26 June 2012

I love busy church weeks!


Here is my church schedule (mostly at) Saint John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church for the next few days:

Wed 27 June: 
Thu 28 June: 
Fri 29 June: 
Sat 30 June: 
Sun 01 July: 
I love busy church weeks and all the blessings that they bring!



22 June 2012

Our Lady of the Portal Icon

I have a copy of the Panagia Portaitissa/Iveron Theotokos near my front door. It is an icon my son looks at and venerates a lot. Lately he has been really studying it and realized that the icon has the Theotokos, the Blessed Ever Virgin Mary with a wound on her face. He worries about this wound. It has prompted me to share about this icon.

The Panagia Portaitissa (Παναγία Πορταΐτισσα, Greek for "Keeper of the Gate") or the Iveron Theotokos is an Eastern Orthodox icon of Virgin Mary. The original of this image is found in the Georgian Iviron monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, where it is believed to have been since the year 999. This icon was painted by Luke the Evangelist. The icon is referred to as "Wonderworking" meaning that numerous miracles have been attributed to the intercession of the Theotokos (Mother of God) by persons praying before this icon.

The icon belongs to a family of images of the Theotokos known as Hodegetria (Greek: Όδηγήτρια, "she who shows the way") after the prototype from Constantinople. In these icons, the Christ Child sits on his mother's left arm and she is depicted pointing to Christ with her right hand. Another famous miracle-working Lukan icon based upon Hodegetria that was damaged by heretics is Our Lady of Częstochowa.

A unique characteristic of this icon is what appears to be a scar on the Virgin Mary's right cheek or her chin. The icon was stabbed by a soldier in Nicaea during the period of Byzantine iconoclasm under the Emperor Theophilus (829–842). According to tradition, when the icon was stabbed, blood miraculously flowed out of the wound.

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 widow's son later went to Mount Athos, where he became a monk and recounted the miracle of the bleeding wound, and how the icon had been placed in the sea. Much later, (ca. 1004) the icon was recovered from the sea by a Georgian monk named Gabriel (later canonized a saint in the Orthodox Church), who was laboring at the Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos. This occurred on Tuesday of Bright Week (Easter Week), and is commemorated annually on that day (as well as the fixed date of March 31). The icon was taken to the katholikon (main church) of the monastery from which the icon gets its name.

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 St. Gabriel 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". This title was not new for the Virgin Mary, but comes from a verse of the Akathist to the Mother of God: "Rejoice, O Blessed Gate-Keeper who opens the gates of Paradise to the righteous." Orthodox monks and nuns throughout the world will often place an icon of the Theotokos Iverskaya on the monastery gates. It is also common in Orthodox temples (church buildings) to place an icon of the Theotokos Portaitissa on the inside of the iconostasis, above the Holy Doors, looking towards the Holy Table (altar table).

In 1648, Patriarch Nikon of Moscow, while he was still Archimandrite of Novospassky Monastery, commissioned an exact copy of the Iviron icon to be made and sent to Russia. Almost immediately upon its arrival on October 13, the icon was "glorified" with numerous miracles attributed to it by the faithful. The Iverskaya Chapel was built in 1669 to enshrine the icon next to the Kremlin walls in Moscow. The chapel was the main entrance to Red Square and traditionally everyone, from the Tsar down to the lowest peasant would stop there to venerate the icon before entering the square. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the chapel was destroyed by the Communists and the fate of the icon is unknown to this day.

As is common in the Orthodox Church, the icon is a prototype which has been copied numerous times. Several of the copies themselves have been known to be wonderworking, one the most famous of which is the Myrrh-streaming icon from Montreal in Canada. For the fifteen years (1982-1997), as myrrh continued to flow from the Icon, Brother Jose Muñoz-Cortes devoted himself to its care, accompanying it on numerous trips to parishes all over the United States and Canada, to South America, Australia, and Europe. A new Copy of the Montreal Myrrh-Streaming Iveron Icon began streaming Myrrh at the Russian Orthodox Church in Hawaii in 2007. Several feast days during the liturgical year celebrate a few of these miracles.


