Friday, August 19, 2011

Feast of the Sunoyo (Dormition) of the Theotokos

“At the Assumption this fullness of deification – this purity and inner glory of soul- was made outwardly manifest in her body, which was received into heaven: that is to say (for heaven is not a geographical area), her body was made fully ‘spiritual’. Man, so the Bible teaches, is not a soul imprisoned in a body, but a unity of body and soul; the body is to be redeemed and deified as well as the soul. All Christian saints, therefore, await the resurrection from the dead, when their bodies will rise again, transfigured and glorified. What has happened in our Lady’s case is simply this: because of her outstanding purity and holiness, this bodily resurrection has been anticipated. By God’s special decree she had passed beyond death and judgment and lives already in the age to come, thus constituting (with her Son) the first fruits of the transfigured creation. Yet she is not separate by her Assumption for the rest of the human race, for every Christian, by virtue of his baptism, lives already in some degree in the age to come; and that same bodily glory with the Mother of God already enjoys, all of us hope one day to share.”

Metropolitan Kallistos Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Ethos: Studies in Orthodoxy, Vol. 1, p. 148.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How An Atheist Came To Believe in the Resurrection

Investigating Easter

By Lee Strobel

I saw plenty of dead bodies as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, but I've never seen anyone come back to life. That was the stuff of mythology and legend. After all, we live in a scientific age. Belief in a resurrection was simply untenable.

At least, that's what I thought until I checked the facts for myself. Using my legal training, I investigated the most audacious claim of history: that Jesus of Nazareth returned from the dead and thus authenticated his claim to being the Son of God.

After nearly two years of research, I found my atheism cracking. Here's some of what I discovered:

First, there's overwhelming evidence Jesus was executed. In addition to multiple, early, independent confirmation in the New Testament documents (which, incidentally, I gave no special treatment), there are also five sources outside the Bible. Even atheist historian Gerd Lüdemann called Jesus' death by crucifixion "indisputable."

Second, we have resurrection accounts that date back so early they can't be legendary - because legends take time to develop. A.N. Sherwin-White, the great classical historian from Oxford, said the passage of two generations was not even enough time for legend to grow up in the ancient world and wipe out a solid core of historical truth.

Yet we have a creed of the early church, recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, that confirms Jesus died, was buried, rose and appeared to named eyewitnesses, including skeptics. Scholars from a wide range of theological belief have dated this creed to within a few years of Jesus' death - and therefore its underlying beliefs go back even further. It's like a historical news flash!

Concluded eminent scholar James D. G. Dunne: "This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus' death." It would be unprecedented for a legend to develop that fast and wipe out a solid core of historical truth.

Third, there's the empty tomb, which is implicit in the early creed and reported in the earliest Gospel.

Scholar William Lane Craig points out that the site of Jesus' tomb was known to Christians and non-Christians alike. If it weren't empty, it would have been impossible for a movement founded on the resurrection to have exploded into existence in the same city where Jesus had been publicly executed and buried just a few weeks earlier.

Moreover, the empty tomb was implicitly admitted in the early claim that the disciples had stolen the body. Why would Jesus' opponents manufacture such a cover story unless they were trying to explain away the inconvenient truth that the tomb was empty?

Nobody had a motive for stealing the body, especially the disciples. They wouldn't have knowingly and willingly allowed themselves to be tortured to death for a lie.

Finally, scholars Gary Habermas and Michael Licona have enumerated nine sources reporting the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples:

• Paul confirms Jesus appeared to him, and then Paul met with the apostles and they agreed their teaching about the resurrection was the same as his.

• The early creed confirms the disciples (plus 500 others!) encountered the risen Jesus; indeed, many scholars believe two eyewitnesses cited in the creed, Peter and James, were the ones who gave the creed to Paul.

• Peter declared to a crowd in Jerusalem just weeks after Jesus' execution that "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it." Three thousand people agreed and the church was born.

• Matthew, Mark, Luke and John independently confirm his post-resurrection appearances. These first-century, eyewitness-rooted Gospels have regained respect in recent years. Scholar Craig Evans, who has lectured at Oxford and Cambridge, said that "there's every reason to conclude the Gospels have fairly and accurately reported the essential elements" of Jesus' resurrection.

• Early church leaders Clement and Polycarp were taught by the apostles. Clement said the apostles had "complete certainty" about the resurrection; Polycarp repeatedly confirmed the resurrection.

So convinced were the disciples that they were willing to die for their conviction that Jesus had risen -- not because they had faith in it, but because they were in the unique position to know for sure that it was true.

Even atheist Lüdemann conceded: "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ."

He would claim these were hallucinations or visions, yet I don't find that credible. Hallucinations occur in our brains, like dreams. People can't share hallucinations, yet Jesus appeared to groups three different times.

Were these visions by grieving disciples? This wouldn't explain the conversion of Saul, an opponent of Christians, or James, a skeptic. Neither was primed for a vision, yet each died proclaiming Jesus had appeared to him. Besides, if these were visions, the body would still have been entombed.

My books analyze objections that many skeptics, including myself, have raised. None, in my view, overcome the affirmative evidence. So I reached the verdict that the resurrection really happened - and that's why I'm celebrating my 29th Easter as a follower of Jesus.

Lee Strobel, author of the bestselling "Case" series has created the new resources "The Case for the Resurrection" and "The Case for Christ Study Bible."

