The Orthodox Pages




12th JANUARY 2012












































































































I’d like to welcome you all back to our weekly talks and wish you all a blessed and fruitful New Year 2012. Before the Christmas break we had a series of talks on the Parables of the Lord which we left unfinished and hopefully we will resume with the last of the Parables as from next week. Today I want to speak to you about miracles and what they mean for us.
Miracles are defined as acts that happen which cannot be explained by the known laws of nature, where the normal laws of nature are suspended, indicating that some other divine or supernatural force has been active. In a modern and casual usage of the word it can refer to any wonderful event such as the birth of a child, someone surviving a natural disaster or someone surviving a death threatening illness against all odds. In religious terms, it is always an intervention of God's providence where God acts upon a person's life for his spiritual salvation or on a nation or the creation at large again for the purpose of salvation. God's intervention is sometimes conveyed directly or indirectly through his angels and the intercessions of his saints.
Miracles can be many things: they can be bodily cures, which do not necessarily mean that modern medicine, or nature itself cannot cure, but the timing of the cure is unexplainable. They can be visions of angels and saints which according to science are not natural phenomena of this world and therefore only exist in the minds of those who say they have seen them. Miracles can be just a voice without a vision which a person hears and automatically recognizes that the voice is not of this world, but cannot explain it according to the natural laws of this world. We can even say that a thought or message received in the heart, which the person receiving it recognizes that it came from some other source other than his own brain is a form of miracle, especially when the message is telling the person to act immediately and there is a significant consequence following the message which cannot be explained by natural laws. I will explain a little later what I mean.
Over the holidays we celebrated two miraculous events that were bestowed upon the whole world with the purpose of man's salvation. The one was the Birth of Christ and the other his Baptism in the waters of the River Jordan. Both events were announced or accompanied with miraculous events which cannot be explained scientifically. One can only believe they happened if the person believes in God and that Jesus is God incarnate. For a believer all things are possible with God and for a sceptic nothing less than seeing with his own eyes a miraculous event would make him believe, and even then, he would still question what he saw and try to explain it within the natural laws of nature.
If miracles are defined as acts that defy the laws of nature then Christ's birth is certainly within this definition. Never has it been heard of according to natural law that a woman can conceive and become pregnant with child without a man. Never has it been heard of that a woman can give birth naturally and still retain the bodily signs of virginity. These are miracles that no scientific human answers can explain and so the Church calls them Mysteries. Many people except the miraculous conception yet find it difficult to accept that after giving birth the Mother of God retained her virginity. Is one event more plausible that the other? Are not both events beyond human logic? If God can do the one can he not do the other? If God can create the universe just by a single thought, if he can create man from dust, what is so unbelievable in keeping intact a woman's virginity after childbirth?

The angels that appeared to the shepherds are a miracle because their appearance to the shepherds cannot be explained by the laws of this world. They belong to a world that apparently doesn't exist except in the minds of religious fanatics. But what about the star than appeared to the wise men and which lead them to the birthplace of Christ? This is a strange phenomenon which astronomers have for centuries been trying to explain by the known movements of the planets and stars. Their interest in the star at least shows that they take the Gospel story seriously enough to accept that there was actually a star, but their error is that they do not accept it as an unexplainable and miraculous event and try to explain it within the logic of their science. I explained the miraculous star last year, but it will do no harm to hear it again. The wise men started of on their journey to find a God but how did they know where to go? In the Gospel of Matthew it says that they came from the east to Jerusalem saying: “where is he that is born the King of the Jews for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.” If they saw the star in the east how did they know to come to Jerusalem? Well firstly the star is not like any other star known to man, that is why the wise men saw in its appearance the confirmation that a divine person had come into the world.

