Rev. Fr. Theodore C. Roupas with parishioners from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (of Raleigh, North Carolina)
Pilgrimage to Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery (Florence, Arizona) — April 2010
There is a story in the Russian Primary Chronicle of how Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, while still a pagan, desired to know which was the true religion, and therefore sent his followers to visit the various countries of the world in turn. They went first to the Moslem Bulgars of the Volga , but observing that these when they prayed gazed around them like men possessed, the Russians continued on their way dissatisfied. ‘There is no joy among them,’ they reported to Vladimir , ‘but mournfulness and a great smell; and there is nothing good about their system.’ Traveling next to Germany and Rome , they found the worship more satisfactory, but complained that here too it was without beauty. Finally they journeyed to Constantinople , and here at last, as they attended the Divine Liturgy in the great (Orthodox Christian) Church of the Holy Wisdom, they discovered what they desired. ‘We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.’
“The very first time I went to the monastery, I had a feeling of angst because I was struggling with something,” she said. “When I stepped through the archway, I burst into tears; I felt like I had found a haven.”
→ NEXT PILGRIMAGE † February 3-9, 2013 ←
+ PANAGIA PARIGORITISSA GREEK ORTHODOX (WOMEN’S) MONASTERY — (B., QC – CANADA) +
→ RECENT PILGRIMAGE † February 13-18, 2012 ←
+ SAINT ANTHONY’S GREEK ORTHODOX (MEN’S) MONASTERY — (Florence, AZ – U.S.A.) +
+ SAINT PAISIUS’S SERBIAN ORTHODOX (WOMEN’S) MONASTERY — (Safford, AZ – U.S.A.) +
(http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/visitorpilgrimguide.php , http://stpaisiusmonastery.org/visitor-guilde/visitor-information/)
Listen to the Fathers of St. Anthony’s chant! → Rich Men Have Turned Poor, Canon Of St. Anthony, It Is Truly Right, Apolytikion Of St. Anthony
Listen to the Sisters of Saint Paisius’s chant! → (Magnificat – Tone 3), (Sticheron to the Holy Hierarchs), (Apolytikion to St. Paisius)
Orthodox Christian Spiritual Pilgrims
The Meaning of Pilgrimage
1) Why Do Christians Go On a Pilgrimage?
All of us [...] are on a pilgrimage . . . each of us have traveled some distance, whether it be great or small, leaving our homes, our work, our friends and families behind to come [...] to satisfy some need and desire to make a holy pilgrimage. This is what we all have in common [...] Something that we do not necessarily hold in common is our own personal reason for coming.
As diverse as are the persons who make pilgrimages, so are the many good motivations for deciding to make a pilgrimage:
- Some are seeking inspiration, out of a desire to gain a new perspective, or change of mind and heart.
- Some are deeply questioning their life’s purpose, seeking God’s divine will.
- Some are committed to the idea and practice of pilgrimage. They may not know why they are making a pilgrimage, but are following their feelings and intuition.
- Some seek to purify their hearts, replacing confusion with clarity.
- Some want to take the time to place themselves in the proper setting so that they may concentrate on a particular subject, or put into practice a direction given to them from their spiritual father.
- Some are doing penance.
- Some simply want to calm their minds and find the peace that only communion with God can bring.
I am not going to guess what your personal reason may be . . . your reason for coming is yours alone . . . between you and God . . . but your purpose for coming will shape the way in which you will benefit from your journey.
2) a. What is a Pilgrimage? b. Why is Pilgrimage Important to our Spiritual Growth? c. What Value is There in Making a Pilgrimage? d. How Can it be of Benefit to Us? e. Why Should We Make the Effort, When We Can Stay at Home and Pray, Without All of the Expense and Trouble?
I am certain that this line of reasoning is the chief reason that most Orthodox Christians in America do not give consideration to planning or making a pilgrimage, as you have. There seems to be a general forgetfulness of the time-honored practice of Christian Pilgrimage, one that is as old as the Church herself. In her two millennia, Christians have made journeys for their spiritual benefit:
- to places where Our Lord lived out His life
- to places where Our Lord, His Holy Apostles, and the Saints who came after them, performed miracles for the glory of God
- to the places where these holy men and women of God lived their lives
- and to the holy places where their relics are enshrined.
It is not difficult to find accounts of Holy Pilgrimages in the early Christian Church. The early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea writes of a second-century pilgrimage of Bishop Melito of Sardis, and a third century pilgrimage of Bishop Alexander of Cappadocia to Jerusalem. We are all familiar with the accounts of Saint Helen, the mother of St. Constantine, and her pilgrimages to the Holy land, which resulted in the finding of the True Cross . . . the place of the Nativity of our Lord . . . the Holy Sepulcher where our Lord was laid . . . and the place of the Ascension from Mount Olivet (or “Olives”). All of these sites have remained places of pilgrimage where millions of faithful people have come since their blessed re-discovery.
