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Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category

20190520_133922

Christ is risen!

Here in Canada we have a federal holiday in honour of Queen Victoria, aptly called Victoria Day. As a result most people had the day off on Monday, May 20th.

Our weather has been so miserable lately (as is status quo for “Spring” in Newfoundland). When the sun suddenly came out on Monday Fr. John sent a quick email to the parish: “Matushka and I are going for a hike in Middle Cove. You’re welcome to join us. We’ll meet on the beach.” And it was a delight to see how many were able to make it on such short notice. But, to be fair, when the sun comes out in Newfoundland it seems everyone rushes outdoors because you don’t know when you’ll see it again.

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You can see from the photos I took it was sunny, but chilly. In fact, it full-on snowed two days later. So we’re especially grateful for our Monday-holiday impromptu hike and for our adventurous parishioners.

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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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Christ is risen!

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Papa Ephraim of St. Nilus’ Skete in Alaska (previously of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona) wrote extensive journal entries during his two trips to India (in the Fall of 2018 and winter of 2019). His journal entries are posted in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. I really enjoyed reading them – not least because Papa Ephraim’s sweet and simple personality comes out so well in the posts that I found myself laughing out loud at some of his observations.

The experiences he describes of trying to spread Orthodox Christianity in India provoked me to reflect on mission work in general and imparting an Orthodox mindset to individuals living in an un-Orthodox culture in particular.

He writes:

In 1991 Fr. Ignatius, an Athonite hieromonk, went [to Calcutta] and had tremendous success in establishing Orthodoxy there. He managed to build several churches with the financial support he had from Greece, and he managed for several native people to be ordained to the priesthood. But after about five years of work there his visa expired, and he had to leave India. He ended up in Africa and became the bishop of Madagascar. After he left, much of his work started to disintegrate. One very sad phenomenon was that many of the converts from Hinduism to Orthodoxy went back to being Hindu after he left. Apparently, they were attracted to the Orthodox Church primarily because of the financial advantages they had in being Orthodox with Fr. Ignatius around. Now, of the thousands of people who had become Orthodox there, there are only about 70 people left who have remained faithful to the Church. But those people do not have any spiritual support, so those communities are in great spiritual need.

I think this passage illustrates an unfortunate reality that does not always get captured in stories about Orthodoxy spreading to hundreds of individuals at once: sometimes great numbers dwindle to small numbers. And while we glorify God for every individual baptized into Christ through Orthodoxy we must remind ourselves, as Bishop Augoustinos of Florina would say, we are seeking quality not quantity.

It’s an unfortunate reality (as well as a historical reality) that people fall away from Christ and His Church. This is something that should rightly be mourned but should not provoke us to despair. Every time someone falls away we should remember two things: first, that someone’s fall into mortal sin and/or apostasy does not necessarily mean the door to Christ is closed forever. People can and have returned to Christ from all sorts of states of spiritual decay. Second, that we mustn’t take our life in Christ for granted. We should struggle to become and remain humble so we will be protected from losing our faith. Only we have control over this.

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The following passage stood out to me because I know from our own experience doing mission work here in Newfoundland for six years how many talents are required in such instances and how few we seem to possess.

I am seeing more and more that being a missionary requires a unique set of talents. It is not enough to be just a devoted Christian with a good understanding of Orthodoxy, but one must also have the gift of speaking and the discernment to know what your listeners need to hear. It also requires a tremendous amount of patience and dedication, to spend years and years of sowing. And it helps if a missionary is an extrovert, who knows how to deal with all different kinds of people.

Really every possible talent can be put to good use in a mission setting because it takes one set of talents to attract new members and grow the Mission and another set to maintain the quality of a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). In each circumstance it’s important for us to give all we have to the service of the Lord through serving His flock.

Lastly, Papa Ephraim writes:

Acquiring an Orthodox mindset is something that takes years. It takes even longer when a catechumen has no access to an Orthodox spiritual father, Orthodox literature, an Orthodox parish, and living role models demonstrating what it means to be a serious Orthodox Christian. Also a catechumen needs to show some stability. This is why a person typically remains a catechumen for a year or longer before being baptized.

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Instilling an Orthodox mindset in the newly-converted is certainly a daunting task.  Throughout history the Gospel has been shared largely with illiterate peoples and so the fact that the newly-illumined in India do not have access to Orthodox literature is not unique to a newly-converted people.

I’m only focusing on one of the obstacles Papa mentions, but in my opinion, Orthodox divine services, more than Orthodox books on theology or even morality, need to be translated into the language of the newly converted.

The best way to firmly instill an Orthodox mindset in new converts as well as veteran Orthodox Christians is through participation in the divine services – and not just the Divine Liturgy. I mean if the faithful were to attend Vespers and Matins services, where the majority of our didactic hymnology is chanted, if the faithful were to listen attentively while attending said services, they would begin to grasp the important Orthodox concepts of repentance, of compunction, of mercy, of reliance on Christ to save us not only once but multiple times when we fall astray.

And here is where the conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox cultures is particularly highlighted. How can you explain these concepts to people who not only don’t speak your literal language but are unable to understand the spiritual language of Orthodox Christianity – of struggle and repentance? There is a spiritual language barrier between Orthodox and non-Orthodox (whether Christian or otherwise); our faith is so estranged from the world.

And so the best way to firmly establish someone in the Orthodox faith is for them to participate in Orthodox services. Not only does this provide them a tangible connection to the Tradition of Orthodox worship it narrates to them the Scriptures in an Orthodox chronology: you fall, you harken unto God, He hears you, you arise, you fall again, etc. In order to fully understand repentance one must live it and one step toward living it is to hear about it again and again through Orthodox services. This is why it is so important for the divine services to be in the language of the local people. Even in the absence of a parish, if such texts were translated the faithful could at very least learn to hold reader’s services.

