The “Holy” Light of Jerusalem (Michael Kalopoulos)

The “Miracle” of the Holy Light of Jerusalem, is a recurring ‘miracle’ happening each year with clockwork precision, in the Holy Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, to the delight of a large congregation of Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Many pilgrims travel to Jerusalem repeatedly for the occasion.

The ‘Miracle’ takes place on Saturday no on preceding Easter Sunday. The substance of the ‘miracle’ is the appearance of a supernatural fire in a crypt, thoroughly searched and secured beforehand to exclude any source of fire. The ‘Miracle’ takes place in the Hands of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, who is ceremoniously searched before entering the crypt. These searches are witnessed by representatives of other creeds, especially of the Armenian Church, who also have certain traditional rights in the specific Church, as well as representatives of local authorities, and the police superintendent of Jerusalem.


The patriarch retires inside the crypt and prays and then appears with the miraculous light, to the ecstasy of the attending crowd. At the same time, fire is reported to appear lighting the candles in and out of the Church spontaneously. Wax torches held by the pilgrims are also sporadically seen to be lighted by ‘divine’ intervention, after smoking for some time. Blue-white lightning is reported to sometimes appear and travel through the air. The miraculous fire lighting the patriarchs’ candle has been reported to be different from normal fire, in that a hand placed in the flame is not burned (at least the hands of the believers, and only for the first 33 minutes after the miracle) To quote from a related religious site: “The Holy Light symbolizes and recalls in a miraculous manner the Resurrection of Christ. It is a god sent miracle through the centuries, from the Light which is Jesus Christ to the world. Science cannot explain this great miracle and this time, it has wisely opted to remain silent and to refrain from expressing even a theoretical conclusion. Anyway, how could science explain an authentic miracle?”

The Atheist Union of Greece have called for the abolition of the transport of the Holy Light from Jerusalem to Athens.
The Atheist Union of Greece have called for the abolition of the transport of the Holy Light from Jerusalem to Athens.

The Holy Light is brought back to Greece with a special flight of the state airline. It is greeted with Honours normally reserved for Foreign Heads of State. This is the most revered ‘miracle’ of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Special flights are used to distribute the Holy Light throughout Greece, so it is made available late Saturday night during the Mass of the Resurrection in many Churches. Returning with the light home, devout Christians burn a cross on the front door beam, use the Holy Light to bring fertility to their infertile beasts, and fruitless trees, use it to fight vermin etc… “For instance, in Korone of Messene people return home from the night mass carrying the Holy Light with them. They use the smoking flame to mark a cross above windows and doors and thus preserve the mark of the Holy Light throughout the year .Then they take the Holy Light to the family altar make the sign of the cross and light the candle. Then they go the animal stalls to mark the beasts, goats, sheep. The oxen, the cows, the donkeys, whatever beast they may keep, they singe the animals (sic) even the chicken.”

How deplorable to see such neo-lithic superstition reign supreme, in the land that gave birth to philosophy and the sciences. However, there have been voices in the past that raised serious doubts about these religious ceremonies. The famous Greek intellectual of the Age of Enlightenment, Adamantios Korais (1748-1833) denounced the ‘Holy Light’ as a fraud and urged the Eastern Orthodox Church to discontinue the practice, arguing that “no true religion is in need of such false miracles”. In his treatise “On the Holy Light of Jerusalem”, Korais was adamant against religious fraud and theurgy. He referred to the recurring ‘miracle’ as ‘machinations of fraudulent priests’ and to the unholy light of Jerusalem as… “a profiteers’ miracle”. With deep sorrow, the Greek sage contemplated in his writings, that “while Greeks are content to have the ‘Holy Light’, the people in Europe of his time are living among people of objective knowledge, surrounded by Academies, and Lyceums, and schools of every kind of art and science. Europeans have open, splendid public libraries, and their print presses buzz with activity daily and without pause”. Taking heart from the courageous stance of the great intellectual, patriot and writer Korais, and enraged from the willful suppression of his treatise on the ‘Holy Light’ that remains an obscure work for most Greek readers to this day, we decided to look carefully into this miracle and the way with which it could be ‘achieved’.

Adamantios Korais
Adamantios Korais

How could the spontaneous appearance of fire be explained as a totally human act, when there appears to be no obvious human intervention? Our research pointed in the direction of use of some self-igniting material, that ignites spontaneously when in contact with the air. An appropriate candidate for such use would appear to be white phosphorus. But how could this spontaneous ignition be delayed in order to take place in the appropriate time? Simply, if phosphorus is dissolved in an appropriate organic solvent, self-ignition is delayed, until the solvent has almost completely evaporated. Repeated experiments showed that the ignition can be delayed for half an hour or more, depending on density of the solution and the solvent employed. We repeatedly demonstrated the technique on live satellite TV in the presence of representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Church, igniting spontaneously a number of candles, to their amazement.


