Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Placing of the Venerable Belt of the Theotokos

Today, 31st of August, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Placing of the Venerable Belt of the Theotokos. This is to commemorate the Placing of the Belt of the Mother of God, which took place in Constantinople’s Chalcoprateia, during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger, being transferred from Jerusalem to the Imperial Byzantine Capital. This was initially given from the Virgin Mary to Apostle Thomas.

It has been recorded that the holy relic has done a number of miracles. One of them was healing the Empress Zoe, the wife of Emperor Leo the Wise, who was afflicted with an unclean spirit. The Empress has a vision whereby she was healed, when the Belt was placed upon her. By that time the relic was placed in a coffer. The Emperor, therefore, asked the Patriarch of Constantinople to open the coffer. After placing it on the body of the Empress, she was immediately freed from her infirmity. This great miracle is commemorated today by the Orthodox Church. Parts of the Holy Belt of the Theotokos are located on the Monastery of Vatopedi (Mount Athos) and elsewhere worldwide.
The Apolytikion of the Feast is the following:

Ever-Virgin Theotokos, protectress of mankind, You have given your people a powerful legacy: The robe and sash of your most honoured body which remained Incorrupt throughout your seedless childbearing; For through you time and nature are renewed! Therefore we implore you: "Grant peace to your people and to our souls great mercy!"

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

St Fiacre, Patron Saint of Gardeners

St Fiacre was born in Ireland at the beginning of the 7th century and entered a monastery at a young age. St Fiacre’s days at the monastery taught him a deep love of silence, the joys of planting and harvesting crops and an appreciation of nature. Drawn to the contemplative life and the desire to serve God in greater solitude, Fiacre decided to establish a hermitage for prayer. He travelled south and chose a wooded are by the Nore River for his home, with a cave for meditation, a well for drinking water and the river for irrigating his garden. Monks in those days were regarded as physicians of the body as well as the soul. Soon people were flocking to Fiacre for prayers, food and healing. He fed the hungry and healed the sick with herbs from his garden and prayed for all who came to him. Longing for greater solitude, Fiacre travelled to France where the Bishop of Meaux granted him land in a wooded area near the Marne River.

The first miracle attributed to Fiacre, occurred when he asked the Bishop for additional ground for his garden. The Bishop told Fiacre he could have as much land as he could entrench in one day. According to legend, the next morning Fiacre merely dragged his spade across the ground, causing trees to topple and bushes to be uprooted. He cleared the ground of trees and briers, made himself a cell with a garden, built a chapel in honour of the Virgin Mary, and made an inn for travellers which developed into the village of Saint – Fiacre in Seine-et-Marne. His charity moved him to attend cheerfully those that came to visit him. Thus was established St. Fiacre’s famous monastery where he welcomed all who sought his counsel and healing. A culinary garden that fed the poor, a garden that cured the sick, a flower garden and an herb garden occupied the expanse of property surrounding the monastery.
Even after his death, around 670 AD, people continued to visit the monastery and, as legend would have it, receive physical and spiritual healing. To this day crowds visit St Fiacre’s shrine, where his relics are still believed to contain healing powers. St Fiacre is commemorated on the 30th August.[1]

[1] ‘St Fiacre Patron Saint of Gardeners,’ Bulletin of Spiritual Edification, Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, 30th August 2015, No. 1403. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Idolatry Is Foolish

Idolatry, for those who have seen the beauty and the truth of Christianity, seems like a foolish belief system, which can only take its faithful so far. To be honest…not that far, since it is a human understanding of deity which is false. It is interesting to read the following passage from the Old Testament (Wisdom of Solomon 13:10-19) where the foolishness of idolatry is highlighted.

Solomon continues praying:
10   Some people are miserable because they have set their hopes either on lifeless idols crafted in the shape of animals from gold and silver, or else on some old pieces of worthless stone. 11A woodcutter may saw down a small tree, then peel off the bark and skilfully make something worthwhile from the wood. 12Some of the leftover wood may be used for a cooking fire, 13while a crooked and knotty piece may be carefully carved into the shape of a human 14or of some useless animal, before being painted red to cover all its flaws.

