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(Originally posted here)
St. Nektarios, Bishop of Pentopolis the Wonderworker, is a great saint. He has helped my husband and me countless times, and continues to help us. On one of our trips to his monastery a sister laid out sweets and coffee for us pilgrims (we were a bus load) and told us something that has remained with me, “The saint appeared to one of the sisters after his death and said: ‘No one can come to my monastery unless I first invite them.’ And so, since you are all here today that means the saint is here welcoming you himself.” Unworthy as we are, he invited us to visit him four times since living here in Greece. The first three times happened within one year. We didn’t plan it, it just worked out that way.
In October of this year Fr. John and I once again went down to Athens with friends, and through the prayers of St. Nektarios, managed to visit his monastery for the fourth time. Canadian friends, now living in America, had come to visit us here for a few weeks, but that month had loads of protests and strikes in Greece. So, we put off our trip because the boats were all striking. When we finally did go down, we found out the strike had continued. We all begged the saint to help us get to his island.
On our last day we drove to Pireaus again (the port city below Athens) and thanked God when we saw the boats running. We parked our rental and bought our tickets. Once on the island we ran to purchase bus tickets to the monastery. And what did we find out? The buses were striking.
We walked over to a car rental place and asked how much a rental would be for a few hours – far more than we were willing to pay. So the six of us got into two cabs and off we went to venerate our dear, revered saint.
We arrived and went immediately into the Holy Trinity chapel, the chapel where St. Nektarios served his last Divine Liturgy. That particular day there were lots of pilgrims, some Russians, us Canadians, and a bus full of Romanians. The church was full of pilgrims waiting to venterate his skull, encased in a silver reliquary.
The ceiling in the particular chapel is covered in hanging oil lamps (candilia). They were all offered in honour of the saint’s miracles and answered prayers. They are votive offerings. (I write about tamas in my book The Scent of Holiness, actually I refer to these very oil lamps.) They make the chapel look even more endearing.
Once we venerated we sort of went our own ways, exploring the monastery on our own. The actual complex that pilgrims are permitted entry is small. There is a courtyard, a book store, three chapels – this one, another directly beside it, and a third that held the saint’s tomb. The saint’s cell is the only other part of the monastery (besides the huge church dedicated to him, just outside of the moanstery) that is shared with the general public.
My personal favorite place at his monastery (unfortunately I don’t have a photo of this) is in the teeny tiny chapel that mostly consists of his marble tomb. His presence, though strong all over the whole island – not just the monastery – seems especially strong there. They say that many times pilgrims put their ears to his tomb and can hear the sound of his feet shuffling. Like many saints, St. Gerasimos, St. Nektarios is busy helping people.
After I was finished prayering, on my way to his cell, just outside the door, I saw a very small jasmine flower hanging from a vine above and it had the most beautiful aroma. I thought of how amazing it is that such a small flower could be so fragrant. As I was thinking this I looked down and there was another jasmine flower that had fallen from the tree. I picked it up and smelt it, it too, though ‘dead’ was fragrant. And I immediately thought of St. Nektarios. “Though thou hast reposed, Yet thou livest to eternity, and lo thy body is a source of grace, Thus clearly showing forth our Saviour’s victory over death” (Ode 5, Paraklesis to St. Nektarios). I asked one of the sisters for a blessing to keep that ‘dead’ jasmine flower, and she told me, “The saint planted that jasmine tree with his own hands.” I felt very blessed.
His cell is really two rooms, one that was clearly for entertaining – lots of books and photographs – and the other his rather small bedroom, with simple furniture and walls covered in icons. I spoke for some time with the nun who was attending his cell, she was Russian and interested in the fact that we are from Canada and studying in Greece.
After this we all walked down to the very large, very beautiful church dedicated in St. Nektarios’ honour. This is the largest church I have ever seen, with the sole exception of the Agia Sophia in Constantinople (living in Greece requires me to call it by this name). This photo is taken from above, on the pathway down to the church, it does not convey the church’s magnitude. I love how big and beautiful it is, so fitting for one so humble in life. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).
Inside, the church is still being finished. The icons are magnificant (though the walls, still bare), the floor in front of the iconostasis is a mosiac of Aegina and the surrounding Aegean Sea with all the holy sites on the island marked. It’s very impressive.
