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Here is a short version of the life of St Brigid:

(Source) Saint Brigid, “the Mary of the Gael,” was born around 450 in Faughart, about two miles from Dundalk in County Louth. According to Tradition, her father was a pagan named Dubthach, and her mother was Brocessa (Broiseach), one of his slaves.

Even as a child, she was known for her compassion for the poor. She would give away food, clothing, and even her father’s possessions to the poor. One day he took Brigid to the king’s court, leaving her outside to wait for him. He asked the king to buy his daughter from him, since her excessive generosity made her too expensive for him to keep. The king asked to see the girl, so Dubthach led him outside. They were just in time to see her give away her father’s sword to a beggar. This sword had been presented to Dubthach by the king, who said, “I cannot buy a girl who holds us so cheap.”

Saint Brigid received monastic tonsure at the hands of Saint Mael of Ardagh (February 6). Soon after this, she established a monastery on land given to her by the King of Leinster. The land was called Cill Dara (Kildare), or “the church of the oak.” This was the beginning of women’s cenobitic monasticism in Ireland.

The miracles performed by Saint Brigid are too numerous to relate here, but perhaps one story will suffice. One evening the holy abbess was sitting with the blind nun Dara. From sunset to sunrise they spoke of the joys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and of the love of Christ, losing all track of time. Saint Brigid was struck by the beauty of the earth and sky in the morning light. Realizing that Sister Dara was unable to appreciate this beauty, she became very sad. Then she prayed and made the Sign of the Cross over Dara’s eyes. All at once, the blind nun’s eyes were opened and she saw the sun in the east, and the trees and flowers sparkling with dew. She looked for a while, then turned to Saint Brigid and said, “Close my eyes again, dear Mother, for when the world is visible to the eyes, then God is seen less clearly by the soul.” Saint Brigid prayed again, and Dara became blind once more.

Saint Brigid fell asleep in the Lord in the year 523 after receiving Holy Communion from Saint Ninnidh of Inismacsaint (January 18). She was buried at Kildare, but her relics were transferred to Downpatrick during the Viking invasions. It is believed that she was buried in the same grave with Saint Patrick (March 17) and Saint Columba of Iona (June 9).

Late in the thirteenth century, her head was brought to Portugal by three Irish knights on their way to fight in the Holy Land. They left this holy relic in the parish church of Lumiar, about three miles from Lisbon. Portions of the relic were brought back to Ireland in 1929 and placed in a new church of Saint Brigid in Dublin.

The relics of Saint Brigid in Ireland were destroyed in the sixteenth century by Lord Grey during the reign of Henry VIII.

The tradition of making Saint Brigid’s crosses from rushes and hanging them in the home is still followed in Ireland, where devotion to her is still strong. She is also venerated in northern Italy, France, and Wales.

I came across my Master’s thesis today online. It’s available as a PDF through Aristotle University’s library. If you can read Modern Greek, you can read the thesis HERE. If not, you can look over the bibliography if you’re interested in finding works in English that deal with such themes.

Here is the Abstract of my thesis:

The Stoglav council is an extrapolation of the Orthodox position on iconography as expressed by the Fathers of the Church and the Holy Councils. This paper will demonstrate, through adequate citations of learned scholars, that the theological presuppositions of the iconographer have their basis not merely in a local council of the Russian Church, but in the Tradition and consciousness of the universal Orthodox Church. The importance of clarity on issues of icons and iconographers pertain to the whole of Orthodoxy because the whole Church witnesses to the faith and life in Christ through this sacred art form. For this reason a systematic study of iconography as theology in colour and of the necessary presuppositions of the iconographer is indispensable to the Orthodox Church at large. To begin with we will touch on the following five primary presuppositions of the iconographer:

1. An iconographer must be an Orthodox Christian;

2. He must live a pious life according to the canons of the Church;

3. Use of the imagination is forbidden;

4. Portraying God by one’s self-understanding is forbidden;

5. The iconographer must follow Tradition and the ancient models of icons.

Afterward, we will address the following three secondary presuppositions:

1. The iconographer must possess the necessary artistic talent to paint holy icons;

2. He must accept and diligently instruct students in the appropriate technique and lifestyle befitting an iconographer;

3. He must repair old and damaged icons.

Taking for granted that the icon is theology in color, a foundation is therefore constructed for the iconographer’s title “theologian of color.” We explained the presuppositions that lead an iconographer to be the best painter of holy personages he can be. But what we have not drawn out is the distinction between an iconographer who maintains all the presuppositions, and one who not only holds the necessary prerequisites, but also paints according to his own authentic experience of God. This is established in the epilogue. This thesis establishes a manual for becoming an iconographer – that is someone who records (in line and color) the spiritual experience of someone else. It ends encouraging the iconographer to attain personal communication with God and in turn express this authentic experience in his icons.

Please say a pray for me, that God will enlighten me to do something with my thesis in the English language. For years I’ve been saying I want to revisit it with an eye to possibly seeking publication but other projects always seem to get in the way.

I recently finished this icon of St Spyridon.

(Source) Saint Spyridon of Tremithus was born towards the end of the third century on the island of Cyprus. He was a shepherd, and had a wife and children. He used all his substance for the needs of his neighbors and the homeless, for which the Lord rewarded him with a gift of wonderworking. He healed those who were incurably sick, and cast out demons.

After the death of his wife, during the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337), he was made Bishop of Tremithus, Cyprus. As a bishop, the saint did not alter his manner of life, but combined pastoral service with deeds of charity.According to the witness of Church historians, Saint Spyridon participated in the sessions of the First Ecumenical Council in the year 325. At the Council, the saint entered into a dispute with a Greek philosopher who was defending the Arian heresy. The power of Saint Spyridon’s plain, direct speech showed everyone the importance of God’s wisdom before human wisdom: “Listen, philosopher, to what I tell you. There is one God Who created man from dust. He has ordered all things, both visible and invisible, by His Word and His Spirit. The Word is the Son of God, Who came down upon the earth on account of our sins. He was born of a Virgin, He lived among men, and suffered and died for our salvation, and then He arose from the dead, and He has resurrected the human race with Him. We believe that He is one in essence (consubstantial) with the Father, and equal to Him in authority and honor. We believe this without any sly rationalizations, for it is impossible to grasp this mystery by human reason.”

As a result of their discussion, the opponent of Christianity became the saint’s zealous defender and later received holy Baptism. After his conversation with Saint Spyridon, the philosopher turned to his companions and said, “Listen! Until now my rivals have presented their arguments, and I was able to refute their proofs with other proofs. But instead of proofs from reason, the words of this Elder are filled with some sort of special power, and no one can refute them, since it is impossible for man to oppose God. If any of you thinks as I do now, let him believe in Christ and join me in following this man, for God Himself speaks through his lips.”At this Council, Saint Spyridon displayed the unity of the Holy Trinity in a remarkable way. He took a brick in his hand and squeezed it. At that instant fire shot up from it, water dripped on the ground, and only dust remained in the hands of the wonderworker. “There was only one brick,” Saint Spyridon said, “but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God.”

May we have his blessing!

Three years ago today the world lost a holy father, Elder Ephraim of Arizona. However, in as much as he “completed the race” and was found worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we gained a saint! Now we have him as our heavenly intercessor, but even during his earthly life his prayers could move mountains! For instance. . .

Many are the stories that tell of the Lord’s marvelous works enacted through the prayers and intercessions of the saints. Our family’s own story of Geronda Ephraim’s miraculous, much-needed help is just one of countless examples of the inability for saints of God to be limited by time or space. Indeed, those who dwell in Christ hearken to the desperate pleas of those entreating them, even halfway around the world. 

My husband, brother, sister-in-law and I were living in Thessaloniki at the time. We had been there for a few years studying theology. One year, we made plans to go home to Canada for summer vacation. My brother took on the responsibility of booking the least expensive airplane tickets available. For this reason, each couple flew on separate flights to Athens but planned to meet at the airport as we were able to get tickets on the same flight to Montreal. 

My husband and I arrived in Athens first. We proceeded to the counter to check into our flight. The lady at the counter noticed our Canadian passports and began enthusiastically asking us what brought us to Greece, what we were studying, and why we chose to study theology in an Orthodox country. “Are there no theological schools in Canada?” she asked, wide-eyed. Astonished that we would choose to learn Modern Greek and study Orthodox theology at a Greek university, she completed the task of printing our airline tickets likely with a little less attention to detail than she would normal exhibit. While she handed us the tickets and our passports we thanked her for her service and said goodbye.

As we were walking away, I looked down at my airline ticket for the first time. To my shock I did not see my legal name—the name that appears on my passport, my married name. Instead, staring up at me in bold capital letters was my maiden name, PENNEY. This, a name I had changed nearly six years prior and in which I had no identification to bear witness to the fact that I and the person whose ticket I held were one in the same. Everyone knows airlines do not let you travel if the name on your ticket does not match the name on your passport. Needless to say I began to panic.

Meeting up with my brother and sister-in-law, I showed them the ticket. My brother’s eyes grew large and he said, “When I booked the tickets maybe I put it in your maiden name by mistake!” Looking at my husband he said, “And I even had you double-check all the information to make sure it was correct! I guess we both missed it!” That additional piece of information did little calm my nerves.  

We debated whether we should return to the counter to discuss our unexpected dilemma with the nice lady who issued us the ticket (and who had herself not noticed the discrepancy) or to take a leap of faith and see if we could navigate through all the upcoming checkpoints without being detected. We decided on the latter. 

Proceeding toward the European passport control booth, we noticed, just by happenstance, the booth was empty. 

Not even looking around to see if someone was watching, I rushed through undetected. Just as my husband and I got on the other side the man returned to check my brother and sister-in-law’s passports and tickets. As we proceeded toward our gate we were asked two or three more times by various officials to show our tickets and passports; each time they only asked for one or the other, never both. By the time we arrived at the gate we knew our hitherto easy passage may be coming to an end, for here at the sixth and final check-point, I was going to have to show both my ticket and my passport simultaneously. And so, we came up with a plan to deal with the inevitability that I was about to get caught trying to board a plane with a ticket that did not match the name on my passport.       

If there was any way for us to make it through the final check-point we knew we needed the prayers of Geronda Ephraim. Every time we encountered an impossible situation in our family we had the habit of calling on him to strengthen our pleas before God and to find a solution to our problems. We knew without a doubt he could hear our prayers, even while halfway across the world in Arizona.

And so, we employed the phrase we had heard from a friend of ours years prior and often used for comedic effect, “We better jam on the prayer rope!” Each rolling our prayer ropes off our wrists, the four of us agreed to say, “Through the prayer of Geronda Ephraim, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” Remembering he was carrying a photograph of Geronda Ephraim (with Saint Joseph the Hesychast’s image on the back) my brother handed me the picture to tuck into my passport for good measure.

We decided on the order each of us would take to proceed to the counter to show our tickets and passports. We figured my brother should go first, with my maiden name, then my sister-in-law, again with the same last name, I, with the confusion of two different names (whereupon I would doubtlessly get caught!) and finally, my husband with our married name. Then, when we heard the dreaded, albeit inevitable, phrase, “You cannot board this plane with a ticket that is not in your name!” we would make our best effort to convince the airline worker there had been a huge, but hopefully forgivable, mistake.  

Hearing the call to board we exchanged nervous glances and tried to pretend everything was normal. As we had agreed, my brother went first. He handed the attendant his ticket and passport. She looked at the ticket and looked at the passport. She looked at the passport and looked at him. Tearing off the ticket stub, with a nod of her head she indicated he was to proceed. Next, was my sister-in-law, following the same pattern, with a nod the attendant indicated she too could proceed. Here it was my turn. I took a deep breath, all the while internally praying with a panicked voice for Geronda Ephraim and Saint Joseph to help. I handed the attendant my ticket and passport. She looked at the ticket and tore the stub off. Just as she was about to look at my passport she dropped all the stubs she had been holding. Only after bending down and collecting them all did she look at my passport and look at me. She handed me my ticket and my passport. With a nod she indicated I could proceed. 

Incidentally, in the confusion of collecting all the stubs and only afterwards looking at my passport she had not noticed that the name on my ticket and the name on my passport were not the same. I tried my best to contain to a grin the huge smile beginning to spread across my face. Thanking her I proceeded down the ramp, with my husband following soon after. With muted whisperings of “Glory to God” and discretely crossing ourselves (for we did not want the airline attendants to grow suspicious at seeing us rejoicing) we all gave thanks to God for working a miracle for us through the prayers of Blessed Geronda Ephraim.

Father John and I venerating Geronda Ephraim’s tomb.

Truly, the saints are eager to intercede for us! May we always be found worthy of the prayers of such a holy man!

(Elder Isidoros, Elder Ephraim of Arizona, and Elder Ephraim of Xeropotamou)

Excerpt from The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery by Constantina R. Palmer, published by Ancient Faith Publishing (2012), pp. 227-231.

He Exalts Them of Low Degree
I’LL SHARE WITH YOU YET another experience I had with the blind Elder Isidoros of the Holy Mountain. This servant of God was so humble that although he worked many miracles—such as curing people of cancer, healing others of multiple sclerosis, curing a blind woman—he believed none of it came as a result of his own holiness. He felt the miracles happened solely through the prayers of his spiritual father, Elder Ephraim of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona.

By the time I met him, Elder Isidoros had been a spiritual child of Elder Ephraim for over thirty years. He had a thirty-three-knot prayer rope (the kind worn on the wrist) given to him by Elder Ephraim, which he kept in a small clear plastic bag with an icon of the Mother of God the Sweet-kisser (housed in Philotheou Monastery) taped onto it. With this simple, small prayer rope he prayed over people, and they were healed from all sorts of ailments. He attributed it all to the prayers of his spiritual father.

“Through the prayers of my Geronda,” he would say. And just like that, miracles happened!

By his profound humility, strong faith, and pure heart he attracted the grace of God, and God worked miracles through him. Because he thought himself unworthy to do such miracles, God enabled him to work them. Christ tells us, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard . . .” (Luke 17:6). This faith he obviously had.

A presvytera who lived quite close to the monastery had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She and her husband had four children. From his grief and worry that their children would lose their mother, the priest became paler each day. The weight of his wife’s impending death hung around his neck like a millstone. A friend of theirs told them Elder Isidoros was at the monastery. She suggested they go and take his blessing, and perhaps he could pray over the presvytera. They wisely heeded her advice and came to the monastery while I was also there.

When they went in to see the elder, he greeted them. They spoke a little, and he took out the relics he always carried around with him and offered them for veneration. Then he took out his little plastic bag with the small prayer rope inside and laid it on her.

“Through the prayers of Geronda Ephraim,” he said. And then in his characteristically strange, but funny way he said, “It’s leaving, it’s leaving! The cat will eat it!”

And that was it; his faith had healed her.

His spiritual daughter, a friend of mine, told me afterward that whenever someone he prayed over came to him to tell him the doctors could no longer locate the cancer, he always responded, “Yeah, because the cat ate it!”

During this same visit, my eczema was very bad, especially on my hands. The sisters told me to ask the elder to pray over them, so I took the opportunity while he was sitting with me when I was measuring and packaging some pasta.

“Papouli, I have really bad eczema on my hands right now, and they hurt a lot. Do you think you can pray over them?”

He took out the small prayer rope from his pocket and placed it in between my hands so that the eczema rashes were touching the plastic bag that held the rope. With my hands like this, he held them in his own.

“Papou, Geronda, do something!” he said, in the same way a child speaks to his father. He began to pray fervently, “Kyrie Isou Hriste eleison me . . . Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” He said “Papou” signifying Elder Joseph the Hesychast, his spiritual “grandfather,” the spiritual father of Elder Ephraim, and “Geronda,” obviously, addressing Elder Ephraim.

“How do you feel?” he asked me. “Do you feel warmth?”

“Mostly in my face, Geronda, but I think it’s because I’m a little embarrassed,” I said.

He continued to pray fervently.

“And now? Now, how do you feel?” he asked.

I began to have a strong feeling of spiritual joy in my heart.

“I feel joy,” I said.

“Joy? Anything else?” he asked.

“And peace.”

He continued to pray, and I continued to feel spiritually energized.

It was as though he were an outlet and my hands were the plug. I plugged into the spiritual outlet, and spiritual joy and peace were traveling through his hands into mine and through my whole body, right down into my feet, like an electrical current.

“Joy and peace, is that it?”

“A lot of peace,” I said quietly.

“And your hands, how do they feel?” he asked, letting them go.

I looked at them. The rashes were still there, but the sensation I was feeling overwhelmed any hint of irritation I had felt just a few moments ago.

“Better,” I said.

I felt so peaceful, so full of spiritual joy, that I had no other answer to give. Through his humble prayer, he allowed those spiritual sensations to pass from him into me. I felt spiritually rejuvenated for at least three days following this encounter. When I returned home, I put some ointment on my hands, and the rashes disappeared. I have not had any eczema rashes return since that time, even though I’ve had eczema since I was a teenager.

I must confess, however, that the spiritual peace and joy the elder conducted into me mean more to me than having some rashes healed. God knows what we need. The eczema may return, and I may have to live with that condition. But recalling and maintaining the spiritual fruit the elder offered me would be a far greater miracle. Through his prayers and his humble example, I hope to someday re-establish those spiritual sentiments and have them remain in my heart for the rest of my life.

