Monday, November 30, 2015

The National Shrine of St Andrew, Edinburgh

In the Roman Catholic Church of St Mary’s, Edinburgh, one can find the National Shrine of St Andrew. Legend has it that relics of St Andrew were brought to Scotland by St Rule from Patras, Greece, where he was buried. What probably happened was that the relics were brought from Rome by St Augustinein 597 AD as part of his great mission to bring the Word to the Anglo-Saxons. In 732 they were brought from Hexham to Fife by Bishop Acca, who was seeking asylum with the Pictish King Oengus (Angus). The relics were held at Kirrymont, which was later renamed St Andrews. From this time, the remains of the first called Apostle became a major focus of European pilgrimage. Numbers coming to venerate the relics of the Saint grew quickly.

In the 11th century St Margaret, Queen of Scotland, endowed a ferry service across the river Forth and hostels, at north and south Queensferry, for pilgrims. The relics were initially housed in St Rules Church and eventually in the great medieval Cathedral of St Andrews. Twice a year the relics were carried in procession around the town.
Through the dark ages, and medieval period of Scottish history, the Apostle played a major role in the creation and defining of the Scottish Nation. It was commonly believed that the Apostle Andrew had chosen the Scottish people to care for and honour his relics. Therefore, the patron Saint, the saltire flag, the relics and the See of St Andrew became crucial symbols of nationhood.

On 14th June 1559 the interior of St Andrews Cathedral, including the shrine and relics, was destroyed by reformers who had accompanied John Knox to the city.

On the restoration of the hierarchy in Scotland (1878), St Andrews and Edinburgh was made the Metropolitan See of Scotland. In 1879 Archbishop Strain received from the Archbishop of Amalfi a large portion of the shoulder of the Apostle Andrew. The second relic was given by Pope Paul VI to the newly created Scottish Cardinal Gordon Joseph Gray, in St Peter’s Rome (1969), with the words ‘Peter greets his brother Andrew.’ The significant fact was that Cardinal Gray was the first Scottish Cardinal in 400 years.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

St. Philoumenos

St. Philoumenos was added into the Synaxarion of Saints of the Orthodox Church on the 29th November 2009, by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. This event, the Divine Liturgy and the proclamation of his new status, took place at Jacob’s Well, at the Holy place where Archimandrite Philoumenos from Cyprus was martyred. The ceremony was led by the Metropolitan of Morfou, Neophytos, since Philoumenos, who was killed on 29th November 1979 from fanatic Jews, came from the village Orounta, within the Metropolis of Morfou, Cyprus.
Since 2000 many Orthodox faithful in Cyprus venerated St Philoumenos, considering him a Saint, before the Orthodox Church officially proclaimed him as such. Icons were painted and people wrote services in his honour. In essence, he was recognised as a saint by the people, by the Body of the Church. A book was written with his life and sent to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which was received positively, leading to his proclamation as a Saint of the Orthodox Church.

Sophocles Hasapis, as was his name before he became a monk, was born in 1913 in Nicosia. He had a twin brother, Archimandrite Elpidios. Their parents, George and Magdalene Hasapi had 13 children. The family lived in a house within the parish of St Savva, in Nicosia. The father had his own bakery and an inn, making them quite wealthy. The mother took care of the household and the education of their children.
A few years after graduating from elementary school (July 1928), without informing their parents, the twins left their parents and went to the Stavrovouni monastery, one of the holiest monasteries in Cyprus. Their father visited them two days later and gave them his blessing, when he realised their wish of staying at the monastery.
Their life, however, was to take a different path, when in 1934 the then Archbishop Timothy Themelis of Jordan (1878-1955), later Patriarch of Jerusalem, visited the Stavrovouni monastery. The Archbishop proposed to Abbot Barnabas and the twins’ father to take them both to Jerusalem to attend the secondary school. The father gave his blessing again, seeing that that is what his sons wished for. Alexander became a monk in 1937, receiving the name Elpidios. He later died on Mount Athos (1983), having served in a number of cities, including Athens, London, Odessa and Cyprus.
Fr Philoumenos, on the other hand, remained at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He became a monk in 1937 and in 1948 he became an Archimandrite. He served in many shrines and churches in Palestine. Finally, on 8th May 1979, was appointed to Jacob’s Well, where he was eventually martyred. He was known for living quietly and humbly. He kept the monastic ideals, the ascetic life. Many times he even acted as a fool for Christ (one of the categories of Sainthood) to hide from the world, or as Bishop Neophytos had said, ‘he acted like a fool in order to hide his holiness.’
St Philoumenos is another example of the significance of Saints in our lives. The Church exists in order for us to become Saints, to be in communion with God, to reach our potential in life, i.e. theosis. It is funny how history gives the term great to people of war, to aggressive people. However, the great examples we have in the Orthodox Church are our Saints, who show us the way to salvation, to show us that the Holy Spirit still pulls us closer to God, blesses us, as it did during Pentecost. Saints are the examples of people we need and should follow in order to reach our full potential in life. St Philoumenos is one of these Saints.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mycenaean Tholos Tomb, Kefalonia

