Tag Archives: The Saints

Questions for an Interview with Fr. Andrew Phillips on the Bulgarian Edition of ‘Orthodox Christianity and the Old English Church’.

  • Father Andrew, to begin our interview, let us note that you are one of the serious researchers of Orthodox Christianity in England. Your many works pay attention to the spreading of Christianity before the schism of 1054. Tell us first how did it happen that you decided to dedicate yourself to this mission – to find and spread information and facts about the spreading of Christianity in England.

I was born and brought up not in London, which is the Norman capital of Britain, but in the English countryside. Here there still survived English traditions. There I lived near or heard of saints and places connected with saints, of whom I knew nothing. Adults seemed to know very little either. They would say, for example: ‘That was all a long time ago’ or ‘Things were different then’, or simply ‘He was a saint’. But nobody could tell me what a saint was. All I knew was that there was a special atmosphere around those saints and places, something warm and pleasant, something that made me feel at home.

So when I was eight years old I began trying to find out about them, asking people and looking for books about these saints. Who were these mysterious people with unfamiliar names? Even then I felt that they had a special aura about them, which was quite different from the atmosphere surrounding other more recent figures and places. I began realising that their values were quite different, but they were values with which I identified. By the time I was twelve, I knew that I belonged to them. Imagine a Bulgarian child hearing of St John of Rila and trying to find out about him. Who was he? When did he live? What did he express, write and believe? Why does he have this special atmosphere? What was this Church that he belonged to?

When I was twelve, I opened a mysterious book called ‘The New Testament’. I realised that the atmosphere and values expressed there were also mine and that they were identical to the atmosphere and values of these old saints. The New Testament, the words of Christ, explained them. When I was fifteen, I understood that somewhere there must be a church with these values. I could not find one. They all seemed empty inside. However, when I was sixteen, I managed to visit a Russian Orthodox church. Immediately, I felt at home and knew that this was my place, both the Church of the Gospels which Christ had spoken of and the Church of the old saints I had heard of in childhood. Their spirit was identical. I had found my identity, the world that I belonged to, Orthodox Christian Civilisation, of which the old saints in England had been tiny fragments a long time ago.

  • When you were researching this subject did you come across something that made a particular impression to you and remained etched in your memory? Something which you kept with yourself and remember well.

I think what impressed me as I did more research in my late teens and twenties was the parallels between the lives of these saints and those of Orthodox Eastern Europe, Russia, Greece and the Middle East. For example, I understood that Orthodoxy had come to Ireland from Egypt via Gaul. Later, indeed, I discovered that there are some fifty ancient Irish manuscripts at St Catherine’s monastery on Sinai! Or that the lives St Seraphim of Sarov in nineteenth-century Russia and St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne in seventh-century England are astonishingly similar. I realised that time and space, history and geography, are nothing before the Eternal God.

  • At the end of 2020 your book Orthodox Christianity and the Old English Church was published in Bulgaria. In it you deal chiefly on the evangelisation and the mission organized by St Gregory the Great and St Augustine of Canterbury. Christian evangelization however reaches further into Ireland and Scotland. Tell us more about the spreading of Christianity in these lands?

I wrote that book in 1988, so it has come to Bulgaria after 32 years!

The evangelisation of the Isles is very varied and there are many threads. For example the Celts in what is called Wales very much kept the Roman Christian inheritance which had come in the first four centuries after Christ. This is what lies behind the myths of King Arthur, fighting against the pagan English in order to defend the spirit of Roman Christianity. By the way, Arthur itself is a Roman name, meaning ‘Little Bear’. Many of the Welsh saints had Roman names like Ambrose or Justin, though the greatest is called David. Legend has it that in the sixth century he was consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The light from the East, and Christianity began in the East, in Asia, in Jerusalem, not at all in Europe, had to enlighten the West. From sunrise to sunset, east to west.

On the other hand, the Irish, who had never been Romanised received their Christianity from Egypt via Gaul. Here St Martin of Tours and his followers played an important role in transmitting the monasticism of the Egyptian Desert to Ireland. From Ireland this was taken by St Columba to Iona in what we now call Scotland. From Iona the Irish monastic influence spread southwards to Lindisfarne in Northern England and further south still to the Midlands and southwards.

Finally, there was the mission of St Augustine, sent by St Gregory the Dialogist from Rome to convert the English. (He had no knowledge of the situation in Wales, Scotland and Ireland). This mission was successful in the South of England, but the rest of the country was converted by the Irish influence. However, the future National Church was organised by this southern mission.

So the conversion of England was an Anglo-Celtic evangelisation. Influences came from Egypt, Gaul, Rome and then were assimilated by the local peoples, principally by the Irish and the English.

  • If one enters deeply into the subject of Christianity in Britain, he will see that there is a certain difference between English Christianity and Celtic Christianity. What is the difference between the two and to what can we attribute it?

As we have said, the British Isles and Ireland were evangelised from two places: Continental Europe and Egypt. I am not keen on the word Celtic in this historical context, it has Pagan/New Age connotations. It can often be replaced by the word ‘Irish’, but we can keep the word Celtic if we give it a Christian sense.

If we simplify the situation, we can say in general that administration and organisation came from Rome and affected the English more, whereas asceticism came from Ireland and influenced the Celtic peoples more. Of course, as we have said, the two influences merged. We have to see that the Isles (the British Isles and Ireland) are an Anglo-Celtic domain. The English need the Celts, the Celts need the English. Both organisation and asceticism are essential. Here there is a mystery, which is contemporary and even has a political dimension. The two peoples need one another.

  • Today the English Church is very different from what it was before. Do you consider that there is any opportunity at all in time for it to return to its deeper roots?

It depends what you mean by the English Church. There is really no such thing. In England 97% of people have no real and practising attachment to any Christian religious organisation. Perhaps 1% belong to Anglicanism (the State Church), 1% belong to various other Protestant groups and 1% to Roman Catholicism. All these organisations are dying out, very rapidly.

Once you have lapsed into heresy, that is the end of the road. For example, we receive English people into the Church who, like myself, were never Christians before. They have not been tainted by heterodoxy so they are receptive to the Church. As the Gospel says: ‘If a corn of what falls into the ground and does not die, it remains alone, but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit’ (Jn. 12, 24).

  • Which English saint do you most often pray to and who are the most revered and worshipped saints of England among Orthodox Christians today?

I live in a town called Felixstowe, named after a saint called St Felix (+ 647), who nearly 1400 years ago came from Gaul and brought Christ to Eastern England, where I was born and live. The other saint is St Edmund, who was King of East Anglia, but was martyred by the pagan Vikings in 869. His memory is very much alive here and even his life is known to many in this region. We are just opening a new church dedicated to him. The saints live!

There are perhaps four other saints who are still revered. These are St Alban the Protomartyr (+ 305?) (and was recently added to the official Russian Orthodox calendar), St Cuthbert (+ 687) (especially in the North of England), St Audrey (+ 679) (especially in the East of England) and St Hilda (+ 680) (especially in the North).

June 2021

 

Akathist to the Venerable Gabriel of Samtavro, Confessor and Fool-for-Christ

Troparion, Tone 2

Receptacle of the Holy Spirit, confessor of the faith of Christ who shone forth in Iberia, O Venerable Father Gabriel! Thou who wast rejected by the world, glorified by thy foolishness for Christ and burning with the love of Christ, hearken to us thy people, that the Lord may forgive our transgressions.

Kontakion, Tone 5

Fruitful vine of the garden of Paradise, valiant soldier of Christ, O venerable Father Gabriel and Wonderworker of Samtavro! Thou who didst ascend to the heights of virtue and surpassed the wise by thy wisdom, O most wondrous fool for Christ, beseech the Master and Almighty that He may deliver us from bondage to sin, the violence of the adversary and great hardships.

Kontakion 1

Chosen vessel of the grace of God, fragrant source of miracles, boast of Iberia, O most wondrous Father Gabriel! Now do we offer thee a song of praise, and since thou hast great boldness towards the Lord, deliver us from all misfortunes, that we may cry to thee with love: Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Ikos 1

Imitating the angelic life, thou didst please God with thy purity and humility, O most blessed Father Gabriel, and thou wast found worthy of acquiring the great gifts of the Holy Spirit! Marvelling at the greatness of thy feat, we call out to thee thus:

Rejoice, well of the wisdom of God;

Rejoice, spring of the living faith.

Rejoice, heart that contained Christ;

Rejoice, tree who has brought forth spiritual fruit.

Rejoice, thou who wast chosen by God from birth;

Rejoice, thou who wast called to serve Him;

Rejoice, thou who didst enlighten the Iberian land by thy miracles;

Rejoice, thou who didst shine forth by thy God-pleasing life.

Rejoice, thou who wast affirmed by God on the rock of faith;

Rejoice, thou who didst preach the Name of Christ with love.

Rejoice, thou who didst endure many sorrows in thy life;

Rejoice, thou who didst enter the Kingdom of Heaven thereby.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 2

Seeing the abundant outpouring of miracles from thy shrine, O Venerable Father Gabriel, we are confirmed in faith and piety. Revering thee as a wondrous pleaser of God, with thankful lips we cry to the Lord, the Giver of good things: Alleluia.

