The Horse of Christ

Whenever I imagine my father, I see him with a yoke around his neck, the yoke of his priestly stole. I see him yoked as a horse, a horse for Jesus Christ. I see him running from one end of his parish to the other, thirty mountainous kilometers, something he had to do sometimes twice a day. He was always weary, ready to collapse from fatigue, as every being that is yoked and subjugated.  It never stopped.

My father would then leave, without delay, following the man who had come to see him. He’d go out of the presbytery before the man had time to knock on the door.  Without fail, it was always something urgent; somewhere a human being awaited God. And my father was always in a hurry. He’d walk beside the man up to the gate. Once outside the stone wall of the fence from the holy place, the man who had come to ask my father climbed up on his horse. My father would walk behind the horse.

A priest never mounts a horse; this is the tradition of our mountain region. Thus my father carried his sack in which he kept the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the cross, and his stole; he’d walk behind the man on his horse. My poor father always walked, although he was so fragile, so weak, and so skinny.  He walked like a horse, behind the man. He followed the horse’s hooves without falling behind at all.

Sometimes, not very often, he’d smile and tell all the kids that, “I’m Jesus Christ’s horse.  God sits on my back, like on a horse…and he told the truth, because this is not so funny as we took it to be when we were young.  My father was transporting the Body and Blood of Christ, just like a horse transports its rider.  Everywhere.  Day and night.  God climbed up on my father’s shoulders every time he went to the depths of the dark pine forests and to the silent core of rugged mountains.

I would tell him that his sons and daughters in Christ don’t love him, as I saw him returning, dead tired.  “You’ve only just returned to the presbytery and already they’ve come to call on you.  You’re trying to lie down a little and they’ve come to see you.  They wake you up.  They force you to go out any time of the day, no matter what the weather, and you walk for hours and hours behind them, while they sit on their horses.  They drag you out without stopping, in the night, in the rain, in mud and snow.  The faithful love you even less than they love their own animals.  They’d never ask their animals to do what you do, as their priest.  Why don’t they feel sorry for you?  Why have they never had mercy on you?”

“Mercy befits people, animals, things, but not the priesthood,” my father would answer.  “It would be silly, inane and irreverent for men to feel sorry for a priest.  Every Christian who knocks on a priest’s door is in reality knocking on God’s door.  This is because a priest is ‘made like unto the Son of God’ (Heb. 7: 3).  No Christian can have the irreverent idea that God is tired, that God wants to sleep, that His feet hurt.  Anyone can ask anything of God and at any time.  I protested:  “But a priest is also a man,” I said.  “No,” replied my father.  “A priest is not a man, but the sacrifice of a man, which is added to God’s sacrifice.  That is what the priesthood is.”

This was a beautiful reply.  I turned red, but added:  “Still, you should rest for a few hours.”  “No,” he repeated.  A priest is not like farmer, a worker or a craftsman.  No man becomes a priest so that he can have many free hours and days off.  He is always a priest without breaks, without vacations, without pause, day and night.

In the same way that men can address God at any time, any hour of the day or night and for any reason, without fear of disturbing or annoying Him, so can men come to the home of a priest whenever and for any reason. Of course, we don’t have priests who don’t sleep, who don’t eat and whose feet don’t hurt. This, however, is an imperfection that we are obliged to accept, because the priesthood is an image or shadow of heavenly realities, as was revealed to Moses, when he was to make the tabernacle. See, he was admonished, that you make all things according to the pattern shown to you on the mountain (Heb. 8: 5).

The priesthood, mirroring the priesthood of Christ, eradicates the taking of any leave.  It remains permanently and for eternity (Heb. 5: 6).  Even natural death does not end the priesthood.  If this is so, how can hunger, fatigue or desire for sleep keep a priest from performing his duties?

“So is he a priest even after death?” I asked him the first time that he told this to me.  “Yes,” he said, a priest is a priest for eternity, Assimilatus filio dei, manet sacerdos in aeternum. ‘Made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.’ (Heb 7: 3)

Since a priest has been made like unto the Son of God, he cannot die.  He remains a priest within death and despite death, unto eternity.  For this reason a priest is buried in the vestments that he wears when celebrating the Divine Liturgy.  A priest is buried wearing his cross, his stole, his Felonion, Stichar, Epimanikia…everything as if he is dressed for the most splendid church service.  In death, a priest liturgizes in the true and heavenly Church with his bishop, Christ.  For every priest death is a promotion.  He passes from the earthly chapel in which he served on to the heavenly Cathedral in order to serve in the eternal liturgy near Christ.  Thus, the death of a priest must never be mourned, because he never dies, but is rather promoted upon natural death.

