Archive for the ‘Contemporary Monasteries’ Category

The ever-memorable Abbess Makrina

The ever-memorable Abbess Makrina

I am overjoyed to introduce you to The Blessed Makrina Project. Fiery Furnace Productions is currently in the writing/development stages of a documentary on the life of Blessed Gerontissa Makrina. (Gerontissa was an abbess of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Odigitria – the All-holy Directress – in Portaria, Greece and reposed in 1995). Traveling to Greece in May 2015, Fiery Furnace Productions will interview the many people touched by the life, wisdom and sanctity of Gerontissa Makrina. According to the website this documentary will:

  • Help promote the English translation of the book Λόγια Καρδίας (Words from the Heart): 500 pages of the life and wisdom of Gerontissa Makrina
  • Reveal previously unknown stories of how Gerontissa Makrina touched the lives of the faithful
  • Capture the beauty of Orthodox Monasticism in America and Greece
  • Tell the story of Gerontissa Makrina’s work in revitalizing Orthodox Monasticism
  • Create opportunity to establish an Orthodox voice in the digital video revolution

As many of you may know I have a deep love and devotion for the ever-memorable Abbess Makrina. I have posted numerous posts about her, a number of amateur translations of excerpts from her book Λόγια Καρδίας, and even had the blessing of giving a 40-minute talk in London, Ontario about her holy life that you can watch here.

When Innocent first wrote me to ask if I would help with this very worthy project I jumped at the chance. Although I regret that I will not be able to accompany them to Greece I want to help spread the word about this documentary and beg you to consider donating to help with expenses that will not only help the production of this documentary, but with the English translation of her God-inspired book Λόγια Καρδίας (Words from the Heart).

You have all heard of the newly-canonized Saint Paisios. Well, let me tell you a story about St. Paisios’ love and respect for the holy Abbess, Gerontissa Makrina: Once, Gerontissa Makrina traveled to a monastery in Halikidi where St. Paisios was staying. When they met he and she both prostrated to each other (just like St. Mary of Egypt and St. Zosimas).

Furthermore, he was not the only contemporary holy elder who recognized the height of her sanctity: Elder Iakovos Tsalikis – who lived in a monastery in Evia – used to say, “If I lived in Volos I would go on foot to kiss Gerontissa’s hand and get her blessing before going to work each day.” Elder Ephraim of Katounakia also loved and respected her very much. When she went to visit him at a hospital he was staying in his disciple asked him if he would receive her and he proclaimed, “Open wide the doors!” In fact, Elder Ephraim of Katounakia prayed and received confirmation (πληροφορία) from God that Gerontissa occupied a very high spiritual state like that of Blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast.

Now, can you possibly doubt her holiness and the worthiness of this project? Please consider making a monetary donation, spreading the word through social media, and offering your prayers for the successful completion of this project so that the English-speaking world can learn more about this dynamic and holy woman who lived in our dark times and yet became a Mother of the Church, a saint like the saints of old: wise in spiritual matters, reverent in every regard and virtuous beyond compare!

Once again the website for The Blessed Makrina Project can be found here.

May we have her blessing!

At Gerontissa's grave, May 2012.

At Gerontissa’s grave, May 2012.

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Below is a description of the history and miracles of the Archangel Michael at the monastery of his namesake on the island of Mytilene.



Dear People,

Having read this wonderful contemporary miracle performed by the Archangel Michael, I would like to also share with you the history of Archangel Michael’s miraculous appearance at this Orthodox Monastery in Mandamadou, Mytilini, Greece in the 10th century.  I have personally made pilgrimages to this shrine many times during my visits to Greece.  In fact, the photograph of the bas-relief at the end of this article [lessonsfromamonastery has placed this photo at the beginning of this post] was taken by me personally. It is truly a special feeling to be in the presence of this unique sculpture that was created from the elements of martyred Christian blood and fine white sand.   During the tenth century when the Byzantine Empire was at the height of its development, the Saracen pirates were also very active in the Mediterranean.  They would attack the islands of the Aegean and especially the Monasteries.  They would plunder, burn, murder and take hostage many of the inhabitants of the islands and the Monasteries.  These hostages would end up in the slave markets of the Middle East.

