For more information see here.
For more information see here
Well we have much to give thanks to God for this season. We finally arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland two weeks or so ago now and we are very grateful for our home, our parish and this island in general.
We’re celebrating Thanksgiving in Canada for the first time in eight years. The last one we spent in Canada was our wedding day.
You may have noticed that the blog posts have slowed down to about two a week. Unfortunately I just don’t have time to post more often than that. I’m really busy with my studies, keeping up with services at the Mission, and settling into our new home/city.
I will be traveling to Ontario next month for a series of talks I’ll be giving over a span of a few days (Nov. 6-10). Preparing for these talks has been a wonderful opportunity to catch up on some spiritual reading on a variety of topics.
Here is the rough schedule of the talks. (I’m unsure of some of the locations but I will update the information when I have more details):
Wednesday, November 6, 6:30PM
(Location) Apostle Paul’s Bookstore in Toronto
(Topic) Christian Struggle
Thursday, November 7, 11:00AM
(Topic) The Virtue of a Woman
Saturday, November 9, 2:00PM-8:30PM
(Event) Ten-year Anniversary Fundraiser for All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
(Location) St. Stephen’s Anglican Parish Hall in Hamilton, Ontario
1pm – Registration
2pm – Session One – Topic: Hospitality: Giving More than a Cup of Water
3:15pm – Break
3:30pm – Session Two – Topic: Reverence in All Things
4:45pm – Break
5:00pm – Vespers Service
6:00pm – Lenten Dinner
7:00pm – Session Three – Topic: Obedience: Means to Eternal Salvation
A book signing will also take place.
Sunday, November 10
(Event) Fundraiser for Holy Trinity Monastery
(Location) Four Seasons Restaurant in London, Ontario
(Topic) The Ever-Memorable Abbess Macrina: Contemporary Mother of the Church
For more information or to order tickets for the talks in Hamilton see this electronic pamphlet.
One year ago today my husband and I were attending a vigil in the middle of the night at a monastery in honour of his patron saint, St. John the Theologian. Little did I know that my book, The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, would be released that day. I came home from the monastery to find an e-mail saying it was finally in available.
“After so much work it was finally going to be bought and read by a few people,” I thought. I had no idea it was going to do as well as it has done. To date there are 24 reviews on Amazon, 10 reviews and 23 ratings on Goodreads, and a bunch of e-book passages highlighted by various readers available to be seen on Amazon kindle (go to bottom of page and see “View your notes and highlights”).
It’s interesting to see what passages resonate most with people. The most popular? “If we judge someone, God allows us to fall into the same sin—to humble us”. It has been highlighted 38 times according to Amazon kindle – a statement I have been told by many people – including my own spiritual father.
I thought a few people would like the book, a few people would dislike it and before I knew it it would be forgotten. But that hasn’t happened yet. I still get messages from people saying they read the book and enjoyed it. I wrote it to share the blessings I had been given, but instead received even more blessings: the book is well into its second printing, it’s being translated into the Romanian language, and I have been very humbled by its positive reception. My God make me worthy of your prayers, dear readers!
The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery is available for purchase (both as a paperback and as an e-book) on Amazon and Ancient Faith Publishing’s (formally Conciliar Press) website.
For orders outside the US you can order from Ancient Faith Publishing. Amazon will only send hard copies of the book to residence in the US but the e-book is available in all countries and can be read on PC computers, not only on e-readers.
To listen to a talk I gave on the book and monasticism more generally, see here.
To hear a review and excerpt of the book, go here.
Τo watch an interview I did on TheDove.TV see here.
And to read various posts about the book – including excerpts – see here.
It was the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, and although I was exhausted, I slowly made my way from the guest house to the monastery church for the vigil. As usual, the lights were off, the oil lamps lit, and the candle boxes full of candles—the smoke of which rose up as a symbolic prayer for the numerous souls and causes they burned for.
