Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Chapel of the Holy Twelve Apostles, Ayiassos

The small chapel of the Holy Twelve Apostles in the small town of Ayiassos, on the island of Lesvos, is located in the grounds of the Church of the Virgin Mary of Ayiassos[1], one of the most important Orthodox churches on the Greek island. This town is known for being a religious centre of Lesvos. The Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of the Twelve Apostles on the 30th of June.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The History of Scotch Whisky

In Latin, ‘aqua vitae’ means ‘water of life.’ In Gaelic this translates as ‘uisge beatha’ – later shortened to ‘uisge’ or ‘whisky’ in English. The first signs of distilling date back to 800 BC. The ancient art of distilling is believed to have its origins in the Far East. Nevertheless, the art of distillation reached British shores in the 6th century AD. The first written reference to the production of Scotch whisky dates back to 1494. Between 1536 and 1541 the knowledge of how to distil alcohol spreads into the community. This happened at around the same time as the monasteries were dissolved. Throughout Europe, wine was being distilled to make brandy; from the cereal crop of England came gin; whilst from the barley and spring of Scotland came whisky.

In 1644 the first tax is levied on whisky. The tax was 2/8d (equivalent to about £11 today). Nevertheless, the duties levied on whisky in 1644 were not effectively enforced until the Union of Parliaments in 1707, when the governments of Scotland and England joined to create Great Britain. Excise Officers were employed to ensure that whisky distillers paid their taxes, these officers were sometimes known as ‘Gaugers.’ Between 1785 and 1803 the taxes imposed on whisky continue to rise. Many distilleries were forced to cease trading and as a result illicit distilleries flourished. In 1823 an act to eliminate illicit distilling is introduced, known as The Excise Act. Many illicit stills became legal and the ‘smuggling’ of whisky declined to almost nothing. The main focus of this act was to reduce taxation on the product in return for the purchase of a licence to distil.

Usher’s Green Stripe becomes the first commercial blended whisky (1850/51). Unfortunately, a tiny louse – Phylloxera vastatrix arrives in Europe devastating vineyards across the continent (1860). Between 1880 and 1900 there is an increase of whisky entrepreneurs. In 1889 the first pagoda roof is built at a distillery in Speyside. In 1909, following debate over grain whisky’s status as Scotch whisky, a Royal Commission is appointed to create a legal definition of Scotch whisky. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Creatures of God to Sons of God

Darwinian Evolution is not a theory accepted by the Church and by many others who identify its weaknesses. At the end of the day, it is a theory. However the Christian Tradition does accept the idea of evolution in human history. C.S. Lewis gives a beautiful description of this idea, in his book Mere Christianity, where he states:

‘. . . the Next Step has already appeared. And it is really new. It is not a change from brainy men to brainier men: it is a change that goes off in a totally different direction – a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God. The first instance appeared in Palestine two thousand years ago. In a sense, the change is not ‘Evolution’ at all, because it is not something arising out of the natural process of events but something coming into nature from outside.’[1]  
Therefore, without the Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ mankind wouldn’t be able to ‘evolve’ from its initial status, i.e. creatures of God, to sons of God. His coming has allowed us to re-establish true communion not only between us, but also between us and God. This communion with God allows us to reach our true potential. As C.S. Lewis explains in the same book, ‘the only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose.’[2] Thus, communion is centre, not only in our religious expression, but also in our daily life and existence.

[1] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, (London, Collins, 2012), p.220.
[2] Ibid., p.213.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Edinburgh

In 1801 Bishop George Hay chose this site, near the centre of the Scottish capital, for a new Roman Catholic Church in Edinburgh. Earlier Roman Catholic Chapels in the centre of Edinburgh had been badly damaged in attacks by the mob, and Bishop Hay wanted the new church to be hidden from public view. The first Mass was celebrated in the new Chapel of St Mary’s in 1814.
The original Chapel – a small, rather plain, building – was designed by the Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham. It lay in the heart of a community of small shops and tenements, which extended almost to Prince Street. There would have been no church without the ‘pennies from the poor’ who lived locally.

