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midfeastb(Source) Today’s celebration is the midpoint of the fifty days between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost. Saint John tells us (John 7:14) that “in the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple, and taught.” The Feast in question is the Feast of Tabernacles (celebrated in September), not Pentecost.

The Church has appointed John 7:14-30 to be read for the Midfeast, thereby linking Pascha and Pentecost. In Chapter 8 of Saint John’s Gospel, the Lord came to the Temple again and taught the people who came to Him. After leaving the Temple, he encounters the man born blind. We will hear about him on the Sunday of the Blind Man.

The Troparion of the Midfeast hints at the encounter of Christ and the Samaritan Woman in just a few days.

“In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as Thou didst cry to all: If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink [John 7:37]. O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to Thee!”

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This is a recording of a discussion I hosted over Skype with a group of Canadian Orthodox Christian women spread out across several Canadian provinces during Great Lent of 2015.

I encourage you to have a listen not because of what I, the donkey, say, rather because I read so much from the hymns themselves. It’s a really nice refresher of all the wonderful themes we’re about to participate in in the Holy Week services.

*CORRECTION: You will notice that I continually refer to St. Joseph the All-Comely (the son of Patriarch Jacob) as St. Joseph the Betrothed (who was espoused to the Theotokos). Please forgive my mistake; I didn’t realize this until I heard the recording.

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St. Niketas, Martyr of Serres

St. Paisios the Athonite responds to the following question:

‘Geronta, for how many years should one read the daily Synaxaria [the 12 volumes of the lives of the Saints, one for each month]?  “Throughout his life.  No matter how much is written in the Synaxaria, it is not enough.  What we are to derive from the Synaxaria is not the physical account of the lives of the saints, but the overflow, the meaning, of their lives.  The saints would be foolish if they revealed everything they experienced in secret.  Even the few things we do know about their lives provide us with sufficient help, as long as this knowledge pierces our heart, in order to put it into practice.”
From today’s Synaxarion, April 4

The holy New Martyr Nicetas was a Slav from Albania, but we know nothing of his family or his early life. He lived on Mt. Athos in the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon, then lived in the Skete of Saint Anne. Burning with a desire for martyrdom, he decided to travel to Serres. He arrived on March 30, 1808 (Great and Holy Monday) and stopped at a local monastery. In speaking to the igumen, he revealed that he was a hieromonk from Mt. Athos. At midnight, the igumen was making his customary rounds of the monastery when he saw someone standing in the moonlight praying on the church porch.

As he came closer, he could see that it was Father Nicetas, who revealed his intention to shed his blood for Christ. After speaking with the saint for a while, the igumen continued his rounds and left Father Nicetas to pray.

In the morning, Father Nicetas received Communion from the Presanctified Gifts, then went to a mosque outside the city. There he debated religion with a Moslem teacher and his disciples. Saint Nicetas approached one of them, noticing that he was lame.

The saint asked the man why he did not seek healing from his infirmity. The man said that it was impossible for him to be cured, since he had been born this way.

The monk replied that the man could be cured easily, if he would agree to obey him. The afflicted man looked at him with amazement and asked, “How must I obey you?”

“Believe in Jesus Christ as the one true God. If you are baptized, I promise you that you will be healthy and no trace of your lameness will remain.”

The man said nothing, but went to his teacher to report what the monk had said to him. The teacher questioned Saint Nicetas about where he had come from, and what he had said to his disciple.

Fearlessly, the warrior of Christ told him he was from Albania and had come to preach Christianity. Feeling pity for the lame man, he had advised him to believe in Christ so that he might receive his bodily health and the Kingdom of Heaven after death.

The teacher sent word to the mayor that a monk had come to their city and was speaking against their religion. Saint Nicetas was locked up in prison for the night, and the next day he was interrogated by Moslem religious leaders. Since they could not defeat him with reason, they tortured him and hanged him in the evening of Great and Holy Saturday in 1808. He was left hanging until Bright Tuesday, when Christians were given permission to take his body and bury it.

Two separate services have been composed in honor of Saint Nicetas, one in Slavonic and the other in Greek. A comparison of the two services reveals a difference of opinion about the saint’s national origin.

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Ladies, this post is for you. Men, you may also be Marthas, but mostly it’s us women running around the kitchen while the Saviour sits in the living room with the men and the Marys.

I think it’s common that when we think and speak of “being a Martha” what we mean is, “I do things; I don’t have the time or luxury of just standing in the icon corner praying. I have responsibilities that necessitate being a Martha.” I think most of us feel far too much like Martha than we’d like.

