What Yoga Really Is – Johannes Aagaard, Aarhus University, Danmark



What Yoga Really Is


Johannes Aagaard

Aarhus University, Danmark





The philosophy of yoga can be expressed as follows:

“Ashes are fire, ashes are water, ashes are earthy everything is ashes, mind, sight, and the other senses are ashes.” (Atharva Siras)

All things in life are transitory, and pain, suffering, and death lurk behind everything. All of life with its omnipresent suffering and death goes on and on in an eternal cycle (samsara or the reincarnation cycle) from which no one escapes. Life is an endless wandering through relentless and insurmountable suffering. The future holds only further rebirths, and whether one is inching towards a better life or sinking into worse life makes little difference.

For all life is ashes.

Hinduism in all its various forms is first of all an attempt: escape from this relentless cycle of rebirth. It is not death wish because the aim is to escape death as well as life. Hindus wish to escape from life with good reason – for life on the Indian subcontinent is hard. Sickness of every kind, famine due to drought or flood, war and oppression make life an unbearable succession of suffering and defeat. The religious faith of the hindus which grows out of their painful experience of life finds its foremost expression in the god Shiva and his consort Kali.

Fear of death

The various Hindu techniques for liberation are attempts to be free of both life and death. Even those who fail to reach the ultimate goal can at least reduce their involvement with life. This is the aim of yoga. By practicing yoga one can reduce suffering and defer death by reducing or completely halting the normal life

An important text of hatha yoga expresses it this way

  1. As long as prana is held in the body, so long consciousness (cittam) (is) free from disease. What cause is there for fear of death so long as the sight (resins fixed) between the eyebrows’
  2. Therefore, from the fear of death, Brahma (is) intent on pranayama, as are also Yogis and sages. Therefore, one should restrain the prana.” (Gozaksa Sataka)

As expressed in this text the source of yoga is the fear of death, and the way to avert death is to hold back breathing. The same hatha yoga techniques will hold back and immobilize other life functions.

Hatha Yoga Techniques

Hatha yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) are not intended to lead to better breathing, but to the reduction or complete cessation of breathing! In the same way hatha yoga body postures (asanas) are intended to immobilize the whole body. Practicing them will enable the body to become completely motionless and hardened in fixed positions. Meditation words (mantras) serve to immobilize the consciousness. Mantras are usually the names of gods used for worship. Symbolic body movements (mudras and bandhas) in yoga are designed to close all “nine doors of the body”, so that no sense perception from the outside penetrates into the mind. When all outer sensation is shut off the body itself will create as compensation sense perceptions of an inner kind, an inner light, an inner sound, an inner smell, an inner pleasure.

So the objective of yoga is not to affirm people’s lives, but to create another inner life as a substitute for the life one wants to escape. A whole inner new universe, an internal new dimension awaits those who meditate, those who are willing to become a disciple and follow the path of a guru. That is the ultimate aim of the techniques taught in all yoga schools and yoga classes throughout the world.

In yoga there are no neutral techniques. The entire discipline from beginning to end is intended to lead toward an escape from life and death and to serve the higher aims of yoga.

Tantra Yoga

This higher yoga has many names. Distinctions can be made between the yoga of the emotions (bhakti), the yoga of action (karma), and the yoga of knowledge (jnana). However more important than all of these is the greater or higher yoga called Tantra yoga. Tantra yoga itself can be called kriya yoga, laya yoga, kundalini yoga, and raja yoga. The three class!c yogic disciplines of bhakti, karma, and jnana demand many reincarnations for training in order to break free from the cycle of life and death. In contrast, tantra yoga is the direct but also the most dangerous path. Most yoga schools teach that mankind is in a state of decay (kali yuga) and our desperate situation requires a desperate remedy. Tantra yoga is the desperate remedy, and most yoga schools and gurus are tantric in one way or another.

While the classic yogic systems either reject or play down sexuality, Tantra does completely the opposite. Along with the classic systems Tantra desires to escape from the samsaric cycle and perceives life as a poison, but Tantra intends to drive out evil with evil, poison with poison. This is where sexuality enters into tantra yoga. This is not immediately apparent to a newcomer, because like many other oriental religions yoga functions at two levels showing one face outwardly and a completely different face inwardly. This is why yoga is couched in w hat Hindus call “twilight language” which hides as much as it reveals, and is deliberately ambiguous. Thus the key concepts in yoga, such as bindu (semen) and prana (life force) have both a physical and a symbolic meaning.

Semen Mysticism

It is a basic tenet of Tantra yoga that normal sexual activity uses up the life force and exposes the individual to sickness and death. Consequently it is not only prana in the sense of breathing that must be held back, but first and foremost bindu (semen) which must be conserved. The holding back of breath and all other techniques in Tantra yoga serve the ultimate aim of retention of semen. Retention of semen can lead to immortality or at least rejuvenat man in a way which holds off death. For this to happen semen must be transformed in to nectar, ambrosia, soma, the elixir of life, the drink of immortality. This is the deepest core, the very center of all that yoga is concerned with.

The Kundalini Serpent

The full details cannot be explained in a short presentation, but the culmination of yogic practice is ritual sexual intercourse (maithuna) using the various techniques of hatha yoga. Yoga uses the orgasm as the determining experience for both liberation from the samsaric cycle of life and death and confusion with the divine. In reality what takes place is the divinization of the human.

This takes place through meditation on the kundalini serpent. Prana or life force is identical with sexuality and is portrayed by the kundalini or coiled serpent which resides behind the human genitals. She (the life force/serpent is seen as feminine) must be awakened and forced from her spot at the bottom of the spinal column into a canal within the spinal column and then up through this canal. On the way up she will pass through a number of points called chakras. At each chakra she receives more and more energy and becomes more and more divine.

This process of divinization should manifest itself in supernatural powers for the person meditating. For example the meditator could levitate, or walk through walls, or be in two places at one time. The acquisition of supernatural power is called siddha yoga and is found all over the world. Siddha yoga is represented by TM which promises its meditators the power to levitate, but of course only upon the payment of a large fee.

The Great Death – Immortality

After all the difficult hatha yoga techniques and exercise: are put into practice, the serpent is forced to the top of the brain and a cosmic culmination takes place with a superorgasm. What occurs in reality is an orgasmic experience which when coupled sith strongly hallucinogenic feelings, has an extremely violent character. Symbolically the experience is explained as sexual intercourse between the god Shiva, who reigns supreme in the human brain, and his consort Kali, who is his potency and identical with the Kundalini.

This orgasmic experience is understood as the Great Death by which one escapes the manifold world, and by which one experiences the great freedom. From this experience only the “chosen” come back, as gurus who devote themselve. to the liberation of others. Ordinary people according to yogic doctrine should die within three weeks of this experience of full liberation. This death – and no other – leads away from all life and all death, to total freedom.

Escape from Death to Death

It is ironic that a religiosity so driven by fear of death should culminate in the Great Death. This is because yoga

is founded not only on the fear of death, but on the fear of life as well. Yoga therefore seeks to go beyond life and death to what can he called eternal Death, free from sickness, suffering, and all that is transitory.

A thorough reading of the central texts of yoga reveals that the root of yoga resides in the problem of old age. Yoga was developed as an old man’s attempt to stop the decay of the body, to put off death and at the came time to prepare the individual for death by a gradual withdrawal from life. This withdrawal is social, as an elderly man would leave his own environment to live in isolation in the forest or mountain. But the withdrawal is also mental and physical, as the individual draws back from ordinal life functions. The latter can even be accomplished while one remains in the same social environment. The truth of the matter is that yoga; was first of all developed for elder mer This sexist aspect of yoga is also seen in the centrality of semen mysticism.

