Category Archives: The Saints

IRENAEUS OF LYONS: Contending for the Faith Once Delivered

By Robert K. Arakaki +++St. Irenaeus is considered by many to be the greatest Christian theologian of the second century. Irenaeus is well known for Against the Heretics—a theological classic in which he defended the Christian Faith against the heresy of gnosticism. He was a third-generation Christian, a disciple of Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John. Born between 130 and 140 and dying sometime after 200, he lived early enough to see the four Gospels become part of the biblical canon. His proximity to the original Apostles makes Irenaeus an invaluable window for Christians interested in the early Church.

Many Protestants believe that soon after the last of the Apostles died, the early Church—assumed to resemble modern Protestantism—fell from the simplicity of the pure Gospel and turned into a religious institution that would become the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholics assume that a fundamental continuity exists between the early Church and contemporary Catholicism. However, a careful reading of Irenaeus shows that the early Church was neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic in its doctrine and worship. Also, a process was in place for passing on traditions, with safeguards built in to protect the integrity of the Christian Faith—what we might call a “traditioning” process.

 

The “Traditioning” Process

Irenaeus held a high view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. He referred to Scripture as “the foundation and pillar of our faith” and spoke of its being “perfect.” He was one of the first Church Fathers to construct a biblical theology making use of both the Old and the New Testaments. However, it should be noted that Irenaeus did not hold to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, “the Bible alone.” His interpretation of the Bible was not based on an inductive method, but was guided by the “rule of faith” he had received from Polycarp.

Irenaeus saw Tradition as consisting of a written and an oral component: the two complementing and supporting each other. Living in Gaul, where he did missionary work among preliterate peoples, Irenaeus was familiar with the effectiveness of oral tradition:

 

Even if the apostles had not left their Writings to us, ought we not to follow the rule of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they committed the churches? Many barbarian peoples who believed in Christ follow this rule, having [the message of their] salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit without paper and ink.

 

This understanding of tradition as both written and oral is consistent with Paul’s admonition: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

 

Evangelical and Catholic

Irenaeus’s theology was both evangelical and catholic. The evangelical side can be seen in his high regard for the authority of Scripture. It can also be seen in his affirmation of God as Trinity and his endorsement of Christ’s Divine Nature. He writes: “Unlike all men of the past, the Christ is properly proclaimed as God, Lord, eternal King, Only-begotten, and incarnate Word, by all the prophets and apostles and the Spirit itself. The scriptures would not give this testimony to him if he were a mere man like all others.”

His evangelical zeal can also be seen in his firm belief that Christ came to save the world, and his willingness to be a missionary bishop on the western frontiers of the Roman Empire.

Many evangelicals today would feel quite at home with his teaching on the end times. Irenaeus held to a literal understanding of biblical prophecy. He believed in the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the physical resurrection of the dead as actual events. He also believed in the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of all flesh, and the final judgment.

The catholic side of Irenaeus’s theology can be seen in his high view of the sacraments. In his time, baptism was not a mere symbol, but a sacrament that conferred the Holy Spirit and spiritual rebirth.

 

For this reason the baptism of our regeneration takes place through these three articles (belief in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), granting us regeneration unto God the Father through His Son by the Holy Spirit: for those who bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son, while the Son presents [them] to the Father, and the Father furnishes incorruptibility.

 

Baptism was also closely linked to the catechumenate. Those who desired to join the Church were given “the rule of truth”—a body of doctrine—that would guide them in their understanding of Scripture and protect them from the heresy of gnosticism. We also find in Irenaeus one of the earliest witnesses to infant baptism in the early Church.

The early Church believed that in the Lord’s Supper, we partake of the actual Body and Blood of Christ. The gnostics, on the other hand, believing that the material and fleshly were corrupt and inferior, rejected the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In response to the gnostic heresy, Irenaeus wrote:

 

For when the mixed cup and the bread that has been prepared receive the Word of God, and become the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, and by these our flesh grows and is confirmed, how can they say that flesh cannot receive the free gift of God, which is eternal life since it is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and made a member of him?

