Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Old Church of St Andrew the Apostle, Patra

Patra is the city where St Andrew was martyred. However, it is also the place where they venerate him greatly. There are two Churches in the centre of Patras, the new and the old Church. The old one was built between 1836 and 1843 at the place where St Andrew was martyred.

In front of the Iconostasis is the marble Tomb of Christ’s Apostle. However, in the mid- 4th century, Emperor Constantine transferred the Saint’s Relics to the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople. When the Franks invaded the Byzantine capital, the relics where transferred to Italy. Nevertheless, on the 26th September 1964, the relics where moved back to the city of Patra with the help of Pope Paul, after the negotiations that took place between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Greece. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

God is above knowledge

Mankind has always tried to know its deity. It always tried to fully understand God. Not knowing or not understanding his will means, for some, that He does not exist. However, how wise would it be if we understood that we will not understand Him? God is above knowledge. This notion, fully understood, will liberate our thought and allow for faith to show the path we should take. St John Damascene explains the fact that God is above knowledge, claiming:

‘God, then, is infinite and incomprehensible, and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility. All that we can say cataphatically concerning God does not show forth His nature but the things that relate to His nature . . . . God does not belong to the class of existing things: not that He has no existence, but that He is above all existing things, nay even above existence itself. For it all forms of knowledge have to do with what exists, assuredly that which is above knowledge must certainly be also above essence; and, conversely, that which is above essence will also be above knowledge.’[1]

[1] ‘De fide orthodoxa’, I, 4, P.G., XCIV, 800 BA. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Fr John Behr Speaks at the 2014 Constantinople Lecture

The Anglican and Eastern Churches Association in association with The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius organised the annual Constantinople Lecture on Thursday 27th November 2014. The lecture was given by Fr John Behr, who is Dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. The title of the lecture was ‘Take Back Death! Christian Witness in the Twenty-First Century.’ The event took place in St Mellitus College. The evening began with Evening Prayer, led by the Chairman, Revd Dr William Taylor. Following, Fr William introduced Dr Catherine Reid, who had won the AECA Travel Award in commemoration of the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan. She then gave a brief account of her time at St Elisabeth’s Convent in Belarus.

Following is a summary of the lecture given by Fr John Behr, which can be found in the new edition of the AECA’s journal KOINONIA[1]. Also it will be broadcasted on the Voice of the Church, a programme aired on the London Greek Radio (LGR – 103.3 FM).
Modern medicine and health care today is much better than what it was in the past. We now have every expectation that every illness will be cured. Currently the physicians treat not the patient but the illness. We have the depersonalising medicine. The patients are actually not treated. The physician has become the high priest of the modern life. What is, therefore, life? What is human life? Human beings are more than living beings. They are endowed with logos.
Christ has stated ‘I am life.’ He is the very life and light of the world. Life is more or other than what biology explains. Life is something that we should acquire; something that we should live into; something that we should be born into. We live radically different lives than our predecessors; this is evident when understanding death. The manner with which we act after the death of a loved one has changed. The body is now given to the death industry. Our focus is on the body, not death.

The problem has yet to be addressed on a theological level. If we don’t see death, we don’t see the face of God. Life comes through death. If we don’t see death, then we only see this life. Christ has set us free from the fear of death. He turned death inside our; He formed a new life, sacrificial love. This reversal is located in the heart of the Gospel. By His death, Christ beat death. What was the end, is now the beginning. The speaker then explained in great detail the Creation of the world, the Creation of man. God’s Creation is yet not complete. There is no issue of no perfection. Perfection in Christ is his death for love. God is patient; while we learn by experience of our own weakness and death during our own apostasy. We become acquainted with God through death, seeing our dependence on God.
The death of a martyr is their birthday, their entrance into life. The terms life and death are reversed. However, we should not seek the death of Martyrdom. This was explained by many Fathers. Our life takes meaning when we love, when we devote it to a self-sacrificial service. If we don’t recognise that life comes through death, then our horizons will become immanent. We see only ourselves, in this life. We block death from our sight.

