.

Translation © M. Tishel

*After consulting a Greek linguist, the translator conclude that the meaning of this sentence is a bit abstract even in the original Greek text. This of course could be due to a number things, not the least of which might be a minor error in word choice etc. To maintain the integrity of the text, we decided to leave it as is.

Fr. Eusebius Vittis (+2009)

NOTE: The following article was produced after the repose of Fr. Eusebius. It is a translation from Greek, and will serve to briefly introduce this inspiring theologian and contemporary spiritual father. The intention is to post bits of his work on this blog over a period of time, with the eventual goal of more extensive translations. God-willing the life and humble words of Fr. Eusebius will serve as a refreshing breeze, encouraging those of us living in the world, towards a deeper love for Christ and a love “in Christ” (as Fr. Eusebius puts it) for our neighbor!

Fr. Eusebios Vittis (+December, 2009)

A simple man, distinguished and humble, learned and possessing many spiritual gifts; one who had experiences similar to the Fathers of the Church and divinely enlightened; a teacher who dedicated his life to the salvation of the soul of his fellow man.

This is how his disciples characterize hieromonk Father Eusebios Vittis, who reposed at the age of 82, in his hesychastirion (skete) in Faya Petra of Sidirokastro (Greece), where he spent the final years of his life in prayer. His desire was that his death would remain unknown until his burial, and for his funeral to be performed by a simple cleric and one lay person, without anyone else present. The Church chose, however, to bid him farewell as a man of such uniqueness so deserved. The service for the departed (η εξόδιος ακολουθία) was performed at the dependency of the Athonite Monastery of Grigoriou, in the church of the Dormition in Stavropolis, and was presided over by the Metropolitan Barnabus of Neapolis, Metropolitan Makarios of Siderokastro, and Metropolitan Meletios of Koulouez. Although the funeral was not announced, crowds of people flocked to the church to bid the spiritual instructor a final farewell. Afterwards, he was laid to rest in the hesychastirion of Fayas Petras, where for the first time, the presence of women was allowed.

“Fr. Eusebios was an attraction to thousands of souls of every class; he was a spiritual father who was recognized throughout all of his life by scholarly people,” describes Mr. Stilianos Kemetzetzidis, owner of the publishing house “Orthodox Κipseli,” disciple of the hieromonk and publisher of some of his books. “He was very humble. He did not want his name to be put on any of his books and he signed them with a pseudonym "Kexri" (translation: millet seed), signifying something "unimportant." With great effort I convinced him to allow us to publish his name in his books. He did not allow himself to be photographed, nor did he ever talk about himself. He also did not want to take a financial share in his books; money did not interest him. He had both divine and acquired gifts,” says Mr. Kemetzetzidis.

The news of his falling asleep spread to his disciples and throughout many countries abroad, where his charitable acts had effected so many. “I came from Romania. We are interested in translating his book,” mentions Mr. Ovidios Lazaresku.

Biographical Note

The hieromonk Eusebios Vittis came from Ptolemida. He began his priestly work as a clergyman in Sweden. The Holy Hesychastirion (Skete) of St. Nicholas in Ratvik, Sweden is entirely his own work. There he withdrew in 1973, with the aim of devoting himself to prayer, meditation and writing. Fr. Eusebios kept the Athonite schedule, and as recorded in the bulletin of the Metropolis of Sweden and all Scandinavia (1979), the monastery was seen throughout the years as being “the sleepless lamp of the Metropolis of Sweden and a place of spiritual healing for the faithful.” The visitors of the holy hesychastirion found comfort, rest for the soul, and the road leading toward salvation. In 1980 Fr. Eusebios returned to Greece, upon the exhortation of his spiritual father.

A great and distinguished theologian, a man of humility and divine enlightenment, a tireless writer knowledgeable of many foreign languages and translator of ascetic texts, a respected confessor, a lover of patristic studies, and a hesychast, Fr. Eusebios drew thousands of faithful people to him throughout his lifetime from all parts of Greece and Cyprus. “Under his epitrahilion* many people found rest, were revitalized and found meaning in life,” says the nun-abbess Epiharis, who lives at the monastery that Fr. Eusebios built using the offerings of the faithful, in Siderokastro; and she knew him during all of the years of his ministry.


*a priestly vestment, but in this case symbolic for the spiritual fatherhood, authority and direction of the priest

Translation © M. Tishel 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thoughts (Prayers) Matter...

“Once a girl came to see me. She was a university student, and both her parents were doctors. She said she had problem with one of her professors, who refused to mark her paper. I told her, ‘Why do you wage war with your teacher? You should respect her as though she were you mother. She is disciplining you for your own good.’ The girl would not hear of it. ‘No, Father,’ she said. ‘That teacher is mean--she’s like this, she’s like that. I give all the right answers to her questions and all she does is tell me to come next time. She hasn’t given me a mark yet.’ I told the girl that her teacher was evidently distracted, but that she was waging a war against her teacher in her mind. I told her that she must pray for her teacher, that the Lord might send an angel of peace, and that He might give her the strength to love her teacher. Then everything would be all right. The girl thought I was telling her fairy tales. This went on for another year, and she began to lose hope of ever completing the first year. Then she began to pray for her teacher, and the next time she sat for an exam she passed and received a high mark.”

-Elder Thaddeus (of Serbia)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Grandma Passed Away...

