Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

 

On July 12, on the feast of the Holy Major Apostles Peter and Paul, St. George Church held a nice celebration. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy.

Following the Gospel lesson he preached a homily in which he pointed out that we should ask ourselves the question asked by our Lord Jesus Christ to His Disciples: “Who do you say that I am? (Mt. 16, 15). Holy Apostle Peter answered that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16). His answer was correct and was based on his firm faith. And we should ask ourselves whom do we consider our Lord Jesus to be. Different non-Christian religions give different answers, but to a true Christian Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. In the same manner we should question ourselves what does the Church is for us. In today’s Gospel lesson the Lord proclaimed that He will build His Church on Peter the Rock. But to many people the Church seems to be just an opportunity to receive certain services such as christening for a child, a marriage ceremony for the newlyweds or a funeral for the deceased. And the very membership in the Church is acquired very easily – through Baptism. But for a true Christian believer the Church is the Body of Christ, a community of salvation. The Church has an authority to bind and lose given by the Lord, thus our salvation depends on our good standing in the Church. Therefore, we need to cherish our faith and to stay in the Holy Church of the Apostles, the Church of Peter and Paul who by their own lives showed their firm faith and that on such faith the Church was built.

Our cantor Olga Roussanow nicely performed hymns in honor of the Holy Apostles.

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector and the altar server performed a rite of glorification before the icon stand in the middle of the church singing the troparion, kontakion and magnification of the feast.

5th Sunday after Pentecost

 

On July 9, on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our parish temple. Following the reading from the Holy Gospel he preached the following homily in English:

“Today’s Gospel does not give us a lesson of what we should do, but rather shows us what we should avoid, what we should not do. It shows us a shocking reality of the existence of the power of evil. But it also teaches us that we need to avoid not only the powers of the evil one, but an attitude of desiring to be away from God, to be spiritually on our own.”
“Today’s Gospel draws a terrible picture for us: two demon-possessed men came out from the tombs, “exceedingly fierce, so that no man might pass by that way” (Mt. 8, 28). Christ permitted the demons to enter into a huge herd of swine. The possessed ones were healed, but the whole herd of swine jumped from the cliff into the lake. So, we can only wonder and be impressed by a terrible force of evil which could do so.”
“And speaking of the evil forces, we may see that those possessed men stayed out of society, living in the tombs. And today the Church commemorates Venerable Father David of Thessalonica who also did not live in the society. He lived under the tree and often stayed on the tree branches. I was there in Thessalonica and I saw where this Father lived and I had an opportunity to see and to venerate his relics. So, sometimes you can see that the demon-possessed people live in a strange place, but sometimes we see that also holy people may live in a strange place. These are the extreme ways of life. And most of us don’t like to be in such extremes, but rather to keep somewhere in the middle. It is possible but we need to remember that anywhere we stand we need to be with God. If we desire to be independent from Him, we make a terrible mistake. Such a mistake was made by the people of that town described in today’s Gospel.”
“Here is the ending of the Gospel: “And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus” (Mt. 8, 34). And now you expect to find something encouraging: the whole town has united in order to meet the Lord. You want to think that it was faith that united them, that they, as once did the Samaritans, would ask the Lord to remain with them, would thank Him for His healing, for the salvation of two of their townspeople, and also for freeing them from the danger present when passing that way. And what happened? Yes, they asked the Lord, but not to stay with them, but rather to “depart out of their region!” (Mt. 8, 34).”
“Here is the most discouraging part in this Gospel reading. First the demons were in two possessed men. Later, we saw them in an entire herd of swine. And then, a whole town possessed. With what? Not directly with the evil spirits, but with the passion for profit. According to Jewish law, raising pigs was unlawful, sinful. But it made money, and huge amounts of money. And here an entire herd perished. And the people seemed to be saying to the Lord: “You have only set foot on our land and have caused us such a terrible loss. What will happen next if you stay here any longer? You will ruin us completely! We see, we understand your greatness: even the devils are obedient to you! But what does that do for us? What do the two healed men matter to us? We don’t need your miracles. We need the profit, we need the money. You are not for us. Go away, go away.””
“Today’s Gospel lesson teaches us that we cannot be spiritually on our own. If we are with God, He will take a good care of us in our life. But if we ask God to depart from our life, He will obey. But then we will become an easy prey of the evil forces. God is Almighty but He never forces us to be with Him. He won’t save us without our cooperation with Him, without our desire for Him to be in our lives, to bless us and to abide with us. Thus if we ask Him to go, He will eventually leave. But we won’t be able to be spiritually independent. If God leaves, the devil comes.”
“Recently we have heard of fierce storms in our old country. Some priests blame sinful way of life of today’s people. Although God does not act in such a simplistic manner, He does allow evil to act if we live without God. If some sinful way of life, some passion takes over our soul, changes our lifestyle, we may think that we are better off without God. However, it is a terrible delusion.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, let us examine our soul. Doesn’t the same thing happen to us? Some kind of passion takes possession of us, but Christ becomes an obstacle. And in our soul, we whisper the same terrible words: “Go away from us.” May the Lord keep us from this! May our words directed to Him always be: “Come to us and never leave us,” “Come and dwell within us and cleanse us from all impurity, and save our souls, o Good one!””