I entered the nave and venerated the icon of Christ’s Transfiguration that lay on the white embroidered covering of the icon stand. Beside it was a large candle stand that had a wooden portion near the top with intricately painted flowers and vines in pink, blue, purple, and green. The large beeswax candle burning above it illumined the white-clothed figure of Christ; it illumined the shining light surrounding Him and the figures of the apostles, who, stunned by the vision, were lying prostrate. Christ was revealing Himself as the perfect Radiance of the Father, the pre-eternal Word, begotten of the Father before all ages.
Shine Your light also on me, your lowly servant, I whispered as I kissed His feet.
I made my way to a stasidi* on the left side of the church—the designated section for women—standing in the one closest to the icon of the patron saint. I examined all the silver and gold rectangular plaques lined up on the bottom of his icon, each one embossed with a different body part: arms, eyes, legs, and hearts. They are called tamata, and many faithful buy them and place them on miracle-working icons in supplication for health or healing of the particular body part depicted.
I was tired and not particularly in the mood for a vigil after a day of work. It was still the beginning of Matins when I told myself: It’s one of the Great Feasts, wake up and pay attention!
Yet I couldn’t rouse myself or inspire myself to feel moved by such a wonderful feast.
I wonder how long this is going to take . . . My mind wandered again.
Shut up and say the prayer! I fought back.
Time passed, I struggled not to fall asleep, and especially not to fall over during those few moments I did fall asleep while standing on my feet. I made sure to always have one hand holding the stasidi, just in case.
“Doxa see to theexadi to fos… Glory to Thee who hast shown us the light,” the nuns chanted.
Okay, really, wake up now. The Liturgy is about to start, I told myself.
I shook myself awake, just in time to see Sr. Akakia and Sr. Arsenia moving from lighting the candles in the chandelier, to lighting the candles on the corona—the larger, circular chandelier that encircles the main chandelier (most often found in monastery churches).
They each held a long wooden rod with a small flame on the end. Facing each other they began to light each individual candle in the large, golden corona. And before I knew it the whole nave was encompassed in light.
Having lit all the candles on her side, Sr. Arsenia walked back to the narthex, with her black ecclesiarch’s robe flowing behind her.
Returning, she handed Sr. Akakia a different long, wooden rod with a metal hook on the end. Standing on opposites sides once again, they each placed the rod on one side of the corona. Slowly and carefully they pushed the rods in opposite directions, causing the corona to sway, turning left and right, the icons of the apostles and patriarchs embossed on the corona now moving in rhythm.
Before exiting this time, Sr. Arsenia reached up and gently held the golden right hand of blessing that points downward, attached to the bottom of the chandelier. Ever so slightly she turned it, causing the large chandelier to also sway in a circular motion.
I was taken aback. I had only seen this once, during Pascha at a monastery in America. I didn’t know they did this for other liturgical feasts.
As soon as the chandelier began swaying, I noticed Sr. Akakia in front of the icon of Christ in the iconostasis. As Sr. Arsenia had done to the hand of blessing, she too gently held the bottom of the large, silver oil lamp and guided it to sway in a circle. Next, she approached the icon of the Mother of God. Bowing and crossing herself, she kissed her before putting to motion her oil lamp. I stepped back, allowing Sr. Akakia more room as she approached the icon of the patron saint. His icon was lit by three oil lamps. She spun the one in the middle first, the other two afterward.
As the nuns began chanting the troparion for the feast, the whole nave was basking not only in light, but in moving light.
“Metamorfotheis en to orei Hriste o Theos . . . O Thou who wast transfigured upon the mountain, Christ our God, and shewedst to Thy disciples Thy glory, as they were able to bear it: kindle Thine everlasting light even upon us sinners, by the prayers of the Mother of God. O Giver of Light, glory be to Thee!”
The cosmos was swaying in glorious anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s revelation to the world as perfect God and perfect Man. And what had I been doing in anticipation?
O Lord, I was found sleeping when I should have been watching. Enlighten me with Your everlasting light, as far as I can bear it, and forgive me, a sinner.