From this experience I learned that when God gives us these small spiritual boosts, we should struggle with all our might to safeguard them with prayer and watchfulness. For they may well go away, with or without negligence, but it’s always better if we do all we can to keep them.

Even recalling the story fills me with courage to struggle harder. Ultimately this is what miracles should do for us. This is what my encounter with the elder taught me. Miracles are opportunities for our faith to increase and our resolve to struggle harder to be strengthened. God is glorified by His saints, and He glorifies them!

Post-script: This event occurred ten years ago now and to this day I am free of eczema.

Yesterday I learned that Geronda Isidoros o tuflos (the blind), a holy monk from Philotheiou who I wrote about in both The Scent of Holiness and The Sweetness of Grace, reposed in the Lord on November 27, 2022. Words fail me to express the charismatic grace he possessed and communicated to everyone who came into contact with him.

Once, upon returning to Thessaloniki after having visited with him at a monastery not far from the city, a friend commented on my demeanor. She said she could see in my face how bright I was, how encouraged and filled with joy. That was the effect he had on everyone. He communicated joy like a fire communicates heat. His unending faith in his spiritual father, Geronda Ephraim of Arizona, was so intense that he literally worked miracles in his elder’s name. He was proof that loving Christ and loving your spiritual father leads you to a sanctified life and attracts the grace of God. He was an indwelling of the Holy Spirit and his love for Christ manifested as tireless love for his neighbour. His joy and laughter were infectious. His faith was admirable. His love was all-consuming. He was what each earnest Christian is seeking to become: a small ‘Christ’ in a dark world.

And now, I believe we can say with certainty, he is numbered among the righteous, has found boldness before the Throne of God, and will be a quick-to-hear intercessor on our behalf.

Pray for him and pray to him! He is a saint! (He also prophesied that my father would be baptised – and he was! You can read about it HERE.)

GERONDA, DON’T FORGET TO PRAY FOR US DOWN HERE!!!

(Source)

Saint Cecilia was born in Rome during the III century to wealthy and illustrious parents, who were idolaters. Hearing the Gospel preached, she came to believe in Christ, and vowed to preserve her virginity. Against her will, however, they betrothed her to a noble pagan named Valerian, and forced her to wear fine clothes and jewelry at all times. Beneath these rich garments, she wore a rough hair shirt.

Filled with love for her Bridegroom Christ, she entreated Him to prevent the wedding. When the day of the marriage arrived, Saint Cecilia wept bitterly and prayed that the Lord would send an Angel to guard her chastity. That night, as they were led to the bridal chamber, she told her husband that an invisible Angel had been sent to defend her virginity. “If you touch me,” she said, “he will slay you at once.”

Valerian asked to see this Angel, but she told him, “you cannot see the Angel because you do not know the true God. You will not be able to see the Angel until you are cleansed of the impurity of unbelief.”

“How may I be cleansed?” he asked.

She said that if he asked Bishop Urban to baptize him, he would be able to see the Angel. The Saint persuaded her husband to see Bishop Urban, who was hiding from the persecution in a cave along the Appian Way. The wise bishop’s instructions filled Valerian’s soul with joy, and after his Baptism Bishop Urban sent him home.

He found Cecilia praying, and saw an Angel of indescribable beauty standing beside her, holding two crowns of red roses and white lilies. Placing the wreaths on their heads he said, “Guard these wreaths by keeping your hearts pure and your bodies undefiled. I have brought them from Paradise, and no one can see them unless they, like you, are lovers of chastity. God sent me to you, Valerian, because you have agreed to preserve your purity. He wants you to have what you desire.”

Valerian said, “No one is dearer to me than my brother Tiburtius. I ask the Lord to deliver him from the worship of idols, and convert him, as he converted me.”

The Angel said that this request was pleasing to God, and would be granted. He also revealed that Valerian and Tiburtius would suffer martyrdom together. Soon after this, Tiburtius came to visit his brother. When he entered the house, he noticed the fragrance of roses and lilies. Valerian told him that he was able to smell the flowers because he had prayed that Tiburtius would come to love God and become worthy of an unfading crown.

“Am I dreaming,” Tiburtius exclaimed, “or are you really telling me this?”

Valerian answered, “Until now, we have been living as if in a dream, worshiping false ‘gods’ and unclean demons. Now we walk in God’s truth and grace.”

After receiving instruction, Tiburtius was baptized by Bishop Urban. Then the brothers distributed part of their inheritance to the poor, took care of the sick, and buried the Christians who had been tortured to death by their persecutors.

This was reported to Almachius, the Eparch of the city, who ordered that the brothers be arrested and brought to trial. He ordered the Saints to renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the pagan “gods,” but the brothers refused. Then they scourged the brothers without mercy. Saint Valerian urged the Christians not to fear torments, but to stand firm for Christ.

In order to prevent the brothers from influencing the people, Almachius ordered that the martyrs be taken outside the city and executed there. The soldiers accompanying the martyrs to execution were commanded by Maximus. He was amazed at the courage of the Saints, and asked them why they did not fear death. The holy brothers said that they were exchanging this temporal life for everlasting life. Maximus wanted to learn Christian teaching in detail. He took Saints Valerian and Tiburtius to his own house and conversed with them all night. When she heard of this, Saint Cecilia went with a priest to Maximus. Then he and his entire family were baptized.

The next day, when the Martyrs Valerian and Tiburtius were beheaded, Saint Maximus confessed before everyone that he saw their holy souls being taken up to Heaven. Because of this, the holy Martyr Maximus was beaten to death.

The Eparch wanted to confiscate the property of those who had been executed, but when he was told that Saint Cecilia had already given her remaining wealth to the poor and had converted 400 men, he ordered her execution. For three days they tormented her in an overheated bath-house, with the heat and steam, but she was helped by the grace of God. Seeing that Saint Cecilia was still alive, they decided to behead her. The executioner struck her three times with a sword, but only wounded her. The holy Martyr lived three more days in full consciousness, encouraging those around her. Finally, she surrendered her soul to God, and her body was buried with reverence.

Saint Cecilia is regarded as the patron Saint of Church music. St. John Chrysostom extols the benefits of sacred music, and shows how strongly the fire of divine love is kindled in the soul by devout psalmody. (On Psalm 41).

The Holy Relics of Saints Valerian and Tiburtius are in the Roman Catholic Basilica of Saints Valerian and Cecilia in Rome.

May we be found worthy to have their prayers and blessings in our own lives!

*The photos featured in this blog post are from my sister, Kate Penney’s Instagram account @atlantic__living. Check out more of her beautiful photos HERE*

I know a man in Christ who, although he knew where the source of light originated, he had not oriented himself to stand directly in its rays. When, however, he was faced with the prospect of dying, he turned his face toward the source and embraced holy baptism.

He was, however, married to a non-believer. And his new-found faith required extensive commitment. It was no longer permissible to sleep in or work from dawn until dusk on the Lord’s Day. Meats, cheeses, cream in his coffee, all became things only to be enjoyed on non-fasting days. Daily prayers, reading the Scriptures and humbling himself were a way of life to be foraged by sacrifice, discipline and determination. However, much of this needed to be done in a hidden manner so as not to disrupt the household, not to attract unwanted attention and not to expose to potential ridicule the manner of life he was toiling away to live.

And so, on fast days he offered to cook for his wife and provided fast-friendly fare. He avoided as best as possible situations that required him to break his fast. He completed his daily prayers discretely and was cautious to live in a manner to witness his faith rather than attempt to persuade with potentially faulty words.

He scoped out all the vegan restaurants in his city so that during extended fasting periods he could secretly maintain the fasts. He was very pleased with his discoveries as he did not have to worry about making a mistake and ordering something “not permissible” at such venues. 

During the strict lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 his wife was particularly nervous and did not want him attending church. So, he went for a “Sunday drive” every Sunday morning and secretly attended the divine services at his local parish which was secretly offering them. 

Being a Christian in our times is difficult even when one’s whole family practices Orthodox Christianity. Being a Christian in our times when members of our own household would actively dissuade us from fasting, prayer and vigil is another challenge altogether. However, God is just and merciful and looks for every opportunity to save people, both the believer and the non-believer. We just need to do our part to be faithful to Christ no matter the circumstances we live in. We should compel ourselves, not allow ourselves to make excuses for not being rigorous in our striving after Christ. Our commitment is first to Christ, then to others. We ought to be diligent about following Christ and allow Him to lead others.

All too often we want to coerce people into seeing things from our perspective. We want them to come around to our opinions, live in a manner we deem best. All too often this takes the form of talking; talking often leads to arguing which often leads to resentment-fueled silence. The highest, most pure argument in favour of our Orthodox faith is the expression of our faith through manner of life rather than words. Words are a feeble means of persuasion. The power of God displayed in a pious, silent and discrete manner of life is far more persuasive.  

We ought to live as though we love Christ above all; we ought to try and be decent human beings toward others and we absolutely must let God do the rest. We should worry more about whether we are faithful to Christ than whether our Christian lifestyle is seen, observed or praised by others. 

Do not look for excuses to break the fast; do not look for excuses to be absent from church services; do not look for excuses to avoid making your cross or saying your daily prayers. All of these things are a confession of faith. Be like the secret Christians of ancient and modern times and prefer Christ to all else while maintaining discretion and you will see the fruit of your spiritual labour: “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). 

Where there is a will, there is a way. God is the Way. All we need to do is orient our will. 

Dad serving as Fr Matthew throws rose petals
Holy Friday, 2022 St. Gregory Palamas Orthodox Mision

Hades rules over our mortal race, but not forever. Laid in the tomb, O Mighty One, with thy life-giving hand thou hast destroyed the bars of death. As the first born who rose from the dead, thou hast proclaimed true redemption, O Savior, to those who throughout the ages slept in the tombs. -From the Kathisma, Holy Friday

Childhood

Born Paul Robert Penney on September 3, 1956 in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador (not even ten years after the Republic of Newfoundland, a British colony, joined the Canadian confederation), Dad was proud of his heritage. He would tell his children of his childhood berry-picking and playing kick-the-can with siblings and cousins who all lived on the same street, ‘Penney Avenue’. He was the second oldest of four children and one of countless cousins. 

Possessing an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age, Dad convinced a local shop-keeper to let him cart snacks and drinks up the hill to sell to workers at a local construction site. This endeavour put about 25 cents in his pocket. As a boy he watched as his fisherman uncle filleted cod fish and discarded the rest. Seeing an opportunity to turn a small profit, he and his cousin cut out the cod tongues (a delicacy) from his uncle’s catch and sold them. Throughout Dad’s life he showed such initiative and creativity of thought.  

Training exercise, 1980

His Youth in the Armed Forces

Dad only finished Grade 10 and had, unfortunately, been a heavy drinker from about thirteen years of age (yes, really, that young!). He spent a number of years as a cadet and so he was given permission to join the armed forces at the age of seventeen. He was fiercely proud of his time in the armed forces, as anyone could attest to that was in his presence for more than five minutes. He loved telling people – especially those in the armed forces – of his service. “When I was in the military…” was a frequently heard prelude to some story of his time in service. 

By the mid 1970’s Dad’s drinking had really gotten out of control and he found himself in a military prison on more than one occasion with a number of charges. He, apparently, got into a lot of fights when he was intoxicated. He used to tell us about the trouble he got himself into when he was drinking during his military days. While going through his belongings we actually found his military ‘rap sheet’. His charges ranged from keeping an unclean room to uttering threats of harm and striking a superior officer. And that story he used to tell of tearing apart his brass bed and shoving it through the bars of his prison cell? Yeah, that was 100% legitimate. “Which was stupid,” Dad would later relate with a chuckle, “because then I didn’t have a bed to sleep on!” Needless to say, Dad had garnered quite a bad reputation from all the drinking and subsequent fighting. 

In fact, he was once driving in a cab on the military base in Gagetown, New Brunswick when a few younger privates got in and started talking about “Private Penney”. They were swapping stories about the soldier they heard about with a temper and a powerful fist to match. As they were about to get out of the cab, Dad said to them, “Oh, guys, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Private Penney.” Shockwaves reverberated. 

Around this time Dad met his life-long friend and honourary brother, Private Roy Bears. Dad had been assigned to be Roy’s roommate but once again his bad reputation preceded him and when Roy heard who was to be his new roommate, he begged his commanding officer not to assign Dad to his room. When that failed, Private Bears slept with a knife under his pillow. However, he never had to use that knife as they became fast friends and remained so for the rest of Dad’s life.

(From right to left) Roy, Fr. Matthew, Dad, me and Roy’s wife, Sharon (who reposed in 2020)

Hilariously, when Dad picked Mum up for their first date Mum opened the door to find not only Dad but also Roy standing there. Dad confided in her that Roy had asked to come along with them and he didn’t have the heart to refuse him. From then on Roy became a permanent fixture in our family.

He even traveled with our Dad to Quebec for Fr John’s ordination and to New York for Fr Matthew’s. In fact, when we were at St. Seraphim of Sarov Church in Rawdon, Quebec for Fr John’s ordination to the diaconate, at a certain point we weren’t sure where Roy had disappeared to until we saw him standing by the door holding the welcoming bread and salt for the bishop. It turns out someone from the church asked him if he’d hold the items and he agreed even though he was only a visitor and not even an Orthodox Chrisitan. We laughed pretty hard about that.   

Us kids with Uncle Roy, 2022

Turning Points in Adulthood

In the late 1970’s Dad was posted to Cyprus on a peace-keeping mission. During this time of his life he learned about AA and began his struggle to remain sober. His discovery and yearning for Christianity coincided with his attempts to maintain sobriety. In Cyprus he first encountered Orthodox Christianity. Included in his photo album of his time in Cyprus are pictures of a pilgrimage he took to Jerusalem and all the Holy Sites (the Church of the Nativity of Christ, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, etc.) and a few photos of Orthodox priests standing in the streets of Cyprus/ Jerusalem with their rassos on. This is significant because, forty years later, his own son would wear such a robe as an ordained Orthodox priest, as would Dad when he served in the altar of his son’s Orthodox parish.

By the grace of God Dad’s charges and time served were relegated to the military so his life as a civilian wasn’t affected and later, when he quit drinking and was free from any criminal record, he was able to have a successful career unaffected by the poor decisions of his past. 

Wishing to pursue a career as a social worker, Dad enrolled in St. Thomas University (in Fredericton, New Brunswick) as a mature student, as he had dropped out of high school. He was a member of the very first graduating class of STU’s Social Work Programme (1982). Feeling called to the priesthood, as he would say, he and our mother and my brother (born in 1981) moved to Ontario as Dad enrolled in an Anglican seminary. While he ultimately decided the priesthood was not for him, that short period of time spent in seminary was, in Dad’s opinion, a formative experience. During our parents’ short time living in Ontario, I was born (1983).

Returning to New Brunswick, Dad had a relapse and broke his sobriety for the fourth and final time in December, 1983. January 1, 1984 was the official first day of Dad’s uninterrupted thirty-eight years of sobriety. By the grace of God, Dad never again drank alcohol. 

Soon after this, Dad converted to Roman Catholicism and he and our mother raised us kids in the Catholic faith. Dad became a reader in the church and an ‘eucharistic minister’ (a lay person who distributes Roman Catholic communion). Kate, our younger sister, was born in 1987. During these years Dad took both his faith and his sobriety very seriously.

Dad was not unduly ashamed of his struggles with alcoholism, but rather set his eyes on the importance of owning up to his mistakes and committing to not repeating them. In my opinion, he truly embodied Blessed Makrina of Portaria’s phrase, “God won’t ask you why you fell but why you did not get back up.” That was Dad through and through! 

Dad greatly loved and respected his AA sponsor, Frank, who was an accountant but lost his family as a result of his drinking. At Frank’s insistence, on more than one occasion, Dad picked up an intoxicated soul or two to bring them along with them to an AA meeting. Frank was a very unique person who constantly kept a spare cigarette in his pocket even years after quitting just so he could offer it to someone when they were in need of a smoke. Every time Frank and our dad drove across the Harbour Bridge in our hometown of Saint John together, Frank would say from experience, “If you need to sleep under the bridge, sleep under that side because that side doesn’t leak.”   

Dad loved to relate a simple story from his AA days which, in his opinion, illustrated how despite man’s intentions, God brings good out of every situation. Once, there was a man at his AA meeting who incessantly boasted of his sobriety. At a certain point when the man said, “And I’ve never tasted a drop again,” Dad, out of annoyance, not love, sarcastically said with a scoff, “Yet!”. A year or more later, this same man stood up before everyone as he received a sobriety anniversary chip and said, “I’d like to thank Paul P. because when I was bragging he reminded me how easy it is to fall.” He related their previous exchange which Dad had completely forgotten about.   

Camping in Newfoundland, 1989 (or so)

Growing up with Dad 

From 1984 until 2012 Dad worked as a social worker predominately for Child Protection and later, for a number of years, with Adult Protection. He also began learning wood-working a few years into his social work career. What began as a self-taught hobby became an incredible side career for him as a carpenter and later a contractor. Our grandmother would often say, “All of those kids can sleep through the sound of a band saw,” as every weekend Dad worked away on projects in our basement. 