A significant ancient Greek attraction on the island of Kefalonia is the Mycenaean Tholos Tomb, located near the town of Poros. The tomb is built on a sloping, rocky terrace. The top of the dome had collapsed when found. The excavation revealed that it fell during the Venetian rule of the island. As is frequently the case with tholos tombs, it had already been robbed in ancient times. From the surviving grave offerings it may be concluded that it was used for burials from the Mycenaean to the Hellenistic period. 

The various stones and carvings show that there were a number of tombs on this location, resulting in this large tomb. During excavation, bones from 72 people were found. According to some locals this tombs might be the tomb of King Odysseus, who was King of Ithaca, the island next to Kefalonia. According to some when Homer spoke about Ithaca he meant the Kingdom of Ithaca, which was both islands (Kefalonia and Ithaca). Despite not finding any evidence to support this belief, it is an interesting idea, which could be true. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Obelisks at the Hippodrome, Constantinople

The Hippodrome in the Byzantine capital does not exist today; however, its location is known to us from past descriptions of it, from maps and from a number of surviving columns and obelisks. Today we find the Serpent Column there, together with The Obelisks of Theodosius (erected in 390 AD) and the Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitos, also known as the Walled Obelisk (10th century AD).
The Obelisk of Theodosios was originally set up by Tutmoses III of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt, about 1450 BC, in front of the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak. Inscribed on the obelisk is an Egyptian hieroglyph script, still clearly distinguishable. The script reads that it was in his father’s honour that Tutmoses erected an obelisk at Karnak and a monument in Mesopotamia. Depictions of the Pharaoh and Amun-Re are also featured on it.

A number of obelisks were transported from Egypt to Rome. Constantine the Great, when he moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople, he took with him a number of monuments and artefacts in order to decorate his new city. However, some of these took a long time to move. Therefore, this obelisk reached the Imperial City during the reign of Theodosios I. The obelisk is placed on a marble pedestal. On two sides of the main part are inscriptions in Ancient Greek and Latin. Featuring on all four faces are hieroglyphs.
The Walled Obelisk is about 32 metres high and is not a real obelisk from Egypt, made out of stones, hence its name. It was decorated with plates of gilded bronze, embossed with representations of the victories of the Byzantine Emperor Vasilios I the Macedonian (867-886 AD).

It is believed that the monument was erected by Vasilios’ grandson, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos (913-959 AD). Additionally, there was a sphere at the top of the obelisk. However, it is reported that these gilded bronze plaques were stolen and melted down during the Fourth Crusade (1204 AD), where Constantinople was sacked by the Roman Catholic West. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Battling Bishop, Glasgow

The effigy depicted in the picture below, located in Glasgow Cathedral, is thought to be the effigy of Bishop Wishart, a towering figure in medieval Scotland’s struggle for independence. Robert Wishart (1271-1316) was a supporter of Robert the Bruce. He played a key role in promoting Bruce’s claim to the throne and resisting the English. His pivotal moment was in spring of 1306 after Bruce murdered his rival, St John Cornyn, in Greyfriars Church, Dumfries. Far from excommunicating Bruce, the bishop urged him on. Wishart provided Bruce with coronation robes and a royal banner, which he had hidden in the cathedral.

