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Written by one who intimately knows the bitter taste of death, Presvytera Katherine Baker’s reflection on death and (so-called) living during the global pandemic is a must-read. It is entitled A Pandemic Observed and can be found here.

Fr. John and I are both very grateful to her thoughts. I am deeply impressed by her insight, her candor, and her call for all to live well, as faithful Christians, despite the surety of our death, whether today from Covid or tomorrow from something else.

Friends, if you have allowed fear or fear of illness or death to cripple you during these dark days of constant media attention on the potential risks of contracting or spreading Covid, take a minute, read this reflection from a priest’s wife whose husband died suddenly and tragically in a car accident in 2015. Take a minute to ask yourself if closing churches, refraining from venerating icons or taking the priest’s blessing, or shying away from corporeal worship honours the Christian Way, the Incarnation of the God-Man Christ, or in any way exemplifies the life of the Gospel we are called to live. When you come to the conclusion these things are foreign to our life in Christ then arise quickly and go to the Father and even while you are “still afar off” (Luke 15:20) He will see you and  meet you before you have even arrived to offer your prayer of repentance!

Be emboldened to live again as Christians. Christians were always known for their bravery in the face of death, for their refusal to cease good deeds even when threatened with torture, and for cherishing faith in Christ as their most prized possession. Call on the names of such saints and they will encourage you to do likewise!

An excerpt from Presvytera Katherine’s article follows, but please read the whole article HERE.

May her words inspire us to make a new beginning in our spiritual life!

I fully expect, if we are living as Church, there could be large outbreaks of COVID-19 in Christian communities, just like in any other human encounter, should God will it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” And if we are blamed by the authorities for being “super-spreaders,” it would not be the first time in history.

No one blames a person for going to the store for groceries and spreading or picking up germs there, but it seems worship is being approached more like a concert than like “daily bread.” But gathering for Sunday liturgy and fellowship should be a help to facing the possibility of death, which is exactly what we need right now. A priest’s job is not to keep me alive; it’s to help me live and die well.

Christians should never judge someone who chooses safety from suffering and death as did the early Donatist heretics who cast out of the church those who fled persecution. However, Christians should neither judge nor exclude those who choose honorable risk either. A principal of non-judgment is our example. Force and manipulation should be rejected whether that force or manipulation be in favor of risk or against it.

My husband wrote in a sermon shortly before his death: “God created man in the year 33, on a hill called Golgotha.” Christ, declared his great work “accomplished” from the agony of the cross. It is in union with Christ that we become who we ought to be, and so how can we escape death when even Christ did not? In one of his last sermons, my husband suggested to his flock, “….may we make our own these words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, written to his fellow Christians on his way towards martyrdom for refusing the idolatry of pagan Rome: ‘It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth… The pains of birth are upon me. Allow me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to be stillborn… Allow me to imitate the passion of my God …when I shall have arrived there, I shall become a human being.’” (Epist. ad Rom., 6).

The question isn’t will I die? Or will the people I love die? The answer to that has always been, yes. A better question might be will I let the anticipation of death make me and my world, better or worse?

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I painted this in 2009 with egg tempra on paper. It was another ‘practice icon’ as I was still painting on my own with no direction. At the time Fr. John was very keen on the writings of St. Philaret and so that is why I painted him. I will say after years of painting with acrylic the vibrancy of egg tempra paint far surpasses what I consider the “flatness” of acrylic paint. However, it’s nearly impossible for me to get supplies here so I have continued with the lesser quality but more accessible acrylic paints.

(Source) Saint Philaret (Drozdov) was born on December 26, 1782 in Kolomna, a suburb of Moscow, and was named Basil in Baptism. His father was a deacon (who later became a priest).

The young Basil studied at the Kolomna seminary, where courses were taught in Latin. He was small in stature, and far from robust, but his talents set him apart from his classmates.