After the Liturgy dismissal the Rector preached a short sermon in Russian to convey the ideas of his English homily.

After our service Rector and parishioners enjoyed delicious meals and a nice company at the coffee hour.

 

Patronal Feast of St. John the Baptist in Little Falls, NJ

 

On Friday, July 7, the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Rector of St. George Church Archpriest Igor Tarasov attended the patronal feast celebration at St. John the Baptist Church in Little Falls, NJ. Divine Liturgy in that temple was led by His Grace, Bishop John of Naro-Fominsk, Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA. His Grace was co-served by our Rector, as well as a multitude of clergy from the neighboring area:

- Archpriest Emil Minkovich (Rector of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Elizabeth, NJ)
- Archpriest John Kassatkin (Rector of Elevation of the Holy Cross Church in Hackettstown, NJ)

- Archpriest George Konyev (Rector of Three Saints Church in Garfield, NJ)
- Abbot Nicodemus Balyasnikov (Cleric of St. Nicholas Patriarchal Cathedral in New York City)
- Priest Aleksey Paranyuk (Dean of the Eastern States and Parish Rector)
- Priest Stephen Kaznica (Rector of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Passaic, NJ)
- Hieromonk Stephen (Bushman)
- Protodeacon Daniel Sudol (Cleric of Three Saints Church in Garfield, NJ)
- Protodeacon Serge Arlievsky (Cleric of Holy Dormition Convent “Novo-Diveevo” in Nanuet, NY)
- Deacon Alexey Golubov (Cleric of St. Nicholas Cathedral)
- Deacon Andrew Massey (Cleric of Elevation of the Holy Cross Church)
- Deacon Nicholas DeGraaff (Cleric of Three Saints Church)

During the Divine Liturgy, prayers were offered for the clergy and parishioners of the parish that have since reposed. Special petitions for peace in the Ukrainian land were also intoned at the Augmented Litany. 

At the conclusion of the Liturgy, His Grace congratulated Fr. Aleksey and the parishioners on the occasion of their patronal feast. In turn, Fr. Aleksey thanked the hierarch for his archpastoral visit and shared prayer. The protodeacons then intoned the Polychronion for the clergy and parishioners of the parish. Through the presentation of Father Aleksey, Bishop John awarded a number of parishioners with archpastoral letters of commendation (gramotas).

After the service, a luncheon was served in the parish hall under the guidance of Matushka Natalia Paranyuk. 

Celebration of Bishop John’s Name Day

 

On Sunday, July 2 the Church commemorated St. John (Maximovitch), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco. This is the name day of His Grace, Bishop John, Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA. On this occasion our he led the Divine Liturgy in St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. For that reason we cancelled our Sunday services at St. George Church and our Rector, as well as some parishioners attended the Liturgy at the cathedral.

His Grace was co-served by the Rector of St. George Church, Chancellor of the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA, Archpriest Igor Tarasov and clerics of the cathedral. Among our parishioners attending the Liturgy were our Warden, Olga Roussanow and our altar server Andrew Malyshew with his family.

After the reading of the Gospel. Bishop John preached a homily on the topic of the appointed Gospel reading for the day. Following the Eucharistic Canon His Grace ordained Subdeacon Yulian Ryabtsev to the holy Diaconate.

Before the dismissal of the Liturgy, Bishop John served a short prayer service before an icon containing a piece of the relics of St. John. 

At the conclusion of the service, Archpriest Alexander Golubov congratulated His Grace on the occasion of his name day. In turn, Bishop John thanked Fr. Alexander, the clergy and faithful for their prayers on this feast. The Bishop then also congratulated Deacon John Peters and altar server John Godin on the occasion of their name day as well. 