13 June 2012

The Soul After Death (How Does it Get from the Body to Hades or Paradise?)

The teaching of Aerial Toll-Houses regards the soul's journey after its departure from the body, and is related to the particular judgment. In its most general form, it refers to the idea that after death, the demons attempt to find a basis for taking the soul to Hades, while the angels and the prayers of the living defend the soul if it can be defended. Whether the soul is finally seized by the demons, or taken to heaven depends on the state of the soul at death. In either case, the soul then experiences a foretaste of what it can expect after the final judgment. According to Fr. Thomas Hopko, the teaching of the Toll Houses is found in virtually every Father of the Church.[1]

In the life of St. Anthony the Great, he saw a vision of souls rising towards heaven and some being stopped by a large demon and cast down. Likewise St. Bede recorded certain visions of a Celtic Saint who saw a soul arising and fighting off demons with the help of angels and his reposed wife's soul.
In the Philokalia, St. Diadochos of Photiki (ca 400 – 486 a.d.) states:
"If we do not confess our involuntary sins as we should, we shall discover and ill-defined fear in ourselves at the hour of our death. We who love the Lord should pray that we may be without fear at that time; for if we are afraid then, we will not be able freely to pass by the rulers of the nether world. They will have as their advocate to plead against us the fear which our soul experiences because of its own wickedness. But the soul which rejoices in the love of God, at the hour of its departure, is lifted with the angels of peace above all the hosts of darkness. For it is given wings by spiritual love, since it ceaselessly carries within itself the love which 'is the fulfilling of the law' (Rom. 13:10)."[2]
In the Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Theophilus of Antioch (who reposed in 412 a.d.) we find:
"The same Abba Theophilus said, "What fear, what trembling, what uneasiness will there be for us when our soul is separated from the body. Then indeed the force and strength of the adverse powers come against us, the rulers of darkness, those who command the world of evil, the principalities, the powers, the spirits of evil. They accuse our souls as in a lawsuit, bringing before it all the sins it has committed, whether deliberately or through ignorance, from its youth until the time when it has been taken away. So they stand accusing it of all it has done. Furthermore, what anxiety do you suppose the soul will have at that hour, until sentence is pronounced and it gains its liberty. That is its hour of affliction, until it sees what will happen to it. On the other hand, the divine powers stand on the opposite side, and they present the good deeds of the soul. Consider the fear and trembling of the soul standing between them until in judgment it receives the sentence of the righteous judge. If it is judged worthy, the demons will receive their punishment, and it will be carried away by the angels. Then thereafter you will be without disquiet, or rather you will live according to that which is written: “Even as the habitation of those who rejoice is in you.” (Ps. 87.7) Then will the Scripture be fulfilled: “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35.10).
"Then your liberated soul will go on to that joy and ineffable glory in which it will be established. But if it is found to have lived carelessly, it will hear that terrible voice: "Take away the ungodly, that he may not see the glory of the Lord." (cf. Isaiah 26.10) Then the day of anger, the day of affliction, the day of darkness and shadow seizes upon it. Abandoned to outer darkness and condemned to everlasting fire it will be punished through the ages without end. Where then is the vanity of the world? Where is the vain-glory? Where is carnal life? Where is enjoyment? Where is imagination? Where is ease? Where is boasting? Riches? Nobility? Father, mother, brother? Who could take the soul out of its pains when it is burning in the fire, and remove it from bitter torments?" [3]
St. Mark of Ephesus wrote:
"But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which – even thought they have repented over them – they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sin, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have said, has not been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in they very departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or – if their sins were more serious and bind them, for a longer duration – they are kept in hell [i.e., Hades], but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard." [4]
In both the Greek and Slavonic Euchologion, in the canon for the departure of the soul by St. Andrew , we find in Ode 7:
"All holy angels of the Almighty God, have mercy upon me and save me from all the evil toll-houses."
Likewise, in the Canon of Supplication at the Parting of the Soul in The Great Book of Needs are the following references to the struggle of a soul passing through the toll-houses:
"Count me worthy to pass, unhindered, by the persecutor, the prince of the air, the tyrant, him that stands guard in the dread pathways, and the false accusation of these, as I depart from earth." (Ode 4, p. 77).
"Do thou count me worthy to escape the hordes of bodiless barbarians, and rise through the aerial depths and enter into Heaven…" (Ode 8, p. 81).
"[W]hen I come to die, do thou banish far from me the commander of the bitter toll-gatherers and ruler of the earth…" (Ode 8, p. 81).
In the Octoechos, there are many references to the Toll Houses:
"When my soul is about to be forcibly parted from my body's limbs, then stand by my side and scatter the counsels of my bodiless foes and smash the teeth of those who implacably seek to swallow me down, so that I may pass unhindered through the rulers of darkness who wait in the air, O Bride of God." Octoechos, Tone Two, Friday Vespers
