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We wrote previously about the Synaxis of the Primates , at which time the Church was setting the parameters for the discussions to be held between the different Orthodox Patriarchates in Crete this month.

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Since then, there has been significant difficulty in reaching agreement on many issues, including the texts of documents to be released representing the unanimous view of the Heirarchs on many doctrinal issues.

Recently, the Church of Bulgaria requested a delay in the date of the Council until its concerns on several issues could be addressed, including seating at the council, the role of observers (including Latins and Protestants) and doctrinal issues. Unfortunately this was not resolved and the Bulgarian Church has withdrawn from the Council.

The Serbian Church likewise has withdrawn from the Council, citing ” deteriorating relations between us and the Patriarchate of Romania, which are now hard to overcome, due to the anti-canonical incursion of the latter into Eastern Serbia and the founding of a parallel diocese there, which will lead to severing of liturgical and canonical communion of the two neighbouring Churches if the behavior described above is not terminated”.

The Patriarchate of Antioch has an ongoing jurisdictional dispute with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the Persian Gulf, which is unfortunate. There are reports of the Patriarchate of Antioch withdrawing from the Pan-Orthodox Council but the Patriarchate has yet to release a press release to that effect.

Late in May, the Georgian Church released the discussions of its Holy Synod regarding doctrinal concerns they had with the documents released by the Pan-Orthodox Council secretariat. An English translation can be seen here .

Without going into great detail, the Georgian Church’s position on some issues such as mixed-marriages, relations with the Heterodox, and homosexuality is somewhat more conservative than that espoused in the Council’s documents.

On June 13, Patriarch Ilia II sent a letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, advising that the Georgian Church would not be participating in the Pan-Orthodox Council. The minutes of the Georgian Synod meeting are presented here in Greek.

Representative of the Holy Synod of the Georgian Church, Archbishop Andrew of Gori and Ateni, reportedly was quoted as saying;

“The goal of the convocation of the future Council is to demonstrate Orthodox unity before the world community and to express the common position of the Orthodox Church on the burning problems of today”. However, this goal cannot be achieved for several reasons: the Eucharistic communion between the Churches of Antioch and Jerusalem has not been restored; in addition to the Church of Antioch, the Churches of Bulgaria and Serbia refused to participate in the Council; several documents including “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian World” contain dogmatic, canonical and terminological inaccuracies and require a serious review; the Church of Antioch did not sign the 2016 Resolution of the Primates of Churches whereby it was decided to convene a Pan-Orthodox Council and she did not sign the Council’s Working Procedure either due to the fact that this document cannot be considered approved; the established Secretariat of the Council has proved to be non-functional since it has not been given the right to make decisions, etc.

After that a discussion took place. As is noted in the official report, “In spite of different opinions, the basic position was manifested in that it is possible to solve the existing problems through active work. Therefore, we together with other Churches also ask to postpone the Council until the general unity is achieved”.

It is to be hoped that all these issues may be resolved promptly and that the long-awaited Great Council of all Patriarchates of the Church may occur soon.

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Last Sunday marked the last day of meat consumption for Orthodox Christians until Pascha, the “Meatfare Sunday”, also known as the Sunday of the Final Judgement. So, we have a week with modest alcohol intake and no meat until Cheesefare Sunday this weekend, after which we drop dairy products and alcohol from our diet.

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Metropolitan Nektarios of Hong Kong has produced a series of presentations on Lenten themes that are concise and authoritative; his first is presented here, discussing the first day of Lent, Clean Monday, and the fasting regime that follows under the direction of a spiritual father.

 

 

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Happy Birthday, Your Holiness! The article from the Georgian government’s media outlet Agenda.ge is worth reading in its entirety, as it provides a concise summary of Patriarch Ilia’s career, the state of the Church in the Soviet era and its current state.

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Long regarded as the most trusted and popular identity in the country, he is particularly respected for his activities in the last decades of the Soviet era. Having been appointed as Patriarch in 1977 with KGB acquiescence, who mistakenly assumed he would be a safe pair of hands to protect USSR imperial interests, he ascertained that Georgian public sentiment was overwhelmingly in favour of a sovereign Georgian state independent of the USSR, and threw his support behind this cause. His address to the crowd in front of Georgia’s parliament on April 9, 1989 , immediately prior to the massacre of civilians by Soviet troops armed with shovels, is very well known here:

The tenfold increase in operating churches and monasteries, fifteen-fold increase in serving clergy, temples overflowing with parishioners every weekend, and widespread attraction of Church life for Georgia’s youth are remarkable achievements under Patriarch Ilia’s stewardship of the Church in Georgia. May God grant him many years to come.

