Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Christ is risen! I’m delighted to be posting the first of Fr. John’s Sunday homilies on the spiritual teachings of Gerontissa Makrina. The book he references as the basis for the homilies is the recently translated Words of the Heart.

From the video description: Fr. John Palmer (of Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission, St. John’s, NL) delivers an introductory homily on the person of Gerontissa Makrina of Portaria, the first in a series of homilies on her life and spiritual teachings.

May we have her blessing!

Advertisements

 

 

Christ is risen!

We put this gold cross in the window so people would be able to easily identify which townhouse is Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission. But in the night the cross wasn’t visible so the children and I devised a plan: to put painter’s tape on the external light where the unit number is lit up. We giggled saying those unfamiliar with the Byzantine cross motif might mistake our cross for a crack in the light that we tried to tape up :).

The little note pictured above was one of two notes we attached to wine bottles and left on the doorstep of our neighbours in hopes they would appreciate a little gift and forgive our late night festivities: “Hey neighbour! Here’s a bottle of wine. Please don’t call the police when, in the middle of the night, you hear a house full of people respond to our priest with a resounding ‘Truly He is risen’!” is not what was written but certainly was the intended message :). And Glory to God! no one complained and we had an absolutely beautiful Paschal vigil.

 

 

This was the first time in six years when the faithful were able to hold candles throughout the entirety of the vigil. The choir sounded wonderful and the atmosphere was heavenly. I’m not a talented photographer and I only got to snap a few hurried photos because I had to get back to the “choir loft”. But at least these are nice keepsakes.

Afterward Fr. John blessed some Paschal baskets:

 

 

And of course the next day we had a lovely Agape’s Vespers. Although we weren’t a huge group the Gospel was read in 10 languages! Our traditional shared meal followed. And it was delicious! This is always one of my favourite times: everyone is at peace and filled with great joy at the Lord’s Resurrection.

 

 

We all enjoy spending time eating and chatting together. To make more room we placed a table at the back of the chapel so the children could eat upstairs with everyone (they usually have the habit of taking their food down to the Sunday school room).

 

 

May God make us worthy to safeguard the joy, peace and gratitude instilled in our hearts by the celebration of Christ’s holy Resurrection! It’s easy to let these bright days slip away if we don’t make a conscientious effort everyday to remind ourselves, “Jesus having risen from the grave as He foretold hath given us eternal life and great mercy!”

And I was pleased to get a more pleasant photo of Fr. John and me than the hurried one on the sixth anniversary of his priesthood :).

20190428_151402

 

Christ is risen!

papa

Papa Ephraim of St. Nilus’ Skete in Alaska (previously of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona) wrote extensive journal entries during his two trips to India (in the Fall of 2018 and winter of 2019). His journal entries are posted in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. I really enjoyed reading them – not least because Papa Ephraim’s sweet and simple personality comes out so well in the posts that I found myself laughing out loud at some of his observations.

The experiences he describes of trying to spread Orthodox Christianity in India provoked me to reflect on mission work in general and imparting an Orthodox mindset to individuals living in an un-Orthodox culture in particular.

He writes:

In 1991 Fr. Ignatius, an Athonite hieromonk, went [to Calcutta] and had tremendous success in establishing Orthodoxy there. He managed to build several churches with the financial support he had from Greece, and he managed for several native people to be ordained to the priesthood. But after about five years of work there his visa expired, and he had to leave India. He ended up in Africa and became the bishop of Madagascar. After he left, much of his work started to disintegrate. One very sad phenomenon was that many of the converts from Hinduism to Orthodoxy went back to being Hindu after he left. Apparently, they were attracted to the Orthodox Church primarily because of the financial advantages they had in being Orthodox with Fr. Ignatius around. Now, of the thousands of people who had become Orthodox there, there are only about 70 people left who have remained faithful to the Church. But those people do not have any spiritual support, so those communities are in great spiritual need.

