Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Symbol of Rhodes

Rhodes has a beautiful symbol, i.e. a deer, the Dama-Dama. However, years ago it was endangered due to the fact that a large percentage of the deer population was burnt during the catastrophic fires of ’87 and ’92. Nevertheless, two deers are placed in the entrance of the port, one male and one female. This symbol consists part of the tradition of the island. Many claim that that deers came to the islands after the arrival of the crusaders, in order to protect themselves from the snakes. Another belief is that deers were introduced to the Greek island from the Venetians, during the time when Rhodes was under their rule.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Evolution of Music

The a cappella group Pentatonix has created this fabulous video where it gives us a small insight into the evolution of music from the 11th century until our modern epoch. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Cathedral of St. Alban

Saint Albans Cathedral, in St. Alban – near London, is the oldest place of continuous Christian worship and pilgrimage in Britain. It stands on the place where Alban, the first martyr of Britain, was buried after giving his life for his faith, over 1700 years ago.

The building’s amazing mixture of architectural styles bears witness to the many centuries of its life, first as a monastic Abbey and now as a Cathedral. During the course of time, countless pilgrims have paid their respect, offering their prayers at the shrine of St. Alban. The saint’s life is an interesting one. The following biography of St. Alban is taken from an article entitled “Three British Orthodox Saints”, published by The Orthodox Herald, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain July-August 2012. Issue 286-287:

St. Alban is the first saint and martyr of Britain, in Verulamium. Numerous traditions relating to St. Alban are very ambiguous, and it is impossible to verify various historical details and traditions about this legendary saint. Nevertheless, during the 5th century “a Gallic saint named Alban, and a native of Britain was widely venerated both in this country and on the continent”[1]. “He was a soldier in the Roman army and, according to the venerable Bede, was brought to faith in Christ by a fugitive priest to whom he gave shelter”[2]. It is said that the priest’s name was “Amphibalus – but this is almost certainly a fictitious name given to him because it is the Greek equivalent of Caracalla – or cloak – which played an important part in one of the episodes of St. Alban’s martyrdom[3]”. Alban so convinced of the priest’s holiness and authenticity, that he conveyed his wish to become a Christian.

A local magistrate found out that Alban was sheltering a priest and a group of soldiers was sent to arrest both of them. When Alban realised what was about to happen, he exchanged clothes with the priest, allowing him to escape, thus giving him the opportunity to continue preaching the Gospel of Christ. When introduced to the magistrate he was demanded to sacrifice to the pagan Gods. After his refusal he was sentenced to be scourged, in order to make him recant, but to no avail. He was then sentenced to death. On the day of his execution all the town gathered in order to witness the event. However, the bridge by which the procession was to pass was blocked by all the people. Alban prayed to God and the waters of the river pulled back, thus creating a passageway. When observing this, the executioner was so moved that he laid his sword to the protomartyr’s feet wishing that he as well would be executed together with Alban. Upon reaching the spot of the execution, the saint desired some water, and after praying to God a living spring broke out near him.
After hearing the events that took place, the magistrate was astonished. This admiration resulted in the termination of all persecutions. When, eventually, the Church became the established religion, a magnificent church was built on the spot of St. Alban’s Martyrdom, near London, which is “the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain”[4]

Whether or not he was aware of Christianity before the circumstances which led to his conversion is unknown, nonetheless it likely that he would have had some experience of it. Despite the fact that St. Alban is termed the ‘Protomartyr of England’, it is likely that there were many other saintly figures in the British Isles, who lived and died for their faith before him, especially during the reign and persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. St. Alban is commemorated on the 17th of June. 
St. Alban is so important to English Christianity, that even an organisation which promotes Anglican-Orthodox Relations is named after him: The Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. This testifies the importance that England has played since the early centuries of Christianity.