If you visit an Orthodox monastery you’ll quickly realize how busy the monastics are, how much they work, and how seemingly little time remains for private prayers after so much work. So how can they be said to “choose what is better”, how can they be said to focus on “the one thing needed”? Similarly, for us living in the world, with our work schedules, various activities, volunteer obligations, and endless to do lists, how can we possibly find the time to focus on the one thing needed?

Let’s take a moment and really consider what it means to be a Martha and what it means to be a Mary.

Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

When the Lord rebuked Martha for complaining about her sister’s choice to sit on the floor rather than help her, he wasn’t condemning her work. He wasn’t saying what she was doing was unnecessary, unimportant or even superfluous. He spoke instead of Martha’s internal state, not her external works. What He was highlighting and disapproving of was not what she was doing but how she was feeling. He expressed His disapproval of her worry, her anxiety, her upset state of being. When he said Mary chose what is better, it was not to necessarily approve of her not working, but rather to highlight that her heart and mind were focused on Him, the one thing needed.

This is how we too can be Marys when we need to be Marthas, by calling our attention back to Christ in all we do. Are we rushing to our next appointment feeling anxious we won’t be on time? We need to say the Jesus Prayer. Are we doing the third load of laundry only to realize we shrunk a favourite sweater? We need to implore the Mother of God to keep us from becoming upset. Are we washing the dishes while also cooking supper and starting to feel flustered? We need to verbally glorify God.

This is what monastics are doing too. They’re being Marys while running around like Marthas. It’s not that they don’t set aside appropriate time for prayer, they do. But they also work like busy bees all the while struggling to be watchful, to guard their nous and heart from harmful thoughts, and to keep their focus on Christ through prayer.

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“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me,” “Most Holy Theotokos save me,” “Glory to God for all things,” these, and many more, are simple prayers that make being a Martha much more like being a Mary.

Christ reminds us,

“Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”

Externally we can be Marthas but internally we must be Marys. We must be praying and glorifying God and constantly reminding ourselves that all our running around is in fact spiritually detrimental if we allow our minds to be so distracted that we “forget our first love”.  Conversely, we can find our lives very busy and still choose the one thing needed if only we push ourselves to cry out to Christ to sanctify our every activity, so long as in our heart we have the peace of soul to “sit” at the Saviours’ feet. Only we know the balance between being busy and being anxious/ upset about many things; each of us must find a way to become a Mary even when life necessitates we be Marthas.

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Originally posted on Ancient Faith BlogsBehind the Scenes

By Constantina Palmer

Sweetness of Grace Stories of Christian Trial and VictorySTORY FOR BODY AND SOUL

Storytelling is a characteristic feature of our Orthodox Tradition. It is an ancient and effective means of sharing high ideals, universal truths, with the common man through images and examples relative to his experience in daily life. Not only is our history replete with books full of stories about holy desert dwellers, repentant sinners, sayings and anecdotes of anchorites and hermits, but the Gospel itself, Christ’s own teachings, are dispensed in the form of story, in parables.

The parables Christ describes in the Gospels contain profound depths of spiritual insight and wisdom, only discernible to those who wish to seek the truth. Parables are straightforward enough that the carnal man (i.e., the non-spiritual person) would believe he understands Christ’s teaching because, on the surface, he does. However, in reality the mystery of their depth remains hidden from him.

And the disciples came, and said unto him, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” He answered and said unto them, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (Matt. 13:10-11)

Every aspect of the spiritual life requires effort. And so, it should not surprise us that even grasping the deeper meaning of parables obliges humble-mindedness and spiritual insight. To him who makes the effort to dig deeper, Christ reveals hidden, divine truths: “He that has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15).

In a similar fashion, stories of Orthodox life, mindset, and spiritual realities provide two layers of insight. The first is the basic level of understanding: “That’s a nice story,” is perhaps (at best) the impression a non-spiritual person has. The second layer, however, is capable of penetrating the heart. The content of the story first enters the intellectual mind and then, for those well-disposed, proceeds to have an effect (whether or not the person is cognizant of it) on the inner man.

Like all spiritual things, there is the exterior and the interior. Like Christ’s parables, stories of spiritual depth offer both.

When asked which was more important for salvation, bodily asceticism or interior vigilance, Saint Agathon said, “Man is like a tree. Bodily asceticism is the foliage, but interior vigilance is the fruit. Holy Scripture says that ‘every tree which does not bring forth good fruit shall be cut down and thrown into the fire’ (Mt.3:10). Therefore, we should focus our attention on the fruit. But a tree also needs the protection of its foliage, which is bodily asceticism.”