The catholic side of Irenaeus’ theology can also be seen in his high view of Mary. In Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote about Christ being the Second Adam who came to reverse the first Adam’s tragic error. Irenaeus expanded on Paul’s teaching when he described the Virgin Mary as the Second Eve. He wrote:

 

So the second [Eve] was given the good news by the word of an angel to bear God and obey his work; and as the first [Eve] was seduced into disobeying God, so the second [Eve] was persuaded to obey God so that the virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve.

 

Irenaeus saw Mary as the second Eve who made possible the salvation of the human race; the Incarnation of the Son of God would not have happened without her consent. He wrote that through her obedience, Mary became “the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race.” He also described Mary as the advocate for Eve, an implicit reference to the intercession of the saints.

 

Our Salvation in Christ

Irenaeus is well known for his description of salvation in terms of “recapitulation.” To recapitulate means “to repeat the principal points or stages of” or “to summarize” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition). The term was used by the Apostle Paul. In Ephesians 1:10, Paul describes salvation in cosmic terms: “that . . . He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.”

Irenaeus’s understanding of salvation took as its starting point the Incarnation. The Son of God became Man so that we would be saved through His life, His death on the cross, and His rising from the dead. As the Second Adam, Christ lived out the principal stages of human existence, perfectly reversing the tragic error of the first Adam:

 

And the transgression which occurred through the tree was undone by the obedience of the tree—which [was shown when] the Son of Man, obeying God, was nailed to the tree, destroying the knowledge of evil, and introducing and providing the knowledge of good.

 

Irenaeus’s understanding of salvation is quite different from that found in Western Christianity, which understands salvation in terms of Christ’s atoning death to placate God’s wrath against man’s sin. For Irenaeus, salvation means the restoration of communion with God.

 

For this the Word of God became man, and the Son of God Son of man, that man, mingled with the Word and thus receiving adoption, might become a son of God. We could not receive imperishability and immortality unless we had been united to imperishability and immortality. And how could we have been united with imperishability and immortality unless imperishability and immortality had first been made what we are, so that what was perishable might be absorbed by imperishability and what was mortal by immortality “that we might receive adoption as sons”?

 

Through the Incarnation, human nature was joined to the Divine Nature in order to restore humanity to full relationship with God. This forms the basis for the Orthodox doctrine of theosis, salvation as participation in the Divine Nature (see 2 Peter 1:3).

 

The Gnostic Challenge

Gnosticism was one of the earliest and most dangerous heresies the early Church faced. It challenged Christianity in two ways. Firstly, it claimed a secret knowledge superior to that of the Church—in effect challenging the teaching authority of the bishops. Secondly, it held that the spiritual was superior to the physical and that the true Christ was a pure spirit being—thereby rejecting the Incarnation. As a heresy, gnosticism threatened the Christian Faith not by outright rejection, but by distorting and redefining the essential meaning of the Faith. It denied the Virgin Birth. Gnostics believed that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph and Mary, but was superior to other men because of the purity of his soul. They were moral relativists, insisting that good and evil are a matter of perception. And they denied that Christ really suffered on the Cross.

Of course, the gnostic heresy is still very much alive and with us today. Its influence can be seen in liberal Protestantism. A friend of mine sent an e-mail describing a conference she had just attended: “At the Earl Lectures 2005 sponsored by the UCC-supported Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA, a minister stood up and declared he didn’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I asked him if he didn’t think it was possible. ‘Oh, it was possible, just not necessary.’”

My friend, being a theologically astute evangelical, recognized the minister’s statement as a form of gnosticism. Robert J. Sanders wrote an article in which he describes the de facto theology of the Episcopal Church as gnostic. He points to the denomination’s “gospel” of radical inclusion, which rejects the distinction between good and evil, regards creeds and morality as secondary, and practices open communion—inviting those of other denominations and even non-Christians to the Eucharist.

The tendency towards gnosticism can also be seen among evangelicals. A seminary friend of mine has expressed deep concern over evangelicalism’s low view of the Church, symbolic understanding of the sacraments, low view of the creeds, faith in Christ as a personal experience, and emotional worship. He sees all this having a striking similarity to gnosticism’s mind/body dualism and its giving priority to mystical experience over doctrine and structure.

