Knowing the will of God is one of the most delicate and complicated matter of our lives, especially for those who are trying to find it through prayer. For although His will is revealed according to Thy words: “Ask, seek, knock, and it shall be given you”, yet it requires patience, trials, temptations and [ascetic] experience, to extinguish man’ own will and passions that cannot withstand the inexpressible tenderness and sensitivity of divine grace.

(Elder Joseph the Hesychast)

A monk needed to go for a day-trip to a big city, accompanied by one of his acquaintance. In the midst of urban’ uproar the monk claimed to have heard a cricket, though his companion did not believe him. Crossing the road and looking carefully under a tree the monk found the cricket, to the astonishment of his relative.

- You must have a superhuman hearing!

- No. My ears aren’t different from yours, said the monk. But everything depends on what you’re  used to listen with them

- No! I would not be able to hear a cricket in this noise!

- It all depends on what is important to you, reiterated the monk. Let’s make a demonstration. So the monk took out few coins from his packet and dropped them quietly on asphalt. And despite of the loud noise of the city, all the people around them turned their heads thinking that the scattered coins could’ve fallen from their packets.

- Do you understand now? It all depends on what is important to people … If we watch or listen to the contentions daily news on television, our ears become accustomed only to what is ugly and evil. We become fearful and helpless! Then we’ll say: “Life is hard, people are evil, we live in an insecure and ugly world, you cannot trust anyone or anything …”

And meanwhile the crickets sing, the leaves rustle, the waters flow… and we do not hear them.

Taken from the Friends of Mt Athos blog

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who “untied the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3: 8) by His humility, had shown us the most powerful weapon against the spirits of wickedness under the heaven. The whole earthly life of our Savior is a powerful and unprecedented example of humility. His descent from His heavenly throne on this corrupted earth, His birth in a manger, His upbringing that remained unnoticed in the mysterious city of Nazareth, His obedience without murmuring against others, His complete service to others to the ultimate self-sacrifice on the Cross, the washing of His disciples’ feet, His Passion and death on the cross; all bear witness to His perfect humility. But our Savior humility indebted us to follow in His deeds “I gave you an example, that as I have done to you, ye should do to others” (Jn. 13:15) He told his disciples after He washed their feet.

He who humbles himself lays down the very foundation of a moral, righteous life. If a man engages in various spiritual labors without humility, but overcome by pride, then sooner or later, he will fall. Only the struggles and works erected on the foundation of deep humility will not be shaken. The higher the building that we want to raise, the more we ought to deepen its foundations. So it happens in the spiritual life. The more we desire to be raised closer to God, the more we ought to humble ourselves.

The power of the devil resides in pride, so his undoing. He is strong by his pride, but only before the proud, as only over those he has power.
Before the deeply humbled man, his pride proves a weak weapon. The ice can be very hard, but only during frosty weather. When the sun warms it up, then the hard ice begins to melt. Likewise the devil pride proves helpless before the humility of those truly pleasing to God. By their humility, they evince to be the bravest warriors.
Isn’t this the true bravery? to be reviled, and not to not avenge, to forgive and to overcome evil with good? (Rom. 12:21)
(Archimandrite Seraphim Alexiev, “The spiritual life of the Orthodox Christian”)

I believe that there is no better call than “to think beautifully!”. What is a “beautiful thought”? It means to think of something good not only at a particular moment, but to think beautifully at any moment of your life, to be mindful of your thoughts, to select the thoughts that go through your mind, to keep the good thoughts and possibly to extent them, to put them into action. The foundation of spiritual life is the thought, so the essence of the religious life is inner discipline, the discipline of the mind. (Archimandrite Theophil Paraian, “Words to Youth”)

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
One of the last diplomats to leave Smyrna after the Turks set the great Anatolian port city ablaze in September 1922 was the United States’ Consul General, George Horton.  Reflecting on the carnage and depravity of the Turkish forces tasked by Mustafa Kemal to destroy Smyrna’s Greeks and every physical semblance of their three-millennial presence in the magnificent city on the western littoral of Asia Minor, Horton wrote that “one of the keenest impressions which I brought away from Smyrna was a feeling of shame that I belonged to the human race.”  The shame that Horton expressed stemmed from his shock and disgust, both as a witness to the Turks’ genocidal frenzy and as a diplomat aware that several Western governments, including his own, had contributed to the horrors that took place in Smyrna.

