Archive for the ‘Orthodox Customs and Tradition’ Category

Below is a wonderful article my sister-in-law wrote for our Lenten e-mail group a few years ago, I initially posted it in 2012. I wanted to share again because I think that it is a great reflection on repentance for Holy Week. It’s not too late, even now at the “eleventh” hour we can turn our hearts to God. I wish you all a very fruitful finish to Holy Week, and as we say in Greek, “Good Repentance!”
I must admit, when I hear this word there’s something in me that almost shudders – or even better – freezes.  There’s a ‘heaviness’ to it that is almost unbearable. I guess you could say, ‘repentance is heavy; it’s serious and there’s nothing light about it.’  That would be true, but I would have to explain myself a bit more for you to see where my error lies, since – as far as I can see – this ‘heaviness’ that I feel has nothing to do with real repentance at all; even worse, it’s just an imposter, a false repentance – mixing me up.  I’ll explain a bit, and hopefully you’ll see through my ridiculousness.For example, hearing that ten-letter-word my mind rushes to images of the harsh ascetic labours that such Repentant Ones did, and still do: the deprivations, the sighs, the exile and loneliness, the severe fasting, never ending prostrations, the flight from this world, and finally the terrible tortures, and horrific deaths – all due to their great repentance.  Unable to identify in the least bit with such actions, such feats, I feel a crushing weight set into my bones. That’s when I’d sigh. And that’s when my mind despairs of my weakness – of my lack of love. And then the distance sets in – the utter separation.  I am not good enough.  With Christ having such good friends, I have no chance.

My thinking this way, it seems to me, is utter poison. I am wrong to identify these deeds – these actions – with the state of repentance.  In themselves they are nothing, since even these can be done out of pride.  Didn’t I learn from the Publican and the Pharisee? Let us flee from the pride of the Pharisee! And learn humility from the Publican’s tears!  Certainly these great acts done by Christ’s Saints truly spring from repentant hearts, but even these God-pleasing, pure, deeds are not the repentance – an expression of it, yes, but not the repentance itself.  It’s not the knees pounding into the floor that pleases Christ, but the repentant heart inspiring such a bodily response. I don’t measure up – this is undeniable – but why should I let this bring hopeless despair or utter coldness of heart?  Why do I think I should earn Christ’s love? Don’t I realize that this is impossible? In this moment of realizing how very far away I am from Christ – right before the despair (in myself) and cool feelings of helplessness – lies the possibility for repentance, but only if I take it.

Through their recorded lives, we see that all these saints known especially for their repentance had these moments – and usually in extreme degrees.  Feeling the utter weight of the truth (that they were very far from God) they acknowledged this fact and fell down beneath the weight of it. But at the very same moment, God permeates them (and us if we want it) with Himself, and overcomes this impossible divide.  The harlot, so far away just moments before, accepts this reality and because of it leaps towards Christ: “ A harlot knowing you, the Son of the Virgin, to be God, imploring you with weeping, for she had done things worthy of tears, said, ‘Loose my debt, as I unloose my hair; love one who loves, though justly hated, and along with tax-collectors I shall proclaim you, O Benefactor, who loves mankind’”(Holy Wednesday). To feel the weight of our nothingness before God, but then to cry out to Him – with hope and belief – because that’s what He’s told us to do!  That’s what we see his Holy Ones do!  And from this the distance is overcome, and we are raised high, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (Luke 14, 10).

It seems to me that the true weight of this word ‘repentance’ comes not from anything crushing, or overwhelming.  St. Mary of Egypt tells us: “Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before — as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me — I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was I saw the life-giving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance.  Thus, repentance for her (and for us) was a key – an entrance into something otherwise closed.  The true weight of this word ‘repentance’ lies in its incomprehensible power – and from this the demons tremble.  By it, we are able to call down the divine; we empty ourselves but only to be filled.  And in this – we are told – lies incredible sweetness.  Have we surmounted our sins, fixed our problems, before this moment? Absolutely not!  It seems to me, there’s no more powerful, dynamic, way of approaching God than this.  It is not about being “good” or “bad” – of course we must strive to acquire the virtues – but it’s about the state of the heart.  Let us become good! But let us first have repentance! And let us keep this repentance! “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15, 7).

When we hear the cry of the Baptist and Forerunner: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” let us not be overwhelmed – let us not freeze!  Repentance is not heavy, but light! It is freedom – perhaps disguised to those of us lacking this sweet experience – but it is there for the taking.  There are no prerequisites. No divine ladder which must first be climbed.