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

On June 25, on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our parish temple. Following the readings from the Sacred Scripture he preached the following homily in English:

“Today’s Gospel lesson is taken from the famous and important Sermon on the Mountain preached by our Lord Jesus Christ in the very beginning of His ministry. And today’s reading gives us three points to think about.”
“First, the Lord says, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Mt. 6, 22-23).  Here Jesus is not talking about our physical eyes but about our mind which is the commander of our personal life. It is our spiritual sight, the way we see things around us. If we see things to be good or proper, then all our body and soul, all our life will be good and proper. But if we see only negative things and dislike everything around us, then we live in darkness. In the same way, if our mind is preoccupied with sinful matters, we live in sin, in a great darkness. Therefore, we need to watch our mind and keep it pure and sinless.”
“The second important point our Lord makes is that we cannot serve two masters (Mt. 6, 24). Even in practical and literal sense it is impossible to be a servant of two lords, especially if those lords oppose each other. Jesus says that we cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon in Hebrew meant wealth and possessions. For many people mammon was an idol to whom they dedicated their lives. And nowadays it is the same. Many people serve the idol of wealth. But if they do, they cannot claim to be also the servants of God. At the same time a true servant of God can still be a wealthy man. However, his wealth is not his goal of life, is not his idol, but just an instrument he could acquire. He lives not for his wealth but uses his wealth to live and please God. But if a rich man lives in order to keep and gain more possessions, he is driven away from God and serves mammon.”
“These reflections lead us to the third point the Lord makes for us in today’s Gospel lesson. He teaches us not to worry about our life, not to be concerned about what we will eat, drink or wear. His speech about this is very beautiful and poetic. He says, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Mt. 6, 26). “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Mt. 6, 28-30). Jesus teaches us to trust God who created us and who will provide for us. It does not mean that we have to stop working. Even the birds constantly work. But we have to stop worrying and concentrate on our spiritual life.”
“The Lord teaches us about the priorities we have to set in our life. First of all, we need to seek what is long-lasting, eternal and thus really important. We need to serve God. Then we may have such things as material possessions, food, clothes. These are the means of our life, but not the goal of life. Such things are temporary and perishable. If we choose to serve them, we make a bad deal. We unite ourselves with what is corruptible, we become the partakers of corruption. Remember the Gospel story of a rich man whom God called fool?  He relied on his possessions instead of growing rich before God; he died and his possessions did not follow him into life beyond the grave. However, if we treat material things such as food, cloth, money as only means, not goals, we may grow spiritually rich before God.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, let us keep in mind the priorities. Let us decide what is really important for us and what is less important. We eat and drink in order to live, but not live in order to eat and drink. We clothe ourselves in order to live, but we cannot live for being clothed. Different material things of this life are important but they are not the goal of our life. The Lord does not say to renounce them. He Himself ate, drank and wore clothes, so did His Disciples. But The Lord says not to worry because these things, as He says, “shall be added” to us. But He certainly teaches us to seek what is really important, reliable and long-lasting – the Kingdom of God and his righteousness (Mt. 6, 33). Therefore, let us seek the eternal Kingdom of God in our earthly lives, so we could enter it some day and become the partakers of what is incorruptible  and everlasting.”

The choir nicely performed the proper hymns.

After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector preached a brief sermon in Russian stressing main thoughts of his English homily.

Following the service our celebration continued at the coffee hour.

 

2nd Sunday after Pentecost. Sunday of All the Saints of the Land of Rus’

 

On June 18, on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, as well as Sunday of All Saints of the Land of Rus’, we had a nice celebration at St. George Church. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our parish temple. Following the Gospel reading he preached a homily in Russian.

In his homily the Rector pointed out that according to the Gospel story of Christ calling His first Apostles (Mt. 4, 18-23) that we heard today, the first Apostles very easy responded to the calling of Christ. This happened because they were very faithful and devout people who sincerely awaited the coming of the Messiah. But the same calling to follow Christ is also made for all of us. Not everyone is called to become an Apostle; this call is for those who wish to serve the Lord and the Church.  But everyone is called to follow Christ, to join Him in His Kingdom.
The Saints of Rus’ whom we honor on this Sunday also discerned that calling of Christ. From the beginning of our Christianity, the people of Rus’ embraced the true faith with sincerity and great zeal. The spirit of Christ made our Baptizer, St. Vladimir so meek that he refused to execute the criminals. The words of Christ calling to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5, 48) inspired many to become monks and nuns in the lands of Rus’, like Venerable Fathers Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves. And later many holy men and women – martyrs, hierarchs, venerable ascetics and righteous people were appearing in the lands of Rus’ and shining by their holy lives. And in the recent times of the turbulence and godless power our Church produced many new Saints, martyrs and confessors who refused to go with the flow of refusal of faith, but they chose the way to follow Christ. And all of them heard the same voice which called the first Disciples: “Follow Me”.
We should be happy that we have such a many Saints from our home country. For the most of us, they are related to us by flesh, they are our ancestors. They know our needs, they know our difficulties and shortcomings. And they pray the Lord for us. And we should ask them for their intercession and imitate them in their readiness to follow Christ in this life and in the life eternal.

The choir beautifully performed the hymns dedicated to the Saints of Rus’ during preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector preached a short sermon in English to explain main ideas of his Russian homily. He also congratulated our men on the occasion of Father’s Day. The traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta”) was proclaimed.