Wise Lessons From Saint Moses the Ethiopian

1. A devout prince, upon hearing of the mortification of St. Moses, went with his retinue into the desert to see him. Informing Moses that the prince was coming to his monastery, Moses quickly ran out and began to flee and to hide somewhere, but he unexpectedly encountered the high-ranking visitors. "Where is the cell of Abba Moses?" the servants of the prince asked not suspecting that this was Moses himself. Moses opened his mouth and said: "What do you want him for? He is an ignorant old man, very untruthful and completely impure in life." Hearing this, the visitors were astonished and continued on. When they arrived at the cell of Moses, they inquired about the elder and the monks said that he was not there. Then they began to relate what a monk on the road had said about Moses. The monks were saddened and asked them: "How did he look, this old man, who spoke to you mocking words about this holy man?" And when they said that he was very dark in the face, tall and in a miserable garment, the monks cried out loudly: "But that was indeed the Abba Moses!" By this incident, the prince benefited greatly spiritually and joyfully returned to his home.

2. Abba Moses said to Abba Poemen, and the first word which was spoken by the old man was: “It is better for a man to put himself to death rather than his neighbour, and he should not condemn him in anything.”

3. “It is good for a man to die unto every work which is evil, and he should not vex a man before his departure from the body.”

4. “If a man doth not put himself in the attitude of a sinner, his prayer will not be heard before God.” A brother said unto him, “What is a sinful soul?” And the old man said, “Every one who beareth his own sins, and considereth not [those] of his companion.”

5. Abba Moses used to say, “Secret withdrawal [from work] maketh dark the mind, but for a man to endure and to persevere in his works maketh light the mind in our Lord, and it strengtheneth and fortifieth the soul.”

6. And he used to say also, “Bear disgrace and affliction in the Name of Jesus with humility and a troubled heart; and shew before Him thy feebleness, and He will become unto thee might.”

7. St. Moses knew how fasting helped in his early spiritual combats. He used to say, “These four lead to fornication: eating and drinking, oversleeping, negligence and decoration of clothes.”

8. “If you want to repent to God, beware of living in luxury, for this stimulates all passions and dispels the fear of God from the heart.”

9. “Control of the body diminishes the effects of other desires. Desire of food awakens the passions and emotions; they are controlled by fasting.”

10. A brother went to Abba Moses and asked him for a word of advice. The old man said to him, “Go, and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”

11. Of his other sayings, “Discourse with men of the world and mixing with them darken the soul and make her forget contemplation.”

12. The Elder (St. Moses) also said: “If the deeds do not match the prayer, the prayer is of no use!” The brother asked him: “How can the deeds be suitable for the prayers?” The Elder said:”One who prays for the forgiveness of his sins should thereon be alert because when one surrenders his will, God accepts him indeed!”

13. "So, our way my dear friend is to put forth the maximum effort, in the short time we have on earth, to correct and purify our deeds from all evil hoping to gain salvation by the grace of God from the hands of the devils who are anxious to meet us, especially if any of their works are in us, because they are evil and show no mercy. So, blessed is the soul that is free from them, it will be pleased and her pleasure is great."

14. "For this reason, my dear friend, we have to strive with tears so that the Lord may in his kindness have mercy on us. Because those who sow with tears reap with gladness.

Let us possess the desire to be with God, because those who desire God protect themselves from the desire to commit adultery. And those who desire meekness protect themselves from the love of silver (money).

Let us desire peace to protect ourselves from hatred.

Let us posses patience and long suffering because it will protect us from pettiness of the soul.

Let us posses pure love for everyone to protect us from envy and jealousy.

Let us be humble in every act and every deed.

Let us tolerate being cursed and teased to rid ourselves of pride.

Let us be kind to all our neighbors to avoid condemnation.

Let us reject the glories of the world and its honors to avoid false pride.

Let us use the tongue to glorify God and to protect ourselves from lying.

Let us love the purity of the heart to be saved from corruption, because all of these things surround the soul and follow it when it leaves the flesh.

So, if anyone is wise and works with wisdom, he should not give his deposit (surrender the soul) without having the good deeds that will help him go through the difficulty. So, let us use great care as much as we can and the Lord will help our weaknesses. Because the door of forgiveness is always open to those who repent as long as we are in the flesh."

Apolytikion in the First Tone

Thou didst prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker, O Moses, our God-bearing Father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts, and thou healest the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that hath given thee strength. Glory to Him that hath crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.

Kontakion in the Third Tone

O all-blest and righteous Father Moses, thou didst drive away the passions' darkness, being richly illumined with light divine; and with thy vigilant prayers, thou didst wither up the wanton pride of the flesh, and didst mount on high to the citadel above, where do thou continually entreat Christ God to grant great mercy unto us.

'The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity'

The 2-volume, The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity edited by John Anthony McGuckin has been published.

"This is a monumental Encyclopedia, in both breadth and depth. It is sure to become a standard reference work for generations to come." — V. Rev. Dr. John Behr, Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

With a combination of essay-length and short entries written by a team of leading religious experts, the two-volume Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodoxy offers the most comprehensive guide to the cultural and intellectual world of Eastern Orthodox Christianity available in English today.

* An outstanding reference work providing the first English language multi-volume account of the key historical, liturgical, doctrinal features of Eastern Orthodoxy, including the Non-Chalcedonian churches
* Explores of the major traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy in detail, including the Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopic, Slavic, Romanian, Indian and Syriac churches
* Uniquely comprehensive, it is edited by one of the leading scholars in the field and provides authoritative but accessible articles by a range of top international academics and Orthodox figures
* Spans the period from Late Antiquity to the present, encompassing subjects including history, theology, liturgy, monasticism, sacramentology, canon law, philosophy, folk culture, architecture, archaeology, martyrology, hagiography, all alongside a large and generously detailed prosopography
* Structured alphabetically and topically cross-indexed, with entries ranging from 100 to 6,000 words
* I (Tenny Thomas) got an opportunity to contribute to this Encyclopedia. Six entries - Confession, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Monasticism, Nestorianism, St. John Chrysostom and Vestments were part of my contribution.

