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Πέμπτη, 8 Αυγούστου 2013

“LOVE IS THE CROWN OF ALL THINGS” PART 2






“LOVE IS THE CROWN OF ALL THINGS” PART 2



A talk with Archimandrite Chrysostom(Tavulareas), Abbot of the Monastery of St. Gerasim of the Jordan.

   
St. Gerasim and His Miracles in the Modern World

When a friend of mine in Moscow saw a photo of Fr. Chrysostom she exclaimed, “That’s the legendary abbot!” I asked her incredulously how she knew about him. She related, “Just like many others, I really liked the Life of St. Gerasim of the Jordan and his friendship with the lion. But it seemed to me that that was all only in ancient times. Then one monk from the Lavra gave me the book, St. Gerasim of the Jordan and His Holy Monastery. ‘Do you need this?’ he asked. ‘Of course!’ I replied, but I was really thinking, ‘A well known Life… But could there be anything new in it? I’ll give it to someone else.’ I sat down to read it…

“One abbot collected various stories about the saint. The conclusion one draws from them is that St. Gerasim of the Jordan is here and now, in our own times, working miracles just like the ancients.”

One day thieves broke into the monastery of St. Gerasim. They overturned everything in the church, stole ancient icons and even sacred vessels and Gospels. The Abbot called the Arab police, but received no help. Then he called the military commander, but alas, to no avail. The Patriarch was skeptical that there was no trace of the criminals, and he gave the abbot a week to return the sacred objects. Need it be said how upset Fr. Chrysostom was over this? He returned to the monastery and went to the icon of St. Gerasim, saying in his heart, “How many years have I been serving you with love and diligence, but you don’t want to help me! Now they suspect that I took all those things myself! I won’t light a lamp to you and I won’t ring the bells anymore!” He put out the lamp before the icon and walked away sorrowing. In the morning an Arab policeman ran over to him. That night, St. Gerasim had appeared to him in a dream and said, “Go to Abouna; he is sorrowing. Tell him that you are conducting investigations.” As it turns out, the police had only pretended to close their investigation. Soon they found the thieves and returned everything. Needless to say, Fr. Chrysostom hastened to the icon of St. Gerasim, lit the lamp, and thanked him for his help.


St. Gerasim of the Jordan (†475, commemorated March 4/17) was born to a wealthy family in the area of Lycia, in Asia Minor. He was given to a monastery in his childhood. After a pilgrimage to the holy places he decided to become a hermit in the desert not far from where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, and in 455 he founded a lavra. He reached such a level of asceticism that during the entire period of Great Lent he went without food, and received Holy Communion only on Sundays. One day, near the monastery he met a lion that was suffering from a date palm thorn lodged in his paw. He removed the thorn, cleansed the wound of pus and bandaged the paw. The lion became his faithful friend and lived with the elder for five years, eating bread and soaked vegetables. When St. Gerasim reposed the lion died of grief at his grave.

St. Gerasim has worked miracles since ancient times and continues to do so even today. The Greeks call him “Saint Express”—that is how quickly he responds to prayers. Archimandrite Chrysostom has seen many cases of help from St. Gerasim with his own eyes:

—About twenty years ago, Deacon Irenaeus came to Jerusalem (from the Sinai monastery). With him was a twelve year old boy from Crete (he was studying in the Greek seminary on Mt. Sion). On Saturday after lunch I was very tired and was kneading dough, because I did not have any prosphora for the Sunday Liturgy. Suddenly the boy came down with a high fever, and a terrible, unbearable headache. I didn’t know what to do! I had no car, only one small motorcycle. I couldn’t take the boy to the doctor and I prayed to the Saint that he heal the boy. At around 11:00 the deacon and the boy fell asleep. I was very tired; in the oven was the bread. I was thinking about tomorrow’s Liturgy and praying to the Saint with my whole heart that he heal the sick child. At a certain moment the deacon heard a door slam. He arose, looked around, but there was no one there. He came and found me, and we went together to the room. I suggested that this was most likely the Saint. I hadn’t even finished the phrase when the boy, who had earlier been delirious, woke up and said, “Geronda, I am all wet. A priest poured a jar of water on me.” We took the boy’s t-shirt off of him and wrapped him in a towel. Five minutes later he fell peacefully asleep, with no fever, and in the morning he was absolutely healthy.