One of Christianity’s task today is challenging the presuppositions of modern life. We are in a crisis (a notion with which the speaker began this lecture). The real course of crisis is that we have been put in crisis by Christ. Now is the judgement of the world, meaning that now is the crisis of the world. Our judgement related to how we respond to it.
After the talk, Fr Stephen Platt, Secretary of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius had the opportunity to speak briefly about the speaker and give a Fellowship presence to this event. The evening finished with light refreshments, where everyone had the opportunity to speak to Fr John Behr one to one and ask questions on the lecture. The 2015 Constantinople Lecture will take place on Thursday 19th November 2015 at St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Moscow Road. More information will be published and advertised close to the date.

[1] Behr, John, ‘Take Back Death! Christian Witness in the Twenty-First Century’, KOINONIA, (New Series No. 64, Advent 2014), pp. 7-22. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Numbering of Sacraments in the Orthodox Church

How many sacraments are there in the Orthodox Church? The answer varies according to what one believes. The number, according to the various Greek Fathers, varies dramatically. Some claim there are five, others follow the Western tradition where seven is the number, others claim there are thirteen, ten, nine etc. Following is an interesting abstract written by Dr Nikolaos Matsoukas who gives an interesting explanation of this key topic.

‘In the scholastic manuals of dogmatic theology it is said that priesthood is one of the seven sacraments. This numbering originates in the scholastics of the West, led by Thomas Aquinas. Since the 14th century the Orthodox church imperceptibly allowed the circulation of this view, which was later imposed mainly by academic theology. The fullest theological analyses of the sacraments are found in two works by Nikolaos Kavasilas, About Life in Christ and Interpretation of the Holy Liturgy. A numbering of the sacramental ceremonies is not even implied there. On the contrary, Kavasilas emphasizes that the entire body of the church is expressed through the sacraments. In other words, the church itself as body is sacramental life in its gathering, participating in the glory of the divine kingdom. No sacrament can be autonomous, since sacraments are members and not parts of the ecclesiastical body. Thus Kavasilas (a) by using wonderful pictorial illustrations tells us that the sacraments are like chambers of the heart, like the branches of a tree and like vines spreading from a single root; and (b) by adopting a language of physiology he tells us that baptism is birth, chrism is movement and the eucharist is nourishment. No one can move or be fed without having been born!
Therefore the numbering of the sacraments may result in isolation or separation of the individual sacramental ceremonies, which merely participate in the body, but are not the body itself; it may convey the opinion that these are mechanical or magic ceremonies. Numbering may also result in the adoption of the unacceptable distinction between obligatory and voluntary. However, even the choice of a chaste life constitutes a marriage with the church. Thus we come to realize that the sacraments are not mechanical or magical, or symbolic rituals, because they grew and still grow in natural and historical events: in the history of divine economy, which is the continuous course of a living historical community through constant epiphanies, Christ is the master of ceremonies and high priest. In the gathering of the church body, the deacons, presbyters and bishops perform the sacraments as charismatic ministers who received the necessary grace through the ordination. In other words, there is no mediating priesthood in the Orthodox church. All the members of the church participate in all the sacraments and their participation in the gathering for the performance of a sacrament is necessary – the presence of at least two or three members is necessary. This is the meaning of royal priesthood, or of general priesthood.’[1]

[1] Matsoukas, Nikolaos, ‘Women’s Priesthood as a Theological and Ecumenical Problem’, in Tamara Grdzelidze (edit.), One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic – Ecumenical Reflections on the Church, (Geneva, WCC Publications, 2005), pp.218-219. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Christmas 2014 - Royal Mail First Day Cover