Sunday of All Saints

 

On June 11, on the 1st Sunday after Pentecost the Church honored All the Saints who ever pleased the Lord by their holy lives. On this day Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy in our temple. Following the Gospel lesson he preached the following homily in English:

“Today’s 1st Sunday after Pentecost is dedicated to all the Saints. It is almost the end of our continuous celebration of the history of salvation. Thus, today’s feast is the result of all that has gone before it. The purpose of all the events in Christ’s life is to make Saints. That is the purpose of the Church, to make people holy. Today’s holy day is the feast of the identity of the Church, of Her sacred personality. For a Church that does not make Saints is not a Church, it is merely an institution which abuses the word “Church”.”
”What is a Saint? We should understand that Saints are not born, they are made. They don’t come from heaven but they grow here on earth to be in heaven. We are all born potentially to become Saints. The only difference between ourselves who are not Saints and the Saints, is that they are people who are continually picking themselves up after sinning, continually repenting until they attain holiness, while we give up.”
”We should also say that there are different kinds of Saints. For instance, there are Martyrs, the Saints who sacrificed their lives for Christ. Today we commemorate Venerable Martyr Theodosia who was an ascetic person, a nun but who had to become a Martyr for Christ. Speaking of Martyrs, we may say that some of them, unlike today’s celebrated Theodosia,  led very bad lives but then, when it came to the ultimate sacrifice, they found Faith in themselves, sufficient for them to prefer to confess Christ rather than live, and so sacrificed everything for Christ. We recognize their sacrifice and honor it.”

“However, in our time, in our land, it would seem that we are not called to be Martyrs, but Confessors. This is another kind of Saints. These are the people who suppose to live a Christian life, to be righteous, and to be an example for others. And at the time of persecutions they should be ready to become Martyrs. They should openly confess the Lord Jesus Christ. Another Saint whom the Church commemorates today is St. Luke of Simferopol whose icon is placed in the middle of the church today. He was a Confessor. He was ready to die for Christ but Divine Providence preserved him alive in persecutions. To that kind of holiness we are called in our times when the society becomes more and more remote from the Christian faith and Christian ideals. Our present day rulers are very often like pagan rulers of Rome. They don’t care about faith but wish to chase the faith out of the society. Thus we should become ready to confess Christ before them.”
“Today we should also say that characteristics of the Saints are also those of the Church. At every Liturgy and at morning prayers we sing and read the Creed, in which we confess that we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. These words are also words that define the Saints.”
”The Saints are One because they are all together. In today’s Gospel, our Lord speaks of those who have followed Him who will judge the twelve tribes of Israel seated on the twelve thrones around Him. The Saints are One, they are united. The Saints are also obviously holy because the word “Saint” means holy.”
“The Saints are also Catholic. This word does not mean Roman Catholic. We mean “Catholic” in the original sense of the word. It means the same in all places and at all times. As I recently visited Mt. Athos, I learned that the main church of each monastery there is called the “katholikon” which is the gathering church. In Russian or Slavonic we say “sobor”. Thus in the Slavonic text of the Creed we call the Church “sobornaia”. In Greek it’s “katholiki”, Catholic. Today we commemorate all the Saints of all countries and of all centuries and of all backgrounds. We recall Saints of all ages, of all nationalities, men, women and children, the poor and the rich, the old and the young, the healthy and the sick. They all confessed the same Orthodox faith. The Saints are universal in time and space; they are “Catholic”, gathered together from everywhere. Finally, the Saints are Apostolic, for they share in the same faith and tradition as the Apostles.”’
”We may conclude our reflection upon the Saints by listening and fulfilling the command of the Holy Apostle Paul who is uttering to us the following words of today’s Epistle reading, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” (Heb. 12, 2).

After the Liturgy Rector and parishioners enjoyed delicious meals and a nice company at the coffee hour.

My Pilgrimage to Mt. Athos

by Archpriest Igor Tarasov


Continuing my story of the pilgrimage to Greece I will now come to describe my journey to the Holy Mountain Athos.

On Monday, May 29, in the afternoon I met my group of pilgrims that had to go to Mt. Athos at Thessaloniki airport. The group was headed by His Grace, Philaret, Bishop of Lviv and Halych, and included four other persons. After our meeting at the airport we went to the town of Ouranoupolis where we were supposed to receive our passes to Mt. Athos. We were given those documents and took a motor boat to sail for Mt. Athos.

It takes about a half hour to get to Mt. Athos from Ouranoupolis on a motor boat. Soon we moored to a pier of the oldest monastery on the Holy Mountain, Vatopedi. Hermits and monks began to live here from the 4th century, but the monastery itself was founded in the 10th century by three monks, Athanasius, Nicholas and Anthony, the disciples of Ven. Athanasius of Athos. Now it has a lot of monks and nice architectural objects.

Since it was late, we went to sleep and had to wake up very early for the church services.

