Saturday, April 30, 2016

Let His enemies be scattered

Today (specifically, late at night) we take part in one of the greatest events in human history, i.e. the Resurrection of Christ. Orthodox faithful go to Church to hear the priests and the chanters sing the well-known hymn: ‘Christ has risen from the dead. By death He has trampled upon death, and to those in the tombs He has given life.’ Unfortunately, after this hymn, the Churches are emptied. Everyone comes to hear the Καλό Λόγο, The Good Word that Christ has risen from the dead; but, not many of the faithful wish to celebrate and be part of the Divine Liturgy that follows this great event.

The Beginning of the Liturgy starts with the hymn ‘Christ has risen…’ The priest then chants some verses. Interestingly enough one of the first verses is: ‘Let God arise, Let His enemies be scattered; Let those also who hate Him flee before Him.’ I am not sure why this is placed here; but, I have come to the conclusion that it is rightfully placed during this moment, since most ‘faithful’ choose to leave the Church and go and eat the traditional soup with meat. Not many understand these verses, but seeing the Church emptied within minutes, makes one think of where we, as a Church, as a group of faithful, where are we headed? Let us only hope that the Resurrected Son of God will be a loving judge at the end of times, and not see his own people as enemies. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Of your mystical Supper…

During the Divine Liturgy on Holy Thursday, we chant the same hymn a number of times, remembering the major event, i.e. the Last supper. The hymn is as follows:
Of your mystical Supper, Son of God, receive me today as a communicant; for I will not tell of the Mystery to your enemies; I will not give you a kiss, like Judas; but like the Thief I confess you: Remember me, Lord in your Kingdom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Troparion of Kassiani from Mount Athos

Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, perceiving your divinity, took up the role of myrrh-bearer, and with lamentation brings sweet myrrh to you before your burial. ‘Alas!’, she says, ‘for night is for me a frenzy of lust, a dark and moonless love of sin. Accept the fountains of my tears, you who from the clouds draw out the water of the sea; bow yourself down to the groanings of my heart, you who bowed the heavens by your ineffable self-emptying. I shall kiss your immaculate feet, and wipe them again with the locks of my hair, those feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise, and hid herself in fear. Who can search out the multitude of my sins and the depths of your judgements, my Saviour, saviour of souls? Do not despise me, your servant, for you have mercy without measure’.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

As the Lord was coming to his voluntary passion...

As the Lord was coming to his voluntary passion, he said to his Apostles on the road, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man will be betrayed, as it is written of him’. Come then, let us too, with minds made pure, journey with him, and let us be crucified with him, and for his sake become dead to the pleasures of life, that we may live with him and hear him as he cries, ‘I am no longer going up the earthly Jerusalem to suffer, but to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God. And I shall raise you up with me to the Jerusalem above, in the kingdom of heaven’.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

St George Church, Cappadocia

St George Church is located in Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia. The disordered hexagonally planned Church has flat ceiling. The ceiling in front of the apse is carved in concave shape. The collapsed apse is used as an entrance. The Church was decorated by Amiraznes (commander who was given land to train special military forces) Basileios’ wife Tamara (between 1283 and 1295), during Sultan Mesud II and Emperor Andronikos II’s reign.

The inscription says: ‘This church which was built on behalf of glorious and great Martyr Georgios, was decorated magnificently despite the difficulties, with the great help and desire by the wife of Amiraznes Basileios Gia (oupes) and Tamara, illustrated across. Oh, suffering Cappadocian Martyr Georgios. At the time of our Sir Andronikos’ ruling under the greatest of the great Sultan Mesud’s reign.’

The femals donor depicted with a model Church on her hand is probably a princess from Georgian origin. The land that she donates was mentioned on another inscription, which is on the ceiling of the Church: ‘Me, humble Tamara, I am donating a vineyard land on the slope and the orchard that I bought from Platenes to the temple that I got it built.’

Interestingly enough, and in many respects a unique spectacle, is the fact that next to St George one finds Sultan Mesud II depicted. This was done since he had assisted greatly in the formation of this cave Church, one of many within Ihlara Valley. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Patriarchal Church of St George, Constantinople

Since the Fall of Constantinople (29th May 1453) the Ecumenical Patriarchate has moved a number of times. The current Patriarchal Church, the Church of St George the Great Martyr and Trophy Bearer is the fifth church in former Byzantine capital to house the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Formerly a convent for Orthodox nuns, it was converted to the patriarchal offices by Patriarch Matthew II (1598-1601).

Patriarch Timothy II refurbished the Church in 1614, whilst Patriarch Jeremiah III rebuilt it after a fire in 1720. It was repaired by 1836 by Patriarch Gregory VI and restored recently under Patriarch Bartholomew. The Church of St George is divided into vestibule, nave, and altar and retains the traditional basilica style with three aisles. The vestibule contains icons of St George and the Prophet Elijah, who is wearing fur in memory of the furrier merchants who brought a water system to the Phanar, the area of modern day Istanbul where the Patriarchate is located.

An impressive feature within this Church is the Iconostasis. The icon screen that separates the nave from the altar is an 18th century conglomeration of Byzantine, Renaissance, Baroque and Ottoman styles. Carved out of wood and recently gilded, the screen is divided into three levels. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saint Maelrubha, Celt Abbot of Applecross, Isle of Skye, Scotland

This little-known Saint was one of the most active of the numerous Irish proselytizers who underwent the white martyrdom (self-imposed exile) in what is now Scotland. Unfortunately there is no known extant life or hagiography of this saint, so details of his life must be gleaned from other sources. There are numerous citations of this Saint in various Irish Annals and Martyrologies.
St. Maelrubha was born near Derry, Ireland in 642. His father was of the clan of Eoghan, making the saint eighth in line of direct descent of the famous Niall of the Nine Hostages. According to legend, Niall was responsible for the abduction of St. Patrick to Ireland from Britain. Regardless, this lineage made St. Maelrubha a distant cousin of St. Columcille. His mother was of the Cruithne, a Pictish race that settled in the north of Ireland, and a niece of St. Comgal of Bangor.

St. Maelrubha entered the monastery at Bangor, Ireland in his youth and departed for the land of the Northern Picts in 671 AD. He probably went, initially, to the isle of Islay and worked his way up the west coast of Scotland over the course of the next two years. He eventually settled in Appurcrossan, now known as Applecross, and in 673 AD St. Maelrubha established his famous monastery that was his base in converting the Picts to Christianity.
From his monastery Maelrubba founded many churches in the glens and islands of north-west Scotland, but the Gaelic place names make it difficult to distinguish between the dedications to Maelrubba and those to the honour of Our Lady, the suffix of endearment Mo or Ma almost always being added to his name. His name, shorn of the suffix, means the red priest.
St. Maelrubha fell asleep in the Lord in the year 722 AD at the advanced age of eighty, and although the Irish traditions are that he died of old age, the Scottish assert that he was killed by the Danes, the Black Gentiles. In the Aberdeen Breviary the legend says that he died at Urquart in the Black Isle, on the eastern side of the county of Ross and Cromerty, and for three days he lay severely wounded comforted by angels. A bright light hovering over the dying saint attracted a priest, who was able to give him the viaticum, and later a church was built over the place. His body was buried in his church at Applecross, and a carved stone marks the site of his grave.
Due to the proximity of Applecross to the Isle of Skye and his numerous works on the island, St. Maelrubha is considered to be the patron saint of the southern and central portions of the island (St. Columcille has the upper portion).
According to accounts, in his advanced years St. Maelrubha tried to rise from sitting one day by grabbing hold of a branch of an ash tree. While rising, the tree was uprooted and a spring gushed forth and the water from this spring possessed healing powers. Another tree stood close to the well upon which the Saint would hang a bronze bell to gather the faithful. As with the well, the bell possessed miraculous powers in that it would ring of its own accord when the Saint was preparing to speak. It was also at that location that the Saint would mount the Rock of the Book, known today as the Pulpit Rock. There is another healing spring associated with this Saint on an island in the Loch Maree.
Following the Saint's repose, the land for six miles around his monastery was considered sacred and protected. Today the land is called in Gaelic A'Chomraich, The Sanctuary. The staff of the Saint was believed to have existed at Kilvary in Argyll. Guarding this staff was the duty of the Dewars of Scotland. Unfortunately, the staff disappeared around the time of the Reformation in Scotland.
His death occurred on 21 April, and his feast has always been kept in Ireland on this day; but in Scotland (probably owing to the confusion with St. Rufus) it is kept on 27 August.[1]

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Shakespeare's 400th Anniversary of his Death – Royal Mail First Day Cover

The newest Royal Mail First Day Cover is dedicated to Shakespeare, marking the 400th anniversary of his death (23/04/1616). The ten stamps in this new collection have some of his words, which still influence millions around the world who read his work to this day.