In 1808, while he was a student at the Moscow Theological Academy at Holy Trinity Lavra, Basil received monastic tonsure and was named Philaret after Saint Philaret the Merciful (December 1). Not long after this, he was ordained a deacon.

In 1809, he went to teach at the Theological Academy in Petersburg, which had been reopened only a short time before. Hierodeacon Philaret felt ill at ease in Petersburg, but he was a very good teacher who tried to make theology intelligible to all. Therefore, he worked to have classes taught in Russian rather than in Latin.

Philaret was consecrated as bishop in 1817, and was appointed to serve as a vicar in the diocese of Petersburg. He soon rose to the rank of archbishop, serving in Tver, Yaroslavl, and Moscow. In 1826, he was made Metropolitan of Moscow, and remained in that position until his death.

The Metropolitan believed that it was his duty to educate and enlighten his flock about the Church’s teachings and traditions. Therefore, he preached and wrote about how to live a Christian life, basing his words on the wisdom of the Holy Fathers. His 1823 CATECHISM has been an influential book in Russia and in other countries for nearly two hundred years.

The reforms of Tsar Peter the Great had abolished the patriarchate and severely restricted the Church, placing many aspects of its life under governmental control. Metropolitan Philaret tried to regain some of the Church’s freedom to administer its own affairs, regarding Church and State as two separate entities working in harmony. Not everyone shared his views, and he certainly made his share of enemies. Still, he did achieve some degree of success in effecting changes.

One day, Archimandrite Anthony (Medvedev), a disciple of Saint Seraphim of Sarov (January 2), paid a call on his diocesan hierarch. During their conversation, Father Anthony spoke of the patristic teaching on unceasing prayer, and he may have told the Metropolitan something of Saint Seraphim. Saint Philaret felt a deep spiritual kinship with Father Anthony, who soon became his Elder. He made no important decision concerning diocesan affairs, or his own spiritual life, without consulting Father Anthony. Saint Seraphim once told Father Anthony that he would become the igumen of a great monastery, and gave him advice on how to conduct himself. It was Saint Philaret who appointed him as igumen of Holy Trinity Lavra.

Metropolitan Philaret wanted to have the Holy Scriptures translated into modern Russian, so that people could read and understand them. Father Anthony, however, criticized the unorthodox ethos of the Russian Bible Society, which was popular during the reign of Alexander I. In his eagerness to have the Bible translated into modern Russian, Saint Philaret at first supported the Bible Society without realizing how dangerous some of its ideas were. The first Russian translation of the Bible was printed during the reign of Tsar Alexander II.

Under the direction of his Elder, Metropolitan Philaret made great progress in the spiritual life. He also received the gifts of unceasing prayer, clairvoyance, and healing. It is no exaggeration to suggest that Saint Philaret himself was one of the forces behind the spiritual revival in nineteenth century Russia. He defended the Elders of Optina Monastery when they were misunderstood and attacked by many. He protected the nuns of Saint Seraphim’s Diveyevo Convent, and supported the publication of patristic texts by Optina Monastery.

Metropolitan Philaret was asked to dedicate the new Triumphal Gate in Moscow, and Tsar Nicholas I was also present. Seeing statues of pagan gods on the Gate, the Metropolitan refused to bless it. The Tsar became angry, and many people criticized the saint’s refusal to participate. He felt that he had followed his conscience in this matter, but still felt disturbed by it, and so he prayed until he finally dropped off to sleep. He was awakened around 5 A.M. by the sound of someone opening the door which he usually kept locked. The Metropolitan sat up and saw Saint Sergius of Radonezh (September 25) leaning over his bed. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it will all pass.” Then he disappeared.

Two months before his death, Saint Philaret saw his father in a dream, warning him about the 19th day of the month. On November 19, 1867, he served the Divine Liturgy for the last time. At two in the afternoon, they went to his cell and found his body. He was buried at Holy Trinity Lavra.

Saint Philaret was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1995.