Yoga for health

Many people who practice yoga will object that they are not interested in such theoretical rubbish, for from their own experience they know that yoga does them good. They have became healthier with it. This attitude should be respected, but also correctly understood.

A comparison can make this clear. It is a fact that it has done many young men good to have been soldiers. They have been taught discipline and self-control and have become stronger and more healthy. This fact does not alter another fact, that the army itself has a completely different aim, namely to teach people to kill. In the same way it can be said that the aim of yoga is not identical with its side effects and it is a fact that many meditating people, after a period with positive results, experience extremely alarming “harmful” results. We call these results “harmful” but they are in fact the desired effect. What happens is that one gradually loses the ability to lead an active, open extroverted life centering on loving interdependent relationships with others. The meditator gradually withdraw into his self and is less able to relate with other people. Slowly the meditator accepts this as valid – for as time goes on the practice of yoga leads to an acceptance of the theory of yoga.

One Is Taken Where One Does Not Want To Go

If a person practices yoga with the intention of becoming a Hindu this is of course perfectly all right, because freedom of religion is necessary and people ought to be able to practice their religion according to their convictions. However the vast majority of people who practice yoga are taken where really they had no intention of going They are transformed into people with new values, they become Hinduized, and this was not at all their intention. They began to practice yoga because it was presented as an art of life, when in reality it is an art of death developed to help first of all elderly men cope with the end of their lives.

If a person intends to escape from a normal life of social interaction and intends to “establish oneself as a God”, then yoga is the way. If one wants to abandon one’s Christian faith and its love for others and for life itself, then yoga is the best way. But most people are unsuspectingly drawn into yoga. Even some Christians defend yoga because they are ignorant of its factual reality.

It is, therefore, necessary to expose the facts concerning yoga, not in order the deprive yoga teachers of their livelihood or gurus of their disciples, but to provide guidance for those who cannot comprehend the real situation when they approach yoga.

For those who have a need to meditate, there are many methods of Christian meditation. Christian meditation is diametrically opposed to yoga. It will not make gods of us, it will not free us from life and death, but will bring us to the God who through his resurrection saved us from the dilemma of which yoga is itself an expression.”





trakoscan castle XIX... - Photography by Roberto Pavic aka roblfc1892 bit.ly-1IXILFu Trakoscan castle, Croatia #trakostan #castle #reflection-

Searching for the Truth


Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos, Greece




The problem of where the truth lies has occupied mankind down through the ages; it is a problem that is always contemporary and of its very nature leads man to seek an answer. The Philosophers, especially the ancient Greeks, posed the question: “What is the truth?” and most men have searched for it rationally. Some said that truth is an Idea, a “principle of all things”, the “prime mover unmoved” and called it God.

But this “God”, the God of the philosophers, cannot redeem. He touches only man’s rational faculty, and not man as a whole; no one can come into personal commu­nion with him since he is not a person, but something impersonal; an universal Mind that acts blindly, or is so distant and so transcendental that he has no interest in man or in the world.

There can be no doubt that anyone with a good disposition, upon observing creation and using his human potential, can discover evidence of God’s existence. However, he will discover only the concept of God, but not God Himself, salvific truth.

Others, down through the ages, have created world idols and a multitude of deities. They established “divine” laws and rules and created systems of worship of human provenance. All these, however, are simply expressions of man himself; they do not transcend the created realm, created reality; they do not, in other words, reveal the one true God Who transcends the created world.

Again, still others believe that man is by nature God. It remains simply for him to understand “his true self; nothing need change save his stance vis-a-vis his God-self, rejecting any thought that might differentiate him from his own divinity and recognize the existence of a God outside and beyond him.

In the final analysis, such an approach to God cannot satisfy man. It leads to an infinite loneliness which is contrary to human nature. By nature, man seeks warmth, love, communion with others and not only with himself; Without these things, he cannot exist. That is why he continuously seeks them. He is not satisfied with man-made concepts concerning God. He desires to rise above created reality, above creation and seek the meaning of life in communion with the uncreated and eternal God.

Vivre la Divine Liturgie – Protopresbytre Stéphane Anagnostopoulos ╰⊰¸¸.•¨* French


Vivre la Divine Liturgie

Protopresbytre Stéphane Anagnostopoulos


La divine liturgie orthodoxe interprétée etcommentée selon la Tradition et

les expériences denombreux prêtres, moines et laïcs orthodoxes






castle roche, co.louth, ireland
Ireland – Ιρλανδία


Ορθόδοξες Ιρλανδικές Ι. Εικόνες του Άγίου Αποστόλου Ιούδα του Θαδδαίου

cole-Jude-mini, 10/2/07, 2:20 PM,  8C, 4700x6002 (456+552), 100%, bent 6 stops,  1/40 s, R47.5, G40.0, B79.5

cole-Jude, 10/2/07, 10:58 AM,  8C, 5596x7104 (68+354), 100%, bent 6 stops,  1/40 s, R47.5, G40.0, B79.5


Μπορεί κάποιος Ορθόδοξος να πάρει το όνομα του Ιούδα πρός τιμήν του Αγίου Αποστόλου Ιούδα του Θαδδαίου ή απαγορεύεται;


Δεν απαγορεύεται κάποιος μοναχός ή λαϊκος να ονομαστεί Ιούδας κ να γιορτάζει του Αγίου Ιούδα του Θαδδαίου ή του Αγίου Ιούδα του Αδελφόθεου, απλά σε κάποιες χώρες δεν συνηθίζεται και αποφεύγεται επειδή το ίδιο όνομα είχε ο Απόστολος Ιούδας ο Ισκαριώτης ο προδότης του Χριστού.

Στην Ιρλανδία και στην Κεντρική Ευρώπη πολλοί άνθρωποι πέρνουν το όνομα Ιούδας – Jude προς τιμήν του Αγίου Αποστόλου Ιούδα του Θαδδαίου επειδή είχε πάει στην Ιρλανδία ως Απόστολος.

Επίσης υπάρχουν κ άλλοι Ορθόδοξοι Άγιοι που ενώ δεν ειναι κακό να πάρουμε το όνομά τους, σε κάποιες χώρες δεν συνηθίζεται ή αποφεύγεται. Όπως οι Άγιοι Δίας και Έρωτας (Έρως).

Το όνομα του Άγίου Έρωτα στην Δυτική Ευρώπη χρησιμοποιήται συχνά ως Eros.

Άγιος Δίας Πρεσβύτερος όσιος στην Αντιόχεια Συρίας (19/7, +430)

Άγιοι Δίας, Βυθόνιος και Γαλυκός, μάρτυρες (3/4, +3ος αι.)

Άγιοι Ἐρωτας (Έρως), Ορέντιος, Φαρνάκιος, Φίρμος, Φιρμίνος, Κυριακός καί Λογγίνος, μάρτυρες στην Γεωργία (24/6, +3ος αι.)