The Orthodox churches are extensive families of ancient Christianity that derive from apostolic times and took much of their external shape in the Byzantine era. Today they are reemerging after generations of suppression and state persecution in eastern Europe, and now have a growing presence in Western Europe. Their voice is that of the largest single block of world Christians after contemporary Roman Catholics, but it is a voice, so far, largely unheard in the West. This Encyclopedia will serve as a voice for the Orthodox World.

The Encyclopedia is structured alphabetically and is topically cross-indexed, combining essay-length articles and brief, informative notations on hundreds of topics central to the history and theology of Eastern Orthodoxy. This invaluable new work will appeal to both academic and ecclesiastical groups, and represents a major resource for anyone interested in exploring the full breadth of topics surrounding the Eastern Christian world.

About the Author:

John Anthony McGuckin is Nielsen Professor of Early Church History at Union Theological Seminary, and Professor of Byzantine Christian Studies at Columbia University in New York. A Stavrofor priest of the Romanian Orthodox Church in America, Professor McGuckin is the author of more than twenty books on religious and historical themes, including The Orthodox Church (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), and is widely considered one of the leading experts on Early Christian and Eastern Orthodox traditions writing today.

Why The Lord Permits Assaults On The Church

Why does the good Lord permit assaults and sufferings on the True Faith while He permits the pleasure of tranquility to heresies and paganism? - St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Why? Even St. John Chrysostom asks and immediately replies: "So that you would recognize their weakness (the weakness of the heresies and paganism) when you see that they disintegrate on their own without any disturbance and also to be convinced in the power of faith which endures misfortunes and even multiplies through its adversaries." "Therefore, if we quarrel with the pagans or with the wretched Jews, it is sufficient to emphasize as evidence of divine power that the Faith (Christianity) which was subjected to countless struggles maintained victory" even when the entire world stood against her [the Church].

St. Isaac the Syrian says: "The wondrous love of God toward man is recognized when man is in misfortunes that are destroying his hope. Here, God manifests His power for his [man's] salvation. For man never recognizes the power of God in tranquility and freedom."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Life of Saint John the Damascene

St. John of Damascus (Feast Day - December 4)

By St. Dimitri Rostov

Our venerable father John was born in the great city of Damascus in Syria to noble, pious parents whose ardent faith in Christ, tested by temptations, was more precious than gold tried by fire. They lived in perilous times, for the Saracens had conquered that land and taken the city, bringing terrible calamity upon the Christians. Some they slew, others they sold into slavery, and they permitted no one to confess Christ publicly. John’s parents, however, guarded by providence, remained unharmed, and their property was left untouched. They held fast to the holy faith, and God granted them to win the favor of the Saracens, as once Joseph had won the favor of the Egyptians, and Daniel of the Babylonians. Thus the impious Hagarenes did not forbid the saint’s parents to believe in Christ or to glorify His name. John’s father was appointed magistrate of the city and commissioner of public buildings. Enjoying as he did the rulers’ trust, he was able to benefit his Christian brethren greatly, ransoming captives, setting free the fettered and imprisoned, commuting the sentences of those condemned to death, and extending a helping hand to all the suffering. John’s parents shone amid the Hagarenes of Damascus like beacons in the night, or embers glowing among ashes. They were preserved by God, as was the holy line of David in Israel, because the Lord had chosen them to be the parents of a son who would be manifested as a brilliant light illumining the whole world.

Although the Moslems forbade anyone to be born of water and the Spirit, John’s parents, eager to make him a child of light, did not hesitate to have him baptized. As the child (the namesake of grace) grew, his father was careful to rear him well: not teaching him the customs of the Saracens, nor the military arts, nor how to hunt game, nor worldly learning of any sort, but meekness, humility, and the fear of God, acquainting him also with the divine Scriptures. Moreover, he prayed God fervently that He send a wise and devout teacher who would instruct his son more perfectly in the virtues. God heard his prayer and granted him his desire in the following manner.

The barbarians living in Damascus made frequent raids by land and sea against other countries, taking Christians captive to their city, some to be sold into slavery in the markets, others to be put to the sword without mercy. Once they happened to capture a monk from Italy named Cosmas, a man of noble appearance and even greater nobility of soul. As Cosmas was being offered for sale in the market with other captives, those who were to be put to death fell at his feet, tearfully beseeching him to pray to God for their souls. Seeing the honor in which he was held by those going to their death, the Saracens asked Cosmas what rank he held among the Christians in his homeland. To this he replied, "I held no rank and was never counted worthy of the priesthood. I am only a sinful monk, although one schooled in philosophy, both Christian and pagan." Then, he began to weep, shedding bitter tears.

Not far off stood John’s father, who recognized the elder as a monk by his clothing. Wishing to console him, he approached and said, "Why, O man of God, do you weep? Is it because you have lost your earthly freedom? But your garb proclaims that long ago you renounced the world and died to it."

"I do not weep because I have lost my freedom," answered the monk. "I died to the world long ago, as you say, and care nothing for it. I know well that there is another life, one better than this, immortal and everlasting, prepared for the Lord’s servants, which I hope to inherit by the grace of Christ my God. I lament because I shall depart this life childless, without an heir."

John’s father said in astonishment, "You are a monk, Father, and have consecrated yourself to God, vowing to preserve your chastity. You are not permitted to beget children. You should not grieve over this."