I think this passage illustrates an unfortunate reality that does not always get captured in stories about Orthodoxy spreading to hundreds of individuals at once: sometimes great numbers dwindle to small numbers. And while we glorify God for every individual baptized into Christ through Orthodoxy we must remind ourselves, as Bishop Augoustinos of Florina would say, we are seeking quality not quantity.

It’s an unfortunate reality (as well as a historical reality) that people fall away from Christ and His Church. This is something that should rightly be mourned but should not provoke us to despair. Every time someone falls away we should remember two things: first, that someone’s fall into mortal sin and/or apostasy does not necessarily mean the door to Christ is closed forever. People can and have returned to Christ from all sorts of states of spiritual decay. Second, that we mustn’t take our life in Christ for granted. We should struggle to become and remain humble so we will be protected from losing our faith. Only we have control over this.

papa1

The following passage stood out to me because I know from our own experience doing mission work here in Newfoundland for six years how many talents are required in such instances and how few we seem to possess.

I am seeing more and more that being a missionary requires a unique set of talents. It is not enough to be just a devoted Christian with a good understanding of Orthodoxy, but one must also have the gift of speaking and the discernment to know what your listeners need to hear. It also requires a tremendous amount of patience and dedication, to spend years and years of sowing. And it helps if a missionary is an extrovert, who knows how to deal with all different kinds of people.

Really every possible talent can be put to good use in a mission setting because it takes one set of talents to attract new members and grow the Mission and another set to maintain the quality of a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). In each circumstance it’s important for us to give all we have to the service of the Lord through serving His flock.

Lastly, Papa Ephraim writes:

Acquiring an Orthodox mindset is something that takes years. It takes even longer when a catechumen has no access to an Orthodox spiritual father, Orthodox literature, an Orthodox parish, and living role models demonstrating what it means to be a serious Orthodox Christian. Also a catechumen needs to show some stability. This is why a person typically remains a catechumen for a year or longer before being baptized.

papa2

Instilling an Orthodox mindset in the newly-converted is certainly a daunting task.  Throughout history the Gospel has been shared largely with illiterate peoples and so the fact that the newly-illumined in India do not have access to Orthodox literature is not unique to a newly-converted people.

I’m only focusing on one of the obstacles Papa mentions, but in my opinion, Orthodox divine services, more than Orthodox books on theology or even morality, need to be translated into the language of the newly converted.

The best way to firmly instill an Orthodox mindset in new converts as well as veteran Orthodox Christians is through participation in the divine services – and not just the Divine Liturgy. I mean if the faithful were to attend Vespers and Matins services, where the majority of our didactic hymnology is chanted, if the faithful were to listen attentively while attending said services, they would begin to grasp the important Orthodox concepts of repentance, of compunction, of mercy, of reliance on Christ to save us not only once but multiple times when we fall astray.

And here is where the conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox cultures is particularly highlighted. How can you explain these concepts to people who not only don’t speak your literal language but are unable to understand the spiritual language of Orthodox Christianity – of struggle and repentance? There is a spiritual language barrier between Orthodox and non-Orthodox (whether Christian or otherwise); our faith is so estranged from the world.

And so the best way to firmly establish someone in the Orthodox faith is for them to participate in Orthodox services. Not only does this provide them a tangible connection to the Tradition of Orthodox worship it narrates to them the Scriptures in an Orthodox chronology: you fall, you harken unto God, He hears you, you arise, you fall again, etc. In order to fully understand repentance one must live it and one step toward living it is to hear about it again and again through Orthodox services. This is why it is so important for the divine services to be in the language of the local people. Even in the absence of a parish, if such texts were translated the faithful could at very least learn to hold reader’s services.

But again, I’m not speaking of the Divine Liturgy which is predominately made up of standard prayers; I’m speaking of all the other services that are often barely attended but which have the power and ability to teach you the Old Testament types of Christ, the daily lives of the saints,  and the deep theology of our Church.

We should all attend as many Vespers and Matins services as possible. If our parish doesn’t hold them we should seek out liturgical books to read these services as a part of our private prayers. (I know it’s not easy to put services together but just reading the canons from the Menaion everyday would be a great start).