The Industrial Revolution, the Highland Clearances and the Irish potato famine all contributed to a growth in Edinburgh’s Roman Catholic population in the 19th century. To reflect this, the Chapel – which became a Cathedral in 1886 after the restoration of the Scottish Catholic Hierarchy – was gradually extended over the years, and all that now survives of Graham’s original design is the Gothic façade.

Cardinal Gray welcomed Pope John Paul II to the Cathedral in 1982, on the occasion of his pastoral visit to Scotland. The Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and now serves a large, cosmopolitan city centre community. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Going Home

Where is our true home? Where do Christians belong? Are Christians part of this world? Do they belong to this world, or the next?

‘Liturgical worship is indeed the leisure, the “going home” of Christians inasmuch as they are through their baptism the citizens of the Kingdom of God, not of the world. The anticipated eschatology of the Eucharist is a relief, the very experience of a victory already won, which gives credit to Christ’s words: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).’[1]

[1] Meyendorff, John, Living Tradition, (Crestwood, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978), p. 144.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Metropolitan Kallistos on Christianity Today Magazine

Below is a small interview given by Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokelia on Christianity Today Magazine, where he talks on the issues: the Charismata of the Holy Spirit, the Issue of Becoming Orthodox and Church and State. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Beautiful Buildings in Prague

Each country has its own architectural and artistic style, making it unique from other countries, cultures and traditions. Here we have a number of beautiful buildings from the heart of Prague, from the Old Town, showing a certain character reminding us of a bright past. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

St Gregory Nazianzen on God

The Church Fathers have always tried to explain what God is, who He is, how He functions etc. There are many exegeses of God in the Orthodox Tradition. And they are very difficult to comprehend. Knowing God is not an easy endeavour. We can comprehend Him only through what he has shown to us. Here, St Gregory Nazianzen, one of the greatest Fathers of the Church, explains the dogma of the Trinity.

‘When I speak of God you must be illumined at once by one flash of light and by three. Three in Properties, or Hypostases, or Persons, if any prefer so to call them, for we will not quarrel about names so long as the syllables amount to the same meaning; but One in respect of the ουσία – that is, the Godhead. For they are divided indivisibly, if I may so say; and they are conjoined dividedly. For the Godhead is one in three, and the three are one in whom the Godhead is, or, to speak more accurately, Who are the Godhead.’[1] ‘The very fact of being unbegotten, or begotten, or proceeding, has given the name Father to the First, of the Son to the Second, and to the Third, Him of whom we are speaking, of the Holy Ghost, that the distinction of the Three Hypostases may be preserved in the one nature and dignity of the Godhead. For neither is the Son Father, for the Father is One, but He is what the Father is; nor is the Spirit Son because He is of God, for the Only-begotten is One, but He is what the Son is. The Three are One in Godhead, and the One Three in properties; so that neither is the Unity a Sabellian one, nor does the Trinity countenance the present evil division.’[2] [i.e. Arianism]. 

[1] ‘In sancta lumina, Oratio XXXIX, xi’, P.G., XXXVI, 345 CD.
[2] ‘Oratio XXXI (Theologica V), ix’ P.G., XXXVI, 144 A.

Monday, June 22, 2015

St Clara Church, Stockholm

The Church of Saint Clara is located in central Stockholm. Currently the church belongs to the cathedral (Storkyrkan), located in the old town of the Swedish capital. A Church has existed in this location since the 1280s. Its copper spire, on top of this brick 16th century church, rises from the cluster of dull, box-like 1960s buildings. 