Daily services at Mt. Athos usually begin at 5 am. We were given a leeway and asked to join the brotherhood at 6. Bishop Philaret was given the high throne in the church while all of us took the seats along the walls of the temple. In this way we prayed during the Matins and Hours and later participated in the Divine Liturgy which was headed by Bishop Philaret. It was an interesting experience to listen to the Byzantine chants and prayers of the Athonite monks.

Following the services we proceeded to the monastery refectory, the trapeza. It is an old building having the Byzantine marble tables made in the 8th century and later donated for the monastery. Very simple food was very delicious and healthy. It included lentil soup, fruits, vegetables, feta cheese and olives. All fruits and vegetables were locally grown, mostly at the monastery fields.

After finishing our trapeza we were invited to venerate the holy relics kept in Vatopedi monastery. These relics include the Precious Cincture (Belt) of the Most Holy Mother of God, a part of the head of St. John Chrysostom along with his ear, the Cross of Emperor Constantine and part of the relics of Ven. Joseph the Hysichast. In addition, the monastery temples keep several miraculous icons of the Most Holy Mother of God. These are the Icon of the Mother of God of the Altar (Vimatarissa), the Icon of the Mother of God Streaming of Oil, the Icon of the Mother of God the Queen of All (Pantanassa), and the Icon of the Mother of Consolation (Paramythea). We were very happy and spiritually uplifted to have an opportunity to venerate all these relics and the miraculous icons.

Vatopedi Monastery

It would love to stay at Vatopedi longer but our group had to visit other holy places. Thus, we drove to the kellia Maruda attached to the Serbian monastery Hilandar where elder Macarius leads an ascetic life. Elder Macarius was one of the Greek Athonite monks who preached and lived in the United States, along with elder Ephrem of Arizona. Now he prefers to stay on Mt. Athos. We were warmly welcomed by the elder, had a nice conversation with him. Then each person from our group had an individual meeting with the elder. Our plan was to go further but elder Macarius nicely invited us to have a trapeza with him, and we accepted that invitation. Again, the food was very simple but delicious and healthy.

Leaving very hospitable and deeply spiritual Fr. Macarius we drove to the other side of Mt. Athos, to Simon on the Rock Monastery, in Greek Simonopetra. The roads on the Holy Mountain are not finished and they are very bumpy. In addition, we had to climb or come down from the hills. But we endured these inconveniences.

The Simonopetra Monastery is beautifully situated on the huge rock above the sea. It is probably one of the most beautiful places of Mt. Athos. Coming to the monastery we visited the main temple and venerated the right hand of St. Mary Magdalene, the main holy relic of this monastery.

On the balcony of Simonopetra Monastery

View at Simonopetra Monastery

Our next place to visit on that day was the monastery known as Xenophontos. This monastery is known for its large library, as well as because it has a residence of the Ecumenical Patriarch. We prayed at Vespers at the Xenophontos main temple known for its best acustics on the Holy Mountain. This was also adorned by the fabulous voice of the monastery abbot, Fr. Alexy who proclaimed certain parts of the service. Following the Vespers we enjoyed delicious trapeza at Xenophontos refectory and later had a meeting with Abbot Alexy in his office. The monastery patron is Holy Great Martyr George, so, as Rector of St. George Church, I was especially uplifted to visit that place. We were given an opportunity to venerate a part of St. George relics, as well as the famous Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God “Showing the Way” (Hodegitria).

The yard of the Xenophontos Monastery

Evening trapeza at Xenophontos Monastery

The residence of the Ecumenical Patriarch at Xenophontos

Meeting with the Abbot of Xenophontos, Fr. Alexy

Our group near the main temple of Xenophontos

Our night accommodations were reserved in another famous monastery, the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon where we headed after visiting Xenophontos. We arrived there at sunset and were given relatively large rooms to spend a night. On the next morning, on Wednesday, May 31, we went to the main monastery temple to pray. At this early time, after the sunrise, we could see that the temple architecture here was influenced by the Russian style. We participated in the Matins service and the Hours. Services were held in Slavonic language. Then by the blessing of Bishop Philaret I joined him in celebration of the Divine Liturgy. It had been a special spiritual feeling to serve the Liturgy at St. Panteleimon’s monastery, a blessed place where many of the monks from Rus’ used to pray, serve and lead an ascetic life.

The main church of St. Panteleimon Monastery

Following the Liturgy all the monks and pilgrims were led to trapeza. The food at St. Panteleimon had already some Slavic influence: we had mashed potatoes which not usually eaten in Greece.

After the trapeza the pilgrims were offered an opportunity to venerate the multiple holy relics kept at St. Panteleimon Monastery: of Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon, foot of Holy Apostle Andrew, head of Holy Apostle Luke, parts of the relics of the Apostles Peter, Thomas, Philip, Bartholomew and Barnabas, part of the relics of Holy First Martyr Stephen and some other relics. We had also venerated the Jerusalem Icon of the Mother of God.

