Sunday, March 31, 2013

How do the Orthodox date Easter

Living in a non-Orthodox country we Orthodox are frequently asked why we celebrate Eastern on a different date in regards to the Western Christians. This also creates issues in respect to schools and work, when the faithful are unable to go to all or most of the services during Holy Week because Eastern is either 2 or 5 weeks after ‘normal’ Easter. Nevertheless, the issue relies on the complicated nature of calendars and the way with which astronomical data is used.
The dating of Easter, of the death and resurrection of Jesus, has always presented variations within the Church. Even within the Bible we observe two distinct traditions. In the first instance the traditions of the three Synoptic Gospels, i.e. Matthew, Mark and Luke, identify the Last Supper as being a Passover meal. Therefore, Christ was crucified the day after Passover. In the second case, the Gospel of John states that the crucifixion took place the same day as the Passover. Hence, these two traditions led to the establishment of two distinct practices. The first opinion established the celebration of Easter on a set date, despite the day, whilst the second one fixed it on the Sunday after Passover. Nevertheless, by the fourth century the latter practice prevailed, with differences within the Catholic Church. 

A decision had to be taken, not only from one part of the Church, but by the whole Body of the Ecclesia. This issue was addressed during the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (325 AD). During this Synod it was decided that Easter is to be celebrated on the Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, which is when spring starts. If, on the other hand, the full moon falls on a Sunday, then Pascha is celebrated the following Sunday. The day taken to be the invariable date of the vernal equinox is March 21st.
Another factor, on which the dating of Easter is based on, is the date of the Jewish Passover. Due to certain historical changes within the Jewish world, Passover was calculated differently, i.e. meaning that Passover in some years preceded the vernal equinox. The two celebrations of both religions coincided; however, this existed for a short period of time. In Canon 1 of Antioch (330 AD) and Canon 7 of the Holy Apostles (4th century AD) condemned the calculation of Easter according to the Passover. However, the First Ecumenical Council endeavoured to maintain the calculating of Passover according to Jesus’ lifetime. 
Until the 6th century variations on the calculation of Easter were still apparent. Nevertheless, a more secure mode of calculating, based on astronomical date, was accepted by the Catholic Church. This was an alternative to calculating Eastern by the Passover, forming the so called “paschal cycles”. Each paschal cycle matched to a number of years. According to the number of years in the cycle, the full moon occurred on the same day of the year as at the start of the cycle, with of course some exceptions. The more accurate the cycle, the less frequent were the exceptions. In the East part of Christendom a 19 year cycle was eventually adopted, whilst on the Western part an 84 year cycle. Therefore, due to this difference, we observe that East and West celebrate Easter on different dates.
Another factor which contributed towards the widening of this difference was the adoption, by the West, of the Gregorian Calendar (1582), thus replacing the Julian Calendar. The Orthodox Church bases the calculation of Easter on the Julian Calendar, the calendar used by the ancient Church.
Could this change? Open minded leaders will be able to answer this, theoretically but also practically. It has been an issue, in regards to the on-going Ecumenical Dialogue. The celebration of Easter on the same date within the whole Christian family, worldwide, would be an important step within the Ecumenical Movement, showing a sense of love and understanding. With patience all could happen in the future. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saint Panteleimon Church, Varlaam Parish, Kastoria

St. Panteleimon, in the North part of Greece, in the small city of Kastoria, is a three-aisled basilica with the aisles separated in two wooden column series. It is a post-Byzantine Church, built in 1857. The church’s chancel was constructed in 1877 and is made of wood. A wall painting also exists in the inner part of the church. This is one church of around 70 that exist within this small Macedonian city, showing the devotion of the local population.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Suspended Coffees..! An Excellent Idea!

The following story is not mine; I have 'stolen' it from a Facebook pag called "Suspended Coffees". However, this story is an excellent idea. One that we should enforce wherever possible. It upholds the Christian ideal of helping everyone around us, loving our neighbours like ourselves. If this idea could be realised globally it could make our societies a little bit better, showing that hope still exists in our modern and unfriendly societies we find all around us, especially in the big cities. Enjoy the story:

"We enter a little coffeehouse with a friend of mine and give our order. While we're approaching our table two people come in and they go to the counter -'Five coffees, please. Two of them for us and three suspended'
They pay for their order, take the two and leave. I ask my friend:
'What are those 'suspended' coffees ?'
'Wait for it and you will see'
Some more people enter. Two girls ask for one coffee each, pay and go. The next order was for seven coffees and it was made by three lawyers - three for them and four 'suspended'. While I still wonder what's the deal with those 'suspended' coffees I enjoy the sunny weather and the beautiful view towards the square in front of the café. Suddenly a man dressed in shabby clothes who looks like a beggar comes in through the door and kindly asks
'Do you have a suspended coffee ?'
It's simple - people pay in advance for a coffee meant for someone who can not afford a warm beverage. The tradition with the suspended coffees started in Naples, but it has spread all over the world and in some places you can order not only a suspended coffee, but also a sandwich or a whole meal."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nature of God

Many claim that because we cannot understand God with our mind or acknowledge Him with our senses then that means the God does not exist. But how will our small minds understand the greatness and vastness of God. How can our ‘created’ minds understand the ‘uncreated’ God? Man does not even comprehend and appreciate the created world around us. Theophilus of Antioch explains the Nature of God:

“You will say, then, to me, "Do you, who see God, explain to me the appearance of God." Hear, O man. The appearance of God is ineffable and indescribable, and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. For in glory He is incomprehensible, in greatness unfathomable, in height inconceivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivalled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable. For if I say He is Light, I name but His own work; if I call Him Word, I name but His sovereignty; if I call Him Mind, I speak but of His wisdom; if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath; if I call Him Wisdom, I speak of His offspring; if I call Him Strength, I speak of His sway; if I call Him Power, I am mentioning His activity; if Providence, I but mention His goodness; if I call Him Kingdom, I but mention His glory; if I call Him Lord, I mention His being judge; if I call Him Judge, I speak of Him as being just; if I call Him Father, I speak of all things as being from Him; if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. You will say, then, to me, "Is God angry? "Yes; He is angry with those who act wickedly, but He is good, and kind, and merciful, to those who love and fear Him; for He is a chastener of the godly, and father of the righteous; but he is a judge and punisher of the impious”.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Greek Independence Day in London

Greek Independence Day is celebrated annually on the 25th of March by all the Greeks worldwide. London is no exception to this rule. Part of the celebrations was a talk, organised by the Peloponnesian Association of Great Britain, given at the Hellenic Centre, in central London. The president of the Association, Mrs. Konstantina Kolokitha, expressed the importance of this day, not only for Greece then, but also for the modern era. As she expressed, "our forefathers were truly great".  

This year the speaker was the Ambassador of Greece, Mr Konstantinos Mpikas, who spoke about the "25th of March 1821". The speaker gave a beautiful analysis of the theme of the day, explaining the global political scene of the epoch, pointing out a diplomatic analysis of the events.

The celebrations continued with a poem, read by a Cypriot actor, describing the hanging of Patriarch Gregory V, showing the general atmosphere of the Greek struggle. However, the night ended with a number of beautiful, traditional dances from the Peloponnese, whereby everyone was invited to dance. 

These talks are an annual tradition for the Peloponnesian Association of Great Britain, being an important part of the celebrations for the independence day of Greece in the British Capital. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many!

Reading this small phrase, sent to me as part of an email, it got me thinking of how countless people endeavour to remain young eternally. Plastic surgery has facilitated this naïve will for an eternal youth, forgetting to live, forgetting to embrace the beauties of life, which alter during the course of life. Mankind is mortal. That fact gives a certain beauty and fascination, where we could live and love in a unique way, not understood by the ancient Greek Gods, who wished to understand and feel the mortality, its dangers and its beauties. Nevertheless, mortality and eventually death, gives the opportunity to the human race to see an afterlife, a Kingdom of Heaven. The fear of death gives a chance to man to ask the ontological, for his existence, questions, i.e. who and what and where is God?

Life is a gift and all its stages show the beauty of life, of love, of continuation, of communion with another person and with God. This, however, is a privilege denied to many; to those who are poor, who live in the so called Third World, to those who have been unfortunate. This has been brought by the illness of man’s society, where we forget the Biblical teaching, of love thy neighbour. Many people not only do the opposite, but they justify their choices. Moreover, illness is the other great problematic factor that denied the continuation of life. This latter paradigm shows that it can be a result of our own doings. Man, with free will, has even defied his own Creator; therefore man’s choices have introduced death to his nature.
Growing older is a present given to us all. To some in a more plentiful manner, to others less; but we should always remember that this life is the platonic cave, the true life, the truth, the life is in the other life, in the Kingdom of Heaven, in communion with God. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pan-Orthodox Vespers, London

The Pan-Orthodox Vespers is celebrated on annual basis on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. This tradition is kept and received by all the Orthodox in the U.K. as a big event, were all unite to express their faith and unity. This event rotates and this year (24th-03-2013) it was celebrated at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sophia, Bayswater, central London.