15A special shelf is made on the wall, and the idol is fastened to the shelf with metal nails 16to keep it from falling, because the one who made it realizes that it is merely a helpless idol. 17Then—without shame—its maker prays to this lifeless idol for help with finances, marriage, or family. 18Its maker asks for good health from something weak, for life from something dead, for guidance from something without experience, for a safe journey from something that cannot walk, 19and for wealth and success from something that cannot move its hands.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia

Ihlara Valley, in Cappadocia, central Turkey, is located within the border of Guzelyurt-Aksaray. Ihlara Valley and the volcanic landscape of the region were formed as a result of the volcanic eruptions of Mount Hasan during the third Geological Era. Melendiz River, the Cappadocia River, had carved its bed, made it deeper forming, thus, the valley. It flows through 14 km long Ihlara Valley, whose older name was Peristremma. Interesting enough there are 105 churches and nearly ten thousand rock caverns in Ihlara Valley.

Ihlara Valley, due to the great number of churches, was an important monastic centre. The Churches in the valley represent the characteristics of the age they were made, being constructed in a carved cross shape, with single or double naves.

The valley was used as a hermitage by priests and monks after the 4th century, spreading Christianity to the locals. Ihlara Valley stands as the pearl of Cappadocia, bringing together nature, history, art, culture and religion. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Truth of Being

How can we distinguish between what we are, who we are and what characteristic and virtues we have? Are they different? Or do they explain the same thing, i.e. our ontology as people and persons? Can this be said about God too? Christos Yannaras explains, in regards to God:

‘The identification of being with the freedom of love – of that love which forms being hypostases – reveals that the truth of the ethos or morality is equivalent to the truth of being. When we speak of the unity and communion of the three divine persons, we are referring to God’s mode of being, which is the ethos of divine life. And the ethos of God is identical with His being. When the Christian revelation declares that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16), it is not referring to one among many properties of God’s “behaviour,” but to what God is as the fullness of trinitarian and personal communion.’[1]

[1] Yannaras, Christos, The Freedom of Morality, (New York, SVSP, 1996), p.18. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Saint Ninian Bishop of Whithorn, Apostle to the Picts

“See in each herb and small animal, every bird and beast,
and in each man and woman, the eternal Word of God.” -St. Ninian

Bishop and confessor; date of birth unknown; died about 432 AD; St Ninian is the first Apostle of Christianity in Scotland. The earliest account of him is in Bede (Hist. Eccles., III, 4): “the southern Picts received the true faith by the preaching of Bishop Ninias, a most reverend and holy man of the British nation, who had been regularly instructed at Rome in the faith and mysteries of the truth; whose episcopal see, named after St. Martin the Bishop, and famous for a church dedicated to him (wherein Ninias himself and many other saints rest in the body), is now in the possession of the English nation. The place belongs to the province of the Bernicians and is commonly called the White House [Candida Casa], because he there built a church of stone, which was not usual amongst the Britons”. The facts given in this passage form practically all we know of St. Ninian’s life and work.

The most important later life, compiled in the twelfth century by St. Aelred, professes to give a detailed account founded by Bede and also on a “liber de vita et miraculis eius” (sc. Niniani) “barbarice scriptus”, but the legendary element is largely evident. He states, however, that while engaged in building his church at Candida Casa, Ninian heard of the death of St. Martin and decided to dedicate the building to him. Now St. Martin died about 397 AD, so that the mission of Ninian to the southern Picts must have begun towards the end of the fourth century.
St. Ninian founded at Whithorn a monastery which became famous as a school of monasticism within a century of his death; his work among the southern Picts seems to have had but a short lived success. St. Patrick, in his epistle to Coroticus, terms the Picts “apostates”, and references to Ninian’s converts having abandoned Christianity are found in Sts. Columba and Kentigern.
Some believe that shortly before his repose St. Ninian may have moved from Scotland to Ireland and died there, though there is no evidence to confirm this. According to a legend, at the moment of St. Ninian’s repose, a bell began to ring by itself, announcing the death of the righteous man and calling everybody to his deathbed. St. Ninian was buried in a stone coffin near the altar of the church that he had built on Whithorn. Pilgrims flocked to his relics up to the sixteenth century, when his relics were lost due to the Reformation.[1]

