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While our Orthodox Mission, Holy Lady of Vladimir, still holds weekend services at Queen’s College, this post is about our domestic chapel of St. Nektarios.

I’m not a great photographer, but I wanted to show you how the domestic chapel of St. Nektarios looks now. I had written about our house chapel last year, but, to my great joy, we’ve made some additions.

My father is a very accomplished carpenter and I had been telling him how I wanted him to make us an iconostasis for our domestic chapel. Because we didn’t have proper church furniture the icons I painted of Christ, the Mother of God and St. Nektarios were relegated to the side of the chapel instead of in front of the altar. So, I was in a hurry to have something made.

The original plan was for my father to take measurements when he and his wife visited us in the Fall (of 2016). However, we ended up deciding on the spur of the moment, two days before dad was to leave, to build stands instead. Off we went to the hardware store to rent a table saw and buy supplies.

While dad started on making icon stands from scratch with no pattern, his wife Angela and I went to the fabric store. She’s a talented seamstress and equally as enthusiastic about fun projects as my dad and me and so she thought she may be able to sew some coverings on my sewing machine while dad built the stands.

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I regret that there is no photo evidence of the state of my backyard while dad and I assembled the stands together: he sawing and hammering, me sanding and crack filling. (Fr. John would have been there to help but he got called away on a pastoral matter). It was a ton of fun and I was more than ecstatic about the way the chapel would look once we were finished.

In short order the icon stands and the Proskimidi table were ready, the coverings were also ready. All Fr. John and I had to do was varnish/ stain the wood (which we’ll do in the summer – when we can do it outdoors), hang the coverings, and acquire gold crosses to be attached to the fabric. We were able to get the crosses during our trip to the mainland in October; we attached them with fabric glue, but we have yet to attach the large cross to the altar covering.

There is still more to be done. I would like to buy three oil lamps to hang from the ceiling above Christ, Panagia and St. Nektarios. But, I’m trying to not be rash in furnishing the chapel, one thing at a time. I also plan to cover the large wooden candle stand with painted canvas like I’ve marveled at in Orthodox monasteries. (You can sort of see an example of a canvas-covered candle here; it’s to the right, in the middle of the smaller candles).

This particular candle stand (shown below before the “Royal Doors” – or where Royal Doors would be) represents the fiery sword that prohibited entrance to Eden after the Fall. That is why it is placed here in front of the Royal Doors during the Divine Liturgy, after the consecration, while the priest communes.

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You can see all the snow outside the window. This photo was taken at Christmas

 

Words can’t express how grateful I am to have a chapel in my own home (something I always wanted). My gratitude is doubled by the fact that Fr. John has an Orthodox chapel in which to hold daily Morning and Evening Prayer, not to mention vigils.

I’m a vain sort, but I’ll be honest and say that ever since my father built the icon stands and the chapel took on more of “chapel” look I try and make sure I never miss a Vespers service (I’m unable to attend Matins because of work). It’s a comfort to stand in the oil-lamp lit space and pray in front of icons that we have collected during our travels, and moreso in front of icons that I had the honour to paint.

The icons I painted – pictured in the below collage – are as follows: (Top left corner) St. Gregory Palamas (he is to Christ’s right in the photo). Below that is an icon of St. Demetrios (this is a copy of an icon I painted – my godson has the original); Christ the High Priest and St. Nektarios (as well as the Mother of God depicted elsewhere); St. John Maximovitch (bottom left) – which I just finished last week; and St. John the Theologian (bottom right).

It comes as a great consolation to me to have the icons I painted – icons that took me countless hours to paint – in our chapel. I can’t speak for other iconographers, but for me, when I paint an icon I don’t feel ownership over it. I may be a bit more critical of my own work than I would be of others, but at some point the icons I paint stop being my work and become the countenances of the persons depicted. And yet, I know each inch of the icons in intimate detail, they are so personal and yet so distinctly their own. It’s hard to explain, perhaps I’m just babbling. So, I’ll suffice it to say I’m deeply humbled that images I painted with my own unworthy hand now adorn an Orthodox chapel. I thank God for my talent and hope He accepts my offering.

