Archive for the ‘Hymns and Prayers’ Category

Not all stories of “sinful women” and their repentance are from bygone days. My own ‘modern sinful woman’ is a true person who impacted me. For, I have met a number of such ‘women’ throughout my years as a social worker, but only she stands out, for only she permitted me (although unworthy) to witness her great repentance.

Note: All italicized parts are from the hymns of the Bridegroom Service of Holy Wednesday.

Finding herself in the night of addiction, a “very dark and moonless” state, she is driven to the streets. Seeking sin in order to acquire the means to satisfy more sin, she “stretches out her hand to the transgressors.” Becoming a “slave of the enemy,” she lays and falls, lays and falls. With only unfortunate circumstances to dictate the interruption of her sinful lifestyle, she suddenly finds she is too sick to continue. 

Her body has caught up to the corrupted state of her soul. Hospitalized and told she will die (as surely as her soul is dying), she is confronted with her reality. While separated from her two captors she is given the opportunity to flee: flee both her addiction and the one who (himself “knotted up” in a life of sin) encourages her falls into sin. She escapes.  

Unable to “run to purchase costly ointment” she slowly makes her way through the women’s shelter on failing legs. Running her fingers through her thinning hair, she begins to narrate her “love affair with sin” through few teeth.  

“Weeping as one who had done things deserving tears,” she tells her sordid tale. “Dead that I am,” her hallow eyes convey, she describes how sin lead to sin, sickness to sickness, and now death is at her door. 

“Drowning in sin” she seeks a “harbour of salvation.” Though “rightly I am hated,” she seems to say, yet she is desirous of deliverance “from the filth of evil deeds.” Through a “fountain of tears” she pronounces that despite the great shame she feels at the “depth of her sins,” she cries out, “accept me in my wretchedness, O Lord, and save me.” 

Through a tearful whisper she says, “All I want to do is get back to a place where I can receive Holy Communion.” Does it differ from, “Despise not my tears, O Joy of the angels; but receive me in repentance, O Lord, and in Thy great mercy reject me not, a sinner”? 

In a moment she transforms from the profligate and sinful woman to a myrrh-bearing woman. Her “costly ointment” is made from the tears she sheds in repentance, a price she pays for by forfeiting her sinful life.  

“How great was her repentance! Grant such repentance also unto me, O Saviour who suffered for our sake, and save us.” 

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Christ is risen!

This lady is 90 years old, though you’d never believe it from the clarity and strength of her voice.

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Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

Even on Pascha my heart inclines to listen to Holy Week hymns; the bitter makes the sweet sweeter. Here are some of my favourites. Not included but absolutely a favourite is “Behold how to you my soul” from Holy Tuesday Matins and Antiphon 12 of Holy Friday Matins. And of course I some Paschal favourites!

Christ is risen, friends!

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The above video contains footage of a miracle-working icon in Kiev, Ukraine. The hymn being sung is Awed by Thy Beauty.

Oh, our Panagia [All-holy one]! It is enough just to fall into Her arms and embrace Her. Nothing else is needed but to have our arms wrapped around Her and to be seated at Her feet day and night. Just like Christ has His arm around the Panagia in the Sweet-kissing icon, likewise we should have Her noetically and unceasingly in our nous. We should embrace the Panagia and speak to Her just as we would speak to each other. She will speak in our hearts and give us spiritual joy and prudence. What else do we want? If we have this kind of theoria in our nous every day, it will save us. This is what is needed to take us to Paradise. We must entreat Her to give us prudence, because when a person is prudent, he will have awareness and discernment.  -Gerontissa Markina, Words of the Heart, p. 400

May the Most Holy Theotokos be with us all!

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For so many the Covid-19 virus going around the globe is causing panic and anxiety. But as Christians we need to model calm behaviour. What have we to fear?What God is as great as our God? Who alone works wonders.

We will be cautious but calm. We will pray and our peaceful presence will have a positive effect on those around us. This is the power of faith. We know not a hair falls from our head without the will of God. So, if we are to fear anything we should only fear the Lord (Luke 12:5). Every other worry and anxiety should be channeled into prayer: prayer for ourselves, for the world, for the sick, those who minister to them and for our own health.

Be the peaceful presence in the anxious environment we see around us.