Dad was good at his job as a social worker but this form of work had, not surprisingly, both positive and negative effects on him. I’ll tell you, as his child, you were hard-pressed to get away with anything. He read us kids like a book. He picked up on every spare word or side glance and he responded swiftly and appropriately. There was no lying to Dad. I remember as a younger person truly believing he was omniscient because he seemed to know every thought and emotion I had, every misdeed. In response to my bewildered question, “How do you know that?” he would say with a smirk, “A little bird told me.” Later I realised it was all just guess-work but his years observing people made him a “Hercule Poriot” of human behaviour. 

He wasn’t always the easiest person to deal with but he was quick to ask for forgiveness and we learned to quickly forgive. There was no sense in holding a grudge because soon enough another situation would arise that would have you upset all over again. So, we grew accustomed to that pattern: get yelled at, forgive, move on; fall, get up; repeat. 

Dad valued loyalty like no other. He deeply instilled in us the importance of taking responsibility and following through on our commitments. Our parents enrolled us in various sports and activities as kids and if, out of laziness, we wanted to stay home from a practice, Dad would tell us, “That’s fine. You can stay home from practice but I will tell your coach you are not allowed to play in the game on Saturday because it’s not fair to your teammates to play in the game if you haven’t practiced.” I truly don’t know where this strong sense of loyalty came from but he had it in spades. 

During the years our parents went through their divorce things were, understandably, very difficult. This was during a time when 50/50 custody was almost unheard of but Dad and Mum agreed it was best to share custody. Not wanting to be apart from us kids for even one week at a time, they decided we would spend Mondays and Tuesdays at our mother’s place; Wednesdays and Thursdays at our father’s place and alternate weekends. The schedule was a bit wild but it worked for us. Even our three-legged dog, Smokey, followed this shared custody arrangement. 

Before Dad’s heart surgery

Embracing Orthodox Christianity

A number of years after us kids had all grown, married and moved away from our parents’ home, we found and embraced Orthodox Christianity. While Dad had nominally encountered the Orthodox Christian faith in Cyprus, we were all quite ignorant of it. That changed in 2005 when my brother and sister-in-law discovered it was everything we had ever wanted and believed in. In 2006 Dad remarried a lovely woman but one who had no interest in Christianity. By 2007 all of Dad’s three children and their spouses were baptised, practicing Orthodox Christians. 

Despite our somewhat calm and carefree demeanor toward others, my siblings and I and our dad (if it wasn’t obvious from the long list of his military infractions) can be quite intense, especially with each other. Very early on in our conversion to Orthodoxy, we had a spat with our father which resulted in him vowing he would never become an Orthodox Christian. . . However, we all know how much God likes to make us eat our own words. . .

In 2015, Dad (who had a history of heart problems), was scheduled for open heart surgery to have two blockages removed and a valve replaced. Fr John and I were living in St. John’s, Newfoundland at the time, Fr Matthew and Presvytera Catherine were in Kingston, Ontario and Kate was living in Saint John, New Brunswick (near our dad). A few days before the procedure I spoke with Dad on the phone. As was our custom, we were carrying on teasing, when I said lightheartedly, “You know Dad, just in case you might die, maybe now’s a good time to consider Orthodoxy.” To my surprise he took my words seriously and said, “You know Con, if you could send me some things to read and a prayer book I would really appreciate it.” So, we had our mother (who had been baptised in 2010 and lived in the same city as our sister and father) give her spare Jordanville Orthodox Prayer Book to Kate so she could bring it to Dad with a few other books. I quickly called my brother and told him about my conversation with Dad and he and Pres. Catherine promptly got in their vehicle and drove the 12+ hours to Saint John, New Brunswick. 

Dad was baptised on January 7, 2015 on the feast of Saint John the Forerunner by the hand of his own son. This occurred the day before his heart surgery.

After the surgery was a success I confided in Dad (once again, lightheartedly), “50% of me wanted you to live and 50% of me wanted you to die so that you would go straight to Heaven!” He chuckled along with me. Such was the peculiar manner in which we spoke of serious things in a lighthearted manner with our father. 

Family photo, 2019

Classic ‘Dad’ Stories

Some of my all-time favourite “Dad” stories are of when he personally recovered his own stolen utility trailer, wallet and car (each, a separate event!). 

Finding his utility trailer (with a fresh coat of paint) on an old country road with a ‘for sale’ sign on it, he simply hooked it back up to his truck and took it home.

While he was visiting us in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2012, we took a trip to Athens. I specifically told my father, “Dad, you might not want to keep your wallet in your back pocket. There are a lot of crafty pickpockets in Athens.” In typical fashion for our dad, he boasted, “I’d like to see them try it!” For someone else those might have been ‘famous last words’ but not for our father…

After exiting the train, while walking down the street with our suitcases to our hotel, sure enough, a group of thieves mistook Dad for an easy target and attempted the ol’ “bump and run.” One young man “accidentally” bumped into Dad, simultaneously picking his pocket. This young fella passed the wallet along to another who took off running. Unfortunately for them, despite Dad appearing to be just another naive foreign tourist, even in ‘old age’ he retained his military instincts. Hearing the velcro on his back pocket open, Dad spun around in the blink of an eye and snatched the young guy by the shirt and wouldn’t let go. I, impervious to what was going on, continued walking along but noticed a young guy speed passed me. It wasn’t until I heard my father’s bombing voice, “Connie! They stole my wallet! Call the police!” that I had any indication something was happening. Turning around I saw the “bumper” struggling to get out of Dad’s death grip. Before I could fully wrap my head around what was happening, the “runner,” also hearing Dad’s shouts for police and seeing his friend in the clutches of Dad’s unbreakable grip, ran back and promptly returned his stolen wallet to me. Letting go of the young guy, they dispersed pretty quickly. We laughed about this incident for years after. Only our father would manage to get his own wallet back from a coordinated band of thieves!

Another, even more memorable event, best illustrates the nature of our father’s unique character. Dad was on the lookout for his stolen car that had been taken from his own driveway. (Here I’d like to explain that growing up in small town Newfoundland, Dad formed the habit of never, ever locking the doors of his house. This, however, meant it was easy for someone to walk in and take his car keys – which happened – or anything else they might want for that matter.) One afternoon, while driving down a busy road, he watched as a young man drove his stolen car into a local gas station. Dad, too impatient to wait for the police and too stubborn to think a situation was too dangerous for him to handle, pulled up behind the young man and dragged him out through the passenger side door and remanded his own car before the police even arrived. When Dad learned the teen was in jeopardy of losing his golf scholarship, he asked the Judge to have the young man serve his community service hours in Dad’s wood-working shop, and so he became the young man’s mentor.

Dad did a great deal of good works, but he wasn’t a “do-gooder” as such. What I mean by that is, he didn’t go out of his way to look for opportunities to show charity to others. He lived his life by a set of values that meant he did good whenever the opportunity presented itself. He saw the best in people, their potential, and was more than willing to offer help. However, he was not naive; he fully acknowledged that people chose the path they chose and all you can do is offer help. They need to want to change for the better. Dad frequently offered help when he believed people wanted and would benefit from it. He was rough around the edges and had a heart of gold.

A Christian End to His Life

Sunday, September 25, 2022, was our father’s last full day on this earth. His last day was spent serving in the altar at my brother’s parish where our sister and mother also attend church. He had received Holy Communion that day and spent time with everyone during Coffee Hour afterward. He seemed his usual self. He even called Fr John and I that afternoon, just checking in with us to see what was new. He wanted to arrange a time with Fr John so he could have confession that week. “Whenever it’s convenient for you, Fr John. Whenever you are available I’ll make myself available,” he said. I chatted with him a little while longer, said ‘I love you,’ told him we’d talk soon and that was the last time I spoke with him.   

It is still hard to believe. Fr John and I had just been in New Brunswick visiting our families not three weeks before Dad’s sudden passing. Dad’s 66th birthday was on September 3 and we had a family barbeque to celebrate. During his birthday celebration I overheard my Dad tell Fr John, “I do my prayers everyday and read the bible everyday.” I rejoiced when I heard this and thought, Bravo Dad! Few people do their prayers everyday!

During that trip to New Brunswick I took a number of really nice photos of Dad in the church: standing with his exorasso on, serving, and holding a prayer rope I made him. Due to Dad’s heart trouble throughout the years and other medical issues, even though he was as strong as an ox and worked endlessly on wood-working and construction projects, we had a sense that it was possible he may die suddenly. And so, whenever I saw him I always braced myself that it could be the last time we were together. Now that he is gone, I realise those were just words I said in my mind. I never believed them. I thought we would have Dad with us for years to come. 

I was stunned when my brother called me at work the next morning to tell me the paramedics had gone to Dad’s house and performed CPR for multiple minutes. It was September 26, the feast of St. John the Theologian on the New Calendar (Fr John’s name’s day) and the Forefeast of the Cross on the Old Calendar. “Dad has papers that say he doesn’t want any extreme measures taken,” Fr Matthew told me and with these words he made me understand that although I received numerous calls in the past to tell me Dad was going to the hospital for this or that issue, this time it was different.   

We know he had a heart attack and we believe it was likely caused by the valve replaced in 2015 letting go. It was supposed to last 10-20 years, but our dad worked tirelessly and didn’t rest a whole lot. On someone else it would have likely lasted much longer. Whatever the cause, the truth remains that God gives only a certain amount of time to each of us in this life and when those days expire, He calls the soul home.  

We Look for the Resurrection of the Dead

Presvytera Catherine, Dad’s daughter-in-law, was his godmother. Fr John, Dad’s son-in-law, was his confessor. While my siblings and I and our spouses have lost loved ones in the past, the loss of our father is like nothing we have experienced before. The whole of my brother’s parish feels the loss of our father immensely. He was a central figure in the parish and for years drove all the young people without vehicles to and from church every week, on Saturday evenings, Sunday mornings, and on great feasts. It was only fitting that we asked a group of the young men in the parish to be his pallbearers. This way, just as he had carried them to and from church during his life, they could return the favour and carry him to his grave. Despite their divorce, our parents shared a bond as Orthodox Christians. When my mother communed of the Holy Mysteries, my father (as the server) would hold the cloth below her chin and wipe her mouth. Although divorced, they were united in Christ. Although separated, on many occasions they stood side-by-side in the church.   

Fr John didn’t have time to schedule confession with Dad as he reposed so suddenly. However, according to Orthodox custom, the spiritual father of a reposed Christian may read the prayer of forgiveness over him. As Fr John served Dad’s funeral alongside my brother, Fr Matthew turned to him and asked if he would say the prayer of forgiveness. I didn’t anticipate this, so when I heard Fr John pronounce the words of forgiveness I began to weep and glorify God. Although Dad wanted to confess before his departure he didn’t have time. Despite this, God permitted Fr John to absolve Dad of his sins, committed in weakness and repented of. May God show such mercy to all of us! 

Prayer of forgiveness

Although our father was not perfect, he was, as we say, a struggling Orthodox Christian – as in a striving Orthodox Christian. He was a seeker from a young age and he found what his heart was looking for in the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church. He was a good dad and he raised his children to be seekers as well. As a result we also “have seen the True Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit. We have found the True faith, worshiping the Undivided Trinity Who hath saved us” (from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom). 

The words we say each and every Divine Liturgy while reciting the Nicene Creed have taken on greater significance for us now, for we will forever “look for the resurrection of the dead,” with hope of being reunited with our beloved father in the Kingdom to come. O Lord make us worthy! 

Among Thy saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of Thy servant, Paul, where there is no pain, no sorrow, or grieving, but only life everlasting! (Our father’s burial shroud, prepared by my brother and sister, displayed these very words around the edges.) 

Memory eternal, Dad!

Postscript: I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone for your prayers and words of comfort. They have meant a great deal to me and my family.

The fathers doing the Triaagion prayers at the funeral home

Di’evhon (through the prayers of the Holy fathers), the visitation and funeral were beautiful! Glory to God!

There were many people, tears, stories and laughter. Truly, love endures all things; death and sorrow cannot weaken the bond of love. Rather, love is strengthened when mourning is accompanied with hope!

I have much I wish to share with you about our father’s funeral, his unique life and incredible character. But for now I’ll simply share the video of the funeral (we forgot to bring the recording device with us for the burial but at least we were able to capture the funeral service).

Your continued prayers are very much appreciated!

Obituary for Paul R. Penney

It is with sorrow that the family of Paul Robert Penney of Charters Settlement, New Brunswick announces his sudden passing on September 26, 2022 at the age of sixty-six. He is survived by his wife, Angela, son Father Matthew (Catherine), daughters Connie Rose (Father John) and Kate, their mother, Chris, step-children Anjulie (Michael) and Loren (Melissa), and grandchildren Garrett, Caitlin, Kristyn, Mikhail, Landon, Finley and Piper, sister Kimberly (Georg), brother Sean (Lisa), honourary brother Roy (Rose), nieces, nephews, many friends and extended family. He is predeceased by his father, Lloyd, mother, Rosetta, and brother Lloyd Junior (Linda).

With his penchant for “ranting and roaring” Paul was, as they say, “a true Newfoundlander”. Having left the island as a teenager, he lived most of his life on “the mainland”, but his accent and manner betrayed his Newfoundland roots. Proud of his heritage, he liked to tell stories of his childhood berry-picking and playing kick-the-can with siblings and cousins.

A practicing social worker in Saint John, N.B. and surrounding areas for 30 years, Paul was well known and well loved by many in the community. Perhaps equally well known for his wood-working craftsmanship, he loved taking on projects and bragging about his incredible work.

Speaking of bragging… There is a long list of things Paul liked to brag about, and he had the bragging rights to do so.

He finished university as a mature student, despite not having finished high school. He was fiercely proud of his time in the armed forces. He was a member of the very first graduating class of the St. Thomas University Social Work Programme (1982). He was 38 years sober. He turned a wood-woking hobby into a post-retirement career. He was a mentor to many. He firmly believed, and knew from personal experience, life is what you make of it. Paul made his life meaningful by his good deeds and his good example.

He dearly loved his wife, Angela. Recognizing her natural love and kindness, he would call her a “true humanist.” He admired her creativity, generosity of spirit and was very grateful to her for the love she has shown his children throughout their twenty-year relationship. Similarly, he loved and cared for Angela’s children and was greatly honoured to be “Grampy Paul” to their seven grandchildren.

He was an incredible father who did not let his children away with much and taught them the kind of life lessons that establish long-lasting habits. He emphasized the importance of commitment, taking responsibility, and asking for forgiveness. He was the kind of person who could irritate you as much as impress you but you could not easily stay upset with him.

In the last number of years if Paul wasn’t in his shop, you could find him driving people to church, singing and serving there. He quickly became a fixture in the Orthodox Christian communities in both Saint John and Fredericton.

He will be sorely missed but never forgotten. The tears shed by his family and friends are not merely from sorrow but from gratitude for having had him in our lives.

A visitation will be held at McAdam’s Funeral Home in Fredericton on Thursday, September 29, 2022 from 4:00 – 6:00 pm. An Orthodox Church funeral service, officiated by Rev Dr will take place at the Faith Baptist Church, New Maryland, on Friday, September 30, 2022 art 10:00 am with an interment to follow in the church cemetery.

May his memory be eternal and always to be remembered!

In lieu of flowers please make a donation to the Holy Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary the Consolatory (Panagia Parigoritissa).

There are some fantastic comments on the obituary page that really give insight into our beloved Dad’s character!

My father, Paul, passed away suddenly on the feast of St. John the Theologian, September 26, 2022. He was greatly loved. My siblings and I and our spouses are full of gratitude that he was an Orthodox Christian. And so, we do not mourn as those without hope, as Dad’s patron, the Apostle Paul, would say.

My brother, Father Matthew, and husband, Father John, will serve his funeral service this Friday, September 30, the feast of St. Gregory Enlightener of Aremnia (New Style).

God grant him rest!

Taken only three weeks ago at St. Gregory Palamas Orthodox Mission

(An excerpt from The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory by Constantina R. Palmer, Chapter 7, Blessed Are the Peacemakers, pp. 223-226. Published by Ancient Faith Publishing)

Reunion with a Holy Elder
I LEARNED THAT THE BLIND MONK, Elder Isidoros of Philotheou Monastery, was passing by Thessaloniki. Thinking it would be the last time I would get to see him, since we were moving back to
Canada, I hurried to visit him, this time with my husband, brother, and
sister-in-law. Quite a crowd had come to seek his prayers and counsel.
While waiting for our chance to speak with him, we must have seen
fifty or more people go in looking sorrowful, perplexed, apprehensive,
even anxious, but they all came out with quite a different look.

Witnessing this again and again, I became convinced that you can
tell if a person is holy by the impact he has on those around him. If
the joy and peace on people’s faces after speaking with the elder were
any indication of holiness, then he surely has attained an elevated
spiritual state. All who entered to speak with him exited looking as
though they had not only left their problems behind but had been
given comfort and joy in exchange.

When it was finally our turn, I excitedly rushed in to greet the
elder. He was sitting on a wooden bench with his characteristic black
cotton bag beside him.

Walking toward him, I called out the customary monastic greeting,
“Evlogeite [bless], Geronda!”
I took his blessing by kissing his hand and sat down beside him.

Before I could even introduce anyone, he was shoving a small rug at
me. “Smell that. That belonged to a holy elder. He used to pray on
it,” he told me.
“It smells wonderful,” I told him. Taking his hand in mine, I began
telling him who was with me.

