I don’t often write about our life here in Newfoundland but at the behest of one of my readers in Romania I thought I’d offer an update and a little “behind the scenes” look at some of the elements that go into serving the Orthodox Church on the island of Newfoundland in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Our community is growing, but it is small and may always be so because a lot of people come and go here. Although it has only been one year and a couple of months since we moved here a number of parishioners joined our community and some had to leave for work on the mainland. This constant flux can be disheartening at times because our community really clings to one another like family members, and so it hurts when family moves away. But, like a lighthouse safely guiding the ships to and from the port we remain, lighting candles and offering the divine services here in St. John’s. This image of our little Mission being like a lighthouse is pertinent since many come and go from Newfoundland on boats – why, sometimes we even get a sailor or two stop by our Mission while his ship is docked at the port.
In addition to serving the divine services, confessing and counseling the parishioners, doing translations, writing homilies and articles, giving lectures, studying the Scriptures and reading the Fathers, Fr. John also bakes the profora and recycles the candle stubs to make votive candles to burn before the icons in our make-shift iconostasis (I like to call them “recycled prayers”).
We started offering Sunday school last January. We offer one class (for all ages) the first Sunday of the month. Last year our curriculum focused on the Great Feasts. This year we’ve been doing the lives of the saints. So, I choose a saint for each month, make up a slideshow of images (both icons and photos or paintings of historical characters – mostly emperors – and places related to the saint’s life). Then while I show the slides on my computer I tell the children a basic biography of the saint and some details about the setting in which he or she lived. At the end of class we have a pop-quiz. Despite the fact that the ages range from 4 to 14 I’m always impressed with how much all the children get out of our lesson. It’s a great deal of fun for me too, but I need to be very enthusiastic and expressive when I give them the lesson to hold their attention (which isn’t all that difficult for me as I’m a natural born wide-eyed hand-talker).
Bishop Irenee visited us in January for a few days and served Great Vespers on January 16 for the Feast of St. Anthony the Great, as well as Matins and Divine Liturgy the next day. It was so wonderful! Everyone was so joyful and came together to receive our Hierarch with the love and enthusiasm he deserves. The church was cleaned, flowers were bought, our “Trapeza” was decorated, delicious food was prepared and wonderful toasts were offered. One of our parishioners who is a musician also shared some beautiful folk songs in his native Ukrainian that we all enjoyed. It was a very special and grace-filled event to have our beloved Vladyka with us, to receive his blessing and have him pray for our community in our community.
In preparation for the Bishop’s visit in November I started teaching the children a song to perform for him. They practiced so much I was (and am) so proud of them! Not only did they practice when we were together on Sunday but almost all of the parents told me the children were practicing the song around the house. The song was, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Between this verse they sang “Lord have mercy”s in various languages since all the children speak two or more languages.
In between the English “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” they sang “Lord have mercy” in Arabic, Romanian, Slavonic and French (French because not only is our Bishop French-Canadian, but French is the language the children most frequently use to communicate with one another). So, following the Divine Liturgy, just before our shared meal the children performed their song for him. They did so wonderfully I’m so proud of them (did I say that already?)!
The only “thorn in our side” right now is that the college where we hold our services is functioning full-time this year. So, although we were free to do multiple services a week last year when it functioned part-time since September (2014) our ability to offer services has been severely limited. We also have to transform the college’s chapel from an Anglican chapel into an Orthodox chapel and vice-versa each time we hold services. Truly, necessity is the mother of invention as we create an iconostasis out of the furniture available in the chapel, but our limited access to the chapel and the fact that we have to take down and set up is very difficult for us because we wish to have a permanent place. This would give us the ability to put down deeper roots in the community as well as the freedom to offer services whenever we wish, not to mention when the liturgical year requires. (As it is now we can’t even have services on some of the Great Feasts!). Please, please, please pray for our community, for Fr. John, and for a solution to this problem!
Despite little hiccups we continue our struggle to establish an enduring lighthouse here on the Eastern edge of North America, striving to make ourselves available to God and praying for Him to enlighten and guide us. I will leave you with a quotation from the ever-memorable Bishop Augoustinos of Florina whose missionary zeal and spirit never ceases to inspire our own feeble efforts to spread the Gospel here in the North Atlantic: “For real fishermen there are certain days and nights when, despite their toil and sweat, the catch is meager and worthless. This can also happen to spiritual fishermen. There are evil days when people so sink into the flow of their materialistic lives, so distanced from God, that no hook, no net, and no catechesis, teaching or missionary activity could gather them. One might think there were no fish at all, that the sea was empty! But as true fishermen never despair, so spiritual fishers should never be discouraged. There will come days of abundant catch” (Follow Me, pp. 285-286).