Ikos 2

Beseech the Lord to enlighten our reason, O pleaser of God Gabriel, that, shaking off earthly passions and vain cares, we may ascend with our hearts and minds to the heavenly abodes, wherein thou dwellest, and call out to thee thus:

Rejoice, fragrance of the Paradise of Christ;

Rejoice, radiance of the grace of God.

Rejoice, boast and adornment of the garden of the Mother of God;

Rejoice, thou who didst strike terror into the insolent who did sacrilege.

Rejoice, thou who didst strive for monastic solitude from thy youth;

Rejoice, thou who didst call out to God for help.

Rejoice, thou who didst heed the Word of God;

Rejoice, thou who didst obey His commandments.

Rejoice, thou who didst bear the chains of feigned foolishness;

Rejoice, thou who didst put to shame the delusions of this world.

Rejoice, thou who didst love poverty and humiliations;

Rejoice, thou who didst glorify the Name of God.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 3

Strengthened by the power of the love of Christ, bestowed on thee from above, O Venerable Father Gabriel, thou wast zealous in acquiring feats like the Fathers of the Ancient Church.  Growing in humility and meekness, thou didst pray for heavenly help, crying out to the Lord: Alleluia.

Ikos 3

Having great faith and firm trust in the Lord, thou didst choose the path of foolishness, O most wondrous Father Gabriel. Singing with love and glorifying God, wondrous in His saints, we call out to thee thus:

Rejoice, ray of the Sun of truth;

Rejoice, thou who wast illumined by the light of Christ.

Rejoice, adamant of the Orthodox faith;

Rejoice, glory and praise of fasters.

Rejoice, thou who dost brighten our hearts with the light of faith;

Rejoice, thou who dost teach us awe.

Rejoice, zealot of piety;

Rejoice, zealous builder of a church of God.

Rejoice, thou who didst save profaned holy places from desecration;

Rejoice, thou who didst reject the threats of persecutors.

Rejoice, thou who didst bear the yoke of Christ with love;

Rejoice, thou who didst serve God diligently.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 4

Shunning the storms of the sea of life and seeking solitude and prayer, thou didst come to Betania Monastery, O most Blessed Father Gabriel! Instructed by spirit-bearing fathers, praising Almighty God, thou didst cry out to Him with tenderness of heart: Alleluia.

Ikos 4

When the inhabitants of Iberia heard of thy boldness in glorifying the name of Christ out loud, they marvelled at thy feat. Having put to shame the worship of an idol, thou didst ascend to the cross of sufferings. Singing of thy feat, O Venerable Father Gabriel, we proclaim to thee:

Rejoice, spirit-bearing child of the fathers of Betania;

Rejoice, zealot of monastic feats.

Rejoice, bright adornment of the Church of Christ;

Rejoice, illumination of the Iberian land.

Rejoice, thou who didst enrich thyself by poverty and reason;

Rejoice, thou who partookest of heavenly glory.

Rejoice, thou who didst capture the devil by thy exploits;

Rejoice, thou who didst commit an image of the Godless leader to fire.

Rejoice, thou who didst preach the faith of Christ while in bonds;

Rejoice, thou who didst bring sinners to repentance.

Rejoice, thou who wast confined to a home for the insane;

Rejoice, thou who wast glorified by Divine miracles.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 5

Thou wast a star guided by God shining in the firmament of Iberia, O wondrous Father Gabriel. Enduring suffering and reviling for Christ and reckoned among the outcast, now thou dost glorify Him with the saints, crying out to the Lord: Alleluia.

Ikos 5

Seeing thy zeal for God, O venerable one, the enemy of our salvation poured out his fury on thee through the Godless authorities. And thy lot, O Holy Father, was sorrows and persecutions. Singing of thy feats, which astonished the angels, we fall down to thee with love:

Rejoice, fountain of Divine miracles;

Rejoice, heart full of love.

Rejoice, thou who didst endure slander with gracious soul;

Rejoice, thou who didst conquer enemies with love.

Rejoice, thou who didst choose grave slabs for thy bed;

Rejoice, thou who didst shine forth in the abodes of heaven.

Rejoice, thou who didst humbly beg for alms;

Rejoice, thou who didst receive a reward in heaven.

Rejoice, thou who didst touch the tears of the Lord on the Cross;

Rejoice, thou who wast found worthy to hear His voice.

Rejoice, thou who wast freed from prison by the Zealous Intercessor;

Rejoice, thou who wast consoled by the Mother of God.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 6

The land of Iberia preaches thee, O wondrous Father Gabriel, swift intercessor in misfortunes and ardent petitioner for the salvation of our souls. Thou didst humbly wear the cross of holy foolishness and thank the Lord in sorrows, and now thou dost teach us to glorify Christ, prayerfully singing to God: Alleluia.

Ikos 6

Thou hast shone forth with grace, like the brightest beacon, like the radiant dawn, O Venerable Father Gabriel. Singing of thy great feat and labours, with love we call out to thee thus:

Rejoice, abode of the Holy Spirit;

Rejoice, receptacle of great gifts.

Rejoice, adornment of Samtavro Convent;

Rejoice, wondrous multiplication of the glory of the saints.

Rejoice, thou who didst subdue the fleshly mind to the spirit;

Rejoice, thou who didst put the cunning of the enemy to shame.

Rejoice, thou who didst conceal the gracious gifts of God behind feigned intoxication;

Rejoice, thou who didst heal those suffering from the disease of addiction to drink.

Rejoice, thou who wast compassionate to sinners;

Rejoice, thou who didst wish salvation for all.

Rejoice, thou who didst despise the intimidations of the enemy;

Rejoice, thou who didst boldly preach Orthodoxy.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 7

Wishing to serve the Lord, O Father Gabriel most worthy of praise, thou didst shun all the fleeting and vain things of this world. Following Christ on the path of suffering, with a simple heart thou didst cry out to Him with love: Alleluia.

Ikos 7

The Lord raised thee up, a new and venerable monk, O most praised Father Gabriel, in the hour of the harsh persecution of the Church of Christ. Singing of thy great feat, O most wondrous one, we cry to thee thus:

Rejoice, pillar of Orthodoxy;

Rejoice, sincere friend of Christ.

Rejoice, thou who wast warmed by the grace of God in sorrow;

Rejoice, holy heir of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Rejoice, thou who art filled with Divine love;

Rejoice, thou who didst live an angelic life on earth.

Rejoice, thou who wast persecuted in thy life;

Rejoice, thou who now dost glorify Christ with the saints.

Rejoice, thou who dost call down the mercy of God on sinners;

Rejoice, thou who dost bring those gone astray to their senses.

Rejoice, thou who didst heal a family from barrenness by thy prayers;

Rejoice, thou who didst tell them of the birth of their daughter.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 8

Thou wast a stranger and passing visitor in this world, O most worthy of praise Father Gabriel. Seeking the City of Heaven, thou didst choose the thorny path of salvation, thanking the merciful Lord for all things and singing to Him: Alleluia.

Ikos 8

All filled with the grace of God and strengthened in arduous labour by the Lord, thou didst call out to Him: ‘He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust!’ And thou dost teach us to abide with Christ, all calling out to thee:

Rejoice, leader of those seeking salvation;

Rejoice, heavenly seed of the land of Iberia.

Rejoice, champion of the Orthodox faith;

Rejoice, wondrous converser with the saints.

Rejoice, defender of the offended;

Rejoice, comforter of the afflicted.

Rejoice, thou who dost show us speedy help;

Rejoice, thou who dost call us to repentance.

Rejoice, thou who dost drive away the darkness of despair;

Rejoice, thou who dost fill our hearts with hope.

Rejoice, thou who dost rescue us from sudden death by prayer;

Rejoice, thou who dost deliver us from disasters and misfortunes.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 9

All the saints and the heavenly hosts received thee with joy, O Father Gabriel most worthy of praise, when the path of thy earthly wanderings ended and thou wast taken up to the heavenly Jerusalem. And marvelling at what a wonderworker and man of prayer the Lord has given us, with thankful hearts we cry to Him thus: Alleluia.

Ikos 9

Orators with their fleshly wisdom are not able to grasp the height of thy exploit, O venerable one. Concealing the great gifts of the Holy Spirit beneath the veil of foolishness for Christ, shining forth in the purity of thy life, reckoned among the insane, thou didst put to shame the wisdom of this world, O most wondrous Father Gabriel. For this reason we praise thee thus:

Rejoice, fragrant flower of Paradise;

Rejoice, thou who wast exiled for the sake of truth.

Rejoice, thou who didst flourish like a palm in thine immaculate life;

Rejoice, most zealous pleaser of God.

Rejoice, thou who didst warm hearts by the radiance of thy holiness;

Rejoice, thou who didst have invincible wealth of the soul.

Rejoice, thou who didst gain the Heavenly Kingdom by thy humility of spirit;

Rejoice, thou who didst inherit the promised land for thy meekness.