Dear Friends and Family,

Please pray for the soul of the departed Gertrude Buckley (my mom’s mom) in your personal prayers. After a long battle with Alzheimers she passed away peacefully just a little while ago in her nursing home. My family says it was a peaceful passing and they will be flying to Chicago for the funeral on Sunday.

with love,

Monday, February 15, 2010


"The entire struggle in prayer has as its aim the discovery and conquest of the heart.”

~Fr. Zacharias of Essex

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blessed Lent!

Dear Friends and Family,

As this Lent begins I find myself in bed and a bit under the weather. But not to worry! A lot of tea, fluids, and lozenges...and some much needed rest. Being sick (when it’s not too serious of course...but even then I suppose) can really be a blessing. One moment your running around, feeling like you just can’t stop running, and the next, you’re on your back reading great books, sipping tea and accepting visits from good friends who sit and chat for a bit. It’s a good life!

Classes are starting up slowly but surely. Sorry for not updating lately. Hopefully lent will renew my energy for this important effort! Daily life in Greece for me is divided up a bit differently than it was in the states. Instead of 3 or 4 major events per day, everything is divided into small “mini-events.” In other words, you bump into a friend in the street and chat for 15 minutes, then you go and eat at the student cafe and chat with people, then you go and study for a bit, then class, then vespers etc. Writing it all out, it sounds almost the same as what life would be like in the states but truly it feels like the smaller “events’ (i.e. chance encounters with friends etc.) take on a greater significance.

Ok! Forgive me a sinner (in the spirit of the coming Forgiveness Sunday)

with love in Christ,

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fr. Eusebius Vittis...

Fr. Eusebius died 2 months ago. He has become well known after his death for his pastoral heart for the Lord and for others. Hopefully he will be translated soon into English. For now, here is a preview:

My offering will be:

For all of Your sheep that do not know You and therefore do not communicate with You, I will communicate.

For all Your sheep, who cry for their transgressions and deviations, small and large, whether in knowledge or in ignorance, I will cry.

For all of Your sheep, who sink in the quicksand of sin, losing their purity, I will lament.

For all Your sheep, who sleep the blissful sleep of negligence and indifference, I will stay awake.

For all Your sheep, who blaspheme You and despise You, because they never truly knew You, I will hymn You and will give You glory.

For all Your sheep, held captive to whatever passion, on bended knee I will beg You to free them from their dreaful bonds.

For all Your sheep, who fall into the hands of wolves, with agony and desperation, I cry out to You:
Lord, Lord, Lord, save them! Resue them!

For all Your sheep, who find themselves in hopeless situations, in isolation, in inability to think and unable to find a saving escape from the labyrinth in which they find tehmselves, I will pray to You.

~Fr. Eusebios Vittis (+2009)

Translation M.T.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sermon Given on the Sunday Before Nativity...

Hope you all enjoy these Sermon notes from a priest’s homily this past Sunday (O.S.)

Sermon Notes from the Sunday of the Fathers (January 3, 2010)
Seeing the beautiful children in the church reminds us that we were once children. By analogy, to approach the birth of Christ through the Virgin, reminds us that we too must give birth to Christ and through this be born again ourselves—Christ, not as a babe, but spiritually within ourselves. Christ is born each year and perpetually. He must be born in us and through us.
Nicodemus was perplexed: how can a man be born again after he has left his mother’s womb (John 3:4-5). We might really ponder this question: how can Christ be born in us and through us. Christ is the God-Man, God was incarnate, generating a flesh-body (carne), and became one with our humanity. We have to do the same, but in reverse. We start with the unity, which our Lord accomplished, and we have to be united with Him. It’s not good enough to just sprinkle Christ over our fallen humanity. He must become a part of us, integrated into every aspect our humanity. He must be born in us, or we must be reborn. How we think, evaluate things, what is possible or impossible, must be seen through Christ. The Logos, Christ, is the second Person of the Trinity. He was begotten of the Father before all ages. He was first “born” on the lips of the prophets, according to St. Maximos the Confessor, and through the law, and then he was “really born”—incarnate—as a child. Now he must be born again in us. How? Ask the Apostles who followed Him. How? Ask all the saints who lived and died for Him.
Before Christ all Jewish households dreamt of their sons and daughters participating in the mystery of the coming of the Messiah. After Christ, pious homes yearned for their sons and daughters to become saints. Today, we can yearn for Christ to be born in us and through us. How is this possible? It is a great mystery. The Holy Spirit came upon the mother of God. Could it come upon us? She was highly favored before God, virtuous. Could we strive for this? Is it possible to have a virtuous life?
How Can We Have a Virtuous Life
We have responsibilities. Let us strive for obedience. We know people. Let us love our neighbor. We have the poor with us. Let us give to them. We have visitors. Let us exercise hospitality. Our loved ones have problems. “Bear ye one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). We have temptations. Let us struggle and pray: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” We have been hurt and have reason to judge, but let us judge not that we be not judged (Matt. 7:1). Let obedience to Christ in my life be my daily business. I have control and responsibility for my own soul and with my own soul Christ can be born again, and I can be born again. At Christ’s birth there came to earth peace to men of good will. And in the same way, Christ is born spiritually in us today,
We see in even modern examples, men and women who have striven in this way towards holiness, that they are not strange or different, but, on the contrary, normal and more human than most, because Christ is truly born and integrated into every aspect and fiber of their life. This is another dimension of the revelation about peace on earth to men of Good will that was proclaimed to the shepherds by the angels and heavenly hosts. “Peace on earth, to men of good will” (Luke 2:14).
May the peace of Christ be born in us, and not just sprinkled upon us!