The current church of St Clara was one of many churches built in the late 16th century during the reign of Johan II, who had a Catholic wife and a love of architecture. He decided to build here in the 1570s since it was the site of a former convent torn down in the Reformation. Inside the sunlit church the ceiling is painted with biblical scenes. The congregation gives out bread and coffee to the homeless, so the graveyard and nearby steps are often occupied by homeless people. Classical concerts are held at midday.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Church in the Modern World – Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius 2015 Conference

The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius is delighted to present details of this year's Fellowship Conference, taking place at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, near Oxford, from 17-19 August 2015.
The theme of this year's conference is The Church and the Modern World, and there is a full compliment of eminent speakers. A draft programme is attached, giving further details of lectures and other key conference events.
In addition to lectures and discussion, there will be an excursion to Oxford, visiting Christ Church Cathedral, the two Orthodox churches in Oxford and the home of the Fellowship at the House of St Gregory and St Macrina. The conference will provide opportunities for worship in the Anglican and Orthodox traditions.

As ever, there will be opportunities for free time and fellowship, and the chance to renew old friendships and make new ones.
Ripon College is one of the main theological colleges of the Church of England, and offers excellent new conference facilities.  There is an impressive new chapel, which has been granted awards on account of its innovative architecture. The college is set in beautiful Oxfordshire countryside with stunning views, in the village of Cuddesdon, six miles south of the centre of Oxford. Further details can be found at the college website - http://www.rcc.ac.uk/
Booking is now finally open and speedy reservation is recommended as en-suite rooms are in limited supply and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.
The conference is open to all, and is a good way to introduce our Fellowship to others, so please feel free to encourage friends who may be interested to come. For more information on the conference and to find the booking form for this event please visit: http://sobornost.org/conference.php

Friday, June 19, 2015

Martyrs of the Church

The word ‘martyr’ derives from the Greek language, meaning ‘witness’; and a martyr is originally a witness of Christ’s resurrection. In the Gospel of Mark we read: ‘But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate[c] what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore, martyria, witnessing meant that the person defended his faith, his belief in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ, refusing to abide by the pagan faith and rules. This martyrdom was a strong indication of true faith, of obedience to the truth of the Gospels and the Life of the Church.

Martyrdom has always existed within the life of the Church, since its beginning. It occupies a central part in the spiritual sphere of the Church, which has been founded not only on the blood of Christ on the Cross, but also on the blood of the Holy Martyrs. Despite Christianity as whole not being, currently, under persecution, as was evident during the early years of Christianity, we still do observe martyrdom in a number of areas, such as in the Middle East, where Christians are persecuted on a daily basis, making it not only a religious problem, a Christian problem, but also a socio-political issue, which has a global affect.
The Holy Martyrs are one of the categories of Sainthood in the Orthodox Church. On All Saints Sunday we sing the following hymn, showing the significance of the martyrs in Orthodoxy: “The Martyrs made the earth heaven by the radiance of their virtues, they imitated the death of Christ, they trod the way which brings immortality, they purified the passions of mortals by the surgery of grace, they competed nobly with their whole soul in all the world: let them be praised.”
Through their deification they reach the deeper meaning of what a human person is, i.e. according to the image and likeness of God, of the Holy Trinity. Christ claims to be the Way. Therefore, if we are permitted to use a metaphorical image, we could claim that the road to Sainthood (and to Salvation, theosis) is like a road. There are a number of routes, lanes and speeds one can take in order to finally reach his destination (theosis). Our lives can also be seen as an ocean, whereby the Saints are islands, scattered here and there, showing us the way and giving us an opportunity to rest. It is interesting how today we have ceased to consider the Saints as our role models; on the contrary, we all prefer to have footballers, models, actors as role models. However, our objective in life, theosis and salvation, can only be reached if we follow the example given to us by the Saints. They are the role models we all need to have if we wish to reach the Kingdom of God.  Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that ‘a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live’. Well, these saintly figures, these Holy Martyrs, died for what they believed, professed their faith in Christ and eventually died for God. They are saints because of their union with God. How many of us today would do this? They are, inevitably, the greatest inspiration for all Christians, who wish to reach their final goal, which for a Christian is the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens, a Modern Hero

Walking in central Athens, right in front of the Metropolitan Church of Athens, one finds the statue of Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens. He was Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece from and also Regent of Greece (1944-46). He claims this prominent position in Athens, due to the fact that he assisted the people who suffered, during the German Occupation of Greece, and defended their rights and freedom and opposed strongly to the persecution and holocaust of the Greek Jews.