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Capitolio, Havana

One of the largest buildings in the Cuban capital is the Capitolio, which is a replica of Washington D.C.’s Capitol. This Neo-Classical structure was once a congressional building. The diamond inset in the floor is the point from which all distances are measured in Cuba. This building was inaugurated in 1929 and incorporates Art Deco elements into a Neo-Classical design. It reopened in 2014, after restoration, and now hosts the National Assembly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Landscape Gardens – Royal Mail First Day Cover

The newest collection by the Royal Mail First Day Cover is dedicated to Landscape Gardens, The Genius of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The name Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-83) has become synonymous with the 18th century landscape garden. His trademark park formula, with its sweeping lawns and stands of ancient oak reflected in vast lakes, continues to influence our vision of a pastoral England. Each of these eight stamps commemorates different aspect of this great achievement. These eight stamps depict the landscape gardens from: Blenheim Palace, Longleat, Compton Verney, Highclere Castle, Alnwick Castle, Berrington Hall, Stowe and Croome Park. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Alexander the Great and Mount Athos

Mount Athos is one of the holiest places for the Orthodox Church and faithful. However, the land has existed before Christianity. Many have given it a certain significance in the ancient world, which is not accepted by many. Nevertheless, we do find that many refer to it. One instance is Plutarch, when giving Alexander the Great’s story. What kind of relationship could there have been between the King of Macedonia and Mount Athos? A project, which was not realised. An exaggerated one that was, however, fitting for a king. Plutarch explains:

‘It was Stasicrates who had remarked to Alexander at an earlier interview that of all mountains it was Mount Athos in Thrace which could most easily be carved into the form and shape of a man, and that if it pleased Alexander to command him, he would shape the mountain into the most superb and durable statue of him in the world: its left hand would enfold a city of 10,000 inhabitants, while out of its right would flow the abundant waters of a river which would pour, like a libation, into the sea. Alexander had declined this proposal, but now he spent his time with his engineers and architects planning projects which were even more outlandish and extravagant.’ (chapter 72). 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City

The Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City has a majestic blend of architectural styles, with its richly ornate Spanish Baroque façade, a Neo-Classical dome and twin bell towers rising 67 metres. It is considered as the ultimate landmark of colonial architecture in America, located in the central square of the city, being the largest Cathedral in Latin America.
It took three centuries to complete this Metropolitan Church. The first stone was placed in 1524 in an act of great symbolic significance, as it was placed at the crossing of the avenues which, from the four cardinal points, lead to the spiritual centre of the Aztec capital. It was built using the stones that had once been a part of the Templo Mayor of the Great Tenochtitlan.

The ultimate landmark of colonial architecture in the American continent, Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral stands majestically in the capital’s Square as the largest Cathedral in Latin America and one of the most emblematic Christian temples in the world.
The history of the Cathedral is also the history of Mexico in the time of the Viceroyalty, and a stone narrative of its diverse architectonical styles. Built across three centuries, we can recognize Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical elements which harmoniously come together to form a piece of great cultural and spatial richness, unique in its genre.

The first stone of the Cathedral was placed by Hernán Cortes in 1524 in an act of great symbolic significance, as it was placed at the crossing of the avenues which, from the four cardinal points, lead to the spiritual centre of the Aztec capital. It was built using the stones that had once been a part of the Templo Mayor of the Great Tenochtitlán.