Irenaeus’s defense of the Christian Gospel was multipronged. Although the gnostics claimed to be Christian, Irenaeus pointed out that none of them could trace a line of succession back to the original Apostles of Christ through the bishops. In other words, the gnostics’ version of Christianity was a made-up religion, just the personal opinion of individuals. Another line of defense was the unity and catholicity (universality) of the Faith. Irenaeus boasted that no matter where one traveled throughout the vast Roman Empire, one would find the same faith being confessed everywhere:

 

Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth.

 

Truth for Irenaeus was not pluriform—taking many differing, even contradictory expressions, which vary from one place to the next. Christianity is grounded in the historical reality of the Incarnation of the Divine Son of God, and this is true in all places and for all time. The Christian faith is a corporate faith, a consequence of the Church being the Body of Christ, the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Irenaeus played a key role in defeating the gnostic heresy and articulating a theological framework that would preserve intact the Christian Faith for generations to come. For this he is honored today as a saint and a Father of the Church.



 

Robert Arakaki has an M.S. in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He recently earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

 

This article originally appeared in AGAIN Vol. 27 No. 3, Fall 2005.

St. Aidan of Lindisfarne By Archpriest Lawrence R. Farley +++

           

 

Just before Christ’s Ascension, He stood with His disciples on the Mount of Olives and said that His Gospel would spread and take root not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but also in Samaria and even to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). God was the God of all men, and there was no place in the wide world, however remote, in which He would not leave Himself a witness.

For many in that first century, there was no place more remote than Britain. It was, as G. K. Chesterton says in his Short History of England, “lost in a night of northern seas, and finally lit up by the long search-lights of Rome, more for pride than for possession.” In bringing Britain within the orbit of the Roman world, “it was felt that the remotest remnant of things had been touched.” Britain was indeed “ultimata Thule—the other end of nowhere,” the end of the earth.

Even here, in the other end of nowhere, God would leave witness of His love in the persons of His saints. And one of the first and most beloved of these saints was Aidan of Lindisfarne.

Aidan lived in the early days of the Church’s missionary expansion into Britain, when pagan kings still fought to exterminate Christianity and the soul of Britain hung in the balance of that struggle. In our day, when people are appreciating fantasy and fairy tales once again, it is interesting to reflect that in those far-off days Christian men were living out fairy tales, in that the Christian Faith looked to many like a dream come true. The epic struggle between light and darkness—the subject of so much modern fantasy—was the daily adventure for Christians in that time.

Aidan, born in Ireland in about the early seventh century, became a monk on the famous monastic island center in Hii (“Iona” in Latin), off the west coast of Scotland. Monks from Iona went out to bring the Gospel to the pagans of Northumbria (in northern England) at the invitation of Oswald, the king of Northumbria, himself newly converted to Christ.

One such monk made an attempt, but returned to Iona unsuccessful. He complained that the pagans of Northumbria were too resistant to the Gospel, too hard-hearted. As the monks were deliberating what to do next, Aidan spoke up. He said, to their surprise, that the fault was not with the pagans, but with the preacher sent to them, and that his methods were too rough and inflexible. The pagans must be treated with gentleness, fed with the milk of mild teaching and encouragement before they could be ready for the meat of the Gospel.

The monks there recognized a true pastor and evangelist when they saw one. They appointed Aidan to return to Northumbria in the stead of the other monk. As Aidan did not know the language of the Northumbrians, King Oswald traveled with him as his benefactor, translator, and friend. The year was 635.

Aidan received consecration as bishop so that he could better establish churches wherever he went. King Oswald gave him Lindisfarne, an island off the east coast of England (just south of today’s Scottish border), as his episcopal headquarters. As the early English historian the Venerable Bede says, “As the tide ebbs and flows, the island of Lindisfarne is surrounded by sea twice a day like an island, and twice a day the sand dries and joins it to the mainland.” It was the perfect place to find monastic solitude, being both accessible to the world and inaccessible too. On Lindisfarne, the monk-bishop Aidan could seek God in uninterrupted holy stillness, and then go forth easily on his missionary journeys. Eventually Aidan established on Lindisfarne a school for monastic missionaries, training young English boys to preach the Gospel to their countrymen in their own language.

Though traveling with the bounty of the king, Aidan humbly went on foot on his many long journeys in the north of England. He would not come in royal splendor, riding on his high horse (either metaphorically or literally). Rather, he met the people where they lived, both geographically and spiritually, and would walk the weary miles to meet them in their homes as an equal, a friend bringing Good News from afar.

