How the Relics of Saint Artemius Came to His Cell – Father Pimen Vlad7 April 2022
The Resurrection of the Dead: A Demonstration – Father Theologos12 April 2022
The Church handling of war situations is different than what a person in the world expects – and here I’m not referring to their validation.
Watch this video to find out how the Church in Byzantium treated this delicate subject.
Before the transcript we show you a small part from the Akathist Hymn as is held in Mount Athos, the skete of Lacu:
In the past that is how our nation lived. It lived spiritually, so God blessed it. And the saints helped us in a miraculous way. An Athonite Cell Joys from the Holy Mountain Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Amen. Because many of you have asked which Akathist Hymn is the one father Pimen refers to, and in general monks refer to, you should know that they refer to the Akathist Hymn of the Annunciation. And in this case I wish to speak a bit more on the topic of the Akathist Hymn, where it comes from, a little bit of its history, and especially the spiritual considerations of this type of prayer.
A brief history, the feast of the Akathist, you should know, was instituted on the occasion of the miraculous liberation of August 7th 626 of Constantinople from the combined attack of the Persians and Avars. The city was without defense because Emperor Heraclius was far away in the Orient with his army. The Persians and Avars speculated the situation at that time, and they staged a massive attack on the city, having other smaller armies as allies. Other migratory tribes. In desperation, patriarch Sergius organized processions on the walls of the capital with a lot of relics, mainly with the Holy Cross, with the icon of Christ, Not-Made-By-Hands, meaning with the Holy Veil, and with the vestment of the Mother of God, of which the Holy Sash, and a shirt of the Mother of God in Georgia are preserved. The Holy Sash is in the Holy Mountain. What we should take note of here, is the fact that, as you can see, in the past God was very present in the everyday life of people. People were much more spiritual, much closer to God, and so they were much more courageous. Today we are not courageous because we do not have faith. Brothers, we need to have faith! We need to have more faith, to not base ourselves so much on our logic. Just think, at that time, we are speaking of a city without defense, it was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people, and people were praying.
They were making processions on the walls of the city. The walls were very wide so they could do this. The patriarch encouraged all the people in the fight and organized processions as I said, and prayers of imploration to the Mother of God, to the Theotokos. Then, you should know, the Mother of God ignited a great storm, a very large storm that destroyed the thousands of monoxyls. Because the Persians had prepared many monoxyls, meaning a lot of boats made from single hollowed out tree trunks, which were trying to conquer the city from the water. Constantinople, I don’t know if you know, is surrounded on three sides by water. With this great storm, the boats started crashing into each other, getting destroyed, destroying at the same time, as a chain reaction, the large Persian vessels, which due to the strong wind, also crashed into each other. I don’t know if you have had the experience of a storm at sea, it is terrible, you should know. The Mother of God did all this, because God and His Saints are almighty. So, a saint, is not only able to multiply oil or to help us at school or somewhere, in the family – of course this as well! But they can work huge, huge, miracles. I say this to awaken your faith a little.
In addition to this great storm, a great terror entered the numerous infantry of the attackers which it is said, comprised of hundreds of thousands of people. All these terrified people ran left and right, so that the Byzantines, even women and children, as the chroniclers wrote, would manage to drive out the invaders. So, brothers, we do not play with God. We do not play with the saints. The zeal and the courage of the residents was so great, it was grace from God, that they managed to repel the opponent, even though they were inferior in number, thus overturning the delicate situation they were in. Because, think brothers, they were there without any protection, because the army of Heraclius was far away. In the meantime, Heraclius returns, and on the basis of this unhoped for victory of the Byzantines, as a result of the help of the Mother of God, the counterattacks of Heraclius were decisive, going from victory to victory, until the recapture of the provinces taken by the Persians. On the night of the victory, as a sign of thanks, all the people of the capital spent the night singing standing up. “Achathistos” means to stand up. “Acathisti”… People were acathisti meaning they were standing up, not sitting. And this is where the name of the Akathist Hymn comes from.