This year present were Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain, Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh, Archbishop Dositej of Scandinavia and Great Britain, Archbishop Zenon of Dmanisi and Great Britain and Ireland and Bishop Tropaiou of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. Many priests from numerous jurisdictions were present, enriching the service of vespers with the multitude of languages and sounds.

The beauty, however, of this service was evident during the chanting of the various choirs, who gave a unique feel to this event. Present were 7 choirs (Greek, Antiochian, Russian, Georgian, Serbian, Romanian and Ukrainian), bringing to this service the multitude of sounds and traditions that exist within the Orthodox World.

During the service, Archpriest Gregory Hallam gave a sermon showing the unity between the Orthodox, despite the differences that exist on a cultural, political, linguistic level. Being the vespers for the Annunciation, he explained the theology of the event. At the end of the service a litany took place, reminding us all of the restoration of the icons, an event celebrated during the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
Following are a number of videos, showing the differences in music within the various choirs, some following the Byzantine tradition and others the more Westernised one. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The significance of the word ‘Orthodoxy’

Today the Orthodox Church celebrates the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of Lent. However, what does Orthodoxy mean? The following passage is taken from an article written by Nikos Nissiotis, who explains the significance of the word ‘Orthodoxy’.

“’Orthodoxy’ is not the adjective or the qualification of one local church or even of all of our Eastern Orthodox Churches: it is the synonym of the words ‘catholic’ and ‘apostolic’. It is not an exclusive but an inclusive term which goes beyond the limits of the churches which call themselves Orthodox. It includes all those churches and believers who seek to offer an honest confession and achieve a life which is untouched by heresies and schisms and to arrive at the wholeness of the divine relevation in Christ. We could echo the words of Father George Florovsky in his analysis of the word ‘Orthodoxy’ as meaning precisely ‘right doxa’, that is with a view to sharing in common in rendering glory to the Lord in thanksgiving, in and through the One Undivided Church. Orthodoxia is the right martyria of truth and is based on the union of God with man in Jesus, lived and understood as the full communion of all those believers who are ready to share fully with each other the glory of the God revealed in the Orthodoxy of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church. If, therefore, Orthodoxy silently accepts that there is salvation in other churches outside its limits, limits which, in this context, seem to be narrow as a result of the very fact of the abnormal situation of division; this means that an Orthodox, through his faith, is invited to become really ‘Orthodox’ by offering himself in humility in order to effect a full realization of Orthodoxy in the life of the Universal Church. It is only then that this ecumenical Orthopraxia would prove and confirm the local existing Orthodoxia”[1].

[1] Nissiotis, Nikos, “The Witness and the Service of Eastern Orthodoxy to the One Undivided Church”, Sobornost, Series 4, No.7, Summer 1962, p. 354-355

Saturday, March 23, 2013

God is Light

Reading St. Symeon the New Theologian’s Third Theological Discourse I came across a very interesting description of God as Light. Here is what St. Symeon writes:
“…God is light (1 Jn. 1:5), a light infinite and incomprehensible, for then you will know about the properties of the divine nature, how God and all that is of God, from God, and within God, is one light, worshipped in each of the hypostases and perceived in all the qualities and gifts of God. Everything to do with God is light, and (this light) is common to all the persons, divided between them indivisibly. But if for your sake I may speak of the invisible as if it were divided: the Fathers is light, the Son is light, the Holy Spirit is light; one single light as they are simple, non-composite, timeless, eternal, and possessed of the same honour and glory. All that comes from Him is light, and is given to us as arising from the light. The light is life. The light is immortality. The light is the source of life. 

The light is living water, charity, peace, truth, and the door of the kingdom of heaven. The light is the very kingdom itself. The light is the bridal chamber, the bridal couch, paradise, and all the bliss of paradise. It is the land of the gentle, the crowns of life, and the very garments of the saints. The light is Jesus Christ, the Saviour and King of the universe. The bread of his sinless flesh is light. The chalice of his precious blood is light. His resurrection is light. His face is light. His hand, his finger, his mouth, his eye, all are light. The Lord is light, and his voice is as light from light. Light is the comforter, the pearl, the seed of mustard, the true vine, the leaven, hope and faith – all are light…He is light inaccessible, pre-existing the ages… Indeed, I will show you in passing some of the other ‘lights’ applicable to God: his goodness is light; his compassion is light; his mercy, his embrace, his watchful care are light. His spectre is light, his crook, and his consolation”.    