Recently I finsihed the audio recording of The Sweetness of Grace. God willing it will be released later this year. I thought I would repost this interview Byzantine TX did with me some years ago.

page_1(As posted on Byzatine Texas in 2017)  Matushka Constantine R. Palmer has written another book – this one entitled “The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory.” I earlier interviewed her about her book “The Scent of Holiness” a few years back; a title that continues to be quite a popular read. She has again agreed to answer a few questions for the blog about her latest book in the following interview. Enjoy!


So what prompted this second book? I know your first publication was well received and it seems to be a staple in many church bookstores that I’ve visited.

A large impetus for this book was all the “untold stories” that I had mentally compiled even while writing The Scent of Holiness. I felt that I couldn’t tell all the stories I would have liked to because they wouldn’t necessarily fit in the confines of a book predominantly about women’s monasteries. I believe I snuck one story about my theology professor in the first book, and maybe one about my parish priest from Thessaloniki. But even then I was aware that those stories fell a little outside the perimeters I had constructed for the book.

It wasn’t until one of the sisters started asking me about writing a second book that I even thought seriously about trying to present various stories of my experiences and conversations not only in Greece but in South Korea and North America.

But to be frank, the honest truth behind why I wrote this book is that I don’t like to keep things to myself. I’m excitable and I like to share stories that inspire me because I get excited and inspired all over again when I see that my stories resonate with others. I also felt like after the first book my readers would know me well enough that I could perhaps share some of the more weighty experiences without scaring them off. I hope and believe these stories compliment the light-hearted elements of The Scent of Holiness and bring out another layer of Christian spiritual struggle.

You took a very circuitous path to end up in a mission church in Newfoundland. Can you speak a little about the journeys through Greece, South Korea, to your new home in Canada? How did that all work out and do you feel like a Newfie yet?

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Middle Cove

In 2006 I finished an amazing undergraduate degree in a Great Books program in New Brunswick (where we’re originally from). Around the same time my husband, John (now Fr. John), was finishing his Masters degree in Patristics at Durham University in England. While we have never regretted our choice of studies, they didn’t exactly provide us with a means of living right off the bat.Friends of ours had previously lived in South Korea teaching English and this inspired my brother and sister-in-law to take the leap and move there. For anyone who has ever heard my brother speak you will know his power of persuasion was enough to convince us to do likewise. So we moved to South Korea mostly to pay off student loan debt but also to buy some time while we tried to figure out our next steps in life.

 

While living in Seoul we heard about the School of Modern Greek Language in Thessaloniki where foreign students would learn Greek and then proceed to study at Aristotle University. At the time my husband wanted to continue his studies so we were looking for a university anyway. While we spoke of different European schools I really wanted us to go to an Orthodox country to further immerse ourselves in Orthodoxy. Our spiritual father agreed that Greece would be a good next step and we headed in that direction just a few months after we finished teaching English in Seoul for one year.

In Greece, as most may know of me, I studied theology as well. My Master’s thesis was on the iconographer and the theology of icons more generally. During the nearly six years we lived there we spent significant amounts of time at women’s monasteries and I also learned to paint icons and I (somewhat) learned Byzantine chant.

Midway through our Greek adventure we came back to Canada one summer to visit our families and while visiting with an abbess she suggested we meet Bishop Irenee of Quebec City, the OCA bishop responsible for Eastern Canada. (He is now Archbishop Irenee of Ottawa and all of Canada). We began getting to know the bishop and about a year later Fr. John was ordained to the deaconate. However, he continued to serve in Greece until his PhD studies were finished.

It was very important for us to be able to return to the East Coast as Canada is so large you really connect with where you live regionally. Vladyka spoke to us about trying out a few places: St. John’s, Newfoundland was one of those places. My father is from Corner Brook (the second largest town on Newfoundland – population 20,000). So I wasn’t unfamiliar with Newfoundland and Newfoundland culture or dialect (despite living on the mainland for over 35 years my father still has an accent).