There was another incident. Around twelve years ago, Abbot Chrysostom went to Greece. The Romanian nun Maria remained in the monastery along with the Arab Asam, who was a child at the time, and Mother Chrystodoula was living in a cave nearby. Every night they heard the door of the Church of St. Gerasimos open and close. One time Maria went to see who it was, but she could see no one. Neither could Asam see anyone there.

When Fr. Chrysostom returned to the monastery they asked him, “Geronda, who opens and closes the door of the church every evening?” He answered, St. Gerasimos. Who else could it be?! The Saint is fulfilling the duty of monastery guardian while the Holy Sepulcher monk is away.[i]

The lion who served St. Gerasim. A child's drawing from a Sunday school class in Novo-Spassky Monastery, Moscow. 1990s. From the book, St. Gerasim of the Jordan and his holy monastery. Sergiev Posad, 2008.

The lion who served St. Gerasim. A child's drawing from a Sunday school class in Novo-Spassky Monastery, Moscow. 1990s. From the book, St. Gerasim of the Jordan and his holy monastery. Sergiev Posad, 2008.   

Here is another miracle that one pilgrim couple related to Fr. Chrysostom: “Not long ago we came to the monastery and stayed there for a few days. After lunch we asked the abbot if he has some time to hear our confessions. Geronda answered that he couldn’t because he was very busy. Soon we went to the Church of St. Gerasimos. There we again met the abbot. When he saw us he said with great love, ‘Come, my children, and I will hear your confession.’

“After the confession we went down to the courtyard, and thanked the abbot, who was passing by us at that moment. We said that despite his busyness and fatigue he showed us mercy and heard our confessions. He was amazed. ‘Children, what are you saying? Did I take your confessions?! I did not hear any confessions today. I already told you that I have no time and am very tired!’ We were dumbstruck. We understood that none other than St. Gerasimos of the Jordan had heard our confessions, appearing in the visage of the abbot. We thanked and praised God! We also praised the great St. Gerasimos of the Jordan who had shown us the honor of receiving our confessions.”

Mother

—There have always been sick people living in the monastery. Now we have around thirty elderly men, two of them with Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course of five years one retired bishop lived here, and we took him around in a wheelchair… There were five or six elderly monks, but they have already died. The majority are from Jerusalem, some from Greece or Cyprus.

Here I said good-bye to my mother before here final voyage. She was a saintly woman. She always had her prayer rope, and wore a headscarf. She lived ten years with me here. She never complained about anything. She reposed in 2003. My father died soon afterward. My mother’s name was Panagiota, and my father’s name was Panagiotis. He came to us when he was sixty-five. He was the complete opposite of my mother: a whiner (but he changed toward the end of his life)! But mama was always immersed in prayer, always in a calm emotional state, and treated everyone with respect.

The semantron in the Monastery of St. Gerasim of the Jordan.
The semantron in the Monastery of St. Gerasim of the Jordan.   
In the morning mother came out with her prayer rope to the place where you and I are now talking and sat down to pray. One Saturday I went to look over the monastery gardens and stock (she lived over there; she had two little rooms); I went to her at about 10:00 in the morning and opened the door. She lay in her bed, with her headscarf on, and her prayer rope in her hands. I thought, “She looks so much like Mother Chrystodoula when she reposed!” I looked at her more attentively and mother opened her eyes. “Ah, my little child, come here! My soul was searching for you.” I went close to her and took her hand; I kissed her hand. Mama said, “I am leaving.” “Where? To your daughter?” I asked (I have a sister in Greece). “No, I am leaving forever.” “Well, alright, we will all go there,” I said. She went on, “Give abundant alms to people! To the pilgrims who come here, offer at least a cup of cold water! Do not scream at the Arabs (I yell at them a lot), they have many problems of their own, and here you are with your screaming.” In the evening she asked, “Do not put out the light, because I am going to leave. Tell Niki (a girl from Cyprus who was staying with us) to come to me every half an hour or hour.” I comforted her, “Alright, I will.” After lunch Niki came up to me and said, “Father Chrysostom! Your mother told me to leave the light on and to come to her every half hour or hour. What should I do?” “Do as you see fit!” I told her.


