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  St. George Monastery of Hazeva from Judea, also called Wadi Kelt, is an ancient Orthodox monastery baring the relics of Saint John Jacob of Neamt (the Romanian), called also “the Hotzebite” and of Saint George the Hotzebite. The monastery is situated approximately 20 kilometers from Jerusalem taking the road to Jericho. The valley of “Wadi Kelt” occupies a large part of the Judea desert and runs parallel with the ancient Roman road that once connected Jerusalem to Jericho, a road with biblical connotations – where the Good Samaritan came to Christ (see Luke 10, 29-37). The monastery of Saint George is situated on the steep west bank of the valley.

 

  The Orthodox Christian monks began to settle in the wilderness of Judea as early as the fourth century. Between the V and the VI centuries, the desert of Judea became a particularly strong monastic region, more than 70 monasteries and monastic hermitages were founded here, some of which are little accessible even today.

 

  The first monks settled in this valley around the year 420. There are known as: Prono, Elijah Gannaios, Ainan and Zenon. The small chapel built by these five hermits was later turned into a monastery by St. John the Thebes – a monk that came from Thebes, Egypt around 480 AD.

 

  The monastic complex from Hazeva dating back to the late sixth century, still maintains its chapels and gardens, which are inhabited today by a group of Greek monks. The paved trail leading to the monastery begins near a gate – a stone portal in the form of three arcs baring its name, and crosses the desert valley of Judea.

 

  The monastery of St. George the Hotzebite is carved into a rock wall on the site of an ancient monastic settlement started in the early fifth century. The monastery is located west of Jericho, in the stream valley named Horat – or Cher in the Old Testament and called today Hazeva. It is also believed that the OT prophet Elijah has lived in this region during his persecution by King Ahab.

 

 The Monastery of Saint George of Hazeva was founded in the fifth (or VI) century by John of Thebes. After been tonsured a monk, St. John left Thebes in Egypt and came to the wilderness of Judea, around 480. Here, in a cave, he lived as a hermit.

 

  The monastery was later named “St. George of Hazeva” after its famous monk who dwelled here, George Coziba (Hazeva).

In the late sixth century, the monastery became very famous for its spiritual leader, St. George of Coziba, born in Cyprus, around 550.

  Destroyed in 614 by the Persians, the monastery was later rebuilt by the Crusaders. During the Persians’ attack, 40 holy monks ended their life in martyrdom and the monastery was abandoned.

 

  An inscription in Greek and Arabic, perched above the old entrance to the monastery, speaks about its restoration in 1179, by King Manuel the I (1143-1180). In 1483, the pilgrim Felix Fabri – found here only few ruins.

  In 1878, a Greek monk named Kalinik, settled in the old monastic walls of the wilderness of Judea, fully restoring the monastery. The repair works were completed in 1901. The oldest part of the monastery preserves a mosaic floor dated back to the late sixth century.

  In its ancient time, the monastery church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Today, however, after its reconstruction and renaissance, the church has as its patrons, Saint George and Saint John Jacob the Hotzebites.

 

  The holy relics (skulls) of monks killed by the Persians are preserved in a chapel near the main church, where the complete holy relics of St. John Jacob the Romanian are also found along with the tomb of St. George the Hotzebite.

  According to the local tradition, this monastery bares the cave where Saint Elijah the Tishbite dwelled for three years and six months before ascending to the Mount Sinai. In the cave of St. Elijah an icon depicts the saint as being fed miraculously by ravens (see OT, Kings).

 

  And the Lord said to Elijah: “Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there. So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and lived by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook. It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

      Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.”  (I Kings 17, 2-9)

 

  In the local ancient tradition, it is also said that Joachim, the father of the Virgin Mary dwelled in these places, fasting and praying for 40 days, until an angel of God told him that his righteous wife Anna, will conceive and bear a daughter who will become the Mother of God.

St. George the Hotzebite

  St. George of Hazeva is commemorated on January 8. Leaving his homeland and all the worldly delights, St. George came to Jerusalem to worship in the church of the Holy Sepulcher and other holy shrines in Jerusalem. On this occasion, he enters the monastery that will be called “Hazeva”.

 

  The Saint had struggled for many years in prayer and hard labors in the Cave of St. Elijah. His relics can be honored/venerated in the monastery church and by the power of God, they work many miracles.

St. John Jacob of Neamt (the Romanian)

  St. John Jacob the Romanian was born in 1913 and passed in the Lord on August 5th 1960 at the age of 47 years. Saint John arrived at the Holy Land and went to the Romanian monastic settlement of Jordan, where he became a spiritual advisor and leader. St. John however, considered his labors not to be sufficient for his salvation and desired a more severe struggle in the desert as once had the anchorite of the golden age of Christianity.

 

  Father John went to the Monastery of St. George the Hotzebite, to the cave where the  Holy Prophet Elijah (of Tishbite) lived for sometime and where thousands of monks dwelled in ancient times, many been martyred during the  Persian invasion.

  Perhaps that is why the pious ascetic John had chosen this monastery, where he lived but a short time. In 1953, St John retires in another cave – of St. Ann – nearby, where he remained until the end of life in the most severe asceticism.

 

  In this cave – carved into the steep cliffs of the mountain, St. John spent his days in prayer and fasting, sleeping very little on a mat laid on a wooden board and eating little dry food. In this poor and lowly surrounding, St. John prayed for eight years, enduring cold, hunger, thirst, heat, diseases, deprivations and temptations of all kinds.

  His holy body was placed in a tomb where he had prepared ahead of time. At his death, multitudes of birds had miraculously gathered at the monastery of St. George during the memorial service. For twenty years, St. John’ body rested in the tomb of Saint Ann‘ Cave. In August 1980, by divine providence when his grave was opened, his body was found whole, incorrupt and fragrant. His relics were translated in great procession into St. George Monastery chapel and placed in a glass casket.

  For his holy life, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church at its meeting in June 20th 1992, proclaimed the canonization of Blessed John among the saints under the name “St. John the New,” “St. John Jacob from Neamt” or “the Hotzebite”, his commemoration takes place on August 5/18 each year.

Through their holy prayers, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us!

(Translated by the blog’ author).

 

The Church of St. Mary of Magdalene, Jerusalem

  The church dedicated to St. Mary of Magdalene is part of a Russian monastery situated on the Mount of Olives and located very close to the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem near other important places of Christian worship such as the Church of All Nations and Dominos Flevit.

  St. Mary of Magdalene (of Magdala) is one of the myrrh-bearing women out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons.

The place of St. Mary of Magdalene in the Holy Scripture

   After her miraculous healing by our Lord, Mary or Maria, the woman from Magdala, along with other disciples, had followed Jesus all His earthy life [as the Scripture narrates: “Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities–Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had cast seven demons” (Luke 8 1-2)], been one of the myrrh-bearing women who went to the Holy Tomb on Easter morning to anoint the holy body of our Lord with spices (myrrh), as it was accustomed in the Hebrew tradition.

  Mary of Magdalene was the first our Risen Lord appeared to, after His resurrection, as we read: “Now when Jesus was arisen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. (Mark 16, 9-10).

Saint Mary of Magdalene and the tradition of red eggs

  Since the ancient times during the Easter holidays, Christians have painted and decorated eggs. The egg is the symbol of a new life. Serving as a symbol of Easter, the red egg represents the Resurrected Christ, Who rises from the tomb breaking its seals. While breaking the eggs, Christians proclaim the Resurrection by saying: “Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!”

  The old Christian tradition attributes the red eggs to St. Mary of Magdalene.
It is said that after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Mary of Magdalene making use of her relationship with some prominent persons in Jerusalem, managed to arrive at a banquet held by the emperor Tiberius, with the intention to publicly proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus.

  When the king passed by Mary who was holding a boiled white egg in her hand, seeing him, she proclaimed: “Christ is Risen!” Hearing this, the king laughed at her saying: “The chance that Jesus was raised from the grave is as likely as this egg you hold in your hand to turn red.” And at that very moment, the egg turned red.

  The second tradition connected with the red eggs, comes especially from Greece. Thus, it is said that after the Crucifixion, Mary of Magdalene and Mary the Virgin and Mother of Jesus, placed a basket of eggs at the foot the Cross. The eggs were colored in red by the blood drained from the wounds of our crucified Lord. Taking the basket of red eggs Mary of Magdalene brought it before the emperor Tiberius Caesar.