Many astronomers will tell us that it was a comet, it was a nova or some other astronomical event and will even tell us that according to their astronomical charts the year of Christ birth must be wrong because they can account for an astronomical event a few years before and a few years after, but not for the year that Christ is said to have been born. The truth is they will never be able to discover what this star was because it was not a star in the usual sense as we will see from its behaviour. The wise men came to Jerusalem because the star guided them: it went before them showing them the road; it guided them until they were outside of Jerusalem and then disappeared. We can deduct that they didn’t see the star whilst in Jerusalem because it tells us that after leaving Herod the star which they saw in the east appeared again and went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. Now this is a very strange star. It appears, it disappears, it moves in various directions and can stop whenever it wants to and shine down on what it wants. Its brightness can even be seen in the daytime and is not dimmed by the brightness of the sun. This is definitely not a comet or a nova as some suppose. It is telling the wise men where to go and where to look for the God that has been born a human being. The star is not only a cosmic phenomenon; it is a heavenly messenger, an angel sent by God to proclaim the glad tidings of the incarnation of the Son of God.
The Nativity story is full of miracles that occurred that cannot be explained by the natural laws of this world. They only have meaning if one believes in God and that he can do all things according to his will and providence. The Baptism of Christ is also proclaimed with miraculous events. The Gospels tell us that when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordon by John that he immediately came out of the water and the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God in the form of a dove descended and lighted upon him and a voice from heaven was heard to say: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The miracle is that for the first time in human history, God has revealed himself as a God incomprehensible to human intellect, a God one in essence, but comprising of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Most miracles are seen or heard by someone. In the case of the Baptism Theophany, the miracle was seen and heard by John the Baptist so that he should bare witness to the whole world of the revelation of the Trinitarian God and that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the Second person of the Holy Trinity. But at the Baptism of Christ another miracle took place which was not heard or seen by anyone. This is the sanctification of the waters and the renewal of creation.
The world was created for man and when Adam fell from grace the whole material world fell with him. The whole world suffered the consequences of fallen nature and Christ came into the world not only to save man, but also to renew nature: to transfigure the fallen state of creation to the state that it will receive in the new age. With his baptism in the streams of the Jordan all matter is sanctified and made pure in him, purged of its death-dealing qualities inherited from the devil and the wickedness of men. In the Lord's epiphany all creation becomes good again, indeed “very good,” the way that God himself made it and proclaimed it to be in the beginning when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2) and when the “Breath of Life” was breathing in man and in everything that God made (Gen 1:30; 2:7).
Within the Church there are many miracles happening which we cannot see with our eyes or hear with our ears. The Sacraments are called Mysteries because a transformation takes place which cannot be explained logically according to the laws of nature. The wine becomes the Blood of Christ and the bread his Body, the waters of the baptismal font are sanctified and have the power to bestow upon the person being baptised a new life free from sin, through the Chrism we are bestowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Through confession our sins are absolved and we are given a clean slate. These are transformations we cannot see, but because we believe that God can do all things we do not question if these things actually happen: we know they do. We do not need to verify everything according to the laws of nature because nature itself has changed. When sceptics speak of the laws of nature, what nature are they talking about? For us who believe that man was originally created immortal they can only be referring to fallen nature. Adam's fall changed human nature from its immortal state which God created it into a state of mortality subject to illnesses, diseases, pain, suffering, ageing bodies, and death. All these things are unnatural to our original nature: if then someone is miraculously cured of a terminal illness this is not against the laws of nature but a sign and foretaste of our true immortal nature.
Miracles do happen. We all know someone to whom a miracle has happened. Some miracles are noticeable because they involve a bodily cure, but there are many miracles that happen to each of us daily which often go unnoticed or we take for granted. We are driving along in our car and suddenly we just escape a terrible accident; was it pure chance or were we saved from harm by an angel? I mentioned earlier that we can receive messages within us telling us to do something which we immediately recognise did not come from our own thoughts. I will tell you of a strange if not miraculous story of what happened to me many years ago. It was in January of 1992, I was still living in London just before I came over to Cyprus to be ordained a priest. I was working as a church warden at one of London's Orthodox churches and two or three months before a new priest, an archimandrite from Greece was assigned to the Church to take over from another priest who was permanently coming back to Cyprus.

I would open the Church every morning and clean the Sanctuary and other odd jobs that needed doing. During the day people would come and go leaving money in the tray and lighting their votive candles. I would know when someone came in because the door had a bell attached to it which would ring as it opened. During my rounds around the church I would take the money left in the tray and put it into the counter slot for safe keeping. The new priest saw me doing this and asked me to leave the money in the tray. There was no valid reason to leave the money in the tray but the priest insisted and gave the excuse that someone might what to change a large note. In my experience, no one ever asked for change and whoever came to light a candle always came prepared with the money they wanted to give. This stirred up my suspicions and I decided to keep a watch on the priest. Sure enough, as someone came in and left, the priest would come out of his office, go straight to the money tray transferring everything into his pocket. He would do this all day long and if he left the church he would make a note of reminding me to leave the money in the tray. I was in a dilemma as to what to do; he was a priest and it wasn't right for me to accuse him of stealing. On the other hand the church was not a wealthy parish and had a massive loan to repay. I kept things to myself and at every opportunity when he wasn't around I would place the money into the counter slot.

