Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category

“Beyond Torture” – though difficult at times to watch – is a documentary that gives us an all-important glimpse into the sufferings of our Romanian brothers in the awful communist prison camp, the Pitesti gulag. Brace yourself, the content is graphic at times.

O Holy New-martyrs of Romania, pray to God for us!



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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


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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”.

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Unfortunately the English subtitles stop far too soon.

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leaf_flag_1200x600_wm-1024x512Today is Canada Day, so I feel a little Canadian Orthodox celebration is called for. The following article is from Orthodox Canada: A Journal of Orthodox Christianity (Vol. 2, No. 1 – Pascha 2007)


The tiny community of L’Anse aux Meadows at the far northern tip of Newfoundland is distinguished among Canadian heritage sites as the oldest European settlement in Canada. Scarcely a dozen buildings remain of this Viking settlement, constructed over one thousand years ago by a group of Scandinavian settlers who appeared ready to make a new home in the frigid northlands of what would later become Canada.

It is almost certain that the tiny group was led by a Viking named Karlsefni, an associate of Leif Erikson (called Leif the Lucky, for his many extraordinary successes), one of the first Norsemen to accept baptism within a largely pagan culture. By the time these settlers arrived in Canada, Christianity and paganism were living side by side in northern Europe, and had not yet had the opportunity to discover the differences which would inevitably lead to conflict. The Norse were a pragmatic lot, whose religious zeal was usually focused on doing whatever it took to survive and to win. And the Christian God was the ultimate Victor.

A delightful story is told of the curious Viking habit of seeking repeat baptisms; it seems the Norsemen were drawn to baptism, every year, at the hands of Saint Ansgar and others, enjoying the fresh white shirt and ten silver talents they customarily received at the hands of the priest, if only they would allow themselves to be submerged beneath the sacred waters (Joseph Lynch, Christianizing Kinship, p. 73). For the average pragmatic Viking, multiple baptisms simply made sense: it conferred spiritual as well as material benefits desperately needed in a seagoing culture, where life was hard, brutish, and short.

It is understandable that Orthodox clergy in the Norse lands immediately curtailed the Viking zeal for multiple baptisms, just as soon as it came to their attention. (The throngs of Norsemen must have been a bit of a blur to the average missionary priest. One can only imagine the encounters and conversations between the eager Vikings and the bewildered clerics). But just as with mission work today, only God can plumb the depths of the heart of a Christian man, and perhaps the Vikings did have their fair share of zealous converts, offering silver crosses as illustrations to the Odin worshipers of the God Who destroyed Death Itself. For a Norseman, just as for us today, one cannot do better than that.

L’anse aux meadows

We know that the Norse seafaring parties who traveled to North America contained mixed crews of Thor-worshipers and Christians (Erikson himself started out as the former, and ended up, rather early in life, as the latter). We also know that one of the parties of settlers his adventures produced the first Canadian-born child of European extraction, a boy named Snorri, whose grandchildren included three bishops right around the time of the Great Schism (news of which traveled very slowly to Viking lands, in any case).

Perhaps here we have a glimpse of the first Christian community in Canada: a tiny one, to be sure, and not organized as far as the Church is concerned. Their firstborn child was almost certainly baptized, although probably back in the old country, once his parents joined their companions and fled from the North American natives who never seemed to take a liking to the Norse tendency to attack on sight. Outnumbered, far from home, and cold (yes, even Vikings get cold), it was perhaps inevitable that the first Orthodox settlement in Canada was not to last. It would seem the unfortunate trend of Orthodox Canadians looking back to the old country and not putting down roots in the west was established early on.

It is almost certain that no Orthodox priest was present at the first settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. Yet archaeological digs further northwest on Baffin Island present an interesting possibility. A thirteenth-century Thule native site produced an intriguing relic: a tiny carved figure dressed in European clothing, with evidence of a cape over the shoulders, and a long cloth draped around the neck, hanging down to the feet – and marked with a cross. Robert McGhee, who specializes in Arctic archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, suggests this figure shows a crusader who served as a retainer for a viking captain. This is based on the theory that Christian clergy in northern Europe did not wear pectoral crosses until a much later period.

Yet we know both Saints Cuthbert and Adamnan, saints of the Orthodox west, both wore such crosses, as we can see today on display at the cathedral in Durham, in the north of England. It seems more difficult to believe that a crusader would have traveled thousands of miles with pagan Vikings, rather than a Christian priestmonk, seeking out mission territory, or more likely, seeking a remote monastic home, as we know the Celts did in Greenland centuries before. Whether this figure represented an Orthodox priest or a cleric of the western Latins after the Schism, we’ll likely never know.

