|fr. Antonios Stylianakis M.D., pilgrime, Greece (1994,95)|
It hasn’t been that many years ago, since the events that I will describe took place; so I will try to relate them as objectively – without sentimentality – as possible, for it has to do with very significant events.
It was not easy for me to do something like this, because it is a matter of revealing such personal moments that I would never want to make known publicly, despite the fact that, as a psychiatrist, I am accustomed to hearing the personal accounts of others, all the same, my debt in the light of Eternal Truth, but also toward my brothers and sisters ( in Christ) has caused me to overcome my hesitations.
WOMEN HAVE GREAT IMAGINATION
I was a student in my last year of medical school, when a couple from Florina who were friends of ours, came to our house to relate to us impressions of their recent trip to the Holy Lands.
The woman spoke the most, out of enthusiasm for what she had seen and experienced. She told the story of the phenomena of the Holy Light, which appears every year at Pascha and is witnessed by all who are present. She, herself, was an eye-witness; she stated that, while standing in the outside/courtyard area of the Church, she saw a blue light flickering above their heads like electrical discharges and in an undiscernible whisper, filled them with great joy…
I listened incredulously and thought to myself how easily women get charged up emotionally, to the point that they are seeing things and doing so in mass… (mass hysteria?) I do not wish to say here that I was an unbeliever… It’s just that I had excluded the possibility of miracles taking place before my very eyes in the twentieth century! And yet, when, after several years had gone by, I found myself, a devout pilgrim, fortified with all kinds of questions (a true representative of the rational age!) but also carrying a video camera at my side, I would never have thought that I would also be viewing for myself something which I had mocked others for… And not only that, but that God would make it possible for me to video tape a supernatural phenomena, a miracle which was unfolding before the very eyes of thousands of people.
On my way to the Holy Lands, within me I entreated God to show me a sign… A sign, so that my faith would be made firm (although I knew that such a request was both quite bold and extravagant), and in such a way I would be assured of my conviction to devote the rest of my life (to Him), as I had dreamed of doing during my childhood, and more recently had contemplated doing, with the blessing of my spiritual father.
WHAT WE WERE TO SEE IN JERUSALEM
It is quite worthwhile for someone to visit Jerusalem from several standpoints… even if only for its historical significance at the time of Christ. It still retains an appearance of antiquity and respectful of its monuments. Here one sees the encounter of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Mohammedanism.
It was Pascha 1994. I was visiting the Holy Lands for the second time, and I was in a position to enjoy, with greater leisure time, things that one can not see in just one hurried visit. Above all, it is worthwhile, and a must, to go on pilgrimage to the places, which not only have historical significance, but which are also related, in a sacred way, to Christ. The Church of the Resurrection – with the Holy Sepulchre within and the site of Golgotha and the Deposition (the unnailing of the body of Christ from the Cross) – overrides all. Gethsemane at the Brook Kidron, which appears as it, did in ancient times. Mary’s Tomb, the Upper Room, and a bit outside the City, Bethany where Lazarus’ Tomb is located and an Orthodox Monastery as well.
However, what commands the greatest attention throughout the Paschal season is the Holy Light. Many people come exclusively to see this and tie in the other sites as an aside… The Holy Light comes out every Holy Saturday at noon in a special ceremony conducted by the Patriarch. We’re talking about a heavenly "uncreated" light that becomes visible, moreover, to the naked eye!
PASCHA AT THE HOLY SEPULCHRE OF CHRIST
I will never forget that Pascha (the last one I spent as a layman), when I went to Jerusalem with a group of devout worshippers from the travel agency, Chorev, in Thessaloniki. The head of the group was Papa (Father) Savas, a dentist from the Brotherhood, Kerasies (of the Holy Mountain); and with me was my cousin, Dr. George E. Stylianakis.
A few days before Holy Saturday, I visited the Holy Church of the Resurrection, and after venerating (the icon) and saying my prayers, I began drawing up a plan for how and where I was going to install my video camera, so that I would be able to "capture" (on film) all that would be happening. And as such, I chose a small narrow balcony a little less than twenty (20) feet away from and above the Holy Sepulchre, not knowing, however, that this very spot had been designated as the official grandstand for government dignitaries from Greece and elsewhere… (I remember that the Minister of Transportation, J. Haralambos, was among the official personalities and administrative staff of Olympic Airlines, who came to Jerusalem that year).