For the reason that a priest remains a priest after death, when he is placed in the tomb, he is dressed in the same garments that he performs the Liturgy.  His face is covered with the Aer, the cloth which covers the Holy Cup of Communion, which contains the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Air symbolizes the stone that sealed Christ’s tomb.  This same stone that sealed Christ’s tomb also seals the grave of every priest, because every priest is like unto the Son of God.

Hearing this, I let the tears roll down upon my father’s holy hand, which I bent down and kissed reverently.  I understood the old saying that if one meets an angel and a priest on the road walking beside each other, he must kneel in front of the priest and kiss his hand first, and then kneel to the angel and greet him.  This is because angels are lower than priests in that they cannot make bread and wine into the Body and Blood of God and priests can.

Despite the incomparable happiness that my father felt in being a servant of the Most High, my father lived his life in unimaginable hardship and suffering. Every year that went by, my father lost more and more weight, became more fleshless and immaterial.  At thirty years of age, my father’s hair was white.  At thirty years of age, my father was an old man.  His was losing his teeth, because of misery, malnutrition, and toil.

In contrast to this, his gaze became more and more beautiful, bright, radiant and intense so that his head seemed to be illumined by a halo.  I noticed an unusual fact:  when my father looked at something, it seemed to shine as if it were lighted by secret searchlights.  Seeing this I felt for the first time that when a holy person sees the world, they illuminate and sanctify it.

“What are you looking at?” my father asks, seeing me deep in thought.  “You are bright like an icon,” I said, turning beet red.  Father laughed.  He was neither prideful nor humble, because in order to feel pride or humility a person must be humanly.  But father was less and less human.  He smiled because my voice reached his ear and that made him happy.  My father didn’t smile very often.  When someone is very tired, he cannot smile.  This time however, he did smile and when my father smiled, one could see that he’d lost almost all of his teeth.  My heart sunk.  I felt so sorry for his wretchedness that I could not hold back my tears.  That’s when I decided that if one day our Lord Jesus Christ decided to allow his priest, Constantine Georgiou, to have all the food that he wanted for the rest of his life, my proletarian father, my revered father would continue—despite the miracle of food at his table–to always be hungry as in the past.  This is because even if he had something to eat, he could not, because he no longer had any teeth…

 

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From Experiences During the Divine Liturgy

Blessed Menas, a charismatic priest, lived at a monastery in Roumania. Every day, after the Divine Liturgy, went out to the forest outside the monastery and he chanted and glorified God with spiritual hymns.
All the birds of the forest would gather around him then, on his head, his shoulders, his arms, and he lovingly petted them. Many times, while Father Menas was chanting, the birds would stop chirping and listen to him quietly.
Since the daily services at the monastery started late at night and continued on until dawn, by the time the good priest finished consuming the Holy Gifts and disrobing himself, the sun was already shining and he would go out into the forest and delight in nature and the presence of the birds. The forest creatures and the priest together glorified the Lord this way.
Many people observed that near the end of his life, when there was a feast day and the Liturgy lasted a bit longer, the birds would gather on the roof of the church!
During the part of the Liturgy when prayers are said for the changing of the Holy Gifts into the body and blood of Christ, and the priest said, “Thine of Thine Own ,” the birds would get quiet! And when the priest ended those prayers by exclaiming, “Especially for the All-Holy, Spotless…”, and the choir chanted, “It is truly meet…,” the birds would once again begin to chirp!

From “Experiences During the Divine Liturgy”

A young man told me this about his grandfather, who was a priest. When he was a boy of about 5 or 6, the grandfather died and they burried him the next day.  On the third day the family went to read the memorial prayers at the cemetery.

They all left the house and walked to the cemetery. It was a sun-drenched afternoon. Two aunts stayed home to get coffee and sweets ready for all the other relatives when they’d return. The little boy stayed home too. All of a sudden, the doorbell rang. One of his aunts told him: “Sweetie, go and open the door to see who’s there.” The little boy went and when he opened the door who did he see!? His grandfather, the priest, alive!