Ο Άγιος Απόστολος Σίμων ο Ζηλωτής ή Κανανίτης & ο Άγιος Απόστολος Ιούδας ο Θαδδαίος

Άγιος Απόστολος Ιούδας ο Θαδδαίος ή Λεββαίος, από τους 12 Αποστόλους του Χριστού. Στάλθηκε ως Απόστολος στην Ιρλανδία, Μεσοποταμία και Αρμενία. Μαρτύρησε στην περιοχή του όρους Αραράτ στη Shavarshavan της επαρχίας Artaz του σημερινού Βορείου Ιράν το 80 μ.Χ. (19/6 μνήμη, 21/8 καί 9/10, +80) [σύναξι 30/6]

Άγιος Σίμων ο Κανανίτης ή Ζηλωτής, από τους 12 Αποστόλους του Χριστοῦ, Απόστολος στήν Περσία, Β. Ἀφρική [Αιγυπτο, Λιβύη, Τυνησία, Αλγερία (παλαιά Μαυριτανία)], Γαλλία, Ιρλανδία, Μ. Βρεταννία καί Γεωργία, μαρτύρησε στο Νικοπσκί Γεωργίας (10/5, +60) [σύναξι 30/6]






Finnland – Photo & Video 4K

Orthodoxie in Finnland

Jubiläum des Mailänder Ediktes

in Trier am Freitag, den 11. Oktober 2013



In meinem Vortrag möchte ich das hinreichend komplizierte Thema des historischen Weges der Orthodoxie auf dem Territorium Finnlands behandeln. Geografisch liegt Finnland in Nordeuropa und befindet sich sozusagen am Zusammenstoß zweier christlicher Zivilisationen – der westlichen und der östlichen, insofern die Frohe Botschaft von Christus auf seinem Territorium vom 12. Jahrhundert an sowohl vom Territorium des katholischen Westens wie auch durch Missionare aus dem orthodoxen Osten verbreitete. Man kann zwei verschiedene Zugänge in den Missionsmethoden konstatieren: die historischen Chroniken bezeugen, dass die katholischen Missionare das Christentum den Völkern Finnlands häufig mit Hilfe von Kreuzzügen gebracht haben, also durch Feuer und Schwert; im Gegensatz dazu ist die östliche Orthodoxie auf den finnischen Boden durch eine schrittweise friedliche Christianisierung mit den Missionaren aus Groß-Novgorod, Valaam, Solovki, Konevo und aus dem Kloster an der Svira gekommen. Die orthodoxen Mönchsmissionare predigten das Evangelium auf friedliche Weise, durch die Kraft des pastoralen Wortes und unerschütterliche christliche Tugend. Die russischen Chroniken bezeugen, dass im Jahr 1227 der Novgoroder Fürst Jaroslav Vsevolodovič die schon früher begonnene Christianisierung des östlichen Teils Finnlands, Kareliens, vollendete, indem er „eine Menge der Karelier, wenig weniger als alle Menschen“, d.h. also fast die gesamte Bevölkerung Kareliens, in der Orthodoxie taufte.

Darüber hinaus kämpften im Verlaufe einiger Jahrhunderte um die finnischen Gebiete – vor allem im Osten des Landes – Schweden und die Rus’ (zuerst das Fürstentum von Novgorod, dann das von Moskau) auf politischem und religiösem Feld beständig und hartnäckig.

1617 fielen durch den Friedensvertrag von Stolbovo, der zwischen Russland und Schweden geschlossen wurde, das ganze östliche Finnland und Karelien fast für zwei Jahrhunderte unter die Oberhoheit Schwedens. Der schwedische lutherische Bischof, dessen Sitz sich in Vyborg befand, unternahm energische Anstrengungen, die orthodoxen Finnen und Karelier ins Luthertum zu führen. Ergebnis dieser Tätigkeit war das Verschwinden der historisch existierenden Gemeinden von Sakkula, Rautu und Pühajärve. Die orthodoxen Karelier und Finnen, die trotz der spürbaren Vorteile den Glauben ihrer Vorfahren nicht wechseln wollten, waren gezwungen, auf das Territorium Russlands umzusiedeln (im Zuge dieser spontanen Unsiedlung kam es z.B. zu einer kompakten Ansiedlung von Finnen auf dem Territorium des Gebietes von Tver’).

1664 bestätigte der schwedische König Karl XI. das Recht der orthodoxen Christen, „ihren Glauben, ihre Popen und den göttlichen Gesang frei zu behalten“, gleichzeitig aber wurde allen finnischsprachigen Orthodoxen vorgeschrieben, sich in den lutherischen Gemeinden einzutragen, so dass es am Ende des 17. Jahrhunderts in Finnland nur sieben orthodoxe Landgemeinden und zwei Kirchen in Städten gab, eine beim Russischen Handelshof in Vyborg und die zweite in Kexholm (Käkisalme), dem heutigen Priozersk. Jurisdiktionell unterstanden all diese Gemeinden dem Metropoliten von Groß-Novgorod.

1721 verpflichteten sich die Schweden nach dem Frieden von Nystad, in dem das Russische Imperium den Flecken von Ižory und den Vodsker Flecken zurück gewannen, das auf dem ihnen verbleibenden Territorium „der griechische (orthodoxe) Glaube in Zukunft frei und ohne Behinderung in diesen (Kirchen und Schulen) auch ausgeübt werden kann“. Unbeschadet dieser Verpflichtung ging aber der Proselytismus, d.h. die erzwungene Hinwendung der Orthodoxen zum Luthertum, weiter, sogar auch im russischen Teil Finnlands, so dass die russländische Kaiserin Anna Ioannovna einen Verbotserlass herausgeben musste. Aber diese Maßnahmen halfen nicht, und erst der Kaiserin Elizaveta Petrovna gelang es mit ganz entschiedenen Maßnahmen, die proselytischen Aktivitäten im Hinblick auf die russländischen Untertanen orthodoxen Glaubensbekenntnisses zu beenden.

1742 wurde die Eparchie von St. Petersburg gegründet, aber das sogenannte „Altfinnland“ und Karelien blieben bis 1764 in kirchlicher Unterordnung des Novgoroder Metropoliten, der sie durch Vikarbischöfe von Karelien (später von Kexholm) und Ladoga verwaltete. Am Anfang des 19. Jahrhunderts wurden im russischen Teil Finnlands 19 Gemeinden gezählt, die nach dem Vorbild von Dekanaten organisiert waren, wo eine Hauptgemeinde einige kleinere Kirchen versorgte, und die Gesamtzahl der Orthodoxen belief sich auf 27.454 Menschen. 1809 kam das gesamte Territorium Finnlands durch den Frieden von Friedrichsham zum Bestand des Russischen Reiches und erhielt die Autonomie und den Status eines Großfürstentums. Jedoch führten die humanen Bestrebungen des Russischen Kaisers Alexanders I., in dem vereinten Land schwedische Einrichtungen und Traditionen zu bewahren, für die orthodoxe Kirche zu keinerlei Nutzen oder Privilegien: wenn auch der orthodoxe Klerus gleichberechtigt war mit dem lutherischen, so erhielten in der Praxis die orthodoxen Priester und Gemeinden selten eine Unterstützung von den lutherischen Beamten.

1823 wurde für die Orthodoxen Finnlands in Vyborg eine Geistliche Verwaltung eingerichtet, die von dem Erzpriester der örtlichen Domkirche geleitet wurde, und 1841 entstand das orthodoxe Vyborger Vikariat mit einem Bischof, der dem Metropoliten von St. Petersburg und Finnland unterstand.