Our research was published as a treatise of 250 pages. It goes a long way to prove that self igniting materials were known in antiquity, as there are several instances recorded of use of such materials in the works of ancient Greek authors; such self-igniting materials are also mentioned in the Bible disguised as ‘miracles’ in the tale of Elias (I Kings 18.21-40) and in the tale of Nehemiah (Septuagint II Maccabees 1.17-23). To those that would argue that such materials were unknown in antiquity we refer them to Strabo who distinguishes two kinds of naphtha: In Babylon (Chaldea) there are two kinds of naphtha springs, a white (colourless, clear ) and a black (crude oil) The white naphtha is the one that ignites with fire. (Strabon Geographica The source for acquisition of crude phosphor in antiquity could have been relatively simple. Indeed a list of materials with a high content in phosphor, possibly used in its acquisition, directly takes us into the realm of alchemy and magic. Indeed, we are talking about black magic because the source for phosphorus is incinerated bones, excrement and urine! Precisely such a recipe for a methodical incineration of bones in a pot can be found, where else but… in the Bible:

“Thus saith the Lord GOD; Set on a pot, set it on, and also pour water into it: Gather the pieces thereof into it, even every good piece, the thigh, and the shoulder; fill it with the choice bones. Take the choice of the flock, and burn also the bones under it, and make it boil well, and let them see the bones of it therein…Heap on wood, kindle the fire, consume the flesh, and spice it well, and let the bones be burned. Then set it empty upon the coals thereof, that the brass of it may be hot, and may burn, and that the filthiness of it may be molten in it, that the scum of it may be consumed.” [Ezekiel 24.3-11]

Greek Fire
Greek Fire

It appears that some of the early alchemists really came up with the recipe for the real “philosopher’s stone” that could turn commonplace filth and human credulity into gold… and the example of the “Holy Light” is ample proof of that. The call of the Ancient Greeks was: “Remember to Doubt!” (*Memniso Apistein, a quote of Epicharmus mentioned by Lucianus in Hermotimus). Such scepticism can never coexist with “believeth all things” (1 Corinthians 13.7) of the Christian dogma. The death-centered Christian worship with its oriental fixation in the phantasies of a life after death are incompatible with the spontaneous Greek worship of our ephemeral life. Of course our supposed soul-saviours are too busy continuously describing the coming end of the world with the bleakest colours- how could they find some time for science, research of nature and plain logic? Yes, for us the only Holy Light is the light of Reason and continuous query.

Hand siphon for Greek fire (medieval illumination detail)
Hand siphon for Greek fire (medieval illumination detail)

In 1995, just a few days before the locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne, Metropolitan Cornelius of Petra, received the Holy Fire in the place of patriarch Irenaeus, he declared in a television interview that the holy fire is a natural light, lit by the patriarch from the Sanctuary Lamp! And then came the big shock: “The miracle is the prayer that hallows the light”. (The light which supposedely comes from heaven!!)

(Greek, 5:16-5:40, 7:03-7:15).

Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem has described the process of the coming down of the fire as follows:

I find my way through the darkness towards the inner chamber in which I fall on my knees. Here I say certain prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the color may change and take many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light. This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light. The light does not burn. I have never had my beard burnt in all the 16 years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than normal fire that burns in an oil lamp.

At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Hereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church.

So called “Miracle of the holy fire – holy light” is a fraud. It is explained by Greek scientist live on Greek TV. Video is in Greek language but it is enough to watch his actions. He put a candle in white phosphorus and after a while candle will ignite spontaneously.

It is scientifically explained, so there are no “god’s miracle”. Orthodox priests claims it is a miracle of “holy fire” or “holy light” is nothing but a fraud, hoax, cheat.

Proposed reconstruction of the Greek fire mechanism by Haldon and Byrne
Proposed reconstruction of the Greek fire mechanism by Haldon and Byrne

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Great and Holy Saturday (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from The Rudder:

Άγιος Νικόδημος ο Αγιορείτης


The faithful celebrating the days of the saving Passion with fasting and prayer and contrition must cease their fast about the middle hours of the night after Great Saturday, the divine Evangelists Matthew and Luke having signaled us the lateness of night, the one by adding the words “at the end of the Sabbath” (Matthew 28:1) and the other by saying “very early in the morning” (Luke 24:1).