This year’s Christmas Royal Mail First Day Cover follows a number of secular themes, identifying some of the Christmas traditions in Britain. The ones depicted in this series are the Christmas tree, sending Christmas wishes to friends and relatives, making a snowman (if it snows, of course), singing Christmas carols and going for ice scatting. For the time being we are still ‘permitted’ to call this festivity Christmas and not Winter Festivities, as is the case in many instances. Let us hope that this will not change and that the secular traditions will complement the true meaning of this festive period, i.e. the religious part of it – the birth of the Son of God, who came down to earth ‘for our sake and for our salvation.’ 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ouzo Factory, Mytilene

Ouzo is one of the most famous alcoholic drinks in Greece. The island of Lesvos has a tradition of making it, especially the Ouzo Mini, which is born in Mytilene, the island’s capital city. Since the 1800, tavern owners in Mytilene have tried to make ouzo from a number of ingredients found on the Aegean island. In 1967 EPOM is founded, bringing together 17 distillers. Their goal was to take their ouzo to all corners of the world, which they have achieved. Currently, the ouzo factory in Mytilene is one of the biggest ones of its kind in Greece, producing thousands of tons of ouzo annually.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Peloponnesian Christmas Charity Tea

The Peloponnesian Association of Great Britain organised a Christmas Charity Tea on Sunday 23rd November 2014 at the Kensington Close Hotel, in central London. The goal of this event was to collect money in order to purchase various clothes and goods for the children with disabilities, housed in PIKPA Voula, in Greece. This objective was successful, since £1000 were collected for this cause. The event attracted many people from all over Greece. We had the honour and pleasure to have with us the Consul of Greece, Mr. Sotirios Demestichas.

Kensington Close Hotel (Wright’s Ln, Kensington, London W8 5SP) will also hold the Peloponnesian Annual Dinner and Dance on the 14th February. More information on this event to follow soon here and on the Association’s Facebook page: Peloponnesian Association of Great Britain. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Venerating the Saints

The Orthodox Church is known for venerating the Saints, adoring the interior of the Church with countless icons dedicated to them. Every day of the year is a celebration of a certain Saint. Also the Orthodox show a great importance to the Nameday (the day we venerate a certain Saint), in contrast to the Birthday, which takes second place. Why do the Orthodox venerate the Saints? St John of Damascus gives a brief exegesis of this reality, claiming:

“We ought to honour the saints as friends of Christ, as sons and heirs of God, as John the Theologian and Gospel-writer says: ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God.’[1] ‘Wherefore they are no more servants, but sons; and if sons, also heirs of God through Christ’[2].”[3]

[1] John 1, 12.
[2] Gal. 4, 7.
[3] Cavarnos, Constantine, Byzantine Sacred Music, (Massachusetts, Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1981), p.13.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Liturgical Glorification of the Mother of God

Whoever goes to the Orthodox Church will identify that iconographically and hymnographically, Orthodox venerates and prays to the Theotokos constantly. She plays a crucial role in our faith, in our understanding of salvation, as is expressed also in Scripture and the Tradition of the Orthodox Church. How, therefore, do we understand this liturgical veneration and glorification of the Mother of God?

‘The liturgical glorification of the Mother of God is theocentric and christocentric. It is always set in the perspective of the history of salvation but also concerns her personally as one who possesses the gifts of freedom. Mary is not a passive instrument, not simply the womb through which the Word passed in taking flesh. Her glory does not consist solely in the fact that she nursed the Son of God.’[1]  

[1] Behr-Sigel, Elisabeth, The Ministry of Women in the Church, (California, Oakwood Publications, 1991). p.193. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Greek Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary Eleousa, Nottingham

The Greek Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary Eleousa, in located near the Nottingham’s city centre. The Greek Orthodox community exists there since the 1980s, when it was bought from the United Reformed Church, which was closed in 1979, known then as St. James’ Church. The Feast day of the Church is on the 21st November, when the Orthodox Church celebrates the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple.