1838 wirkten im Lande 21 orthodoxe Gemeinden, die Zahl der Orthodoxen betrug 36.000, von denen fast 98 % in den östlichen Gebieten, in den Gouvernements Vyborg und Kuopio lebten, während in Nyslott (Savonlinna) nur 156 Orthodoxe lebten und in Helsingfors (Helsinki) 256.

Noch ein Viertel Jahrhundert später hatte sich die Lage kaum geändert: von 1,5 Millionen Einwohnern des Landes waten nur 45.227, d.h. nur etwa 3 %, Orthodoxe, wobei ein bedeutender Teil von ihnen aus russischen Militärpersonal und Kaufleuten bestand, welche sich nur zeitweilig in Finnland aufhielten. Im 19. jahrhundert wurden allerdings zahlreiche orthodoxe Kirchen in Finnland errichtet, vor allem zum Nutzen der Militärgarnisonen. Die Lage änderte sich erst unter der Herrschaft Alexanders III., da die russische (überwiegend orthodoxe) Bevölkerung im Lande beständig wuchs und in den kirchlichen Gebrauch immer stärker auch die Anwendung der finnischen und karelischen Sprache kam, was sich auf die
Ausbreitung der Orthodoxie unter der finnischen bäuerlichen Bevölkerung auswirkte.

1892 wurde im Rahmen der Russischen Orthodoxen Kirche eine selbstständige Eparchie von Finnland eingerichtet, deren erster Bischof der bisherige Bischof von Vyborg Antonij (Vadkovskij), der Vikar des St. Petersburger Metropoliten wurde. Dieser bekannte Hierarch leitete die Eparchie bis 1898, als er auf die Kathedra in St. Petersburg ernannt wurde. In seiner Amtszeit wurde eine Reihe neuer Kirchen errichtet, wurden das Hl. Dreiheit-Kloster von Lintula und die Bruderschaft der Ehrwürdigen Sergij und German von Vaalamo (1885) gegründet; seit 1896 erschein in finnischer Sprache die Montszeitschrift „Aamun koitto (Morgenröte)“, welche bis zum heutigen Tag das wichtigste orthodoxe Periodikon in Finnland ist.

Dank der Tätigkeit der russischen Bischöfe und Missionspriester, die die Tätigkeit einer Übersetzungskommission unterstützten, welche an Übersetzungen der gottesdienstlichen und katechetischen Literatur ins Finnische, Karelische und Sämische arbeitete, entstand in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts eine Erweckung des nationalen Selbstbewusstseins bei den orthodoxen Kareliern und Samen. In den 1850er Jahren erschienen die ersten Übersetzungen gottesdienstlicherTexte in finnischer Sprache. Nach vorliegenden Zeugnissen wurden schon ab 1870 Gottesdienste regelmäßig in ihr gehalten und der Diözesanbischof forderte von dem ihm unterstellten orthodoxen Klerus verpflichtend die Kenntnis der finnischen Sprache.

Von 1905 bis 1917 stand der Eprachie von Finnland und Vyborg Erzbischof Sergij (Stragorodskij) vor, der spätere Patriarch von Moskau und der ganzen Rus’. Der Hierarch besuchte aktiv die Gemeinden und bemühte sich, die Bedürfnisse der Gläubigen und des Klerus kennen zu lernen. Am 4. Dezember 1905 wurde vom Kaiser die Gemeindeordnung für die orthodoxen Gemeinden in Finnland bestätigt, was zur Ordnung ihres inneren Lebens beitrug.

Im Jahr 1917, als Finnland seine staatliche Unabhängigkeit erlangte, wurde die Kommunikation zwischen der finnländischen Eparchie und der Russischen Orthodoxen Mutterkirche schwieriger. Die administrative Bildung einer Orthodoxen Kirche von Finnland verlief parallel zur nationalstaatlichen Gründung. Am 26. November 1918 wurde die orthodoxe Struktur auf dem Territorium des Landes durch ein Gesetz der neuen Regierung zur Nationalkirche einer Minderheit erklärt. In dieser Zeit lebte ein Großteil der orthodoxen Gemeindemitglieder wie bisher im Osten des Landes.

Im Dezember 1920 wurde an den Patriarchen von Moskau und der Ganzen Rus’ Tichon im Namen des orthodoxen Klerus und Episkopates die Bitte um Gewährung der Autonomie für die finnländische Eparchie gerichtet, worauf am 11. Februar 1921 eine positive Antwort erfolgte. Die Regierung Finnlands jedoch war bemüht, dass die Fragen des kirchlichen Lebens im Lande selbst und vollständig unabhängig von irgendeiner ausländischen administrativen Struktur entschieden werden sollten. Durch personelle Veränderungen wurde das Haupt der autonomen Kirche Finnlands, Erzbischof Serafim (Luk’ianov) von der Verwaltung abgelöst, und an seine Stelle Bischof German (Aav), ein Este, gewählt; zudem strebte die finnische Regierung danach, dass schon im November 1922 ein neues Ersuchen der Versammlung des Klerus und Episkopates an den Konstantinopler Patriarchen Meletios um Gewährung der Autokephalie gerichtet wurde.

Im Juli 1923 nahm der Patriarch von Konstantinopel Meletios IV. (Metaxakis) die Finnische Orthodoxe Kirche im Rang eines autonomen Erzbistums in seine Jurisdiktion auf, unbeschadet der Tatsache, dass die Autonomie in der kirchlichen Verwaltung in Finnland schon 1921 durch die Russische Orthodoxe Kirche gewährt worden war. Er weihte auch den verwitweten Erzpriester German Aav zum Bischof von Sortavala. 1925 wurde Bischof German auf einem Kirchenkonzil zum Erzbischof von Karelien und Ganz Finnland gewählt und blieb in diesem Amt bis 1960.

Ein Teil der Orthodoxen, die mit der isolationistischen Politik des neugebildeten finnischen Staates nicht einverstanden war, bildeten im Dezember 1926 und Mai 1927 in den Städten Vyborg und Helsinki private religiöse Gemeinden, die weiterhin in der kanonischen Bindung an das Moskauer Patriarchat verblieben.

1925 wurde das Finnische Erzbistum des Konstantinopler Patriarchats in zwei Eparchien geteilt, nämlich in die von Karelien und die von Vyborg, wobei letztere lange Zeit vakant blieb, da es keine geeigneten Kandidaten gab. Zu ihr gehörten 12 Gemeinden, die im karelischen Landsteifen und in Südfinnland gelegen waren. Erst 1935 wurde der Stuhl von Vyborg besetzt und ihn nahm der verwitwete Erzpriester Alexander (Karpin) ein, der zum Bischof geweiht wurde. Am Vorabend des Winterkrieges 1939/40 zwischen der UdSSR und Finnland lebten im Lande 70.209 Orthodoxe, die von 46 Geistlichen betreut wurden.