(Canon I of Dionysios.)


This Canon decrees that Christians must celebrate all the Great and Holy Week of the Holy Passion with fasting103 and prayer and contrition of the heart real contrition, that is to say, and not hypocritical (exceptionally, however, and especially on Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday they ought to be forced to spend the entire day without any nourishment at all); but about midnight – that is to say, after the midnight of the past Great and Holy Saturday – of the coming Great The Lord’s Day they must cease fasting104 since the Lord has already risen, as is plainly evidenced by the divine Evangelists.

For St. Matthew by saying that the women came at the end of the Sabbath to inspect the sepulcher revealed that the day of the Sabbath had past as well as a large part of the night after the Sabbath; while Luke, on the other hand, by saying that they came very early in the morning” revealed that there still remained a large part of the night until The Lord’s Day dawned. Hence, from the statements of both of them it may be inferred that the Lord rose about midnight, the sixth hour having passed and the seventh having begun.105


As concerning the precise time of the Lord’s Resurrection, Canon I of Dionysios goes into the matter more fully; in fact, it was from him that the present Synod derived its information on these matters. He adds that those who broke their fast before midnight were accused of being pusillanimous and intemperate, whereas those who waited with fortitude till daybreak were praised as being magnanimous and temperate. But even the Apostolic Injunctions, Book V, Chapter 19, say that Christians must cease fasting at the dawn of the first hour of Sabbath, or, more plainly speaking, at the dawning of the Lord’s Day. See also the Interpretation and Footnote to Canon XXIX of the present 6th Synod and Apostolic Canon LXIX.


But as for those persons who right after the liturgy of Great Saturday indulge in wine and oil, are obviously breaking the law. For the divine Apostles in their Injunctions (Book V, Chapters 18 and 19) command Christians to fast throughout Great Friday and Great Saturday, just as they themselves were accustomed to fast on those days, since fasting on these two days is laid down as a law by Christ Himself, who said:

“But days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast” (Matthew. 9:15). Now, it was on Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday that the Lord was in fact taken from the Jews and crucified and buried, for our salvation. But if anyone should offer an objection to this view by citing the statement in the Typikon to the effect that on the evening of Great and Holy Saturday the Cellarman comes and gives a piece of bread and glass of wine, we reply to this objection, that this glass of wine and this piece of bread are not ordinary wine and ordinary bread, but, on the contrary, are bread and wine that have been blessed by the priest:

  1. Because further above it says for the bread to be blessed, and further below it mentions this;
  2. Because in most of them it is found written in the following fashion, that is, with a single piece, not of bread, indefinitely, but of the bread, definitely and relatively, of the above blessed bread, that is to say;
  3. And because this glass of wine was the blessed wine, which, after being mixed with water, was wont to be given to the brethren for the purpose of sanctification, and especially to those who had communed in order to rinse and wash out their mouth, just as it is the custom to do right after divine Communion.

Many persons fast for three days during the Great Fast. Accordingly, why should they not fast also for the two days of Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday, which is more necessary? Indeed, if they cannot do both fasts, it is better for them to fast on these two days, than to do so on the three days in question. For divine Chrysostom says, in his Homily on the Great Week, that just as the Great Week is the head and greater than all the other weeks in the year, so again is the Great and Holy Saturday the head of the Great Week. The fact that the above blessing of the bread is the customary solemnization carried out by breaking the five loaves is more plainly and more explicitly presented by the manuscript Typikon of the Monastery of the Pantocrator.

It says, however, also this, that of the blessed loaves of bread a sufficiently large piece must be given to each brother, and similarly as regards the blessed wine. Hence it is to be inferred that the loaves of bread must be of a large size, and the wine must be of a correspondingly large quantity, in order to suffice for all.


That is why divine Epiphanios in agreement with this Canon says: “All peoples pass the six days before Pascha with the eating of plain food, by which expression I mean bread and salt and water being partaken of them towards evening.”



The cessation of fasting which the Canon mentions ought to take place after midnight Balsamon says that in those days the Christians of old had a different custom of doing it in a different way, which way is nowadays completely disused. Others say that by the expression “cease their fast” (or, in Greek, “aponestizesthai” is meant the eating of cheese, eggs, and Pascha foods in general, this being inferred from Chapter 19 of Book V of the Apostolic Injunctions.

Yet, whether this be true or what was said before, Christians after midnight must first listen to the whole of the of the Resurrection and wait until Divine Liturgy has ended, and thereafter finish fasting and begin eating the Pascha feast with cheerfulness and joyfulness. For the Apostolic Injunctions say (ibid.): “On this account, when the Lord is risen, you too must offer your sacrifice, concerning which He commanded you through us by saying, ‘this do in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19); and thereupon cease fasting and partake of good cheer.”

