Monday, February 29, 2016

To share or not to share

Growing up, a child is told to share. This is a great attribute we should all have, not only when we are children, not only to share our toys. This is a feature we should maintain in our life towards our fellow man, especially to those who need our help. St John Chrysostom explains this, by claiming:

‘. . . that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs. If we have this attitude, we will certainly offer our money; and by nourishing Christ in poverty here and laying up great profit hereafter, we will be able to attain the good things which are to come, by the grace and kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . ‘[1]

[1] [1] Behr, John (ed.), St John Chrysostom – On Wealth and Poverty, (New York, SVSP, 1981), p.55.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Organization founded by Greek Orthodox priest awarded for helping refugees

The Greek island of Lesbos is one of the first landing points in Europe for refugees and migrants fleeing conflicts. Many of them rely on smugglers to brave the treacherous Mediterranean in search of a better life.
Persons from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and churches are the first people to welcome them onshore. One such organization is Agkalia (Embrace), founded by Father Efstratios Dimou, a Greek Orthodox priest. The Council of Europe awarded Agkalia the 2016 Raoul Wallenberg Prize for its work on Lesbos.

Starting in 2014 at the behest of Sweden, the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg Prize is worth €10 000. It is awarded every two years for extraordinary humanitarian achievements by an individual, group or organization. Agkalia was founded in 2009 on Lesbos by Father Efstratios, known as Papa Stratis, who died on 4 September 2015. “Every day between one and two hundred people come to Kalloni,” the 57-year old Orthodox priest said in an interview with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in July 2015. “The local people tell them to come to us for help. We give them food, water, milk for the babies, shoes, clothes. They can stay here too: we have blankets, mattresses on the floor.”
The NGO has sustained support as its devoted associates pursue the endeavours of Father Efstratios. “Only humanism and tolerance can bring better days to Europe in this dark moment,” said the representative of the Agkalia association Georgios Tyrikos-Ergas during the award ceremony. “The European people, volunteers from so many nations who responded to our call for help, set the example of how this can be achieved — through solidarity. Utopia or not, we have seen it happening in Greece with our own eyes”.
The Council for Europe citied Agkalia’s “outstanding achievements in providing frontline assistance to thousands of refugees irrespective of their origin and religion”. When the prize winner was announced in 2015 the jury noted that Lesbos has become a European gateway for refugees. It hailed Agkalia as exemplary in providing temporary shelter, food, water and medical aid to people in need, assisting some 17,000 refugees and migrants from May 2015. “As a small and flexible local organization based on volunteers, Agkalia sets a leading example of effective action by European civil society on a burning global issue,” Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said, announcing the jury’s decision. “Agkalia’s activities reflect the fundamental values of the Council of Europe and contribute to its work to promote and protect human rights in Europe and beyond,” he added. The award ceremony took place on 13 January at the council’s headquarters in Strasbourg.


Friday, February 26, 2016

The Word of Love is known to the Angels

The word love is to be found all through Holy Scripture and through the exegesis of Scripture, i.e. through the Tradition of the Fathers of the Church. It is a popular idea and reality, not only within Christianity, but evident in other faiths and ideologies. Its centrality to our existence is apparent, since the first moments of our existence, we base our survival and our faith to those closest to us, and to those who love us and who we love, i.e. our family, our friends, and ultimately God. Love, however, is a divine virtue and reality. Vladimir Lossky, in his book The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, explains:

“The fruit of prayer is divine love, which is simply grace, appropriated in the depths of our being. For love, according to Diadochus, is not simply a movement of the soul, but is also an uncreated gift – ‘a divine energy’- which continually inflames the soul and unties it to God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Love is not of this world, for it is the name of God Himself. That is why it is ineffable, according to St. John Climacus: ‘the word of love is known to the angels,’ he says, ‘and even to them only according to the energy of their illumination.’ ‘Thou hast ravished my soul, and I cannot contain thy flame, so I go forward praising Thee.’ ‘O Holy Love,’ says St. Symeon, the New Theologian, ‘he who knows thee not has never tasted the sweetness of thy mercies which only living experience can give us. But he who has known thee, or who has been known by thee, can never again have even the smallest doubt. For thou art the fulfilment of the law, thou who fillest, burnest, enkindlest, emcracest my heart with a measureless charity. Thou art the teacher of the Prophets, the offspring of the Apostles, the strength of the Martyrs, the inspiration of Fathers and Doctors, the perfecting of all the Saints. And thou, O Love, prepares even me, for the service of God.’” (pp.212-213). 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Types of Veneration

Icons are an integral part of Orthodoxy. However, it is not only restricted within the boundaries of the Orthodox Tradition. It is a Christian reality and tradition since the first centuries of the Church, as we can see in the catacombs and in various ancient church buildings. Nevertheless, how do we act towards an icon? How do we venerate an icon? Being Orthodox, we learn about this from a very young age. For other Christians, however, this is not a given. St John of Damascus, when defending the divine images, he explains the various types of veneration that we show and practice towards icons, stating:

