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Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category

 

“I remembered the days of old; I mediated on all Thy works” (Ps. 142:5)

For the last few months I have been making audio recordings of my book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery as Ancient Faith Publishing will be releasing an audio version of the book in the near future.

I haven’t read The Scent of Holiness for years. It was published in 2012 and although I was very happy to have shared my experiences, it was also strange to see them displayed in typeset, in a bound book that wasn’t filled with my own cursive writing. Having written in a personal journal for over twenty years it’s a surreal experience to have those thoughts and feelings usually reserved for myself distributed for all to see. So, I was a little embarrassed when I would read The Scent of Holiness. Now, re-reading those words, reading them aloud, and being confronted with vivid memories of it all I’m so, so, so thankful I took the time to write it all down in detail.

 

I have always prided myself on having a good memory. However, between working as a social worker and helping my husband serve the Mission my mind and memory have little room left for “the days of old” it seems. Reading The Scent of Holiness again I’m re-immersed in a world that usually feels very far away, almost like a vivid dream you suddenly remember out of nowhere.

I used to think of the spiritual life as an ascent, where we go from darkness and slowly move into the light. But even my own experience contradicts this. I once lived in a land full of light, interacted with living saints and living monuments of our historical Church. Then I moved to Newfoundland and it was like coming to a land of perpetual twilight. I moved from Thessaloniki to an island that first encountered Orthodoxy over one thousand years ago but remained un-Christianized for centuries.

 

And so, when I read about my experiences with the nuns I have a hard time seeing the continuity between then and now. But, the more I read the more I gain clarity about a few things: 1.) The positive experiences we have are never just for our own benefit. We simply need to figure out our own unique way of sharing them in a variety of contexts, and;  2.) The spiritual struggle is real, man. It’s as simple as that. We have periods of grace where we can (and should) do a lot more, and periods of dry spells where we need to cling to “the days of old” so we don’t give up altogether.

The sisters gave me a lifetime worth of blessings. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. Even after five years of living away from them, their love and lessons, the memory of their laughter and simplicity still fill my heart to the brink with gratitude. And I am left with the words of St. Paul, challenging me to become more like them: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are worthy of respect, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, be considering these things. And what ye learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things be practicing; and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

P.S. As soon as The Scent of Holiness is available as an audio book I’ll be sure to let you know!

 

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It’s a few days past the 36th anniversary of Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose’s repose (September 2, 1982). But, as I’ve been thinking about him since his “feast day”, and listening to these interviews about him while I paint icons, I thought it better late than never to honour his memory.  May we have his blessing!

Seraphim_rose(Source) A talk given on the twentieth anniversary of the repose of Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, September 2, 2002, at the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, California.

I have a heart that’s overflowing. The last time I was here at the monastery was seventeen years ago, in the spring of 1985. My remarks today are not formal because I didn’t want to make a scholarly, academic presentation. Rather, I think that what you want to hear from me is something really very personal.

I first met Fr. Seraphim in the spring of 1966. He was then a lay Reader, Eugene Rose. Vladika John (St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco) was still alive, and Eugene and Gleb (later Fr. Herman) had their bookstore a couple of doors down from the Cathedral in San Francisco. Having been born and raised Roman Catholic, I was at the very beginning of my journey into Orthodoxy, but at the time I didn’t know it. A friend of mine had discovered the bookstore and told me they had beautiful icons and incense for sale. So I went by, and Fr. Seraphim was there.

All the stories you hear about him are really true. He was very tall; he had the largest eyes of anyone I had ever known—penetrating eyes, which were at the same time very warm and calming. He didn’t have his famous beard yet—so I’m one of the few people here that knew him when he was beardless. I remember him standing behind the counter as I came in—I was being very silly and frivolous, I’m sure—and engaged him in conversation. As you know, he wasn’t much for small talk, but there I was in his shop, talking, when suddenly, as soon as he realized I was a Roman Catholic, he said, “You know, you Roman Catholics don’t understand the Mother of God.” I was very taken aback by this because I didn’t know what the Orthodox teaching was about the Mother of God. He then proceeded, on the spot, to instruct me in the errors of the Roman Catholic Church with regard to the Mother of God, as well as many other things. That was my first exposure to him! You see, he was in fact teaching me, feeding me spiritually, from the first minute of the first encounter.

My first visit here to the monastery was in 1970. I had been Orthodox about four or five months. We were living in Etna, three hours north of here, and had been there for several years. We lived far from any Orthodox church. At that time the nearest parish of any jurisdiction was in Sacramento or San Francisco. Because the fathers here were not ordained yet, there were no sacraments available for us here except when a priest or bishop would visit the monastery. On those occasions Fr. Seraphim would send a note letting us know that there was going to be a Divine Liturgy.