We learn the details of this miracle and the history of these islands from the local inhabitants which have been handed down to us from generation to generation.  The Monastery of Archangel Michael was built like a fortress with high thick walls and towers.  The pirates had taken notice of this particular Monastery and they were determined to plunder it.  This particular attack took place during the springtime when the monks were preparing the Monastery buildings for Holy Week and Pascha.  The leader of the pirates that wanted to attack this Monastery was called Sirhan.  He was a giant of a man.  He always looked fierce and angry.  He gathered his men together and said to them: “This time we will enter the Monastery.  The only thing that I want from the Monastery is the gold cup with which the monks use for the Divine Liturgy.  You may have everything else that you find there.  Sirhan was armed with an ax and a sword.  They set sail for Mytilini.  They arrived at the Monastery about midnight and hid amongst the trees surrounding the Monastery.

As we said previously, the monks had been white-washing the buildings of the Monastery in preparation for the Easter holidays.  That particular night the monks felt secure because it was still winter and they did not assign a lookout to protect the Monastery from the marauding pirates.  At one point during the night, the simantron was sounded calling the monks to prayer.  The simantron is a long carved piece of wood that is struck with a mallet.  Tradition tells us that this is what Noah used to call the animals to his Ark.  One could hear the footsteps of the monks as they hurried on the wooden verandah as they came down to the Church.  In a little while everything was quiet.  At that very moment the leader of the pirates gave the signal.  One of the pirates threw a hooked rope over the Monastery wall.  He climbed over the wall, jumped down into the courtyard and proceeded to unlock the large main door of the Monastery.  The pirates entered the Church while crying Alu Akbah.  Before the monks could come to their senses from the sudden attack, they were quickly put to death.

A novice monk, Gabriel, was in the altar with the abbot when the attack took place.  He quickly exited the altar through a window and ended up on the roof of the Church.  The pirates saw the young novice exit the altar.  They followed him up onto the roof.  Almost immediately a load noise was heard.  The roof of the Church appeared to be transformed into a ragging ocean.  Above the foaming waves appeared a huge and angry Soldier.  He was holding a sword that was giving off tongues of fire.  He lunged at the pirates.  The pirates fled for their lives as they abandoned their weapons, the stolen items and fled in panic.  The novice Gabriel was the only one that remained alive from the attack.  He was overwhelmed by the appearance of the Archangel Michael.  When he came to his senses, he quickly ran down from the roof and went into the Church to see if any of his fellow monks had survived the attack.  When he ascertained that they were all dead, he went up to the icon of the Archangel Michael in the Church and prayerfully asked:  “What kind of face was that that I saw on the roof of the Church?  My beloved Archangel Michael intercede to the Lord that He will grant repose to the souls of my brother monks, also inspire me to be able to form the beauty of your face the way I saw you on the roof of the Church.”  Suddenly, as if inspired by the Archangel, he looked for a sponge and an earthen vessel.  He knelt reverently in the Church next to each of his dead brother monks and sponged up their martyred blood and filled the earthen vessel with it.  He then went outside the Church to get white fine sand.  He mixed the blood with the white fine sand that was all around the Monastery.  He took the mixture and immediately began the task of shaping the face of the Archangel as he saw him on the roof of the Church.  From the very beginning of his effort to form the face of the Archangel, he felt the very physical presence and help of the Archangel.  His hands felt as if they were being guided by an invisible force.  He quickly formed the face of the Archangel.  It was the same angry face that also had a divine countenance.