"Pilot my wretched soul, pure Virgin, and have compassion on it, as it slides under a multitude of offences into the deep of destruction; and at the fearful hour of death snatch me from the accusing demons and from every punishment." Ode 6, Tone 1 Midnight Office for Sunday
In the Saturday Midnight Office, the prayer of St. Eustratius, contains the following:
"And now, O Master, let Thy hand shelter me and let Thy mercy descend upon me, for my soul is distracted and pained at its departure from this my wretched and filthy body, lest the evil design of the adversary overtake it and make it stumble into the darkness for the unknown and known sins amassed by me in this life. Be merciful unto me, O Master, and let not my soul see the dark countenances of the evil spirits, but let it be received by Thine Angels bright and shining. Glorify Thy holy name and by Thy might set me before Thy divine judgment seat. When I am being judged, suffer not that the hand of the prince of this world should take hold of me to throw me, a sinner, into the depths of hades, but stand by me and be unto me a savior and mediator..." [5]
The most detailed version of the toll-houses occurs in a vision of Gregory of Thrace, apparently from the 10th century. The demons accuse the soul at each toll-house of sins. In some cases the demon might accuse the soul of sins that they tempted her with, but it didn't comply with, or of sins that she repented for, and in that cases one of the angels, the one which was the persons guardian angel, speaks for the person, saying that those are lies, and that payment is not necessary, taking the soul to the next toll-house. If a person has unrepented sins, and does not have enough good deeds and prayers of the living to pay for them, the demons of the corresponding toll-house grab him, and take him to hades to await the final judgment. This vision recounts the toll-houses in the following order:
  1. At the first aerial toll-house, the soul is questioned about sins of the tongue, such as empty words, dirty talk, insults, ridicule, singing worldly songs, too much or loud laughter, and similar sins.
  2. The second is the toll-house of lies, which includes not only ordinary lies, but also the breaking of oaths, the violation of vows given to God, taking God's name in vain, hiding sins during confession, and similar acts.
  3. The third is the toll-house of slander. It includes judging, humiliating, embarrassing, mocking, and laughing at people, and similar transgressions.
  4. The fourth is the toll-house of gluttony, which includes overeating, drunkenness, eating between meals, eating without prayer, not holding fasts, choosing tasty over plain food, eating when not hungry, and the like.
  5. The fifth is the toll-house of laziness, where the soul is held accountable for every day and hour spent in laziness, for neglecting to serve God and pray, for missing Church services, and also for not earning money through hard, honest labor, for not working as much as you are paid, and all similar sins.
  6. The sixth toll-house is the toll-house of theft, which includes stealing and robbery, whether small, big, light, violent, public, or hidden.
  7. The seventh is the toll-house of covetousness, including love of riches and goods, failure to give to charity, and similar acts.
  8. The eight is the toll-house of usury, loan-sharking, overpricing, and similar sins.
  9. The ninth is the toll-house of injustice- being unjust, especially in judicial affairs, accepting or giving bribes, dishonest trading and business, using false measures, and similar sins.
  10. The tenth is the toll-house of envy.
  11. The eleventh is the toll-house of pride- vanity, self-will, boasting, not honoring parents and civil authorities, insubordination, disobedience, and similar sins.
  12. The twelve is the toll-house of anger and rage.
  13. The thirteenth is the toll-house of remembering evil- hatred, holding a grudge, and revenge.
  14. The fourteenth is the toll-house of murder- not just plain murder, but also wounding, maiming, hitting, pushing, and generally injuring people.
  15. The fifteenth is the toll-house of magic- divination, conjuring demons, making poison, all superstitions, and associated acts.
  16. The sixteenth is the toll-house of lust- fornication, unclean thoughts, lustful looks, unchaste touches.
  17. The seventeenth is the toll-house of adultery.
  18. The eighteenth is the toll-house of sodomy: bestiality, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, and all other unnatural sins.
  19. The nineteenth is the toll-house of heresy: rejecting any part of Orthodox faith, wrongly interpreting it, apostasy, blasphemy, and all similar sins.
  20. The last, twentieth toll-house is the toll-house of unmercifulness: failing to show mercy and charity to people, and being cruel in any way.
Many of the Orthodox who accept the doctrine of the toll-houses do not take the form or all the teachings from the vision of Gregory literally. Thus for example Fr. Thomas Hopko maintains that one should not try to associate a particular time after death to the process, nor should one take the toll-houses as being literally "in the air," or necessarily twenty in number. Likewise, he makes no mention in his argument for them of the doctrine of bargaining for sins (which is similar in some ways to the Latin doctrine of merits). Instead, his description, drawing on St. John Chrysostom and the Fifty Homilies of St. Macarius of Egypt, among others, takes the toll-house encounters to describe the attempt of the demons to assault the soul with its own vulnerability to sin, or to entice it away from God, and describes passing through the toll-houses as the purification of the soul.[6]. St. Theophan the Recluse likewise said that what the demons are seeking is "passions," and suggested that, although the toll-houses are often depicted as frightening, the demons might equally well try to entice the soul by appealing to one of its weaknesses. Some others go so far as to say that the demons and angels are metaphors for the sins and virtues of the soul.