The destruction of Smyrna marked the dramatic, fiery climax—although it would not be the telos—of the Turkish nationalists’ genocidal project to annihilate the historic Christian populations of Asia Minor.  The mass murder and mass expulsion of the Ottoman Empire’s and Turkey’s Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks from 1915 to 1923 marked the twentieth century’s first large-scale and systematic state-directed genocide, establishing a model that would inspire and be replicated by other criminal regimes throughout the following century.  Moreover, the Turks’ policy of genocide encouraged imitation elsewhere, precisely because that holocaust against Christians was astonishingly successful and without penalties for the perpetrators.  Indeed, the Turks not only achieved their objectives—the slaughter of three million Christians and the expulsion of another two million from their ancestral homes did, in fact, produce an essentially homogeneous Muslim Turkey—but they did so without any consequences, evading all accountability and any justice.

One of the chief reasons that Turkey escaped responsibility for its crimes against humanity was the complicity, albeit indirect, of several of the Western powers in those crimes.  During the First World War, the Allies condemned the Turkish nationalist leadership that controlled the Ottoman Empire for its acts of genocide.  However, once the war ended, various Western Allied powers (most notably France, Italy, and the United States), in pursuit of commercial concessions from the Turks, entered into diplomatic understandings with the Turkish nationalists, pushed aside and buried the issue of genocide, and even provided military aid and support to Kemal’s regime, thereby enabling the founder of the Turkish Republic to complete by 1923 the bloody “nation-building” project begun by his colleagues in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Despite the duplicitous postwar actions of several Western governments, popular sentiment in those same societies was deeply sympathetic to the plight of Christians in the Ottoman Middle East.  A remarkable variety of international relief and aid efforts emerged throughout the West, especially in the United States, in response to the humanitarian crisis produced by Turkey’s policy of annihilating its large Christian population.  The extermination and expulsions of Christians—Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks alike—in Turkey were widely reported in the United States, producing strident calls by several prominent diplomats, politicians, influential religious leaders, scholars, and the press to respond decisively to the crisis as a moral imperative and a Christian duty.  Two years before the US even entered the war, Americans had answered this call to action by organizing the highly publicized, nationwide charity that would become known eventually as Near East Relief, which channeled millions of dollars in aid to Christian survivors of the genocide.

In sharp contrast to the American public’s outrage over the Muslim Turks’ extermination of Christians a century ago, the most recent genocide of Christians in the Middle East by fanatical Muslims, under the moniker of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has witnessed a very different response in American society—apathy.

In the year 2014, ISIS launched a reign of terror against Arab and Armenian Christian populations reminiscent of Turkey’s genocide a century earlier.  As Islamic State forces advanced across the northern arc of the historic Fertile Crescent (the territory stretching across northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq), ancient Eastern Christian communities were decimated.  An undetermined number of Christians, many several thousands, were killed or enslaved by the Islamic State’s forces in 2014.  In order to escape this fate, almost 250,000 Christians fled the areas occupied by the Islamic State.  The Islamic State’s cleansing of the Christian populations under its control recalls and reiterates the project of nationalist Turkey, one in which nationalist Islamic forces functioned to create a homogeneous Muslim society in the territory under their control.

Tragically enough, the erasure of Christians in Iraq and Syria in 2014 is only the most recent episode in the wave of violence and persecutions against Christians that has been underway since the fateful United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 catalyzed the state failures and Islamist extremist mobilizations that are producing anarchy in the Near East.  During the last decade of bloodshed and chaos in Iraq, and more recently in Syria, perhaps as many as 100,000 Christians have been killed and more than 1.5 million have been made refugees.  As a result, Christianity now faces the possibility of extinction in the lands of its origin.