Obviously, Abba Agathon is speaking here of external good works and internal spiritual works, but the idea is the same. Man is of two natures: bodily and spiritual. Stories and parables that provide two layers speak to man as consisting of both body and soul.

STORY AS MOSAIC

Another element of spiritual stories is the communal nature inherent in them. A story is something to be shared. What good is a storyteller if she has no one to whom she can relay the story? Like love, the greatest Christian virtue, it is worthless unless we share it with others. Spiritual stories are a means by which a person supports and edifies his neighbour and is himself supported and edified in his own spiritual journey.

My own stories – stories of Christian trial and victory, of lessons learned and spiritual conversations with holy ones – do not merely involve a storyteller and her listener. They are themselves communal. They are not merely my own; they are also the story of others. They describe the spiritual warfare and spiritual riches of others. They are an exchange, a mosaic; they are both my story and their story. Like St. Nikolai Velimirovich, I too,

…am searching for those who have listened, my Lord, and I share my joy with them. I tell them about Your ways and Your wisdom, and they confirm what I relate. And we multiply our joy and share it. I listen to the tale of those who have listened, how You removed the stumbling blocks before their feet, and I add my own story, and our room is filled with heaven.

The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory is a mosaic of all the things I learned, saw, and heard as an Orthodox Christian striving to live the faith in South Korea, Greece, and here on the Atlantic-encircled island of Newfoundland. It contains examples of the sweet and difficult aspects of Christian life. These stories, my own and those of others, are a petition to take life in Christ seriously; they are a challenge to put into practice the Gospel precepts exactly in the life circumstances in which we find ourselves. They are a sharing of stories, intended for the whole person – body and soul – intended to inspire good works in the reader.

STORY AS MOTIVATION FOR ACTION

Spiritual stories, Christ’s parables, the sayings of the desert fathers (please God, even my own simple stories) differ from secular stories in that they are intended to motivate the listener to flee from vice and acquire virtue. When we hear a spiritual story the proper response is to learn and express this learning through our actions.

“I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw” (Proverbs 24:32).

Spiritual stories are like a feast, the storyteller a gracious host. A host decorates his banquet hall, offers the finest foods and wine, and invites all he knows to eat and drink so that they may be filled. Having a story fall on deaf ears is like a person who is invited to the beautiful feast, arrives, sees the sights, smells the aroma, but does not ingest the food. What good is there in a feast if it is not eaten? The same is true of spiritual stories. They must be digested. We must grind them in the mill of our hearts, extract a lesson and apply it with zeal. In this way we are ever vigilant, ever learning, ever applying the commandments of Christ. This is what it means in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers when it states the visitor “went away greatly edified” (Sayings, p. 52).

When we hear or read a spiritual story, when we receive “the words of life”, the fruit of these words ought to be born in our hearts. This fruit becomes wisdom, understanding, forgiveness, self-reflection, courage, patience, endurance, fortitude. The benefits of spiritual stories are unfathomable if only we are not passive when we hear them. We must greet them with an open and eager heart and display our gratitude through action.

This is true both of he who hears (or reads) spiritual stories, and he who relays them. As a storyteller, I myself must strive not to be a “teacher who teaches but doesn’t practice what she preaches” (as the ever-memorable Gerontissa Makrina of Portia was wont to say). I, like all listeners, must “produce fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Repentance is, in the truest sense, an action. It entails turning away from sin and toward God; this occurs first in one’s mindset and afterward is reflected in one’s deeds.

Often, when St. John Chrysostom would preach, his divinely-inspired words would evoke rapturous applause from the listening crowds, and his response would often be (in essence), “Don’t clap; rather, put my words into action.” The same can be said of every parable, every spiritual story, we hear or read. Let’s not merely clap our hands in enthusiasm, let’s show forth good works, let’s go away “greatly edified.”

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Some of my favorite spiritual stories are contained in the following books:
Practical Teachings on the Christian Life by Abba Dorotheos
Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters by St. Paisios the Athonite
An Athonite Gerontikion by Priestmonk Ionnikios Kotsonis
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicta Ward
The Dialogues by St. Gregory Dialogos
Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon
The Prologue of Orhid by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

About Constantina Palmer

Constantina R. Palmer is from New Brunswick, a quaint province on Canada’s Atlantic coast. She lived in Thessaloniki, Greece for almost six years, during which time she received a Master’s degree in theology from Aristotle University, studied Cretan style iconography, as well as Byzantine chant. Not one to simply learn from books she also spent significant time at a number of women’s monasteries throughout northern Greece. Currently, she lives with her husband, an Orthodox priest, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, serving the only Orthodox parish on the island of Newfoundland. She is also a social worker. Constantina is the author of two books: The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery and The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory.

