Archive for the ‘Orthodox Monasticism’ Category

This beautiful article and accompanying photos are from St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery website.


Maria (the future Abbess Makrina) was born in 1921 and grew up in Volos. When she was only ten, both of her parents died, and she began working to support herself and her younger brother. These two orphans managed to survive like this until she was twenty. But when the German Occupation began and famine struck Greece in 1941, they nearly died of starvation, and her brother left Volos. She continued working in Volos wherever she could for her daily bread. Despite her own poverty, she shared whatever food she had with others. Not only was she a hard worker and generous, but she was especially a person of prayer and frequently perceived God’s help tangibly.

In those days, she became acquainted with the mother of Geronda Ephraim, Victoria Moraitis. Those two holy women would pray together all night long on their knees with many tears and prostrations. Because of Maria’s virtues, other pious young women gathered around her during the years of the German Occupation.

Gerontissa Makrina
Panagia Hodigitria Monastery

They lived like an informal sisterhood and yearned to become nuns. They were under the guidance of Father Ephraim of Volos, who had previously been part of Saint Joseph the Hesychast’s brotherhood. Even though he was doing great work with his large flock, he was slandered in 1952 and was forced to leave Volos. Thus, his spiritual children there became “orphans.”

Several spiritual fathers offered to assume the spiritual responsibility for this virtuous sisterhood, but those women, having already acquired the spiritual mind-set of Saint Joseph, could not be satisfied spiritually with any of them. They considered asking him to become their spiritual father, but they hesitated because they had heard how strict he was.

Finally, they did write to him, since they refused to settle for less. The Saint prayed about their request and then wrote back to them: “If you are obedient to me, I will assume responsibility for you. If you aren’t, I will leave you.” They replied: “Geronda, we will be obedient to whatever you tell us to do.” When he received their reply, he prayed again about them. After this, he wrote back and told them that they should treat Maria as their abbess, even though he had never seen her.

He explained to them: “While I was praying, I saw Maria in a vision. She was in the middle, and around her were many little sheep. I realized that this was God’s way of informing me that she should be your abbess. So be obedient to her, and none of you should object to what she says.” Those women said, “May it be blessed,” and the Saint was very happy with their obedience.

He loved them very much because with the eyes of his soul he could see the love they had for Christ, their Bridegroom. This is why he wrote many letters to them. He strengthened them with advice that was simple yet powerful. For example, in one letter to them, he wrote: “Seek nothing but unity and love. Be obedient in order to acquire humility, for our Lord Jesus Christ became an example for all of us and taught humility by being obedient till death. So submit yourselves to Maria, who is trying to benefit you, and all of us here are praying that the Lord will help you and make you worthy of eternal life. I am praying for you with all my soul, humble little Geronda Joseph.”

These women would send their confessions to the Saint, and they saved his many replies as a priceless treasure. He had written to them about theoria and about many spiritual states of his.

Gerontissa Makrina
Panagia Hodigitria Monastery, 1970’s

Unfortunately, all those letters were lost because of the following incident: There was a monk who was not mentally well who wanted to become the spiritual father of those women. They didn’t want him because they didn’t trust him. Besides, they had already found great benefit by being under Saint Joseph. Since that monk was very jealous, he threatened to slander them to the newspapers if he found Saint Joseph’s letters to them. Maria was very afraid of what might happen if he got his hands on those letters because in them Saint Joseph addressed all their confessions. So she decided to burn all of his letters.

Thus, all were destroyed except for eight letters that one of the sisters had kept hidden separately. That is how all those priceless letters of Saint Joseph were lost. What a shame! They would have benefited so many people if they had been preserved and published along with his other letters.

These women eventually became nuns and established a monastery in Portaria, just outside Volos.

One of those nuns told the following story about their life under Saint Joseph:

He foretold everything to us. He wrote about everything happening in our monastery without having been told. Once when I was a novice, my sister (who was also a novice) got very sick. I was very upset and said in my prayers: “Panagia, why? We came here to serve you. Why should she get sick and not be able to offer her help to the monastery?” Then I went down to the courtyard and wept beneath an olive tree all night. A few days later, a letter came for me from Geronda Joseph. He wrote: “My little child, I hear your voice and I can’t bear it. The pain breaks my heart and interrupts my prayer. Don’t weep. Your sister will get well.”

He wrote this without anyone telling him!

Gerontissa Makrina with Gerontissa Theophano

The other sisters said to me, “What did you do?” “I just went and wept beneath an olive tree. But how did he know that, since he was so far away on the Holy Mountain?”

Something similar happened when Gerontissa Makrina became gravely ill and was coughing up blood. We didn’t have a telephone to inform him about it. But in our next letter to him, we concealed her illness from him because we didn’t want to upset him and interrupt his prayer. But then he sent us a letter and said: “My little children, why didn’t you write to me that Gerontissa is ill and is suffering, so that we could pray for her? You made a big mistake thinking that this would interrupt my prayer. When Father Arsenios and I were praying last night, we noetically saw that she was seriously ill, and we prayed hard for her. My children, I want you to inform me about whatever is happening with the monastery and especially with Gerontissa. Write me about it.”