These are just some thoughts on missionary work that came to me on reflecting on Papa Ephraim’s experiences.

I hope and pray the efforts to catechize, baptize and build up the newly-illumined Orthodox faithful in India will continue to bear much spiritual fruit.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

This video is from our first Pascha in Greece (2008) at the  Church of St. Anthony the Great in Thessaloniki. Fr. Theodore Zisis is the priest.

This post is set to publish at midnight Newfoundland Time (at least it’s supposed to). Our little Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission, currently occupying a townhouse as a chapel :), is the first to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the North American continent.

In the Maritimes – where our families live – Christ’s resurrection will be celebrated one half hour later. This year my brother, Fr. Matthew Penney, is the serving priest at my family’s parish (St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church) in Saint John, New Brunswick (not to be confused with St. John’s, Newfoundland). So, that means my mum, my dad, my sister, my sister-in-law and my brother will all celebrate Pascha together for the very first time (since my father didn’t become Orthodox until 2015 and this is my brother and sister-in-laws first Pascha back in New Brunswick in years). Such a blessing! I’m with them in spirit, as Gerontissa Philareti told me, “There is no distance in the spiritual life.”

These high and holy days are filled with so much reflection for me. This is our 14th Pascha as Orthodox Christians: our first Pascha we were at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona, our second was at St. Nicholas Korean Orthodox Church in Seoul, South Korea, the subsequent five were in Greece and the last seven! have been in Newfoundland. So many blessings, so many beautiful people, so many incredible hymns!

May God make us worthy to live the spiritual celebration of His holy resurrection for all eternity, together in His Kingdom!

Christ is risen and Hades is despoiled!

20190421_113029This photo was taken this morning after the Divine Liturgy. I love it because it illustrates exactly what the life of a priest’s family is: you quickly give your cell phone to a parishioner and say, “Please take a picture of me and Fr. John while I get antidoron because it’s the anniversary of his ordination!” Father barely realizes what is going on as you stand by smiling and holding the blessed bread before you rush off to arrange the food and drinks for Coffee Hour.

Six years ago today, April 21, 2013, was the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt. On that day Fr. John was ordained to the holy priesthood at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (You can see photos of that day and read Fr. John’s homily here.)

Just one month after returning from our nearly six years living in Greece, we drove to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick with our families the day before the ordination. I remember feeling extraordinarily nervous the whole way – all four hours. Although I believed it was God’s will for Fr. John to be ordained a priest I was also aware of the great responsibility we were about to take on. Never had I so intimately sympathized with St. Gregory the Dialogos Pope of Rome who fled to the hills when he heard he was to be made pope.

Nevertheless, Fr. John’s ordination took place and my nerves gave-way to a calm resignation. I’m aware of how bad that sounds. But, I assume it’s similar to how someone feels once they’ve been enlisted in the army. Yes, it was a free choice to enlist but now I must go to WAR… so there’s that.

Within one week of the ordination we came to St. John’s, Newfoundland to serve all the services of Holy Week, Pascha and Bright Week. It was both intimidating and… no, it was mostly intimidating. But this was my experience; everyone’s experiences are different.

20190118_190600

The house chapel of St. Nektarios (before we moved all the liturgical items to the new worship space).

Over the past six years I’ve received a handful of emails from women asking for advice or guidance about discerning with their husbands whether or not to make the decision to pursue the holy priesthood. If I could be frank I would say, “Before you do this make sure you are convinced there is no other path for you except this. It is too difficult to enter into this life with a lackadaisical attitude. It’s important to understand what is really required of you: a life of struggle and sacrifice.” But I don’t want to scare people so I don’t say that. I usually relegate myself to one piece of advice: to pray consistently, both about one’s perceived calling and as a part of a regular routine of personal discipline.