Rejoice, thou who didst burn with prayer to God;

Rejoice, thou who didst endure torment for the sake of Christ.

Rejoice, thou who wast strengthened by the grace of God;

Rejoice, thou who wast instructed by the Holy Spirit.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 10

Walking the saving path towards the heavenly Jerusalem, thou didst acquire the spirit of peace, O Venerable Father Gabriel. Putting all thy trust in the Lord, now thou dost teach us to follow in the footsteps of Christ and commend ourselves to His good will, singing to Him with love: Alleluia.

Ikos 10

Unbreachable wall of prayer, shield protecting the faithful, warrior of Christ rescuing sinners from the abyss of perdition, we beseech thee, O Venerable Father Gabriel most worthy of praise, forsake not us who are besieged by the storm of passions without thy help, that we may call out to thee thus:

Rejoice, mirror of Divine love;

Rejoice, praise of the meek.

Rejoice, strengthening of the weak in faith;

Rejoice, intercession for the suffering.

Rejoice, instructor of those who seek salvation;

Rejoice, admonition of the proud.

Rejoice, fountain of Divine healings;

Rejoice, heir of the abodes of heaven.

Rejoice, ray who shone forth in the gloom of Godlessness;

Rejoice, preacher who didst denounce heresy.

Rejoice, thou who didst cast down the power of the enemy by fasting and prayer;

Rejoice, thou who wast victorious over evil spirits by humility.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 11

We offer thee songs of praise, O most wondrous Father Gabriel. Iberia rejoices, and Samtavro Convent exults, glorifying the merciful Lord Who has given us His saint, with love proclaiming to Him: Alleluia.

Ikos 11

O wonderful light, O guiding star to those living in the darkness of sin, O Venerable Father Gabriel. Vouchsafed the formidable appearance of the Queen of Heaven, thou didst beseech mothers not to destroy their children in the womb. Therefore, as to a zealous intercessor for us we call out to thee thus:

Rejoice, glorious chosen one of God;

Rejoice, thou who didst please Him from thy youth.

Rejoice, thou who didst conquer enemies with the Name of Jesus;

Rejoice, thou who didst call on the Chosen Leader of the hosts for help.

Rejoice, thou who didst seek the Heavenly Kingdom;

Rejoice, thou who didst acquire treasures of the Holy Spirit.

Rejoice, thou who didst loud thunder out the Word of God;

Rejoice, thou who didst put unbelief to shame.

Rejoice, thou who didst wear a diadem in holy foolishness;

Rejoice, thou who didst receive a crown of glory.

Rejoice, thou who didst devote thy life to God;

Rejoice, thou who didst preserve the precious gift of faith from thy youth.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 12

Acquiring the grace of God and reaching the City of Heaven by the path of the commandments of Christ, O Venerable Father Gabriel, now in the Church Triumphant with the saints and heavenly hosts, with loud voice thou dost hymn the King of kings and offer Him the song of praise: Alleluia.

Ikos 12

Singing of thy most glorious feats and miracles, we marvel at thy angelic life, O Father Gabriel most worthy of praise, and offer thee our prayers of praise, crying out to thee with love thus:

Rejoice, thou who art clothed in the robe of humility;

Rejoice, thou who wast borne up to the heights of heaven.

Rejoice, fragrant oil of the grace of God;

Rejoice, chosen confessor of Christ.

Rejoice, thou who didst perform the Jesus Prayer;

Rejoice, thou who didst beat adversaries with the Name of Christ.

Rejoice, thou who didst denounce the powers that be;

Rejoice, thou who didst put worldly wisdom to shame.

Rejoice, thou who didst heal a heterodox from grievous illness;

Rejoice, thou who didst enlighten his soul with the light of the faith of Christ.

Rejoice, healer from cancer and manifold ailments;

Rejoice, liberator of those possessed with demons.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 13

O wondrous Father Gabriel most worthy of praise, our swift comforter and intercessor! Accept this song of praise from us, beseech the Almighty Lord that we may be saved from everlasting condemnation and torment and be found worthy to sing to Him with thee: Alleluia.

This kontakion is read three times, then Ikos 1 and Kontakion 1.

Ikos 1

Imitating the angelic life, thou didst please God with thy purity and humility, O most blessed Father Gabriel, and thou wast found worthy of acquiring the great gifts of the Holy Spirit! Marvelling at the greatness of thy feat, we call out to thee thus:

Rejoice, well of the wisdom of God;

Rejoice, spring of the living faith.

Rejoice, heart that contained Christ;

Rejoice, tree who has brought forth spiritual fruit.

Rejoice, thou who wast chosen by God from birth;

Rejoice, thou who wast called to serve Him;

Rejoice, thou who didst enlighten the Iberian land by thy miracles;

Rejoice, thou who didst shine forth by thy God-pleasing life.

Rejoice, thou who wast affirmed by God on the rock of faith;

Rejoice, thou who didst preach the Name of Christ with love.

Rejoice, thou who didst endure many sorrows in thy life;

Rejoice, thou who didst enter the Kingdom of Heaven thereby.

Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Kontakion 1

Chosen vessel of the grace of God, fragrant source of miracles, boast of Iberia, O most wondrous Father Gabriel! Now do we offer thee a song of praise, and since thou hast great boldness towards the Lord, deliver us from all misfortunes, that we may cry to thee with love: Rejoice, O venerable confessor Gabriel, fool for Christ and wonderworker!

Prayer

O Venerable Father Gabriel, wonderworker of Samtavro, thou who didst shine forth in the feat of foolishness for the sake of Christ! Offer up thy prayers for us to the Lord like fragrant incense, Deliver us, O most wondrous father, by thy intercession from every misfortune and disaster, destroy the snares of the demons, quench enmity and heal the sick. The stream of miracles of God from thy holy shrine, O venerable one, does not become shallow, nor does the stream of His mercy to us sinners, who pray to thee, dry up.

Thou who wast vouchsafed the gift of great love from the Lord, who didst bear the burdens of thy neighbours and shed tears for sinners and the suffering, take our prayers and weeping of repentance to the throne of God. May we be vouchsafed by thy help, O father most worthy of praise, to pass through the tollhouses without hindrance and reach the Heavenly Homeland, where the unceasing voice of those who celebrate glorifies the Most Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 

The Akathist to the Venerable Gabriel of Samtavro, Confessor and Fool-for-Christ was composed in Church Slavonic by Maria Alexandrovna Pukhova of Moscow and first published with the blessing of Archbishop Ephraim (Gamrekelidze) of Bolnisi (Georgian Orthodox Church) in 2018

Translated into English by  Dmitry Lapa and Archpriest Andrew Phillips

 

A Short Life of St Gabriel of Samtavro

The Venerable Confessor Gabriel of Samtavro, ‘Fool-for-Christ’ (secular name: Goderdzi Vasilyevich Urgebadze), was born in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) on 26 August 1929. The family called him Vasiko after his Communist father who had been murdered in unclear circumstances when the future saint was a little child. He had a brother, Mikhail, and two sisters named Emma and Juliet.

From childhood Vasiko was endowed with Divine grace. He would build little churches from pebbles and light matches inside them. The boy avoided noisy games with his peers, preferring loneliness and silence. Sometimes he would run down the street with a long stick. At those moments birds would flock around him with his stick and accompany him with their chirping.

Vasiko first heard about Christ when he was seven. Having come to the church of the Great-Martyr Barbara and seen the crucifix, he burst out crying: ‘Why were you crucified?’ The church caretaker, who heard his words, advised Vasiko to buy a book about the life of Jesus Christ. When Vasiko acquired the Gospel (which he soon learned by heart), it was the beginning of his new life. From that day until his death, his mind was filled with only one thought and the desire to live for Christ alone.

Once Vasiko was standing on a balcony in thought. Looking up, in the crystal clear sky he saw a large shining cross, cutting through the firmament right to the horizon. At that moment the boy was very surprised, but he later came to understand that it was his cross that he was to carry to his Golgotha.

His family did not understand Vasiko and so he tried to read the Gospel without their knowledge. But when his mother – though a honest, hard-working and not irreligious woman – found out about this, she threw out the Holy Scriptures in a fit of anger. After her act Vasiko left home. Frozen and hungry, the youth completely relied on the will of God. He wandered from monastery to monastery, from church to church because the authorities forbade monks to admit minors. The boy did not return home until the spring. Now the family resigned themselves to his choice and no longer hindered him.

During the Second World War, when Vasiko was twelve, people learned about his extraordinary gifts and flocked to him. The boy would tell them whether their loved ones were to return from the front or not, console them, give them wise advice and even preach Christ, often saying, ‘Go to church, don’t renounce Christ and don’t abandon spiritual life.’ The young saint saw through people and would often stop and say to strangers who, fearing the Soviet government, hid their icons in attics or other places, ‘Give the veneration due to your icons! If you don’t need them, give them to me – I will keep them and you can take them back any time if you decide to give them due veneration.’ Despite his strange behaviour, many people saw boundless love in the boy and loved him; though many laughed at him and mocked him, persecuting and humiliating him as a madman throughout his life.