Today the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II turned 83. He has lead the spiritual life of the Orthodox Georgian parish for 38 years……

……. The  Prime Minister of Georgia, the  President and the United States’ Ambassador to Georgia released special congratulations today for Ilia II…..

The Patriarch had to take the responsibility of being a Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia in a very hard period, when Christianity was suffering significant suppression from the Soviet Union time ideology. 

Ilia II was born as Irakli Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili in Vladikavkaz, currently Russia’s North Ossetia.

…..He is a descendant of the influential eastern Georgian mountainous clan with family ties with the former royal dynasty  of Georgia – Bagrationi.

In 1967 he was consecrated as the bishop of Tskhumi and Abkhazeti in west, currently occupied region, and elevated to the rank of metropolitan in 1969.

 After the death of the Patriarch David V, he was elected the new Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia on December 25, 1977. 

In the new position Ilia II initiated a range of reforms, enabling the Georgian Orthodox Church to largely regain its former influence and prestige by the late 1980s. 

In 1988 there were only 180 priests, 40 monks, and 15 nuns for the faithful, who were variously estimated as being from one to three million.

 There were 200 churches, one seminary, three convents, and four monasteries. During the last years of the Soviet Union, Ilia II was actively involved in Georgia’s social life…..

….Currently there are about 2,000 acting churches and monasteries in Georgia and up to 3,000 spirituals (parish clergy and monastics). 

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One of the great Old Testament prophets, Jerremiah was noted for his repeated entreaties for the Jewish people in the Kingdom of Judah to lead simple and pure lives, and he prophesied Judah’s conquest, bondage and exile to Babylon as punishment for their corruption and disobedience. The deportations occurred in three waves, in 597 BC, 587 BC and 582 BC.

Prior to Judah’s confrontation with Babylon, Judah was a client state of the Assyrian Empire, one explanation as to why Aramaic was the lingua franca of Palestine at the time of Christ.

Ningyou - Own work data from Based on a map in 'Atlas of the Bible Lands', C S Hammond & Co (1959), ISBN 9780843709414.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire (from Wikimedia)

The Assyrians had involved themselves in the wars between the two Jewish kingdoms of Judah and Israel, having invaded Israel on Judah’s behalf and deported many Jews from Israel to other parts of the Assyrian Empire.

Deportation of Israelites by the Assyrian Empire Joelholdsworth – Own work

When the Babylonians overthrew their Assyrian overlords, the Egyptian kingdom sided with the Assyrians and sought to fight the Babylonians in Syria. This required a large Egyptian army to pass through Judah, but the Jewish King Josiah refused permission for the Pharoah, ostensibly his ally, to pass through Judah, citing the Torah’s prohibition on armed foreigners passing through Jewish lands. This resulted in a large battle at Megiddo (“Armageddon”) at which King Josiah was mortally wounded by the Egyptians, and he was mourned by the Prophet Jeremiah and the people of Judah. Judah fell under Egyptian influence to a large extent, culminating in a rebellion against Babylon in 596 that resulted in a siege and defeat in Jerusalem, and the pillaging of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar II as well as the exile to Babylon of the Prophet Ezekiel. A subsequent Jewish revolt against the Babylonians in 587 resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the levelling of the First Temple.

James Tissot, “The Flight of the Prisoners”

The Jewish people’s exile in what is now Iraq lasted for many decades until the Babylonians were in turn conquered by the Persians, and the enlightened Persian emperor Cyrus the Great permitted the Jewish exiles in Babylon, and elsewhere in his empire,  to return to Judah in 539 BC. Many of Georgia’s Jewish community can trace their ancestry to Jews who settled in the Caucasus during the reign of Cyrus, more than 2500 years ago.