Here you can see that they say that first the Divine Liturgy must be celebrated, and afterwards the celebration of Pascha must commence. Hence it is to be observed that those persons deserve to be condemned, and are indeed inordinate belly-slaves and gluttons, who the moment they hear the cry “Christ is risen!” at once, having eggs and cheese they have brought with them in their pockets or bosoms, begin stuffing them into their mouth. Accordingly, let them take pains to correct this impropriety here and now and henceforth. But parents, too, ought. not to allow their children to become guilty of any similar disorderly conduct.



For it is for this reason too that on the Lord’s Day we are wont to say that the Lord is risen, since according to Blastaris (Eta, Chapter 3) and Chrysanthus of Jerusalem (in his Geography) the day commences, among ecclesiastics, with the seventh hour of night and ends with the sixth hour of the next night. Accordingly anything that occurs in the interval during the twenty-four hours of this period, appears and is said to occur in that (perhaps one) day.

But note here that in the day of Resurrection it used to be the custom to kiss one another twice: once in the morning, in the Royal Palace, and particularly in churches, while the “Day of Resurrection” was being chanted, at the end of the morning; and again in the evening, thereafter, in the great church of St. Sophia, when the kissing was done together with the Emperor and all the magistrates of the empire, as is historically recorded by Curopalates, who says: “The Emperor sits on the throne wearing the broadsword of the Grand Domesticus, and as all the magistrates come in each, even to the least of them and last of them, kiss first of all the right foot (owing to the imperial character of the kingdom), then the right hand (because the Emperor has been anointed of the Lord and is the Defender of the Church, as Symeon of Thessalonica comments), and after that his right cheek (because “king and soldier, rich man and poor man, are all equal in Christ”).

For this reason many persons ignorantly call this second kiss the Second Resurrection.

As concerns the red eggs eaten at the time of the Resurrection, many persons say many things that are destitute of verification. In solving certain questions for the Emperor of Russia, a learned man named Gazes Paisius, says that when the Jews exclaimed His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matthew 27:25). everything they had in their houses at once turned red, and consequently even the eggs. Hence in remembrance of this miracle we too dye our eggs red at Pascha on the occasion of the Resurrection then being celebrated. This miracle, he says, has come down to us through a tradition of old.

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I said qualifiedly that the night of Great Saturday is the middle between the burial and the resurrection of the Lord, and not Great Saturday, as both Zonaras and Balsamon have lumpingly said, because although the daytime of Great and Holy Saturday clearly includes the burial of the Lord, while Great Pascha clearly includes the resurrection, yet the night of Great Saturday, intervening between the two days in question, partakes of both of them. “On this account the Western local Synod held in Cabilone concerning hierurgy (or celebration of the Liturgy), in Division 1st and the Canon which begins with the expression “It has been the custom,” decrees that so far as regards all the other days of the fasts Liturgy is to be celebrated round the hours of Vespers, but on Great Saturday it is to be celebrated at the commencement of night.” Furthermore, all typicons with great discrimination and observation state that the Ecclesiarch must be possessed of accuracy in order that the time when the Liturgy of Great Saturday ends it shall be two o’clock in the night. But why on all other days of fasting should the Liturgy be celebrated in the evening, but on Great Saturday must be celebrated in the night time? The reason, of course, is that the Gospel is read containing the words “Late on the Sabbath” (Matthew 28:1), and generally affording an introduction to the resurrection, and in order that persons who have been baptized at that time may partake of communion in it. Hence the Apostolic Injunctions, Book V, Chapter 19, go right ahead and lay it down as a rule that catechumens are to be baptized still further in the night. For they say concerning the night of Pascha: “Reading the Law all through the night until the cock crows, and having baptized your catechumens, and having read the Gospel, and having delivered an address to the laity, cease your mourning.”

That is why St. Gregory the Theologian in expanding upon Pascha, and Damascene, borrowing from Gregory, call the night of Great and Holy Saturday saving for those persons who get baptized on that night. “Being a radiant night and a herald of the day appareled in splendor.”

On account of the many lights of the ones illuminated (baptized). “How holy in reality and universally festival this saving night is and radiant!” etc.