‘The first kind of veneration is that of worship, which we offer to God, who is alone venerable by nature, and this itself has several forms. The first is that of service; for all creatures venerate him, as servants do their master, for “all things,” it says, “are you servants,” some voluntarily, some involuntarily. Those who worship him voluntarily with knowledge are the pious, those who acknowledge him and involuntarily worship against their will are the demons; others who do not know the one who is God by nature worship involuntarily him of whom they are ignorant.
The second kind [of worship] is that of wonder and desire, in accordance with which we venerate God because of his natural glory. For he is alone to be glorified who does not receive glory from any other, but is himself the source of all glory and the incomprehensible light of all goodness, incomparable sweetness, irresistible beauty, abyss of goodness, wisdom past finding out, infinite power, alone worthy to be wondered at, venerated, glorified and desired.
The third kind [of worship] is that of thanksgiving for the good things that have befallen us; for all beings need to thank God and to offer him everlasting veneration, because all things have their being from him, and subsist in him, and without envy he distributes his own gifts to all without being asked, and he will all to be saved and participate in his own goodness, and he is long-suffering with us when we sin, and causes the sun to rise on the just and the unjust, and makes it rain on the wicked and the good, and because the Son of God for our sake became as we are and made us sharers of the divine nature, that “we might be like him,” as John the Theologian says in the catholic epistle.
The fourth kind [of worship] springs from our neediness and hope in his kindnesses, so that accordingly we recognise that, as we cannot do or have anything good without him, each of us venerates him, begging him for that of which we feel the need and which we desire, to be saved from evils and obtain good things.
The fifth kind [of worship] is that of repentance and confession; for when we have sinned we venerate God and fall down before him, begging him to forgive our failings as prudent servants. And this kind [of worship] is threefold: for someone may grieve out of love, or because he may not obtain God’s kindnesses, or in fear of punishment. The first arises from prudence and his desire for God and a filial disposition, the second is that of a hireling, the third that of a slave.’[1]

[1] St John of Damascus, On the Divine Images, Treatise III, 28-32.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Direkli Church, Cappadocia

The Direkli Church, next to Ihlara Valley, is an interesting church in Cappadocia. It has many icons of doctor saints, including of course St Panteleimon, whilst also having icons of local saints, such as St Basil the Great. It is not sure to whom this Church was dedicated too; however, the fact that there are many doctor Saints, might help in naming it. Nonetheless, this has not happened as yet.

The cross-in-square plan of the Church is designed with four columns. The face of the rock overlooking the valley hosting monastery venues is divided into three sections with four pillars and is limited with blind arched frieze.

The frescoes are dated between 976-1025 AD. According to an inscription in the Church, ‘This Church was built or decorated in the period of Emperor Vasileios and Konstantinos for the survival and forgiveness of the sins of your servant (name of the patron).’

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Prayer of St. Polycarp

In the Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna Concerning the Martyrdom of the Holy Polycarp we find the prayer of Polycarp (Chapter XIV), which the saint said just before his burning. It makes us all think, however, how would we react if we were in his place? Would we plea for our life, would we blame our killers, or our God? The last thing most of us would do would be to praise our Creator. St. Polycarp gives us a beautiful prayer:

“O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blesses Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption (imparted) by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast foreordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen”.     

Monday, February 22, 2016

Saint Tydfil, Martyr of Wales

Tydfil gave her name to Merthyr Tydfil (Merthyr meaning martyr in the Welsh language). Her martyrdom took place during a pitched battle between her family and a band of marauding Picts during the 5th century AD. Although much of what is known about her comes from monks writing long after she was supposed to have lived, evidence shows that she did exist and that she did meet with a violent end.
Tydfil was the daughter of King Brychan, the half-Irish, half-Welsh ruler of Garth Madry (Brecon today). Brychan had four wives and several concubines and was said to have had 11 sons and 25 daughters. Tydfil was his 23rd daughter by his fourth wife. Most of Brychan's children were well educated, girls and boys, at a school in Gwenddwr on the Wye and went on to live deeply religious lives. They founded churches all over Wales, Cornwall and Brittany and were known as the "wandering saints".

Tydfil chose as her home the Taff River Valley, sparsely populated by Celt farmers and their families. She became known for her compassion and healing skills as she nursed both sick humans and animal. She established an early Celtic monastic community, leading a small band of men and women. She built a "llan" or enclosure around a small wattle and daub church, much as other "saints" of the time. Her home included a hospice, outhouses and a scriptorium. There she lived quietly, bringing hope and support to the people of the Taff Valley.
In his old age, King Brychan decided to visit his children one last time. He took with him his son Rhun Dremrudd, his grandson Nefydd and Nefydd's own son, along with servants and warriors. They visited his third daughter, Tanglwstl, at her religious community at Hafod Tanglwstl, what is now known as the village of Aberfan, south of Merthyr Tydfil. Brychan wanted to stay with his daughters a little longer, so he sent most of his warriors and Nefydd on ahead, along the homeward journey. The king went on to Tydfil's home while Rhun and Nefydd's son were still at Hafod Tanglwstl.
So the party was spread out along the Taff Valley; a distance of about seven miles and all uphill. Wales at this time was suffering from raids from Scottish Picts free to roam around now that the Romans had long gone. Some had even settled at South Radnorshire, near Brychan's kingdom. Perhaps the news of the king's absence had reached the Pict settlement and they decided to take advantage of the king's vulnerability. In retrospect, Brychan would appear to have made a very foolish decision in allowing his party to split up.
Rhun Dremrudd was attacked by a raiding party, a mile from Hafod Tanglwstl and he died defending a bridge over the river at what is now the village of Troedyrhiw. The bridge gave the Picts free access to the King's party and Rhun Dremrudd put up a good fight. The Picts then split into two groups: one devastated the Hafod Tanglwstl community and the other pursued the king.
The king and his followers were robbed of their jewellery, money and clothes. Servants and family were all cut down. While the others ran and fought and panicked, Tydfil knelt and calmly prayed, before she too was brutally slain. Then the Picts retreated over the Aberdare Mountain. By then, Nefydd and his warriors caught up with them and avenged the deaths of his family at "Irishman's Hill" before returning to bury their dead.
Tydfil was buried within the church she founded, amongst the people she had cared for. A Celtic Cross was put up in a clearing near the Taff which became a meeting place for the people of the valley. In the 13th century the cross and wattle and daub church were replaced by a stone church dedicated to Saint Tydfil the Martyr. This was in turn replaced in 1807, and rebuilt again in 1894. The church still stands at its place by the River Taff.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee

Christian life is a life where the Eucharist is at its centre. Listening to Metropolitan Kallistos speak on a number of occasions, he constantly emphasises the fact that we are Eucharistic beings (Anthropos Eucharistiakon) in contrast to what others have claimed in the past (Aristotle for example pointed out that the perfect citizen is he who is a polikon on – a political person, i.e. he who is involved in the community). Therefore, the Eucharist is in the epicentre of our existence. This is evident also within the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. Christos Yannaras explains:

‘The Pharisee is the model of a religious person who seeks salvation from himself in reliance on his own merits, his own moral achievements and his faithfulness to the Law. He fasts twice a week; he gives away a tenth of all he gains; he is not like other men – he justifies himself as a moral individual but nevertheless remains mortal, excluded from the life of loving self-renunciation and communion. By contrast the Publican is the model of an ecclesial person. He acknowledges his moral failings. His only hope is to surrender himself worthy of salvation or possess anything meritorious for his redemption. If he has any hope of salvation it will only be because God loves him without limit and so he abandons himself to God’s loving goodness. The Publican leads us to the eucharisitc Kingdom. Similar parables are found throughout the Gospels. The thief, the prostitute, the prodigal – these markedly non-religious types, presented as guides to the realization of true life insofar as they embody repentance, a radical change of heart, an understanding of life as relational and of death as individual self-sufficiency’[1]

[1] Yannaras, Christos, Orthodoxy and the West, (Brookline, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2006), p. 32.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Celebrating 500 Years of Royal Mail – Royal Mail First Day Cover

The Royal Mail is celebrating its 500th birthday. Therefore, its newest Royal Mail First Day Cover is dedicated to this fantastic achievement. In 1516, Brian Tuke was knighted by King Henry VIII. Tuke had been appointed as the first Master of the Posts, thus formally organising the postal network. From these royal beginnings, the postal system has evolved across five centuries into the nation-wide service that Royal Mail runs today, keeping to the same principles of delivering mail for the customer.

The development of Royal Mail from an establishment run by one person for one person, the king, in 1516 to the national organisation it is today was an evolution. Gradually, the system was opened up to the public, but until postal reforms were implemented in 1840, delivery prices remained high and few could afford to send mail.

After 1840, with the introduction of uniform penny postage, a massive expansion occurred, and more and more innovations were introduced in response to the demand for what was proving to be a vital service in Victorian society. Some of these developments, such as roadside letter boxes, first appearing in 1852, have become treasured icons of the country and still define the business today.

Indeed, the postal service has been at the forefront of British life, playing an important role during both world wars, for example, and making a significant contribution to the nation’s graphic arts and communications by commissioning pioneering posters and film documentaries. It has also introduced the postage stamp – which continues to provide a platform for high-quality design and creativity.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Angels and Saints

I heard someone say once that if we met a priest or an angel who would we greet first? The answer was the priest. When I heard this I was shocked, believing that an angel is higher than any human. However, the person did explain that a priest, during the Divine Liturgy holds Christ in his hands, giving a certain blessing to him and therefore to the whole of humanity. That is why we kiss a priest’s hand, in order to receive the blessing he holds, when holding Jesus in the Church. Let us not forget that the Son of God received human nature, blessing it, sanctifying it and saving it. St John of Damascus reaches the same conclusion, explaining it a bit differently:

‘Our nature is a little lower than the angels because of death and the grossness of the body, but through God’s favour and union with him it has become greater than the angles. For the angels stand with fear and trembling before [the nature] seated on the throne of glory in Christ, and they will stand trembling at the judgement. It is not said of them in Scripture that they will be seated together with, or be partakers of, the divine glory (“for they are all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation”), not that they will reign together, nor that they will be glorified together, nor that they will sit at the Father’s table, but the saints are sons of God, sons of the kingdom and heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ. Therefore, I honour the saints and I glorify them together with Christ as his slaves and friends and fellow-heirs: slaves by nature, friends by choice, and sons and heirs by divine grace, as the Lord said to the Father.’ (St John of Damascus, Treatise III, On the Divine Images, 26).   

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Hagia Sophia (also known as the Church of the Holy Wisdom – Της του Θεού Σοφίας -  and as the Big Church) in Constantinople was the Imperial Orthodox Cathedral during the Byzantine epoch, located in the European side of modern day Istanbul, Turkey. The current Church is the third building of the same name, constructed on the same grounds.
The first Great Church serving as the Cathedral was constructed by Emperor Constantius (337-361), the son of St Constantine the Great, in 360 AD. It was a basilica building, covered with a wooden roof. During a riot, which occurred at the time of Emperor Arcadios (365-408) in 404, it was unfortunately set on fire.

After reconstruction, it was rededicated by the Emperor Theodosios II (408-450) in 415, maintaining a similar basilica style. It survived until the Nika riot in 532. The Church building was rebuilt between 532 and 537 by Emperor Justinian. When the building was finalised, it was the largest Cathedral in the world. It was dedicated, with a big ceremony, on 27th December 537 AD. The Church was planned by two architects, Isidore of Miletus and Anthemios of Tralles, professors of geometry from Constantinople.
Justinian’s basilica was at once the culminating architectural achievement of late antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, a basilica church with a dome. It is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Of great artistic value was its decorated interior with mosaics and marble pillars and covering. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Muslim worlds alike.
For over 900 years Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, being the Imperial Cathedral of the City. When the Byzantine Empire feel to the Ottoman Empire (29th May 1453) it was converted to a mosque, under Sultan Mehmet II. This was a logical move, since it was the largest religious building in the city. Additionally, most churches in the city had the same fate. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, president of the modern Turkish Republic, turned the Ayasofya Mosque into the Ayasofya Museum, allowing for millions of visitors to visit this magnificent Byzantine Church. It was opened as a museum for the first time on 1st February 1935.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Talk by Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia on Church Relations

The London Branch of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius is organising a talk on Thursday 25th February at 7.45 pm by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who will speak on a very interesting an current theme, entitled: 'The Current Dialogues between the Orthodox and the Anglicans and the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics: where are e now?' Metropolitan Kallistos is the Orthodox Co-chairman both of the Dialogue with the Anglicans and of the Dialogue with the Roman Catholics. 