After a couple of months I felt I couldn't keep it to myself any longer and confidentially told the other priest what was happening. He promised he would not say anything to anyone and I felt a great burden lifted off my shoulders: it wasn't my problem any more. Needless to say he didn't keep his word and mentioned it to the committee members. They couldn't come straight out and accuse him of stealing so they set a trap for him. They marked several five pound notes and gave them to people to come during the week and put them into the money tray. After the Sunday Liturgy on the 16th January they made out that they needed to change a large note and asked the priest if he had any fivers on him. Sure enough out come the fivers and he was trapped. When he asked how they came to suspect him they told him that I witnessed him stealing the money and informed them. He came running into the sanctuary where I was still tidying up and attacked me with a string of verbal abuse and curses. I went home planning to return later on in the evening for Vespers for the feast of St. Anthony which was the following morning.

That same Sunday evening on that cold and dark winter's night I was driving to go to the Church. From my house to the church I had to take a three lane dual carriageway called the North Circular Road. Those of you from London will know the road very well. Usually this road that goes for miles around London is choc a bloc with traffic, but being that it was Sunday and winter there was hardly any cars on the road. At one point of the road for at least half a mile before certain traffic lights the road loses its central reservation. When I got to this point I noticed the headlights of a car on the other side of the traffic lights still a very long way off. As soon as I noticed the car I heard a voice inside me telling me that that car was coming straight for me to do me harm and that there is no way I could escape it. If I stop the car on the hard shoulder it will find me and if I speed up it will still find me. I knew straight away that the message didn't come from my brain, some other source was at work and so I took the message seriously. I had to make a quick decision there and then. As there was no way of escaping the collision I decided to pull up on the hard shoulder and wait so that at least the impact would be less severe. I stopped and prayed and watched the car approach all the while sensing that what was approaching was not a car but a demon. The car passed the traffic lights and was moving along normally like any other car, but then as it came towards a few feet from me, it turned and cross the road and came head on and collided straight into me completely destroying the right side of my car. My car was a right off, but I escaped with a little whiplash. The police and ambulance came but neither myself or the two passengers in the other car were hurt. When the police asked the other driver to explain what had happened he was bewildered. He said that he was driving along when suddenly he had no control over the car as though someone else had taken over the steering wheel.