In Folge der kriegerischen Auseinandersetzungen zwischen der UdSSR und Finnland verlor das Finnische Erzbistum drei Klöster (Valamo, Konevic und Lintula) und einen Großteil der Kirchen. Nach finnischen Quellen mussten mehr als 50.000 Gläubige, d.h. 70 % der orthodoxen Christen des Landes, ihre Heimatorte verlassen. Der Bischofssitz wurde von Vyborg nach Helsinki verlegt. So wurden Flüchtlinge aus dem karelischen Gebiet über ganz Finnland verteilt, und die Zahl der Mischehen wuchs, und in Folge der Taufe von Kindern aus diesen ins Luthertum sank die Zahl der Orthodoxen im Lande sehr schnell.
Unter diesen Umständen gewann die orthodoxe Erziehung der Kinder und der Jugend für die kirchlichen Organisationen eine erstrangige Bedeutung. 1943 wurde die Union der Orthodoxen Jugend gegründet und 1958 die Orthodoxe Studentenvereinigung. Zugleich wurde auch eine Publikationstätigkeit von der Jugend zugänglicher Literatur begonnen. 1949 übernahm die Regierung als Maßnahme zur Kompensation für das im Laufe des Krieges von den orthodoxen Strukturen verlorenen Eigentum die Verpflichtung auf sich, für die Umsiedler neue Kirchen zu errichten, und bis zum Beginn der 1960er Jahre wurden in verschiedenen Städten des Landes 14 Kirchen, 44 Kapellen und 19 Pfarrhäuser gebaut. In der allgemeinen schwierigen Lage wandten die Behörden ungefähr 1 Milliarde Finnmark zur Wiederherstellung der Tätigkeit des Finnischen Erzbistums auf, an dessen Spitze heute der Erzbischof von Karelien und ganz Finnland Leo (Makkonen) steht, der aus einer Familie orthodoxer Karelier stammt.

Im Finnischen Erzbistum des Konstantinopler Patriarchats gibt es z.Z. drei Eparchien: von Karelien, Helsinki und Oulu, in denen im Jahr 2012 58.708 Gläubige registriert waren, von denen etwa die Hälfte aus Übersiedlern aus der ehemaligen UdSSR besteht, die in den 1990er Jahren nach Finnland gemäß dem Gesetz über die Repatriierung übergesiedelt sind. Im Lande gibt es ungefähr 80 orthodoxe Kirchen und Kapellen, die administrativ in 25 Gemeinden zusammengefasst sind. Die bedeutendste Gemeinde ist Helsinki, in der mehr als 17.000 Mitglieder registriert sind. Die Gottesdienste werden in finnischer Sprache gefeiert, und zwar nach dem neuen Kalender, einschließlich der Feier von Ostern. Alle Mitglieder des Klerus werden von den Gemeindemitgliedern selbst gewählt.

Die theologische Ausbildung der künftigen Kleriker und Religionslehrer haben diese früher hauptsächlich im Theologischen Seminar von Sortavala erhalten. 1940 wurde das Seminar dann nach Helsinki und 1961 nach Kuopio verlegt und später nach Joensuu. 1988 nahm ein Lehrstuhl für Orthodoxe Theologie an der Universität der Stadt Joensuu seine Tätigkeit auf, wo gegenwärtig auch die zukünftigen Kleriker des Finnischen Erzbistums ausgebildet werden. Die Gesetzgebung des Landes sieht vor, dass für orthodoxe Kinder an den staatlichen Schulen Religionsunterricht und orthodoxe Ethik unterrichtet werden, sogar wenn die Anzahl der orthodoxen Kinder in der Klasse nicht mehr als 2 beträgt.
In Finnland setzen ihre Mission auch die historischen Gemeinden und Pfarreien fort, die historisch dem Patriarchen von Moskau und der Ganzen Rus’ unterstehen; es sind dies die Gemeinden in Helsinki, Turku, Pori, Tampere, Lappeenranta und Lahti. Im Jahr 1957 hat der Heilige Synod der Russischen Orthodoxen Kirche beschlossen, die jurisdiktionellen Auseinandersetzungen zwischen Moskau und Konstantinopel zu vergessen und die liturgische und die Gebetsgemeinschaft mit dem Finnischen Erzbistum wiederherzustellen, die im Verlauf der stürmischen 1920er Jahre verloren gegangen war. Die Zahl der Gemeindemitglieder des Moskauer Patriarchats in Finnland ist weiterhin auf einem relativ hohen Niveau und hat in den letzten Jahren eine steigende Tendenz (so waren 2012 in der Nikolaus-Gemeinde in Helsinki 2.403 Gläubige registriert, in der Maria-Obhut-Gemeinde 370). Eine orthodoxe Zeitschrift „Nördliche Verkündigung“ wird in russischer Sprache ediert. Es gibt Übertragungen in russischer Sprache auf Radio Sputnik, und seit 1999 hat die Russische Orthodoxe Kirche auf dem Territorium Finnlands ihre offizielle Vertretung und damit das Niveau der Beziehungen der beiden Kirchen erhöht.

Im Lande gibt es zwei orthodoxe finnische Klöster, das Männerkloster von Neu-Vaalamo und das Frauenkloster von Lintula, aber die Zahl der Mönche und Nonnen blieb die ganzen Jahre ziemlich gering und übersteigt nicht 10-12. In den letzten Jahren wurden auch Versuche unternommen, andere monastische Einrichtungen zu gründen: 1995 wurde die Männer-Bruderschaft Mariä-Obhut in dem Örtchen Jorgas bei Helsinki gegründet und 2012 eine monastische Gemeinschaft beim orthodoxen Kulturzentrum Sofia im Stadtteil Kallvik in Helsinki gegründet und 2012 eine monastische Gemeinschaft beim orthodoxen Kulturzentrum Sofia im Stadtteil Kallvik in Helsinki, wo sowohl Mönche wie Nonnen leben.
Einige orthodoxe Zeitschriften werden in finnischer Sprache publiziert, so das schon erwähnte offizielle Organ der Eparchie von Karelien „Aamun Koitto“, das Organ der Gemeinde von Helsinki „Ortodoksi viesti“, das Organ der Gemeinde in Tampere „Analogi“ und eine Reihe andere. Im Jahr 2012 wurde auch die langjährige Arbeit der Übersetzung des orthodoxen Gottesdienstes (der Liturgie) in die schwedische Sprache abgeschlossen; in Schwedisch wird der Gottesdienst regelmäßig in einer Reihe von Gemeinden gefeiert, wo die Zahl der schwedischsprachigen Gemeindeglieder 6 % der registrierten Gemeindemitglieder übersteigt.

In Helsinki gibt es ein orthodoxes Altenheim, und in einer ganzen Reihe von Gemeinden Rekreationszentren. Fernseh- und Radioübertragungen orthodoxer Gottesdienst auf den staatlichen Kanälen vermitteln zugängliche Informationen über das Leben und die Tätigkeit der orthodoxen Kirche für die ganze Gesellschaft Finnlands.

Nachdem sie schwierige Etappen ihrer historischen Entwicklung durchlaufen hat, ist die Orthodoxie in Finnland heutzutage eine lebendige und aktive Kraft der finnischen multikulturellen und multikonfessionellen Gesellschaft, die in tätiger Weise an der Diskussion und Realisation der Lebensfragen und Aktivitäten der Bürger Finnlands teilnimmt.