Philip Parker, Head of Stamp Strategy at Royal Mail, explains: ‘It is fitting that Shakespeare is being honoured with a set of stamps to mark the 400th anniversary of his death. The stamps celebrate the power of his language, which continues to influence us every day.’ 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

St Alphege

St. Alphege, or more properly Aelfheah, was, traditionally, born of a noble family in Weston near Bath (Somerset), about the year AD 953. While he was still very young, he renounced the world and, notwithstanding the tears and entreaties of his widowed mother, retired into the monastery of Deerhurst, in Gloucestershire, where he served God with great devotion for many years. After a time, he moved on to Glastonbury, where he became prior. Afterwards, wishing to lead a life of greater seclusion and austerity, he lived as an anchorite near the hot springs in Bath. Here, he was followed by many of his former disciples until St. Dunstan, who was then primate of all England, persuaded him to become Abbot of the community of secular canons living nearby. On the death of Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, in AD 984, the latter, further, called on St. Alphege to take up the vacant dignity.

England was, at this time, a continual prey to the marauding Vikings. King Aethelred the Unready had recourse to repeated bribes, with which he hoped to purchase relief from their attacks; but Alphege sought to win them by the power of the Gospel. In AD 994, Olaf Tryggyeson, King of Norway, and his men attacked London. The citizens bravely beat him off and he moved on to ravage the south coast, wintering at Southampton. King Aethelred then sent Alphege and the Ealdorman, Ethelward, to visit Olaf there and request him to confer with the English King; and they brought the Norwegian to Andover, where Aethelred was then residing. Olaf was a Christian, but he was unconfirmed. So Alphege persuaded him to enter into a peace whereby he would confirm Olaf and King Aethelred adopt him as his son. In return, Olaf promised that he would never invade England again; and he kept his promise faithfully.
After governing the See of Winchester for twenty-two years, Alphege was translated to that of Canterbury, on the death of Archbishop Aelfric in 1005. He was present at the Council of Enham, at which he inspired measures to be taken for the national defence. Not a moment too soon; for, only two years into his Archiepiscopacy, Viking invasions began once more. A Danish fleet came to England, in two divisions. The first was commanded by Earl Thorkell, the second by his brothers Heming and Eglaf. From this time till the end of Aethelred's reign, the Danish ravages were unceasing. In 1011, the Danes took Canterbury, which was betrayed to them by Alfmar, the Abbot of St. Augustine's, whose life had once been saved by Archbishop Alphege. The Danes are said to have committed every sort of cruelty, the city was plundered and the cathedral burnt. They took many prisoners mostly to sell as slaves. Amongst them was Archbishop Alphege, who had remained at his post to reassure his people. He was kept in captivity, in the Danish base at Greenwich, for seven months in hope of a ransom.
When, in April the following year, the Witan met in London and agreed to pay the Danes £84,000 in Danegeld in order persuade them to leave. However, the Archbishop refused to burden the country further by allowing them to pay his extra £3,000 ransom. His captors got drunk one night and, angry at his defiance, they pelted the poor man with ox-bones. Their leader, Earl Thorkell, tried to save him, but his men were uncontrollable The dying Archbishop was finally put out of his misery through a blow from an axe wielded by a sympathetic Dane, named Thrum, whom he had converted whilst a prisoner.
The murder took place where the current parish church of St. Alphege now stands in Greenwich. He lay there for several days, the Viking warriors refusing him a decent burial. However, when a dead stick, which had become anointed with his blood, grew green again and began to blossom - a power attributed to the pagan goddess, Dia Feronia - they relented and carried St. Alphege's body to London. Here, Bishops Ednoth of Dorchester and Elfhun of London buried him in St. Paul's Cathedral. By his countrymen, Alphege was justly esteemed a martyr and pilgrims flocked to his side. In 1023 however, London lost its most holy of relics. King Canute the Dane was prevailed upon by his pious queen, Emma, to make amends for the cruelty and sacrilege which the followers of his father had committed in England. He removed the body of St. Alphege to Canterbury Cathedral, where it was laid in a noble tomb, near the high altar, and the cathedral was enriched by many costly gifts from the King and Queen.
His principal feast is the date of his death, 19th of April; but his translation is also celebrated on 8th June. He is represented in art as an Archbishop, sometimes with an axe cleaving his skull.[1]

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tombstones – Baloukli Monastery, Constantinople

Baloukli Monastery is one of the most significant Orthodox shrines in Constantinople, due to the Life-Giving Spring located there. However, upon entering this monastic complex, the visitor comes across a very interesting fact. The outer courtyard is made up of a great number of tombstones, which have Karamanli script, or Turkish written using the Greek alphabet. Additionally they are adorned with a number of pictures. These are merely tombstones and not the actual tombs; nevertheless it is a weird feeling…walking on tombstones before entering the main church and the Life-Giving Spring.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Saint Donnán Martyr of Eigg, Scotland

Saint Donnan, also known as Donan, Donnán, Dounan, Donnanus and Domnanus of Eigg, was a Celtic priest, likely from Ireland, who attempted to introduce Christianity to the Picts of north-western Scotland during the Dark Ages. Saint Donnán is the patron saint of Eigg, an island in the Inner Hebrides.
Soon after St. Columba had founded lona, the zealous Columban monks of his institute established many churches and cells in the Hebrides. In every one of these Islands, the churches and chapels were much more numerous, in former times, than they have been since the Reformation. Except some of those in Lewis and Harris, all the old churches were dedicated to the same patron saints, as those of Argyle, and other parts of Scotland, where the Scoto-Irish settled.

That charity, which Christ came on earth to establish in the hearts and souls of men, receives no higher encomium, than when for his sake their lives are devoted to their own and to their fellow-mortals’ salvation, especially when those lives are laid down for their friends. Such were the conditions fulfilled, by the devoted Martyrs of Eigg, as their memories are recalled on this day, in the Scoto-Irish settlement among the Hebrides. On the 17th of April, in the Martyrology of Tallagh, we find entered, Donnan, of Egha, with fifty-two of his monks, whose names had been written, in a larger book, which appears to have been that, now known as the “Book of Leinster.” The Bollandists have some notices of these Martyrs, at this same date, with certain doubts expressed, that all their names had been clearly remembered and recorded by posterity, even if we could be assured, that all their names have been written down correctly, from the earliest records. St. Donnan’s name occurs, in the Calendar and Office, found in the Aberdeen Breviary, at the proper day. But, no special allusion to his history can there be discovered. Wherefore, the writer of his memoir, in the “Acta Sanctorum,” is obliged to depend exclusively upon Irish authorities. Especially does he quote the Martyrology of Tallagh, and a transcript, sent from Louvain, by the Irish Father Thomas O’Sheerin, and which he extracted, from an Appendix to that Tract. In Bishop Forbes’ work, as also in that of Rev. S. Baring-Gould there are notices of this holy Abbot, and of his companions.
The pedigree of St. Donnan, is not recorded; so that, all we can know concerning him must be gleaned, from short notices in our Irish Annals or Calendars. That he was a native of Ireland seems to be pretty generally received; and, probably, his religious profession had been made at lona, under the great Abbot, St. Columkille. Like some of his countrymen, Donnan was induced to settle, with a company of followers, in the western part of Scotland. He desired to make St. Columkille his Anmchara, which means confessor, or soul’s friend; but, the holy Abbot of lona refused that office, for his community. Ega was the name of that Island, in which Donnan lived, after his coming from Erin. Here, it would seem, he planted a large community of religious. In after times, this Island home gave name to a parish, including Egg, Muck and Rum. These are found, among the group of Hebridean Isles. At Eigg, the community did not live unmolested, and Columba had foretold their approaching martyrdom. This, however, did not prevent Donnan with his people taking up their abode on that Island. Three sheep, belonging to a certain rich woman of that region, were kept. Some accounts have it, that she was a queen and, owing to her envy towards the monks, she moved a plot for their destruction. There came sea-robbers on a certain time, to this Island, and while St. Donnan was celebrating the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He requested of them not to kill him, until he should have the Mass celebrated, and they gave him this respite. Then, St.Donnan, addressing his disciples, said, “Let us retire to the refectory, that the robbers may slaughter us, where we have carnally feasted ; for, we may not die, so long as we remain, where our souls were engaged, in praising the Lord. But, where we refreshed our bodies, let us pay the mortal penalty.” We are told, that they were martyred in the refectory of the monastery on the night of Easter Sunday. The Martyrology of Donegal states, that St. Donnan was afterwards beheaded, with fifty-two of his monks. The following are said to have been the names of these disciples, Aedanus, larloga, Maricus, Congallius, Lonanus, Maclasrius, Joannes, Arnanes, Erninus, Baithinus, Rothanus, Andrelanus, Carellus, Rotanus, Fergussaiuis, Rectarius, Connidius, Endeus, Macloga, Guretius, Junetus, Coranus, Baithanus, Colmanus, Jernludus, Lugadius, Luda, Gruundus, Cucalinus, Cobranus, Conmundus, Cunminus, Balthianus, Senachus, Demanus, Cummenus, Fernlugus, Finanus, Finnchanus, Finnichus, Conanus, Modomma, Cronanus, Kieranus, Colmanus, Navinnus, Remannus, Erninus, Ailchuo, Donnanus. Here, however, we only find fifty different names enumerated. We are also led to infer from the account, that these martyrs were burned to death. Possibly the murderers set fire to that chamber, where those brethren had assembled, slaying each one, as he endeavoured to escape. They are said to have died, on the 17th of April, A.D. 617, according to Tighernach. From this date, and from the evidences already adduced, it seems a great mistake to assert, that the paganism of Ireland and of Scotland had fallen peacefully, before the power of the Christian Faith, almost three centuries before the martyrdom of St. Donnan and of his companions, who suffered “red martyrdom,” in the Island of Eigg, by the hands of the Vikings.
This St. Donnan was greatly venerated, in the north and west of Scotland; while various churches were built in his honour, and dedicated to him. Saint Donnán's feast day is on April 17.[1]