The plan was to prepare to hold the camera in as steady a position as possible – on my shoulder – in order to shoot for the Holy Sepulchre. At the same time, I would keep an eye out, scouting the area, should any of the goings-on escape my attention. In this way, I thought it would be as if I were seeing with three eyes instead of one… at the time that I was looking through the camera (lens)! So if I didn’t catch something directly with my own eyes, my camera would. The end result proved me right, fortunately, and to an astonishing degree.
Of course, it became apparent that I wasn’t the only one to have a plan for how I was going to witness this most unique phenomenon in the entire world! Later, I found out there were people (women) who dressed up as nuns (even after having removed their eyebrows!) to fool the guards, as well as the crowd, in order to succeed in getting a better seat next to the dignitaries.
I, of course, with camera-in-hand, had a good alibi, making it easier, relatively speaking, for me to move about freely. But wouldn’t you know it, more than ten cameramen were also there, carrying huge professional ones, making mine look like a miniature!
And as if that weren’t enough, at one point, when I got tired, I sat down for a little while in a corner of the aisle where the boisterous, unrelenting Israeli police were parading back and forth… And that did it! They grabbed hold of me, threw me out of the Church before I was even able to protest! The panic that overtook me can not be described. To have come all the way from Greece to see the Holy Light, and to start out a day earlier in order to secure a place at the Church, only to be removed at the last minute was inconceivable to me. It seemed that any hopes of getting back in were dashed, because the Church had filled up and there were guards at all the doors. On the side where the Copts were, there was perhaps a better chance of entering; however, I couldn’t imagine playing the hypocrite in order to re-enter so as to see the Holy Light!
In the end, not even I know how it happened that I slipped inside again, I, who was over 6 feet tall… I’m sure that it was my constant prayers that helped, after what had happened to me. I resituated myself across from the Holy Sepulchre and due to my height, I had a privileged view… Still, the pushing and shoving that I experienced from all sides were unbearable.
It was natural for everyone to want to be in front and to try to improve their visibility, without showing concern for the others. (At some point) you feel like your back is going to break from trying to keep a balance on one foot, then on your tiptoes or else on your heels!
AND FINALLY THE MOMENT HAD ARRIVED FOR THE HOLY LIGHT
It was Holy Saturday 1994 midday, around 2 p.m.
After what seemed like an endless wait all morning long, the processional with the Patriarch, finally, passed by in the direction of the Holy Sepulchre, while several shops turned on their projectors in order to have a better reception, but it’s a wonder the crowd didn’t try to lynch them, for they had come to see the Holy Light, not the photographers’ flashes! ! ! Finally, they complied with the shouts of the people, and everyone waited for the big moment. My anxiety was heightened by the fact that I didn’t know what/where to look for most, as well as what exactly to expect. The recollection that I had my camera-in-hand conforted me.
Finally, at some point, I heard people shouting triumphantly and cheering/whistling. I opened my camera lens, and I saw what seemed like a shower of lightening flashes, which I, initially, mistook for camera flashes, but I, immediately, realized that it was impossible for so many hundreds of cameras to go off in such an orchestrated fashion. Simultaneously, these "flashing lights" spread to the Church, so that the light was dancing on the walls and even on the church ceiling… The moments at hand were profound. Chills had taken hold of my body and I kept trying to remain calm so, as not to tremble. The pushing and elbowing were enough for me… Seconds later, I barely managed to see an orange fire–like ball coming out from the left side of the Sepulchre (from where I was standing), and like a rocket or a flare, taking off in an upward direction in somewhat slow time… (was it a balloon?) Very quickly I pointed my camera in that direction. And I managed to film the last phase just before it disappeared above the area designated for women, where people were automatically gathered, holding lit candles. Then after a little while, the Patriarch came out of the ciborium and lit the first candles.
My God what was it, torches or an outbreak of fire? I thought that everything had caught fire! Within moments, it passed by me and not taking notice of its approach, I bent down to light my candle. Later, I learned that at different points, candles were being lit miraculously, by themselves, so that in a very short while, the flame had spread everywhere, even outside the Church. Then, afterwards, inside the Church there were what seemed like flames from the candles, over one (1) meter high, because many people were holding several candles all at one time in their hands. Fortunately, the police were there, and with fire extinguishers, they put out the flames, the threatening ones, from a distance. Otherwise, we would have all caught fire; at some point, I put myself at risk in trying to save my camera from the flames! For several moments thereafter, shouts could be heard and there was a stir of emotion among the people; and I can’t hide the fact that I was anxious/concerned about something happening to us from so many flames.
