Worry about yourself

Abba Antony was confused as he meditated upon the depths of God’s judgments, and he asked God, “Lord, how is it that some die young and others grow old and sick? Why are there some poor and some rich? Why are there those who are bad and rich and oppress the good poor?” He heard a voice saying to him, “Antony, worry about yourself; these other matters are up to God, and it will not do you any good to know them.” (from the sayings of the Desert Fathers)

A living saint in Bulgaria

During Communism he was an atheist and a police officer. Now he is a priest who cares for orphans and single mothers. Father Ioan is a rare example of grassroots charity in his native Bulgaria.

The 65-year-old Orthodox priest runs a home providing shelter to dozens of single mothers and some 70 children. They live at Sveta Troitsa (St. Trinity), in the village of Novi han near Sofia. Had it not been for Father Ioan, many of those would lead a precarious life on the verge of society.

Some of his establishment’s residents were once homeless. Others were sent here by the social services or escaped domestic violence. Most do not like to talk about their past. The home, named “St. Nikolai,” offers them better living conditions than they have ever had, and gives them the chance of a new start.

Father Ioan admits he was an atheist until his 40th year. Until then he worked in the administration of the dreaded Guard and Security Department, a government unit in charge of top Communist officials’ security.

Ivan Ivanov (his lay name) turned to religion in the late 1970s, after suffering serious health problems. He started studying theology and was ordained in 1981, when he also received his clerical name, Ioan. A year later he was jailed for three years, and his family was evicted from the state-owned apartment they inhabited. Father Ioan was released in 1985 and moved to Novi han two years later, as the village priest.

His ambitions were bigger than preaching to the few local churchgoers. “In the name of God, I made a vow to build an orphanage and raise young children,” says Ioan. “Here, in Novi han, I found a church with a completely empty and fenceless yard and decided that here I can fulfil my vow.”

So the priest built a house in the large churchyard, and opened its doors to those who had nowhere else to go. Nowadays the home (http://www.svetinikolai.org) survives on donations and its own farm, with little support from either the Church or the Bulgarian state.

Discipline and work are among the requirements of living in “St. Nikolai.” Many of the residents participate in putting food on the table. They keep 20 cows, 60 pigs, 80 sheep and 40 goats, and produce 150 litres of milk a day. The children, some of whom come from broken families or state-run orphanages, go to the local school.

Several of the residents have married and had their children here. All call Father Ioan “Grandpa.”

The priest was celebrated as Bulgaria’s Man of the Year in 2005. His charitable activities have featured in numerous media reports. Yet Father Ioan is cold-shouldered by many locals in the Novi han village. Sheltering single mothers has proved unacceptable for the patriarchal rural population. Some of them regard “St. Nikolai” residents as “prostitutes” and shun them. Local bureaucracy has repeatedly targeted the home with inspections on hygiene and the legality of construction.

Bulgaria, a country of 7.5 million, has often been criticized for the poor state of its orphanages and social services. Of 81,000 births in the country in 2009, more than 43,000 were from extramarital relations. Many poor and single mothers find in “St. Nikolai” what they lack elsewhere – acceptance, home and proper care for themselves and their children.

Eighty percent of Bulgarians are Orthodox Christians, but few of them regularly practice their religion. The Orthodox Church, which has suffered a deep and protracted schism between the followers and opponents of its leader, Patriarch Maxim, has often been accused of obsession with its internal power struggles and abdication from its charitable role.