Shortly afterwards, Wishart was captured at Cupar, clapped in irons and taken to England. His rank saved him from death, but he was not repatriated until after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. He died on 26 November 1316 and was laid to rest in his beloved cathedral, close to St Mungo’s tomb. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review Modern Orthodox Thinkers – From the Philokalia to the present

Book Review
Modern Orthodox Thinkers – From the Philokalia to the present.
Andrew Louth. £19.99. SPCK, 2015. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-281-07127-2.
Dimitris Salapatas

(Published in KOINONIA, The Journal of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, New Series, No. 66, Allsaintstide, pp. 47-49 and

            Fr Andrew Louth has recently published his new book Modern Orthodox Thinkers – From the Philokalia to the present, published by SPCK. This book endeavours to give an introduction to the modern Orthodox theological discourse and its representatives, making it the ‘standard handbook on the ways of Orthodox theology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,’ as stated by Fr John Behr.
            This book is a revised version of a number of public lectures the author gave between 2012 and 2014 at the Amsterdam Centre for Eastern Orthodox Studies (ACEOT), following his previous book (Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, SPCK, 2013), which was also based on public lectures Fr Andrew gave in Amsterdam. However, his new book gives ‘a history of Orthodox thinkers, rather than a history of Orthodox thought, or theology,’ (p. xiii.) who were influenced in one way or another by the Philokalia, returning therefore Orthodox thinkers and thought to ‘a theology rooted in the Christian experience of prayer, and all that that entails by way of ascetic struggle and deepening insight – nourished by the Fathers (and Mothers) of the Church.’ (p. xiii.).

            Fr Andrew has endeavoured to give a catholic overview of the influence of the Philokalia from various Orthodox points of view; thus, he examines the influence this significant book has had for theologians in Russia, the Russian diaspora in the West, Greece and the West, observing how these representatives actually come in contact with each other, producing this new group under the name ‘Modern Orthodox Thinkers,’ including theologians such as Fr Sergeii Bulgakov, Niloai Berdyaev, Fr George Florovsky, Paul Evdokimov, Fr Alexander Schmemann, Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas), Christos Yannaras, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Olivier Clement, St Silouan and Fr Sophrony, concluding with Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, who has an unparalleled impact on the English-speaking Orthodox. This conclusion is significant, since Metropolitan Kallistos is closely connected to the Philokalia, ‘both by spearheading the translation of the Philokalia from Greek to English and by presenting in his own theological reflections what might well be called a ‘philokalic’ vision of theology.’ (p. xiv.). Interestingly enough, the author has chosen theologians from various backgrounds; not all of them are professors, giving examples of theologians who are bishops, priests, laymen, and also men and women. Furthermore, the fact that the author has personally met and spoken to many of the theologians examined in this book, is significant, bringing a further understanding of who they are and what theological interests they have.  
            For each theologian, examined in this book, the author gives a brief background history and then some theological topics, which characterise the works of the specific person. This is a very interesting approach, identifying each theologian with a certain key topic, adding to it a number of other issues examined by each one of them. However, we could argue that in some cases the author could have considered and examined other theological thoughts, which have made the theologians unique in their field. Personally, I would of liked it if for example in Fr Sergeii Bulgakov’s case, where the author examines the nature of theology, identifying him as a ‘liturgical theologian’ (p. 57) and then briefly looking into Sophiology, he could argue Bulgakov’s ideas on limited intercommunion, proposed during a conference of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius in the 1930s. I would think that this is a more revolutionary and exciting path to follow. Although not accepted, practically and theoretically by both the Anglicans and the Orthodox, it is an idea still discussed in ecumenical gatherings. Additionally, when looking at the examination of Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia and his theological vision of the Philokalia, it is interesting to see that Fr Andrew also explores the issue of personhood and the mystery of the human. Anthropology is currently the central theme of the Official Dialogue between Anglicans and Orthodox, in preparation for the fourth official statement. However, the author might have liked to examine a more exciting and thought provoking topic, i.e. women and the priesthood, whereby the Metropolitan has altered his initial view on this, questioning the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, promoting the idea of re-evaluating this topic within Orthodoxy. Despite the author referring to this crucial issue for modern theology, he does not try to examine it in depth. Nevertheless, this examination of additional topics could be seen as a future project, continuing the understanding of modern Orthodox theology.
This argument shows that perhaps a greater number of theological issues could have been examined for each theologian, in order to make it a more complete work; this would, however, be problematic, in respect to the great size of the book which would be produced. Nevertheless, it is a significant book, allowing for the initial examination of modern Orthodox thinkers, evidently showing and highlighting that noteworthy theologians exist in our epoch, permitting for the furtherance and blossoming of theology today, which strives to argue and find solutions to difficult and noteworthy questions. This book can be used as a serious and compact source of modern Orthodox theology, on a university level (also due to its fantastic further reading section) but also by those who are interested in current theological trends, not only in respects to the Orthodox world, but on a pan-Christian level.

