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Archive for the ‘Orthodox Customs and Tradition’ Category

This is a talk I delivered for young adults this past March at St. George’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Montreal.

It’s odd to hear myself answer questions on the spot. I am often critical of my answers and wish I had more time to consider the questions, but that’s the nature of an on-the-spot Q & A. But, hopefully I didn’t say anything incorrect or harmful.

I found the questions really poignant; they demonstrated how seriously this crowd take their faith and that was inspiring. In fact the Q & A went on so long I didn’t include it all in this recording because it took me so long to edit the recording so that you could somewhat hear the questions being posed.

In addition to this talk I did two talks earlier that day for a retreat organized by the Orthodox Christian Women of Montreal, and on Sunday, after Divine Liturgy, I spoke with the teens in their Sunday school class. It was so nice to be surrounded by plenty of Orthodox Christians! I’d like to extend my gratitude to Fr. Justin and Matushka Catherine for inviting me, as well as the Orthodox Christian Women of Montreal, and of course to the parish of St. George’s for hosting me.

 

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Christ is risen!

I am not going to offer the same theological explanations on women’s ordination that have been offered many times before and by far more capable people than myself. I simply want to address three important elements that seem to continually be absent from the conversation of women’s leadership roles in the Orthodox Church (including ordination to the diaconate or priesthood): 1.) Orthodox female monasticism; 2.) The role of the priest’s wife; and 3.) The spiritual priesthood.

1.) It greatly saddens me that this educated, obviously committed, Orthodox Christian young woman (and those whose testimonies she cites) has lived an experience of Orthodoxy that has clearly been devoid of its rich and empowering monastic tradition. A tradition which is replete with incredible, strong, dynamic women who have become leaders in our faith through their monastic obedience and love for Christ. Visit a cenobitic monastic sisterhood (not simply “the nun who lives in the remote monastery”). Take the time to really understand their way of life – and you will find a place where women are empowered. But, this life requires the “first to be last and the last first” (Matt. 20:16). In other words it’s a life of humility, not worldly glory.

2.) My dogmatic theology professor at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki used to say, “They want to be presbyters but they don’t become presbyteras”. In other words, “You want to become a priest: why not a priest’s wife?”. Initially I took this to be a very simplistic answer but after becoming a priest’s wife I understood what he meant. Women saying there are no leadership roles in the church have either met few priest’s wives or have too quickly dismissed their important role. You want to serve Christ? I’ll tell you an option readily available to you in the Church right now. Find a spouse who shares your love, zeal and calling. Support the ministry of Christ by taking up all the duties, responsibilities and struggles that come with being a priest’s wife.

Trust me there are plenty of things a priest’s wife can do that meaningfully contribute to her community. And there’s no debating whether or not its a leadership role. The Church, recognizing it as the important leadership role that it is, even applies a title to it. I have a Master’s degree in theology and yet I find my life as a priest’s wife, even in our small parish, allows me to put all my theological education to good use. Furthermore, the role of the priest’s wife is absolutely a pastoral role. Now, whether each individual priest’s wife has the capacity to counsel or guide people, to comfort them, teach theology or inform people on moral matters does not really matter because every priest’s wife has the capacity to teach by example.

I believe much more can and should be said of the role of a priest’s wife and the calling she receives to live this life but I’ll leave that for now.

3.) Okay, so I can hear the rebuttals of my above comments already: Yes, but the first point requires I become a monastic and the second I marry a man wanting to become a priest. Both are contingent on (in one sense) external elements that do not guarantee I have a voice in the decision-making process of our Church (ie. at Councils or Pseudo-councils).

There is, however, such a thing as the spiritual priesthood and this is available to all: male and female, monastic, married or single. This differs from the sacramental priesthood. It is, essentially, a true spiritual life that facilitates one’s own sanctity and the sanctity of others. (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos speaks of this in his book Orthodox Psychotherapy, particularly in the chapter “The Orthodox Therapist”).

The desire to “hold a position of power” is indicative of a spiritual illness, in both men and women. St. John Chrysostom goes into detail about this in his work “On the Priesthood”. So, I find that alarming no matter who is saying it.

The fact is if you want to play a prominent role in the decision-making process of the Church, whether you’re male or female, I’ll tell you the best way to do this. You may not like it. Hold out your hand and I’ll place a prayer rope in it. Prayer. It’s the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. Nothing will fulfill a thirsting soul like prayer nor will any word, paper or lecture influence your immediate and wider community more than prayer. Obviously, there is much more to the spiritual priesthood than just prayer but the cornerstone of this is prayer.

I fully understand that my response will likely not be favourably received. And please forgive me for imitating the holy Apostle Paul who closes his argument on widows with, “And I believe I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corn. 7:40). But I also am a young woman and an Orthodox theologian. I too am a priest’s wife, have spent extensive time with Orthodox nuns contemplating and writing about the spiritual life of women, and I happen to be a social worker. There are available roles to women right now in the Church. Why not seek to understand and honour the important roles of female monastics? Why not seek to understand and honour the role of the priest’s wife? And most importantly, why not become a member of the “true clergy” (as Met. Hierotheos says) by participation in the spiritual priesthood where your voice – both through prayer and teaching (by word and example) – will have a vast and powerful influence on the Church?

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Christ is risen!

We put this gold cross in the window so people would be able to easily identify which townhouse is Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission. But in the night the cross wasn’t visible so the children and I devised a plan: to put painter’s tape on the external light where the unit number is lit up. We giggled saying those unfamiliar with the Byzantine cross motif might mistake our cross for a crack in the light that we tried to tape up :).

The little note pictured above was one of two notes we attached to wine bottles and left on the doorstep of our neighbours in hopes they would appreciate a little gift and forgive our late night festivities: “Hey neighbour! Here’s a bottle of wine. Please don’t call the police when, in the middle of the night, you hear a house full of people respond to our priest with a resounding ‘Truly He is risen’!” is not what was written but certainly was the intended message :). And Glory to God! no one complained and we had an absolutely beautiful Paschal vigil.

 

 

This was the first time in six years when the faithful were able to hold candles throughout the entirety of the vigil. The choir sounded wonderful and the atmosphere was heavenly. I’m not a talented photographer and I only got to snap a few hurried photos because I had to get back to the “choir loft”. But at least these are nice keepsakes.

Afterward Fr. John blessed some Paschal baskets:

 

 

And of course the next day we had a lovely Agape’s Vespers. Although we weren’t a huge group the Gospel was read in 10 languages! Our traditional shared meal followed. And it was delicious! This is always one of my favourite times: everyone is at peace and filled with great joy at the Lord’s Resurrection.

 

 

We all enjoy spending time eating and chatting together. To make more room we placed a table at the back of the chapel so the children could eat upstairs with everyone (they usually have the habit of taking their food down to the Sunday school room).

 

 

May God make us worthy to safeguard the joy, peace and gratitude instilled in our hearts by the celebration of Christ’s holy Resurrection! It’s easy to let these bright days slip away if we don’t make a conscientious effort everyday to remind ourselves, “Jesus having risen from the grave as He foretold hath given us eternal life and great mercy!”

And I was pleased to get a more pleasant photo of Fr. John and me than the hurried one on the sixth anniversary of his priesthood :).

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20190421_113029This photo was taken this morning after the Divine Liturgy. I love it because it illustrates exactly what the life of a priest’s family is: you quickly give your cell phone to a parishioner and say, “Please take a picture of me and Fr. John while I get antidoron because it’s the anniversary of his ordination!” Father barely realizes what is going on as you stand by smiling and holding the blessed bread before you rush off to arrange the food and drinks for Coffee Hour.

Six years ago today, April 21, 2013, was the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt. On that day Fr. John was ordained to the holy priesthood at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (You can see photos of that day and read Fr. John’s homily here.)

Just one month after returning from our nearly six years living in Greece, we drove to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick with our families the day before the ordination. I remember feeling extraordinarily nervous the whole way – all four hours. Although I believed it was God’s will for Fr. John to be ordained a priest I was also aware of the great responsibility we were about to take on. Never had I so intimately sympathized with St. Gregory the Dialogos Pope of Rome who fled to the hills when he heard he was to be made pope.

Nevertheless, Fr. John’s ordination took place and my nerves gave-way to a calm resignation. I’m aware of how bad that sounds. But, I assume it’s similar to how someone feels once they’ve been enlisted in the army. Yes, it was a free choice to enlist but now I must go to WAR… so there’s that.

Within one week of the ordination we came to St. John’s, Newfoundland to serve all the services of Holy Week, Pascha and Bright Week. It was both intimidating and… no, it was mostly intimidating. But this was my experience; everyone’s experiences are different.

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The house chapel of St. Nektarios (before we moved all the liturgical items to the new worship space).

Over the past six years I’ve received a handful of emails from women asking for advice or guidance about discerning with their husbands whether or not to make the decision to pursue the holy priesthood. If I could be frank I would say, “Before you do this make sure you are convinced there is no other path for you except this. It is too difficult to enter into this life with a lackadaisical attitude. It’s important to understand what is really required of you: a life of struggle and sacrifice.” But I don’t want to scare people so I don’t say that. I usually relegate myself to one piece of advice: to pray consistently, both about one’s perceived calling and as a part of a regular routine of personal discipline.

I believe being a priest’s wife is a calling but a calling to take up your cross (Matt. 16:24) more than anything else. I know there is misconceptions and some people mistakenly think of a priest as a person who receives honour – after all people greet him and bid him farewell by kissing his hand! But you may in fact see your husband insulted, disliked, and slandered more often than you’ll see him praised or honoured. But that’s okay. People are people; one of the best pieces of advice we were ever given (and it was by our old Anglican priest) was: “People do what people do.” Sometimes I feel like embroidering that saying and hanging it on my living room wall 🙂 as it is the most true statement I’ve ever heard. It helps to repeat it to yourself when you are distressed by some people’s words and/or actions.

No, the priest’s life is not one of glory. As an Orthodox priest once told me, “It’s a life of serving tables.”

So, what is the role of the priest’s wife?

I’ll tell you what helps: being able and willing to sing, to clean, to sew, to paint icons, to arrange flowers, to teach Sunday school, to iron, to mend, did I mention to clean?, to cook and to pray. But nothing – I mean nothing – helps the priest as much as your loving support, as being non-argumentative (especially before the Divine Liturgy, and no that’s not a proper word but it’s a word I must enact nonetheless), or listening when he needs to talk, and (only when necessary) gently encouraging him to see things in a different light.

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Incense obstructing what would otherwise have been a nice photo.

Nothing will help your husband, the priest, more than if you yourself struggle to live a Christian life, to lead by example, and to be patient even – no, especially – when you want to complain. And it will also help if you actively love and are invested in your parishioners’ spiritual well-being. It’s important to remember you not only play a role in supporting your husband to sow, tend, and toil the spiritual earth of your parishioners’ hearts, but your own spiritual disposition will impact their spiritual growth. You do not want to be a stumbling block (Matt. 18:6). You want them to know and feel your love so that they are encouraged to struggle for Christ. And this too will help the priest because he’ll see that his co-struggler in this life is working toward the same goal: that we may be one (John 17:21).

I wish you all a compunction-filled Holy Week and a wonderful Pascha! May we all be made worthy to commemorate the Lord’s saving Passion and celebrate His glorious Resurrection!

 

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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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Agape’s Vespers, 2016 – when candles were still permitted at the College 😉

The Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom:

(Source) If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.

And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

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