We left St. Panteleimon Monastery to return to Vatopedi where we had a scheduled appointment with its abbot, Fr. Ephrem. Arriving there we were warmly welcomed by Fr. Ephrem at his residence. We had delicious sweets and coffee at the residence balcony and conversed about a number of issues which concern Orthodox Church. Special attention, of course, was given to the life of the Church in Ukraine.

After a nice meeting with Fr. Ephrem we went to see a number of places on the Holy Mountain. We arrived in the St. Andrew Skete, a very large monastery built on Mt. Athos by the Russian tsars in the 19th century. Before Russian Revolution it had around 700 monks living there. However, following the disturbances in Russia most of the monks left that place. It later became taken over by the Greeks and now it is attached to Vatopedi Monastery. The main church of St. Andrew Skete is the largest temple on Mt. Athos. It is built in the Russian style. We had an opportunity to venerate part of the relics of Holy Apostle Andrew. After visiting the temple we met Metropolitan Paul of Khanty-Mansiysk, a Russian bishop who used to serve in our Patriarchal Parishes. Giving us his archpastoral blessing, Metropolitan Paul wished our American Orthodox community all God’s graces. We also were charmed to see the large Russian bell on the monastery yard which, unfortunately, could not be hanged at the bell tower, and we took some pictures near it.

Inside the main temple of St. Andrew Skete

Bishop Philaret, Metropolitan Paul and I in St. Andrew Skete

A picture near the large Russian bell

Following that we visit Karyes, an administrative capital of Athos where the governing offices of this monastic republic are situated. Near that capital we visited the monastery called Kutlumush, by the name of its legendary Arab founder. It is a cozy place where we could venerate the Passion Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God.

A view at Mt. Athos peak

Near the main administrative building in Karyes, the capital of Athos

The Kutlumush Monastery

Inside the walls of Kutlumush

Looking at the beautiful view

After Kutlumush and the Athos’ capital we drove to the known Iveron Monastery. It used to be a Georgian monastery, however later it became totally populated by the Greek monks. Here we prayed before the Iveron Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, also known as the Portatissa (the Gate Keeper). According to the tradition, the icon was at one time in the possession of a widow in Nicea. Not wanting the icon to be seized and destroyed by the iconoclasts, she spent all night in prayer and then cast the icon into the Mediterranean Sea. The icon had been found in the waters near Mt. Athos and recovered from the sea by a Georgian monk. The tradition goes on to say that the following day, when the monks entered the church they could not find the icon. After searching they discovered the icon hanging on the gates of the monastery. This occurrence was repeated several times, until the Georgian monk reported that he had seen a vision of the Theotokos, wherein She revealed that She did not want Her icon to be guarded by the monks, but rather She intended to be their Protectress. After this, the icon was permanently installed above the monastery gates, where it remains to this day. Because of this, the icon came to be called Portaitissa or “Gate-Keeper”. We can add that the copy of this icon is very much revered in Russia, in the city of Moscow and was also known as miraculous.

Later, in the afternoon we came to the Philotheou Monastery where we had a chance to venerate the Icon called “the Sweet Kiss”, along with the relics such as the right hand of St. John Chrysostom and part of the relics of St. Cosmas and Damian. Then we headed to the monastery known as St. Paul’s (Agiou Pavlou) because it was founded by a holy monk, Ven. Paul. There had an opportunity to see and to venerate the relics known as the Gifts of the Wise men.

Our plan was to spend the last night on the Holy Mountain at the Skete of St. Ann, a place situated very high on the mountain above the sea. In order to get to the skete you need either to climb the stairs for about one hour or to ride there on a mule. I was generously offered to mount a mule. In this way I got to the skete while other members of our group preferred to take the steps by foot. The rise was long and hard but we did not regret it. The view from St. Ann Skete on the sea and the mountains was spectacular. And the monks living there were very welcoming and nice to us. We had a nice supper at that great evening conversing about different spiritual and life matters.

A spectacular view from the mountain of St. Ann Skete

The night view from St. Ann Skete

On Thursday, June 1, on the morning of our last day on Mt. Athos, we got up early for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the little chapel attached to our kellias. Bishop Philaret served the Liturgy while I served as a cantor and members of our group prayed. Finishing the Liturgy and receiving the Holy Communion we had a trapeza with the monks of the skete.

Following the delicious trapeza we visited the main church of the skete where were given an opportunity to venerate the relics, especially the foot of St. Ann, Mother of the Thetokos. That foot preserved not only the skin, but also veins and many pilgrims claimed that they felt the warmth of the foot when they kissed it. It should be noted that the skete is a known pilgrimage place for childless men who ask St. Ann’s intercession. According to the testimony of faithful, St. Ann had helped many. Childless couples who had children after these pilgrimages bring pictures of their children born by the prayers of St. Ann, so there are a lot of such photographs in the temple.

