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Winter holidays in the midst of Arab Spring
“Christ is born, glorify Him… sing unto the Lord all the earth and joyfully praise Him all ye nations for He is glorified!”
It’s the liturgical song that expresses the joy of the Church that our Christ Savior was born. The joy that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. A joy that we all felt and we mostly lived it liturgically, ecclesiastically, Eucharistically – in the great mystery of the Divine Liturgy. We could say that is something normal and that is how our ancestors lived. In our nation, yes, it’s normal. But unfortunately not all Christians had the holy peace that we’ve all enjoyed at Christmas.
Every time the Gospel is read, on the Sunday after the Nativity of our Lord, we are presented with a family [the Holy family of the Virgin Mary and righteous Joseph] in the Middle East, fleeing [with the baby Jesus] from the human hatred [of Herod]. From infancy, the Holy Child experienced suffering. From the cradle, He began to bear His Cross. But He wasn’t alone… Immediately it followed the 14,000 innocents, the first martyrs of the Church – the infants. And the series of this genocide continues until today…
This Christmas feast, in the home’ land of the Christ Child, in the Middle East, Christians celebrated it – with tears. Tears for the loved ones who have died, tears for the many which cannot be found, tears for their churches and their cemeteries, tears that Christ was born in a world too cruel.
Tears began to flow starting with the eve of the great feast, while in our country, children brought the good news. On December 24, 2013 during Vespers in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, a church was mined. 26 Christians that were praying in the church have died and 38 were injured. At the same time, in the Athorien plaza of the same city, two bombs targeted a cafe owned by a Christian family. 11 more dead and 21 wounded were added to those murdered in the church.
In Egypt, a little after midnight on December 26, during the Divine Liturgy, a bomb exploded in the nave of the Coptic church: Abba Anthony. There, 23 martyrs were counted and about a hundred were injured. According to the eyewitnesses, “there were body parts [of those martyred] spread everywhere, on the streets, outside the church and even in the Holy Altar. The dead were placed before the altar, covered with newspapers and the vigil continued… ” The eyewitnesses also attested that “the security forces withdrew an hour before the bombing of the church.”
These may seem to us like events from a parallel world. But in fact they were acts of ordinary Muslims, trained by a series of fanatical clerics. And if they were attributed to the rebels, we must say that there were also government orders. In most Arab countries, the Muslim government leaders have passed law bills that prohibit Christian liturgical worship during the period of December 6, 2013 to January 7, 2014.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, a government decision was instituted that ‘recommends’: “the local Christian churches to reduce the pomp for the celebrations of Christmas and New Year, in order not to disturb the days of mourning and self-flagellation of the Shiite Muslims.”
In Iraq, some teachers from the elementary schools in Baghdad and Mosul have scheduled final exams on December 25, forcing Christian students to attend school on the day of the Nativity. Some Muslim clerics in their sermons insisted that to tell someone Merry Christmas is worse than fornication . . . and even worse than murder!
At home, we enjoyed the caroling, the lights and the Christmas tree, we attended church and we extended this joy into our family homes. With or without the snow we felt it as a magic winter. We lived the holidays, as we desired.
In the Middle East however, the winter continued with the Arab Spring, which brought tears and pain. But Christ was also born for them. Perhaps more than He was for us! That He may bring comfort to their souls. There, were the carols were absent, the holy angels sang instead: “Christ is born, glorify Him … sing the Lord all ye nations and joyfully praise Him, for He is glorified!”
The relics of the saints and their power with Father George Calciu
– The holy relics of the saints are venerated with great devotion by the Romanian faithful. Why is this father? Is it because of some inheritance, or is it perhaps that the people really feel their help?
– I remember back, during the days of the communist regime, before my detention, that the holy relics were sought less by the faithful than they are today. The relics are incorrupt bodies of the saints; and there is a whole theory on the incorrupt bodies. Even after death, God will flow a special grace to those who had a higher spiritual life. However, I will not insist on this. What I want to emphasize is that, there is a close connection between the saint’s soul and his/her holy relics that we venerate, and it is proper to honor them. Undoubtedly this thirst for the veneration of the relics of the saints involves a close relationship between the believer who asks and the saint who intercedes for him. I am convinced that every believer realizes that the relics alone don’t bring healings, consolations, or relevance from temptations, but the saint through the grace given to him/her by God, can work wonders through those relics. If there are people who believe otherwise, that the relics do wonders by themselves, and not by God’ grace, it means that they fell into an error near idolatry.
In: – If the saint works through the grace granted to him/her by God, and not by this relics or his icon – sometimes called “wonders working icons” – wouldn’t just be better to pray directly to the saint without having to venerate the relics and the icons?
Fr. G: – There are people who also do that. The prayer is what matters first, but the contact with the holy relics and the icons is also useful. For man needs some steps to his ascent to the spiritual life. Man’s personal relationship with the saint is best established this way. Father Dumitru Staniloae wondered: “How is it that, a million people are praying to a saint, and the saint answers to all of them?” The explanation is that the saints receive from God the gift of listening to a million prayers at the same time, of distinguishing between the prayers and offer help to all. The presence of the relics is for most of us, that certainty that the miracle is possible.
When one sees the incorrupt body of a saint, it means that the saint can come to your help. I’ve noticed that, whether you’re a believer or an atheist, the need for the miracle is as great. For instance in the West, the witches and fortune tellers are in great demand. It is a delusion for us humans, invented by the devil, to satisfy our thirst for the miracle. Perhaps, even here in Romania, there are people who seek the relics, but also the fortune tellers. And this is a forbidden mixture.
In: – Father, but if the people are so attached to the relics of the saints, why most of them rash to bow before the relics only on feast days? Is the grace of the saint grater on that day?
Fr. G: – No, but we relate to certain dates, anniversaries and commemorations. So people think that the power of the saint increases on those occasions. And I believe they’re right, for people’ faith and hope is greater on those days so the saint responds accordingly. When I was a professor at the Theological Seminary, the students took turns guarding the holy relics in our church, to keep orderly those who came to venerate them. One day, a boy who was on duty, which I considered very sincere and humble, and with great faith, came to me and said: “Father, now I believe.” He witnessed a miracle: a paralyzed woman was cured by St. Demetrius the New.
So the miracle is done not only for the one who has been healed, but also for those who are present. Then, the prayers done in communion with each other, during the feast, is more appealing to God than the prayer done alone, as the feasts create a certain spiritual emulation, which the soul is deeply involved in. And surely we’ll receive according to our faith. So people come together and encourage each other in the spirit, for their faith, and for the veneration of the holy relics without being much aware of it. It is very important that people will not make from this a mean of idolatry. They ought not to forget that beyond the holy relics, is the spirit of the saint and especially God who gives His power to the saint and who makes the wonder happens. It is known that a faith that is based solely on miracles, is a weak faith. But many times through the miracle, conversions happen, some of which being very dramatic.
In: – How do we know that we sand before a holy relic?
Fr. G – The holy relics are consecrated by the Church, and this is the proof. The healings or the conversions to the faith are the result of the fact that the relics are enshrined by the Church.
In: – How about if we have the incorrupt remains that are fragrant and even miracle-working from a man who has not been glorified by the Church? … for instance the incorrupt body of Father Elijah (Ilie) Lacatusu from Giulesti that has all the signs of the holy relics, yet Father is not glorified by the Church? Are they holy relics or not?
Fr. G: – There are holy relics if they fulfilled all the canons of the Church and they work wonders. So the finding of the Church is important and this comes with prudence, after checking all the signs. It is not wrong that it happens this way.
In: – Elder Justin Parvu, the Abbot of Petru-Voda Monastery – Neamt [now with the Lord], warned that our country is full of holy relics unrecognized by the Church. And for this, says the holy elder, the wrath of God is upon us. Father Abbot Justin emphasized that, in the mass graves where the bodies of the political prisoners martyred for their faith in Christ, were deposited, such as the Ravine Servants (Rapa Robilor) from Aiud, there exist holy relics. Moreover, the elder collected some of their earthly remains and deposited them into a reliquary inside the monastery church. How are we to relate to these bodily remains of those faithful martyred for their faith in Christ?
Fr. G: – In the Romanian Orthodox Church, the hierarchs have no courage to declare that the remains of the former political prisoners martyred in the communists prisons for Christ, are holy relics. Moreover, in the Patriarchate, there are several files pending decision for glorification (canonization), such as that of Father Elijah (ilie) Lacatusu, which I strongly believe that he is a saint, or that of Valeriu Gafencu’s. And the synod did not give an answer. The majority of the former political prisoners were legionaries, and the hierarchies fear that an action towards a possible glorification can be taken as being political. We need to relate to all these wisely and attentively. If God wills, through His saints, whether unknown or unrecognized officially by the church, He can offer us help.
In: – I noticed that in Bucharest, there are many churches that bear pieces of relics of the same saint. How is it that several churches can get holy relics of one saint?
