On Worthiness

St. Isaac the Syrian, speaking of the miracles of God of which the simple are deemed worthy, writes: “These things happen to the simpler of heart and more fervent in hope.” Who of the mighty of the earth possesses this hope in his heart? Who has received the assurance which is possessed by the despised and the insignificant, who have received mercy from the Lord and have breathed the air of life eternal? No one. Has not the holy mouth of the Lord said to His disciples: “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and did not see them, and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”

And who are these kings and prophets? It is the “wise” and the scientists, those who move humanity and lead it wherever they wish, and whom the sinful world glorifies, regarding them as saviors. It is they who think that they hold the keys to knowledge at the very time when they founder in the darkness of sin, ignorance and death. It is they who occupy themselves with the sciences and search day and night with their dark intellect. It is they who construct engines and rockets to investigate the universe and who have not understood the awesome saying of Christ, who said: “The Kingdom of God is within you.” This is why they occupy themselves only with the external aspect of the world, feeling like blind men the outside of the cup and the platter, while illiterate and simple persons see and hear the great mysteries and understand the cosmos’ true constitution, which is hidden from the arrogant who think that they possess the keys to the mystery of the created world. The wise of this world are those of whom the prophet Isaiah says that they hear and do not understand, who look and do not perceive, and who close their eyes that they may not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart, and that God may enlighten them! Their pride is like a partition which prevents them from seeing the light. With all their foolish wisdom they are not in a position to understand the words which are understood by humble souls. As St. Isaac says: “Enter the chamber which is within you and you shall see the heavenly palace. For the two are one, and through the same door you see them both.

O blind scientist, you who concern yourself with futile and false things! Blind you shall die, blind shall you reach with your rocket the ends of this material, corruptible world! You think that you possess wisdom and knowledge, and instead you are, unhappy man, outside your own home! You have only learned to make computations and to apply screws which rust and will become dust, as will your own corruptible brain.

You think that you see the light, while you are in utter darkness. You have not seen even a single ray of spiritual truth, at a time when humble and despised persons see the depth of the mysteries of the world and come into contact with eternity, the existence of which you do not even suspect. Labor, search day and night, you slave of arrogance; hurl your machines into the vast space about us. Wherever you read, no matter how far away, you will arrive there the same as you are here—a trivial-souled and despairing dwarf. You will drag your blind pride to the edge of the universe; and you will die there as you would have died here on earth, without having been illuminated by a single ray of truth and estranged from the mercy of God. For “the Lord resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

Photios Kontoglou, as quoted by Constantine Cavarnos, Saints Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene of Lesvos (Modern Orthodox Saints, vol. 10), pp 173-175. A translation of excerpts from Kontoglou’s own book on these saints of Karyes, A Great Sign, from 1962.

Kontoglou is focusing here on the humble nature of the many people in Thermi that these saints chose to reveal themselves to, and the positive response of these people, in contrast to the “wise” of his day. And ours. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

Life of Saint Coemgen

i. (1) Now it was (foretold) in type and prophecy that there would come a high saint, noble and honourable, in Leinster, namely in Glendalough, to speak particularly, to rescue and repel men from paganism by the preaching of the word of God, for the healing of leper, and blind, and deaf, and lame, and all kinds of sick folk, to raise the dead, to put down the mighty and lift up the wretched, and to drive away plagues and pestilences, to check thieves and crimes and strange monsters, and to instruct all kinds of perverted folk who opposed the will of God. (2) Now Patrick, son of Calpurnius, the chief apostle of Erin, prophesied of this Coemgen thirty years before his birth, and that he would cause a chief city (monastery) to be built in the aforesaid glen, for the refection of companies and strangers, of guests and pilgrims, and that he would bring with him to Glendalough some of the mould and relics of the apostles and righteous men who are at Rome. (3) And it is written in this life that for obtaining remission of sins from God it is the same for any one to visit Rome, and (to visit) the relics and bed of Coemgen, as is customary, with penitence, and humility, and lowliness of heart.

Continue reading “Life of Saint Coemgen”

Modern Orthodox Saints

Dr Constantine Cavarnos, head of the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studes in Belmont, Massachusetts, has for a number of years been a writer of discernment on matters Orthodox, with a special emphasis on traditional expressions of Orthodoxy in Greek culture. His books are numerous (see those listed on the IBMGS site), and all the ones I’ve read have always been as informative as they are edifying. It’s a rare talent to accomplish the two regularly, but Dr Cavarnos succeeds entirely.