The monk and the Manichaean

A hermit in Egypt lived in a desert place and far away lived a Manichaean priest, at least he was one of those whom Manichaeans call priests. While the Manichaean was on his way to visit another of that erroneous sect, he was caught by nightfall in the place where this Orthodox holy man lived. He wanted to knock on his door and ask for shelter; but he was afraid to do so, for he knew that he would be recognized as a Manichaean, and thought that he would be denied hospitality. But so severe was his plight that he put that consideration aside and knocked. The hermit opened the door and knew who he was; he welcomed him joyfully, made him pray with him, gave him supper and a bed. The Manichaean lay thinking in the night and wondering, “Why was he not hostile to me? He is a true servant of God.” At daybreak he got up, and fell at his feet, saying, “After this I will be Orthodox, and I shall not leave you.” So he stayed with him. (from the sayings of the Desert Fathers)

Charlemagne and Pope Benedict XVI’s honesty

It’s funny—well, maybe “terrifying” is a better word—how much what I “know” has changed over the years. New facts overturning old facts; new layers of meaning laid over old ones; a series of trumpet blasts every now and then to break down the walls of my epistemological Jerichoes. There was a time when I thought the official Christianization of the Empire a triumph of the Gospel, yet at this point I feel as though I know too much to call it anything other than a mixed blessing. Or mixed curse. Either way, things just aren’t as clear as they used to be.

(read the rest of this excellent short post by my friend Ilyas Wan Wei Hsien at his blog Torn Notebook)

Vegetable stew during Holy Week

In Scetis there once went out an order that they should fast for a week, and then celebrate Pascha (Easter). During the week some brothers happened to come into Egypt to visit Abba Moses, and he cooked a little vegetable stew for them. The nearby hermits saw the smoke, and said to the clergy of the church, “What is that smoke? Abba Moses must be disobeying the order, and cooking in his cell.” The clergy said, “We will talk to him when he comes.” On Saturday the clergy, who knew the greatness of his way of life, said to Abba Moses in front of the whole congregation, “Abba Moses, you have broken a commandment of men: but you have kept the commandments of God valiantly.” (from the sayings of the Desert Fathers)

Orthodox hip hop

I have no idea what he’s saying, but this is awesome. In English the name of the song is “Abandoned by God.”

Renowned Rapper Believes Church and Hip-Hop Have Much In Common

Moscow, 2 June 2010, Interfax – Ideals of hip-hop culture don’t contradict the teaching of the Church, Russian rapper, composer and former participant in the Star Factory Dominic Joker believes.

“There are many things in common – in attitude to neighbors, in street postulates that instruct not to offend the sick, to help the sick,” Joker told Interfax-Religion.

According to the rapper, “Hip-hop postulates correspond to the spiritual ones” and there’s nothing contradicting the Church commandments. “There are individual representatives who are far from spiritual values, but it doesn’t cast shadow to the whole culture,” he said.

Joker also said that there are a lot of Orthodox people in hip-hop culture and even a special trend called “Orthodox rap.”

He urged young people to be kinder. “Kindness is strength, only a strong man can be kind, anger is sickness. Be kinder and you’ll save the world,” Joker said.

“After a chess tournament, all figures: the king, the queen, the bishop, the pawn – all are collected in one box. We come here and we leave this place absolutely alone, we won’t take anything with us; then does it make sense to ruin your priceless soul?” wonders the rap-musician.

(H/T: John Sanidopoulos at MYSTAGOGY)

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Abba Joseph on fasting and visitors

Some of the hermits once came to Abba Joseph in Panephysis, to ask him if they should break their fast when they received brothers as guests, to celebrate their coming. Before they asked their question, Abba Joseph said to them, “Think about what I am going to do today.” He put two seats made of reeds tied in bundles, one on his left and the other on his right, and said, “Sit down.” Then he went into his cell and put on rags; he came out, and walked past them, and then went in again and put on his ordinary clothes. The visitors were astonished, and asked him what it meant. He said to them, “Did you see what I did?” They said, “Yes.” He said, “Did the rags change me for the better?” They said, “No.” He said, “Did good clothes change me for the worse?” They said, “No.” He said, “So I am myself whether I wear good clothes or rags. I was not changed for better or worse because I changed my clothes. That is how we ought to be when we receive guests. It is written in the Holy Gospel, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21). When visitors come we should welcome them and celebrate with them. It is when we are by ourselves that we ought to be sorrowful.” (from the sayings of the Desert Fathers)