Lastly, I want to say while I love our domestic chapel, my joy would more than quadruple if our parish were able to establish a proper Orthodox church here on the island of Newfoundland. Amen, so be it.

Please keep us in your holy prayers!

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(The photos included in this post are some of things I get to see while traveling for work in Newfoundland.)

Each time Christmas vacation came around during my (first) Bachelor degree I had the habit of taking a break from the “great books” I read endlessly for school and delving into a novel or two (or three). See, I was enrolled in a Great Books program modeled after St. John’s College in Santa Fe, in which we read volumes upon volumes of primary sources: Plato, Dante, Bacon, Spencer, Shelley, and so much more. Letting my mind read just “for fun” instead of with a critical eye to themes and philosophies, once essays and exams were finished, was a real treat.

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Summertime in Newfoundland

The last few years – thanks to my brother’s intriguing Christmas presents – I have revived this habit of reading a novel during Christmas vacation. Thus, I found myself driving back to my office from one of the many coves on the Avalon Peninsula (my work takes me to some interesting places) reflecting on the novel I had been reading. I was at a place in the book where the band of thieves – a band of friends, each member contributing to the strength of the whole by their individual talents and personalities – were beginning to put their plans into action. The goal? To overthrow the evil ruler of their land.

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As I drove passed trees and lakes, mountains and ocean views, two things stood out to me: First, just how exciting the story was, how I wanted to pull my car over to finish it, how real the friendships were. And second, as I watched cars drive passed me – cars full of regular people likely coming from shopping or heading to work – I thought about the monotony of modern life: seemingly no battles to be fought, no need to forge strong bonds of friendship in order to fight to the death for something you believe in, no weapons to train with or evil rulers to overthrow. That’s why, I said to myself, so many read books like these, watch movies, tv shows, play video games. Because in those contexts we get to live vicariously through characters whose lives are far more intriguing than our own. It satisfies, to a limited extent, something each person has within them: the desire to have something to fight for, to have meaningful friendships in which, together, we seek higher ideals, better versions of ourselves, for the good of the many and for the benefit of our own selves.

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But, I thought with a sigh, as I looked at the small icon of Christ hanging from my rear view mirror, there is a battle to be fought, an evil ruler to overthrow, and a kingdom to be conquered.  It’s just most people don’t know about it, or refuse to join the fight. The battle is for salvation; the evil ruler is our ‘old man’ (Col 3:9); the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom we fight to conquer and capture. Christ teaches, “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). Why from the days of John the Baptist? Because he was a warrior, a spiritual warrior. And we all have the choice to join his army, to fight with violence to take the Kingdom by force, through asceticism (fasting, prayer, good works, church attendance, etc.).

I have friends, worthy friends, who have invited me to join the fight with them. With whom I attempt to lead a spiritual life, to pray, to fast, to fight for God’s grace, to overthrow sinful inclinations and habitual passions, destructive forces (both outside of myself and within myself) in order to engage the enemy in a fight. I do this, through God’s grace and the prayers and fellowship of my friends, in the hope I will conquer and be saved.

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Since I’m already attempting to take a modern medium (the novel) and extrapolate some lessons about the hidden spiritual reality in our own world, I will take it one step further and ask the question posed to each listener in Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here: “Did you (Will you) exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in cage?”

The time to fight is now. The time to put on the armour of Christ – the prayer robe, our sword – is now (Eph 6:10-18). The time to forge meaningful bonds of friendship, to fight alongside fellow spiritual warriors, is now. Alternatively, we can exchange our part in the war for a lead role in cage. The decision is ours, but the war wages despite our indifference. We choose a side whether we do something or nothing.

My friends, will you join me in the fight?

____________________________

For those interested, a fantastic portrayal of spiritual warfare is flawlessly depicted in Fr. Matthew Penney’s short story, The Light Guardian (click on the title to read an excerpt), published by Lumination Press: fusing light into the fiction genre.