Otherwise we made a seven-hour trip each way when we went to the city, which we tried to do once a month. But I corresponded with Fr. Seraphim even before coming into the Orthodox Church. He invited me to come for a visit in the fall of 1970. I remember it very well because although it was a little bit later than this time of the year, it was very hot and my car somehow got stuck down the road.

(You know, the road you have now is nothing like it was then. Anyone who doesn’t know the old days has no idea how easy it is to get up here now. In those days the road seemed like a rutted, muddy mess all the time. It was easy to get stuck. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times over the years we got mired down in mud or snow or both, and had to walk. It gave one a real sense of going on a pilgrimage, however: you had to suffer.)

My first visit here, then, was thirty-two years ago. I was thinking about that when I arrived here yesterday. I was thinking that many of the people I am meeting here this weekend, especially the young people, weren’t even alive when I came the first time in 1970, and I thought how delightful it is to see other generations now coming and receiving something of what was given to us, and believe me when I tell you that we were given so much.

I told someone yesterday that this monastery was the “mother- lode” for us. This was “Camelot.” We received all of our spiritual formation here, because we were too far from a parish. Everything we learned came from Fr. Herman and Fr. Seraphim. It wasn’t until after Fr. Seraphim’s repose that I realized this wasn’t what everyone was given everywhere else. I had thought it was, and so this was a huge shock to me. I also realized that we were given something very special and precious, and that we had to preserve and live up to it. Probably we didn’t do a very good job, but we did know that we were being given a treasure.

Prior to Fr. Seraphim’s repose, of course, I had been here many times. I was here for Fr. Seraphim’s funeral and I was also at the hospital earlier on. In fact, I had the privilege of bringing him Holy Communion in the hospital on the Feast of the Dormition. As you know, he reposed a few days later. At that time, when we were all here for his funeral, it all seemed very unreal. It was not possible that he was gone.

Fr. Seraphim died on Thursday morning and was buried on Saturday morning. I came up Thursday afternoon. When I arrived at Mrs. Harvey’s house in Redding, Fr. Vladimir Anderson’s son Basil was building the coffin. From there we came right up to the monastery. I stayed with Fr. Seraphim in the church that whole night, as he lay in his coffin. Others were coming and going. There was, of course, no electricity. just candlelight. Periodically I would rouse myself and serve another Pannikhida. I remember looking at him and thinking, “He’s not gone. This is impossible!” And I remember especially looking at his right hand, and thinking that this hand would never be raised to bless me again. So I lifted his hand and blessed myself with it one last time.

So that was the end, in this world, of my relationship with him. But I always pray to him. I pray for him, commemorate him, but in my private prayers I always pray to him, because I believe that he is in the Kingdom of Heaven, and I believe that spiritual fathers in the other world still affect their spiritual sons in this world.

I’ve dreamt about Fr. Seraphim many, many times. The last time was several years ago. In my dream I was back here, and it was the summer before he died, during the Pilgrimage and the summer courses of the New Valaam Theological Academy. (He died just a few weeks after that.) In my dream I saw him here at the monastery and I thought, “Oh, he hasn’t reposed yet, and now I can talk to him about all those things that I really need to talk to him about.” But then I realized that he had in fact died. I woke up weeping because I knew he was gone. And yet, somehow he was in the room with me, too. I knew he was there; in some unimaginable way he had reached out from the other world just as a point of momentary comfort and consolation.

Usually I give, as I said, a very formal talk, but I’m speaking today from my heart, informally, because I hoped Fr. Seraphim would inspire me to say what he would want you to hear. I decided that the most important things for me to tell you about are the principles of how to live an Orthodox life, which I learned not from his books so much as from what he told me in different conversations here over the years.

The first of these principles is: “We are pilgrims on this earth and there is nothing permanent for us here.” We must constantly remind ourselves of that. We are just sojourners. This life is but the beginning of a continuum that will never end. We tend to treat it as though it’s permanent and awfully important in terms of careers and education and getting ahead and all those things. But all of that will die with us when the body dies; none of it will go with us into the next world.

Fr. Seraphim wanted to teach us principles that would stand us in good stead throughout life and sustain us in new and different situations, circumstances, and problems. Therefore, if you went to him with a question about a particular matter, he might or might not address that specific problem, but he would give a principle by which one could evaluate the problem oneself and come to a reasonably sober and reliable conclusion. This is what was behind his reminding us that we’re pilgrims on this earth. This is a principle, a premise. Let us consider all the problems that we’ve encountered in the last week or month, all the things in our private lives that seem very important and get us riled up, upset, worried, or threatened; and then let us think about how, if we had reminded ourselves that we’re just pilgrims here and that most of our “issues” are very unimportant, what a difference that would have made in the quality of our day, our week, our life.

