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At Cape Spear (the most easterly point of North America).

 

voyage to the rock

Christ is Risen!

Matushka Constantina: I’m here overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Spear, the most easterly point of all of North America, with my brother Father Matthew Penney, the author of the new Young Adult novel Voyage to the Rock. The wind is blowing roughly and we can see a large ship approaching St. John’s harbour.

Father Matthew: Thanks, Matushka. It’s a pleasure to be here with you on the Rock and to be doing this interview.

celtic 2Matushka: Can you tell us what Voyage to the Rock is about?

Father M: This book is about the struggles of Martin – a teenager from Boston – to come to grips with his family’s move to a small city in Newfoundland, Canada, while they pursue his father’s missionary dreams of starting an Orthodox church. Through a series of events Martin discovers that what he first took to be a boring place in the middle of nowhere has a lot more adventure waiting for him than he could ever have dreamed of. After finding an ancient Christian artifact, he is led, along with his sister and a friend, on a quest to find its origins. There are Viking and Irish trans-atlantic voyages, mysterious clues, dangerous chases, and all this with the backdrop of the rich history and wild natural beauty of the massive island fittingly termed, ‘The Rock’. Let’s just say some unexpected saints make their way into it all as well – though not in the way you might imagine.celtic 3Matushka: Who is your target audience?

Father M: The target audience for this book is Young Adult (well, let’s say upper middle grade to YA) – really anyone from 12 and up. But I think anyone from any age can enjoy the read because there’s just so many interesting historical facts mixed with the different mysteries and clues that need to be solved. But more particularly, this book is definitely targeted toward an Orthodox audience, and this is really what I had in mind when deciding to write it. I wanted Orthodox young people to be able to be excited about some of their history and their faith – especially for those of us in North America, so that we could see some of the amazing connections we have in our history to early Christians and saints. As well, it has a bit of the lives of the saints mingled within it. For that reason I think Orthodox people could really benefit from this story, but also anyone interested in early Christian contact with North America. I’d like to add, this is also intended for anyone who loves a good mystery/adventure story in general.celtic 1Matushka: What was your inspiration for writing Voyage to the Rock?

Father M: Interestingly enough, I actually conceived of the story itself in a moment of nostalgia we might say, while sitting on my sixth-storey balcony in Thessaloniki. It was one of those rare days of cool, blustery winds and clear skies after a summer rain storm the previous evening. I was looking out and able to see the blue waters of the sea in the distance and couldn’t help but be reminded of the winds of Newfoundland and the rough natural beauty that exists there, and I started thinking about the Viking voyages and Irish voyages across the great Atlantic. And so the story was born you might say.celtic 2Matushka: Our dad is from Newfoundland, did your own personal experiences influence your writing?

Father M: Yes, definitely. Having been to Corner Brook – which is where dad’s side of our family is from – many times in my life, my experiences there formed the backdrop for the story. The places and the amazing natural beauty and historic sites really gave me the inspiration for this kind of story of travel and adventure, not to mention all the local color of the place with the accents of the people and the interesting Newfoundland culture. I thought it made for a real interesting setting. And our heritage on mom’s side also played into it, funny enough. We’re of Irish descent on her side, and so we always heard stories growing up about St. Brendan the Navigator, about St. Patrick, about many of these different Irish figures, and especially any sort of connections that her family could make for us living in Canada. That’s why it was very natural for me to write a story melding these two worlds – of Ireland and Newfoundland, especially since historically, many speculate that they did actually meld.celtic 3Matushka: What do you hope young people will take away from your adventure novel?

Father M: First of all, just on the light side of things, that they could enjoy a good read, something they could put themselves into, be a bit excited about, and be entertained by. But on a deeper level I was hoping they would be able to learn more about our Orthodox roots here in North America because all of the Christians who lived before the Schism were Orthodox Christians. Those that were in the Church, were all Orthodox together, and that includes the early Irish – and in particular the early Irish, really, when we see the kind of spiritual practices and monasticism that they had; we can see just how closely we of the Orthodox Church today are with those early Irish. And so that was particularly significant. But also with the Vikings, they were also Orthodox Christians. And so I wanted all of us to learn a bit about this history.

