Tuesday, 4 May 2021

05/05 - Our Lady of Europe, Patron Saint of Gibraltar

Mauritanian born warrior, Tarik Ibn Zayid successfully led his troops across the narrow Straits (of Gibraltar) to the Continent of Europe in AD 710.

The Catholic Monarchs of Spain were acutely aware that the ‘Reconquista’ of Catholic Spain could never be fully achieved so long as Gibraltar remained in Moslem hands. The Rock of Gibraltar formed the bridge between Europe and Africa ensuring a steady flow of Moslem troops into Spain.

In 1309, nearly six hundred years later, the Spanish King Ferdinand IV finally succeeded in capturing Gibraltar and in so doing expelled the Moslem population from the Rock.

Following his victory, the King gave thanks to the Almighty and, as tradition tells us, he dedicated the Continent of Europe to the Mother of Christ, giving her the title of Our Lady of Europe. At the same time, he converted the ancient mosque at the southernmost tip of the Rock into a Christian Shrine and it is believed that a statue of Our Lady, sculptured in limestone, was venerated there.

The Moslems recaptured Gibraltar in 1333, and the Christian population left the Rock, carrying whatever they owned, including the limestone statue of Our Lady of Europe.

In 1462, Henry IV, grandson of Ferdinand IV, recaptured Gibraltar and restored the devotion initiated by Ferdinand to Our Lady of Europe in 1309. Since the original stone statue could not be found, he commissioned a new one, this time depicting the Virgin sitting on a chair holding the Child Jesus. This statue was to be venerated at the Shrine.

The Shrine was ransacked by Barbarossa’s Turkish pirates in September 1540 and badly mutilated the statue of Our Lady of Europe. It was eventually restored in Seville and brought back to the Shrine.

In 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Anglo-Dutch troops captured Gibraltar. The civilian population, once again left Gibraltar, taking with them the statue of Our Lady which had once again been mutilated.

It was not until 1864 that the statue was returned to Gibraltar, thanks to the efforts of Bishop Scandella, after 160 years ‘in exile’ in Algeciras, Spain.

Source: Shrine of Our Lady of Europe

Friday, 30 April 2021

04/30 - James the Apostle and brother of St. John the Theologian

James was one of the Twelve, like his brother John (celebrated on Sept. 26), whom the Lord called "Sons of Thunder," because they became great preachers and because of their profound theology.

It was the Saint's boldness in preaching the Gospel that Herod Agrippa, the son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great, could not endure, and so he took him into custody during the days of the Passover, and slew him with the sword (Acts 12: 1-2); and thus he drank the cup of which the Saviour had spoken to him prophetically (Matt. 20:23). 

As for Herod, the following year he went down to Caesarea, and, as the Acts of the Apostles records: "Upon a set day, Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration" to the elders of Tyre and Sidon; and the flatterers that surrounded him "gave a shout, saying, 'it is the voice of a god, and not of a man.' And immediately an Angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory; and like his grandfather (see Dec. 29) "he was eaten of worms and gave up the spirit" (Acts 12:21-23)

Apolytikion - Third Mode

O Holy Apostle James, intercede to our merciful God, that He may grant our souls forgiveness of sins.

Kontakion - Second Mode

The voice of thy God thou heardest when it called to thee, O glorious James; hence, casting off thy father's love, thou together with John thy brother didst run straightway to Christ the Lord, and with him was granted to see the Lord's most divine Transfiguration.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Patriarchal Encyclical for Holy Pascha (2021)

+ B A R T H O L O M E W







* * *

Having completed the soul-profiting Lent and venerated the Lord’s Passion and Cross, behold today we are rendered participants of His glorious Resurrection, radiant through the feast and crying out with ineffable joy the world-saving announcement: “Christ is Risen!”

 All that we believe, all that we love, and all that we hope as Orthodox Christians is associated with Pascha, from which everything derives its vividness, through which everything is interpreted, and in which everything acquires its true meaning. The Resurrection of Christ is the response of the Divine love to the anguish and expectation of man, but also to the “yearning” of creation that groans with us. In the Resurrection the meaning of “let us make man in our image and likeness”[1] and of “God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good”[2] has been revealed.