Vortrag im Rahmen des Symposions zum 1700. Jubiläum des Mailänder Ediktes
in Trier am Freitag, den 11. Oktober 2013







Die Orthodoxie in Finnland



Das Christentum erreichte Finnland im Mittelalter zugleich von Westen und Osten. Südwestfinnland wurde von Schweden aus missioniert, in Karelien und Ostfinnland setzte sich aus Nowgorod kommend spätestens um das Jahr 1200 der orthodoxe Glaube durch. Vor allem die Gründung des Klosters Valamo (heute Walaam) auf einer Insel des Ladogasees trieb im 14. Jahrhundert die Ausbreitung des orthodoxen Christentums voran. Im 15. Jahrhundert hatte die orthodoxe Kirche mit der Gründung des Klosters Petschenga (Petsamo) bereits die Eismeerküste erreicht.
Die westlichen Teile Kareliens kamen im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert unter schwedische Herrschaft. Die orthodoxe Bevölkerung war dort Repressalien ausgesetzt; viele konvertierten zum lutherischen Glauben, andere wanderten nach Ostkarelien und die Gegend von Twer aus. Dennoch hat sich bis heute eine orthodoxe Minderheit in Nordkarelien halten können. Ilomantsi, die östlichste Gemeinde des Landes, hat mit 17,4 % den höchsten orthodoxen Bevölkerungsanteil Finnlands.
Als Finnland 1809 zu einem Großfürstentum unter russischer Herrschaft wurde, förderten die russischen Herrscher die orthodoxe Kirche in Finnland. Zu dieser Zeit entstanden zahlreiche orthodoxe Kirchenbauten, etwa 1869 die Uspenski-Kathedrale in Helsinki, das größte orthodoxe Sakralgebäude in der westlichen Welt. Während der russischen Herrschaft bildeten sich mit dem Zuzug von russischen Beamten und Militärs auch orthodoxe Gemeinden in den Großstädten des Landes, deren Nachkommen, die sogenannten „alten Russen“, heute rund 3000 Köpfe zählen.[3] Anfangs unterstanden die Orthodoxen Finnlands dem Metropoliten von Sankt Petersburg, 1892 wurde das orthodoxe Bistum Finnland gegründet. Innerhalb des Bistums stritten sich die finnischen bzw. karelischen Gläubigen mit den russischen um die liturgische Sprache (Finnisch oder Altkirchenslawisch) und die Stellung der Kirche.

Nach der finnischen Unabhängigkeit im Jahr 1917 wurde die Orthodoxe Kirche Finnlands 1921 von der Russisch-Orthodoxen Kirche gelöst und zu einer autonomen Kirche, die dem Ökumenischen Patriarchat von Konstantinopel unterstellt ist.
Als Finnland nach der Niederlage im Zweiten Weltkrieg große Teile Kareliens an die Sowjetunion abtreten musste, wurden auch zehntausende orthodoxe Karelier umgesiedelt und über ganz Finnland verstreut. Auch die Mönche des Inselklosters Valamo im Ladogasee flohen vor dem sowjetischen Vormarsch nach Westen und gründeten in Heinävesi das Kloster Uusi Valamo („Neues Walaam“). Eine weitere orthodoxe Gruppe, die 1945 ins finnische Kernland floh, sind die rund 400 Skoltsamen in der Gemeinde Inari. Seit 1990 hat sich die Anzahl der orthodoxen Christen durch die Einwanderung von „neuen Russen“ aus den Nachfolgestaaten der Sowjetunion deutlich erhöht.

Bistümer und Gemeinden der Orthodoxen Kirche Finnlands

Die Zahl der orthodoxen Gotteshäuser in Finnland beträgt ca. 140. Die Kirche verfügt auch über zwei Klöster, Uusi-Valamo und das Nonnenkloster Lintula, beide in der Gemeinde Heinävesi. Ca. 140 orthodoxe Pfarrer und ca. 40 Kantoren halten in diesen Räumlichkeiten ständig Gottesdienste in finnischer Sprache. Andere Sprachen, wie schwedisch, englisch, griechisch, russisch oder kirchenslawisch werden selten und nur bei Bedarf verwendet.
Von 1918 bis 1988 wurde der Klerus zuerst in Sortavala, dann in Helsinki und zuletzt in Kuopio ausgebildet. Das Priesterseminar zu Kuopio wurde 1988 geschlossen und das Studium an die Universität Joensuu verlagert. Hier wurde in der Nähe der Universität ein neues kleines Seminar mit eigener Bibliothek errichtet.







Molens aan de Kinderdijk (Kinderdijk Windmills)
Molens aan de Kinderdijk (Kinderdijk Windmills)

At the Nativity of the Mother of God Convent, Asten, the Netherlands

Western Europeans in search of Trurh


The Nativity of the Mother of God Convent,

Asten, The Netherlands





The sunsets and sunrises in this rural, southern part of Holland emanate mystical shades of effervescent pink, a manifestation which has drawn many an artist to these lowlands. And if one were to search all over Holland, it would be difficult to find a place more suitable for a monastery than this patch of land, an unusual expanse in a densely-populated country. The usual markings of Dutch countryside apply here—lush green fields, fat, shiny, black and white cows, tidy brick farm houses with lace in the windows, canals, and undisturbed horizons. It is quiet, green, and fertile, with a faint wisp of the sea in the air.

Carefully preserved nature, local tradition, cleanliness, all set the European stage for a comfortable, peaceful life. But what is all that without the grace God? Only a landscape, or a still-life. In Asten, however, a roadside chapel in the Russian style, with cupola and eight-pointed cross, stands out against the flat horizon. And the pinkish-purple effervescence radiates somehow not only from the sun, but from the heavens; for in this place there is an Orthodox monastery, dedicated to the Nativity of the Mother of God.

The founder and Abbess of this small community is Mother Maria, who was born in Den Hague. Mother Maria is an edifying example of one who sought and found, asked, and received. The visible result is this convent.

Born at the end of the Second World War, a time of great hardship for the Netherlands, Mother Maria describes her upbringing as conducive to a Christian outlook on life.

“I was born and raised at the outskirts of The Hague. Behind our house were woods, with dunes beyond. It was a beautiful area, and it inspired the beginning of my love for nature and its Creator. Although I was not raised as a believer, I grew up in a loving family, where we were taught to respect people and nature. In my early childhood I was influenced by the Bible stories we studied in our religion classes in primary school, and later, after experiences of my own, I began to think about the big questions of life: ‘Is there a God? Is it true that He hears our prayers?’ My mother sometimes attended the Dutch Reformed Church. I began to go with her, and attend the Sunday school. Later I had a Roman Catholic friend who sang in a Byzantine Catholic Church choir. When I was fourteen, I also began to sing in that choir, in Church Slavonic, at the Liturgy. At about the same time, I visited the Orthodox Convent of St. John the Forerunner in The Hague. Here I became Orthodox, at the age of eighteen.”

Russian Orthodoxy came to Holland in the 1940’s and 50’s, through this community in The Hague, with the unsuspecting help of the Catholic Church. When the communist revolution swept over Russia, a diaspora formed in Western Europe which was to help introduce the Orthodox Faith to the local people. Christianity in Russia was being replaced by militant atheism, a fact which caused the Catholic Church to begin its fervent prayers for the Christianization of Russia.

“Of course, the Catholic Church envisioned a Catholic Russia, but many people were sincerely concerned about Russia’s fate. This is what inspired the formation of a Catholic ministry to Russian refugees, and the opening of a monastery in Chevetogne, Belgium, by Benedictine Catholic monks who had studied in the Vatican’s Rusicon. The new monastery was supposed to observe the Byzantine liturgical rites. These were missionary-minded people, ready to go to Russia and preach; but it became clear that their preaching was not needed there. The ministry helped many Russian refugees; however, it could be argued that they were a bit deceptive at the outset—they did not tell these refugees that their organization was Catholic. They looked Orthodox, even used the Church Slavonic language in the Services. Nevertheless, many other people were drawn to the unique monastery in Belgium, and once they saw clearly the difference between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, they chose Orthodoxy.”