The efforts of Vasiko bore fruit: little by little people began to return to the faith. He would always humble himself in different ways. Thus, Vasiko could sit by a heap of rubbish in a very conspicuous place for hours and repeat loudly, ‘Don’t forget, Vasiko, you are rubbish and don’t think highly of yourself.’ According to tradition, when the teenager ran away from home for a time, a kind woman who was a fortune-teller gave him refuge. The saint was full of pity for people who wallowed greatly in sin and wanted to save her. When the woman fell ill, he said he would receive people in her place. But instead of ‘fortune-telling’ Vasiko preached the Gospel to her visitors, telling them to mend their ways, repent and take Communion and revealed their forgotten sins. Inspired by him, the woman later abandoned fortune-telling and began to go to church.

Years later Vasiko built a church with seven cupolas in the courtyard of his house in Tbilisi to pray – the Soviet regime repeatedly destroyed it but he rebuilt it each time. This church – now with one big cupola – still exists. He dug a grave-like hole in one of the rooms of his house. It served him as a bed.

The young saint did his two-year military service in Batumi: despite the very strict regime, he kept all the fasts and went to church secretly. After the army he worked as a caretaker and singer at the Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi.

In 1955, at the age of twenty-six, Vasiko became a monk with the name Gabriel in honour of the Venerable Gabriel the Athonite. Three days later, at the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in Kutaisi Bishop Gabriel (Chachanidze) ordained him hieromonk. Later the elder used to say: ‘There is no greater heroism than monastic life.’ Enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, Father Gabriel fearlessly preached the Orthodox faith during the years of persecution. He first served at Sioni Cathedral, and between 1960 and 1962 – at Betania Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God, where he became close to some holy ascetics of Betania. When the monastery was closed by the atheist authorities, the saint moved back to Tbilisi where he served at the Holy Trinity Cathedral for a few years.

At the May Day parade in 1965 in Tbilisi, he burned down a huge twelve-metre portrait of Lenin hung on the building of the Supreme Soviet of the GSSR, urging people to worship Christ, not an idol. Only thanks to Divine help was he not executed by firing squad, though he was severely beaten and even earlier he had been declared insane – ‘a psychopathic individual who believes in God and angels’. He went through KGB detention centres where he was repeatedly mercilessly beaten, prison and spent seven months in a mental hospital. After he was released, he was suspended (by some Georgian bishops who wanted to please the authorities) from serving in the church for years and even denied him access to church and Holy Communion for some time. Father Gabriel related:

‘I lived under five Patriarchs, slept in cemeteries for twenty-five years and spent fifteen years in poverty. When I froze from the cold in winter, I turned from one side to the other since the stone was warmer. In the cemetery the Lord delivered me from fear, my children.’

After the May Day incident the saint embarked on a very heavy service of ‘foolishness for Christ.’ In his feigned foolishness, he would throw a jug without a bottom over his back, walking barefoot from house to house through the streets, repeating every now and then: ‘A person without love is like this jug without a bottom!’ In his feigned ‘folly’, Fr Gabriel would often wear a diadem on his head, walk barefoot at any weather, and even pretended to be drunk, while boldly and unceasingly preaching Christ in the streets, exposing vice and secretly helping people. Father Gabriel searched for desecrated icons thrown out onto heaps, restored them and emptied ruined churches of rubbish.

The saint spent much of his later years at the Samtavro Convent of St Nino (in the ancient town of Mtskheta which is over 2,500 years old and situated fifteen kilometres north of Tbilisi). The convent was founded in the fourth century. Formerly Mtskheta was the capital of the east Georgian Kingdom of Kartli and it was there that Orthodoxy was proclaimed the national religion of Georgia in 337 A.D. In 1971, with the blessing of Catholicos-Patriarch Ephraim II of Georgia Fr Gabriel was appointed the spiritual father of Samtavro Convent and a seminary attached to it. There he spiritually supported, gave guidance and instructions to the sisterhood.

The elder often left the convent and wandered, alone or with a few companions, sometimes covering great distances, reaching places in dangerous areas or which were difficult of access, visiting the abandoned and ruined churches and monasteries and predicting that the bloody Red regime would go, all of them would be restored and services would start again. St Gabriel would often say: ‘My cross is the whole of Georgia and half of Russia.’

In the final years of his life Fr Gabriel lived in King Mirian’s round tower at Samtavro Convent where he had a tiny cell. But he would spend most of the time performing incredible spiritual feats, living in a small unused wooden shed with large holes which the convent had previously used as a chicken coop. It is unfathomable how he managed to live in such a tiny space where it was impossible to stand erect and to stand the damp and frosts in winter without heating. First the nuns were surprised by the saint’s ‘eccentricity’: the elder could scold the sisters, make them eat from dirty dishes, demand various ‘strange’ obediences from them, make them do something. He particularly tried to eradicate any signs of pride and arrogance in those in his spiritual care. But soon they understood that it was impossible to take offence at him—his eyes shone with tender love and affection.

A visionary and wonderworker, a healer and instructor, a prophet and consoler, clairvoyant and wise, humble and simple like a child who shed seas of tears for sinners, Fr Gabriel gained the love of many of the faithful in Georgia, Russia and even beyond, who flocked to him in great numbers every day. The extreme self-humiliation of Elder Gabriel was amazing. His sister Emma (+2016) recalled: ‘He was a fragile soul from childhood. Human praise weighed down on him. As a priest he would weep bitterly after coming home from services. Once I heard him weeping loudly alone in church when the door was open. I entered and asked him what the matter was. And he replied, “My sister, Christ was born in a manger, while people show me respect and kiss my hand”.’

Let us mention two remarkable facts from St Gabriel’s life. Firstly, once an angel revealed to him the hidden location of a portion of the Svetitskhoveli (‘life-giving pillar’ in Georgian) cross, after which together with the Samtavro nuns he uncovered it and now the relic is kept at this convent. And, secondly, once St Gabriel was visited by some Hindus who argued that the Orthodox teaching of the Holy Trinity was erroneous. And, though the elder demonstrated his miraculous power only in the most extreme cases, he took bread, put it on a tray and said: ‘You see: the bread is one and undivided!’ Then in the Name of the Trinity he made the sign of the cross over the bread – and water, fire and wheat appeared in its place. ‘Look! Water, fire and wheat have appeared instead of bread. Likewise, the Holy Trinity is divided into Three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’ Then he made the sign of the cross over the water, fire and wheat – and they turned into bread again. After that the elder said: ‘The Holy Trinity is One and Undivided just as this bread is one and undivided!’

St Gabriel was planning to move to another monastery and live as a recluse, but in a Divine revelation he was told not to leave Samtavro and serve people wholeheartedly. And the elder received all who came to him, though he knew no ranks and had an individual approach to every person. He knew a ‘remedy’ for each soul: he could denounce and shout at some and be extremely gentle and nice with others. His heart ached because of people’s sins, and he prayed for the salvation of all. He lived by the joys, sorrows and problems of his spiritual children, saving many from spiritual darkness and setting them on the path of righteousness through his gifts of the Holy Spirit. And many felt absolutely transformed in his presence. St Gabriel’s rare gift of love can even be seen in his facial expression and eyes on his photographs, portraits and icons.

St Gabriel foresaw in the spirit the Georgian coup etat, the internal military conflict of 1991-1992. When no one could have imagined this, he would shout: ‘Blood, blood on Rustaveli Avenue! Georgian blood is being spilt!’ He prayed with such a groan, tears and mournful cry to Christ and the Mother of God for the salvation of his motherland. During the conflict he would toll a bell in Samtavro every day and imposed such a strict fast on himself that he barely ate anything over those months.

The saint possessed a great gift of hospitality. At Samtavro he used to welcome and treat absolutely all guests to the food he would cook himself as long as his health allowed. He strove to bring people as close to God as he could. His words had a special power and penetrated directly into the hearts of pilgrims. He taught everybody to cultivate love for God and their neighbour, repentance, humility and generosity.

His half-sister Juliet recalled: ‘I would ask him: “Listen, you attended school for only six years and didn’t want to study any more. How do you know so many things?” It was so interesting to listen to him. No historian related the things he related. No highly intelligent and educated person would have been able to tell the things that he told us about the Lives of saints, the history of Georgia and Russia. He knew everything from somewhere!’ Though St Gabriel’s life was full of privations, poverty, pain, suffering, sorrows and ridicule, the saint who burned with Divine love always radiated joy and inner peace. When before his death his mother asked him why he had chosen such a heavy cross, Fr Gabriel replied: ‘I couldn’t have lived otherwise.’

For the past year and a half of his life the saint was gravely ill with oedema and was practically bedridden due to a leg fracture. Shortly before his repose he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite by the current Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II. Father Gabriel reposed on 2 November 1995, aged sixty-six. He was canonised in an incredibly short time – seventeen years after his death, and two years later his name was added into the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church. On 22 February 2014, Father Gabriel’s incorrupt relics were uncovered and now they lie in the church of the Transfiguration in Samtavro Convent.