The Church of St Mary of Magdalene – brief history

  The church of St. Mary of Magdalene from Jerusalem was built in 1886 by Tsar Alexander the III-rd of Russia in honor of his mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna. The church was built in a traditional Russian Style specific to sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Russia with its roof of golden domes (seven in number) in the form of an “onion”.

  In 1888, the Great Duke Sergey Alexandrovich (the brother of Alexander the III-rd) and his wife Duchess Elizabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt (a granddaughter of QueenVictoria and the sister of the last Empress of Russia), attended the consecration of the church as representatives of the king.

  The Great Duchess of Russia loved this church very much and she chose the famous painter Sergey Ivanov (1864-1910) for its decoration. Sergey has painted many scenes from the life of St. Mary of Magdalene, many lasting until today.

   Above the iconostasis, there is an icon depicting St Mary of Magdalene holding a red egg while standing before the Roman Emperor Tiberius. She tells the king about the unjust trial of Jesus Christ. It is known that after the crucifiction of Jesus, Herod who was then governor of Jerusalem was sent into exile.

  The iconostasis, made of white marble and bronze, is composed of a series of icons painted by renowned Russian artist Vereshchaguin. To the right of the iconostasis on a carved wooden throne, stands the miracle working icon of Our Most Holy Lady Hodighitria, brought from Lebanon. In the sixteenth century, the icon has miraculously escaped a fire that affected the whole church. During the cholera epidemic, many wonderful cures were attributed to this icon.

  The church preserves the relics of two holy martyrs of Russia: the Duchess Feodorovna Elizabeth and the nun Varvara Yakovleva, both thrown into prison during the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and martyred on July 18, 1918.

  The Great Duchess Elizabeth, after her husband’ assassination in 1905, entered the monastic life. She founded a convent of nuns in Moscow, preoccupied mainly with charity works. After the revolution from 1918, Duchess Elizabeth, her sister Varvara and other members of the imperial family, was thrown into an abandoned mine where they died of starvation.

  The bodies of two ascetics Elizabeth and Varvara, were brought to Jerusalem in 1920, and placed inside the crypt of St Mary of Magdalene Church.

  The two women have been canonized as holy martyr in 1981, when their relics have been translated into the church for veneration.

  The church basement also buries Princess Andrea of Greece’ body – the granddaughter of Duchess Elizabeth and the mother in law of Queen Elizabeth the IInd of England. Princess Andrea of Greece (Alice of Battenberg) and the mother of the Duke of Edinburgh visited the church in 1930. Her last wish was that her body be buried beside her aunt, Duchess Elizabeth.

  During the Nazi domination, the princess has helped many Jews to hide from persecution, saving their lives. She died in 1969 in the Buckingham Palace. Her desire to be buried in the church St Mary of Magdalene was fulfilled only in 1988, when her body was placed in the underground crypt of the church.

  The monastic community of St. Mary of Magdalene was founded in 1936 by Mother Mary (Robinson), a pious woman from England who after her conversion to Orthodoxy became a nun. The community includes approximately 30 nuns of different ethnicities: Russian, American, Australian, Arabic, Serbian and Romanian.

(Translated and adapted by blog author)


Testimonies on the Icon of Nativity

A study by Archimandrite Michael (Mikhail) Stanciu

(Please do not copy without referencing the original post!)

 The Nativity Icon

 

Our Lord’ Nativity

A Feast of Lights – the Day of Recreation of the World

      Originally celebrated with Epiphany (Theophany) on January 6, the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was established by the early Christian church (in 354) for December 25th. According to St. Gregory of Nazianzus, “the Feast of the Nativity is the re-creation of the world” and the restoration of the human nature fallen in sin.

      The Iconographic representation of the Nativity has its scriptural basis in the testimonies of the Holy Gospels of Matthew and Luke: see Mathew 1, 18-25; 2, 1-12 and Luke 2, 4-20.

 

Icon’ s Composition

      In the icon of the Nativity, the focus is placed on three dogmatic aspects of the Incarnation and Nativity of the Son of God:

1st –  God in descending motion (kenosis);

2nd – The Miracle of virginal birth (the creature gives birth to her Creator);

3rd–  Human Deification.

 The scenes from the iconographic image are divided into three parts:

 

I. The top portion of the icon the prophetic and theophanic aspect

To the Left

In the Center To the Right
◦ the angels praising God ◦ the radius (the star)

◦ the mountains (the rocks)

◦ the angel proclaiming

the Nativity to the 

shepherds on the field

 

II. The central part the mysterious appearance

To the Left

In the Center To the Right
◦ the Magi bringing gifts

◦ Christ the Child

◦ the Virgin

◦ the cave (the manger)

◦ the ox and the ass

◦ the shepherds

 

III. The bottom portion the human aspect

To the Left

In the Center To the Right
◦ The Right Joseph sitting/meditating on a rock ◦ the devil disguised as a shepherd (Thyrros)

◦ the midwives

Salome and

Zelemi caring

for the child

 

  

 

People, edifying symbols and meanings in the icon of the Nativity

 

I. 1. The Ray of Light – a Revelation of the Holy Trinity

             the ray                                                                                                                    

The ray descending from the single radius-circle at the top of the icon signifies The One and Unique Nature of God, the light and coming from the star is divided into three elements to describe the participation of the Three DIVINE PERSONS in the fellowship/ iconomy of our salvation.   The iconographic representation of the star suggests that this is beyond just a cosmic phenomenon, the star is being sent by God to preach to the Magi the supernatural birth of the Heavenly King and also to guide them to the place where the miracle took place.        

 

I. 2. The Mountain: an austere mountain suggests an inhospitable world, hostile, a world after the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve and their descendants.

      The sharp rocks, also illustrated as steps seem to be united with the sky, indicating the descent of God to man but also the ascent of man to God, both becoming possible with the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. And the whole earth rejoices.      

  “Wholly present among those below, yet in no way absent from those above, was the Word that cannot be encircled by words; for thus did God condescend, and not merely descend to a different place. He was born from a God-receiving Virgin…” (the Akathist of the Annunciation – Oikos 8)

“Today, Heaven and earth joined together, today Christ is born, today God descended on earth and man rose up to heaven.” (From the Vespers of the Nativity Feast)

    Every order of angels was amazed at your mighty work when you assumed human nature; for they saw the one who is unapproachable as God become approachable to all as man, dwelling among us and hearing from all…” (The Akathist of the Annunciation; Kontakion 9)

 

I. 3. The Angels are represented in their dual work: doxology and proclamation (of the good news).

      Some angels (the group from the left) are moving towards the Source of Light, unceasingly praising God.

the angels

    The angel from the right side leans towards the shepherds, proclaiming them the Nativity of the King of Israel. The angelic presence testifies the deity of the Child.

 

 II. 1. The Christ child is either asleep or awake, looking towards His Mother. His changing nappies are shaped like narrow strips similar to the burial shrouds, his arms are crossed over his chest in the sign of the Cross, and the crib where the child is seated resembles a shrine – the later tomb.

      All these representations foreshadow Christ’s death and descent into hell. But “The Light shines into the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1, 5) For Christ will rise from the dead as God Almighty.

 

II. 2. The Virgin is pictured sitting next to the child in the manger, half resting on a bed of the kind carried by the Hebrew in their travels. Its color is red, signifying a royal bed and the honor the Mother of God deserves.

      This iconographic depiction of the Mother of God affirms the truth of the supernatural Birth (of a Virgin, barring no pain) of our Savior Jesus Christ, fact that also emphasizes the deity of the Child. (1-see Fr. D. Staniloae)

the Virgin

  The three stars from the head and the shoulders of Mary, symbolize her perpetual virginity before, during and after the birth of Christ (the Ever-Virgin Mary).

  Her facial expression is one in meditation in anticipation of the suffering she will endure as a Mother of Him Who was to suffer death on the Cross for the salvation of the world. “And Mary kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2, 19)

      Our most pure Lady was the highest gift that mankind was ever able to bring to Him, the Creator.    