A second principle Fr. Seraphim taught me was that our Orthodox Faith is not an academic “thing.” This might seem odd to say because we have scores of volumes of the Holy Fathers and the Divine services of the Church, and also of the Lives of the Saints—there’s so much. Of course, there is an academic level to all of this—but that’s not the point. Fr. Seraphim wrote to me once: “Don’t let anyone ever take your books away from you. But don’t mistake the reading of books for the real thing, which is the living of Orthodoxy.”

Of course, Fr. Seraphim discovered this “real thing” most especially in Viadika John—St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. I remember that one time I asked him how he came to Orthodoxy from Chinese studies: from Taoism, Chinese philosophy, etc. He said to me, “I found in Chinese philosophy the noblest view of man, until I encountered Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Lives of Saints. Then, shortly after I was received into the Orthodox Church, I met Archbishop John, who was the noblest man I had ever met.”

With that in mind, it was easy to understand what he meant when he said, “Orthodoxy is not so much a matter of the head. It’s something living, and it’s of the heart.”

Once, when we were walking somewhere on the monastery grounds, I asked him, “Fr. Seraphim, what’s your favorite icon of the Mother of God?” (That’s the kind of question converts like to ask, you know.) He stopped and said, “I don’t have one.” “That’s impossible!” I said. “Everyone has a favorite icon of the Mother of God. Which one is yours?” He paused again and looked at me, actually with astonishment, and he said, “Don’t you understand? It’s the whole thing.” That was a very profound answer: you can’t just pick out one thing and say this is the best thing, or this is my favorite. It truly is everything!

On occasions like this, Fr. Seraphim was able to remind me over and over again that Orthodoxy is to be lived, not just read, studied, or written about.

In this connection, Fr. Seraphim told me that I should not be ashamed of my ethnic background. When he discovered that I was going to make a trip to Britain in 1976, he became very excited and gave me the names and addresses of many subscribers of The Orthodox Word in Britain whom he wanted me to contact, and in fact I was able to contact some. But more than that, he said, “You must go and see what’s still there of the ancient pre-schism Orthodox holy places.” Until that moment I had never particularly thought about this. I’m of Scottish descent, so I have Celtic blood. I suppose it had occurred to me that if one went back far enough, my ancestors were Orthodox, but I hadn’t thought about it very much until then. Fr. Seraphim told me, Go to this place, go to that place. He gave me a list of places, and also a list of saints, so that I could find out more about them and perhaps even discover some books about them.

As a result of Fr. Seraphim’s urging us to pay attention to our own ethnic past, I began to discover more and more of the riches of pre-schism Orthodoxy in the West. Because of my own descent from Scotland, I narrowed down my search to the British Isles. Fr. Seraphim enthused over this, believing it to be very important. “This is your legacy,” he told me. “Of course, we love being in the Russian Church. We love her saints and were formed by that. But it’s also wonderful to know that there’s another legacy, too.”

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When Fr. Seraphim began writing about Orthodoxy in the pre-schism West, and as Vita Patrum was first being published in serial form, we began to learn about the similarities between the East and the West in the first thousand years of Christianity. We learned that the feeling and tone—and in some cases even the appearance—of the Church in the West was almost identical to that of the Church in the East.

So, because of Fr. Seraphim, I learned that Orthodoxy is not an academic thing, it’s a living thing. And I learned that part of making it a living thing was to discover my own origins, and that of my pre-schism Orthodox ancestors.

A third principle was probably the most important of all. Fr. Seraphim told me, “If you do not find Christ in this life, you will not find Him in the next.” For a Westerner, this is an astonishing statement. What does this mean, practically? He wasn’t talking about mystical experiences or having visions or something of that nature. Anyone who knows Fr. Seraphim realizes he would have stayed far away from that kind of talk.

‘What he meant by “finding Christ in this life” is this: that one must first keep one’s focus on Christ all the time, day in and day out. This is not just to have a routine of prayer, not just to tip one’s hat to the icons as one goes out the door. Rather, it’s to bring to mind Christ all day long in every circumstance, in every opportunity—to raise one’s heart and mind to Him.

Fr. Seraphim used to say to me, quoting from the New Testament: God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him…. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:16, 18). You see, I was a fearful person, so he would say things like that. And then he would explain, “Well, we can’t have perfect love for God or anyone else because we’re imperfect. God’s love is perfect. But if we dwell in love and God is love, then God is dwelling in us. And that is one of the ways by which we become closer and closer to Christ in this world.” And this is how we become less fearful of life and other people, of challenges and difficulties.

Other verses he liked to quote were Little children, it is the last time (1 John 2:18), and Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom (Luke 12:32). In subsequent years I remembered Fr. Seraphim repeating such verses to me; and they came back to me in times of fear and distress. These verses were a particular comfort and consolation to me at the time of my Matushka’s sudden repose, which occurred several years after Fr. Seraphim left this world. But, of course, the greatest comfort of all at the time of her death was that I knew she was now with him.

In conclusion, I would like to say, with utmost conviction, that Fr. Seraphim did find Christ in this life. You can’t give what you don’t have, and he had so much to give. By this we can know that Christ truly dwelled within him.