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Repentance according to the Orthodox Church

Ideas and words like sin and repentance are used by all of us. But, do we truly understand them? Do we comprehend their deeper meaning and what they mean for us Christians? Many of these ideas are related, giving birth to one another. Sin is followed by repentance. But what does it truly mean to repent? How can we come closer to God? Christos Yannaras in The Freedom of Morality gives an explanation of this term:

‘. . . μετάνοια. This word in Greek means “change of mind,” in other words a change in man’s whole attitude – in his existential stance, not simply in his behaviour. Repentance is the recognition that man’s self-sufficiency is inadequate; it is a search for the life which is realised in personal relationship with God, a thirst for personal communion with Him. . .

Repentance does not mean simply the “improvement” or even “perfection” of individual behaviour and individual psychological feelings, or the strengthening of the individual will. All these can come about while a man still remains a prisoner in his autonomous individuality, unable to love or to participate in the communion of love which is true life. Repentance is the change in our mode of existence: man ceases to trust in his own individuality. He realises that existing as an individual, even a virtuous individual, does not save him from corruption and death, from his agonising existential thirst for life. This is why he takes refuge in the Church, where he exists as someone loving and loved. He is loved by the saints, who give him a “name” of personal distinctiveness and take him into the communion of their love despite his sinfulness; and he himself strives to love others despite their sinfulness, to live free from the necessities of his mortal nature. He struggles to overcome his individual resistances, his individual wishes and autonomous impulses, not in order to “improve himself” individually, but in order to measure up to the “frenzied love” of Christ and the saints, to the preconditions required for personal life as opposed to natural survival.’ (pp. 40-42).

Friday, April 15, 2016

Venerating Icons – An Ancient Tradition

Icons maintain a significant part in the practice and worship of every Orthodox faithful. This is gradually moving to the Western churches, who wish to revisit the ancient ecclesiastical practice and tradition. However, venerating icons is not an innovation of the Church after Pentecost. St John of Damascus gives an interesting exegesis of how this existed since the beginning of creation. The English below uses the word image; however the ancient Greek version has the word εικόνα (icon). St John of Damascus claims:

 ‘That this invention off images and their veneration is nothing new, but an ancient tradition of the Church, accept from a host of scriptural and patristic sayings. In the sacred Gospel according to Matthew, the Lord said these things to his disciples, blessing also with them all who would take them as their model, and follow their footsteps: “ Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen I say to you, that many prophets and just people longed to see what you see, and did not see, and hear what you hear, and did not hear” [Matt 13:16-17]. We also therefore long to see what it is possible to see, “for we see puzzling reflections in a mirror,” [1 Cor. 13:12] and we are blessed in the image. God Himself first made an image and showed us images, for he made human kind in accordance with the image of God. And Abraham and Moses and Isaias and all the prophets saw images of God and not the very being of God. The [burning] bush is an image of the Divine Mother, and God said to Moses when he was about to approach it, “Loose the sandals from your feet, for the ground, on which you stand, is holy ground.” [Exodus 3:5].If, therefore, the ground on which the image of the Mother of God was seen by Moses is holy ground, how much more is the image itself? For not only holy, but, dare I say it, also the holy of holies. The Lord was asked by the Pharisees, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” And he answered, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” [Matt 19:7-8]. And I say to you, that Moses, on account of the hardness of heart of the sons of Israel, ordered them not to make images, for he knew their tendency to slip into idolatry. But now it is not so; we stand securely on the rock of faith enriched by the light og the knowledge of God.’ (Treatise II, On the Divine Images, 20). 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Kaymakli Underground City, Cappadocia

These troglodyte cave-cities were excavated as early as Hittite times, and expanded over the centuries as various marauding armies traversed Central Anatolia in search of captives and plunder. There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia and the widest one is Kaymakli Underground City, while the deepest is the Derinkuyu Underground City.

Kaymakli Underground City is built under the hill known as the Citadel of Kaymakli and was opened to visitors in 1964. The people of Kaymakli (Enegup in Greek) village have constructed their houses around nearly one hundred tunnels of the underground city. The inhabitants of the region still use the most convenient places in the tunnels as cellars, storage areas and stables, which they access through their courtyards. The Kaymakli Underground City has low, narrow and sloping passages. While the underground city consists of 8 floors below ground, only 4 of them are open to the public today, in which the spaces are organised around ventilation shafts.

In the Kaymakli Underground City we find a Church, which has a single nave and two apses. In front of the apses is an altar, and on the sides are seating platforms. Even though the whole city has not been completely opened, it is certain that Kaymakli is one of the largest underground settlements in the region. The number of the storage rooms in such a small area supports the idea that a great number of people resided here. Archaeologists think that this could have been up to 3.500 people. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Internationalization of the Olympic Games

From the beginning, the games at Olympia served as a bond between Greeks and strengthened the Greek sense of national unity. During the Hellenistic period, Greeks who came to live in foreign surroundings such as Syria, Asia, and Egypt, strove to hold on to their culture. One of the ways to achieve this was to build athletic facilities and continue their athletic traditions. They organized competitions, and sent competitors from their towns to compete in the PanHellenic games.

In the 2nd century A.D., Roman citizenship was extended to everyone within the Roman Empire. From then on, the participation of many competitors from outside of Greece in the Olympic Games, gave them to a degree, international nature.

When the Greek government reinstated the games in 1896, this international character of the competitions was preserved by Baron de Coubertin. Now, 16 centuries later, the Olympic Games attract competitors from countries all over the world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Uchisar Castle, Cappadocia

Uchisar is situated at the heist point in the region, just 7km from Nevsehir. The castle and its surrounds used to be the most populated area of this settlement, which resembles Ortahisar in style. However, as the population increased and the danger caused by erosion became greater, people moved away.

The top of the citadel provided a magnificent panorama of the surrounding area. Simple Byzantine graves, cut from the rock can be seen here. It is said that in towns with citadels, tunnels run from the citadels to the valley floors. These were built for defence and escape purposes, but are hardly visible now due to collapse and erosion.