The American government’s response to this humanitarian catastrophe has been characterized by overt indifference.  The Bush administration dealt with the embarrassing fact that its Iraqi misadventure had unleashed the destruction of the country’s ancient and large Christian population by ignoring and suppressing that fact.  Simultaneously, the Bush government, either deliberately or through sheer folly, implemented occupation policies that undermined the security and prospects for survival of Christian communities in Iraq.

The Obama administration has continued and compounded the fecklessness of its predecessor administration.  Most recently, in an effort to erase the humiliation produced by his reckless comment made in late July, that the White House had no policy to deal with the Islamic State, President Obama rushed to launch a policy initiative in early August.  In a televised national address, President Obama announced that he had ordered military action against the Islamic State, rationalizing the move to limited air war in Iraq and Syria by invoking the US’ moral obligation to protect Iraq’s Yezidi religious minority from genocide at the hands of the Islamic State.  The privations of the Yezidis certainly justified a response and aid, but the genocide and plight of the much larger Christian communities of Iraq, brutalized for more than a decade by the region’s mélange of Islamist extremist groups and actively and passively persecuted by the Baghdad government, were largely ignored in President Obama’s speech.

The US government’s indifference to the genocide of Christians in the Middle East is shocking, but, unfortunately, not surprising.  The demonstrated disregard for the suffering of Christians in the Middle East by the administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama is entirely consistent with a double standard established by the moralizing hypocrisy of Woodrow Wilson in the midst of the first genocide of the twentieth century.  In fact, American administrations have been willing not only to turn a blind eye to genocide against Christians in the Middle East; they have gone beyond that, by consistently supporting, at least since the 1980s, Turkey’s genocide denial efforts.

Yet, where is the public outrage?  Although the US government has remained consistent in its indifference and duplicity on this subject, the attitude of the American public has undergone significant change.  A century ago, the Turks’ genocide against Armenians and other Christians provoked public outrage and led to large-scale humanitarian relief efforts in the United States of America.  A century ago, America’s civil society leaders, public intellectuals, and media mavens actively promoted awareness of the Turks’ crimes against humanity, and led popular initiatives to rescue Christians from death and suffering.  The invocation in the public sphere of Christian duty and moral imperatives was sufficient to produce societal concern and action.  In contrast, today, as the Islamic State completes the destruction of the historic Christian centers that Kemal’s forces did not reach, the American public’s response is one of apathy.  The apathy is reflected in the measurable lack of public awareness campaigns and in the absence of activism when it comes to coverage about and support for the Christian victims of Islamist violence.

The cultural and intellectual currents, as well as official policies, that have aimed to expunge religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, from the American public sphere have been corrosive for any commitment to respect for faith and, especially, for assigning value to the survival of Christianity in human civilization.  Signs of America’s emerging a-religious culture has also been instrumental in explaining public misperceptions about the Middle East as home only to Muslims and Jews, thereby rendering reporting on Christians in the Middle East largely incomprehensible or meaningless.  In a word, the cumulative social and cultural changes attendant to the specific drivers and modes of secularization in America go a long way to explaining the reasons for American public apathy towards the annihilation of the Mideast’s Christians.  Indeed, the knowledge, principles, and the very language—“Christian duty,” for example—that produced widespread outrage and drove humanitarian relief in response to genocide against Christians a century earlier have no place in today’s public dialogue, and for some, are viewed as vestiges of an exclusivist American identity that must be terminated.

The domestic politics of faith and US foreign policy concerns regarding religion have contributed to a worrying cynicism in how Washington policymakers engage on the issue of the Middle East’s disappearing Christians.  This past August, President Obama introduced the Yezidis—a group unknown to Americans, indistinguishable victims, free from any association with Christianity—to justify limited military action against the Islamic State.  Given current American political sensitivities towards Islam and social changes generating ambivalence and hostility towards Christianity, the President (much as with his predecessor) made no clarion call for action to protect today’s Middle East Christians—a group whose experiences in the Ottoman Empire were marked by the same options—pay a poll tax, convert, flee, or be killed—that face the Yazidis and the Christians suffering in the ISIS footprint.

