Orthodox Contact

A St. Nicholas Melbourne Publication

Issue #33 April 2002

 God's utmost gift

            Love  knows no borders or restrictions. It embraces all God's creation, rational and non-rational. Furthermore, it heals any selfishness that goes against God's care and blessing towards His creatures.

            At the doorway to Great Lent, every Christian soul striving to recover this source of love, bows in gratitude to the Creator of all in acknowledgment for this gift always granted and never taken back (see Hebrews 17:10).

In fact, repentance is given as the way to recover this source of love. Repentance is indeed a gift given to all humanity which has been distorted by sin, death and disobedience; it constitutes the foremost revelation of God's love towards His children.

As far as Adam was concerned, sinning once towards God made him unworthy for a lifetime, and he was consequently driven away from God's glory for the rest of his life. But astoundingly, Christ managed to grant us the very possibility to return to our true place through His Incarnation and His work of salvation. For in as much as we, members of His Body, i.e. the Church, are concerned, every time that we endanger our own membership of Christ's Body we are gladly welcomed to re-enter into God's Paradise, i.e. the Church, through repentance and confession. It is quite amazing that whenever we fall away from God's grace by our sins, disobedience and lack of love, Christ is always willing to bestow on us His own glory and grace, whereas Adam, once and for all, lost every thing by his first transgression.

            O God, how merciful are You! Are we ever able to give thanks to You? It is quite impossible to us to express our gratitude, but, as Your children, we respond to Your generosity by our zeal and love.  

And Great Lent is the very opportunity to make concrete our response to God's gift. For Great Lent is time for repentance. And repentance means reconciliation. It is reconciliation with one's self, with one's neighbours, with all creation and with God. 

             According to St. John of Kronstadt (+ 1908), repentance, understood as reconciliation with one's self, is when our will, our mind and our feelings are not subjected respectively to slavery, darkness and distortion. Abstinence and fasting are the necessary means to restore the ardour of faith, hope and love, and subsequently, to maintain the Christian life. Nothing so soon extinguishes the spirit of faith within us as intemperance, indulgence, excessive search for amusement, and irregular life. Yet, one who begins to fulfil the commandments related to small things, will be able to fulfil the commandments related to great things. Begin to fulfil the commandment of fasting and you will eventually learn to fulfil all the commandments. Fasting was the first commandment given to Adam and Eve. It was even a commandment related to the smallest of all things, because they were allowed to eat from all the trees except from the one that was in the middle of the garden.

             Through our effort to live Great Lent as a fulfillment of Christ's commandment to fast, we are effectively expressing our love for Him. For one who loves God, according to St Isaac the Syrian, should show Him his desire first through a physical effort. Thus, Christ will fulfil our desire, and He, Himself, will restore the source of love within us. Then, and only then, are we reconciled with our neighbours, and we are able to look at them with true interest and real love, and to show them compassion and forgiveness. Subsequently our attitude and behaviour towards earthly and material wealth would be corrected. We would be able, at this stage, to perceive all creation not as consumable goods and means to satisfy our desires and appetites, but as means by which we could give praise and thanks to God, the Provider of all things. 

If our efforts in Great Lent consist only of fasting and abstinence from some foods, then these are condemned to fruitlessness. If Great Lent does not lead us towards the healing of our selfishness, i.e. restoration within us of the power of love and forgiveness which embraces all in our hearts and lifts them to God, we will be missing our meeting with Christ, the Bestower of love, mercy and forgiveness to all, on the day of His Resurrection.

 So when we are dressed up with Lenten effort and zeal, the most compassionate Father will grant us the wedding garment, and the Giver of Light will invest us with the robe of light. Amen.

                                                                                                Great Lent 2002

                 Archimandrite Silouan  Moussi  


The Lord of The Rings

“A fundamentally religious and Catholic work”

So wrote Tolkien in a letter to a friend in 1953. The Trilogy, now the subject of a popular movie, is part of a larger body of works on the myths of Middle Earth. Like our own planet, Middle Earth has its own genesis, a creation story describing how all beings were created, and how some later turned to evil.