Anointment with holy myrrh denotes the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon Christ when He was being baptized in the .Jordan; and consequently, according to Cyril of Jerusalem the chrism is a token that we are receiving in baptism the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit (and see the words of Cyril in the Footnote to Apostolic Canon L) and are becoming perfect Christians. Hence we are called Christians not only because we believe in Christ, but also because we get anointed with that heavenly chrism, becoming christs of the Lord and partakers of Christ in accordance with that passage in the Psalms saying: “Therefore God, thy God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Psalm 45:7). Note, however, that holy myrrh may be administered a second time, but only to those who have denied the faith. Hence the error practiced by some persons ought to be prohibited, viz, the custom of certain priests or spiritual. fathers (i.e., confessors) of anointing those Christians with holy myrrh who have fornicated with a Jewess, or with a woman who is a Latin (i.e., a Roman Catholic, according to English usage) or a heretic. For though it is true that such persons are canonized more severely than other fornicators, according to Reply 47 of Balsamon and Canon XXXI of John of Citrus, they are not anointed with holy myrrh. That is why Canon XLIV of Basil in referring to a deaconess who had committed fornication with a Grecian, does not decree that anything of the kind be done to her. As for how great an evil it is for some persons to partake of the holy myrrh of St. Demetrius instead of divine Communion, see the newly printed book of the saint of Campania.


The Cursed Fig Tree (Church Fathers)

NOTE: One of Geronda Ephraim’s spiritual children in New York, Andreas K., has a fig tree in his backyard. He says that Geronda Ephraim did the sign of the cross over it and blessed it to grow fruit. He says it has been fruitful every year since then. He also claims it is a miracle since it is scientifically impossible for fig trees to grow in New York due to the winter. Interestingly, many New Yorkers have been successful with growing fig tree in their backyards for years. Unfortunately the harsh winter of 2014 killed a large majority of them:

One of the more infamous passages in the gospels involves Jesus cursing of a fig tree for not having any fruit for him despite the fact that it wasn’t even the season for fruit. What sort of petulant individual would deliver a gratuitous, arbitrary curse? Why would this be Jesus only miracle in the environs of Jerusalem? In reality the incident is meant as a metaphor for something larger.
Mark isn’t trying to tell his audience that Jesus was angered at not having figs to eat — this would be very strange, given that he would have known that it was far too early in the year for that. Instead, Jesus is making a larger point about Jewish religious traditions. Specifically: it was not the time for Jewish leaders to bear fruit, and therefore they would be cursed by God never to bear any fruit ever again.

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Thus, instead of merely cursing and killing a lowly fig tree, Jesus is saying that Judaism itself is cursed and will die off dry up at the roots, as a later passage explains when the disciples see the tree the next day (in Matthew, the tree dies immediately).



It died immediately. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! (Matthew 21:19-20)

It didn’t didn’t die until the next morning. And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. … And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. (Mark 11:13-14, 20-21)



There is quite a diversity of Patristic interpretation on that point.


Synaxarion: On great and holy Monday we commemorate the fig tree that was cursed by the Lord and then withered…Likening the synagogue of the Jews to the fig tree barren of spiritual fruit, with a curse Christ makes it wither. Let us flee such a fate.

Saint Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373): “The owner of the fig tree did not obey the law but spurned it. Our Lord came and found that there was nothing left on it, so he cursed it, lest its owner eat from it again, since he had left nothing for the orphan and widows…

He cursed the fig tree and it shriveled up to show them the power of his divinity, so that by means of this action near at hand which they could see, they might believe that which was to come. Because Jerusalem had not accepted the law, he cursed the fig tree, so that there might no longer be fruit on it, according to its laws…

He sought fruit from the fig tree at an inopportune time, that it might be a symbol of one who had deceitfully withheld the fruits of the law at the opportune time. …. he showed that it was Jerusalem that he was reproaching, for he had sought love in her, but she had despised the fruit of repentence….

It was because the time of his suffering was near, and, lest it be thought the he was captured because he was unable to free himself, he cursed the fig tree, that it might be be a sign for his friends, and a miracle for his enemies. He showed in advance, therefore, by means of a living plant which he caused to wither, that he would have been able to destroy his crucifiers with a word. ”

Fig Tree2

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386): “Remember at the time of the sin of Adam and Eve they clothed themselves—with what? Fig leaves. That was their first act after the fall. So now Jesus is making the same figure of the fig tree the very last of his wondrous signs. Just as he was headed toward the cross, he cursed the fig tree–not every fig tree, but that one alone for its symbolic significance–saying, ‘May no one ever eat fruit of you again.’. In this way the curse laid upon Adam and Eve was being reserved. For they had clothed themselves with fig leaves.” [Catechetical Lectures 13]

St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430): “That by withering the fig tree Jesus is in effect saying to us, I have no delight in the withering away of this tree. By doing so I want to convey to you that I am not acting absurdly but for a lesson you may take more seriously. It is not on this literal tree that I have inflicted punishment. Rather, I have made you fear, whoever you are who considers this matter, that you should not fail Christ when He is hungry and that you might hope to be in the coming season of fruit than in the preparatory season of leaves.” [Sermon 39]


St. Isidore of Pelusium (d. 450): “The tree which caused the transgression of Adam and Eve was this fig tree, the leaves whereof the transgressors used to cover themselves. Hence, since it had not suffered this fate originally, it was withered by Christ in His love for mankind, lest it any longer bear fruit that would be the cause of sin.”