The event will take place at St James's Church, Sussex Gardens (Paddington), W2. Closest tube station is Lancaster Gate. The evening will begin with Eucharist at 6.30 pm followed by light refreshments. The AGM of the London Branch of the Fellowship will be at 7.15 p, preceding the talk at 7.45 pm. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Continuous Prayer

The Jesus Prayer according to many Church Fathers is an essential to our spiritual growth. It is said to be as old as the Church itself. Practising it continuously reminds us of Christ throughout our life, having Him at the centre of our existence. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh explains:

‘A last way in which we can pray is the use, more or less continuous, of a vocal prayer that serves as a background, a walking-stick, throughout the day and throughout life.
What I have in mind is something which is specifically used by the Orthodox. It is what we call the ‘Jesus Prayer’, a prayer which is centred on the name of Jesus. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ This prayer is used by monks and nuns but also it is used by our lay people.
It is the prayer of stability, because it is the prayer that is not discursive – we do not move from one thought to another – it is a prayer that places us face to face with God through a profession of faith concerning him, and it defines a situation concerning us. It is the profession of faith which, according to the mind of most Orthodox ascetics and mystics, is a summing up of the whole Gospels.’[1]

[1] Anthony of Sourozh, Creative Prayer, 2004, p.56.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Review In the Image and Likeness of God – A Hope-Filled Anthropology The Buffalo Statement 2015

Book Review
In the Image and Likeness of God – A Hope-Filled Anthropology
The Buffalo Statement 2015[1]

            The Buffalo Statement (2015) is the newest statement, agreed by the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue (ICAOTD), entitled In the Image and Likeness of God. This fourth phase began in 2009 under the co-chairmanship of Archbishop Roger Herft and Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, completing it in September 2015 in Buffalo, USA.
            Metropolitan Kallistos has, in a number of occasions, when referring to the official dialogue between the Anglicans and the Orthodox, proposed the change of theme from ecclesiology to anthropology. Additionally, we can also identify that ‘in the section entitled ‘Christ, Humanity, and the Church,’ The Cyprus Statement also raised questions concerning the Christian understanding of the human person.’ (p. viii) Thus, the Commission wished to officially move from ecclesiology to anthropology, a theme which will dominate in the relations in the 21st century.

This agreement will shape future talks and examinations of a number of topics, such as bioethics and the sanctity of life, human rights, ecology and the human person, who is created in the Image and Likeness of God. The Commission decided to have this as the first part. The second one, not yet drafted, will follow, examining the ‘practical consequences that follow from these theological presuppositions. Topics to be discussed will include the responsibility of humankind for the environment, questions on sexuality, the meaning of marriage, and human interventions at different stages of life: before and at birth (birth control, abortion, experimentation on the foetus, etc.), during the course of life (transplant of organs), and at death (euthanasia, assisted dying).’ (p. ix) Therefore, both these parts seem to examine issues which do not only have a religious interest, but also a social, medical, anthropological, philosophical and political concern.
It is interesting to see that the Commission identifies the difficulties of the relations between the Anglicans and the Orthodox since 1977, due to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate. In the introduction we read, ‘it is also possible that we shall not agree entirely concerning the practical consequences of our theology of personhood. Yet without doubt our recent dialogue is drawing us more closely together, as we share in the prayer of Christ: ‘May they all be one.’’(p. x.).
The Statements between the Anglican Communion and the Orthodox Church (Moscow, Dublin, Cyprus and Buffalo) show the great progress and continued relations between the two ecclesiastical traditions, trying to bring a better understanding of the commonalities and differences. Dialogue is crucial in order to attempt, with the inspiration and blessing of the Holy Spirit, to achieve unity. These Official Statements are a way forward towards this objective. That is why we need to read them and re-read them in order to identify the progress of the relations and try to achieve ‘that they all may be one.’

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Who was St Valentine? Was he Greek or Latin?

On the 14 February 270 AD, the military commander of Rome, Placidus, ordered the beheading of an elder man called Valentinus, the spiritual leader of the modern day region of Terni. Valentinus was born in that area, being ordained bishop by Pope Victor; he had gained great fame for his ethos and his work. The Roman palaces, however, did not like or support this reality. After the beheading of the elder bishop, three Christians (Proclus, Efivus and Apollonius – the latter being Placidus’ son) retrieved the martyr’s body and transported it to Terni, where they buried it south of the city. These three were later also martyred in that area. After the legalisation of Christianity by Emperor Constantine the Great, the locals were free to venerate their local saint, who had –up to that point- performed many miracles. On top of his burial spot the Christians later built a Basilica.