Off to the right is another small chapel where another reliquary is held. The walls in this chapel are covered in exquiste icons: saints that clearly influenced St. Nektarios, and contemporary elders, clearly influenced by the saint. The silver reliquary has small images embossed all over it, they tell the saint’s life story.
After we all took turns praying privately to the saint, we took out an old, taddered copy of his hymn “Agne Parthene” (O Pure Virgin). We hadn’t practiced, perhaps we should have, but we were really enthused to sing one of the saint’s own hymns in his honour – and of course in honour of the Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos. We did a fairly good job, until of course a group of Romanian women, overhearing us from inside the main nave, came in to watch and video tape us. That’s how life is I suppose, we’re more prone to mistakes when an audience is watching. It didn’t matter though, we sung as best as we could and we were all pleased to be able to do so in the presence of the saint, after such an unsure journey, not knowing whether or not he would receive us.
And so, this is how we finished our wonderful pilgrimage to the monastery in Aegina, to visit that great saint of our century, the Bishop of Pentopolis and Wonderworker.
To them that seek healing of thee with faith ,
Come hasten O Father,
And deliver them from all pain;
For thou art a merciful physician,
O most revered wonderworker, Nectarios.
Posted in Uncategorized on August 28, 2013 |
On account of recent news that the US is “ready” to strike Syria, I am re-posting this translation. Prayer is what is needed most!
Originally posted on lessons from a monastery:
Below is a translation of a recent prophecy concerning the difficulties that await us.
I just returned from my spiritual father, [himself] a spiritual child of the late [Bishop] Anthony of Sisanion and Siatisti , who many venerate as a modern saint. [My spiritual] father is solely committed to the salvation of souls, he avoids statements about future events, but in speaking about the ever-memorable Bishop, he revealed some things which he himself was witness to and which demonstrate that the ever-memorable [Bishop], with all the gifts he had, received great revelations from God.
[In the words of the Bishop's spiritual child]:
“He often told us, and many times with sorrow, that in a time of prosperity, ‘Great famine will come to Greece, my child, great famine…’ and we found it difficult to believe him.
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Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2013 |
Since it’s customary to say the Paraclesis service every night during the two-week fast for the Dormition of the Theotokos, I thought reposting this post would be helpful to some. If you are unable to attend the Supplication service you can take advantage of these great youtube videos of a young man chanting the Small Supplicatory Canon to Panagia.
Originally posted on lessons from a monastery:
I was so pleased to recently find three wonderful videos of a young man chanting the Small Paraklesis to the Most Holy Theotokos in English. Since August I’ve been trying to learn the Paraklesis in English by listening to a recording some sisters made for me of them chanting it in Greek. It was not easy. But I wanted to learn how to chant it the way it is chanted in Greek, and so I would listen to the Greek and follow along with an English translation that matches the flow of the Greek text. I managed to learn the first three canons or so, but after that I would get lost, then I could pick it back up at the “Higher than the Heavnes…” part (at the end).
I can read Byzantine notation,…
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Obedience is a central virtue in Orthodox monasticism. The sisters practice what is called “cutting off of the will”. They do complete obedience to the abbess who is their spiritual mother. They also do obedience to one another, especially to older nuns. And this is all done in the context of learning how to live the words, “Not my will, but Thy will be done” (Lk. 22:42).
“One who climbs a mountain for the first time needs to follow a known route; and he needs to have with him, as companion and guide, someone who has been up before and is familiar with the way. To serve as such a companion and guide is precisely the role of the ‘Abba’ or spiritual father—whom the Greeks call ‘Geron’ and the Russians ‘Starets’.” - Bishop Kallistos Ware
If we are able to entrust ourselves to our spiritual mother or father, in a relationship that we can see, we learn how to do the same in our relationship with God, Whom we do not see. And in this way we learn to be obedient to God, and really abandon our will and do His will, and learn His will. By doing obedience to our spiritual parent, like the sisters do to their abbess, we cut off our own will. This allows us to do obedience to God, because it tames and calms our will for ourselves, freeing us to see what is good for us as opposed to blindly doing what we want. It quiets us and our strong feelings and opinions for ourselves and helps us to hear the voice of God.