Aidan lived a life rooted in the Scriptures, and he encouraged those traveling with him to spend their time reading the Scriptures and committing the Psalter to memory. He found his delight in God and would often slip away quickly after a meal to spend time in solitude, reading the Scriptures and praying. God prospered Aidan, and he had great success, making converts to Christ and establishing monastic centers throughout northern England.

One secret of Aidan’s success was the humble love and compassion he had for all people. He refused to acquire wealth, but gave away all that he could. If someone gave money to him or his monks, they used only what they needed for their necessities, and gave away the rest to the poor or used it to free slaves. St. Aidan’s heart belonged to the poor and suffering of the earth.

In 642, Aidan’s friend King Oswald died in battle in his thirty-eighth year. Aidan grieved greatly at the loss of his friend. However, King Oswin succeeded Oswald, and Aidan came to love him just as dearly.

Bede tells the story of how King Oswin gave Aidan a fine horse to ride whenever he had to cross a river or travel quickly on an urgent errand. Not long after receiving this bountiful royal gift, as Aidan was riding somewhere on the king’s horse, he met a poor man asking for alms. Bishop Aidan immediately sprang from the horse and ordered that it be sold with all its rich trappings, and the money given to the beggar.

When news of this reached the king, he was shocked and perhaps a little irritated. When next he and Aidan went in to dine together, King Oswin asked Aidan about it: “My lord bishop, why did you give away the royal horse which was necessary for your own use? Have we not many less valuable horses which would have been good enough for beggars without giving away the one which I had especially selected for your personal use?”

Aidan at once replied, “What are you saying, Your Majesty? Is this child of a mare more valuable to you than this child of God?”

The king, a man of piety himself, humbly received the gentle rebuke, turning it over in his mind as he stood warming himself by the fire. Pricked in his conscience, he impulsively went over and knelt at Aidan’s feet, saying, “I will not refer to this matter again, nor will I ask how much of our bounty you give away to God’s children.” Aidan, deeply moved, raised him to his feet, assuring him of his love and begging him to sit down to his food without regrets.

Later on, during the meal, Aidan grew sad and began to cry quietly. Speaking in his own language, which the king did not understand, Aidan’s chaplain asked his bishop why he wept. Aidan replied, “I know that the king will not live long. He will soon be taken from us, because this nation is not worthy of such a king.”

Aidan’s words proved to be prophetic. King Oswin was soon afterwards murdered by his rival and successor. Aidan departed this world a mere eleven days later, dying, some said, from grief over his beloved royal friend, on August 31, 651. He was buried in the cemetery at Lindisfarne.

Aidan was, even in his earthly life, a wonderworker. The faithful told stories of how he predicted a storm at sea, and gave the sailors who would be caught in it some holy oil to pour on the water and calm the storm. Others told the story of how his prayers shifted the winds, diverting the flames that threatened to burn down a city and so saving its inhabitants.

But the real wonders of Aidan were his loving simplicity of spirit and his ability to touch men’s hearts with the love of God. In little over sixteen years of missionary work, Aidan left as a legacy a northern England well on the way to becoming Christian. As the historian Bede said, “He cultivated peace and love, purity and humility. He took pains never to neglect anything that he had learned from the writing of the evangelists, apostles, and prophets, and set himself to carry them out with all his powers. I greatly admire and love all these things about Aidan, because I have no doubt that they are pleasing to God.”

Working in a time of great upheaval, violence, and uncertainty (a time rather like our own), Aidan spread God’s peace by word and deed. Truly, even in a land at the other end of nowhere, God is wonderful in His saints.

 



 

Archpriest Lawrence R. Farley is pastor of St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Mission (OCA) in Surrey, B.C., Canada. He received his B.A. from Trinity College, Toronto, and his M.Div. from Wycliffe College, Toronto. A former Anglican priest, he converted to Orthodoxy in 1985 and studied for two years at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary in Pennsylvania. He is the author of the Orthodox Bible Study Companion series, published by Conciliar Press.

This article originally appeared in AGAIN Vol. 27 No. 4, Winter 2005.