My sister-in-law sat down on his other side, and I told him who
she was. He held his other hand out to her. I introduced my brother
as well and my husband (although they had met some years before
on the Holy Mountain).

“We just came to receive your blessing,” I told him. “Here are my
brother and sister-in-law. They are Orthodox, and our mother and
sister are Orthodox as well. The only person who isn’t is our father.
You must pray for him to become Orthodox.”
“He will be baptized,” the elder said definitely.
“I hope so!” we echoed one another. Again we asked his prayers
for our families, and he told us also to pray for them.

He rummaged through his bag and handed us some spiritual
treasures to smell: the rug, relics of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, an
undershirt belonging to a holy ascetic from Athos.

“Smell that! Smell that! What do you think?” he asked us enthusiastically. “Aren’t they fragrant? Do you smell the fragrance?”
“Yes, Geronda, they smell very nice!” we responded. But he himself
gave off such an extraordinary sweet fragrance that the scent on the
holy objects he offered us to venerate seemed to pale in comparison.
We asked him for a spiritual word, and he told us, “Say Lord—
Jesus—Christ—have—mercy—on—me!” he loudly proclaimed in his deep
voice, slowly, enunciating each word. “And, Most Holy Theotokos save
us!” he added.

After our discussion, he asked us to escort him out of the reception
room, since we were the last ones waiting to see him. My sister-in-law
and I guided him as we walked toward the door, but halfway across
the room he stopped and began to slowly chant in a deep, loud voice,
“Glory to the Consubstantial and Life-creating Trinity, always, now
and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

We all exchanged broad smiles with one another, surprised by this
sudden burst of jovial song. And then he began, “Christ is risen from
the dead.” He started swinging our hands in his as though inviting
us to chant with him. All of us joined him in spontaneously chanting
“Christ is Risen” in the middle of November: “By death hath He trampled down death. And on those in the tomb, He hath bestowed life.”

It was a beautiful moment, a treasured memory. We all became
like little children in his presence. He communicated such genuine
joy and love for the Lord. It softened our hearts in such a way that we
were deeply affected by his faith, his hope, and his love. We, like all
the other visitors, left our meeting with the elder filled with joy and
peace, as though we were resurrected by being in the mere presence
of such a holy person.

As we came out of the room together, the abbess of the monastery
was standing speaking to some women.
“Constantina, what were you singing in there?” she asked.
“Christ is risen,” I answered.
“Elder Isidoros with the ‘Christ is risen’ everyday,” she smiled,
waving her hand in the air.

Hearing the words of the elder that day concerning my father, I
buried them with hope in my heart, truly believing his words would
prove to be prophetic. However, I must confess I was still rather
shocked—I think we all were—when the elder’s prophecy came to
fruition just over two years later. Our father was baptized on the Feast
of the Theophany of the Lord by his son, my brother, Fr. Matthew
(who by that time was an ordained priest).

We must never doubt the miracles of God and His will for “all
men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4). After our father’s baptism, we told him
of the elder’s words, and he laughed, he too having no doubt that the
blind elder saw the wonders of God that would come to pass in the
not-so-distant future.

Here are two 8×10 icons I painted of St Anthony this summer. I used the same prototype for these as I did for this icon of St Anthony.

The prototype of this particular icon of St. Anthony is on the wall of our parish church in Thessaloniki which has St Anthony as its patron. He has a rather unique stance. Although I didn’t paint the full length of the saint as it appears on the wall in Thessaloniki, it is really special to paint a particular version of the saint’s icon that holds a lot of meaning for me as this icon does.

I originally intended for these icons to be given to a monastery and sold in the bookstore for the monastery’s profit. However, prior to Father John and I visiting New Brunswick at the end of August, we learned that one of my brother’s catechumens was to be baptized while we were visiting. (For any who may not know my brother is also a priest of the English-speaking ROCOR mission in Fredericton, New Brunswick).

Fr John was asked to be the godfather. I suddenly had this strong compulsion to give the woukd-be newly-illumined the icon of St Anthony with the name written in English. It was such a strong feeling that I thought, “He must be receiving the name Anthony in baptism!” So, I wrote my brother and I asked what his catechumen’s name would be in baptism and, sure enough, he said it would be Anthony and I knew I had no choice but to give him the icon. Of course, I did so with great joy! May he always have the saint’s guidance, prayers and protection!

I frequently listened to this audio version of the saint’s life while I painted him.

(Source)

Saint Alypius, one of the first and finest of Russian iconographers, was a disciple of Saint Nikon (March 23), and from his youth he lived a life of asceticism at the Kiev Caves monastery. He studied the iconography of the Greek masters, and from the year 1083 beautified the Caves monastery church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.

If he learned that in some church the icons had become worn, he took them with him and restored them without charge. If people happened to pay him for his work, he set aside one third to purchase supplies for painting icons, one third as alms for the poor, and the remainder for his own needs.

Saint Alypius was never famous, and he painted icons only to serve God. He was ordained a hieromonk, and was known for working miracles even in his lifetime. Saint Alypius healed a Kievan man suffering from leprosy and decay of the body by anointing the wounds of the sick man with the paints he used for the painting of icons. Many of his icons were glorified by miracles, and sometimes angels helped him in the holy task of painting icons.

A certain man of Kiev who had built a church, once gave two monks of the Caves a commission to have icons painted for it. The monks concealed the money and said nothing to Saint Alypius about it. After waiting a long time for the work to be completed, the man went to the igumen to complain about Saint Alypius. Only then did they discover that he had not been told of the commission. When they brought the boards provided by the customer, it turned out that beautiful icons had already been painted on them.

When the church was consumed by fire, all of the icons remained unharmed. One of these icons (the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos), known as the Vladimir-Rostov Icon (August 15), was taken by Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh (1113-1125) to a church he had built at Rostov.

Another time, when Saint Alypius lay deathly ill, an angel painted an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos for him. On August 17 (around the year 1114), an angel came to receive the soul of Saint Alypius, and he was buried in the Near Caves. The first three fingers of Saint Alypius’s right hand were positioned together, and the last two were bent to the palm. It seems that he died while signing himself with the Sign of the Cross.

For more information and to find out how you can donate to this praise-worthy project, see here.

(Source)

“Once the Elder [St. Herman of Alaska] was invited aboard a frigate which came from Saint Petersburg. The Captain of the frigate was a highly educated man, who had been sent to America by order of the Emperor to make an inspection of all the colonies. There were more than twenty-five officers with the Captain, and they also were educated men. In the company of this group sat a monk of a hermitage, small in stature and wearing very old clothes. All these educated conversationalists were placed in such a position by his wise talks that they did not know how to answer him. The Captain himself used to say, ‘We were lost for an answer before him.’

“Father Herman gave them all one general question: ‘Gentlemen, What do you love above all, and what will each of you wish for your happiness?’ Various answers were offered … Some desired wealth, others glory, some a beautiful wife, and still others a beautiful ship he would captain; and so forth in the same vein. ‘Is it not true,’ Father Herman said to them concerning this, ‘that all your various wishes can bring us to one conclusion—that each of you desires that which in his own understanding he considers the best, and which is most worthy of his love?’ They all answered, ‘Yes, that is so!’ He then continued, ‘Would you not say, Is not that which is best, above all, and surpassing all, and that which by preference is most worthy of love, the Very Lord, our Jesus Christ, who created us, adorned us with such ideals, gave life to all, sustains everything, nurtures and loves all, who is Himself Love and most beautiful of all men? Should we not then love God above every thing, desire Him more than anything, and search Him out?’

“All said, ‘Why, yes! That’s self-evident!’ Then the Elder asked, ‘But do you love God?’ They all answered, ‘Certainly, we love God. How can we not love God?’ ‘And I a sinner have been trying for more than forty years to love God, I cannot say that I love Him completely,’ Father Herman protested to them. He then began to demonstrate to them the way in which we should love God. ‘If we love someone,’ he said, ‘we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?’ They had to admit that they had not! ‘For our own good, and for our own fortune,’ concluded the Elder, ‘let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!’ Without any doubt this conversation was imprinted in the hearts of the listeners for the rest of their lives.’

I recently finished this icon of St. Photios. I was very happy to be able to listen to the saint’s work The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit while I painted his countenance. The saint wrote the text as a refutation of the West’s introduction of the phrase “and with the Son” into the Nicene Creed. (This phrase is known as the philoque). The text is a great work and it was a great work that someone took the time and effort to put the text into an audio file. As a result the saint’s words and teachings accompanied my painting. I encourage you to listen as well. It helps if you’ve had a background in philosophy but the wisdom of the Holy Spirit surpasses mankind’s philosophies so it’s not necessary in order to understand. It just helps a little.

A saint-loving parishioner took this photo while she was visiting:

May we have the saint’s prayers and blessing! And may we, like him, diligently safeguard our Orthodox faith!

Fr John has done it again! This is his third book of translations: a lot of hard work and long hours. From Ashes and Ruin is a great treasury of St. Gennadios’ beautiful pastoral words.

(Source) From the Foreword by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Maximos Constas:

Gennadios Scholarios, sometimes called the “last of the Byzantines,” was the first Patriarch of Constantinople after the violent overthrow of the Byzantine state on 29 May 1453. He was a survivor of a once great civilization, the tattered remnants of which were swept away by the conquering armies of Islam. The drastically changed circumstances raised inescapable questions about the nature of one’s identity in such a strange new world. All, or nearly all, the institutions that had defined and supported his sense of self had vanished seemingly overnight. He had become, as it were, a displaced person, a stranger in the city of his birth.

While known to scholars and historians primarily as a theological writer, Gennadios was also a pastor who authored many works designed to edify and inspire the faithful. These works touch on virtually all aspects of the life in Christ: from sin and repentance, to questions of free will, faith, prayer, fasting, Almsgiving, participation in church services, the sacraments, and the life of holiness and virtue. His teachings are clear and forthright, filled with spiritual counsel, practical advice, and deeply shaped by Scripture and inspired by the spirit of the Fathers, and thus fulfill the injunction of the Apostle Paul: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction” (2 Tim 4:2). Father John Palmer is to be congratulated for making these texts available in a clear and readable translation, providing us with what is now the largest collection of works by Gennadios Scholarios in English.

SPREAD THE WORD AND BUY YOUR COPY HERE!

This beautiful article and accompanying photos are from St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery website.

(Source)

Maria (the future Abbess Makrina) was born in 1921 and grew up in Volos. When she was only ten, both of her parents died, and she began working to support herself and her younger brother. These two orphans managed to survive like this until she was twenty. But when the German Occupation began and famine struck Greece in 1941, they nearly died of starvation, and her brother left Volos. She continued working in Volos wherever she could for her daily bread. Despite her own poverty, she shared whatever food she had with others. Not only was she a hard worker and generous, but she was especially a person of prayer and frequently perceived God’s help tangibly.

In those days, she became acquainted with the mother of Geronda Ephraim, Victoria Moraitis. Those two holy women would pray together all night long on their knees with many tears and prostrations. Because of Maria’s virtues, other pious young women gathered around her during the years of the German Occupation.

Gerontissa Makrina
Panagia Hodigitria Monastery

They lived like an informal sisterhood and yearned to become nuns. They were under the guidance of Father Ephraim of Volos, who had previously been part of Saint Joseph the Hesychast’s brotherhood. Even though he was doing great work with his large flock, he was slandered in 1952 and was forced to leave Volos. Thus, his spiritual children there became “orphans.”

Several spiritual fathers offered to assume the spiritual responsibility for this virtuous sisterhood, but those women, having already acquired the spiritual mind-set of Saint Joseph, could not be satisfied spiritually with any of them. They considered asking him to become their spiritual father, but they hesitated because they had heard how strict he was.

Finally, they did write to him, since they refused to settle for less. The Saint prayed about their request and then wrote back to them: “If you are obedient to me, I will assume responsibility for you. If you aren’t, I will leave you.” They replied: “Geronda, we will be obedient to whatever you tell us to do.” When he received their reply, he prayed again about them. After this, he wrote back and told them that they should treat Maria as their abbess, even though he had never seen her.

He explained to them: “While I was praying, I saw Maria in a vision. She was in the middle, and around her were many little sheep. I realized that this was God’s way of informing me that she should be your abbess. So be obedient to her, and none of you should object to what she says.” Those women said, “May it be blessed,” and the Saint was very happy with their obedience.

He loved them very much because with the eyes of his soul he could see the love they had for Christ, their Bridegroom. This is why he wrote many letters to them. He strengthened them with advice that was simple yet powerful. For example, in one letter to them, he wrote: “Seek nothing but unity and love. Be obedient in order to acquire humility, for our Lord Jesus Christ became an example for all of us and taught humility by being obedient till death. So submit yourselves to Maria, who is trying to benefit you, and all of us here are praying that the Lord will help you and make you worthy of eternal life. I am praying for you with all my soul, humble little Geronda Joseph.”

These women would send their confessions to the Saint, and they saved his many replies as a priceless treasure. He had written to them about theoria and about many spiritual states of his.

Gerontissa Makrina
Panagia Hodigitria Monastery, 1970’s

Unfortunately, all those letters were lost because of the following incident: There was a monk who was not mentally well who wanted to become the spiritual father of those women. They didn’t want him because they didn’t trust him. Besides, they had already found great benefit by being under Saint Joseph. Since that monk was very jealous, he threatened to slander them to the newspapers if he found Saint Joseph’s letters to them. Maria was very afraid of what might happen if he got his hands on those letters because in them Saint Joseph addressed all their confessions. So she decided to burn all of his letters.

Thus, all were destroyed except for eight letters that one of the sisters had kept hidden separately. That is how all those priceless letters of Saint Joseph were lost. What a shame! They would have benefited so many people if they had been preserved and published along with his other letters.

These women eventually became nuns and established a monastery in Portaria, just outside Volos.

One of those nuns told the following story about their life under Saint Joseph:

He foretold everything to us. He wrote about everything happening in our monastery without having been told. Once when I was a novice, my sister (who was also a novice) got very sick. I was very upset and said in my prayers: “Panagia, why? We came here to serve you. Why should she get sick and not be able to offer her help to the monastery?” Then I went down to the courtyard and wept beneath an olive tree all night. A few days later, a letter came for me from Geronda Joseph. He wrote: “My little child, I hear your voice and I can’t bear it. The pain breaks my heart and interrupts my prayer. Don’t weep. Your sister will get well.”

He wrote this without anyone telling him!

Gerontissa Makrina with Gerontissa Theophano

The other sisters said to me, “What did you do?” “I just went and wept beneath an olive tree. But how did he know that, since he was so far away on the Holy Mountain?”

Something similar happened when Gerontissa Makrina became gravely ill and was coughing up blood. We didn’t have a telephone to inform him about it. But in our next letter to him, we concealed her illness from him because we didn’t want to upset him and interrupt his prayer. But then he sent us a letter and said: “My little children, why didn’t you write to me that Gerontissa is ill and is suffering, so that we could pray for her? You made a big mistake thinking that this would interrupt my prayer. When Father Arsenios and I were praying last night, we noetically saw that she was seriously ill, and we prayed hard for her. My children, I want you to inform me about whatever is happening with the monastery and especially with Gerontissa. Write me about it.”

Abbess Makrina likewise saw Saint Joseph and Father Arsenios beside her pillow at night making the sign of the Cross and praying with their prayer-ropes, “Lord, heal Your servant.”

Abbess Makrina later said: “Many times when Geronda was praying, he would see what we were doing and where we were. We wondered how he could write to us on his own and tell us about what we were thinking. After this, our souls were filled with awe and fear!”

After the repose of Saint Joseph, Saint Ephraim of Katounakia in his vigil frequently saw with the eyes of his soul two pillars of fire in Volos ascending from earth to heaven. It was the prayers of Abbess Makrina and one of her nuns full of grace.

Saint Ephraim said full of delight: “Lord, have mercy! My, my! Just take a look at them! We’re out here on the cliffs working so hard just to find a few crumbs of grace, while they are in the world with so much grace! What are they doing over there?”

In her later years their monastery became known for its spirituality, and thousands of pilgrims from all over Greece would find refuge and great benefit from the unforgettable Abbess Makrina.

Her face radiated kindness, love, sincerity, and faith. Her tranquility and her sweet words were a support and a fountain of strength for all who had the blessing of knowing her before her holy repose in 1995.

From her blessed sisterhood, nuns were sent to populate the monasteries of the Holy Forerunner in Serres and of the Archangel Michael in Thasos. In turn, these monasteries sent nuns to North America who established new monasteries with the ideals of traditional Orthodox monasticism.

Christ is risen!

(Source) Today’s celebration is the midpoint of the fifty days between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost. Saint John tells us (John 7:14) that “in the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple, and taught.” The Feast in question is the Feast of Tabernacles (celebrated in September), not Pentecost.

The Church has appointed John 7:14-30 to be read for the Midfeast, thereby linking Pascha and Pentecost. In Chapter 8 of Saint John’s Gospel, the Lord came to the Temple again and taught the people who came to Him. After leaving the Temple, he encounters the man born blind. We will hear about him on the Sunday of the Blind Man.

The Troparion of the Midfeast hints at the encounter of Christ and the Samaritan Woman in just a few days:

In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as Thou didst cry to all: If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink [John 7:37]. O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to Thee!

Christ is risen!

Our six month sabbatical has come to an end and we are temporarily back in Newfoundland. I have returned to work and Fr John has returned to serving Holy Lady of Vladimir full time.