A question which has no clear answer within the Hagiology of the Church is whether the saint was Greek or Latin. We cannot be sure due to the following reason. In Rome, and in particular in the building block of St. Domitianus, there is the ancient Christian tomb of Santa Maria Antiqua (taken from the ancient image of the Virgin Mary, which was stored there). In the church one can see many wall paintings of various saints from both East and West. There also exists St. Valentine, whose inscription is written in Greek characters. The icon painting of the church (8th century) and its renovation were commissioned by Greek Pope John VII, who came from Byzantine Calabria and was the son of a Byzantine dignitary, names Plato. Despite being Pope for only two years (705-707), the work was continued by Greek Pope of Rome Zachary (741-752). The fact that his name was written in Greek, and the fact that the two Greek Popes wished to have St. Valentine painted in the church, question whether he was Greek. We cannot know for sure. And maybe it’s not that important anyway. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to find the answer, for academic reasons. In the West St Valentine day is celebrated on 14 February. The Orthodox Church, however, celebrates his memory on the 24 October. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Stadium in Ancient Olympia

Olympia was the largest ancient Greek sanctuary in the Peloponnese, equal in importance to that of Delphi. There was no town nearby, neither was the area permanently inhabited; nevertheless, Olympia always remained a sacred place, full of places of worship and works of art as well as auxiliary buildings used during the Games.
The Stadium hosted mainly track events and was a flat area surrounded by hills with seats arranged in amphitheatre style for the spectators. There are no records of what the stadium looked like in the early historical period; however, archaeologists assume that it must have been in about the same position with the archaic stadium, along the Treasures’ balcony.

Towards the end of the 6th century BC, the Stadium was in approximately the same location, but the track was lowered to improve the spectators’ visibility. However, during the 5th century BC, the number of the spectators increased dramatically. This called for a drastic transformation of the area. The new stadium was moved 75 meters to the East and 12 meters to the North.
The track was made of clay and was 212 meters long by 34 meters wide, while the stadium and finishing points were marked by stone valves. The stadium had about 50.000 seats around the track for the spectators, while a small platform was constructed on the south side for the Hellanodikes (umpires).

Friday, February 12, 2016

Book Review: Sonnets from the Spirit

Sonnets from the Spirit,[1] a book written by my friend Christopher Villiers, is a fantastic source of the continuation of the ancient practice of midrash. Through his fantastic poems, taken from both the Old and the New Testaments, he speaks through the heroes, saints and protagonists of Holy Scripture. He gives a personal tone to the events, allowing us to further understand the richness and significance of the episodes we read in the Bible. This work shows a connection between the various stories in Holy Scripture connecting the beginning with Eve and concluding with the Assumption of the Theotokos – the Second Eve -, showing thus the whole plan of God for the salvation of His creation.
These sonnets are to be read with an open mind, allowing the reader to see the events from Scripture in a totally new way, from the personal stance of the people taking part in the events. Therefore, these sonnets hold within them a passion and an emotion, allowing us to be part of them, just as we are when observing an icon, or visiting a church.

A poem, which impressed me greatly, was the one dedicated to the Prodigal Son. A poem full of theology but also with a human character, an understanding of the human relations and the mistakes the prodigal son (i.e. mankind) acts towards the father (i.e. God). A poem where ideals, such as forgiveness, are pointed out, showing us the example and the way of life we need to maintain in order to live a Christ-like life. Additionally, the poem dedicated to Judas is another example of the painful events, giving Judas a voice, which we do not often hear due to his betrayal.
These poems allow us to follow the life of the Church by understanding better the stories, parables and events found in Holy Scripture. The personal factor, found in these sonnets, gives the opportunity to each and every Christian to take the protagonist’s place, making Scripture and Tradition intimate to our existence within the Church.
Let us hope that this book, which is a great read, is only the first of many books that Christopher Villiers will write. Christianity needs to remind itself of the personal stance we need to keep within our worship, within our life in the Church, by making every story and event of the Bible a truth which we need to follow.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Seek God in Early Life

When we walk into the Church we see that most faithful during the services are mainly old people, with some exceptions of younger or young people here and there. However, Holy Scripture promotes the idea that we need to seek God in early life. We should not leave God and communion with Him for the later stage of our life, due to fear of death and the afterlife. In the Old Testament Book Ecclesiastes (11:7-12:8) we read:

Truly the light is sweet, And it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun; But if a man lives many years And rejoices in them all, Yet let him remember the days of darkness, For they will be many. All that is coming is vanity. Seek God in Early Life Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, And put away evil from your flesh, For childhood and youth are vanity. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”: While the sun and the light, The moon and the stars, Are not darkened, And the clouds do not return after the rain; In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, And the strong men bow down; When the grinders cease because they are few, And those that look through the windows grow dim; When the doors are shut in the streets, And the sound of grinding is low; When one rises up at the sound of a bird, And all the daughters of music are brought low. Also they are afraid of height, And of terrors in the way; When the almond tree blossoms, The grasshopper is a burden, And desire fails. For man goes to his eternal home, And the mourners go about the streets. Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed,[a] Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, Or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “All is vanity.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

St Charalambos Greek Orthodox Church, Luton

St Charalambos Greek Orthodox Church in Luton is a small community, existing since 1980. This community recently purchased an old Anglican Church and transformed it into an Orthodox Church building.[1]
 ‘The holy, glorious Martyr Charalambos lived at the time of the Emperor Septimus Severus (194-211) in the city of Magnesia on the River Meander near Ephesus. He was 107 years old and had ministered as priest to the Christians of the city for many years, devotedly instructing them in the way of truth and preaching Christ to all, regardless of the threats of the pagans.

