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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!

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Below is a loosely translated transcript of a homily by Metropolitan Athanasius of Limmasol. While I have tried my best to be faithful to the Modern Greek, because the source is audio in some places I’ve only captured the essence of what the Bishop is saying. It’s not a word-for-word translation but it gets the point across, I think.

I find these two stories perfectly illustrate the state of our hardened hearts toward those we believe are “lesser” human beings simply because we refuse to see our own sins and passions as equal or worse than the sins of others.   

agia skepi

Agia Skepi Therapeutic Community

The Bishop begins, “I want to share two stories with you.”

The first story:

Christmas was on a Sunday that year. It was the Friday before Christmas and the monastic brotherhood had just finished their meal. Leaving the Trapeza (dining hall) the Bishop’s eyes fell on three young men sitting outside in the courtyard. He recognized one of them who had come to speak with him some months prior; some young people had brought him. Seeing the youths, the Bishop asked if perhaps they were hungry and he brought them into the Trapeza to eat. In fact, they were so hungry they nearly ate the table, he said.

After they had eaten the Bishop asked the young man how he was. At their previous meeting the young man had confessed and informed the Bishop that he had a serious drug addiction and was ready to go to detox.

So the Bishop asked him, ‘Did you go to detox?’

And the young man responded, ‘I did but unfortunately all they did was put me on meds and place me in a psych ward with a bunch of psychiatric patients. I didn’t find any support. Unfortunately, I left and returned to what I was doing, and in fact it’s worse than it was.’

‘And the young men with you are they your friends and do the same things?’ the Bishop asked

‘Yes,’ he responded.

One was 20, one 21, and one is 18. They were like outcasts. They were in a difficult situation because they were all living in a room together and the woman who rented the room to them was going to kick them out because they owed her a lot of money. Likely they had never paid rent.

The young man continued, ‘And there is a place we would go to eat, where they would give us sandwiches, but they won’t give us anymore food because we haven’t paid them anything.’

So the Bishop told him, ‘Tell your landlady the monastery will pay the rent you owe and the bill for the food you ate.’

The Bishop continued his homily, saying:

“But a bad thought entered my mind to make sure they weren’t lying to me and looking for me to give them money. So we drove them down to the apartment so I could see where they were living. There was nothing in the room, not even a bed. There was an old rug and two blankets on the rug. There was no toilet or sink in the room.

“That night we had vigil, as we do in the monastery, for the feast of the Nativity of Christ. And we sang those wonderful hymns that speak about Christ, that Christ was born in a stable in the presence of animals. And the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, the person who created the Sea and the Earth and all the things in the Earth. And I thought of those young men; I thought of where we, the monastic brotherhood, lived and where some others find themselves.

“And the next day I saw again the young man sitting outside the monastery and he was crying. He said the woman kicked them out on Saturday and they had nowhere to go. So he spent the night in an abandoned building and he laid on a board and put one over him for warmth and spent the night like that. He hadn’t eaten since Friday when they ate at the monastery.

“And I told him not to be sad, to think of Christ, who also had no place to lay His head…

“That night we called a taxi to come get him but the taxi wouldn’t come because it was Christmas. So we left to take him down to the city. And we searched for a place to get food for him. We took him to a room we have at a Metochian so he could sleep there. I searched and found a phone number for the number, you know the one they say, ‘If you have a drug addiction call this number…’

“And they asked the young man some questions, ‘Do you want to stop doing drugs?, etc.’ Such questions, that to us, we understand… Does ‘I want to’ mean ‘I am able?’ No. But from their perspective they believe ‘I want to’ means ‘I am able.’ Don’t we all want to cut our passions? But does that mean we stop having passions.

***

“When people heard we were helping young people on drugs, they said, ‘Oh no, Father, stay far away from such people!’

There was a woman I knew who told me, ‘If you every know anyone who needs any help, please tell me and I’ll help.’ So I called her and told her ‘I know some kids, they’re the best in all of Cyprus, only they have some problems with drugs.’ And she responded, ‘Ah, Father! That’s dangerous! Stay far away from them.’

“Okay, now I will tell you the second story:

“[The next week,] on Friday morning a dog appeared at our monastery. All night it was outside barking. What could we do? We called animal control. We told them about this dangerous dog that had come to the monastery. We told them, ‘We have a rabid dog here, it will eat us. But it doesn’t matter if it eats us, it’s dangerous for the children that come to the monastery.’  They responded, ‘Just show it love. Put some milk out for it; give it some food.’ They instructed us how to make a special pasta for the dog, told us to give it warm milk… all these things,” the Bishop says laughing. “Two hours later the manager called us, ‘I hear you have a dog there at the monastery. Have you fed it?’