Fr. G: – In general, those who are in custody of the saint’ body, when a church requests a piece, they can offer. And it happens that the priests, when they learn that a certain church has acquired the relics of a particular saint, will try to get a piece. Some relics were purchased and deposited in certain churches. But if the whole body remains incorrupt, generally is been stored as such. The body of St. Nektarios was maintained whole and incorrupt for 20 years, after which the flesh was gone and only the skeleton remained. Those who were in the care of the saint’ body, shared parts of his relics. His bodily corruption sparked some deceptions; there were people who thought that God has lifted his holiness. The priests however, have agreed that God has appointed this way, that pieces form Saint Nektarios’ body may be shared with the world, and by divine grace, to perform miracles.
In: – Isn’t there a danger, to “trade” with the holy relics?
Fr. G: – Well, even the saints are at risk of our trifles… (Father George smiles). I personally believe that, maybe the saint prayed to the Lord to be “bought” in small pieces by certain places (churches) where people need him the most.
In: – Someone foreign to the Orthodox faith could consider the sharing of dead bodies, a barbaric ritual, even if they belong to the saints …
Fr. G: – If the body remains in one place, we limit the possibility for a large number of people to experience wonders, help and comfort. Not everyone can travel to pray at the shrine with the holy relics of a certain saint, that can come to their help.
In: – In many churches in Bucharest, the pieces of garments worn by a saint are being venerated almost as much as the holy relics,…
Fr. G: – It is not proper so. I do not mean that those garments are not impregnated with the divine power, but they are not like the relics. I do not think they can heal. At most, they can help a person have a better connection to the saint they belong and with God.
In – A church building, not a community of believers, can it be consider better, stronger, or more helpful to the faithful, if it bares in it sacred relics?
Fr. G: – The saint works in this matter: people themselves are stimulated to come to the church and to believe. But all [Orthodox] Churches are full of grace, and God is everywhere, not just where the relics are present. Not all the saints become relics. God works through various gifts that He grants to certain people. The relics are only one way of divine manifestation.
In: – Your reverence, do your remember great miracles that impressed masses of people in Romania?
Fr. G – There were many wonders, as the one with my student which I mentioned to you, but they are not being advertised and it is better that way. Thus, we’ll avoid a sort of pride from the churches that bear the holy relics, where miracles happen. If there is too much publicity, and too much fidgeting, it’s not good.
In: – Father, did you experience any miracle?
Fr. G: – Yes once back in 1972 or 1973, I went with my seminary students to St. George Church, where is the hand of St. Nicholas [of Myra]. After all of us passed and bowed before the reliquary, the hand of the saint began to spread a whiff of nice fragrance. Until then, the hand did not smell, and I considered it like a sign from the saint. Maybe it predicted what would happen to me later [father is referring to his second arrest] or maybe it was the saint’ joy that those students were proper to become good priests.
In: – At the end of this interview, for which I thank you father, lets summarize: what does an Orthodox faithful need to know about honoring the holy relics and the veneration of the icons?
Fr. G: – That they are all steps, and only steps in our ascent to God. The Orthodox Christians must not limit themselves to the prayer before the relics or even to the saint invoked in their prayer. The Christian ought to be aware that is God Himself Who works through the saints and responds to our prayers before the icons or the relics. Otherwise we’ll fall closely into idolatry. The danger is very great, especially for the people who are pious, but yet do not have a basic theological understanding of God.
It is almost hallucinatory how Father George exhumation was broadcasted over the local media, TV stations and blogs in Romania. As the events unfolded, upon opening father’ tomb by several monastics during his seven years memorial, we can only say how right was Father George in the statements that he made in his last will, and how the devil can use the spirit of piety manifested upon finding soneone’s incorrupt body, to deceive many.
It’s even more troubling to see, after father passing in the Lord, how the devil continues to fight even with his remaining, trying to stain the memory of a man who sanctified his whole life through many hardships. One can wonder, how is this man pleasing to Christ’s rest now?… when his body became the target of attacks that are foreign to the spirit of Orthodoxy.
And if we understood that someone’ martyrdom happens usually during his life time, in this case Satan is showing a new face, battling in our times even the bodies of those pleasing to God who have stepped into eternity.
Just as Father George once said:
“Between our bodies and our souls, there exist a relationship that it’s never lost. Even if the body returns to earth, this connection between the body and the soul is not disbanded, as something that will be fulfilled at the last judgment. “
And despite the hate that the devil manifests towards those pleasing to Christ, I believe that Father George who was tested in the fire of communist prisons, will come out victorious once again from this battle, after his falling asleep.
And if the Lord allowed this to happen, may it be towards a greater glory to him. May it be that the machinations that took place at the uncovering of Father George relics, will strengthen our prayers and bring us even more in the communion with Father, and with all the saints pleasing to God, part of His Triumphant Church.
Father George passed on November 21, 2006. According to his last wish, he was buried in the land that he loved and never forgot, at Petru Voda Monastery, Romania. In his last will father said:
“First, you must know that the Father Abbot of Petru Voda Monastery, Archimandrite Justin Pārvu, offered my wife and I, two near by graves in the monastery cemetery, because as I had lived my life near my wife Adriana, I want to be joined with her after death, as the one who helped me in many difficult circumstances, with a courage that I never suspected at her before. In front of our toms, please place a single stoned cross, barring our names, our date of birth and repose and, a call to those who will visit our tombs to pray for us.
According to the U.S. custom, my body will be deposited in a funeral home that will fulfill the procedures for a reposed body to be transported in Romania.
After the washing of my body by the funeral home, ask an Orthodox priest to wash my flesh with wine and oil, saying the customary prayers of the Church over by body. Then dress me with priestly garments and place on my chest the icon of the Virgin Mary, carved in bone and framed in wood, which was given to me at the hospital in Bucharest by his Beatitude Patriarch Teoctist of Romania, which gave the blessing to do so. In my right hand place the Holy Cross and the prayer rope offered to me by the nuns of Diaconesti Monastery; these I will take with me to the grave ‘
(Father George Calciu’ will, November 12, 2006, Military Hospital in Bucharest).
As if he oversaw what will happen over the years, Fr. George left a very clear and uncontested will:
“I know that my funeral will be surrounded by a certain solemnity, which I do not merit upon death, neither that I deserved it during my life time. People will talk and create legends, but God will distinguish the truth from the legend and will reveal me as been a sinner and an unworthy (…)
I spoke above about that spirit of piety manifested among faithful that can go wrong, and can create false miracles. Therefore, please dear Reverend Father Abbot Justin, find a way to prevent such things: whether you leave a document at the monastery or place it in my coffin. The devil might use this popular piety to prevent my body corruption and then to become the works of error.
If over the years, due to construction needs or for other reasons, my body will be uncovered, and to the astonishment of many, will be found incorrupt, have the priests read prayers over it, for my body to be decomposed into the earthly elements, as not from God was this miracle, but through the deception of the devil.
Let the priests who saw this, be silent, and not speak about this false miracle, and my body be placed in another tomb to be eternally forgotten.”
(Father George Calciu, October 28, 2006, Military Hospital, Bucharest, published in he book “The Life of Father George Calciu, Christiana Press, 2007)
One of the theologian and father’ spiritual child (Lucian Popescu) present at father 7 years memorial at Petru-Voda, wrote:
“I recently learned that the body of Father George was uncovered, that it has the appearance of the relics of the saints, that it is fragrant and it was placed in the Elder Justin Pārvu’ cell!
However, Elder Justin Pārvu, who passed away seven months before Father George’ seven years memorial, instructed that the body of Father George may be unearthed at 7 years. I was aware of this fact, but I’m not in the position to give or find a justification for the decision of Archimandrite Justin. There are spiritual perspectives that are impossible to probe with logic, due to lack of an appropriate forum to judge such.
At this point, I do not know the details of opening Father George’ tomb and I think they are less important. It is something done, which cannot be undone.
The important point is that the testamentary letter that Father George left (see above) can be taken as the equivalent of any righteous attitude before his death, who says with conviction that he is the greatest sinner that ever lived.
And it is also essential that no treasure, if proven to be true, may be misused, wasted, or worse, turned into a scandal.
For father George was right when he said that the spirit of popular piety can wander in error and this kind of mistake is still an error…
A lot has been said when Father Calcium fell asleep, but even more now, after the discovering his relics, due to the fact that Father, wrote in his will addressed to Abbot Justin of Petru Voda Monastery, the following:
“If over the years, due to construction needs or for other reasons, my body will be uncovered, and to the astonishment of many, will be found incorrupt, have the priests read prayers over it, for my body to be decomposed into the earthy elements, as not from God was this miracle, but through the deception of the devil.
Let the priests who saw this, be silent, and not speak about this false miracle, and my body placed in another tomb to be eternally forgotten.”
As we will see below, in an interview given by Father George in 2006 and in other sources, Fr. George knowing people thirst for the miraculous, whether being believers or atheists, feared that such event will be speculated by the devil who wants to lead many astray, separating them from God. Father didn’t want that after falling asleep, to become a source of stumbling error for any of his younger brother, and his body, if found incorrupt, to become a means of idolatry for those weak in faith.
For such reasons, father specified in his will that if his body will be found as such, “to be reburied and forgotten”, and priests be bound “not to ever talk on this.”