In 1547 this temple was declared a Cathedral by the Holy See. Years later, the original building was demolished and the foundational stone of the new Cathedral was placed by the Archbishop Pedro Moya and Virrey Martín Enríquez. In 1623, after three decades of work in the interior, the construction of the Sacristy was concluded. The building was eventually inaugurated on December 22nd 1667. However, the exterior of the Cathedral wasn’t finished until 1813. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dreams Mean Nothing

Many Christians believe in the dreams they see. They believe that they hold within them certain truths, importance and they understand that they are able to communicate with either God or the afterlife. In many cases this could be true. But it could also be false. We cannot be sure, as many saints would claim, whether what we see is sent by God or the devil. In the Old Testament book Sophia Sirach (34:1-8) we read a great critique of listening and believing in dreams. There we read:

‘34 Foolish people are deceived by vain hopes, and dreams get them all excited. 2 A person who pays any attention at all to dreams is like someone who tries to catch shadows or chase the wind. 3 What you see in a dream is no more real than the reflection of your face in a mirror. 4 What is unreal can no more produce something real than what is dirty can produce something clean. 5 Dreams, divination, and omens are all nonsense. You see in them only what you want to see.[a] 6 Unless the Most High has sent you the dream, pay no attention to it. 7 Dreams have misled many people; they put their faith in them, only to be disappointed. 8 The Law is complete without such falsehood. Wisdom, as spoken by the righteous, is also complete without it.

If, however, we wish to follow a dream we have seen, then it would be wise to follow the advice of our priest, confessor, or the Church’s advice, in general, so we do not follow a false understanding and do something which will lead us away from the truth of the Church. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saint Oswin, King and Martyr of Deira, Northumbria

When St Oswin’s father, King Osric of Deira (roughly the county of Yorkshire), was killed by the pagan Welsh King Cadwallon in 633, he was taken to Wessex for safety, baptized, and educated there by Saint Aidan. When his cousin Saint Oswald was killed in battle against King Penda of Mercia in 642, Oswin became king of Deira, which Oswald had united to Bernicia, and his cousin Oswy (Oswiu) became king of Bernicia.
Saint Bede tells us that Oswin was "handsome in appearance and of great stature, pleasant in speech and courteous in manner. He was generous to high and low alike and soon won the affection of all by his kingly qualities of mind and body so that even men of very high birth came from nearly every province to his service. . . . and among his other qualities of virtue and moderation the greatest was humility."

Oswin had reigned successfully for about nine years, when Oswy declared war on him. Rather than precipitate a bloody battle when he realised that his army was vastly outnumbered, Oswin went into hiding with one trusted soldier at the estate of his best friend, Earl Hunwald, at Gilling near Richmond, York. Hunwald betrayed him and he was murdered at Gilling, Yorkshire, by Ethelwin on orders from Oswy, on the 20th August 651 AD.
Oswin, buried at Tynemouth, has been venerated as a martyr since his death, because he died, "if not for the faith of Christ, at least for the justice of Christ," as a 12th-century preacher explained.
In expiation for his crime, Oswy built a monastery at Gilling, but Oswin's relics remained at Tynemouth. Later the church was subject to the Viking raids and Oswin's tomb was forgotten until it was found in 1065. At that time the relics were translated. The feast of his translation on March 11 is kept at Durham, Saint Albans, and Tynemouth. His feast day is on the 20th August.[1]

Friday, August 19, 2016

“Deir el-Surian, crossroads of Coptic and Syriac culture.”