[1] Johnson, K.R., “St. Alban. English Promartyr. (304)”, Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, No. 4, March 1929, p. 32
[2] Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain,, 14/08/2012, 17.34
[3] Johnson, K.R., “St. Alban. English Promartyr. (304)”, Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, No. 4, March 1929, p. 33
[4] St. Alban’s Cathedral,, 16/08/2012, 17.11

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Christos Yannaras talking about Orthodoxy in Britain - With special reference to the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius

Orthodoxy has been present in the United Kingdom for centuries. The interest of the Anglicans has started since the 17th centuries, where unofficial contact began between the two ecclesiastical groups. However, this is an interesting evolution. How and why are the Anglicans interested in the Orthodox Church is a massive topic. The relations of the two churches, another. These relations, nevertheless, have formed a number of groups within Britain including the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association (A.E.C.A.) and the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius.
The Fellowship of St Alban and St. Sergius is a well-known organisation in Britain and the West in general, promoting Orthodox-Anglican Relations since its birth in the 1920s. However, the faithful within the Orthodox countries are not aware of its existence or do not support its works. Christos Yannaras, upon visiting the Fellowship and its 1973 conference that took place in Winchester, he returned to Greece, and wrote about his experiences in respect to the Fellowship and the Anglican-Orthodox relations and interests within Britain. The following passage, translated by the author (Dimitris Salapatas), is taken from his book Το Προνόμιο της Απελπισίας[1]. However, this was also published in the VIMA newspaper (2-9-1973).

“A Gathering of Anglicans and Orthodox in Winchester
From the 4th until the 15th August the annual conference of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius took place at Winchester, England, at King’s Alfred’s College.
This Fellowship, which is widely known in England and less so or even not at all in Greece,  was founded during the interwar period (1928) with the objective the meeting, the mutual understanding and the theological dialogue between the Anglicans and the Orthodox. Its foundation was the result of the interest that was created within England for a ‘rediscovery’ of the Orthodox Spiritual Tradition and Theology, on the occasion -then- of the presence of the Russian diaspora in Western Europe. During the pre-war years, the annual conferences of the Fellowship brought together the biggest names of the Russian theologians of the diaspora (Lossky, Boulgakov, Zander, Zenkovsky, Berdiaeff), but also distinguished Anglican theologians, such as Reverend Derwas Chitty and professor H.A. Hodges, Bishops Gore and Frere, professor Mascal and the current Archbishop Ramsey (1973), who have formed with their presence the spiritual life of the Anglican Church.
Today the Fellowship is widely known within the theological and ecclesiastical circles of England, not only with its annual conferences that it organises but also with the quarterly magazine which it publishes, entitled SOBORNOST. Secretary of the Fellowship and editor of the magazine is Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, A.M. Allchin, member of the University of Oxford and author of a number of theological books. Allchin has around him a team of young researchers, who research topics concerning orthodox theology, channelling on a regular basis the fruits of their work to the pages of the journal. The majority of these Anglican theologians know Modern Greek and that is why the journal presents a special interest for the Greek reader, since in its pages one can find regularly valuable book reviews of Greek theological books – valuable, because in Greece such a level of academic criticism is scarce.
Since we are speaking about the journal SOBORNOST, it should be added that in England a second journal circulates, exclusively dedicated in the study of the Orthodox Church and Traditions, the ‘EASTERN CHURCHES REVIEW’, which is edited by Anglican George Every, Roman Catholic Robert Murray and Orthodox Archimandrite from the monastery of Patmos and professor of the University of Oxford Kallistos-Timothy Ware. Two specifically important journals, a good number of important publications specialising in Orthodox Theology and spirituality, two houses-centres of the Fellowship (one in London and one in Oxford) and one professorship in Oxford for the study and the research of the Orthodox Church, are the somewhat subjective evidence of interest that exists in England in regards to the Orthodox Church.
This year’s ten day conference in Winchester was attended by nearly 100 people, mainly from England, but also from America, France, Belgium, Italy and Scandinavia. Not everyone were theologians; nevertheless, an important percentage of the people who came from different disciplines, gathered together at the Fellowship due to a living interest for a more systematic encounter and engagement with the Orthodox Church.   With sadness, I have to point out that at the conference there was no Greek priest from the Archdiocese of Thyateira, despite having nearly fifty all around the country, and of course no representative from the Greek theological schools or from the Church of Greece.  Therefore, mainly the liturgical representation of Orthodoxy was  exclusively restricted to the Russians – and I point this out not to point out any racial antagonism, but as an but as a substantial lack highly significant towards the Anglicans; of course, the Europeanization of the Russian church music, the sentimentalism in worship and the westernised style of the Russian icons promotes to the eyes of the Europeans only one aspect of Orthodox spirituality and tradition and it deprives them from more authentic elements of the Byzantine wealth of Orthodoxy, which have been maintained within the Greek Church….
…I think that during the last years, during the meetings where different Christian denomination are represented, a new distinction appears, on a different level from that of denominational divisions. I would claim that the divisions in Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox subsidies, not for the sake of a naïve ecumenical syncretism, but in order for another distinction to be revealed – two distinct groups of theologians: On the one hand are those who understand theology as a professional employment (scientific, social or and a political employment) and the dogma as an abstract ideology, and discuss the denominational differences on the dead level of following the letter of theoretical and scholastic formalities. And on the other hand, there are those who understand theology and dogma as an existential problem with life consequences and specific historic and cultural implications, they understand the theological basis of the stalemate that is apparent in the western or consumer society and they search for the size of the authentic ecclesiastical and existential life within the tradition of a unified and undivided Christendom. The first can be conservative or liberal, ecumenical or anti-ecumenical, but definitely irrelevant with the life of the Churchand the problem of the salvation of the modern person. The second, I believe consist a promising lively yeast within the dead paste of the fossilised objective “truths” of “scientific” theology. And I would like to point out that the second group of quality of theologians gave the major tone in the bright gathering in Winchester”.