Monday, November 23, 2015

No time to lose

Our world, our current era, is known for its quick changes. We buy a phone and soon it is old, out of date. The same applies with anything we buy, a car, a laptop, our clothes etc. Living in a city, the changes and the business of people is evident all around us. It seems that we don’t have time for anything, for hobbies, for things we want to talk about, to contemplate, to pray . . .

Most of the time it is evident that people around us are so busy, there is no time for Church, in order to receive spiritual food, as the Church proclaims. Watching a documentary I heard that Christians have no time to do their cross anymore. . . A funny, but also disturbing, idea. Could this be the case today? Time is precious for all of us. When we give someone our time, we inevitably give a part of us, because we will never have this time back again. Giving some of our time to God and His Church, we give time to us, in order for us to contemplate, pray, be in communion with others and with God. We might not have time to lose…but let us not lose more time away from the Church and its life, because through Her we are be able to reach our objective in life . . . theosis, salvation.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Aphaia Temple, Aegina

The island of Aegina, situated near Athens, is mostly known for the monastic complex where St Nectarios lived and where his relics are currently placed. However, another important attraction is located on this island, the Temple of Aphaia. It has a long history, dating back to the Late Bronze Age (144th century BC). The fact that many female figures have been discovered near the Temple indicate that this site was used for worship to a fertility and agricultural deity. The first Temple was completed in 570 BC. Unfortunately, this was destroyed by a fire. Nevertheless, a second Temple was erected, which still exists to this day.

Initially, the excavations showed that maybe this Temple was dedicated to the Goddess Athena. However, this altered when they found further inscriptions, dedicated to the Goddess of Aphaia. Mythology states that Aphaia is associated with Britomartis from Crete, daughter of Zeus and half-sister of Goddess Artemis. Britomartis was pursued by King Minos of Crete who had fallen in love with her. Because of this, she wished to escape, leaping into the Aegean Sea; however, she was caught in some fishermen’s nets, who eventually took her to Aegina. A fisherman, captivated by her beauty, wished to rape her. But, Britomartis fled onto the island of Aegina, disappearing into the woods. The word Aphaia derives from the same word for invisible, in Greek.

An interesting fact, and one that many conspirators wish to use as a significant fact, is that the Temple of Aphaia is positioned an equal distance from the Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, Southern Attica. These three temples, on a map, form a triangle. Many who wish to point the significance of the ancient Greeks and their architectural, philosophical, cosmological etc. genius give a great importance to this fact. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Serpent Column, Hippodrome – Constantinople

One of the attractions at the location of the hippodrome in Constantinople, is the serpent columns. This is a bronze monument, surviving from the Byzantine epoch, and specifically from Constantine the Great's era (4th century AD). This column was placed in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (Greece) and then moved to the Imperial City, when it moved from Rome to New Rome.

