Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Saint Apostle Andrew

The Apostle of the Romanians

St. Andrew represents for many Christians one of the most important saints in the year. That happens, as an example in Romania, where in the last 20 years almost a half of the born children were baptized with the name of this saint. That happened, because of the popularizing of his cult: there is believed that the Apostle Andrew is the first one who preached the Gospel on the territories near the Black Sea. He is also considered the founder of the Church of Byzantium and is consequently the patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In this way, providentially, the two brothers Peter and Andrew are the patron Saints of the Western Catholic Church, respectively of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The life of St. Andrew

About the Saint Andrew is not very much to know from the Gospels. Being born in the eastern Galilee, at the shore of the Genezareth Sea, in the little fishermen-town of Betsaida, probably he raised into a cosmopolite society. His name is coming from Greek, νδρεία (“andreia”) meaing the virtue of the “brevity”, “manhood”, or “valour”.

From the New Testament we may know that Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter, both sons of Jonah (Mt. 16:17, Jn. 1:42). Both he and his brother Peter were fishermen, and our Lord Jesus called them to be his disciples by saying that he will make them "fishers of men" (Mt. 4, 19). The Gospel of John states some more details: Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, who adviced him to follow Jesus.(Jn. 1:35-40). In the same text it is shown that Andrew is the one who first recognized Jesus as the Messiah, introduced Him to his brother (Jn. 1:41), that’s why in the Eastern Churches he is named “Andrew the First called to the Apostolate”. Sometimes Andrew is one of the closer companionship of Jesus, though generally the small group is formed only by Peter, John and Jacob. Other things are not known about St. Andrew until the Resurrection of Our Lord and his Ascension.

Although not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, the missionary journeys of the Apostle Andrew are known for the Christian believers from several accounts of the Church Fathers. Eusebius of Caesarea, taking a tradition from Origenes (Church History III, 1), mentioned Scythia as the main place of his mission, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus (in the 33th Homily) mentions the land of Epirus. St. Jerome in his Epistle to Marcel mentions Achaia, and Theodoret of Cyrus (in the commentary on Psalm 116) reminds generally Greece. In addition, Nikephoros (in his Ecclesiastical History II, 39), based on an earlier work (which he mentions without naming it punctually), says that the Saint preached in Cappadocia, Galatia and Bithynia, then in the wilderness of Scythians, at that time inhabited by cannibals and later in Byzantium, where he ordained Stachys as the first bishop, then continued preaching in Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly and finally in, Achaia.

According to the tradition, St. Andrew's martyrdom took place during the reign of Nero, on 30th November in the year 60, and he is celebrated on this day both in the East and the West.

The Legend Aurea, a work compiled by the Bishop James of Voragine of Genoa (XIIIth century), mentions that St. Andrew was nailed to a cross shaped in X-form (also called “Crux decussate” or “saltyra”), at the order of Aegeas, the governor of Patras, because he has refused to sacrifice to the gods. In the history, St. Andrew explains in details the meaning of the “foolish” sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

While being crucified, the saint preached the Gospel to the people who surrounded him, and after two days it came down from Heaven a great light, so nobody could see what happened with him for a half an hour. Together with this light, the soul of St. Andrew ascended to the Heaven. After his martyrical death, Maximilla, Aegeas’ wife, who was already Christian, took the Apostle’s body and buried him with honor. According to the legend, the tomb of St. Andrew emanated manna and nice smelling myrrh. When from the grave came only a few manna, the land gave less crop, and when manna came in abundance, the earth gave also more crop to the landworkers.

The History of the Relics

The Relics of the First-Called among the Apostles remained in Patras until 357, when Emperor Constantius II, son of Constantine the Great, took and placed them in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. They were kept whole until around 850, when the Byzantine Emperor Basil I the Macedonian at the prayers of the peoples from Patras sent them a holy reliquary with the head of the saint.