Knowing what had happened in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, he advised the Jewish community of Athens to dissolve itself and flee. He also instructed the Greek Orthodox clergy to issue false baptismal papers to anyone who needed them. He even encouraged the priests to ask their congregations to hide the Jews in their own homes. Because of this courage and defiance towards Nazi Germany, he is considered a great Modern Greek hero, promoting life and dignity and not death and evil. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Minerva of York

Walking around the historic city of York, in Northern England, one gets to see a number of beautiful and characteristic themes and artefacts, reminding us of an ancient past. Near York Minster, on Petergate which was the main cross street of Roman York, one finds a small statue of Minerva, the equivalent to Goddess Athena from Ancient Greek Religion and Mythology, who was the Goddess of Wisdom. Here Athena, or Minerva, is sitting with an owl and a pile of books, a reminder of the days when this was the street of bookbinders and booksellers. Interestingly enough, this point is the main road intersection of Roman York and the entrance to the Principia, i.e. the Roman military headquarters. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Old Town, Prague

Mentioned in 1091, Prague Old Town is the oldest of the towns of the Czech capital, gaining the privileges of a town in the 13th century. Its name dates back to the 14th century when the New Town was founded. The centre of the Old Town has always been the Old Town Square dominated by the Church of Our Lady of Tyn, the Town Hall, St Nicholas Church and many more. The Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings were preserved here. The Historical centre, including the majority of the city’s major sites, became a UNESCO listed site in 1992.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Magna Carta – Royal Mail First Day Cover

The newest Royal Mail First Day Cover is dedicated to the Magna Carta, the Charter of Liberties granted by King John on 15 June 1215. Magna Carta was the outcome of a major political crisis in England in the autumn of 1214. In October, King John began levying taxes to fund failed campaign to recover Normandy, his ancestral inheritance, which the French had annexed ten years before. The barons in the north of England refused to pay and opposition quickly spread to East Anglia. At Bury St Edmunds, the barons swore to obtain a settlement with the king on the basis of the laws of Edward the Confessor, the pre-Conquest monarch whose justice they believed to have been a model of fairness. The turning point in the struggle came in May 1215, when London went over to the barons, giving them access to the city’s wealth and influence, and forcing John to negotiate. On 15 June, the two side reached agreement on the Charter at Runnymede, near Windsor, and copies of its terms were distributed to every part of the realm.

Magna Carta’s unique status as a fundamental text, guaranteeing freedom under the law, has inspired many charters, bills and declarations that have become milestones in the development of the ‘rule of law’ throughout history and across the world.
1265. Simon de Montfort first summoned a parliament in 1264, giving orders that the knights from the shires be elected. In 1265, in an initiative that acknowledged the growing importance of the towns, he also arranged for the election of burgesses. Together, these groups were to form the nucleus of the future House of Commons.
1689. The Bill of Rights, approved in December 1689, laid down certain fundamental personal liberties, chief among them no royal interference with the law, no taxation by royal prerogative, freedom to petition the monarch and freedom of speech in parliament.
1791. The American Bill of Rights is the collective name given to the first ten amendments to the American constitution, approved in 1791. They guaranteed freedoms of religion and speech, the liberty of the press, the right to petition and bear arms, and immunity against arbitrary search and arrest and excessive punishment.
1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948 in response to the horrors of war, represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled, including the right to life and the rights of the individual in civil society.