We visited the community here in St. John’s after Fr. John’s ordination to the priesthood in 2013. We arrived late on Lazarus Saturday and stayed until after St. Thomas Sunday. Fr. John served every single day; very quickly we both felt that this was where we should be.

There has been a OCA mission in St. John’s since 2003; the first two years of which there was a priest. In the following eight years the mission had two other priests come, but each only stayed briefly. While the mission now has a permanent priest it still does not have a permanent location for our chapel. We use a chapel at the Anglican seminary here which means we have to set-up and take-down the chapel every weekend. Glory to God, since 2015 we also have a house-chapel that we use for daily services (Matins and Vespers) as well as for vigils when feasts fall during weekdays. [If any reader would like to be the benefactor of a small, but beautiful, Orthodox church on the island of Newfoundland please contact us! :)]

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My kindergartners, Seoul 2007

When you come to a place where there is only one Orthodox mission on a huge island with no priest it makes it very difficult to turn away and head elsewhere. Through the grace of God we have managed to stay here despite the strong winds (both literally and figuratively). We collected a lot of blessings both in South Korea (with its two Orthodox churches in Seoul) and in Greece and owe a great debt to God. Perhaps I could say just as we moved to South Korea to pay off student loans, we’ve moved to Newfoundland to pay off spiritual ones.

The book has what I might characterize as a distinctly feminine voice to it. I don’t mean that this book would only appeal to women – far from it – but in the same way some religious works come off as inescapably paternal. This text reverberates with a lot of the topics that worked so well in your first book. Has anyone else said something similar?

Like you, I in no way believe this book, nor The Scent of Holiness, should only appeal to women, though I know some think that way. Although my books are written from a woman’s perspective I still think there is something for everyone.

I’m not one for thinking we need to categorize everything into male and female. For instance, the Orthodox Church is often seen as a cut-and-dry, male-ruled institution, but I do not see this. I mean, yes, our hierarchs are men, our priests and deacons are men. However, do you walk into a fully adorned Orthodox temple and think, “Wow, this place is rather starkly paternal”? No. You think, “My goodness this is beautiful!” because Orthodoxy speaks to the human person. It is so distinctly human and spiritual at the same time. This is what testifies to it being the Truth. It appeals to the whole person. I’ve never heard that in the Heavenly Kingdom there will be a women’s section and men’s section. I’ve just heard saints will experience grace in proportion to the good works they did in life and their love for God and His Church.

The Sweetness of Grace, as you’ve noted, contains similar topics as in my first book. I think this is reflective of the experiences and conversations that have meaning for me, whether they involve nuns, monks, priests or laypeople. With my books I am trying to appeal to the whole person. My personal lens is a feminine one, but I don’t think it distracts from the message, which is – at its core – an Orthodox Christian message. I came to Orthodoxy as an adult. I learned at the feet of nuns. I try to take in everything my spiritual father has taught me by his words and deeds. I live on an island with a small Orthodox community composed of various Orthodox ethnicities. This is my lived-experience of Orthodoxy. This all has contributed to my desire to live and express Orthodoxy not as a religion but as a faith, a way of life. I try to do this in my personal life just as I do in my books. When people ask me about my “religion” I tell them it is not a religion; it is, as described in the Scriptures, the Way. It is the way of living, the way of thinking, the way of loving and the way of dying.

The things that I value are the things I have noted in my travels. Some of these things stand out to me because I’m a woman, some because of my personality, still others because of my upbringing. But I’m hoping that through prayer and reflection I am able to frame those experiences in a manner consistent with our Orthodox tradition, both written and oral, which is composed of both male and female voices.

This book in no way shrinks from the “mystical” aspects of a life lived inside the Church. While not all the stories touch on that facet of the spiritual life, there are a number of stories about how God and His saints are active in our lives. Thinking about my own pastoral experiences, I think at least anecdotally I can say that such experiences are not common “parish talk” in many of our churches. What accounts for this do you think?