But for Orthodox Christians in Canada, the rubble at L’Anse aux Meadows and the carving from Baffin Island remind us that a minute Orthodox presence likely existed in Canada long before two world wars, and long before the Reformation. These facts confirm that the first Christians to set foot on our soil were from what is sometimes erroneously called the “undivided Church” – the Orthodox Church before the breaking away of Rome. And our brother Leif the Lucky, along with his kinsmen at L’Anse aux Meadows – and perhaps even a lone priestmonk on Baffin island, were what one might think of as founding members of the first Orthodox community in Canada – whether they knew it, or not.

Father Geoffrey Korz of All Saints of North America Church in Hamilton, ON (Pascha, 2007)

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Christ is risen!

A film about the Bevreti Monastery, Georgia, built by the initiative of Fr Teimuraz with the blessing of Patriarch IIia II.

Awarded the St Andrew Cross at the International Orthodox Film Festival 2013.

Director/Writer: David Kemkhadze
Genre: Documentary
Country: Georgia
Archdiocese: Georgian Apostolic Church
Nominations: Best Film, Best Director

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screen shot

If you’re interested in learning more about Holy Lady Vladimir OCA Mission here on Newfoundland you can visit our website here. There is also a link to the website at the bottom right hand side of this blog just under the blogroll: If you click on the icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir it will take you directly there.


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Wednesday, April 2:

Time: 6:30PM

Location: Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Saco, Maine

Theme: If You Wish, You Can Become All Flame”: Learning from the Holy Mothers and Fathers of the Church


Friday, April 4:

Time: 6:30PM

Location: Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Saco, Maine

Theme: Experiences of Orthodoxy in South Korea, Greece and Newfoundland


Saturday, April 5:

Time: 2:30PM

Location: Saint Xenia Orthodox Church (ROCOR), Methuen, Massachusetts

Theme:If You Wish, You Can Become All Flame”: Learning from the Holy Mothers and Fathers of the Church

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pilgrimA Pilgrim’s Way is an Orthodox documentary about a young Romanian-Canadian man who travels to his homeland in search of truth and faith. I enjoyed all eight parts of the documentary, but particularly those parts wherein we hear the voices of contemporary holy elders living out the Gospel in Orthodox Romania. Here are my two favourtie parts (Part 4/8 and Part 8/8):

In this part I particularly found the young novice’s words important for us to keep in mind: In a year and half of living in the monastery and praying as much as his could, he felt – for only four to five minutes during prayer – that God was with him, that he could die at that moment and be with God. The rest of the time he struggled to pray (Minute 6).

We are often mislead to think that we are spiritual people and have had spiritual experiences, but the reality is prayer, spirituality, experiences of grace are won after long and hard battles.

This last part is by far the best segment of the whole documentary because it is the young man’s interviews with great elders. When he asks a monk about the Jesus Prayer the monk responds, “I have done architecture but I am not certified in it… The prayer of the heart you can fight a lifetime for it and you still don’t get it… Do little and well” (Minute 4-5). Very solid advice! The effort we put into prayer should be consistent and be done with our full attention, however short or long we pray.

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Christmas morning (on which, coincidentally, we had a huge snow storm).

We’ve been here just under three months, but so much has happened: a constant stream of services, a trip to Ontario, a season-change, and completing my first semester of my SW program. All of this make it feel like we’ve been here a lot longer than we have. We haven’t had the chance to see much of the city because we don’t have a car so our sight-seeing is limited to what we see on foot, walking to the chapel and walking to the grocery store. But what we see along the way is nice!

Although it has become winter with plenty of snow – the lack of sidewalk-plowing is noted by anyone attempting to walk anywhere – we are rejoicing in the cold. Everyone keeps asking us how we’re making out, having lived away from these cold Canadian winters for quite a number of years, but everyday we have to bundle up we thank God it isn’t hot outside. Yup, you read correctly, we thank God it isn’t hot out. Although, the five or more storms we’ve had in the last three weeks do bring their own annoyances (shoveling again!?). We had such a difficult time during those hot, humid Thessaloniki summers that we’re looking on the bright side of bundling up. (But ask me after three more months of winter if I still feel that way).