As this drama unfolded at the Monastery of the Archangel Michael, the people who lived nearby were unaware of the horror that was taking place at the monastic community.  But there was a shepherd boy that night that could see the ocean from high on a hill.  He suddenly saw the pirate ships anchored near the shore.  He mounted his horse and proceeded toward the Monastery in an effort to warn the monks.  When he arrived at the Monastery the scene that he found there caused him to faint.  When he came to his senses, he proceeded to inform Alexi, the village elder of Stenaka what happened at the Monastery.  Alexi immediately left for the Monastery accompanied by fifty others on horseback.  When he entered the Church he could not believe what he saw.  He found the slaughtered monks.  They were all bathed in blood.  The abbot was found dead in front of the altar table.  He clinched his teeth as he went into the courtyard desiring very much to avenge the killings.  The men mounted their horses and followed the trail to find the pirates.  They approached a high point on the hill that looked down over the sea.  They stopped suddenly for the scene they saw before them made them shudder.  They saw those whom they had been chasing dead and scattered all over the hill.  They had been killed by one thrust of a sword.  The thrust of the sword went from the forehead all the way down to the belly.  Their bodies had been literally cut in two.  The cut of the sword was exactly the same on each of the pirates.  They all believed it was divine retribution meted out by the Archangel.

In the meantime, two pirates who had been waiting on the shore for their fellow pirates to return from the Monastery began to worry about their delayed return.  They decided to climb the hill and look for their brother pirates.  When they reached the top of the hill and saw their dead fellow pirates they immediately returned to their boats.  Their leader was also waiting for their return.  They informed him about the tragedy that had befallen their fellow pirates.  As soon as he heard the news, he hit the table with his hand and pledged to someday seek revenge.  This revenge came the following year when Sirhan put a plan together to capture the village of Stenaka.  A year later the pirates disembarked quietly on the shore and prepared themselves to attack the city at sunrise.  They believed that the residents would be sleeping without being aware of the impending attack.

During this very crucial moment for the city of Stenaka, the Archangel Michael intervened again.  Stephen, the son of the mayor Alexi, had just prepared to retire for the night, suddenly saw before him the Archangel Michael. He was very striking in his silver attire.  His blond hair fell upon his shoulders and his silver clothing reflected off his wings.  He held a fiery sword in his right hand.  His left hand was lifted up and outstretched.  He smiled at the young man and with a sweet voice said: “Get up Stephen.  Go immediately with your father to prepare for the defense of the city.  The Saracens are coming to obliterate you.  Do not be afraid!  I and your patron Saint will be at your side.  We will protect you and we will direct you.  The pirates have anchored their ships down below where your city is.  A few of them will attack the castle first so that you will think they are not attacking the city.  They will then unlock the doors of the castle.  Then they will attack you at sunset.  You should be prepared to defend the city.”

Everything unfolded just as the Archangel had said it would.  When the pirates attacked they found the defenders at the ramparts of the city.  At that very moment, a group led by Stephen, who had quietly gone down the embankment to the shore, set fire to the pirate ships.  The pirates saw the light from the fires; they panicked and ran for their lives.  The panic that followed is beyond description.  As they were running toward the ocean the defenders of Stenaka pursued them on horseback and the pirates were decimated.  One group of pirates led by Sirhan, managed to escape the attack and attempted to hide themselves in the forest.  But the group of defenders from the city that set fire to the ships encircled and annihilated them.

Since that time many centuries have intervened.  The Monastery was eventually destroyed by the constant attacks of pirates.  In the eighteenth century an old small Church was replaced with a new and larger one.  But the bas-relief of the Archangel Michael has been preserved there since the tenth century.  It is the very same one that was formed by the hands of the novice monk Gabriel.  It continues to have the same life-like features.  It has been unscathed over the centuries in spite of the fact that thousands upon thousands of pilgrims reverence it by kissing it.  Some the faithful try to take chips from the bust.  These of course leave marks on the face.  But miraculously these marks quickly heal themselves.  You must remember that the bust has been created from the mixture of human blood and sand.  Also remember this is no ordinary human blood, it is the blood of martyrs.  Every now and then the eyes of the Archangel become filled with tears.  The faithful gather up these tears with cotton balls.  To this very day astounding miracles are performed for those who hasten to the shrine with faith.  The Archangel continues to perform profound miracles like the one that is referred to at the beginning of this article* with Sudan Air.

+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones

*To read this miraculous account see here.