I am hesitant to offer an opinion on this because I genuinely don’t know the answer. There are likely a variety of reasons for this. All I can say is the stories about the mystical aspects of Orthodox life were collected over ten years, having lived on three different continents and having recorded such stories when I heard them. These are not all my experiences; they are a collection of experiences.

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Quidi Vidi

Having said that I truly believe God and the saints are a lot more active in all our lives than we perhaps perceive. It is God who makes the sun to shine, the grass to grow, the flowers to blossom and the wind to blow. This is our everyday reality. But who reflects thus? Few.

I find our minds are so occupied with our to-do lists, with the cares and concerns of everyday life that we can easily overlook the mystical aspects of life. And that’s okay. That happens. I know it happens to me anyway. But life is so much more full, more meaningful, more bearable when we consciously take the time to seek God and the intercession of the saints, to make them apart of our everyday life. Effort is required for us to truly feel the presence of God and the saints in our lives. It’s like a friendship; it is two-sided. They will not invite themselves over for coffee unless we make room for that friendship.

We shouldn’t place too much value on the miraculous either though. We should look at the dry spells as blessings also. We should see God’s presence in our lives even in the most dark, most difficult situations. He is always there, the saints are always there. We just need to call on them more often: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

What was your process for in selecting stories and did you have any help in organizing the material?

I first wrote out all the stories I wanted to include but felt I needed a unique way of presenting them to compliment the 33 Knots of the first book. I have always loved the Beatitudes and while writing the book I often found myself singing them so I started playing with the idea of grouping stories into thematic sections within the framework of the Beatitudes. In order to do this I needed to better understand them so I read a few different Patristic interpretations of them. This filled out their deeper meaning for me. So, for example, “blessed are the poor of spirit” not only refers to those who are humble but also obedient, etc.

Once I felt better equipped to see the variety of Christian virtues contained within the Beatitudes I started looking at the content of the stories and figuring out where best they fit. I was happy with the result, though I found it does make that last chapter a bit more weighty as the stories are reflective of “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. At the same time, this Christian attribute is the highest form of sacrifice, the pinnacle of expressing our complete love for Christ so it’s also fitting to end with that in mind.

Returning a bit to your current home. What does the future of Orthodoxy in Newfoundland look like? Are there any aspects of life up there that make evangelism unique for you both?

I can honestly say I don’t know what the future of Orthodoxy in Newfoundland looks like. All we can do is plant the seed. Sometimes it feels like it will never bear fruit and other times I can see the tree budding and find myself holding my breath waiting for it to bloom. I have to constantly remind myself that God measures progress differently than I do. Progress isn’t necessarily in church attendance numbers or in owning a beautiful church building. True progress is the amount of confessions that take place, the amount of prayer ropes that not only get given out but used. Before moving here I went to visit a well-known elder and he told me, “If you can save just one soul it will be worth all your effort”. I try to remember that.

The thing we’ve found that makes evangelism a little more challenging here on the Rock is that Newfoundlanders (at least those in St. John’s) are hesitant to approach anyone who appears different, so they are not as open to Orthodoxy as people may be who live in a place very open to different cultures and religions. But we keep toiling and praying. It’s really important to my husband to offer daily services and it means a lot to both of us that the island of Newfoundland is commemorated in the services: “for this island… and the faithful that dwell therein…”. So people are benefited by the prayers of our mission whether or not they even know we exist.

newf2There is one Newfoundland story I’d like to share that occurred last summer. Fr. John and I went hiking near a frequently-visited ocean beach. On our way back we encountered a Russian family. The man, seeing Fr. John’s cassock and cross, asked if he were a priest in Newfoundland. It turned out this man had lived in St. John’s for over 20 years and had never heard of our mission. We spoke a bit and he asked where we held services. We went on our way, not really expecting to ever see him again as we had met many ethnic Orthodox who always asked where the church was but rarely showed up. To our surprise this man came to church the very next Sunday and has come every single Sunday since. We later found out he had been praying for God to lead him to an Orthodox church as all the years he lived in Newfoundland he had kept his faith, read copious amounts of Orthodox books and would attend Divine Liturgy whenever he visited Russia or places that had churches.