The fairy chimneys to the North, West and East of Uchisar were hollowed out and used as graves during the Roman period. Dovecotes were cut into the side of these fairy chimneys. Folds in the rock, caused by erosion, can be seen at their best in the Uchisar valleys.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Psalm 50

One of my favourite hymns is Psalm 50 (51), chanted during the Sunday Matins and read during the Weekday Matins in the Orthodox Church. This hymn is rich in theology, anthropology, of communion with God. It highlights the relationship we should and could have with God. It shows that through communion with Him, through the Church of course, we are able to reach our goal in life, i.e. salvation, theosis, sainthood. By following this hymn we can truly become the children of God.

Have mercy on me, O God, in accordance with your great mercy. According to the multitude of your compassion blot out my offence. Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my wickedness, and my sin is ever before me. Against you alone I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight, that you may be justified in your words and win when you are judged. For see, in wickedness I was conceived and in sin my mother bore me. For see, you have loved truth; you have shown me the hidden and secret things of your wisdom. You will sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be cleansed. You will wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow. You will make me hear of joy and gladness; the bones which have been humbled will rejoice. Turn away your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me. Do not cast me out from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Give me back the joy of your salvation, and establish me with your sovereign Spirit. I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn to you again. O God, the God of my salvation, deliver me from bloodshed and my tongue will rejoice at your justice. Lord, you will open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise. For if you had wanted a sacrifice, I would have given it. You will not take pleasure in burnt offerings. A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a broken and a humbled heart God will not despise. Do good to Sion, Lord, in your good pleasure; and let the walls of Jerusalem be rebuilt. Then you will be well pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, oblation and whole burnt offerings. Then they will offer calves upon your altar.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Locked Gate, Ecumenical Patriarchate

Visiting the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in the Phanar region of modern day Istanbul, ones sees a curious thing, i.e. a locked gate. In order to enter the premises, everyone needs to enter a side gate and not the main entrance, which has been closed since 1821. This has to do with the murder of Patriarch Gregory V, who was hung there by the Ottomans, in 1821.

Gregory V of Constantinople was the 234th Patriarch of Constantinople. He served as Ecumenical Patriarch for three separate periods (1797-1798, 1806-1808 and 1818-1821). He was martyred in 1821 during the Greet War of Independence. He was later glorified as a saint by the Church of Greece in 1921 whilst also being commemorated as an Ethnomartyr. He is remembered on April 10.
Why was he murdered? The problem began in his third reign, where he became Patriarch during a crucial and tense time, in respect to the Greek struggle for Independence. In 1818, Gregory became a member of the Filiki Eteria that was preparing the revolution against the Ottoman Empire. When Alexander Ypsilantis crossed the Prut River, starting the Greek revolution, Gregory felt it necessary to excommunicate him to protect the Greek of Constantinople from reprisals by the Ottoman Turks. The reprisals did come during Holy Week in April 1821. During the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, on the night of Easter (April 10), Gregory was arrested and, by order of Sultan Mahmud II, hanged on the front gate of the Patriarchate, still wearing his full Patriarchal vestments. The gate has been closed, locked and not used since.

After hanging for three days and being mocked by the passing crowds, his body was taken down and given to a group of Jews who dragged it through the streets of Constantinople before throwing it into the Bosporus. The accounts differ, on whether the Jews who did this were forced or volunteered, but the tale spread widely, leading to several bloody reprisal attacks in Southern Greece by the Greek rebels, who regarded the Jews as collaborators of the Ottomans. Eventually, the Patriarch’s body was recovered from the sea by a Greek sailor, Nikolaos Sklavos, and sent to Odessa, then to Southern Russia, where it was buried with honours at the Church of the Holy Trinity. Later, his relics were enshrined in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Athens.    

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Athletic Competitions in Ancient Greece

The Olympic Games were not the only athletic competitions organised in Ancient Greece. A separate competition, called the Heraia, was held at Olympia in which young women competed. There were different age divisions, though the only event was foot-racing. It was held every four years, but in different years to the Olympics. It was held to honour Hera, Zeus' wife. Women did not compete naked, but wore tunics coming down to a little above the knee. Similar games were also held at Delphi in honour of Apollo, at Nemea in honour of Zeus, and at Isthmia in honour of Poseidon. They were timed so that every year there was at least one competition on.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Church of the Life-Giving Spring, Baloukli – Constantinople

The Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of the Life Giving Spring in Baloukli, Constantinople, is one of the most famous Christian attractions in the City. The spring located here attracts great numbers of pilgrims. Located in this monastic complex is a large church, which is not ancient, but rather recently built. In 1833 AD the Ottoman Sultan gave permission to patriarch Constantius I (1830-1834) to build a church in that location. It was eventually consecrated in 1835, having as its feast day the Zoodochos Pege celebration, on Friday of the Easter Week. However, this church was heavily damaged during the Istanbul riots against the Greeks of the city in 1955. Nevertheless, the church has since been restored.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Thrice Holy Hymn, Mount Athos Version

1st Stasi:
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal Have Mercy on Us.
2nd Stasi:
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal Have Mercy on Us.

3rd Stasi:
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal Have Mercy on Us.
Glory to The Father and To the Son and To the Holy Spirit
Both now and Ever and unto the Ages of Ages

Dinamis....with Terrirem and Ananes

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Ecumenical Patriarchal Tombs

The Ecumenical Patriarchal Tombs are located in the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring, Baloukli, in Constantinople. There one finds not only the tombs of previous Ecumenical Patriarchs, but also tombs of the Great Benefactors of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. According to a list, placed on the wall of the church next to the tombs, the Ecumenical Patriarchs buried in this monastery are: Anthimos from Kizikou (13.06.1842), Meletios from Kizikou (28.11.1845), Germanos IV Vizantinou (15.09.1853), Konstantinos I from Sinaiou (1859), Joacim II from Kizikou (04.08.1878), Dionysios V (13.08.1891), Joacim III (13.11.1912), Anthimos Tsasos VII (1914), Gregory VII (17.11.1924), Constantine VI (22.05.1925), Basil III (29.09.1929), Photios II (29.12.1935), Benjamin (17.02.1946), Maximos V (1948), Athenagoras (07.07.1972), Dimitrios (02.10.1991). 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Wisdom of the Orthodox Saints

The internet has made the collection of a number of quotes in various areas accessible to all. However, can we also have a collection of quotes, showing an Orthodox wisdom and faith, from the Saints of the Church? Below we endeavour to achieve this, by giving some quotes, some words of wisdom, from a number of Orthodox Saints.