A revered icon of St. Gerasim of the Jordan.   


The next day was the Sunday of Orthodoxy. We begin the services at five in the morning. The bells rang and I went to the church to put on my vestments. My father was coming. Mother could no longer hear when they rang the bell, and so he would go to her room to waken her and tell her to come to services. On that day he went as usual into my mother’s room and shook her a little, saying, “Well, don’t play dead!” But mother had already “left”. Father was still trying to wake her up. “Get up, get up!” Glory be to God! I left the church and served a Litia [short service for the dead] over my mother. We dressed her and carried her into the church where Liturgy was being served. She was a holy, humble woman! In 2005, around Thomas Sunday, the Paschal season, my father also died, having given confession—glory be to God!

Geronda Gabriel: “You will take up the earth and it will become gold in your hands.”

—Mother Chrystodoula also lived with us. Her name in the world was Vasila Petechelova. She used to be a Uniate (those who commemorate the Pope of Rome) from a monastery in the Caucasus. She lived in the Holy Land for seventy years and spent the last ten of them here. She was a woman of holy life! She left the Caucasus and received Orthdoxy, and came to the Monastery of Righteous Tabitha. From the Monastery of Righteous Tabitha she went to the monastery of St. John the Baptist in Jordan. In 1967, there was the war between Israel and Jordan. Jordan and the monastery were closed, and she went to Jericho to Fr. Gabriel.

Fr. Gabriel… he is a saint. He lived in the monastery of St. Elisha in Jericho. In 1986, Elder Gabriel fell sick. I lived near him for two months, bathed him and helped him. He was very seriously ill. He died in my arms on the day of the Exaltation of the Cross. I served the Liturgy, and on the day before he died—it was a Friday—Fr. Gabriel lay in bed and summoned me with his hand. I went to him. He said, “I am leaving tomorrow. Put me into my wheelchair and take me to the Jordan; I will leave from there, and you will return home.” I said, “Geronda, tomorrow is the feast of the Cross. I will put you in the wheelchair, we will serve the Liturgy, you’ll receive Communion, and then I will take you to your bed.” But he repeated, “Tomorrow you will put me in my wheelchair and we will go to the Jordan…”


At the church services in the Monastery of St. Gerasim of the Jordan.   


At a certain moment I was overcome by a thought (because one day he would be dying, the next day he would feel better… I was tired)… I said, “Lord, if you will judge us as monks we won’t be saved! A monk has many obligations: services and much more, which we do not fulfill because of the flood of tourists and pilgrims. Then there are Arabs, Jews, and Moslems here. I cuff others on the neck and receive cuffs on my own neck (sometimes I have to yell at someone, and sometimes I have to bow my head and humble myself), it is hard for me (this ear doesn’t hear, here my skull was fractured, my teeth knocked out; but I don’t regret it—I was defending the honor of the Patriarchate)! But if You will judge us as guardians of the holy places, then Geronda Gabriel is a good monk, a good guardian; he built the monastery of the Prophet Elisha and the abbot’s quarters. No matter where he was, he was always at work. And if he dies tomorrow on the day of the Exaltation of the Cross and not on any other day, I will accept this as a sign from You that he was saved!”

The next day was the feast of the Cross. I gave him Communion and took him to the guesthouse. In the afternoon he was so-so. After dinner, around five in the evening, he again opened his eyes, called me and said, “I am leaving!” Well, I was very tired! One time I even said in my heart, “Will there be anyone to take such care of me!” The elder then answered, “You will have my prayer and blessing, and if there is no person around to take care of you then the Lord will send angels to care for you. You will take up earth and it will turn into gold in your hands. Everything you do will be blessed by God.” Then he wanted to cross himself. I took his hand to help him, made the sign of the cross with his hand, and as soon as the sign was made the elder exhaled.

—The Lord showed you what you asked for!

—I was stunned. “Geronda, Geronda,” I called to him. I was holding his hand, the nerves were still trembling. “Chrystodoula,” I said, “Our Geronda has died.” That is how quietly he departed.

