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Archive for the ‘Orthodox Customs and Tradition’ Category

While eating breakfast this morning with Fr. John we started listening to this homily by a spiritual son of St. Paisios the Athonite. This spiritual son is in fact the “young man” in the book The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios. If you have not read this book I highly recommend it.

The “Young Man”, whose real name is Athanasios Rakovalis, begins the homily with these words, “I’d like to thank you all for being here, and to say that I am happy you are all here because your presence here shows that you wish to learn about St. Paisios, and this contains a type of grace. Before I begin my talk, I’d like to request from all of you if you are able to say an internal prayer to St. Paisios now, to ‘lend a hand’ to help me make my talk and for us all to leave here benefited – both you and I.”

When I heard these words by St. Paisios’ lay-disciple I paused the video and turned to Fr. John, “That is what it was like in Greece!” I said.

While it is customary for different cultures to have words of greeting, the charm of the Orthodox mindset is the humility and mutual love shared amidst Orthodox Christians.

Athanasios, a physics teachers, is there to give a homily, to teach and instruct, but rather than show himself to be “an expert” he first calls on his Christian brothers and sisters so that through their prayers – not his words – all might be benefited. This kind of mindset is not easily taught. It is the kind of mindset we must “put on” (Galatians 3:27) ourselves as Orthodox Christians. This, I believe, is what is meant by “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Brothers and sisters, this is the mind of Christ!: to humbly ask others’ for their prayers, to firmly believe with all your heart and mind that the only profit we can give one another is founded on Christ’s love, not on our own intellect or talents.

More than everything else about Greece I miss this mindset the most. It permeated so many faithful, and did not produce words like “clanging brass” (1 Corinthians 13: 1) but Spirit-filled, God-inspired words that drilled into your heart and soul a desire to emulate the love and humility you saw in your fellow Christians.

I’m sure Athanasios goes on to say many more beautiful things in his homily. But I stopped just a few minutes in to reminiscence and contemplate how it’s in the little things (as St. Paisios often said) that we make large gains or big loses.

St. Paisios defined reverence as “the fear of God and spiritual sensitivity”. He said that reverent people “behave carefully and modestly, because they intensely feel the presence of God.” In my opinion, just one minute into this homily Athanasios Rakovalis illustrates what it means to douse your words and thoughts with reverence.

May we be made worthy, through the prayers of St. Paisios, to do the same in our own lives!

 

 

 

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As I’ve been reading My Side of the Mountain these last few days I’m reminded of so many saints who lived and prayed in the wilderness. Today we celebrate St. Tikhon of Kaluga who, like the character Sam Gribley, lived in a tree.

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(Source) Saint Tikhon of Medin and Kaluga, in his youth received monastic tonsure at the Chudov monastery in Moscow, but through his love for solitude he settled at an isolated spot near Maloyaroslavl. He lived in asceticism in a deep dense forest, on the bank of the River Vepreika, in the hollow of an ancient giant oak. Once, during a hunt, Prince Basil Yaroslavich (grandson of Vladimir the Brave), came upon Saint Tikhon, angrily ordered him to leave his property immediately, and dared to raise his whip against the monk. At once, the hand of the prince grew numb. Taken aback by such punishment, the prince repented of his conduct and with humility asked forgiveness.

He received healing through the prayer of Saint Tikhon. The prince entreated the monk to remain always on his property and to build a monastery there for monks, promising to provide it with everything necessary. Saint Tikhon built a monastery in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, which he headed. He guided the monastery until he reached a great old age, and he died in the year 1492, after receiving the great schema.

Saint Tikhon’s body was buried at the cathedral church of the monastery he founded. The celebration of Saint Tikhon was established at the Council of 1584.

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Christ is risen!

This year we can rightly say we celebrated Pascha in Paradise. Literally, since we celebrated at home (in the town of Paradise).

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Originally posted in the Tips from a Monastery series in 2016.

I hope you are all having a peaceful, grace-filled Holy Week.  May God make us worthy to worship His Cross and see His glorious Resurrection!