Reflecting thus, I bowed low and made the sign of the cross as the priest intoned, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
* A stasidi (plural: stasidia) is a large throne-like chair that line the walls in most churches in Greece. They are usually connected in a row. The stasidi has a seat, which can fold up, so one can stand on the small wooden platform below or sit on the folded seat which is higher up, allowing one to rest, but in an almost standing position. There are arm rests for both positions.
Christ is Risen!
This photo is of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople from our pilgrimage there in 2008. I am posting it today as a reminder of the day the City fell. In my book The Scent of Holiness (pp. 128-129) there is a story about the first Patriarch after the fall, St. Gennadios Scholarios II.
Here it is:
After singing Agia Sophia I told them about my trip with my husband to Constantinople earlier that summer, and they told me about Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios. He was the first Patriarch after the city fell.
After the Turks took over Constantinople, the ruling Sultan Mehmed II, who led the capture of the city, had a recurring dream about a hand with five fingers. Upset that neither he nor any other Muslim could decipher its meaning, the Sultan sent out his men to find the monk Gennadios, who was renowned for his insight into things of a spiritual nature. Once they found him, the men asked monk Gennadios to interpret the Sultan’s dream. Gennadios agreed but said he needed to fast and pray for several days before he would be able to interpret it.
After fasting and praying, he was informed by God what the dream meant. The hand with five fingers the Sultan continually saw in his dream represented five faithful Christians—the five faithful Christians Constantinople did not have living in it at the time of its collapse.
“If there had been only five faithful Christians in Constantinople, God would not have allowed it to be captured by you,” monk Gennadios explained to the Sultan.
Relieved to finally have his dream interpreted, Sultan Mehmed II promised not to persecute the Christians and to make Gennadios the leader of his people. The Sultan honored his wish. Thus, monk Gennadios became the first Ecumenical Patriarch after the fall of The City…
Imagine, I thought to myself, if back then there weren’t even five faithful Christians in Constantinople, how many would God find in our cities today?
Polina Yemelyanova of theDove.us (a TV and Radio program in the States) conducted this interview with me a few weeks ago. The whole interview can now be viewed on Youtube (the one I posted the other day was a slightly different version with an introduction and photos).
Check it out and let me know what you think!
I haven’t gotten the chance to put together a post on Fr. John’s very blessed ordination day; we’ve been traveling around Nova Scotia. I’ll try to post photos, etc. soon.
For now you can check out this interview I did on The Dove about The Scent of Holiness and monasticism generally. They did a fantastic job. It looks really well put together. I hope you enjoy it!
“Well, I think I’m going to go to my cell to lie down. Constantina, will you take me?”
“Of course, Geronda!” I said, more than willing to have the blessing of assisting the blind elder to get around.
As we were exiting the room and walking into the main gallery, I saw a young couple. Figuring from their expressions they didn’t know who Elder Isidoros was, I said, “Would you like to take the Papouli’s blessing?”
They both stood up, took his hand and kissed it. Elder Isidoros, not understanding that they were just a couple who came to visit the monastery, thought (since so many come to see him) that they wanted to meet with him and asked, “Do you want to speak with me?”
“We’ve come to see Gerontissa,” the young woman answered.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Good, good, see Gerontissa,” the elder said immediately, stepping back and gesturing apologetically.
He squeezed my hand as we were turning to go, and I could tell he was embarrassed. How was he to know they hadn’t come for him, the poor Papouli! We continued in the direction of his cell. I opened the door for him and helped him to his bed. I took his blessing and shut the door. When I came back into the gallery on the way to my room, I saw that the young woman was crying.
“Who was that Geronda?” they both asked me.
“He’s a monk from Philotheou Monastery on Mount Athos. He’s very holy. He works miracles,” I told them, pulling out a chair to sit down.
“That was a very significant thing that happened just now when he asked if we wanted to speak with him. We should have said yes! I didn’t realize,” the young woman said, wiping tears from her cheeks while the young man stroked her shoulder.