Since we’ve arrived in Newfoundland we have, through the help of God, offered services at the chapel four days a week. Tuesday mornings we’ve had Matins at 6AM and Divine Liturgy at 7AM so parishoners can attend before work in the morning. These early morning services have been beautiful, but I am not a morning person… at all. So waking up at 5AM and walking half an hour to get to the chapel, chanting Matins and then struggling to stay awake while our devoted choir director sings Divine Liturgy has been an interesting trial for me. Thankfully, 5AM feels more like the middle of the night rather than early morning so waking up isn’t difficult, staying awake is. Father serves Vespers on Thursday evenings and Great Vespers on Saturday evenings. Sunday mornings I again blunder my way through Matins and the choir sings Liturgy for us.


Now that the weather has turned on us, snowing every single day and what not, we’ve tweaked our schedule for these upcoming winter months. We’ll keep the weekend schedule and replace the two weekday services with a vigil (Vespers, Matins, and Divine Liturgy) twice a month or on principle feasts like St. Anthony the Great in January.  (This excludes the three days or so of services for Theophany this month).  Come Spring we’ll revise our schedule once again.


Returning from church one Tuesday morning (this was only our second storm).

We are thankful to be here; we’re taking one day at a time and struggling to keep on the “strait and narrow path”. It has been amazing to think we are the only Orthodox community on the whole island. When Fr. John serves the Divine Liturgy he always prays “And for this island… and the faithful who dwell therein, let us pray to the Lord”. I love it. Even if the voice of the Orthodox faithful here is small, the prayers still reach Heaven and the whole island and all its inhabitants benefit from the Bloodless sacrifice offered here in St. John’s town – named in honour of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord and Saviour.

View of St. John's from Cape Spear

View of St. John’s from Cape Spear at sunset

And something else: the most eastern point of all of North America is Cape Spear (pictured above), just outside of St. John’s. This means that on Tuesday mornings when the sun rises on this great Continent of ours the very first city the sun’s rays land on is a city in which the Divine Liturgy is being served. During these darker days the first sun rays come into our chapel’s windows around 7:30AM, about halfway through the Liturgy, just before the consecration. Think about what a blessing that is, not just for St. John’s or even Newfoundland, but for all of North America! The sun’s rays are greeted by the Divine Liturgy, or perhaps more correctly, the sun’s rays greet the Divine Liturgy.

So, you can see that our life here is one filled with subtle blessings. Of course it is was particularly hard in the beginning (not that it’s not still the beginning). I was simultaneously homesick for Greece and New Brunswick. I also had a lot of counter-culture shock still from having returned to Canada from Greece. I have never been good with change, but once I settle I feel at home. And the people here are so good-natured and helpful, although Fr. John does get stared at wildly at times (to be expected). In fact he received his first insult here from a car full of young men being boys, God bless them. He thinks he may have received a few insults in Greece that he just didn’t understand, but we rejoiced in this minor insult for Christ’s sake nonetheless.

sucess kidPlease continue to pray for us: living on the edge of the world on this “Rock” surrounded by the Atlantic brings blessings and challenges.

Take comfort. Amid all the coldness that transforms people’s hearts into snowballs, there are still sparks – burning coals and hearths of spiritual life in the modern world. Wherever a child stammers a quick prayer through innocent lips;… wherever a faithful mother prayers for her children’s salvation; wherever a young man or woman in the flower of youth offers himself or herself to the Lord’s service;… wherever a missionary goes through the virgin jungles to spread the light of the Gospel to spiritually unenlightened lands; wherever there is a mighty battle against the dark powers; wherever sinners repent sincerely for their miserable past… and seek forgiveness in Confession; wherever there are holy pulsations; wherever hearts are warmed in reading the Scriptures – there are the sparks, the blazing coals, the spiritual hearth, the living Church. There is where Christ lives and reigns to the ages of ages.

Faithful souls, whenever earthquakes topple our world and whenever you see the ruins left behind by the faithlessness and corruption of our times, do not be disturbed. You have a rock upon which you can stand and an anchor upon which you can depend… You have the sun that rose out of the tomb – Jesus, crucified and resurrected from the dead. Why are you afraid? What is there to fear? Come, let us worship and bow down to Him, Christ, the Victor over Death, the King of the Ages. -Metropolitan Augoustinos of Florina, Follow Me, p. 269.

Compline, Christmas Eve.

Compline, Christmas Eve.

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