This column has an interesting story. After the victories of the Greek city states against the mighty Persian Empire in the battles of Salamis and Platea, the Greeks melted the spoils of war they seized and made a number of offerings to the Gods. This column is one of the results of this offering. This column is made up of three 8 metre height snakes, with their heads facing three different directions. On the bodies of the snakes we find the names of the Greek city states which took part in the battles against the Persians. Unfortunately, the column is missing parts of the bodies and heads of the snakes. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

St Theodori Church, Kefalonia

The Greek island of Kefalonia is a very earthquake prone island, resulting in the destruction of many buildings, villages and towns on this island. The Church of St Theodori is no exception to this rule. As is evident today, only the walls and the bell tower still stand, whilst the roof and the interior of the Church have been destroyed due to past earthquakes.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers

Reading the Gospel of Matthew, the reader comes across a very interesting and parable, one that I have heard since I was a child. This parable always made a great impression on me. The Parable is as follows:
Matthew: 21: 33-45.
‘33 “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?[j]
43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
45 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.’

The garden here symbolises paradise, and in our current existence, it symbolises our world, where creation exists, and the place we consider home, for now. The vineyard and the vines are a popular theme in both the Old and the New Testaments, mainly due to the Mediterranean location of the events. The significance of the vineyards and the wine is also evident in the Last Supper, and therefore present during every Divine Liturgy.
This parable points out the fact that God sent His Son to earth. Mankind’s reply to this gesture was to arrest Him, torture Him, laugh at Him and eventually kill Him. God, however, had sent prophets (just as the servants were sent in this parable) before Jesus Christ. They were not heard by everyone. Therefore, it was time for the Son of God to come and achieve mankind’s salvation.
The Pharisees, upon hearing this parable, believed that Jesus was referring to them. If we are to truly comprehend this parable, we should understand that this parable is actually speaking to us, about us. We live in this vineyard, we are currently taking care of it, we are the vinedressers and most importantly we are the ones who killed the Son of God. Jesus was, therefore, talking not to the Pharisees alone, but to mankind. We should see this and try to comprehend on whose side we wish to be; do we wish to do what is right or wrong? Who do we wish to follow?

Thus, this parable depicts the significance these parables have for our lives and our understanding of our faith. Stories like these maintain a theological importance for us and our lives within the Church, in the communion of the Saints, in a relationship whereby we are in communion with God. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Time for Thanksgiving

I am guessing that if someone speaks to a monk from Mount Athos he will be told that all day and all night is time for thanksgiving, promoting St Paul’s belief of praying unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17). St John Chrysostom gives an interesting statement, whereby he seems to support the ancient Tradition and practice of the Church, of the Agape – where Christians would first have a meal and then celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Later on, as we know, this practice was reversed and now we celebrate the Liturgy and have coffee or a meal afterwards. Additionally St John endeavours to be revolutionary with his writings, taking Jesus example into account, criticising our habit of eating too much, explaining:

‘The time after dinner is the time for thanksgiving and he who gives thanks should not be drunk but sober and wide awake. After dinner let us not go to bed but to prayer, or we may become more irrational than the irrational beasts.
I know that many will condemn what I say, thinking that I am introducing a strange new custom into our life; but I will condemn more strongly the wicked custom which now prevails over us. Christ has made it very clear that after taking nourishment at table we ought to receive not sleep in bed but prayer and reading of the divine Scriptures. When He had fed the great multitude in the wilderness, He did not send them to bed and to sleep, but summoned them to hear divine sayings. He had not filled their stomachs to bursting, nor abandoned them to drunkenness; but when He had satisfied their need, He led them to spiritual nourishment. Let us do the same; and let us accustom ourselves to eat only enough to live, not enough to be distracted and weighed down. For we were not born, we do not live, in order to eat and drink; but we eat in order to live. At the beginning life was not made for eating, but eating for life. But we, as if we had come into the world for this purpose, spend everything for eating.’[1]

