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Front of the cross: Christ crucified.

“Hey! That was my idea!”

Posted on Lumination Press Website (under News)

      So we couldn’t help but mention an amazing “coincidence”! Who would have thought a few months after we published Voyage to the Rock we’d be reading this headline:  Crucifix unearthed in Ferryland after 400 years underground. For those of you who don’t know – and I would assume that is most of you out there – Ferryland is in Newfoundland and is one of the earliest British settlements in North America, established in 1621. 

     It wasn’t Martin who made the discovery this time, but it was a young student archaeologist only TWO WEEKS into her dig! Unlike Martin’s bronze cross, this crucifix was made of copper (and much smaller!). 

     What’s even more amazing is that we, the founders of Lumination Press, in  April of this year stood at the very spot where this student made her discovery 2 months later! I (Fr Matthew) even made my own discovery! It wasn’t a bronze or copper cross, but on Bright Tuesday I found amid a reconstructed early forge at the site a shiny, foil-wrapped chocolate Easter egg! 

    And we thought that was a funny coincidence. What if we’d kicked around some of the loose dirt and soil at our own feet? You might be reading about us instead of this happy student archaeologist!

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Books I’ve read (or finished) thus far in 2014.

My_Elder_Joseph_lgMy Elder: Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Ephraim of Philotheou: I don’t think my feeble words will do justice to this great book and I know they won’t do justice to the person of Elder Joseph.

I read this book (over 700 pages) in just one month because I couldn’t put it down. I had read the Greek version years ago, but the English version has much more detail. I am at a loss for words to describe it. Elder Joseph is clearly a great saint of the Church; his asceticism, prayer, fasting, vigils are all described in the book but so are his love, his tears, his wisdom, his suffering on behalf of others. His spiritual counsel is so enlightening that, in my opinion, it confirms that he was in perfect communication with Christ because his words are not just for monastics, but laypeople too. The Gospel was written for all Christians, not just monastics, and I believe Elder Joseph’s spiritual advice is as applicable to laymen as it is to monks. If you don’t own a copy of this book order one as soon as you can.

May we have the Elder’s blessing!

communityCommunity of Grace by Mary Alice Cook: This book tells the story of a community centered in Eagle River, Alaska, made up of individuals who, despite setting out on many and various paths in life, somehow manage to come together as one in St. John the Evangelist Orthodox Cathedral. The writing and story-weaving were great, but I was left wanting to know more about the Orthodox elements of life in Alaska rather than the conversion stories of the members of St. John’s.

image1Λόγια Καρδίας (Words from the Heart) by Gertonissa Macrina: Since it takes me about ten times as long to read a book in Greek as it does to read it in English, this book has been on my nightstand for about a year, but I finally finished it. I have posted a number of my amateur translation of this work on the blog and even given a talk based on the biographical information of Gerontissa Macrina provided in this book.

Reading of Gerontissa’s continual trials and yet her great commitment to follow Christ produced a healthy dose of self-loathing in me at times. The life and words of a saint, such as Abbess Macrina, can at times inspire us to try harder, while at other times they make us want to crawl under a rock and admit: “My soul’s dignity I have enslaved to the passions; I am become like the beasts and have no power to lift mine eyes unto the Most High” (Stichera, Holy Friday).

The lives of the saints not only reveal to us that it is possible to become holy, they can also reveal to us what we are lacking, and this isn’t a bad thing, in fact it can be very helpful. When we compare ourselves to the holiness of the saints, especially in regards to how they conduct themselves in the midst of trials and tribulations, we can challenge ourselves to act in similar ways, to imitate their courage and conviction, and perhaps most importantly of all, we can be humbled enough to bow our heads and say, “with my head bowed low, O Christ, I pray to Thee as did the Publican, O God be merciful to me and save me” (Stichera, Holy Friday).

This book is currently being translated into English.

mollyClose to Home by Molly Sabourin: I had wanted to read this book for some time and am so pleased I finally got my hands on it. It’s a delightful book, targeted to mothers or expectant mothers, but its insights and thought-provoking commentary on a life with children are enough to intrigue any reader regardless of whether one has children. Molly’s honest description of her struggles, worries, and concerns provoke the reader into reflecting on his or her own battles and it’s encouraging to know these struggles are common. Close to Home reminds us we’re striving together to attain sanctity through the ups and downs of everyday life, and so I highly recommend this book.

curiousThe Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime by Mark Haddon: I chose to read this book as a part of a project I did for school and I really enjoyed it. It is very enlightening and gives the reader an intimate look into the world of a young man who could be labeled, on the one hand, as having asperger’s syndrome, and on the other as being a genius. It also offers insight into the complex emotions a person goes through, and how social isolation can result when someone experiences difficulties connecting emotionally.