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Blessing of the waters in the domestic chapel of St. Nektarios

A portion of St. Sophronius of Jerasalem’s awesome prayer for the Feast of the Theophany:

We glorify you, the Creator and Fashioner of the universe. We glorify you, only-begotten Son of God, without father from your Mother, without mother from your Father. For in the preceding feast we saw you as a babe, but in the present one we see you full and perfect man, our God, made manifest as perfect God from perfect God.
For today the moment of the feast is here for us and the choir of saints assembles here with us, and Angels keep festival with mortals. Today the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dwelt upon the waters. Today the Sun that never sets has dawned and the world is made radiant with the light of the Lord. Today the Moon with its radiant beams sheds light on the world. Today the stars formed of light make the inhabited world lovely with the brightness of their splendour. Today the clouds rain down from heaven the shower of justice for mankind. Today the Uncreated by his own will accepts the laying on of hands by his own creature. Today the Prophet and Forerunner draws near, but stands by with fear seeing God’s condescension towards us. Today the streams of Jordan are changed into healing by the presence of the Lord. Today all creation is watered by mystical streams. Today the failings of mankind are being washed away by the waters of Jordan. Today Paradise is opened for mortals and the Sun of justice shines down on us. Today the bitter water as once for Moses’ people is changed to sweetness by the presence of the Lord. Today we have been delivered from the ancient grief, and saved as the new Israel. Today we have been redeemed from darkness and are filled with radiance by the light of the knowledge of God. Today the gloomy fog of the world is cleansed by the manifestation of our God. Today all creation shines with light from on high. Today error has been destroyed and the coming of the Master makes for us a way of salvation. Today things on high keep festival with those below, and those below commune with those on high. Today the sacred and triumphant festal assembly of the Orthodox exults. Today the Master hastens towards baptism, that he may lead humanity to the heights. Today the One who does not bow bows down to his own servant, that he may free us from servitude. Today we have purchased the Kingdom of heaven, for the Kingdom of the Lord will have no end. Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world has been filled with gladness. The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and were afraid. The Jordan turned back when it saw the fire of the godhead descending in bodily form and entering it. The Jordan turned back as it contemplated the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, descending and flying about you. The Jordan turned back as it saw the Invisible made visible, the Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of a servant. The Jordan turned back and the mountains leapt as they saw God in the flesh, and the clouds uttered their voice, marvelling at what had come to pass, seeing Light from Light, true God from true God, the Master’s festival today in Jordan; seeing him drowning the death from disobedience, the goad of error and the bond of Hell in Jordan and granting the Baptism of salvation to the world. Therefore I too, a sinner and your unworthy servant, recount the greatness of your wonders and, seized with fear, in compunction cry out to you:
Great are you, O Lord, and wonderful your works, and no word is adequate to sing the praise of your wonders!

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Cappadocia in Asia Minor (eastern Turkey) is virtually devoid of Christians now, but in 1840, when St Arsenios was born there, there were still vital Orthodox communities. St Arsenios became a monk and was sent to his native town, Farasa, to serve the people. He pastored his Greek Orthodox flock amidst extremely difficult conditions. Under the harsh yoke of the Turks, the Greek people of Farasa formed an oasis of Orthodox Christianity. They sought refuge in holy St. Arsenios, who was their teachper, their spiritual father, and the healer of their souls and bodies. His reputation as a healer was so great that not only Greek Christians but also Turkish Muslims came to him for healing. Many times his village was threatened with violence from marauding Turks, but each time it was preserved in a miraculous way by St Arsenios.

He lived in a small cell with an earthen floor, fasted often and was in the habit of shutting himself in his cell for at least two whole days every week to devote himself entirely to prayer.

St Arsenios predicted the expulsion of the Greeks from Asia Minor before it happened, and organized his flock for departure. When the expulsion order came in 1924, the aged Saint led his faithful on a 400-mile journey across Turkey on foot. He had foretold that he would only live forty days after reaching Greece, and this came to pass. His last words were “The soul, the soul, take care of it more than the flesh, which will return to earth and be eaten by worms!” Two days later, on November 10, 1924, he died in peace at the age of eighty-three. He was officially declared a Saint by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1986.