On top of that, there is sort of a story within the story. The life of a saint is actually woven throughout the book and Martin’s own journey mirrors this in many ways. In that sense, I thought it might be an interesting way for young people to learn more about our tradition and our faith in a context that might not be as intimidating or as daunting as picking up a volume of the Lives of the Saints.

celtic 1Matushka: Do you plan on writing a sequel or sequels to Voyage to the Rock?

Father M: Yes, actually. The day I conceived of Voyage to the Rock, the seeds of two sequels were also germinating in my head. At the present time, I am working on the first of these sequels. It will actually take place in Ireland, and so it will be an extension of Voyage to the Rock. So yes, people can look forward to this – not in the immediate future maybe, but in the future – to more adventures with Martin and Brigid and Ashley.

celtic 2Matushka: Where can people buy the book?

Father M: Right now people can buy the book on my website for the novel called voyagetotherock.webs.com . If you go there, you can go to the Order page and easily buy the book there. It is in two formats: the print format and the e-book. For the print version make sure you click on the button either for the U.S. or Canada since the prices are a little different depending on where you’re shipping to and the exchange rates. I should also point out, as followers of your blog will know, they can also find access to the book’s website directly through your blog, and this as the first publication of the new Lumination Press will shortly be available through Lumination Press website which should be launched later this week or next.

lumination press lamp

pascha-vatopaidi-3

Christ is Risen!

Happy Pascha everyone! May we cling to the victory of Christ’s Resurrection throughout every day of our earthly life! Amen! So be it!

And check out this amazing rendition of Come Receive the Light on a Native American flute! It’s a little nod to my family’s Native heritage as well!!

Repentance

Below is a wonderful article my sister-in-law wrote for our Lenten e-mail group a few years ago, I initially posted it in 2012. I wanted to share again because I think that it is a great reflection on repentance for Holy Week. It’s not too late, even now at the “eleventh” hour we can turn our hearts to God. I wish you all a very fruitful finish to Holy Week, and as we say in Greek, “Good Repentance!”
I must admit, when I hear this word there’s something in me that almost shudders – or even better – freezes.  There’s a ‘heaviness’ to it that is almost unbearable. I guess you could say, ‘repentance is heavy; it’s serious and there’s nothing light about it.’  That would be true, but I would have to explain myself a bit more for you to see where my error lies, since – as far as I can see – this ‘heaviness’ that I feel has nothing to do with real repentance at all; even worse, it’s just an imposter, a false repentance – mixing me up.  I’ll explain a bit, and hopefully you’ll see through my ridiculousness.For example, hearing that ten-letter-word my mind rushes to images of the harsh ascetic labours that such Repentant Ones did, and still do: the deprivations, the sighs, the exile and loneliness, the severe fasting, never ending prostrations, the flight from this world, and finally the terrible tortures, and horrific deaths – all due to their great repentance.  Unable to identify in the least bit with such actions, such feats, I feel a crushing weight set into my bones. That’s when I’d sigh. And that’s when my mind despairs of my weakness – of my lack of love. And then the distance sets in – the utter separation.  I am not good enough.  With Christ having such good friends, I have no chance.

My thinking this way, it seems to me, is utter poison. I am wrong to identify these deeds – these actions – with the state of repentance.  In themselves they are nothing, since even these can be done out of pride.  Didn’t I learn from the Publican and the Pharisee? Let us flee from the pride of the Pharisee! And learn humility from the Publican’s tears!  Certainly these great acts done by Christ’s Saints truly spring from repentant hearts, but even these God-pleasing, pure, deeds are not the repentance – an expression of it, yes, but not the repentance itself.  It’s not the knees pounding into the floor that pleases Christ, but the repentant heart inspiring such a bodily response. I don’t measure up – this is undeniable – but why should I let this bring hopeless despair or utter coldness of heart?  Why do I think I should earn Christ’s love? Don’t I realize that this is impossible? In this moment of realizing how very far away I am from Christ – right before the despair (in myself) and cool feelings of helplessness – lies the possibility for repentance, but only if I take it.