And how did he find Christ in his life? I believe, first of all, that he kept his eyes fixed on Christ simply by doing his duty at every moment of every day, and never shirking it. A year or so before his repose, I drove Fr. Seraphim someplace where he was going to give a talk. We got out of the car and, as he was walking in front of me, he turned and said, “You know, this is really not for me.” Now this is interesting because many think that he was really coming into his own, so to speak, in the last years of his life. And surely, in a sense, that’s true. But there was also a part of him that never really loved it at all, because he wanted to just be in the monastery. He did the work of missionary outreach because he knew God was calling him to it. It was his duty.

Also, he kept his eyes fixed on Christ by not paying much attention to himself. Fr. Damascene spoke about this very well in his remarks when he said that Fr. Seraphim had essentially ceased to have a private life, that he didn’t belong to himself. That was really true.

Fr. Damascene also spoke about Fr. Seraphim’s attitude toward food. I hadn’t heard the mashed potato story[1] before—that was wonderful. But I remember once asking Fr. Seraphim what was his favorite food, and he didn’t answer me. He didn’t even say, “I don’t have any”; he just changed the subject! Once, when he was coming to visit our home, someone had found out from Fr. Herman that there was, after all, something Fr. Seraphim liked. I don’t now recall what it was, but my wife fixed this for him—and I thought, “This will really please him.” So a place was put in front of him with what we believed was his favorite food, and he never paid any attention to it. He didn’t even seem to notice that the plate was in front of him. That was it.

So Fr. Seraphim did his duty in every single moment, and he kept his eyes fixed on Christ and on others, not on himself. And I believe that now, as a result of a life lived so unselfishly in that way, he does indeed now rest serenely and eternally in the arms of Christ, ‘Whom he spiritually beheld day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, here on this mountain. Because of his example, we not only have a model, but we have an inspiration, and we have the encouragement to do just a little bit more than we’re doing now.

Once I was giving a talk about St. John of San Francisco, and someone said, “Well, this is all very wonderful, but, you know, I couldn’t go without sleeping in a bed for forty-two years!” And I said, “Okay, but could you start by just getting to church on time?” It’s the same thing with Fr. Seraphim. Fr. Seraphim was a great ascetic. Quite beyond most of us. But we could just start by keeping our eyes on Christ, as he did. We could pay a little more attention to what is supposed to be the center and focus of our very being all the time: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If we do that, if we are inspired to do just a little bit more each day than we did before, then Fr. Seraphim’s legacy truly continues to live on. And really, basically, that’s what Orthodoxy is all about.

Orthodoxy is so rich. It has such beautiful externals, which are not just entirely externals—they also partake of the essence of Orthodoxy, of course. But it’s very easy, Fr. Seraphim used to tell me, to get distracted by these externals. It’s very easy to think that, because we are following all the fasting rules and because we know the Typicon and so forth, we are actually living an Orthodox way of life, whereas we may not be at all. If Christ is not there behind all that, then it’s a waste of time: it’s a beautiful waste of time, but it’s a waste of time nonetheless. For Fr. Seraphim, however, Christ was always there, behind everything. And when Fr. Seraphim breathed his last, Christ was there to receive his soul. Amen.

Originally from The Orthodox Word, Vol. 38, No. 5 (226—Sept.-Oct. 2002), pp. 233-241. Copyright 2001 by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California. Used with permission.

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[1] Thomas Anderson, the son of Fr. Vladimir Anderson of Willits, California, stayed here at the monastery off and on between the years 1972 and 1975. One thing that stood out in his memory from those years was Fr. Seraphim’s lack of concern for food. “Fr. Seraphim didn’t enjoy food or care what it tasted like,” Thomas told me not long ago. “He just ate to get enough energy to keep going, like fueling up a car. He ate whatever was put in front of him, without putting anything else on it, not even salt and pepper. And when it was his turn to cook, he pre-’ pared the most simple and basic food possible. When he cooked spaghetti, for example, it was just tomato paste and pasta, with no spices in the tomato paste.” How different is this image of Fr. Seraphim from what we know of his early, pre-Orthodox days as a gourmandizer!

In his later years, Fr. Seraphim’s apparent obliviousness to the taste and quality of food became the subject of jokes here at the monastery. One incident was related to me by Fr. Paul Baba, who is now a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese living in Iowa [now transferred to Sacramento, CA—Webmaster]. (This incident was not included in the old version of Fr. Seraphim’s biography, but it will be in the new one.) During the last years of Fr. Seraphim’s life, Fr. Paul—who was then in his late teens—used to make frequent pilgrimages to the monastery along with his young Orthodox friends. This group of young pilgrims knew that the taste of food meant nothing to Fr. Seraphim, so they thought they would play a practical joke. One day they brought up to the monastery a treat of vanilla ice cream. After one of the meals in the refectory, they gave a scoop of the ice cream to all the brothers, but to Fr. Seraphim they gave a scoop of mashed potatoes. Everyone was relishing their ice cream, but Fr. Seraphim just sat there eating his mashed potatoes, not saying a word or giving the slightest indication that anything was amiss. Watching this, the pilgrims were amazed, and afterwards they felt sorry for what they had done. (same issue of The Orthodox Word, p. 229)

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Archbishop Irenee’s visit, January 2015.