I remember an abbess telling me, at the beginning of my Christian struggle, to “Ask your spiritual father about everything. Over time you will learn what to do, what is best, and what you should do. But until then ask him about everything!”
“[I]f you endure obedience without murmuring, God will send down upon you the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and the humble prayers which you also make are received by Divine Goodness.” - Elder Doonysius (Ignat) of the St. George Kellion, Kolitsou Skete, Mt. Athos, Greece
I’m sure it isn’t always easy for the sisters to do obedience, just like it isn’t easy for us in the world to do the little obediences we’ve been given by our spiritual parents. But those who are able to bow their head under the “light burden” of obedience, inherit a great reward, for the Lord tells us, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt. 24:13).
Posted in Uncategorized on September 15, 2012 |
Head on over to Jane’s blog to check out all the wonderful books Potamitis Publishing puts out. I read these books to my friend’s children all the time (here in Greece), and we use the colouring books too. They are awesome! Leave a comment on Jane’s post and enter to win!
I strongly recommend viewing this incredible video. I originally saw it on BBC. Alexander Tsiaras speaks of the marvel of the creation of the human being in the womb. He acknowledges that such an existence indicates divinity. Similarly, my mother, who is a nurse, was convicted of the existence of God and His creation of man when she studied biology.
“Even though I am a mathematician, I look at [fetal development] with marvel: How do these instruction sets not make mistakes as they build what is us?”
Using art and technology, Alexander Tsiaras visualizes the unseen human body. Alexander Tsiaras is an artist and technologist whose work explores the unseen human body, developing scientific visualization software to enable him to “paint” the human anatomy using volume data. He’s the author of Body Voyage and co-author of Information Architects. Most recently, he is the author of From Conception to Birth: A Life Unfolds and The Architecture and Design of Man and Woman: The Marvel of the Human Body, Revealed.
His latest project is The Visual MD, an online compendium of health visualizations.
I wanted to post this folk song in memory of the slain fathers of Optina: three holy martyrs. It’s very beautiful.
About Heiromonk Vasily, Monk Ferapont, and Monk Trophim who were martyred by a satanist on the evening of Pascha, 1993 at the Optina Hermitage (taken from Orthodoxwiki):
Father Basil [Vasily] had a large wooden cross that he’d been given as a gift, featuring an image of the Savior, a cross he preciously guarded. Russian pilgrims had carried this cross when entering Jerusalem, walking along the Calvary to the Lord’s Tomb, where they had it sanctified. It is often recalled how Father Basil would say that the most important thing in life was to carry one’s cross to the end, never stumbling on the rise upwards before meeting our Maker. This is why this cross, that had been carried through Jerusalem, along the Calvary, and sanctified at the Lord’s Tomb, had so special a significance for him, occupying pride of place in his small cell.
Not long before his death, Father Basil took this cross and went with it to the icon workshop, where two monks — icon-painters were working. One of them was celebrating his Name day. Father Basil congratulated him, and presented him with his cross, saying: “I should like you to keep it with you for a while. Let’s go find a place for it together.” The cross was hung on the wall near the Icon corner. Later it transpired that Father Basil had brought this Calvary cross to the place of his own private Calvary: he was killed near the icon workshop, falling down right opposite the cross.
On August 9, 1993, holy chrism was seen to appear on this cross, on the left side, under the Savior’s ribs. The drops were large and didn’t dry for two weeks. It seemed as if the cross was miracle-working!
Now, looking back, one can see that monk Ferapont saw the approach of his own death. Not long before he died, he started to give away his warm clothes with the words: “I shall not be needing this any more.” Right on the eve of Easter, he distributed his carpentry tools among the brethren.
On the eve of Easter, monk Ferapont was in a state of radiant joy, obviously having received from the Lord the gift of enlightenment and foresight. In any case, some of the monks testified that he could read their minds, while one young lay-brother admitted Ferapont had told him his future.
On Easter night, before the murder, monk Ferapont was standing in church, not in his usual place, but near the table, where services for the repose of the souls are usually conducted. He stood, as if immobile, head bowed in prayer and sorrow. There were a great many people in the church. He was being shoved and crowded, yet he seemed to notice nothing. Then, he set off for the last confession of his life. A satanist struck him with a ritual knife when, together with monk Trofim, he was chiming the bells.