Let us be like the thief on the cross and repent, so that Christ can also say to us: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23, 43).

Read Full Post »

This was delivered via Google+ to an audience at Apostle Paul’s Bookstore in Toronto.

Forgive me, brothers and sisters, for my many shortcomings. May we all, through the prayers of the holy Fathers, have a good and fruitful Lent!

Read Full Post »

Despite the minor technical difficulties during the Q and A at the end, this is a great presentation on Christ’s Presentation.

For those who can’t access the above link go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRo3xldYq_o


Read Full Post »

(Repost from here) Every year children come around singing ‘kalanda,’ carols here in Greece. They do this on two days: Christmas Eve day and New Year’s Eve day for St. Basil’s feast day (January 1). What would I say is the biggest difference between our average Christmas carols and Greek Byzantine carols? Theology!


The theology in some of their carols is simply breathtaking! You would think great theologians wrote these carols. Come to think of it, back in the 13th century we still had plenty of faithful who lived Christ-centered lives enough write hymns like these.

“Should we say them?”


Below is my favourite Byzantine Christmas carol. I have never heard carollers sing this one at my door, though. I first learned of it when my husband, brother, sister-in-law, and I visited friends in Athens a few years ago at Christmas time. Together with their three daughters we all sung Greek carols. I was especially impressed by this one, and I think you will be too. Here are a portion of the lyrics, below is a video in which you can hear the carol.


The God who is without beginning has descended and dwelt in the Virgin
Eroorem-eroorem-eroorerooh-eroorem, Rejoice O Sovereign Lady.


Thou art the King of all and the Lord, Thou came to refashion Adam
Eroorem-eroorem-eroorerooh-eroorem, Rejoice O spotless one.


Ye mortals rejoice and be glad, ye angelic hosts jubilate
Eroorem-eroorem-eroorerooh-eroorem, Rejoice O Sovereign Lady.


Come hither to see in the cave, laying in the manger, the Lord
Eroorem-eroorem-erooreroorem, Rejoice O spotless one.


Magi from the East are coming, bearing noble gifts
Eroorem-eroorem-erooreroorem, Rejoice O Sovereign Lady.


Herod heard the news and trembled with fury, the godless one
Teriririrem-teriririrem-tem and ananes, Rejoice O spotless one.



Following an unexpected course, the Magi from Persia came
Teriririrem-teriririrem-tem and ananes, Rejoice O Sovereign Lady.


Out of wickedness, the tyrant ordered the slaughter of all Rachel’s children
Teriririrem-teriririrem-tem and ananes, Rejoice O spotless one.

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

IMG_7266(From an interview I did with the authour of the blog Byzantine Texas last August)

Could you speak to how different monasticism is in Greece than it is in the US or Canada?

The biggest difference between monasticism in Greece and monasticism in the US or Canada is that monasticism has existed in Greece for some 1,500 years. Thus, the monastic mindset and way of life is firmly established. While in North America monasticism is still relatively young.

This does not mean that there are no monasteries in North America that embody the true monastic spirit. On the contrary, there are quite a few, considering how large North America is. But it does mean that there are more anomalies in the US and Canada than there may be in an Orthodox country. However, this shouldn’t spoil our view of Orthodox monasticism in general.

While my younger sister was staying at a monastery for a few months some years ago the abbess shared something with her that I think we can apply to Orthodox monasteries at large: “If you see something in a monastery, someone who talks or acts differently than the other sisters, know that that is not monasticism. What the sisters do and say in common is monasticism, not what comes from one individual.” If a particular monastery does not reflect Orthodox monasticism worldwide, then it is not monasticism.

Orthodox monasteries, despite differences in language, habit, work, or typikon, share certain universal qualities: obedience, chastity, and poverty – to name a few. On top of those basic precepts, there is a monastic spirit that permeates monasteries that is perceivable even when one monastery seems to differ entirely in outward ways from another. That is, provided the community upholds the above mentioned qualities of monasticism. If the community is healthy, if it keeps the fasts of the Church, struggles to uphold Christ’s commandments, and adheres to a regime of prayer than it will flourish over time, even if the country it is in is entirely secular or at very least non-Orthodox.

What we need to do is pray for our monastics in the US and Canada, pray that they maintain the spirit of authentic monasticism, and that God would grant them the strength to allow Christ to work through them, through their prayers for the world. Over time Christ will grant our request, so long as we keep knocking at the door. Then North America can become the second Egyptian desert, or the second Irish islands (both of which are famous for their monasticism).

Read Full Post »


Elder Paisios the Athonite taught:

[T]he aim of the monk is not to be engaged in much handiwork and collect money to help the poor, as this translates into spiritual decline. Rather, through his prayer the monk could help, not by pounds, but by tons the needs of others (when, for instance, there exists a drought, by his prayer he could replenish the world’s storehouses). Therefore, God “raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill” [8]. Let us not forget what the Prophet Elijah [9] did.

Monks, therefore, don’t leave the desert in order ‘to go to the world to help a poor person, nor to visit someone ill in the hospital to give him an orange or some consolation (that which is usually done by lay people, and is the sort of thing that God will ask from them). Monks pray for all the sick to receive a twofold health (physical and spiritual), and the Good God has mercy on His creatures and helps them recover, so that they, in their turn, working as good Christians, will also help others.

Furthermore, neither do monks visit those in prison, for they themselves are voluntarily imprisoned due to their great philotimo [10]towards Christ, their Benefactor and Saviour; Christ gives His love in abundance to His children who have philotimo, the monks. Thus, while they are within the castle (the monastery), the presence and love of Christ transforms it into Paradise. This heavenly joy that the monks feel, they pray and ask that Christ give it to all our incarcerated brothers in the world’s prisons. In this way, the Good God is moved by the love of His good children and spreads consolation to the souls of prisoners, many times even setting them free.

Besides these prisoners, monks help other more serious cases of those who are not imprisoned for just ten or twenty years, but eternally, and are in need of much greater help. These are our brothers awaiting trial, who have fallen asleep, whom the monks visit in their own way, offering many spiritual refreshments. The Good God helps the reposed, and, at the same time, acquaints the monks, after their pained prayers for their departed brothers, with an inexpressible rejoicing, as if saying: “Don’t worry, my children, I have helped the departed as well”.

Read Full Post »

Today marks the two year anniversary of this blog. In some ways it’s hard to believe it’s only been two years: so many posts, so many connections and relationships with readers. Thank you for your support and prayers. May the Most Holy Lady, the Ever Virgin Mary be with us all!

To those who foolishly believe and teach, on account of Biblical criticism and other equally ridiculous theories, that the Theotokos did not enter the temple at three years of age and dwell in the Holy of Holies because the Jews never would have permitted a woman to enter the Holy of Holies, St. Gregory Palamas says:

It was because Moses foresaw that she would be the living Tabernacle who would hold God, that he erected that other Tabernacle, prepared that inmost sanctuary [the Holy of Holies] for her sake and, learning from God what would befall her, dignified it with sublimely exalted names, indicating to all in advance, by word and deed, the extraordinary, all-surpassing worthiness that would be hers from infancy… In this way she made it clear, and declared in advance to as many as have understanding, that she was to be the true shrine and resting-place of God, an incomparably better mercy-seat for Him, and the divinely beautiful treasure-house of the highest pinnacle of the Spirit’s mysteries.

(St. Gregory Palamas, “Entry into the Holy of Holies II”, Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, p. 26-27)

When the Prophet Zacharias saw the Virgin approach the Temple he aptly proclaimed: “Hearken O daughter and consider and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty,” and that is exactly what she did.

May we have her as our constant mediator and intercessor, the Most Holy Mother of God!

Also, here is a beautiful depiction of the Presentation of the Theotokos from the Holy Monastery Hamatoura in Lebanon someone reminded me of; you can watch it here.

Read Full Post »

IMG_0975When we were children we fought a lot – I mean a lot. I’m surprised our mother wasn’t committed on account of how crazy we must have made her. But at the age of 15 my brother found his conscience and stopped being so mean.

With our joyful mother.

With our joyful mother.

I’m sure he’d say I stopped being such a contrary whiner – or perhaps I haven’t stopped but the change in our relationship was brought on solely because he grew kind. In any case, our relationship slowly turned from one of dislike to one of love and my little sister and I began to admire him.

With our proud father.

With our proud father.

From a young age we thought he would one day become a priest because God had spared his life on numerous occasions (from being temporarily blind and paralyzed due to infant-Meningitis; to running into a busy road in his toddler years; to falling through an ice-covered lake in his adolescence – just to name a few). Somehow we had it in our heads that God protected him because one day he would become a priest. Funny, looking back, the only priests I thought existed were Catholic…

IMG_0993Years ago Fr. Matthew borrowed a book from our Nova Scotian friends who had converted to Orthodoxy, and he slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) began to turn the whole family toward the East.

Hip, hip for our Nova Scotian friend, Matthew (on the right)!

Three-cheers for our Nova Scotian friend sub-deacon Matthew on the right! (a prominent person in both Father John’s and Matthew’s ordinations)

Through Fr. Matthew’s fervent priestly prayers, his zeal for Christ, and his gift as a teacher may he turn many more toward Christ and His Church! AXIOS! AXIOS! AXIOS!, dear brother. I hate to say “I told you so,” but I told you so: You were destined to be a priest!


With his matushka, Catherine.

The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way… And into whatsoever city ye enter… heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you (Luke 10: 2-9).


Love you big brother!

Read Full Post »

Today the Church commemorates the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, and therefore it is the feast day of Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission in St. John’s, Newfoundland (Old Style). May the Most Holy Lady save and protect our parish from spiritual perils just as she delivered Moscow from the invasion of Khan Tamberlane! (And may she get us to Newfoundland in a safe and timely manner – whatever God wants!)


The Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God was painted by the Evangelist Luke on a board from the table at which the Savior ate together with His All-Pure Mother and Righteous Joseph. The Mother of God, upon seeing this image, exclaimed, “Henceforth, all generations shall call Me blessed. The grace of both My Son and Me shall be with this icon.”

In the year 1131, the icon was sent from Constantinople to Rus to holy Prince Mstislav (April 15) and was installed in the Devichi monastery in Vyshgorod, the ancient appanage city of the holy Equal of the Apostles Princess Olga.

The son of George Dolgoruky, St Andrew Bogoliubsky, brought the icon to the city of Vladimir in 1155 and installed it in the renowned Dormition cathedral which he built. At this time the icon received its name of “the Vladimir Icon.” The icon was first brought to Moscow in the year 1395. Thus, the blessing of the Mother of God established the spiritual bonds of Byzantium and Rus via Kiev, Vladimir and Moscow.

The festal celebration of the Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos occurs several times during the year (21 May, 23 June and 26 August). The most solemn celebration occurs on August 26, the Feast established in honor of the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon upon its Transfer from Vladimir to Moscow.

In the year 1395, the fearsome conqueror Khan Tamerlane (Temir-Aksak) reached the Ryazan frontier, took the city of Elets and advancing towards Moscow he came near the banks of the River Don. Great Prince Basil Dimitrievich went with an army to Kolomna and halted at the banks of the River Oka. He prayed to the holy Hierarchs of Moscow and St Sergius for the deliverance of the Fatherland, and he wrote to the Metropolitan of Moscow St Cyprian (September 16), that the pending Dormition Fast should be devoted to zealous prayers for mercy and repentance.

Clergy were sent to Vladimir, where the famed wonderworking Vladimir Icon was. After Divine Liturgy and a Molieben on the feast of the Dormition, they clergy took the icon and brought it to Moscow. Along the way, on both sides of the road, countless people prayed kneeling: “O Mother of God, save the land of Russia!” At that same hour, when the people of Moscow were meeting the Vladimir Icon on Kuchkov Field, Tamerlane was sleeping in his tent. Suddenly, he saw in a dream a great mountain, at the summit of which were the holy hierarchs with golden staffs coming towards him. Above them, in a brilliant radiance, was a Majestic Woman. She commanded him to leave the domains of Russia.

Awakening in fright, Tamerlane asked the meaning of the vision. The experts answered that the Radiant Lady was the Mother of God, the great Protectress of Christians. Tamerlane then gave the order for his troops to retreat. In memory of this miraculous deliverance of the Russian Land from Tamerlane, they built the monastery of the Meeting on Kuchkov Field, where the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon took place. On August 26, the all-Russian celebration in honor of the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God was established.

Very important events in Russian Church history have occurred before the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God: the election and elevation of St Jonah, advocate of an Autocephalous Russian Church (1448), and of St Job, first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia (1589), and of His Holiness Patriarch St Tikhon (1917). The enthronement of His Holiness Pimen, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, occurred on a day of celebration in honor of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God on May 21 (O.S.), 1971.

The historical days of 21 May, 23 June and 26 August, connected with this holy icon, have become memorable days for the Russian Orthodox Church.

vladimir icon

Fr. John serving the Mission

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 359 other followers