But again, I’m not speaking of the Divine Liturgy which is predominately made up of standard prayers; I’m speaking of all the other services that are often barely attended but which have the power and ability to teach you the Old Testament types of Christ, the daily lives of the saints,  and the deep theology of our Church.

We should all attend as many Vespers and Matins services as possible. If our parish doesn’t hold them we should seek out liturgical books to read these services as a part of our private prayers. (I know it’s not easy to put services together but just reading the canons from the Menaion everyday would be a great start).

These are just some thoughts on missionary work that came to me on reflecting on Papa Ephraim’s experiences.

I hope and pray the efforts to catechize, baptize and build up the newly-illumined Orthodox faithful in India will continue to bear much spiritual fruit.

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CHRIST IS RISEN!

This video is from our first Pascha in Greece (2008) at the  Church of St. Anthony the Great in Thessaloniki. Fr. Theodore Zisis is the priest.

This post is set to publish at midnight Newfoundland Time (at least it’s supposed to). Our little Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission, currently occupying a townhouse as a chapel :), is the first to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the North American continent.

In the Maritimes – where our families live – Christ’s resurrection will be celebrated one half hour later. This year my brother, Fr. Matthew Penney, is the serving priest at my family’s parish (St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church) in Saint John, New Brunswick (not to be confused with St. John’s, Newfoundland). So, that means my mum, my dad, my sister, my sister-in-law and my brother will all celebrate Pascha together for the very first time (since my father didn’t become Orthodox until 2015 and this is my brother and sister-in-laws first Pascha back in New Brunswick in years). Such a blessing! I’m with them in spirit, as Gerontissa Philareti told me, “There is no distance in the spiritual life.”

These high and holy days are filled with so much reflection for me. This is our 14th Pascha as Orthodox Christians: our first Pascha we were at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona, our second was at St. Nicholas Korean Orthodox Church in Seoul, South Korea, the subsequent five were in Greece and the last seven! have been in Newfoundland. So many blessings, so many beautiful people, so many incredible hymns!

May God make us worthy to live the spiritual celebration of His holy resurrection for all eternity, together in His Kingdom!

Christ is risen and Hades is despoiled!

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The reading of the Six Psalms during Matins (that is why no candles are lit; light comes once the hymn “God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us” is chanted).

Our new worship space, though small and simple (and temporary), means the world to us. We can light candles again! Hang icons! Hold divine services whenever and as frequently as we like! After years of setting up and taking down, of adjusting our schedule because the College couldn’t accommodate us, of holding vigils for Great Feasts in our own home, we finally have one location in which to worship – beautifully (if simply) adorned for the glory of God.

I promised myself not to take one second of this experience for granted. The rental agreement is only one year; but I can’t allow myself to waste even a single moment in not being filled with gratitude for where we are right now.

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Pre-sanctified Liturgy

And many of you have made this possible by your generosity – both financially and spiritually. Your donations and your prayers have truly made an impact and I wanted to write this blog post in order to thank each one of you for the part you’ve played in allowing our Mission to maintain its existence here on this island – the sole Orthodox parish in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Giving to prayer what we can’t necessarily afford monetarily produces spiritual fruit. Where God wills He finds a way. If He allows the sun and rain of His grace to fall upon the spiritual soil here the seeds we have the honour of sowing will surely spring up and bear fruit an hundredfold. 

 

A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.

And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.

And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.

And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

(Luke 8: 5-8)

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And of course I must also bow down in gratitude to our parish community and Fr. John for their efforts, prayers, and donations that have made this wonderful opportunity possible.

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Forgiveness Vespers

Who knows what the future holds; “sufficient for the day is its own troubles” (Matthew 6:34). So long as we retain and live up to our name “Christian” every other blessing is a bonus. For now my extreme gratitude has contented me and has tempered my usual rush to the next thing.

In everything give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18).

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At the conclusion of the Pre-sanctified Liturgy

 

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Glory to God, Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission has a new home!

Although we have not yet reached the “promised land” (a church building), we have “come forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). On the very feast on which we read these hymns and readings – that is, the feast of the Presentation (Meeting) of Our Lord in the Temple (February 2) – our Mission moved out of the Anglican College’s chapel we borrowed on weekends and into our own worship space.

 

 

 

And although we cannot yet “afford a Lamb”, the Lord has accepted our “two turtledoves” (Leviticus 5:7) as “a present out of the midst of the children of Israel”. Our new worship space is in a house with room enough for a Sunday school classroom, a dining area, and a living room-turned-chapel.

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On Saturday, February 2, everyone pitched in to clean and move things from the College chapel and from the domestic chapel until, finally, after many hours of work, we had a modest but beautiful chapel set up. Let God be glorified!

For the first time since the Holy Lady of Vladimir Orthodox Mission was established in September of 2003, the Mission’s worship space does not have to be set-up and dismantled every weekend.

We brought all of the liturgical furniture from the domestic chapel to our new space but we still need to hang icons on the walls and do a few more things. These pictures are from our very first Sunday. Note the candles! After being prohibited from lighting candles for the past two years it was wonderful to be able to light prayer offerings for our loved ones again.

20190203_112158From the bottom of our hearts we thank everyone who has donated to our Mission. (You can read about that request here.) Fr. John commemorates you and the names you submitted to us at every Divine Liturgy. And for those who pray for us, we bow down in gratitude for your holy prayers. Our current arrangement is for one year. God knows what is to follow. With St. John Chrysostom we say, “Glory to God for all things!”

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

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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.   

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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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