When he was denounced as a dangerous mischief-maker and brought before the tribunal of the Governor Lucian, he responded to his threats in these terms, “You little know what is for my good and well-being. Nothing could be more pleasing to me than to suffer for Christ. So don’t hesitate to put my old body to the tortures you deem the worst, and you will learn that the power of my Christ cannot be overcome.” He was then stripped of his priestly robe by the tormentors, who tore his flesh with iron claws without being able to elicit a single cry of pain from him. On the contrary, he said, “Thank you, brothers. In flaying my old body, you are renewing my soul and preparing it for everlasting blessedness.”
When the Governor saw the steadfastness of the old man, far from repenting and giving glory to God, he hurled himself at him in uncontrollable rage, tearing at his skin with his bare hands. Then, by an act of God, his hands were suddenly severed and remained claw-like and lifeless on the Martyr’s body. Moved to pity by the tyrant’s cries and supplications, Saint Charalambos gave himself to prayer and obtained his healing. This astonishing miracle and demonstration of the love of Christians for their enemies brought Lucian, as well as the tormentors Porphyrius and Baptus, to believe in Christ God and to renounce the cult of idols. Three women onlookers also rushed forward and fearlessly proclaimed their faith. The grateful Governor was immediately baptized by the Saint and a great many inhabitants of the province of Asia were won for Christ.
When the Emperor Severus learned that the inhabitants of Magnesia and the surrounding country were abandoning idolatry and receiving holy Baptism from the old priest who had been condemned to death; that the blind were recovering their sight at his prayer and the crippled were walking, he was very troubled indeed. He immediately sent 300 soldiers to Magnesia with orders to bring the Saint, nailed and chained, to Antioch in Pisidia where he was residing. The soldiers treated the old man very badly on the road, until the horse on which they had set him suddenly uttered a condemnation of the Emperor as an enemy of God, and of his soldiers as slaves of the Devil—to the great terror of the military, who for the remainder of the journey did the Saint no harm.

As soon as the venerable old man was brought before him, the Emperor had him thrown into a blazing furnace with a long skewer through his chest. However, the fire went out as soon as it touched the Saint who, to the Emperor’s astonishment, remained insensible to what he suffered. What was the secret of his invulnerability, the tyrant wanted to know. “The power of Christ!” replied the Saint. Severus then put this to the test and presented him with a man possessed by a demon for thirty-five years. The Saint drove out the unclean spirit with a single word. Severus next produced the corpse of a young man about to be buried. After addressing a fervent prayer to God, Saint Charalambos gave the youth his hand and, to the Emperor’s amazement, raised him from the bier as though from sleep.
Then the Prefect Crispus shouted, “Your Majesty should put this sorcerer to death straight way!” At this, the Emperor’s hatred broke out again and he commanded Saint Charalambos to sacrifice to the idols. On his refusal, he ordered them to break his jaw with stones and to set his beard on fire. But God acted once again. The flames turned on the tormentors and the place where they stood was shaken by an earthquake.
Lifted up off his throne and suspended in the air, the Emperor was whipped for a good while by unseen angels. On learning of his predicament, his daughter Galinia confessed Christ as Almighty and came to implore the holy Martyr to release her father from chastisement. This he did; but the Emperor’s amazement at the power of God was short-lived, and he soon returned to his idolatrous madness. Despite the remonstrances of Galinia, who reminded him of the divine blessings which had lighted on him, he kept Saint Haralambos in custody and had him tortured anew. He also turned on Galinia and threatened her with death unless she sacrificed. She made as if to obey but, on entering the temple, she threw the statues to the ground and broke them in pieces. Severus sent to the foundry to have new statues cast, but she shattered these too, so that he became a laughing-stock.

Severus then made a last attempt to break the instigator of his daughter’s conversion. But Saint Haralambos withstood every device of his tormentors with adamantine fortitude and all the onlookers were dazzled by the brilliance of Grace. He welcomed the death sentence with joy, and, on reaching the place of execution, he raised his hands and eyes to heaven. He thanked God for having brought him to the issue of his contest, and he asked Him to grant salvation of soul, health of body and abundance of good things in the name of His Martyr. A voice from heaven was then heard. “Come Charalambos, valiant in fight, to share in the joy and splendour of the Martyrs and holy priests!” His head fell beneath the sword on February 10 and his body was buried by the blessed Galinia.
The skull of Saint Charalambos is kept at the Monastery of St. Stephen at Meteora. The fragments of his holy relics, which are to be found in many places in Greece and elsewhere, accomplish frequent miracles and have made Saint Charalambos, the most aged of all the holy Martyrs, especially dear to the people of Greece.’[2]

[1] For more information on this community see: and the Facebook page: St Charalambos Greek Orthodox Church.
[2] Adapted from The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Vol. 3, compiled by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra and translated from the French by Christopher Hookway (Chalkidike, Greece: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady, 2001) pp. 463-466.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Saint Teilo (Dillon), Bishop of Llandaff, Wales

St Teilo (Dillon) was born near Penally by Tenby, Pembrokeshire and died in 580 AD. There is plenty of evidence, both documentary and from place names and dedications, that Saint Teilo was widely venerated in southern Wales and Brittany. (His name may be spelled Teilio, Teilus, Thelian, Teilan, Teilou, Teliou, Elidius, Eliud, Dillo, or Dillon.) He was undoubtedly an influential churchman, whose principal monastic foundation and centre of ministry was Llandeilo Fawr in Carmarthenshire.
Some facts are fairly certain. Teilo was educated under Saint Dyfrig (Dubricius) and a Paulinus, possibly Paul Aurelian through whom he met Saint David (Dewi). In his school days, his fellows had suggested that his name was derived from the Greek word for the sun and there is no doubt that in his later life he was regarded as a shining light, illuminating and warming the Church in Wales.