The Holy Prophet Jeremiah, one of the four great Old Testament prophets, was son of the priest Helkiah from the city of Anathoth near Jerusalem, and he lived 600 years before the Birth of Christ, under the Israelite king Josiah and four of his successors. He was called to prophetic service in his 15th year of life, when the Lord revealed to him, that even before his birth the Lord had assigned him to be a prophet. Jeremiah refused, pointing to his own youthfulness and lack of skill at speaking, but the Lord promised to be always with him and to watch over him. He touched the mouth of the chosen one and said: “Lo I do put Mine words into thy mouth, I do entrust unto thee from this day the fate of nations and kingdoms. By thine prophetic word wilt they fall and rise up” (Jer. 1: 9-10). And from that time Jeremiah prophesied for twenty-three years, denouncing the Jews for abandoning the True God and worshipping idols, predicting for them woes and devastating wars. He stood by the gates of the city, and at the entrance to the Temple, everywhere where the people gathered, and he exhorted them with imprecations and often with tears. But the people answered him with mockery and abuse, and they even tried to kill him.

Depicting the slavery to the king of Babylon impending for the Jews, Jeremiah at the command of God put on his own neck at first a wooden, and then an iron yoke, and thus he went about among the people. Enraged at the dire predictions of the prophet, the Jewish elders threw the Prophet Jeremiah into an imprisoning pit, filled with horrid slimy creatures, where he all but died. Through the intercession of the God-fearing royal-official Habdemelek, the prophet was pulled out of the pit but he did not cease with the prophecies, and for this he was carted off to prison. Under the Jewish king Zedekiah his prophesy was fulfilled: Nebuchadnezzar came, made slaughter of the nation, carried off a remnant into captivity, and Jerusalem was pillaged and destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar released the prophet from prison and permitted him to live where he wanted. The prophet remained at the ruins of Jerusalem and bewailed the misfortune of his fatherland. According to tradition, the Prophet Jeremiah took the Ark of the Covenant with the Law‑Tablets and hid it in one of the caves of Mount Nabath (Nebo), such that the Jews were no more able to find it (2 Mac. 2). Afterwards a new Ark of the Covenant was fashioned, but it lacked in the glory of the first.

Among the Jews remaining in their fatherland there soon arose internecine clashes: the viceroy of Nebuchadnezzar, Hodoliah, was murdered, and the Jews, fearing the wrath of Babylon, decided to flee into Egypt. The Prophet Jeremiah disagreed with their intention, predicting that the punishment which they feared, would befall them in Egypt. But the Jews would not hearken to the prophet, and taking him by force with them, they went into Egypt and settled in the city of Tathnis. And there the prophet lived for four years and was respected by the Egyptians, since with his prayer he killed crocodiles and other nasty creatures infesting these parts. But when he began to prophesy, that the king of Babylon would invade the land of Egypt and annihilate the Jews settled in it, the Jews then murdered the Prophet Jeremiah. In that very same year the prophesy of the saint was fulfilled. There exists a tradition, that 250 years later Alexander the Great of Macedonia transported the relics of the holy Prophet Jeremiah to Alexandria.

The Prophet Jeremiah wrote his Book of “Prophesies” (“Jeremiah”), and also the Book of “Lamentations”, – about the Desolation of Jerusalem and the Exile. The times in which he lived and prophesied are spoken of in the 4th (2nd) Book of Kings (Ch. 23-25) and in the 2nd Book of Chronicles (36: 12) and in 2 Maccabbees (Ch. 2).

In the Gospel of Matthew it points out, that the betrayal of Judas was foretold by the Prophet Jeremiah: “And they took thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him on Whom the sons of Israel had set a price, and they gave them over for the potter’s field, as did say the Lord unto me” (Mt. 27: 9-10).

From “Orthodox Liturgical Calendar of The St. John of Kronstadt Press

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Today we commemorate many of the victims of Tamerlane‘s rampage through the Caucasus. The long-term effects of his invasions, of which there were eight, were that Georgia’s economy was devastated, its political structures splintered, and it never recovered the glories of its Golden Age, as a united country covering much of the South Caucasus. At its peak, Georgia occupied much of present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and parts of today’s northeastern Turkey.

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A more comprehensive history of Timur’s invasions of Georgia can be read here. The shattered Georgian kingdom eventually fragmented into the three kingdoms of Imereti, Kartli and Kakheti, and the principalities of Samegrelo, Guria, Svaneti, Abkhazia and Samtskhe, until their eventual incorporation into the Russian Empire.

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In the 14th century, during the reign of King Bagrat V (1360–1394), Timur (Tamerlane) invaded Georgia seven times. His troops inflicted irreparable damage on the country, seizing centuries-old treasures and razing ancient churches and monasteries.

