Thursday, March 19, 2015

Holy Hierarch Nicholai Pray To God For Us!

Photo of St. Nikolai (Velmirovich) of Ochrid and Zicha Serbia
The Life of the Holy Hierarch Bishop Nicholai (Velimirovich)
Of Ochrid and Zicha, Serbia
Nicholai Velimirorich was born into a large peasant family in the village of Lelich, Serbia, on December 23, 1880. Young Nicholai began his education in Lelich and later went to the capital city, Belgrade, to attend St. Sava Theological Seminary. He graduated in 1902 at 22.
He entered the graduate Theological Faculty (or school) in Bern, Switzerland, in 1905 and 1909 received a doctorate in sacred theology – the first of many doctoral degrees he would earn. Later that year, he returned to Serbia and was tonsured a monk at the Monastery of Rkovica, receiving the name Nicholai. He was soon ordained to the priesthood and eventually elevated to the rank of archimandrite. Two years after his ordination, he joined the faculty at his alma mater, the St. Sava Theological Seminary in Belgrade and taught there until 1915. During his four summer vacations from St. Sava’s, Archimandrite Nicholai went to study in Russia.
When World War I broke out, Archimandrite Nicholai was sent to England on a diplomatic mission. While he was there, he lectured at Oxford University and received a doctorate in philosophy at the university’s King’s College. At the same time, he received honorary doctorates from Cambridge University and Glasgow University. He returned to Serbian in 1919 and was elected and consecrated a bishop that same year, at age 39. He was appointed to the Diocese of Zicha and later to the Diocese of Ochrid.
He spent 1921 and 1922 as a missionary bishop in America, creating and administrating the Serbian Orthodox Diocese in the United States and Canada. After his two years in America, he returned to Ochrid, where he resumed the archpastorate of his two Serbian dioceses. That is where he remained until 1934, when he went back to Zicha until the collapse of Yugoslavia in World War II.
During World War II, the Nazis occupied Yugoslavia. Civil war broke out, and Serb fought Serb. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians were tortured or massacred by the Croatians under the direction of the Nazis. Hosts of other Serbs were sent to Nazi death camps. Serbian Patriarch Gavrilo and Bishop Nicholai were sent to the infamous Dachau concentration camp, where – although they suffered horribly – they both survived the war.
Years later, Bishop Nicholai said that he had once spoken with an elder on Mount Athos. Young Nicholai asked the monk: “Father, what is your main spiritual exercise?
The elder replied, “The perfect visualization of God’s presence.
Ever since then, Bishop Nicholai said, “I tried this visualization of God’s presence. And as little as I succeeded, it helped me enormously to prevent me from sinning in freedom, and from despairing in prison. If we kept the vision of the invisible God, we would be happier, wiser, and stronger in every walk of life.
As the war was nearing its end, Bishop Nicholai and Patriarch Gavrilo were liberated from Dachau. Patriarch. Gavrilo returned to Yugoslavia, but Bishop Nicholai did not, having found that he was unwelcome in Serbia. During the years that followed the war, Church leaders were not given the freedom to preach the Gospel and teach the Faith in Yugoslavia. So it was from abroad that Bishop Nicholai felt he could best serve the faithful of his Church, and he chose to remain in foreign exile.
He first went to England, but within a year, in April 1946, he decided to go again to America. This time he was a refugee, without any official position in the Church. He arrived at the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in New York City. He also taught at the Serbian Orthodox Seminary in Libertyville, Illinois, until 1949. Bishop Nicholai moved to the Russian Orthodox St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York and later to St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. There he would teach, preach, continue to write, and pursue his own studies. In addition to degrees from Bern and Oxford, Bishop Nicholai received doctorates from Halle in Germany, the Sorbonne in Paris, and Columbia University in New York.
He began as a professor at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, but eventually he was appointed rector. At that time, most of the courses at St. Tikhon’s were taught in Russian, but Bishop Nicholai chose to teach only in English. Other faculty members disagreed with his decision, and some became resentful of him, but the bishop knew that it was important for the students to hear their lectures in their own language. On most occasions, he even preached his sermons in English in the monastery church at St. Tikhon’s so that everyone – the monks, the seminarians and the faithful laity who attended the Liturgy – would be able to understand him. The people often complained about the use of English, but he would answer: “You have learned and heard enough. It is time for the seminarians to learn something.
One of the students wrote of Bishop Nicholai: He sighed a great deal when he prayed and before class he would spontaneously pray for us and the seminary. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of each seminary student. At time he would sit on a warm fall evening and pay his flute, and the tears would stream down his face as he remembered his beloved Serbia. He also survived the Dachau prison camp. When the students would complain about the food, he would say, “You don’t know what bad food is. We would search through the garbage cans at Dachau.” But beyond that, he would not mention his sufferings.
Bishop Nicholai’s health had been weakened by his captivity at Dachau. Despite his ill health, however, he remained in constant contact with the faithful of the Serbian and other Orthodox churches. He taught his seminary classes with enthusiasm, power, and deep insight. He often traveled to the Serbian Church House in New York, and there he received his spiritual children and other visitors. His correspondents, his spiritual children, his students, his fellow monks, and all who knew him came to regard him with love and respect.
Bishop Nicholai fell asleep in the Lord on Sunday, March 18, 1956, at St. Tikhon’s. Ten days later, his body was moved for burial to the Serbian Monastery of Sava in Libertyville, Illinois, where it remained until April 24, 1991. At that time his body was taken back to Yugoslavia, where he lay in state in many towns and cities. According to his own final wishes, the bishop’s body was finally transferred to his native village of Lelich in Serbia on May 12, 1991. His remains joined those of his parents and his nephew, Bishop Jovan Velimirovich. In 1987, the local diocese as a saint of the Church glorified Bishop Nicholai.
(Source for the Life of Bishop Nicholai (Velimirovich): Portraits of American Saints, Compiled and Edited by George A. Gray and Jan V. Bear, Diocese Council and Department of Missions Diocese of the West Orthodox Church in America, 650 Micheltorena Street, Los Angles, California, 1994, pp. 74-77).
I would like to humbly thank The Rev. Father Bratislav Krsic for sending me the Troparion and Kontakion for the Holy Hierarch Nikolai Velimirovich.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Kalamata Olive Tart

This is another lenten, gluten free recipe. It is very easy to make and it could be a good breakfast recipe too.
3-5 tbsp Kalamata olive tapenade, as in the jar shown.
2 cups of oat flour
Salt (may omit, since tapenade is very salty too)
½ tsp baking soda
¼ cup brown sugar
2-3 tbsp coconut oil and some more for pan coating
¼ cup water
Directions: In a mixing bowl, add flour, salt, oil, sugar, water and combine well. It won’t form a good dough like wheat will do, it will crumble. In a 4x4in oil-coated glass baking pan press down with your fingers the dough to cover whole surface as much as possible. Add on top a thin layer of the tapenade. Place in oven at 350F and cook for 25min. 
Note: if you do not have tapenade, don't worry, place in mixer a few pitted olives, oregano, salt, garlic and basil and here you go- done, your own tapenade!

