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Archive for the ‘Orthodox Customs and Tradition’ Category

Today is Clean Monday, the beginning of our Lenten journey to the Feast of the Holy Resurrection. I am usually quite excited about Great Lent. I get excited about the Sundays in Great Lent and the special customs that go with them, excited about simplifying our lives and abstaining from certain foods and activities that draw our attention away from God. This year I’m excited but also a little apprehensive. I’ve been feeling a little dismayed lately by all the wars and rumours of wars (Mark 13:7) and a question keeps forming in the back of my mind: What if this was the last Great Lent you ever got to participate in? That small but probing question seems to cause many to follow after it and I begin an internal inquisition: What if this was your last chance to really make an effort, to keep the Fast with zeal and love for the Lord? What if it was the last time you were able to attend Holy Week services, to give alms, deny yourself, repent? Would it make a difference? Would you try harder? Complain less? Be more conscientious, more rigours, less selfish?

We look at Great Lent as a test, a race even, that we run in order to successfully cross the finish line, to reach the celebration of the Lord’s Saving Passion and His life-giving Resurrection. Great Lent is a microcosm of our Christian life. We are only given a short period of time in life to push ourselves to keep the commandments of Christ in order to successfully cross the finish line on the Day of Judgment. We do not know how long or how short the race will be, so we must “arise and be going” (Mt. 26:46) now. We must pray now; we must fast, repent, and confess our sins now because we don’t know if we’ll be granted a then. Great Lent reminds us of the now, of the race we are a part of but perhaps haven’t taken the time to truly run.

If this were my last Lent, my last days, I hope and pray that I would reach the end and hear the blessed words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Mt. 25:23).

I wish you all a Good Lent, beg your forgiveness and ask for your continued prayers!

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The oldest lighthouse in Newfoundland. Image retrieved here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/21096258@N05/3946472184/

I don’t often write about our life here in Newfoundland but at the behest of one of my readers in Romania I thought I’d offer an update and a little “behind the scenes” look at some of the elements that go into serving the Orthodox Church on the island of Newfoundland in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Mission communityOur community is growing, but it is small and may always be so because a lot of people come and go here. Although it has only been one year and a couple of months since we moved here a number of parishioners joined our community and some had to leave for work on the mainland. This constant flux can be disheartening at times because our community really clings to one another like family members, and so it hurts when family moves away. But, like a lighthouse safely guiding the ships to and from the port we remain, lighting candles and offering the divine services here in St. John’s. This image of our little Mission being like a lighthouse is pertinent since many come and go from Newfoundland on boats – why, sometimes we even get a sailor or two stop by our Mission while his ship is docked at the port.

Fr. John's prosphora.

Fr. John’s prosphora

phanouropita

My phanouropita

Making candles.

Making candles

In addition to serving the divine services, confessing and counseling the parishioners, doing translations, writing homilies and articles, giving lectures, studying the Scriptures and reading the Fathers, Fr. John also bakes the profora and recycles the candle stubs to make votive candles to burn before the icons in our make-shift iconostasis  (I like to call them “recycled prayers”).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcandles

We started offering Sunday school last January. We offer one class (for all ages) the first Sunday of the month. Last year our curriculum focused on the Great Feasts. This year we’ve been doing the lives of the saints. So, I choose a saint for each month, make up a slideshow of images (both icons and photos or paintings of historical characters – mostly emperors – and places related to the saint’s life). all saintsThen while I show the slides on my computer I tell the children a basic biography of the saint and some details about the setting in which he or she lived. At the end of class we have a pop-quiz. Despite the fact that the ages range from 4 to 14 I’m always impressed with how much all the children get out of our lesson. It’s a great deal of fun for me too, but I need to be very enthusiastic and expressive when I give them the lesson to hold their attention (which isn’t all that difficult for me as I’m a natural born wide-eyed hand-talker).

100_4289Bishop Irenee visited us in January for a few days and served Great Vespers on January 16 for the Feast of St. Anthony the Great, as well as Matins and Divine Liturgy the next day. It was so wonderful! Everyone was so joyful and came together to receive our Hierarch with the love and enthusiasm he deserves. The church was cleaned, flowers were bought, our “Trapeza” was decorated, delicious food was prepared and wonderful toasts were offered. 100_4345One of our parishioners who is a musician also shared some beautiful folk songs in his native Ukrainian that we all enjoyed. It was a very special and grace-filled event to have our beloved Vladyka with us, to receive his blessing and have him pray for our community in our community.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn preparation for the Bishop’s visit in November I started teaching the children a song to perform for him. They practiced so much I was (and am) so proud of them! Not only did they practice when we were together on Sunday but almost all of the parents told me the children were practicing the song around the house. The song was, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Between this verse they sang “Lord have mercy”s in various languages since all the children speak two or more languages.

100_4338In between the English “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” they sang “Lord have mercy” in Arabic, Romanian, Slavonic and French (French because not only is our Bishop French-Canadian, but French is the language the children most frequently use to communicate with one another). So, following the Divine Liturgy, just before our shared meal the children performed their song for him. They did so wonderfully I’m so proud of them (did I say that already?)!

100_4332The only “thorn in our side” right now is that the college where we hold our services is functioning full-time this year. So, although we were free to do multiple services a week last year when it functioned part-time since September (2014) our ability to offer services has been severely limited. We also have to transform the college’s chapel from an Anglican chapel into an Orthodox chapel and vice-versa each time we hold services. Truly, necessity is the mother of invention as we create an iconostasis out of the furniture available in the chapel, but our limited access to the chapel and the fact that we have to take down and set up is very difficult for us because we wish to have a permanent place. This would give us the ability to put down deeper roots in the community as well as the freedom to offer services  whenever we wish, not to mention when the liturgical year requires. (As it is now we can’t even have services on some of the Great Feasts!). Please, please, please pray for our community, for Fr. John, and for a solution to this problem!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite little hiccups we continue our struggle to establish an enduring lighthouse here on the Eastern edge of North America, striving to make ourselves available to God and praying for Him to enlighten and guide us. I will leave you with a quotation from the ever-memorable Bishop Augoustinos of Florina whose missionary zeal and spirit never ceases to inspire our own feeble efforts to spread the Gospel here in the North Atlantic: “For real fishermen there are certain days and nights when, despite their toil and sweat, the catch is meager and worthless. This can also happen to spiritual fishermen. There are evil days  when people so sink into the flow of their materialistic lives, so distanced from God, that no hook, no net, and no catechesis, teaching or missionary activity could gather them. One might think there were no fish at all, that the sea was empty! But as true fishermen never despair, so spiritual fishers should never be discouraged. There will come days of abundant catch” (Follow Me, pp. 285-286).

100_4339Again, I supplicate you: please do us the favour of remembering us in your holy prayers!

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In the face of many trials and tribulations – especially in the modern era – it can be difficult for us to keep our zeal for the Christian faith. Sometimes we hear the voice of others, see their actions – even those we love, respect, admire and look up to – and like the Holy Martyrs Marcellinus and Mark we begin to feel ourselves being persuaded to turn away from the faith handed down to us (1 Corinthians 11: 2), to rear to the left, onto the easy path that leads to the wide gate (Mt. 7:13).

But then we read the lives of the saints and all of a sudden the clouds that had formed over our hearts dissipate and we remember “whereof we were made” (Ps. 103:14), for what purpose and goal, and we become convicted once again to hold firm to the traditions of our Fathers. We hearken to the words spoken by those who had the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, whose words are written in the book of life (Rev. 20:15), and we say: Ah, yes. It is for this reason I struggle to live for Christ; it is for this reason I fast when the Church prescribes fasting; it is for this reason I confess my sins, do my prayers, attend the divine services; it is for this reason I strive to live in the world and not be of it: for the sake of the Kingdom of God (Lk. 18: 29).

I know there is much going on in the world that confuses us, but like Sts. Marcellinus and Mark we must listen to the voice of the saints, observe their actions and follow their example. We must watch and pray lest we fall into temptation. So, we can keep informed about current events if we so choose but we must never become despondent. We place our trust in Christ, Who governs the Church, and Who reassures us that “the gates of hell will not prevail against her” (Mt. 16:18). We read the lives of the saints and we pray to them for guidance, endurance, and enlightenment. Just reading the speech of St. Sebastian to the faltering martyrs (offered below) is enough to remember: It is for this that I cling to Christ and strive to “lay aside all earthly care” (Cherubic Hymn) in hopes of experiencing the unending joys of the heavenly kingdom. 

(Source) The noble Christian brothers Marcellinus and Mark had been locked up in prison, and at first they firmly confessed the true Faith. But under the influence of the tearful entreaties of their pagan parents (Tranquillinus and Marcia), and also their own wives and children, they began to waver in their intent to suffer for Christ. St Sebastian went to the imperial treasurer, at whose house Marcellinus and Mark were held in confinement, and addressed the brothers who were on the verge of yielding to the entreaties of their family.

“O valiant warriors of Christ! Do not cast away your everlasting crowns of victory because of the tears of your relatives. Do not remove your feet from the necks of your enemies who lie prostrate before you, lest they regain their strength and attack you more fiercely than before. Raise your banner high over every earthly attachment. If those whom you see weeping knew that there is another life where there is neither sickness nor death, where there is unceasing gladness and everything is beautiful, then assuredly they would wish to enter it with you. Anyone who fears to exchange this brief earthly life for the unending joys of the heavenly Kingdom is foolish indeed. For he who rejects eternity wastes the brief time of his existence, and will be delivered to everlasting torment in Hades.”

Then St Sebastian said that if necessary, he would be willing to endure torment and death in order to show them how to give their lives for Christ.

May we follow the saint’s example and also be inspired to give our lives for Christ. Amen.

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Are We Ready? [1]

 Metropolitan Avgoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

            

Beloved in Christ, I would like to ask you a question; I ask it of myself and I ask it of you. Are we prepared to celebrate the great feast of Christmas?

There are two kinds of preparation; material and spiritual. Our material preparation is more or less finished. Housewives have cleaned their houses, husbands have finished – or have almost finished – their shopping, and children await their presents. Everyone has written their Christmas cards, signing them with the customary, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’. This is worldly preparation; I am not interested in this. What I am interested in is spiritual preparation, the kind of preparation which makes us ready to celebrate the great event of the Incarnation of the Divine Word as is proper. Only a small number have properly prepared themselves. Of one thousand Christians, I doubt if even one celebrates Christmas truly. Does my estimate seem exaggerated? Let us see.

How is Christmas celebrated today? A portion of Christians will celebrate it ‘typically’, let us say. Hearing the bells on Christmas Eve, they will go and take part in the service out of habit. This is certainly better than being absent altogether; it is something at least.

Others will imitate foreign customs and practices, forgetting the ecclesiastical celebration altogether; in other words, they will pass Christmas Eve without the scent of Christ. For Orthodox Christians, Christmas is meaningless if it is celebrated without church services, without prayer, without confession, without Holy Communion, without forgiveness, without almsgiving. Indeed, the devil has sown a new seed in our homeland, and it is sprouting up everywhere like mushrooms grow in manure. On Christmas Eve people put on these reveillon – a foreign custom and a foreign word – they put on parties in luxurious hotels and other such places, far from the Church, far from hymns, far from the Divine Liturgy, where people gather and amuse themselves with worldly music, with food, with drink and whatever follows from these things. Such a practice is a thorn in the field of our homeland. If it continues to spread, the spirit of secularization will overtake the Christian feast altogether.

Some, then, celebrate Christmas ‘typically’, others put on these reveillon and trade in the Church feast for something altogether worldly. And still others, what do they do? They leave. They are not satisfied here. Greece is not enough for them. They have money to spare so they take trips and go on tours. On Christmas Eve when the bells are ringing, these people will be far from their homes in different places, and not only in our country. They aren’t satisfied here, so they hop on an airplane and go celebrate Christmas in Rome, in London, in Paris, in different places.

These, beloved, and anyone else who has openly denied the faith, have cast Christmas out of their hearts. For a large number of people, then, Christmas is nothing but another chance to dull their boredom; the actual content of the feast holds no appeal for them. Yes! That day you will have it all! You will have your great salons, your ornate rugs, your curtains, your fancy cutlery, your drinks, your meals, your music, your trips. You will have everything! You will be missing one thing, however. Your will be missing the most valuable thing; the thing which gives the feast meaning! Lacking this thing, what kind of Christmas can you expect to have? Your Christmas will be a Christmas without Christ!

But why? How did this happen? How did things get to this point? This is the age which the Prophet Isaiah foresaw. There will come a day, he said, when men will be drunk without wine. This day has arrived. Contemporary man is, “…drunk, but not with wine.” (Isaiah 29:9) For one to be drunk with wine during these days in undoubtedly a sin, for, drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:10) There is, however, a worse kind of drunkenness: woe to those who are drunk without wine, says Isaiah.

What, then, is contemporary man drunk on? One is drunk on the love of glory. Another is drunk on the love of money; another is drunk on women and indecent sights; another is drunk on card playing, on games of chance; another on an obsession with sports teams; another on plays and films; another on enjoyments and luxuries. I have particularly noticed that a good many are drunk on politics, something which has become a passion only for us in Greece alone. I say this as one who keeps himself out of party politics. Were you to open my heart you would find nothing but my homeland and my Christ. Here in Greece there is a pathological attachment to politics. Even on Christmas Eve, the feast will be overshadowed by discussions of politics. Nowhere else can one find such a phenomenon.

I have also noticed of late that many have become drunk on that strong wine described in the Apocalypse; that wine which the noetic Babylon will give the rulers and the people to drink. This wine, the commentators say, is the pagan spirit, the moral depravity of the world. This wine is so strong that if you were to drink just a few drops, it will cause you to lose your faith, you will forget everything. The strongest wine, then, is not money, or women, or shameful lusts, or other sensual pleasures; it is the cosmopolitan spirit of modern life, it is the emancipation from devotion, knowledge infused with pride, the science of the atheist, the atheistic rebellion, the denial of God and the divinization of man. It is this wine which has made many in our age drunk.

Men are drunk, then, on various wines offered to him by the ruler of this age in his golden cup. Do you know what these men are like? I will show you by means of an example.

I try, with God’s help, to be a teacher. So I travel to a village where I find someone and try to teach him something about Christ, about the faith, about the mysteries. He listens, but the others tell me, “Don’t waste your time, he’s drunk! Don’t bother sitting with him and taking to him!” This is how the world is today…it is drunk without wine! Is it worth speaking to such men?

But I appeal to you, my brothers. I am not speaking to drunks, to those made dizzy by the idols. It is my hope that I speak to the faithful who know but one kind of drunkenness, that holy drunkenness described by the Psalmist who exhorts us to, “…taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 33:8) I hope that you have you ears open for, “Blessed is he that speaketh in the ears of them that will hear.” (Sirach 25:9)

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli: Thessaloniki, 2011), 27-31. Translated by Rev Dr Fr John Palmer.

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Our dear friend Peter has graciously shared these beautiful videos of Elder Zacharias speaking at St. John the Compassionate Mission in Toronto in February, 2014. The theme is The Enlargement of the Heart. Enjoy.

Part 1

Part 2

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I believe the overall importance of spiritual mothers should be spoken of more often. Hear what Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin has to say about the importance of a spiritual relationship with an abbess or elder nun in a convent:

(Source)

If a monastery lacks a spiritually-experience guide, if there is no opportunity to reveal one’s thoughts to a spiritual father on a daily basis, what is to be done? In particular, this is the situation in some women’s convents.

In my opinion, a spiritual father should be secondary in a convent—the abbess must be the one with whom a nun should share her thoughts. Or an abbess can appoint a senior nun to counsel the younger sisters. In any case, I think, it is better when a nun can talk to someone of the same sex, not to a man. A priest, a spiritual father is provided to take confession, which is somewhat different than revealing one’s innermost thoughts. Of course, an abbess can summon any spiritually-experienced person for the nuns to talk to. But such a person should display a great deal of tact and approach with caution so as not to interfere in the internal matters of the monastic community. In the Holy Land, two large convents are under my care. Of course, I do provide some counsel to the sisters, I hold discussions with them, but I always stress that at the end of the day, the abbess must rule. Unfortunately, in many monasteries they underestimate the importance of an abbess or elder nun.

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