The Spiritual Watch

Below, please find the combined fifth and sixth issue of The Spiritual Watch, the new publication of the Metropolis of America, published with the blessings of His Eminence, Metropolitan Demetrius of America. In The Spiritual Watch, you will find news and information regarding our Holy Metropolis, as well as spiritual writings.

The Spiritual Watch, Vol I, Issue 5-6

Quote From the Fathers

Examine yourself daily in the sight of God, and discover which of the passions is in your heart. Cast it out, and so escape His judgment.
—St. Isaiah the Solitary, On Guarding the Intellect.

Preparation is an essential part of Orthodox spirituality. It is for this reason that the Church has established that each major feast day be preceded by a period of fasting and spiritual preparation. The greatest feast in Christendom is the Resurrection of Christ, Great and Holy Pascha. It is called the Feast of feasts and Festival of festivals. Since it is the greatest of feasts, the period of preparation for Pascha is the most intense. The period of ten weeks which lead to Holy Pascha is contained in a book called the Triodion. The Triodion can be divided into three different sections, the first which, commonly called the Triodion, consists of the four Sundays: 1) the Publican and the Pharisee 2) the Prodigal Son 3) the Second Coming and 4) the expulsion of Adam from Paradise.

These commemorations remind us of the message of repentance which we recently heard from St. John the Forerunner and later from Christ Himself: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The parable of the Publican and the Pharisee teaches us that true repentance cannot accompany arrogance and judgmental-ness and that, “whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we are taught that we have freewill, the inheritance we have received from the Father. We may squander it on loose living or we may remain close to the Father. When we decide to return to God in a contrite heart and desire only to be a servant of God and not even a son, which is our birthright, we must lift ourselves up from the mire of sin and set out on the road to return to the Father. Then, while we are still afar off, God will run out to meet us and embrace us and kiss us, then will He kill for us the fatted calf. On the other hand, those who have not fallen so far away must not begrudge our repentant brethren nor God for receiving them joyfully.

After these two Sundays the message becomes more severe. Having been taught that God is merciful, lest we take advantage of His mercy, we are reminded of the coming judgment and the eternal fate of sinners. He calls all men His brethren and requires that we also treat them thus, saying: "Inasmuch as ye have done good or evil unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (c.f. Matt. 35: 41-45). This day is called Meat-fare Sunday because it is the last day on which we are permitted to eat meat until the great day of Pascha. During the week which follows, which is called Cheese-fare week, we are permitted to eat of all foods, save meat: dairy products, fish, wine, and oil, even on Wednesday and Friday. Also, during Cheese-fare week the services gradually begin to take on a Lenten character: on Wednesday and Friday of this week, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated and Alleluia is chanted during Matins instead of God is the Lord. In this way, the Church begins to prepare us for the Great Fast, on the one hand comforting us with the consumption of all foods, save meat, and on the other hand transforming the services into Lenten ones.

On Cheese-fare Sunday, the last day before the Great Fast, we remember the expulsion of Adam from Paradise. The two themes of repentance and fasting are united in this day’s hymnography, for the first commandment God gave to Adam and Eve was to fast from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Having violated this commandment, and being cast out of Paradise, Adam sat opposite Paradise and wept. For it is only through fasting and repentance that we may attain Paradise.

On the following day, Clean Monday, the stadium of the virtues is opened, the Great Fast. Let those who wish to enter, gird themselves for the good struggle of the Fast, for those who lawfully compete shall be justly crowned.

So be it, through the prayers of our holy fathers. Amen.

Traditional Faith Perseveres

Jewel on the Side Streets of New York

On a quiet, tree-lined street in the Astoria district of New York City, the mysterious shapes of giant steel domes appear, piercing through the monotony of flat tarred roofs with their soft, round shapes evoking in the passer-by images of the Middle East and the glory that was Byzantium. The quiet greenery of that street belies its proximity to the hustle-bustle of the Manhattan skyscrapers just a “stone’s throw” across the river. The stillness is only broken by the occasional sound of an Amtrak train passing overhead on its aqueduct shaped bridge.