During our sabbatical we enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new:

We attended frequent divine services at St. Anthony’s Monastery, more services than we ever had the opportunity to attend before. The greatest blessing of the whole experiences was attending the Divine Liturgy on Saturday mornings at the church of St. Menas where the tomb of Blessed Geronda Ephraim is located.

We spent a lot of time at the Three Hierarchs Academy.

We had the great blessing of greeting and venerating the fragrant myrrh-streaming Iveron icon from Hawaii when it visited the school.

We participated in the life of an new Orthodox mission parish in Florence.

We enjoyed vacationing in Texas.

Father John spoke at a great conference on Orthodox education and I gave a number of talks also.

Finally, our six month sojourn in the desert convinced us to make Arizona our new home.

Until then I’ll thoroughly enjoy this cold but pleasant North Atlantic island: serving our parish, working as a social worker, and hiking in the woods, by ponds, around lakes and on edge of the ocean.

Yesterday we went to the beach to see a unique sight: a visiting walrus (they don’t usually visit this part of the island)! Unfortunately, he had returned to the ocean just before we arrived. But would you just look at the beauty of the Atlantic ocean?! Glory to God!

Truly He is risen!

Not all stories of “sinful women” and their repentance are from bygone days. My own ‘modern sinful woman’ is a true person who impacted me. For, I have met a number of such ‘women’ throughout my years as a social worker, but only she stands out, for only she permitted me (although unworthy) to witness her great repentance.

Note: All italicized parts are from the hymns of the Bridegroom Service of Holy Wednesday.

Finding herself in the night of addiction, a “very dark and moonless” state, she is driven to the streets. Seeking sin in order to acquire the means to satisfy more sin, she “stretches out her hand to the transgressors.” Becoming a “slave of the enemy,” she lays and falls, lays and falls. With only unfortunate circumstances to dictate the interruption of her sinful lifestyle, she suddenly finds she is too sick to continue. 

Her body has caught up to the corrupted state of her soul. Hospitalized and told she will die (as surely as her soul is dying), she is confronted with her reality. While separated from her two captors she is given the opportunity to flee: flee both her addiction and the one who (himself “knotted up” in a life of sin) encourages her falls into sin. She escapes.  

Unable to “run to purchase costly ointment” she slowly makes her way through the women’s shelter on failing legs. Running her fingers through her thinning hair, she begins to narrate her “love affair with sin” through few teeth.  

“Weeping as one who had done things deserving tears,” she tells her sordid tale. “Dead that I am,” her hallow eyes convey, she describes how sin lead to sin, sickness to sickness, and now death is at her door. 

“Drowning in sin” she seeks a “harbour of salvation.” Though “rightly I am hated,” she seems to say, yet she is desirous of deliverance “from the filth of evil deeds.” Through a “fountain of tears” she pronounces that despite the great shame she feels at the “depth of her sins,” she cries out, “accept me in my wretchedness, O Lord, and save me.” 

Through a tearful whisper she says, “All I want to do is get back to a place where I can receive Holy Communion.” Does it differ from, “Despise not my tears, O Joy of the angels; but receive me in repentance, O Lord, and in Thy great mercy reject me not, a sinner”? 

In a moment she transforms from the profligate and sinful woman to a myrrh-bearing woman. Her “costly ointment” is made from the tears she sheds in repentance, a price she pays for by forfeiting her sinful life.  

“How great was her repentance! Grant such repentance also unto me, O Saviour who suffered for our sake, and save us.” 

Fr John and I at the 2022 St. Kosmas Conference

Today I came across the above homily Fr John gave in our parish in Newfoundland. It is Homily 10 in a series of homilies on Blessed Makrina’s teachings. There are twenty-seven homilies in the series and (my personal bias aside) they’re awesome.

Happy (almost) Sunday of St John Climacus!

(Originally posted on Forgiveness Sunday in 2012, when we still lived in Thessaloniki)

I don’t know the practices and customs of other Orthodox countries, but in Greece many laity try to observe what is called the “three-day” (trimero), the first three days of Great Lent, by abstaining from all food and drink. From what I gather it is a custom always practiced in Orthodox monasteries. I’ve been told it used to be kept for the first six days in earlier times.

The idea behind it is to enter the Fast as strictly as possible, fasting from all food and drink the first three days then on Wednesday communing at the first Pre-sanctified Liturgy of Great Lent. In Greece the Pre-sanctified Liturgies are celebrated on Wednesday and Friday mornings.

For those who are unable to abstain from all food and drink I know it is also customary to eat flat bread (something the bakers make special for “Kathara Devtera”, Clean Monday) and halva. Others who try to keep the three-day a bit more strictly eat some nuts and drink some juice in the evenings. Others fast from food but take drink throughout the three days. I’ve heard that it is common to at very least not eat cooked food on Clean Monday, (hence the flat bread and halva). I suppose people fast as strictly as their strength and health allows them. But as our priest said this morning, “For those who can keep the ‘three-day’ they will find it makes the rest of the Fast much more manageable.”

However you observe the first three days of the Great Fast I wish you all good strength and a productive Lent! May we contend well so that we will be found worthy to ascend with Christ to Golgotha, and see His Holy Resurrection!

Good strength, all!

Using the words of St. Perpetua herself (which you can read here) I wrote this akathist to the Saint Perpetua and Her Companions over ten years ago. I was very impacted by St. Perpetua’s story. She is one of the earliest women writers whose work has been preserved throughout history. And so, I based the akathist on the events she herself relates. I received a blessing from Archbishop Irenee of Ottawa and all of Canada to distribute it.

I also wrote a novella called Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saints Perpetua and her Companions (Lumination Press) and painted her icon (shown above). As you can tell, she means a great deal . I give glory to God that He is glorified in His saints and we benefit from their life and sacrifice.

May you have the prayers and blessings of Saints Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Secundulus and Revocatus!

When the Lord deemed it fitting He called His saints out of the African lands: holy Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus, to witness to their faith through suffering death. Thus, we have as an inheritance the flourishing tree of Orthodoxy, for they shed their blood, watering the seedling. Wherefore we cry aloud:

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity, and your companions

As a catechumen, O holy Perpetua, thou wast taken captive and while in prison thy father besought thee to denounce Christ. But boldly thou didst proclaim that thou couldst be called by no other name but Christian. Wherefore we marvel at thy conviction and cry out to thee thus:

Rejoice, thou who art a shining example for all catechumens

Rejoice, thou who chose the heavenly over thine earthly father

Rejoice, thou who refused to be called anything other than a Christian

Rejoice, being freed from the bondage of sin through baptism while yet in prison

Rejoice, for being informed by the Spirit thou prayed only for endurance of the flesh

Rejoice, Married Matron mother of a son

Rejoice, thou who wast tempted by womanly anxiety for thy suckling child

Rejoice, thou who wast ministered to by the holy deacons Tertius and Pomponius

Rejoice, thou who didst commend thy son to the care of thy mother

Rejoice, thou who didst comfort thy brother, a catechumen in the faith

Rejoice, thou who didst look upon the dungeon as a palace

Rejoice, Bold One asking the Lord whether thou wouldst die a martyr’s death

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Beholding a heavenly vision, holy Perpetua wast informed of her martyrdom. She was found worthy to see with spiritual eyes the contest of salvation. And looking upon the bronze ladder she didst see holy Saturus going up ahead of her, calling after her to follow. Wherefore we call to her:

Alleluia

Contemplating the narrow ladder holy Perpetua didst understand the struggle to enter Paradise, for as a vile serpent the devil lies waiting to strike. Yet encouraged by her teacher she didst trod on its head and ascended the ladder, her gaze fixed upward. Wherefore we cry to her:

Rejoice, thou who didst declare the serpent powerless in the name of the Lord

Rejoice, thou who didst proclaim the way to Life impossible for the negligent

Rejoice, thou who didst follow holy Saturus’ example in death as in life

Rejoice, thou who didst ascend and enter a vast garden

Rejoice, thou who didst stand in the company of many clothed in white

Rejoice, thou who wast greeted by the venerable Shepherd

Rejoice, thou who wast given to eat food sweeter than honey

Rejoice, thou who didst awake from thy vision at the word ‘amen’

Rejoice, Holy Saturus who wast found worthy to ascend the ladder first

Rejoice, O father who gave thyself up for the sake of the catechumens

Rejoice, Encourager of Perpetua to follow after thee in thine ascent

Rejoice, you who confidently forsook all hope in this world

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

During their meal the martyrs were all called to the tribunal, and once there they all proclaimed themselves Christians. Refusing to offer sacrifice to the idols for the Emperor’s prosperity, they left the procurator Hilarian baffled, who knew not how to chant:

Alleluia

Ever faithful to the Lord the martyrs professed their faith before the procurator, and the crowd which had gathered. The sentence was read out against them, they were to be sent to the beasts. Cheerfully they returned to the dungeon, and thus we cry out:

Rejoice, Holy Contesters in the stadium of Carthage

Rejoice, Firm Pillars of the faith, convicted for the sake of Christ

Rejoice, Blessed Martyrs whose blood watered Orthodoxy

Rejoice, Holy Perpetua whose father once again tempted thee

Rejoice, thou who didst refuse to sacrifice even for the sake of thy child

Rejoice, thou who didst sorrow for thy father in his ignorance of the Faith

Rejoice, thou who didst proclaim nothing happens outside of God’s providence

Rejoice, thou who stood firm though confronted by the familial bonds of nature

Rejoice, thou who didst trust God would provide for thy son

Rejoice, thou whose child wast miraculously weaned though still a small infant

Rejoice, Band of Martyrs bound together by common love for Christ

Rejoice, you who were led to the dungeon as though to a bridal-chamber

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Pertetua, Felicity and your companions

Fervently praying, Perpetua didst hear the name “Dinocrates”, who wast her departed brother in the flesh. As she didst behold in a dream, the little one was in a dark place and thirsty. But he was unable to drink of the fountain for the height was very great. Wherefore, she didst supplicate for him and we cry to her:

Alleluia

Great was her joy when Perpetua saw yet another vision wherein Dinocrates was healed of his infirmities. He drank his fill from the fountain – for he had been benefited by her ardent prayers, wherefore we praise her thus:

Rejoice, thou who didst help thy brother though a gulf was fixed between you

Rejoice, Deliverer from the suffering torments of Hades

Rejoice, thou who didst deem it laudable to pray with tears for thy brother

Rejoice, thou who didst spend thy days and nights supplicating God

Rejoice, Holy Martyr who supplicates for us on earth as thou didst for thy brother

Rejoice, little Dinocrates for thou wast delivered by thy sister’s prayers

Rejoice, thou whose face was healed once diseased by ulcers

Rejoice, thou who is now clothed in fine apparel

Rejoice, all ye in Hades, comforted by the prayers of the righteous

Rejoice, O fountain for thy ledge was lowered

Rejoice, O ever-flowing water who dost satisfy those who drink of thee

Rejoice, Golden Cup who dost provide nourishment for the thirsty

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Having seen the joy of her brother, Perpetua didst rejoice that he no longer was tormented – for where once was an ulcer there remained only a scar. And in drinking the water from the golden cup his thirst was quenched. Whenceforth, he ran off to play as children do, and we cry to her:

Alleluia

Influenced by the grace of the martyrs, Pudens, the prison-guard’s heart was softened and he began to magnify them. Thus being filled with mercy he permitted many to enter the dungeon so that all might be comforted. Wherefore they extolled the martyrs thusly:

Rejoice, Bold Intercessors before the throne of God

Rejoice, Bright Lamps burning in Northern Africa

Rejoice, for you patiently abided in dark dungeons

Rejoice, for you are now delivered into the light of Paradise

Rejoice, Perfect Examples of Christian friendship

Rejoice, Salt of the earth and light of the world

Rejoice, for you were condemned to death by the earthly Emperor

Rejoice, for you are now crowned with life by the Heavenly King

Rejoice, Contesters with unconquerable courage

Rejoice, Brave Warriors setting out to do battle for Christ

Rejoice, Peaceful souls eagerly awaiting His embrace

Rejoice, for from your bloodshed an abundance of life sprung forth

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perptua, Felicity and your companions

Just before the games, holy Perpetua beheld a vision of the upcoming day’s spiritual contest: hearing a loud knock she opened to the deacon Pomponios, clad all in white. He besought her to follow him and with much effort they arrived at the arena, wherefore we cry:

Alleluia

Knowing she was to contend with beasts, Perpetua marveled that none were sent out against her, but soon saw an Egyptian of ill-repute approach as her opponent. Thus she was striped and clothed with oil, while the Egyptian wallowed in dust. Wherefore encouraged by her vision we cry out:

Rejoice, thou who didst not shrink back in fear of the Egyptian

Rejoice, Brave Contender against the forces of evil

Rejoice, thou who wast found worthy to have angels as thine helpers

Rejoice, thou who wast offered a branch of golden fruit if victorious

Rejoice, Solider of Christ combating in the front lines

Rejoice, Fierce Fighter who didst smote thine enemy while trotting on air

Rejoice, Champion who didst dash thine enemy to the ground

Rejoice, thou who didst step on his head as though on a serpent

Rejoice, Victor over the enemy who hinders our ascent to heaven

Rejoice, thou who didst receive thy prize from the master of the gladiators

Rejoice, Conqueror of him who leads us to the gate of death

Rejoice, thou who didst understand that thine was the victory

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Lifted into the air by angels, O holy Saturus, in thy vision thou and holy Perpetua wert carried into the heavens. For contending well you were granted the promise the Lord had given you. Wherefore with the angels we cry out to you:

Alleluia

Marvelous trees with flowers of all kinds didst you pass by while being upborne by angels to venerate the Heavenly King. Trembling, they laid you down and you entered clothed in white raiment, and thus we cry out:

Rejoice, you who were carried by angels toward the East

Rejoice, you who didst pass over the Earth’s edge

Rejoice, Blessed Ones who didst overlook wondrous gardens

Rejoice, Marveled at by angels more glorious than the rest

Rejoice, Witnesses to the beauty of the heavenly kingdom

Rejoice, you who looked upon trees unknown to this earth

Rejoice, Spectators of leaves that sang without ceasing

Rejoice, you who met thy fellow-martyred companions

Rejoice, called upon by angels to go in and salute the Lord

Rejoice, Worthy Ones clothed in white raiment

Rejoice, Observers of a palace with walls made of light

Rejoice, Hearers of the thrice holy hymn chanted unto the Trinity

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Noticing in that place a man sitting, having hair like white as snow – yet youthful of countenance – you were borne up by angels to reverently kiss him. Whereupon he passed his hand over your faces and you offered the kiss of peace to the surrounding elders. And thus, together with them we cry to you:

Alleluia

Optatus the bishop, and Aspasius the priest and teacher stood on either side of the door from which you exited. Falling at your feet they supplicated the two of you to make peace between them. Wherefore you rose them up and embraced them with love. Marveling at your humility we cry to you:

Rejoice, Holy Ones worthy to see divine visions

Rejoice, Encounterers of spiritual parents in the heavenly garden

Rejoice, you who didst keep company in heaven with those on earth

Rejoice, you who didst receive humble bows done in your honour

Rejoice, you who didst humbly reciprocate the simple gesture

Rejoice, Peacemakers among thy fellow Christians

Rejoice, Poor in Spirit who didst win the kingdom of heaven

Rejoice, Mourners who art comforted eternally

Rejoice, Thirsters for Righteousness who have been satiated

Rejoice, Meek Ones who shall inherit the earth

Rejoice, Merciful Ones who have obtained much mercy

Rejoice, Pure of heart for you see God perpetually

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Putting aside the dissensions between them, Optatus and Aspasius followed the instructions of the angels and took heed of the advice given them. Thus did the angels warn Optatus to correct his people so that they might not continue in their crooked ways; wherefore we cry:

Alleluia

Quivering at the thought that thou might be prohibited to contend – for thou wast with child – O holy Felicity, thou and those with thee didst pour out your supplication to the Lord, that He might grant thee His favour. Immediately He didst hearken unto thy prayer and thou didst bring forth a daughter, wherefore we cry to thee:

Rejoice, thou who didst join in prayer with thy fellow martyrs

Rejoice, Slave in this life but servant of God eternally

Rejoice, Contester for the grace of martyrdom

Rejoice, Fervent Supplicator to God for His favour

Rejoice, Worthy One granted the grace of a safe and early labour

Rejoice, thou who wast not hindered by the ties of thine kindred

Rejoice, thou who didst entrust thy babe to a fellow Christian

Rejoice, thou who didst answer wisely in the face of insult

Rejoice, Wise Councilor proclaiming the strength of Christ in weakness

Rejoice, Sanctified One through the act of childbearing

Rejoice, Brave Martyr who dost remember those in want of children

Rejoice, thou who tasted of the felicity of dying for our Lord

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Readily prepared to die a martyr’s death, holy Secundulus wast called from this life while still in prison. For though his body knew not the sword his soul had suffered a martyrdom. Wherefore, in His ineffable mercy God preserved him from the beasts, and thus we cry to Him:

Alleluia

Spectators having gathered to gawk at the martyrs, the holy Saturus didst prophetically rebuke them: “Remember our faces for us you will see on the fearful Day of Judgement”. Wherefore, many departed astonished and of those that heard many were converted, and thus we proclaim:

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs whose martyrdom was recorded by the faithful

Rejoice, you who were treated harshly by the fearful tribune

Rejoice, Persecuted Ones out of fear of your escape

Rejoice, Bold Perpetua who didst scold the cruel adjutant

Rejoice, Faithful Ones who didst convert many while in prison

Rejoice, Workers of the vineyard who converted more by your common passion

Rejoice, Partakers of an Agape meal instead of common food

Rejoice, Communioners of the feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord

Rejoice, you who longed to be nourished by Christ instead of meat

Rejoice, you who forewarned the spectators of the coming Judgment

Rejoice, Brave Contesters prepared to fight on the birthday of Caesar

Rejoice, Saints of the Lord eagerly awaiting your death in His name

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

The day of the games having dawned, the holy martyrs prepared for battle. Bravely entering the stadium, they were filled with joy as though in heaven. At the sight of Perpetua many cast down their eyes. Felicity came to her second baptism – from blood to blood, from midwife to gladiator. Wherefore we cry out:

Alleluia

Unable to convince the martyrs to put on the robes of idolaters, the tribune suffered that they should be brought forth as they were. Perpetua began to chant psalms, Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus mocked the senseless Hilarian, saying, “Thou judgest us and God thee,” and in this way displayed their bravery. Wherefore we cry to them:

Rejoice, Holy men refusing to wear the robe of the priests of Saturn

Rejoice, Holy women refusing to wear the dress of the priestesses of Ceres

Rejoice, you who refused to have anything to do with lifeless idols

Rejoice, for by your boldness injustice didst yield to justice

Rejoice, for you were scourged before the line of the gladiators

Rejoice, Rejoicers in your sufferings for the sake of Christ

Rejoice, Brave Soldiers fighting in the trenches of a spiritual battle

Rejoice, Holy Perpetua, singing as though trampling on the head of the Egyptian

Rejoice, Holy Felicity, rejoicing that thou wast not left behind in prison

Rejoice, Holy Revocatus, who didst boldly glare at the gawking crowd

Rejoice, Holy Saturninus, who didst taunt the darkened Hilarian

Rejoice, Holy Saturus, who didst yearn only for the heavenly kingdom

Rejoice, Holy martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Virtue being her first concern the holy Perpetua bound up her disheveled hair, lest any should think she mourned her glory. Being brought out against the mad cow – placed there to mock their sex – the crowd shuddered at the sight of milk running from the breasts of holy Felicity. Wherefore, we cry to them:

Alleluia

Wishing to wear the more glorious crown, holy Saturninus asked to go against all the beasts, while Revocatus faced the leopard and the bear. In one bite by the leopard holy Saturus was bathed in much blood, wherefore the crowd mockingly called out, “saved and washed,” but we cry out thus:

Rejoice, Holy Revocatus who wast torn by a bear on a raised bridge

Rejoice, Holy Saturninus who wast granted thy desire to fight all beasts

Rejoice, Holy Saturus who would die first as thou didst prophesy

Rejoice, for the wild boar didst instead turn on its huntsman

Rejoice, for the bear knew better than to attack a martyr

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs for you were covered in the blood of a second baptism

Rejoice, Holy Perpetua, being caught up in theoria while in the arena

Rejoice, for thou wast more concerned for modesty than thy pain

Rejoice, Counselor of catechumens to keep the faith and love among them

Rejoice, Holy Felicity who wast smote for Christ’s sake by the fierce cow

Rejoice, for thy fellow martyr, Perpetua, didst raise thee up

Rejoice, Fair Maidens who didst forsake the beauty of your youth for eternal life

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Xenial friendship did the holy Saturus extend to Pudens when he did leave him a token of his love – a ring soaked in the blood of his wound. Joining the rest, assembled to be slain by the sword, each did die a martyr’s death. Perpetua directed the hand of the gladiator to her throat, by this showing that the evil spirits feared her most of all. Wherefore, moved by their sacrifice, we cry:

Alleluia

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

On my own I am not the Church, but together with you. All together we are the Church. All are incorporated in the Church. We are all one and Christ is the head. …The important thing is for us to enter into the Church – to unite ourselves with our fellow men, with the joys and sorrows of each and everyone, to feel that they are our own, to pray for everyone, to have care for their salvation, to forget about ourselves, to do everything for them just as Christ did for us. In the Church we become one with each unfortunate, suffering and sinful soul. No one should wish to be saved alone without all others being saved. (St. Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 89)

Merry Christmas to all our Old Calendar friends and family!

THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

by Matushka Constantina R. Palmer

Chapters 1 & 2 are HERE

Chapters 3 & 4 HERE

Chapters 5 & 6 HERE

Chapters 7 & 8 HERE

Chapter 9 HERE

Chapter 10 HERE

Chapter 11 HERE

Chapter 12 HERE

Chapter 13 HERE

Chapter 14 HERE

Chapter 15 HERE

Chapter 16 HERE

Just checking in to say that while our internet access is still limited we’re alive and well and still praying for you all!

We have had the opportunity to reunite with some dear friends, be at some significant spiritual feasts, and we’re doing our best to soak in all the grace we can.

Here are some pictures of the feast day of the Holy Archangels at the Monastery in Texas (November 8) and the Memorial for the 2 year anniversary of Geronda Ephraim’s repose (December 7) at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona.

You may be asking yourself who is that lovely lady in the photo with me next to the icon of Panagia at Holy Archangels Monastery. My mum! She retired from a wonderful career as a nurse the very day Fr John and I were leaving Canada so she met us in Toronto and we have had her with us on our adventure so far. She plans to return to our motherland, Canada, in the new year.

Here are some extra photos (I didn’t intend for the first three to be of me, but I can’t seem to change the order – more interesting pictures follow!)

Please keep us in your holy prayers!

Our last Sunday, October 24, feast of St. Arethas

Recently Fr John and I departed Newfoundland. By your prayers we have embarked upon a new adventure. We are taking a little sabbatical and going to see what God has in store for us next.

Please keep us and, most especially, the wonderful community of Holy Lady of Vladimir OCA Mission in your holy prayers!

Here are a few pictures of our favourite places on ‘the Rock’.

As for our wonderful flock, my amazing co-workers, and beloved/colourful clients, ”If you opened my heart you would find the image of each one of you imprinted inside me” (Gerontissa Makrina, Words of the Heart, p. 125).

(I’ve tried to insert a sideshow of photos but if it doesn’t load I’ll try updating the post at a later date. The internet connection I’m currently using is spotty).

Cynthia Damaskos of Holistic Christian Life – Worshiping God – Mind, Body and Soul graciously offered to have me on her wonderful podcast. I loved chatting with Cynthia about the ups and downs of the past year and half. I hope you enjoy our chat as well.

Lessons From a Pandemic with Mat. Constantina Palmer – Ep. 13

(From Holistic Christian Life) Join Cynthia for this inspiring interview with Mat. Constantina Palmer.  The author of The Sweetness of Grace and The Scent of Holiness is just the person to talk with about the last year and a half. Matushka had some plans that fell through this past year on top of everything else we have all been going through.  She gained insight through accepting God’s will in her life and in this world, and shares why we should give thanks that He is allowing us to live during these difficult years.

Constantina R. Palmer lives with her husband, an Orthodox priest, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, serving the Holy Lady of Vladimir (OCA) Orthodox Mission, the only Orthodox parish on the island of Newfoundland.  She teaches Sunday School to children of various ages, striving to present the great mysteries of the Orthodox faith in a form and context they can grasp.  She is also a social worker with the provincial government’s social housing corporation.  She is the author of The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery and The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory.

All episodes of the podcast can be found HERE.

On this the 10th day of the present month we commemorate all the Holy Elders of Optina.

To read a number of bios and sayings of the Optina Elders (put together by our friend Subdeacon Matthew) just click on the series titled A Holy Hermitage. You can also find it on the right hand side of Lessons from a Monastery blog under “Categories”.

May we have their blessing!

lessons from a monastery

Below you will find the first in a series of posts concerning the Optina Elders, what I have labelled ‘A Holy Heritage’. Our dear friend, Subdeacon Matthew Long, has taken the time to compile mini-bios and sayings of the Optina Elders. He has graciously shared them with me so I can share them with you, my readers. I hope and pray this will be an opportunity for us to learn more about the saints God has revealed even in these modern times.

For those wishing to learn more about the holy Optina Elders, you can check out the book series published by St. Herman’s Press.

elder moses

Elder Moses

(January 15, 1782 – June 16, 1862) 

Commemorated on June 16

 First in the line of Optina Elders is Moses, born Timothy Putilov. He and two brothers became monks and later abbots at different monasteries. On their father’s gravestone was written: “He was…

View original post 950 more words

Glory to God! We at Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission are still rejoicing over the recent adult baptisms in our community. It was a busy weekend: three baptisms and a wedding. This was in addition to a baptism we had in May and another wedding in July.

While the forecast said 100% chance of rain on the day of the baptisms, by the afternoon the weather was incredible. The bright sun and peaceful breeze were like physical manifestations of the spiritual reality taking shape in the hearts of our newly-illumined. Through the prayers of the holy fathers our “little flock” is a little less little now.

Of the baptismal service, St. Symeon of Thessaloniki says, “It is necessary that all the faithful be present then with all possible reverence and joy, in the conviction that the angels are present together with them, rejoicing in the one sinner who repented” (St. Symeon of Thessaloniki, Talk on the Sacred Rites and Sacraments of the Church, 30).

St. John Chrysostom says: “when you receive the royal robe, when you are girt with the purple dipped in the master’s blood, when you will be crowned with the diadem, which has lustre leaping forth from it on all sides, more brilliant than the rays of the sun. Such are the gifts of the Bridegroom, greater indeed than your worth, but worthy of his loving-kindness” (St. John Chrysostom, First Instructions to Catechumens, pp. 159-160)

I was excited to decorate the baptismal candles, tie the prayer ropes (presents for the newly-illumined from the parish), decorate the wedding candles, and make the wedding crowns.

The prayers ropes were made with white yarn as a special reminder of the purity that comes with baptism. You’ll notice, however, one lone black thread in the tassel. This was a special blessing I was grateful to be able to include in the prayer ropes. A friend from South Africa graciously sent Fr. John and me a few “blessings” earlier this year. Included in the gifts was a small bundle of black yarn which had been blessed on Geronda Ephraim’s holy body before his burial. So, I included a small piece of this yarn in the prayer ropes for our newly-illumined. May they have the blessing of Geronda Ephraim’s holy intercessions before the throne of God!

The wedding crowns were a fun challenge. I used bamboo embroidery loops, spray-painted them with 24k gold, added some pearl stickers, and sowed gold glass beads onto the white ribbon that I intertwined around the crowns.

A Great Reminder

Be careful not to despise one of the least of these who are scorned and sick in this world. For this contempt and affront of yours doesn’t stop at those unfortunate fellows, but ascends through them to the presence of the Creator and Fashioner, whose image they bear. You will be greatly astonished in that day, if you see the Holy Spirit of God resting in them more than in your heart.

-St. Joseph the Hesychast, Monastic Wisdom, Seventh Letter, p. 67

Although originally written for a clergy wives newsletter, I thought I’d share this article with you all here on Lessons from a Monastery. I know you will enjoy hearing about the simple, pious life of a woman in Christ, the wife of St. John of Kronstadt, Matushka Elizabeth, and how we might imitate her holy example.

Every woman who is married to a priest has been given the great blessing to understand, through her first-hand experience, that a priest stands between Heaven and Earth. She understands that it is through the holy priesthood of her husband that common bread and wine become the Precious Body and Blood of Christ. Her own piety and desire for salvation is strengthened by the great and awesome role her husband has been ordained to fulfill. How much more will she perceive the glory of God when her husband is not only a priest, but a saint? I imagine this was the case for Matushka Elizabeth Constantinov Sergiev, the wife of St. John of Kronstadt. 

The daughter of an archpriest, Elizabeth moved with her family from the Gdovak district to Kronstadt where her father served at St. Andrew’s Cathedral for some time. There she met her future husband, John Ilyitch Sergiev (later St. John of Kronstadt) who took up her father’s post at the Cathedral in 1855 when illness forced him to retire. 

At the outset of their marriage Fr. John suggested they live as brother and sister, companions and co-strugglers, abstaining from marital relations, saying Liza, there are enough happy families in the world without us. Let us together devote our lives to serving God.” Matushka Elizabeth agreed. This manner of life afforded St. John and Matushka the opportunity to deepen their commitment to fulfill the commandments to love God and love neighbour. Fr. John would tirelessly pray for and serve their parishioners, and keeping pace with his good works, Matushka Elizabeth would tirelessly care for her husband and offer hospitality.  

Much inspiration flows from their devout and pious example. In particular it is noteworthy to observe that despite the simplicity of Matushka Elizabeth’s care and concern for her husband, the depth of love shown in her service toward him is encouraging. She would bake his favorite apple pie, rush to take his boots off when he returned home, and zealously guard his periods of rest. 

In a world where we are endlessly encouraged to take the first seat, put ourselves forward, promote our skills and abilities, we can learn so much from Matushka Elizabeth’s simple and humble example. She was content to love God and love neighbour through serving in the shadow cast by her husband’s holy rasso (cassock). We can do likewise. We can look for opportunities to support our husband’s ministry in a manner he finds most supportive.

Here are just three simple things we can consider weaving into own lives in order to help support our husbands in the holy work they do:

  1. Pray for him;
  2. Listen to him when he needs to talk through something;
  3. Once in a while make him (or buy him) the equivalent of his “favourite apple pie”. Sometimes it’s the most simple treats that provide the most needed comfort.

Focusing on the service we can provide in small ways need not make us think our contribution is insignificant. Tending to these small things in fact cultivates in us a regard and respect for greater things, as St. Paisios the Athonite says, “When there’s respect for small things, there’ll be even greater respect towards the bigger ones. When there’s no respect for small things, then neither will there be for the bigger ones. This is how the Fathers maintained Tradition.” In fact, the value of service in the small things is highlighted for us in the book of Exodus. 

When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites in the battle of Refidim Moses watched from above. When he stretched out his arms the Israelites would make advances in the battle. When, however, Moses became tired, putting his arms down, the Amalekites would gain the advantage and the Israelites would begin to lose the battle. In order to ensure the victory of the Israelites over their enemies, it was necessary for Moses to keep his arms outstretched. His fatigue, however, prevented him from empowering the Israelites in their fight against the Amalekites. How was he to keep his arms outstretched for such a long time with no support? Recognizing this his close relatives, Aaron and Hur, came to him and supported his arms to remain outstretched, “and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun” (Exodus 17:12). Thus, the Israelites conquered their enemies and found victory in battle. 

This is what Matushka Elizabeth did for St. John of Kronstadt. She stood alongside him and supported his arm so that hundreds of souls found victory in their battle against the noetic Amalekites. We too, as clergy wives, can provide the support that is necessary in small ways to embolden men of God to do what is necessary to ensure the victory of faithful Christians in various spiritual battles against numerous spiritual enemies of God. 

Much holy work can be done in the shadow cast by our husband’s holy rasso. 

This beautiful hand-painted icon (by the hand of my teacher, Dragan Pantelic) of St. Joseph the Hesychast is kept on my bedside table

May we have his blessing!

Here is the most recent icon I painted of Holy Lady of Vladimir. I began painting this icon last summer (2020) and finished a few months ago. I worked at it a bit at a time and took some pictures along the way.

Not only is our OCA Mission, Holy Lady of Vladimir, named for this icon but it just so happens to be my personal favourite icon of the Mother of God. I gifted this hand-painted icon to my aunt as a token of love from her nieces and nephew (my sister, brother and me) for taking care of our mother during her cancer treatment last year. Our aunt is a wonderful member of our family and we are very grateful to her for all her help and support.

May the Mother of God and Christ never cease to look after and protect her just as she tirelessly looked after our mother!

Here are some photos showing a bit of the step-by-step process:

*As you can sort of see in the first photo I applied the gold at the beginning of the process, for it’s “in thy light that we see light” Ps. 36:9 and “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). The iconographer applies the gold first to mirror sanctification – a person encased in the light of Christ gradually becomes light, “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). To protect the gold during the painting process I covered it with paper and that’s why you’ll notice a paper covering throughout the photos until the end.

I also framed a print of my hand-painted icon and hung it on the wall above the candles in our new church location at 1618 Portugal Cove Road. (My cell phone is so old it doesn’t take good pictures but this gives you an idea.)

Dear readers, I do not know who this brotherhood of Orthodox clergy is, but I wish to say them AXIOS! AXIOS! AXIOS! I offer them my metanoia and kiss their holy right hands. The tone of their open letter reflects the core of our Orthodox faith: repentance and personal accountability for the failings of the Church. We, as laypeople, ought also apologize and seek God’s forgiveness for the role we may have played, both locally and globally these past 18 months or so, in contributing to the weakening of our faith, the dilution of our resolve to love and serve God more than ourselves. May God grant us repentance and enlighten us to remain on the straight and narrow path! Let us never cease to pray for our priests and hierarchs to lead by example, teaching us to treasure and cling to our Orthodox Faith above all else as the pearl of great price.

-Matushka Constantina

Open Letter: TO OUR BELOVED HIERARCHS, BROTHER CONCELEBRANTS, AND OUR FAITHFUL FLOCKS

From the Burning Bush Brotherhood

“Gird yourselves with sackcloth and wail you priests.