This Orthodox Church is one of many Orthodox communities, which has bought the building from either Anglicans or other Protestant churches, showing the good relations between the two ecclesiastical traditions. An interesting fact is that the Greek Archdiocese in Britain has over 115 churches under its jurisdiction. Only five have been built by the Orthodox. The rest have been bought or even in some cases the two traditions co-exist within the same building. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mary associated with the work of salvation

Mary, the Mother of God, plays a key role in the salvation of creation, in the salvation of all humans. Her position in Christianity is key. That is why everyone speak about her, pray to her and ask for her intercessions. Being our Mother, we examine her life and her role in our salvation. This is exactly what Elisabeth Behr-Sigel does in her book The Ministry of Women in the Church. Below is her argument, showing that she is not only the model for women but the model for all of us.

‘. . . By associating Mary with the work of salvation, the Lord did not however simply use her as a passive instrument. Likewise, she is not simply the personification of maternity as a biological function. The Orthodox tradition in particular has always insisted on the liberty of Mary’s fiat, a liberty that is the inalienable image of God in humanity. It is this image of God, inalienable but darkened by sin, that, according to the grace of God and the divine pedagogy, shines anew in the Mother of God. This is why she is the seed and the image of the Church, of humanity saved in hope. She is not therefore just “the womb that bore” Jesus and “the breast that” he “sucked” (Lk 11:27). . . Mary is the one who heard the word of God and kept it (Lk 11:28) and who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Seen in this light, Mary is by no means the model only for women. She is the image neither of a submissive and obedient femininity, in conformity with a certain cultural stereotype, nor of an ideally beautiful human femininity, according to the aesthetic canon of a given age. . . Mary is both a woman and a human person as well as the inheritor of the women and prophetesses of the Old Testament, of Miriam, Deborah, Anne and Houlda who are associated with her in some ancient prayers for the consecration of deaconesses. She personifies human liberty restored, delivered from the ancient slavery, according to divine grace and looking forward to the Incarnation of the Son of God. In her, because she welcomed the Word, “he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree” (the Magnificat, Lk 1:52). Mary is the figure of human hope already on the road to realization. She walks ahead of us all as the typos of Christ-bearing (christophoros) humanity because she bears the Spirit (pneumatophoros): humanity gratia plena, purified, fruitful, sanctified by Christ and the Spirit. Her unique and personal maternity, whose dignity, however, falls on the most humble human maternity, receives by this fact a universal meaning. In her, the new humanity has the characteristics of a woman.’ (pp. 59-60).           

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Being in the hands of God

The Saints of the Orthodox Church are the best example of God’s plan for His creation. We can base our faith to God on their existence, who constantly verify His existence and love for mankind. This reality is evident in the Holy Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church, which has as an ultimate objective, our communion with God; our theosis.

‘There is nothing more precious than to be in the hands of God, for God is life and light, and those who are in the hands of God are in the midst of life and light.
When we study the Acts of the Apostles and the history and martyrology of our saints, we can see that in different places and times, and under hard or extreme conditions, the saints of God through their martyrdom and their miracles have confirmed the teaching of our Lord: “Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done” (Matt. 21:21).
The divinely-inspired accomplishments of the holy men and martyrs, the confessors of the faith and the saints, that fill us with wonders and amazement, glorify our Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ.’[1]

[1] Chrysostomos, Bishop of Chalkis, ‘Preface to the First Greek Edition’, in Father Ioannis Vernezos, Life and Recent Miracles of Saint John the Russian, (Prokopi, 1999), p. 17. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Christmas Charity Tea

On Sunday 23rd November 2014, at 16.00, the Peloponnesian Association of Great Britain is organising a Christmas Charity Tea. The event will take place at Kensington Close Hotel, Wright’s Ln, Kensington, London W8 5SP.

The proceeds will be donated for the purchase of various clothes and goods for the children with disabilities, housed in PIKPA Voula, in Greece. The price for this charity event is £25.