Quote of the Day

    If God is slow in answering your request, or if you ask but do not promptly receive anything, do not be upset, for you are not wiser than God.

    –St. Isaac of Syria

Divine Justice

Seraphim at Ancient Church tells of a passage he’s read from Elder Paisios. In it Serephim quotes:

One section that caught my interest was on justice, and specifically on human justice as opposed to divine justice. We like to think that justice is a constant, but the Elder is clear that one is better than the other. He gives an illustration:

Read the rest at his site. It’s really good and should not only be read and thought about, but practiced more.

The Beheading of St John the Forerunner

Today will probably see a lot of posts on St John in the Orthodox Blogsphere.  Here is a good post from Fr Joseph at Orthodixie on today date.

St John of Damascus and Icons

i’m going to try and start a weekend posting project. I’ve yet to come up with a clever title. (if you can think of a clever title, please send it my way) For both Saturday and Sunday I’ll post a brief bio and/or teaching from a saint of the Church. This way we can maybe learn something new, as well as maybe disect something we’ve learned. or not. this is an experiment, so we’ll see. I’m starting the series off with St John Damascus.

“I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God.”

Visitors to an Orthodox Church are confronted with many unfamiliar elements of worship: for example, the use of incense and Byzantine chant and the custom of standing throughout the service. But perhaps the most perplexing element is the icons, especially when Orthodox worshipers bow before and kiss them. Isn’t this idolatry?

This very question raged through the Christian world in the eighth and ninth centuries, and it occupied the attention of two of the seven ecumenical (worldwide) church councils. The strongest defense of the practice came from a Christian living in the heart of the Islamic empire, John of Damascus.

Timeline
590 Gregory the Great elected Pope
597 Ethelbert of Kent converted
622 Muhammad’s hegira: birth of Islam
675 John of Damascus born
753 John of Damascus dies
800 Charlemagne crowned Holy Roman Emperor

Responding to the imperial volcano
He was born John Monsur, into a wealthy Arab-Christian family of Damascus. Like his father, he held a position high in the court of the caliph. About 725 he resigned his office and became a monk at Mar Saba near Bethlehem, where he became a priest. In this secluded place at the relatively advanced age of 51, John’s lasting legacy began to unfold. It began when Emperor Leo III, in 726, outlawed the veneration of icons.

The conflict had been brewing for decades. It wasn’t a question of bowing and kissing icons; this was a culturally acceptable way to show respect. The basic question went deeper: are Christians allowed to paint pictures of Jesus, or other biblical figures, at all? As Islam spread through the Mediterranean region, bringing its absolute interdiction of images, Christianity was feeling pressure to rid itself of images.

The main threat to icons came not from the Islamic caliph but from the heart of the Byzantine Empire. A few bishops from Asia Minor (now Turkey) believed the Bible, particularly the second commandment, forbade such images:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”

The bishops’ argument convinced Byzantine Emperor Leo III, who set about to convince his subjects to abandon iconography. But a natural disaster changed his approach. In 726 a violent volcano erupted in the middle of the Aegean Sea and terrorized Constantinople, the capital. Afterward, tidal waves buffeted the shores and volcanic ash extinguished the sunlight. Leo reasoned that God was angry about icons. That’s when he outlawed their use.

In 730 Leo commanded the destruction of all religious likenesses, whether icons, mosaics, or statues, and iconoclasts (“image smashers” in Greek) went on a spree, demolishing nearly all icons in the Empire.

From his distant post in the Holy Land, John challenged this policy in three works. He argued that icons should not be worshiped, but they could be venerated. (The distinction is crucial: a Western parallel might be the way a favorite Bible is read, cherished, and treated with honor—but certainly not worshiped.)

John explained it like this: “Often, doubtless, when we have not the Lord’s passion in mind and see the image of Christ’s crucifixion, his saving passion is brought back to remembrance, and we fall down and worship not the material but that which is imaged: just as we do not worship the material of which the Gospels are made, nor the material of the Cross, but that which these typify.”

Second, John drew support from the writings of the early fathers like Basil the Great, who wrote, “The honor paid to an icon is transferred to its prototype.” That is, the actual icon was but a point of departure for the expressed devotion; the recipient was in the unseen world.