There is disagreement in certain circles regarding the status of this teaching within the Orthodox Church. Some, including Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, consider this teaching controversial, even false (describing it as gnostic or of pagan origin). These accusations were later declared to be wrong by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church Abroad.[7] The traditional proponents of the teaching argue that it appears in the hymnology of the Church,[8] [9] in stories of the lives of saints (for example, the Life of St. Anthony the Great, written by St. Athanasius the Great, the life of St. Basil the New, and St. Theodora), in the homilies of St. Cyril of Alexandria[10] in the Discourses of Abba Isaiah,[11] the Philokalia, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, and the Dogmatics of the Orthodox Church by Blessed Justin Popovich. Several contemporary Church figures speak about toll-houses.[12] [13] [14] [15] Secondly, not a single Church Father ever wrote even one sentence expressing doubt about this teaching (which is present in its most general form in the Church since at least fourth century), although their discussions of the topic are always about general struggles with "tax-collector" demons, lacking the details present in Gregory's vision (apart from one pseudo-Makarian story which also mentions numerous toll-houses and a bargaining over sins at each one). Thirdly, some of the greatest modern authorities of the Orthodox Church, such as St. Ignatius Brianchaninov[16] and St. Theophan the Recluse,[17] insisted not only on the truthfulness, but on the necessity of this teaching in the spiritual life of a Christian.
  1. Fr. Thomas Hopko on the Toll-houses, http://audio.ancientfaith.com/illuminedheart/hopko_tolls.mp3
  2. Philokalia, Volume I, p. 295
  3. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, translated by Benedicta Ward, p. 81-82)
  4. First Homily: Refutation of the Latin Chapters concerning Purgatorial Fire, by St. Mark of Ephesus. Qtd. In "The Soul After Death, p 208f)
  5. See The Unabbreviated Horologion or Book of the Hours, ed. Fr. Laurence Campbell (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1995), p. 34, and The Great Horologion (Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1997), p. 48
  6. Fr. Thomas Hopko on the Toll-houses, http://audio.ancientfaith.com/illuminedheart/hopko_tolls.mp3
  7. Holy Synod of the Russian Church Abroad
  8. January 27, The Recovery of the Holy Relics of our Father among the Saints John Chrysostom, Troparion 1, Ode 5 of Orthros: "Grant me to pass untroubled through the host of noetic satraps and the tyrannic battalion of the lower air in the hour of my departure..."
  9. Parakletike, Friday Vespers, Second Mode: "When my soul is about to be separated violently from the members of the body, then, O Bride of God, come to my aid; scatter the counsels of the fleshless enemies and shatter their millstones, by which they seek to devour me mercilessly; that, unhindered, I may pass through the rulers of darkness standing in the air."
  10. St. Cyril of Alexandria Ephesi praedicata depoito Nestorio, ACO.14(52.405D) as referenced by Lampe, G.W.H., A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1961, p.1387
  11. The Twenty-nine Discourses of our Holy Father Isaiah, Volos, 1962, p. 37 (in Greek): "[Live] every day having death before your eyes, and concerning yourselves with how you will come out from the body, how you will pass by the powers of darkness what will meet you in the air, and how you will answer before God..."
  12. The Taxing of Souls by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos)
  13. Answer to a Critic, Appendix III from The Soul After Death by Father Seraphim Rose of Platina
  14. Vid. Ephraim, Elder, Counsels from the Holy Mountain, St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Arizona, 1999, pp. 436, 447.
  15. Cavarnos, Constantine, The Future Life According to Orthodox Teaching, Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, Etna, California, 1985, pp. 24-26.
  16. A Word on Death, chapter "Aerial toll-houses"
  17. What is spiritual life, and how to obtain it, chapter "Perfect preparation for the Mystery of Repentance"