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Child's Lesson on St. Gregory Palamas and Stillness of The Heart

Praying in a dark church is about the only time I believe that lack of electricity can be a good thing.  As I stood in the chapel of the monastery on Saturday night, a chapel with no electric lights, the word “vigil” moved from being just the name of a service to the desire of my soul.  A few candles flickered, the icons were just shapes and shadows, and the monotone of the monks’ chanting spread a warmth that started in my chest and flowed out to the tingling of my fingertips.  In the darkness, it was easy to let the tears flow, those tears that are a gift.  The tears that come when prayer stops being a rote exercise and begins at the beginning; at the Light that never knows darkness.
Here is some information about the life of the Saint:

Monday, March 9, 2015


Together let us honor the holy company united by faith,  Those noble warriors of the Master of all. They were divinely enlisted for Christ, and passed through fire and water. Then they entered into refreshment praying for those who cry: Glory to him who has strengthened you! Glory to him who has crowned you! Glory to him who has made you wonderful, O holy Forty Martyrs!
The Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
In the year 313 St. Constantine the Great issued an edict granting Christians religious freedom, and officially recognizing Christianity as equal with paganism under the law. But his co-ruler Licinius was a pagan, and in his part of the Empire he decided to annihilate Christianity, which had become widespread. Licinius prepared his army to fight against Constantine and, fearing mutiny, he decided to remove Christians from his army.
In Romania there is a special tradition of making “Mucenici” according to the different country regions.
Here are my “mucenici”, as I learned from my mother, this time made with oat flour (gluten- free, oil free):

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fr. Arsenie Boca

Born in the county of Hunedoara, Romania, Fr. Arsenie Boca (September 29, 1910 – 1989) was one of the most important Romanian monastic figures of the 20th century. Ordained as a celibate Dean by Metropolitan Nicolae Bălan in 1935, he spends three months at the Romanian Prodromu Skete in Mount Athos, and is then established at the Sâmbăta de Sus Monastery (Braşov county), and receives tonsure in 1940. In 1942, he is ordained a Priest. By 1940, he had already sparkled in Sâmbăta de Sus what one of his contemporaries would describe as: “That uplifting time when the whole of Transylvania would make its way on singing pilgrimages defying chest-deep snow, to Sâmbăta de Sus, built by Martyr Voivode Constantin Brâncoveanu.”
Besides his outstanding contribution to the translation of the Philokaly alongside another reputed theological figure, Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae, he will always be remembered for his activity as a Priest, which earned him the surname of the “guider of souls”. Persecuted by the communist regime but highly respected and loved by the faithful, he was buried at the Prislop Monastery, which is now one of the country’s most important pilgrimage places.
“Fr. Arsenie was a unique phenomenon in the history of Romanian monasticism; a figure of high monastic stature, of a kind that the Romanian Orthodox Church never had before him.” Fr. Dumitru STĂNILOAE
Encounter with Fr. Arsenie
[…] Times were rapidly succeeding one another and godless communism was thrusting its claws ever more deeply into the country’s body. By providing Christian help to the anti-communist fighters in the Făgăraş Mountains, Father Arsenie got into the Security’s “visual field” and was arrested in 1948, for the first time. Forcibly moved out from Sâmbăta to Prislop, he eventually became Abbot of the latter and after the monastic abode was changed into a nunnery, he stayed there as a Confessor Priest, until 1959, when the communists dismantled the monastic community. In between, he had been arrested once more and taken to the Canal*, where he had spent almost a year. Then followed his exile to Bucharest, where he was kept outside actual priestly activity, being retained only as a church painter, always under the dog’s eye of the atheistic regime. During the last part of his life he grew very attached to two places: Drăgănescu (where he painted the church for 15 years, starting from 1968 and left us a true “sermon in images”, even if perhaps artistically somewhat unusual by the traditional iconography canons) and Sinaia (where, in 1969, he had his cell and his painter workshop, where he would retire more often and where he reposed in the Lord in early 1989, aged 79).
“Once, I went to Drăgănescu to talk with the Father. Upon arriving at the church, I looked around but didn’t see any bearded man, dressed in monastic clothes, as I had imagined that Fr. Arsenie must look like. There was just a man in a white overall, wearing a cap on his head. When I saw I couldn’t find the Father, I decided to leave. At that point, I saw the man in the overall come up to me and ask:
- What are you looking for?
I turned to him and told him that I was looking for Arsenie, the painter.
- Why are you looking for Arsenie the painter? – he asked.
- I have some business with him, I replied.
The man said:
- Come closer. And he asked me again why I wanted to see Arsenie the painter and I told him again that I had a few things I wanted to talk to him about. Then I turned around to leave, when the man said in a kind voice:
- Come, man — let me tell you why you’re looking for Arsenie the painter. And he started telling me why I was looking for Fr. Arsenie. When I saw he was telling me my own thoughts and why I had come to see him, I realized that the man in the white overall couldn’t be anyone else but Fr. Arsenie Boca. I told him:
- It’s you. You are the painter AND Father Arsenie. And he asked me:
- What do you base your statement on, when you’re saying it’s me? and I replied:
- You’ve told me my own thoughts and the reason why I’ve come here, and there isn’t anyone else except Father Arsenie who could do that. And I added: Father, there isn’t anybody else like you in Romania.
He then said:
- You go, man — and caressed my face with his hands.”
Matei Biliboacă, Săvăstreni village   
*The Danube-Black Sea Canal, one of Ceauşescu’s ambitions, where many “convicts” were sent and which was the end of many.
The main writings that have been left from Father Arsenie (and which for a long time circulated “under the table”, in typed copies and sometimes without his signature) were published after 1990: from Cărarea Împărăţiei (“The Path to the Kingdom”) to the recent volume titled Părintele Arsenie Boca – mare îndrumător de suflete din secolul XX. O sinteză a gândirii Părintelui Arsenie în 800 de capete(“Father Arsenie, Great Guider of Souls of the 20th Century. A Summary of Father Arsenie’s Thinking, in 800 Points”), compiled by Ioan Gânscă, supported by Father Archimandrite Teofil Părăian […].
“We Should Tell the Truth, Come What May”
Interview with Fr. Pantelimon of Ghighiu about Father Arsenie Boca by Claudiu Târziu
Words and Examples for One’s Spiritual Awakening
-        Do you remember any particular advice that Fr. Arsenie Boca would give to people?
-        Father Arsenie could see that people loved him and he was afraid they might fall into idolatry. He used to tell everyone: “You all come here for useful advice and then expect me to save you, but I cannot do that. I can only wake you up from the sins you have been living in. Because this life is short and the other one is eternal and I wouldn’t want to see you cry on the Judgement Day”.
This is why Father Arsenie wouldn’t let people kiss his hand. And yet, he would allow some to do that.
Once, I asked him why he would let some of the people who would come to see him, kiss his hand.
He told me: “These ones see me for their last time.”
They were from among those who opposed communism and who died afterwards up in the mountains or in prisons.
-         Did you ever see Fr. Arsenie get angry?
