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 Living with JOY in the New Year

My beloved priest and confessor father during my years at Penn State, Fr. John Reeves, shared the story below on his Facebook page a few weeks ago.  The old man in the story resonated with him, due to Fr. John’s battle with brain cancer (which he is miraculously winning by the grace of God).  The story resonated with me too.  Perhaps it’s because the young man afflicted with cancer was only 42 — the age I will be reaching during this new year.  Cancer, illness, death… none of these misfortunes discriminate.  There are no guarantees in this life, yet we are called to live each day with hope and joy.

This is what makes our faith and our daily life so beautiful.  As Christians we are called to live with joy — not happiness.   Happiness is dependent on temporal things and oftentimes things we have no control over, such as our health, wealth, and how others treat us.  Joy is determined by the grace of God, our faith, and how we treat others — things which generally we do have control over thanks to the gift of freedom which God gives to us. 

I have seen many live for happiness in this life and later discover joy in Christ, when their happiness was stripped away due to a serious illness, accident, misfortune, or loss.  This is an awakening of the soul and a gift from God that comes through deep repentance.  However, it is not necessary to wait for a misfortune to discover this joy in Christ.  The desire of the Church is for us to choose and cultivate joy in our lives — through a consistent prayer life, worshipping God regularly, participating in the sacraments of the Church, forgiving and loving those who wrong us, living simply with gratitude.  Such a spiritual state of joy allows us to feel and say at all times: “Glory to God for all things!” Regardless of the circumstances of life, let us  cultivate and strive for this spiritual joy in Christ as we begin the New Year. 

Stop saying “Glory to God for all things!”
A testimony offered by Hieromonk Synesios.

“A few years ago, I was the parish priest of St. Vasileios church (Piraeus) and was called to hear the       confession of a young man, Xenophon, 42 years old.

When I arrived, his days were numbered. Cancer with rapid metastases had affected his brain too. He was all alone at the ward, the bed next to him was empty, so we were all alone.

This is what he told me about how he came to Faith, since he was a “hardened atheist” in his own words:

‘I arrived here about 35 days ago, in this ward of two beds. Next to me was another patient, about 80 years old. He was suffering from cancer too, in his bones, and although he was experiencing excruciating pain, he was constantly praising the Lord “Glory to God! Glory to God for all things!” He also recited more prayers which I heard for the first time in my life since I was an atheist who had never set my foot to church.  Often, all those prayers comforted him and he slept for a couple of hours. Then, after 2-3 hours, he woke up again from the excruciating pain, and he would start over “My Christ, I thank you! Glory be to Thy Name! Glory to God! Glory to God for all things!” I was moaning with my pain, and this patient at the next bed to mine was glorifying God. I was blaspheming Christ and the Theotokos, and he was thanking God, thanking him for the cancer which he had given to him, and for all the excruciating pain he was suffering.

I was so rebellious and indignant at this! Not only for the excruciating pain I was suffering, but also for his never-ending Doxology. He was also partaking daily of Holy Communion, while I was throwing up in disgust.

– ‘Will you please shut up! Shut up and stop saying all the time ‘Glory to God’! Can’t you see that this God, Whom you are thanking and glorifying, this same God is torturing us with such cruelty? What kind of God this is? No, He does not exist!’

And the patient on the next bed would meekly answer me: ‘He does exist, my child, and He is also a most   loving Father, because with all this illness and pain, He cleanses me from my many sins. If you had worked on some rough task, and your clothes and your body stank, would you not need a rough brush to clean all this dirt? Likewise, God is using this disease as a balm, as a beneficial cleansing for my soul, in order to prepare it for the  Kingdom of Heaven’.

His replies got even more on my nerves and I was blaspheming gods and demons. All my reactions were sadly most negative, and all I did was to keep on screaming: ‘There is no God. … I do not believe in anything. …       Neither in this God nor in His Kingdom …’

I remember his last words: ‘Wait and you shall see with your own eyes how the soul of a Christian who             believes is separated from his body. I am a sinner, but His Mercy will save me. Wait, and you will behold and will believe!’

And that day came. The nurses wanted to place a screen, as is their duty, but I protested against and stopped them. I told them ‘No, don’t do this, because I want to watch how this old man will die!!!’

So I watched him and he was glorifying God all the time. He also said a few ‘Hail, Unwedded Bride’ for the    Theotokos, which as I later found out, they are called ‘Salutations’. He would also chant “Theotokos Virgin Mary …”, “From my many sins ..” and “It is truly right to bless you, Theotokos …”, and he would also make the sign of the Cross a number of times.

Then …  he raised both of his hands and said “Welcome, my Angel! Thank you for coming with such a bright synodeia to take my soul. Thank you! Thank you!” He raised his hands a little bit more, he made the sign of the Cross, he crossed his arms on his chest and fell asleep in the Lord. Suddenly, the ward was filled with Light, like ten and more bright suns had risen all together, such was splendour of the light with which this ward was lit!” And not only was this ward lit, but a heavenly fragrance spread around, inside the ward, even outside the         corridor, so powerful that those patients in the neighbouring wards who were not asleep and could get out of their beds, they came out and started walking up and down the corridor, trying to discern where this special fragrance was exuded from.

Thus, my Father, I, the hardened atheist did believe and called for you to hear my Confession.’

* * *

Xenophon was firm and merciless with his old self, but the Mercy of our Lord was great, really great! He    offered a clear confession, received Holy Communion a couple of times, and departed in deep repentance, in peace, a holy death, himself glorifying God!”

By Protopresbyter Stephanos Anagnostopoulos





by Fr. Hector Firoglanis

When I was in eighth grade, I wrestled at the 105 pound weight class for my school’s team. One of my friends on the team was in ninth grade and he wrestled the 189 pound weight class. As the last two undefeated wrestlers on the team over half way through the season, there were two things we shared in common:

  • We were both Orthodox Christians — two of several Greeks on the Manheim Township Wrestling teams in the early 1990’s.
  • We shared a custom of drinking Holy Water (Agiasmo) — which we kept in little glass bottles in our lockers — after each weigh-in.

Was the Holy Water responsible for our undefeated records? Of course not, even though more and more of our teammates began to inquire about our “special water” as the year went on. The Holy Water, however, did give us spiritual strength and was a tangible reminder that God was with us before, during, and after our matches — which was very comforting and calming. This assurance of God’s presence was helpful during the victories, and even more beneficial when the losses eventually came as well.

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Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
64 Hershey Avenue
Lancaster, PA 17603

Phone: (717) 394-1735
Fax: (717) 394-0991

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