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While our Orthodox Mission, Holy Lady of Vladimir, still holds weekend services at Queen’s College, this post is about our domestic chapel of St. Nektarios.

I’m not a great photographer, but I wanted to show you how the domestic chapel of St. Nektarios looks now. I had written about our house chapel last year, but, to my great joy, we’ve made some additions.

My father is a very accomplished carpenter and I had been telling him how I wanted him to make us an iconostasis for our domestic chapel. Because we didn’t have proper church furniture the icons I painted of Christ, the Mother of God and St. Nektarios were relegated to the side of the chapel instead of in front of the altar. So, I was in a hurry to have something made.

The original plan was for my father to take measurements when he and his wife visited us in the Fall (of 2016). However, we ended up deciding on the spur of the moment, two days before dad was to leave, to build stands instead. Off we went to the hardware store to rent a table saw and buy supplies.

While dad started on making icon stands from scratch with no pattern, his wife Angela and I went to the fabric store. She’s a talented seamstress and equally as enthusiastic about fun projects as my dad and me and so she thought she may be able to sew some coverings on my sewing machine while dad built the stands.

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I regret that there is no photo evidence of the state of my backyard while dad and I assembled the stands together: he sawing and hammering, me sanding and crack filling. (Fr. John would have been there to help but he got called away on a pastoral matter). It was a ton of fun and I was more than ecstatic about the way the chapel would look once we were finished.

In short order the icon stands and the Proskimidi table were ready, the coverings were also ready. All Fr. John and I had to do was varnish/ stain the wood (which we’ll do in the summer – when we can do it outdoors), hang the coverings, and acquire gold crosses to be attached to the fabric. We were able to get the crosses during our trip to the mainland in October; we attached them with fabric glue, but we have yet to attach the large cross to the altar covering.

There is still more to be done. I would like to buy three oil lamps to hang from the ceiling above Christ, Panagia and St. Nektarios. But, I’m trying to not be rash in furnishing the chapel, one thing at a time. I also plan to cover the large wooden candle stand with painted canvas like I’ve marveled at in Orthodox monasteries. (You can sort of see an example of a canvas-covered candle here; it’s to the right, in the middle of the smaller candles).

This particular candle stand (shown below before the “Royal Doors” – or where Royal Doors would be) represents the fiery sword that prohibited entrance to Eden after the Fall. That is why it is placed here in front of the Royal Doors during the Divine Liturgy, after the consecration, while the priest communes.

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You can see all the snow outside the window. This photo was taken at Christmas

 

Words can’t express how grateful I am to have a chapel in my own home (something I always wanted). My gratitude is doubled by the fact that Fr. John has an Orthodox chapel in which to hold daily Morning and Evening Prayer, not to mention vigils.

I’m a vain sort, but I’ll be honest and say that ever since my father built the icon stands and the chapel took on more of “chapel” look I try and make sure I never miss a Vespers service (I’m unable to attend Matins because of work). It’s a comfort to stand in the oil-lamp lit space and pray in front of icons that we have collected during our travels, and moreso in front of icons that I had the honour to paint.

The icons I painted – pictured in the below collage – are as follows: (Top left corner) St. Gregory Palamas (he is to Christ’s right in the photo). Below that is an icon of St. Demetrios (this is a copy of an icon I painted – my godson has the original); Christ the High Priest and St. Nektarios (as well as the Mother of God depicted elsewhere); St. John Maximovitch (bottom left) – which I just finished last week; and St. John the Theologian (bottom right).

It comes as a great consolation to me to have the icons I painted – icons that took me countless hours to paint – in our chapel. I can’t speak for other iconographers, but for me, when I paint an icon I don’t feel ownership over it. I may be a bit more critical of my own work than I would be of others, but at some point the icons I paint stop being my work and become the countenances of the persons depicted. And yet, I know each inch of the icons in intimate detail, they are so personal and yet so distinctly their own. It’s hard to explain, perhaps I’m just babbling. So, I’ll suffice it to say I’m deeply humbled that images I painted with my own unworthy hand now adorn an Orthodox chapel. I thank God for my talent and hope He accepts my offering.

Lastly, I want to say while I love our domestic chapel, my joy would more than quadruple if our parish were able to establish a proper Orthodox church here on the island of Newfoundland. Amen, so be it.

Please keep us in your holy prayers!

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(The photos included in this post are some of things I get to see while traveling for work in Newfoundland.)

Each time Christmas vacation came around during my (first) Bachelor degree I had the habit of taking a break from the “great books” I read endlessly for school and delving into a novel or two (or three). See, I was enrolled in a Great Books program modeled after St. John’s College in Santa Fe, in which we read volumes upon volumes of primary sources: Plato, Dante, Bacon, Spencer, Shelley, and so much more. Letting my mind read just “for fun” instead of with a critical eye to themes and philosophies, once essays and exams were finished, was a real treat.