I didn't make it to Church for the evening service or for the morning service, but later on in the day I took the bus and made my way to the Church. As soon as I entered the cleaning lady came rushing up to me saying all excited "who'll never guess what happened yesterday, that so and so priest (I'll leave out the characteristics she used) last night just before vespers he got on his knees in the middle of the church and like a madman was screaming and praying to Satan to do you harm." I was not really surprised by what she said: the exact time she mentioned coincided with what I experienced the evening before and the cleaning lady's information simply helped fill the puzzle of what really happened. What happened to the priest? Not much, he was moved to another parish outside of London where he repeated his unholy activities until he was asked to leave and return to Greece. Back in Greece he was involved in a ring accused of embezzling millions of church funds, selling church antiquities, and bribing judges to acquit drug dealers. In 2005 he was arrested and spent 17 months in prison awaiting trial until he was released on bail pending further court trials.
Anyway the story I have just told is not centred on the priest, but on what I experienced and especially the inner voice I heard. It certainly didn't come from my own thoughts, how could I have foretold that the other car would suddenly change course and come straight into me. What if I hadn't heeded the message and ignored it? I would have been speeding at the time of the collision and would have definitely been severely injured or even dead.
Miracles do happen everyday to many people in various ways and forms. For us Christians this should not be anything out of the ordinary. Certainly for many a miracle helps to strengthen their faith in God and is a verification or divine intervention. The Catholic Church makes a point of setting up committees to investigate miracles and all those that don't withstand the test of modern scientific scrutiny are discarded as not true miracles. To even be considered, a potentially miraculous cure must be instantaneous or sudden, complete and permanent, and without apparent scientific explanation. Those “cured” cannot simply have improved, cannot relapse and cannot have sought medical care (or at least must have given it up well before the miracle). Over 8,000 cures have been documented at the waters of Lourdes, but the Catholic Church has only validated a mere 67 of them. To understand miracles as only phenomena without scientific explanation is to misunderstand what miracles are. Christ cured Peter's mother in law from a fever. Her fever could have run its course naturally and she would have been cured in a few days. Does that make the miracle any less a miracle?
The Orthodox Church on the other hand does not investigate miracles in the same way unless she suspects a deliberate fraud set up to manipulate and delude the faithful into giving donations. There are thousands of miracles documented in books concerning the lives of various saints, but none of these are investigated and none are promoted as proof of divine intervention. The Church has no need to prove to the world want she believes and takes for granted, that God has not abandoned man to his own devices but continually manifests his divine providence in human affairs for man's welfare and salvation.
Thousands of Christians claim to have been visited by an angel or a saint. All these apparitions cannot be simply the figment of their imaginations. With a great majority these visions are true appearances of saints who through God’s will are sent to earth to help or heal the faithful. But the Church is cautious in accepting these visions as divine intervention because demons are also known to appear as angels or saints and at times have appeared as Christ. Why people see demonic delusions is another story which we have spoken off in the past and could possibly have again as a separate talk. For our talk today it is enough to say that whether divine or demonic these visions defy the natural laws of nature.
As I said earlier we all know of someone to whom a miracle has happened and almost every family will have a miracle story to relate. I've already given you an account of a personal experience, but if you bear with me I would like to share with you at least two more family experiences.
When I and my brothers and sister were still very young children, our mother, for some unknown reason was stricken with paralysis in her legs. She literally had to crawl from one place to another. The doctors at St. Bartholomew's hospital were baffled and couldn't explain the reason for her paralysis. After months of consultations with the doctors, it was decided that she should be admitted into hospital for more test. Christmas was approaching and the social services made all the arrangements for us children to be placed into a children's home so that mum could be admitted into hospital. The thought of us being placed into a children's home probably terrified mum more than the thought of being a guinea pig for the doctors. The day before we were to be taken into the home, mum saw a dream that she was in the church of her mother's village Lophou and that she was wearing a certain pair of high heels that she had, but which she hadn't been able to wear since her illness. As she walked out of the church she discovered that she was only wearing the one shoe and that she must have left the other inside the church. On waking she pondered on what she dreamt and crawled out of bed to search for the shoes in her dream. She put the shoes on and immediately stood up and starting walking. She then went straight to the hospital and when the doctors saw her strolling in they were struck with disbelief. Their medical knowledge told them that only a miracle could have taken place.
This is a story that I was too young to remember so I only have my mother's testimony as proof, but my next story was when I was 20 and I remember it very well. After a business venture than went wrong my parents lost their house and we moved around in various rented accommodation until they bought a leasehold cafe with a flat above the shop. The cafe was not very profitable but it paid the rent. After the first three years the landlords had the right to increase the rent and they did so by raising it 300 percent. There was no way my parents could meet the high rent and an eviction order was issued. Distraught at being homeless my parents started to search for alternative lodgings. During the night my mother had a dream where someone called Thomas appeared to her and told her not to worry, and that there are two thousand before you, but you shall be first. On waking she had no idea what this meant. Soon the postman came and there was a letter from the local council. She opened the letter and it said that there were two thousand people on the housing waiting list, but please come in to see us to discuss your application. My mum was baffled as she had never ever made any application for a council house. She went along and when they found her file they told her that she had applied on the 6th January 1974 and that she should have already been given a house. Sure enough we soon moved into the council house, but the story is very baffling because of the date of the application. It's a date we all remember very well because it was the day we were all busily moving into the flat above the cafe and it was the date my sister gave birth to her daughter. Mum was torn between moving and being at the hospital for the birth of her first grandchild so there was no possible way for anyone to have gone to the local council to make an application.
There are more baffling family stories but I've said enough about mine and would like to hear some of yours.
Miracles and strange unexplainable things do happen, but if we believe in God we should not be surprised or find them incredulous to believe. Weeping Icons have become a common phenomenon in recent years and if anyone wants proof of divine power they only have to visit the Holy Land during Easter and take part in the Ceremony of the Holy Light. There is even video footage available on the net of this miracle that happens every year.
What then are miracles for us Christians? They should not be seen only as proof and verification of God's existence, but as a comfort and hope that God is always with us and will intervene in our affairs if it is for our good and for our salvation. Wanting to see or experience a miracle is like saying you are not sure of your faith in God and like Thomas need proof to believe. As with Thomas, God sometimes gives this proof, but it is far better to hear the Lord say “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”