This is one example of many that keeps our hearts at peace with our decision to live and serve Christ in Newfoundland. All of these blessings encourage us to keep planting so God may reap.

Thanks so much for the benefit of your time in this interview. It has been a joy to discuss your latest book and evangelical efforts. May God bless your mission work and all your future writing endeavors!

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I painted this in 2010 (I believe) while still trying to teach myself how to paint icons. It was done with egg tempra on paper (as it was just for practice). The words around the border are from a poem written by St. Nikolai Velimirovich, here it is in full:

O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,

an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.

Neither did she cry out nor sigh, nor did she sorrow,

but gave warm thanks to God for her tortures.

Angels then appeared to her standing in the flame,

and extinguished the embers with refreshing rain.

O such is our golden faith: invincible;

O such is the love for God: unquenchable.

O wise virgin Euphemia, virgin of Christ,

He gave you the Kingdom for your suffering.

You have boldness before the Lord and the Mother of God,

and you help them in their work by your holy prayers.

O all-blessed Euphemia, pray for sinners,

and convert them, O holy one, to repentance.

O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,

an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.

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You can hear a chapter from The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery audiobook on the Ancient Faith Radio podcast Chapters.

Published by Ancient Faith Publishing, you can purchase the audio book version of The Scent of Holiness through Audible HERE.

In this episode of the podcast Chapters you’ll find a preliminary introduction about the book and excerpts from a few reviews of the audiobook. You can listen to the full episode HERE. The audio of the chapter Knot 23 begins a few minutes into the episode.

This is the first post in a new version of my “Sketching Holiness” series. I enjoyed posting my pencil sketches of holy elders and eldresses so much I thought I’d continue the series by posting icons I’ve painted over the last 12 years.

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This is the very first icon I ever painted (in 2009). If memory serves this icon of Jesus Christ is based on a prototype painted by Theophanes the Cretan. I used egg tempra. Fr. John’s godfather was visiting us in Greece that summer. He gessoed the board, applied the gold-leaf and showed me how to put the outline of the image on the board. Then he showed me how to make the egg tempra mixture and I set to work.   

Disciples of the New Testament and partakers of the mysteries of Christ, as yet by calling only, but ere long by grace also, make you a new heart and a new spirit Ezekiel 18:31, that there may be gladness among the inhabitants of heaven: for if over one sinner that repents there is joy, according to the Gospel Luke 15:7, how much more shall the salvation of so many souls move the inhabitants of heaven to gladness. As you have entered upon a good and most glorious path, run with reverence the race of godliness. For the Only-begotten Son of God is present here most ready to redeem you, saying, Come unto Me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 You that are clothed with the rough garment of your offenses, who are holden with the cords of your own sins, hear the voice of the Prophet saying, Wash you, make you clean, put away your iniquities from before My eyes Isaiah 1:16: that the choir of Angels may chant over you, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. You who have just lighted the torches of faith , guard them carefully in your hands unquenched; that He, who erewhile on this all-holy Golgotha opened Paradise to the robber on account of his faith, may grant to you to sing the bridal song.

-St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 1

 

While eating breakfast this morning with Fr. John we started listening to this homily by a spiritual son of St. Paisios the Athonite. This spiritual son is in fact the “young man” in the book The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios. If you have not read this book I highly recommend it.

The “Young Man”, whose real name is Athanasios Rakovalis, begins the homily with these words, “I’d like to thank you all for being here, and to say that I am happy you are all here because your presence here shows that you wish to learn about St. Paisios, and this contains a type of grace. Before I begin my talk, I’d like to request from all of you if you are able to say an internal prayer to St. Paisios now, to ‘lend a hand’ to help me make my talk and for us all to leave here benefited – both you and I.”

When I heard these words by St. Paisios’ lay-disciple I paused the video and turned to Fr. John, “That is what it was like in Greece!” I said.