Fig tree

Saint Gregory the Great (d. 604): “The figs which the Lord had sought were the fruit of the synagogue, which had the leaves of the laws, but not the fruit of works. For the creator of all things could not be ignorant that the fig tree had no fruit. That was something anyone might have known, since it was not the time of figs” [Epistle XXXIX, to Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexandria]


The Canonical Epistle of St. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, to St. Letoius, Bishop of Melitene (4th century)

NOTE: The following article is taken from Anna M. Silva, Gregory of Nyssa: The Letters Introduction, Translation and Commentary, pp. 211-225


 Letter 31 To Letoius bishop of Melitene

Gregory’s authorship of the letter to Letoius has always been acknowledged. It was originally a genuine letter, called forth in the same sort of circumstances as Basil’s letters 188, 199 and 217 to Amphilochius, i.e. it is the considered response of an authoritative senior bishop to the questions of a new and inexperienced bishop on the Church’s administration of penance.

That this letter was preserved, such as it is, is due to a decision by an unknown canonist in Constantinople who in late 6th century (c. 580) revised John Scholasticus’ pioneering work in codification of Church law, the Synagoge L titulorum. Scholasticus had added certain letters of Basil to Amphilochius to the decisions of church councils. The unknown canonist took a cue from this and in his own work, the Synagoge in XIV titles (also called Syntagma XIV titulorum), added excerpts from a wider range of Church Fathers. One of these was Gregory of Nyssa’s letter to Letoius in the form we now know it, minus its original introduction and divided into eight ‘canons’. All the subsequent transmission of the letter stems from this edition.

The addressee, Letoius, was Otreius’ successor as bishop of Melitene. Gregory wrote letters 10 and 18 to Otreius, who was a participant in the council of 381 and was named with Gregory and Helladius in the imperial edict Cod. Theod 16.1.3 as a guarantor of orthodoxy in eastern Anatolia and Syria. Gregory surely felt his passing deeply and very probably mentioned him in the lost introduction. Letoius wrote a letter to Gregory which included a series of questions on the administration of penance in the Church. This letter is Gregory’s reply. The exchange gives the impression of coming early, even very early in Letoius’ term as bishop. From the opening remarks (1a), it might be guessed that Letoius is yet to face his first Easter as bishop. He was seeking authoritative help in fulfilling his duties at that focal point of the Church’s year. These duties included the conferral of baptism and the readmission to communion of penitents who had completed their due penance (1b).

The dating of Letoius’ accession to the episcopate is a matter of some conjecture. He appears in Theodoret Church History 4.10 in association with Amphilochius of Iconium and Flavian of Antioch in combating the spread of Messalianism among the monks. He is mentioned also in Theodoret’s Haereticarum fabularum compendium PG 83, 335–556 at 432, and by Photius in Bibl. Cod. 52. Photius reports his reading of a letter sent to Flavian from a synod convened at Side in Lycaonia by Amphilochius at which Messalianism was condemned as heretical. (ca. 383-390).

One of the admirable features of this letter is the preamble in which Gregory succinctly and eloquently sketches a spiritual anthropology which is the perspective in which to approach the administration of penance in the church. The ruling idea is not that of enacting the legal decisions of a tribunal but that of a spiritual physician diagnosing and treating spiritual illnesses and verifying progress by appropriate signs of spiritual health. This is seen most of all in terms of the penitent’s own prohairesis, his choice or will. The process of penance is meant to be a spiritual education. It is set squarely in terms of the human vocation to resist the slide into vice and to contend for virtue and beyond that in terms of the Christian vocation to transformation in Christ that is valid for all Christians at all times.