Sauron, the villain in the Lord of the Rings, was but a servant of the “dark enemy of the world”. He forges the ring of power, which he must retrieve in order to cast Middle Earth under his shadow. Evil, in Tolkien’s myth, is portrayed with intensity. It is incarnate in creatures, such the Ringwraiths and Saruman the White, all of whom had become evil after coveting the power promised them by Sauron. The struggle between good and evil is therefore not an eternal one, as is the case in Star Wars, for example.

Tolkien’s unlikely hero is a hobbit named Frodo. Hobbits are small creatures who lead a merry life in a beautiful land called the Shire. Frodo receives the Ring from his uncle, Bilbo, who had found it on a heroic journey, described in “The Hobbit”. The fate of Middle Earth now depends on Frodo destroying the Ring. A feat that involves taking it into Sauron’s domain, in order that it may be cast into the fires in which it had been forged.

Gandalf, a wise wizard, explains to Frodo how the Ring could have journeyed over so many years, to end up in the hands of a hobbit: “Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker… Bilbo was meant to find the ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.” Good will (providence?) is therefore more powerful than evil. Again, this is in contrast to many “new age” myths, which normally speak of two equal forces of good and evil.

To Frodo the Ring is a burden, one which he nonetheless chooses to carry. He tells Gandalf that he wishes the Ring had never made its way to him. Gandalf replies: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But this is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

My favourite part of the book is the discourse between Frodo and Gandalf on Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum, a foul creature who was after the Ring. Frodo thought it was a pity that Bilbo had not killed Gollum when he had the chance. Gandalf’s reply was severe: “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy… be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil… because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With pity… my heart tells me that [Gollum] has some part to play yet.”

In the end, Gollum does indeed play a part, one which leads to the ultimate destruction of the Ring. Middle Earth is once again ruled by its rightful King, upon whose crowning, “it seemed to them that he was revealed to them now for the first time. Tall as the sea-kings of old, he stood above all that were near: ancient of days he seemed and yet in the flower of manhood: and wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him.” And so, Frodo’s courage, his servant and friend Sam’s loyalty, and Gandalf’s wisdom, had saved the beauty that remained in their world.

                                        From Ziad and Terri Baroudi


The Priest’s Symposium

A summing-up by Fr Ted Doncaster

The Oxford Dictionary ascribes two meanings to the word “symposium” - an ancient Greek after-dinner drinking party with music dancers and conversation or a philosophical or other friendly discussion. Be assured that the recent Clergy Symposium held in Sydney for the Priests of the Archdiocese was of the latter class and not the former! The heavens opened and the rain descended  for three days - as an old German proverb has it “every drop being a blessing direct from heaven” - and there were many blessings direct from heaven upon the Symposium. 

Priests gathered from the north (Queensland), and the south (Victoria), the east (New Zealand) and the west (South and Western Australia) to be with their Shepherd Metropolitan Paul and their fellow Priests and Deacon in New South Wales for five pressure-packed days to feast on spiritual, liturgical and pastoral delights, to say nothing of the Lebanese delicacies provided by local parishes and friends. On the last night we were entertained at the Archdiocesan Headquarters and for our final meal together we were the guests of Mr Nagib Daoud, a a faithful of St. Nicholas Parish, to whom we express our thanks. 

Yet apart from worship, food for thought was the main item on the menu of the Symposium. Metropolitan Paul led us in studies of the Divine Liturgy and recently-arrived Archimandrite Silouan also gave an excellent paper on the same subject. Archimandrite Nabil gave stimulating papers on ‘What it is to become Orthodox,’ ‘The responsibility of becoming Orthodox’ and on ‘Youth Ministry.’ As usual our dear Moira Kelly led us into two discussion group sessions on evangelism and pastoralia, and secularism in the Church. Fr Benjamin of St Elias Monastery near Adelaide spoke to us about the monastic life while Fr Ted of Perth delivered a paper on preaching. Dr.John Melki and Mr Rami Barghout spoke to us about our Diocesan and Parish websites, and there was also a session on superannuation and retirement funds. 