Abbess Makrina likewise saw Saint Joseph and Father Arsenios beside her pillow at night making the sign of the Cross and praying with their prayer-ropes, “Lord, heal Your servant.”

Abbess Makrina later said: “Many times when Geronda was praying, he would see what we were doing and where we were. We wondered how he could write to us on his own and tell us about what we were thinking. After this, our souls were filled with awe and fear!”

After the repose of Saint Joseph, Saint Ephraim of Katounakia in his vigil frequently saw with the eyes of his soul two pillars of fire in Volos ascending from earth to heaven. It was the prayers of Abbess Makrina and one of her nuns full of grace.

Saint Ephraim said full of delight: “Lord, have mercy! My, my! Just take a look at them! We’re out here on the cliffs working so hard just to find a few crumbs of grace, while they are in the world with so much grace! What are they doing over there?”

In her later years their monastery became known for its spirituality, and thousands of pilgrims from all over Greece would find refuge and great benefit from the unforgettable Abbess Makrina.

Her face radiated kindness, love, sincerity, and faith. Her tranquility and her sweet words were a support and a fountain of strength for all who had the blessing of knowing her before her holy repose in 1995.

From her blessed sisterhood, nuns were sent to populate the monasteries of the Holy Forerunner in Serres and of the Archangel Michael in Thasos. In turn, these monasteries sent nuns to North America who established new monasteries with the ideals of traditional Orthodox monasticism.

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Christ is risen!

Our six month sabbatical has come to an end and we are temporarily back in Newfoundland. I have returned to work and Fr John has returned to serving Holy Lady of Vladimir full time.

During our sabbatical we enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new:

We attended frequent divine services at St. Anthony’s Monastery, more services than we ever had the opportunity to attend before. The greatest blessing of the whole experiences was attending the Divine Liturgy on Saturday mornings at the church of St. Menas where the tomb of Blessed Geronda Ephraim is located.

We spent a lot of time at the Three Hierarchs Academy.

We had the great blessing of greeting and venerating the fragrant myrrh-streaming Iveron icon from Hawaii when it visited the school.

We participated in the life of an new Orthodox mission parish in Florence.

We enjoyed vacationing in Texas.

Father John spoke at a great conference on Orthodox education and I gave a number of talks also.

Finally, our six month sojourn in the desert convinced us to make Arizona our new home.

Until then I’ll thoroughly enjoy this cold but pleasant North Atlantic island: serving our parish, working as a social worker, and hiking in the woods, by ponds, around lakes and on edge of the ocean.

Yesterday we went to the beach to see a unique sight: a visiting walrus (they don’t usually visit this part of the island)! Unfortunately, he had returned to the ocean just before we arrived. But would you just look at the beauty of the Atlantic ocean?! Glory to God!

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Fr John and I at the 2022 St. Kosmas Conference

Today I came across the above homily Fr John gave in our parish in Newfoundland. It is Homily 10 in a series of homilies on Blessed Makrina’s teachings. There are twenty-seven homilies in the series and (my personal bias aside) they’re awesome.

Happy (almost) Sunday of St John Climacus!

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Christ is risen!

The stories in this video wonderfully capture what it is like to meet, sit with, and speak with a living saint. It’s a treasure to hear of people’s first-hand encounters with holy men and women; I wish there were more videos like this.

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A few weeks ago I received an email from a woman by the name of Lauren Jacobs. She is from South Africa and hosts a radio show on Radio Cape Pulpit called Voice of Change. While researching female monasticism she came across my book The Scent of Holiness.

She was writing to ask if I would consider doing an interview with her on her radio show. Her show has recently been nominated for the Gracie Awards – awards that honour women who create media that promotes and honours women. I was very honoured to have the great blessing of being interviewed by Lauren on her radio show.

Initially when I saw her email I assumed she was an Orthodox Christian. I was surprised and delighted to find out her interest in Orthodox monasticism, and women’s monasticism specifically, was something she came upon herself as a Protestant Christian. Her listeners are predominately Pentecostal and Dutch Reformed Christians, and so I was especially happy to have the opportunity to share my experiences of the monastic sisterhoods in Greece with a new audience.

This is the first interview I have done that I was not sent the questions ahead of time so my answers are completely off the top of my head which was a new challenge for me. Of course, I’ve had lots of Q&As after a talk I have given, but never in the context of a recorded interview. So, you’ll have to forgive some of my stumbling :).

Happy Lent, flocks! May we be found worthy to celebrate Christ’s Holy Resurrection!

Listen to my interview on Voice of Change HERE.

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