Eight Letters Concerning Lent (Saint Athansios I, Patriarch of Constantinople)

NOTE: The following Letters are taken from The Correspondence of Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople: Letters to the Emperor Andronicus II, Members of the Imperial Family, and Officials:

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The Who’s Who of the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete (Protodeacon James Hughes)

Today, Saint Andrew of Crete is primarily known as a hymnographer. He is credited with the invention (or at least the introduction into Orthodox liturgical services) of the canon, a new form of hymnody. Previously, the portion of the Matins serrains inserted between the scripture verses. Saint Andrew expanded these refrains into fully developed poetic Odes, each of which begins with the theme (Irmos) of the scriptural canticle, but then goes on to expound the theme of the feast being celebrated that day (whether the Lord, theTheotokos a saint, the departed, etc.).


His masterpiece, the Great Canon (also known as the Canon of Repentance or the Great Canon of Repentance), is the longest canon ever composed (250 strophes). It is written primarily in the first person, and goes chronologically through the entire Old and New Testaments drawing examples (both negative and positive) which it correlates to the need of the sinful soul for repentance and a humble return to God. It is divided into four parts (called methymony) which are chanted at Great Compline on the first four nights of Great Lent (one part per night); later, it is chanted in its entirety at Matins on Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent.

Twenty-four canons are reputed to have been written by Saint Andrew of Crete. Of these, we can be more or less certain that he wrote fourteen, including: the canons for the Resurrection of Lazarus (chanted at Compline on the Saturday—i.e., Friday night—before Palm Sunday); the Conception of St. Anne (9 December); the Maccabean Martyrs (1 August); St. Ignatius of Antioch (20 December), as well as four Triodia, and no fewer than one hundred and seven irmoi.

Byzantine Insights into Genesis 1-3 – St Andrew of Crete’s Great Canon:

Reading the Scriptures with Byzantine Eyes – The Hermeneutical Significance of St Andrew of Crete’s Great Canon:



The Annunciation (Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from The Rudder:

St_ Nikodemos 4

Note that during all forty days of the Great Fast fish is allowed by the Church only once, and that is on the Feast of Annunciation, as is ordained in the Typikon kept on the Holy Mountain. Hence it is evident that it has been a more modern hand that has written into the Typikon and into the Triodion that we may eat fish also on the feast day of the Lord’s Day of Palms. Besides, even Nicholas the Patriarch in his verses allowed the eating of fish only on the Feast of Annunciation. Therefore, when we learn this fact, let us follow the example of the saints, and not the modernist heretics, who yield obedience to the dictates of their stomachs. (pp. 371-372)


Note that just as the word homoousion [meaning of the same essence or coessential] was one to which the Fathers were accustomed even before the First Ecumenical Synod, though the latter sanctioned the use of this word and imparted it to the whole world, in a like manner had other Fathers called the Virgin Mary a Theotokos even before this Third Synod. But this Synod, having sanctioned this sweetest name of the Virgin, imparted it as a dogmatic definition to the whole world and handed it down through all later generations. Origen was the first to call the Virgin a Theotokos, in interpreting verse 33 of chapter 22 of Deuteronomy (pages 15 and 54 of the first volume of the series of the Fathers (in the Patrologia). Socrates also ( in Book 7 of his History, Chapter 32) says that Origen himself, while engaged in a comprehensive examination of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans found out how the Virgin came to be called the Theotokos. Cyril of Alexandria, in writing to Nestorius, says that even Athanasios the Great called her the Theotokos, and Ammon the Bishop of Adrianoupolis concurred, just as Alexander of Alexandria called the All-holy Virgin the Theotokos in writing to Alexander of Constantinople (the one who presided at the First Ecumenical Synod).

1st Ecumenical Synod (325)
1st Ecumenical Synod (325)

Again, Basil, in his discourse on the birth of Christ, says: “The Theotokos never ceased being a Virgin, because she would not displease the ears of Christlovers.” These testimonies, I take it, are self-sufficient. But it may be added here that Gregory the Theologian, in his first letter to Cledonius, says: “if there be anyone who does not consider Mary to be Theotokos, he is destitute of divinity.” And in his first discourse concerning the Son, in addressing the Greeks, he says; “For where among your deities have you known a Virgin Theotokos?” Eusebius, in his Life of Constantine (Chapter 43) and Socrates (Book 7, Chapter 32) say: “Wherefore indeed the most God-revering Queen (i.e. Helena) with wonderful tombstones magnificently decorated the Theotokos’ birthplace” – Bethlehem). Dionysios of Alexandria said to Paul of Samosota: “the one who became incarnate out of the holy Virgin and Theotokos Mary.” St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (or Wonder-worker) of Neocaesarea, in his discourse on the Annunciation, says these following words: “The Holy Theotokos, therefore, gave voice to the song of this prophecy by exclaiming, ‘My soul does magnify the Lord’” (Luke 1:46). Only the All-holy Virgin is called the Theotokos, according to the explanatory remark of Zonaras in commenting upon some troparia of the canons of the Octoechos of Damascene, by way of contrast with the women among the Greeks who were mythologically asserted to have given birth to their non-existent pseudo-gods.