Nun Chrystodoula
Nun Chrystodoula/p>
One day I set out from Jerusalem to Jericho. In those days they almost never turned the pilgrimage buses in our direction, and I arrived by car to one hotel where Greek groups would stay. I talked with people and they gave me some groceries and clothes (these were poor people who had nothing more to give). Well, I was driving to them and on the road and I was struggling to stay awake. As I drove the car I closed my eyes and thought, “How good it is to drive a car with my eyes closed!” So, with eyes closed I saw Elder Gabriel in white garments; his face was beautiful. Then it was as if I were struck by lightning. “Where are you going?!” I opened my eyes—a large military vehicle was barreling straight at me. I turned away in time. If I hadn’t seen Elder Gabriel at that moment, that truck, which weighed forty tons, would have crushed me beneath itself. The elder yelled, “Where are you going?!” I opened my eyes and turned the wheel.

After Elder Gabriel’s repose, I took Mother Chrystodoula back with me. She lived next to the monastery of St. Gerasimos; she had chickens and twenty cats, she slept on the grass, walked barefoot, never wore sandals, and died in 1997 at the age of 104.

Liturgy in Hebron with Fr. Ignatius the Russian

—It was a great blessing for me to know holy people—Russians, Romanians, and Greeks. The older fathers told me how in former times, Russian pilgrims would come to the Holy Land on foot.

There was a certain Fr. Ignatius in Hebron. A saint. A Russian. He died in deep old age. At that time I was serving as a deacon in Bethlehem and in 1975, on the feast of St. George, I set out in the evening for Hebron and spent the night there. At 2:00 in the morning, the bells would ring there for services. At three, the prayer “Blessed is our God…” would be intoned and Matins would begin. Monk George read the Six Psalms in Church Slavonic, and then Fr. Ignatius began the Proskomedia. I did not know Russian, but I simply assisted him as a deacon. At the moment he took the prosphoron for the Eucharist in his hands to cut out the particles for the chalice, tears would stream from his eyes. I and other priests complete the Proskomedia in fifteen to twenty minutes. He would take an entire hour! When he cut out the particles in remembrance of the Archangels, the Honorable Forerunner, the saint of the day, and a thousand(!) saints, tears fell from his eyes. He was seeing something! He was a saint.

The metochion of the Russian Orthodox Mission in the Holy Land, dedicated to the Holy Forefathers in Hebron.
The metochion of the Russian Orthodox Mission in the Holy Land, dedicated to the Holy Forefathers in Hebron.   
We usually serve the Liturgy beginning after the prayer, “Blessed is the Kingdom…” in an hour and a half. But no matter what prayers he pronounced, Fr. Ignatius would bend his knee, and tears would stream endlessly from his eyes! We began the services at three in the morning and ended at 11:30 in the morning. His whole being was immersed in the prayers. His arms would be raised. When he prayed he never allowed himself to be distracted with any conversation. We received Communion and pronounced the dismissal. It was close to noon! I had stood on my feet for eight or nine hours! Then we went into the house by the church; Fr. Ignatius took out some dried bread, some sweet red wine that he made himself, and some olives. We drank the wine, in which we soaked the dried bread, and ate the olives.

I have been a priest for thirty-five years, but I will never forget such reverence and such a Liturgy (not the fatigue, but the Liturgy itself)! After I became an abbot, they would bring me his wine for the Liturgy—it was red, sweet, and without any additives.

Fr. Ignatius was a holy man! He reposed in the 1980s—I can’t remember exactly when—in Hebron where he served all his life, and was buried there. He never washed! He went around in worn-out shoes without socks. His hair was tangled like threads. His black nylon ryassa was oil-soaked, because as I recall he would light 150 lamps himself. At 2:00 a.m. he rang the bell and for an entire hour afterwards he would light a lamp before every saint—here, there, and everywhere—and make prostrations. Oil dripped down his hands and onto his ryassa… He had a purse in which he kept an icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, and when you wanted to kiss his hand he would take out this icon. There was simply a fragrance coming from him! He was a real saint. I have never known any other person like him in my life!