2013. The Charter of the Commonwealth sets out the core values and aspirations of the member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. It enshrines commitments to many principles, including participatory democracy, human rights, and international peace and security.  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The History of Prague

The history of the Czech capital is an epic story. Following is a brief history of Prague. First evidence of continuous occupation around the Prague area exists from 5500 to 4500 BC by various Germanic and Celtic tribes. Trade routes leading from Southern to Northern Europe pass through this area. Around the 6th century BC, one of the Celtic tribes, the Boii, are the first inhabitants known by name. This tribe named the region Bohemia and the river Vltava.  

In the 6th century AD the Slavs arrived, becoming the dominant population of the area around Prague. In the 8th century AD first settlements are established on the site of present day Prague, in the Lesser Town (Mala Strana).  Around 870 AD the Prague Castle was founded. In 926 AD a Romanesque rotunda is constructed, the original church built on the site of St Vitus Cathedral, in the grounds of Prague Castle. 973 AD saw the foundation of Prague bishopric. In 1085 AD Prague becomes the residence of the first Bohemian King Vratislav I. in 1172 Judita’s Bridge is constructed, the predecessor of Charles Bridge, and the second stone bridge in Central Europe.

Around 1230 we have the establishment of the Old Town. In 1257 Premysl Otakar II formalises the establishment of the Lesser Town, giving it town status and encouraging migrant from Northern Germany to settle there. In 1310 to 1346 John of Luxembourg rules as the King of Bohemia. In 1338 the significance of the city increases, with the foundation of the Old Town Hall. In 1344 Prague bishopric is upgraded to archbishopric, whereby we also have the commencing of the construction of St Vitus Cathedral. During the time of Charles IV (1346-1378) Prague becomes the capital of the Bohemian Kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire. In 1348 we have the founding of Charles University, the first university in Central Europe. Also at that time we have the foundation of the New Town of Prague.
The 15th century saw a number of attempts by the clergy to reform the church, resulting in the Hussite’s revolutionary movement, led by Jan Hus, the reform preacher and martyr. From 1526 until 1918 the Hapsburg dynasty is placed in the Bohemian throne. In 1583-1611 Rudolf II become the King of Bohemia. Prague, therefore, becomes the emperor’s residence and the centre of social and cultural life. However, from 1618 until 1620 the Czech nobles are defeated, resulting in the decline of the Czech language and Czech national consciousness.

In the late part of the 18th century there is the period of Czech national revival. In 1918 Czechoslovakia is proclaimed independent. Prague became the capital of the new state. During WW II the country was under Nazi occupation. In 1945 the Soviet army liberates Prague. In 1948 the Czechoslovak coup d’état was initiated by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with Soviet backing, assuming control of the country, which resulted in four decades of communist dictatorship. In 1989 the Velvet Revolution resulted in the collapse of communism and the country’s conversion to a parliamentary democracy. In 1990 the first free elections take place, after the communist period. In 1993 Czechoslovakia splits into two countries, forming Czech Republic with Prague as its capital and Slovakia. Since then, Czech Republic has become a member state of NATO, the EU and has signed the Schengen Agreement.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Markos Vamvakaris the Patriarch of Rebetiko - Concert, London

The Markos Vamvakaris (the Patriarch of Rebetiko) Concert took place in London, on the 11 June. This concert was first presented at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, under the light of the Parthenon, as part of the Hellenic Festival 2012, marking the 40th anniversary of Vamvakari’s death. Curated by Greece’s foremost lyricist, Lina Nikolakopoulou, who was struck by the enduring power of Marko’s work and how young people were discovering it anew, it brings together on stage a super group of Greek musicians and singers. Stelios, who played at the concert in London, welcomed the idea warmly, a direct and authentic connection to the source.