Trofim had been ringing the bells, summoning all for Easter midnight service when the satanist by the name of Nikolay Averin struck him in the back with a ritual knife. Thus ended the almost three-year-long monkhood of Trofim.
May God grant us the resolve to life and die as heroically as the Fathers did, and may we have their blessing!
Posted in Uncategorized on May 16, 2012 |
(This article was originally posted on the OCA’s website.)
Matushka Constantina Palmer is a Canadian living in Thessaloniki, Greece; Kelly Lardin hails from Chicago; Jan Bear and Bev Cooke live in the Northwest (Portland and Victoria, BC). Katherine Johnson is a Texan and Heather Zydek resides in Wisconsin.
This geographically diverse group of women have something in common, however. They all attend parishes within the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and they are all bloggers for the Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) blog, The Sounding.
Explains The Sounding’s blog chief, Melinda Johnson, “our mission is to support the spiritual and natural well-being of our readers by providing well-written, positive, and thought-provoking Orthodox Christian content…our goal is to take Orthodoxy into the real world around us, to probe the depths, and to write about what we find. Our bloggers were already finding ways to contribute before they came to us, as published authors, bloggers, teachers, and in many other ways.”
Continues Melinda, “what’s beautiful to me about The Sounding is how much love goes into it. We publish new content every weekday and often over the weekend as well. It takes hours of concentrated effort and reflection to write well, and our bloggers are busy people with jobs and families. When you are given a real gift, you find a way to share it.”
The gifted women in the OCA are finding ways to share their writing. Matushka Constantina Palmer is married to an OCA deacon. “We are originally from the Maritimes (Atlantic Canada),” she explains, “but my husband and I are currently living in Thessaloniki, Greece, where I am in the process of finishing my Master’s degree.” In addition to her studies in theology and her iconography work, while in Greece Matushka also wrote The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, slated to be published by Conciliar Press later this year. Matushka blogs about spirituality, the Orthodox heritage of Greece, and the lives of saints.
Kelly Lardin has been a member of Holy Trinity Cathedral Parish in Chicago since 2004, where she serves on the Parish Council and as the Sisterhood secretary. “We were impressed by the beauty and holiness of the Cathedral when we visited one weekend while we were searching for an apartment. When we actually found an apartment just a few blocks from the Cathedral, we knew it would be our home. The parish has a rich Russian history, having been built by Louis Sullivan under the leadership of St. John Kochurov of Chicago, and consecrated by St. Tikhon of Moscow in 1903. Despite our lack of Russian ancestry, we were welcomed by the other parishioners and consider them our family.”
Continues Kelly, “I enjoy having a venue to share my creative endeavors and thoughts on a multitude of subjects, including faith issues.” A children’s author, Kelly’s board book Josiah and Julia go to Church was published by Conciliar Press, and Kelly also writes for her personal blog, A Day’s Journey.
Author Jan Bear attends St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Portland. “It’s a warm and friendly parish,” she notes, “made up mostly of converts but with immigrant parishioners from around the world. The parish puts a high value on aesthetics, from the very Northwest style of the new church building, to our choir, to the stunning frescoes and icons by Heather MacKean. We’ve got a more-than-representative number of writers in the parish. I’ve also recently taken on the task of revamping the parish website, but there’s nothing visible above ground yet.”
Jan is the author of Daily Prayer for Orthodox Christians, a handbook of the Hours of the Church for ordinary Christians in everyday prayer. She also helps authors and small-business owners meet their audience and express their message effectively through website creation, writing, and other methods, at MarketYourBookBlog.com.
Author and The Sounding blogger Bev Cooke has been writing for publication since 1989. She has three young adults books on the market: Keeper of the Light, about St. Macrina the Elder (Conciliar Press), Royal Monastic, a biography of Mother Alexandra of Romania (also Conciliar), and Feral, a mainstream novel (Orca Book Publishers). Her latest publication, a departure from her regular work, was an Akathist to St. Mary of Egypt published by Alexander Press. She wrote this partly as a response to the case of seventy missing women from downtown Vancouver’s east side, in a plea to St. Mary of Egypt to pray for those women and all street men and women.