Department of Art and Archaeology
SOAS-University of London

Research Seminars in the Art and Archaeology of Africa and the Americas
Convenor: Dr Tania Tribe (

Dr Karel Innemée (University of Amsterdam) and Dr Dobrochna Zielińska (University of Warsaw)

 “Deir el-Surian, crossroads of Coptic and Syriac culture.
The Monastery of the Holy Virgin of Bishoi (Wadi Natrun, Egypt) was founded in the 6th century, but since Syrian monks joined the Coptic community around 800AD it was better known as Deir al-Surian, the Syrian monastery. For centuries monks of the two denominations lived together, creating an environment where material and immaterial heritage of the Coptic and Syriac Orthodox Churches were brought together, resulting in a unique library and a church with extraordinary wall paintings. Most of these paintings vanished out of sight when they were covered by plaster in the 18 th century. Since 1996 these paintings are gradually uncovered and give us an impression of the Syrian influence on Egyptian Christianity. In this lecture special attention will be given to the most recent discoveries of the past two years.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016
5-7 pm
Room L 67

All Welcome

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why Are The Four Gospels Different From Each Other?

I’m not here going to give an extensive analysis and exegesis of the four Gospels and how different they are from each other. We do have the Synoptic Gospels, written by Mark, Matthew and Luke, which have a similar thematic structure between them; however, each one has additions to it, making them all unique. On the other hand, the last one, written by John, seems to be very different to the previous ones. One question many ask is why are the four Gospels different from each other? Shouldn’t they show uniformity? Interestingly enough, St John Chrysostom has an explanation for this reality, claiming that:

‘All four evangelists reported some of Christ’s savings, but each of them individually chose others to report. Why is this so? To make us read the other gospels, and to make us realize how remarkable their agreement is. For if all of them told everything, we would not pay careful attention to all of them, because one would be enough to teach us everything. But if everything they tell were different, we would not see their remarkable agreement. For this reason all of them wrote many things in common but each also chose some things to tell individually.’[1]

[1] Behr, John (ed.), St John Chrysostom – On Wealth and Poverty, (New York, SVSP, 1981), pp.20-1. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Spyros Louis, the first marathon winner

Greek heroes are not only to be found in Ancient Greece. Modern Greece has had the honour of producing modern legends; one of them being Spyros Louis, who was a water carrier who won the first modern day Olympic marathon during the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, becoming therefore a national hero.
Spyros Louis was born in Marousi (North Athens), into a poor farmer’s family. His father sold mineral water in the Greek capital, since there was a lack of a central water supply. Spyros helped his father by transporting it. However, he was to be remembered for winning the first marathon run at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens (1896).

During the marathon race no one in the Panathinaiko Stadium knew who the favourite for winning was. That is why a messenger was sent in order to identify who was first. Towards the end of the race, after identifying that a Greek was first, the crowd began chanting “Hellene, Hellene”. When he eventually arrived into the stadium, everyone erupted with joy. Two Greek princes (Crown Prince Constantine and Prince George) rushed to meet him. He finished the race in 2:58:50. The official report of the Olympic Games was:

“Here the Olympic Victor was received with full honour; the King rose from his seat and congratulated him most warmly on his success. Some of the King’s aides-de-camp, and several members of the Committee went so far as to kiss and embrace the victor, who finally was carried in triumph to th retiring room under the vaulted entrance. The scene witnessed then inside the Stadion cannot be easily described, and even foreigners were carried away by the general enthusiasm”.

It is believed that the King of Greece offered the marathon winner any gift he would care to ask of him. Spyros Louis replied by asking for a donkey and a carriage in order to help him in his water carrying business.  Greece later honoured this great athlete by giving his name to the country’s largest stadium, the Spyros Louis Stadium, also known as the Olympic Stadium, where the 2004 Athens Games took place. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

St Gerasimos Old Church, Kefalonia

The Holy Monastery of St Gerasimos at Omala is undoubtedly the religious centre of the Ionian Island of Kefalonia. St Gerasimos, born in 1503 AD in Trikala (Korinthias), is the protector Saint of Kefalonia. St Gerasimos was ordained a monk at Mount Athos. He later went to Jerusalem where he lived for 12 years, passed to Crete and Zakynthos and finally arrived in Kefalonia, where he died on August 15th 1579. He was declared a Saint of the Orthodox Church in 1622.  St Gerasimos is known for his miraculous abilities to cure people with mental illnesses. That is why many, till this day, visit the Saint to receive his blessing and try to cure their loved ones.