In the hearts of the proud, blasphemous words will find birth; but in the souls of the humble, Heavenly visions. Saint John Climacus
Many obtain a variety of virtues on their own, thinking that they can be saved by these without frequent Communion, which is however fundamentally impossible. Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite
Suicide is a mortal sin and an act of defiance against the Holy Spirit, Who gives life. Suicide is a much greater sin than murder, since for the sin of murder a man can still repent. Saint Nikolai Velimirovic
To try to discover the meaning of the commandments through study and reading without actually living in accordance with them is like mistaking the shadow of something for its reality. Saint Gregory of Sinai
For our love for God is demonstrated above all by the way we endure trials and temptations. Saint Gregory Palamas
The Lord is called light and life and resurrection and truth. He is light as the brightness of souls and as the One Who drives away the darkness of ignorance, as the One Who enlightens the mind to understand unutterable things, and as the One Who reveals mysteries which can be perceived only by the pure. Saint Maximos the Confessor
I fear not a temporal death, because I desire to reign with my Christ eternally. Furthermore, if you should come to the Christian belief, joy shall be yours. For you shall inherit every enjoyment and pleasure; and thereupon, you shall rejoice with the saints in Paradise. Saint Christopher the Great Martyr
If we keep remembering the wrongs which men have done us, we destroy the power of the remembrance of God. But if we remind ourselves of the evil deeds of the demons, we shall be invulnerable. Abba Macarius
It is better to be a simpleton and approach God with love than to be a learned man and at the same time an enemy of God. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons
The goal of all who pursue the spiritual path is to do the will of Christ, their God, to be reconciled with the Father through communion in the Spirit, and so to achieve their salvation. For only in this way is the soul’s salvation attained. Saint Symeon the New Theologian
My children, desire to purify your hearts from envy and from anger with each other, lest death should overcome you, and you will be counted among the murderers. For whosoever hates his brother, kills a soul. Saint Anthony the Great
The first and most essential means of making peace with those who offend and persecute us is to pray for them, according to the commandment of Christ. Saint Leo of Optina
We advance toward humility by means of trials. He who rests on his virtue without suffering tribulation has the door of pride open before him. Saint Isaac the Syrian
It is pointless for someone to say that he has faith in God if he does not have the works which go with faith. What benefit were their lamps to the foolish virgins who had no oil (Mt. 25:1-13), namely, deeds of love and compassion? Saint Gregory Palamas
God immediately forgives everything to those who ask forgiveness in a spirit of humility and contrition and who ceaselessly invoke His holy name. As the Psalmist says, ‘Confess to the Lord and call upon His holy name’ (Ps. 105:1). Saint Gregory of Sinai
The person who loves God cannot help loving every man as himself, even though he is grieved by the passions of those who are not yet purified. But when they amend their lives, his delight is indescribable and knows no bounds. Saint Maximos the Confessor
If a man builds a house and leaves it without a roof, this house can’t be used at all. In the same way, if a man acquires all the virtues but not love, the house remains roofless and is of no benefit at all. Elder Philotheos of Paros
Vice is so attractive and ready at hand, and nothing is so easy as to become evil – even without anyone to lead us on to it; while the attainment of virtue is rare and difficult, even where there is much to attract and encourage us. Saint Gregory the Theologian
The Bible is a scented garden, delightful, beautiful, it enchants our ears with birdsong in a sweet, divine, and spiritual harmony, it touches our heart, comforts us in sorrow, soothes us in a moment of anger, and fills us with eternal joy. Saint John of Damascus
Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalise our brother, we have sinned against Christ. Anthony the Great
Obedience responds to obedience. When someone obeys God, God obeys his request. Abba Mius of Belos
The mathematics of God is completely different from the mathematics of humans. For us two and two equal four. For God two and two can make five or fifteen or anything else. Elder Epiphanios of Athens
Let us seek to discover the things of heaven through the sweat of our efforts, rather than by mere talk, for at the hour of death it is deeds, not words, that must be displayed. Saint John Climacus
Our profit comes not from the quantity of the words, but from the quality. Sometimes, much is said but nothing is heard; and, at another time, you hear only one word and it remains in your memory for your whole life. Saint Anthony of Optina
The mouth, which is continuously giving thanks, receives blessing from God. In the heart that always shows gratitude, grace abides. Saint Isaac the Syrian
The aim of prayer is that we should acquire from it love of God, for in prayer are to be found all sorts of reasons for loving God. Saint Isaac the Syrian
Death is, properly speaking, separation from God, and ‘the sting of death is sin.’ In taking it on, Adam was banished at once from the Tree of Life, from Paradise, and from God, whereupon there followed, of necessity, the death of the body. On the other hand, life is, properly speaking, the One who says ‘I am the life.’ By His death He brought back to life again the one who had died. Saint Maximos the Confessor
Repentance is a bath that cleanses one of his own sins. It is a return from a state contrary to nature to a state in accordance with nature, from the devil to God, through spiritual striving and painful efforts. It is a voluntary return from offences to the good that is opposed to them. Saint Nectarios of Aegina
The love of God is not taught. No one has taught us to enjoy the light or to be attached to life more than anything else. And no one has taught us to love the two people who brought us into the world and educated us. Which is all the more reason to believe that we did not learn to love God as a result of outside instruction. Saint Basil the Great
We receive salvation by grace and as a divine gift of the Spirit. But to attain the full measure of virtue we need also to possess faith and love, and to struggle to exercise our free will with integrity. Saint Makarios of Egypt

Monday, April 4, 2016

Why do we fast?

Fasting is an important part of a Christian’s life and expression of faith. Although not established as a Church Canon, it is a tradition of the Ecclesia and its faithful, following the fasting of many prophets, saints and people from the Old and New Testaments and also the fasting Christ practiced. Orthodox Christians tend to fast on a weekly basis (Wednesday and Friday) and before major celebrations, such as 40 days before Christmas, nearly 50 days before Easter, 15 days in August for the Dormition of the Theotokos and many more. But why do we fast? Is it merely a remembrance of how previous people kept the fasts in the past? Or is there a deeper meaning to this act? Christos Yannaras, in his book The Freedom of Morality, gives an explanation:

‘The Christian does not fast in order to subjugate matter to the spirit, not because he accepts a division of foods into “clean” and “unclean.” He fasts because in this way he ceases to make the intake of food an autonomous act; he turns in into obedience to the common will and common practice of the Church, and subjugates his individual preferences to the Church rules of fasting which determine his choice of food. And obedience freely given always presupposes love: it is always an act of communion.’ (p. 110). 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Iconographic and Hymnological Portrayals of the Cross From an Orthodox Perspective

Iconographic and Hymnological Portrayals of the Cross
From an Orthodox Perspective

Dimitris Salapatas

            Today[1] I will give an iconographic and hymnological portrayal of the Cross as understood by the Orthodox Church. In order to achieve this we will look into the celebrations of the Cross as practiced within the Byzantine Tradition and the meaning of these events within the life of the Church.
            Why an iconographic and a hymnological approach to the Cross? These are the two elements most obvious when entering an Orthodox Church. Iconography embraces the whole or part of the interior of the Orthodox Church building. Therefore, iconography is considered the art of arts. Its beauty is unique, whereby it endeavours to depict Jesus Christ, His mother the Theotokos, the Saints, the Angels, the Prophets and whoever is in communion with God.
Iconography is the original tradition of Christian sacred art, and has been an integral part of the worship and mystical life of Christians since the early centuries of the life of the Church. In Orthodoxy, icons are known as windows into heaven, inspiring and uplifting the faithful. In many instances they have been the instruments for demonstrating God’s miraculous intercession in the life of mankind.
           Iconography is a form of art, following the artistic depiction of the Byzantine Tradition. However, it endeavours and accomplishes the unity between art and theology. Its objective is not just to decorate the interior, or in some cases also the exterior of the Church building, creating thus a pleasant atmosphere within the Church; but it also attempts to introduce the faithful to the transcendent place of worship. Iconography is, therefore, a theological narrative of the Divine Word; it is a means for redemption and salvation.
            On the other hand, hymnology is one of the key elements of the practice of the Orthodox Church, giving melodically the theology, the truths, the traditions and life of the Church to its faithful.  Music operates as a dramatic element, having a distinctive and dominant place in the overall structure of the liturgy; it has attained liturgical importance. The majority of the service is sung. Ecclesiastical music marries well with the liturgical poetry, pointing out the theology and doctrines of the Orthodox Church. Music in the Orthodox Church is understood as a means, as a road, through which the faithful are able to express their faith, devotion, gratitude, praise and hope towards God.  The language of Byzantine music is an eternal chant, by which our people come to a dialogue with God.
Upon entering an Orthodox Church, the faithful do the sign of the cross. When we kiss an icon[2] and when something or someone important is mentioned The Trinity, The Virgin Mary, Christ or even the Saint and event of the day, the faithful cross themselves. When we pray, as part of our practice, we cross ourselves. The cross, therefore, is not just something we see or venerate, it is something we actually do. This practice might not be evident in Scripture; however, the practice of crossing ourselves is evident in the Tradition of the Church for Orthodoxy’s faith and practice is based on Holy Scripture and Tradition. One cannot exist without the other.
‘The cross of Christ is indeed a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to the believing it is salvation and life eternal. St Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, claims:
‘Where is the wise man? Where the disputer? Where is the boasting of those who are called mighty? For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began, and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. For says (the Scripture), ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and He shall be called Immanuel’. He was born and was baptised by John, that He might ratify the institution committed to that prophet.’[3]
Our faith might sound wrong and illogical to those who do not believe; however, with faith, we are then able to comprehend the greatness and truth of God and of His salvation project for His Creation. 
            One of the things which were an established tradition within Church life, even at the dawn of Christianity, was the sign of the cross. Tertullian, a brilliant North African writer who lived between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, explains:
In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting off our shoes, at the bath, at the table in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.[4]
‘It seems that the sign of the cross was such an entrenched element of Christian practice that a believer would not consider refraining from it. Tertullian believed it to be universal, and already ancient in AD 204.’[5] Tertullian was not the only one who examined the cross. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon also looked into this symbol. However, we do not know when specifically it was introduced within the life of the Church as an official practice. Nevertheless, we can understand that it was formed as an opposed practice towards the Roman world.