As many of you well know, Fr. John and I live on a Canadian island called Newfoundland. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland is located in the north-east corner of North America. It is a vast, beautiful and rugged land (as is obvious from the slideshow I’ve included from a recent hike on a local trail with my brother who visited in July. FYI, the white caps you see in the ocean are surfacing whales – humpbacks I think).

 

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Fr. John and I moved here in 2013. While an Orthodox community of believers formed the Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission in 2003 under the Canadian Archdiocese of the OCA, they only had a resident priest for the first two years. For the following eight they held reader’s services and occasionally priests from the mainland would visit and serve the Divine Liturgy.  You can read a bit of the Mission’s history here.

When we returned to Canada from our sojourn in Greece in 2013, our bishop presented us with two potential parishes: the Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission in St. John’s, Newfoundland was one of them. Although Newfoundland was further away from our families in New Brunswick than the other option, how do you refuse to minister to a small flock without a shepherd in a land so isolating that not even the Vikings could settle there? We made the choice to move to Newfoundland, come what may, and struggle to minister to the Orthodox faithful.

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Nativity, 2014

Throughout our almost five years here I have recorded many updates. (You can read those updates here: 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018). We’ve encountered our share of blessings but many more storms than my naive and inexperienced person anticipated.

Until now we have been using a temporary space for worship in the chapel of a local Anglican theological College. In the beginning we were able to use it for multiple services during the week but as the College has changed and expanded the availability of the chapel for our use has become limited.

By the grace of God, in 2015 we managed to establish a domestic chapel in honour of St. Nektarios in the place we were renting at the time. This allowed for a daily cycle of services to be offered (Matins and Vespers) as well as a weekly service of Supplications. And when we bought our own house this year we made sure there was space for a domestic chapel where Fr. John can continue to offer services, confess and counsel the faithful, and where we are able to hold vigils for Great Feasts throughout the week.

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Our domestic chapel (July, 2018) with dear friends and visitors at the lectern for our weekly service of Supplications. (I have not yet finished painting the icons of the Hierarchs – that’s why they don’t have faces & haven’t yet been hung on the wall).

Our domestic chapel suits our needs for weekday services but is simply too small for permanent use (not to mention is against our town’s bylaws to have a proper church in one’s residence).

There is nothing we want more than to see Orthodoxy firmly established and flourishing in this incredible place. However, our flock is small and our needs are great. Renting a space is expensive here and buying land and building a place would be even more beyond our means. To be frank, our needs far outweigh our means. In prayer and supplication we seek God’s guidance and enlightenment and ask you, dear readers, for your holy prayers as well.

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Agape’s Vespers, 2017

If you would be able to offer monetary assistance for the continued existence of an Orthodox parish on the island of Newfoundland we would greatly appreciate it. Holy Lady of Vladimir is the only Eastern Orthodox parish on the island. Fr. John is the only priest on the island. And so by assisting our Mission you would be assisting the entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador in having divine services offered in and for this holy land.

You can donate through our parish’s website. I can’t link directly to the donate page but if you click on the word “Donate” on the left hand side of our homepage it will take you there.

Please consider sharing our request with friends and family and on social media.

May the Mother of God be with you!

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July, 2018. As the temporary chapel looks now with chairs for an iconostasis and battery operated tealights in the vigil lamps. The visiting deacon is our dear friend Rev Dn Sean Reid. At the lectern with me is my brother, Fr. Matthew Penney, as our choir director is away for the summer.

“The Lord loves those who love the splendor of His house and will not leave them without His great mercies and rich generosity.” 

-St. Tikhon of Moscow

 

 

 

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Christ is risen!

This video illustrates the beauty of Orthodoxy; no matter what Orthodox country, it’s the same faith of the Apostles, the same beauty expressed in local traditions.

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Christ is risen! (Update: I had some technical issues, so a version of this post published earlier but some paragraphs and photos were out of sync).

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In June of last year I received an email asking if I would be interested in speaking at a pan-Orthodox women’s retreat in Saskatoon in April, 2018.  I was happy to accept such a gracious invitation and set to work on four one-hour long talks for the retreat.

By God’s grace, last weekend I had my first experience of the Canadian prairies and delivered my talks while in the company of wonderful Orthodox sisters-in-Christ.  I enjoyed my time so much that I can only hope the women felt as inspired and encouraged by my talks as I did from my experience of Orthodox Saskatoon.