I believe being a priest’s wife is a calling but a calling to take up your cross (Matt. 16:24) more than anything else. I know there is misconceptions and some people mistakenly think of a priest as a person who receives honour – after all people greet him and bid him farewell by kissing his hand! But you may in fact see your husband insulted, disliked, and slandered more often than you’ll see him praised or honoured. But that’s okay. People are people; one of the best pieces of advice we were ever given (and it was by our old Anglican priest) was: “People do what people do.” Sometimes I feel like embroidering that saying and hanging it on my living room wall 🙂 as it is the most true statement I’ve ever heard. It helps to repeat it to yourself when you are distressed by some people’s words and/or actions.

No, the priest’s life is not one of glory. As an Orthodox priest once told me, “It’s a life of serving tables.”

So, what is the role of the priest’s wife?

I’ll tell you what helps: being able and willing to sing, to clean, to sew, to paint icons, to arrange flowers, to teach Sunday school, to iron, to mend, did I mention to clean?, to cook and to pray. But nothing – I mean nothing – helps the priest as much as your loving support, as being non-argumentative (especially before the Divine Liturgy, and no that’s not a proper word but it’s a word I must enact nonetheless), or listening when he needs to talk, and (only when necessary) gently encouraging him to see things in a different light.

20190118_193646

Incense obstructing what would otherwise have been a nice photo.

Nothing will help your husband, the priest, more than if you yourself struggle to live a Christian life, to lead by example, and to be patient even – no, especially – when you want to complain. And it will also help if you actively love and are invested in your parishioners’ spiritual well-being. It’s important to remember you not only play a role in supporting your husband to sow, tend, and toil the spiritual earth of your parishioners’ hearts, but your own spiritual disposition will impact their spiritual growth. You do not want to be a stumbling block (Matt. 18:6). You want them to know and feel your love so that they are encouraged to struggle for Christ. And this too will help the priest because he’ll see that his co-struggler in this life is working toward the same goal: that we may be one (John 17:21).

I wish you all a compunction-filled Holy Week and a wonderful Pascha! May we all be made worthy to commemorate the Lord’s saving Passion and celebrate His glorious Resurrection!

 

Oops! I mistakenly refer to Righteous Joseph the Patriarch as “Joseph the Betrothed” the entire talk which I only realized after I listened to this.

20190324_091728

The reading of the Six Psalms during Matins (that is why no candles are lit; light comes once the hymn “God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us” is chanted).

Our new worship space, though small and simple (and temporary), means the world to us. We can light candles again! Hang icons! Hold divine services whenever and as frequently as we like! After years of setting up and taking down, of adjusting our schedule because the College couldn’t accommodate us, of holding vigils for Great Feasts in our own home, we finally have one location in which to worship – beautifully (if simply) adorned for the glory of God.

I promised myself not to take one second of this experience for granted. The rental agreement is only one year; but I can’t allow myself to waste even a single moment in not being filled with gratitude for where we are right now.

20190403_190801

Pre-sanctified Liturgy

And many of you have made this possible by your generosity – both financially and spiritually. Your donations and your prayers have truly made an impact and I wanted to write this blog post in order to thank each one of you for the part you’ve played in allowing our Mission to maintain its existence here on this island – the sole Orthodox parish in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

20190403_191305

Giving to prayer what we can’t necessarily afford monetarily produces spiritual fruit. Where God wills He finds a way. If He allows the sun and rain of His grace to fall upon the spiritual soil here the seeds we have the honour of sowing will surely spring up and bear fruit an hundredfold. 

 

A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.

And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.

And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.

And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

(Luke 8: 5-8)

20190403_191844

And of course I must also bow down in gratitude to our parish community and Fr. John for their efforts, prayers, and donations that have made this wonderful opportunity possible.

20190310_183910

Forgiveness Vespers

Who knows what the future holds; “sufficient for the day is its own troubles” (Matthew 6:34). So long as we retain and live up to our name “Christian” every other blessing is a bonus. For now my extreme gratitude has contented me and has tempered my usual rush to the next thing.

In everything give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18).

20190403_200331

At the conclusion of the Pre-sanctified Liturgy