Third, John claimed that, with the birth of the Son of God in the flesh, the depiction of Christ in paint and wood demonstrated faith in the Incarnation. Since the unseen God had become visible, there was no blasphemy in painting visible representations of Jesus or other historical figures. To paint an icon of him was, in fact, a profession of faith, deniable only by a heretic!

“I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter,” he wrote. “I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God.”

Eastern theologian for the whole church
While the controversy continued to rage, John spent his days at Mar Saba monastery in the hills 18 miles southeast of Jerusalem. There he wrote both theological treatises and hymns; he is recognized as one of the principal hymnographers of Eastern Orthodoxy. His most important theological work, The Fount of Wisdom, is a summary of Eastern theology.

Tradition says that his fellow monks grumbled that such elegant writing was a distraction and prideful; so John was sometimes sent to sell baskets humbly in the streets of Damascus, where he had once been among the elite.

After more dissension and bloodshed over icons (the decade after John’s death, over 100,000 Christians were injured or killed), the issue was finally settled, and icons are an integral part of Orthodox worship to this day. His other writings were major influences on Western theologians such as Thomas Aquinas. In 1890 he was named a doctor of the church by the Vatican, and in this century, his writings have become a fresh source of theological insight, especially for Eastern theologians.

HT: Christian Hist & Bio

Some More Wisdom from Mother Gavrilla

    One cannot love without suffering. The greatest pain is that of loving to the utmost. Christ loved so much that He gave Himself up to a terrible death. The saints too. Paradise always costs this price. Prayer for the world is the fruit of extremely deep and acute suffering.

    Mother Gavrilia Papayanni

    See also my other posts on Mother Gavrilla:

    Her Life

    On How We Live

The Ladder of Divine Ascent

Theron Matthis at “Sword in the Fire” is blogging through St John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent.  It’s a nice summation for those unfamiliar with the book.

The Life of Mother Gavrilla

I had a previous post once where I quoted Mother Gavrilla, a nun who i highly respect. Here is a short excerpt from her life. From OrthodoxWiki:

“The Gerontissa Gabrielia (Gavrielia) was born in Constantinople (Konstantinoupoli or Istanbul) more than a hundred years ago on October 2/15, 1897 to Helias and Victoria Papayanni(s), was the fourth and last child of the family, the mostly loved one (Alexandros, her brother (1st), Vasiliki (2nd) and Paulina (3rd), her sisters).

Gerontissa means further than an older nun (supervising the youngers), a spiritual person who guides others with wise advice and knowledge given from God, in prayers. Her life is a trail of wonders.

She grew up in the city until her family moved to Thessalonika in 1923. She went to England in 1938 and stayed there throughout the Second World War. She trained as a chiropodist and physiotherapist. In England they honoured her (for her services during the war and after) with an offer to be a citizen (but she refused politely).

In 1945 she returned to Greece where she worked with the Friends Refugee Mission and the American Farm School in Thessalonika in early post-war years. Later she opened her own therapy office in Athens until 1954. In March of that year her mother died and the office was closed. Sister Gabrielia left Greece and traveled overland to India where she worked with the poorest of the poor, even the lepers, for five years. She worked with Baba Amte and his family who built and organised village-communities for the lepers of India. She kept no penny in her pocket! Just trusted herself in His hands.

It was not until 1959 that she went to the Monastery of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Palestine, to become a nun. When she arrived she asked Fr. Theodosius the chaplain for a rule of prayer. Fr. Theodosius was somewhat surprised to find that she could read even ancient Byzantine Greek. Fr. Theodosius said, “The great elders that we hear about no longer exist. I certainly am not one. You came here to save your soul. If I start giving you rules, you will lose your soul and I will as well. But here is Fr. John. He will be your elder.” So for her first year in the monastery he set her to reading only the Gospels and St. John Climacus. (It should be noted that at that time the Ladder had not been published in modern Greek.)

She was three years in Bethany. In April, 1962, word came that Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople sought to send an Orthodox monastic to Taize in France. Sister Gabrielia went by way of Taize (she spoke fluent French from childhood) to America.