Each day began with the serving of the Divine Liturgy by different Priests of the Archdiocese, that on the last morning being an Hierarchical Liturgy, while most evenings there were Vespers and Little Compline led by various Priests. At each of these services (other than Compline) an address was given by the Priests in turn - interesting to reflect on the variety of subjects they chose - next year there is to be a theme for these addresses. In his closing remarks Metropolitan Paul spoke of his goals for the Archdiocese: for the Priests to be the light in the surrounding darkness and for the Churches to have doors open to those who come seeking the truths of Orthodoxy. Throughout the time instructions were given on “the right way to do things” and these proved very helpful. A Memorial was made for two of our Priests who reposed during the year: Fr Antoun Abourjeili of Adelaide and Fr John Shehadie, a retired Priest of Sydney. A highlight was the visit to out Cathedral of S. George the Martyr in Redfern where Fr Nicolas Mansour gave us a short history of the building followed by Little Compline. Woven in with these things were the very meaningful times of fellowship among the Priests, some of whom had not seen another Antiochian Orthodox Priest since the first Symposium last year! The encouragement received from such times is very important and Priests are thankful to God for the opportunity to attend, and to their Parishes which made it possible for them to do so. 

“Glory be to God in all things” as our Father among the Saints John Chrysostom said as he reposed and as we say as our lives are being renewed by the Holy Spirit. “Many Years” to our father Metropolitan Paul, and could we say “many Symposia?”   


A Pilgrimage to the Ancient Lands of the Patriarchate

It is good to be back in Sydney for a while, after two and a half years away in Cambridge, England. In January 2002, David and I spent an extraordinary three weeks in Syria and Lebanon, thanks to Bishop John Yazigi of our Antiochian Orthodox Church, who was in England to perfect his English. It was a moment of recognition when we first met him at St. George’s Cathedral, London, for we learned that Bishop John is author of the original Arabic text of A PASTORAL GUIDE TO THE HOLY MYSTERIES, which Father Samir Gholam and David have translated, using a draft prepared by Father Dimitri Baroudi and Virginia Hutchinson. Bishop John orchestrated our middle-eastern sojourn so expertly from his base in Oxford that we moved from monastery to monastery as his guests, receiving the proverbial Arab hospitality, love and care to such an extent that our feet never touched ground.

Our first stop, on the way to Damascus, was Istanbul. The city was covered in thick snow, the first fall for many years, so we had the rare chance of seeing Hagia Sophia in splendid white. We reached the mother of all churches, whose very name still warms the hearts of many Orthodox, by crunching our way through ice and slush. Now a museum, the interior of Hagia Sophia has large shields with Koranic verses from the days when it was turned into a mosque and most of the Christian symbols have been obliterated (though some magnificent mosaics have now been uncovered). Nevertheless, from the apse a majestic icon of the Theotokos still puts forth a compelling power.

After four days we flew on to Damascus, which was also snow-bound, much to the joy of the locals: living in an oasis-city, surrounded by desert wilderness, water in any form is a blessing. Arriving at 2 a.m, we were mighty glad to be greeted by Father Ignatios in his stove-pipe hat, and by Ghiath Abdullah, who was to be our tour-guide; in a very short while, they became valued friends. Ghiath, an Orthodox Christian and also proudly Damascene, guided us expertly through the intricate tangles of the pagan, Christian and Muslim history and art of his ancient city and country. A meeting had been arranged for us with the Patriarch at 9.30 that morning. Sayeedna received us informally, and the warmth of his welcome quickly put us at ease. We were particularly touched by his empathy with his people and priests in distant places, and by his concern to find means to counter their isolation. He stressed to us his eagerness to build up contacts with the English-speaking world, and the importance of such contact for the vitality and relevance of the Church.