With the songs being often so geographically rooted, film footage was shot on the island of Syros, in order to share the sense of place that was so strong in Marko’s experience. Finally, when asked whether he would consider reading from the autobiography of Vamvakaris, Alex Kapranos, front man of rock band Franz Ferdinand (and whose father is Greek), jumped at the occasion as a way of connecting with his roots. Franz Ferdinand came to fame in Glasgow – like Piraeus a shipping town with a one-time rough reputation; when Kapranos discovered that his grandfather had been Vamvakari’s doctor, it was an added bonus.
Whatever title you give him – ‘pioneer’, ‘trailbrazer’, ‘patriarch’ or ‘Commander in Chief of bouzouki’ Markos Vamvakaris is a towering, craggy presence in the history of rebetiko music. It’s enough to refer to him by his sturdy apostolic first name. ‘Markos’, he mused, with a touchin mixture of pride and wonder, ‘it’s a big name…a street is named after me in Syros. The name evokes the heavyweight solidity of a man who toiled and sweated, the working man, by whom and for whom laiko song was created.'

Born in Syros in 1905, he started helping his father feed the family at an early age. They had no money for a mule, so ‘barefoot and in rags’ they carried heavy loads for basket weaving from the rivers up to the village of Upper Chore. At the age of fifteen he dropped a boulder through the roof of somebody’s house, and stowed away in a boat to Piraeus. By then he’d already worked as a factory hand, a mule driver, drummer boy, butcher’s boy, grocer’s boy, newspaper hawker and bootblack. One of his most famous songs has the title: ‘Markos, Jack of All Trades.’ Over the next five years in Piraeus he was a stevedore, loading coal on and off ships. He left the backbreaking work to become a skinner and slaughterer in the Piraeus abattoir. For a man who frequently said ‘flowers, letters and music are what I like – and add to that fine clothes’, it was bad luck to have spent so many years in the most strenuous and filthy jobs imaginable.

Ha was born though, with an aptitude for rhythm and rhyme, and an appetite for beauty. His inner ‘dervish’, as he called it, his ‘aristocratic streak’ was crying out for a different kind of life. It carried him off on what his despairing parents called ‘the downward path.’ This took him to the underworld of the piazza, the bordello, and the hashish dens (tekedhes). This was the world of manghia – an alternative moral universe, where exhausted workers sat in shacks or caves, side by side with jailbirds, thieves and murderers, talking in arcane slang and smoking their argiledhes – either in stoned, companionable silence or playing and singing on their stringed instruments.

Even as a boy, Markos had begun to soak up ‘maghia by the ladleful’ in Ermoupoli, the port of Syros. Now in Piraeus he lived and breathed this cultural underworld, but his sins were women and hashish, not killing or stealing. He was ‘the best kind of mangas’, tough but sensible, a man of gravity and few words; in other words ‘a dervish’. ‘What I mean by dervish’, he said, ‘is that I was a mangas who could hold his head up high. I didn’t stir up trouble. People respected me, and I respected them…We made our money by the sweat of our brows.’
More than anything else, Markos was a man with a genius for writing songs that Greeks of all ages still know and love and an overpowering passion for the bouzouki. Markos fell in love with the instrument when he heard an old convict, Nikos Aivaliotis play. It was a coup de foudre, and he learned to be a ‘wild beast’ on the instrument in just six months. What makes Markos a trailblazer is that he took the bouzouki out of the tekedhes and set up the first laiko band, playing at a small dive in Piraeus. And so began the golden years of the Piraeus-bouzouki strand of rebetiko music. The disreputable bouzouki was now all the rage.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mary Magdalene in the Orthodox Church

Mary Magdalene in the Orthodox Church
By Dimitris Salapatas
(This article was published in the Orthodox Herald, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, April – May – June 2014, Issue 307-309