-         No. He had the serenity of a great prayer. But when something would upset him, he would only frown a little – but his face would never turn angry. And if you were guilty, he would look at you and you’d feel that you couldn’t hide anything from him.
-         Was it sheer authority, or was it love, too?
-         As I said before, if you knew Fr. Arsenie, you would feel his love. He was like those peasants who kiss their children only when they’re asleep. When you’d do something wrong, he wouldn’t raise his voice, but he would just look at you in a certain way. Just as when you deserved to be praised — he wouldn’t make a big case about how well you had done, he’d only look at you and you knew that you deserved to be praised.
-         Did you ever see him cry?
-         Yes. He would cry when he was praying. Once, I caught him in his cell with tears running down his face. Then I also saw him tearful at the altar, during the Liturgy. He would cry for people’s sins. He was suffering for the fact that people wouldn’t do the right things and thus turn away from God’s Face.
-         Father Arsenie is considered to be a Saint, especially by the people of Transylvania. Why is there such a cult for Father Arsenie, in Transylvania?
-         Because of his good deeds. He was exactly according to the word of God. He took people out of darkness. He taught them how to live according to God’s teachings. The people felt his love for them. Because he was good seed; and that seed, which Fr. Arsenie sowed has been bearing fruit to this day.
-         How would he speak: directly or through examples? 
-         Most often, Fr. Arsenie would speak about sins openly, he would speak about them in public, but the issues of a more personal nature, he would talk about them through examples. He used to tell the sins of some directly, so that the others could hear and learn. After the Liturgy, many people would gather in the monastery yard and Fr. Arsenie would walk through and stop and exchange a few words with each of them.
- Once, a woman told him: “Father, things aren’t going well for me at all”. And he said:
 “I know, but you know why, too; remember the ones you have killed.” – The woman had had several abortions.
Another time, a young man and a girl came to him and asked him to give them his blessing, so that they could marry each other; Fr. Arsenie told them not to, because they were brother and sister and that they would go through much suffering if they did that sin. They didn’t believe him and they got married, had three children and one of them was deaf and dumb and two were possessed.
-         You were confessed by His Holiness. How was he as a confessor Priest, was he tough, or was he lenient?
-         He was very patient. He wouldn’t confess anyone and wouldn’t give penance. Because he knew that you can do your penance in a formal way while your mind would continue to live in sin. Whereas if he didn’t give you penance, but you’d be truly sorry for your sins, you’d have more zeal for prayer and would refrain from sinning, better.
-         Were there also people who would doubt Father Arsenie?
-         Yes, there were. There are always people like that. Once, a peasant swore at some people who were going to Fr. Arsenie - and the moment he did that, his mouth got wry in a funny way and stayed like that. He was no longer able to open it - not even for as much as a glass of water. The people took him to the monastery and when the Father approached the cart in which this unfortunate fellow was, he asked him: “Hey, man, what has that guy, Arsenie, done to you? Come on, open your mouth and tell me!” And the man was instantly able to open his mouth and speak, then he fell to his knees and started crying and saying how sorry he was for the things he had said.
A Miracle of Fr. Arsenie, After His Death 
-         How long did you stay around Father Arsenie?
-         Not too much; for about a year, because he was arrested, afterwards. Later on, we were arrested, too – myself and five other monks, because we didn’t want to leave the monastery and hence were considered “mystical agitators”.
-         Do you know how Fr. Arsenie was arrested?
-         One day, five men from the Security came, together with an attorney. But Fr. Arsenie had known beforehand that they would come to pick him up, because that was his gift. And when they arrived, he met them with the words: ”You guys, I know why you’ve come, but why don’t you go back home, because if the people see that you’re taking me away, they’ll chase you off with stones. I’ll come to you myself, tomorrow morning.”
The guys didn’t say anything, they just left with their heads down.
-         Were they afraid of him?
-         Maybe not. But they were afraid of the people possibly rioting, because it was early in the period of terror; the worse hadn’t started yet, it was around ’48, when they weren’t sure how the people would react and there were already rumors about the partisans in the mountains. Fr. Arsenie knew about the partisans, as he would help them and receive them for confession. Maybe the Security guys were afraid of the partisans, too.
-         Did you see Fr. Arsenie again later on?
-         Yes, all the time, until the end. After he got out of prison, Fr. Arsenie was taken under Patriarch Justinian’s protection… He was painting the Maicilor Skete (*in Bucharest) and that’s where I saw him again for the first time after he came out of prison. And once, when I was talking to him, he told me, all of a sudden: “You go home, in Făgăraş, and start badmouthing me, [you hear?] – and if you don’t badmouth me, don’t come back here to see me, anymore!” I asked him what I should say.
And he said: “That’s ok, you’ll think of something.” (What he meant was that we all knew how to badmouth, if we wanted to.) I didn’t say anything, but I didn’t do what he had asked me to.
-         And what did he say later on, when you saw him again?
-         He was painting – and as I opened the door, he told me: “I told you not to come back to me any more if you didn’t badmouth me.” I replied: “Well, if I had badmouthed you, Father, you wouldn’t have seen me any more.” ”Why?” “Because they would have broken my head.” He laughed.
 -         What was the reason for this test?
 -         I think there were two reasons: first, to find out how the people felt about him, whether they’d stand up for him if they heard someone say anything bad about him… And then, to see if I had kept my sound judgement after having come out of prison.
-         Have you ever experienced any miracle that was related to the Father’s spiritual power?
-         Several, but I can’t talk about them, because people wouldn’t understand. He told me once:
“You [all] come to me, I give you advice, but you also expect miracles. But let me tell you this: I will help you more after I have gone to the Lord, than I do now.” And he was right. I have always felt his help after he passed away. And I lived a miracle, three years ago. I went to the Commemoration that they hold for Fr. Arsenie every year at the Prislop Monastery. I had not been there before so I had set my mind on going there and serving the Liturgy before I [get too old and] die. It was very beautiful.
At about 4 in the afternoon, I left to go back to Bucharest, with somebody who had a car. It was only the driver and myself. But throughout our way back, we felt like there was someone else with us in the car, in the backseat. And I can honestly state that the car didn’t touch the ground until we arrived here in Bărcăneşti. (*village outside Bucharest)
-         What do you mean?
-         It was like floating… We got back in three hours, although when we had left to get there, we had driven for eight hours. On our way back, we came across stops, accidents, but we didn’t stop, we drove through all of them as if we were going through the air. I was looking at the driver and was wondering, why does he cross on the red light, is he asleep? He didn’t say anything; neither did I. It was like we were both afraid to speak. When we got closer to the Monastery here in Bărcăneşti, we could hear how the car was [finally] running on the ground.
And the driver said: “Our car is running on the ground.” I asked him: “My good man, what did you feel?”
He said: “I felt like there’s been someone in the backseat; that’s all. I wasn’t the one driving all the way up here; all I know is that the car went by itself”. At that point I heard a voice in the back: “That’s as far as I will accompany you.” When I turned around to see who had been talking, there was nobody.
 -         Have you told this to anyone else?