In Damascus, David at last fulfilled his dream of walking in the footsteps of St. Paul down the “Street called Straight”. It was no small surprise to discover that, contrary to what one might expect from dingy Bible illustrations, the Straight Street was once a wide thoroughfare, a substantial Roman main street: as David put it, “It was Pall Mall rather than an oriental alley”. What is said to be the house of Ananias, now a church, would have been a substantial residence. It made us realize that Paul and the early Christians had to contend with the challenges one might expect from a city that was a large and ancient metropolis, on the intersection of busy international trade routes, east-west, north-south. Meeting our Antiochian Patriarch, and then visiting Christian sites such as the city wall from which St. Paul was lowered in a basket (last year’s digging among the foundations has confirmed that the wall was very high indeed!) enhanced our sense of “connectedness” with our Christian roots, past and present. Ghiath drew our attention to an inscription on the outside wall of the Ummayad Mosque which says in Greek: 'Jesus Christ is the King over all dominions and Lord of all time'. The inscription comes from an earlier Christian church on the site and has proved impossible to erase.

Driving northwards through a spectacular snowscape, we visited Maloula and Saidnaya. Maloula is sacred to the memory of St. Thecla and is one of two villages where they still speak Aramaic. Standing in sun-lit snow, which rendered the mountainous landscape timeless, and eating freshly baked flat-bread sprinkled over with cumin and thyme, we were conscious of a strong sense of continuity with the past. A shop window advertised contemporary music “in the language of Our Lord”. St. Thecla, after surviving religious persecution by her own father, is said to have fled to these mountains, making her way through a narrow pass. The weather forced penance of a kind on us, for we inched our way through ice and snow, sometimes on our hands and knees, and climbed up slippery rocks (I feel sure the saint’s prayers protected us) to reach the ancient Church of St. Dionysius and St. Sergius. The priest in charge took us in and showed us the altar table, which is unique: it is a recycled sacrificial stone slab from a pagan temple. It is still possible to see the runnels where the blood ran. Such recycling was later abandoned, so that this early instance is highly unusual. Standing before this once pagan altar that has been richly transformed, a young girl prayed the Lord’s Prayer for us in Aramaic. To my ears, Aramaic sounded midway between Arabic and Hebrew.

At Saidnaya, we met some of the nuns who care for thirty-five orphaned girls, who might otherwise have a dire future. Speaking about these orphans at St. George’s, Sydney, Father Nicholas Mansour had once pleaded passionately with the congregation to support the work; I was able to relay this to the nun who took us to the miracle-working icon of our Lady. It was heartening at the same time to see and hear the children playing noisily in the school playground, and to feel that in a small way we in Sydney were linked with them.

After attending the Sunday Liturgy at the Damascus Cathedral, where the Patriarch led the congregation in the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed, we had a two-hour drive north-west to the Monastery of St. George at Al-Humayra, which it is situated in a lush valley and within sight of a magnificently preserved Crusader castle, the Krak des Chevaliers. During Islamic expansion and throughout Muslim rule, St. George’s was spared because it had a charter sanctioned by Prophet Mohammed himself and drawn up and sealed by a caliph soon after the Prophet’s death. That original charter is displayed in the monastery. The valley in which the monastery is situated is known as the Christian Valley; but now, after centuries of bloodshed, it is possible for Muslims to live there in peace    we were told, because of the influence of the current Bishop.

At St. George’s we were met by Brothers Tony and Yusef, who looked after us during our stay. We found ourselves rising early and quite willingly to join the monks in worship at the Old Church, which lies beneath the main courtyard and dates back to the time of the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. On Sunday the Liturgy is celebrated in the ‘New’ Church above, which dates from the eighteenth century, and that church is filled by people coming from the valley. Thus the monastery serves both as a prayerful and quiet haven and as a focus for community worship. The monastery buildings double up as a venue for ecclesiastical gatherings and also a hostel for youth camps. There are currently twelve monks at St. George’s, though some are away studying in Greece and Balamand. Their monastic routine involves, besides hours of prayer and hearty singing, time spent restoring archaelogical relics such as stone-jars and olive-presses, converting stables into auditoriums and lecture halls for the teaching of theology and Byzantine chanting, making souvenir-icons, tending olive groves, fruit orchards and gardens, and caring for a continuous stream of guests.