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unnamedI know that many of you cannot read Modern Greek, but Athonite fathers have released a very important and timely document concerning ecumenism. I have translated the Greek description of the document (rather poorly, for which I apologize, but at least it will give you the gist of the important topics addressed by the document). If you can read Greek you can view the PDF below. If you can’t read Greek you may still want to look through the many photos of the world-wide ecumenical events the fathers have included in this document, as well as icons of confessor saints and Athonite martyrs or even the long list of Athonite signatures. Hopefully a proper English translation will be available in the future.

“With the grace of our All-holy Lady, the Athonite fathers take an opposing position to the impermissible ecumenical actions* of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In a last conscious effort of the Holy Community of the Holy Mountain and the Orthodox group [of] abbots, coenobitic monastics, monks of kellis, monks of sketes and ascetics, they offer their testimony with boldness and a mindset of confession.”

*the Greek word used here literally means “openings”, but for the sake of clarity in the English language I’ve translated it “actions”.

UPDATE: the previous title of this post was “Athonite Fathers Release Important and Timely 70-page Document”. The document is 69 pages as a PDF but it is in fact 127 pages.


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis Fall Fr. John and I had the great blessing of going on a little spiritual retreat to the wonderful monastery of the Mother of God the Consoler (Panagia Parigoritissa) in Brownsburg-Chatham, Quebec. While we were there my brother, Fr. Matthew, and his wife Presvytera Catherine, came over from Ontario so we could spend some quality family time in the peaceful and prayerful environment of the monastery. I wanted to share some photos of our pilgrimage with you, along with the history of the monastery and ask you to please consider donating to the monastery’s building fund.

The History of the Monastery (taken from the monastery’s website with minor edits):OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Panagia Parigoritissa (the Most Holy Theotokos the Consoler) Greek Orthodox Monastery – the first Greek Orthodox monastery in Quebec – was founded in 1993, under the auspicious care of his Eminence, Metropolitan Sotirios, head of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto  (Canada).

Under the direction of their spiritual father, Elder Ephraim of Philotheou, two monastic women, Abbess Thekla and Sister Ephraimia, migrated from the ancient and historical Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner of Serres in central Macedonia to Canada. Once in Quebec they found themselves in particularly trying conditions. They were obliged to forego the age-old organized monastic life which flourishes in the mild Mediterranean climate of Greece, and destined to engage in an effort to establish a new type of settlement.

skete2An old farm once belonging to an English-speaking family was bought with the purpose of being converted into a monastery.  It was an extensive landscape comprising of 235 acres of dense forest set on a hill in the breath-taking Laurentians, 16 km northwest of Lachute in Brownsburg-Chatham.  Grass and bramble had grown over the property and the house was in ruins and in need of repair.  A surfeit of love, sacrifice and arduous labour on the part of the increasing number of sisters and kind volunteers was required in order to transform the area into a garden of our Most Holy Mother the Consoler, to whom the monastery is dedicated.

For a more complete history see here.

P:5-267 MonastèrePérimés5-267-A105-Périmé 19 déc.dwg A105.1 (1)

A beautiful sketch of the proposed expansion.

The Monastery’s Construction Project (also taken from the website, with minor edits):

Fr. Matthew showcasing a fantastic book (Abba Dorotheos' Practical Teachings on the Christian Life) in the monastery's lovely boutique.

Fr. Matthew showcasing a fantastic book (Abba Dorotheos’ Practical Teachings on the Christian Life) in the monastery’s lovely boutique.

In the Spring of 2009, the building project of a pavilion for the sisters’ needs began.  The building will house the 22 sisters who are now sharing 16 rooms in two different buildings, far apart from each other.  There will be an infirmary, workspaces, a kitchen and a dining room, an office, a library and two chapels to solely serve the needs of the nuns.  By accommodating the sisters, facilities will be available once again to receive pilgrims. For, aside from monastics’ objectives of spiritual ascent, prayer and constant contact with God, their goal and ongoing endeavor is to provide a place of reprieve for the weary souls of pilgrims.  Thus, beyond serving the day to day needs of the sisters, the expansion of the monastery will also provide much needed guest houses and reception space for pilgrims and people in need.