[1] Behr, John (ed.), St John Chrysostom – On Wealth and Poverty, (New York, SVSP, 1981), pp.27-8.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Venerable Hilda, Abbess of Whitby

St Hilda (614-680) was abbess of the great Whitby Abbey in northern England in the seventh century. She was the daughter of Hereric, the nephew of King Edwin of Northumbria, and like her great-uncle became a Christian through the preaching of St. Paulinus of York, about the year 627, when she was thirteen years old.
Moved by the example of her sister Hereswith, who had become a nun at Chelles in Gaul, Hilda journeyed to East Anglia, intending to follow her sister abroad. But St. Aidan recalled her to her own country, and after leading a monastic life for a while on the north bank of the Wear and afterwards at Hartlepool, where she ruled a double monastery of monks and nuns with great success, Hilda eventually undertook to set in order a monastery at Streaneshalch, a place to which the Danes a century or two later gave the name of Whitby.

Under the rule of St. Hilda the monastery at Whitby became very famous. The Holy Scriptures were specially studied there, and no less than five of the monastics became bishops, among them St. John, Bishop of Hexham, and St. Wilfrid, Bishop of York.
In Whitby, in 664, was held the famous synod which confirmed, among other issues, the manner of calculating the date of Pascha. The fame of St. Hilda's wisdom was so great that from far and near monks and even royal personages came to consult her.
Seven years before her death the saint was stricken down with a grievous fever which never left her till she breathed her last, but, in spite of this, she neglected none of her duties to God or to her spiritual children. She passed away most peacefully after receiving the Holy Mysteries of Christ, and the tolling of the monastery bell was heard miraculously at Hackness thirteen miles away, where also a devout nun named Begu saw the soul of St. Hilda borne to heaven by angels. The life of St Hilda is recorded by Bede in his History of the English Church and People.
The veneration of St. Hilda from an early period is attested by the inclusion of her name in the calendar of St. Willibrord, written at the beginning of the eighth century. She was venerated as a saint and her bones suitably enshrined. Her shrine was demolished, in AD 800, when Whitby Abbey was sacked by the Danes; but her body was, apparently, recovered from the ruins by King Edmund the Magnificent in the 10th century. He gave them to the Abbey of Glastonbury in Somerset where they were revered until the Reformation. Her feast is kept on 17th November.


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Importance of Tradition

Holy Scripture and Tradition co-exist within the Orthodox Tradition. Orthodoxy cannot fathom the one without the other. This is evident through the countless Church Fathers who have, since the beginning of Christianity, played a crucial role in the exegesis of Scripture and in the life of the Church. St Basil the Great gives a beautiful explanation of this relationship, of this marriage between the two, explaining:

‘Of the dogmas and preaching preserved in the Church, some we have from the written teaching, others we received from the tradition of the Apostles, handed down to us in secret, both of them having the same force for piety. No one who has the least experience of the laws of the Church will object to these, for if we try to dismiss that which is unwritten among the customs as of no great authority, then without noticing it we shall damage the Gospel.’[1]

[1] Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 27.66.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Statue of the Unknown Sailor

Greece has been historically and traditionally, since its existence, a maritime power. It has always had a great relationship with the sea. This is a given, when one sees the geography of the Hellenic world, consisting of thousands of islands, islets and rocks all over the Aegean and Ionian Seas and in general all around the Mediterranean. However, this relationship with the sea has not always been a good one. Many have died, many have been lost at sea, never to return to their homes. Even the King of Ithaca, Odysseus, took years to return to his homeland, after the end of the Trojan War, as expressed by Homer. That is why it is only right that a statue is dedicated to the Unknown Sailor, to the sailors who were lost, whose names were not saved by time and history. This statue here is located on the Ionian Island of Kefalonia.