Amongst such were Bishop Jacob and Archimandrite Adrian of The Hague—possibly the first Dutchmen to become Orthodox. They were Catholic monks who began to study Orthodox literature, and discovered that the teachings of the Church Fathers had only been preserved in the Orthodox Church. They were received into the Orthodox Church in 1940 by Bishop Dionisy of the Moscow Patriarchate. Later they would become acquainted with Archbishop John (Maximovitch), who gave them much encouragement. Fr. Adrian was ordained a priest in 1952, and Fr. Jacob was consecrated a bishop in 1965. Their spiritual daughters formed the small community in The Hague, in a building which was formerly a Catholic Convent. These sisters were Dutch, and there were no Russians in the community. “Most Russians,” as Mother Maria says, “simply could not understand why Dutch people would turn to Orthodoxy. It did not make sense to them at the time.”

Mother Maria
Mother Maria

Mother Maria would enter that convent as a novice three years after her conversion, in 1965.

“When I was 21 years old I became a novice in the Hague Monastery. Why? This decision did not come to fruition in a day. I had a longing for monastic life, for Church Services, a growing desire to dedicate myself to a community, to a life of simplicity and prayer. Of course, I read a lot about this, but most important for me were my trips to the Lesna Mother of God Convent in France.[1] I went there during practically every summer vacation. I attended all the Services, went to Divine Liturgy every morning, helped the sisters in the garden, in the kitchen, and in the candle-making workshop, and even learned to make prayer ropes. There I learned some Russian and Church Slavonic. There, the desire to become a nun unnoticeably ripened within me.

“Especially important for me were the final three years before entering the monastery, when I was faced with the decision about whether or not to get married. I was becoming more and more aware of the power of prayer, the meaning of life in a monastery, even the significance of the heremetic life, and thus lost my interest in “worldly life.” They say that during difficult times, people seek a worry-free existence in monasteries. I do not believe this. Monastery life is too hard to be called “worry-free.” But you can see how in our own times, there are people in Greece, Western Europe, and America who consciously leave a comfortable life in Western society for the sake of monastic asceticism and labor.”

Although Mother Maria’s search was first of all for monastic life, she also discusses peoples’ search for a spiritual father, and for a monastery:

“If a person finds what he is seeking, and his spiritual father is the Superior of a monastery, then he will likely join that monastery. A monk is under the spiritual guidance of his monastery’s spiritual father. This could be the Superior, or some one else. When the spiritual father dies, his position is usually assumed by one of his spiritual children. Monastery sisters also have a spiritual father, equal in importance to their mother Abbess. When he dies, or is for one reason or another no long able spiritually guide the sisters, the monastery must find another spiritual father who will be suitable for the traditions of that monastery.”

Having been founded in the Netherlands by the Dutch and for the Dutch, the convent in The Hague had its own “flavor,” unlike what one would find in a traditionally Orthodox country. This difference led Mother Maria to a new search—for traditional monasticism.

“As for me, I joined the monastery in The Hague because it was the only Orthodox monastery in Holland. I had only one, simple thought: if God has seen fit to call me, a Dutch girl, to monasticism, then it should be in a monastery in Holland. Looking back, I can say that this was the right decision for me, although my life went in a different direction from what I could have expected in those days. The monastic life in The Hague was very difficult for me. The idea there was to have a monastery in the center of town, so that anyone who wished could become acquainted with Orthodoxy. It was a monastery with a parish and just a few sisters, who went to work at secular jobs every day in civilian clothing, in order to earn a living. At that time several brothers also lived there, each of whom later found his own path. I remember Fr. Timothy, who reposed this year (then his name was David) having lived thirty years on Mt. Athos; also Fr. Pachomius, (also recently reposed) who founded the monastery of St. Hubert (in southern Holland); and Fr. Thomas, who founded a monastery in Belgium.

“I left The Hague monastery because it was hard for me to work during the day in the town, and be a novice only during evenings and weekends. I was not yet tonsured a nun.”

In 1973, the young Dutch novice looked to Serbia for monasticism and Orthodox spirituality, and entered Zica Monastery, near Kraljevo. St. Justin Popovich, the spiritual father of the monastery of Celije, was still alive at the time, and Mother Maria remembers his prophetic words to her when she went to receive his blessing. He told her that she had come to Serbia to learn monasticism, but would later return to Holland.

“I was in the monastery in Serbia for two years, and had to accustom myself to a very strict, traditional monastic life, in the company of sisters with whom I was very happy. This was a transitional period before my as yet unknown life in Greece. The spiritual sons of the great elder Justin Popovich, now bishops Athanasius Jeftich and Ireneus Bulovich, advised me to go to Greece in order to make my final decision.”

The Hodigitria chapel

As a Dutch citizen, Mother Maria was not free to remain indefinitely in communist Yugoslavia, so she heeded the elders’ advice, and in 1975 went to Greece.

“In the free atmosphere of Greece, I was able to breathe more easily. Soon, I felt at home. The influence of Mt. Athos was very strong, especially that of the Kolivades,[2] who were calling people to receive Holy Communion more often than just once a year during Great Lent, (or once a month, like the monastics in Serbia at that time). I found a living tradition there, preserved for hundreds of years in the monasteries. In a certain sense, I had to start all over from the beginning, considering the differences in tradition and mentality. I lived with the sense that I had found my place, for the rest of my life…”

Mother Maria lived in a monastery in the Peloponnesus, near Sparta, where she received the monastic tonsure. Meanwhile, she made great progress in her study of the Greek language.

In 1982, she visited Holland again for the first time in years, where her Orthodox friends persuaded her to open a convent in her native land. She returned to Greece in order to prepare herself for this undertaking. Mother Maria settled temporarily in a monastery of the diocese of Drama, in the north of Greece, and took a course at the University of Thessalonica on the translation of liturgical texts, taught by the late Professor I. Fountoulis. The time was approaching when she would be leaving Greece, her home of eleven years, in order to help nurture the growth of Orthodoxy in Western Europe.

“I, myself, feel at home in a Greek monastery, but I can understand why it would not be that way for everyone. It is no wonder that new Orthodox monasteries are being opened in the West. But it is very important for such monasteries to have connections with a country which is traditionally Orthodox, and with its monasteries.

“Throughout history there have been monastics who, having spent several years in Greece, returned to their homelands. Such Russian fathers as St. Anthony of the Kiev Caves and St. Nilus of Sora are examples. In recent times we could cite Fr. Placide, who became Orthodox on Mt. Athos and returned to France, where he started a monastery. Another example is an Australian of Greek origin, who became a nun in Greece in 1983, and ten years later was sent back to Australia, a country with several million Greek Orthodox, in order to establish a monastery for women. There is also Fr. Vasily (Grolimund), of Swiss-German origin, who founded a monastery in Germany after living for ten years on Mt. Athos.

“The history of Elder Ephraim’s American monasteries is not much different—at the request of a number of Greek Americans, he chose a group of Greek monks and nuns to organize monasteries in America according to the Athonite rule. In less than twenty years Fr. Ephraim founded eighteen monasteries, and he hopes before he dies to found two more, so that they might be equal in number to the monasteries of Mt. Athos—twenty. Most of the abbots and abbesses of these American monasteries are Greeks, or are of Greek origin; for example, Fr. Paisius, the Abbot of the monastery in Arizona, is a Greek who was born in Canada.