Timur’s armies ravaged Kartli, then took the king, queen, and the entire royal court captive and sent them to Karabakh (in present-day Azerbaijan). Later Timur attempted to entice King Bagrat to renounce the Christian Faith in exchange for permission to return to the throne and for the release of the other Georgian prisoners.

For some time Timur was unable to subjugate King Bagrat, but in the end, being powerless and isolated from his kinsmen, the king began to falter. He devised a sly scheme: to confess Islam before the enemy, but to remain a Christian at heart. Satisfied with King Bagrat’s decision to “convert to Islam,” Timur permitted the king to return to the throne of Kartli. At the request of King Bagrat, Timur sent twelve thousand troops with him to complete Georgia’s forcible conversion to Islam.

The Holy Martyrs of the Kvabtakhevi Monastery

When they were approaching the village of Khunani in southeastern Georgia, Bagrat secretly informed his son Giorgi of everything that had happened and called upon him and his army to massacre the invaders.

The news of Bagrat’s betrayal and the ruin of his army infuriated Timur, and he called for immediate revenge. At their leader’s command, his followers destroyed everything in their path, set fire to cities and villages, devastated churches, and thus forced their way through to Kvabtakhevi Monastery.

Monastics and laymen alike were gathered in Kvabtakhevi when the enemy came thundering in. Having forced open the gate, the attackers burst into the monastery, then plundered and seized all its treasures. They captured the young and strong, carrying them away.

The old and infirm were put to the sword. As the greatest humiliation, they mocked the clergy and monastics by strapping them with sleigh bells and jumping and dancing around them.

Already drunk on the blood they had shed, the barbarians posed an ultimatum to those who remained: to renounce Christ and live or to be driven into the church and burned alive.

Faced with these terms, the faithful cried out: “Go ahead and burn our flesh—in the Heavenly Kingdom our souls will burn with a divine flame more radiant than the sun!” And in their exceeding humility, the martyrs requested that their martyrdom not be put on display: “We ask only that you not commit this sin before the eyes of men and angels. The Lord alone knows the sincerity of our will and comforts us in our righteous afflictions!”

Having been driven like beasts into the church, the martyrs raised up a final prayer to God: “In the multitude of Thy mercy shall I go into Thy house; I shall worship toward Thy holy temple in fear of Thee. O Lord, guide me in the way of Thy righteousness; because of mine enemies, make straight my way before Thee (Ps. 5:6–7) that with a pure mind I may glorify Thee forever….”

The executioners hauled in more and more wood, until the flames enveloping the church blazed as high as the heavens and the echo of crackling timber resounded through the mountains. Ensnared in a ring of fire, the blissful martyrs chanted psalms as they gave up their spirits to the Lord.

The massacre at Kvabtakhevi took place in 1386. The imprints of the martyrs’ charred bodies remain on the floor of the church to this day.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints” by Archpriest Zacharaiah Machitadze, Saint Hermans’ Press

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Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, previously discussed here, when the Ghvtismshobeli was addressed by the angel Gabriel and told of her destiny as the Mother of God.

This is one of my favourite hymns for this feast, although it is not Georgian. Called “The Pre-Eternal Council” or “Sovet Prevechny”, it was written by Russian composer Pavel Chesnokov.

Gabriel stood before thee, O Maiden,
Revealing the pre-eternal counsel,
Saluting thee and exclaiming:
“Rejoice, O earth unsown!
Rejoice, O bush unburnt!
Rejoice, O depth hard to fathom!
Rejoice, O bridge leading to the heavens
and lofty ladder, which Jacob beheld!
Rejoice, O divine jar of Manna!
Rejoice, annulment of the curse!
Rejoice, restoration of Adam:
the Lord is with thee!

Sovet prevechnyi otkryvaya Tebe Otrokovice,

Gavriil predsta,

Tebe lobzaya i veshaya:

“Raduisya, zemle nenaseyannaya:

Raduisya, kupino neopalimaya:

Raduisya, glubino neudobozrimaya:

Raduisya, moste k Nebesem privodyai,

i lestvice vysokaya, yuzhe Iakov vide:

Raduisya, Bozhestvennaya stamno manny:

Raduisya, razreshenie klyatvy:

Raduisya, Adamovo vozzvanie,

s Toboyu Gospod’ “

Pavel Chesnokov’s  biography by Robert Cummings states;

Pavel Chesnokov was arguably the foremost Russian composer of sacred choral works during his time. He wrote around 500 choral works, about 400 of them sacred. Chesnokov was a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church and was inspired to write most of his works for worship in that faith. His best-known composition, one of the few works he is remembered for today, is Salvation is Created, a Communion hymn based on a Ukrainian chant melody. During the Soviet era, Chesnokov was better known as a choral conductor than composer. Indeed, he was praised, even by the Soviets, for his skills in choral conducting, though they remained hostile to his sacred music throughout his lifetime…….. 