UPON VIEWING THE VIDEO FILM IN THESSALONIKI
The first to view it was my mother, and since I knew its contents, at some point while she was watching it, I went out of the room… In a little while, she shouted for me to come and see something totally astounding. I turned the video back and saw a fiery ball (like the one I had seen from the left), coming from the right side of the Holy Sepulchre and casting itself, literally, on the people’s heads and then directing itself toward the nearest column, and after glowing brightly, wholly, it went out.
I turned the video back several times, as I could not get enough of seeing it. For a second time, I experienced something of wonder and a greater miracle. A clear indication that although I had seen the Holy Light, I had missed seeing many other things! ! ! Even more extraordinary was the fact that next to this column, many from our group were standing (among whom was my sister also, Athina, a dentist) and no one took notice of the fact that not only should they have seen it, but also they should have experienced terror/fright that the flame would burn them! "Great art thou O Lord, and I marvel at your Work!"
Later, when I showed the film to some Uncles of mine, one of them made the comment that, for certain, the priests had placed a laser on the ceiling… thereby simulating such a scene of lights and shadows! ! ! (I wondered, telling myself, that the laser should have been discovered in Jerusalem hundreds of years ago in view of the phenomena that occurs there). When the film reached the scene of the fiery ball, they were unable to offer any explanation at all…
MY SECOND TRIP TO SEE THE HOLY LIGHT
I was a Priest when I came for the second time at Pascha to Jerusalem, and I was one of the firsts to arrive on Holy Saturday, to come out from the Royal Doors, in the direction of the Holy Sepulchre. Something happened then, which had not happened over the past 12 years since the time, according to father Panteleimon who had been the guard of the Holy Tomb, as he told me later. The Holy Flame started flickering on the walls before the Patriarch had arrived at the Holy Tomb! I watched, keeping in mind the experience of the past, and asked the priests next to me if they saw what I was looking at. They stated with bewilderment that it must be the Holy Light…
When, however, the Patriarch entered the Tomb, the Flame became stronger, and everywhere, the Church of the Resurrection was bathed in its radiance.
My God, what inexpressible joy I experienced, when, after a great while, I entered the Holy Altar to receive the Patriarch’s blessing, just as everyone else was doing, and he was sitting on his throne, completely shaken, trembling and sobbing like a small child (who perhaps had been spanked and reprimanded quite severely!).
"What does it mean, O Lord, to enter your Heavenly Kingdom, when here (on earth) you grant us untold joys despite our unworthiness…?" Some people want to see miracles in order to believe. They don’t ask themselves if they are prepared to embrace see them, if their hearts can take it and if they can survive it!
It was my turn now to experience all of this, in order to understand (in a manner of speaking!) as a physician, what it all meant. Really, only now did I understand as a doctor of psychology what constitutes, thereabouts, a miracle.
When we all came out and asked each other what he had seen, I, for one, wasn’t sure what I had seen, whether I had seen the Holy Light or not! It was necessary for several hours to go by, in order for me to realize that I had seen something not seen on an ordinary day, because it was so extraordinary and wonderful.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE HOLY LIGHT AS WE HAD SEEN IT
It is a bluish (azure) white, clear light, in strips, and bathed in brilliance, and it moves by flickering in the atmosphere, on objects – creating a very pleasing impression. What also elicits an impression is that from year to year, you don’t know exactly what form it will appear in, since there are out-of-the ordinary shapes which are made visible, such as the fiery balls that we saw and videotaped in 1994, which we didn’t observe the following year… What is certain to happen, though, everytime is:
A. That the vigil lamp above the Holy Sepulchre of Christ is lit and often times all of the votive lamps located above the entrance to the Sepulchre (are also lit).
B. The candles, which the masses hold, are lit by themselves, sporadically and disproportionately, even at great distances outside the Church (the latter phenomenon I had the good fortune to witness during Pascha 1995, when I participated as a Priestmonk, in the Holy Light ceremony and held high the torch. Mine didn’t light, but I saw with my own eyes (and shivered), other torches/candles in the crowd of people, being lit here and there, while at the very beginning there was smoke!)