In 1453 Thomas Palaeologus, Ruler of Morea (Peloponesus) and brother of the last Byzantine emperor (Constantine IX), refuged to Rome because of the Turkish danger, and took the holy relics from Patras (the head, a finger, and part of the cross), giving them as gift to the Pope Pius II, in the memory of the fact that Peter and Andrew were brothers. They were kept in a reliquary at Pienza, and later, in the dome of San Pietro. Pope Pius II received them, promising to send them back to Greece, where the country will be released by the Turks.

Another Italian tradition claims that immediately after the Fourth Crusade, in 1208, the Cardinal Peter of Capua took the remnant holy relics from Constantionople and brought them in Amalfi, near Naples, some part of them being kept until today in the dome of San Andrea. From here, Pope Pius II would have been taken them, because of the Turkish danger in 1460, and gave them to the St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, leaving only a few particles in Amalfi. Today in Amalfi is stored also the sarcophagus in which were relics of the saint.

In 1964 Pope Paul VI decided, during the third session of the Second Vatican Council, to offer back as gift the head of the Saint, to the Holy Church of Patras, as a sign of brotherly love. The Head of the Saint is here since September 26, 1964. A small part of the relics remained also in the cathedral of San Pietro.

A Western tradition claims that Bishop Acca of Hexam brought in the 8th century a piece of the relics of St. Andrew in Scotland, and soon Andrew was considered the patron saint of this country. The relics were preserved in the cathedral from St. Andrews until the Reformation, when once the destruction of the cathedral, they were lost. In 1879 and 1969 it have been brought in Scotland some small relics from Amalfi, which are kept in the Cathedral St. Mary in Edinburgh.

Other relics of Saint

St. Andrew’s apostolic mission continues today through His relics, which are venerated by the Christians in various parts of the world.

The Relics from Patras were brought in Romania twice, in 1996 in Iasi and Galati, and in 2011 in Bucharest and Sibiu, and particles these relics were donated to the cathedrals of Galati and Constanta. In the East, particles of the relics are kept also in the Russian skete of St. Andrew from Mount Athos, in the Russian Cathedral in Chelyabinsk (1884), the church of Gabrovo (Bulgaria), St. Andrew Church in Mesa Geitonia (Cyprus), Tbilisi (Georgia), and in the Orthodox cathedral in Astana (Kazakhstan).

In the West, other reliquaries with the relics of the saint are found in Trier (Germany), in the Monastery of Santa Chiara in Naples, the church of Casino di Cicco Sant'Apollinare (between Rome and Naples), the churches of St. Andrew in Warsaw and Szaflary (near Krakow), the church of Saint Lupicin (in the Jura Mountains, France), the church of San Pedro de la Rua (Estella, Basque Country), in Mehrba (Malta) and, since 2006 also in the Catholic Cathedral from Hong Kong. A small particle there is found in the Romanian church in Vienna.

Patron Saint in many countries

St. Andrew is the patron of Scotland (Scottish flag is the cross of St Andrew), of Spain, Sicily, Greece, Russia, Ukraine and Romania. He is also the patron of the cities: Naples, Ravenna, Brescia, Amalfi, Mantua, Bordeaux, Bruges, Patras and Galati, my hometown.

Popular Traditions of St. Andrew

In the Eastern Europe is the Night before the Holiday of St Andrew (29/30 November), especially in the villages, one of the most important in the year. St Andrew was believed to be the protector against the evil spirits who are coming together with the winter time.. In some villages the peoples practice some rituals similar to the ones of the Western Halloween. For instance, today in Galati, a Romanian city protected by St. Andrew, there is organized a carnival which reminds of the old awful masks used, in order to scare the ghosts. Also there is still practiced the custom of hanging garlic near the doors and windows and to make pumpkin lanterns and pumpkin cakes in this day, because there is believed that, in this night, the ghosts and the wolves are haunting the streets. Also the landworkers put basil (a sacred plant) and holy water in the drinking water of the cattle, in order to protect them by the attacks of the wolves. They also sing in this evening some special carols, similar to the Christmas carols.