 Christ is “our Pascha,”[3] “the resurrection of all.” If the fall comprised the suspension of our journey toward the “divine likeness,” in the risen Christ the way toward deification through grace is once again opened for “the beloved of God.” The “great miracle” is performed, which heals the “great wound,” mankind. In the emblematic icon of the Resurrection at the Chora Monastery, we behold the Lord of glory, who descended “to the depths of Hades” and conquered the power of death, to arise as life-giver from the tomb, raising with Himself the forefathers of humankind and in them the entire human race from beginning to end, as our liberator from the slavery of the enemy.

 In the Resurrection the life in Christ is revealed as liberation and freedom. For “Christ has set us free … for freedom.”[4] The content, the “ethos” of such freedom, which must be experienced here in a manner befitting to Christ, before it is perfected in the heavenly kingdom, is love, the experiential quintessence of the “new creation.” “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another”[5]. The freedom of a believer, grounded on the Cross and Resurrection of the Savior, is a journey upward and toward our neighbor; it is “faith working through love” [6]. It is an exodus from the “Egypt of slavery” and of the diverse alienations, the Christ-given transcendence of an introverted and shriveled existence, the hope of eternity that renders man human.

 As we celebrate Pascha, we confess in Church that the Kingdom of God “has been already inaugurated, but not yet fulfilled.”[7] In the light of the Resurrection, earthly things assume new significance, because they are already transformed and transfigured. Nothing is simply “given.” Everything lies in motion toward eschatological perfection. This “unrestrained rush” toward the Kingdom, which is especially lived out in the eucharistic assembly, safeguards God’s people, on the one hand from indifference toward history and the presence of evil in it, and on the other hand from forgetfulness of the Lord’s words, that “my kingdom is not of this world,”[8] which marks the difference between the “already” and the “not yet” of the coming of the Kingdom, in accordance with the most theological expression that “The King has come, the Lord Jesus, and His Kingdom is to come.”[9]

 The chief characteristic of this God-given freedom of the believer is the unrelenting resurrectional pulse, this freedom’s vigilance and dynamism. Its character as a gift of grace not only does not restrict, but in fact manifests our own consent to this gift, and strengthens our journey and our conduct into this new freedom, which also contains the restoration of our estranged relationship with creation. One who is free in Christ is not trapped in the “earthly absolutes” like “the rest, who do not have hope.”[10] Our hope is Christ, the existence fulfilled in Christ, the brilliance and resplendence of eternity. The biological boundaries of life do not define its truth. Death is not the end of our existence. “Let none fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He was held prisoner by it and has annihilated it. The one who descended into hell, He made hell captive.”[11] Freedom in Christ is the “other creation”[12] of man, a foretaste and model of the fulfillment and fullness of the Divine Economy in the “now and always” of the last day, when the “blessed of the Father” will live person to person with Christ, “seeing Him and seen by Him, as they enjoy the fruits of the endless delight that comes from Him.”[13]

 Holy Pascha is not merely a religious feast, albeit the greatest feast for us Orthodox. Every Divine Liturgy, every prayer and supplication of the faithful, every feast and commemoration of Saints and Martyrs, the honor of sacred icons, the “abundant joy” of Christians (2 Cor. 8.2), every act of sacrificial love and fraternity, the endurance of sorrow, the hope that never disappoints the people of God, is a festival of freedom. All of these radiate the paschal light and exude the fragrance of the Resurrection.

 In this spirit, then, as we glorify the Savior of the world, who trampled down death by death, we convey to all of you – our most honorable Brothers throughout the Lord’s Dominion and our dearly beloved children of the Mother Church – a festal greeting, as, with one voice and one heart, we joyously bless with you Christ unto the ages.

At the Phanar, Holy Pascha 2021

+ Bartholomew of Constantinople

Fervent supplicant for you all

to the Risen Lord.

[1]  Gen. 1.26.

[2]   Gen. 1.31.

[3]   1 Cor. 5.7.

[4]   Gal. 5.1.

[5]   Gal. 5.13.

[6]   Gal. 5.6.

[7]   Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition, Belmont MA: Nordland Publishing, 1972, 36.

[8]   John 18.36.

[9]   Florovsky, op. cit., 72.

[10]  1 Thess. 4.13.

[11]   From the Catechetical Homily of St. John Chrysostom on the holy and glorious Resurrection. 