Mourn, you who serve the altar” Joel 1:13.

TO OUR BELOVED HIERARCHS, BROTHER CONCELEBRANTS, AND OUR FAITHFUL FLOCKS,

Greetings in the name ofour Lord Jesus Christ!

We write this letter in anguish and pain of heart, carrying a burden we have borne in silence for too long. Today we write with boldness, a boldness that is found not in ourselves but in our desire to hold fast to the Holy Traditions of our beloved Orthodox Faith—the true medicine of the world. We write as a brotherhood of clergy in America not bound by jurisdiction or diocese. The fires of current trials have brought us together, and our brotherhood has been forged in tears, brokenness, and prayer. It is in the ashes of what this past year and a half has wrought that we have felt the disruption of the Church at many levels, but have found like-minded brother priests whose resurrectional joy, silent suffering, and confessor-like endurance kept the spark of zeal ignited. Sadly, because of the nature of our testimony, we cannot publicly disclose ourselves, but we judge our voice to be a necessary voice crying in the wilderness out of love and pain for the Church. We are keeping anonymity not on account of cowardice but for the reason we have been silent for many months: we have deep concern what may happen to our flocks if we are identified. Truly, a lamentable predicament to be in! It is the suffering cries of the laity and our flocks, however, that have inspired us to speak out with a necessary tone of repentance and healing. We will address the laity whom we have neglected, exhort our brother priests to awake, and exhort our beloved fathers and chief hierarchs to fervent apostolic witness.

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Firstly, to the faithful. The past year has revealed much in our hearts. It would be easy to place the blame on some outside circumstances or some other person—society at large or authorities in the government or in the Church. Yet we acknowledge that, above all else, sin starts in our own hearts. Above all else, we are personally responsible for the shortcomings and failings that the Lord has laid bare. It is He who has allowed the many tribulations and temptations of the past year on account of our many sins. These trials are for our chastisement and healing; they are for the turning of our hearts back once again to the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe, as the saints testify, “Because of your sins the Lord has allowed this trouble to come upon you, because you keep forgetting God” (St. John of Kronstadt).

As clergy, we take responsibility for the many stumbling blocks set before the flock of Christ the Lord, especially in the turbulent year 2020. We acknowledge that, in many ways, we, the clergy, acted out of weakness and ungodly fear. We humbly ask for forgiveness. We know that the actions of clergy made dire prophecies ring true. “The time will come when we will not find even a tiny piece of antidoron, and we will say to ourselves, ‘Where can I get a little antidoron? I used to have it every day. I took and ate it by the handful. Where are you my little antidoron, that I might partake of you?’ The time will come when we will not have either antidoron or holy water.”[1]

Forgive us for not sounding a clear call to repentance. Forgive us for closing churches in a time of deep spiritual need. Forgive us for limiting services and restricting attendance. Forgive us for turning the people of God away from Church and the Holy Mysteries in a time of profound need, effectively “not allowing those who are entering to go in.” Forgive us for allowing the altering of the mode of Holy Communion for fear of the spread of illness, such as the use of multiple spoons and the wiping of the communion spoon in a disinfectant. Forgive us for refusing in-person holy confession during a time of great crisis. Forgive us for forbidding the proper veneration of icons held by the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council, a veneration our forefathers and mothers shed blood for. Forgive us for making face-masks a requirement for entering the Holy Temple of our Lord. Forgive us for placing secular narratives above the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Faith.

Forgive us, for we should have served more services. We should have had public repentance, prayer and fasting. We should have had processions with holy icons and fervent supplications. We should have served the service of blessing of holy water and the sprinkling of the people of God therewith. We should have served Holy Unction, for the healing of soul and body. We should have called, in both word and action, the people of God first and foremost to a hope, trust, and faith in God above all else. We should have shown forth steadfast courage and faith in the holy things of the Faith. Forgive us for failing to walk in the way of our Holy Fathers. Forgive use for blurring the divine lines of the Holy Liturgy with the dark ink of fleshly reasoning and justification.

Forgive us for neglecting your children and reversing their catechism, asking them to experience God through a screen and forcing them to conceal their angelic faces behind an iconoclastic mask. We did not heed the words of our Savior, Who calls your children to Him, and we allowed the millstone of directives to drag us into the dark depths of a burdened conscience. We beg for your forgiveness and for theirs, seeking the life giving breath of repentance.

We firmly resolve never to abandon you or your families again, no matter the circumstance or the cost—to the shedding of our blood.

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Secondly, to our brother priests and deacons. We must confess, in the words of the New Hieromartyr Peter, “But this is our grief – we have invented all the wrong means by which we think to be saved from this terrible sickness that has mercy on no one. We try to utilize various serums and vaccines … and the vast majority of people almost completely leave out the spiritual starting point in a person—his soul.” We started from externals and not from the spiritual starting point. Our weakness and sin, manifest in the past year, are but symptoms of a more profound ailment, one that surpasses COVID in gravity and it appears has infected a large amount of people.

We have led Orthodox Christians to reason more according to the spirit of the fallen world than by the Life and Spirit of Holy Orthodoxy. Our hearts have gradually grown accustomed to worldly thinking rather than having the mind of Christ. The past year was not the ailment, it but revealed in a more acute light the ailment already afflicting us. When, as priests, we received the Holy Body of our Lord into our unworthy hands at ordination, we pledged to preserve it whole and unharmed until our last breath, acknowledging our accountability at the Second Coming. How have we slipped so far as to forget our promise before God and become so foreign to the ways of our holy fathers who served worthily before us?

We have permitted a humanistic ecumenism to supplant the Divine One Holy Catholic and Ecumenical Church, which is the very Body of the Theanthropos. The predominance of our placing faith in the resolutions of men reveals that we have begun, in the words of St. Justin Popovic, “to replace faith in the God-man with a belief in man, to replace the Gospel of the God-man with a gospel according to man, to replace the philosophy of the God-man with a philosophy according to man, to replace the culture of the God-man with a culture according to man. In brief, they [we] seek to replace life according to the God-man with life according to man.”

In many places we allowed our liturgical life to cease, depriving the world of the sacred power of the divine liturgy which restrains the power of the evil one. “Do you know how much this guards us? An elder once told us that when a person carries the Gospel with him, it protects everyone in the surrounding neighborhoods. Just imagine then, the power of Christ’s sacrifice that happens every day.”[2] Today, clergymen stand in awe at the evil that has escalated over this past year but have neglected to see the cosmic significance that our vocation plays in it. “The Divine Liturgy is the way we know God and the way God becomes known to us,” says St. Sophrony. It is the Church’s greatest mission, and we laid it aside! In this great work, the Lord’s work, the same Saint says, “We feel His Divine presence within us, outside of us, at the highest grandeur of the universe, in the face of man and in the radiant intellect. And in the hours that the unwaning light illumines, our hearts we realize we will not die.” However, many of us allowed the divine presence of God that is imprinted on the dear faces of our people to be concealed under a mask and abandoned them to be pursued by the jaws of wolves without participation in divine services. Furthermore, we let down the world and ceased to sanctify it, allowing evil to unmask itself and act more openly.

Much of this was done under the guise of love—but it was not Christian love. It was a “love” defined by politicians and slick spokesmen who also advocate for the “right” to murder unborn children, who bomb our Orthodox countries on Pascha, and who will not even lift a finger for the poor of their own cities. Some of our people died without the Holy Mysteries, without the faithful by their bed, without proper burial. Others withered away in loneliness, battled thoughts of suicide, and were lost to the clutches of this world.

Open and common prayer with heretics and schismatics, contrary to the canons, has become all-too common. And this sad sin has widened its wound now to encompass prayer with non-Christian groups. “What harmony,” we ask, “has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever.”[3] Blatant rejection of the clear Orthodox teaching on morality is permitted in broad daylight, bareheaded, and those who uphold the Orthodox Faith remain silent. The broad and easy path of compromise is continually sought and the healing traditions of the Holy Fathers are neglected.

For these things, we ought to offer the world our public repentance. We have forgotten God by trusting more in the powers of this world. The world now needs priests and deacons who are confessors, men of prayer, and who strive for an austere life of asceticism. If we are lukewarm, not only will we be spit out by our Lord, but also by the world—for it knows all too well the wretched stench of a compromising clergyman.

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Lastly, to our beloved shepherds, the bishops. Often when we look back upon the deep wounds experienced by the Church throughout history, we see the abnormal break between the people and their shepherd as the cause of that wound. We, as a brotherhood of your priests whom you endearingly call sons, have now experienced such a break and suffer feelings of orphanhood. The biggest anguish this year has brought is the absence of courageous apostolic shepherds.

The voice of your fatherly guidance and protection became to us the voice of a stranger, for no longer did we hear the consoling voice of the Lord, the Holy Fathers, or the healing medicines of the Church, but the voice of the world, corrupt politicians, and medical advisors that are now profiting off a dire situation. The wolves in politicians’ dress co-opted Christian morality, and the same that teach our women to murder their children in their womb pontificated “love for neighbor”—and the hierarchy parroted this shamelessly. “Love for neighbor” became not burying our dead properly and isolating our flocks to the point of suicide. It contributed to the escalating rise in household abuse, and more. Fear and this pseudo “love for neighbor” led our bishops [you!] to instruct us not to allow our people into the temple for healing. All of us in this brotherhood began to realize that your voices had become foreign worldly, full of fear, and not the voice of Whom we pledged our lives to serve—our One Good Shepherd.

We love you and we long for your care, but if you continue to be strange voices we cannot do anything but heed the One True Voice that leads us to the pastures of life. We do not see this path as disobedience, but the ultimate obedience to our Lord and His Bride—the Holy Church. For, under the guise of obedience, we were told to follow this strange new path that is unprecedented in our history as a people of God. In many cases, we have silently resisted this new strange voice that we have heard and have led our people as best we could—struggling on our own in silence. In heartache and despair, we have watched our shepherds become drunk with the drink that this world offers and uncover themselves; we have labored to hide your nakedness from your sheep. They love you—they thank you in their prayers for not shutting them out, not forcing masks upon them, not changing the method of communion, etc., when in reality you told us to force these deadly ideas upon them. Forgive us, but we had to find the Voice of the Master and in grief we had to resist the strange path we have seen you sadly forge because there is no life in it—all we saw in the parishes from these worldly measures was spiritual death.

Please return to us once again as loving shepherds with the Voice that brings us life. We have felt orphaned, without apostolic guides, and have suffered the unnatural severance between father and son. Whether you have been silent or have outright supported the deterioration of our parishes through worldly mandates, you have grieved us and have shaken the innermost depths of our hearts. We cannot fully express in words how this betrayal has affected us—you saw the wolf and ran, you have scattered the sheep, but there is time to return to care for the flock. In great sadness we have watched you now pat yourselves on the backs, congratulating yourselves and boasting that the impositions over the past year were right and correct. Yet, when your people for long months were deprived of the medicines of the Church, were pushed to the brink of darkness, were seized in the clutches of the children of hell, and forced to participate in the liturgy through a screen like starving children watching a feast through a window, you must admit that this truly was not a victory.

As your sons, we must tell you that we cannot be obedient to the voice of the murderous spirit of this age and that we have found it coming from your chanceries in the form of mandates, sermons, political conferences, and zoom meetings. We have great love for you and reverence your office, but sadly cannot follow you down a foreign road so we beg you to return to bold apostolic speech. We know that obedience is discriminate, not indiscriminate, from both our Holy Fathers and the divine Scriptures, for both speak of true and false shepherds. We know the holy examples of St. Maximus the Confessor and the erring hierarchy who aligned with the impious Emperor. We remember St. Athanasius and the heretical presbytery who opposed him. We recollect the faithfulness and boldness of St. Mark of Ephesus and how the compromising hierarchy were shamed by the laity on the docks of Constantinople. We are inspired by the recent boldness of the Russian martyrs who were imprisoned and suffered under Sergianism and its allegiance to an atheistic regime. The path of schismatics is riddled with disaster, and this path we will never take, but we discern in the lives of these holy ones the painful path of blessed disobedience. “Obedience makes the subordinate one with the one he obeys. The Holy Writ says: ‘and the flocks conceived before the rods’ (Gen. 30, 39) […]. One may say: the subordinate’s faith can replace the elder’s inadequacy. Wrong! Faith in truth saves. Faith in lies and in diabolical deceit harms!”[4]

St John of the Ladder writes, “Above all, you should leave the integral faith and the pious dogmas as a legacy to your children, so that not only your children but your grandchildren too will you manage to guide towards the Lord by walking the path of Orthodoxy.”[5]This is the legacy that is not foreign, and in these times it is impossible to be silent as a shepherd in the face of treachery. Teach us, lead us, and leave us the legacy of Truth and Life. St Paisios warned us saying: “If Christians don’t begin to witness their faith, to resist evil, then the destroyers will become even more insolent. But today’s Christians are no warriors. If the Church keeps silent, to avoid conflict with the government, if the Metropolitans are silent, if the monks hold their peace, then who will speak up?” Truly, we must recognize that it is because of the Church’s silence that evil has all the more prevailed in these times.

Speak, beloved hierarchs! Speak out against the mandates that have deprived us of spiritual life, speak out against the immoral agendas of the LGBTQ movement that publicly seeks to snatch your children, speak out against false unions! Embolden your priests and do not deprive us of shepherds for the sake of ease, of legal immunity, or out of indifference. We are the prey of this current age, save us! We feel as the prophet wrote, “As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock. Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I shall visit the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock…”[6] Return to feed us, your poor priests and people.

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To all, in humility before God, we vow not to return to the strange path of the past year that so many have experienced and are still suffering under. We will not return to practicing the following.

  1. We will not deprive the people of the life-giving sacraments of the Church out of fear.
  2. We will not change the method of Holy Communion.
  3. We will not limit the occupancy in the Temple of God.
  4. We will not deprive the faithful of the veneration of holy icons, relics, and other holy objects or vessels.
  5. We will not require the iconoclastic masking of our people.
  6. We will not urge or require our people to inject themselves with experimental injections, especially those manufactured and/or tested on aborted fetal cell lines.

We therefore resolve to uphold the Holy Orthodox Faith of our Fathers and we call upon all faithful Orthodox to do the same. First and foremost, this is a call to deeper repentance and spiritual resolve. We all have a responsibility to identify ­the sickness of the modern age and to heal it by calling on the sweetest name of our Lord Jesus, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

Your Servants,

THE BURNING BUSH BROTHERHOOD

July 31st/July 18th P The Year Of Our Lord 2021

[1] Gerondissa Makrina Vassopoulou, Words of the Heart, pg 504. She said these prophetic words on the 19th of December, 1992.

[2] Gerondissa Makrina Vassopoulou, Words of the Heart, pg 504. She said these prophetic words on the 19th of December, 1992.

[3] 1 Corinthians 6:15

[4] Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, op. cit., tome I, pp.141.143.146ff

[5] Saint John of Sinai, On the Shepherd 97, edition Holy Monastery of Paraclete, Horopos Attica,

1946, p.402 (PG 88, 1201A).

[6] Ezekiel 34, 8-10 (KJV)

Ascetics in the World, Volume I

Ascetics in the World (Vol I), translated in English by Fr. Nicholas Palis and edited by Rev. Theodore Petrides, is a collection of stories, mostly of laypeople, whose simple, pious lives remind us sanctification is possible for all.

While most people featured in this collection trace their ancestry to Asia Minor, the stories feature a variety of people, predominantly laymen and women, fathers and mothers, a small number of monastics as well as priests and priest’s wives – all having lived in the last century. Presenting diverse and interesting stories the real charm of the book is that lives of these modern saints are so very inspiring. The asceticism and piety presented in these stories are both accessible and attainable.

Excerpt about Presbytera Kryriake G. Tsitouridou (p. 51 & 55):

Presbytera Kyriake [of Pontus] was simple, very pious and very charitable. She felt pain and shed tears whenever she saw people’s misfortune. The door of her one was always open to the poor and the hungry, who would find food and warmth within, and to travelers, who would find a place to stay…

When they exhumed her relics, they saw that there was no dirt on her bones and that beneath them there was water. A fragrance poured forth and, amazed, they saw her right hand where she wore her ring, her ear and her heart were incorrupt, while the rest of the bones were golden yellow.

The monk of Tranta took her incorrupt hand and heart, while the rest of her bones are preserved in St. Petersburg.   

In addition to offering such great hospitality Presbytera was also a very strict faster, eating very little and only after attending church and taking antidoron (blessed bread). Yet still, undoubtedly her hospitality contributed to her state of holiness – a virtue very much attainable for any who wishes to acquire it.

Excerpt about Keti Patera (p. 275):

“The God-loving Keti did not want to miss attending Vespers or Divine Liturgy any day of the year. Her only effort was to find out which church was holding a Divine Liturgy in order to run to enjoy it. She spared no toil nor time, she sacrificed her sleep, and traversed great distances, so long as she did not miss Divine Liturgy.

In Konitsa she would leave work at night, go to the Liturgy, and in the morning return to work. The observations of those responsible didn’t stop her. She was good at her work and loved the children. For this reason, they put up with this God-loving “quirk” of hers. One night, going as usual to find a Liturgy, she passed through a minefield, but God preserved her. She passed over the mines and none of them exploded.”