After his repose the Lord glorified His saint with the gift of miracles and healing, so the stream of those who are suffering and come to his holy relics never decreases. Miracles occur not only from his relics, but also from his burial board (according to his last will, he was buried without a coffin, just wrapped in a sackcloth shroud and strapped to a board according to an old monastic tradition), vestments, wonderworking and myrrh-streaming icons (in Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other countries in the former USSR) and holy oil blessed on them. There are numerous reports of his posthumous miracles of healing and appearances all over the world, and by his love, example and prayers he brings people living even in non-Orthodox and non-Christian countries on all continents to Orthodoxy.

His numerous prophecies about the end times, the future of Georgia and Russia are well-known. He used to repeat, ‘In the end times people will only be saved through love, humility and kindness. Kindness will open the gate of Paradise, humility will take them there, and love will make God visible.’ Some call St Gabriel ‘the Georgian Elder Paisios the Athonite.’ There are many books and documentaries dedicated to the holy confessor Gabriel in Georgian, Russian, English and probably other languages.

After St Gabriel’s repose his mother Barbara became a nun in Samtavro with the name Anna and passed away in 2000 at a very advanced age, outliving her holy son by five years. She is buried at Samtavro Convent near him. All believers can experience the power of this wonderworker of our age by praying to him as he is always quick to answer.

Venerable Father Gabriel, pray to God for us!

The Prayer of Elder Gabriel

Lord, I beseech Thee, hear us from Heaven, turn Thy gaze on us and have mercy on us. Let us go with peace to walk Thy path, fulfil Thy commandments and move away from evil. Teach us, O Lord, to pray to Thee and obey Thy holy commandments, so that our hearts may become devoted to Thee and we may follow Thy holy law. Amen.

Some sayings of St Gabriel (Urgebadze):

‘Only he who learns to love will be happy. But do not think that love is an inherent talent. You can and must learn to love.’

‘Without sacrifices for the sake of the Lord and your neighbour you will not succeed in spiritual life at all. Without sacrifice you will not learn to love.’

‘God does not accept empty words. God loves good deeds. Good works – this is precisely what love is.’

‘Live in a way so not only God but people too can love you.’

‘Do not judge. The Judge is God Himself. He who judges is like an empty wheat ear, with his head lifted high he looks down on others. Even if you see a murderer, a harlot or a drunkard lying on the ground, do not judge anyone. God has given them the reins, but He is still holding yours. If he gives you the reins too, you may find yourself in a worse situation by committing the sins you are judging them for and perish.’

‘First God cures, and then the doctor. But he who does not thank the doctor does not thank God either. The labourer is worthy of his wages. The mind and the hands of the doctor do God-pleasing work.’

‘For God it does not matter whether you are a monastic or a lay person. The main thing is to strive for God. But will anyone be able to attain perfection? It is through striving that a person is saved. Monastic things will be required of monastics and lay things of laypeople.’

‘In the end times supporters of the Antichrist will go to church, get baptised and promote the Gospel commandments. But do not believe those who do not have good works. You can know a true Christian only by his deeds.’

‘Hate evil. But love and have pity on those who do evil. Maybe someone who is doing evil today will be cleansed by prayer, fasting, tears and remorse tomorrow and become like an angel. Everything is possible for God. There have been many such examples.’

‘Love is higher than all the canons and rules. If you hate at least one person, you are abominable before God. We must love everybody. But if you cannot, at least wish everybody well.’

‘Keep in mind that God is love. Do good as much as possible so your kindness may save you. Be humble as God blesses the humble. Repent right now so your sins may be forgiven; “tomorrow” is merely Satan’s snare. Love one another, since without love no-one will go to Heaven.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FEAST OF ALL THE SAINTS OF THE IBERIAN PENINSULA IS AT LAST TO BE PROCLAIMED IN OCTOBER 2018

The Orthodox feast of the Iberian Saints will be added to the liturgical calendars of the Local Orthodox Churches. The list of saints was first compiled by Fr Andrew Phillips in 1993. It has taken 25 years to reach this situation.

The initiative to add such a feast was made by the Orthodox bishops of Spain and Portugal, which met in Madrid last Friday. The meeting was attended by His Grace Bishop Nestor of Korsun (Russian Orthodox Church), His Eminence Metropolitan Polycarp of Spain and Portugal (Patriarchate of Constantinople), and His Grace Bishop Timothy of Spain and Portugal (Romanian Orthodox Church).

The bishops decided to petition the primates of their Local Churches to establish a date for the Orthodox veneration of the Iberian saints. It was decided to celebrate the new feast on the Sunday before the Spanish National Day, which is celebrated on 12 October. Thus, the new feast of All Saints Who Shone Forth in the Iberian Peninsula will be liturgically proclaimed and celebrated for the first time this year on 7 October in Madrid.

The Feudal West and the Lost West

Introduction: The Year 1000 – When the West was Lost

The historical term ‘the geographical West’ means Western Europe, the extreme tip of the northern Eurasian landmass. In the first millennium this Western Europe went through a process of Christianization, called ‘The Age of the Saints’, which resulted in the conversion of many to Christ. However, despite this spiritual light among many, dark and heathen undercurrents remained. These threatened the very existence of this Age of Saints of the Old West. Already from the middle of the eighth century, and persistently throughout the last quarter of the first millennium (750-1000), the greedy aggressiveness of Frankish barbarians started coming to the fore, combined with the old pagan Roman imperialism and its military technology. Once the merger between them had been practically implemented in north-western Europe, the fall of Western Europe became inevitable.  The West was lost.

This came about in the justification for the merger of this violent and greedy barbarianism and arrogant and pagan imperialism of the pre-Christian West. This can be seen in the implementation of ‘the papal claims’, established as an ideology in ‘the filioque’, which was fully developed in the second half of the 11th century. The papal claims asserted that the leader of Western Europe, who lived in the old pagan capital of Rome but was a Frankish barbarian, had an absolute and Divine right to control the world; this was expressed ideologically in this ‘filioque’, which asserted that papal authority came to this leader directly from the Son of God, whose unique representative on earth He was. Thus, the world was conceived of in ’feudal’ terms, a crude pyramid scheme which placed this leader at the top and the people at the bottom. The old ‘Age of the Saints’ was well and truly over, replaced by ‘Feudalism’.

Feudalism 1000-1250

Thus, the term ‘The West’ is not a geographical term, but above all an ideological one. The expression of this latter West, masking the geographical West, was in this Feudalism, which placed the Western leader at its apex and those who aided him just beneath him. This system was first seen in the once Roman lands between the Loire and the Rhine, occupied by the barbarian Franks, in the late 10th century. It developed greatly in the late 11th century and came to fruition in the 13th century. The outward signs of this Frankish ideology of Feudalism were: castles, knights, aggressive military technology, serfdom (slavery) and, in the 12th century, the Gothic style. This was spread to southern Italy and Sicily in the first half of the 11th century by the barbarous Viking Normans, who then took it to England in 1066 and from there to Wales, Scotland and Scandinavia and, in the late 12th century, to Ireland.

The Spread of Feudalism 1250-1500

Having taken this feudal ideology to what became Spain and Portugal in the 11th century, the Franks then took it to the Holy Land with their anti-Christian Crusades, which resulted in the sacking of Christian Rome in 1204. The Frankish Germans also took it into southern Scandinavia, eastwards into Poland and the Baltic, the Czech Lands, Slovakia and Hungary and through the crusades of the Teutonic Knights into the Russian Lands. The whole of Western Europe had become Frankish. However, this was only the beginning of the story. Within three centuries these absurd claims, fully formulated in the eleventh century, were to be carried across the ocean. As naval technology developed, the Frankish south-west began to expand to a new world, invading and massacring in what came to be called Latin America. Here they built their forts, their new castles, and enslaved native peoples, their new serfs.

Feudalism 1500-2000

However, in north-western Europe, the Germanic peoples protested, challenging the original myth of the Western leader’s superiority and asserted that not he, but only Western people who protested against him, themselves, were superior. They claimed that they alone had the Divine right to represent God on earth, that all was permitted, but only to them, that they alone were ‘saved’. This was the ‘democratization of the filioque’, placing all people like themselves at the apex of the still feudal pyramid. This movement marked the second half of the second millennium. These ‘Protestants’, as they called themselves, with the same greed and even fewer vestiges of Christian feeling, also invaded and massacred the new worlds, North America and Australasia. Together with the south-western Europeans who began imitating them, especially after 1750, they also invaded and massacred in Asia and Africa.

The Third Millennium and Feudal Globalism

Thus, the ideology of the ‘filioque’ was carried worldwide and ‘globalism’, the ideology of the superiority of ‘the Western world’ and its ‘Divine’ right to control and interfere in all the countries of the planet, was born. This came to fruition at the end of the second millennium, making its wars into ‘World Wars’, under competing names like Capitalism, Communism and Fascism. Thus, today’s third millennium still proclaims Feudalism. Today it asserts that all who are true believers in the ideology of the superiority of the West, regardless of their race, manmade religion and gender, stand at the apex of the feudal pyramid. All who resist, all the native peoples of the world, are to be enslaved and crushed, militarily, politically, economically and socially. Nothing has changed: the aggressiveness of Germanic barbarians is still combined with the old (‘new’) pagan Roman imperialism and its military technology.