‘Fed it? No. It will eat us, we can’t go near it,’ I said.

“And the man tells me we need to make a warm place for the dog to go because it was Christmas weekend and no one could get the dog until Monday. So he tells us, ‘Take care of the dog. Don’t treat it poorly so it won’t suffer any psychological harm.’ And every two hours they called us to check on the dog.”

“Don’t think I’m kidding,” the Bishop continues. “This is what transpired at the monastery these past days. And then something happened to the dog. I don’t know. It disappeared.

“Everyone was concerned about the dog. But no one cared about the drug addicts.

“In the Gospel it says a young man asked Christ,

“What should I do to inherit eternal life?” And Christ answered, “What is written in the law?’

And he answering said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And he said unto him, “You have answered right: this do, and you shall live.”

And the Bishop tells the story of the Good Samaritan and how the Priest and the Levite all passed by the man who fell among robbers.

“These young men are like the man who fell among robbers,” the Bishop says.

The Bishop goes on to speak about the following passage in the Gospel:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

“Who are the least of these?” the Bishop asks. “Aren’t they these young men?”

***

The Bishop goes on to tell the people his monastery decided to do something “crazy”. They planned to donate land for a treatment facility to be built for drug addicts: a place where young people can learn life-skills, have a safe place to live (in community) and have the opportunity to work, with animals, in the gardens, etc. That night he was asking for the people’s financial support. By the grace of God the treatment facility was built. It’s called Agia Skepi (Holy Protection)

Let’s be like the Bishop, and show love and compassion for human persons suffering in the depths of despair. Let’s allow our hearts to be softened by such individuals and let’s leave criticism and judgment of them to God, who alone knows the heart of man.  

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It was a tradition in our home to go around the table at Thanksgiving and say one thing we’re thankful for.

I’m thankful for the sacrifice, example, and holy prayers of our monastics (but also my husband of 13 years – today).

“Thanks to monastics, prayer continues unceasing on earth, and the whole world profits, for through prayer the world continues to exist; but when prayer fails the world will perish.” -St. Silouan the Athonite (pp. 407-408 in his biography)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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“I remembered the days of old; I mediated on all Thy works” (Ps. 142:5)

For the last few months I have been making audio recordings of my book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery as Ancient Faith Publishing will be releasing an audio version of the book in the near future.

I haven’t read The Scent of Holiness for years. It was published in 2012 and although I was very happy to have shared my experiences, it was also strange to see them displayed in typeset, in a bound book that wasn’t filled with my own cursive writing. Having written in a personal journal for over twenty years it’s a surreal experience to have those thoughts and feelings usually reserved for myself distributed for all to see. So, I was a little embarrassed when I would read The Scent of Holiness. Now, re-reading those words, reading them aloud, and being confronted with vivid memories of it all I’m so, so, so thankful I took the time to write it all down in detail.

 

I have always prided myself on having a good memory. However, between working as a social worker and helping my husband serve the Mission my mind and memory have little room left for “the days of old” it seems. Reading The Scent of Holiness again I’m re-immersed in a world that usually feels very far away, almost like a vivid dream you suddenly remember out of nowhere.

I used to think of the spiritual life as an ascent, where we go from darkness and slowly move into the light. But even my own experience contradicts this. I once lived in a land full of light, interacted with living saints and living monuments of our historical Church. Then I moved to Newfoundland and it was like coming to a land of perpetual twilight. I moved from Thessaloniki to an island that first encountered Orthodoxy over one thousand years ago but remained un-Christianized for centuries.

 

And so, when I read about my experiences with the nuns I have a hard time seeing the continuity between then and now. But, the more I read the more I gain clarity about a few things: 1.) The positive experiences we have are never just for our own benefit. We simply need to figure out our own unique way of sharing them in a variety of contexts, and;  2.) The spiritual struggle is real, man. It’s as simple as that. We have periods of grace where we can (and should) do a lot more, and periods of dry spells where we need to cling to “the days of old” so we don’t give up altogether.

The sisters gave me a lifetime worth of blessings. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. Even after five years of living away from them, their love and lessons, the memory of their laughter and simplicity still fill my heart to the brink with gratitude. And I am left with the words of St. Paul, challenging me to become more like them: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are worthy of respect, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, be considering these things. And what ye learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things be practicing; and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

P.S. As soon as The Scent of Holiness is available as an audio book I’ll be sure to let you know!

 

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