“Pappou, how did you get here? Didn’t you die?” the youngster asked him. “How did you get all wet?” The priest was drenched in water as if he’d just come out of a swimming pool with his clothes on. Water dripped down to the wood floor of their house.

“How did this happen to you? It’s not raining outside!”  “Listen here my boy! This is not rain water that you see! For three days now I’ve been passing through the aerial toll houses.  Tell this to your grandmother, to your aunts and uncles, to your mother and father and to everyone else. Tell them that for three days I had been passing through the toll houses. I’ve been sweating in agony for three days. I’ve been saved, I made it through, I’m free now, little one! When they come back from the cemetery tell them to lick the water off the floor and they’ll see that it’s not water but perspiration. Then they’ll believe that you saw me…”

He said this and disappeared from his eyes. The little one opened the door to look outside, to see where his grandfather went, but grandfather wasn’t there!

The others returned from the cemetery. Truly, there was a puddle of water in the hallway, from the priests garments and from his beard. The little boy told them about what happened, but they didn’t believe him. They licked the liquid and believed, however, because it was salty!

From Experiences during the Divine Liturgy, by Archpriest Stephanos K. Anagnostopoulos

Experiences During the Divine Liturgy

A priest related to me that during a pre-sanctified liturgy, when he was performing the Great Entrance with the “Holy of Holies” in his hands, he felt as if they started to get really heavy. They started becoming unbearable while he was holding them. He stooped down from the heavy weight and he almost knelt down in the middle of the church. He felt terror that the holy gifts would fall from his hands. In tears, while the entire congregation were also weeping along with him, he started to silently ask and implore the Lord to give him strength to get up and to continue.

My God, he cried out, have mercy on me a sinner. I am not worthy to be a priest, but help me to become worthy. Make me like the man from Cyrene, that I might carry the most precious cross of your body and blood. Make me like the man from Cyrene, Lord, the man from Cyrene!

He kept repeating this rather loudly, and the entire congregation kept repeating along with him. He regained his strength, slowly, and with great effort, and with feelings of compunction and many tears, he brought the “Holy of Holies” to the altar table. A great light came from there and many angels sang triumphant doxologies about the Entrance of the Great King. And the priest remained quiet, obviously moved by this event…

Memorial Services

Years ago, a young priest told me this amazing story: “My mother did not want her son to become a priest; and three years after I was ordained, she died. I did not pay particular attention at her death as a priest; I only did what was necessary and nothing else.
One evening, at dusk, I was walking by the cemetery and I thought: ‘Why don’t I stop and light her oil lamp?’ I lit her oil lamp and sat down on a rock. I didn’t have my stole with me, so I didn’t read a trisagion for her.
In a little while, I felt faint, and I looked up. It seemed like the graves were open, and the bodies of the dead were getting up and screaming! ‘HELP! HELP! Priests of the most high God, help us! Orthodox Christians, help us! Do liturgies, prayers, memorial services, trisagia…HELP us, Christian people!!!’
In a little while, in a fright, I saw my mother: ‘HELP, my son’, she told me. ‘Now that you’re a priest, help all of us!’
She fell on me, screaming hopelessly, asking me to help her soul.
That’s when I got up in terror…it was dark by this time…I ran off and tore my vestments. In fear, I did not sleep the entire night.
The next day, in the morning I told my wife: ‘For three years I’m going to have liturgy every day, even during lent, for my mother and for all who have fallen asleep, everyone whose name is written at that cemetery, and for all the names of the dead that will be given to me from this time forth.
I had 1100 straight liturgies without missing a single day! Also, I had 1100 memorial services with kolyva, trisagia, every day!
Many times, at night I would see the souls of the people telling me, ‘thank you’, some because they got water to drink, others because they ate, and yet some other souls that were cold but got warm! They’d say to me, ‘Thank you, now I’m warm, father, I was cold, thank you!’ Other souls thanked me because they got to see a little light and other souls had a loaf of bread in their hands…”

From the book Experiences During the Divine Liturgy by Archpriest Stephanos K. Anagnostopoulos

A Liturgical Experience

A woman who read my book, Experiences During the Divine Liturgy, wrote me a letter.  She was from a small village of Mytilene, and her father-in-law was a priest.

He was uneducated, he only went to the second grade, but he was full of simplicity, humility, piety, love of church services and he was truly alive in faith.  He served for years before World War II and for a few years after.  He was elected to become priest by the people of his village.