"You do not understand my words, sir," answered the monk. "I do not speak of sons according to the flesh or of a material inheritance, but of things spiritual. It is clear that I own nothing; nevertheless, I possess a great wealth of knowledge, which I have labored hard from my youth to acquire. With God’s help I have mastered every worldly science, including rhetoric and dialectic, the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, geometry, and the theory of music. I have acquainted myself thoroughly with the movements of the heavenly bodies and the courses of the stars, so that through the beauty of creation I might come to a clearer understanding of the wise Creator. Finally, I have learned well the mysteries of Orthodoxy as expounded by the Greek and Roman theologians. Yet while I possess such knowledge myself, I have failed to hand it on to another. Now there is no longer any possibility for me to teach what I have learned. I have no disciple, and little time remains to me, for I am certain that I shall die here by the sword of the Hagarenes. Then I will appear before the Lord and be likened to the tree that brought forth no fruit and the servant that buried his master’s talent in the ground. This is why I weep and lament. Like a married man who has no son, I leave no spiritual heir to inherit the wealth of my knowledge."

John’s father rejoiced when he heard this, because he was certain he had found the treasure for which he had sought so long. He comforted the elder, "Do not sorrow, Father; for God may yet grant you the desire of your heart." Thereupon he hastened to the Caliph of the Saracens, and falling at his feet, earnestly begged to be given the captive monk. The Caliph did not refuse him, and John’s father happily took the ruler’s precious gift, the blessed Cosmas, to his home, where he offered him hospitality and the opportunity to rest. He sought to console the monk, who had suffered much at the hands of the Moslems, saying, "Father, my house is yours, and I wish you to share in all my joys and sorrows." He added, "God has not only granted you freedom, but the desire of your heart as well." Then he presented his two sons and said, "I have two children, my son John and this boy who, like you, bears the name Cosmas. He was born in Jerusalem and orphaned while still a babe, and I adopted him. I pray you, Father, instruct them in the sciences and in good conduct, teaching them every virtue. They shall be your spiritual children, begotten anew by your teaching. Rear them and make them heirs of your spiritual riches, a wealth that no one can steal."

The blessed elder Cosmas rejoiced and glorified God, and began to instruct both youths with all diligence. Since the boys were intelligent, they progressed rapidly in their studies. Like an eagle soaring through the air, John attained the understanding of lofty mysteries, while Cosmas, his spiritual brother, in a short time plumbed the depths of wisdom, quickly crossing the sea of learning like a boat driven by a favorable wind. Studying assiduously, like Pythagoras and Diophanes, they mastered grammar, dialectic, philosophy, and arithmetic. So profound was their understanding of geometry, that they might well have been termed new Euclids. The ecclesiastical hymns and verses they composed testify to their skill in poetry. They were also well acquainted with astronomy and the mysteries of theology. Besides tutoring them in all these subjects, their teacher instructed them in good morals and the life of virtue. In a word, both acquired perfect understanding of spiritual and external wisdom, especially John, who caused his teacher to marvel. John surpassed even his tutor in certain fields of knowledge, becoming a great theologian, a fact to which his divinely inspired and wise books attest. Nevertheless, he did not become proud because of his learning: like a fruitful tree that bends lower to the ground as it becomes more heavily laden with fruit, so the blessed lover of wisdom, John, thought less and less of himself in his heart the more he excelled in his studies. He knew how to extinguish the vain imaginations and passionate thoughts of youth, and kindled within his soul, radiant with spiritual wisdom, the fire of divine desire so that it shone like a lamp full of oil.

One day, the teacher Cosmas said to John’s father, "My lord, your desire has been fulfilled. Your children have studied well, surpassing me in knowledge. Thanks to good memories and diligent toil, they have sounded the depths of wisdom. God has granted increase to the gifts bestowed on them, and they can learn nothing more from me. Indeed, they are ready to teach others. Therefore I pray you, my lord, grant me leave to depart for a monastery, where I may become a disciple to monks who have achieved perfection and can instruct me in higher wisdom. The external wisdom I have mastered leads me on to spiritual philosophy, a wisdom purer and more honorable than any worldly science, for it profits the soul and leads it to salvation."

John’s father was grieved at this, because he was loath to part with such a wise and worthy instructor. He did not, however, dare prevent the elder from doing as he wished, or give him cause for sorrow. Rewarding him handsomely, he permitted him to depart in peace. Cosmas took up his abode in the Lavra of Saint Sabbas, where he remained, leading the life of virtue until the day of his departure unto God, the most perfect Wisdom.

Some time later, John’s father also died in great old age. The Caliph summoned John, wishing to make him his chief counselor, but John declined, having another desire: to labor for the Lord in silence. Nevertheless, he was forced to accept the position and was charged with even greater authority in the city of Damascus than his father had enjoyed.

At that time Leo the Isaurian reigned over the Greek Empire. He rose up against the Church of God like a roaring lion, casting the holy icons out of the Lord’s churches, committing them to flames, and mercilessly destroying those who venerated them. Hearing of this, John was aroused with zeal for piety like Elijah the Tishbite and Christ’s Forerunner. He took up the sword of the word of God and hewed down the heretical arguments of the inhuman Emperor, writing many epistles in defense of the holy icons. These he circulated among the Orthodox, wisely demonstrating from the ancient traditions of the God-bearing Fathers that it is fitting to honor the sacred images. He asked his readers to show the letters to other Orthodox brethren and confirm them in the faith. Thus the blessed John traveled the whole world, not on foot, but by means of his divinely inspired letters, which were read everywhere in the Greek Empire, confirming the Orthodox in piety and flailing the heretics as if with a goad. Word of this reached the impious Emperor Leo himself, who, unable to endure this denunciation of his ungodliness, summoned other heretics who shared his opinions and ordered them to inquire among the Orthodox for a copy of a letter written by John in his own hand. If one of the Emperor’s agents should find such a letter, he was to take it on the pretext that he wished to read it. After much effort a letter written by John himself was found and brought directly to the Emperor. He in turn gave it to skilled scribes, commanding them to copy the handwriting and write a letter purporting to be a message to him from John. The forged letter read as follows: "Hail, O Emperor! In the name of our common faith I rejoice in your might, rendering due homage to your Imperial Majesty. I wish to make known to you that our city of Damascus, which is held by the Saracens, is poorly defended by them with a weak and paltry guard; therefore I entreat you for God’s sake to show compassion and send your brave army to our rescue. If it appears to be headed elsewhere, and then suddenly falls upon Damascus, the city can be taken under your rule without difficulty. I will do much to assist you in this, for the city and this entire country are under my administration."