This coincides with a statue in the centre of Athens, dedicated to the Unknown Soldier, whose names we do not know, who fought for Greece since Ancient Greece onwards. Greeks seem to be familiar with statues dedicated to unknown people and gods. Even St Paul, when he visited Athens, he spoke to the Ancient Athenians next to the statue of the ‘unknown god,’ showing the wisdom of the Athenians, who believed that there was possibly a God they did not know; so, in order to not offend him, they devoted a statue to him, whoever he was. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Fallen Bikes

Recently, I visited the Swedish capital. Stockholm is not widely known for its bikes; however, they were all over the city, and despite the icy roads and pavements, many biked their way around the city. It was interesting, nevertheless, to see how many of these bikes were on the floor. The fallen bikes lied there, forgotten. It reminded me of the society we live in, whereby we forget or put aside the fallen people who live around us. Our society does not look towards the fallen, we prefer to never acknowledge this reality. Our individualistic well being is more important than anything. The sense of community, of communion with our fellow person is gone. Maybe a return to the old ways, or a more Christian understanding of society is crucial, in order to find our potential towards each other. We, therefore, need to remember what we read in the Bible, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bringing Man Closer to God

Reading the Bible, it is evident how since the beginning of Creation, from the Book of Genesis, we identify the relationship between God and man. However, this has been, in many ways, a troubled relationship, whereby mankind has renounced the Creator, turned his back to God. Nevertheless, we see how the Divine plan has shown that God has always wanted to bring us close to Him, by sending the prophets, by helping His people, those who believe in Him. The greatness of this love is evident when He sent His own Son, the Second Person within the Trinity. Through Christ’s Passion, Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection we understand why God created the world and all of the Created existence. Below Vladimir Lossky gives a brief and interesting exegesis on the Coming of Christ to the world, explaining:

‘By his birth of the Virgin, He suppressed the division of human nature into male and female. On the cross He unites paradise, the dwelling place of the first men before the fall, with the terrestrial reality where the fallen descendants of the first Adam now dwell; indeed, He says to the good thief, ‘today thou shalt be with Me in paradise’, yet he nevertheless continues to hold converse with His disciples during His sojourn on earth after the resurrection. At His ascension, first of all, He unites the earth to the heavenly spheres, that is to the sensible heaven; then He penetrates into the empyreum, passes through the angelic hierarchies and unites the spiritual heaven, the world of mind, with the sensible world. Finally, like a new cosmic Adam, He presents to the Father the totality of the universe restored to unity in Him, by uniting the created to the uncreated. In this conception of Christ, as the new Adam, who unifies and sanctifies created being, redemption appears as one of the stages in his work, a stage conditioned by sin and the historic reality of the fallen world, in which the incarnation has taken place. Maximus does not raise the scotist question, that is, whether the Word would have had to become incarnate apart from the felix culpa. Less soteriological as a theologian, and perhaps more metaphysical than the other Fathers, he does not swerve at all from their practical way of thought; unreal cases do not exist for him. God has foreseen the fall of Adam and the Son of God was ‘the Lamb slain before the ages’ in the pre-existent will of the Trinity. That is why we cannot expect to understand anything whatsoever apart from the cross of Christ. ‘The mystery of the incarnation of the Word – said St Maximus – contains itself the meaning of all the symbols and all the enigmas of Scripture, as well as the hidden meaning of all sensible and intelligible creation. But he who knows the mystery of the Cross and the Tomb, knows also the essential principles of all things. Finally, he who penetrates yet further and finds himself initiated into the mystery of the Resurrection, apprehends the end for which God created all things from the beginning.’[1]

[1] Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, (Cambridge, James Clark & Co. Ltd., 1991), pp. 137-138. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon

Visiting Ripon College, Cuddesdon in Oxfordshire, near the city of Oxford, one comes across an interesting building, i.e. the Edward King Chapel. Designed by Niall McLaughlin Architects, it sits in the Garden of Ripon College. The Chapel has generously been funded by the Sisters of the Communities of St John Baptist and the Good Shepherd. This chapel, with its modern and unique style, promotes personal prayer as well as public worship. This building has won a number of important awards for its architectural style[1]. The architect of this beautiful modern church building, Niall McLaughlin explains, in reference to the chapel:

“When you stand on this site with your back to the great Beech, leaving the buildings behind, you are in a ring of mature trees on high ground overlooking the valley that stretches away towards Garsington. This clearing has its own particular character, full of wind and light and the rustling of leaves. Our design seeks to capture these qualities within the building.
We have two important architectural ideas. The first is a gentle hollow in the ground as a meeting place for the community. The second is a delicate ship-like timber structure that rises into the treetops to gather the light from the leaves. The first idea speaks of ground, of meeting in the still centre. The second idea suggests an uplifting buoyancy, rising towards the light. The way in which these two opposite forces work off each other is what gives the building its particular character.”