Friday, March 22, 2013

Eros or Angel?

Walking around Piccadilly Square I come by the statue of Eros, the Greek God of Love. Even when I am the tour guide for the day for a family member or a friend, I introduce them to the statue as the God Eros. Whoever you ask, they will come to the same conclusion. However, we are wrong. In fact it represents the Angel of Christian Charity.

It was erected in 1892 to commemorate Anthony Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, whose tireless work for the poor and mentally ill led to calls for a memorial. The statue was originally placed in the centre of the junction with his bow pointing up Shaftesbury Avenue, but was later moved to the square, aiming down the busy high street of Regent Street.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

St. Pancras Old Church

St. Pancras Old Church stands on one of Europe’s most ancient sites of Christian worship, possibly dating back to the early 4th century (probably 314 AD). St. Pancras was born in around 289 and was a Roman convert to Christianity. His mother died in childbirth and his father when he was eight. During the persecution of Diocletian (303-305), Pancras was martyred by beheading. The date of his martyrdom is thought to be 12th May 304. Devotion of St. Pancras has existed since the 5th century. It is known that Augustine of Canterbury brought relics of the young martyr to England when he led a mission to this land in 595. St. Pancras’ skull is kept in the Basilica of San Pancrazio in Rome, which is built on the site of his martyrdom and burial. One of the miracles attributed to Pancras is that his skull (posthumously) bled when Rome was in danger. St. Pancras is the patron of children and his intercession is commonly invoked against false witness, headache and perjury.

The church found here today has been here since the 11th or 12th century. It has had a troubled historical course; it was ruined in the 13th century, then rebuilt in the 14th century, half abandoned in the 16th century, restored in the 17th century and again substantially rebuilt in the mid-19th century.

During the Civil War the church was used as a barracks and stable for Cromwell’s troops. Before the troops arrived, the Church’s treasures were buried for their protection and then lost, only to be rediscovered during restoration work in the early 19th century. A 6th century altar stone was among the items discovered. According to legend, the stone belonged to St. Augustine of Canterbury. However, little remains of the original medieval church, but in the north wall of the Nave there is an exposed section of Norman masonry.

Upon entering the church, the visitor or faithful can easily identify the icon of St. Pancras, showing therefore the results of Anglican-Orthodox relations, which have re-introduced to the English there ancient tradition of icons. Due to the importance of this church, a central London underground station has been named ‘Kings Cross, Saint Pancras’. This church continues to function as the Anglican Parish Church of this area of central London. As well as being a historic place of worship, St. Pancras Old Church is a living and vibrant Christian community today.    

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Water in the World

Has anyone imagined if we have enough drinkable water in the world? It is in fact less than what we thought it to be. If we collect all of it into one geographical area we get the picture given here. This sphere is 1.384 km in diameter. Scientists explain that 97% of the water on the planet is in oceans and seas, whilst 1% is found in lakes and under the surface. The latter is the actual drinkable water. This fact should make us all think about the water we waste. Let us all be careful with the amount of water we use.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Are the Church Fathers relevant today?

Orthodoxy promotes Scripture but also Tradition. The latter is the explanation and interpretation of the first by the Church Fathers, it is also the expression of the Church, and how we practice our faith. It is every Orthodox’s spiritual heritage. It could be claimed that Tradition, as an historical event, begins with the Apostolic preaching and is found in Scripture; however, it is kept, treasured, interpreted and explained within the Church by the Holy Fathers. Orthodoxy claims one Tradition, i.e. the Tradition of the Church, incorporating the Scriptures and the teaching of the Fathers. St. Irenaeus explains how Tradition is “the preaching of the truth handed down by the Church in the whole world to Her children”. 

But the question here is: are the Church Fathers, who lived centuries ago, relevant today? When reading some of them, for example St. John Chrysostom, we understand that they are probably more relevant with the modern troubles and problems, than many current theologians. Fr. George Florovsky (Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, p. 13) explains that the Fathers were wrestling with existential problems, with those revelations of the eternal issues which were described and recorded in Holy Scripture. They seem to be relevant due to the fact that they were dealing with things and not with the maps, they were concerned not so much with what man can believe as with what God had done for man.  
Many people claim that in order to see where one is going he needs to identify where he is coming from. The past plays a massive role. The Fathers have tackled the same issues that we tackle today. Tacking their advice on spiritual and secular matters are crucial, in order to live a Christian life.