After thanking the monks, especially their abbot, Fr. Gabriel for the nice welcome, we started our descent from the mountain to the sea shore. This time we all walked by foot, and it was a little hard because the steps there are made of different and uneven rocks. It took us around 40 minutes to walk down.

At the pier we waited on our motor boat which arrived soon and took us back to Ouranoupolis. We returned to the mainland Greece, to the secular world. But we desired to keep the great spirit of the Holy Mountain in our hearts.

Concluding my short story about our pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain I wish to express my special gratitude to His Grace, Bishop Philaret who headed our small group of pilgrims and was giving us a great spiritual inspiration and guidance during this journey. Thanks to Bishop Philaret who is well known to the Athonite brotherhood we were given a very nice welcoming at every place we visited. I wish to thank all the members of our group for their moral and prayerful support and brotherly attitude. And, of course, I am very grateful to our Archpastor, Bishop John who gave me a blessing to undertake this unforgettable pilgrimage.

My Pilgrimage to Greece

by Archriest Igor Tarasov


By the blessing of His Grace, Bishop John, I recently undertook a pilgrimage to Greece and to Holy Mountain of Athos. I left New York on Tuesday, May 23 and flew to Thessalonica, Greece.

Thessalonica, also known as Thessaloniki, is the second-largest city of Greece and the capital of the ancient region of Macedonia. It has a great and glorious history as one of the cultural and administrative centers of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. For us Christians it is remembered as a place where Holy Apostle Paul preached and converted a number of people. Later he wrote his two Epistles to Thessalonians. In the Christian era the city also became famous for its Saints, such as Great Martyr Demetrius, St. Gregory Palamas and other holy men and women.

On Thursday, May 25, on the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, I prayed during the Divine Liturgy at the Thessaloniki’s Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Gregory Palamas. Following the service I had an opportunity to venerate the relics of St. Gregory which are rested in the Cathedral’s chapel.

After the festal service in the Cathedral I visited other important places of worship in the city, such as the Church of Panagia Acheropoietos (of the Mother of God “not made by hands”) and the Hagia Sophia Church. These are very ancient temples in Thessalonica that preserved the old frescos and ancient style. Hagia Sophia Church has relics of St. Basil of Thessalonica which I visited and venerated.

Taking a taxi cab I could get to St. Paul’s Hill where this Holy Apostle preached to the citizens of Thessalonica in the 1st century AD. There is a small church and a monastery built there which I had also visited. That monastery is also famous for its founder, Venerable David of Thessalonica whose endeavor was to live on a tree (similarly to the Stylites who lived on the tops of the pillars).

Walking down from St. Paul’s Hill to the city I came to St. Demetrius Basilica, an ancient church dedicated to the very famous Martyr who died for Christ in this city in the 3rd century. The relics of Great Martyr Demetrius had been taken from Thessalonica by the Crusaders. They were held in Italy. However, recently the relics were returned to this city by the Italian Roman Catholic hierarchs. Now they are rested in St. Demetrius Basilica where a special chapel is built upon the reliquary. In addition, there is a source of myrrh in the Basilica’s basement. The myrrh was noted to flow a number of times from the relics of the Holy Great Martyr, thus St. Demetrius is often called the “Myrrh-streaming”. I had an opportunity to venerate the relics of St. Demetrius, as well as the myrrh source and to taste the holy water from the water fountain in the Basilica. It has to be noted that at the times when the relics of St. Demetrius were taken from Thessaloniki, the faithful venerated his “empty tomb” in another chapel attached to the Basilica. They believed that the relics were first reposed there. But even an empty tomb of the Holy Martyr was making miracles. It is still honored, so I could also enter that chapel and venerate this tomb. In addition, St. Demetrius Basilica holds relics of Martyr Anisia which are very accessible in the church.

On this same day I also visited the ancient Baptistery of St. John the Forerunner where early Christians gathered for their underground services and later people of the city were baptized. Then I came to the church dedicated to the Meeting of the Lord. It is a place of the repose of the relics of Venerable David and Theodora of Thessalonica, two ascetic persons who lived and fulfilled their endeavors in the city. We already mentioned St. David who was a Dendrite, an ascetic living on a tree. He lived in the 6th century. St. Theodora lived a monastic life in the 9th century. I had an opportunity to venerate their relics in the Holy Meeting Church.

On the next day, Friday, May 26, I left Thessalonica to visit famous Mt. Olympus. The ancient Greeks believed that this mountain was a dwelling place of their gods. In the Christian era many monasteries were founded on that mountain in order to overcome pagan cults and chase the demons out.