            Who was Mary Magdalene? Why has she been misjudged by so many? Mary Magdalene has been misunderstood, especially in the West. However, the Orthodox Church has always retained its belief in her sainthood. The Greek Fathers deeply appreciated and respected her. This is evident through the exegeses given to the Gospels by many Fathers, such as St. John Chrysostom.
            In the Bible we have various indications of who she was; however, our full perception of her is an amalgam of Scripture and Tradition. In the Gospel we are unaware of her early years; nevertheless, Tradition dictates that she was a pretty woman, leading a sinful life. In Luke’s Gospel we read about a number of women who followed Jesus: “Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8: 1-3). Therefore, here we are informed of Jesus’ relation with Mary Magdalene.
Tradition states that she travelled to Rome, where she requested and achieved, by directly speaking to Emperor Tiberius, the death sentence of the three main culprits in regards to Christ’s crucifixion, i.e. Pontius Pilate, archpriests Anna and Kaiafa. She later returned to Palestine, where she lived close to the Mother of God. She was then persecuted by the Jews and was eventually exiled to Marseille, together with Apostle Maximus (one of the 70 Apostles). She collaborated with the Apostle Peter; she was also involved in missionary work in Egypt, Syria and Phoenicia and finally died in Ephesus, near St. John the Evangelist, where she was buried. Her relics were later transported to Constantinople in 890 A.D. by the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise, as were the relics of St. Lazarus from Cyprus.

            In the West, the most famous version of who she truly was coincides with the repentant prostitute, a theory alien to the Bible, which remains unidentified in the Holy Tradition and exegesis of the Orthodox world. Unfortunately, many in the East follow the Western belief, which was never adopted in the East. Even St John Chrysostom has examined the prostitute woman who repented; stating that she is an unknown person, whose name we do not know. On the other hand, the story of the sentencing of Pilate is most likely false, since this event would have been found in a number of Roman manuscripts. Also, Eusebius of Caesarea explains how Pilate was exiled by Caligula and he later committed suicide. Nevertheless, it is believed that she truly did travel to Rome; thus reinforcing the hypothesis that she played a significant role in founding the Church of Rome.
The Orthodox Church has always believed in the sainthood of Mary Magdalene. In the Holy Monastery of Simonopetra, on Mounth Athos, a female hand has been preserved for centuries, having a natural living body temperature; this hand is believed to belong to Mary Magdalene, who by her miracles, is considered the co-founder of Simonopetra. In 1747 the hand was stolen by pirates. However, it was later bought back by Abbot Ioasaf in 1765 in Tripoli, Libya. Unfortunately, the archives of the monastery were burnt in 1891, which is why we are unable to know more about this important relic.
            In contrast to the Orthodox belief, the West has transformed Mary Magdalene into a prostitute. This though had begun with the dialogue that took place right after the resurrection of Christ (John 20: 11-18 and Mark 16: 9-11). The fact that Jesus addressed her in a loving manner, i.e. ‘Maria’, gave rise to sensual fantasies in people’s minds. Maybe this was the case in the West, and not in the East, due to the fact that the first has imposed celibacy, whilst the latter has only imposed this on the Bishops. Moreover, because of the obligatory celibacy of the clergy, the sins associated with love were overemphasised.
A further confusion on the true identity of Mary Magdalene was evident after her relics were transported from Ephesus to Constantinople in 890 AD by Emperor Leo VI the Wise, alongside the relics of St. Lazarus from Cyprus. Both of these excavations were co-celebrated by Western Christianity on the 4th May. This consequently resulted in the incorrect identification of Mary Magdalene with Lazarus’ sister; however, the first was from Magdala, whilst Lazarus and his sisters were originally from Bethany. Additionally the two Marias are also confused within the Gospels. In John’s Gospel (12, 1-8) we read:
“Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always”.
This event is also identified with the instance of the sinner found in Luke’s Gospel (7, 36-50) where we read: “Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And he went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, ‘This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner’. And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you’. So he said, ‘Teacher, say it’. ‘There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more’. And He said to him, ‘You have rightly judged’. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little’. Then He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’. And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sin?’ Then He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace’”.    