The Cross is the symbol of the triumph of good. By His sufferings on the Cross our Lord Jesus Christ washed away the sins of mankind, conquered the devil, abolished death and opened the way to eternal life for man. The Cross bears witness to God’s infinite love for sinful mankind. But the Cross is much more than a symbol; it possesses spiritual power.
St Theodore the Studite explains:
‘How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise, but opens the way for our return.’[6]
            ‘In the days of the early church, Christians were fond of other symbols of recognition, similarly ritually charged, such as the famous symbol of the fish that, recently rediscovered, can be found pasted on many cars driven by Christians. Despite the ritual history of the fish, there is little visual symbolic power to it – it serves as a reminder of the acrostic Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour, which in [Ancient] Greek happens to spell “fish.” The fish was eventually surpassed by the cross as a visual symbol.’[7]
What is interesting about the cross is its simplicity. ‘A cross is how illiterate people sign a document, because it is the simplest recognizable sign they can draw, signifying their [acceptance] to an official form. And though the cross is perhaps one of the simplest things in Christian ritual, it clearly connects with some of the greatest Christian mysteries.’[8] We could claim that the cross combines ‘simplicity and profound meaning to a greater extent than any other symbol.’[9]
‘The sacred central point of this world is the sign of the Holy Cross, symbol of the New Testament, symbol of victory over death, and the intersection of the heavenly and the earthly. As St. John Damascene further states: As the four ends of the Cross are held together and united by its centre, so are the height and the depths, the length and the breadth, that is, all creation visible and invisible, held together by the power of God [(The Orthodox Faith)]. This is affirmed by St. John Chrysostom, who pointed out that the Cross is the joining of the heavenly and the earthly and the defeat of Hell [Works, Vol. II, Bk. 1, St. Petersburg, 1905, p.953].’[10]
As Christianity spread, so did the practice of crossing oneself and also the Tradition of the Cross. This was also a reality within the desert, meaning by the monastics (monks, nuns and ascetics). They sacrificed themselves, or rather crucified themselves, for the salvation of the world, through their prayer and their life. ‘In this way they began to bring into spiritual truth the nature of the cross. The sign and symbol of the cross were understood among them not so much in relation to the historic relic, but as the archetype of the crucifixion of the self – the ascetic way to subjugate the passions of the body and the soul. The simple symbol fulfilled the spiritual need of the early church for a reminder of Jesus’ historic and wilful death for humankind.’[11]
The cross is also evident in the prevalent architectural style within the Byzantine tradition. Despite having church buildings in many shapes and sizes, the dominant and easily identifiable Orthodox Church building is the Cross formed with a dome. The Church represents the entire universe, where we have the meeting of heaven and earth.

When does the Orthodox Church Celebrate the Cross?
The Orthodox Church is also known as the Church of the Resurrection, due to the fact that we, in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, give a certain significance to the Resurrection, understanding it as the centre of our faith. This is also verified by St Paul, who claims: ‘And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty’ (1 Corinthians 15:14). However, this does not mean that we do not give any importance to the Cross. Let us not forget that without the Cross, without Christ’s death we would not have the Resurrection and hence the salvation of mankind.
The Orthodox Church celebrates the Cross in a number of instances. For those who do not know, the Orthodox New Year is celebrated on the 1st September. The Church, interestingly enough, celebrates on the 14th of September the Exaltation of the Cross; therefore, one of the first major celebrations in the Orthodox calendar year is dedicated to the Cross. On this day the Cross is commemorated in a spirit of triumph, and not in a sorrowful way (as is evident on, for example, Good Friday). On this day the Orthodox are reminded of the vision of the Cross, seen by the Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, shortly before the victory over Maxentius. It is said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the sign of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, “By this symbol you will conquer.” He was struck with amazement by the sight, and his whole army witnessed the miracle. After this event they carved the sign of the cross on the army’s shields together with the inscription. This divine intervention allowed Constantine and his army to win the battle, after which he became Emperor of the newly formed Byzantine Empire.
Additionally, the feast of the Exaltation recalls the finding of the True Cross by Constantine and his mother, St Helen. Tradition has it that she and her son both found the Cross together with the other two crosses. How were they to identify the True Cross? On that day there was a funeral procession. St Helen asked for them to place the dead body on one of the crosses. Nothing happened. Again they placed it on the other and again nothing. When they placed the dead person on the last Cross, the person was resurrected. That is how they were able to identify the True Cross.
Also this feast commemorates the second great Exaltation of the Cross, at Constantinople in 629 AD. The True Cross had fallen into the hands of the Persians in 614 AD, when they captured the Holy City of Jerusalem. It was subsequently recovered by Emperor Heraclius and brought to the Byzantine capital where it was triumphantly exalted in the great Church of Hagia Sophia.
The Third Sunday of Lent is dedicated to the ‘The Veneration of the Cross.’ ‘The commemoration and ceremonies of the Third Sunday of Lent are closely parallel to the feasts of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) and the Procession of the Cross (August 1). Before the end of the Matins Service on this day, a cross is brought out from the sanctuary into the nave of the church in front of the iconostasis in solemn procession. After censing it, both the clergy and the people venerate the Cross. On this day the chanters sing the famous chant: ‘We venerate your cross, o Lord, and glorify your holy resurrection.’
Not only does the Sunday of the Holy Cross prepare us for commemoration of the Crucifixion, but it also reminds us that the whole of Lent is a period when we are crucified with Christ.’[12] One of the hymns sung during Vespers of the fourth Sunday of Lent claims:
Having passed beyond the middle point in this holy season of the Feast, with joy let us go forward to the part that still remains, anointing our souls with the oil of almsgiving. So may we be counted worthy to venerate the divine Passion of Christ our God, and to attain His dread and holy Resurrection.
            Why does the Orthodox Church dedicate this Sunday in the middle of Lent to the Cross, since we are to live the Passion and Crucifixion during Holy Week? We find the answer to this question in the Synaxarion for this day – (The Synaxarion is to be found in the hymnbooks used by the chanters where the feast of the day is explained, whether it is an event or a saint’s day). There we read:
On this third Sunday of the Great Fast we celebrate the Veneration of the precious and life-giving Cross. Since during the forty days of the Fast we are also in a way crucified, mortified to the passions, contrite, abased and despondent, the precious and life-giving Cross is offered to us as refreshment and confirmation, calling to mind the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and comforting us. . . Just as those who have travelled a long hard road, weighed down by the labours of their journey, in finding a shady tree, take their ease for a moment and continue their journey rejuvenated, so now in this time of the Fast, this sorrowful and laborious journey, the Holy Fathers have planted the life-giving Cross before us, for our relief and refreshment, to encourage and make easier the labours that lie ahead.[13]
Therefore, it is apparent that the Orthodox Church has placed the celebration of the Cross in the middle of Lent in order to remind us and our efforts of the Passion, Sufferings and Crucifixion of Christ. These efforts coincide with our personal struggles during this fasting period, during this period of charity and a period where the countless, in many ways, services of the Church invite us to constantly be part of this journey towards Holy Week, a week where the sadness of the events lead to the glory and happiness of the Resurrection. We cannot, therefore, reach the joy of the Resurrection without our passage through Lent. This is reflected in all the hymns of the Sunday of the Cross. From the hymns and the placing of this celebration in the middle of Lent we can identify that ‘Orthodoxy never separates Christ’s death and resurrection: it is the cross that brings new life, and new life cannot be had without death.’[14] The cross, therefore, is the life-giving Cross, because the Creator and the source of life gave His life on the Cross for us and for our salvation. This makes the Cross a personal reality for us faithful. We are reminded of Matthew’s Gospel here, where Jesus states: ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’ (Matthew 16:24). 
The placing of the celebration of the Cross in the middle of Lent can also signify something else: ‘when a king is coming, at first his banner and symbols appear, then he himself comes glad and rejoicing about his victory and filling with joy those under him; likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to show us His victory over death, and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection Day, is sending us in advance His sceptre, the royal symbol-- the Life-Giving Cross-- and it fills us with joy and makes us ready to meet, inasmuch as it is possible for us, the King Himself, and to render glory to His victory....’[15]
After this Sunday we begin the second part of Lent. On the Fourth Sunday we hear the following announcement: ‘The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill Him, and when He is killed, after three days He will rise again’ (Mark 9:31). ‘The emphasis shifts now from us, from our repentance and effort, to the events which took place “for our sake and for our salvation.”’[16]