  “What shall we offer Thee, O Christ? for Thou hast appeared on earth as man for our sakes. Of all the creatures made by Thee, each offereth Thee thanksgiving. The Angels offer Thee the hymn; the Heavens, the star; the Magi, their gifts; the shepherds, their wonder, the earth, her cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother, O God, Who wast before the ages, have mercy on us(Menaion for December, Stichera D, Verse #7)

 

II. 3. The Cave (the Manger)

  The place of birth of the Son of God was not an inn, but a place with stalls where animals are kept.

      The Gospels do not mention the cave, but the iconographic representation finds its grounds in the Tradition of the church and in its liturgical texts. The opening of the dark cave in the middle of sharp rocks symbolizes the fallen cosmos, the world overwhelmed by sin through the fall of man, the depths of darkness (the inferno/hell), which only Him, the Sun of Righteousness, scattered by His birth. The cave and the manger are an evidence of the profound humility of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

II. 4. The ox and the ass are also mentioned in the Gospel, their presence along with Christ Child (inspired by the apocryphal Gospel of Matthew, chapter XIV) suggests the fulfilling of a prophecy (the prophet Isaiah): “The ox knows his master and of the donkey his Lord’s crib, but Israel does not know me, my people, knows me not. “ (Isaiah 1, 3)

      The animals presence, appears as a symbolism of the sacrificial bull and of the donkey the the King will ride when entering Jerusalem (see Psalm Sunday). In some Russian icons, a horse is depicted instead of a donkey.

 

the shephards

II. 5. The Shepherds are portrayed listening to the message of the angels. Often, one of them adds his (human) art of singing in the choir of angels.

      In the middle of everyday activities, they are the first to receive the wondrous news of the birth of Christ, being paradoxically, through their simplicity, closer to the heavenly world.

      The shepherds represent the first sons of Israel (God’s chosen people), who worship the Child; they symbolize the beginning of the Church among the Jews, while the magi represent the Church of the Gentiles.

 

II. 6. The Magi are represented either on horses riding towards the place indicated by the star, or by bringing the Child: threefold – gold, incense and myrrh – foreshadowing the myrrh bearing women, who came to our Lord’ tomb on Easter morning:

◦ Gold – for the King of all ages;

◦ Incense – as to the One who is the God of the Universe;

◦ Myrrh –  to the One who died on the cross.

“By the mirth, they pre imagine Thy mortal state, by royal gold Thy majesty and by the incense, Thy Divine nature.” (Nativity Matins, the fifth song, voice, VI)

  The Magi are portrayed as three men of different ages, proving that this revelation is given to man regardless of their physical age, but according to their spiritual level and their comprehension of the mysteries of God. The Magi represent the pagan nations that are outside the chosen people. Although they are learned men, however, they have to come a long way towards knowing the true God.

  Their presence reveals that the Church receives and sanctifies human knowledge when it leads to the truth of the faith towards the knowledge of God.  

the magi

 

III. 1. The Righteous Joseph is depicted in the corner (either left or right, to the bottom part of the icon) sitting away from the Blessed Virgin Mary; this iconographic detail is designed to highlight the truth that the Scriptures and the Church teach that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, and Joseph was not the father of the Heavenly Child.

Joseph

  His appearance should suggest a man advanced in years (the Holy Tradition holds that he was 84 years old). He is surrounded by a halo to represent his place among the righteous of God (cf. Matthew 1, 19).

  Joseph has a meditative expression, somewhat worried, a state of turmoil caused by the virginal birth of Jesus. Joseph illustrates every man weak in  faith, whose mind can not exceed the boundaries of this reality, and the difficulty in accepting the supernatural reality of God’s mysteries.

  In the person of Joseph, the icon reveals not only his personal drama, but the drama of all mankind, comprehending the mystery not through the eyes of faith, but by the limited mind/rationality.

     A storm of doubtful thoughts roiled within the prudent Joseph, for he looked on you unwedded and he feared a stolen union, O Blameless One; but on learning that your child-bearing was of the Holy Spirit, he said: Alleluia!”(Akathist Hymn of the Annunciation; Kontakion 4)

  He appeared to be listening to a figure representing the voice of the darkened mind.

 the strange man

 

III. 2. the Strange old man, clad in a letter jacket, leaning before Joseph, represents the deceiver: Satan disguised as a shepherd, and harassing Joseph, the Virgin fiancé, with treacherous questions.

      The scene is inspired by the apocryphal Gospel of James which says that the wicked speaks through the Shepherd Thyrros: “As the rod [that is bent or broken= the symbol of his former powers] will not be able to give offspring, so an old man like you just can not conceive a baby and a virgin cannot bare a child “ [but the rod blossomed soon].

 

III. 4. The Infant bathing scene is based on passages from the apocryphal gospels of Jacob and Matthew (which speak about the presence of two women: Salome and Zelemi, called by Joseph to attend the Virgin birth).

The Infant bathing scene has sparked much controversy and discussion based on the following reasons:

– the bathing does not belong to the canonical gospels;

– the Child was totally clean and did not need washing; 

– Our Lady had a supernatural birth (with no pain), and the presence of midwives is unnecessary.

the bath of the Child Jesus

   The arguments favoring the representation of a bathing scene were:   – that the scene is not mentioned in the canonical Gospels is not a reason to exclude it (the entry into the temple of God of the Virgin Mary is also not mentioned in the New Testament, but the Church did not rejected). Our Lord Christ, through the custom of bathing, had voluntarily agreed to follow a human custom as He will later undergo the practice of circumcision and baptism (which He did not need);

   –   none of the Holy Ecumenical Councils had opposed the scene;

  – during the iconoclasts period when they called into question many iconographic scenes, the bathing scene did not pose an issue;

  –  even after iconoclasm, when the iconographic representations became a mean to express the dogma, no objections existed to the representation of this scene.

    The bathing scene suggests that the Most High God is subject to human habits and customs, this been also a true testimony to the Incarnation of the Lord, Who has become willingly “just as one of his people” (Matins of the Nativity feast, Canon of St. John of Damascus, the fourth song). The scene foreshadows that of His baptism in the Jordan River.

 

Western innovations in representing the Nativity

 

 

      Compared to Orthodox iconographic canonical representation, in the Western religious painting several innovations were introduced distorting historical and dogmatic truth and leading to heresy:

– The star is represented as a natural phenomenon, and does not clearly indicate the Child. (St. John Chrysostom interprets that the star guiding the wise men did not remain high –up in the sky, but came down, over the head of the Child);

– The cave is replaced by a man-made construction, the popular image of the crib, giving a more picturesque and naturalist representation;

– The donkey and the ox, and the bathing scene are often removed from the composition;

– A lots of compositional elements and insignificant details: horses, camels, dogs, lots of people etc are introduced, which detract from the real center of interest: Christ the Child.

– The Child is shown naked (in the Orthodox icons, the clothes suggest the mystery that surrounds the deity of Christ);

– Joseph is depicted standing next to the Virgin Mary, kneeling with her before the Child;

– In the physiognomic details, of the western paintings, Joseph appears as a handsome young man, of an age close to the Virgin Mary, detail that brings a lot of confusion regarding the actual relationship full of purity that existed between the old Joseph as the guardian of Mary, and the young Virgin;

– The representation the Holy Family in the western iconography “greatly distorts the truth of the Gospel” (as the Creed: the symbol of our faith confesses) that the word of God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and became man; 

– The scene takes on a fantasy look through the sweet atmosphere of a fairy Bethlehem bathed by the light of a sky full of stars…, insisting more on the human aspect rather than on the mystery of the Incarnation (the man-God rather than God-Man).

      In the West, the representation of the Nativity, has no edifying symbols for the soul (so consistently depicted in the Orthodox iconography), and it mostly calling upon the natural human feelings, thus remaining at the level of a superficial understanding and far from the true meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God and His work for the salvation of the world.

      It should be noted that the process of de-sanctification of the Catholic theology after the Great Schism of 1054 had gradually led to the distortion in representating  God and the Saints. The revival of paganism, which began in the fourteenth century, had lead to the replacing of icons by so called religious paintings where the aura of holiness disappears under the camouflage of the sensuous realism of the fallen human nature. In the Western Europe, the devaluation of the sacred images was synchronous with the deformation concept about God, man and the world, the contemporary Western society been long poisoned by atheism and materialism.

      The removal of icons and of the sacraments had depleted the Catholic and the (neo) Protestant world, of a proper understanding of the words of Christ, sinking further into interpretations subjective to human passions, slanders and evil blasphemies.