[1] Γιανναράς, Χρήστος, Το Προνόμιο της Απελπισίας, (Αθήνα, Εκδόσεις Γρηγόρη, 1983), p. 240-244 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A cross in a tree

A modern miracle or mere coincidence..? In Xanthi, a city in Northern Greece, the locals of Likodromiou cut a tree, located at the back garden of the Church of St. Constantine and St. Helen. However, they were all amazed when they identified a cross in the centre of the tree. Many tried to explain it; they tried to understand whether it was a natural phenomenon or a miracle. Nevertheless, the local priest placed part of the tree within the Church.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Khomiakov on Tradition and Scripture

Khomiakov, a Russian Theologian, gives an Orthodox understanding of the relationship between Tradition and Scripture.
“…between tradition, works, and scripture there is no contradiction, but, on the contrary, complete agreement. A man understands the Scriptures, so far as he preserves tradition, and does works agreeable to the wisdom that lives within him. But the wisdom that lives within him is not given to him individually, but as a member of the Church, and it is given to him in part, without altogether annulling his individual error; but to the Church it is given in the fullness of truth and without any admixture of error…

The man who takes Scripture only, and founds the Church on it alone, is in reality rejecting the Church, and is hoping to found her afresh by his own powers: the man who take tradition and works only, and depreciates the importance of Scripture, is likewise in reality rejecting the Church, and constituting himself a judge of the Spirit of God, who spake by the Scripture. For Christian knowledge is a matter, not of intellectual investigation, but of a living faith, which is a gift of grace…in the Church there has not been, nor ever will  be, any contradictions, either in Scripture, or in tradition, or in works; for in all three is Christ, one and unchangeable”[1].

[1] Khomiakov, A.S., The Church is One, (London, S.P.C.K., 1948), p. 17-18

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Church of the Virgin of the Burgh, Rhodes

The Church of the Virgin of the Burgh is located at the Gate of the Virgin Mary, in the Old Town of Rhodes, a Greek island in the South Aegean Sea. It dates back to the 14th century. Unfortunately, today only the three apses are standing together with parts of the small chapel. Nevertheless, it is obvious that it is a grand monument. It is proof of a unique ecclesiastical architecture within this Aegean island, which was developed during the epoch of the knights and the crusades.

This Roman Catholic church was most likely one of the first buildings built by the knight Templars, who, after Jerusalem, they moved their headquarters to Rhodes and finally to Malta. During the Turkish occupation of the island, this church was transformed into a mosque. Nevertheless, its importance is evident, since the other Roman Catholic churches of the islands from that time do not exist today, being thus an important building for the history of Rhodes.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

First Day Cover – Classic Locomotives of Northern Ireland

The new Royal Mail First Day Cover has dedicated its new stamps to the classic locomotives of Northern Ireland, depicting the history of transportation and showing the technology of the past. A wide variety of steam locomotives have been used on Ireland’s railways. However, Irish railways generally followed British practice in locomotive design. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Who are the catechumens of the modern Church?

