“In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give.”
the four loaves
One thing that touched me very deeply many years ago when I met the sisters at our local monastery is their conscious choice of words. Whenever the Abbess would answer the phone she would say “evlogiete” which is a way of saying hello in the form of “blessings”. Other times she would answer the phone with “amen” as her greeting. To say amen is to say so be it. In other words I am present.
Also, whenever we visit and ask “how are you” the sisters reply is never “I’m fine” or “good” but rather “thank God“.
Whether I am fine or good or having a terrible day, “thank God” Who is the very source of my breath and my life.
This simple choice of words speaks not only to a beautiful component of the Greek language which over 2000 years has grown around Christ and the Orthodox Faith but also of kindness, hospitality and their monastic tradition.
It is the sisters way of elevating and “offering” their daily words and disposition to the Lord.
Like many things which reorient the heart, is a little way, and it is also a good way. It is a way of making room for God. It is eukharistia.
It sets a good sound to interactions, sanctifies words and creates spaciousness in the conversation.
It is a choice and a joy and one that by knowing them I have come to love.
Yesterday Orthodox Christians celebrated the Elevation of the Life Giving Cross. When commemorating the Life Giving Cross, we are also drawn to Saint Helen, a holy woman of Christ and the mother of Constantine the Great.
There is a rather unknown story about her, that maybe even most Orthodox Christians do not know, which is that most of her relics rest in Paris, in a cave beneath the altar of the Church of Saint Leu – Saint Gilles – an unknown Church on one of the worst streets in Paris.
I have always loved Paris. My husband travels there every year and we have often accompanied him. After years of having seen all the major tourist sites we began to seek out Orthodoxy in France – greatly encouraged by Saint John Maximovitch.
It turns out that Saint Helen’s first resting place was Rome and the translation of her relics to Paris is a remarkable story and speaks to a depth of Faith which allows for the Grace of God working in our lives – just as that depth of Faith and spiritual vision led Saint Helen, a woman with the faith of a child, to dig beneath sweet holy Basil to unearth the true Cross.
The story of her translation to Paris is that it was medieval times – during the 9th century – and a simple holy monk from France was in Rome. He was granted a revelation to take the relics of Saint Helen to his monastery. He was a humble man and he followed what God spoke to him.
This was not a planned informed ceremonial transfer. He just quietly took her relics – a.k.a. he swiped them. As you can imagine, when he brought her relics to his monastery of Hautvelliers he was not met with cheers but with surprise and disbelief. This is recorded in the chronicles of the monastery.
What the Abbot wanted to know first is whether this was fraudulent and second if the relics had actually been stolen, because if misappropriated relics were now in his monastery, his relationship with Rome would need some repair.
Word was sent to the Pope and indeed Saint Helen had been reported missing, not surprisingly from the time the monk claimed to have lifted them.
But what is striking of the story is that the Pope was a holy monk of Christ with a depth and vision of Faith. When he learned of the revelation and the miracles which dovetail Saint Helen’s journey to France, he stopped and he prayed.
Ultimately, instead of requesting their return to Rome he allowed for the will of God and Saint Helen.
He understood that in the history of salvation and of the Church, Saints have often chosen their own resting place. He was willing to allow for the Providence of God.
Similarly, the monastery Abbot was also a man of God and a righteous man. He tested the monk to be sure they had not been deceived. And so it is also recorded in the monastery chronicles that the monk underwent a test with a cauldron of boiling water. The humble monk willingly entered the boiling water. The Abbot only asked him to do it once. The monk emerged from the water, whole. Thus he demonstrated not only the sincerity of his faith to bear his Cross, but his devotion to the intercessions of Saint Helen and the truth of the revelation. Also, very importantly, it confirmed the integrity of the monastery.
Of all the Churches in Paris we have visited, this Church was the most difficult to find – for the taxi driver too. It is a Catholic Chuch, and even within the Church Saint Helen’s relics are not apparent but rather hidden in the sanctuary. But that east meets west here is clear, for on the walls and in the cave are Byzantine icons of Saint Genevieve the patron Saint of Paris, Christ, Saint Symeon the Hospitality of Abraham and others.
We came to this Church in the early evening and after spending time with Saint Helen, we began to leave, except that a service was beginning. So, we decided to stay for what was likely Vespers, a Gladsome Light and just a little bit of a Byzantine current bringing life to the chanting. It was beautiful!
It was an article in Roads to Emmaus Journal where we learned of the history of Orthodoxy in France. In it a salient point is made, which is what would happen in the distracted age of today under such circumstances?
“The pope’s decision about St. Helen was similar; he saw God’s hand in it. Our century, undoubtedly, would proclaim, “Return! Punish!”
Probably the relics would be returned and the monk would be punished.”
It’s a consideration. Do we have the depth of Faith, not only to rightly worship (Orthodoxy) but to also allow for the Grace of God to work with the raw material of what is often the mess of peoples lives? Do we actually believe that God exists beyond the tidy order of our liturgics and rubrics and that like the Potter he completes the work He begins in the lives of His people (Philippians 1:6)?
The answers to these questions are deeply personal, and speak to the heart of our relationship with God (the Father Son and Holy Spirit).
For more information about Orthodoxy in France, read this article from Roads to Emmaus journal.
O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance!
Begin again… every September 1st is the renewal of the Liturgical cycle of the Orthodox Church – this Gladsome Light dawning a new year of Grace.
Redeeming the time. Seeking Christ. The Scriptures, Grace, a life of mercy and repentance are not only woven through the Liturgy but throughout the tapestry of our lives. Just as He pursues us, He wants us to seek Him and He wants to be found with our whole heart.
Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is unchanging, but we are not. We come to Him new each and every day. Each day, each year brings its own pain, joy, crosses, mercies and love in our lives and those that surround us. We are bound together in this time that we have – here and now.
And so, just as the sun rises in the east each morning, Orthodox Christians again and again, celebrate the Feasts of Christ, the Theotokos and the Saints :: from the Grace pouring forth from a young girls small, lowly but hidden ‘yes’ to the awesome humility of Christ’s glorification.
It seems like such a little way, but is really is a door open to Grace, this beautiful tradition to place an icon of the Theotokos on our doorsteps – ushering in the rhythm of the Church throughout the liturgy and litanies of life.
Always learning and growing. Last year was the first time we practiced this tradition. I didn’t feel quite right placing her on the ground – something about reverence – so this year I placed Panagia on a wine crate on the front porch. I’m sure the neighbors are just looking at our porch like ‘huh?’
It happens without fail every year. I think I only notice it for having lived in this area my whole life. This past week, the faintest scent of the coming Fall has hung in the early morning dewy air. You only smell it in the morning. I don’t know why.
A few weeks ago, a little golden angel leaf is the first fallen leaf on the deck. None of the other leaves have changed color… yet.
When I was a young girl, that faint aroma of moldering leaves always reminded me of the beginning of school, but now it brings the recollection of the approaching end and beginning of the Liturgical Calendar just beyond the Dormition of the Theotokos.
Another years journey through complete cycle of Christ’s birth to His glorification.. the mystery of Christ and the salvation of mankind. A new school year approaches… in the school of repentance.