            Mary, from John’s Gospel, and the sinner (prostitute), from Luke’s Gospel, have brought a misunderstanding, resulting in the birth of a certain ‘myth’, whereby Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and the sinner are the same person, i.e. Mary Magdalene. However, these claims are very insecurely grounded. According to the Orthodox Church, Mary Magdalene was cured of certain evil spirits and illnesses. She later followed Jesus, whilst also being with Christ during his Crucifixon. According to John’s Gospel Mary Magdalene was the first one to visit the empty tomb, “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1).
The significance of St Mary Magdalene for the Orthodox Church is evident not only in Scripture but also within its hymnographic tradition[1], which points out her role and place during the life, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. An example of this are the following hymns, chanted during Matins (mode 3), where Mary Magdalene seems to play a protagonistic role, in regards to the first sighting of the empty tomb. The hymns proclaim:
“All things have been filled with joy on receiving proof of the Resurrection. For Mary Magdalen came to the grave, found an Angel seated on the stone and dazzling in shining raiment, who said, ‘Why do you seek the living with the dead? He is not here, but he has risen, as he said, and goes before you into Galilee.’
On the first day of the week Mary Magdalen came to the grave and sought you. When she did not find you, she lamented and cried out with grief, ‘Alas, my Saviour, how have you, the King of all, been stolen?’ But a pair of life-bearing Angels from within the grave cried out, ‘Why do you weep, woman?’ ‘I weep’, she said, ‘because they have taken my Lord from the tomb and I do not know where they have laid him’. But when, turning back, she saw you, at once she cried out, ‘My Lord and my God, glory to you!’”[2]
Mary Magdalene is further misunderstood within the apocryphal tradition, i.e. the books not accepted within the Church’s Scriptural Canon. An interesting example of this is to be found in the Gospel of Philip, where we read:
‘And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her?’[3]
            We identify here that the apocryphal tradition emphasises the existence of an intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. However, these sources cannot be trusted in regards to the faith and the practice of the Church, since these books have been side-lined due to their gnostic and heretical origins, alien to the Christian tradition, and due to their questionable authorship. Nevertheless, they do maintain an academic interest. Therefore, it is significant to identify the importance of Mary Magdalene during the first centuries of Christianity, with the existence of the so called Gospel of Mary Magdalene[4]. Even in this Gospel we read gnostic ideas on the relationship between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, for example:
 ‘Peter said to Mary, Sister we know that the Saviour loved you more than the rest of woman.’ (Chapter 5, 5) ‘But if the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Saviour knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Saviour said.’ (Chapter 9, 8-9).
What these two gnostic Gospels wish to promote is foreign to the Tradition of the Church and to the exegesis of Sacred Scripture, given to us by the Holy Fathers of the Church. Jesus, the Son of God, did not become man to marry, to merely live a human life. He came to save the world, as is claimed in the Creed: ‘For our sake and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.’ Therefore, the Orthodox faithful should disregard these apocryphal sources, which are not part of the ecclesiastical tradition of the Orthodox Church. 
St Mary Magdalene is honoured as an equal to the Apostles and as a Myrrhbearer. She is celebrated on the 22nd of July and on the 4th of May, the day her holy relics were found. She is also remembered on the Third Sunday after Easter, the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers.

[1] To read the whole service from the festivity of St Mary Magdalene, please visit: http://anastasis.org.uk/22july.htm
[2] Lash, Ephrem, Anastasis, http://www.anastasis.org.uk/sun3mc.htm, accessed 20/09/2013, 16.43 
[3] Translated by Wesley W. Isenberg, Gospel of Philip, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelphilip.html, accessed 08/08/2014, 12.34. 
[4] The Gospel of Mary Magdalene can be found in the following link: http://gnosis.org/library/marygosp.htm

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, Prague

The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn dominates in the Old Town Square, central Prague. One can see this church from afar, especially due to its two spires, which reminds us of fairy tale stories, used by Disney or even the Harry Potter series.

Tyn Church was founded in 1385. It used to be the main church of the Protestant Hussites in the Czech capital. It is an imposing Gothic building above the houses around with its high towers. During the reign of George of Podebrady (15th century), a statue of the ruler, called ‘Hussite King’ and a Hussite symbol of a chalice were placed on the church. After the victory of Catholicism in the country in 1620s, the statue was replaced by a Madonna figure and the chalice was made her halo.