[12]   Gregory the Theologian, Ethical Poems 61.

[13]   John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, IV. 27.


Photo: Nikos Manginas / Ecumenical Patriarchate

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew sent condolences after the repose of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh

On 9 April 2021, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II announced with deep sorrow the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who passed away peacefully on that morning at Windsor Castle.

Prince Philip was born on 10 June 1921 on the Greek island of Corfu and was the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, who later founded a monastery of Greek Orthodox nuns, the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, modeled after the convent that her aunt, the Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, had founded in Russia.

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew sent the following condolence letter to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

Your Majesty,

It is with profound sadness that we learned of the repose yesterday of your revered husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Our heart and attentiveness were directed in thought and prayer to Your Majesty and to the Royal Family, as were those of our entire Household on behalf of a noble people, who have lost a father.

The many losses of these recent days leave us in silent contemplation before God, and we are unable to adequately express our grief in light of such events. However, we hasten to offer our humble consolation to Your Majesty, and stand in solidarity with you before our compassionate Lord.

We had the great fortune of collaborating with the Prince during his presidency of the WWF, in which we organized three symposia in Istanbul, Crete and London, bringing together countless scientists, religious leaders, philosophers, economists, artists and policy makers in defence of the environment. From our own highly-constructive interactions with the Prince, we remember and honour a man of resoluteness and dedication, and a commanding advocate of conservation and environmentalism.

In beseeching, therefore, our Heavenly Father to console the Royal Family with His loving embrace, and to grant Your Majesty the necessary strength and spiritual fortitude to endure this challenging time of separation, we pray for the everlasting repose of an honourable man, who was known to the world as an exemplar of good works, of integrity and dignity. May his memory be eternal!

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the 10th of April, 2021

Your Majesty’s fervent suppliant before God,


Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

Source: ecupatria.org

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Welcome message to H.E. Metropolitan Bessarion of Spain and Portugal

Today the Orthodox Church of Spain and Portugal [also covering Andorra and Gibraltar] rejoices because she has been granted the grace to receive Your Eminence, sent by divine mercy and the providence of the Ecumenical Throne. In your person we receive our Father and Pastor, who will guide us, teach us and intercede before the Highest for the people that have been entrusted to your care.

Your Eminence arrives from the other end of the Mediterranean to a land that since the beginning of Christianity was chosen by God and destined to be a Beacon of Faith and an anchor of Hope. Even though there is no archaeological evidence to prove it, old traditions speak of the presence of the Holy Apostles Paul and James preaching in the Iberian Peninsula. The latter even witnessed the appearance in Saragossa of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary while she was still living in Holy Zion to comfort him and reassure him of the spread of the Christian Faith in the end of the known World.

God speaks through His Church. The Holy and Great Mother Church of Christ sends you to be our Pastor, and, as an obedient son, Your Emimence has accepted this mandate. Believing in the Church means believing that God lives in Her and operates in Her in a special way. Believing in the Church means suffering for Her and, in spite of everything, keep on loving Her. God's image will always remain obscure, but His mandates are much clearer to us than His very being. We know enough about Him to be able to trust His call, which can appear under any circumstance, any time, at any age.

The service that God requests from Your Eminence includes a forward-going movement, a movement towards something new. God always wants more, but He also offers much more than He asks for. You have left behind your family to receive a community. You have left behind a city to receive two countries. You have left behind a quiet present to receive a hopeful future. If three foreigners became for Abraham a Theophany from God, how much more will the Community that you have come to serve be?

You are arriving among us to be a witness of the Gospel and of our Orthodox Faith, a faith and an ecclesiology that has founded and spread throughout the centuries the historic identity of the Balkanic and Russian peoples and which still represents the vital complementarity between two Churches united during the first millennium and separated during the second millennium, but still mysteriously twinned and organically unitarian.

Finally, Your Eminence, on behalf of the pious clergy and the devoted faithful of this Holy Metropolis, with confidence and obedience, we wish, hope and pray that you will accept our profound wishes of a long life so you can intercede for all of us before the divine altar and transmit to us the heavenly blessings.

