Contemporary theology

A Spiritual Wall. St. Stefan of Dečani

Photo: decani.org On November 23/24, 2019,Visoki Dečani Monastery in the Serbian Autonomous Region of Kosovo and Metohija celebrated its patronal feast day, of St. Stefan of Dečani, the great medieval king and martyr who built the Monastery and whose incorrupt relics lie there today. Always an occasion marked with great joy and solemnity, this year was notable due to the larger than usual number of pilgrims who came from all over the Balkans and Europe to celebrate the life of this great saint of the Church of Christ. At the Divine Liturgy, the large katholikon, one of the largest in the Balkan peninsula, was overflowing with pilgrims and it is estimated that over 3,000 people came.

A Christian’s Entire Life Should be Divine Worship

One of Fr. Daniel Sysoev’s Last Interviews

Fr. Daniel Sysoev, formerly rector of the Church of the Apostle Thomas in Kantimerovskaya,was one of the most active missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church. Late in the evening on November 19 he was shot by a Muslim fanatic, and the next day he died of his gunshot wounds. In this last interview of his life, he spoke of the urgent need for Christian piety. It is especially interesting that Fr. Daniel, who would soon be martyred, spoke of love for God as the love the martyrs had—which hints to us that he himself had that love.

How does the Orthodox Church understand piety? What is the essence of piety?

—Piety is the blessed worship of the Lord God. It is manifested in relations between man and God and between people. The apostle James said: “True piety is care for widows and orphans and to remain undefiled from the world” (cf. Jas. 1:27). A pious person honors God not only with prayers, prostrations, and sacred rites, but with his entire life. For example, you are recording an interview right now, and your interview should be a form of worship of the Lord God. If you do it for your own vainglory, it will be impiety, because you are reverencing an empty glory. Whatever a man lives for is what he turns out to be. Piety includes your way of life, and most importantly, a correct motivational system. Improperly motivated steps lead to improper deeds. This is very important to remember, because mistakes are often hidden in this small thing. People think that the main thing is to take action, and in the name of what—that’s not important. But everything is the opposite here. The sacrifice of an atheist is worth less in the eyes of God than the sacrifice of an Orthodox person, because you can sacrifice in the name of false ideas, become proud, and thereby destroy your soul, but an Orthodox Christian can humble himself, praise the Creator, and thereby be saved.

Anecdotes about St. Joseph The Hesychast

Omitted From the Greek, Romanian, Arabic, and Georgian Editions of My Elder Joseph the Hesychast

As explained in Part 1 of these articles, the following stories were included in the published editions of Elder Ephraim’s biography of St. Joseph only in English and Russian.    

His Simple Mother

The mother of Francis [i.e., Elder Joseph] was a simple person. One day when he was older, he took her to a movie theatre to show her a motion picture for the first time in her life. When the movie depicted a burning room, she thought it was real and starting shouting, “Fire! Fire!”

The Story Behind “My Elder Joseph the Hesychast”

by Hieromonk Ephraim, St. Nilus Skete, Alaska

Hieromonk Ephraim is a longtime disciple of Elder Ephraim of Arizona who received the elder’s blessing to live and struggle ascetically at St. Nilus Island Skete, near Kodiak, Alaska. Fr. Ephraim as offered us the fruit of his hagiographic labors on the windswept isle for our readers’ edification.

We begin today with Part 1, his introduction.    

St. Joseph the Hesychast was one of the greatest monks of the Holy Mountain in the 20th century. His life story and teachings have been translated into many languages and touched thousands of people. People have been moved especially by the stories told by his disciple, Elder Ephraim of Arizona, in the book My Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Due to the popularity of this book, I was asked to write this article, explaining the story behind it. In Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this article, I will share some unpublished anecdotes about St. Joseph.

Stefan Uros II Milutin (1282-1321)

The long reign of one of the most illustrious and powerful medieval Serbian figures - the "Holy King Uros", (Milutin by given vernacular name; pr. mee-LOO-tin) - marked the elevation of Serbia to a dominant Balkan position, and saw cultural and economic prosperity and advances along many lines.

The first 17 years or so of the new king's rule witnessed considerable international activity - through much warfare and some diplomacy - most of it south and east against the ailing Byzantine state, some against decentralized Bulgarian interests in the northeast. Much of that was brought to a close with the Serbo-Byzantine peace treaty of 1299, which recognized the new realities of Serb expansion into the mostly South Slavic ethnic space in Macedonia. The agreement was sealed by a high-level royal marriage between the king and emperor Andronikos' minor daughter Simonida (Simonis), and assured a generally cordial relationship between the two courts for the rest of Milutin's reign. Helplessly caught in the middle of court diplomacy was the unhappy young princess; her unlikely moral vindication ultimately came through her fine portrait, well preserved and juxtaposed to the much older king at Gracanica monastery: her firm forceful gaze, having mostly defied visible Ottoman attempts at vandalism and eradication, remained for generations a famous reminder and symbol - as much of defiance as the transcendental triumph of real values over time.