Conclusion: The New West and the Lost West

This is ‘the West’, in structure the same today as yesterday, a totalitarian feudal pyramid. True, today’s totalitarianism is not that of previous Western -isms, like the Feudalism of the Middle Ages between 1000 and 1500, or the last century’s Communism and Fascism, but it is still totalitarian. This is because it is still based on the pyramid, at the apex of which stands the elite which is opposed to the people, lording it over them and despising them as ‘populists’. And this pyramid is today not just in ‘the West’, but is global. Today’s totalitarianism imposes ‘political correctness’, ‘Western values’ (‘European values’) on all and excommunicates them (‘sanctions’ them) if they do not accept. This is not a question of conservatism. Those who are conservative simply regret the pyramid of the past. We reject both the past and the modern pyramid, for our guiding light is the Age of the Saints of the first millennium.

In this way we follow the Tradition, far more radical than mere liberal and mere conservative. We proclaim the values of the Old West, the values of the Saints who stand at the root of the real West. These are the values of:  the holy apostles Peter and Paul, the bearer of God Ignatius, the holy family Sophia, Faith, Hope and Charity, the fearless virgins Tatiana and Cecilia, Lawrence and Sebastian, Anastasia, Januarius and Pancras, the pure lamb Agnes, Irenaeus of Lyon, Eulalia of Barcelona, Ursula of Cologne, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose of Milan, Martin of Tours, John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, Patrick of Ireland, Benedict of Cassino, Columba of Iona, Gregory the Great, Theodore of Tarsus, Clement of the Low Countries, Modest of Carinthia, Boniface of Fulda, Edmund of East Anglia, Anschar and Olaf and the great host of local saints, known and unknown. This is the lost West, the real West, the geographical West.

 

From the Service to All the Saints of the Western Lands

For one thousand years the light of the Sun of Righteousness shone forth from the East on the lands of the West forming a Cross over Europe, before they fell beneath the darkening shades of the Churchless night. Let us now return to the roots of our first confession of the Holy Spirit in the bright Sunrise of Orthodoxy, which is brought again from the East, and so shine forth the light of the Everlasting Christ once more.

O all the saints of the Western Lands, pray to God for our repentance and return, our restoration and resurrection. Tell the people to leave aside the things of men, the fallen fleshly mind and all its vain musings, for they are without the Saviour and the Spirit. And so, through your life in the Holy Trinity, shall we find salvation in the purity of the Orthodox Faith before the end.

Now do we sing to all the saints of the lands of the West and at their head the apostles Peter and Paul, the true glory of Old Rome, and, like stars in the dark night sky, to the constellation of the martyrs and fathers who followed in their apostolic footsteps, leaving behind them the great treasury of holy relics. O First Rome, who art glorious in thy saints alone, do thou return to the eternal faith of Orthodoxy through the Holy Spirit Who proceeds from the Father, as the Saviour tells us.

O all ye holy women, martyrs, matrons and queens, from Old Rome to Sicily of the south, from Sardinia to Iberia, from Gaul to the islands of Britain, from the Celtic realms to the Germanic lands of the north, preferring the humble truth of the Galilean to the proud might of paganism, ye have brought the words of Christ to dumb men, raising up infants and kings to the measure of the stature of Christ, so hallowing your peoples and our souls by the light of the Holy Trinity.

O constellation of all the saints of the Western lands, who shine forth in the night sky, together we gather in your name, in praise to ask you to intercede for us with your prayers. Bring back the Western peoples from the inglorious darkness of their unwisdom to the Wisdom of God, that they may cast aside all the illusions of the fallen reason and know again that the only true glory and enlightenment is in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

The Spiritual Meaning of the Guiding Saints of Faithful Russian Orthodox Outside Russia

Introduction

The Orthodox Empire of Holy Rus, also called the Empire of The Third Rome, was preserved by its faith in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as expressed in the untampered Nicene Creed, confessed alone by the Orthodox Church. Our pure and uncompromised faith in the Holy Trinity is represented by three basic tenets of belief: Orthodoxy (representing the primacy of the Love of the Father), the Sovereign Monarchy (representing the presence of the Incarnate Body of Christ, the Son), and the Faithful People (representing the bearers of the Holy Spirit).

In the words of the last Christian Emperor, Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, the Orthodox Empire fell on account of the vices opposed to these three tenets of the Holy Trinity. In his precise words, the Empire fell because of Treason, Cowardice and Deceit. And indeed, Orthodoxy was undermined by the Treason of spiritual traitors, the Sovereign Monarchy was abandoned by the Cowardice of those who lacked faith, and the Faithful People were deceived by the Deceit of those who promised paradise on earth and instead created hell on earth.

The three vices of Treason, Cowardice and Deceit have since then also threatened the survival of the Church, both inside Russia and outside Russia. Thus, the Church inside Russia was threatened by the pharisaic Treason to Orthodoxy of ritualistic and nationalistic Sergianists who compromised the Church with an atheist State, by the weak-faithed Cowardice of those who would not recognize the Sovereign Monarchy of the Imperial Martyrs and those faithful to them, and by the schismatic Deceit of the Faithful People by those who claimed that the Church needed to be ‘renovated’ with their liberalism and ecumenism.

However, the Church outside Russia was also threatened by Treason, Cowardice and Deceit, and from both left and right: by those who compromised the Church to Western States, whether Masonic and liberal or Fascist and racist; by the Cowardice of those who would not recognize as saints the New Martyrs and Confessors, including the Imperial Family and those close to them, or the local saints of the Ancient West; and by the Deceit of those who claimed that the Church needed to be ‘adapted’, either to renovationist liberalism and ecumenism, or else to formalist ritualism and nationalism.

The three guiding saints of the Church Outside Russia, St Jonah of Hankou, St Seraphim of Sofia and St John of Shanghai, Paris and San Francisco, were sent by God to protect Russian Orthodox outside Russia from precisely these temptations and diseases. Let us recall their lives, so that we can understand their spiritual meaning.

 St Jonah of Hankou (1888-1925), the Witness to the Love of God the Father

Born Vladimir Pokrovsky, the future saint was orphaned at an early age and adopted by a village sexton, who gave the child his own surname and an upbringing. After completing a religious school in Moscow, he enrolled at seminary in Kaluga where he graduated with honours. Thereafter, he went on to the Kazan Theological Academy. In his third year here he was tonsured monk and given the name of Jonah. Here, in obedience to the Optina Elder Gabriel, he took up an academic position. His spiritual father was the renowned Elder Gabriel Sedmiyezersky, locally venerated as a saint.

The revolutionary years brought him great suffering at the hands of the Bolsheviks. He was arrested, brutally beaten until he lost consciousness, and had all his hair violently ripped out. Miraculously, the future saint, now an abbot, survived and managed to escape. Abbot Jonah spent the Civil War in the army of Admiral Alexander Kolchak, within which he founded the Detachment of the Holy Cross. He then served as head priest in the Orenburg Cossack Army. Alongside these men, St. Jonah braved a perilous march across the steppes and overcame the frozen Pamir Mountain pass to find himself in Xinjiang – Chinese Turkestan.

In January 1922 Abbot Jonah sent an account of his life and work to Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), who was then in Serbia, and offered to devote himself to the Council and its work. In response, the Council entered his name to be considered as a bishop. The consecration of the new bishop took place on 18 September 1922 at the Russian Spiritual Mission in Beijing. As bishop, St. Jonah would head the vicariate in Xianjiang (Hankou) and be appointed Dean of the mission’s church in Manchuria, where he arrived on 19 October 1922.

The zealous servant of God’s church and renowned missionary, the young and energetic Bishop Jonah, took it on himself to establish his flock in the faith. He instituted the prescribed church services, established a wonderful choir and gave sermons tirelessly. Bishop Jonah also served as chairman of the International Committee for Hunger Relief from the day of his arrival in the town of Manzhuria until his very death. The brunt of the work lay on his shoulders. St. Jonah began to gather funds. An intelligent and practical person, St. Jonah created a commercial division within the Committee, the main goal of which was to independently earn money that would fund charities the committee had founded. It was not, of course, without its enemies.

The limitations of some, the envy of others, and the phariseeism and hypocrisy of yet others wove a web of intrigue around the bishop and attempted to compromise his good name by virtue of the fact that he, a bishop, would promote such undignified work as trade. But he paid little attention to all of the attacks, simply prayed to God and said: ‘These rumours spread by our enemies lay down our path to the Kingdom of Heaven’.

Having tasted the bitterness of such a life himself, the saint felt an especially deep compassion for orphans. He opened an orphanage at the old church where he lived to care for orphaned and impoverished children and, relegating it to the authority of the International Committee. Missionary and educational work held a special place in his heart. As many as 500 people attended free of cost the elementary and middle schools founded by Vladyka.

On 1 August 1923 the International Committee had opened a free outpatient clinic providing medical aid and distributing medicine to the most impoverished sectors of the population and surrounding territories. Next door there was a free dental office. Prior to the Saint’s arrival, medicine was impossible to acquire. In addition to medical care and free medicine, certification of illness and disability were provided to the poor and a petition was started to provide passports free of charge. Medical care was given to 6,387 people in one year.