On Russia today

—We love Russia very much. I personally love Russia very much. I always try as much as I can to greet all pilgrims, but especially Russians. After the fall of Byzantium it was the Russians who supported the holy places with their love and donations. The Russian people are outstanding by their piety. If we open the Book of Revelations, there is something written there about “ξανθό το γένος”—about a “dark-blond-haired tribe”. These words may relate to the Russian people and the Russian Church. It is this dark-blond-haired tribe that will become the protector of Orthodoxy throughout the world. Many priests come here who ask to serve Liturgies, and they serve also in our monastery. I rejoice in this; I like the beautiful Russian chants and pious people. I rejoice also that my voice, the voice of an uneducated man, will reach Russia.

I would like very much for you to send my deep prostration to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and all the bishops, hieromonks and archpriests, superiors of monasteries, monks, nuns, and to all the people; to all who live the spiritual life, but also to all those who do not live the spiritual life. May the Lord enlighten them! After all, there is a spark of faith in everyone!

At every Proskomedia I pray for the repose of the patriarchs I have known: Benedict of Jerusalem (he reposed in 1979) and Diodoros of Jerusalem, and the Russian Patriarch Alexei II. When Patriarch Alexei was in Bethlehem, I went there and received his blessing. He was a personality of great scope! Every primate of the Church should not only head the Church and be the deputy of Christ, but he must also have a powerful voice in dialogue with state officials. Patriarch Alexei had that strength of voice in both the preaching of the Gosples, and in his words to the state.

A group of journalists visiting Archimandrite Chrysostom (Tavoulareas).   


I follow political news with enormous interest. Russia has its own politics. Of course, all politics are different… but Russia has Putin. I say this to you not because you are Russian (I am not afraid of anyone but God)—but the people should understand this and not be up to such nonsense as what those girls did, dancing in the church[ii] and making public demonstrations against Putin’s politics. People should know that out of all the leaders after Communism (there was Brezhnev, Gorbachev, and others…) Putin is the best. He takes measures that many do not like, but they are for everyone’s good. In the 1990s there were also various groups coming here from Russia; they would light one candle and a group of fifty people would leave five dollars. I understood that they simply did not have any more money. Now I see that thanks to the politics of Putin the Russian people have begun to live better. But they still do not say, “Glory to Thee, O God.”

The more supposed freedom and democracy there is, the worse it is for the people. Christ established hierarchy. It is necessary. In America, money has taken the place of God. Honor and family values are for people of the “old formation”. Abnormal men marry other men, and that legally; women do the same, children have no respect for their parents, parents are not allowed to spank their children, narcotics are widespread along with everything else that excessive freedom and excessive democracy brings. I am an uneducated man from the village. Our old villagers used to say that where there are many crowing roosters the dawn does not soon come. They are all endlessly arguing, shouting, and never going to sleep.

Of all the modern political regimes I like the regime in Russia the best, with the Orthodox faith, respect for other religions and confessions. Fanaticism is not good for anyone. Do you remember how the Catholics slaughtered people and did other lawlessness that was even crueler that what the Moslems have done?! Therefore I personally do not like fanaticism. I am for the middle, royal path: respect for everyone and love for everyone, including those who are not of your same faith—because Christ is love.

The Church is Christ. Christ is love

—Love is the crown of all things. Love of neighbor, love of nature, the trees, the birds. If we do not love what God created then what do we love?!

Be blessed; and Christ is Risen! My wish is that the Lord would vouchsafe everyone to spend some time in the Holy Land and give them the money they need to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to venerate the Most Holy Sepulcher there, to visit other holy shrines, and the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai! Let them not be ashamed of our priests. The Church is not priests or bishops. The Church is Christ!



With Fr. Chrysostom all is simple and warm. He doesn’t say anything to us about long Vigils and ascetic labors of faith. To the contrary, he repeated several times, “I am uneducated,” and “What kind of monk am I?!” But he took care of his mother and father to the end, receives the sick and aged, Moslems and Orthodox, and all feel good near him. Where else is the meaning of our faith?

The power of his love, his fiery heart, once made the Jordan desert to flourish. If but one living branch is found in it then a bird will unfailingly come and perch on it, and sing. That is how is seems after meeting with this man. The bright image of Fr. Chrysostom, the image of an authentic life in Christ, is truly like a drink of living water that quenches the thirst and strengthens the soul before its foray into the sands of the desert of this life.



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