       The Orthodox iconography, through the development and maintenance of certain canons (rules) in representing/revealing the holy images in accordance with the early church tradition, it maintains the true theological knowledge of the spiritual life and it avoids the promotion of artistic means of expression that emphasize emotions or other subjective and shallow interpretations.

   The Nativity Icon reveals therefore, in its content two fundamental Christian doctrines:

–  the essence of the event, as a visible testimony to the fundamental dogma of the Christian faith: the Incarnation of the Son of God; 

– the effect of this event on all creation that had acquired a new meaning – the transfiguration through the Holy Spirit, as the final aim of her existence.

      All Orthodox traditions mark the joy of Christ’s coming among us and within us by carols, hymns… and good merriment brought by God’s blessing. These are the real beauties that adorn our soul at Christmas! Amen.  

 

Selective Bibliography:

Father Dumitru Staniloae, Theology of the icon;

Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the icon. A theology of beauty;

Egon Sendler, The Icon, image of the invisible,

Leonid Uspensky, Vladimir Lossky, Lead by the world of icons,

Dionysius of furnaces, The origins of the Byzantine paintings,

Cavarnos Constantine, A Guide to the Byzantine iconography,

Quenot Michel, The icon challenge,

Michel Quenot, From the icon to the nuptial banquet.

 

(Translation by EC)

Saint Andrew the Apostle (Greek: ‘Ανδρέας, Andreas; early first century—mid to late first century AD), called in the Orthodox tradition Protokletos, or the First-called, is the brother of Peter the Apostle. The name “Andrew” (from Greek : “ανδρεία”, Andreia, manhood, or valour), like other Greek names, appears to have been common among the Jews from the second or third century BC. No Hebrew or Aramaic name is recorded for him.

For November 30th, 2008, the feast of St. Andrew the First-called Apostle, Fr. Michael Varlamos reads the life of the saint in lieu of the sermon at the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in St. Clair Shores, MI.

The New Testament records that Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter, by which it is inferred that he was likewise a son of Jonah, or John.[Mt. 16:17] [Jn. 1:42] He was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee.[Jn. 1:44] Both he and his brother Peter were fishermen by trade, hence the tradition that Jesus called them to be his disciples by saying that He will make them “fishers of men” (Greek: ἁλιείς ἀνθρώπων, halieis anthropon). At the beginning of Jesus’ public life they occupied the same house at Capernaum.[Mk. 1:21-29]

The Gospel of John teaches that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, whose testimony first led him and John the Evangelist to follow Jesus.[Jn. 1:35-40] Andrew at once recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and hastened to introduce him to his brother.[Jn. 1:41] Thenceforth, the two brothers were disciples of Christ. On a subsequent occasion, prior to the final call to the apostolate, they were called to a closer companionship, and then they left all things to follow Jesus.

The church of St Andrew in Patras

 

The new church of St. Andrew

The new church in  the city of Patras, in a  Byzantine style, was founded in 1908 by King George the I, and it was consecrated in 1974 by Metropolitan – Bishop Nicodemus. The Church of St. Andrew of Patras is the largest church in the Balkans, and it can fit inside a total of 5,500 faithful.

The church of St Andrew in Patras

 

The old church of Patras

Right on the spot where St. Andrew was martyred – the old city of Patras, a new basilica was built over the ruins of a former Byzantine basilica (erected over the ruins of an ancient Greek temple) destroyed by the Turks.

The old church of Patras

In the gospel Andrew is referred to as being present on some important occasions as one of the disciples more closely attached to Jesus.

 Eusebius quotes Origen as saying Andrew preached in Asia Minor and in Scythia, along the Black Sea as far as the Volga and Kiev. Hence he became a patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia. According to tradition, he founded the See of Byzantium (Constantinople) in AD 38, installing Stachys as bishop. His presence in Byzantium is also mentioned in the apocryphal Acts of Andrew written sometime during the second century. This diocese would later develop into the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Andrew is recognized as its patron saint.

Monastery of St Andrew, Romania

Images from inside the Monastery of St Andrew, Romania

Monastery of St Andrew, Romania

The cave of St Andrew, Romania

The cave where St Andrew lived during his journey, Romania

The Kievan hill where St. Andrew is said to have erected the cross is commemorated by the cathedral dedicated in his name

Andrew is said to have been martyred by crucifixion at Patras (Patrae) in Achaea. Though early texts, such as the Acts of Andrew known to Gregory of Tours, describe Andrew bound, not nailed, to a Latin cross of the kind on which Christ was crucified, a tradition grew up that Andrew had been crucified on a cross of the form called Crux decussata (X-shaped cross) and commonly known as “Saint Andrew’s Cross”; this was performed at his own request, as he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross on which Christ was crucified.

Remaints of the cross St. Andrew was crucified on, Patras – Greece

Remaints of the cross St. Andrew was crucified on

The precious head of St. Andrew, Patras – Greece

The precious head of St. Andrew, Patras - Greece

Andrew is the patron saint of Patras. According to tradition his relics were moved from Patras to Constantinople. Local legends say that the relics were sold to the Romans. The head of Andrew, considered one of the treasures of St Peter’s Basilica, was given by the Byzantine despot Thomas Palaeologus to Pope Pius II in 1461. In recent years, by decision of Pope Paul VI in 1964, the relics that were kept in the Vatican City, were sent back home to Patras, where they belong. The relics, which consist of the small finger, part of the top of the cranium of Andrew and small parts of the cross, have since that time been kept in the Church of St Andrew at Patras in a special shrine, and are revered in a special ceremony every November 30.

Photos from inside of the Church of St Andrew, Patras – Greece

the Church of St Andrew, Patras - Greece

the Church of St Andrew, Patras - Greece

       The relics of the Saint in the Church of St Andrew, Patras, Greece

The glorification of Saint Nektarios

Troparion To St. Nektarios

“The offspring of Selybria and the guardian of Aegina, the true friend of virtue who appeared in the last years. O Nektarios, we faithful honor you as a Godly servant of Christ. For you pour out healings of every kind for those who piously cry out, glory to Christ Who has glorified you, glory to Him Who has made you wondrous, glory to Him Who works healings for all through you.”

THE LIFE OF ST. NEKTARIOS

  • St. Nektatios was born on October 1, 1846 in Selybria in Thrace to a poor family. His given name was Anastasios Cephalas.
  • At the age of 14 he moved to Constantinople (Istanbul) in order to go to work and further his education.
  • In 1866 he moved to the island of Chios where he taught school for seven years.
  • St. Nektarios became a monk at the age of thirty, which is highly unusual in itself.
  • Three years after becoming a monk he was ordained a Deacon, taking the name Nektarios.
  • He graduated from the University of Athens in 1885.
  • During his years as a student of the University of Athens he wrote many books, pamphlets, and Bible commentaries.

  • Following his graduation he went to Alexandria, Egypt, where he was ordained a Priest and served the Church in Cairo with great distinction.
  • In recognition of his piety and brilliance as a preacher, as well as his administrative ability, he was consecrated Bishop/Metropolitan of Pentapolis by Patriarch Sophronios, which was an Egyptian See, in 1889.
  • He served as a Bishop in Cairo for one year, and was unjustly removed from his post by jealous clerics who envied his popularity with the people. Lies were made up about him by the jealous clergy. Patriarch Sophronios refused to listen to St. Nektarios. He was sent away from Egypt without a trial or explanation, and was never given an opportunity to defend himself.
  • After his dismissal, he returned to Greece in 1891, where he sought employment as a preacher. He was appointed preacher in the jurisdiction of Euboia, a large Greek island, north of Athens, where he served for two and a half years.
  • In 1893 he was transferred to part of the Greek mainland, west of Athens. He served as preacher there with the same great effectiveness as he had in Euboia.
  • In 1894 he was appointed director of Rizarios Ecclesiastical School in Athens where his service was exemplary for fifteen years.