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
Included in the remainder of the itinerary was a visit to the Private /Special Museum containing the Bible, in Jerusalem. In 1947, a chance but quite important discovery brought to light perhaps the most important manscripts in the history of humankind. Handwritten papyrus scrolls in their original state, whole chapters from the Old Testament and especially from the prophet Isaiah. A specialist who examined the scrolls estimated that they dated back to several years before Christ's birth, and for this reason, they are guarded (as the apple of one's eye) in the special environment of an underwater museum! It is a Jewish find, of extraordinary importance, and very valuable for Christendom as well. The reason for this is that there have been many wars fought up until now that support the idea that it was the Christians who had later altered several passages from the Old Testament, so that they would fit the prophecies in the New Testament. Now, these findings persuade even the most unbelieving soul that the Old Testament passage is authentic and matches totally with what we have today, translated by the ’70 (seventy) – the Septuagint.
Christ was not some chance person in the history of humankind, but the sole, long awaited Messiah of Israel and of all humankind. top
FOR GOOD MEASURE
It was January 17th, 1997. I was in the library of the Brotherhood, located at 22 Ethnikis Aminis Street, and I was talking to Stathis Hav. I learned (from him) that he had visited Father Mitrofanis – who has been a guard keeper of the Holy Sepulchre for many years – and saw many things. At some point Stathis’ wife called and told him that their Elder was not well and that perhaps he would be departing (this world)… He had confided in me also that, lately, he was suffering and that his soul very much wanted to leave us. I felt very sad because I realized how late it was to interview the only person I would ever have wanted to interview. However, I proposed (to Stathis) that we go together to see him.
We arrived at the Harissio Old Age Home. I hadn’t visited it in years, although Christians, and especially Clergymen, should be going to such places weekly! We entered his room. A pious woman was at his side, although he was deep, in sleep (perhaps in a "precomatous" condition). I checked his pulse which was good, although a bit irregular. His breathing was strong and regular. I looked round his room. It was full of the icons of Saints. It’s the first time I had ever seen so many well cared for icons all placed among flowers (some of which were not real) and some in frames. Each icon had a name and telephone number on the back of it. It was the person who would inherit it after his falling asleep, which he had foreseen – and so had seen to every thing (before his passing). And therefore he (now) was awaiting the hour of his encounter with the Lord, "face to face" for he had so much to ask Him and express his gratitude for…
We prayed together for his soul and felt like a weight had been removed from us. And we departed in hopes of seeing him again in a better state a few days later. However, the following day, I received a call that Father Mitropanis had left for the heavenly kingdom and was already tasting the blessedness of the Lord, Whom he had served so devoutly for so many years; and who knows how many revelations he received from Him! May his memory be eternal and may he intercede for us who are "absent" top
E P I L O G U E
Dear brother, I am not an historian!
I don’t occupy my time with such… I have written all of this for you.
A person who has experienced such things can’t just ignore them. He must write them down. All the more so when the truth of eternal life is contained within.
What I have found so difficult to understand is how, up until now, such an enormous miracle, like none other, has remained so unknown and in such disdain. How is it that no one had ever spoken to me about it.
But what am I saying! And when I was told about it, did I believe it ?
Blessed are they who believe what they have read, even though they haven’t seen it with their own eyes.
As much as is dependent on me, I considered it my duty to bring this to the forefront. No one has the right (is justified) to allow others to thirst when he has found the well.
Two thousand years have gone by since Christ’s appearance on earth. He didn’t throw a book down from Heaven to tell us what He wants from us. He Himself showed us the Way that we must follow in order to enter once again the Paradise of God, in Whose image we are created, lest we forget. Since then, He has established His Church in order for Him to preserve the mysteries/sacraments leading to our salvation and His inadultered pure Grace. He has given us many indications/examples of Sainthood in the Church throughout the years.
Today He continues to talk to us by means of the Holy Light:
"Here is my Tomb! ! ! Here is where they crucified Me and where I was resurrected in order to prepare the way for you to come, too!
It is Orthodoxy which has preserved my Gospel & Holy Tradition without change and it is this which you must embrace and follow."
|fr. Antonios Stylianakis M.D., pilgrime, Greece (1994,95)|