    12 June 2012

    My 2 New Facebook Groups

    I believe passionately in these two items, so I made groups and I am finding others worldwide who also care about these important issues. The first is:


    End Phyletism: Attend the closest Orthodox Church

    The description is at follows:
    Don't choose which Orthodox Church you go to because of ethnicity. End Phyletism locally by just attending the closest church!

    Next is:
    Standardize Orthodox Liturgical English

    The description of this group is as follows:
    Sometimes, different jurisdictions translate the same prayers in very different ways. Sometimes the same jurisdiction, in the same service will have multiple translations of the same prayer because different books are used. It is time for all English-using Orthodox jurisdictions to come together and create standardized translations for every service and prayer.
    If you feel passionately about these groups, come join and be part of the movement to fix these problems  today!


    11 June 2012

    New Name, Same Blog

    An Orthodox Christian friend of mine in BeiJing, China, William Dalebout, recently suggested I change the name of this blog from "Insane Ramblings and Orthodox Ecclesiology". I had actually been thinking of it for some time. The focus is much more on Orthodox Ecclesiology. However, I could not just call it Orthodox Ecclesiology. Because sometimes I just blog about my life or worldly pursuits like job searches, losing weight, football, politics, etc.. So after some thought, I decided on "Orthodox Ecclesiology and the World". I hope you all find it fitting. Hopefully one day, I will be at a point in my theosis where I can truly just rename it "Orthodox Ecclesiology" and leave the World and the things of the World behind for good.



    10 June 2012

    Accounts of the Martyrs of the Chinese Orthodox Church who fell victim in Beijing in 1900

    These saints are commemorated on 10 and 11 June by the Orthodox Christian Churches on both the New and Old Calendars. The following 9 links list some of the names and accounts of the martyrdom of these Chinese Christians at the hands of the Boxer Rebellion:


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