 

  • He developed many courses of study, and wrote numerous books, all while preaching widely throughout Athens.
  • In 1904 at the request of several nuns, he established a monastery for them on the island of Aegina. The Monastery was named Holy Trinity Monastery.
  • In December of 1908, at the age of 62, St. Nectarios resigned as Director of the Theological school and withdrew to the Holy Trinity Convent on Aegina, where he lived out the rest of his life as a monk. He wrote, published, preached, and heard confessions from those who came from near and far to seek out his spiritual insights.
  • While at the monastery, he tended the gardens, carried stones, and helped with the construction of the Monastery buildings that were built with his own funds.
  • St. Nektarios died on the evening of November 9, 1920, (The day after the commemoration of St. Michael and St. Gabriel the Archangels), following hospitalization for Prostate Cancer.
  • His body was taken to the Holy Trinity Convent, where he was buried by a Priest-Monk named Savas, who later painted the first icon of St. Nektarios.
  • The funeral of St. Nektarios was attended by multitudes of people from all parts of Greece and Egypt.

  • Many people regarded St. Nektarios as a Saint during his lifetime because of his purity of life, virtues, the nature of his publications, as well as the miracles he performed. St. Nektarios also had a unique gift of foreknowledge.
  • The relics of St. Nektarios were removed from the grave on September 2, 1953. His relics gave out a beautiful fragrance.
  • Official recognition of Nektarios as a Saint, by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, took place on April 20, 1961.
  • The Feast Day of St. Nectarios is celebrated every year on November 9th.
  • There have been more than two thousand miracles attributed to the intervention of St. Nectarios.

The first miracle attributed to St. Nektarios:

During the last days of his life, the Saint was in the room for the incurables of the hospital, among many poor patients who were at the point of death. Beside the bed of St. Nektarios was a patient that had been paralyzed for years. As soon as the Saint gave up his spirit, a nurse of the hospital, together with a nun who had accompanied the Saint, began to prepare the holy body for transportation to Aegina for burial. They removed an old sweater from the Saint, and placed it for convenience on the bed of the paralytic and continued to prepare the body. Suddenly, the paralytic patient became well and rose from his bed, praising the Lord. This was the first miracle after the repose of St. Nektarios, through which the Lord confirmed the sainthood of Nektarios.

Akathist to Our Holy Father Nektarios of Aegina Metropolitan of Pentapolis

Orthodox Spirituality Prayers written by St. Nektarios of Aegina

Agni Parthene in Arabic, with views from the inside Monastery and Church of St. Nektarios from Aegina

The Monastery and the Church of St. Nektarios from Aegina

Saint Nektarios Monastery, located in the island Eghina (Aegina), is a monastery dedicated to St. Nectarios – a recent saint of the Orthodox Church. Saint Nektarios has been canonized by the Church of Greece.

 

(The picture above represents  the bigger church “Holy Trinity” built near the monastery and finished after saint reposal)

 The Monastery and the church of Saint Nektarios can be reached by bus leaving from Aegina to the opposite side of the mountain Palaiochora. One can get to Aegina island by boat which has a set schedule.

                                                   

 Saint Nektarios Monastery is located at a distance of about 6 kilometers from the downtown of Aegina. The Cathedral St Nektarios from Aegina is one of the largest cathedral in Greece.

                

 Saint Nektarios, the protector of the Aegina island, had helped to raise this monastery between 1904 and 1910. Building a monastery in Aegina was a desire of the faithful nuns from the island. The monastery was built on the ruins of a former old Byzantine monastery.

               

                                          

 (Above: photos from inside the nun’ monastery from Aegina)

Although at that time Saint Nektarios was the Metropolitan of Aegina, he worked on raising the monastery, carrying stones, arranging gardens and doing other physical work. The monastery was built as a result of saint love and from his funds.

                                           

At that time, the monastery was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. After the death of St. Nektarios, and especially after his canonization, the monastery received a second patron and benefactor: Hierarch Saint Nectarios Thaumaturge (the healer).

                                    

 (Coffin with the saint’ relics from inside the “Holy Trinity” cathedral’ chapel)

His holy relics are preserved inside the monastery for many faithful pilgrims coming to Aegina to venerate them.

Holy Nektarios pray to Our Lord for us sinners!

Saint Dimitri the New (Basarabov)

  Saint Dimitri the New (Basarabov) lived in the 13th century and little is known about his life. He was born in the village of Basarabov, located on the banks of the River Lom, near the town of Russe. A shepherd in his early years, it is said that St Dimitri had later became a monk, dedicating himself to fasting, prayers and vigils. For his humble life, God entrusted him with the power to work miracles. The pious Dimitri knew the moment of his death beforehand, and choose the place of his final rest between two stones that were gradually covered by the river. The place of his rest was unknown until a sick child had a revelation when the pious Dimitri appeared in her dream and said: “If your parents would take me out of the water, I will heal you!”

(1st Chant from the Kanon of St. Dimitri the New, Romanian)

  A ray of light had appeared for quite some time at the site where the holy relics were found, leading people to initially believe that a treasure was hidden in that place.

 Acting at the girl’s advice, they searched the place and found the relics of pious Dimitri, glittering as gold. The saint’ body was taken to the village of Basarabov. Between 1769 and 1774, during the Russian-Turkiss war, the relics were brought to Romania with the intention of being sent to Russia.

  However, Metropolitan Grigorie (Gregory) of Walachia, insisted that they should be given to the Romanian people as a gift for the sufferance they endured during the war. The relics were taken in great procession to the Patriarchal Cathedral of Bucharest.

  The saint’s right hand was sent to Kiev, where it has been preserved to this day. The Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, had great devotion to Saint Dimitri the New and starting with 1950, the  saint was venerated nationwide and recognized as the patron saint of Romania’s capital city.

The Monastery of Saint Dimitri the New

  The Monastery of Saint Dimitri Basarabov was founded over the cave  where  Saint Dimitri the New lived his ascetic life. The Monastery is located near the  town of Basarabov, Bulgaria.

  The village of Basarabov, initially located  3-4 km from the river Danube, was moved slightly to Ivanovo, near the cave where  Saint Dimitri lived.

  Located in the picturesque valley of the Lom river, the Basarabov Monastery, is the only monastery in Bulgaria carved in the rock and inhabited since its establishment.

  Where river Lom meets the Danube, climbing to Ivanovo, the pilgrim will encounter more then 300 caves dug in the rocky side of river. Almost 40 of these caves were  transformed into small churches where Divine Liturgy was served  for several hundred years.  Many wall frescoes of the original caves have lasted until today. The monastery and the caves of Ivanovo are part of  UNESCO patrimony.

The Monastery of Saint Demetrius Basarabov — Brief History

  The Monastery of St Dimitri the New was founded by the family of Basarabs and was initially under the care of  John the Basarab, and first ruler of Romanian Country.

  The present monastery of St. Demetrius was built in 1865. It consists of a church, built in the cave of St. Dimitri, and some cells carved in the rocks nearby.

  The Monastery was burned down during the Russian-Turkish war. At that time  more than 60 valuable icons from the church were stolen. The village of Basarabov was completely destroyed and the relics could not longer remained in the ravanged  church.

  The earliest historical evidence about this Monastery dates back to the XV century, in some of the tax records of the Ottoman Empire. An extensive description of the property owned at that time by Vlach leader Ivanko Basarab, the father of Tsar Ivan Alexander – is found in one of these registers, called “Timar” and it’s  the oldest written record where the name of the town Basarbov is mentioned.

  In 1911, a Committee of historical vestiges was established at the National Museum of Archeology in Sofia. The main task of this committee was to develop an archaeological map for the whole country of Bulgaria.

  A Czech pilgrim who took several scientific trips to Bulgaria between 1887 and 1892, was called to be part of the committee. In 1912, Skorpil went on a trip on the river Lom, and at that time  he would visit and describe the famous monastery of Basarbov.

   Because of the Turkish rules in Bulgaria, it is unknown when the monastery was abandoned by the archaeologists.

  The future bishop of Smolyan, Father Tikhon, took care of  Basarabov monastery around 1919.

  A new committee having the task of raising money to re-build the cells was established in 1937.  The  monastery cells were  finished and blessed on May 14, 1937, but have survived only until 1940, when a flood destroyed the entire building.

 Monk Chrysanthos, who settled here from 1937 until 1961,  started to raise donations for the restoration of damaged cells. Thus, in less than one month, he gathered enough money to raise two cells near the church and were finished on August 30, 1940.

Manastirea Sfantul Dimitrie cel Nou - Basarabov

  The new church will retain the iconostasis – carved in wood in 1941. A large icon of Saint Dimitri the New standing up, depicts  his wonders. The icon bares an inscription in Cyrillic   Greek and Romanian languages.

