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Archive for the ‘Orthodox Customs and Tradition’ Category

Fr John and I at the 2022 St. Kosmas Conference

Today I came across the above homily Fr John gave in our parish in Newfoundland. It is Homily 10 in a series of homilies on Blessed Makrina’s teachings. There are twenty-seven homilies in the series and (my personal bias aside) they’re awesome.

Happy (almost) Sunday of St John Climacus!

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(Originally posted on Forgiveness Sunday in 2012, when we still lived in Thessaloniki)

I don’t know the practices and customs of other Orthodox countries, but in Greece many laity try to observe what is called the “three-day” (trimero), the first three days of Great Lent, by abstaining from all food and drink. From what I gather it is a custom always practiced in Orthodox monasteries. I’ve been told it used to be kept for the first six days in earlier times.

The idea behind it is to enter the Fast as strictly as possible, fasting from all food and drink the first three days then on Wednesday communing at the first Pre-sanctified Liturgy of Great Lent. In Greece the Pre-sanctified Liturgies are celebrated on Wednesday and Friday mornings.

For those who are unable to abstain from all food and drink I know it is also customary to eat flat bread (something the bakers make special for “Kathara Devtera”, Clean Monday) and halva. Others who try to keep the three-day a bit more strictly eat some nuts and drink some juice in the evenings. Others fast from food but take drink throughout the three days. I’ve heard that it is common to at very least not eat cooked food on Clean Monday, (hence the flat bread and halva). I suppose people fast as strictly as their strength and health allows them. But as our priest said this morning, “For those who can keep the ‘three-day’ they will find it makes the rest of the Fast much more manageable.”

However you observe the first three days of the Great Fast I wish you all good strength and a productive Lent! May we contend well so that we will be found worthy to ascend with Christ to Golgotha, and see His Holy Resurrection!

Good strength, all!

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Merry Christmas to all our Old Calendar friends and family!

THE KING, THE PAGE, AND THE HERMIT:

A CHRISTMAS STORY

by Matushka Constantina R. Palmer

Chapters 1 & 2 are HERE

Chapters 3 & 4 HERE

Chapters 5 & 6 HERE

Chapters 7 & 8 HERE

Chapter 9 HERE

Chapter 10 HERE

Chapter 11 HERE

Chapter 12 HERE

Chapter 13 HERE

Chapter 14 HERE

Chapter 15 HERE

Chapter 16 HERE

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Although originally written for a clergy wives newsletter, I thought I’d share this article with you all here on Lessons from a Monastery. I know you will enjoy hearing about the simple, pious life of a woman in Christ, the wife of St. John of Kronstadt, Matushka Elizabeth, and how we might imitate her holy example.

Every woman who is married to a priest has been given the great blessing to understand, through her first-hand experience, that a priest stands between Heaven and Earth. She understands that it is through the holy priesthood of her husband that common bread and wine become the Precious Body and Blood of Christ. Her own piety and desire for salvation is strengthened by the great and awesome role her husband has been ordained to fulfill. How much more will she perceive the glory of God when her husband is not only a priest, but a saint? I imagine this was the case for Matushka Elizabeth Constantinov Sergiev, the wife of St. John of Kronstadt. 

The daughter of an archpriest, Elizabeth moved with her family from the Gdovak district to Kronstadt where her father served at St. Andrew’s Cathedral for some time. There she met her future husband, John Ilyitch Sergiev (later St. John of Kronstadt) who took up her father’s post at the Cathedral in 1855 when illness forced him to retire. 

At the outset of their marriage Fr. John suggested they live as brother and sister, companions and co-strugglers, abstaining from marital relations, saying Liza, there are enough happy families in the world without us. Let us together devote our lives to serving God.” Matushka Elizabeth agreed. This manner of life afforded St. John and Matushka the opportunity to deepen their commitment to fulfill the commandments to love God and love neighbour. Fr. John would tirelessly pray for and serve their parishioners, and keeping pace with his good works, Matushka Elizabeth would tirelessly care for her husband and offer hospitality.  

Much inspiration flows from their devout and pious example. In particular it is noteworthy to observe that despite the simplicity of Matushka Elizabeth’s care and concern for her husband, the depth of love shown in her service toward him is encouraging. She would bake his favorite apple pie, rush to take his boots off when he returned home, and zealously guard his periods of rest. 

In a world where we are endlessly encouraged to take the first seat, put ourselves forward, promote our skills and abilities, we can learn so much from Matushka Elizabeth’s simple and humble example. She was content to love God and love neighbour through serving in the shadow cast by her husband’s holy rasso (cassock). We can do likewise. We can look for opportunities to support our husband’s ministry in a manner he finds most supportive.

Here are just three simple things we can consider weaving into own lives in order to help support our husbands in the holy work they do:

  1. Pray for him;
  2. Listen to him when he needs to talk through something;
  3. Once in a while make him (or buy him) the equivalent of his “favourite apple pie”. Sometimes it’s the most simple treats that provide the most needed comfort.