The Saint founded a nunnery in the valley at Omala, interestingly calling it the New Jerusalem. The monastery is located near the imposing Mount Ainos, near the villages of Fragata and Valsamata.

This monastic community has two churches, the old one, where the Saint lies, and the new church building. The latter is much larger; however, the old one retains the traditional architectural and iconographic tradition of the Ionian Islands. A number of miracles have been attributed to this local Saint, who attracts thousands of faithful to this monastery and to Kefalonia in general, on an annual basis.

Interestingly enough, and many visitors do not actually see this due to it being hidden within the floor of the church, there is the Saint’s hermitage – two rooms divided by a narrow hole. It is located 3 metres beneath the church’s floor.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Troparion for the Feast of the Dormition of Theotokos

In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity; in thy dormition thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos. Thou wast translated unto life, since thou art the Mother of Life, and by thine intercessions doest thou deliver our souls from death.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Official Olympic Anthem (Greek & English)

The Olympic Hymn (given below in Greek and English) was written by Costis Palamas, one of Greece's most famous poets, in 1893 and was set to music by Spiros Samaras in 1896. The Hymn was adopted as the Official Olympic Hymn by the International Olympic Committee in 1957.

Αρχαίο Πνεύμ' αθάνατον, αγνέ πατέρα
του ωραίου, του μεγάλου και τ' αληθινού,
κατέβα, φανερώσου κι άστραψ' εδώ πέρα
στη δόξα της δικής σου γης και τ' ουρανού.

Στο δρόμο και στο πάλεμα και στο λιθάρι,
στων ευγενών Αγώνων λάμψε την ορμή,
και με τ' αμάραντο στεφάνωσε κλωνάρι
και σιδερένιο πλάσε κι άξιο το κορμί.

Κάμποι, βουνά και πέλαγα φέγγουν μαζί σου
σαν ένας λευκοπόρφυρος μέγας ναός,
και τρέχει στο ναό εδώ προσκυνητής σου.
Αρχαίο Πνεύμ' αθάνατο, κάθε λαός.

Κωστής Παλαμάς (1859-1942)

English Translation

Ancient immortal spirit, pure father
Of the beautiful, the great and the true,
Descend, appear, and emblaze this place
With the glory of your own earth and sky.
In the race, the grappling, and the toss,
Kindle the impulse in all noble contests,
Crown with the perennial wreath,
And fashion the steely and worthy body.

Plains, mountains, and seas glow in your presence
Like some great clear porphyrous shrine,
And every nation hurries here to your temple
In supplication, ancient immortal spirit.

Costis Palamas (1859-1942)

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Church of the Dormition, Hydra

The Church of the Dormition, also called ‘the Monastery’, is the Cathedral Church of the small island of Hydra, near Athens, located in the centre of the harbour, behind the imposing clock tower. It is believed that a nun arrived on the small Aegean island in 1643 AD, building a church dedicated to St Charalambos. On a later date, after the nuns died, monks took over this ecclesiastical complex. The first church building on this site was unfortunately destroyed after an earthquake (1774). Nevertheless, it was rebuilt by Venetian architects. This new church was re-dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos (the Mother of God).

The new church building is a Byzantine –style cathedral pillared basilica. It also has a marble iconostasis, frescoes from the 18th century, significant and miraculous icons from the Byzantine epoch and many other elaborate Orthodox decorations, showing that this church was a rich centre.