  The monastery also bares the cell and burial place of father Chrysanthos, as well as the remains of other monks that struggled in this place.

Saint Dimitri the New (Basarabov)

  Some researchers believe that the new Saint Dimitri of Basarabov have lived during the flourishing of hesychasm, while others believe that he lived in the XII century. Paisius of Hilandar recorded in his chronical that St. Dimitri is a recent saint of our times because he was still living in 1685. In a copy of the Slavo-Bulgarian chronic  of monk Panteleimon from Russe, it is said that St. Dimitri lived in the eighteenth century and was buried in the Monastery of Basarabov.

  The saint nationality is not clear, as in the eighteenth century many villages in tha region of Russe had mixed population.

Manastirea Sfantul Dimitrie cel Nou - Basarabov

   According to Paisius of Hilandar and his famous book “the Slavo-Bulgarian History”, Saint Dimitri the New led the simple life of a layman/ peasant. In the notes of Nicholas Nemtov teacher (1898) in Basarabov, it is mentioned that Saint Dimitri attended the Church of St. John,  every Sunday and holiday, and the rest of the days he was watching the village’ cows, receiving only bread and water, and only from the wealthy people of the village.

 Saint Dimitri will later become a monk in the Monastery of Basarab founded in the outskirts of his village. Teacher Nemtov also describes how the relics of St. Dimitri Basarabov were discovered. It is said that a young maiden from the village of Cherven Voda lost her sight. One night, she was dreaming that she went to the monastery of Basarabov, was washing her face with water from the fountain of St. Dimitri, and regained her sight.

  The young girl tells her parents about the dream and decided to go to Basarabov. Arriving at dawn, she remained overnight with her parents, wanting to wash with water from the fountain the next early morning. But at night, having great eye pain, the girl went to the fountain, washed and regained her sight. Looking over the river Lom – passing in front of the monastery, she saw several lit candles and torches, and in the water the holy relics of Saint Dimitri shining as gold.

  The girl’s father is called, but he does not see anything. The next day, the body of the saint is found and removed from the river by the priests of Russe. The holy relics of St. Dimitri are taken first  to the city of Russe, but the oxen pulling the cart with his relics stopped in front of his father’s house. A church will be built here baring the name of the saint.

 The tradition also tells us how the Turks during an attack, in search for a treasure, unearth the saint relics. Finding the relics of St Dimitri, the turks threw then into the river Lom, where they remained hidden between the shore and the rocks, for 33 years until they were found by a pious Christian. They were taken to Basarbov village, where they have worked countless miracles.

 In a miracle recorded before the relics were to be taken to the Metropolitan Cathedral in Bucharest, it is said how a Turk tried to steal a silver candle at night from the Church of St. Dimitri. Suddenly his legs became paralyzed and the turk will remained until the next morning  in front of the shrine with the holy relics.

 During the Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774), his holy relics were transported to Bucharest by General Peter Saltykov, and placed with great devotion and joy in  St. Constantine and Helen’ Patriarchal Cathedral, where they are preserved until today.

 Holy Great Martyr Demetrius (Dimitri) of Thessalonica
Commemorated October 26 (Nov. 8th by civil calendar)
(Life taken from the Prologue of Ohrid)

 St Demetrius the Great Martyr

This glorious and wonderworking saint was born in Thessalonica of noble and devout parents. Implored of God by childless parents, Demetrius was their only son, and so was raised and educated with great care. Demetrius’s father was a commander in Thessalonica. When his father died, Emperor Maximian appointed Demetrius as commander in his place. As he appointed him, Maximian, an opponent of Christ, particularly recommended that he persecute and exterminate the Christians in Thessalonica. Demetrius not only disobeyed the emperor but openly confessed and preached the Lord Jesus Christ in the city of Thessalonica. When the emperor heard of this he became furious with Demetrius. Then, when he was returning from battle against the Sarmatians, Maximian stopped at Thessalonica to investigate the matter. The emperor summoned Demetrius and questioned him about his faith. Demetrius openly acknowledged his Christian Faith to the emperor and also denounced the emperor’s idolatry. Maximian cast Demetrius into prison. Knowing what was awaiting him, Demetrius gave all his goods to his faithful servant Lupus to distribute to the poor, and joyfully awaited his imminent suffering for Christ the Lord. An angel of God appeared to him in prison, saying: “Peace be to you, O sufferer of Christ; be brave and be strong!” After several days, the emperor sent soldiers to the prison to kill Demetrius. The soldiers found the saint of God at prayer and ran him through with lances [in 306 A.D.]. Christians secretly took his body and honorably buried it. Healing myrrh flowed from the body of the martyr of Christ, curing many of the sick. Soon, a small church was built over his relics.

An Illyrian nobleman, Leontius, was afflicted with an incurable illness. He hastened, with prayer, to the relics of St. Demetrius and was completely healed. In thanksgiving, Leontius erected a much larger church on the site of the old church. The saint appeared to him on two occasions. When Emperor Justinian wanted to translate the relics of the saint from Thessalonica to Constantinople, flaming sparks sprang from the tomb and a voice was heard: “Stop, and do not touch!” And thus, the relics of St. Demetrius have remained for all time in Thessalonica. As the protector of Thessalonica, St. Demetrius has appeared many times, and on many occasions has saved Thessalonica from great calamity. His miracles are without number. The Russians considered St. Demetrius to be the protector of Siberia, which was conquered and annexed to Russia on October 26, 1581.

 

The Church of St. Demetrios the Great Martyr from Thessalonica

The Church of St. Demetrius the Great Martyr, also known as “the Mirth streaming ‘, is an Orthodox church in Thessalonica, Greece. The Church dedicated to the patron saint of the city: St. Demetrius, dates from the period when Thessalonica was the second largest city of the Byzantine Empire.

Basilica of St Demetrios

The city of Thessalonica, the second largest city in Greece and the principal city of ancient region of Macedonia, was the capital of one of the four Roman districts of Macedonia. The name of this city comes from the wife of Cassander and sister of Alexander the Great – the one who founded the city.

 

 The Christian Community of Thessalonica was founded by St. Paul during his second missionary journey, when he preached in the jewish synagogue of this city.

 The everyday life of these Christian communities, as presented by the Apostle Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, can be considered a model, because the life and ministry of the citizens of  Thessalonica determined St. Paul’s to always give thanks to God our Lord for them. “We always praise/thank God for all of you, as we remember you in our prayers.”  (Thessalonians 1, 2)

 

 St. Demetrios Church is one of the main attractions of the city of Thessalonica, many pilgrims come here to venerate the mirth-streaming relics of St. Demetrios the Great Martyr.  The church also belongs to the paleo-Christian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonica, being part of UNESCO World Heritage since 1988.

The first church was built on this site in the early fourth century, shortly after the year 313, replacing an existing Roman bath in that area. A century later, a prefect called Leontios, replaced the small church with a much larger one, a basilica with three apses.

The initial Church was destroyed by fire in several occasions and was restored later, (between 629 and 634) into a basilica with five apses. This church, almost identical to that which we see today will quickly become the most important place of worship in the city.

Interior of the Church

Inside the church , a structure called “ciborium” holds the holy relics of St Demetrios.

 

The Basilica of St. Demetrius the Great Martyr  is famous for its Byzantine art/mosaics and iconography, dating from the last rebuilding of the church to the iconoclastic period of 730.

A mural mosaic  depicting St. Demetrius, with those involved in the  restoration of the church, is a rare one preserved in the period that followed the sad memory of the death of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. One of the inscriptions found in the mosaics, gives glory to God for the deliverance from the attacks by the pagan, in the year 612.

The rest of the mosaics that adorn the interior of the church have disappeared during the four centuries when the building functioned as a mosque (1493-1912), or during the great fire of 1917, which, along with roof and upper walls, destroyed a large part of the building. There are a number of black and white photographs that show the value of this priceless Byzantine monument that was destroyed after the great fire.

The full restoration of the church was completed only in 1949.  The Church retains an underground crypt, where according to the tradition, the  martyrdom of St Demetrios took place.

the underground structure of the church

The excavations have also revealed the ruins of a Roman bath, where it is believed that the Holy Great Martyr Demetrios was imprisoned and, later, executed by the Roman soldiers, and an ancient fountain where, it is believed that the soldiers discarded the body of martyr Demetrius.