For more information for this event and in regards to the Peloponnesian Association of Great Britain please check our Facebook page – Peloponnesian Association of Great Britain - and our website -

Monday, November 17, 2014

Prime Ministers - Royal Mail First Day Cover

The newest Royal Mail First Day Cover is dedicated to the British Prime Ministers. The first Prime Minister is thought to have been Sir Robert Walpole, whose 21-year premiership is still a record. The position has evolved over time and is not defined in law; formally, the Prime Minister is simply the ‘First Lord of the Treasury.’ Prime Ministers are invited to form a government by the monarch, but they must have the support of Parliament. There have been 53 Prime Ministers, averaging five and a half years in office. The eight PMs in this new collection are:

Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, PM 1979 – 1990. The first woman to become Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher led the longest continuous government since the 1820s. She won three general elections in a row and carried through a radical programme of privatisation, tax cuts and reform of trade union law. She was nicknamed ‘The Iron Lady’ by a Soviet newspaper; her reputation for toughness was strengthened by the Falklands War of 1982 and the miners’ strike during 1984-85. She resigned after a leadership challenge in 1990.
Harold Wilson, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, PM 1964 – 1970, 1974 – 1976. Invariably seen smoking a pipe, Harold Wilson came to office at a time of growing economic difficulty and extraordinary social change. His governments founded the Open University, passed the first Race Relations Act and held Britain’s first national referendum on membership of the European Community. His premiership saw major reform to the law on abortion, homosexuality, divorce and capital punishment. A skilful tactician, he is the only modern leader to win four general elections.
Clement Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, PM 1945 – 1951. Having fought in the First World War, Clement Attlee served as deputy Prime Minister during the Second World War before winning a landslide victory in the 1945 election. He was the first Labour leader to form a majority government, establishing the National Health Service and the ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state. His governments nationalised large parts of the economy and granted independence to former colonies in India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Jordan.
Sir Winston Churchill, PM 1940 – 1945, 1951 – 1955. Winston Churchill let Britain during the Second World War, steering his country through the Battle of Britain, the Blitz and the coming of Victory in Europe. He was one of the greatest orators of modern times, and his wartime speeches are celebrated across the world. A historian, a journalist, artist and wit, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 and is only the second non-American to have been made an honorary citizen of the United States. He was given a state funeral in his death in January 1965, watched by millions around the world.
William Ewart Gladstone, PM 1868 – 1874, 1880 – 1885, 1886 – 1886, 1892 – 1894. The ‘Grand Old Man’ of British politics, William Gladstone was Prime Minister four times and an MP for 60 years. A spellbinding orator, he cut taxes, extended free trade and passed major reforms of the church, army and civil service. His governments carried the first national Education Act and doubled the electorate in the Third Reform Act of 1884. His attempt to grant Home Rule to Ireland split the Liberal Party in 1886.
Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, PM 1834 – 1835, 1841 – 1846. Sir Robert Peel was both the founder of the Conservative Party and the man who came closer to destroying it. A skilled financier, he transformed the tax system and propelled Britain into the age of the free trade. Yet his decision to repeal the Corn Laws in 1846 brought down his government and split the Conservative Party for a generation. He also founded the Metropolitan Police, whose officers were nicknamed ‘Bobbies’ or ‘Peelers’ in his memory.
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, PM 1830 – 1834. Early Grey is remembered chiefly for the ‘Great’ Reform Act, passed after a lengthy and sometimes violent struggle in 1832. This act expanded the electorate, abolished ‘rotten boroughs’ and standardised the electoral qualification, building the foundations for modern democracy. His governments abolished slavery in the British Empire, limited the employment of women and children in factories, and passed the new Poor Law. Earl Grey tea was named in his honour.
William Pitt, the Younger, PM 1783 – 1801, 1804 – 1806. Just 24 when he took office, William Pitt was the youngest Prime Minister in British history. The son of a previous Prime Minister (William Pitt the Elder), he led Britain into the Napoleonic Wars in 1793, reformed the government of India and introduced the first ever income tax. He passed the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland and tried, unsuccessfully, to abolish the slave trade. He died in office in 1806, just 46 years old.     