The courtyard also has a number of statues dedicated to the Greek heroes of the Independence struggle against the Ottoman Empire (1821), such as Admirals Lazaros Koundouriotis and Andreas Miaoulis and Theodoros Kolokotronis. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Virgin Mary in Cyprus

In the iconographic tradition of the Orthodox Church we find the Theotokos depicted with Jesus Christ, showing the significance of their relationship. Without Jesus Christ, Mary is not the Theotokos. With Him, she becomes the Mother of God. This relationship is also evident in the Holy Bible, where her life is not given to us in detail. On the contrary, we know little about her, and after Jesus’ Ascension we do not hear much about her life; however, she is present in the early life of the Church in Jerusalem.

According to Tradition, the Virgin Mary, travelling to Mount Athos, stopped in Cyprus in order to visit Lazarus, her Son’s friend who He resurrected. Lazarus was at the time the first bishop of Kitiou, today known as Larnaca. According to another tradition, when the Theotokos visited the mountains, where the Holy Monastery of Kukkos is located, the trees would bow to her, venerating her. This also shows the continued relation between Cyprus and Palestine. Additionally, this is seen in the book of Acts, whereby Cyprus was one of the first stops St Paul and St Barnabas made, in order to teach about Jesus Christ to the gentiles.

One of the holiest icons of the Theotokos, in Cyprus, is located in the Holy Monastery of Kukkos, which is believed (by some) to be one of the icons painted by St Luke, when the Virgin Mary was still alive. This icon was initially in Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, which was later transferred to Cyprus, as a gift by the Byzantine Emperor Isaakios Komnenos, when the Monastery of Kukkos was being built. Additionally, during the iconoclastic period (8th and 9th centuries AD), many icons were moved to Cyprus, mainly from Asia Minor, in order to preserve these holy icons. Due to this reality, Cyprus greatly venerated the Mother of God, forming new monasteries, for example the Monastery of Machaira, Trooditissas, Trikoukkias, Chrysorrogiatissas and the Virgin Mary of the Great Agros. Many more monasteries and churches in Cyprus are dedicated to the Theotokos, showing thus the importance she maintains for the Orthodox faithful of the island, and the continued love the people of Cyprus show to the Mother of God. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Saint Bertram, King and Hermit of Mercia

Bertam was a prince of Mercia (7th-9th centuries AD). Believing he might have a religious calling, he travelled to Ireland where such saints as Patrick and Columba had lived. In Ireland he fell in love and eloped with a beautiful princess. He brought her back to Mercia travelling while she was pregnant. They lived a nomadic life, and it is thought that the baby was born in the shelter of the forest near Stafford. Tragedy occurred while Bertram was away hunting for food. Wolves came and killed both his wife and his child.
Overcome with grief, he renounced royal heritage and turned again to God. He sought a life of prayer and many pagans were converted to Christianity by the example of his life. St Bertram approached the court of Mercia but did not reveal his royal lineage. He asked for a grant of land for the building of a hermitage. This land was granted near modern day Stafford. Historians record the name of the hermitage as Bethnei. 

A New King came to the throne. Not being a religious man, he demanded back the land on which the hermitage stood. It was decided that the matter should be settled by man to man combat. Bertram prayed for someone to come forward to fight for the hermitage. A man who was a dwarf came forward and Bertram, remembering David and Goliath, accepted his offer. The dwarf was agile and quick and the hermitage kept its land.
Bertram is also linked to the village of Barthomley near Audley in present day Cheshire. It is said that Bertram, having dedicated his life to Christ, was sought out by the devil who tempted him to turn stones into bread. Bertram prayed rather that the bread would be turned to stones. In 1516 it was said that those stones were still in the church at Barthomley. By the courtesy of the vicar of Barthomley, we have one of the ‘stones’ beside the icon of St Bertram, in St Michael’s church at Audley.
Bertram was known in the area as a wise and holy man. He found a cave near the present day village of Ilam in Derbyshire. He lived there until his death. He is commemorated on the 10th August.[1]

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Beatrix Potter – Royal Mail First Day Cover

The newest Royal Mail First Day Cover collection is dedicated to Beatrix Potter. As many know, Beatrix Potter was a children’s author and illustrator, natural scientist, farmer and preservationist. Her series of 23 original ‘Peter Rabbit’ books has been translated into more than 45 languages.