 -         No, because today’s people don’t believe any more.
 -         What is the most valuable teaching that you are left with from Father Arsenie?
 -         We should be prepared for the moment of our death by the way in which we lead our lives here, so that we can give a good answer at the Last Judgement. And through the courage of our confession, we should tell the truth, come what may. I have listened to him, which is why I was put in prison.
-         Were you ready to die?
-         Yes. I am now, too.
Again, About Judging
By Fr. Arsenie Boca
There is this vicious circle in which the souls of many get tangled: the circle of confusion. For some “reasons”, these persons do not want to listen to the Priests of the Church. Hence, by not listening to the Orthodox teachings and their advice on how to lead a life in God, they damage their mind with their own thoughts. This causes them to get deeper and deeper into a sinful life, as a result of their disobedience. Hence, man’s mind grows darker before the Truth and takes this erroneously for the right thing.
Some do wake up and realise that they have lived in error. The enemy – to whom they have listened by deception - does not want to lose his grasp on them and starts presenting them people’s faults and shortcomings, as well as those of the legal servants of the Church, whilst obscuring their gifts and grace. And this is how he leads them on, to build their own “faith”, which ignores the mystery of repentance - exclusively and validly administered by priests and bishops, regardless of their human shortcomings. 
The Mystery of Matrimony
By Fr. Arsenie Boca
“Jesus renders the bodily union of man and wife holy,
raising marriage to the height of great Mistery
– in Christ and in the Church.”
Fr. Arsenie Boca
 One Body
For as long as all the leaders of this world are not redundant, we shall render the money printed with their names; for as long as all people are not like angels, our nations need to multiply.
The family and the government – lowly institutions when we think about the happiness that exists in heaven – are necessary during our earthly awaiting of Heaven. However, for as long as these institutions are necessary, they will have to avoid being too unclean and rickety, as much as possible.
Whoever is in a leading position (the government) should feel the responsibility just as much as the one who serves; and the union between man and woman (the family) should be eternal and non-deceitful.
Jesus Christ sees marriage above all (spiritually speaking) as the union of two bodies. Here, He strengthens the word of the Old Testament: “[...] and the two shall become one flesh.” The bride and the groom shall be one body, impossible to separate. The man shall have no other woman; the woman shall have no other man, until death does them part. Man’s union with woman, when it is not the release of a vagrant luxury/pleasure or of furtive prostitution, when it is the meeting and the “offering” of two healthy virginities, when preceded by unforced choice, by pure/good passion, by an agreement that is known and consecrated by the world, acquires an almost mystical character, which no one can remove. The choice is without change, the pure passion is consecrated, the agreement is eternal. In the two bodies that embrace each other in their longing are two souls that find one another in love. The two bodies become one body, the two souls become one soul.
The two mix their blood; but from this union, a new being is born, who is made from their life: the visible embodiment of their mergence. Love makes them similar to God: makers of the ever new and miraculous creation.
But this bodily and ritualistic vanity, which is the most perfect among all the other imperfect humanly organizations - the Christian matrimony – must not be ever disturbed or interrupted. Adultery deteriorates it; divorce puts an end to it. Adultery is the shrewd betrayal of unity; divorce is its definitive denial. Adultery is a secret divorce, based on lying and betrayal; divorce – followed by a new marriage – is legalized adultery.
Jesus always condemns – solemnly and clearly – adultery and divorce. His whole being would rebel against terrible acts, against unfaithfulness and betrayal. The day will come, He prophesies, speaking about life in heavens, when men and women will no longer marry each other (Luke 20, 34-36); however, marriage should at least be aware of all the virtues that are allowed during one’s earthly life.
Jesus, Who always goes from the visible things to the invisible things, doesn’t call adulterous only the person who steals his brother’s wife, but also the person who looks at her with lustful eyes (Matthew 5, 27-28), while she may walk past. An adulterous man isn’t only the one who meets with someone else’s woman in secret, but also the one who, after having chased away his own wife, marries another one. There seems to be only one situation in which divorce is admitted: the adulterous woman’s husband; however, the abandoned wife’s guilt would by no means justify the betrayed husband’s crime of marrying another.
Before such an absolute and reckless Law, even the Apostles get up on their feet (Matthew 19:10). Since things must be that way, why would man ever get married? Still, He answers them: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it!” (Matthew 19, 12:12).
Marriage is a favor done to human nature and to life propagation. Not everyone is able to keep themselves pure, virgin, and single, “but only those to whom it has been given.” (Matthew 19, 11). Perfect celibacy is a gift, a reward of the soul’s victory over one’s body.
Anyone who wishes to dedicate all the love s/he is capable of great deeds shall have to “condemn” himself/herself to remaining chaste. The man who must carry out a heavy mission, which will require all of his days, up until his last one, cannot link himself to a woman.
Marriage requires you to leave your being into the will of another; the Savior will give all souls the union of two souls; but this would prove insufficient, as it would make it difficult – even impossible – to unite all souls with all the other souls. Responsibilities that follow the choosing of a woman, child-bearing, and settling one’s own small living space amidst the greater one – are so heavy, that they would raise daily obstacles to his other duties, that are extremely demanding.
The man who wishes to lead and change others cannot make a lifetime commitment to a single being. He would have to be unfaithful either to his wife or to his calling. He loves the endless world of his brothers and sisters too much to love only one of his sisters. A hero is always alone. His loneliness is punishment and greatness. He will deprive himself of the joys of domestic life while the love he has within him will multiply, to be shared with all people, in a sacrificial sublimation, which exceeds all earthly ecstasies. The man without a woman is lonely, but free; his soul, unconquered by worldly thoughts, may rise more highly. He does not bear children of flesh and bones, but helps the children of his soul [his spiritual children] to be reborn into a new life.
Yet not everyone is able to put up with abstinence. “The one who can accept this, should accept it!”  The Kingdom of Heaven requires people who will dedicate all their souls; the bodily dedication, even when limited by a rightful marriage, will soften up the vigor of the person who is called upon to look into spiritual matters.
Those who will rise on the great Day of victory will no longer face temptations in the Kingdom of Heaven. Man’s union with woman, even when consecrated through the eternal bond of matrimony, will be removed. Its great goal is bearing new people; but at that point, death will be defeated and there will no longer be a need for the eternal renewal of nations. “The sons of this age marry and [its daughters] are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that Age and to the Resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the Resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36).
By acquiring eternal life and angelic nature – the two promises and creeds of Christ – what seemed to be possible to stand becomes unthinkable; what seemed clean becomes lowly; and what seemed holy, becomes unworthy. In that supreme world, all the tribulations that humanity is required to go through will have already been negotiated.
To the sinful beastly male, his transitory union with a stolen woman is enough; a man will rise to the marriage level, to his sole union with his sole woman; whereas the saint will rise to a much higher level, reaching chastity of his own will. Yet more, the archangel-like man in heavens, who has been turned into a spirit full of love, will have defeated even the memory of his body; his love, in a world where there are no more poor, ill, suffering people and enemies, will have changed into a contemplation which is above the earthly realm.