My journey first was to St. Ephrem’s Monastery. It is a women’s convent situated in a very beautiful countryside near Mt. Olympus. This monastery is relatively new and my tour guide told me that the nuns who came to dwell there had training in landscaping design and architecture. They made this monastery very beautiful and appealing. It is known for the holy relics: the right hand of Venerable Ephrem the Syrian and a part of the relics of Great Martyr Catherine. These relics are rested in the main monastery church. After venerating the relics of the Saints we were invited to the guest hall of the monastery. It has to be said that every Greek monastery has nice tradition of hospitality. The pilgrims are usually invited to the guest hall called the “archontariki”. There they are offered a shot of homemade grape liquor, some sweets, especially the lukum, and coffee.

Another holy place we visited on that day was St. Dionysius of Olympus Monastery. Venerable Dionysius lived in the 16th century when Greece was already conquered by the Turks. He founded a number of monasteries, including several on Mt. Olympus. Now there are two of them in the area. They are situated between the high mountains. The old monastery had been partially destroyed by the Germans during World War 2. But it still has an acting temple where we could venerate the icon of the Saint.

On the third day of my stay in Greece, on Saturday, May 27, I visited the two holy places located near Thessaloniki. In the village of Souroti there is women’s monastery dedicated to Venerable Arsenius. This place is known because Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos lived there his last years of earthly life, being in the care of the monastery nuns. Elder Paisios who died in 1994 is very respected for his spiritual guidance and ascetic life in the modern times. He was canonized in 2015. Elder Paisios’ grave is a very honored place. Usually the pilgrims make a long line to come and venerate it. On the day I came the line was not too long. It took me about 10 minutes to get to the Elder’s grave. Then I entered the monastery temple and venerated relics of Venerable Arsenius.

The next interesting holy place to visit near Thessaloniki was the monastery dedicated to Holy Great Martyr Anastasia Pharmakolytria (the Deliverer from Potions). This ancient woman Saint was born in the 2nd century and died in 304 AD. She was given a name of the “Deliverer from Potions” or “from Bonds” because her intercessions are credited with the protection of the faithful from poison and other harmful substances. She is also believed to be a protectress from any evil spells and charms. Many pilgrims purchase special rings blessed in that monastery to protect themselves from evil forces. The monastery itself was founded in the Middle Ages and the relics of St. Anastasia were transferred there from Constantinople. It is now in the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople while most of the local Greek churches and monasteries belong to the autocephalous Church of Greece. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago the relics were stolen from the temple and still not found. However, faithful still venerate the place where the relics reposed and the two icons of the Saint. It is noticeable that the interior walls of the monastery temple are painted black as a reminder of the fire which once burned St. Anastasia Monastery. Another important treasure of St. Anastasia Monastery is a part of the relics of Holy Apostle Andrew which is rested in the main temple, and I had an opportunity to venerate it.

On Sunday, May 28 I prayed at the Divine Liturgy at St. Demetrius Basilica in Thessaloniki. The temple was filled with the parishioners and pilgrims. Following the service I had a chance to approach and venerate holy relics of the Great Thessalonica Martyr for the second time. After attending the church I had a free time and took some rest before another stage of my pilgrimage which was a 4-day visitation of Mt. Athos.

Pentecost. Feast of the Most Holy Trinity

 

On June 4 all Orthodox Christians celebrated Pentecost, the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Our St. George parish family had a beautiful celebration in our temple. The church was nicely adorned with greenery. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy.

Following the Gospel lesson he preached a homily in English. In that homily the Rector pointed out that in all areas of human life we need an experience. Same is with spiritual life. We must experience God’s presence, His love and grace. This had been experienced by the Holy Apostles when they became worthy of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The event of Pentecost described in the Epistle lesson was a very impressive experience of coming of the Divine Comforter.
God cannot be fully expressed. In fact, a God fully defined is no God, but He can be experienced. He expressed Himself once in the Person of Jesus. The purpose of that expression was that He might be experienced in the lives of His people as Emmanuel – God with us. No one can prove to you that Christ is the Son of God. We have to find out for ourselves. It’s like love – you can only love by experience, not by reading it in a book.
This is why the Scripture says, “Come and see” (when the Disciples found Christ and one of them said it to another) (Jn. 1, 46), or as the Samaritan woman said to her neighbors, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did” (Jn. 4, 29), or as the Psalm says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 33, 8). We have to see, taste or experience God in order to have a true faith. Every Liturgy from this day of Pentecost and until the next Pascha we sing, “We have seen the true Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, we worship the undivided Trinity”. We have seen, we have received, we had an experience, thus we are able to worship the Holy Trinity.

The choir piously performed the hymns of the feast during the preparation for Holy Communion.

Following the Liturgy dismissal the Rector preached a short sermon in Russian stressing the main thoughts of his English homily.

After the Liturgy the Rector served Pentecostal Vespers with kneeling prayers.