Archimandrite Demetrius (Saez)

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

03/17 - Patrick the Enlightener of Ireland

Saint Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland was born around 385, the son of Calpurnius, a Roman decurion (an official responsible for collecting taxes). He lived in the village of Bannavem Taberniae, which may have been located at the mouth of the Severn River in Wales. The district was raided by pirates when Patrick was sixteen, and he was one of those taken captive. He was brought to Ireland and sold as a slave, and was put to work as a herder of swine on a mountain identified with Slemish in Co. Antrim. During his period of slavery, Patrick acquired a proficiency in the Irish language which was very useful to him in his later mission.

He prayed during his solitude on the mountain, and lived this way for six years. He had two visions. The first told him he would return to his home. The second told him his ship was ready. Setting off on foot, Patrick walked two hundred miles to the coast. There he succeeded in boarding a ship, and returned to his parents in Britain.

Some time later, he went to Gaul and studied for the priesthood at Auxerre under Saint Germanus (July 31). Eventually, he was consecrated as a bishop, and was entrusted with the mission to Ireland, succeeding Saint Palladius (July 7). Saint Palladius did not achieve much success in Ireland. After about a year he went to Scotland, where he died in 432.

Patrick had a dream in which an angel came to him bearing many letters. Selecting one inscribed “The Voice of the Irish,” he heard the Irish entreating him to come back to them.

Although Saint Patrick achieved remarkable results in spreading the Gospel, he was not the first or only missionary in Ireland. He arrived around 432 (though this date is disputed), about a year after Saint Palladius began his mission to Ireland. There were also other missionaries who were active on the southeast coast, but it was Saint Patrick who had the greatest influence and success in preaching the Gospel of Christ. Therefore, he is known as “The Enlightener of Ireland.”

His autobiographical Confession tells of the many trials and disappointments he endured. Patrick had once confided to a friend that he was troubled by a certain sin he had committed before he was fifteen years old. The friend assured him of God’s mercy, and even supported Patrick’s nomination as bishop. Later, he turned against him and revealed what Patrick had told him in an attempt to prevent his consecration. Many years later, Patrick still grieved for his dear friend who had publicly shamed him.

Saint Patrick founded many churches and monasteries across Ireland, but the conversion of the Irish people was no easy task. There was much hostility, and he was assaulted several times. He faced danger, and insults, and he was reproached for being a foreigner and a former slave. There was also a very real possibility that the pagans would try to kill him. Despite many obstacles, he remained faithful to his calling, and he baptized many people into Christ.

The saint’s Epistle to Coroticus is also an authentic work. In it he denounces the attack of Coroticus’ men on one of his congregations. The Breastplate (Lorica) is also attributed to Saint Patrick. In his writings, we can see Saint Patrick’s awareness that he had been called by God, as well as his determination and modesty in undertaking his missionary work. He refers to himself as “a sinner,” “the most ignorant and of least account,” and as someone who was “despised by many.” He ascribes his success to God, rather than to his own talents: “I owe it to God’s grace that through me so many people should be born again to Him.”

By the time he established his episcopal See in Armargh in 444, Saint Patrick had other bishops to assist him, many native priests and deacons, and he encouraged the growth of monasticism.

Saint Patrick is often depicted holding a shamrock, or with snakes fleeing from him. He used the shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Its three leaves growing out of a single stem helped him to explain the concept of one God in three Persons. Many people now regard the story of Saint Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland as having no historical basis.

Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461 (some say 492). There are various accounts of his last days, but they are mostly legendary. Muirchu says that no one knows the place where Saint Patrick is buried. Saint Columba of Iona (June 9) says that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that Patrick was buried at Saul, the site of his first church. A granite slab was placed at his traditional grave site in Downpatrick in 1899.

Source: Orthodox Church in America

Friday, 12 March 2021











* * *

Most honorable brothers and blessed children in the Lord,

 With the good-will and grace of God, the giver of all good things, we are entering Holy and Great Lent, the arena of ascetic struggles. The Church knows the labyrinths of the human soul and the thread of Ariadne, the way out of all impasse – humility, repentance, the power of prayer and the sacred services of contrition, fasting that eliminates the passions, patience, obedience to the rule of piety. And so the Church invites us once again this year to a divinely inspired journey, whose measure is the Cross and whose horizon is the Resurrection of Christ.