With Brother Tony at the wheel, we visited Homs, a sprawling industrial city with ancient churches. At St. Ilian’s Church, we paid our respects to the saint of that name, an apothecary who was martyred and buried there. As Brother Tony put it, ‘St. Ilian’s tomb contains his “whole body”, not bits of him.’ We then walked through a wedding in a Syrian Orthodox Church, past Arab women giving the traditional celebratory ululation, and to a shrine that holds a relic of Our Lady’s girdle. Unlike some similar relics that we have seen in Italy, this one has an impressively documented history of its discovery. In the 1970s when the church was being restored, the relic was discovered in the hollow of a grinding stone under the old altar. Experts were called in to assess its authenticity. What they had to say was sufficiently convincing for some pious folk to take a piece of the girdle to South India for incorporation in a new church.

You cannot go through churches in Syria and Lebanon without encountering such holy relics and miracle-working icons. Whatever sceptics may say about their authenticity, it is clear from the testimonies of believing Christians that God’s healing power comes through objects associated with the saints. During our stay at St. George’s, we joined the monks in celebrating two feasts: that of St. Antony and St. Athanasius. On St. Antony’s feast, Brother Tony, following the monastic rule, spent his whole name-day in his cell, praying. Nevertheless, in the evening, cream-cake appeared at the refectory table! On St. Athanasius’ Day, Father Athanasius (who was acting head of the monastery in Bishop John’s absence) brought out the holy relics of that saint which were normally kept in his room and placed them on a table before the altar. Before taking communion, all of us venerated the relics and were anointed with holy oil. For
David and me, it was our first experience of such veneration, and again, in a very tangible manner, we felt connected with the martyrs of the past and their prayer-filled life.

That monastic life can be creative, joyful, and relevant came home just as forcefully to us when we visited a relatively new monastic foundation, Der al Saide, near the port city of Tartous. Saide Convent is situated on the coastal hillside, commanding views of green fields and blue seas. We met the nuns in the fruit orchard, loading up and hauling huge sacks of lemons; David helped them, and got his photo-opportunity! The nuns at Der al Saide are highly motivated and talented women with degrees in Agriculture, Computer Studies, Mathematics and English Literature. They follow what might seem an extremely taxing schedule, waking up at 2.30 a.m. for private prayer, then starting at 4 a cycle of prayer, work, and study that lasts beyond 10 p.m. at night; yet their cheerful faces witness that it is a routine on which they thrive. I was so taken with their creative vibrancy that David felt moved to warn them, much to their delight and amusement, that he feared he was on the point of losing me to the convent!

Sometimes it is salutary to face what the popular, pagan religious options once were, if we are to appreciate what Christ has liberated us from. One such realisation occurred during our visit to Palmyra, a miraculously well-preserved oasis city in the heart of the Syrian desert, which reached its zenith of fame under Queen Zenobia. In Palmyra, after admiring the astonishing ruins of the old city, its well-planned streets, fine pavements, colonnades, forum, public baths, camel-caravan entrances (and even public ‘loos’ for weary travellers!), we found ourselves among the ruins of a huge temple: the Temple of Baal, the god who evoked such wrath and anguish from the Old Testament prophets. The temple, with its monumental granite columns, courtyards, niches and altars, remains an awe-inspiring sight: one can still see the tethering-posts for sacrificial animals, the stone slabs on which they were killed and the conduits where their blood ran. I was reminded of the disciples’ marvelling at the Temple in Jerusalem (built to a similar plan) and Christ’s response, that ‘not one stone will remain upon another’. Confronting the scale of slaughter that must have taken place in the Baal Temple, I could not but appreciate afresh the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection and what it means to have a “bloodless sacrifice” at the Eucharist.

Visiting the Tower Tombs outside Palmyra was a similar reminder of the naïve and desperate practices of the pagans – in this case, to ensure immortality. These tombs, which consist of rack upon rack of stone shelves for corpses, could be rented for a given period by fond relatives; if payment stopped, the corpse was evicted and the “shelf” re-allocated. The owner of this successful enterprise had his own tomb at the centre, adorned with sculptures of himself, posing as for a banquet, a rich man with a pot belly, a cask of wine, money, and a wife half his size, all ready for his next life. What release from such limited, melancholy imaginings of the future is wrought by Christ through his glorious resurrection!