Also kindly Father George gave a similar word in his will, if at his funeral or memorial “will come a bishop who would like to talk, let him talk” but “if no bishop will come, no one may give a sermon”. We can understand from this that if during his relics discovery, any priest saw them, they were bound to silence, however “the local bishop or any hierarch” are not under this infringement regarding desire expressed by Father’ will.
It is especially the duty of the local bishop to take a wise decision regarding Father exhumation and the finding of his incorrupt body, as this raises questions in relation to father last’ will, more so because the way it was taken out of the grave. Besides the local bishop, it also the duty of the Synod of the Orthodox Church to speak on the finding of any relics, such as Father’s Elijah Lacatusu and more recently of Father George Calciu. (…)
Personally, I believe that Father George Calciu’ wish for his body to be “placed in another tomb to be eternally forgotten”, provides a deep sense of brotherhood with those who also suffered in communist prisons, yet a lot of them having been thrown by the communists into mass unknown graves.
Thinking of them, father didn’t want to be honored by people, while the bodies of his brothers in suffering are still hidden in the womb of the earth. It is a great mystery of God, and this does not diminish at all the holiness of those worthy, although some of them are (yet) unknown to us or without any trace of their earthly remains, while others also God-holy pleasers, have holy relics that can be touched and venerated by the faithful.
The veneration of the holy icons and the veneration of the relics of the saints must have reference to God, as One Who made them worthy of His grace, and Who comes to our help by His great mercy. Consequently, overlooking or hiding under the veil of forgetfulness, and not honor what was left to us as a bridge to Him, will impoverish our communion with God through the personal connection with His saints.
However we must never lose sight of the wiles of the devil who will use the holy objects to mislead those weak in faith, those whose faith is synonymous to superstition, those who find opportunities to confuse holiness with magic, or those who exult themselves though the grace of the saints. All these and many other falls wonderings the enemy of mankind works, from which one can escape only thorough the power of blessed humility.
May we ask in all things, that the will of God be done first and completely, as we pray that in Father’ case things may happen according to His will. “
Father George’ body that has been taken out of the tomb few weeks ago was re-buried Tuesday, December 9, in another tomb in the Petru-Voda monastery’ cemetery, following the decision of the local Metropolitan of Moldovia and according to Father George’ will.
May his memory be eternal!
Excerpt from the sermon given by Father George Calciu, December 4, 2005 at Holy Cross Orthodox Church, Falls Church, VA
[…] You have heard of weeping icons, of icons that spring mirth or icons that heal. You have heard of saints who have passed and were found incorrupt. You have heard of saints whose bodies although dead, instead of spreading bad odor, spring nice fragrance. You have heard of relics that spring mirth. All these are things that are against nature, but God, in His power make all these happen. How does God work, for a saint’ body not to become corrupt? How does God work for example, for the holy relics to spring forth mirth? How does the saint work the miracle?
The Holy Orthodox Church says that, between our bodies and our souls, it exists a relationship that it’s never lost. Even if the body becomes corrupted, this connection between the body and the soul is not disbanded, as something that will be fulfilled at the last judgment.
At the last judgment we all shall rise again. All the billions of people that ever lived on earth and have died will be resurrected and will have a thinned body, a spiritual body, not a body that is heavy, requiring food and drink, or other things… It will a body that will not suffer if it has done good, or it will otherwise be condemned to hell.
(to be continued)
Love the poor and co-suffer with them, so God may also have mercy on you.
Do not rebuke those sorrowful at heart, that you might not be paid back with the same rod, so that when you’ll seek for someone to have mercy on you, you might find him there!
Remember that you also bear a mortal body, and do good to all with no exception.
Discernment is greater than all other virtues.
Do not reproach anyone for their sins, but consider yourself responsible for everything, even for your neighbor’s sins.
It is better to be despised than to despise. It is better to be insulted than to insult another.
Do not live with a proud man, so that your soul would not lose the grace of the Holy Spirit becoming thus the habitation of evil passions.
He who flees the vain glory of this world, feels the glory of the future life in his soul.
Despise repose and a comfortable existence, so that you might preserve your thoughts in tranquility.
Avoid meeting excessively with others and take care of your own soul, so that you might preserve her peace.
Avoid small sins, so that you might not fall into greater ones.
It is more profitable to resurrect your soul from the passions, contemplating the Divine, than it is to raise the dead.
Many have done wondrous deeds, raised the dead, and labored in asceticism; they worked great miracles in order to bring the lost to the path of salvation. Many have been brought to God through their efforts. However, many who raised the dead have fallen into shameful passions and by their sinful deeds that became known, have led many into temptation. In reality they themselves were sick, but instead of caring for their own soul, they threw themselves into the open sea of this world in order to heal and save the souls of others, thereby ruining both their hope and their souls.
Whoever despises the seductions and distractions of the mind that come from worldly affairs will meet his Master and Lord in his heart.
So that the Lord might pay attention to our virtues, they must be accompanied by physical temperance and a pure conscience.
It is better to live with eagles than with the greedy and insatiable.
It is better to live with a crippled and outcast person than with a proud man.
It is better to be persecuted than to persecute; it is better to be crucified than to crucify; it is better to be insulted than to insult; it is better to be slandered than to slander others.
Self-justification has no place in the life of a Christian, for it’s not found in any of Christ’s teachings.
If you love meekness, you will find peace in your soul. And if you become worthy to acquire peace, you will rejoice in any trial.
God forebears all our infirmities, but He cannot bear one who constantly murmurs, so He punishes him in order to correct him.
The lips and the heart that give thanks to God in any trial or temptation receive His blessing and Divine grace.
God’s grace is preceded by the humble thought, but God’s punishment is preceded by high-mindedness.
When your life is according to God, do not be saddened over afflictions or your passions, for God will lift them from you one day. Fear not death, my child for God has prepared greater things in order to raise us above death.
See also: The Miracles of Elder Justin following his repose
Elder Arsenie Papacioc of Romania, blessed memory, was part of the great generation of confessors for Christ that had suffered much while imprisoned for their faith under the atheist [communist] regime of the east. His words, not academic but rather simple, down to earth, have great authority as they are spoken from an experience of suffering and with a burning love for everyone.
On Charity/ Mercy
With God there is no past evil, where there is a good present.
When God forgave you, it means He forgave you for eternity.
God keeps us not that we are worthy, but because He is very merciful.
My brothers do not ignore a begging hand, or one that offers help.
Charity is not only to give something. It means to accept the man sitting next to you, without casts him out in your mind.
In having pity on others – it shows our likeness to Christ.
The beggar stretches out his hand not to ask, but to give you the kingdom of heaven, and you do not notice!
Lets remember my brothers: beggars are biblical characters!
Do you want to get rich? Give everything you have! And you’ll receive a hundredfold!
Man doesn’t account much when he receives, yet he remembers when he gives.
Learn to live not only in you, but to live in [for] all who are with you.
The mercy of God does not abolish hell [judgment].
We need to love much! For Christ is commanding us!
Lets be attentive, love is the criteria of [the last] judgment!
When Christ asked us to love, He also gave us the strength to do it.
We should love our pain [sorrow] and those that caused it.
You are free and have the possibility to climb [grow], if you do not hate.
Our hearts must always be free for Christ.
This world is not evil; we are at fault for we do not know to love.
The hate of your neighbor is the most devilish work.
If you would try to love people as you love Christ, then you’ll no longer see the wrongs of your neighbor.
Know that the love for the enemies is a commandment. We ought to boast them in our heart.
One question is justified, let us all ask ourselves: “Do I love or I do not…?” – for it’s a commandment, my brother! Do not think that our Savior spoke only to the people of His time or to His apostles. No… He spoke for all men and for eternity.
Instructions to the Priests
Fathers, the great battle is to heal their wounds, not to apply penances. We defile His sacrifice on Golgotha when we refuse to absolve those with grievous sins when they repent.
The Canons of the Church are a great guidance. But you are to use them with elasticity [iconomia].
It is said that the deer will not run well for two reasons: when she is too fat, or when she is too weak. Too much asceticism can weaken someone, but also indifference and non-engaging could “fatten” man.
Personally, I’m not for penances that require a lot of time and physical effort.
Penance means the possibility to repent, to commit that sin no more, to struggle not to fall again.
A good penance is to look at the penitent as at someone you love!
We need a … continuous state of love.
We must have “the need” to love. There is never someone near you by coincidence [in vain]. He is there, by God’s providence.
A spiritual father accounts for his child’ weakness.
God does more for our salvation than Satan for our destruction.
Outside the Church, there is no salvation! Hell exists only outside the Church.
He who can do good but does not do it, commits sin.
Only the devil cannot be saved.
Without God’s grace, it is impossible to be saved only by your actions, no matter how great of an ascetic you may be.
It is the Cross that saved mankind! Not God’s justice or His miracles, but His Cross! When Jesus was crucified, Satan was defeated.
I do not see how fasting alone can give us hope for salvation. Humility rooted deeply in our hearts and freedom from resentments, are hopes for our salvation.
What we’re being asked first is: the will to overcome temptations. And by praying to God, His grace will not abandon us.
Heaven is full of repentant sinners.
We ought to strive for the world to be saved, with everything we’ve got!
So every day we may gain eternity. That’s our ideal.
Our Saviour was not crucified only for a “category” of sins, but for everything that means sin on earth.
