nun sepphora(Source) Schema-nun Sepphora, in the world Daria Nicholaevna Shnyakina (nee Senyakina) was an Orthodox ascetic and eldress. She was born in 1896, and desired from her early years to dedicate herself to God in monasticism, but due to her father’s early death she was compelled by her mother to marry in order to help support the family. Darya did not wish to disobey her mother. She went through many trials during the much-suffering twentieth century—“raskulachivanie”, or the confiscation of all property by the soviet authorities, famine, war, and persecution against the faithful. In 1967 she received the monastic tonsure in the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, but she continued to live in the world. Her move to Klykovo was foretold to her in 1993, when the monastery was just being built, and no one knew about its existence. Schema-nun Sepphora reposed in the Lord at age 102 in Klykovo Monastery. Many people had found a in her a spiritual mother, consoler, and witness to faith in Christ.

Excerpt from Julia Posashko’s interview with Igumen Mikhail (Semenov):

Igumen Mikhail: …We had to restore the church having no money whatsoever for it—not a cent. So we went to ask the prayers of Schema-nun Sepphora.

How does one take a blessing from a woman?

Igumen Mikhail: Schema-nun Sepphora was waiting for us. It just so happens that in 1993, when Matushka prayed to the Mother of God to show her where she would end her days, the Heavenly Queen appeared to her and said, “Wait—the priests will come from Klykovo Monastery to take you there.” She waited for two years. At first there simply was nowhere to take her. We ourselves were living in very bad conditions here; we were building a building, and when we met her in 1995 it was half completed. Matushka starting hurrying us. “Build it faster, I am going to live with you.” We did what we could to finish the building and just before Christmas of 1996 we brought her here.

How did you meet Schema-nun Sepphora?

Igumen Mikhail: We met her in Optina. I had been there a month when one day I heard that an eldress had arrived, and everyone had a high opinion of her. They said that she was spiritual, clairvoyant, and a great woman of prayer… Naturally everyone was trying to see her; many of us had only begun the religious life, and we all had a great many questions. Well, I also went to see her. I was told, “Forget it! There are abbots waiting in line to see her. You won’t get in!” On the first night I did not get in, and I resigned myself to the probability that I would not see her. However, the next day I was leaving the Church of the Entrance of the Mother of God, and a laborer said to me, “Look, they are taking Matushka. Let’s go and get her blessing!” I thought, how does one get a blessing from a woman, and what is going on? But then I saw her blessing each person carefully with three fingers. I went up to her; she made the sign of the cross over me and asked, “Who are you?” I said, Sergei. She said with surprise, “And what are you doing here?” I said, “I am laboring in the steward’s department, helping the fathers.” She was silent, and then said, “But you and I are going to live together.” Her cell attendant whispered to me, “Listen to what Matushka says to you, she is an eldress!” We stood for a bit, were silent, and then Matushka Sepphora patted me on the shoulder. “Well, run on, run on for now!” I of course walked away perplexed. Where are she and I supposed to live together? Then I just put it out of my head. I remembered that conversation only when we were bringing Matushka here to Klykovo. She lived in our monastery until her death. We do not do anything to “advertise” Schema-nun Sepphora. It all happens by itself. People know her, and she really does help people. Some people told me, for example, that she stood during an operation next to one woman… The Hermitage of the Savior “Made Without Hands” in the village of Klykovo.

But isn’t there a certain spiritual danger in people always coming to the monastery, to her relics, to pray by the grave of the eldress not because they are seeking God, but only to solve their problems of everyday life?

Igumen Mikhail: Yes, often people have a poor understanding of God, but when they come up against an obvious miracle from a specific saint it strengthens their faith. After that, God looks for action from a person. But in order to light the flame in him a miracle is often needed. He is smart enough to turn to one or another saint and prays, and the miracle happens. It is a little push, and the person begins his first spiritual steps. He may not receive the same “advance pay” the second or third time—you can’t deceive God.

Did you have such a launching point?

Igumen Mikhail: I did not seek out miracles, and it was not my goal to pray one out. I simply lived my life with the thought that I wanted the Lord to do what was necessary in me. My sole desire was to learn from people of holy life. The Lord aided me in this—I knew many elders.

*A nun’s head-covering



Antigonus and his wife Eupraxia were pious and bestowed generous alms on the destitute. A daughter was born to them, whom they also named Eupraxia. Antigonos soon died, and the mother withdrew from the imperial court. She went with her daughter to Egypt, on the pretext of inspecting her properties. Near the Thebaid there was a women’s monastery with a strict monastic rule. The life of the inhabitants attracted the pious widow. She wanted to bestow aid on this monastery, but the abbess Theophila refused and said that the nuns had fully devoted themselves to God and that they did not wish the acquisition of any earthly riches. The abbess consented to accept only candles, incense and oil.

The younger Eupraxia was seven years old at this time. She liked the monastic way of life and she decided to remain at the monastery. Her pious mother did not stand in the way of her daughter’s wish. Taking leave of her daughter at the monastery, Eupraxia asked her daughter to be humble, never to dwell upon her noble descent, and to serve God and her sisters.

In a short while the mother died. Having learned of her death, the emperor St Theodosius sent St Eupraxia the Younger a letter in which he reminded her that her parents had betrothed her to the son of a certain senator, intending that she marry him when she reached age fifteen. The Emperor desired that she honor the commitment made by her parents. In reply, St Eupraxia wrote to the emperor that she had already become a bride of Christ, and she requested of the emperor to dispose of her properties, distributing the proceeds for the use of the Church and the needy.

St Eupraxia, when she reached the age of maturity, intensified her ascetic efforts all the more. At first she partook of food once a day, then after two days, three days, and finally, once a week. She combined her fasting with the fulfilling of all her monastic obediences. She toiled humbly in the kitchen, she washed dishes, she swept the premises and served the sisters with zeal and love. The sisters also loved the humble Eupraxia. But one of them envied her and explained away all her efforts as a desire for glory. This sister began to trouble and to reproach her, but the holy virgin did not answer her back, and instead humbly asked forgiveness.

The Enemy of the human race caused the saint much misfortune. Once,while getting water, she fell into the well, and the sisters pulled her out. Another time, St Eupraxia was chopping wood for the kitchen, and cut herself on the leg with an axe. When she carried an armload of wood up the ladder, she stepped on the hem of her garment. She fell, and a sharp splinter cut her near the eyes. All these woes St Eupraxia endured with patience, and when they asked her to rest, she would not consent.

For her efforts, the Lord granted St Eupraxia a gift of wonderworking. Through her prayers she healed a deaf and dumb crippled child, and she delivered a demon-possessed woman from infirmity. They began to bring the sick for healing to the monastery. The holy virgin humbled herself all the more, counting herself as least among the sisters. Before the death of St Eupraxia, the abbess had a vision. The holy virgin was transported into a splendid palace, and stood before the Throne of the Lord, surrounded by holy angels. The All-Pure Virgin showed St Eupraxia around the luminous chamber and said that She had made it ready for her, and that she would come into this habitation after ten days.

The abbess and the sisters wept bitterly, not wanting to lose St Eupraxia. The saint herself, in learning about the vision, wept because she was not prepared for death. She asked the abbess to pray that the Lord would grant her one year more for repentance. The abbess consoled St Eupraxia and said that the Lord would grant her His great mercy. Suddenly St Eupraxia sensed herself not well, and having sickened, she soon peacefully died at the age of thirty.

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!


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


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.”



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