St. Arsenios was the spiritual father of the late St. Paisios’ family. He baptised St. Paisios as an infant. Throughout his life Elder Paisios had great love and reverence for the memory of St. Arsenios, and it was out of this love that he compiled the book “Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian” which provides us with the details of his life. Accounts of these miraculous events were documented by the St. Paisios from eyewitnesses, and they testify to how powerfully God works through His holy ones, and to how lovingly He cares for and protects His children amidst adversity.

Since 1970, many apparitions and miracles have occurred near his holy relics, which reside in the Monastery of Souroti near Thessalonica. The relic of St. Arsenios has also been known to heal those who have cancer and to grant children to infertile couples. In 1983 St. Paisios forwarded a portion of his holy relic to Pantanassa Monastery. This relic is available for veneration at all the St Arsenios Feast Day services. We pray that the intercessions of our Venerable Father Arsenios of Cappadocia, the Wonderworker, and of the late St. Paisios, be with you and your families always.

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“I Will Make You a Gerontissa”

A Conversation with Gerontissa Theophano—abbess of the first monastery founded by Elder Ephraim of Arizona in America

Olga Rozhneva, Gerontissa Theophano

(SourceSource) The first monastery built by Elder Ephraim in America was the women’s monastery of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Saxonburg, PA. Elder Ephraim founded it in 1989. Pilgrims meet here a peaceful corner of nature, where you can forget for a time your worldly cares and anxieties and you can immerse yourself in a world of silence and prayer. The sisters of the monastery labor purely for the prayer of the heart and mind. Here and there you here: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” The Byzantine singing in church during the services leaves pilgrims in awe.

The monastery is a missionary center. It is an oasis in the desert of modern life for those who are experiencing spiritual hunger. Here the afflicted receive spiritual counsel and consolation in sorrows. Children, who with their pure souls share in the nun’s joy in the Lord, especially love to visit the monastery.

Fifteen sisters are currently laboring in the monastery (thirteen nuns, two novices). They themselves earn money for bread and the monastery necessities. The monastery has an active icon studio, with the nuns making icons on wood and stone, they work at embroidery and sewing Baptismal garments and priestly vestments, they tie prayer ropes, decorate candles for Weddings and Baptisms, and they produce soap. There is also a monastery garden.

The first abbess of the monastery was Gerontissa Taxiarchia. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou, her spiritual father, called her here from a Greek monastery in 1989. Gerontissa Taxiarchia was a clairvoyant eldress, having acquired the gifts of ceaseless prayer and love of Christ.

The monastery’s current abbess, Gerontissa Theophano, joined the sisterhood in 1990. Under her spiritual direction the sisters reverently preserve the traditions inherited from their spiritual mother, Gerontissa Taxiarchia. Gerontissa Theophano kindly agreed to speak with us.

* * *

—Dear Mother Theophano, could you tell us about your path to the monastery?

—My mother was born in Greece, and my father was born right on the eve of the Asia Minor catastrophe in Smyrna.[1] Then they moved to America.I met Elder Ephraim in New York. This is how I got acquainted with him: at that time I was a young girl. I didn’t want to go to college but dreamt of becoming a clothing designer, but my dad insisted that I get a higher education. He said to us, his children: “You must receive a higher education so you can provide for yourselves.” My dad was very concerned about our independence. “May it be blessed,” I answered him. As my father said, so I did.

I chose the history department and became an historian. In the end it turned out that Elder Ephraim had begun to come to the city where my university was, and I went to him for Confession. This was in the 1980s—the very first years when he had just started coming to America. So that’s why I met Elder Ephraim. Had I not obeyed my father I would never have met the elder. When we obey our parents we always receive benefit from it.

When I met the elder for the first time, he said to me: “My girl, you will become my nun, and I will make you a gerontissa!” It took some time to get used to this idea, but, glory to God, it happened!

Eight years passed between the day I met the elder and the death of my mother. That whole time I was troubled by the thought: “I’m not sure that I really want to become a nun. Maybe it’s better for me to get married?” I had such ambiguity. Sometimes I would dream of becoming a mother, and moreover a modern mother. We didn’t know anything about monasticism. We never saw a single nun.