The cycle of births will have ended. The fourth Kingdom will have been established once and for all. The citizens of that Kingdom will be eternally the same, throughout the ages. Woman will no longer bear forth in pain. The strain of the exile will have been over; the snake will have been defeated. The Father will kiss his lost child again; Heaven will be found a second time, never to be lost again.  Source: VALAHIA
Recent Miracle by Fr. Arsenie Boca of Romania
            Father Arsenie Boca of Romania is a recent Orthodox Saint who reposed on November 28, 1989 (he is not canonized yet).  A miracle occurred recently, and the woman of whom it happened to, narrated it to the fathers of Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona.  This is a first person account of exactly how she said it.
            “On the month of August 2014….
            Me, Aurica and my granddaughter Lorabell had from Saint Arsenie Boca a miraculous vision.  We were sitting in front of the computer watching some children music and all of a sudden in the middle of the screen appeared the image of Saint Arsenie Boca.  When we changed the page, he appeared again, so we stopped and looked at his image.  He spoke to our mind and soul and we could hear him very clearly.  He said to me with a very kind and warmth in his voice:
            “I came to you to advise you to avoid the internet as much as you can.  Avoid it because all this Facebook and other sites like this are pushing the people away from God.  People spend no time with God, or spend too little time with him.  Instead, they spend all the time with the internet spending hours on the computer, instead of praying or listening to spiritual music or anything that will keep their mind to God.  Try to avoid as much as possible the internet.  Bad events will happen more and more upon the earth, because people are astray from God more than ever!”
            When I heard, I started to cry and my granddaughter told me that the Saint spoke to her also and she confirmed that he told her exactly what was told to me.  At this point I asked Father Arsenie for his help, because of my weakness. I knew that I won’t be able to do it, but I prayed to him and asked him to help me do what he asked me to.  So, one day I stood away from the computer but the next day I turned it on.  As soon as I turned it on, the computer broke on its own, and for one week it was impossible to activate it.  I realized that Saint Arsenie was helped me just as I asked him.  This is very real what happened and my granddaughter can confirm it also…”   

Carrots and Green Apples Salad and Beets, Carrots and Green Apples Salad

2 green apples, cut into bite pieces
2 large carrots, diced
½ green pepper, diced
2/ tbsp. lemon juice
Pepper, salt to taste
½ tbsp dry oregano
½ tsp dry mint
½ tsp dry basil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/3 cup chopped green onions (optional)
2 tbsp. olive oil (optional)
Combine above ingredients and enjoy!
Beets, Carrots and Green Apples Salad
Same as above + Beets (2 medium boiled beets, cut into bite pieces) 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sunday of Orthodoxy- The Restoration of the Holy Icons

Sunday of Orthodoxy
First Sunday of Great Lent
By: Bishop Nikiforos Theotokis
            On this first Sunday of Great Lent, my fellow Christians, we gather to celebrate the victory over the heresy of the iconoclasts.  Many people don’t realize what exactly happened.  Saint John Chrysostom said to never complement and never condemn anyone, before they are given audience to. This is why, with God’s Grace, I will give you a detailed account on the situation.  I will previously note that the iconoclast controversy began in 726 AD and lasted for over 100 years, until the final victory known as “The Triumph of Orthodoxy” took place in 843 AD.
      In the early 700’s, there was a Persian king by the name of Izith, who was an idol-worshipper.  Three Jewish sorcerers, who had recently been exiled from Jerusalem, asked to see him personally.  When he met with them, they started, “O wise king.  Give heed to our words.  If you want to live many years, you must do what we say.  We are the most powerful of all sorcerers in the kingdom, and with our sorcery we learned that something dreadful is taking place and that you won’t live long if you don’t take action.  The Christians have these planks of colored wood in their churches, which they worship.  That is blasphemous towards our gods.  You must give an order to have them all removed, if you want to live a long peaceful life.”
      The king, being an idol-worshipper, hated the Christians. He believed in their words, and the same day ordered that all icons must be removed and destroyed.  Unfortunately, the king barely lived another year.  He died of sickness, and his son became king.  Even though his son was also an idol-worshipper, he was a lot wiser and peaceful than his father.  In the mean time, the Christians found out that these Jews were the cause for them to lose their holy icons.  A group of them went to the king and said, “Your majesty, we want you to know that those three sorcerers are the cause of your father’s untimely death.  Those God-less Jews talked your father into ordering all our icons destroyed, and that is why the wrath of God reached him quickly.  This is why, we beg of thee.  Order that we are once again allowed to venerate our icons as before, and we will also give you one third increase, on whatever our churches are taxed as well.” 
      The young king listened to their reply, and immediately ordered that all icons are to be restored.  He then put out word to find those filthy Jews, and have them executed.  The Jews, in the meantime, heard that the Christians went to the king, and fled away to a place called Isauria, so they won’t be found and executed. 
      In Isauria, in one of the fields, there was a young man named Leo, who was a shepherd.  He had many donkeys which he had released out to pasture, and he was sleeping under a tree when those Jews walked by him.  The Jews noticed that an eagle was circling above Leo in a strange way.  Being sorcerers, they realized that this was an omen that Leo would one day become king of the empire.  They woke him up and said, “Young man, we have something very important to tell you, but if you want to hear it, you must do something for us.”  Leo answered back, “Tell me what you want to tell me, and I give you my word I will do whatever you ask of me.”  The Jews said, “We have the power to make you king.”  Leo answered, “Me? King?  What good have I done to be made king?  If what you say is true and you make me king, then I promise that whatever you ask of me, I will provide.” 
      Oh what ignorance!  He didn’t think things thru.  What if they asked for his kingdom, or his wife, or even his head?!  Unfortunately, he was an uneducated shepherd with little if any experience in life.  If he was only a little smarter to ask them first what they wanted, before he promised.  The Jews ended up leaving, and he stayed there with his donkeys.  But, to our amazement, he ended up become king! This is how it happened.
      The king in that time period was Konstantinos Pogonatos, and he was getting an army ready, because they were at war with the Dalmations.  Leo was one of the young men that were recruited, and when the king saw how strong and tall Leo was, he made him in charge of ten men.  Then he rose to centurion, (100 men) and finally a chiliarch (1,000 men).  Unfortunately for the Church, King Konstandinos was slain in a bathhouse in Sicily, and Leo was chosen to be the new king.
      When those three Jews heard that Leo of Isauria was now the new emperor, they hastened to Constantinople.  They came before him and said, “Oh, wise king.  Do you by chance remember us?”  The king answered, “I honestly don’t remember who you are.”  He said this because it had been many years time, since he had last seen them.  They said, “We are those three wise men who found you when you were a young man.  You were sleeping under a tree and you had your donkeys out to pasture.  With our powers, we made you king.  Now, it’s your turn to give us what we want.”  When King Leo heard these words, he remembered them.  He got up from his throne and welcomed them, and ordered that his servants take good care of them, and they laid out splendid feast for the occasion.  The three sorcerers would not touch anything on the table and said, “Your majesty, we will not eat or drink anything from this table, until you give us what we came here for.” The king said, “Alright then. Go ahead.  Ask of me whatever you want, and I swear to our Almighty God, that I will give you what you ask for.” 