ICON: ‘The most common icon associated with the Veneration of the Cross is a similar icon used on the Feast of the Veneration of the Cross on September 14. In the icon, Patriarch Macarius is standing in the pulpit elevating the Cross for all to see and venerate. On each side of the Patriarch are deacons holding candles. The elevated Cross is surrounded and venerated by many clergy and lay people, including Saint Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, and the Emperor, who both found the Cross.
In the background of the icon is a domed structure that represents the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. This church was one of the churches constructed and dedicated by Emperor Constantine on the holy sites of Jerusalem.
Another icon related to this feast depicts the actual service of veneration that is conducted in the churches on the Third Sunday of Lent. In the centre of the icon is the Cross. It is on a table surrounded by flowers. Above the Cross is the image of Christ representing His glory. He is blessing those who have gathered to venerate the Cross, the rulers, clergy, monastics, and laity.
As in the service of veneration, the icon shows the priest venerating the Cross as the people chant the hymn “We venerate Your Cross, O Christ, and Your holy Resurrection we glorify,” which is inscribed on the table holding the Cross.’[17]
One of the most significant days and one of the most strict fasting days in the Orthodox calendar is of course Good Friday, where the Son of God is Crucified for our salvation. Interestingly enough, ‘liturgically, the profound and awesome event of the death and burial of God in the flesh is marked by a particular kind of silence, meaning by the absence of a Eucharistic celebration. Great Friday and Great Saturday are the only two days of the year when no Eucharistic assembly is held.’[18]
            ‘The focus of Great Friday is on the passion, death and burial of our Lord Jesus Christ. The commentary (ipomnima) in the Triodion (the book used by the chanters during Lent) records it thusly:
"On the Great and Holy Friday we commemorate the holy, saving and awesome sufferings of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ: the spitting, the striking, the scourging, the cursing, the mockery; the crown of thorns, the purple cloak, the rod, the sponge, the vinegar and gall, the nails, the spear; and above all the cross and the death, which He voluntarily endured for us. Also we commemorate the saving confession of the grateful thief who was crucified with Him."’[19]
In the Orthodox Tradition, Good Friday shows the central place the Cross holds within our faith. This day holds within it a great paradox, even for us Christians. How can the Son of God, who is God – as proclaimed in the Creed: ‘And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father . . .’ – He who is eternal and without suffering be brought to death by His own creations? This is what the Athenians could not understand when St Paul spoke to them about the unknown God (Acts 17:16-34).
The Cross maintains a theological importance for our salvation. It might have been certain people in a specific time, who eventually sent Jesus to the Cross; however, ‘it is all human sin which nails Christ to the cross. Yet in Christ is embodied the love of God which cannot allow him to abandon the men and women created in his image, and which suffers until humankind comes to its senses, turns back to God, and wills to live in obedience to his commandments.’ [20] The Passion and the Cross indicate the truth that ‘God is not remote from nor immune to the suffering of his creation. He cannot be, because he is love; and so he suffers in and with those who suffer innocently. The passion and death of Jesus is the measure of God’s own involvement in human pain.’[21]
In the hymns of the day we are reminded of the fact that he is both God and man. Jesus is humiliated in His humanity but glorified as God. That is why the Orthodox Church chants one of its greatest hymns on this day, claiming:
Today he is hung upon a tree, he who hung the earth upon the waters (x3).He is arrayed in a crown of thorns, he who is the King of the Angels. He is wrapped in mocking purple, he who wraps the heaven in clouds. He receives a blow on the face, he who freed Adam in Jordan. He is transfixed with nails, the Bridegroom of the Church. He is pierced by a lance, the Son of the Virgin. We worship your Sufferings, O Christ (x3). Show us also your glorious Resurrection.[22]
The Crucifixion and the Resurrection are not separated from each other. They are related; that is why the Cross is seen as a victorious emblem. When we see the Cross, we can also see the coming Resurrection. Every Sunday, during the Matins Service, before the Divine Liturgy, we express this belief, where we read:
Having seen the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. We worship Your Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify Your holy Resurrection. For You are our God; we know no other but You; we name You by name. Come, all the faithful, let us worship the holy Resurrection of Christ; for behold, through the Cross, joy has come into all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, we sing His Resurrection. For having endured the Cross for us, by death He has destroyed death. (Prayer after the reading of the Sunday Matins Gospel).[23]
We Christians cross ourselves with pride, not in shame. It is something we should all be proud about. We sing during the Vespers of the Third week of Lent:
Rejoice, O life-bearing Cross, O bright paradise of the Church, O Tree of incorruption, thou who didst bring forth for us the enjoyment of glory everlasting, through whom the hosts of devils are driven out, the ranks of angels rejoice together, and the congregations of believers celebrate, O unconquerable weapon and impregnable foundation, the triumph of kings and the pride of Priests, grant us to apprehend the Passion of Christ and his Resurrection.[24]
The relation between Crucifixion and Resurrection is evident during a service celebrated on Good Friday, i.e. the Service of the Deposition, it is the service where the priest takes down Christ from the cross and places the Crucified Icon of Christ in the Sanctuary, where He will remain until the Feast of the Ascension. After this the epitaphios (an embroidered icon of the burial of Christ) is placed in the flowery tomb. During this time the chanters sing:
When from the Tree the Arimathean took You down as a dead body, O Christ, who are the life of all, he buried You with myrrh and a shroud; and with love he embraced Your immaculate body with heart and lips; yet, shrouded with fear, he cried out to You, rejoicing, “Glory to Your condescension, O Lover of mankind.”
When in the new tomb You, the Redeemer of all had been laid for the sake of all, Hell became a laughingstock; seeing You, he quaked with fear; the bars were smashed, the gates were shattered, the graves were opened, the dead arose; then Adam with thanksgiving cried out to You, rejoicing, “Glory to Your condescension, O Lover of mankind.” (Aposticha of Vespers for Great Friday).
Therefore, the Service of the Deposition leads us from the sorrow of the Passion, Crucifixion and Burial to Descent into Hades and the eventual Resurrection. 
ICON: The most famous icon of the Cross is the one we venerate on Good Friday, where we see the Crucified Son of God on Golgotha. Jesus is nailed at the hands and feet. Next to him we see His mother, the Virgin Mary grieving with other women, namely Mary Magdalen[25] and Mary Cleopas, St John the Evangelist (the disciple who Jesus loved and Who gave His mother too after His crucifixion – as we read in John’s Gospel 19:26) and one of the Roman centurions. The latter is placed in the icon in order to support the words of St John the Evangelist, where he explains: ‘But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.’ (John 19:34).

The Cross in Iconography
The Cross is also evident in other icons of the Orthodox Church. When celebrating the memory of St Constantine and Helen (21st of May) the icon of the day depicts the two Saints and the Cross, which they found, indicating one of their most significant achievements and blessings, not only for them but also for the whole Church.
Small crosses are held by Saints of the Church who were killed for their faith. Also many Orthodox Churches in the East, which existed during the iconoclastic period (8th-9th centuries AD), where the issue of icons was brought to question within the Christians world, used instead of icons the Cross or Christian symbols, such as the fish, the dove, the vine, the lyra, the anchor, the ark and the XP, using thus Christ’s name.
Some ancient Churches have another unique feature. In this picture we see the Gulsehir Karsichurch, a Church in Cappadocia (modern day central Turkey) where the iconoclastic and post-iconoclastic period are evidently coexisting together. The lower Church has crosses on the walls, whilst the upper part is full of icons of Saints and from Christ’s life.

Hagia Sophia – The Fading Crosses.
Walking around the Imperial Church of St Sophia, in Constantinople, one can see evident on its walls and all around it ‘scars’ from its troubled history. Its Christian life coexists with its Muslim past. Both are present and prevail together. However, this coexistence has not been a healthy one. St Sophia, after the invasion of the City by the Ottoman Turks (29 May 1453) became a mosque. When this happened, the icons and the Christian symbols inside were either destroyed or covered, since Islam does not allow for icons or any depictions to be present within a mosque.
Interestingly enough, since St Sophia has become a museum, many icons and Christian symbols have been uncovered, showing thus the Christian past and grandeur. One thing evident all around the interior of the Church is, of course, the cross. Fading crosses adorn the Church. Sometimes they are more evident than in other cases, underneath the Islamic art. You can call this coexistence or destruction. However, it shows both co-inhabiting the same walls.