This year, 2015, will be a year of centennial remembrance and commemoration of the Christian—the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek—genocide.  It will also be a year of genocide denial, already planned and launched by the Turkish state, as well as by Turkey’s apologists in the US government, American media, and academia.

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

If time would be the only form of existence, surrounded from all sides by death, then truly one wound have no hope in anything. For hope in the brief future pleasures which pass away, is not worthy of this title. So “Do not you hope and do not fear” would be the wisest advice one could give man in this case. Anticipate death, be apathetic towards all, if all we expect is nothing after all! Immerse your thoughts in the noise of the “late night’ party or in the forgetfulness brought by alcoholic pleasure and the paroxysm of the unleashed peripheral senses!

But time is not the ultimate reality! Time is only one aspect of life. It is its outer face, the face of the spiritual fallen world. A man capable of spiritual life senses time much less. Everyone knows from experience that happy moments pass almost unobserved. On the contrary, strong sufferings are experienced as lasting longer than the mathematical time. So time can be measured by: one’ internal experience and its mathematics unit, and the connection between these two forms of time is very lax. An hour of time can be experienced sometimes as hours, or as a short moment, or simply not observed. This means that eternity pervades time, invades it and cause it to flow.

(Excerpt from: Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae, on New Year, “Romanian Telegraph”, January 1. 1935)

Newsletter N 1. January 1970

New Year sermon, 31 December 1969

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Once again a new year is approaching. When we are young we greet the new year with open hearts and it seems to us that everything is possible in it. It stretches before us like an endless plain of virgin snow; no footprint has yet marked the whiteness. Everything is possible, everything is pure and shining. In declining years we await the new year with a kind of inner patience, we feel that it will be a repetition of the past. There may be new events in plenty but they will be familiar, earthly happenings which we know how to live with. In both cases we are mistaken. Yes, the new year lies before us like a path that no one has yet trodden, a clear, virgin plain that must flower with a wealth of human good deeds. Whatever our age a path lies ahead of us and it is up to us to make it the way of the Lord, or not. It depends on us whether for those around us and for future generations we make a track to Heaven or to Hell, either eternal Hell, or simply the cruel human hell on earth. And at the same time what lies before us is, as old age sees it, the usual and familiar, only that it has never happened to us before. Life may be as ordinary as ever, but we may be different, the same events may occur again but be quite new because we have changed.

We can enter this year creatively, but only on condition that we enter with hope, that is with the certainty that the Lord is in this year, that He is the master and will lead us to the right place, and with the faith that nothing in this year will happen without the will or acquiescence of God. If this is our attitude we shall see that nothing is chance, (whoever believes in chance does not believe in God) that there are no pointless meetings and every person is sent us by the Lord. And if we enter this year with the knowledge that everything — light and dark, good and terrifying — is a gift of God and is sent us so that through us faith, hope, love, joy and the strength of the Lord should enter the world, if we firmly believe that every person who crosses our path is sent in order that we may bring him the word or action of the Lord or receive it from him, life will be meaningful and rich. Otherwise it will remain a matter of chance, an endless string of fortuitous events. Let us enter upon the new year with this faith and hope and this burning of the spirit, let us receive each other and anyone whom God may send us as the Lord receives us on our way, and let us accept anything that befalls us as coming from the hand of God, and in all circumstances let us be Christ’s; then all will be well.

The year has passed and many are now seeing the new year in the Kingdom of God. They have run their course; we are still on earth. Let us remember those who lived among us, those whom we knew and loved, and those whom we barely noticed through inattentiveness. Let us remember them now at the throne of God; let us remember all those countless people who perished miserably this year from illness, in accidents, in war. Let us remember everyone and leave out no one, and enter into this new year with a heart open to all. And before we separate, let us sing ‘eternal memory’ to all the departed, and let us keep that eternal memory in our hearts with love and thanksgiving to God that He let us meet people whom we could love and respect and whose example could inspire us. (Choir: eternal memory) May God bless the new year: I wish you a happy new year, to live, to love God, to love people and to serve them.