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Summertime in Newfoundland

The last few years – thanks to my brother’s intriguing Christmas presents – I have revived this habit of reading a novel during Christmas vacation. Thus, I found myself driving back to my office from one of the many coves on the Avalon Peninsula (my work takes me to some interesting places) reflecting on the novel I had been reading. I was at a place in the book where the band of thieves – a band of friends, each member contributing to the strength of the whole by their individual talents and personalities – were beginning to put their plans into action. The goal? To overthrow the evil ruler of their land.

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As I drove passed trees and lakes, mountains and ocean views, two things stood out to me: First, just how exciting the story was, how I wanted to pull my car over to finish it, how real the friendships were. And second, as I watched cars drive passed me – cars full of regular people likely coming from shopping or heading to work – I thought about the monotony of modern life: seemingly no battles to be fought, no need to forge strong bonds of friendship in order to fight to the death for something you believe in, no weapons to train with or evil rulers to overthrow. That’s why, I said to myself, so many read books like these, watch movies, tv shows, play video games. Because in those contexts we get to live vicariously through characters whose lives are far more intriguing than our own. It satisfies, to a limited extent, something each person has within them: the desire to have something to fight for, to have meaningful friendships in which, together, we seek higher ideals, better versions of ourselves, for the good of the many and for the benefit of our own selves.

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But, I thought with a sigh, as I looked at the small icon of Christ hanging from my rear view mirror, there is a battle to be fought, an evil ruler to overthrow, and a kingdom to be conquered.  It’s just most people don’t know about it, or refuse to join the fight. The battle is for salvation; the evil ruler is our ‘old man’ (Col 3:9); the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom we fight to conquer and capture. Christ teaches, “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). Why from the days of John the Baptist? Because he was a warrior, a spiritual warrior. And we all have the choice to join his army, to fight with violence to take the Kingdom by force, through asceticism (fasting, prayer, good works, church attendance, etc.).

I have friends, worthy friends, who have invited me to join the fight with them. With whom I attempt to lead a spiritual life, to pray, to fast, to fight for God’s grace, to overthrow sinful inclinations and habitual passions, destructive forces (both outside of myself and within myself) in order to engage the enemy in a fight. I do this, through God’s grace and the prayers and fellowship of my friends, in the hope I will conquer and be saved.

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Since I’m already attempting to take a modern medium (the novel) and extrapolate some lessons about the hidden spiritual reality in our own world, I will take it one step further and ask the question posed to each listener in Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here: “Did you (Will you) exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in cage?”

The time to fight is now. The time to put on the armour of Christ – the prayer robe, our sword – is now (Eph 6:10-18). The time to forge meaningful bonds of friendship, to fight alongside fellow spiritual warriors, is now. Alternatively, we can exchange our part in the war for a lead role in cage. The decision is ours, but the war wages despite our indifference. We choose a side whether we do something or nothing.

My friends, will you join me in the fight?

____________________________

For those interested, a fantastic portrayal of spiritual warfare is flawlessly depicted in Fr. Matthew Penney’s short story, The Light Guardian (click on the title to read an excerpt), published by Lumination Press: fusing light into the fiction genre.

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Blessing of the waters in the domestic chapel of St. Nektarios

A portion of St. Sophronius of Jerasalem’s awesome prayer for the Feast of the Theophany:

We glorify you, the Creator and Fashioner of the universe. We glorify you, only-begotten Son of God, without father from your Mother, without mother from your Father. For in the preceding feast we saw you as a babe, but in the present one we see you full and perfect man, our God, made manifest as perfect God from perfect God.
For today the moment of the feast is here for us and the choir of saints assembles here with us, and Angels keep festival with mortals. Today the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dwelt upon the waters. Today the Sun that never sets has dawned and the world is made radiant with the light of the Lord. Today the Moon with its radiant beams sheds light on the world. Today the stars formed of light make the inhabited world lovely with the brightness of their splendour. Today the clouds rain down from heaven the shower of justice for mankind. Today the Uncreated by his own will accepts the laying on of hands by his own creature. Today the Prophet and Forerunner draws near, but stands by with fear seeing God’s condescension towards us. Today the streams of Jordan are changed into healing by the presence of the Lord. Today all creation is watered by mystical streams. Today the failings of mankind are being washed away by the waters of Jordan. Today Paradise is opened for mortals and the Sun of justice shines down on us. Today the bitter water as once for Moses’ people is changed to sweetness by the presence of the Lord. Today we have been delivered from the ancient grief, and saved as the new Israel. Today we have been redeemed from darkness and are filled with radiance by the light of the knowledge of God. Today the gloomy fog of the world is cleansed by the manifestation of our God. Today all creation shines with light from on high. Today error has been destroyed and the coming of the Master makes for us a way of salvation. Today things on high keep festival with those below, and those below commune with those on high. Today the sacred and triumphant festal assembly of the Orthodox exults. Today the Master hastens towards baptism, that he may lead humanity to the heights. Today the One who does not bow bows down to his own servant, that he may free us from servitude. Today we have purchased the Kingdom of heaven, for the Kingdom of the Lord will have no end. Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world has been filled with gladness. The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and were afraid. The Jordan turned back when it saw the fire of the godhead descending in bodily form and entering it. The Jordan turned back as it contemplated the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, descending and flying about you. The Jordan turned back as it saw the Invisible made visible, the Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of a servant. The Jordan turned back and the mountains leapt as they saw God in the flesh, and the clouds uttered their voice, marvelling at what had come to pass, seeing Light from Light, true God from true God, the Master’s festival today in Jordan; seeing him drowning the death from disobedience, the goad of error and the bond of Hell in Jordan and granting the Baptism of salvation to the world. Therefore I too, a sinner and your unworthy servant, recount the greatness of your wonders and, seized with fear, in compunction cry out to you:
Great are you, O Lord, and wonderful your works, and no word is adequate to sing the praise of your wonders!