 The tomb of St. Demetrios is considered an archaeological site since 1918, when it was discovered. Between 1985-1988, a series of excavations took place in the northern part,  thus restoring one other part of the tomb.

The holy relics of St Demetrios

The Holy Great Martyr Demetrios (the Myrrh Streaming) is commemorated on the 26 of October.

Through the prayers of the Holy Great Martyr Demetrios, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us. Amen!

 

Lamentations to the Holy Mother of God, Greek/Romanian byzantine chant

  Located in the Valley of Jeoshaphat, at the bottom of Mount of Olives, the Church of Dormition was carved – in stone – over the site were for a short time, the Holy Virgin was buried. Across the street from the Church of Dormition is the Church of All Nations or the Church of Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and, immediately near it was the Cave of Gethsemane.

  Virgin Tomb in Jerusalem

  Here, in the depths of the earth her holy body was placed, she who carried in her arms the Saviour of the universe! Here, in the village of Gethsemane, the apostles gathered at the edges of the earth to accompanied to the grave the Mother of Life! Here St. Thomas, arriving a bit later, has never found her precious body as it was lifted up into the heaven by her Son. Here, she  had laid for a short time, the humble “handmaid of the Lord”, the most holy of all mothers, the cleanest of all virgins, the Mother of Life, the intercessor for the world, the comforter of all mothers, the supporter of virgins, the strengthener of the poor and the protector of monastics and of all Christians!

Why is it believed that the Tomb of the Virgin Mary was in Jerusalem?

  According to the Holy Christian tradition, shortly after her burial, her body was raised up to heaven, not by its own power but by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some strongly believe that Jerusalem is the place where the Holy Virgin Mary was buried, while others say that her burial place would be in Ephesus, the place where Saint John the Evangelist lived up until passing away in the Lord .

 

Virgin Tomb in Jerusalem

  St. John the Evangelist took her in his care, when our Savior proclaimed to him on the Cross “Behold thy Mother”. She must had accompanied St John everywhere, but there was no testimony to indicate how long she stayed in Jerusalem and how long in Ephesus. Nothing it is said about the place where the Angel Gabriel announced her death.

  The New Testament does not tell us about the death of the Blessed Virgin. However, the Tomb of Virgin Mary is described in many apocryphal books. Although not all are worthy of credence, some generalities are very apparent. ” The Dormition/Assumption of Mary ” dates back to the beginning of the II-nd century, after the latest research – the author had used as source, the tradition of the early church. This book can be considered a witness to the veneration of the place where the Virgin Mary was buried. According to this source, Jesus Himself would give instruction to the apostle Peter on the  burial-place: ” the Garden of Gethsemane, outside the walls of Jerusalem, in the Valley of Jeoshaphat, acrossed from the river Chedron. “

Virgin Tomb in Jerusalem

  According to the “Acts of the Apostle John – the Evangelist”, written by Prohor and composed by Lencius in 160-170, St. John the Evangelist been of an old age went to Ephesus accompanied only by Prohor and, this happened after the death of Mary. In the two letters addressed by St. Ignatius to Saint John and discovered around the year 370, it is mentioned that the Holy Virgin has spent her last days in Jerusalem. Another letter of Dionysius the Areopagite to the Bishop Titus (363), the writings of St. John on Mary’s Assumption (V century) and “The Book of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God” by Meliton of Sardes (V – VI centuries) indicate as the place for the tomb, the Garden of Gethsemane.

  The Holy Fathers also speak  on “the grave of the Virgin” as been located in Jerusalem. A historical work, “Euthymiaca historia “, describes the moment when the Byzantine Emperor Marcian (450 -457) and his wife Pulheria asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem, at the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), for the relics of the Theotokos. The Patriarch Juvenal answered, ” three days after sleep, the body of the Holy Virgin was raised up to heaven, and the Tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane bares only her Veil”, which was then taken to the Church of Blachernae in Constantinople (today’s capital of Turkey, Istambul).

Virgin Tomb in Jerusalem

  St. Epiphanius of Salamis (403) is the first to talk about the Dormition of the Virgin, showing that St. John the Evangelist went to Ephesus alone. In the next century, Gregory of Tours, Isidore of Seville, Saint Modest, St Sophronie of Jerusalem, St. Herman of Constantinople, St. Andrew of Crete, Saint John Damascene and others fathers have spoken about the existence of the Virgin’ Tomb in Jerusalem.

The Tomb of Our Lady in Jerusalem – History

  Archaeological works bring testimony to what was mentioned above. The existence of an ancient Christian basilica dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin, along the river valley Chedron also called the Valley of Jeoshaphat in Hebrew is very important. The Tomb of Virgin Mary was situated in the north side of the Garden of Gethsemane,  deep down an underground gallery carved in stone. Moreover, St. Helena – the mother of Emperor Constantine – had built a church over it between the years 325-337.

Virgin Tomb in Jerusalem

  A chapel was built by Patriarch Juvenal at the beginning of the fifth century, which soon had become a center for pilgrimage. During the emperor Maurice the upper basilica was built and the old sanctuary became the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. In 614, the church was destroyed by the Persians, together with other Christian churches in Palestine. But the Basilica was rebuilt soon after, as it is testified by the visit of pilgrim Arkulf in 670.

  In the eleventh century, the crusaders erected another church which is partially preserved today.

 Virgin Tomb in Jerusalem

  In 1187, the church is destroyed by Saladin, and everything that is left, is the southern entrance and the staircase that descended to the grave. Its constant destruction, have made the initial basilica to sink slowly, been left without natural light today.

  Starting with 1757, the Tomb of the Virgin Mary was taken into the care of the Greek Orthodox Church. Archaeological excavations from 1972 had confirmed that the grave was part of a  Christian cemetery dating from the first century and that its original structure with three rooms, corresponds to the technique used during that period.

Virgin Tomb in Jerusalem

  Descending down the middle gallery towards the Tomb, one can see two small chapels, one on each side of the stairway. On the right is the chapel of the Saints Joachim and Anne – the parents of the Holy Virgin having an altar for worship, and on the left side is the chapel of the righteous Joseph, the Virgin protector, both been mentioned starting with the XIV century.

 Virgin Tomb in Jerusalem

    The Tomb of the Virgin is carved into a white stone.  It is well-known for the shape that her holy body left in the rock. Over this stone a small altar was built where the Divine Liturgy is offered daily.

  A miracle-working icon of the Virgin of Jerusalem lies behind her Tomb. But this is not the only miracle-working icon found here. On August 15 (new calendar) the Orthodox Church celebrates the Dormition of the Virgin. The Orthodox miracle-working icon of the Dormition,  which is preserved near the Holy Sepulchre (the Holy Tomb of our Lord) is brought out on August 10 in great procession. The icon remains at the Tomb of the Virgin until August 16, when it is taking back to Jerusalem.

On the Dormition of Virgin – a word from the ” Prologs”

  When our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, have deemed to take His Holy Mother, three days before her passing she was visited by an angel of God (Gabriel), announcing her passing from this earth to the heavenly joy. The Holy Theotokos, received the news with great joy and went to the Mount of Olives to pray .

  Then returning  to her home, she prepared for the burial, entrusting her neighbors that, by moving into heaven, not only they will not be forgotten but she will seek out and protect the whole world. Then she divided her garments among poor widows, had asked forgiveness from all and lying down, she prayed for the  strengthening and the peace of all. And blessing everyone present, she gave her soul into the hands of her Son. And many healings took place by her blessing.

  Then it was a great thunder and a miracle in the sky – that all the apostles of Christ came from around the world  to Mary’ house in Jerusalem. And Peter began to sing the burial chant, and all the apostles raised her bed and accompanied her body to the grave. Arriving in the village of Gethsemane to bury her body, the apostles remained there for three more days waiting on the Apostle Thomas that was missing.

Virgin Tomb in Jerusalem

  When the Apostle Thomas returned he was sadden for  not been made worthy to see the fallen asleep of the Virgin, with the other Apostles. And they opened the Tomb of the Virgin that he may also see. And behold, a great wonder, the body of the Virgin was not found  but only her precious shroud was left behind, as a consolation and a moving testimony that her body was lifted up into heaven.