And He gave everyone the strength to avoid hell, yet He descended into hell.
And those from hell, He also loves. But they are whipped by His love, by His justice. And what Christ did not do to save us from hell?
Fear of death is not caused by death but by life. If you want not to fear death, live as a Christian!
Only those who don’t live in Christ, fear death!
Man, in his foolish pride and suffering, wants all heaven in a moment!
There is no sense or purpose, if there is no God.
We too can overcome the world, not by our power but by His.
Nothing is lost, as long as our faith is alive!
Life it is too precious to be spent in vanity.
On Marriage and Family
When we say during the Holy Sacrament of Marriage’ prayers, that the woman shall be subject to her husband, the husband must also take heed when he is told in the same prayer, that he must love her. If he does not love her, she will not obey him. Man, by not listening to this word, becomes responsible for the woman’s stubbornness. The woman must also not forget that this obedience is her way to salvation. And if the man is the head [of the family] then the woman is the heart, and this heart is made by God that He may find rest in it!
Nothing is better than a good [hearted] woman and nothing is worse than a fallen woman. So husbands, you must labor with all your power to transfigure her.
Love joins everything in the two. This is the symbol of the wedding ring.
A marriage done just for pleasure has no meaning. Marriage means reaching together into eternity.
It is the married woman that gives birth, raises and educates the child.
We cannot accept by any means that the woman will have an abortion… It’s a great matter for she will murder an unbaptized man. We must always ask ourselves: what Christ would’ve done in this case?
Family remains the best instructor.
On the Holy Eucharist
The Eucharist will perfect you; it won’t forgive your sins.
The man that prepares can commune often, but he must be given a time for repentance first. For indeed who is that prepared for such wonder?
Some neglect the mystery of confession and use it just as a pretext to commune.
On Christian Suffering
My dear, suffering is a gift from God!
The mission of Christ on earth was to save the world through suffering, so suffering brings much humility.
It is a mistake to run from your own suffering. You are truly free only when you are struggling, when you are present on the cross.
Suffering brings deep wisdom and make you reflect more seriously on your salvation.
A question arises: how is our heart responding to the suffering around us? The greatest thing we’ll be asked at the last judgment is: “Why have we not paid more attention to our neighbor?”
On the sin of homosexuality
God had punished it by fire! (Genesis 19: 24-25). It is the most grievous sin! It is said that this sin urges The End!
I mean those sins will bring judgment sooner over the world. Save yourself my brother, for many are falling… It’s the word of the Holy Fathers that this very serious sin, of sodomy (homosexuality) brings swiftly Judgment … We are now in an advanced stage, as the West already officiates sodomy (same sex marriages)! …
I’m not sad that I’m an old man! I do nothing for myself. Everything that I do, I do it for God and for His children.
I’m not all for a great asceticism. I lean more for a great vigilance! For it is not asceticism [in itself] what God wants from us but our broken and humble hearts, His continuous presence in our lives.
I’ve experienced many things in life and have seen God’s wonders; “I saw the invisible God, I experienced Him!” Our world today strives to see only His contour; she wants to touch Him in a carnal form.
The Mother of God represents the human race.
Lets get accustomed to the authority of the words of the Holy Scripture.
Peace is greater than justice.
There is no one thing from what Christ spoke that it cannot be fulfilled.
Our life is our witness! And we ought to confess the Truth, wherever we are.
No matter where [who] we are, we’re all are unprepared, and it’s only by God’s grace that we do the things that we do.
If you’re vengeful, you’ll be indebted to God. But if you ‘resist not evil’, then God “owns” you.
We must refute immediately all [evil] thoughts that come to mind, and they will come until our last breath.
God’s will not delay His help if we’ve purified our heart.
Often, you compare yourself with the man you call evil! Why don’t you see comparing yourself to St. Peter and Paul, or with Saint Siouan the Athonite [of Mt Athos]?
If you went to ask the advice of a bishop or of a man [abbot] of God, know that the answer will come from God not from that bishop or abbot. If you complained about it, know that is God that you slandered.
Elder Cleopas was great father! A great chancellor with much knowledge and also of detail! He created a spiritual era. He leaned more towards an ascetic work with strict fasting, prayers and tears of repentance; I’m more for watchfulness [awakening].
Believe in God, love the church and follow the [spiritual] fathers of the church. Walk your life on the road of humility. Acquire a good name near Christ. Insist more in prayer. You’ll be free only when you walk with love towards those who hate you! Stay still in Christ for eternity…
(Translations by EC)
Words of Wisdom (I) with Elder Arsenie Papacioc;
Blessed memory, 2 years from his reposal in the Lord.
The humble man never acknowledge himself as such… for he would not be humble!
Humility is the only power that can free the human soul and the nations.
There is only one way to follow: humility!
Christ was humble, then who are we not to be…?
Do you wish to overcome evil: humble yourself and do not judge. Then, you will be free.
Humility leads you to God, but love tastes God!
Humble yourself, for the Grace to abound in you.
Humility is the blood of life. One cannot be saved without it.
Man can never say: “I am humble!”
Humility is the art to descend into yourself and to remain there, in the humble you.
Sometimes the grace abandons you, so you may humble yourself before God!
God is very rich! And He’s awaiting us! … He waits for us to ask!
Wherever you are, and whenever you’re tempted, pray and do not be discouraged!
Anyone who wants to acquire the gift of prayer, must keep silent and pray.
We speak so much about prayer. That’s one thing that it cannot be discussed but practiced.
A deep silence is a deep prayer. And a deep prayer is like a deep silence.
Every moment is a time [in eternity] and every sigh can become a prayer.
We must not cease to pray, even with the mind.
If you pray, you are always present in you.
On the Worldly Wisdom
It’s hard for the intellectual to live a life of prayer.
God is not revealed to the sharp mind, but to the humble pure heart that is constantly shown towards Him.
The philosophers have only created some notions, but they did not solve any problem.
Intelligence and education have no value, if they are not in the service of love.
On the Church
Salvation exists only in Christ and His Orthodox Church.
If you are Orthodox, you ought to hold tight to its teachings, if not you’ll fall into heresy.
We cannot renounce even an iota from the Orthodox truth. This is a great matter that concerns God. Such it was with the fall of Catholicism! Personally, I no longer consider it a church, but a government body with a clerical name.
Such it followed the rest…
To the devil, we don’t need to give explanations!
We cannot talk about the devil without speaking about God. In God’ creation, the devil is a tolerated.
Do you believe that the devil is free? No! He’s the most bounded for he is not in Christ … So do not be afraid of him. He is a tolerated, not a power.
If you wound know how much zeal Satan puts to interrupt our prayer!
It is a great mistake to enter into conversation with the devil. We ought to converse only with God.
If you want to drive him away, say: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”, and speak to God. The power of His Name will rid him. It suits the devil to enter into a dialogue for it means that you acknowledge him. Thus through prayer, we ignore him.
If we first address the issue of hell, then we ignore heaven!
Walking on a wrong path, sinning means hell.
Pride is a devilish state, an absolutely diabolical one.
No other passion brings man closer to devil’ resemblance, as does pride.
If you do not listen to those whom God had appointed for you, it is easily understood that you rather obey Satan.
Lucifer fell hopelessly. The greatest fall and only two words: “I am” …
Indirectly, the devil confesses God through temptations.
There is no relationship between good and evil. Our Savior says, “Give Me your whole heart!” But the devil says, “I only need one of your finger.” But through it, soon he’ll take over your whole being. The whole you.
Sin brings humility. So it is understood that the devil plays an indirect “role” in our salvation for he reveals our infirmities, and by this helps us to grow. If he would realize how much help is to our salvation, he would trouble us less…
Whatever may be the reason for your sorrow, it’s only from demons. The grace of God doesn’t come where is grief, or sadness because you would not know what to do with it and waste it.
The monastic life cannot be defined by any quote.
No philosophical word can explain monasticism.
The monastic life is… an entry into paradise.
Ii’s no small thing to serve Christ and His Pure Mother your whole life!
If we gave ourselves up to God, He will not abandon us!
The monks are not perfect, but they are in the making.
The Cross of the monk is cutting his own will. To give up what he likes. To carry what is not convenient.
The cenobitical [communal] life with renouncing your will is a great work in God’s creation.
Cutting off his will, should be the main focus of the monk, and not the solitude, where he can do what he wants, and not receive reward. If you evaded from obedience, you’re strayed and cannot grow.
If you do not obey your spiritual elder, you’ll be enslaved!
The state of disobedience is diabolic.
Wherever you are, keep vigilant then you’ll live like in the desert… You need to know to live as a hermit, while [physically] been in the midst of the world!
We cannot talk about Hesychasm having cakes on the table.
There is no hermitage if you do not carry the [whole] world’ pain in your heart!
Renouncing the world can also take place in the soul of the layman. The Holy Scripture applies to everyone. The entire world received the Commandments.
On the Monastery
The entrance into the monastery is an entrance into heaven and leaving the monastery is leaving paradise.
No school can compare to the monastic training!
In the monastery one is disbanded from his human personality to enter into the angelic reign. It means that by losing yourself, you are awakened.