Catechumens is a weird word, especially for our modern world. There are two questions that we will analyse here: 1. what are catechumens? 2. Who are the catechumens of the modern Church?
A catechumen is someone who is preparing to enter the Church, who is mainly an adult. An induction period precedes Baptism and Chrismation or just Chrismation (when received by a member of another Christian denomination), which can vary according to the priest and according to the Archdiocese. Nevertheless, a change has been evident since the ancient Church. During the first centuries of Christianity there were many catechumens, who became Christians during certain main festivities during the year, such as Theophany and Pascha. The induction period could last from 1-3 years. However, this group slowly disappeared, since Christianity became an established religion.

Today, we have two kinds of catechumens within the life of the Church. Christianity is constantly expanding, therefore new converts are evident. These are the new catechumens. Also mix marriages have introduced people to the Church.
The second group of modern catechumens, however, are the Christian faithful who are already Christians, being therefore the larger in number. During the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (the main Liturgy celebrated within the Orthodox Church) after the Bible reading, before the Cherubic Hymn, we hear the deacon say ‘All the Catechumens leave…’ showing that the Liturgy is only for the members of the Body of Christ. Hearing this one Sunday I told the deacon in my church that one day everyone in the church will leave, because we are all catechumens. The worrying fact of modern life is that many Orthodox faithful have no time to read the Bible, read books on the Church, the Church Fathers and the teachings of the Church. Therefore, despite coming to the Church during the Divine Liturgy, not many know what we are doing, why we do certain things or even what we are saying (especially since the language used is not one that the people understand – for example in the Greek Church the Liturgy is celebrated in Ancient Greek, which no one speaks).

It is imperative that the Church today sees this as a great problem. A solution needs to be found. Maybe the Orthodox Church should introduce an A-course of faith, teachings, in order for people to come and further understand their faith. This latter group of catechumens, despite being part of the Body of Christ, they still do not know the fundamentals of the faith. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book Review: Protheoria of the Biolakes Typikon

Protheoria of the Biolakes Typikon, Translated by Fr. Konstantinos Terzopoulos, (Orthodox Research Institute, New Hampshire, 2011)

Orthodoxy has been spreading and has been evolving within the Anglo-Saxon world. It is, therefore, inevitable that many of the works produced in the East have been and continue to be translated into the English language. The Protheoria of the Biolakes Typikon is a book which provides the English speaking reader a general outline of the structure of the mysteries and services as they should be appropriately ordered for use within all the Orthodox parishes word wide; hence the ‘taxis’, i.e. the Order, of the Divine Mysteries of the Ecclesia forms the guidelines for the services during the whole year.

It is the first time that a work like this is produced in English, being a translation of the 1888 Patriarchal edition of the Ecclesiastical Typikon of the Great Church of Christ, Constantinople. “The goal of the present translation of the Protheoria of the Typikon is to bring to the English reader a general overview of the actual structure of the services as they are to be properly ordered for use in the parishes” (p. v). In 1880 a seven member Synodal Committee was commissioned by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Protopsaltes Georgios Biolakes was a member of this committee which was given the express purpose of clarifying all ambiguous points in previous typika. 

It is of course not a book for the everyday reader, since it specialises in the order of all the services celebrated according to the Orthodox Byzantine rite; nevertheless it is of tremendous help for the chanters, priests, deacons, readers and acolytes within a parish who wish to follow the Holy Tradition of the Byzantine Church. The Biolakes Typikon maintains an important place within Orthodoxy since it is a revised version of previous, Byzantine typika. Therefore, whoever is interested in Byzantine Music and the way with which the Orthodox Church celebrates its Sacraments, then this book will enlighten the reader into the practices of Orthodoxy[1].  

[1] Salapatas, Dimitris, “Book Reviews”, Koinonia, New Series No. 61, Eastertide/Pentecost 2013, p. 73-74

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kesariani Forest, Athens - The Hidden Church

Near the centre of the Greek capital, the visitor can easily and quickly reach the Forest of Kesariani. The Forest is located behind the Panepistimioupoli, which is the area where many schools of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens exist, including the School of Theology, Philosophy, Mathematics, Physics and many more. The forest reaches the top of the Ymmitos Mountain, which hugs the Eastern part of Athens.