  The Mother of God and our Mother with her body undefiled, alive and glorified, was raised into heaven, thus becoming the first among us to be resurrected from the dead as a leverage to all mankind. But unlike our Lord and Savior’ Resurrection, she was taken to heaven by the angels and not by her own power. It is from heaven that she  prays unceasingly for us. Let us have great confidence in her prayers and let us honor and venerate her as she is the first that can intercede to her Son for us. Glory of our Lord and Saviour in the highest. Amin!

 (Translated by the blog’ author)

The Monastery of Saint Panteleimon from Mount Athos

  The Holy Mount Athos is part of a peninsula from Northern Greece and the region of Macedonia, been and autonomous monastic “state” having its capital in Carrea. The monastic community of Mt Athos includes twenty monasteries and twelve skits (hermitages) having more than 1,500 Orthodox monastics.

 Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

The Monastery of St. Panteleimon, also called the “Russikon”, is built on the south-west side of this peninsula. The newer church has been built starting with 1765, while the original buildings date back in the eleventh century .

Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

  The Monastery of St. Panteleimon – Russikon – was founded back in the eleventh century – under Emperor Alexios I Komnenos – by few monks arriving in the Holy Mountain from Russia. During its flourishing era, they the monastery had in average two or three thousand monks. After been almost deserted, the monastery was renewed by Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus (1282-1328) and inhabited by Greek and Russian monks . 

  Starting with the XIV-th century, it takes the name of  St. Panteleimon. As previously mentioned, it has been burned and devastated several times but rebuilt with the help of the Russians and Romanian kings, among its founding benefactors were Scarlat Calimah from Moldavia and the Russian Tsar Alexander the IIIrd.

 Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon          Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

 

 Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon          Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

 

Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

  Staring with 1875, the monastery is led by the Russian abbots becoming the Great Lavra of Mount Athos and numbering over two thousand Russian monks.

  The monastery bell is famous for been the largest bell in Greece; having about 13,000 kg, its sound is heard in the whole Mt. Athos.

 Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon          Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

  

The Russikon Monastery is dedicated to the Holy Martyr Panteleimom. Its impressive body includes two churches, and many chapels; the most important are  dedicated to the Dormition of Theotokos, to St. Mitrofan, our Lord’ Ascension, to St. Sergius, St. Demetrios, the Holy Archangels, St. Gerasimos, Saints Constantine and Helen, the Holy Kings Vladimir and Olga and to St. Alexander Nevsky.

Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

 

 St. Panteleimon Monastery Mount Athos          Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

 

The monastery also bares the miracle – working icon of St. Panteleimon and priceless Holy relics: St. Panteleimon’ head as well as part of the relics of righeous Joseph, (the Holy Virgin protector), a piece of the Holy relics of the Apostle Thomas and a piece of stone from our Lord’s original Tomb.

  The Monastery also has in her care four hermitages: the hermitage of Xylourgou (or Bogoroditsa), of Chromitsa, the Skete  Thebais or Gournoskete as well as the Skete Paleomonastiro .

Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

  The monastery has a very rich library, including 24 Gospels on parchment dating from the XI to the XV centuries, 69 manuscripts also on parchment with chants from divine services and dating from  the XI to XIV century as well as 126 manuscripts with litugical music from the XIII century.

Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

  The monastery has a similar architecture of a town: buildings of different heights and many domes. Before the devastating fire in 1968, the wing of the monastery which was used as the xenodochium, had a capacity of up to 1,000 seats .

Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

  The large church is also dedicated to St. Panteleimon. Its construction began in 1812 and ended in 1821, and  its architecture is typically Athonite.

Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

  On the inside, the church is covered in frescoes belonging to the nineteenth – century Russian style.

  In terms of its hierarchy, the Monastery of St. Panteleimon ranked as 19th among the 20 Athonite monasteries with cenobic life – in common.

Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

  The number of monks dwelling here varied over time from a total of 1,000 in 1895 and 1446 to only 35 in the 1990.

 Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

 

Athos monastery of St. Panteleimon

 

George, this truly great and glorious Martyr of Christ, was born of a father from Cappadocia and a mother from Palestine. Being a military tribune, or chiliarch (that is, a commander of a thousand troops), he was illustrious in battle and highly honoured for his courage. When he learned that the Emperor Diocletian was preparing a persecution of the Christians, Saint George presented himself publicly before the Emperor and denounced him. When threats and promises could not move him from his steadfast confession, he was put to unheard-of tortures, which he endured with great bravery, overcoming them by his faith and love towards Christ. By the wondrous signs that took place in his contest, he guided many to the knowledge of the truth, including Queen Alexandra, wife of Diocletian, and was finally beheaded in 296 in Nicomedia.

His sacred remains were taken by his servant from Nicomedia to Palestine, to a town called Lydda, the homeland of his mother, and then were finally transferred to the church which was raised up in his name. (The translation of the Saint’s holy relics to the church in Lydda is commemorated on November 3; Saint Alexandra the Queen, on April 21.)

The Church of the Holy Great Martyr  George from Lodd, Lydda

The Church dedicated to the Great Martyr George is located in Lodd, Lydda. Lodd is one of the major cities in Palestine. Following the tradition of the ancient churches – built on the graves of the martyrs, the Church of St George was built in the place where the saint was buried after been martyred.

Lydda is an ancient city mentioned in both the Old as well as the New Testaments;  In the Ist Chronicle: 8, 12, and in the Acts of the Apostles: ” As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. “(Acts 9, 32-35). According to the Holy Scripture, Lydda was built by a member of the tribe of Benjamin, Shemed. This place was deserted starting with the captivity of Babylon, but it was reestablished immediately after the Jews returned from exile. 

In the Hellenistic period, this place was situated outside the borders of Judea, but in the period of the Maccabees, it was returned to the Israeli.

Biserica Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe - Lida, Lodd

By the Byzantine era, the town was already largely Christianized. This is one of the legendary places where the Holy Great Martyr St. George was born which is why, for a time, the city was called Georgiopolis. The Tomb of the Holy Martyr was built in the very place, where it exists today. Conquered by the Muslims in the year 636, the city of Lydda will become part of the region of Philistines.  Later, in 1099, the Crusaders will occupy the city.

Biserica Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe - Lida, Lodd

Biserica Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe - Lida, Lodd

For the English king Richard the Lionheart, the city held a precious value, considering this was the place of birth of the protector of England – Holy Great Martyr George. For a time the Crusaders made this city the seat of the Roman rite. According to the Jewish pilgrim Benjamin of Tudela, in the city of Lydda, in the year 1170,  only a Jewish dyer was left among the Crusaders inhabitants.

Biserica Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe - Lida, Lodd

Biserica Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe - Lida, Lodd

St. George is famous not only in his hometown but throughout the whole Christian world as one of the most beloved saints. After saint’ martyrdom, Christians have taken his body and brought it to the Holy Land in his native village. The Church St. George (el-Khader) of Lydda, is one of the most sacred places of worship in the region and it was dedicated to the Christian Martyrs of the fourth century. 

         

The present church from Lodd was built in 1870, and it was attached by a common wall to the mosque  of Chodr El. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has received approval from Turkish authorities, to rebuild a church on the site of a former Christian basilica. The last ruins present here belonged to an ancient Christian church from the XV century; the new basilica  – a Greek Orthodox Monastery built over those ruins, was dedicated to  the Holy Martyr George as well as to the  Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

 Biserica Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe - Lida, Lodd

In order to approve the building of the new Orthodox Monastery, Turkish authorities have requested that the remaining space to be given up for the mosque. Therefore, the current Church St. George occupies only the north-eastern corner of the old Christian basilica.        

Above the church door’ entrance a nice icon depicts the great Martyr George slaying the dragon.

Biserica Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe - Lida, Lodd

Biserica Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe - Lida, Lodd

The underground chapel of this newly built  Orthodox Monastery preserves the tomb of St. George and part of his relics.

Mormantul Sfantului Mare Mucenic Gheorghe

Mormantul Sfantului Mare Mucenic Gheorghe

The church also preserves the “chains” that bound St. George before going for his martyrdom.

Lanturile Sfantului Mare Mucenic Gheorghe

 The stone sarcophagus of St George, found in the underground chapel, was restored in 1871, during the time of Patriarch Cyril.

Moastele Sfantului Mare Mucenic Gheorghe - aflate in biserica din Lodd

Small parts from the precious relics of St George are also present in many other churches throughout the world, one country adopted St. George as its patron Saint and it was named after the saint’ name: Georgia.   

Holy Great Martyr George pray to God for us!

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