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This was during the last talk, Saturday night. The ladies placed a chair next to me since it was about 1AM Nfld time by this point.

I chose “Keeping Our Spark Alight For Christ” as the retreat theme. The four talks I delivered were designed to build on each other. I drew from a lot of the material in my books The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery  and The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and VictoryAs I said in the talks, I don’t have any other stories to draw from since I put them all in my books :).

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Saskatoon’s St. Vincent of Lerins Orthodox church

Session 1: Preparing our Lamp

This talk had four sub-sections, each on a fundamental element of our Orthodox spiritual life. They were: a.) Church attendance, b.) Fasting, c.) Confession, and d.) Humble-mindedness

Session 2: Lighting a Spark

The sub-sections in this talk were: a.) Reverence, b.) Prayer rule, c.) Reading the Holy Scriptures, and d.) Cultivating a relationship with the saints.

Session 3: Fanning the Flame

Once again, this talk also had four sub-sections: a.) Good works, b.) Lending our talent to the Master, c.) Praying without ceasing, and d.) Pilgrimage to Orthodox monasteries

Session 4: Safeguarding the Light

This last talk had three sub-sections: a.) The Jesus Prayer (this focused more on noetic prayer, or prayer of the heart, in other words the perfect form of the Jesus Prayer), b.) Taking a spiritual inventory, c.) Spiritual endurance.

I was trying to structure these talks so as to show a gradual ascent; I was hoping each session would represent a rung of a ladder leading us ever upward.  So, I started with the basics and increasingly moved up to the weightier spiritual topics.

While it was around 12AM Newfoundland time when I delivered the first and last talks (one was given on Friday night, one on Saturday night), I managed to get through them.  Although, I found I stumbled over my words a little more than I did while delivering the other two talks during the day.

20180429_005534I really enjoyed giving the talks.  Anyone who has heard me speak in person can attest that I get very excited to have the chance to talk about what I love. And there is nothing on this earth I love more than Orthodoxy.  (My actions may not reflect this, but I do love our Orthodox faith and love talking about our faith.)

As you can see from the above side-by-side images, prayers were held in a makeshift chapel for the weekend. I was a touch sad to be in a city with multiple Orthodox churches and to have services in a non-Orthodox temple, since we only have a temporary chapel here in Newfoundland. But, it made sense because the whole retreat was held at a retreat center, so at least we had a place to pray.

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St. Vincent of Lerins

Sunday evening I had the great joy of visiting Saskatoon’s Antiochian parish of St. Vincent of Lerins where, after evening prayers, we went downstairs for a bite to eat and an informal talk, mostly questions and answers. I especially enjoyed this because I find when people ask questions you get a better insight into what is important to them and I was very impressed to learn how seriously they take their faith.

20180429_205146“There is no distance in the spiritual life,” Gerontissa told me on my last trip to her monastery in Greece. Truly, there is neither distance nor strangeness. By this I mean within Orthodoxy you can meet a person for a brief moment and immediately feel one with the person, united, bound through Christ.  Glory to God!

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Saskatchewan river (I don’t remember if it is the North or South river)

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“Today I arise with Thy arising”

Christ is risen!

We bought a house in Paradise. No, not the ‘spiritual homeland’ kind of Paradise. I mean we purchased a home in the actual town of Paradise in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. But we’re also hoping to put a down-payment on a “house not made by hands eternal in the heavens” (Akathist of St. John Maximovitch), the true Paradise.

house

After what felt like a very long and arduous search, we finally found a little home perfect for us. We’ve only been here just over three weeks but we love it. It’s like the Goldilock’s version of houses, “not too big, not too small, but juuuust right”. It’s bright with a private backyard on a green belt (where I can have a garden!); there’s room for guests and most important of all we have space for the house chapel of St. Nektarios (pictured below).

20180322_164434This Pascha marks five years since we first visited Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission in St. John’s and accepted the offer to move here and try our hand at the plow of missionary endeavours. To be brutally honest, if I knew the trials which awaited us I don’t know if I would have had the courage to move here. But, thankfully, we didn’t know what stumbling blocks we would encounter, how steep the climb would be, nor how dark the path. It’s for the best. Rather, as the Scriptures tell us (and as we read during Holy Thursday’s Vesperal Liturgy), “Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God” (Isiah 50:10).

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I am so grateful for our house, our parish community, my wonderful job, and the temporary space at the University we are able to use for weekend services. But those are all the good parts, the parts you talk openly about, the parts you take pictures of so to speak.  There are other parts, however, that you can’t always talk about. The life of priest and his family is one filled with joys and sorrows. But sometimes the dark parts can feel oppressive, isolating, disorienting. That’s when, especially, we must trust in the Lord to guide us. Sometimes even retreating to one’s house in Paradise isn’t enough to feel we’ve found a safe haven. That is because for as long as we live upon the earth there are storms, trials, and temptations to endure. And endure we must. Enduring is the best we can hope for in such circumstances, to just hold on, to not give up, to keep going. Spiritual endurance. It’s the one thing that will keep us from going crazy when burdens get too heavy. Just endure. And when even that feels a bit daunting take a deep breath and mentally plan the garden you wish to plant in your backyard, then return to enduring.