This hymn was sung in the church of the Mother of God in Vlahernes. “Vlahernon” meaning of the Vlachs – of the Romanians. The day of August 7th, when the miracle took place, has remained, since then, a day of solemn commemoration, of the help given by Christ against enemies which surround us on land and on water, as the chroniclers say. Said in the old language it is very beautiful. In time, this initial commemoration got transferred from August 7th, to the Saturday of Week V, and synaxaria have added other sieges of Constantinople from the years 677, 717-718 and especially 860, thus making the Akathist, through excellence, the anthem of trust of the Byzantine people in the protection of the Mother of God, as her famous prokeimenon clearly states, “O Champion General” which you probably know. In Romanian it is “Protective Lady” but really she is not “Lady,” but Generalissima, Lady General. So we are talking about the Mother of God, Generalissima.
Today, this prokeimenon is called kontakion, but at that time the word ‘kontakion’ meant the whole hymn, which, in the time of St. Romanos the Melodist, the most famous composer of kontakia, these hymns usually had 18 or 24 stanzas, as you can see in the Akathist Hymn. There were many hymns of this type in the past, a lot of kontakia, today we are left with the Akathist Hymn only. Of course if you read in specialized books you will find them, but today the canons have entered the cult. And today, by a kontakion, we understand a small composition, a very short stanza. In the last years there has been a rebirth of this type of service, many Akathists appearing from more or less debatable sources. The original Akathist though, as I said, is this one, the Akathist of the Annunciation. It is called this because the first stanzas, more exactly, the first oikoi and kontakia, refer to the moment of Annunciation. But the Akathist Hymn refers to the whole economy of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, it refers to His whole life here on earth. At the same time, it may be good to mention that in the past these hymns did not start with “Rejoice.” Today they have this structure because they are based on the Akathist Hymn.
In the past people prayed a lot. St. John Chrysostom speaks of four hours that people would dedicate to God everyday. Today we consider ourselves orthodox but in actuality we act atheist. Returning to the spiritual plane, we need to remark on the military and patriotic symbolism that is present in byzantine hymnography quite often, especially when referring to the Mother of God. This of course originates in the intimate interplay that existed between the Church and the byzantine state, as well as from the dedication of the capital to the Mother of God. Constantinople was dedicated to the Mother of God, so all joyful events of political history were attributed to her intercession.
If we look at history we can see that most saints, if we make a classification based on the trade of the saints, there are the holy monks, including the hierarchs who pertain to this rank, in second place there are the holy military saints, and third place there are the holy unmercenary doctors. And only after this the rest of the trades. Why? Because these trades, these occupations, monasticism, the army and medicine are the trades closest to death and to sacrifice for others. Because of this they receive a special grace, for what they do, because grace comes through love, and these trades, which are sacrificial, let’s not forget that soldiers swore to die for the homeland, these trades bring a lot of grace to those we are in them, and especially to those who do not sin. Be very careful those of you who are soldiers and doctors not to sin. You know very well what I am referring to.