Next the devious Emperor ordered that a letter from himself to the Saracen Caliph be composed. This letter read: "Nothing, I believe, is more blessed than to live in amity and enjoy friendly relations with one’s neighbors, for to keep a vow of peace is a thing most praiseworthy and pleasing to God. Truly, I desire ever to keep the peace I have concluded with you, honorably and faithfully. However, a notable Christian living in your domain often sends me letters urging me to attack you without warning and promises to deliver the city of Damascus into my hands without a great battle, if only I should come against it with my army. As a token of my friendship and so that you may know the truth of what I write, I am sending you one of the letters penned by that Christian. Thus informed of his audacious treachery, you will know how to reward him."

The Emperor sent both letters to the Caliph. After reading them, the barbarian Prince summoned John and showed him the forged letter he had supposedly written. John examined it carefully, saying, "The handwriting is similar to mine, but it was not me who wrote it. It has never entered my mind to write the Greek Emperor or to deal falsely with my master!"

John understood at once that this was a plot of the malicious and cunning heretics, but the Caliph raged with anger and commanded that John’s right hand be cut off. John begged the ruler to allow him to explain the reason for the evil Emperor’s hatred toward him and to give him a little time to establish his innocence, but this was refused. The Caliph would permit no delay, so John’s right hand, which had so greatly strengthened the Orthodox and assisted them in remaining faithful to God, was severed. That hand which had censured most forcefully those who hated the Lord was now stained, not with ink from the pen employed to defend the holy icons, but with its own blood.

After the amputation John’s hand was hung aloft in the city market, and the saint, weak from pain and the loss of much blood, was returned to his home. Just before darkness fell, the blessed one was told that the Caliph’s wrath had abated; whereupon John sent him this request: "My pain continues to increase, giving me indescribable torment. Permit my hand to be returned from the market, my lord, that I may bury it and so assuage my pain."

The Caliph granted the request, and when the hand was brought, John entered his prayer-room and fell to the floor before his icon of the most pure Theotokos. Pressing the severed hand to his wrist, he sighed and wept, praying from the depths of his heart: "O Lady, most pure Mistress and Mother of God, behold: my right hand hath been cut off for the sake of the divine icons by the tyrant Leo! Whatsoever thou willest, thou canst accomplish, for through thy holy prayers, the right hand of the Most High, Who was incarnate of thee, worketh numerous miracles; wherefore, come quickly to mine aid, that He may heal my hand by thine intercession, O Theotokos. May I again be permitted to defend the Orthodox faith; may my hand write once more in praise of thee and thy Son!"

With this John fell asleep and beheld in a dream the most pure Theotokos looking down upon him from the icon with warm, compassionate eyes. She said, "Your hand has been restored. Do not be troubled any longer, but return to your work and labor diligently, like a swiftly writing scribe, even as you promised me."

John arose from sleep, felt his right hand, and realized that it had indeed been healed. His spirit rejoiced in God his Saviour and in the Lord’s most pure Mother, who had done such a great thing for him. He rejoiced throughout the night with all his household, chanting a new hymn: "Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power. Thy right hand hath healed my severed hand and crushed Thine enemies, who do not revere Thy precious image or that of Thy most pure Mother. It shall destroy those who destroy the icons, and multiply Thy glory!"

John’s neighbors heard him and the others chanting songs of gladness and thanksgiving, and learning the reason for their joy, marveled greatly. It was not long before the Caliph learned of it as well. He summoned John and ordered him to display his severed hand. Around John’s right wrist was a mark like a red thread, which the Mother of God had allowed to remain as testimony to the fact that his hand truly had been cut off. Seeing this, the Caliph asked John what physician had rejoined the hand to his wrist, and what treatment had been used to heal it. John did not hesitate to proclaim boldly, "It was my Lord, the almighty Physician, Who healed me! He hearkened unto my earnest supplication, offered through His most pure Mother, and restored the hand that you cut off."

"Woe is me!" lamented the Caliph. "I condemned you, a good man, unjustly, without investigating the accusation made against you. I beseech you to forgive me for passing judgment so hastily and foolishly. Agree to accept your former rank of chief counselor. Henceforth nothing shall be done in the realm without your advice or consent!" But John fell at the Caliph’s feet and pleaded to be released from service. He begged the ruler not to forbid him to take the path his soul desired, but to allow him to follow the Lord with those who have renounced themselves and the world, and have taken up Christ’s yoke. The Caliph was loath to agree, since he wished to retain John as overseer of his palace and entire domain. Each continued his attempts to persuade the other, but finally John prevailed.