Follow Me  by Bishop Augoustinos of Florina: I posted a few excerpts from this excellent book in the past few months. Although it is written as an aid to missionaries (those who share the Gospel at home and abroad), I consider it an incredibly resourceful Gospel commentary. I learned so much and was so inspired I can honestly say it was hard for me to put the book down some nights and go to bed.

In this book, Bishop Augoustinos – not only wise on spiritual matters – demonstrates his knowledge of influential historical and political figures as well. Along with lots of quotations from the Holy Fathers, Bishop Augoustinos quotes such people as Gandhi, Dante, and Napoleon (this latter figure quite a bit, actually).

It just so happened that during Holy Week the section of Follow Me I was reading corresponded to each theme of the day. When we were remembering Christ’s betrayal by Judas in the church services, I was reading Bishop Augoustinos contemporary on him. When we were singing about St. Peter’s denials, I was reading about them in the book. Although the hymns always bring the events of Holy Week to life, reading Bishop Augoutinos’ commentary enhanced their reality by filling out the details.

I cannot recommend this book enough.

mcgunnegalThe McGunnegal Chronciles: Into a Strange Land (Book I) by Ben Anderson: I heard an interview with the authour on Ancient Faith Radio and I was immediately intrigued. A few weeks later I saw that the kindle version was on sale for 1 dollar and I snatched it up; I’ve always loved fantasy books.

(Fun fact: After my BA I was planning on doing a MA in Literature and Theology to study the fantasy genre and it’s connection to Christianity, like the Inklings & co (back then studies on the Inklings weren’t as prominent as today). I was hoping to focus on George MacDonald because he is my favourite fantasy authour. We moved to South Korea to teach English instead…)

ασκητέςΑσκητές Mέσα στον Kόσμο (Ascetics in the World) complied by an athonite monk: I am currently reading this book. It is volume one of two volumes of stories about holy, ascetical people who not only lived in the world but lived within the last one hundred years or so. I am really enjoying this book and hope to post a few amateur translations now and again. To my knowledge this book is not translated into English, but it should be.

Elder_AmbroseElder Ambrose: Optina Elders Series by Fr. Sergius Chetverikov: I am also reading this book currently. I’m over hundred pages in or so and it’s great. The only complaint I have thus far is that the authour will break off writing about St. Ambrose now and again to speak at length about St. Macarius and St. Leonid (the elders before Elder Ambrose). The information is all wonderful but I would prefer to read about them in their own books and read about St. Ambrose in his. With the exception of Elder Barsaniphius, I have not yet read the Optina Elders, but we have four of the seven books in the series so I will hopefully get a number of them read in the near future. I’ve had them recommended to me many times but they weren’t available in Thessaloniki (in English, at least) so we waited to get them once we were back to Canada.

voyage to the rockVoyage to the Rock by Fr. Matthew Penney: (I saved the best for last). Although I read this book in its various stages of development once I had my very own paperback copy I opened it up one Saturday afternoon and couldn’t put it down until I finished it once again (I think it was like a day or two later).

The book’s target audience is middle to young adult but it is possibly the best mystery/ adventure I’ve ever read. The writing is excellent, the characters are real and genuine, the plot is enthralling, and best of all it presupposes an Orthodox worldview – illustrating that all the magic, miracles and adventure we dreamed of as children really do exist in Orthodoxy. No matter your age you will definitely love this book. You can visit the website here and read views on here on Amazon and here on Goodreads.

What have you been reading?

The visit of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God

(Source)

The Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery, founded in 1989, serves under His Eminence Metropolitan Savas of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Monastery, located in Saxonburg, is dedicated to the Birth of the Mother of God, the Theotokos, and celebrates Her feast day on September 8th.

A visitor to the monastery finds a peaceful landscape that invites them to leave behind all cares and enter into a rhythm of solitude, experience a life where nuns can be heard ceaselessly saying the Jesus prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”. It is a place that is dedicated to the worship and praise of God.  Byzantine chanting is heard celebrating the Divine Liturgy and invites the pilgrim to join with quiet reverence.

The Monastery serves as an oasis for pilgrims welcoming them and offering comfort from struggles and afflictions in a caring, spiritually nurturing environment. It is a place where children find joy and are often seen at play.

It all began 25 years ago in the village of Portaria, Greece, at the beautiful monastery of Panagia Odigitria [Mother of God the Directress]. In 1971, a young woman, Aphrodite Doukas, became a novice and one year later was tonsured a Great Schema nun and given the name Taxiarchia. In 1989, her spiritual father, Elder Ephraim, Abbot of the Monastery of Philotheou on Mount Athos, Greece brought her to America.

And along with Bishop Maximos, they tonsured her the first Abbess of the monastery. Nine months later, the current Abbess of the Monastery, Gerontissa Theophano joined the Sisterhood. Gerontissa Taxiarchia then began to fulfill the vision that was given to her by both founders: to maintain a life dedicated to prayer and to missionize to the faithful of the Orthodox Church.