The Holy Cross in Britain
A significant event, which was unfortunately not advertised greatly, was the Holy Cross’s visit to Britain. Following the request of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain and the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain, His Beatitude the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos, and the Synod of the Holy Sepulchre, agreed to send the Precious and Life-giving Cross to the UK. The Cross visited more than 15 Orthodox Churches around England, considered as one of the most important events and a unique spiritual moment in the life of Orthodoxy in this country.
Relics, for the Orthodox, play a significant part in our faith. They are, in many ways, a further verification of our faith and what it means to be in communion with God. Relics are part of the earthly remains of Orthodox Saints, the Holy Cross or even vestments which were worn by the Saints. When a new Orthodox Church is consecrated one of the key practices is to place holy relics in the middle of the altar table.  The relics of the Saints are venerated because we believe that the body remains a temple of the Holy Spirit even after death. Also, this relates to why we have icons of Saints and why we dedicate Churches to their memory, they are an example we need to maintain in order to reach salvation (theosis) and communion with God. That is why we show respect, because they achieved our objective in life.
In addition, we see that many miracles are performed through these relics, as we saw in the case of St Helen and St Constantine when they wished to verify the true Holy Cross. One of the requirements the Orthodox Church has for the proclamation of a Saint is that the Saint’s relics actually perform a miracle after death. (The other two requirements for Sainthood is that the body remains intact and that it maintains an aromatic smell).
The Bible records many accounts of the value of relics and even episodes of miraculous events connected with them. "People brought to [Jesus] all who were sick and begged him that they might only touch the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed" (Mt 14:35-36; cf. Mk 6:56; Lk 8:43-44). It was not uncommon for ordinary objects, like the tassel on the Lord's cloak, to have miraculous characteristics. Look also at Acts 5:15, where even Peter's shadow could cause miraculous healings.
Regarding the relics of saints, especially martyrs (about whom the Bible says, "Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his holy ones" [Ps 116:15]), look at 2 Kings 13:21:
Elisha died and was buried. At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year. Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band. So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha and everyone went off. But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet.
A New Testament verification of this practice, where we see that miracles glorify Christ is to be found in Acts (19:11-12), where we read: ‘Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.’ Therefore, we can identify that the belief in relics is verified within Scripture and the Tradition of the Church.

How do the Orthodox Cross Themselves
            Now that we explained the importance of the Cross and when it is celebrated we can talk about how the Orthodox cross themselves. When we enter a Church, or even if we walk past an Orthodox Church we tend to do the sign of the Cross. During the services, whenever we hear the name of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Trinity, of a Saint we tend to cross ourselves. When we wish to venerate an icon, or the Cross we normally do the sign of the cross and then kiss the icon.
We hold our hands in a prescribed way: thumb and first two fingertips pressed together, last two fingers pressed down to the palm. The three fingers together symbolise the Holy Trinity, whilst the two fingers brought down to the palm symbolise the two natures of Christ. We also use just one hand, the right one, symbolising what Jesus was – meaning two natures in one person. The right hand reminds us that Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father. ‘Furthermore, the movement of the hand from the right side to the left drives away the enemies and indicates that the lord through his invincible might had conquered the devil who is on the left, a powerless and gloomy being.’[26] The movement is up, down, right and left.
When we cross ourselves this indicates that we are Christians, that we invoke the power and the mercy of the cross of Christ, it is a way to sanctify ourselves and remind ourselves of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It signifies that we, the faithful, exist in distinction from the heretics who do not believe in the Truths of the Church. It is a constant reminder of who we are and what our objective is in life, i.e. our salvation and our communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

‘The sign of the cross reveals the name of Christ and recapitulates his work for salvation. The cross is a symbolic connection between heaven and earth and a symbol of death to the world and our resurrection in Jesus Christ. The sign of the cross points to the Last Judgement and is an instrument of salvation and healing against the consequences of the Fall and original sin. The cross signifies personal and also communal worship, and it inspires wordless prayer.’[27]
The Cross maintains a universal character. According to the Canon hymns of the Exaltation of the Cross, also sung during the Service of Baptism, we understand the timeless character of the Cross, where we sing:
Inscribing the invincible weapon of the Cross upon the waters, Moses marked a straight line before him with his staff and divided the Red Sea, opening a path for Israel who went over dry-shod. Then he marked a second line across the waters and united them in one, overwhelming the chariots of Pharaoh. Therefore let us sing to Christ our God, for He has been glorified. (Canticle one – Irmos).
Therefore, the Cross, according to this hymn exists before Christ’s time, being evident in the Old Testament era. ‘This Tree of Life, united in the Cross of Golgotha, was seen [also in another Old testament story], as the brass serpent which Moses made on the tree in obedience to God's command, by which those who had been bitten by poisonous serpents, upon looking at this brass serpent would remain alive. This was referred to by the Lord, Who said: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).’[28]
We should all have in our mind the salvation we receive from the Cross. If our objective as Christians is our salvation, or according to the Orthodox our theosis, where we become saintly, meaning in communion with God, then we can achieve this with the power of the Cross which leads to the Resurrection. As one hymn claims:
The fiery sword no longer guards the gate of Eden, for in a strange and glorious way the wood of the Cross has quenched its flames. The sting of death and the victory of hell are now destroyed, for Thou art come, my Saviour, crying unto those in hell: ‘Return again to Paradise.’ (Kontakion – Sunday of the Cross).
‘The simple sign of the cross is one way of many to pray and at the same time to contemplate, as all prayer does, the mystery of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’[29]

[1] This talk was given on the 25th February 2016 at St Mary’s Church Redbourn.
[2] The Eastern Orthodox understanding of icon is that it is a sacred image, a window into heaven. They are not merely art, they play a significant spiritual role within the life and practice of the Church, as Yannaras explains: ‘Byzantine iconography does not “decorate” the church but has an organic, liturgical function in the polyphony of the Eucharistic event, existentially elevating us to the hypostatic realization of life.’ Yannaras, Christos, The Freedom of Morality, (New York, SVSP, 1996), p.258.
St John of Damascus, when defending icons, in order to show their importance for the Church, explains: ‘What the book does for those who understand letters, the image does for the illiterate; the word appeals to hearing, the image appeals to sight; it conveys understanding.’ St John of Damascus, Three Treatises on the Divine Images, Behr, John (ed.), (New York, SVSP, 2003), p.31. Additionally, St John promotes the Orthodox belief, in regards to veneration, explaining: ‘I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of the matter, who became matter for my own sake . . .’ Ibid., p.29. The veneration of icons was also validated in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, due to the iconoclastic period.

[3] (St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter XVIII).
[4] Matthews-Green, Frederica, ‘Foreword,’ in Andreopoulos, Andreas, The Sign of the Cross – The Gesture, The Mystery, The History, (2006), p.xi.
[5] Ibid.
[7] Andreopoulos, Andreas, The Sign of the Cross – The Gesture, The Mystery, The History, (2006), p.6.
[8] Ibid., p.4.
[9] Ibid., p.5.
[11] Andreopoulos, p.8.
[13] Papavassiliou, Vassilios, Meditations for Great Lent, pp.78-79.
[14] Wybrew, Hugh, Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter, p.63.
[16] Schmemann, Alexander, Great Lent – Journey to Pascha, (1990), p.77.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Wybrew, p.114.
[21] Ibid.
[23] Papavassiliou, pp.80-81.
[25] Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out. Mary Magdalene seems to play a protagonistic role, in regards to the first sighting of the empty tomb. The hymns proclaim:
“All things have been filled with joy on receiving proof of the Resurrection. For Mary Magdalen came to the grave, found an Angel seated on the stone and dazzling in shining raiment, who said, ‘Why do you seek the living with the dead? He is not here, but he has risen, as he said, and goes before you into Galilee.’
St Mary Magdalene is honoured as an equal to the Apostles and as a Myrrhbearer. She is celebrated on the 22nd of July and on the 4th of May, the day her holy relics were found. She is also remembered on the Third Sunday after Easter, the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers.
For more information on Mary Magdalene: Salapatas, Dimitris, ‘Mary Magdalene in the Orthodox Church,’ Orthodox Herald, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, April – May – June 2014, Issue 307-309, pp. 23-25.
[26] Peter of Damascus, Book 1 – ‘On the Differences between Thoughts and Provocations,’ Philokalia, Vol.3, Athens, 1960, 110.   
[27] Andreopoulos, p. 137.
[29] Andreopoulos, p.138.