But after my mom died I went to the elder and said: “Elder, 50/50, I can’t choose: marriage or monasticism,” and he said to me: “You know what I want from you, so decide. Pray to the Mother of God!” After you hear something like that, can you think about marriage? So, I rendered obedience here. My father was very strict, incidentally, like Elder Ephraim. I moved from one strict father to another.

I came here, to the monastery, in March 1990. At first we had just a small country house with two bedrooms and nothing more. There were three of us: Gerontissa Taxiarchia, me, and one other sister.

—Could you tell us how your monastery was built?

—At that time our bishop was Archbishop Iakovos, who was not very disposed towards monasticism, but it was God’s will that he agree with Elder Ephraim on building the monastery. Within a year after the monastery was built in 1992 we had ten sisters—the monastery was full.

A miraculous story occurred with the acquiring of the land for our monastery. The owners of the farm, where the monastery is now built, were a Greek couple. They had no children. During the Depression they had no money—just one farm. But in 1942, as the priest told me, they demanded that the owner pay his tax debt. He had on hand precisely one fourth of what he owed the government. Then he prayed to the Mother of God: “Panagia, if they agree to accept this amount, to cover all my arrears, then I will donate this property to you for your monastery.” And so it happened—the officials were satisfied with a quarter of the sum, and the spouses decided between themselves that, inasmuch as they had no children, they would give the farm to the Church on the condition that a monastery would be built here.

Additionally, one family, from among the spiritual children of Elder Ephraim living in this area, bought the property next to ours to build housing for their children, but it ended up that they gave us the spot so that, God-willing, we can expand.

—What did you build first?

—First a small building with ten cells for the sisters was built. Then we built one room over the garage with another four cells. Then we expanded the old farmhouse and turned it into an icon studio. We hope to expand it even more. Just today Elder Ephraim said to me: “What’s with your buildings?” I answered that we don’t have money, but he said: “It’s nothing—continue, continue…”

—And how about the church?

—The church is connected to the facilities where we live. It’s a chapel. In 1996 we built another chapel, of St. Seraphim of Sarov, in the forest. We have on our site some woods, and there, a small wooden church.

—Something like a skete?

—Yes, precisely like a skete!

—How do you spend the day?

—Right now it’s difficult for us to follow our usual schedule because of construction. We recently discovered that our whole building has rotted. We had to vacate the premises and to begin major repairs. We try to face this situation with patience. Thank God we already finished the church, and now we’re doing our cells and the attic, where the damage was especially strong… But, glory to God, glory to God… All is well. We have our elder, and by his prayers everything will be alright.

When we weren’t doing repairs… let me tell you about how we live when we weren’t doing repairs and we had a priest… right now we’re temporarily without a priest. Usually our day starts at six in the morning with Liturgy or a Moleben, and then is trapeza, then we go to our obediences. The next meal is at one in the afternoon, and then we serve Vespers and Small Compline together, and after that we retire to our cells for rest. Then we work and pray again.

—Dear Gerontissa, perhaps you can share some edifying stories from the life of your monastery?

—The first years of the monastery were especially blessed—the Lord gave us grace to start the monastery. Those years were full of miracles—it was something special. The spiritual mother of our abbess Gerontissa Taxiarchia visited us—Gerontissa Macrina. Blessed Gerontissa Macrina (1921-1995) was the gerontissa of the Monastery of Panagia Hodigitria, near the city of Volos, and was the spiritual child of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and our elder Ephraim. Gerontissa led the monastery for more than thirty years, acquiring numerous spiritual gifts and was blessed with exalted spiritual states.

When she visited us it was as if we had gathered everyone together—mother, daughter, and us, the granddaughters. Also, Elder Ephraim visited us. The whole family was gathered.

This meeting gave us the opportunity to realize something important. Those who were born in America don’t understand the depth of our history and don’t truly understand Apostolic Tradition. What kind of tradition is there in America?! Our churches in America are new and modern. It’s especially unpleasant to speak about Tradition. So when we saw our elder and both gerontissas at the same time, we understood that Tradition exists, that succession exists. This greatly strengthened us in Orthodoxy. It also helped us to later cope with temptations.

It was not easy when people came to us in the monastery and asked why we don’t change such and such. It was very difficult to keep the Greek language, very difficult, especially when I took upon myself the obedience of abbess. The priest immediately suggested to change something. I had to tell him: “Excuse me, but what I received from the hands of my elders, I cannot change.”