Returning home, John immediately distributed his possessions among the poor, freed his slaves, and set out for Jerusalem with Cosmas his foster-brother. After venerating the Holy Places, he went to the Lavra of Saint Sabbas, where he implored the abbot to accept him as a lost sheep and admit him to his chosen flock. The superior and brethren knew of John, since he was famous even in Palestine due to his writings and the high rank he had held. Rejoicing because such a man had come to him in poverty and humility, the abbot received him with love. He called for a brother experienced in asceticism, to entrust the novice to his care for training in spiritual philosophy and the traditions of monasticism, but the monk refused to accept John, being unwilling to become teacher to a man who surpassed so many in knowledge. Then the abbot summoned another, but he too refused. A third and a fourth monk were brought, but they and all the rest declared that they were unworthy to instruct such a man. All were daunted by John’s wide learning and former exalted rank. Finally, a simple but wise elder was summoned who agreed to be John’s guide. The elder received John into his cell, and wishing to set for him the foundation of a life of virtue, first imposed upon him the following rules: never to do anything according to his own will; to offer God his labors and fervent supplications as a sacrifice; and to shed tears to wash away the sins of his former life, since God regards tears as an oblation more precious than any incense. These rules the elder regarded as the basis for the higher works that are perfected by labors of the body. Furthermore, he required that John not harbor any worldly thoughts; that he not dwell on unseemly images, but preserve his mind pure, untouched by every vain attachment; and that he not boast of his learning or consider that by his studies he had attained a perfect understanding. He also forbade John to seek revelations or the understanding of hidden mysteries, or to imagine that his reason would remain unshaken till the end of his life, and that he would never wander from the path of truth. On the contrary, he warned him that men’s thoughts are feeble and their understanding damaged by sin. For that reason, he said, he ought not to permit his thoughts to wander, but should take care to control them, so that his mind would be enlightened by God, his soul sanctified, and his body cleansed of every impurity. He enjoined the saint to strive to bring into concord body, soul, and mind after the image of the Holy Trinity, and to be ruled neither by the body nor the soul, but by the noetic faculty. In this way it is possible for a man to become altogether spiritual. Such were the rules given to his son and pupil by this father and teacher, who added to them these words: "Write to no one, and speak to no one of the secular sciences. Keep a discreet silence. Remember that it is not our wise men alone who teach the value of a quiet life; Pythagoras also had his disciples keep a lengthy silence. Pay heed to David, who said, "I held my peace, even from good," and understand that it is not profitable to speak out of season. And what gain did he derive from silence? He says: "My heart grew hot within me;" that is, the fire of divine love was kindled in him by reflection on God."

The elder’s instructions fell like seed upon fertile ground in John’s heart, taking root there. John lived for a long time with the divinely inspired elder, carefully fulfilling his injunctions and submitting to him without pretense, gainsaying, or murmuring. Even in his thoughts he never contradicted the elder’s commands, and he inscribed in his heart this saying as on tablets of stone: "Every command given by one’s father is to be obeyed without wrath and doubting, as the Apostle says." Indeed, how does a novice profit by fulfilling a task with his hands, while grumbling with his lips? What gain is there in doing what is commanded, while contradicting with the tongue and mind? How can such a man attain perfection? Never will he reach his goal. He labors in vain, for by thinking that he has achieved virtue through obedience, he has only hidden a serpent in his breast by complaining. But the blessed John, who was truly obedient, never grumbled, no matter what tasks he was ordered to perform.

One day, the elder, wishing to test John’s humility, ordered him to fetch a large number of baskets, which they made and sold. He said to John, "I have heard, child, that baskets sell for much more in Damascus than in Palestine. As you see, we are lacking in necessities of every sort and are in need of money. Go without delay to Damascus and sell our baskets there." The elder set a price for the baskets far above their value, and insisted that John accept nothing less, but the true son of obedience did not protest in word or thought. He did not object to being sent on such a long journey, nor was he ashamed to sell baskets in a city where he was known to everyone and had been a man of great authority, because he was determined to emulate the Master Christ, Who was obedient unto death. He asked for his father’s blessing and loaded the baskets on his shoulders. Arriving in Damascus, he began to walk through the markets, offering his goods for sale. Those who wished to purchase them asked what they cost, and learning their high price, would laugh at John, mockingly insulting him. Clad as he was in rags, the blessed one was not recognized by anyone, since the people of Damascus had always seen him wearing gold-embroidered robes. Moreover, his face was worn by fasting, his cheeks were sunken, and his handsome appearance had faded away. But finally one citizen, who had been John’s servant while the saint was in a position of authority, did recognize him after staring for some time. Astonished at seeing John clothed in wretched tatters, he was moved from the bottom of his heart. Pretending not to know him, the man approached John and gave him the full price set by the elder; not because he was in need of baskets, but because he felt compassion for his former master, who, having enjoyed great fame and wealth, had come to such poverty and humility for God’s sake. Accepting the money, John returned to his elder like a victor from battle, having cast to the ground his enemy, the proud and vainglorious devil, by obedience and humility.

Some time passed, and one of the monks of the lavra fell asleep in the Lord. He had a brother according to the flesh who grieved inconsolably for him. Although John spoke at length with the man, trying to comfort him, he was unsuccessful, for the mourner was wounded by measureless sorrow. Then the monk began to entreat John to compose compunctionate burial hymns, to console him in his sadness. At first John refused, not wishing to transgress the command given by his elder, who had forbidden him to do anything without permission, but the mourning brother did not cease his entreaties, saying, "Why will you not have pity on my sorrowful soul? Why do you not wish to give me a little medicine to heal my grieving heart? If you were a physician and some illness had stricken me, and I asked you to cure me, would you disdain me and leave me to die, though you had the ability to treat me? I am suffering greatly from heartache and seek only a little help, but you spurn me! If I die of grief, will you not have to answer for me to God? If you are afraid to violate your elder’s injunction, I will conceal what you have written so that he will not learn of it." At length John yielded to such persuasion and wrote the following troparia: "What sweetness of life," "Like a flower that withereth," "All human vanity," and others, which are used to this day in the funeral service.

One day, while the elder had left the cell, John was chanting the hymns he had composed. Upon his return the elder, drawing near the cell, heard John singing. He rushed in and reproached the disciple angrily, "How is it that you have forgotten your vows so quickly and make merry, singing to yourself instead of weeping?" John told him the reason and explained that he was compelled by the brother’s tears to write the hymns he was singing. Begging forgiveness, he fell to the ground before the elder, who nevertheless remained unyielding and forbade the blessed one to continue living with him.