You see just how sensitive Greeks can be? This couple wasn’t particularly “spiritual”; I found out later they were just learning about the Church, and the young man didn’t even know what Philotheou was. Yet they both had the natural spiritual sensitivity that I often saw in Greeks. It’s as if the sheer grace of their baptism preserves grace within them, deep down in their hearts. And the fact that, whether they know it or not, they live on sanctified ground—ground that has been purified by the blood of countless martyrs and the tears of countless ascetics, their very ancestors—also helps a lot.
“I can ask him if he will see you if you’d like,” I told them.
“Yes, please ask him,” the woman said quickly.
I walked back to the cell the elder was staying in and knocked on the door.
“Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers,” I said (the proper thing to say when entering an occupied room or cell in a monastery). “Geronda, the young lady we just met, she’s crying.”
“Yeah so. How am I to blame?” he responded, with his distinct humor.
“No, Geronda,” I said smiling. “I think it was grace, I think it was from the Holy Spirit, they want to speak with you.”
“They said they wanted to speak with Gerontissa, so they should speak with Gerontissa,” he answered.
He said this out of humility, because to him it would be interfering and overreaching to speak with them since they came to speak with the abbess. But due to my unique Canadian sensitivity, I was uncomfortable at the prospect of telling someone something that would potentially upset them. So, out of nervousness I started saying in English: “Okay, okay, okay.”
“No, not okay, endaxi!” the elder yelled. He had been correcting my Greek all week, and he had already told me the day before, “You will not say okay, you will say endaxi!” (the Greek word for okay).
“Yes, of course. Endaxi,” I corrected myself.
“No, give me your little hand!” he said.
I gave him my hand and he playfully slapped it.
Still nervous and not wanting to have to tell the couple that the elder said he would not speak with them, I tried asking again. “So, just to be clear, you won’t speak with them?”
“If they ask Gerontissa and she says it’s blessed, I will speak with them, but they need to ask her first,” he answered.
Relieved by this, I unwittingly responded, “Okay.”
“No! Not okay!” he once again playfully scolded.
“Give me your hair! Where is your hair?” I knelt down and put my hair in the blind elder’s hands. He pulled it.
“There! Now, say endaxi!”
“Endaxi! Endaxi!” I said quickly, laughing and getting up off the ground.
I told the couple what the elder told me. Later that day I saw them speaking to him, so it all worked out.
This story still makes me smile, as does the simplicity, humility, and extreme humor of Elder Isidoros, the blind monk from Mount Athos.
Hope Great Lent is going well for everyone! Kali Synexeia! – Good Continuation!
Well, we’re home. There was lots of snow when we first arrived, though everyone kept talking about Spring being “on its way”. In typical Maritime style, despite the large snowbanks and wretched roads – full of holes and uneven patches due to frost – we saw a group of men out in the streets playing football in shorts: Welcome to the Maritimes! The coolest thing I’ve seen so far is all the ice on the rivers – I forgot how cool ice is! (It’s been five years since we’ve experienced a Canadian winter). And would you believe it: a storm is coming!
We’re still getting used to everything back here in Canada, but we’re thankful to be home and to be settling into Great Lent. An abbess whose monastery I often visited (so strange to use the past tense) in Thessaloniki told us, “We should be excited to enter Great Lent.” It is truly a blessed time of year!
Now, for the good news: The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery is going into its second printing! Yuppee! That’s right folks, through your love and support the first edition sold so many copies that Conciliar is already re-printing, only six months after the book’s release date. Glory to God!
And in related news, Sylvia of Adventures of an Orthodox Mom just posted a very flattering review of the book. Truth be told sometimes a thought whispers to me that people really like my book. But then I remember it’s not really mine at all. It belongs to the sisters, and to Orthodox monasticism more generally. It belongs to our Tradition and to the Church of Christ, since without those things monasticism, the stories in The Scent of Holiness, are nothing, they’re dust. But with Christ at the center they are able to testify to His Truth, His Life and His Way.
So three cheers for the sisters and the love and lessons they shared with me so that The Scent of Holiness could be written and read by people all over the world! (A Romanian translation is already underway).
And Good Strength for the Fast!