Seriously, what could be more accessible to us then to at very least desire to attend divine services as diligently and faithfully as pious Keti?

Living in the world no more disqualifies us from a life of sanctify than living in a monastery guarantees it. Asceticism, fasting, hospitality, church attendance, all this and more is readily available to us in the exact life circumstances we find ourselves. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Ascetics in the World will strengthen your will and inspire you to find a way.

(Source) The Holy Myrrh-Bearer Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene. On the banks of Lake Genesareth (Galilee), between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberias, was the small city of Magdala, the remains of which have survived to our day. Now only the small village of Mejhdel stands on the site.

A woman whose name has entered forever into the Gospel account was born and grew up in Magdala. The Gospel tells us nothing of Mary’s younger years, but Tradition informs us that Mary of Magdala was young and pretty, and led a sinful life. It says in the Gospels that the Lord expelled seven devils from Mary (Luke. 8:2). From the moment of her healing Mary led a new life, and became a true disciple of the Savior.

The Gospel relates that Mary followed after the Lord, when He went with the Apostles through the cities and villages of Judea and Galilee preaching about the Kingdom of God. Together with the pious women Joanna, wife of Choza (steward of Herod), Susanna and others, she served Him from her own possessions (Luke 8:1-3) and undoubtedly shared with the Apostles the evangelic tasks in common with the other women. The Evangelist Luke, evidently, has her in view together with the other women, stating that at the moment of the Procession of Christ onto Golgotha, when after the Scourging He took on Himself the heavy Cross, collapsing under its weight, the women followed after Him weeping and wailing, but He consoled them. The Gospel relates that Mary Magdalene was present on Golgotha at the moment of the Lord’s Crucifixion. While all the disciples of the Savior ran away, she remained fearlessly at the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Apostle John.

The Evangelists also list among those standing at the Cross the mother of the Apostle James, and Salome, and other women followers of the Lord from Galilee, but all mention Mary Magdalene first. Saint John, in addition to the Mother of God, names only her and Mary Cleopas. This indicates how much she stood out from all the women who gathered around the Lord.

She was faithful to Him not only in the days of His Glory, but also at the moment of His extreme humiliation and insult. As the Evangelist Matthew relates, she was present at the Burial of the Lord. Before her eyes Joseph and Νikόdēmos went out to the tomb with His lifeless Body. She watched as they covered over the entrance to the cave with a large stone, entombing the Source of Life.

Faithful to the Law in which she was raised, Mary together with the other women spent the following day at rest, because it was the great day of the Sabbath, coinciding with the Feast of Passover. But all the rest of the peaceful day the women gathered spices to go to the Grave of the Lord at dawn on Sunday and anoint His Body according to the custom of the Jews.

It is necessary to mention that, having agreed to go on the first day of the week to the Tomb early in the morning, the holy women had no possibility of meeting with one another on Saturday. They went separately on Friday evening to their own homes. They went out only at dawn the following day to go to the Sepulchre, not all together, but each from her own house.

The Evangelist Matthew writes that the women came to the grave at dawn, or as the Evangelist Mark expresses, extremely early before the rising of the sun. The Evangelist John, elaborating upon these, says that Mary came to the grave so early that it was still dark. Obviously, she waited impatiently for the end of night, but it was not yet daybreak. She ran to the place where the Lord’s Body lay.

Mary went to the tomb alone. Seeing the stone pushed away from the cave, she ran away in fear to tell the close Apostles of Christ, Peter and John. Hearing the strange message that the Lord was gone from the tomb, both Apostles ran to the tomb and, seeing the shroud and winding cloths, they were amazed. They went and said nothing to anyone, but Mary returned to the tomb and stood about the entrance to the tomb and wept. Here in this dark tomb so recently lay her lifeless Lord.

Wanting proof that the tomb really was empty, she went down to it and saw a strange sight. She saw two angels in white garments, one sitting at the head, the other at the foot, where the Body of Jesus had been placed. They asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou?” She answered them with the words which she had said to the Apostles, “They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” At that moment, she turned around and saw the Risen Jesus standing near the grave, but she did not recognize Him.

He asked Mary, “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom dost thou seek?” She answered thinking that she was seeing the gardener, “Sir, if thou hast taken him, tell where thou hast put Him, and I will take Him away.”

Then she recognized the Lord’s voice. This was the voice she heard in those days and years, when she followed the Lord through all the cities and places where He preached. He spoke her name, and she gave a joyful shout, “Rabbi” (Teacher).

Respect and love, fondness and deep veneration, a feeling of thankfulness and recognition at His Splendor as great Teacher, all came together in this single outcry. She was able to say nothing more and she threw herself down at the feet of her Teacher to wash them with tears of joy. But the Lord said to her: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and tell them: ‘I ascend to My Father, and your Father; to My God and to your God.’”

She came to herself and again ran to the Apostles, to do the will of Him sending her to preach. Again she ran into the house, where the Apostles still remained in dismay, and proclaimed to them the joyous message, “I have seen the Lord!” This was the first preaching in the world about the Resurrection.

The Apostles proclaimed the Glad Tidings to the world, but she proclaimed it to the Apostles themselves.

Holy Scripture does not tell us about the life of Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection of Christ, but it is impossible to doubt, that if in the terrifying minutes of Christ’s Crucifixion she was at the foot of His Cross with His All-Pure Mother and Saint John, she must have stayed with them during the happier time after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Thus in the Acts of the Apostles Saint Luke writes that all the Apostles with one mind stayed in prayer and supplication, with certain women and Mary the Mother of Jesus and His brethren.

Holy Tradition testifies that when the Apostles departed from Jerusalem to preach to all the ends of the earth, then Mary Magdalene also went with them. A daring woman, whose heart was full of reminiscence of the Resurrection, she went beyond her native borders and went to preach in pagan Rome. Everywhere she proclaimed to people about Christ and His teaching. When many did not believe that Christ is risen, she repeated to them what she had said to the Apostles on the radiant morning of the Resurrection: “I have seen the Lord!” With this message she went all over Italy.

Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberias (14-37 A.D.) and proclaimed to him Christ’s Resurrection. According to Tradition, she brought him a red egg as a symbol of the Resurrection, a symbol of new life with the words: “Christ is Risen!” Then she told the emperor that in his Province of Judea the unjustly condemned Jesus the Galilean, a holy man, a miracleworker, powerful before God and all mankind, had been executed at the instigation of the Jewish High Priests, and the sentence confirmed by the procurator appointed by Tiberias, Pontius Pilate.

Mary repeated the words of the Apostles, that we are redeemed from the vanity of life not with perishable silver or gold, but rather by the precious Blood of Christ.

Thanks to Mary Magdalene the custom to give each other paschal eggs on the day of the Radiant Resurrection of Christ spread among Christians over all the world. In one ancient Greek manuscript, written on parchment, kept in the monastery library of Saint Athanasius near Thessalonica, is a prayer read on the day of Holy Pascha for the blessing of eggs and cheese. In it is indicated that the igumen in passing out the blessed eggs says to the brethren: “Thus have we received from the holy Fathers, who preserved this custom from the very time of the holy Apostles, therefore the holy Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene first showed believers the example of this joyful offering.”

Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself. Evidently, the Apostle Paul has her in mind in his Epistle to the Romans (16: 6), where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentions Mary (Mariam), who as he expresses “has bestowed much labor on us.” Evidently, she extensively served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties, being exposed to dangers, and sharing with the Apostles the labors of preaching.

According to Church Tradition, she remained in Rome until the arrival of the Apostle Paul, and for two more years following his departure from Rome after the first court judgment upon him. From Rome, Saint Mary Magdalene, already bent with age, moved to Ephesus where the holy Apostle John unceasingly labored. There the saint finished her earthly life and was buried.

Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to Constantinople, and placed in the monastery Church of Saint Lazarus. In the era of the Crusader campaigns they were transferred to Italy and placed at Rome under the altar of the Lateran Cathedral. Part of the relics of Mary Magdalene are said to be in Provage, France near Marseilles, where over them at the foot of a steep mountain a splendid church is built in her honor.

The Orthodox Church honors the holy memory of Saint Mary Magdalene, the woman called by the Lord Himself from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.

Formerly immersed in sin and having received healing, she sincerely and irrevocably began a new life and never wavered from that path. Mary loved the Lord Who called her to a new life. She was faithful to Him not only when He was surrounded by enthusiastic crowds and winning recognition as a miracle-worker, but also when all the disciples deserted Him in fear and He, humiliated and crucified, hung in torment upon the Cross. This is why the Lord, knowing her faithfulness, appeared to her first, and esteemed her worthy to be first to proclaim His Resurrection

Books Reviews 2021 is a series of blog posts about the books I’ve read so far this year.

“Presbytera: The Life, Mission, and Service of the Priest’s Wife”

by Pres. Athanasia Papademetriou

While “Presbytera” shares a similar target audience as “The Joy to Serve” it takes a different approach to the same topic: life as a clergy wife. Where “The Joy to Serve” seems to focus on more general advice directed primarily toward the mindset of a clergy wife, “Presbytera” immerses itself in the practical. The latter addresses all manner of topics related to the life of a clergy wife, from the First Ecumenical Council establishing canons in favour of married clergy to how a priest’s wife ought to take down phone messages. Written with obvious care and a desire to address, in an organized fashion, as many topics pertinent to a clergy wife’s life as possible, the text is both beneficial and insightful.

“Presbytera” begins with more broad-scope topics such as women in the early church, the call to the priesthood, and the call of a priest’s wife to share her husband’s ministry. Gradually moving, chapter by chapter, into more and more specific topics it does read a bit like a manual. However, rather than detract from the text, I think this is a part of its charm. Pres. Athanasia by no means makes herself out to be ‘the expert’ in the area, rather she covers such topics as conflict resolution and parish transfers with an element of personal experience combined with general observations and suggestions. One never gets the impression that she puts forward a singular way to do things, rather she provides food for thought on a number of relevant issues/ situations many clergy wives encounter.

I must say I am very impressed by Pres. Athanasia’s undertaking of this subject matter. It takes a great deal of discretion to write about such things in a gentle, encouraging manner. While never concealing the trials and tribulations of this life, “Presbytera” leaves the reader with the feeling that navigating the rough waters of being a clergy wife is not only manageable but a blessing.

(Source)

A US lobsterman has been describing how he escaped being swallowed by a humpback whale.

Michael Packard says he was diving when he ended up in the marine giant’s mouth for about 30-40 seconds off Provincetown, Massachusetts.

The leviathan spat him out and Mr Packard was left with nothing more than a suspected dislocated knee.

Despite his wife’s pleas to get another job, he has no plans of giving up a 40-year career diving off Cape Cod.

Humpback whales can grow to as long as 50ft (15m) and weigh about 36 tons. According to the World Wildlife Fund, their global population is about 60,000.

Mr Packard, 56, told the Cape Cod Times he and his crewmate took their boat, the Ja’n J, off Herring Cove on Friday morning where conditions were excellent, with water visibility at about 20ft.

He told WBZ-TV News that after jumping off the vessel in scuba gear into the water, he “felt this huge bump and everything went dark”.

‘He’s trying to swallow me’

He thought he had been attacked by one of the great white sharks that swim in the area, “and then I felt around and I realised there was no teeth”.

“And then I realised: ‘Oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth and he’s trying to swallow me. This is it, I’m going die’.”

Mr Packard says he thought about his wife and two boys, aged 12 and 15.

“Then all of a sudden he went up to the surface and just erupted and started shaking his head.

“I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water. I was free and I just floated there. I couldn’t believe… I’m here to tell it.”

His topside crewmate, who had been desperately scanning the water for telltale bubbles from Mr Packard’s oxygen respirator, hauled him back into the boat.

Provincetown Fire Department confirmed to CBS News they had responded to a call at 08:15 local time (12:15 GMT) to help an injured lobsterman at a Provincetown beach.

Journalists interviewed Mr Packard about his Biblical ordeal after he was discharged from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.

Humpback whales tend to feed by opening their mouth wide to gulp down as much prey, like fish or krill, as possible, leading marine scientists to speculate that what happened to Mr Packard was in all likelihood purely accidental. One expert told the Cape Cod Times it was practically unheard of for a whale to swallow a human.

(Source)

On the great and saving day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, as Christ had promised (John 16:7-15). The unlearned fishermen were made wise by divine grace, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and teaching with authority. Most of them (except for Saint John the Theologian) sealed their labors with their own blood. This was the beginning of the Church’s mission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18), which continues even to the present day.

In 1685, the Russian Orthodox Church established an Orthodox mission in Peking (now Beijing). For more than two hundred years, some of the Chinese converted to Christianity, and married Russian spouses.

Because of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, against the foreign powers occupying China, these Chinese Christians were given the choice of renouncing Christianity, or being tortured and killed.

Two hundred and twenty-two members of the Peking Mission, led by their priest, Father Metrophanes Chang (Chang Tzi-tzung) refused to deny Christ, and received incorruptible crowns of glory.

Among these Holy New Martyrs are Saint Metrophanes, his wife Tatiana, his sons John and Isaiah, Isaiah’s fiancée Maria; the church school teachers Paul Wang and Ia Wen; and many others.

May we imitate their Christian bravery – preferring Christ and death (and eternal life) to temporal life in denial of Him!

And may we have their prayers and blessings!

Books Reviews 2021 is a series of blog posts about the books I’ve read so far this year.

The Joy to Serve

by Matushka Juliana Schmemann

“The Joy to Serve” is a well-written account of Matushka Schmemann’s personal perspective on ministry in the Church as a clergy wife.  It is a short, pleasant read. The most notable parts are found in the straight-forward observations grounded in Matushka’s many years of experience. 

In the book Matushka Juliana re-frames some of the stereotypical complaints one might imagine a clergy wife would have or reasons a young woman might posit for why she does not want to become a priest’s wife. Pointing out that as clergy wives we make a conscious choice to minister to the Church, share our husbands with the faithful, and prioritize the Church above and beyond our personal needs, Matushka reminds us this life of service is a life of freedom not subjection. She writes: 

“Be aware that the challenges of being a clergy wife are quite similar to those of other wives. A doctor’s wife has an impossible schedule to deal with, often involving being up in the middle of the night. A politician’s wife has to put up with unsettled political situation of the country which he services, an artist’s wife with the lack of security and the dreams of her unpractical mate. There is nothing new in feeling subservient, instead of fulfilled. But subservience is the wrong expression since you have determined your own future. So the role of a woman  is not to lose herself in the unexpected inconsistencies of her life, but to find inside herself a strong and unwavering personality. She is the one who has chosen to serve, never losing her free resolve and realizing that her acceptance and support are needed by family, parish, and especially herself” (p. 10-11).         

Throughout the book Matushka encourages clergy wives to acquire and maintain a spiritual perspective: “why don’t we take it seriously when we are asked to lay aside all earthly cares? Because we think that the cares are really important, that our problems are unique, special, need to be solved? A problem is solved by lifting up our hearts, standing aright, giving thanks unto the Lord, singing, shouting, crying aloud and saying! “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory”… Problems? Where are they? The light has burned them away… Yes, salvation from being slaves to our pettiness, slaves refusing to be free; our mind, our love, our whole being – a burning fire for our Lord” (p. 30-31).

While the book never gets “into the weeds” of being a clergy wife, its charm lies in Matushka’s honest and firm resolve to admonish her reader to accept, with joy, the ministry she freely entered into when she agreed to support her husband in his service as a priest (or deacon) of the Most High. 

Christ is risen!

The stories in this video wonderfully capture what it is like to meet, sit with, and speak with a living saint. It’s a treasure to hear of people’s first-hand encounters with holy men and women; I wish there were more videos like this.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

If you arrive in St. John’s, NL by airplane (which, let’s face it, if you’re traveling all the way to Newfoundland you’re coming by plane), all you need to do is take a right when you get out of the airport and keep driving toward the ocean, Conception Bay to be precise. In less than 10 minutes you’ll arrive at Holy Lady of Vladimir Orthodox Mission! Our new building is located just outside the city limits of St. John’s in a lovely community called Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s.

We moved in just over one month ago. It was a very busy time (not least because I like everything done immediately; Fr. John says this is code for “within a few hours of getting the keys”). In reality, though, it took us two or three days before we had cleaned the whole building (quite a feat since it was formally a dog grooming business), moved in all our liturgical furniture, shelved all our liturgical books, rolled out the rugs, and hung all the icons.

You may remember Holy Lady of Vladimir was previously located in a townhouse. However, with the onset of Covid we gave up that rental space and services were held in the private chapel of St. Nektarios in our home (for more recent photos of St. Nektarios’ chapel see this post).

By God’s grace, a parishioner came across this stand-alone building for rent in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s and we moved in just in time for Holy Week and Pascha! Now we’re making plans to have an iconostasis built. Hopefully more on that soon!

Here are some photos of our wonderful new church at 1618 Portugal Cove Road.

Glory to God!

Holy Thursday & Holy Friday Matins

Holy Saturday Matins

Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday, Agape’s Vespers & Bright Tuesday

You are most welcome to visit us in our new church! For those farther away, perhaps by some miracle the provincial/ international borders will open in Canada in the near future and then you can come too!

Here are some “behind the scenes” photos of our move to the new spot and Holy Week preparations.

Please keep us in your holy prayers and if you’re so inclined consider donating to Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission, the only Orthodox parish in the entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)