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In hopes of giving the children in our parish encouragement in their little prayer lives and a visible reminder of the beauty of Orthodoxy, these handmade prayer books were made with love. They’re inspired by illuminated manuscripts, just as the prayer books I make for myself are (you can view them here and here).

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Each one contains prayers to the Holy Trinity, the Mother of God, the Creed, the Jesus Prayer and are customized to include the child’s patron saint and troparion (a prayer specific to that saint).

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While I drew all the letters and the decorative border found on the last page, I wanted the children to participate in making their personal prayer books more beautiful. So, I included black and white icons for them to colour (I didn’t draw the icons – unfortunately, I didn’t leave myself enough time).

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Then I uploaded all the images I drew and spent far too long trying to format the little booklet on my computer. Once I had them all printed I wrote the name of the saint under the icons I had lamented and inserted in each child’s prayer book.

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The finishing touch was attaching a gold ribbon to each prayer book that my (beloved) husband cut and dipped in beeswax so they wouldn’t fray.

Here’s a picture of all the prayer books with the various patron saints’ icons and troparia:

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Then I wrapped them all up and watched with delight as the children cautiously opened them after Divine Liturgy on Christmas morning. They were genuinely happy and a few of them didn’t even want to put them down while we broke the Fast with our annual Christmas brunch.

I really enjoyed making the prayer books, and I hope and pray the children enjoy them too.

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“It is of great significance if there is a person who truly prays in a family. Prayer attracts God’s Grace and all the members of the family feel it, even those whose hearts have grown cold. Pray always.”

-Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

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From the heights our Saviour, Christ, the Dayspring of the East, is come to visit us; and we, who once were in the shadow and the dark, behold, now we have found the truth; for from a holy Virgin, the Lord hath been born today

(Exaposteilarion of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ)

Merry Christmas, readers!

I hope and pray you experience the light of Christ and the dissipation of spiritual darkness in your own hearts this Christmas season:

For Christ is born now, twofold in nature, to fill Heaven with mankind.

(Kathisma of the Nativity)

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

 

webhuron“The Huron Carol” (or “Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”) is Canada’s oldest Christmas carol, written in 1643 by the Roman Catholic missionary Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit. He went to Lake Huron, a place located on the north shore of Lake Ontario where the Huron natives lived. He wrote the lyrics of the carol in the native language of the Huron people – Wyandot language. The song’s original Huron title is “Jesous Ahatonhia” (“Jesus, he is born”).  The well-known English lyrics were written in 1926 by Jessie Edgar Middleton.

Laying aside the fact that St. John Chrysostom discourages the telling of God’s great economy in allegorical forms, I find this carol endearing. Have a listen!

The English lyrics are as follows:

‘Twas in the moon of winter time when all the birds had fled,

that Mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead.

Before their light the stars grew dim,

And wand’ring hunters heard the hymn:

“Jesus, your King, is born; Jesus is born; In Excelsis Gloria!”

 

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender Babe was found.

A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped His beauty’round.

And as the hunter braves drew nigh,

the angel song rang loud and high:

“Jesus, your King, is born; Jesus is born; In Excelsis Gloria!”

 

The earliest moon of winter time is not so round and fair

as was the ring of glory on the helpless Infant there.

While Chiefs from far before Him knelt,

with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.

“Jesus, your King, is born; Jesus is born; In Excelsis Gloria!”

 

O children of the forest free, O sons of Manitou,

The Holy Child of earth and heav’n is born today for you.

Come, kneel before the radiant Boy

who brings you beauty, peace and joy.

“Jesus, your King, is born; Jesus is born; In Excelsis Gloria!”

bf2c84ea6332b95c29294b84515cb114Today in the Holy Orthodox Church we commemorate the Hieromartyr Eleutherius, his mother Evanthia and Caribus the Eparch:

(Source) Saint Eleutherius, the son of an illustrious Roman citizen, was raised in Christian piety by his mother. His virtue was such that at the age twenty, he had been elevated to bishop of Illyria. In the reign of the emperor Hadrian, Saint Eleutherius was tortured for his bold preaching about Christ, then was beheaded at Rome with his mother Evanthia. The Eparch Caribus, who had tortured Saint Eleutherius, also came to believe in Christ and was executed.