Let us return to the Akathist Hymn, and to the spiritual considerations regarding the event as well. This military symbolism that I was speaking about, keeps its value intact on the personal level of the struggle of each of us against passions and the demons. The liberation of the fortress, of Constantinople as it was originally in the event that brought about the Akathist Hymn, represents in our case the liberation of our internal fortress, of the person from the tyranny of passions. Unfortunately, today we have lost the contact with the living faith, we are very limited in what we believe. We give a commemoration list for different things, yes it is commendable, but today we only believe to a certain point. We do not believe that the Mother of God can change the course of a war for example. And not just the Mother of God. I will tell you of an event. Around 100km west of Alexandria, in the second World War, the course of the war was changed, and it was changed by St. Menas. St. Menas stopped Erwin Rommel. Erwin Rommel, I don’t know if you know, was the only German general who the Allies built a museum for. He is one of the greatest generals in history. Everybody recognizes that, not just the Germans. Primarily Rommel is recognized by the Americans, by the modern school of war. He had great ability, and was a phenomenal general. There, at the place west of Alexandria, the decisive battle was fought which changed the course of the North African war front. The respective place is called El Alamein, which in Arabic means ‘Menas’ place.’ Why? Because at that place there is an old church of St. Menas because that is where St. Menas was born. We are talking about a village in Egypt. The battle in which St. Menas changed the course of the war was fought there. What actually happened? Towards the morning of the fight, St. Menas appeared… An old rider came out of the ruins of the church of St. Menas, and he was riding on a white horse. The English, when they saw this were terrified. The Arabs said, “Do not become troubled, it is St. Menas and he will give us the victory.” And St. Menas truly, on his horse, started galloping faster and faster and faster heading towards the German camp, the Nazi camp. And the Saint got lost within the camp and then the Allies knew that God was with them. Especially because there was a Greek battalion there, and I actually know this from the local bishop who told us of the event, who told the English not to be afraid because God will give them the victory. It was where, for the first time, the Axis was broken. And the British have recognized the merit of St. Menas and they built a new church there. An Orthodox church of course. Understand? I want to tell you that saints work great miracles when the person is close to God. When the person does what God tells him to do, is obedient to God, God is obedient to him in return, and what is phenomenal is that what God tells man to do, is not for the benefit of God, but it is also for the benefit of man. So if man is obedient to God, he wins twice, because God is obedient to him, and because what God tells man to do is for his benefit as well. But we are so darkened that we do not even know what is happening to us, we do not even know what the reality is. These great miracles are not happening today anymore – why? Because we are indifferent! We are indiferent. And we do not lead a Christian life day by day. As I was saying, we have placed God somewhere at the edge of our existence. But if we remember God now when we are at a time of peace, while we are still in a time of peace, then God will remember us when we are in times of war. If we do not remember God while we are at a time of peace, God will not remember us either when we are in a time of war. And why? That is because God wishes to have a loving relationship with us. That is why there has to be a personal relationship and not a passionate, animalistic one, based strictly on self-love, based on self-interest. Meaning I do not ask God for help to potentiate my passions, to destroy myself. God does make Himself our servant, Christ made Himself our servant, yes, but He made Himself our servant to heal us, to resurrect us, not to kill us. So we should not try to make God our servant in order to kill ourselves, to destroy ourselves, to have God as an accomplice to our existential suicide. So brothers, God the almighty wants to be our almighty servant, but He wants to be this for our transformation into gods, for our salvation, for our escape from the passions. That is why, when we pray we should have this awareness that God knows better what helps us towards salvation. In order to open ourselves in front of God we should know that God and His saints, especially the Mother of God, are not apart from our everyday life brothers. That is why we believe in them primarily because they can help us in our needs. Especially in times of crisis, of which, one of the most important being war. You should know that here at the cell, we pray for the war during the Liturgy. Come and see. O God of our fathers, rich in mercy and goodness, Maker of all things visible and invisible, Lord of Peace and Life, the boundless Ocean of Love! Thou hast sent to earth Thy Beloved Son, our only Begotten Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His life for the world, wanting all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. He taught us to love one another and to not repay evil for evil. Therefore listen to the cry of your servants, who ask for mercy and peace, for Your Church, for Ukraine and for all Your world. Forgive us all our sins whether voluntary or involuntary, stop the war and quell all the wickedness and division between people. With the Grace of Your Holy Spirit soften the hearts of the wicked, and stop all the evil work of enemies visible and invisible. Give us Your peace, O Lord and fill our houses with love and understanding, illumine and wisen leaders, be a protector and a helper to those in