(This picture was taking during the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, celebrated at the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius 2015 Conference).

The Chapel in Ripon College received the name Edward Kind. Who was Edward King? Born in the British capital in 1829, Edward King, both as a priest and then as a bishop, was revered for the holiness of his life and the wisdom of his counsel. He was chaplain, then principal, of Cuddesdon Theological College, followed by a dozen years as a professor of theology in Oxford, during which time he exercised a great influence on a generation of ordinands. In 1885, he was consecrated bishop of the diocese of Lincoln, a position he held until his death. His advocacy of Catholic principles involved him in controversy, but his significant gift to the Church was his example as a pastoral and caring bishop to both clergy and laity.  

[1] More on the awards can be found here:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cave of the Nymphs, Kefalonia

One of the main attractions on the Ionian island of Kefalonia is Melissani Cave, The Cave of the Nymphs. It is a unique cave structure, located underground, near the town of Sami. The waters reach 39 metres. Its stalactites date back 16.000 to 20.000 years. In the cave one finds a small island. Melissani has been the site of several excavations, which have brought to light a number of finds, most of them from the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, attesting to a cult of the God Pan. A number of female figures have also been found, the famous Nymphs. The colour of the waters changes according to the sunlight that falls through the giant whole, which revealed this underground lake to the ancient Greeks. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Aegina

St Nectarios, one of the most famous Orthodox Saints of the 20th century, lived next to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, in Aegina. He began building the monastery on top of the ruins of a previous monastery dedicated to the Life Giving Spring. This is currently the old part of the monastery, where the nuns live, who receive countless faithful on a daily basis. Together with the new Church of St Nectarios, it is one of the most popular pilgrimages in Greece.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Apolytikion of St. Nektarios

Selybria’s offspring and Aegina’s guardian, the true friend of virtue, revealed in these last times, Nekatrios let us, the faithful, praise as inspired servants of Christ; for he pours out healings of every kind for those who devoutly cry: Glory to Christ who gave you glory! Glory to Him who made you wondrous! Glory to Him who through you works healings for all!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Monastery of the Taxiarchis, Mantamados, Lesvos

In Mantamado, on the island of Lesvos, is one of the holiest monasteries of the island, the Holy Monastery of the Taxiarchis, dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The miraculous icon of St Michael is a unique one, in all the Orthodox world.

According to Tradition, it was made between 1000 and 1100 AD, the time when Saracen pirates were raiding many Aegean islands. This monastery was a male monastery. The pirates, upon learning that it had a number of treasures and wealth, they entered the Church during the Divine Liturgy, killing all the monks.

However, in the Sanctuary, there was a 17 year old novice monk, who helped the priest during the services. He was able to escape from a small window and reach the roof, in order to hide. The pirates saw him, and after they sacked the Church and the Monastery, they wished to catch the young novice monk.

They managed to find ladders and reach the roof. At that point the roof was transformed into a rough sea and in the middle stood the Archangel Michael, tall and with a glaring face, holding his sword that was firing lighting. The panicked pirates ran towards the sea, leaving behind them all the looted artefacts and treasures the monastery owned. 

The novice monk entered the Church to help his fellow monks. Unfortunately, he found them all slaughtered. Then he had a divine inspiration; he collected the blood of the massacred monks, he mixed it with mud and formed the Archangel Michael, as he saw him on the roof. Due to the fact that he used most of the clay, he formed, for the Archangel’s head, his body is much smaller. Nevertheless, only the face is on show today; his body hides behind the screen.