Bev attends All Saints of Alaska parish in Victoria. “It really is like a family,” she says. “Like a family, we don’t get along all the time, but the bonds of our commitment to Christ and our love for each other, help us get past the difficulties. As a founding member, I was really busy in the parish for a number of years.” Among other things, Bev ended up as leader of “Sandwich Saturday.” “We prepare and give out bag lunches to people on the street on Saturday afternoons, hence the title.”
About her writing impulse, Bev notes, “there is so much richness in our faith, and I want to share that with people – both my brothers and sisters in the faith who haven’t maybe yet found some of the treasures I’ve stumbled across, and people in the secular world who don’t understand Eastern Christianity and are perhaps looking for exactly what we’ve got. Even if they’re not, if I can extend their understanding and tolerance of religion and religious people, then I think that’s a good and worthwhile goal.”
Authors Katherine Johnson and Heather Zydek round out the stable of OCA The Sounding bloggers. Katherine Johnson is a homeschool mother of seven who is in the midst of writing an Orthodox homeschool curriculum, first through twelfth grade, called Ages of Grace. Over two hundred families are using the curriculum in its first year and all sales of the curriculum benefit the building of an Orthodox mission in North Texas.
Heather Zydek is a writer, teacher, and Master Gardener who hails from the Midwest. She writes about the themes of environmental sustainability and caring for creation, as well as social justice. “If we look carefully enough,” writes Heather in her recent blogpost, “we can see God all around us. Of course, it’s easy to see God in the beautiful: in flowers, in the ocean, in the eyes of a newborn child. It can be harder to see God in a heaping pile of compost. And yet, there He is, demonstrating His Paschal gift to us in the most beautiful way.” Heather’s articles have appeared in numerous publications and on her website. She has also written two youth novels, Basil’s Search for Miracles and Stranger Moon.
I can honestly say I can hardly believe it has come to this. And to think it happened the week before we celebrated the Life-giving and Saving Cross of our Lord. May God grant her eternal rewards for her confession of faith! Looks like it may be back to the catacombs here soon folks…
“Before Thy cross we fall down in worship, O Master”
London, March 19, Interfax – A parishioner of the Russian Assumption Cathedral in London had to resign after being prohibited from wearing a cross.
“This morning I talked to a woman who was forced to take off her cross at work a week ago. She preferred to resign. And the cross was not even visible! The woman asked to be allowed to wear it, promising to attach it to the body with duct tape to keep it from accidentally slipping from under her clothes, but they said it’s not allowed,” Archpriest Mikhail Dudko, the cathedral’s sacristan, said on Facebook.
He said the position of the British government, which opposes freedom to openly wear crosses, is understood by local authorities as “a total ban” and people with poor knowledge of the language and life in the UK “have virtually no chance of defending their rights.”
According to earlier reports, the British authorities intend to defend the legality of the ban on public wearing of crosses in the UK in the European Court of Human Rights.
The Strasbourg court will try lawsuits involving the religious discrimination against four Christians from the UK, who have lost their cases in British courts.
The Russian Church earlier expressed surprise about the loyalty of the British authorities, who have banned wearing crosses at work, to other symbols, for example, gay symbols.
“This decision made by the British parliament is certainly alarming, especially given the existence in modern European society of other tendencies aimed at liberating human instincts,” Vladimir Legoyda, the head of the Synodal Information Department, told reporters. He said he was surprised by the fact that public demonstration of affiliation with gay culture is considered normal in the UK while the wearing of crosses is not. Among the examples of double standards Legoyda named the British authorities’ stance on Sikhs, saying that even London police officers are officially allowed to wear turbans, which are Sikh symbols.
Among the four cases to be tried in Strasbourg is a claim filed by a woman who was suspended from her job with British Airways several years ago for refusing to take off her cross, which she wore on top of her uniform.
The other claimants are Shirley Chaplin, who had worked as a nurse for 30 years before being fired for wearing a cross at work, Lillian Leidel, an official with a London civil registry office, who was subjected to disciplinary punishment for refusing to register a gay marriage for religious reasons, and Garry McFarlane, a resident of Bristol, a former employee of a firm providing confidential consultations to gay couples, who was fired because he had difficulty working because of his religious beliefs.