The Immigrant Foundations

Before reconstruction of the new building began, there stood a little house-church which had for 30- years served as home to a pious portion of the Greek Orthodox community. Like the Pilgrim Fathers in Massachusetts, these particular Greeks had come to America to find religious freedom in the face of fierce, often violent, persecution of their faith in Greece. Ironically, they are not members of a small sect. By a quirk of history the government of Greece, in 1924, outlawed the 2,000-year old traditional Orthodox church in favour of a modernized Greek Orthodox State Church. Anyone opposing the beliefs of the State Church was branded as “uncanonical,” and “schismatic” and—as the persecution reached a pitched fervour in the 1950’s—the traditionalists were condemned in the secular Greek press as “enemies of the Greek people. . .those who seek to shatter our ethnic unity.” Under the leadership of monks from Mount Athos the traditionalists, or “Old Calendarists” as they were labeled by the modernists, went underground in Greece until a recent revision of the law allowed them to publicly exercise their religious preference.

The First Priest

One such Athonite monk was sent to America to assist the emigrant believers. In 1952, Father Petros Astyfides, from St. Anne's Skete, settled in New York and began serving Divine Liturgy at the Old Calendarist Cathedral of St. Nicholas (near the WTC). In 1954 he started services for a small flock in a house-church on 26th Street in the Astoria district. He was latter joined by a deacon and some nuns from Greece who helped to establish a Greek school. With the passage of time, the small community was able to acquire several attached homes on the block which became a church, rectory, monastery, convent, and classrooms. The whole thing was named for a child-martyr, Saint Markella of the island of Chios.

Growth of a National Archdiocese

In other cities of the U.S. other traditionalist churches were coming into existence as well. Eventually Fr. Petros was ordained to the episcopate and became Bishop of Astoria. He was appointed “Exarch of America” by the Holy Synod in Greece to serve the traditionalist communities all over the country. The little house-church in Astoria had become a cathedral—de facto—and the national center of the traditionalist “Old Calendar” Greek Orthodox in America (the State Church also has its own headquarters in Manhattan.) On the national level the diocese continued to grow—churches and schools, a radio program in Florida, a TV program on Greek cable, newspapers—even a small convent on Long Island were established. At the same time, the congregation in Astoria was “bursting the walls” of the old cathedral, the diocesan offices were in the attic, the school in the basement.

Finally, necessity forced the issue. It was decided to build a new cathedral. The style, of course, had to be traditional. The building needed to be large, but the desire was to preserve the atmosphere which the small old church had had.

The Model: St. Saviour in Chora (Constantinople)

The inspiration for the design of the new cathedral was taken from the Church of the Saviour in Hora. This Byzantine church was originally built as monastery “in the Country-side” (Chora) just outside the walls of Constantinople. The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great had resolved to move the Imperial Capitol from Old Rome on the Tiber (with its pagan legacy chiseled on the walls of its temples) to a “New” Rome which he had built on the Bosporus. Constantine’s new city (Constantinople) was built throughout with Christian churches and monasteries. The Church in Chora was one of them.

Prayer Complicates Engineering

Prior to commencing the new church in New York, a daily cycle of services had been running without interruption for nearly thirty years. When construction began, it was decided that the services must not be halted. Thus, the project became complex for the engineers as they had to build the new church around, over, and under the old one. Only when the new building was capable of being used for services was the old structure demolished and removed from the interior of the new one.