Here, the Philodassiki Enosi Athinon was founded in 1899. Its main objective was the reforestation of fallow land, the encouragement of forest lovers and the protection of the natural environment. It undertook the initiative of the reforestation of the hills in and around Athens. Therefore with this initative, the hills of Lycabettus, Philopappou, Ardittos, the Nymphs and Pnyka were reforested simultaneously with the slopes of the Acropolis.

In 1945, the late president of Philodassiki, Kaiti Argyropoulou, undertook the initiative for the reforestation of the area around the Byzantine Monastery of Kessariani. This resulted in the planting of more than three million trees within the area. In 1964 a small Botanical Garden was also created with an assorted and abundant collection of Greek wild herbs, plants, bushes and trees.

Currently Philodassiki’s aim is not only the creation of new forests, but also their protection from trespassers of any kind. It has encouraged and increased awareness on the importance of Greek forests and of their conservation.

Walking around the forest one is reminded of the beauties of nature. It is amazing how a forest exists so close to Athens, which is known for not being a ‘green’ city. However, here the visitor can also find the Byzantine Monastery of Kessariani. Also a small cave-like chapel of the Ascension of Christ is found here, which is a place where the locals brings icons to be blessed, showing how both Church and Environment coexist.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Paradox of Orthodoxy

Reading Metropolitan Kallistos’ book, “The Inner Kingdom”, I came across a beautiful passage, written by Fr. Lev Gillet, who sums up the paradox of Orthodoxy in the 20th century, claiming:

“O strange Orthodox Church, so poor and so weak…maintained as if by a miracle through so many vicissitudes and struggles; Church of contrasts, so traditional and yet at the same time so free, so archaic and yet so alive, so ritualistic and yet so personally mystical; Church where the Evangelical pearl of great price is preciously safeguarded-yet often beneath a layer of dust…Church which has so frequently proved incapable of action-yet which knows, as does no other, how to sing the joy of Pascha”.  (p. 24)

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Church of St. Martin within Ludgate

The Church of St. Martin within Ludgate was once the most western limit of the original city of London that was built by the Romans almost 2.000 years ago. Beneath the church are the foundations of the Roman city wall and the later medieval city wall. The west gateway to the city spanned the road outside. It was known as the Lud Gate, supposedly named after the mythical British king Lud, but more likely it derives from fludgate (floodgate) or the old English ludgeat (postgate). Through this gate passed rich and poor, famous and unknown, across the centuries.

Legend says that the first church here was built by the British king Cadwallo in the 7th century, around the time of the first St. Paul’s cathedral. A church dating at least from Norman times was rebuilt in 1437. St. Marti’s is named after a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity in northern France.
The Native American princess Pocahontas is believed to have visited this church when she lived on Ludgate Hill in 1616 and was befriended by the rector of St. Martin’s, Samuel Purchas. Admiral Sir William Penn, the naval reformer and father of the founder of Pennsylvania, was married here in 1643. His Admiralty colleague Samuel Pepys was also a visitor.
The medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The local diarist John Evelyn saw hot lead from St. Paul’s roof “melting down the street in a stream”. It was then that today’s church was built.
The great architect Sir Christopher Wren designed this church, mostly completed in 1684. The splendid 168ft spire was created as a counterpoint to the great dome of his St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is said that Wren liked to stand on the spire’s balcony in order to oversee the work on St. Paul’s.

In its time, Ludgate Hill has been a centre of publishing and law, business and refreshment. Newxt door to the church in 1731 was opened the London Coffee House, where the likes of Benjamin Franklin later discussed issues of the day. The Lud Gate survived until 1760, when it was taken down from impeding traffic. Ludgate Hill has been the route of some of the great processions of British history: the procession to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the celebration of the union of England and Scotland, the victories at Blenheim and Waterloo, the silver jubilee of Queen Victoria.
In WW II only a favourable wind gave St. Martin’s a narrow escape from the fires in the air raids of December 1940 in the London Blitz. This was the least damaged of all the City churches, and it is still one of the best preserved of Wren’s creations.