While it is customary for different cultures to have words of greeting, the charm of the Orthodox mindset is the humility and mutual love shared amidst Orthodox Christians.

Athanasios, a physics teachers, is there to give a homily, to teach and instruct, but rather than show himself to be “an expert” he first calls on his Christian brothers and sisters so that through their prayers – not his words – all might be benefited. This kind of mindset is not easily taught. It is the kind of mindset we must “put on” (Galatians 3:27) ourselves as Orthodox Christians. This, I believe, is what is meant by “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Brothers and sisters, this is the mind of Christ!: to humbly ask others’ for their prayers, to firmly believe with all your heart and mind that the only profit we can give one another is founded on Christ’s love, not on our own intellect or talents.

More than everything else about Greece I miss this mindset the most. It permeated so many faithful, and did not produce words like “clanging brass” (1 Corinthians 13: 1) but Spirit-filled, God-inspired words that drilled into your heart and soul a desire to emulate the love and humility you saw in your fellow Christians.

I’m sure Athanasios goes on to say many more beautiful things in his homily. But I stopped just a few minutes in to reminiscence and contemplate how it’s in the little things (as St. Paisios often said) that we make large gains or big loses.

St. Paisios defined reverence as “the fear of God and spiritual sensitivity”. He said that reverent people “behave carefully and modestly, because they intensely feel the presence of God.” In my opinion, just one minute into this homily Athanasios Rakovalis illustrates what it means to douse your words and thoughts with reverence.

May we be made worthy, through the prayers of St. Paisios, to do the same in our own lives!

 

 

 

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Today is the feast of St. Macrina the Abbess (also called “the Younger”) was the sister of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nyssa. St. Gregory recorded the events of her last days and last words in a beautiful letter that has been preserved by the grace of God so that even modern man can benefit from the works and words of this holy abbess.

The following is a story St. Gregory shares at the end of his epistle. I love it not only because it gives us a wonderful insight into the character of St. Macrina but reveals exactly what it feels like to be a pilgrim at a holy monastery, a “school of virtue” as the solider calls it.

THE SOLDIER’S STORY

(Source) “My wife and I once had an earnest desire to pay a visit to the school of virtue. For so I think the place ought to be called, in which that blessed soul had her abode. Now there lived with us also our little daughter, who had been left with an affliction of the eye after an infectious illness. And her appearance was hideous and pitiable, the membrane round the eye being enlarged and whitish from the complaint. But when we came inside that divine abode, my wife and I separated in our visit to those seekers after philosophy according to our sex. I went to the men’s department, presided over by Peter, your brother; while my wife went to the women’s side and conversed with the saint. And when a suitable interval had elapsed, we considered it time to depart from the Retreat, and already our preparations were being made for this, but kind protests were raised from both sides equally. Your brother was urging me to stay  and partake of the philosophers’ table; and the blessed lady would not let my wife go, but holding our little girl in her bosom, said she would not give her up before she had prepared a meal for them and had entertained them with the riches of philosophy. And kissing the child, as was natural, and putting her lips to her eyes, she saw the complaint of the pupil and said—-

“‘If you grant me this favour and share our meal, I will give you in return a reward not unworthy of such an honour.’

“‘What is that? ‘ said the child’s mother.

“‘I have a drug,’ said the great lady, ‘which is powerful to cure eye complaints.’

“And then news was brought me from the women’s apartments, telling me of this promise, and we gladly remained, thinking little of the pressing necessity of starting on our journey.

“But when the feast came to an end and we had said the prayer, great Peter waiting on us with his own hands and cheering us, and when holy Macrina had dismissed my wife with all courtesy, then at last we went home together with glad and cheerful hearts, telling one another as we journeyed what had befallen us. I described to her what had happened in the men’s room, both what I had heard and seen. She told every detail as in a history, and thought nothing ought to be left out, even the smallest points. She told everything in order, keeping the sequence of the narrative. When she came to the point at which the promise was made to cure the child’s eyes, she broke off her tale.