It profits our souls to visit those special places that have been imbued with the grace-filled life of holy saints. Just being there affects our souls. While we are there, we should be moved by what we experience to resolve to use each moment, each minute, hour and day, to live for God by His Grace, to put away sin . . . and to love God and our brothers and sisters. This is truly an encounter with spiritual reality, and we benefit from that encounter.
With this understanding, we can accurately define the word “pilgrimage”. A pilgrimage, then, can be described as a journey to a holy place for a spiritual purpose. Some may focus on the journey as being the central and significant part of a pilgrimage. They may be thinking of long and sometimes difficult trips to far off and exotic lands. To a non-believer, these attitudes make a pilgrimage sound more like a vacation or a pleasure trip.
Certainly, focusing on the travel itself is not proper for an authentic pilgrimage. Unfortunately, our American society has taught us to look for the entertainment value in everything we do . . . even in our worship. My brothers and sisters in Christ, a pilgrimage is not a vacation . . . it is not holy entertainment. If this is your focus when you make your pilgrimages, you will have your benefit the moment you arrive and depart, and nothing but memories and some photographs to show for it.
The true focus of a pilgrimage is, of course, its spiritual purpose. I am not saying that the journey itself is not important. The journey serves the spiritual purpose, and not the other way around. The journey is an integral part of the spiritual purpose because of the character of its sacrifice, its intensity, and its witness to the True Faith.
Our pilgrimage begins the moment we decide upon going. At that moment, we begin our prayers to God that our journey will be beneficial to our soul . . . that it be one that will bring us closer to God, and closer to our goal of uniting with Him. This is how we establish the spiritual purpose of our pilgrimage. In this manner, everything that happens from that point until our return home will come to serve our spiritual purpose.
When we make a pilgrimage to honor [the great saints of the (Orthodox) Church] … or any Holy Pilgrimage for a spiritual purpose, there are many things that we can do to make our experience spiritually beneficial.
First, we take time to learn about the lives of the saints we [will honor] as I have just imparted to you. As I have said, we are ALL called to be saints. To help us work toward this lofty goal, we have individuals whom the Church has recognized as true saints for us to model our lives after. As we see in [their lives], there is much that we can emulate as we improve ourselves spiritually, seeking our own deification. The example of [their] dedication to Our Lord, and the steadfastness of [their] faith in the face of persecution should be an inspiration to all of us, as we seek to become all that God wishes for us to become.
Second, we take this opportunity to venerate these great saints at their holy shrines and before their holy relics. Remember, in veneration, we are not worshiping them. In our veneration, we give respect to [the] presence of God and the holiness of their lives. In their relics, we find that matter has indeed been deified, and through our veneration of them, we give glory and praise to God.
Finally [...] we ask that the saints we [will honor] will intercede with God for the salvation of our souls. How wonderful it is that we have someone who is united with God to be our spokesperson, seeking for us His blessing and help.
Fr. Anthony Coniaris once wrote “Although saints are not substitutes for Christ, Orthodox Christians believe firmly in the communion of saints. By this we mean that the Church Triumphant in heaven is not insensitive to the needs and sufferings of the Church Militant on earth. The two churches remain connected through the bond of love which is expressed through prayer. The communion of saints is a communion of never-ending prayer.”
Thus, besides our Church Family on earth, we belong to a larger family of God, which includes those who have gone before us. We are united with those in heaven. We call this the Communion of Saints, that is, the union of all who share in the life of Christ, whether on earth or in the other world.
You can now see what a great blessing it is for us to [take] … [a] holy pilgrimage … This is how we gather the spiritual fruit of our effort to make [a] journey. This is why it is vital to our spiritual health that we as Christians make holy pilgrimages. [Upon returning to your homes] consider yourselves [...] to be Ambassadors for God [...] Tell your family, friends and fellow parishioners about your experience … Tell them about the true value of making a holy pilgrimage, and encourage them to do so. Pilgrimage must be a part of the spiritual life of every Orthodox Christian.
It is my prayer that each of you will return to your homes enriched and revitalized after what you … experience … During your [pilgrimage], you will be given many opportunities to learn more about your faith … [There] will [be] many opportunities to pray together, and you will have time to pray and meditate in private at the shrines and chapels that are [there]. And you will have the opportunity to spend time in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ; bound by our single spiritual purpose . . . to seek union with our God.
It is my hope that each of you will have a spiritually rewarding pilgrimage … Thank you, and may God bless all of you!
(Source: by Bishop Demetri Khoury; http://almoutran.com/2011/03/214)
Holy Fire Ceremony: Pilgrims with lighted candles at the Church of the Holy Resurrection (Jerusalem, Israel) — Holy Easter