      They then said, “We, oh mighty king, did not come here to ask for your money, or fame, or positions, or anything like that.  We just want you to listen to what we have to say, and put it in effect.  Just remember, that you were once a poor young lad, and we with our wisdom and magic, made you king.  What we ask of you, is the least you can do for us in return.  If you meet our demand, you will live many years and become very famous.  Those colored planks of wood that your Christians worship in their churches, are evil.  We find in our books that they are deadly to the empire, and all of them must be destroyed.  This is why we beg of you, for the good of the empire, order that all icons be destroyed, for it is a major sin that they worship the wood and not God, and that sin is on your neck.  This is all we ask of you, your majesty.  If you will comply, tell us now, and prove to us that you will carry this out.” The king raised his right hand and said, “I swear to the throne of the Living God, that I will do as you tell me.”  Oh what ignorance! What stupidity! How brainless could this king have been?
      The Jews left the palace with peace, because they saw that the emperor was, indeed, going to do what they asked him.  The king, on the other hand, did not live a life of virtue, and let Satan enter his heart.  He decided to do exactly what the sorcerers told him to do, so he was trying to figure out some way to do it.  He didn’t have the courage to give a straight out order, because he knew the people would revolt.  So, he thought about convincing the Patriarch to tell the people to take out all the icons from the churches. 
      The Patriarch at that time was Saint Germanos.  King Leo summoned him to the palace, and they went into a private room to speak. The king started out by complimenting the Patriarch on the peace, of which he held within the churches, and then he got right to the point.  He started, “I’ve come to realize, your beatitude, that the icons that we Christians worship, have no difference what so ever between them and idols.  Therefore I command you to order the people to take them out themselves, or force will be used against them.  Or, if they are indeed holy, then order your clergy to hang them higher so people cannot worship them.  If we sinners go and kiss the icons, then naturally, we defile the saints by kissing them.”
      When the Patriarch heard what the king said, he let out a long sigh, and shook his head.  He said, “Your majesty. What is that which came forth from your mouth?  Our holy icons are not idols.  They are like portraits which portray our saints and our Lord and Savior.  He who venerates them does not defile them, but rather, he is blessed and sanctified.  The more one approaches the icons, the more he is illumined by the grace of whoever saint’s icon he just venerated.  Therefore, don’t ever let me hear things like that come out of your mouth, because they are heretical.  Once, an old gifted monk told me that there will be an emperor, who goes by the name of Konon, will start a heresy by proclaiming that the icons are idols.  So, take my advice.  Don’t you ever say anything like this again, for all the archons of the palace and all the people will revolt and kill you.” 
      When the emperor heard this, he said, “Your beatitude, I am Konon!  That is a nickname which one of my friends made up for me, and it stuck until I became emperor.”  When the Patriarch heard this, he got up from his seat and said to the emperor, “So, you are Konon.  Therefore, you have already made up your mind, and you will proclaim this heresy.  Listen to me, o king.  You are clearly uneducated, if not illiterate, and there is no way of reasoning with you and explaining the difference between icons and idols. Don’t you see how many miracles happen with our icons?  Don’t you see how many people are being healed?  You are clearly faithless, like those 3 Jews who visited you the other day.  What happened?  Are they the ones who put you up to this?  And you are going to listen to them?  Don’t think for a second, that I will take any part of this.  Let it be known, o king, that since you are listening to the Jews, you will be with them in hell!”
      When the emperor heard this, he was outraged.  He grabbed the Patriarch and gave him a slap in the face.  He screamed, “Get away from me you measly old man, before I have you executed!  The Patriarch humbly accepted the slap, and was thrown out of the palace.  The emperor then had another idea.  He was going to visit, “the teacher”.
      Back then, all Christian emperors had a certain elder, which they referred to as “the teacher.”  They lived in a smaller castle near the main palace, and they had with them 12 disciples, just as Christ had the 12 Apostles.  The emperors usually would get the advice of the teacher, before they made any serious proclamations.  In that castle was the largest library of church books known to man, at that given time.  It had an estimated 700,000 books!  The emperor visited the teacher, and told him what he had decided to proclaim.
      The teacher said, “Oh great king, I’ve read so many books, and never have I once read that it is bad to venerate the icons.  To the contrary, I’ve read that he who rejects the icons, is a heretic and is cursed by the fathers.”  The king answered, “Where does it say that it is good to venerate icons?”  The teacher said, “We first find it in the life of Apostle Luke.  It says that St. Luke was an excellent artist.  When Panagia (The All Holy or The Mother of God, the Virgin Mary) was still living, he drew up the first three icons in her name.  When Panagia visited his home and saw them, She was so happy, that She said, “May my son’s grace, and mine as well, be with them always.”  Now, if it was bad to have icons, wouldn’t Panagia reprimand St. Luke for painting them?  Apparently, it wasn’t bad.  To the contrary, She loved them.”
      The king replied, “Then why do the scriptures say that God told Moses to never worship any idol or icon?”  The teacher answered, “God told Moses that because He knew that they were going to fall into idolatry.  When Moses died, the first thing that several Jews did is they made idols and said that those idols where God.  We, on the other hand, do not say that our icons are God.  We just venerate them as portraits of Christ and His saints.  It’s very similar to our coins, oh king.  An image of your face is on every coin, and that’s why people don’t dare step on them or disrespect them.  The people don’t say that the coins are our king, just because your face is on them. Therefore, oh king, don’t say that our holy icons our idols, because you become heretical.  Have you by chance asked our holy Patriarch Germanos his opinion?”
      The king replied, “Yes. I summoned him yesterday, but he told me the same gibberish that you told me now.”  The teacher answered, “So, you consider what I’m saying gibberish?  You are telling me that the blasphemous and heretical comments you made about our icons are better?  I see that you have made up your mind.  Do whatever you want, king.  I can’t stop you.  Just know that I will have nothing whatsoever to do with this issue, because it’s purely heretical.”  The teacher got up without paying the proper respects to the king, turned his back, and simply went back to his disciples. 
      By now, the king had become totally demon-possessed.  He had clearly made up his stubborn mind.  When nighttime came, the king himself with a few of his trusted servants lit the castle on fire.  That night, the teacher, his disciples, and all those books burned down.  They were the first of many martyrs, during this period.
      The king proclaimed the following morning that all icons be removed from the churches and homes.  They were all to be burned or thrown into the sea.  This is when everything began.  He first threw out Patriarch Germanos, and put one of his friends named Anastasios as Patriarch.  He and another two friends of the kings, named Constantine and Nikitas, were even worse than the emperor.  They pushed him on even further. 