3rd Ecumenical Synod (381)
3rd Ecumenical Synod (381)

The Virgin is called the Theotokos as having truly given birth to God, the accent being upon the last syllable, and not Theotocus, with the accent on the antepenult, which would signify “having been begotten by God spiritually,” as recusant and man-worshiping Nestorius called her.

For in this manner all human beings have been begotten spiritually through and by virtue of baptism. But the Holy Virgin is said to be a Theotokos in two ways.

One of these ways is on account of the nature and the substance of the God Logos which was given birth from of her and which assumed humanity; and the other way is on account of the humanity assumed, which became deified as a result of that union and assumption, and attained to Godhood (John Damascene, Concerning the Orthodox Faith, Book 3, Chapter 12, and elsewhere).

The Holy and Ecumenical Sixth Synod proclaimed her Virgin (in its act 11 by means of the document of the faith of Sophronios of Jerusalem) before giving birth, and in giving birth, and after giving birth: which is the same as saying Ever-virgin. Concerning St. Epiphanios (Hairesei. 78) says: “Who, having said Mary, and having been asked whom he meant, ever failed to answer by adding the Virgin?” And St. Jerome (Dialogue Second against Pelagius) said: “Christ alone opened the closed portals of the Virgin’s womb, and thereafter these remained shut (this word “opened” denotes that the Lord fecundated the womb, just as, in the opposite case, the womb is said to be shut in the sense that the womb is barren because of sterility: in accordance with that passage in Genesis saying: “God had shut fast every womb from without” (Genesis 20:18); or it may be said to denote “parted asunder,” but without injury, and not like the rest of infants). She is declared to be Ever-virgin also in the first Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod, held in the Troullos.

6th Ecumenical Synod (681)
6th Ecumenical Synod (681)


On all the Forty days of the Great Fast devoted to fasting, with the exception of Saturday and The Lord’s Day and the days of the holy Annunciation, let the Holy Liturgy of the presanctified be celebrated. (Apostolic Canon LXIX; Canons XLIX, LI of Laodicea)


The days of holy fast are days of mourning and of contrition and of repentance. But for a perfect sacrifice to be offered to God, and indeed in he commemorations of saints, is deemed by the majority of people to be matter of jubilation and joy, and of festivity. That is why they are wont to indulge in merry-making during this period. For this reason the present Canon commands that on the other days of the Fast there shall be a celebration of the liturgy of the56 which is the same as saying the second offering of the completed and sacrifice offered, whereas on Saturdays and The Lord’s Days, as more cheerful days and not devoted to fasting, likewise also on Annunciation Day, as being the commencement of our salvation and the exordium, and consequently as a feast day and festival, it allows a perfect sacrifice and Liturgy to be celebrated.


Canon XLIX of Laodicea is in agreement with the present Canon in decreeing that bread is not to be offered during the Fast, or, in other words, a perfect liturgy, but only on Saturday and the Lord’s Day. Furthermore, Canon LI of the same prohibits the celebration of commemorations and birthdays (actually death days) of martyrs on fasting days in the Great Fast, but allows it only on the Saturdays and The Lord’s Days therein. Balsamon in his Interpretation of Canon LI of this Synod of Laodicca, and, above all, Blastaris, in Chapter 5, verse 300, say that not even memorials for the sleeping are to be held on the other days in the Great Fast, the sole exception being 57 just as the typikons conformably prescribe. See also Apostolic Canon LXIX.


But in his Reply 55 the same Balsamon says that not even baptisms can be performed during the Great Fast except only on the Saturdays and Lord’s Days therein, and the day of Annunciation. But those who do these things ought to be corrected with heavy penalties, as having sinned unpardonably, except in case there should be a dire necessity of death (page 389 of Jus Graeco-Romanum).

Many teachers, indeed, are inclined to insist that it was on the Lord’s Day that the Annunciation took place. Christ was born on the Lord’s Day. It was on the Lord’s Day that wonder of the multiplication of the five loaves of bread occurred. It was on the Lord’s Day that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, and it was on the Lord’s Day that John was privileged to behold the terrible Revelation as is stated in the first chapter of it.


If Annunciation falls on Great and Holy Thursday or Great and Holy Friday, we are not sinning if on that day we partake of wine and fish. (Apostolic Canon I, XIX)

St. Nikephoros I of Constantinople
St. Nikephoros I of Constantinople