After five days of refreshment and enrichment at St. George’s, we reluctantly bade farewell to our new friends and proceeded to Balamand, across the border in Lebanon. The monastery there, and the St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology where we stayed, are set on a spectacularly beautiful hill top, with the rolling blue Mediterranean beneath and snow-capped peaks behind. We were looked after by two “guardians”: Deacon Damaskinos, a keen scholar and musician, and Father Paul, who had done a spell as a solitary hermit in the mountains, and preferred silent meditation by the sea to bookish studies. With Father Paul, who drove us to many sites of awe-inspiring beauty, we found ourselves lifting up our hearts in praise and thanksgiving at the glories of the natural world.

At the Institute, as at St. George’s, we shared a vigorous Christian life. Currently, there are nearly seventy students, including eight girls, and a number of postgraduates. Apart from Lebanese and Syrians, we met students from a range of countries: Palestine, Jordan, Canada, Argentina, Moldavia and Turkey. Besides their studies in Hebrew and New Testament Greek, the students have to learn modern Greek and English; and the few non-Arabic speakers have to learn Arabic as well! In informal chats before and after meals, we were able to tell them about the English and Australian branches of the Orthodox family. With David’s English translations of the Liturgy (which evoked considerable interest) we were able to take part in the Arabic worship; and during a Sunday Liturgy in the monastery church (which was filled with local villagers as well as the students), Father Paul and Deacon Damaskinos burst into English for some of the litanies, for the dialogue ‘Lift up your hearts’, for the doxology and the blessing. Not only was the singing at all the services hearty and moving but we were often surprised by bouts of chanting in the corridors, from students practising for a televised concert in Beirut that we were able to attend on our last evening in Lebanon.

We found in Beirut a huge transformation, considering what we had been led to expect from pictures years out of date on Western television and in the press. >From among the bullet-ridden, shell-torn buildings a new and tastefully renovated city is emerging. Even though there was one political assassination during our stay, people in Lebanon are anxious to sustain their hard-won peace and to carry on their lives with hope, looking to the future. The concert at Beirut Cathedral (which is currently undergoing a major reconstruction) was a highlight of our visit. It featured four church choirs: Armenian, Maronite, Protestant and Orthodox. While we appreciated the singing of the other choirs (though the Protestants could have done better), we could not but conclude that our “boys” outsang the rest. On the drive back from Beirut they were on a high, and continued their liturgical singing and chanting: thirty-two young and vigorous male voices pouring out liturgical music on the unsuspecting motorists caught in a traffic-jam on the main highway north. We feared that the panels of the van were about to burst outwards.

Next day we returned to Damascus to catch our plane home. One significant moment stands out. It was our last Sunday and we attended the early morning Liturgy at Father Ignatios’ new church, which stands in a suburb of Damascus in the midst of modern high-rise flats. As we emerged from church, I heard what seemed like a muezzin’s call for prayer, which is a frequent and familiar experience in this predominantly Muslim country. Yet it was not. What I was hearing was the music of our Liturgy (the second service had just begun) and it was being broadcast from a tower erected outside the church, not unlike the towers from which Muslims are called to prayer. It is something of a miracle that it is possible in Syria to proclaim Christ boldly in this manner, and we pray that it may long continue.

If you would like to know more about the monasteries I have mentioned, you may look up St George’s on the internet at http:\\www.stgeorgesyria.org; and you can e-mail the Sayde Convent at:

                                    From David and Christine Frost         

Coordinating Contact:

June Issue: Deadline for written contributions May 15th . Please send them to

Riasaphor Virginia, 14 Mihil Street, Preston, Vic. 3072. T/F 03 9484 2238.

e-mail: virginiahutchinson@bigpond.com

 We thank Archimandrite Nabil for his assistance.