If one wishes to embrace the monastic life, cannot do it for the sake of the monastery; but you ought to become “the monastery”!
There is no grace without the abbot’ blessing… if I have a joy at my age , is because I did not do one thing without the blessing.
Satan hates monasteries the most. He is able to engage the whole world against you, not to enter the monastery. When you decided to go, do not look back!
One cannot enter the monastery for any another reason, then the spiritual… Only after you have died to yourself, then come to the monastery.
It is no small or insignificant thing to live in the monastery confident in your purpose and without murmuring.
(translations by EC, to be continued)
The Hand of God
My beloved, you ought to never despair, because in the worst circumstances of your life, the Lord will stretch out His hand to deliver you. I could speak to you of hundreds of instances in my life when everything seemed lost on the horizon, when I saw no hope for me, yet at that very moment God opened a door…. Countless times in my life, especially when I was imprisoned [in the gulag-tr. note], God delivered me form sin and from this world.
I remember when I was appointed professor at the theological seminary. It was during the summer time and in the fall, the Patriarch Justinian came to me at the seminary and said:
“Prepare yourself for the priesthood!”
I did not have enough theological training at the time, as I completed only the college training, not yet the Seminary, so I had some knowledge but I wasn’t too confident! When I reflected on how Saint John Chrysostom fled when he was to be ordained a priest, and on St. Gregory [the Theologian], who also wrote of his experience, I too feared! If these saints fled from the priesthood as been a great responsibility, who was I not too? Then the patriarch came to me the second time that fall and said:
“Thursday you’ll be made deacon!”
As that following Thursday was dedicated to the seminary; and I was troubled again, especially when he added:
“And on Sunday, you’ll be ordained priest.”
And it was so. I tried to pray…. but he said: “You’re ready.”
And I was ordained a priest.
Many [terrible] things have happened in life, which can trouble many people. But God freed me from all as if my guardian angel would have pulled me by the neck and deliver me from everything; from great spiritual temptations while imprisoned, threats, etc. They all passed over me like a cloud, which God drove away. And even though I was in prison with no hope to be freed, God delivered me from this also.
When I go to visit my village and meet with my fellow primary-school mates, there are only two or three left [alive], and they have not lived the gulag experience, and from my fellow high school colleagues, there are only ten left.
All these things that God works with us, we ought to see. We must see the hand of the Lord over us in all circumstances. Let’s not be carried away by temptations that we’re strong, or wealthy, or smart, or that we can accomplish much…
My brother, let’s not give into any temptation, but we ought to always say: “God willing it will do this and that” … And it [His] will be done. Do not imagine that chance, luck or fate governs your life, as our life is in the hands of God. Let us remember what our Savior said:
“Not even one hair from your head will perish without My knowledge.”
(Excerpt from: Father George Calciu’ Living Words: “To serve Christ means suffering”, translations by EC).
The newly departed servant of Christ,
Elder Justin (Pârvu) of Romania and his Words of Wisdom
Motto: “If we would be willing to descend into our selves to correct a bit this avalanche of wrongdoings, then our prayer will be heard, the world would be more at peace and our life would suit more the Lord’ liking.
We have become increasingly hostile towards each other by our own selfishness, we see no one but our selves… and when we reach this state of no longer caring for those near us, we encounter the greatest fall”.
Man’ freedom is at the measure of his genuine love
Freedom becomes precious only when it is lost. Or at least, this is how we think. All his life man seeks to be free, but does not appreciate the gift of his freedom until it is too late. Freedom is in our body but also in our heart. Freedom is in action but also in the mind and the intellect. Man is free by how genuinely he loves and is attached to the values of the faith.
We are free when we accept God’s plan for our life, and when we strive to achieve it. Being free does not mean lethargy and bliss, but the fulfillment of your human condition.
Freedom does not mean to do what I always wish, as many times by doing what I like I do the will of the devil. Freedom is at the measure of man discernment, and his capacity to choose between good and evil. Man must realize that only in Truth he can live freely and with so much confusion in this world, he should avoid deception. It was what Communists did not understand, that only on the Cross the human soul gains true freedom, that all their methods of torture and psychological pressure to re-educate us, have made more saints than slaves, have sanctified our land by the martyrs blood.
Freedom is hard to understand when one has not lived in those times [of persecution], and our Christians today barely reflect of this past.
The thirst for God and the love for all people
The thirst for God directs us towards the love of our neighbor and vice versa. So great is the power of love that one who reaches a genuine love for all people denying oneself, receives the gift of healing.
This is the true “follower” of Christ! Such man loves with the love of Christ all those fallen, thus partakes in Christ’ mission on earth and save himself.
Man is half love, half struggle
(Excerpt from an interview given by the Elder Justin in 2007)
Q: – Father Justin, from your experience of “burying yourself in man suffering”, what do you think, does man need: to be understood or to be loved?
Elder Justin: – Man needs to be loved. But to love him, you must first understand him. If you see him fallen down, then you must give him your hand. The love of neighbor is one’ measure of the love for God. If you cannot love the one near you, if you do not help him, you cannot say you love God.
The love of neighbor is the first step towards salvation, on this step one must labor until he reaches the greatest love for God.
Q: – During the communist regime, we have been [spiritually] poised by the slogan “new man”. Do you think we ended up with this “new man”?
Elder Justin: – You mean, in a materialistic sense? Maybe how the communists had imagine a man freed from the “bondage” of faith and of the Holy Spirit…! But a new man purified and renewed… not so.
But I want to speak more of the new man reborn in Christ, a man that’s quite rare in our present times. The renewal of man and of the world can happen only through the Resurrection of Christ, in its profound meaning. This is the new man, whom every mother preparing to bring babies into the world, must dream of modeling.
Q: – Einstein once said that “the progress made by man, compared with the development of his character, is enough to terrify …”
Elder Justin: – Yes… for a soul that’s at peace with itself can fit the whole world within; while in the soul that’s bitter, soured and distressed, nothing can enter…
Q: – How do you think man should be?
Elder Justin: – Man is – or should be! – Half love and half sacrifice, struggling to keep love undefiled.
Q: – A great thinker of the last century, Carl Gustav Jung said: “For a young man is almost a sin or at least a risk to be too much preoccupied with himself, while for the elder man, it is a duty and a necessity to commit to a more serious self study.” How do you see this?
Elder Justin: – At the end of this search man must find God. God made man in His own image, and God dwells in everyone. Young or old, man must clean up the inside of his being, for no one knows when the end comes…
Q: – Someone said that “in an empty mind, the devil finds shelter”…
Elder Justin: – He is speaking of the man who has the basket always full, for he cares for the wheat needed to be milled. And this wheat is our constant cry to God: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, save us.” If the enemy finds our mind wandering in useless things, he will enter and find shelter directing it at his pleasure (…)
Q: – Is there a question that man is rendered to never find the answer in this life?
Elder Justin: – It depends on what someone wants to know. Man has all the answers within himself. About his birth, his life and the meaning of his salvation. But if he wants to find answers to meaningless questions, then he will be constantly miserable. If he seeks answers to questions related to his faith, his purpose in life, he will find happiness.
Q:- Is doubting a sin for the Christian?
Elder Justin: – Yes, but there are “permitted” doubts. A doubt that you’re still alive after a fervent prayer, when your whole being had burned in prayer… This kind of doubt is allowed.
Q: – Father, what is humility?
Elder Justin: – Humility is a fair self-assessment of our human dimensions in relation to the [universe] infinite. Humility accompanied by patience move mounts, that’s how powerful can become for any Christian…
Q: – What is Golgotha [Calvary] for today’ Christian?
Elder Justin: – Man’ unbelief makes every day into a Golgotha.
Q: – Man today is more skeptical than fifty years ago? What can you say to encourage him to go forward, to cope with the trials of life?
Elder Justin: – Our modern man puts too much heart into trifles and details, is assaulted by a lot of false things and does not know how to choose. If you choose wisely, things will become easy and the life beautiful. If you choose wrongly, you are struggling. If you doubt that you have chosen well, your heart is also troubled. Our contemporary man has become too materialistic, a subject to the new tyrant: money. Everywhere we look, we hear that money is everything, the master of this world. He, who makes money his master, makes himself a servant to the devil.
Today, many dramas arouse not from differences in ideas, but from the battle with money, with all that is material. Man bought by it losses his faith and his values and becomes a mare currency.
Q: – How do you define the word happiness? … What advice would you give to Christians who come to you and say they are unhappy?
Elder Justin – Happiness is when you meet with the love of Christ humbly in prayer.
People understand happiness differently. Some who want much may not get it, and feel unhappy. While others may desire less, receive it and are content….
Q: – So happiness is at the measure of man…
Elder Justin: – Happiness is the faith that dwells in us. We have seen people that have many riches, great social positions and they’re still unhappy, because they lock faith!
Q” – There is a story in the Egyptian Paterikon: it happened that a wise elder once sat at the table with several brothers; as they were eating, the elder saw in the spirit how some ate honey, others bread, and some others dung. And the elder marveled and prayed to God, saying, “Lord, reveal to me this secret, how is that the same food is on the table before all, but they seem to eat different food.” And a voice came, saying, “They who eat honey are those who with fear, trembling and spiritual joy sit at the table and pray unceasingly so their prayers go up to God as incense. Those that eat bread give thanks to God for the food, and they who eat dung, are those who complain: “this is good, this is rotten”….