We had a variety problems. Our main orientation is missionary. In such situations it’s hard to talk about the real monastic life. Here we have Mexico, Guatemala. What don’t we have!? We have to speak with everyone, and to consider everyone.

Let’s return to Gerontissa Macrina. Our Gerontissa Taxiarchia told us that many priests, archimandrites, other gerontissas, and even bishops would go to Portaria to Gerontissa Macrina for advice. Everyone sought her out. They called her “Basil the Great” because she was very strict in the very beginning.

But when I saw her, she was love itself. I’ll tell you how I met her. My mother died when I was twenty-three. Shortly before her death Elder Ephraim came to us to confess mama for the last time. He said to me: “My girl, when it happens, when your mama departs to the Lord, immediately call Philotheou so the fathers can begin to commemorate her for forty days.” Immediately after that he flew to England to be with Gerontissa Macrina in the hospital so I was unable to communicate with him directly, and I had no one to comfort me in my grief.

On the day that my mother died, on the eve of the Nativity of Christ, I had a dream, as if I was a child of ten-twelve years again and I was sitting together with other children in some beautiful place. The children around me were playing, but I didn’t play with them, but just sat. And some unknown woman in black came over to us and asked me: “My child, why aren’t you playing with the other children, and why do you look so sad?” I answered her: “I’m sad because my mama died.” “No, my girl, she didn’t die—she departed to Christ. Don’t be sad; she is now with Christ.” At that moment I woke up.

I told no one about this dream. Only after I found myself in the monastery did I tell this dream to Gerontissa Taxiarchia, and she said to me: “Maybe it was the Most Holy Theotokos?” I said: “No, it seems me it wasn’t the Panagia, but some gerontissa.”

When we went to Portaria with Gerontissa Taxiarchia and I saw Gerontissa Macrina for the first time, I immediately recognized her as the gerontissa in my dream. When Gerontissa Macrina spoke with me and I told her my whole history, she answered me: “I knew about the death of your mother, my child, and therefore I came to you in order to console you.”

—Thank you for this wonderful conversation, dear Gerontissa Theophano!

—May God save you!

 Olga Rozhneva spoke with Gerontissa Theophano

Translated by Jesse Dominick

Pravoslavie.ru

17 / 10 / 2016


[1] That is, the exile of the indigenous Greek Orthodox population from their ancient homelands.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the first time in over a year Fr. John and I left the island and took a vacation. Vacation for us consists in two things: spending time with loved ones and visiting churches and monasteries (and for me, personally, it also means drinking as many Tim Horton’s coffees as I want:).

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Saint Gregory of Nyssa OCA Church

We went to Kingston, Ontario to stay with my brother and sister-in-law. We had a wonderful time chatting and going for walks. We got to attend services at both of the Orthodox churches there: Vespers at St. Gregory of Nyssa OCA Church and Matins and Divine Liturgy at The Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church.

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The Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church

Then we took a trip down to New York to visit the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery and Seminary. Although Fr. Matthew was ordained there, both as a deacon and a priest, I was the only member of our family that wasn’t able to go.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThus, it was my first time visiting the beautiful, grace-filled monastery. We toured the monastery and seminary, venerated the icons and relics, and spent time with our good friend who is a monk there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our return to Canada we headed for the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Panagia Parigoritissa. Getting to visit the monastery and see all the nuns feels like a family reunion. During our stay we helped sweep the courtyard, fold pamphlets and got to work in the vineyard – which was an especial blessing.

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Sweeping the courtyard

The summer Fr. John was ordained a deacon we spent significant time there. We cherish our memories of all the years we’ve been visiting the monastery; we would often stop by the monastery when flying home from Greece as there is a direct flight from Montreal to Athens.

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In the vineyard

There’s nothing like the physical and spiritual respite that comes from making holy pilgrimages; the ideal vacation in my opinion. Thank God for such oases! You come back home more peaceful, more centered, and ready to re-enter the daily battle of acquiring grace in the midst of work and worldly obligations.

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Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY

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