His series on Modern Orthodox Saints is a case in point. The series is up to 15 volumes now (short descriptions here). The first of these that I ever picked up was volume six, on Saint Arsenios of Paros (whom I’ve mentioned here before). I’ve appreciated the quality of both the writing and the books ever since. On the quality of the books, it is perhaps sufficient to note that the paper is a thick, smooth, and creamy, obviously acid-free, with sewn bindings in both hardcover and softcover. The softcovers have particularly sturdy cardstock for covers, thicker than is usual. The quality of the book production is suitable to its subject, honoring these saints with a quality setting for these modern lives. On the writing, it is a pleasure to say that Dr Cavarnos is a believer as well as an academic. The books are well-organized and full of information, but they are not merely academic treatises on the sources and lives of the saints. They are modern hagiographies. As these saints are all relatively recently reposed, some indeed very recently, there are numerous sources available to give satisfactory detail to their lives, including photographs of the saints and their surroundings, where available. Several of the saints were even interviewed by Dr Cavarnos during the struggles of their waking lives among us, and so we benefit from his sharing this primary source material. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Here is the list of volumes:
1: St. Cosmas Aitolos
2: St. Macarios of Corinth
3: St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite
4: St. Nikephoros of Chios
5: St. Seraphim of Sarov
6: St. Arsenios of Paros
7: St. Nectarios of Aegina
8: St. Savvas the New
9: St. Methodia of Kimolos
10: Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene of Lesvos
11: Blessed Elder Philotheos Zervakos
12: Blessed Hermit Philaretos of the Holy Mountain
13: Blessed Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis
14: Blessed Elder Iakovos of Epiros, Elder Joseph the
        Hesychast, and Mother Stavritsa the Missionary
15: Saint Athanasios Parios

The Modern Orthodox Saints volumes are all available from the Institute itself, though without an online ordering system. One may also find the volumes at Saint Nectarios Press and Eastern Christian Supply, both of which have online ordering, and both of which I highly recommend, as I’ve only had good experiences with both.

I thoroughly enjoy reading the lives of the saints. I recommend stocking up on them. Saint Nectarios Press has an unsurpassed collection of Lives of Groups of Saints and Lives of Individual Saints offered, some of them very inexpensive indeed.

It is certainly worth noting that a consistent feature of saints is that they enjoyed reading the lives of the saints! Archimadrite Nektarios Serfes has written a fine article on the value of reading the lives of the saints. Whatever lives of the saints you have at hand, make use of them, particularly during the Great Fast of Lent. Fast from worldly novels and distractions, and feast your eyes and minds instead on the lives of the Saints approved by God.

Logos Septuagint

Reader Kent has left a very helpful comment. Logos is producing an electronic edition of the Göttingen Septuaginta! There is a pre-pub special sale on for this resource, more than 50% off the retail price. All the currently available Göttingen Septuaginta volumes are included. The only page samples are page images from the printed volumes, but it sounds like the Logos editon is fully electronic, including both the text and the apparatus, with the Greek morphologically tagged. What an excellent resource! I shall have to pinch some pennies to pick this one up!

Lessons from the River Nile

Do you know that the origin of this river derived from drops of water which fell as rain, accumulated, and became a river?

Could not we learn that any major project might start with a simple thing, perhaps an idea? It is said in proverbs that “the longest journey begins with a step.”

The first sin started with a simple sitting with the serpent. Perhaps the biggest fight begins with a word.

We can learn from the Nile that the soft drip of water, if it fell orderly and continually on a rock or mountain, it can carve a way in it: an important lesson on patience and perseverance.

This water carries the clay from the mountains of Ethiopia. At the first sight, it looks unclear, but it contains the silt which causes the fertility of Egypt and covers its sand with silt.

This muddy water sings with the Bride in the Song of Songs, “I am dark, but lovely” (Song 1.5). In spite of such murkiness, this water carries in it good sweetness to its drinker, as the sweetness of the lives of Augustine and Moses the Black, which appeared after their repentance.

Before the cutting of the channel of the Nile, the water was flowin on the sides, making swamps. But, later, its channel has deepened, bit by bit, and water became stable.

This give us an idea on the grading in the spiritual life, and the patience of the soul until it reaches its stability after a while. We are not to judge those who are in the “swamps” stage and have not yet reached the deep and stable channel.

