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)