With the backing of patrons he established modest enterprises which, though they provided only a modest income, created jobs for the poorest refugees. Their metalwork and pottery were well known in Harbin for being particularly durable and beautifully made. Here is a list of the enterprises St. Jonah started during the three years he resided in Manzhuria: (1) Orphanage, (2) Elementary school, (3) Middle school, (4) Soup kitchen, (5) Free outpatient clinic, (6) Pharmacy with an allotment of free medicine for the poor, (7) Vocational courses at schools, and (8) Library.

The life of St. Jonah was very humble. It was unbelievable that he was a ‘prince of the church’. He had neither a cook, nor a kitchen. His meals were humble and simple. His favourite dish was fried potatoes and dark rye bread. Vladyka’s clothing and shoes were more than modest. Patches were the usual adornment on everything. Often the tailor and cobbler refused to mend them – the patches would not hold. He was adept at securing resources for others but spent hardly anything on himself. All his personal funds were dedicated to charity.

Ever friendly, ever cheerful and engaging, the Saint was loved and respected by all those around him. As the accounts of those who knew him attest, a constant stream of people called on him – some for advice, others for help. The doors of his unassuming apartment stayed open from 7 in the morning until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. Then, at 11 o’clock, when there was nobody to disturb him, Vladyka would sit down to work. And on feast days, squeezing into the room was impossible. Russians, Chinese and foreigners alike longed to speak with Vladyka.

St. Jonah left this world unexpectedly, at the age of 37, exactly three years after his arrival in Manzhuria. He was not accustomed to caring for himself, and he developed tonsillitis and died. Before his death the Saint wrote his last will and testament:

In the Name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. – Too suddenly I have learned of my imminent death. My thoughts are becoming confused.… What do I wish to bequeath unto you? My darling and dear children of Manzhuria and Hankou. I came to you with the Apostle’s words of love: ‘Children, love one another’… and I leave you with these words: ‘Love one another’… This is the will of your shepherd. It is with gladness of spirit that I forgive anyone who has wronged me. Are there even such people? I tearfully ask and stand on my knees before each of him whom I have wronged. Do not give up on the little ones.… Forgive me for Christ’s sake; and do not forget your prayers.… Write my name in your prayer books.… And so, until eternity, until we all stand before the Final Judge. Jonah, Bishop of Hankou. 1925, 4/17 October.

 Three thousand copies of his will were made – barely enough for half of those in attendance at his funeral. Even death would not impede the saint in performing his good work. On the night of his burial, he healed a ten-year-old boy, Nikolai Dergachev while he was asleep. The inflammation in the child’s knees was so severe that he could not stand, much less walk. In his dream Vladyka approached the boy and said: ‘Take my legs. I don’t need them any more and give me yours. ‘He taught: love your neighbour as you love yourself, but his love was even greater than that…’

St. Jonah was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1996. His glorification coincided with the day of his repose and was decreed to be celebrated on the day of his remembrance: 7/20 October.

St Seraphim of Sofia (1881-1950), the Witness to the Incarnation of Christ the Son through the Church and in Sovereign Monarchy

As if sensing what a powerful enemy he would have in Vladyka Seraphim, the devil tried to destroy him while still in his mother’s womb. She had an extremely difficult and painful labour and the doctors decided they would need to operate to extract the infant piece by piece in order to save the mother’s life. At this moment she regained consciousness and, on learning of the doctor’s decision, forbade her husband to permit the murder of her child. The next morning, at the first stroke of the church bell on 1 December 1881, she gave birth without any help.

When she saw the baby, she exclaimed, ‘Oh, what a serious mukhtar!’ The infant was named Nicholas in honour of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, but his family sometimes called him ‘mukhtar’, an apparently meaningless word which he disliked terribly. Years later, Bishop Nestor of Manchuria visited Vladyka Seraphim in Sofia. He presented him with a book of his memoirs, in which, in the chapter about his visit to Jerusalem, it said that the word mukhtar means ‘bishop’ in Arabic. And so, not realizing it herself, his mother had foretold the destiny of her son.

Nicholas was an excellent student and, after attending the local parish school, he entered seminary. There, in the second to last year, he decided to devote his life to God. After graduating he attended Saint Petersburg Theological Academy and here became a monk. The bishop and rector doing the tonsure suddenly remembered that when he was present at the opening of St. Seraphim’s relics, he had made a vow to the saint that if he became rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, the first student he tonsured he would name Seraphim. Thus, he gave this name to Nicholas in honour of the great saint of Sarov.

Graduating near the top of his class, Fr. Seraphim taught for a year at a priest’s school before he was appointed assistant supervisor of the diocesan school in Kaluga. The pupils there greatly loved Fr. Seraphim. In 1912 Hieromonk Seraphim was appointed rector of the seminary in Voronezh. On 1 October 1920, on the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, in the Cathedral of Simferopol, Fr Seraphim was consecrated bishop. It was a great comfort for him that on that occasion, by God’s inscrutable ways, the great sacred treasure, the Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, was present in the Cathedral.

Soon after this, to his sorrow, Vladyka had to leave his native land. He spent a short time in Constantinople before moving to Bulgaria where, in August 1921, he was appointed Director of Russian Orthodox monastic communities there. Living in ceaseless ascetic endeavours, from abstinence and difficult living conditions Vladyka contracted tuberculosis. Despite his serious illness, he cared for his flock with true pastoral fervour. He served frequently and gave sermons three times a week, calling his flock to repentance, to grace-filled renewal and to the most basic virtue – humility.

As an archpastor, Vladyka Seraphim made the rounds of Russian parishes in the provinces and visited the Russian schools. His talks and his warm, loving personality left a lasting, grace-filled impression everywhere. In difficult material conditions, Vladyka also cared for poor and sick Russian people. For some he arranged free hospital treatment, others he placed in homes for invalids, for some he obtained pensions, some he fed at his place, and some he settled in his monastery. Nor did Vladyka overlook destitute Russian monks on Mt. Athos. He formed a committee to collect help for them and in his sermons he appealed to parishioners to donate to this holy work.

In 1934 Vladyka was raised to the position of Archbishop. Spiritually gifted from his early years and constantly engaged in a fiery struggle with the passions, Vladyka, while still a relatively young bishop, attained great spiritual heights. Several of his spiritual children recorded cases of his clairvoyance, which manifested itself even at a distance. For his angelic purity, Vladyka received from the Lord the gift to perceive subtle deviations from Orthodox Christian truth. He watched over Orthodox Christian life and was its conscience, as it were. Where he observed irregularity, he exposed it, not fearing to suffer for the truth. As a result, he produced priceless theological works.

One of Vladyka’s major works was the refutation of the Gnostic, anti-Incarnation heresy of the Parisian philosopher Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov, for which, in 1937, Vladyka received a Master’s Degree in theology. He was rushing to complete this work by a certain deadline when he fell ill. He implored the Mother of God, to whose prayerful intercession he had resorted all his life, begging her to heal him. And what happened? Vladyka’s temperature immediately dropped and he was able to finish his work within the allotted time.

Vladyka poured out all his love for the Saviour in his theological works, fervently defending the truths of Orthodoxy against compromise and ecumenism and also in defence of holy Monarchy. ‘My books are my blood’, he declared. And truly, he lay down his life for Christ in the struggle against heretics, sparing neither his strength nor broken health. Vladyka constantly worked at night, secretly. In the evening he would lie down and, when everyone else had fallen asleep, he would get up and continue writing, taking advantage of the night-time quiet, considering it his pastoral duty to defend the truth.

It is not by chance that the Lord called Vladyka to the next world on the very day when the Holy Church celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy and its defenders. For the day of Archbishop Seraphim’s repose was 13/26 February 1950. He was canonized jointly by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in 2016 and his feast day is on 13/26 February.

 St John of Shanghai (1896-1966), the Witness to the Holy Spirit among all Faithful People

Michael Maximovich, the future Archbishop John, was born on 4 June 1896 in the village of Adamovka in the province of Kharkov in what is at the moment the Ukraine. He was a member of the Little Russian noble family of Maximovich, to which St John of Tobolsk had also belonged. He was a sickly child and ate little. He received his secondary education in the Poltava Military School, which he attended from 1907 to 1914. Upon completing military school he entered Kharkov Imperial University in the faculty of law, from which he graduated in 1918.

In 1921, following the Civil War in Russia, the future archbishop together with his parents, his brothers and his sister fled to Belgrade, where he and his brothers entered university. In 1924, Michael was ordained reader in the Russian church in Belgrade by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), who continued to exert great influence over him. In 1926 Metropolitan Anthony tonsured him a monk and ordained him hierodeacon in Milkovo Monastery, giving him the name John, after the future archbishop’s own distant relative, Saint John (Maximovich) of Tobolsk. On 21 November of the same year Fr. John was ordained hieromonk.