We are told among other things that Teilo went with Saint David and Saint Paternus on David's pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and with them shares the title of the Three Blessed Visitors to Britain. It is also related that during the 'yellow plague,' so called because it made everyone it attacked yellow and bloodless, he went to Brittany and stayed with Saint Samson at Dol. There they planted a big orchard of fruit-trees, three miles long, reaching from Dol to Cai, which is still called after their names. After the time with his friend S. Samson at Dol, he was a guest for a while with Budic, a chieftain of Brittany, who had married his sister Anaumed. After seven years and seven months, he returned to Llandaff taking his nephew Oudoceus with him, who was later to succeed him.
Much of the writing about Saint Teilo was composed in the interests of the medieval see of Llandaff, which claimed him as its second bishop. About 1130 AD, Geoffrey (Galfridus), a priest of Llandaff, composed a "vita" of Teilo in the form of a sermon. A longer version of this life, altered to add importance to the diocese of Llandaff, can be found in the "Liber Landavensis." Teilo is co-titular patron of the Llandaff cathedral with Saints Peter, Dubricius, and Oudoceus (Euddogwy). The last-named was Teilo's nephew and successor at Llandaff.
The Gospels of Saint Chad (written in southwestern Mercia about 700 AD) became the property of a church of Saint Teilo; marginal notes show that in the 9th century Teilo was venerated in southern Wales as the founder of a monastery called the "Familia Teliavi.". The book itself was regarded as belonging to Teilo; the curse of God and the saint is invoked on those who break the agreements contained in it.
Outside of Wales, Teilo's name is especially venerated in Landeleau (diocese of Quimper), Brittany. His feast is still observed in the archdiocese of Cardiff and on Caldey Island (Attwater, Benedictines, Farmer, Husenbeth, Walsh). St Teilo is commemorated on the 9th February.[1]

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Dome in Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople, is covered by a central dome with a diameter of 31 meters (102 feet). This crown for a dome seems rendered weightless by the unbroken arcade of arched windows under it, which help flood the colourful interior with light.

The dome is carried on pendentives: four concave triangular sections of masonry which solve the problem of setting the circular base of a dome on a square base. In Hagia Sophia the weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers at the corners. Between them the dome seems to float upon four great arches. Such an endeavour was not practiced before in the world. The dome in Hagia Sophia is the first of its kind, being the largest dome in the Byzantine Empire.

In order to support such a structure and the massive dome, the nave was extended, adding semi domes. They brace the structure, solving the problem of weight and support. Thus a hierarchy of dome-headed elements build up to create a vast oblong interior crowned by the main dome, a sequence unexampled in antiquity.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bless the Lord

The hymn below is a Byzantine chant from the 14th century AD, Ευλογήσατε τον Κύριο – Bless the Lord. Composer of this piece is Maistor Ioannes Koukouzeles, performed by the Greek Byzantine Choir.

Friday, February 5, 2016

‘Global warming is a moral crisis and a moral challenge’ – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

The Ecumenical Patriarch is known as the Green Patriarch due to his beliefs, actions and work regarding the environment. He talks about it whenever he gets a chance, in order to make all of us aware of the care we need to show towards our planet, towards Creation in general. Global warming is not an issue of this world, it is an issue every Christian needs to take seriously. The relationship between us and the environment is evident from the book of Genesis. Our communion with God takes place not on another planet or away from the environment, but within Creation. It was made by God; therefore, it is blessed by Him. We are here to take care of it, to live within Creation and not to destroy it. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew explains:

‘. . . global warming is a moral crisis and a moral challenge. It is a crisis about and within the human heart. The solution of the ecological problem is not only a matter of science, technology and politics but also, and perhaps primarily, a matter of radical change of mind, of new values, of a new ethos.
For the Orthodox tradition, sin has a cosmic dimension and cosmological impact. The theology of the Orthodox Church recognises the natural creation as inseparable from the identity and destiny of humanity, inasmuch as every human action leaves a lasting imprint on the body of the earth. This means that human attitudes and behaviour towards other people directly impact on and reflect human attitudes and behaviour toward creation.
This is why we use the term metanoia, which signifies a shift of mind, a total change of heart, to determine the transformation of our attitudes and actions toward our world. This is very important because, during the last century, a century of immense scientific progress, we also experienced the biggest destruction of the natural environment. Science will inform us about the world; but it cannot reach the depth of our soul and mind. Today, we know; and yet we still continue to act against our knowledge. Knowledge has unfortunately not resulted in metanoia.’[1]

[1] Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch, ‘Creation Care and Ecological Justice: Reflections,’ Koinonia, New Series No.66, Allsaintstide 2015, p.44.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What is Greece? Reflection on the Historical trajectory of a Modern Nation - Talk

The Macedonian Society of Great Britain has the pleasure of inviting you to an illustrated lecture entitled:
"What is Greece? Reflections on the Historical Trajectory of a Modern Nation."
The talk will be given by Dr Stathis N. Kalyvas - Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science Director, program on Order, Conflict, and Violence
 Yale University.

The event will take place on Thursday 18 February 2016, 7.00 p.m.
@ the Hellenic Centre,
16-18 Paddington Street, London, W1U 5AS
RSVP by 14th February 2016
Tel: 07904086677
A reception will follow the talk. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Saint Wereburga, Virgin and Abbess, Patroness of Chester, England