“In 1986, after taking counsel with monastic fathers, and of course, with the blessing of my Abbess and the local bishop, I returned to Holland. Fr. Pachomius of the Monastery of St. Elias took me in, and I lived in a garden house of his until pious people offered to buy an old farmhouse in Asten in 1988. Then in 1989 I moved there to establish a monastery.”

One of the fathers with whom Mother Maria counseled was Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) of the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Essex, England.

“Two years before I returned to Holland I was already preparing for my return, visiting various monasteries, including Essex. My meeting with Fr. Sophrony was very significant for me. I particularly remember his advice not to be a nun in a parish—it is better that a monastery be separate from a parish. Furthermore he advised me to look for a place with enough space for the monastery to grow. He also spoke of the idea of ‘exile.’ In spiritual life, it is important for one to leave his homeland, as did Abraham; to become a wanderer on the earth, as was Jesus Christ. Fr. Sophrony asked me if it weren’t better for me to remain a stranger in a strange land. My answer was simple and honest: ‘Father, as an Orthodox nun I am more of a stranger in Holland than in Greece!’”

The first few years of her life in Asten were mostly spent alone. It took a while for sisters to come. One of the oldest sisters of the monastery came to her from the United States, and then others of Greek origin came from England. She now has two Dutch sisters.

Fr. Matthew

“There are eight sisters here, of all different nationalities, and our priest, Fr. Matthew, makes another. They all came here in different ways; each has her own history and fate. That we are all from different countries is something which makes our monastery unique. We speak various languages; have different life experiences, mentalities, and traditions, etc. Nevertheless, we are boldly trying to form a community.”

What makes this possible? “I think,” says Mother Maria, “that this is only possible when the Gospels are the foundation of our lives, when our monastic ideals are alive, and when we humbly and thankfully travel the centuries-old, holy, and blessed path of traditional monastic life. Fortunately, we are closely connected with monasteries in Greece and Cyprus, in England and in France, and we feel we are a living branch of the great tree of Orthodox monasticism.”

This synthesis is apparent in all aspects of the sisters’ daily life. Firmly planted upon Dutch soil, the monastery’s meals are according to Dutch customs, and the language used in daily life as well as in Church Services is Dutch, a large part of the liturgical texts having been translated by Fr. Adrian of The Hague. But English enters in here and there, and Greek is sometimes used. Mother Maria even gives instruction in the Greek language to the sisters, if they have the desire to learn it. The Dutch are generally very capable of mastering foreign languages, and Mother Maria is no exception. She has also been integrating more and more Byzantine music into the Church Services. And of course, on the monastery’s patronal feast day, the busloads of Greek immigrants are a cheerful reminder that the monastery is forming according to the Greek tradition.

On a daily basis, however, the regular visitors are Dutch. Bible study classes are conducted weekly for their benefit.

“Dutch people are generally attracted to Orthodoxy by its beauty—the icons, the music. They are also attracted by its stability. The Vatican II Council caused great disturbance amongst Catholics in Europe, while Orthodoxy offers an unchanging tradition.

“Protestants come looking for the Church of the first centuries of Christianity, which is, of course, Orthodoxy’s claim. Many people come through personal contacts, and through reading books. Bishop Kallistos Ware’s book, The Orthodox Church, did much for Orthodoxy in Europe, as well as the writings of Vladyka Anthony Bloom, and Fr. Sophrony. Naturally, nowadays very many people are becoming Orthodox through mixed marriages.

“Most people are converted to Orthodoxy through the Russian Church rather than the Greek, because the Greek immigrants come here with the intention of earning money and returning to Greece. The immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe come to live permanently. However, there are many cases where a Dutch person goes to Greece for a sunny vacation, sees the piety in the villages, steps into a beautiful church, then looks for that Church in Holland. Orthodoxy is definitely growing in Europe.”

The sisters of the convent. The young man is a monastic aspirant bound for Mt. Athos, Greece

The Asten convent is also visited by members of the “new” immigration from formerly communist countries, who are now becoming parishioners in local Orthodox churches, where there are many Dutch converts. The immigrants are learning to live in a very different society.

“If there is good communication, this can make for a good combination—in theory, anyway. It is a challenge—God’s challenge. As far as infrastructure and activities are concerned, however, the Coptic Church is better organized here than the Orthodox.

“It can take ten or more years for a Dutch person to become Orthodox. The priest is also cautious, testing a person’s stability and intention for about one year before baptism.”

There has been talk in the past of organizing a “Dutch Orthodox Church,” but Mother Maria believes it is too early.

“There are difficult historical considerations. What makes things complicated is that Western Europe is historically the diocese of Rome. With the return to Orthodoxy—that is, of the people, but not of the Roman Church itself—we have the uncanonical situation of more than one bishop in a city. In France and in the U.S. there are Orthodox committees (such as SCOBA), where bishops meet from all different canonical jurisdictions, and work together on issues. So in Holland, the Orthodox are at least able to work together, and a natural ‘local Orthodoxy’ can form.”

This brings us back to the little chapel on the road outside the convent, which “came by itself” in an unlikely manner. Here is how it happened.

A certain Dutch artist in the area had an original idea: art along the highway. He received permission from the highway authorities to construct some objects of art at rest stops along the main thoroughfares of Holland. In order to decide upon just what he should construct, he took a survey of the category of driver who most often passed through these parts. The main category at a certain rest stop just happened to be Russian auto dealers, and he asked them what they would like to see. The answer was — a little chapel. The artist did his research on the subject, and a wooden structure was built, a chapel dedicated to the Mother of God, Hodigitria, or “She who shows the Way,” complete with an icon on the inside, and a prayer for travelers printed on the wall in both Dutch and Church Slavonic.

Now, the highway authorities had consented to a temporary exhibit, and not a permanent fixture, so the chapel had to be removed. Fortunately, someone told them about the “Orthodox Klooster” in Asten, and they called Mother Maria. She happily consented to take the chapel.

But one has to imagine the extremely strict zoning laws and codes in the Netherlands in order to understand Mother Maria’s second thoughts on the subject. One complaint from her conservative neighbors could stifle any future building projects on the monastery’s grounds. She thought for a while, and then reached for the telephone to call the authorities and tell them that she had changed her mind. They had already set the date for the chapel’s delivery, so she had to cancel it in time…

Yes, the date was… and then she remembered. The date of arrival was the feast of the icon of the Mother of God, Hodigitria! She cancelled her call instead, not daring to obstruct God’s Providence and the good will of the Mother of God herself.

Thus, in ways outside our own efforts, only requiring our consent, can a “local Orthodoxy” form where there is neither Greek nor Jew, Barbarian nor Scythian, but Christ in all and for all (cf. Col. 3:11). “Thus,” says Mother Maria, “do we live in this corner of the secularized, Western world, preserved by the prayers of many spiritual fathers, under the protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, blessing the Lord in all the days of our life….”

[1] The Convent of the Lesna Mother of God, in Provemont, near Paris, was formed by Russian emigrant nuns from what is now eastern Poland. It has been a revered place of pilgrimage for the Russian Church in Exile.

[2] The Kolivades was a movement which arose on Mt. Athos during the mid-18th century as a reaction to the decline in monastic life.

Nun Cornelia (Rees)

With thanks to Tatiana Panchenko of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Amsterdam.

22 / 01 / 2008






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