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When speaking about the hymns sung just before the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead during the Paschal vigil, St. Philaret of Moscow points out that pious sorrow is evoked so that it might “prepare us for a more proper and clear understanding and genuine feeling of the Divine joy which would follow”.

“If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” (2 Timothy 2:11-12). To live we must die; to reign we must endure. To find joy we must first experience sorrow.

Yesterday, O Christ, I was buried with Thee, and today I arise with thy arising. Yesterday I was crucified with Thee. Glorify me, O Savior, with Thee in Thy Kingdom. (Ode 3, Paschal Canon)

Truly the Lord is risen!

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Pentecost

Written by Fr. John Palmer

According to the renowned Patrologist Fr Theodoros Zisis, Orthodox theology teaches that, “…[t]wo phases, two economies are readily distinguished within the mystery of man’s salvation and renewal: the economy of the Son, and the economy of the Holy Spirit.”[1]  Vladimir Lossky fills out this assertion for us, stating that, “The redeeming work of the Son is related to our nature.  The deifying work of the Holy Spirit concerns our persons.  But the two are inseparable.  One is unthinkable without the other.”[2]  In other words, Christ renews human nature through his Incarnation and the Holy Spirit then applies this renewed nature to individual persons by various appointed means in order that they might be united to God, becoming partakers of the divine nature, and saved.  From an Orthodox perspective, then, both economies – that of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit – are equally important and integral to the mystery of salvation, with Pentecost serving as the ‘Metropolis of Feasts’ wherein the salvific mystery is perfected.

In contrast, Frankish theology (the foundation of Roman Catholicism and Western theology in general) develops a one-sided understanding of the mystery of salvation as a result of its emphatic focus on redemption.  Here salvation is largely reduced to a legal drama, Lossky writes, “…played between God, who is infinitely offended, and man, who is unable to satisfy the impossible demands of vindictive justice.  This drama finds its resolution in the death of Christ, the Son of God who has become man in order to substitute himself for us and pay our debt to divine justice.”   Within the context of this drama, the Holy Spirit largely vanishes and consequently the feast of Pentecost fades into the background, at least soteriologically speaking.[3]

The groundwork for this aberration was laid by the adoption of the filioque heresy and the novel Trinitarian theology that arose from it.  The Holy Fathers derided the filioque not only because of its addition to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed when every addition to said Creed was prohibited by the Ecumenical Councils, but because it introduced an inequality among the Divine Persons wherein the Holy Spirit ranked last.  For example, in his Mystagogy, St Photios the Great writes that,

“…if, according to their babble, the Spirit proceeds also from the Son, then the Spirit is differentiated from the Father by more properties than the Son.  Both issue forth from the Father, and even if one issues forth by begetting and the other by procession, nonetheless, one of two modes equally separates them from the hypostasis of the Father; but here the Spirit is differentiated by a second distinction arising from the dual procession.  If more distinctions differentiate the Spirit from the Father than differentiate the Son from the Father, then the Son would be nearer to the Father’s essence, and the Spirit, equal in honour, will be blasphemed as being inferior to the Son…”.[4]

This leads Lossky to conclude rightly that if Frankish theology, “… could stop at the redeeming work of Christ…it was precisely because [by this] time the West had already lost the true idea of the Person of the Holy Spirit, relegating him to a secondary position by making him into a kind of lieutenant to the Son.”[5]  Similarly, Zisis writes, “First the filioque was introduced into the Symbol of Faith and made into a dogma, initially with serious protest coming from certain of the Popes, resulting in a diminution of the Holy Spirit…”[6]

As we have asserted in previous posts, Ælfric of Enysham (+1051) finds himself caught in the middle of the West’s transition from one point to the other, and his Sermones Catholici help us plot the particular path taken by England as it left behind the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and Orthodox Faith.

Though his life and activities pre-date the Norman Conquest of 1066 – the date typically assigned to England’s apostasy – England was already experiencing a cultural captivity during Ælfric’s time.  The heavy Norman influence characteristic of the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) caused England to gradually forfeit its Orthodox theological heritage in favour of those Frankish theological ideals embraced by the Normans.  Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the Sermones Catholici show Ælfric to be a firm devotee of the filioque (though he never expounds it in a polemic manner, suggesting that he simply received it from his teachers and was unaware of its controversial nature).  For example, in his homily On the Beginning of Creation he writes:

Ðeos þrynnys is án God; þæt is se Fæder and his wisdom of him sylfum æfre acenned; and heora begra willa, þæt is se Halga Gast: he nis na acenned, ac he gæð of þam Fæder and of þam Suna gelice. This Trinity is one God, that is, the Father, and his Wisdom, of himself ever produced; and the Will of them both, that is, the Holy Ghost: he is not born, but he goeth alike from the Father and from the Son.