The Night of St. Andrew is also a “prognosis” for the whole year. Usually, in this day there are put in the attic 12 healthy onions, which are left there until the Christmas Eve, when they are checked. Each onion is assigned the name of a month, and the onions that have been damaged indicate rainy months, during those that have sprouted - the months of a favorable harvest. A similar prediction, about the fate of the harvest is done using wheat berries. Also if the night is clear and warm, it is believed that the winter won’t be cold. If it's cold and snow, it is believed that these are the beginnings of a harsh winter.

The old Romanian name for December is “Andrea”, by the belief that the Saint will protect the people until the smallest day in the year.

All those pagan customs show the importance of this Saint in the Calendar and, before being interpreted as some barbaric customs, they show that the simple believers hoped to be protected by the Saint against the bad things.

The Hymn (Troparion) of St. Andrew:

“As the first-called among the Apostles and brother of their leader, O Andrew, intercede with the Master of all to grant peace to the world, and to our souls great mercy.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

Saint Paisie Velichkovski from the Monastery of Neamţ

- The Father of the Romanian "Filocalia" -

Saint Paisie from the Monastery of Neamţ (today in northwestern Romania) is a saint revendicated equally by the Slavic and the Romanian Orthodoxy, for his contribution to the “Orthodox Renaissance”, in the late 18th century. His name is transliterated in Romanian as Paisie Velicicovschi, and in Ukrainian as Паїсій Величковський.

The revendication of a saint is not a priviledge, but an inheritance of a spirituality which both Romania and Ukraine (or maybe all the Slavic-speaking countries) have it fully until today.

The first years

Saint Paisius, as a laymen named Peter, was born in born in Poltava, Ukraine on 21 December 1722, in a priestly family, being the eleventh child of twelve. His father, John, was the dean-priester in the diocese, and his mother, Irene, was a very pious Christian woman.

His father died very early and the whole education given by his mother was crowned in 1735, when the child was sent to learn at the Theological Academy of Kiev, founded by the Bishop Peter Movilă, an important orthodox bishop in the late Middle Ages, the author of the Orthodox Confession of Faith from 1645. After four years of study, the young Peter left the school and entered in the community of the Medvedeski Monastery, being 19 years old. Here he was tonsured as rasofor (bearer of “rasa”, a monastic cloth: practically a novice), receiving the name of Platon. After a short stay in the monastery Pecerska, he came in Wallachia in 1745, at the skete Traisteni, near Ramnicu Sarat and then to Dălhăuţi Monastery (southern Moldova).

The Monastic life and the work of translation

In the summer of 1746 he went to Mount Athos, where he tried the life as a hermit, for 4 years. Only after that hewas tonsured as monk, in 1750, having as “godfather” his confessor, a Moldavian monk, St. Basil of Poiana Marului, taking then the name of Paisie (Paisius). Shortly after he was ordained as hieromonk (priester-monk), and he founded the monastic community of the Holy Prophet Elias. He wes gathering around him about 65 Romanian monks, and by summer 1763, he left Mt. Athos, because of the financial claimings of the Turks. So, Paisius and his community came back in Moldova and all established themselves at the monastery of Dragomirna, near the old capital, Suceava.

The community of Paisius at Dragmirna has grown there to 350 monks. His success consisted in the popularization of some important mystical works, by translating them in the local languages. Paisius himself and some disciples translated for the first time the “Philokalia” (“the love for beauty”), a kind of manual of spirituality of the Eastern Churches, from old Greek to Romanian and Slavonic. A manuscript of this translation is kept until today at Dragomirna, consisting in 626 pages of text.

St. Paisius gave a special attention to the group of translators. After Philokalia, some Moldavian, Wallachian and Transylvanian monks, but also Ukrainian or Russian translated many other texts of the Greek Fathers into Romanian and Slavonic, so that Neamt Monastery became practically a patristic academy and a spiritual center, unprecedented in other Orthodox countries in that time. That was the “Orthodox Renaissance”.