Elder Justin: – Yes, gratitude for what one has received is after all, a measure of man’ faith.
We need to pray with our hearts
• We must honored with much gratitude the sacrificial love of our martyrs.
• It is very important to know how to pray. And often, we monks in monasteries do not pray, but we just seem to be praying. It’s not enough to go to church and to sit there like you did your duty or obligation. We must insist on inner prayer. In vain we say many prayers with our mouth or our mind, if we do not sail deeply, if we do not live what we pray.
• In our times, even the laity need to deepen the Jesus prayer, as it will become our only salvation – prayer into the heart; the heart is the root of all passions and there we must labor. In the past we were able to go by in a more easy – superficial way, but for the times awaiting us, this will not be enough. If we will not have the prayer rotted in our hearts, we will not resist the psychological persecution awaiting us, because soon they will come with [hidden] methods to re-educate our minds. (the elder had the gift of prophesy/ clairvoyance, tr. note).
• Today I find that indifference [acedia] is the hardest sin. Our hearts no longer move in prayer, we have no tears of repentance. There will come a time when only those who feel the grace of the Spirit will be able to distinguish good from evil, for on its own, the human mind cannot discern. There will be times of great confusion and only the Holy Spirit can save us.
So, pray my beloved, pray so you may not enter into [temptation] deception! For only through prayer we can receive God’s grace. If we do not pray and continue in laziness and carelessness, then it is possible to lose the instinct of repentance. God forbid that we may not lose conscious!
(Translated by EC)
See also: The Repose of Elder Justin (Pârvu)
May our Lord rests his soul with His saints, Amen!
Father John of Santa Cruz – a novel figure of Orthodox Christianity –
martyred by the Satanists in 1985. Celebrated May 19.
(taken from the Holy Monastery of Pantokratoros website)
The Holy Martyr, Father John of Santa Cruz, was born in 1937 in the Greek village of Karastamatis from the Island of Andros. At the age of 20 years he leaves for America and later started a family. He is ordained priest and for 10 years he ministers with apostolic zeal many churches in Alaska.
In 1981, father John came to the Church of Prophet Elijah in Santa Cruz,CA which he restored and renewed. Under his ministry, this church is soon to become the center of Orthodox catechesis throughout this region where many people were alienated from God and the Church.
Father John was simple in conduct, loved his parishioners and his door was always open for everyone, even atmidnightif he was called. He preached with great fervor. Fr. John loved God and desired for everyone to love Him. He would go to parks and public streets to talk to young people who knew nothing about Christ or were Jews.
In his native village from theIslandofAndros, a miracle occurred involving the white lilies: considered to be the flowers of the Virgin Mary. When the lilies bloom, they get uprooted and are placed in the Church before the miraculous icon of the Mother of God. Later of course, the leaves and flowers wither and fall, leaving only a dry stem. The dry stalks, however, are left like this near the icon of the Virgin and during the Dormition fast, the lilies begin to sprout and flourish thus at the feast of the Dormition, the lilies are already blossomed. This phenomena is repeated each year.
Father John, when he was growing up on theislandofAndrosknew about this miracle. So he went to the Monastery of St Nicholas from the island and asked Abbot Dorotheos for few dried lilies. He took few dried stalks with him toAmericaand placed them in thechurchofSanta Cruzat the icon of the Blessed Virgin. The stalks have miraculously blossomed and flourished during the feast of Assumption. This miracle had strengthen the faith of many, to have more reverence to the Blessed Virgin.
Father John was a sensitive and beautiful soul. At the instruction of Elder Dorotheos, he wrote poems and religious hymns. He was deeply touched by the miracles of the Virgin and the lives of the saints.
As a small child, he loved to go to St. Nicholas monastery on theislandofAndros, saint whom he loved dearly. An icon of the Virgin from this monastery began to shed blood and myrrh and Father John began to talk about the miracles of Our Lady with greater divine zeal and many people of different faiths become Orthodox.
His preaching has angered some who began to threaten him by phone and letters, to cease preaching. But Father John became even more passionate about his ministry saying: “As long as my eyes have tears, I will preach Christ and Orthodoxy.”
He advised the faithful to guard themselves against the pitfalls of the Antichrist and not to take the mark. Then the telephone threats on his life become even more intense, but Father John did not worry for anything.
In the evening of May 17, 1985 he telephoned the Abbot Dorotheos and asked him about the miracles of the myrrh streaming icon of Blessed Virgin – Myrrhovlytissa, because he wanted to preach a sermon on her for the following Sunday.
The next day on May 18, Father John was at home alone with her son Photius. The presbytera (his wife) and their daughter Mary were away from home. The boy went out with his friends, and Father John left to the church to finish his sermon.
The boy returned home later that evening and seeing that his father was missing anxiously went to look for him at the Church.
There, the boy was faced with a terrible sight: his father was found on the floor slaughtered and unrecognizable… he had been hit in the head with a hammer and his whole body was butchered with knifes. As the police had later discovered, because father John didn’t die right away, the criminals took the cross he was wearing around the neck and hanged him with its chain. The blood poured from his wounds and flooded the floor of the Holy Shrine. The Satanists used his blood to write their slogans and the mark 666 on the walls of the Church. The blessed father John suffered martyrdom in the very place where he was photographed with the cross in his hand, almost prophesizing of what would follow.
Before his martyric death, three wonderful things had happened:
1. The blossoming lilies of the Virgin had wilted at once, one week before his martyrdom and they had never blossomed since.
2. The Icon of the Blessed Virgin wept, and her traces of tears can still be seen on her image.
3. On three consecutive Sundays before his martyrdom, during the Divine Liturgy, the boy while giving him warm water (to prepare the Holy Communion) saw a strange phenomenon, his father’ face was shining scattered in rays of light and darkness, but father John strictly told him not to reveal anything.
The police searched for the killers and found three people: a couple and the son of the man with another woman. They were priests and worshipers of Satan. They drank cobra venom while they were arrested and two of them died and the third: the young men lost his mind and could not testify.
Because Fr John face was disfigured, his relics could not be displayed at the funeral, his body was covered in father’ usual gold-vestments and the coffin sealed.
When Abbot Dorotheos learned about the martyrdom of Father John, wrote to his presbytera asking to send his priestly vestments when they celebrated together the feast of Saint Dorotheos at the Monastery in 1981. The time passed but he received no response from father John’s family.
On the eve July 4, at the monastery of St. Nicholas fromAndros, a athonite vigil was celebrated in honor of St. Athanasius ofMt.Athos and many pilgrims have come fromAthens. As the vigil was about to end, the monastery bells began to beat themselves as for a solemn feast. They stopped for awhile, but the bells started ringing again so harmoniously that everyone was astonished.
Seized with fear and awe, the faithful started to pray the paraclesis of St. Nicholas, waiting for a miracle to happen. That afternoon, elder Dorotheos got a call from Mary, the daughter of Father John, who had come specifically to the monastery baring the vestments of her father. She brought them into the monastery and were received with joy by all pilgrims. The bells were ringing in the monastery that morning exactly at the time when the ship entered the harbor caring the Martyr vestments.
The apparitions of blessed father John after his martyric death are many.
On the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, in 1986, abbot Dorotheos together with several women was preparing the necessary things for the monastery patronal feast. At one point, they saw the blessed father John walking through the monastery gardens and heading towards them. They all were frightened and began to shout: “Papa Iani!” Then he disappeared from their sight. Immediately after this to their surprise, came the postman with a package fromSwitzerland containing a wooden carved image (icon) with Father John, from some Russian believers that honored him as saint. Father John had asked that his icon may be spread to all Christians so they may learn about his martyrdom and of missionary work.
In February 1987, the abbot Dorotheos went toSwitzerlandfor a surgery. While talking to the faithful there, about Fr. John and his martyrdom, he appeared to them, he blessed them, then he disappeared from their sight.
Before his martyrdom, when Fr John served inAndroswith the abbot Dorotheos, he donated to the monastery his epitrahyllum (priest stole). Elder Dorotheos when he went toSwitzerland, took it with him a piece of the stole spreading ineffable aroma to those present.
In Orthodox America and the Russian Church Abroad, Fr. John is honored/venerated as a Saint by the faithful. A booklet with a service to the saint has been published. The events and details on Fr John’ martyrdom were provided to the abbot Dorotheos, by Fr. John’ daughter: Maria.
His memory is celebrated on May 19, on the eve of the feast of the translation of Saint Nicholas holy relics, because as a child Fr. John had great devotion to St. Nicholas.
His blessing be to all of us. Amen.
Translated from: “The OSIOS FILOTHEOS OF PAROS, NO 17, May-August 2006, Thessaloniki” by the blog author.
Source of the original text: http://www.impantokratoros.gr/84A7DC93.el.aspx
Valeriu Gafencu, blessed memory (59 years with the saints) !