Prior to becoming a priest, he was captain of a fishing boat.  When there was a terrible storm at sea, and the danger was great, he would take St. Nicholas’ icon, venerate it along with his six sailors, and throw it into the raging waters.  Every time, by miracle, the sea would calm down!  Every Friday he cooked beans in water; he was strict in his fasting, especially on Fridays and during Great Lent.

Whenever he was at sea, he always returned to Mytilene for Holy Week, which he spent eating dry foods.  On Great and Holy Saturday morning he would confess his sins and that same night receive Holy Communion.

On Christmas 1939 at four in the morning, papa-George went alone to go to his church, in order to prepare the church for the great feast; he wanted to light the two wood-burning stoves in order to warm the church a little, and then light all the oil lamps.  In the end, he would ring the bells in a joyful peal.

That way, just like every other year, the chanters would come first, and then slowly all the other villagers; they would chant matins and follow with the Divine Liturgy.

He walked to the church.  There was a strange darkness all around.  However, when he opened the church door and entered in, he was blinded by a very bright light, like many afternoon suns together.

He was not afraid; he was very calm.  The entire church was bathed in a lovely and serene light.  And within this dazzling light, papa-George was filled by prayerful wonder, joy and serenity.  His eyes looked straight ahead.  He could not see the church temple, or rather he couldn’t see it in the bright light.  He could clearly see the Holy Table and the Holy Sanctuary. 

And suddenly, there in the sanctuary he saw a manger and animals.  By God’s love, a miracle!  In the manger he “saw” the birth of Christ!  He saw it within an ecstasy in his soul!  He “saw” our Panagia, the most holy Theotokos and mother of God, holding tenderly the Holy Child in her virginal womb.  Joseph was nearby.  Their faces were shining wondrously by white rays of a thousand suns.

Next he saw and heard the angels’ doxology, “Glory to God in the highest.”  He took all this in and lived in this otherworldly happiness.  His eyes, his soul, his heart and all his senses took everything in within this Nativity scene and the heavenly angelic psalmody.

One heavenly scene came after the other, exactly as the Evangelists Matthew and Luke describe them to us.  He saw the wonder of the shepherds and their coming to see the Holy Babe; then he saw the appearance of a shining star which “stood over where the young Child was.”  At the same time he saw the adoration of the Magi and their presenting to him their treasures of “gold, frankincense and myrrh.”  All of these psychosomatic feelings that the priest had came to him in delight:  The vision and the psalmody.

All of a sudden, everything returned to its natural condition.  The priest, however, stood still for a long time, warmed with fire and full of supplication, wonder, surprise, ineffable gladness and happiness.

All of a sudden, his elder son, Rallis came and brought him back to his senses:  “Father, what are you doing?  What happened to you?  Why haven’t you lit the oil lamps?  You are shining strangely!  What happened father?”  He replied, “I’ll tell you my child, and I’ll tell the entire village.”

They lit the oil lamps hurriedly, and the wood stoves and rang the bells.  To everyone who came, Father George asked them to return to their homes and wake everyone up, “because an amazing miracle occurred in our church and I want to tell you what it was.”

The Christians would go door to door and woke everyone up and all together they went to the church which was overflowing with people.  Nativity Matins were chanted and after that the Divine Liturgy and Eucharist.

After the end of the Liturgy, Father George described his Heavenly vision with such vitality, faith and with such feelings that everyone who heard him was crying.  When his recounting ended, he made a prostration all the way to the ground and asked forgiveness from everyone, men, women and children, and he told them that when they come to receive Antidoro, they should tell him that they’ve forgiven him and to ask forgiveness of each other.  To each he gave a different blessing, something that had meaning to him alone.

This is where the miracle ended.  The woman who wrote to me, however, continued her letter and wrote to me that her husband, the priest’s son, told her:

‘When I was young, during a certain Divine Liturgy, I was helping my dad in the altar.  After my father had prayed for the Holy Gifts and had cried out, “For the All-Holy…” he asked me intensely, “Ralli, my son, do you see anything?”  “No, father, I don’t.”  “Yet, son, Christ is standing right here beside us!”  And my father fell on his knees for a long time and wept silently…’

From

Γνώσις και βίωμα της Ορθοδόξου Πίστεως

by Father Stephanos Anagnostopoulos