  We are on the threshold of the Holy and Great Lent. This Sunday of the expulsion of Adam from Paradise as the last rest before our spiritual struggle, places us at the beginning of our sinful life on earth. We are banished from Heaven because of disobedience, pride and non-abstinence. A life on earth full of struggle, suffering, tears and death, is our “reward” for sin.

  The state of Adam banished from paradise, which is also our state, is reflected in the humble hymns of this Sunday: “Standing Adam at the gate of Eden, wiping for his nakedness and moaning:

Woe to me, that I disobeyed Your good commandment and being stripped of Your glory, alas, with shame I am laden. Woe to me, naked of my innocence and left in poverty. Now oh Eden, I will not delight in your sweetness…”

  So, the struggles, the sorrow and wiping of lent are the sorrow and mourning for our lost Heaven, which we ought to regain with much suffering. This Sunday Gospel reminds us again of the two great deeds: humility and love, which are the basis of all good deeds. But fasting together with prayer and struggle can be thwarted by the enemy if we are not attentive. Therefore our Savior teaches us: “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. […] But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father.”  (Matthew 6: 16-18).

  Let’s not forget the lesson from the parable of the Publican and Pharisee when we fast. Lets struggles with love but guard our work and keep it silent. Let the withering of our body be clothed in the gladness of our heart, thinking about the great benefit that fasting brings. The anointing of our head and the washing of our face should not be taken literally, but in a spiritual sense. Saint Maximus the Confessor tells us that the face is the icon of our entire live, and the head is the symbol of the mind (see Philokalia).  So the washing of the face means to cleanse our lives from all defilement of sin, and to anointing of the head means to acquire a mind full of divine knowledge.

  Worldly cares usually occupy all of our time and there is no respite to care for the soul. But the worries should be proportioned to the significance of our labor. As our Savior tells us: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven […] For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6: 19-21).

  These earthly possessions compared to the one expensive treasure – our soul, do not deserve the attention they are given. We cannot ignore the bodily careless, but the caring for the soul should come first, so this Lenten journey, a time of weariness and cleansing of soul, should not be spent in many of the worldly cares.

  In particularly, The Holy Gospel draws our attention to the love of neighbor, namely the forgiveness of our neighbor as a great deed, well pleasing to God. So much our Savior stresses the forgiveness of our neighbor that without it, He does not forgive our sins: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6: 14-15)

  While all sin is directed against God and only from Him we can obtain forgiveness, however, of the sin against our neighbor God does not forgive us without his/her approval. Therefore, when we ask someone forgiveness that we offended him, he replies: “May God forgive you! ” Meaning: I ‘ve forgiven you, so the Lord God will forgive you. And that is how God forgives us.

First we need forgiveness from God for the renewal of our mind and our labor during this lent will follow this path. So in our daily Prayer to our Lord, we commit before God: “Forgive us Lord, our sins, as we forgive our debtors.” Without this forgiveness, God does not forgive us. Not only that He doesn’t forgive us, but He also will not receive our good deeds. This is told clearly by our Saviour: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother halt aught against you, leave there you gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer you gift.” (Matthew 5: 23-24)

Elder Petroniu Tanase of the Mt Athos

Petroniu Tanase

  On January 7, the Orthodox Church [new claendar] celebrates the Synaxis of John the Baptist and the translation of his right hand from Antioch to Constantinople. According to the Church’ tradition, John the Forerunner of our Lord, was buried in the city of Sebaste, Samaria. Saint Luke the Evangelist wanting to move St John’s whole body to Antioch, was able to obtain and translate only his right hand.

  Historians Theodoret and Rufinus mention that the tomb of St. John the Baptist was desecrated in 362, during the Emperor Julian the Apostate reign, and a part of St. John relics burned. What remained intact from Saint’ body was taken to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria, and on May 27, 395 was placed in the church that bears saint John’ name.