Moreover, in his sermon Of the Catholic Faith, he offers the following exposition of the dogma of the Holy Trinity which concludes asserting the filioque:

Soðlice se Fæder, and se Sunu, and se Halga Gast, habbað áne Godcundnysse, and án gecynd, and án weorc. Ne worhte se Fæder nán ðing ne ne wyrcð, butan ðam Suna, oððe butan þam Halgan Gaste. Ne heora nán ne wyrcð nán ðing butan oðrum; ac him eallum is án weorc, and án rǽd, and án willa. Æfre wæs se Fæder, and æfre wæs se Sunu, and æfre wæs se Halga Gast án Ælmihtig God. Se is Fæder, seðe nis naðer ne geboren ne gesceapen fram nanum oðrum. Se is Fæder geháten, forðan ðe he hæfð Sunu, ðone ðe he of him sylfum gestrynde, butan ælcre meder. Se Fæder is God of nanum Gode. Se Sunu is God of ðam Fæder Gode. Se Halga Gast is God forðstæppende of ðam Fæder and of ðam Suna. Verily the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, have one Godhead, and one nature, and one work. The Father created nothing nor creates, without the Son, or without the Holy Ghost. Nor does one of them anything without the others; but they have all one work, and one counsel, and one will. The Father was ever, and the Son was ever, and the Holy Ghost was ever One Almighty God. He is the Father, who was neither born of nor created by any other. He is called Father, because he has a Son, whom he begot of himself, without any mother. The Father is God of no God. The Son is God of God the Father. The Holy Ghost is God proceeding from the Father and from the Son.

However, while the Abbot of Enysham receives and indeed clearly teaches the filioque, he yet manages to remain aloof from its implications.  In an impressively Orthodox manner he expresses the economy of the Holy Spirit as this pertains to salvation, and clearly presents salvation as deification, and what is more he does this in his sermon, On the Holy Day of Pentecost.  In a passage where he describes the importance of the feast (and ironically again affirms the filioque) he writes:

Þyses dæges wurðmynt is to mærsigenne, forðan ðe se Ælmihtiga God, þæt is se Halga Gast, gemedemode hine sylfne þæt he wolde manna bearn on ðisre tide geneosian. On Cristes acennednysse wearð se Ælmihtiga Godes Sunu to menniscum men gedon, and on ðisum dæge wurdon geleaffulle men godas, swa swa Crist cwæð, “Ic cwæð, Ge sind godas, and ge ealle sind bearn þæs Hehstan.” Þa gecorenan sind Godes bearn, and eac godas, na gecyndelice, ac ðurh gife þæs Halgan Gastes. An God is gecyndelice on ðrim hadum, Fæder, and his Sunu, þæt is his Wisdom, and se Halga Gast, seðe is heora begra Lufu and Willa. Heora gecynd is untodæledlic, æfre wunigende on anre Godcundnysse. Se ylca cwæð þeah-hwæðere be his gecorenum, “Ge sint godas.” Þurh Cristes menniscnysse wurdon menn alysede fram deofles ðeowte, and ðurh to-cyme þæs Halgan Gastes, mennisce men wurdon gedone to godum. Crist underfeng menniscnysse on his to-cyme, and men underfengon God þurh neosunge þæs Halgan Gastes. The dignity of this day is to be celebrated, because Almighty God, that is the Holy Ghost, himself vouchsafed to visit the children of men at this time. At the birth of Christ the Almighty Son of God became human man, and on this day believing men became gods, as Christ said; “I said, Ye are gods, and ye are all children of the Highest.” The chosen are children of God, and also gods, not naturally, but through grace of the Holy Ghost. One God is naturally in three persons, the Father, and his Son, that is, his Wisdom, and the Holy Ghost, who is the Love and Will of them both. Their nature is indivisible, ever existing in one Godhead. The same has, nevertheless, said of his chosen, “Ye are gods.” Through Christ’s humanity men were redeemed from the thraldom of the devil, and through the coming of the Holy Ghost human men were made gods. Christ received human nature at his advent, and men received God through visitation of the Holy Ghost.

[1] Επόμενοι τος Θείοις Πατράσι· ρχές καί κρίτήρια τς Πατερικς Θεολογίας (Thessaloniki: 1997), 173.

[2] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 109.

[3] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 99.

[4] On the Mystagogy of  the Holy Spirit (New York: 1983), 84.

[5] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 103.

[6] Επόμενοι τος Θείοις Πατράσι· ρχές καί κρίτήρια τς Πατερικς Θεολογίας (Thessaloniki: 1997), 180.

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