 The veneration of the Cross in the middle of Holy and Great Lent reveals the meaning of this whole period. The word of our Lord echoes strikingly: “Whoever desires to follow me … let them lift their cross each day and follow me” (Lk 9.23). We are called to lift our own cross, following the Lord and beholding His life-giving Cross, with the awareness that the Lord is the one that saves and not the lifting of our cross. The Cross of the Lord is “the judgment of our criteria,” “the judgment of the world,” and at the same time the promise that evil in all its forms does not have the final word in history. In looking to Christ and under His protection, as the One who permits our struggle, while blessing and strengthening our effort, we fight the good fight, “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4.8–9). This is the experiential quintessence also during the present period of the Cross and the Resurrection. We are on a journey to the Resurrection through the Cross, through which “joy has come to the whole world.”

 Some of you may wonder why the Church, in the midst of the current pandemic, would add to the already existing health restrictions yet another “quarantine,” namely Great Lent. Indeed, Great Lent is also a “quarantine,” a period that lasts forty days. Nevertheless, the Church does not aim to weaken us further with additional obligations and prohibitions. On the contrary, it calls us to give meaning to the quarantine that we are living as a result of the coronavirus, through Great Lent, as liberation from enslavement to “the things of our world.”

 Today’s Gospel reading establishes the conditions of this liberation. The first condition is fasting, not in the sense of abstaining only from specific foods, but also from those habits that keep us attached to the world. Such abstinence does not comprise an expression of contempt of the world, but a necessary precondition for reorienting our relationship with the world and for experiencing the unique joy of discovering the world as the domain of Christian witness. This is why, even during this stage of fasting, the approach and experience of the life of the faithful have a paschal dimension, the taste of the Resurrection. The “Lenten atmosphere” is not depressing, but joyous. It is the “great joy” that was proclaimed as good news by the angel “to all people” at the birth of the Savior (Lk 2.10). This is the unwavering “fulness of joy” (1 Jn 1.4) of life in Christ. Christ is always present in our life – He is closer to us than we are to ourselves – all the days of our life, “unto the end of the ages” (Mt 28.20). The life of the Church is an unshakeable witness to the grace that has come and to the hope of the Kingdom, to the fullness of revelation of the mystery of the Divine Economy.

 Faith is the response to God’s loving condescension to us; it is the “Yes” of our whole existence to Him, who “bowed the heavens and descended” in order to redeem the human race “from the slavery of the enemy” and in order to open for us the way toward deification through grace. The sacrificial love for the neighbor and the “care” for the whole creation spring from and are nurtured by this gift of grace. If this charitable love for others and the god-pleasing concern for creation are absent, then my neighbor becomes “my hell” and creation is abandoned to irrational forces, which transform it into an object of exploitation and into a hostile environment for humankind.

 The second condition of the liberation promised by Great Lent is forgiveness. Oblivion of divine mercy and God’s ineffable beneficence, breach of the Lord’s commandment that we should become “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Mt 5.13-14), and a false transformation of the Christian way of life: to all of these attitudes leads a “closed spirituality” that thrives on the denial and rejection of the “other” and of the world, wipes out love, forgiveness and the acceptance of the different. Yet, this barren and arrogant attitude of life is denounced emphatically by the word of the Gospel on the first three Sundays of the Triodion.

 It is known that such extremes are especially prevalent during periods when the Church invites its faithful to spiritual discipline and vigilance. However, the authentic spiritual life is a way of internal renewal, an exodus from our selves, a loving movement toward our neighbor. It is not based on syndromes of purity and exclusion, but on forgiveness and discernment, doxology and thanksgiving, according to the experiential wisdom of the ascetic tradition: “It is not food, but gluttony that is evil … not speaking, but idle speech … not the world, but the passions.”

 With this attitude and these sentiments, we join our prayers with all of you, beloved brothers and children, that we may definitively overcome the lethal pandemic and swiftly respond to its social and economic consequences. And we ask for your beseeching supplications, too, for the reopening of the Sacred Theological School of Halki, after a long period of fifty years that has passed since its silence was imposed externally and fully unjustly, as we welcome Holy and Great Lent in the Church, singing and chanting together “God is with us,” to Whom belongs the glory and might to the endless ages. Amen!

Holy and Great Lent 2021

 BARTHOLOMEW of Constantinople

Fervent supplicant for all before God