“‘Oh, what have we done?’ she cried.

‘How could we have neglected the promise, that salve-cure that the lady said she would give?’

“I was vexed at the carelessness, and bade some one run back quickly to fetch it. Just as this was being done, the child, who was in her nurse’s arms, looked at her mother, and the mother looked at the child’s eyes.

“‘Stop,’ she said, ‘being vexed at the carelessness,’—-she cried aloud with joy and fright. ‘For, see! Nothing of what was promised us is lacking! She has indeed given her the true drug which cures disease; it is the healing that comes from prayer. She has both given it and it has already proved efficacious, and nothing is left of the affliction of the eye. It is all purged away by that divine drug.’

“And as she said this, she took up the child and laid her in my arms. And I understood the marvels of the Gospel that hitherto had been incredible to me and said—-

“‘What is there surprising in the blind recovering their sight by the hand of God, when now His handmaiden, accomplishing those cures by faith in Him, has worked a thing not much inferior to those miracles?'”

Such was his story; it was interrupted by sobs, and tears choked his utterance, So much for the soldier and his tale.

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(Source) Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam

Saint Sergius of Valaam founded Valaam Monastery together with Saint Herman of Valaam.

In tradition it is told that the founder, the Greek Sergius arrived from Byzantium to the north of Lake Ladoga. Initially he stayed at the island of Riekkala, close to the town of Sortavala, from where he moved to the island of Valaam. The island was an old pagan location and home to a site for sacrifice where many wise elders and local wizards lived.

Sergius settled to live in caves and a cave named Vaga became the Saint’s main habitation at the island of Valaam. From there he, without weapons and in the midst of violent pagans, preached the gospel and baptized the inhabitants of the island. Slowly a monastery grew on the premises and later it was to there the Karelian born Herman came and continued (not necessarily at the same time as Sergius) the work of Sergius. Herman is said to have been from the area close to Sortavala.

In some information it is said that the monastery was initially named Holy Trinity Monastery as opposed to the later name, Transfiguration Monastery. According to tradition the monastery was said to have been founded in the year 992, however, it’s a disputed date. The founding could have been in the 1100s or even as late as in the 1300s according to tradition. So any set date for the founding is not available. All dates are more or less a guess which the researchers are still arguing about.

According to tradition the relics of the Saints were moved to safety from Valaam to Novgorod in 1163 where they remained until 1180. At that point they were transferred in a festive procession back to Valaam and that date September 24/11 is still celebrated in the Orthodox Church of Finland as the day for return of the relics. The Announciation of the Theotokos chapel was later built out of stone on the location where the relics were received back to the island.

The Orthodox Church of Finland honors both of the founders of the monastery Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam as Enlighteners of Karelia as well as Saints. Their day of memory is celebrated yearly on June 28. The day of memory of All Enlighteners of Karelia is celebrated on the Saturday between the last day of October and November 6th.

Translation: Jennie McElroy

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(Source) On July 12 in the Holy Orthodox Church, we commemorate the holy, glorious and right-victorious Martyrs Proclus and Hilary of Ancyra.

Verses
Proclus endured naked a thick rain of arrows,
Whereas Hilary’s head with a sword was severed.
On the twelfth, arrow slew Proclus and sword, Hilary.

These martyrs were born in Kallippi in Asia, Proclus being Hilary’s uncle. They suffered in the time of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

The judge asked Proclus: ‘Of what race are you?’

Proclus replied: ‘I am of the race of Christ, and my hope is in my God.’

When the judge threatened him with torture, he said: ‘When you are afraid to transgress the Emperor’s commands and risk falling into temporal punishment, how much more do we Christians fear to transgress against God’s commands and fall into eternal torment!’  While Proclus was being tortured, Hilary came up to the judge and said: ‘I too am a Christian!’ After many tortures, the two men were condemned to death. They both entered into the joy of their Lord.