I haven’t posted a ‘Tips from the Monastery’ in quite some time.  The other day I remembered the practice of reading the Acts of the Apostles on Holy Saturday and I was happy to share it in a ‘Tips’ post.

Spending time at Orthodox monasteries I learned of a revered custom that still takes place in some monasteries today.  On Holy and Great Saturday, after the Vesperal Liturgy is celebrated in the morning, the Acts of the Apostles is read in its entirety.  In the Catholicon of the monastery the Evangelist Luke’s account of the early years of the Church is read until the Paschal Vigil begins.  For obvious reasons the whole brotherhood or sisterhood would not necessarily be able to be present for the whole reading, but the 28-Chapter book is easily read by one or a few chanters.

I find this practice so beautiful.  For the first few years I was Orthodox I would read it in my home.  I don’t have as much time now, but truth be told with technology the way it is I could certainly listen to a recording of the Acts of the Apostles while getting ready for Pascha.

During Holy Week we hear the whole account of Christ’s last days.  We hear Him declare He is going up to Jerusalem to suffer.  We listen as He nudges the Apostles awake, admonishing them to ‘keep watch’.  Our hearts break at the words ‘Judas, do you betray me with a kiss?’.   With Peter we ‘weep bitterly’ at the realization of our own denial of Christ the Master.  And finally, our hearts are pierced by Christ’s words ‘It is finished’ as He hangs on the Cross.  Joseph of Arimathea takes Him from the Cross.  We sing His lamentations and kiss His most pure body in the Epithaphios icon.  And as we wait for His Resurrection, as we go with the women to see His empty tomb, we read of what became of His Apostles in the Book of Acts-the same Apostles who hid themselves in fear following Christ’s Passion.  It’s the perfect compliment to all we’ve heard this week.  It describes Christ’s ascent into Heaven.  It tells us what became of Judas the betrayer.  It reminds us of the power of God through Jesus Christ, and it inspires us to go out and preach Christ crucified, ‘foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews’.

Having gone with Christ up to Jerusalem, having been ‘crucified with Him’ that we might live with Him in His Kingdom, we arrive at Holy and Great Saturday.  Reading the Acts of the Apostles we have the great blessing of hearing all about the Apostles “Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence”.  May we, through the prayers of the Holy Apostles, be found worthy to Resurrect with Him and to follow in their footsteps!

Thank God for such beautiful, inspiring customs that our Church and Tradition are replete with!st. mary magdalene and christ

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Annunciation
AFTER TWELVE YEARS, God inspired the father and mother of the Theotokos and they saw to her betrothal in accord with the divine dispensation. Later the most gracious God sent the angel who said to the Theotokos: “Mary, you should rejoice more than anyone in the world. You will give birth to the Son and Word of God, Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, without man, as a virgin. And you will remain a virgin so that Jesus Christ can save Adam and Eve and the entire human race.” The Lady Theotokos replied and said: “My Lord, I wonder, and glorify you, I honour and worship you because you have condescended to be born of me, your servant. I am ready, therefore, and let your will be done.” And immediately the Theotokos became pregnant and she gave birth to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God, without man, a virgin, who remained a virgin.
OUR LORD WAS BORN of a woman so that women would be blessed, because women first received the curse and we were expelled from paradise. And so woman had to receive the blessing so that she would put us back into paradise. Our Lord was born of a virgin so that virginity would be preferred. You, my brother, who want to preserve your virginity, hate the world. Then you are good enough to become thrice blessed; then you will safeguard your virginity; then you will become like an angel. Out Lord was born of one affianced to bless marriage.

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thy cross

The Epistle reading for the Sunday of the Cross (Third Sunday in Great Lent):

The reading is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:1-6

BRETHREN, since we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”; as he says also in another place, “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

The Gospel reading appointed for the Sunday of the Cross:

The Gospel According to St. Mark 8:34-38; 9:1

The Lord said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

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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.

novella

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.

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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:

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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).

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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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