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Academic theology is not enough for salvation

Academic theology is, in many respects, very different to pastoral theology, to the theology taught and believed within the Orthodox Church. The first is a discipline, which searches for facts, the latter basis its beliefs on faith. In a previous post I had argued how dogmatic theology is polemic[1], which is the case of academic theology too, especially when describing the relations between Orthodoxy and the other churches or religions. Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov gives his views on this issue, stating that:

‘Academic theology is not enough for salvation. Read especially the ascetic Fathers. From them you will learn true theology, the right attitude of the mind and heart where God is concerned. Pure prayer is not given to those who study a lot. In that sense, the path of academic theology is hardly effective, and can rarely lead to pure prayer. . .
God can touch the spirit of man and give him, directly and immediately, knowledge of Himself. There is a great difference between this knowledge and that which is acquired in theological schools. It can be very dangerous to do theology without having an existential experience of life in the spirit of Christ. One risks, in fact, turning the study of theology, especially in its apophatic forms, into a subject like philosophy or poetry. One risks adopting a false attitude, thinking oneself superior, and that is enough for perdition. In our life in Christ, it is another kind of inspiration that we must seek.
Theological science, which is taught in academic institutions and has become an intellectual specialisation open to all, does not give knowledge of God. Knowledge of God comes from life in God, which is born in the deepest place of the heart. One can be a great scholar, with academic qualifications, and yet remain completely ignorant about the path of salvation.’[2]

[2] Sakharov, Archimandrite Sophrony, Words of Life, (Essex, Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 2010), pp. 40-42. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Orthodox Stone Art Work

One of the artistic characteristics of the Orthodox Church, found in a number of Greek islands, Constantinople and Macedonia - Northern Greece – (to name a few) is the stone art work found normally on the grounds of the Church, whether they are on the floor or on the walls. These artistic works primarily depict the cross, the symbol of Christ (XP), a fish, or any of the ancient Christian symbols. Below are a number of examples from Aegina, the island where Saint Nectarios was Bishop, where he lived and where he eventually died.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Importance of the Church Fathers

The importance of the Church Fathers is to be seen in the Creed, where we read: ‘in one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’. The term Apostolic emphasises the importance of apostolic succession; as John Romanides explains (in his book Romaioi or Romioi Fathers of the Church), apostolic succession points out ‘the participation in both the sacramental grace of the priesthood and the sanctifying grace of God’. 

The Church Fathers are the successors of the first Apostles. They reached the same experiences and grace as did the Apostles since Pentecost. The apostolic succession coincides, therefore, with the orthodoxy of faith and of the orthopraxia of the sacraments of the Church. The above emphasise the importance of the Church Fathers, who form the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, i.e. the explanation of the Bible, the Life and Faith of the Church. Without the Church Fathers, Christianity would have followed a different route. They are, thus, an integral part of the Christian World, of the Church.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Christian Freedom

The term freedom has altered over the centuries. It also receives a different meaning according to the different cultures, religions, philosophical beliefs etc. Does freedom truly exist in our world today? What do we mean by Christian Freedom?

‘Christian freedom is not merely a “freedom from” the world; it is also a positive experience and a positive dignity. It is not only a power to choose, but also the very likeness of God in man, unattainable except by communion with God. Once this communion is given, the world cannot take it back. In this sense Christian freedom is the joy and the dignity of the slaves, of the persecuted, of the deprived, and of the humiliated, in other words of all those who are the victims of this world, of its power, and of the determinism from which Christ freed man when He died on the Cross, and its meaning is best understood by those who are themselves suffering from the powerful.’[1] 

[1] Meyendorff, John, Living Tradition, (Crestwood, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978), p. 140.