Motto: “A man, as well as a people, has value to the degree to which he has understood the Gospel and can follow the teaching of Christ”
– scholar Simion Mehedinti
The following excerpt is taken from the book “The Saint of the Prison”
The Romanian people – situated, according to historical chronicles, “in the path of all evils” – were destined to pass through many trials. The latest was the worst: the Communist steamroller. This demonic ideology, nothing other than the religion of Satan on earth, as someone who passed through Communist prisons called it, claimed hundreds of thousands of victims among us. It did not succeed, however, in breaking those who, not wanting to lose their souls held steadfast with all their being to Christ. Enduring horrible suffering and finally dying at the hands of Communists, they acquired the crown of sainthood.
“Communism filled heaven with saints,” said Father Arsenie Papacioc. If one could somehow come to know all those of our people who passed the threshold of sainthood during the Communist persecution, he would also understand the words spoken in the 17th century by the holy Metropolitan Dosoftei of Moldavia:“Therefore also among the Romanians are many saints…. but no one has sought them out.” […]
Nevertheless, it would be of no small benefit to anyone to devote oneself to reading testimonies of those who passed through these prisons. In them, one would find such valuables which can rightly be compared to those found in a Paterikon or in the lives of the saints.
Among the many portraits of the confessors, one will be found in particular that is recalled with reverence by all and is considered a saint: Valeriu Gafencu. Nicknamed “the saint of the prisons” by Father Nicolae Steinhardt in a truly inspired moment, Valeriu Gafencu was one of the more impressive figures who lived an admirable spiritual life amidst prison conditions.
Through his sacrificial love springing from a perfect dedication of his life to Christ, he remains painted in the most luminous of colors in the hearts of those who knew him. Father Gheorghe Calciu wrote, “I have no doubt that he is a saint. He lived the word of God to such a level that it was incomprehensible for us.” […]
Devoting themselves to the prayer of Jesus, studying and learning texts from the Holy Scripture, the Philokalia, and other patristic writings, these prisoners were to form, in the Communist prisons, a philocalic way of life. United in their desire to sacrifice themselves for Christ, these monks in spirit – for as we shall see, they lived a high level of asceticism at Aiud – supported each other, preparing themselves for the difficult trials which were yet to come. […]
Looking back on these long and hard years of imprisonment, Elder Arsenie Papcioc sees them as a blessed opportunity for strengthening his faith. “There were no other means of preparation that could offer such possibilities for growing in one’s faith, for a spiritual deepening, for a living relationship with God as were offered by the tribulations of imprisonment. I bless that period of time. I spent years in the wilderness without coming upon the possibility to deepen my thoughts of eternity, of the divine nature; this possibility was accorded me by way of the torturous dailiness [of life in a Communist prison]. Suffering also united us. Those of us who succeeded in knowing each other on the cross, so to speak, remained united.”
These prisoners who were monks at heart, clothed the conditions of prison life in monastic garb.
“Prison created special conditions for you,” says Virgil Maxim. “Your cell became a sanctuary of prayer, of nourishment, an opportunity for ascesis, solitude, renunciation of the material goods and joys of life, an opportunity to live as paupers, in purity and chastity. The chronic uncertainty of our situation enabled us to put our trust in the will and providence of God. Obedience requires a superior – a father confessor – to whom one submits, and God also offered us this gift through the presence of our priests. We were also obedient to the program imposed by worldly authority, as an act of divine pedagogy, in which your will enters consciously in submission to the divine will.”
The Way of Blessedness
Weak in faith and spiritually impoverished by a lifestyle full of comforts, modern man understands only partially and not without difficulty the sufferings of those who endured life in prison. Many testimonies seem unbelievable to those of us who, as one poet has said, were not with them in the prison cell and do not know the life of darkness. We cannot imagine how they endured so much suffering. But what is even more difficult for us to understand, if not beyond our comprehension, is the nostalgia felt by prisoners when they look back at the time spent in prison.
“It is impossible for someone [free], outside of prison, to understand”, Father Gheorghe Calciu tells us.
“We [who were in prison] are [now] free and we are very happy that we are free, but we have a kind of nostalgia for prison. And we can’t explain it to anyone else. They say we’re crazy. How can you miss prison?
Because in prison I lived the most spiritual life. I attained to spiritual heights that I am not capable of reaching in freedom. Isolated, anchored in Jesus Christ, I had a joy and an enlightenment that the world cannot offer. I can’t find the words to express with precision the feeling that I had there. Those that did not live this experience cannot understand how we could be happy in prison.”
Valeriu Gafencu lived such happiness – beyond our understanding – in spite of suffering. Virgil Ioanid remembers how, on the road between two prisons, in a police van, laid low by tuberculosis, his cheeks bright red with fever, Valeriu spoke of “the happiness of suffering for Christ and of enduring, like the first martyrs, the persecution unleashed by the enemies of the faith.” Likewise, in a letter sent to his family, he confessed, “Today I am happy. Through Christ I love everyone.” […]
After arriving at Aiud, Valeriu lived under a harsh regime. For a long time, as he later confessed, he spent much time in isolation, being taken out for a walk only an hour and a half per day. The beginning was not at all easy. “And, dear Mama,” he said in a letter, “I’d like you to know that I suffered very much. During the first winter I would wake up at night and in the solitude of my cell, in cold and in hunger, I looked into the darkness and whispered quietly, so that only I would hear, but loud enough for God to hear, ‘Mama, I’m cold and I’m hungry.’ At the beginning it was very hard.”
The suffering was all the more oppressive because believing in his innocence, he didn’t understand his imprisonment. “From the very beginning, I wondered why I was locked up. In my former social life, in my relationships with people, I was considered a very good person, an example of moral conduct. If I entered into conflict with anybody, it was for the sake of Truth.”
In the midst of this spiritual grinding, he sought an answer in the books that were circulating in prison.
At the beginning, he studied and read very much, but soon his attention was drawn to Christianity, which appeared to him in its true light, in its spiritual intent. Valeriu dedicated himself to intense theological study, undertaking a careful examination of Orthodox spirituality. Among the books he read were the Paterikon, The Salvation of Sinners, The Lives of the Saints, Imitation of Christ. He read St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. John Damascene. He also studied Pascal, Bulgakov, Berdyaev, Papini, as well as all the courses offered at the School of Theology. His reading concentrated especially on Holy Scripture.
Spiritual books helped him see things more deeply and turn more toward his inner self. In the solitude of his cell he prayed very much, seeking to understand the meaning of suffering. After a time of tormenting unrest and struggle, he experienced through the grace of God a state of enlightenment in which he saw his soul full of sins.
“After a time of much uneasiness, after experiencing a great deal of pain, when the cup of suffering had filled up, there came a holy day, in June 1943, when I fell to the ground, on my knees, my head bent, my heart shattered, in a burst of tears. I prayed to God that He grant me light. At that point I had lost all faith in people. I realized perfectly well that I was in truth, but then why was I suffering? Within my zealous soul only love had remained. No one understood me.
“During this long period of weeping I began to do prostrations. And suddenly – O Lord! How great art thou, Lord! – I saw my soul full of sins, I found within myself the root of all the sins of mankind. Alas, so many sins, and the eyes of my soul, hardened by pride, had not seen them. How great is God!
“Seeing all my sins, I felt the need to shout them forth and cast them away from me. And a deep peace, a deep wave of light and love poured into my heart. As soon as the door opened, I left my cell and went to those whom I knew to love me and to those who hated me and to those who had most wronged me and I confessed to them openly, ‘I am the most sinful man. I do not deserve the trust of even the last among men. I am blessed!’
“Everyone was astounded. Some looked at me with disdain, others with indifference. Some looked at me with a love that they themselves could not have explained. A single person said to me, ‘You deserve to be kissed.’ But I fled quickly back to my cell, threw my head into my pillow and continued my weeping, thanking and glorifying God.”
This moment of enlightenment was a true rebirth for Valeriu. The most immediate benefit of the awareness of sins is the understanding of the meaning of suffering.
“Suffering, no matter how difficult it may be, has no other meaning than the cleansing of souls thirsting for salvation.”
[…] From day to day he created order in his soul, he became a new person, he accustomed himself to life in the Spirit in accordance with Christian teaching. His progress was harmonious, seeking to realize the new man. Through the grace of God, he went down the path of the most authentic Orthodox spirituality.
“When he was feeling better,” continues Ianolide, “Valeriu spoke beautifully and with fervor, focusing mainly on his favorite subject: interior purification and union with Christ.
“Through baptism, we received purifying grace, while being anointed with Holy Chrism, we have been adorned with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But this blessed internal state is ineffective within us, we are Christians in name only. We live in a world of confusion, of loose morals, of sin. It’s considered shameful to be a believer, and old-fashioned to be moral. The baptized man, in order to be saved, has to live all his life in the Holy Spirit, but we haven’t succeeded in doing this. We have believed, we have prayed, we have kept the faith, we have suffered, but in order to be united with Christ, one must purify oneself inwardly through confession and renew oneself through Holy Communion. Therefore unite yourself to Christ conscientiously and with great steadfastness, making yourself a bearer of His holiness, His power, His love, His light, His immortality. You must oppose sin mercilessly. Then you will be born anew. There is no path of compromise.’