…..Pavel Chesnokov was born into a musical family on October 12, 1877. His education was extensive: his first advanced studies were at the Moscow School of Church Music (he graduated in 1895); he next worked privately with composer Sergey Tanayev and later studied at the Moscow Conservatory (graduating in 1917), where his list of teachers included Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. In the end, Chesnokov would go down as one of the most highly trained musicians in Russia, having spent years studying solfège, composition, piano, and violin.

But Chesnokov was not just a student during these years: he taught choral conducting in Moscow, served as choirmaster or conductor at several prominent schools and choirs (most notably the Russian Choral Society Choir), and most importantly, composed a spate of sacred choral works, including his most popular, Salvation is Created (1912). After the Bolshevik Revolution, Chesnokov was forced to abandon composition of sacred music, owing to sanction against such activity by the anti-religious Soviets. He thus embarked on composition in the secular choral realm.

From 1920, Chesnokov headed a choral conducting program at the Moscow Conservatory. He also remained busy, regularly conducting the choirs of the Bolshoi Theater and Moscow Academy. In addition, Chesnokov became the choirmaster at Christ the Savior Cathedral. In 1933, however, on orders from Stalin, the cathedral was demolished to make way for construction of a skyscraper that would never be built. Chesnokov became so distraught over the cathedral’s destruction that he stopped composing altogether. He continued teaching and conducting various choirs in Moscow until his death there on March 14, 1944.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow was reconstructed in the 1990’s. The history of the demolition is heartbreaking, if not a little ridicuous;

“Under the state atheism espoused by the USSR, many “church institution[s] at [the] local, diocesan or national level were systematically destroyed” in the 1921-1928 antireligious campaign. As a result, after the Revolution and, more specifically, the death of Vladimir Lenin, the prominent site of the cathedral was chosen by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as the site for a monument to socialism known as the Palace of the Soviets. This monument was to rise in modernistic, buttressed tiers to support a gigantic statue of Lenin perched on top of a dome with his arm raised in the air.

The economic development in Russia during the 1930s required more funds than the government had at the time. On 24 February 1930, the economic department of the OGPU sent a letter to the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee asking to remove the golden domes of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. The letter noted that the dome of the church contained over 20 tons of gold of “excellent quality”, and that the cathedral represented an “unnecessary luxury for the Soviet Union, and the withdrawal of the gold would make a great contribution to the industrialization of the country.” The People’s Commissariat of Finance did not object to this proposal.[5]

On 5 December 1931, by order of Stalin’s minister Kaganovich, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was dynamited and reduced to rubble. It took more than a year to clear the debris from the site. Some of the marble from the walls and marble benches from the cathedral were used in nearby Moscow Metro stations. The original marble high reliefs were preserved and are now on display at the Donskoy Monastery. For a long time, these were the only reminders of the largest Orthodox church ever built.

The construction of the Palace of Soviets was interrupted owing to a lack of funds, problems with flooding from the nearby Moskva River, and the outbreak of war. The flooded foundation hole remained on the site until, under Nikita Khrushchev, it was transformed into the world’s largest open air swimming pool, named Moskva Pool.”

From Wikipedia

For those with Georgian language competence, this short documentary from the Georgian Patriarchate’s Ertsulovneba TV Station examines the Annunciation and contains many traditional Georgian hymns for this feast.

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University of Reading scholars in the Arab village of Nazareth in Israel have discovered the remains of an Eastern Orthodox church, encompassing a 1st Century AD Jewish home. Cross-referencing this with 7th century travellers accounts, it is believed that this church is the Church of the Nutrition, built during the period of the Eastern Roman Empire over the site traditionally believed to have been the dwelling of Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.

The video below explains the findings in more detail. While the veracity of Jesus’ residence in this home can not be proven, it is obvious that Christians in Nazareth in the early days of Christianity believed it to be the case and convinced the Church hierarchy of this.

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