And, be encouraged that we have saints to pray to who are waiting for us to call on them, like St. Nikephoros the Leper:

Troparion (Tone 3)
O venerable Father Nikephoros the Leper, thy struggles and courageous asceticism dumbfounded heaven’s angels.  Like another Job in pain, thou didst endure and gave glory to God.  And so, He arranged for thee a resplendent crown of miracles.  Rejoice, O guide of monastics!  Rejoice, O prism of light!  Rejoice, O delightful fragrance radiating from thy relics!

Stay safe, friends. But most importantly stay peaceful and prayerful.

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Day Four

The City of St. John’s remained in a State of Emergency (SOE) until yesterday, January 25. That was one whole week with the city shut down. The amount of snow completely warranted this decision but it seriously impacted our Province.

Monday morning (Day Four of SOE) we woke up to more snow – very wet snow. The plow had been by and left quite a lot of said wet snow at the end of our driveway. So, at 6AM we started shoveling because we feared it might freeze.

Even with all the shoveling (which I really didn’t mind because I workout regularly in my house anyway so this was an ‘outdoor workout’) I LOVED the six days off from work. I got loads of things done: sewing, reading, writing, laundry, cooking, baking, cleaning out cupboards and bookcases, etc.


Day Five

Fr. John spent his days preparing for another course he will be teaching at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary‘s  Certificate in Theological Studies program.


Day Six

We were permitted to drive into St. John’s yesterday for the first time since last Thursday. And so as soon as we finished breakfast we headed to the church. We thought we’d be able to dig out at least a path… turns out that was wishful thinking (as is obvious from the photos). We found the door was partially cleaned out and learned afterward two teens from the parish had walked to the church on Friday and tried digging out but that was as far as they got. (May Panagia bless them for their efforts!)

The whole top layer of snow was rock hard. However, a group of parishioners coordinated a snow-shoveling party Saturday afternoon. It took  4 men, multiple shovels, and 2 snowblowers but they managed to get it pretty much cleaned up. It was difficult to find room for all the snow so they put some of the snow into the garage so it could melt and go down the drain in the floor – pretty smart idea if you ask me.

Today we finally cut the Vassilopita (St. Basil’s cake). We usually do this the first Sunday after the New Year but between January 5 (a fast day) falling on a Sunday and the cancellation it was postponed until today. I love this tradition.


It was wonderful to get back to church and hold the divine services. Last Sunday (Day Three of SOE) we had Matins at the house but Fr. John was unable to serve Divine Liturgy because the antimension was at the church and we had no way to get it.

Listening to, chanting, and participating in the services today I was reminded of just how much nourishment they have to off. I’ve said this in a previous blog post so forgive me for repeating myself, but the best way to firmly establish someone in the Orthodox faith is for them to participate in Orthodox services. Not only does this provide us a tangible connection to the Tradition of Orthodox worship it narrates the Scriptures for us in an Orthodox chronology: you fall, you harken unto God, He hears you, and you rise again, etc. In order to fully comprehend spiritual concepts one must hear about them again and again and this is accomplished through the hymnology in Orthodox services.


This photo is from the recent memorial service we held for Elder Ephraim before Vespers

I’m not speaking simply 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 us the Old Testament types of Christ, the daily lives of the saints,  and the deep theology of our Church. I’m speaking of Vespers and Matins.

We should all attend as many of these services as possible. If our parish doesn’t hold them we should seek out liturgical books to read 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).

Sometimes things like missing a weekend of church is what we need to be reminded not to take for granted all that the services have to offer.

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Troparion — Tone 1

Your proclamation has gone out into all the earth / Which was divinely taught by hearing your voice / Expounding the nature of creatures, / Ennobling the manners of men. / O holy father of a royal priesthood, / Entreat Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion — Tone 4

You were revealed as the sure foundation of the Church, / granting all mankind a lordship which cannot be taken away, / sealing it with your precepts, / venerable Basil, revealer of heaven.

Kontakion — Tone 4

You were revealed as the sure foundation of the Church, / Granting all men a lordship which cannot be taken away, / Sealing it with your precepts, / O Venerable and Heavenly Father Basil.


The icon of St. Basil in this post is one of four icons I finished painting last year of the four Hierarchs (St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory and St. John Chrysostom) for the back wall of our chapel. I took the photo that appears first in this post before I painted the saint’s name and apparently never remembered to take another photo with good lighting. I’m really a very poor photographer but I included the only other up-close photo I have of St. Basil’s finished icon (ie. depicting his name). Here are a few of all four icons together:

Happy 2020!

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Christ is risen!


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.


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.


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.

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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!

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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.

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