Driven out of the cell, John recalled Adam’s expulsion from Paradise because of disobedience. He remained for some time before the door weeping, as once did Adam before the gate of the Garden. Afterwards, he went to the other fathers whom he knew to be perfect in the virtues, and entreated them to go to his elder and ask him to forgive his offense. They implored the elder to pardon John and permit him to return, but their pleas were unavailing. One of the fathers said to him, "Impose a penance upon the sinner, but do not forbid him to live with you."

To this the elder replied, "This is the penance I give him: if he wishes to be forgiven his transgression, let him wash out all the chamber-pots in the lavra and clean every one of the latrines."

When the monks heard this, they departed in consternation, amazed at the elder’s crudity and unyielding disposition. John went out to meet them as they returned, and bowing down before them, as was the custom, asked what was his father’s reply. They told him of the elder’s harshness, but did not dare relate what he had set as a penance. John, however, fervently besought them to tell him what his father demanded, and when he learned, he rejoiced exceedingly and was eager to undertake the shameful task. Preparing without delay the equipment necessary for the cleaning, he began the work with diligence, touching excrement with fingers once fragrant with perfumes, and soiling the right hand healed miraculously by the most pure Theotokos. Oh, the profound self-abasement of that wondrous man and true son of obedience! Seeing how John gladly allowed himself to be humiliated, the elder was moved to compunction and hastened to embrace his spiritual child, kissing him upon the head, shoulders, and hands. He exclaimed, "Oh, what a great sufferer for Christ have I begotten! Truly, he is a son of blessed obedience!" Flustered by the elder’s words, John fell at his feet, weeping. He did not permit feelings of pride to gain access to his heart because of his father’s praises, but humbled himself all the more, begging to be forgiven his offense. The elder took him by the hand and led him back to the cell. So elated was John by this that it seemed to him he was being led into paradise. After this he lived with his father in their former accord.

Soon thereafter, the Mistress of the world, the most pure and blessed Virgin, appeared to the elder in a dream, saying, "Why have you blocked up a stream which pours forth an abundance of sweet water, a water preferable to that which sprang from the rock in the wilderness or the water that David longed to drink? This is the water Christ promised the Samaritan woman. Do not hinder the flow of this spring that will water the whole world, drowning heresies and their bitterness! Let the thirsty hasten to this water, and let those who do not possess the pure silver of an unsullied life sell their passions and gain it by emulating John, a man radiant with purity and good deeds, and most learned in the dogmas of the Church. He will take up the psaltery of the prophets and David’s harp to sing a new song to the Lord God, one that shall surpass the canticles of Moses and Mariam. The fabled odes of Orpheus will be counted as nought when compared with his works, for he will sing a spiritual and heavenly hymn like that of cherubim. He will make the churches of Jerusalem like maidens playing the timbrel, chanting unto God and proclaiming Christ’s death and resurrection. He will expound in writing the dogmas of Orthodoxy and denounce the perverse teachings of the heretics; his heart shall pour forth a good word, and he shall speak of the wondrous works of the King."

The next morning, the elder summoned John and said to him, "O son of obedience to Christ, speak what is stored up in your heart! Let your mouth declare wisdom, announcing the things God has revealed to your mind. Open your mouth and proclaim, not legends and dark fables, but the truths of the Church and her dogmas. Speak to the heart of the Jerusalem that truly beholds God, that is, the Church, which He has reconciled unto Himself. Do not pour out empty words into the air, but relate what the Holy Spirit has inscribed in your heart. Ascend the lofty Sinai of the vision of God and the revelation of divine mysteries: ascend by means of your great humility, which is a bottomless abyss, to the summit of the Church, and there proclaim the Gospel to Jerusalem. Lift up your voice mightily, for the Mother of God has told me wondrous things of you. And forgive me, I pray, for my crudeness and ignorance have been a hindrance to you."

From that time the blessed John resumed writing sacred books and composing melodious hymns. He wrote The Ochtoechos, which, like a spiritual flute, delights the Church of God even to this day. John began this book with words he had once sung when his hand was restored: "Thy victorious right hand hath in godly manner been glorified in might." The hymn "In thee all creation rejoiceth, O thou who art full of grace" he also first chanted when exulting after the wondrous healing. John always wore upon his head the bandage he had used to wrap his severed hand, in remembrance of the miracle worked by the most pure Theotokos. He also wrote the lives of a number of saints, composed festal homilies, and various compunctionate prayers. He denounced the heretics, especially the iconoclasts, expounding the dogmas of the true faith and the mysteries of theology, and to this day the faithful are spiritually nourished by his edifying treatises, from which they drink as from a sweet stream.

The venerable John had as a helper in his labors the blessed Cosmas, who was reared with him and studied under the same learned monk. Cosmas, who was later consecrated Bishop of Maiuma by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, urged John to write sacred books and compose hymns, and himself assisted in this work.

The same Patriarch that consecrated Cosmas ordained John presbyter; but John, not wishing to tarry in the world and be praised by the laity, returned to his cell in the Monastery of Saint Sabbas like a bird to its nest. There he devoted himself to the reading and writing of sacred books, and the attainment of his salvation. Collecting all the books, homilies, and sermons he had previously written, he edited them carefully, so that no errors would remain in them. John passed much time in these labors, which greatly benefitted both his soul and the entire Church of Christ. He attained perfect holiness, and having pleased God in all his works, departed unto Christ and His most pure Mother. Not before their icons does he now pay them homage, but instead he gazes upon their countenances in the glory of heaven. Moreover, he prays that we also be deemed worthy of divine vision by the grace of Christ, to Whom, with His all-hymned and most blessed Mother, be honor, glory, and worship forever. Amen.