The monastery's beautiful courtyard.

The monastery’s beautiful courtyard.

And so, financial aid is needed for the continuance and completion of the project.  One can offer money, expertise, material, equipment or anything that could be of help in the project.  According to the Church Fathers by offering alms to monasteries we relieve the monastics slightly from their material burden, allowing them more time for prayer and spiritual work.  In this way, the monastics pray for their benefactors and everyone benefits from their prayers.

You can offer a donation by credit card or by sending a check or money order to the address below. Donations can be made in whole amounts or monthly payments over a certain period of time.  If you wish to help in other ways please contact the sisters of the monastery.

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall find mercy.” (Mt 5:7) Give and you will receive God’s blessings.  You will be counted worthy of His grace and you will be eternally commemorated in the monastery’s Divine Liturgy: “For the builders of this holy monastery let us pray to the Lord…  Lord have mercy”, (from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

under construction

The current state of the building’s construction.

Monastere Vierge Marie la Consolatrice
827 ch. de la Carriere
Brownsburg-Chatham, QC
J8G 1K7

Tel: 450-533-4313/ 450-533-1170
Fax: 450-533-1169/ 450-533-6234


To the far right you can see the building under construction. Next to that is the icon of the Mother of God which is located just above the entrance to the monastery’s chapel.

If you wish to see photos of the building project go here.

Please share information about the monastery’s building project with as many people as you can!

May the Mother of God be with us all!

Here Fr. John is laughing about how one of the ponies just started eating Pres. Catherine's shirt.

Fr. John is laughing about how one of the monastery’s ponies just about chewed off the bottom of Pres. Catherine’s skirt.

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How can we help our children regain their faith if they stray away from church in high school or when they go to college?

Mother Raphaela:

We cannot do anything to help our children regain their faith if they stray away from Church as they grow up. Once our children have grown, we have to let go of them and let them lead their own lives and make their own choices and decisions. Whether we have raised them well (and the biggest part of that is giving them an example by the way we have lived our lives and spoken our words), whether we have made huge mistakes that we must learn to repent of before God and His people, or whether we have raised them well along with some mistakes, what is left to us is prayer. Prayer is not trying to manipulate our children from a distance—perhaps even thinking that God and His saints are more powerful manipulators than we are if we can get them on our side. Prayer is taking the time and making the space regularly in our lives to put our children (and all of our loved ones) in God’s hands; asking the saints for their help in doing this; asking their guardian angels and their saints to be there with them. Prayer is letting go and trusting God. Such prayer is also a powerful statement to our children that we trust them. As long as we are taking the time and making the space to rescue them, we are giving them an equally powerful message that we think they are still children, incapable of handling whatever it may be.

Will our children always “turn out right”? No. Especially not on our schedule. But if we truly pray, if we truly love God, then we give them the best possible atmosphere to choose what is good and true, even when it does not seem right to us. And they will know that we love them, no matter what. This is the way God loves. For some of us, part of the Cross we may be asked to carry is to share in the suffering He endures each time one of us turns away from Him in order to pursue our own self-willed agenda.

Overall, the best thing we can do for ourselves and our children (and for all of our loved ones) is really to learn and understand that we are always, wholly, totally in the presence of God no matter what we do or say, no matter what we endure or perpetrate. Whether we recognize His presence or not, we cannot get away from Him. If we accept this presence and the great love that He has offered us and will always offer us, even now we have a foretaste of heaven. This is a simple understanding, but it is the basis on which all theology and prayer rest. Any words of theology and prayer apart from this realization are simply “noisy gongs and clanging cymbals” (1 Corinthians 13:1). When we make the time and the space, with God we acquire the love of the Holy Spirit, and as St. Seraphim teaches us, then God can save thousands around us.

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Image retrieved from http://stpaisiusmonastery.org/

Dn. Michael Hyatt interviews his wife Gail about her trip to St. Paisius Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Safford, Arizona (in 2011): You can hear the interview here.

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