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Looking for a bit of balance? A new beginning? A good Nativity fast?

Consider My Beautiful Advent.

Holistic Christian Life

(Source) Join your host Cynthia Damaskos from Holistic Christian Life for a program that supports your Advent journey. Cynthia provides tools that will help you along the way, including interviews with priests and authors for inspiration and encouragement. As a certified Health Coach, Cynthia also wants to make sure that you are eating well and handling what can be a stressful time of year in a healthy way. It’s a program for mind and body…but especially soul as we look forward to the birth of Christ.

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On October 15, 2010, the feast of St. Euthymius the New of Thessaloniki, my incredible grandmother Constance (Connie) Murphy passed away very suddenly. She went into the hospital one day and died that same night. As we have done in the past, to honour her memory this year we offered the post Divine Liturgy snack in her honour. To the left you can see her photo and a candle in a small cross candle stand. (You can also see a portion of the chapel in the background).

As I am sure many can relate, I had a very difficult time facing the fact that she was gone. I felt deep, deep grief for years. Last year, on the eighth anniversary of her death, I wrote this:

Icon of the Theotokos, Multiplier of Wheat

October 15, 2018

Eight years ago today Grammy died. We were staying at the monastery of … [in Greece] and because of this Mum couldn’t reach us and we found out via email.

All these years later the pain is so fresh, feelings of utter disbelief, of being cheated, are still so powerful. Death came as a thief in the night and stole her away from me. I never had the chance to say goodbye or even steel myself for her death. I knew nothing about it until it was all over.

She wasn’t particularly sick. She just died. As stupid as it is I truly believed she would know when she’d go beforehand. But if she knew she never let on.

I don’t know for what I still so intensely grieve: because she is gone or because I never got to say goodbye.  I was halfway around the world, in Greece. I couldn’t even see her. She was just gone.

I don’t know. I mean, I really must ask myself if I mourn more for her for having died or for myself for being deprived of her. She was so wise, and good, kind – extraordinarily kind – and generous. She was everything good and had laboured to eradicate everything unsavoury from her character. She was very persuasive because she lived what she taught. She was cautious and prudent, patient, and long-suffering. She refrained from saying anything ill of anyone (even true things). She loved everyone and bore hardships with prayer, sacrifice and thanksgiving. She radiated warmth and goodness and genuine love. The more I think about her the more convinced I am that I mourn only for myself.

May God make me worthy to bear her name and honour the memory of her virtuous life.

May her memory be eternal!

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Elder (Papou) Joseph the Hesychast has been canonized!!! GLORY TO THEE, O LORD, GLORY TO THEE!!!

I’m so overjoyed! Last night over supper my godmother, who is visiting us for the weekend, mentioned she heard Papou would be canonized soon and I have been thinking about it all day. I’ve heard he would be canonized “soon” for quite some time but this time felt different, more imminent.

We went for a hike this afternoon after church and I spent the time reflecting on what I would do to celebrate his canonization whenever that took place. And just a few hours later we received the good news: he was canonized today. Along with three notable holy elders, Daniel of Katounakia, Ephraim of Katounakia (the disciple of St. Papou Joseph) and Ieronymous of Simonpetra. May we have all of their blessings!

St. Joseph was instrumental in my conversion to Orthodoxy and now his prayers (which have always been strong) are that much stronger. Call on him and see what miracles happen!

Glory to God!

Balancing Life

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My car’s “icon corner” with very faded rose petals from the Epitaphion

I have seriously neglected this, my little spot on the internet. It’s not that I don’t want to write; it’s that life seems to get in the way of me having the chance to reflect on life. When I was a student in Thessaloniki, and even in the early years of us living in Newfoundland, I seemed to have so much more time. Now, I’m so busy during my workday that I’m too drained to take the time to craft a blog post in the evenings. And all too often the things I’m experiencing and observing in my social work practice aren’t things I can readily share with the public. Weekends are jammed with cleaning, Sunday school prep, church services and the few minutes I get to pursue my hobbies (painting icons, reading, writing, making prayer ropes, talking to my family on the phone, etc.).

But there has been one thing standing out in my mind lately that I thought I should share: how tempting it is to let the buzz of life infiltrate our senses to the point that we begin to lose a bit of the intensity we ought to exhibit for the spiritual life. I think when you have an intense job it makes things worse. I work predominately with women who identify as victims of violence. Usually when I disclose that detail about my work people’s faces scrunch up and they suck in air. I assure you it’s not as bad as it sounds. My primary role is to assist them when they are seeking safe accommodations, ie. to provide a solution to their need for housing. Easy. Sort of. But it can be really intense, especially when there is a need for intervention due to violence or the possibility of violence in vulnerable people’s lives. So, I get swept up in it. I get overly invested. I dream about them. I wake in the night and pray for them. I think of them when I chant the Psalms at church. I ache for them. All good, Christian emotions, right? Well, yeah, maybe.

20180102_084859[1]But, these strong emotions can also create a barrier for me to focus on my own spiritual health. Am I thinking too much about my clients when I should have a clear and focused mind for prayer? Am I allowing my emotional state to become imbalanced when I am suppose to be the calm in the storm for my clients? Am I considering myself a “good” Christian because I am invested in their lives, rather than grateful to God for putting people in my life through whom I can see Christ?

There can be too much of a good thing and I think it’s really important for those of us really invested in our careers (whatever they may be) to make sure we don’t allow them to replace our “first-love” (Rev 2:4). It’s not that we shouldn’t pour ourselves into the work we do; by all means, we should labour as best we can for the glory of God. But we shouldn’t give our whole heart away to our work. We need to keep it for Christ. We need to filter our strong ties to our work through our primary love for God.

I don’t know how to do this exactly, but I’ll tell you a few tips I try to employ. Though truthfully, some days are better than others and many days instead of employing these tips I turn the radio up really loud in my car, roll down the windows, and exhale many times in an effort to calm down :).

Back to the tips: Have prayer ropes strategically placed everywhere you can: in your car, on your wrist, in your office. I recently made about a dozen (what I like to call) “finger-skinis” which are small ring-size, 12 knot prayer ropes (komboskinis) that fit on your finger. I try to always have one on my person because they are great for being discrete when in meetings or with clients.

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Sunday school “finger-skinis” the kids use before we begin our lesson.

Play recordings of prayers. My go-to? This. It’s in Slavonic so even when I play it in my office at work no one knows it’s actually just a repetition of the Jesus Prayer. #spiritualhacks

Keep icons in discrete places in your office (again, if you can). Write prayers or inspirational quotes on sticky notes. Say a prayer before you start your work day. Call upon the saint of the day. We can employ so many things to bring our mind and heart back into focus, to constantly remember, “If we live we will live for Christ and if we die we will die for Christ and inherit eternal life”. (I can’t remember which saint said this but it’s written on a sticky note in my office).

I’ve quoted this secular song before, but I feel it’s such a valid question we need to be asking ourselves. So I’ll pose it again: “Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

Where our treasure is there will our hearts be also. Our work lives can contribute to making sure our treasure, and therefore our hearts, are in the right place so long as we don’t allow our treasure to be our work/ school/ fill-in-the-blank. They are means to an end: the end is love for Christ expressed in our love for others, not the other way around.