  The chronicle of John Skylitzes (a Byzantine historian of the eleventh century) states that the right hand of St. John the Baptist was moved from Antioch to Constantinople in 956 by Emperor Constantine the VII or Porphyrogenites (913-959) to be placed in one of the chapels of the Grand Palais, that is in the church of the Most Holy Theotokos of Peribleptos.

Lord' Epiphany

  At the end of the twelve century, the Russian archbishop Anthony of Novgorod who went on a pilgrimage to Constantinople, mentions in his writings among other treasures of this church, the right hand of St. John the Baptist.

 According to Du Cange in 1263, Othon of Ciconia attested the presence of a small piece from St. John’ right hand, in Citeaux Abbey, France. In 1261, Othon aceepted the refuge of the Latin Emperor of Constantinople Baldwin the II and in exchange for a gift, the emperor gave Othon this piece of relic of St John.

 In a testimony of the Spanish ambassador Clavijo dated 1404, it is mentioned that the holy hand was still in the church of the Theotokos – Peribleptos in Constantinople. After the fall of Constantinople (in 1453), the hand of St. John the Baptist along with other Church’ treasures were seized by the Turks and kept in the imperial treasury.

  In some Turkish fiscal archives from 1484 kept in Topkapi, it is noted that Sultan Bayezid the II (1481-1512) sent the hand of St. John to Hospitallers from Rhodes, (who occupied this island during the first quarter of the fourteenth century), in order to earn their favor. Later, the Hospitallers took the relics to the island of Malta, where they established their qurter.

  In 1799, St. John’ hand was translated from Malta to Gatchina (Russia) when the Russian Emperor Paul the I (1796-1801) became the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, but also due to threats of war from Napoleon. This event is also mentioned in the Russian sinaxaryum, from October 12. From 1799, the relics stayed in the possetion of the Russian tsars, but in 1917, they were taken out of the country by Maria Feodorovna, fearing the anger of the Bolsheviks. Since 1917, the right hand of John the Baptist was preserved in Germany, then in Yugoslavia and presently is found in the Monastery Church of Cetinje from Montenegro.

Monastery of Cetinje
In June 2006, during a two weeks period, the right hand of St. John the Baptist returned in procesion to Russia. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims venerated the holy relics in the cathedral dedicated to our Savior from Moscow. After Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, the holy relics were brought for veneration to Yekaterinburg, Rostov, Minsk, Saint-Petersburg and Kiev(Ukraine). On July 16, the holy relics of St. John returned to Montenegro.

Cetinje= St John right hand

  However, it seems that part of the right hand of St. John offered by Sultan Baizid the II to the Order of Hospitallers, returned to the Ottoman Turks in the late sixteenth century. This piece is currently preserved in Topkapi [Palace] museum, in Istanbul.

Topkapi Museum - Istambul

  It is surprising to find Christian sacred relics in the possession of a sultan… Pehaps because in the Qur’an, St. John the Baptist is called Yahya, the profet that precedes Isa (Jesus).

The hand of St John the Baptist - Topkapi Museum

  The holy relics, as they are preserved today, are placed in a medieval metal ouches [case], modeled in the shape of an arm with realistic artistical accents. This ouches is undoubtedly the work of a Venetian workshop, as the case is inscripted with two silver marks: one representing the Venetian lion and the 2nd mark is a Maltese Cross – sixteenth century style, the era when the Order of Hospitallers became the Knights of Malta.

  The finger gesture is a sign of blessing – commonly found in the Byzantine art, but also a gesture by which Saint John points at Christ as “the Lamb of God”. The ouche bares three inscriptions: one around the wrist noting: “the hand of John the Baptist”, a second on the index finger, referring to the sermon of St. John depicting Christ as the Messiah: “Behold, the Lamb of God”, and a third inscription located on the elbow which mentions the name of a certain monk: “A prayer of God’s servant Daniel.”

  Small pieces from the right hand of St. John are also found in the Monastery of Dionysiou from Mount Athos,

 Dionisiu - Athos

and the Coptic Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great from Sketis, Egypt.




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