The community rules at the Neamt Monastery: The Orthodox “Renaissance”

In 1775, the Northern part of Moldavia (Bukovina) was occupied by the Austrian Empire, and St. Paisius moveed with 200 of his monks at Secu Monastery, which remained in Moldavia, with the consent of Metropolitan Gavriil Ghica Callimachi and Prince Gregory. At Secu, he made the same thing: combined the strong ascetic Athonite life with the work of translating texts into vernacular languages. On August 1779 the new prince of Moldova decided to give to Paisius also the statute of stareţ (abbot) of the biggest Moldavian monastery at that time, namely Neamţ, so that the saint became a very important spiritual leader on two of the biggest monastic communities here.

In the next fifteen years, St. Paisius preserved the rules of Mount Athos’s monastic life, both in terms of the order of divine services, and in the ascetical individual life of the brothers. Until his period, not all the monks were always at the services, but he imposed the participation to the church services as obligatory for all the brothers, except for the sick or those sent to very important works.

A very important “reform” in the monastical life was the implementation of the “hesychast” prayer, well-known as the “Heart’s prayer”, which was a short incantation repeated unceasantly (as much as possible). The words of this prayer were: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy of me, the sinner” and is supposed to be used for the first time at the Mount Athos in the period of St. Gregory Palamas (14th century), but new researches demonstrated the use of it in the 5th century in the Desert of Egypt (see Antoine Guillaumont – The origins of the monastical life).

The Sacrament of the Confession repeated frequently among the brothers, up to every three days, conducted to the flourishing of the spiritual life of the community. In order to be able to do this, St. Paisius proceeded to the ordination of 24 priests, who confessed and spiritually guided the entire community. The confessors had also the role of overseeing the administration of the two monasteries.

Another Monasteries

Near the Monasteries of Neamt and Secu, St. Paisius founded several hermitages for the nuns around the Mount Ceahlău, where he appointed as confessor St. Joseph them Hermit (1828), one of his disciples from Neamt. Another disciple or holy life was St. Irinarch Rosetti (1859), who founded the monastery of Horaita in Moldova and of the Mount Tabor church, in the Holy Land. There is to be mentioned as apprentice also St. Gheorghe from Cernica and Metropolitan St. Gregory the Teacher (Dascălul) from Wallachia, who also conducted a work of translating books and renewing the monastic life.

The holiness of his life, made Paisius well known in the whole Moldova, both in the nobiliar circles, but also for the simple Christians, up to northen Russia. A Russian Metropolitan named Ambrose, being in Moldova, made him “archimandrite” (the highest monastic distinction in the Eastern Churches). His influence was great on many monasteries and hermitages especially in Moldova (monasteries of Dragomirna, Secu, Neamt, Agapia, Văratec, Bisericani, Rasca, Vovidenia, Pocrov, Tarcău) and Wallachia (Cernica, Căldăruşani).

Paisius as a Saint

In autumn 1794 Paisius fell ill and went to the Lord on November 15, at the age of 72 years. At the moment of his death, his congregation of two monasteries numbered more than 1,000 monks of different nationality (Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, Bulgarian). He was buried in the crypt of the big church, built by the Voivod Saint Stefan the Great. Being honored as a saint yet in his life, his disciples have committed memorial service, appointed him as the annual feast day November 15. In the last decades of the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century, his Romanian disciples have spread the hesychasm in the Romanian lands and the Slavic ones, in more than 100 monasteries in Russia and Ukraine.

In 1988, the Holy Synod of Russian Orthodox Church canonized St. Paisius, and the same made in 1992, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which put his commemoration, as St. Paisius from Neamt, on November 15. His tomb at the Neamt monastery is until today an important place for pilgrimage.

Hymn of the Saint (Troparion):

Defender of the true faith and the praise the monks, o, Pious Father Paisie, you loved Christ from your childhood, and as another Abraham you forsaken your country, leaving an ascetic life at the Mount Athos. And gathering many disciples, you have you the blessed country of Moldova, and you have made from Neamt Monastery a heaven and earth. For these, you are now together with the angels, not ceasing to pray to God for our souls”.