Gerontissa Taxiarchia reposed in the Lord on August 3, 1994. Under the spiritual guidance of Gerontissa Theophano, the Monastery continues the legacy that was left behind by her spiritual mother Gerontissa Taxiarchia. Fourteen nuns now serve the Monastery, applying their skills to glorify God. They support themselves through hand-painted icons; icons on wood, agate, marble and embroidery; through sewing baptismal outfits, priest’s vestments and ecclesiastical items; making komboskinia [prayer ropes], candles for weddings and baptisms and hand-made soaps among other handiwork. The nuns are self-sustaining, raising their own produce and maintaining the grounds.

With the blessing and encouragement of His Eminence Metropolitan Savas, the Monastery has embarked on a project to expand the monastery, to renovate the existing structure to accommodate guests, increase the living space for the nuns, and build a church.

To learn more about the monastery, view photos and read about their building project see here.

(Excerpt from The Forgotten Desert Mothers, pp. 35-36)

Amma Sarah was a native of Upper Egypt. Born into a wealthy Christian family, Sarah was well educated and a voracious reader. Moving to the vicinity of a women’s monastery in the desert of Pelusium (near Antinoe), Sarah lived alone for many years near the river in a cell with a terraced roof. She attended to the needs of the nearby community.

Eventually Amma Sarah received the monastic garb and lived in a closer relationship with the community, serving as spiritual elder. Sarah continued to follow the ascetic life by living along in a cave by the river for seven years. She died around her eightieth year…

Amma Sarah models for us the gift of tenacity and focus on the final goal of life: oneness with God. Sarah sought to eliminate distractions that she experienced as stumbling blocks to total union. This is never an easy journey, and Sarah’s response was to pray for strength to endure and move into freedom. She avoided neither the challenges nor the pain; she stayed with her struggles until there was resolution.

IMG_3105Amma Sarah said, “If I pray to God that everybody would have confidence in me, I will be found at the door of each one, apologizing. But I am more inclined to pray that my heart be pure with all.”

 

Looking through old files of photos and videos I found this video of the holy icon of Axion Esti (It is Truly Meet) arriving at the port of Thessaloniki from Mount Athos for the feast of St. Demetrios the Great Martyr and the 100th anniversary of the city’s liberation from Ottoman rule (October, 2012). We were blessed to be there and to record the procession which began at the port and led to the Church of St. Demetrios.

Below is the history of the icon, from the Pemptousia’s website here:

The icon or “Axion Esti”, which is said to be miraculous, is kept in the sanctuary. This is the most saintly icon of the whole monastic state. Placed on a throne behind the altar, it is about 3′ l’ by 2′ 2″ in size. The center of the icon is domi­nated by the Virgin holding the Child Jesus, while its oblong perimeter is occupied by twenty small medallions, each picturing the patron saints of the monasteries of Mt Athos. The following story is told about this icon. North-east of Karyes, in the direction of Pantokratoros monastery and at a place called Sakkos, there were a few kellia, one of them dedicated to the Assumption of the Bles­sed Virgin. One Saturday afternoon the Elder of this Kelli before starting for Karyes, where he intended to attend the vigils at the church of the Protaton, instructed his hypotaklikos to read the vespers himself. That evening a young monk who was a complete stranger appeared at the kelli and begged leave to stay for the night, which was granted. During matins next morning, the hypotaktikos was preparing to chant Kosmas’s hymn to the Virgin Mother before her icon. This begins with “Την τιμιωτέραν των χερουβείμ” (“More honourable than the Cherubim”) but he was in­terrupted by the visitor who started chanting the then unknown hymn “‘Αξιον εστίν ως αληθώς μακαρίζειν σε την Θεοτόκον, την αειμακάριστον και παναμώμητον και Μητέρα του Θεού ημών” (“It is truly meet to call thee blessed, the Theotokos and ever-virgin, all-immaculate and Mother of our God”).

Having finished this he continued with that of “Την τιμιωτέραν των χερουβείμ.” Greatly moved, the hypotaktikos begged the guest to write down the hymn for him. Finding no paper or ink he produced a marble slab on which the stranger carved the hymn with his bare finger. He ordered the monk that the hymn should thereafter be sung in praise of the Virgin. He then vanished. When the elder returned and was told what had passed between the hypotaktikos and the stranger, he at once notified the Assembly of the Elders at Karyes. Those had both the icon of the Virgin before which the angel-carved hymn was first sung, as well as the marble slab brought to the Protaton. The icon was placed on a throne in the sanctuary, with a hanging lamp burning before it day and night while the marble slab was sent to Constantinople and both the Emperor and the Patriarch were accordingly informed. Furthermore they communicated the event to al1 the fathers on the Holy Mountain, whom they instructed that the hymn should be sung henceforth. The kelli in question was named “Axion Estin” and its locality is still called “the Pit of Singing”.

Unfortunately the English subtitles stop far too soon.

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