From here he went to the town of Bitol in the diocese of Ochrid. At that time the ruling bishop of this diocese was the future St Nicholas Velimirovich—a noted preacher, poet, writer and inspirer of a popular spiritual movement. He, as much as Metropolitan Anthony, valued and loved the young Hieromonk John, and himself exerted a beneficial influence upon him. More than once he was heard to say, ‘If you wish to see a living saint, go to Bitol to Father John’.

For indeed it began to become evident that he was an entirely extraordinary man. His own students were first to discover what was perhaps Fr. John’s greatest feat of asceticism. They noticed that he stayed up long after everyone else had gone to bed; he would go through the dormitories at night and pick up blankets that had fallen down and cover the unsuspecting sleepers, making the Sign of the Cross over them. Finally, it was discovered that he scarcely slept at all, and never in a bed, allowing himself only an hour or two each night of uncomfortable rest in a sitting position, or bent over on the floor praying before icons. Years afterward he himself admitted that since taking monastic vows he had not slept in a bed.

Fr John lived by the high ideals of Orthodox Christianity and so of Holy Russia and was chosen to be bishop. His consecration, quite unexpected for him, took place on 28 May 1934. Vladyka was the last bishop of the very many to be consecrated by Metropolitan Anthony and was assigned to the Diocese of Shanghai in China. Vladyka arrived in Shanghai in late November and found a large Cathedral uncompleted and a conflict to resolve. The first thing he did was to restore Church unity, establishing contact with Russians, Serbs, Greeks and Ukrainians.

He paid special attention to religious education and also became a patron of various charities and actively participated in their work, especially after seeing the needy circumstances in which so many of his flock lived. Vladyka himself gathered sick and starving children off the streets and dark alleys of Shanghai’s slums. The orphanage later housed up to a hundred children at a time, some 1500 in all. Vladyka celebrated the Divine Liturgy daily, as he was to do for the rest of his life, and if for some reason he could not serve, he would still receive Holy Communion. No matter where he was, he would not miss a service.

By now it had become known that Vladyka was not only a righteous man and an ascetic, but was also so close to God that he was endowed with the gift of clairvoyance, and there were healings by his prayers. Vladyka loved to visit the sick and did it every single day, hearing confessions and giving Holy Communion. Vladyka visited the prison also, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the convicts on a primitive table. But the most difficult task for a pastor is to visit the mentally ill and the possessed – and Vladyka clearly distinguished between the two. Outside Shanghai there was a mental hospital, and Vladyka alone had the spiritual power to visit these sick people. He gave them Holy Communion, and they, surprisingly, received it peacefully and listened to him.

Vladyka possessed great courage. During the Japanese occupation the Japanese authorities tried in every way possible to bend the Russian colony to their will. Pressure was directed through the heads of the Russian Emigre Committee. Two Presidents of the Committee strove to maintain its independence and both were killed. Confusion and terror seized the Russian colony and at that moment Vladyka John, in spite of warnings from Russians who were collaborating with the Japanese, declared himself the temporary head of the Russian colony.

During the Japanese occupation it was extremely dangerous to walk on the streets at night, and most people took care to be home by dark. Vladyka, however, paying no heed to the danger, continued to visit the sick and needy at any hour of the night and he was never touched. With the coming of Communism, the Russians in China were forced to flee once again, most of them through the Philippines. In 1949 approximately 5,000 refugees from the Chinese mainland were living in an International Refugee Organization camp on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines. This island is located in the path of the seasonal typhoons which sweep through that part of the Pacific. During the 27-month period of the camp’s occupancy, the island was threatened only once by a typhoon, and it changed course and bypassed the island.

When the fear of typhoons was mentioned by one Russian to the Filipinos, they replied that there was no reason to worry, because ‘your holy man blesses your camp from four directions every night’. They referred to Vladyka John, for no typhoon struck the island while he was there. After the camp had been almost totally evacuated and the people resettled elsewhere (mainly in the USA and Australia), it was struck by a terrible typhoon that totally destroyed the camp. Vladyka himself went to Washington D.C., to get his people to America. Legislation was changed and almost the whole camp came to the New World – thanks again to Vladyka.

The exodus of his flock from China accomplished, in 1951 Archbishop John was given a new field for his pastoral endeavours: he was sent by the Synod of Bishops to the Archdiocese of Western Europe, with his see first in Paris and later in Brussels. In Western Europe Vladyka took a deep interest not only in Russians, for whom he exerted himself tirelessly in labours similar to those for which he had been known in Shanghai, but also in the local people. He received into his Diocese Dutch and French people, protecting them and encouraging their Orthodox development. He celebrated the Divine Liturgy in Dutch and French, as before he had served in Greek and Chinese, and as later he was to serve in English.

Vladyka’s interest in and devotion to the Church’s Saints, of whom his knowledge was already seemingly limitless, was now extended to Western European Saints from before the Latin schism. Many of them, venerated only locally, were not then included in any Orthodox calendar of Saints. He collected their lives and images of them and later submitted a long list of them to the Synod.

In San Francisco Vladyka’s life-long friend, the pious Archbishop Tikhon of San Francisco, retired due to ill-health, and in his absence the construction of a new Cathedral came to a halt as a bitter dispute paralyzed the Russian community. In response to the urgent request of thousands of Russians in San Francisco who had known him in Shanghai, Archbishop John was sent by the Synod in 1962 as the only hierarch likely to restore peace in the divided community. He arrived at his last assignment as bishop twenty-eight years to the day after his arrival in Shanghai – on the feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple, 21 November 1962.

Under Vladyka’s guidance a measure of peace was restored, the paralysis of the community was ended and the Cathedral finished. Yet, even in the role of peacemaker, Vladyka was attacked, and accusations and slanders were heaped upon his head, including by fellow bishops. He was forced to appear in public court – in flagrant violation of Church canons – to answer preposterous charges of concealing financial dishonesty by the Parish Council. All involved were completely exonerated but this filled Vladyka’s last years with the bitterness of slander and persecution, to which he unfailingly replied without complaint, without judging anyone, with undisturbed peacefulness.

On the evening before leaving for Seattle in late June 1966, four days before his repose, Vladyka astonished a man for whom he had just celebrated a service with the words, ‘You will not kiss my hand again’. And on the day of his repose, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy which he had celebrated, he spent three hours in the altar praying, emerging not long before his repose on 2 July. He fell asleep in his room in the parish building next to the church. He was heard to fall and, having been placed in a chair by those who ran to help him, breathed his last peacefully and with little evident pain, in the presence of the Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon.

Until his canonization the relics of Archbishop John lay in a chapel in the basement of the San Francisco Cathedral (after the canonization on 2 July 1994 the relics were moved to the main floor of the Cathedral). Vladyka also proved to listen to those who revere his memory. To one woman he appeared in a dream and said, ‘Tell the people: although I have died, I live!’ As people are drawn to the Church of Christ before the final unleashing of evil, we look to him as our loving guide and pastor who knows no death. He is a yardstick which indicates the truth in our confusing times. His unit of measure is nothing other than holiness, that is, pure Christian love, which he possessed and distributed in abundance.

Conclusion

A witness to the Father, Who is Love, and so to the two great commandments to love God and our neighbour, as an apostle of Love, St Jonah thus showed faithfulness to Orthodoxy against those who committed Treason. Pharisaic ritualists, the sort who would treasonously later support the Nazis, accused him of ‘socialism’, where there was only Love for our neighbour, the authentic Orthodox way of life.

A witness to the Incarnation of the Son, St Seraphim supported the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Kingdom of God on earth in the form of the Christian Monarchy, against the disincarnate heretics and ecumenists. These modernists showed Cowardice in abandoning the teachings of the Church, including the Orthodox teaching on the Sovereign Government of the Tsar. They preferred Western freemasonry to the Church and the recognition of the Imperial Martyrs.

A witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit among all faithful Orthodox People everywhere, St John showed that the fruit of the Spirit is the saints whom he so loved. It was he who had already called for the canonization of the Imperial Martyrs in the 1930s against the views of others who delayed that canonization until 1981. The worldwide mission of St John was opposed to the Deceit of narrow nationalism and racism of all sorts, loving all people and using all languages to speak of Christ.

Church life is full of temptations. There is only one way to overcome them – by faithfulness to the Holy Trinity. Whatever form the organization of the Church outside Russia may take, we must remain faithful to the Holy Trinity in the Orthodoxy, Sovereign Monarchy and Faithful People of Holy Rus. We must resist those who think that church buildings are more important than the souls of the flock, the anti-Orthodox Treason of the flattering rich, the Cowardice of power-seeking plotters and the Deceit of the pharisaical superficial.

Holy Hierarchs Jonah, Seraphim and John, pray to God for us!

 

 

St Olaf’s Burial Place Found

http://www.niku.no/no/arkeologi/utgravninger_og_funn/trondheim/sondre_gate/Archaeologists+in+Norway+find+the+church+and+altar+of+Viking+king+Olav+Haraldsson.9UFRHW16.ips

St Olaf was one of the last ancient Orthodox saints in Western Europe and he was honoured by a church in Novgorod and another in Constantinople. For a canonical Orthodox icon of St Olaf, see:

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/98759.html