need, and give rest to those who have lost their lives on the battlefields, give them rest where the light of your face shines; because Thou art the King of Peace and the Savior of our souls, and to Thee we give glory and thanks, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and onto the ages of ages. Amen. We should now have “the mind of Christ” as the Holy Apostle Paul says. The problem is that, with our little faith we have our mind to the side, our mind is dark, closed off, broken, separated from Christ. Our mind thinks itself “after, around Christ” in the best case scenario, an abstract Christ, broken away from His creation, from everyday life. This is heresy brothers! God is here with us, among us, giving us all this beauty. Now I am in nature, around me many birds are singing, I don’t know if you can hear them. You should know that our faith is not abstract! We have seen in our history the concrete help of the Mother of God, of God and of the Saints, and that is why we call the Mother of God, in her famous kontakion of the hymn, invincible protectress, champion general. Of course in Romanian it is translated as “Protectress, for victory…” But as I was saying she is a general. She leads. Why have we forgotten our history? Why have we forgotten these things now in times of peace? Of course we want peace, not war. However, often it is better to choose a commendable war, in this case the ideological war, rather than the peace that is far from God. The faith that we were taught by the Holy Fathers, which we have permanently learned without heeding the fashions of the time, this faith we should never cease to learn and we should transmit it further. Because otherwise we disintegrate as a nation. We were born with it and we live by it. Once again, we have to have faith in the impregnable power of prayer, in the teaching of faith of our nation, because this pushes us forward. You see the chaos that is around us. You see that the whole country is surrounded by flames, brothers. There are many Romanians outside the country who wish to come back but who won’t really be able to. Prayer can change the course of history. Let us be aware of this. As I have proven to you and as I can prove with other cases, or other examples. But I do not want to go on too long. Because of this brothers, we should be aware of a God which is effective in everyday life, we need to thank God for everything, and that is how we will gain the key to grace, that is how we will gain the key to the help of God, if we give thanks. Gratitude brings about grace. Because if we, like St. John Climacus says, are like the dogs who grab the sausage and leave with it in their mouths shamelessly, how can God help us then? But if we give thanks, if we say a “Lord, thank you!” then God will help us. Let us not forget about gratitude. On the other hand, if we have faith, we need to be braver. Bravery comes from faith. The people of today are like corpses, the men are feminized, forgive me for saying, because they do not have faith. I am referring to the youth. Brothers, collect yourselves a little bit! Think of the suffering of Christians in other countries. There are so many difficulties in other countries as well. But in our country so many are manifesting indifference. We are speaking of the people who have a certain state, while, you should know, the people who are helping the refugees from Ukraine, will bring a great blessing upon Romania, and Romania will be protected, brothers, because of this eminently Christian behavior towards the Ukrainians, who, poor them, are being bombarded. It is hard for them, even if some of them are very rich, much richer than the Romanians they are coming to for shelter. But we open our hearts to them, our homes to them, we help them. Even if we know the history… Because our history with the Ukrainians has not been pleasant, but we make this sacrifice of love, and God will bless it. We need to have this disposition for good, because there is not a sufficient disposition for good, for love, for devotion, especially towards the impoverished of our country, the poor of our nation, the Romanian needy. We need to have love for the Romanian needy as well. You see, if we do not begin to war against evil, against the ideologies that attack the Church, because the Church is the focal point of love, of joy, if we do not go to war with these people, to expose those who tempt the faithful, then evil will increase. We need to show that what they are doing is not good. If we cast fear aside, then all faithful will be encouraged based on our example. But for this, we need to have life within us, we need to have prayer, we need to be close to God. And those we are fighting the Church will have more to contend with. Understand? But for this we need to have prayer as a shield. We need to have God with us, good deeds, mercy, and then others cannot defeat us. In the past that is how our nation lived. It lived spiritually, so God blessed it. And the saints helped us in a miraculous way. And we were victorious against our enemies who always outnumbered us. Today we continue to call ourselves Christian orthodox, but unfortunately we do not live orthodox lives. Understand? We need to return to that. We should never forget that the true combative force of any army depends on its closeness to God, on the spirituality of the respective army corps. Let us never forget this. Brothers this is very important. Let us take care lest we dirty the uniform that our ancestors cleaned with their blood through our servility, our lack of spirituality and our smallness. We will do what our Lord Jesus Christ wants and we will not be cannon fodder for others, rather we will sacrifice ourselves for our nation, for our children, for those of the future. May God help us in this. Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Amen.
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May the Lord help us!
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