Helen Beatrix Potter was born on 28 July 1866 in Kensington, London, and had a typical Victorian upper-middle class upbringing. As a young child she spent much time alone, or with her nanny, in the nursery, but during this time she developed a fascination for the natural world. Together with her younger brother Bertram, she looked after a menagerie of pets including lizards, newts, mice and rabbits.

Immersed in the arts from an early age – her mother was a watercolourist and her father a photographer – she was inspired to sketch and paint flora and fauna during holidays in Scotland and the Lake District, and went on to become a publishing illustrator. But it was the reworking of the stories and drawings in her picture-letters to children that led to the publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and the start of a successful literary career. Beatrix bought many properties in the Lake District, where she embraced life as a farmer, sheep breeder and conservationist until her death in 1943. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Saint Colman of Lindisfarne

Saint Colman of Lindisfarne, (born c. 605, Ireland—died August 8, 676, Inishbofin Island; feast day, Scottish diocese of Argyll and the Isles February 18, elsewhere August 8), was an important prelate of the early Irish church and monastic founder who led the Celtic party at the crucial Synod of Whitby (663/664), held by the church of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria to decide whether to follow Celtic or Roman usages.
Colman was a monk at the celebrated monastery of Iona—an island of the Inner Hebrides, Argyll—before succeeding St. Finan in 661 to become the third bishop-abbot of the great Northumbrian diocese of Lindisfarne, or Holy Island. His episcopacy witnessed a vital turning point in the development of the Christian church in England.

Though Northumbria had been mainly converted by Celtic missionaries, there was by 662 an influential party that subscribed to Roman church customs, particularly in determining the date of Easter. The Synod of Whitby decided in favour of Rome. Colman objected to the synod’s decisions that brought the English church into closer contact with the European continent. He resigned his See and, with all the Irish and about 30 of the English monks of Lindisfarne, returned to Iona. Between 665 and 667 he founded several Scottish churches, afterward sailing to Ireland with his disciples. They settled on Inishbofin, off the west coast of Ireland, where in 668 Colman built a monastery. He later founded a separate abbey at Mayo for the English monks. He was abbot of both until his death.
Although the Venerable Bede disapproved of the Celtic customs, he had high praise for Colman in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, considered to be the best source for Colman’s life at Lindisfarne. He is styled Colman of Lindisfarne to distinguish him from numerous other saints named Colman who are listed in the Irish martyrologies.[1]

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Church of the Virgin Mary and the Snakes (Panagia Fidousa)

One of the most famous churches not only in Kefalonia, but in the whole of Greece, is Panagia Fidoussa, the Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary and the snakes. Around the time of the Dormition of the Mother of God (15th August) small, harmless snakes come to this church. These snakes have four dots on their head in the shape of a cross. They appear in around and in the church between 6th and 16th August every year. It is funny how every year the Greek news examine this curious event, showing how the snakes do not bite, but are rather friendly and harmless.

According to a legend it all started from a bush that was seen burning in Loggos. Approaching it in order to extinguish the fire, they saw that only one tree was burnt and the icon of the Mother of God was in its roots. They brought it to the village church but the next day the icon was missing! They found it again in the same place. This was repeated a number of times; therefore, they realised that it was a divine sign. A Church was built there. Over the years a nunnery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary was established there. Again, according to legend, once pirates threatened the abbey. After the prayers of the monks, snakes encircled the monastery and repelled the threat! The miracle is repeated every year since then. This is how Tradition explains the appearance of snakes at this Church. If the snakes do not appear this is considered a very bad sign. Interestingly enough this has happened in the past (example in 1953) when Kefalonia was hit by devastating earthquakes resulting in the destruction of many buildings, villages and towns on the Ionian island.