Focusing on the service we can provide in small ways need not make us think our contribution is insignificant. Tending to these small things in fact cultivates in us a regard and respect for greater things, as St. Paisios the Athonite says, “When there’s respect for small things, there’ll be even greater respect towards the bigger ones. When there’s no respect for small things, then neither will there be for the bigger ones. This is how the Fathers maintained Tradition.” In fact, the value of service in the small things is highlighted for us in the book of Exodus. 

When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites in the battle of Refidim Moses watched from above. When he stretched out his arms the Israelites would make advances in the battle. When, however, Moses became tired, putting his arms down, the Amalekites would gain the advantage and the Israelites would begin to lose the battle. In order to ensure the victory of the Israelites over their enemies, it was necessary for Moses to keep his arms outstretched. His fatigue, however, prevented him from empowering the Israelites in their fight against the Amalekites. How was he to keep his arms outstretched for such a long time with no support? Recognizing this his close relatives, Aaron and Hur, came to him and supported his arms to remain outstretched, “and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun” (Exodus 17:12). Thus, the Israelites conquered their enemies and found victory in battle. 

This is what Matushka Elizabeth did for St. John of Kronstadt. She stood alongside him and supported his arm so that hundreds of souls found victory in their battle against the noetic Amalekites. We too, as clergy wives, can provide the support that is necessary in small ways to embolden men of God to do what is necessary to ensure the victory of faithful Christians in various spiritual battles against numerous spiritual enemies of God. 

Much holy work can be done in the shadow cast by our husband’s holy rasso. 

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Christ is risen!

The stories in this video wonderfully capture what it is like to meet, sit with, and speak with a living saint. It’s a treasure to hear of people’s first-hand encounters with holy men and women; I wish there were more videos like this.

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CHRIST IS RISEN!

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Happy feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen, dear readers!

For the very first time I tried my hand at making Artoklasia, also known as Litya bread for the service of Great Vespers of Sts. Constantine and Helen last night at our new church rental in Portugal Cove, NL. (More to come on the new church space soon).

I used Matushka Anna‘s recipe HERE. I cut the recipe in half which was fine but next time I think I’ll make the larger batch.

I can’t say they are the prettiest things I’ve ever made but they tasted good and I loved offering them in honour of my saint.

In The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church we read, “Constantine secluded himself daily at a set hour in the innermost chambers of his palace in prayer. His living example was founded with all his heart on that edit that a true ruler leads the way, even as Christ opened the gates of Hades by His heavenly leadership and divine example. Such devotions were redoubled during Holy Week and Pasha. He changed the holy night vigil of that time into an event of wonder and splendor, by causing waxen tapers of great length to be lighted throughout the city, together with torches which diffused their light, so as to impart to this mystic vigil of the night a mystical splendor of brilliance and light. As soon as day returned, he further exemplified Christ’s own selfless example and commandment that ‘freely ye received, freely give,’ by lavishing abundant gifts to his subjects of every nation, province, and people.” (p. 1073).

I am honoured to bear the name of such a righteous, holy man!

Here is a lovely broadcast by a Greek parish of last night’s Vespers service for the saints.

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Holy Friday Procession at our church St. Anthony’s

As we approach the coming holy days it’s so special to be able to fondly look back on the holiest of holy weeks we have ever lived through. I hope and pray the Lord makes us worthy to share with our own parishioners here in Newfoundland even a slight taste of the majesty of the Holy Weeks and Paschas we lived through during our five+ years in Greece!

May God make us all worthy to truly experience Holy Week this year and be made radiant by Christ’s Glorious Resurrection!

Great Lent is over. Holy Week begins. Good strength and Good Resurrection, friends!

(Originally written and posted in 2012) I’m a nostalgic person, and I’ve become really attached to our life in Greece, and even more attached to Orthodoxy in Greece. This is especially highlighted during Holy Week and Pascha. First of all, schools and universities are closed for all of Holy Week and Bright Week. So, we have lots of time to attend services; and there is no shortage of opportunity to worship in the many churches of Thessaloniki. When it finally comes time to bid farewell to Greece these are the memories I think I’ll hold the most dear from these “high and holy days”:

1. The pleasant surprise of being able to venerate the holy relics of St. Lazarus on Lazarus Saturday.

2. Going to the monastery to help the sisters dye 3,500 red eggs.

3. The darkness of the church at the beginning of the Bridegroom services, and the deep voices of the chanters, chanting holy words to the beat of holy melodies.

4. That everyone brings liturgical books to read along – we bought ours at the grocery store the first year we lived here. (Yes, they sell liturgical books at the grocery store, along with charcoal for your censer, and wicks for your candili).

5. How the church is suddenly packed with people just before the chanter intones the “Kyrie” of the hymn of St. Cassaine on Holy Tuesday evening.