      There was a large icon of our Lord Jesus Christ above one of the gates of the city.  He ordered his spatharion (he who holds the king’s sword) with a few of his friends to destroy the icon.  Because it was very high, the spatharion climbed up there on a tall ladder.  Many Christians were present and begged of him to not destroy the icon, but he didn’t listen.  As he started breaking it apart, a group of zealous youngsters got together and threw the ladder down, killing the spatharios.  Their names were: Julian, Markianos, John, James, Alexios, Dimitrios, Fotios, Peter, Leondios, and a girl named Maria.  When the king heard what happened, he sent in his soldiers and they slew whoever was present at the site.  They captured the youngsters, and after a good beating they were imprisoned.  King Leo ordered that they get 500 lashings a day.  They endured for about 8 months, until the king ordered their faces burned. The next day, they were all beheaded.
      There was Saint Theofilos, who was beaten and imprisoned.  He was starved and finally exiled.  Then we have Saint Logginos the Stylite.  King Leo ordered him down on his hands and knees, and put an icon under each hand and knee.  They shaved his head, and had whatever icon they found in his cell, burned on his head.  He was whipped so brutally, that the blood was pouring like a stream from his body.  Even though the soldiers put icons under his hands and knees, he refused to step on them and would fall down sideways.  That’s when the emperor himself got up from his throne and repeatedly beat him in his face with his wretched hand, until he gave up his soul.  Bishop Hypation and Fr. Andrew from Lydia, were first dragged behind horses, before the king ordered their heads scalped.  Then they burned icons on their skulls, also.  After that, they poured hot tar on them, drove them around the city so everyone can laugh at them, and they were finally slaughtered in a hill outside the city.  Whatever was left of their bodies were thrown to the dogs.  St. John the Damaskene had his right hand chopped off, after he wrote three letters to the emperor defending the icons.  But Panagia miraculously connected his hand back to his arm.  Then we have St. George the Confessor.  The king had his nose cut off and icons burned on his face.  He died on the spot.  Then there was Saints Basil and Prokopios, who had the skin off their necks ripped off, and were left in prison until they died of hunger.  There were many more, but it would take a very long time to narrate them all.
      In time, King Leo passed away, and his son Constantine became emperor.  Unfortunately, he was more of an iconoclast than his father was.  He gathered numerous ascetics from the mountains, and had butchers come with their cleavers, who slaughtered all those holy men- only because they wouldn’t step on the icons of Christ and Panagia.  After Constantine, four other kings came to power, and with God’s grace, they were against the iconoclasts.  Peace came upon the empire, but only for a short time.  That is when King Leo the Armenian came into power.  He started the second major iconoclast period. 
      King Leo was a true Orthodox Christian, who believed that icons were holy.  But unfortunately, he was tricked into joining the iconoclast. This is how it happened.  King Leo was one of the previous king’s praetorian.  (The praetorian guards were the emperor’s elite body guards.)  One day as Leo went hunting, he saw some human tracks, and decided to follow them.  He came upon a cave, of which an old ascetic lived in.  He got the ascetics blessing, and sat with him for a while and confessed his sins.  Before he left, the ascetic looked in to his eyes and said, “I want you to know that one day you will be the emperor of our empire.”  Hearing this, Leo left and joined his party.  A few days after this meeting, the ascetic passed away, and some of his disciples buried him in his cave and went on their ways. 
      A few years later, Leo the Armenian becomes emperor.  He summons one of his servants, who was secretly an iconoclast, and tells him to go find the ascetic that foretold him of his kingship, so he may come and bless him and the palace.  His servant, Theodosios, thought of this to be a perfect opportunity to bring the iconoclasts back.  He knew of an old man, who was as eager as he was to bring the iconoclasts back, so he devised a scheme.  He found the old man and told him to go to the cave of the previous ascetic, and they laid out their plan.
      King Leo sent out a group of servants to the cave.  They had many simple gifts for the ascetic from the King; raisins, figs, dried bread, and nuts.  When they reached the cave and offered these gifts, the wretched old man said, “Stop in the name of Christ!  I will not accept anything from an idolater.  The king is an idol-worshipper because he worships those colored planks of wood!  Go now, and tell him, that God is sick of this treachery, and that in a few days time, he will wipe out the king from the face of this earth!”  The servants went back to the palace and told the emperor what the ascetic had said.  The emperor was shocked! He didn’t know what to make out of this situation.  He summoned for his servant Theodosios and asked him for his opinion.  Theodosios, in the meantime, had everything worked out.  He said, “O king. I don’t know what to make of this situation.  Why don’t we visit the ascetic in three days time?  We will surprise him in the middle of the night, and why don’t we switch our clothes? I’ll look like the emperor and you will look like the servant.  That way we will see if he truly has the gift of for-knowledge.  If he does, then we know that God sent him, and we will do exactly what he tells us to.”  It sounded like a good idea to the king, so he agreed.  Theodosios, in the meantime, sent one of his personal servants to the fake ascetic, and told him what was going to happen.  To make a very long story a little shorter, the king went and the fake ascetic simply tricked him into believing that the icons are idolatry.  That is when the king, once again, proclaimed that the icons must be removed from the churches. 
      Once again, turmoil began within the empire.  King Leo was not as violent as the previous iconoclasts.  He simply exiled everyone who rose up against him.  He did order some tortures, but they weren’t nearly as bad as those as Leo of Isauria.  He exiled Patriarch Methodios, and put a sorcerer named John as patriarch.  He told people that it was also forbidden to venerate the relics, etc.  King Leo was eventually murdered during a church service in Constantinople, and a man named Theofilos was crowned emperor.
      Theofilos, was a very brutal man.  He was more of an iconoclast than any of the previous kings.  The only good thing he had was justice.  He was very just, and could not stand to see anyone taken advantage of.  One of his good friends, an archon of the palace, took advantage of a young widow, and took all her belongings including a small ship her late husband had left her.  When Theofilos was made aware of what happened, he ordered that they light up a bonfire, and he had his friend burned to the stake for what he did to that widow.  Even though Theofilos was a savage man, he lived with his wife- Saint Theodora the Queen. 
      Saint Theodora was a beautiful, delicate creature, who loved the icons with all her heart.  She would take out from hiding, her beloved icons, and venerate them everyday.   She constantly prayed for her beloved husband, so he can one day come to his senses and accept the icons.  Theofilos was such a savage, that whenever his beloved wife would come up to him to talk to him, he would “shoo” her away.  Due to this, she learned not to speak to him that much and she would unceasingly pray day and night that he might find some mercy in God’s eyes. 
      One day, as the queen went to her room to pray, she forgot to lock the door.  The moment she had put her lips on an icon to venerate, the door flies open, and who walks in?  Venderis!  The kings pet chimpanzee!  He was a funny looking creature that the king had as a pet for entertainment purposes.  When Venderis saw the queen kiss the icons, he ran out of the room and went back to the king.  There, he started imitating what the queen had just done.  He bent down, kissed his hand, and pointed to the queen’s room.  The king instantly suspected that the queen might have icons, so he barged in her room and said, “Are you not a Christian? Are you an idolatress?”  The queen answered, “Lord have Mercy! What kind of question is that? Who told you I worship idols?”  The king said, “Venderis told me u kissed icons.”  “Oh that crazy little creature!” she replied. “I was looking at my beautiful reflection in the glass, and kissed it.  He probably got confused with that.”  The king believed her and never again brought up the subject. 