Through their recorded lives, we see that all these saints known especially for their repentance had these moments – and usually in extreme degrees.  Feeling the utter weight of the truth (that they were very far from God) they acknowledged this fact and fell down beneath the weight of it. But at the very same moment, God permeates them (and us if we want it) with Himself, and overcomes this impossible divide.  The harlot, so far away just moments before, accepts this reality and because of it leaps towards Christ: “ A harlot knowing you, the Son of the Virgin, to be God, imploring you with weeping, for she had done things worthy of tears, said, ‘Loose my debt, as I unloose my hair; love one who loves, though justly hated, and along with tax-collectors I shall proclaim you, O Benefactor, who loves mankind’”(Holy Wednesday). To feel the weight of our nothingness before God, but then to cry out to Him – with hope and belief – because that’s what He’s told us to do!  That’s what we see his Holy Ones do!  And from this the distance is overcome, and we are raised high, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (Luke 14, 10).

It seems to me that the true weight of this word ‘repentance’ comes not from anything crushing, or overwhelming.  St. Mary of Egypt tells us: “Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before — as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me — I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was I saw the life-giving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance.  Thus, repentance for her (and for us) was a key – an entrance into something otherwise closed.  The true weight of this word ‘repentance’ lies in its incomprehensible power – and from this the demons tremble.  By it, we are able to call down the divine; we empty ourselves but only to be filled.  And in this – we are told – lies incredible sweetness.  Have we surmounted our sins, fixed our problems, before this moment? Absolutely not!  It seems to me, there’s no more powerful, dynamic, way of approaching God than this.  It is not about being “good” or “bad” – of course we must strive to acquire the virtues – but it’s about the state of the heart.  Let us become good! But let us first have repentance! And let us keep this repentance! “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15, 7).

When we hear the cry of the Baptist and Forerunner: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” let us not be overwhelmed – let us not freeze!  Repentance is not heavy, but light! It is freedom – perhaps disguised to those of us lacking this sweet experience – but it is there for the taking.  There are no prerequisites. No divine ladder which must first be climbed.

Let us be like the thief on the cross and repent, so that Christ can also say to us: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23, 43).

Advance Orders of VOYAGE TO THE ROCK are now available! 

Order your own copy TODAY @ voyagetotherock.webs.com

*E-Books can be ordered today, BUT you will not receive the download until April 21st, Bright Monday, the official release date!

The prices are:

Print Versions: orders to the U.S.  - $12.95 + sh&h (USD)

                        orders to Canada – $13.85 + sh&h (CAD)

E-book: $7.99

*for bulk orders please contact Father Matthew on his website here.

(Source)

In a carefully detailed narrative the Gospel relates how Christ, six days before His own death, and with particular mindfulness of the people “standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me” (John I I :42), went to His dead friend Lazarus at Bethany outside of Jerusalem. He was aware of the approaching death of Lazarus but deliberately delayed His coming, saying to His disciples at the news of His friend’s death: “For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14).

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus was already dead four days. This fact is repeatedly emphasized by the Gospel narrative and the liturgical hymns of the feast. The four-day burial underscores the horrible reality of death. Man, created by God in His own image and likeness, is a spiritual-material being, a unity of soul and body. Death is destruction; it is the separation of soul and body. The soul without the body is a ghost, as one Orthodox theologian puts it, and the body without the soul is a decaying corpse. “I weep and I wail, when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb dishonored, disfigured, bereft of form.” This is a hymn of St John of Damascus sung at the Church’s burial services. This “mystery” of death is the inevitable fate of man fallen from God and blinded by his own prideful pursuits.

With epic simplicity the Gospel records that, on coming to the scene of the horrible end of His friend, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). At this moment Lazarus, the friend of Christ, stands for all men, and Bethany is the mystical center of the world. Jesus wept as He saw the “very good” creation and its king, man, “made through Him” (John 1:3) to be filled with joy, life and light, now a burial ground in which man is sealed up in a tomb outside the city, removed from the fullness of life for which he was created, and decomposing in darkness, despair and death. Again as the Gospel says, the people were hesitant to open the tomb, for “by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).

When the stone was removed from the tomb, Jesus prayed to His Father and then cried with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out.” The icon of the feast shows the particular moment when Lazarus appears at the entrance to the tomb. He is still wrapped in his grave clothes and his friends, who are holding their noses because of the stench of his decaying body, must unwrap him. In everything stress is laid on the audible, the visible and the tangible. Christ presents the world with this observable fact: on the eve of His own suffering and death He raises a man dead four days! The people were astonished. Many immediately believed on Jesus and a great crowd began to assemble around Him as the news of the raising of Lazarus spread. The regal entry into Jerusalem followed.

Lazarus Saturday is a unique day: on a Saturday a Matins and Divine Liturgy bearing the basic marks of festal, resurrectional services, normally proper to Sundays, are celebrated. Even the baptismal hymn is sung at the Liturgy instead of Holy God: “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.”

prodromosSt. Basil the Great said, “Extirpate two thoughts within yourself: do not consider yourself worthy of anything great, and do not think that any other man is lower than you in worthiness. Learn humble mindedness which the Lord commanded in word and showed forth in deed. Hence, do not expect obedience from others, but be ready for obedience yourself.”

Humble-mindedness is a great Christian virtue. Christ was clothed in humility and His very words, actions and example were penetrated with this virtue. Humble-mindedness is not merely acting meek and timid, but genuinely believing that God is the source of all good while I am cause of much strife: the emphasis isn’t merely on appearing humble, but being humble, hence the humble-mindedness because it refers to the interior state of a person.

Humble-mindedness is believing whatever good exists in me is from God, whatever bad, is from me.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast once said, “We are dirt, and are worthy of being used as plaster on the walls of an outhouse.” Humble-mindedness is not thinking we are less than we are, but rather seeing and accepting exactly what we are: nothing “of the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7).

It is, of course, not easy to keep such humble thoughts in mind but all we do is show God our good intention and He does everything else. Like all Christian virtue, it takes effort to attain and maintain humble-mindedness.

By being obedience to our spiritual father; by condemning ourselves in our thoughts (blaming ourselves instead of others); by earnestly listening when someone else is speaking; and by struggling to only see the good in someone and cover the bad our actions display humility. When we keep the fasts of the Church we are acting with humble-mindedness. When we struggle to maintain the faith of our Fathers – without deviation or skepticism toward the god-seeing Fathers’ decisions – we act with humble-mindedness.  When we avoid worldly activity and conversation, when we  faithfully keep our prayer rule, and when we finally begin to put into practice the words of the Holy Forerunner: “He must increase but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30) not only in regard to Christ, but to our neighbour. Then we know we are not far from attaining authentic humility because we are allowing our mind, heart, and soul to be molded by the god-pleasing thoughts and actions of a humble person, always through the grace of God.

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Sweet Song is a sweet children’s story which tells the story of a young St. Romanos in the days before he was miraculously given the gift of song. Published by Ancient Faith Publishing (previously Conciliar Press), written by Jane G. Meyer and illustrated by Dorrie Papademetriou, the story is set in the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople, long before the invasion of the Ottomans.

We first encounter the young Romanos when he awakes early in the morning and hurries off to tend to the Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), as he is the sacristan. The story follows St. Romanos as he tends to the needs of the church, is ridiculed by the cathedral’s readers for his miserable singing voice, supplicates the Mother of God with tears and is finally given the gift of song on Christmas Eve. The story ends with the debut of St. Romanos’ divinely-inspired Nativity hymn “On this day” and his reconciliation with one of the previously-ridiculing readers.

The prose is accompanied with full-page illustrations in Byzantine hues which, I must confess, are the real attraction of Sweet Song for this artist. The images of Hagia Sophia are particularly striking and precise. Having visited Hagia Sophia myself I recognized many aspects of the cathedral in Papademetriou’s illustrations. My only complaint concerns the many-winged Seraphim on pages 5 and 6 which are illustrated without faces. The original Seraphim on the four corners located just below the dome in Hagia Sophia had faces but the Ottomans painted over them when Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque since Islam forbids the depiction of human beings. It was an oversight for the illustrator not to have included the faces on the many-winged Seraphim in her rendition of the cathedral in the days before the Ottoman take-over.

Further information on St. Romanos, Hagia Sophia and the Hodigitria icon of the Mother of God in front of which St. Romanos prayed to the Holy Lady is provided on the last page of the book. I like the addition of this information, not only because the publisher included an image of the icon I personally painted of the Hodigitria icon, but because I think it is good to show children the true story of St. Romanos contains many elements of our faith that can be further explored (like the city of Constantinople and the countless hymns St. Romanos went on to compose).

Sweet Song is a delightful retelling of St. Romanos’ struggles and ultimate victory through the grace of God. It is a great story for children (and the child-like), a true story that once again brings the words of the Theotokos’ magnificat to life and reminds us that God exalts those of low degree and that “His mercy is on them that fear him: throughout all generations”.

To order your copy of Sweet Song: A Story of Saint Romanos the Melodist go here.

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