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kyra-sarakosti.jpg(Originally posted here in 2012, when I still lived in Greece)

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 Glorious Resurrection!

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While our Orthodox Mission, Holy Lady of Vladimir, still holds weekend services at Queen’s College, this post is about our domestic chapel of St. Nektarios.

I’m not a great photographer, but I wanted to show you how the domestic chapel of St. Nektarios looks now. I had written about our house chapel last year, but, to my great joy, we’ve made some additions.

My father is a very accomplished carpenter and I had been telling him how I wanted him to make us an iconostasis for our domestic chapel. Because we didn’t have proper church furniture the icons I painted of Christ, the Mother of God and St. Nektarios were relegated to the side of the chapel instead of in front of the altar. So, I was in a hurry to have something made.

The original plan was for my father to take measurements when he and his wife visited us in the Fall (of 2016). However, we ended up deciding on the spur of the moment, two days before dad was to leave, to build stands instead. Off we went to the hardware store to rent a table saw and buy supplies.

While dad started on making icon stands from scratch with no pattern, his wife Angela and I went to the fabric store. She’s a talented seamstress and equally as enthusiastic about fun projects as my dad and me and so she thought she may be able to sew some coverings on my sewing machine while dad built the stands.

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I regret that there is no photo evidence of the state of my backyard while dad and I assembled the stands together: he sawing and hammering, me sanding and crack filling. (Fr. John would have been there to help but he got called away on a pastoral matter). It was a ton of fun and I was more than ecstatic about the way the chapel would look once we were finished.

In short order the icon stands and the Proskimidi table were ready, the coverings were also ready. All Fr. John and I had to do was varnish/ stain the wood (which we’ll do in the summer – when we can do it outdoors), hang the coverings, and acquire gold crosses to be attached to the fabric. We were able to get the crosses during our trip to the mainland in October; we attached them with fabric glue, but we have yet to attach the large cross to the altar covering.

There is still more to be done. I would like to buy three oil lamps to hang from the ceiling above Christ, Panagia and St. Nektarios. But, I’m trying to not be rash in furnishing the chapel, one thing at a time. I also plan to cover the large wooden candle stand with painted canvas like I’ve marveled at in Orthodox monasteries. (You can sort of see an example of a canvas-covered candle here; it’s to the right, in the middle of the smaller candles).

This particular candle stand (shown below before the “Royal Doors” – or where Royal Doors would be) represents the fiery sword that prohibited entrance to Eden after the Fall. That is why it is placed here in front of the Royal Doors during the Divine Liturgy, after the consecration, while the priest communes.

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You can see all the snow outside the window. This photo was taken at Christmas

Words can’t express how grateful I am to have a chapel in my own home (something I always wanted). My gratitude is doubled by the fact that Fr. John has an Orthodox chapel in which to hold daily Morning and Evening Prayer, not to mention vigils.

I’m a vain sort, but I’ll be honest and say that ever since my father built the icon stands and the chapel took on more of “chapel” look I try and make sure I never miss a Vespers service (I’m unable to attend Matins because of work). It’s a comfort to stand in the oil-lamp lit space and pray in front of icons that we have collected during our travels, and moreso in front of icons that I had the honour to paint.

The icons I painted – pictured in the below collage – are as follows: (Top left corner) St. Gregory Palamas (he is to Christ’s right in the photo). Below that is an icon of St. Demetrios (this is a copy of an icon I painted – my godson has the original); Christ the High Priest and St. Nektarios (as well as the Mother of God depicted elsewhere); St. John Maximovitch (bottom left) – which I just finished last week; and St. John the Theologian (bottom right).

It comes as a great consolation to me to have the icons I painted – icons that took me countless hours to paint – in our chapel. I can’t speak for other iconographers, but for me, when I paint an icon I don’t feel ownership over it. I may be a bit more critical of my own work than I would be of others, but at some point the icons I paint stop being my work and become the countenances of the persons depicted. And yet, I know each inch of the icons in intimate detail, they are so personal and yet so distinctly their own. It’s hard to explain, perhaps I’m just babbling. So, I’ll suffice it to say I’m deeply humbled that images I painted with my own unworthy hand now adorn an Orthodox chapel. I thank God for my talent and hope He accepts my offering.

Lastly, I want to say while I love our domestic chapel, my joy would more than quadruple if our parish were able to establish a proper Orthodox church here on the island of Newfoundland. Amen, so be it.

Please keep us in your holy prayers!

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