      After five years had passed, the Arabs started taking parts of the empire, and taking many Christians as slaves.  They took Crete, Sicily, and many smaller islands.  Not only was Constantinople in fear of being taken over, but a bitter cold hit the city, and earthquakes one after another.  King Theofilos, would not repent.  He didn’t see these disasters as warnings from above.  He was in power for 12 years, when he started getting very sick.  He got so sick, that his entrails would pour out of his mouth.  The doctors were trying everything to heal him. They tried sticking his intestines back in, but they would just pour out by themselves.  The worst part about it was that he wouldn’t die! 
      Saint Theodora was constantly by his side, praying for him.  One night, she fell asleep next to him and saw the following dream.  She saw our Panagia come up to him, circled by numerous Angels.  She ordered the Angels to whip him, because of all the evil things he did to her icons.  That is when the queen awoke, and the king awoke also.  He started to scream, “Woe to me the sinner!  I am being whipped merciless by Angels!  It is all because of the icons! Forgive me, oh Lord!”  He looked around and saw that one of his servants had a pendant on his neck with an icon of Christ on it.  He summoned him closer, took the pendant off his neck, and took it and kissed it with all his soul.  When he did that, the intestines which were pouring from his mouth, ceased instantaneously!  Queen Theodora ran to her room and brought an icon of Christ with Panagia for him to kiss.  He took it in his arms, and with many sobs, kissed it also.  To everyone’s surprise, the king left his last breath as he was kissing the icon of Christ.
      After the death of King Theofilos, his son Michael became king.  Michael was only five and a half years old when he was crowned, but naturally, Theodora was the queen so she was now in command.  She ordered that whoever was in exile or in prison because of the icons, be freed immediately.  She threw out the sorcerer John from the patriarchal throne, and reinstated Patriarch Methodios from exile.  (It took a while to find him.  He was locked in between two walls, in a way where only his face can be seen so he can be fed.)
      Saint Ioannikios the Great, the ascetic from the mountains of Prussia, and Saint Arsaakios, both saw visions, in which God ordered them to go to the city, and help the Queen and the Patriarch reinstate the icons.  On the road to Constantinople, they met with an ascetic Isaiah who also was told to go thru a vision.  He was told in his vision, that the enemies of our Lord and our icons have fallen, there will be no more iconoclasts, and that from now on, there will be piece in the empire.  So all three, joined together and went to help the Patriarch.
      They told the Patriarch why they were there, and he told them to go talk to the Queen.  When they met the queen, they said, “We beg of thee, wise queen.  Please, let our holy icons once again adore our churches.  They are truly holy, and are not idols.  Let us bring back the grace and beauty of which our churches initially had, so our Christians’ faith can once again be made strong.  If you do this, our queen, your memory will be eternal.”  The queen humbly answered, “I accept your words, wise and holy fathers, and I will like to make something known to you.  I am an Orthodox Christian from birth, and always have been.  I’ve been venerating our holy icons during this whole ordeal, but in secret. (As she was saying those words, she pulled out an icon of Christ and Panagia from her breast pocket and kissed it.)  He who does not venerate the icons of Christ, Panagia, and the Saints, let him be anathematized!” When the fathers heard what the queen said, they gave thanks to God for the faith, of which she had.
      The queen continued, “I beg of you, fathers.  Please pray to God for the salvation of my husband.  Due to his heresy and all his treachery, I fear he is in hell.”  The patriarch said, “This is way above us, oh queen.  But fear not, for the mercy of God is endless.  I would recommend you order a strict fast for three days in your kingdom.  Everyone must fast, starting from the youngest to the oldest.  Let free many of your servants, and give almsgiving to the poor.  God doesn’t want anybody to be condemned.  He may be touched by all this, and he may show us some sign.”
      After saying this, the Patriarch went to the Patriarchate, for it was the beginning of Great Lent.  There he ordered a strict fast to take place.  All young, old, elders, men, women, priests, bishops, metropolitans, laity, monks, and ascetics, gathered with the Patriarch to church.  Within that group, was Saint Theodore the Studite, Saint Ioannikios the Great, Saints Theofanis and Theodore, Saint Theofanis the Abbot, and many more virtueous and miraculous fathers.  They held supplication services and vigils, for the soul of Theofilos, during the whole first week of Lent.  
      The queen did what the patriarch told her, and gathered everyone from her palace into one of the big churches of Panagia, and prayed with everyone for his soul.  She hadn’t slept for days and on Saturday morning, she slept and saw the following vision.  She saw many black men running thru the city, holding different items.  Some had knifes, some spears, and some swords.  She noticed they were dragging something behind them, and as she got closer, she saw that it was her husband Theofilos! He was being dragged naked, and was being beaten by the blacks without mercy.  She ran behind them to see what they were going to do to him.  They finally reached one of the gates of the city, where a glorious king was sitting on an immense throne.  There, they brought Theofilos, and tied him on a column in front of the king.  That is when the queen ran thru the crowd and reached the throne.  She fell on her feet, and begged of the king to show mercy on her husband and let him free.  The king just sat there and looked at her, not even opening his mouth.  So, the queen continued crying and begging for his release. 
      Finally, after quite some time, the king opened his mouth.  He said, “Oh woman.  Great, is your faith. I want you to know that due to your tears and due to the prayers of all my priests, I forgive Theofilos.”  He then ordered that Theofilos be untied, and they handed him over to the queen.
And that was the end of her vision.
      The Patriarch, on the other hand, had done something else.  He had written on a piece of paper all the names of the iconoclast emperors, including Theofilos, and had put the paper under the altar table so they can be commemorated.  As he was praying, also on Saturday morning, he fell into ecstasy and saw an angel.  The angel said to him. “Your prayers have been heard and answered, oh Patriarch.  Theofilos has been forgiven, so don’t bother God anymore with your request,” and then he vanished.  The patriarch didn’t know what to make of it.  He wasn’t sure if it was truly an angel, or if it was demonic.  He ran right into the altar and opened up the piece of paper and was shocked! Every emperor’s name which he wrote on the paper was there, but Theofilos had vanished from the paper! 
      The Patriarch notified the queen immediately, and all the clergy and laity.  Everyone gave thanks and glory to God.  The next morning, First Sunday of Lent, they all went to church at the Patriarchate, with the queen and the young King Michael.  After Liturgy, the queen grabbed an icon with her son, and everyone followed her example.  The clergy wore their best vestments, and the Patriarch officially anathematized anyone who dared disrespect our icons.  They then held a procession around the city.  Since then, the First Sunday of Lent is dedicated to the reinstatement of our holy icons.
      My blessed Christians! Let us keep strong in our faith.  Let us believe in what the prophets had seen.  In what the Apostles taught.  Let us believe in what our Mother Church has handed down to us.  In what our fathers and our martyrs died for.  May we believe in what Christ Himself has established. We will stand up for our faith in Christ our God, and we will honor and venerate our Panagia and our Saints.  With words, with chants, with icons in our churches and our homes, we pray that we will be found worthy for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen.