Archive for the ‘Orthodox Customs and Tradition’ Category

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’m a horrible photographer so forgive me for the quality of photos but I wanted to share with you my icon of St. Perpetua.

St. Perpetua is, hands-down, the female saint I feel the closest to, for many reasons. I have written an akathist to her and her companions as well as a historical novella based on the story she herself recorded, what has come to be known as The Passion of Perpetua and Felictias.


Vibia Perpetua was a wealthy, educated Roman living in the ancient city of Carthage in northern Africa. She was 22 years old at the time of her death, which means she was born around the year 181 A.D. She is one of the earliest writers in history whose autobiographical work has been preserved. In fact, her work is one of the oldest Christian texts. It describes the days of her and her companions’ imprisonment, the spiritual visions she received, and contained in the same text is an eyewitness account (believed to be Tertullian) of their martyrdom. They died in 203 A.D. in the arena of Carthage on the birthday of Geta, the son of the Roman Emperor (who was also from North Africa) Septimus Severus.

As far as I know only a handful of images of St. Perpetua exist, apart from a few very modern iconographic depictions. There are a couple mosaics of her (as shown above). I based my icon on the above three mosaics. One is located in Ravenna, Italy, another in Croatia.


First, I drew a few versions of her. When I finalized the prototype I applied the image to the canvas and began to paint. I started her in the spring, took the summer off, and returned to painting her in the fall. I finished her just before our trip to Arizona in November.

Perpteua gold part

I painted the gold piece she is wearing around her shoulders many, many times (above you can see one of many versions). When I was finally satisfied with the garments I began her face and hands. I only applied what’s called the ”proto fos” (the first light) – usually the first of three-five layers of paint. But I did not feel her expression fit; she looked too melancholic. So, as always, I emailed my brother, Fr. Matthew, and he advised me: her eyes and her chin especially needed correction (he’s not a painter but he’s a great instructor).

With some more work she came to look like this:



Then all that was left to do was touch-up the gold, paint the halo, write the name, and add a border.

During the whole process I frequently listened to a dramatic narration of the passion of Perpetua. While they use words like “overseer” instead of “bishop” and “teacher” instead of “priest” I really loved hearing her story again and again. (Although the narrators are a bit on the over-dramatic side it is still a great narration).


Setting out I knew it would be difficult to paint an icon of her because I had to create the prototype based on mosaics, but it was important for me, very important, to have an icon of her for myself. I have painted a good deal of icons, but never one just for me personally. I knew immediately where I would put her: in my office at work. Although I have plenty of icons in my office I placed her in a discrete spot where she is mostly blocked by the computer just so as not to draw unnecessary attention to her since she’s quite a bit larger than the other icons I have.

20191227_102112I love my work and my colleagues but it is important for me to feel connected to my roots as an Orthodox Christian. To be reminded of a brave individual, a fearless woman who had boldness before God, a person who had spiritual “tunnel vision”. She entrusted herself fully to the care of God.

Questioning her choice to be imprisoned as a Christian rather than free as a Pagan, her father begged her to renounce her faith. She pointed to a pitcher in her prison cell and asked him, “Can this pitcher be called by any other name?” He said, “No.” And she responded, “Neither can I be called by any other name than Christian.”

I painted her holding a scroll with this very quotation not simply because I love the saying but because only certain saints hold scrolls, usually hymnographers or writers, of which she is one. It also serves as a reminder for me, in a secular work environment, that I am, first and foremost, a Christian.

Work icon edited

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Looking for a bit of balance? A new beginning? A good Nativity fast?

Consider My Beautiful Advent.

Holistic Christian Life

(Source) Join your host Cynthia Damaskos from Holistic Christian Life for a program that supports your Advent journey. Cynthia provides tools that will help you along the way, including interviews with priests and authors for inspiration and encouragement. As a certified Health Coach, Cynthia also wants to make sure that you are eating well and handling what can be a stressful time of year in a healthy way. It’s a program for mind and body…but especially soul as we look forward to the birth of Christ.

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On October 15, 2010, the feast of St. Euthymius the New of Thessaloniki, my incredible grandmother Constance (Connie) Murphy passed away very suddenly. She went into the hospital one day and died that same night. As we have done in the past, to honour her memory this year we offered the post Divine Liturgy snack in her honour. To the left you can see her photo and a candle in a small cross candle stand. (You can also see a portion of the chapel in the background).

As I am sure many can relate, I had a very difficult time facing the fact that she was gone. I felt deep, deep grief for years. Last year, on the eighth anniversary of her death, I wrote this:

Icon of the Theotokos, Multiplier of Wheat

October 15, 2018

Eight years ago today Grammy died. We were staying at the monastery of … [in Greece] and because of this Mum couldn’t reach us and we found out via email.

All these years later the pain is so fresh, feelings of utter disbelief, of being cheated, are still so powerful. Death came as a thief in the night and stole her away from me. I never had the chance to say goodbye or even steel myself for her death. I knew nothing about it until it was all over.

She wasn’t particularly sick. She just died. As stupid as it is I truly believed she would know when she’d go beforehand. But if she knew she never let on.

I don’t know for what I still so intensely grieve: because she is gone or because I never got to say goodbye.  I was halfway around the world, in Greece. I couldn’t even see her. She was just gone.

I don’t know. I mean, I really must ask myself if I mourn more for her for having died or for myself for being deprived of her. She was so wise, and good, kind – extraordinarily kind – and generous. She was everything good and had laboured to eradicate everything unsavoury from her character. She was very persuasive because she lived what she taught. She was cautious and prudent, patient, and long-suffering. She refrained from saying anything ill of anyone (even true things). She loved everyone and bore hardships with prayer, sacrifice and thanksgiving. She radiated warmth and goodness and genuine love. The more I think about her the more convinced I am that I mourn only for myself.

May God make me worthy to bear her name and honour the memory of her virtuous life.

May her memory be eternal!

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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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