We must also praise the two banks of the river between which the river runs. They are not two barriers which limit its freedom, but they are two protectors for its safekeeping. Like the Commandments, they do not restrict, but protect freedom.

It is a long journey the Nile has made until it reached us, giving its riches to the countries it passed: Ethiopia, Nubia, Sudan, Egypt, and all the surrounding deserts. This teaches us to give or make good to whoever we pass by.

Pope Shenouda III, Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria. Words of Spiritual Benefit, saying 101 (with a little editing of the translation from me).

A mystery

From a blue scrap of paper on which I scribbled something in red ink, which then went through the wash, and was found finally by yours truly in the dryer:

[illegible] last part of sacrifice — water washes away the blood from the altar’s side, a sign of the erasing of the sin.

Hmm. The reference is the part that is illegible! Now I don’t remember where the washing away of the blood from the altar was described. I don’t think it’s Biblical. A search doesn’t reveal it. Maybe in the Septuagint? It was more likely a chance encounter in the either the Mishnah, Tosefta, or Babylonian Talmud. Or maybe somewhere else. (Sigh.)

I really have to remember to check all my pockets before doing the wash. That’s disappointing.


As men, for fear the stars should sleep and nod
        And trip at night, have spheres suppli’d;
As if a star were duller than a clod,
        Which knows his way without a guide:

Just so the other heav’n they also serve,
        Divinity’s transcendent sky:
Which with the edge of wit they cut and carve.
        Reason triumphs, and faith lies by.

Could not that wisdom, which first broacht the wine,
        Have thicken’d it with definitions?
And jagg’d his seamless coat, had that been fine,
        With curious questions and divisions?

But all the doctrine, which he taught and gave,
        Was clear as heav’n, from whence it came.
At least those beams of truth, which only save,
        Surpass in brightness any flame.

Love God, and love your neighbor. Watch and pray.
        Do as ye would be done unto.

O dark instructions; ev’n as dark as day!
        Who can these Gordion knots undo?

But he doth bid us take his blood for wine.
        Bid what he please; yet I am sure,
To take and taste what he doth there design,
        Is all that saves, and not obscure.

Then burn thy Epicycles, foolish man;
        Break all thy spheres, and save thy head.
Faith needs no staff of flesh, but stoutly can
        To heav’n alone both go, and lead.

George Herbert. 1633

Great Horologion List of Saints

One of the first books that I bought on my path to conversion to the Orthodox Church was Holy Transfiguration Monastery’s beautifully bound edition of The Great Horologion. This is essentially a Book of Hours designed for use at monastic services. I primarily bought it for the numerous lives of saints included in the volume. Even more numerous than the short lives given in the volume is the index of Saints and commemorations given in the end of the volume, with the dates on which these are commemorated in the Holy Church. There are 5,208 separate entries.

I typed up the list of these saints and their commemoration dates several years ago, and forgot about it until a comment from Aaron just this evening. Thinking it would take only a few minutes to make it presentable, I of course ended up spending three hours formatting the lists for two separate files, one listing the Saints alphabetically, the other listing by date of commemoration. Each file is 48 pages, for the printing-inclined. They’re also searchable. Please inform me of any typographical errors. I found quite a few this evening, but I’ll bet there are more.

I hope others will enjoy the list and find it useful.

St Ephrem on the Scriptures

The basic structure of Ephrem’s understanding of the interpretation of Scripture may be summarized along the following lines. Scripture possesses two kinds of meaning, the outer historical meaning, and the inner spiritual meaning, ‘the hidden power’ as Ephrem sometimes calls it. These two coexist as intimately as do the humanity and divinity in the incarnate Christ. Ephrem’s belief in the presence of the ‘hidden power’ could be said to correspond to the traditional doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures.

The inner meaning, or ‘hidden power’, is as objectively present in Scripture as is the outer historical meaning. But whether its presence is actually perceived by the reader or hearer of Scripture is another matter, for this inner meaning can only be perceived by the inner eye, and the light by which that eye operates is the light of faith. That light is always available, but the individual inner eye can at will shut this out, or dim it. Whether a person makes any use of this inner mode of vision in the first place, and then, the extent to which she or he does so, is thus ultimately a matter of free choice, the exercise of free will. Put in different terms, the extent to which an individual can see with this inner eye will depend on the extent to which he or she is open to the continuing inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To appreciate the inspiration of the biblical text the reader must himself be open to the inspiration of the Spirit.

Sebastian Brock. The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem the Syrian (Cistercian Publications, 1992), page 162