Church Built By The Poor

The political strictures imposed upon the traditional believers in Greece led many to aceed to the will of the State Church, some for economic reasons, others for fear of consequences to their children. Thus it is that members of the traditional church are often from the lower economic strata. These are the people who built the new cathedral. The engineering complications caused the construction time and cost to double, so that the basic steel and cement structure cost over $2 million when finally completed. The iconography, carved veneration-stands, chandeliers, episcopal throne, carved chairs, standing candelabras, and interior finishing work and the rest of what constitutes a traditional “Byzantine” style Greek Orthodox Church ended up costing millions. But, to the average member of the Church, it is well worth it. “For my kid’s sake, I gotta do it” says one old woman in New York. “Hey, we’re in America now, a free country,” says a man in Detroit, “the cathedral is our national center—it has to be a symbol of our faith we can look to.” One priest in Chicago said, “The Cathedral is the mother church of our diocese. We hope that it will continue to be productive in the salvation of souls, so that—according to God’s will—her daughters (our parish churches) will prosper spiritually from her spiritual success.”

Fire Strikes

In July of 1995, when the Cathedral was nearly completed, the Cathedral suffered from a serious fire. The fire started in the altar and did much damage there though the clergy were able to get the Holy objects out of harm’s way. The iconostasis was completely destroyed and all the icons thereupon were seriously damaged or completely consumed by the flames and immense heat. No trace of several of them was ever found. A large brass free-standing candleabra was completely melted away, no trace of it was ever found.

After the firemen left, the clergy noticed that sitting face-up on the mass of burnt and water-damaged rubble was the icon of St. Markella. The icon was completely undamaged. The backing that the icon was mounted on was charred black though the icon itself and all the precious offerings hanging on it were untouched. The Old Calendar believers struggled to raise the funds to repair the Cathedral and today the results speak for themselves. There is a new carved iconostasis, a new marble floor, several new free-standing brass oil-lamp stands an immense polyeleos (Chandelier), and several smaller ones. There is a new carved episcopal throne, several carved veneration-stands, hundreds of carved chairs, and two new candle-selling stands (pangaria) and carved sand-boxes. The Cathedral is currently seeking donations to pay for these beautiful and traditional items.

Bishop Petros Reposes

In 1997, after struggling to preserve the Genuine Orthodox Faith for his entire life, Metropolitan Petros reposed in the Lord. Geronda Petros suffered greatly at the hands of the “official church” for his adherence to Genuine Greek Orthodoxy. He never wavered in his belief and confession of the Genuine Orthodox Faith. It is the same confession of the Holy Fathers and the same confession of all Old Calendarists.

In 1998 the Holy Synod of the Genuine Greek Orthodox Church of Greece elevated the Archdiocese of Astoria to the Holy Metropolis of North and South America. This was done in conjunction with the consecration of Archimandrite Pavlos of Astoria to the Episcopacy with the rank of Metropolitan of North and South America.

About the Church

The Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians (GOC) of America is The Traditionalist Orthodox Church serving the faithful of North and South America following the old (Julian) calendar. Having its roots in the Diocese of Astoria, founded by Metropolitan Petros (Astyfides) in 1954, it presently consists of two Metropolises (America and Toronto) and two dioceses (Etna and Portland, and Boston), shepherded by five hierarchs, under the Presidency of His Eminence, Metropolitan Demetrius of America.

The Church of the GOC of America is an autonomous Eparchy whose Mother Church is The Holy Synod of the Church of the GOC of Greece, under the Presidency of His Beatitude Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens and All Greece. The bishops belonging to the Eparchial Synod are also members of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece. We resist the heresy of Ecumenism.

Orthodox Awareness

The Problem of Conservative New Calendarism

A talk delivered by Fr. Maximus (Marretta) to the Inter-Orthodox Conference "Orthodoxy and Modern Ecumenism," University of Chicago, March 5/18, 2007. Read more...


Saint John of Kronstadt - Bunnell, Florida

St. John of Kronstadt Orthodox Church began as a mission parish in the year 2000, in a home chapel in Palm Coast, FL – a small town on Florida’s northeast coast located between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. After two years, it became necessary to have services in area community centers, rented for Sundays and other Holy Days. Read more...


Report and photos from the 2017 Youth & Family Conference

Ask A Priest

Two-Headed Snake Cane?

Q. Can you tell me what the two-headed snake cane the Greek Bishop is walking with represents? What does it mean?
-V.T.