6. How many people show up on Holy Thursday evening, bearing bouquets and wreaths of red and white flowers to adorn the crucified Lord.

7. Hearing wishes for a “Good Resurrection” all around me.

8. The somber but other-worldly feeling the whole city seems to be filled with as we approach the Lord’s saving passion.

9. Hearing the 12 Gospels read in the original Greek they were written in on Holy Thursday.

10. The sound of bells from every church in the city ringing the death toll from morning until night on Holy Friday.

11. How the chandeliers are gently spun and the stasidia are banged (mimicking the sound of the earth quake) during the chanting of “Arise O God” on Holy Saturday morning.

12. Hearing the sound of different church bells in the immediate vicinity also proclaiming the Resurrection at midnight during the Matins service.

13. Saying “Christ is Risen” to friend and stranger when greeting each other.

14. All the different priests who come to read the Gospel in various languages for Agape’s vespers.

15. How dead quiet the city is for the first few days after Pascha because everything is closed and most of the people are in their villages.

Father John served in Greece as a deacon for two years

I hope you all have as many or more wonderful memories from wherever in the world you experience Holy Week and the Lord’s Resurrection!

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While eating breakfast this morning with Fr. John we started listening to this homily by a spiritual son of St. Paisios the Athonite. This spiritual son is in fact the “young man” in the book The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios. If you have not read this book I highly recommend it.

The “Young Man”, whose real name is Athanasios Rakovalis, begins the homily with these words, “I’d like to thank you all for being here, and to say that I am happy you are all here because your presence here shows that you wish to learn about St. Paisios, and this contains a type of grace. Before I begin my talk, I’d like to request from all of you if you are able to say an internal prayer to St. Paisios now, to ‘lend a hand’ to help me make my talk and for us all to leave here benefited – both you and I.”

When I heard these words by St. Paisios’ lay-disciple I paused the video and turned to Fr. John, “That is what it was like in Greece!” I said.

While it is customary for different cultures to have words of greeting, the charm of the Orthodox mindset is the humility and mutual love shared amidst Orthodox Christians.

Athanasios, a physics teachers, is there to give a homily, to teach and instruct, but rather than show himself to be “an expert” he first calls on his Christian brothers and sisters so that through their prayers – not his words – all might be benefited. This kind of mindset is not easily taught. It is the kind of mindset we must “put on” (Galatians 3:27) ourselves as Orthodox Christians. This, I believe, is what is meant by “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Brothers and sisters, this is the mind of Christ!: to humbly ask others’ for their prayers, to firmly believe with all your heart and mind that the only profit we can give one another is founded on Christ’s love, not on our own intellect or talents.

More than everything else about Greece I miss this mindset the most. It permeated so many faithful, and did not produce words like “clanging brass” (1 Corinthians 13: 1) but Spirit-filled, God-inspired words that drilled into your heart and soul a desire to emulate the love and humility you saw in your fellow Christians.

I’m sure Athanasios goes on to say many more beautiful things in his homily. But I stopped just a few minutes in to reminiscence and contemplate how it’s in the little things (as St. Paisios often said) that we make large gains or big loses.

St. Paisios defined reverence as “the fear of God and spiritual sensitivity”. He said that reverent people “behave carefully and modestly, because they intensely feel the presence of God.” In my opinion, just one minute into this homily Athanasios Rakovalis illustrates what it means to douse your words and thoughts with reverence.

May we be made worthy, through the prayers of St. Paisios, to do the same in our own lives!

 

 

 

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As I’ve been reading My Side of the Mountain these last few days I’m reminded of so many saints who lived and prayed in the wilderness. Today we celebrate St. Tikhon of Kaluga who, like the character Sam Gribley, lived in a tree.

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(Source) Saint Tikhon of Medin and Kaluga, in his youth received monastic tonsure at the Chudov monastery in Moscow, but through his love for solitude he settled at an isolated spot near Maloyaroslavl. He lived in asceticism in a deep dense forest, on the bank of the River Vepreika, in the hollow of an ancient giant oak. Once, during a hunt, Prince Basil Yaroslavich (grandson of Vladimir the Brave), came upon Saint Tikhon, angrily ordered him to leave his property immediately, and dared to raise his whip against the monk. At once, the hand of the prince grew numb. Taken aback by such punishment, the prince repented of his conduct and with humility asked forgiveness.

He received healing through the prayer of Saint Tikhon. The prince entreated the monk to remain always on his property and to build a monastery there for monks, promising to provide it with everything necessary. Saint Tikhon built a monastery in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, which he headed. He guided the monastery until he reached a great old age, and he died in the year 1492, after receiving the great schema.

Saint Tikhon’s body was buried at the cathedral church of the monastery he founded. The celebration of Saint Tikhon was established at the Council of 1584.

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Christ is risen!

This year we can rightly say we celebrated Pascha in Paradise. Literally, since we celebrated at home (in the town of Paradise).

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