In 1963 she was back in Greece. The Gerontissa was tonsured to the Small Schema by Abbot Amphilochios (Makris) on Patmos in the Cave of St. Anthony under the Monastery of Evangelismos just before she and the nun Tomasina left again for India. Elder Amphilochios was enthusiastic at the idea of a nun who would be open to the active outreach in the world. In India she was for three years in Nani Tal in Uttar Pradesh where Fr. Lazarus (Moore) was the priest and where he consulted the Gerontissa in his translations of the Psalter and the Fathers. Between 1967 and 1977 the Gerontissa traveled in the Mission field of East Africa, in Europe, including visiting old friends and spiritual fathers Lev (Gillet)Lev Gillet and Sophrony of Essex, again to America, and briefly in Sinai where Archbishop Damianos was attempting to reintroduce women’s monasticism.

She traveled extensively, with much concern and broad love for the people of God. Some of her spiritual children found her in Jerusalem beside the Tomb of Christ; others found her on the mission field of East Africa. In the 50s and 60s she used to have a few thousands of spiritual friends from all over the world! And she used to pray for everybody day and night!

For years beginning in about 1977, she lived hidden in a little apartment, the “House of the Angels” in Patissia in the midst of the noise and smog and confusion of central Athens. A little place, a hidden place, a precious place to those who knew her there.

In 1989 she moved to Holy Protection hermitage on the island of Aegina, close by the shrine of St. Nectarios. There she called the last two of her spiritual children to become monastics near her, and there she continued to receive many visitors. At the start of Great Lent in 1990 she was hospitalized for lymphatic cancer. She was forty days in the hospital, leaving during Holy Week and receiving communion on Pascha. And to the puzzlement of the doctors, the cancer disappeared. It was not yet her time.

The Gerontissa finally withdrew to quiet. With only one last nun, she moved for the last time in this life, to the island of Leros. There they established the hesychastarion of the Holy Archangels. Only in this last year of her life did she accept the Great Schema at the hands of Fr. Dionysious from Little St. Anne’s Skete on Mount Athos. He came to give her the Schema in the Chapel of the Panaghia in the Kastro on the top of Leros.

Gerontissa Gabrielia passed from this world on March 28, 1992, having never built a monastery. Over the years, six of her spiritual children did become monastics, but never more than one or two were with her at a time. Only the angels could count the number of lives that God touched and changed through her. Her biography and collected writings were published in Greek in 1996, through the work of her last monastic daughter and the contribution of many, many others who held the Gerontissa dear.

Anyone who knew the Gerontissa realized that God has not left us without His saints, even down to the present day. The few words recorded here scarcely suggest the clarity and love of her soul. Words are only the tools of this world; the wonder of the Gerontissa was wrapped in the mystery of the silence of the world to come.

She never sought a reputation. She never allowed anything about her to be published during her long life and only allowed her children to take photographs in her very last years. Those whom God touched through her called her Gerontissa; she never made herself anything but the nun Gabrielia.

She was humility and love incarnate.

Orthodoxy in Japan

The following is from Symeon’s Journal on Orthodoxy in Japan. Really fascinating stuff.

The son of a samurai and son-in-law of a Shinto priest, Takama Sawabe was a fierce Japanese nationalist. He hated Christianity and all foreign influences in his country. One day he angrily confronted the Orthodox Christian missionary to Japan, a Russian priest-monk named Nicholas (Nicolai). Father Nicholas spoke to him:

“Why are you angry at me?” Fr. Nicholas asked Sawabe.

“All you foreigners must die. You have come here to spy on our country and even worse, you are harming Japan with your preaching,” answered Sawabe.

“But do you know what I preach?”

“No, I don’t he answered.”

“Then how can you judge, much less condemn something you know nothing about? Is it just to defame something you do not know? First listen to me, and then judge. If what you hear is bad, then throw us out.”

After listening to Father Nicholas and learning about the Orthodox Christian way of life, the nationalist samurai who had once endorsed Shintoism now believed in Jesus Christ and was baptized, becoming the first person to embrace Orthodox Christianity in Japan. At his baptism, he appropriately received the Christian name Paul, after St. Paul, one of the Church’s greatest Apostles who, before his conversion, had used his authority to violently persecute the Christian Church. Paul Sawabe would eventually be ordained an Orthodox Christian priest.

read the rest here

HT: Symeon’s Journal

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