According to Theophanes, Saint John had two surnames: Chrysorolus and Mansur. He was called Chrysorolus because the grace of the Holy Spirit shone like gold in him and was evident both in his writings and his life. Mansur was the family name he inherited from his ancestors.


Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
You are a guide of Orthodoxy, a teacher of piety and modesty, a luminary of the world, the God inspired pride of monastics. O wise John, you have enlightened everyone by your teachings. You are the harp of the Spirit. Intercede to Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Come, O ye faithful, let us praise the hymn-writer, the Church's luminary and wise instructor, the hallowed John, who cast down all her enemies; for since he took up the Cross of the Lord as a weapon, he drave off the heresies, with their every delusion. And as our fervent champion with God, he granteth all the forgiveness of trespasses.

Troy Polamalu Says 'Kala Christougena!'

Christmas arrives today for many Orthodox Christians around the world.

Ann Rodgers
January 07, 2011
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The most famous Orthodox Christian in Pittsburgh, if not the nation, has a greeting for his fellow believers today:

"Kala Christougena!" said Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. That's Greek for "Merry Christmas!"

Mr. Polamalu and his wife, Theodora, actually celebrated Christmas 13 days ago, but they keep the same Orthodox traditions as those who observe today. Most Orthodox celebrate on Dec. 25, but many Slavic churches tie liturgy to the old Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar. The Greek Orthodox Church and some others have adopted the Gregorian calendar -- except at Easter.

"We all celebrate Easter on the same day," said Mr. Polamalu, 29. Orthodoxy is the Eastern wing of the earliest Christian church, which split into the Orthodox and Catholic churches in 1054.

He and Theodora converted to Orthodoxy about five years ago. His background was Catholic and Protestant, hers Muslim and Protestant. They were Christians in search of a deeper, more consistent experience of God.

"Orthodoxy is like an abyss of beauty that's just endless," he said. "I have read the Bible many times. But after fasting, and being baptized Orthodox, it's like reading a whole new Bible. You see the depth behind the words so much more clearly."

That fasting is a Christmastime difference between Eastern and Western Christians. While many Americans pile on the food from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Orthodox Christians start fasting Nov. 15 or 28.

"Christmas Lent" or "Winter Lent" lasts 40 days, broken by a feast on Christmas, said the Rev. Stelyios Muksuris, administrative assistant to Metropolitan Maximos of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh and professor of liturgy and theology at Ss. Cyril & Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary. Slavic Orthodox keep a strict fast, abstaining from meat, dairy products, oil and fish for 40 days. Greeks usually permit fish, cheese and oil for the first few weeks, then fast strictly for the last two, he said.

Mr. Polamalu is of Samoan heritage, and belongs to the Greek church, but fasts like a Russian.

His consists of a "fast from dairy, from meat and from oil for 40 days -- as well as from sex," he said. "It's to prepare you for the birth of Christ, of God incarnate."

Fasting doesn't affect his football fitness, he said. "When you fast, you can eat extremely healthy by eating a lot of light food, like fruits and vegetables."

There are other aspects to fasting.

"Maybe not watching as much TV, or not getting caught up in idle talk or different things, in order to keep you spiritually healthy," he said.

The most important Orthodox fast is Great Lent, for 50 days before Easter.

When he has kept longer fasts "I have never felt more spiritually strong," he said. Referring to great theologians of the early church, he said, "The church fathers have said that when you eat gluttonously or you eat a lot of meat, your passions get stronger, so your inclination toward sinning becomes stronger. ... [Fasting] really does soften your passions. It gives you spiritual insight."

In Orthodox theology "passions" are negative impulses -- such as sadness or greed -- that can harm the soul.

He doesn't claim that practicing the faith improves athletics. The player known for crossing himself on the field has seen his faith grow more from his injuries than his interceptions.

"When I got injured, I learned so much from it spiritually, just thanking God for the health that I had when I was healthy," he said.

"People have this idea that the more pious and devout I am, the more successful I am. Which is very dangerous. If you look at faith in that way, you're bound to fail at both -- spiritually and in your career."

As the Polamalus build Christmas traditions for their children, Paisios, 2, and Ephraim, 3 months, "It's become less about Santa Claus and more about the birth of Christ and the celebration of the Virgin birth," he said.

They spent Christmas Eve at an Orthodox monastery. The service lasted several hours, ending at 1 a.m. It was entirely chanted.

"Orthodox chanting is non-emotional, it's very monotone," said Mr. Polamalu, who also calls it "the most beautiful thing."

"It's the perfect environment for prayer," he said. "Chanting in Greek ... is like a beautiful opera, but way better. You have candles, not [electric] lights. It's dark. You have the women sitting on the left and the men sitting on the right. Everything is to keep your mind focused on God. ... To me the most beautiful thing anyone on earth can experience, other than maybe marriage and child-bearing, would be the Orthodox Liturgy."

Before he became Orthodox, he said, songs in church sometimes moved him to tears. He now distrusts those passing feelings.

"I'd start crying and feel 'This is awesome.' If I'd had a Red Bull, I'd feel it even more. If I'd had breakfast, I'd feel good. If I didn't have breakfast, I didn't feel anything, I was grumpy," he said.

"It was a very superficial experience. I was thinking, 'God, why did I not feel you today?' because I wasn't feeling the music today. Orthodoxy is very sensitive to that, to take the emotion out of it, to really go after the heart."

The difference between the heart and emotion, he said, is like the difference between the deep love he has for his wife and their daily ups and downs.

"I could say, emotionally, I'm mad and sad with my wife. But that has nothing to do with how much I love my wife within my heart," he said.

"Before we were Orthodox we were able to separate our spiritual lives and our daily lives. Now that we're Orthodox, because of the prayer life that is required ... and the fasting, it consumes your life. It's the number one thing in your life."