Sep 28, 2011

Elder Porphyry the Kapsokalivite Joyfully Blesses a Group of Prostitutes

Lovely article (below) which I've shamefully lifted from the charming Orthodox site, Salt of the Earth, also cross-posted at Milk and Honey.  Amidst all the 'fuss' about splintering and schism from within the quite partial, but very rich (and equally corrupted) Roman tradition of Christianity, it's wise to ponder the astonishing number of extraordinary saintly figures, both female and male, who illuminate the Orthodox tradition. The Great Schism of 1054, which divided Eastern from Western Christianity was a far more profound division than the Reformation of the 16th century. Yet Her Divine Holiness the Spirit continues to populate the Eastern branch with these extraordinary figures, as if to say, "Oh piffle, who gives a flying fidler's fart for all of these institutional divisions and distinctions. I sprinkle my flowers of inspiration where I may. Let the Roman Papist be confounded." To which I say, thank you, your Holiness, and Amen. 

On a related note, I'm presently reading (very slowly) Diarmaid MacCulloch monumental, 1000 page  A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, and I'm happy to report from this reading that Chritianity is nothing but a history of splintering and fragmentation, some of it quite lovely and creative, a bit of it rather unpleasant and even bloody, but the whole process seems to be part of the substance,and well-nigh unavoidable. At the moment, I'm in the middle of the chapter highlighting the delightful Monophysites, the rambunctious Miaphsites and the equally naughty Dyophysites, all of whom split off from the 'main' Roman Imperial branch after Chalcedon, and that was a very long time ago. And yet it hasn't prevented these exotic flowers from producing some astonishing examples of holiness. Last Holy Week, I was in Jerusalem and was invited by the utterly sweet and charming Eritrean Monophysite Christians living in my hotel to attend their Easter Vigil, which was being held, courtesy of the Orthodox, in the tomb of Our Lady, which is right next door to the Franciscan Church of Gethsemane, outside the walls. Their service, which was held about 10pm, was so filled with joy and light, and an uncontainable enthusiasm for living, that it left me breathless and a little speechless. Never in my 66 years had I experienced such an Easter Vigil filled with so much JOY. Then, by a bizarre coincidence, when I walked out of the tomb and up the hill onto the main road, I was taken up into a swirl of Spanish pilgrims disembarking from parked buses and heading straight into the Franciscan church of Gethesame (which had been unlocked just for them, with a porter at the door monitoring their entrance) I went right along with the flow and felt carried by the Spirit into this quite conventional and very familiar Roman Catholic Easter Vigil service. It was quite lovely and profound and spiritual and LONG and boring and uninspiring in it's lack of theatricality, but it did do honor to the mystery of the feast and there was an inner sense of satisfaction at its finish. But if this had been a contest??? I'm sorry, the Monophysite Christians next door win the prize hands down for knowing how to celebrate. "The Lord is Risen and don't you forget it", the Eritreans were shouting to the world, and I say Amen to that and bring on the splintering!

Here is this charming story and don't the Orthodox have such bizarrely wonderful names?

Elder Porphyry Bairaktaris the Kapsokalivite
In the old days, during the feast of the Theophany, we used to sanctify homes. One year I also went to sanctify. I would knock on the doors of the apartments, they would open for me, and I walked in singing “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….”

As I went along the road called Maizonos, I saw an iron door. I opened it, walked into the courtyard which was full of tangerine, orange and lemon trees, and proceeded to the stairs. It was an outdoor staircase that went up, and below it was the basement. I climbed the stairs, knocked on the door, and a lady appeared. Since she opened I began my common practice singing, “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….” She stopped me abruptly. Meanwhile, girls began to emerge from their rooms after hearing me from the left and right of the hallway. “I see that I fell into a brothel,” I said to myself. The woman walked in front of me to stop.

“Leave”, she told me. “It is not right for them to kiss the Cross. I will kiss the Cross and then you should leave, please.”

I took seriously her disapproving attitude and said: “I cannot leave! I am a priest, I cannot go! I came here to sanctify.”

“Yes, but it is not right for them to kiss the Cross.”

“But we don’t know if it is right for them or you to kiss the Cross. Because if God asks me for whom it is more right to kiss the Cross, the girls or you, I probably would say: ‘It is right for the girls to kiss and not you. Their souls are much better than yours.’”

With that she became a bit red in the face, so I said: “Leave the girls to come kiss the Cross.” I signalled for them to come forward. I began to chant more melodically than before: “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord…” because I had such joy within me, that God had ordained things so that I may also come to these souls.

They all kissed the Cross. They were all made-up, with colourful skirts, etc. I told them: “My children, many years! God loves us all. He is very good and allows the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matt. 5:45). He is the Father of everyone and God cares for everyone. Let us make sure to come to know Him and for us to also love Him and to become good. May you love Him, and then you will see how happy you will be.”

They looked at me, wondering. Something took a hold of their tired souls.

Lastly I told them: “I rejoice that God has made me worthy to come here today to sanctify you. Many years!”
“Many years!” they also said, and I left.