St Wereburga was daughter of Wulfere, king of Mercia, by St. Ermenilde, daughter of Ercombert, king of Kent, and St. Sexburge. In her was centred the royal blood of all the chief Saxon kings; but her glory was the contempt of a vain world, even from her cradle, on the pure motive of the love of God. She had three brothers, Wulfade and Rufin, who died martyrs, and Kenred, who ended his life at Rome in the odour of sanctity. Her father, Wulfere, resided near Stone, in Staffordshire. His eldest brother Peada, had begun to plant the faith in Mercia.
Wereburge excelled the rest in fervour and discretion. She was humble, obedient, and meek; never failed of assisting with her mother at the daily performance of the whole church office: besides spending many hours on her knees in private devotion in her closet. She eagerly listened to every instruction and exhortation of piety.
At an age in which youth is the fondest of recreations, pleasures, and vanities, she was always grave, reserved, and mortified. She was a stranger to any joy but that which the purity of her conscience afforded her; and in holy compunction bewailed before God, without ceasing, her distance from him, and her other spiritual miseries. She trembled at the thought of the least danger that could threaten her purity; fasting and prayer were her delight, by which she endeavoured to render her soul acceptable to her heavenly bridegroom. Her beauty and her extraordinary qualifications, rendered more conspicuous by the greater lustre of her virtue, drew to her many suitors for marriage. But a mountain might sooner be moved than her resolution shaken.
The prince of the West-Saxons waited on her with rich presents; but she refused to accept them or listen to his proposals, saying, she had chosen the Lord Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind, for the Spouse of her soul, and had devoted herself to His service in the state of her virginity. But her greatest victory was over the insidious attempts of Werbode, a powerful wicked knight of her father’s court. The king was greatly indebted to the valour and services of this knight for his temporal prosperity, and entertained a particular affection for him. The knight, sensible of this, and being passionately fond of Wereburge, made use of all his interest with the king to obtain his consent to marry her, which was granted on condition he could gain that of the royal virgin.
Queen Ermenilde and her two sons, Wulfade and Rufin, were grievously afflicted at the news. These two princes were then upon their conversion to Christianity, and for this purpose resorted to the cell of St. Chad, bishop of Litchfield, under pretence of going for hunting; for the saint resided in a hermitage, situated in a forest. By him they were instructed in the faith, and baptized. Werbode, finding them an obstacle to his design, contrived their murder, for which he is said to have moved the father to give an order in a fit of passion, by showing him the young princes returning from the bishop, and incensing him against them by slanders: for the king was passionate, and had been likewise prevailed on by his perfidious minister to countenance and favour idolatry. Werbode died miserably soon after, and Wulfere no sooner heard that the murder was perpetrated, but, stung with grief and remorse, he entered into himself, did great penance, and entirely gave himself up to the advice of his queen and St. Chad. He destroyed all the idols, converted their temples into churches, founded the abbey of Peterborough, and the priory of Stone, where the two martyrs were buried, and exceedingly propagated the worship of the true God, by his zealous endeavours and example.

Wereburge, seeing this perfect change in the disposition of her father, was no longer afraid to disclose to him her earnest desire of consecrating herself to God in a religious state of life. Finding him averse, and much grieved at the proposal, she pleaded her cause with so many tears, and urged the necessity of preparing for death in so pathetic a manner, that her request was granted. Her father even thanked God with great humility for so great a grace conferred on her, though not without many tears which such a sacrifice cost him. He conducted her in great state to Ely, attended by his whole court, and was met at the gate of the monastery by the royal abbess St. Audry, with her whole religious family in procession, singing holy hymns to God. Wereburge, falling on her knees, begged to be admitted in quality of a penitent. She obtained her request, and Te Deum was sung. She went through the usual trials with great humility and patience, and with joy exchanged her rich coronet, purple, silks, and gold, for a poor veil and a coarse habit, and resigned herself into the hands of her superior, to live only to Christ.
King Wulfere, his three brothers, and Egbright, or Egbert, king of Kent, and Adulph, king of the East-Angles, together with the great lords of their respective states, were present at these her solemn espousals with Christ, and were entertained by Wulfere with a royal magnificence. The virgin here devoted herself to God with new fervour in all her actions, and made the exercises of obedience, prayer, contemplation, humility, and penance, her whole occupation, instead of that circle of vanities and amusements which employ the slaves of the world.
King Wulfere dying in 675, was buried at Litchfield. Kenred, his son, being then too young to govern, his brother Ethelred succeeded him. St. Ermenilde was no sooner at liberty, but she took the religious veil at Ely, under her mother, St. Sexburge, at whose death she was chosen third abbess, and was honoured in England among the saints on the 13th of February. Her daughter, St. Wereburge, at her uncle King Ethelred’s persuasion, left Ely to charge herself, at his request, to the superintendence of all the houses of religious women in his kingdom, that she might establish in them the observance of the most exact monastic discipline.
By his liberality she founded those of Trentham in Staffordshire; of Hanbury, near Tutbury, in the county of Stafford, (not in the county of Huntingdon, as some mistake,) and of Wedon, one of the royal palaces in Northamptonshire. This king also founded the collegiate church of St. John Baptist, in the suburbs of West-Chester, and gave to St. Egwin the ground for the great abbey of Evesham; and after having reigned twenty-nine years, embraced the monastic state in his beloved monastery of Bardney, upon the river Witham, not far from Lincoln, of which he was afterwards chosen abbot.
He resigned his crown to Kenred his nephew, brother to our saint, having been chosen king only on account of the young age of that prince. Kenred governed his realm with great prudence and piety, making it his study, by all the means in his power, to prevent and root out all manner of vice, and promote the knowledge and love of God. After a reign of five years, he recommended his subjects to God, took leave of them, to their inexpressible grief, left his crown to Coelred, his uncle’s son, and making a pilgrimage to Rome, there put on the monastic habit in 708, and persevered in great fervour till his happy death.
St. Wereburge, both by word and example, conducted to God the souls committed to her care. She was the most perfect model of meekness, humility, patience, and purity. Besides the church office, she recited every day the psalter on her knees, and, after matins, remained in the church in prayer, either prostrate on the ground, or kneeling till day-light, and often bathed in tears. She never took more than one meal a day, and read with wonderful delight the lives of the fathers of the desert. She foretold her death, visited all places under her care, and gave her last orders and exhortations. She prepared herself for her last hour by ardent invitations of her heavenly bridegroom, and languishing aspirations of divine love, in wh[1]ich she breathed forth her pure soul on the 3rd of February, at Trentham, about the end of the seventh century. Her body, as she had desired, was interred at Hanbury.