Another time he said to us, “The teaching of Christ is so wonderful, so consummate, that if we understand it, we have the most powerful argument possible for the existence of God. When I had this revelation, I wept from pain and from happiness! Those who believe in Him must bear witness to this truth even if it means being martyred. Wasn’t the Son of God killed as an enemy of His people?’ […]
One day Valeriu was feeling so bad that we thought he was going to die. In addition to all the other illnesses he suffered from, he also developed acute appendicitis. He could have been left to die, but that would not have been ‘humanitarian.’ Humanitarianism is the hypocrisy of cruelty, it brings to light the poisonous and lamentable domain of the Communist revolution, with its slogans and beautiful vestments. So the doctor sent a report to prison administration so that he could be transported to the hospital in town for an operation.
The penitentiary agent came to him and said:
’Your life is in my hands. If you don’t have this operation, you will die.’
Valeriu smiled indulgently and answered:
‘If one man’s life depends on another, then this man indeed has great responsibility! But if everyone would realize that their lives depend on God, then everyone would value the life of his neighbor!’
’You’re crazy,’ the agent said to him, and sent him to the operating room under strict guard.
When he came back to the sanatorium, the agent said to him:
‘Look, you were face to face with death! You see, we wanted to show you that your life is in our hands. Maybe now you’ve changed your mind and
you’ll cooperate with us. We’ll give you streptomycin141! You’ll also get packages from your family. And you know what might happen later?… You’re an intelligent man and you could be useful to us. We know that you’re not interested in politics, but in religion, but isn’t the patriarch and all of his priests on our side now? Why don’t you join our side too? You have a lot to gain!’
’I thank you for allowing me to have an operation. From now on, my torments will go on even longer…. As for the rest, between you and me, there is a matter of conscience. For the sake of my spiritual freedom I have decided to die. It is good that the truth be told plainly, and I serve the truth. I am not the judge of others, but a confessor of God. There is nothing under the sun that can survive without God. You cannot accept Christ. I cannot accept spiritual death.’
’I told you already that you are crazy!’ shouted the agent. ‘I’m going to file a report. You are a reactionary, a fascist, an enemy of the people, in the service of American bandits! We know how to deal with people like you! You’re only fit to die! Go and die with your Christ! I won’t try to stop either Him or somebody like you!’
’You can kill me now, but no one can kill Him any longer. He is a stumbling block for all kinds of pride. Understand well that Christ is the only power that can deliver mankind from suffering and sin.’
’Give up all this nonsense. The truth is on our side!’
’The truth is love that sacrifices itself for the poor and the persecuted!’
’Look here, you’re staring death straight in the face and you’re giving me mystical sermons?! You want to convince me too? See, now you’ve gone too far! You’ve spread yourself too thin.’
Valeriu struggled to keep looking at him, because his eyelids had grown heavy. He felt worn out physically, but an internal joy compelled him to speak about faith in order to leave an eternal testimony. The smile of his measureless love blossomed on his cheeks. He prayed in secret for this unhappy man and for God to deliver the world from leaders like him.
The agent was confused, muddled. He swore a blue streak and then ordered that Valeriu be taken back to his room. […]
I Saw the Mother of God
During the night of his last Christmas, toward dawn, Valeriu testified to his friend Ioan Ianolide:
“This night, I kept vigil. I was waiting for my carol to come. I wanted it to be very beautiful. I sang it in my head. I heard it in the high heavens, from where it descended. Rather difficult for me, since I don’t know musical notes and I have to sing by ear. So I was awake, lucid and serene, when, all of a sudden, I noticed a photograph of Seta – the girl he had loved – in my hand. Amazed by this, I lifted my gaze and at the head of my bed I saw the Mother of God, clothed in white, vivid, real. She was without her child. Her presence seemed material to me. The Mother of God was actually beside me. I was happy. I forgot everything. Time seemed endless. Then she said to me:
‘I am your love! Don’t be afraid. Don’t doubt. My Son will be victorious. He has sanctified this place now for future life. The powers of darkness are growing and will frighten the world still more, but they will be scattered. My Son is waiting for people to return to the faith. Today, the sons of darkness are bolder than the sons of light. Even though it may seem to you that there is no more faith left on earth, nevertheless, know that deliverance will come, albeit through fire and devastation. The world still has to suffer. Here, however, there is still much faith and I have come to encourage you. Be bold, the world belongs to Christ!’
“Then the Mother of God disappeared and I remained overwhelmed with happiness. I looked at my hand, but the photograph was no longer there.” […]
Not long afterward, he related to Ianolide:
’Late last night I was praying. I felt comforted by the grace of God and I secretly rejoiced in the gift that I had been given. I was awake, conscious, and happy. Suddenly I felt that something odd was happening to me, something apart from my own will. Beginning with the extremities of my body, my soul began to desert me. Not only was I not afraid, but I knew that I was not dying, and the more my soul left my body, the more my interior life grew. My soul ascended easily toward my chest, toward my neck, toward my head. I felt happy, pure, illuminated by a holy light. My mind has never been as lucid as it was then. I knew that the Lord was with me. I was happy to be in His power. Time seemed to expand. I no longer felt pain in my body. I looked at my body without wanting it or rejecting it. Life and matter seemed to me to be miracles. My soul quickly drew up to my mouth and left my body. I realized then that I could go anywhere I wanted without being obstructed by matter. It was wonderful! An unspeakable joy overwhelmed me. My first thought was to go see my family, but I remembered the Fathers in the Paterikon that counsel you not to entrust yourself to the workings of spirits unless you are under obedience, lest the devil deceive you and you be lost. The thought appeared in my mind of the old hermit to whom the devil appeared as an angel of light. The old man had departed from his obedience to the abbot and the monastery and he considered himself guided by God Himself and thought that the others were jealous of him. Then the ‘angel’ came to him and told him to call all the brothers to the well in the courtyard of the monastery in order that the power of God be shown to them. They went to the well in the middle of the night. The bright angel appeared and, entering the well, said to the hermit, ‘Throw yourself into the well and I will pull you out unhurt in front of everyone so that they may see that you are a saint.’ The old man threw himself in and died like a wretch. Reminding myself of this, I was careful not to fall into temptation and I decided to return to my body. Now, you see, I submit to obedience. Tell me what to do and I will do it!’ […]
A letter from Aiud (29 January 1946), Valeriu sent to his family
“Life is something other than what people imagine. Man himself is something other than what he imagines himself to be. The Truth is something other than what the human mind imagines. I want to be sincere and open, down to the deepest fibers of my soul. From the very moment in which I first set foot in prison, I wondered why I was locked up. In the realm of social life, regarding my relations with the world in which I lived, I was always considered to be someone very good, an example of moral conduct. If I entered into conflict with anyone, it was only for the sake of Truth. After much struggle and unrest, after much pain, when the cup of suffering had filled up, there came a holy day, in June 1943, when I fell to the ground, on my knees, my forehead to the floor, my heart crushed, in an outburst of tears. I asked God to grant me light. On that day, I had lost all confidence in Man. I realized perfectly well that I was in truth, so why then was I suffering? In all my soul full of spirited self-assurance there had remained only love. No one understood me.
In my prolonged weeping I started to do prostrations. And suddenly – O, Lord! How great art Thou, O Lord! – I saw my entire soul filled with sins. I found within myself the root of all human sins. Oh, so many sins, and the eyes of my soul hardened by pride had not seen them! How great is God! Seeing all my sins, I felt the need to shout them out loud, to cast them away from me. And a deep peace, a deep wave of light and love poured into my heart. As soon as the door opened, I left my cell and I went to those whom I knew loved me the most and to those who hated me and had sinned the most against me and I confessed to them openly and plainly, “I am the most sinful man. I don’t deserve the trust of even the lowliest of men. I am blessed!” Everyone was dumbfounded. Some of them looked at me with contempt, others with indifference, and some looked at me with a love that they themselves would not have been able to explain. Only one single person said to me, “You deserve to be kissed!” But I fled back quickly to my cell, buried my head in my pillow and continued weeping while thanking and glorifying God.
On that day, I began a conscientious struggle with sin. If you could only know how difficult the war with sin is! I want you to know that I struggled very much with sin not only here, but also when I was free. [Here he testifies that, although he was tempted physically, he did not fall, but remained pure.] In prison, I examined my soul and I realized that, even though I had not sinned in deed, I had sinned in word and especially in thought. After a deep examination of conscience, I went to a priest and confessed. My confession unburdened me. And I carry on a continuous struggle. The struggle does not cease with death. Without repentance no one can take even one step forward. Anyone who flees from the reality of his own soul is a liar. What is life? It is a gift from God that is given to us in order to purify our souls from sin and to prepare ourselves, through Christ, to receive eternal life. What is Man? A being created through the limitless love of God and to whom God gave the choice between holiness and death. Be very careful! In social life, people regard each other and judge each other not according to what they are in essence, but according to what they seem to be in form. Have no illusions about Man – anyone who does will suffer bitterly – but love Him. Only one is perfect, only one is good, only one is pure: Christ-God! And now: What is the Truth? The Truth is Christ, the Word of God. Seek to draw near to Christ sincerely and leave the world and its sins in peace!”
(To be continued)
Please see also:
written by Valeriu while imprisoned…