Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category

While eating breakfast this morning with Fr. John we started listening to this homily by a spiritual son of St. Paisios the Athonite. This spiritual son is in fact the “young man” in the book The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios. If you have not read this book I highly recommend it.

The “Young Man”, whose real name is Athanasios Rakovalis, begins the homily with these words, “I’d like to thank you all for being here, and to say that I am happy you are all here because your presence here shows that you wish to learn about St. Paisios, and this contains a type of grace. Before I begin my talk, I’d like to request from all of you if you are able to say an internal prayer to St. Paisios now, to ‘lend a hand’ to help me make my talk and for us all to leave here benefited – both you and I.”

When I heard these words by St. Paisios’ lay-disciple I paused the video and turned to Fr. John, “That is what it was like in Greece!” I said.

While it is customary for different cultures to have words of greeting, the charm of the Orthodox mindset is the humility and mutual love shared amidst Orthodox Christians.

Athanasios, a physics teachers, is there to give a homily, to teach and instruct, but rather than show himself to be “an expert” he first calls on his Christian brothers and sisters so that through their prayers – not his words – all might be benefited. This kind of mindset is not easily taught. It is the kind of mindset we must “put on” (Galatians 3:27) ourselves as Orthodox Christians. This, I believe, is what is meant by “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Brothers and sisters, this is the mind of Christ!: to humbly ask others’ for their prayers, to firmly believe with all your heart and mind that the only profit we can give one another is founded on Christ’s love, not on our own intellect or talents.

More than everything else about Greece I miss this mindset the most. It permeated so many faithful, and did not produce words like “clanging brass” (1 Corinthians 13: 1) but Spirit-filled, God-inspired words that drilled into your heart and soul a desire to emulate the love and humility you saw in your fellow Christians.

I’m sure Athanasios goes on to say many more beautiful things in his homily. But I stopped just a few minutes in to reminiscence and contemplate how it’s in the little things (as St. Paisios often said) that we make large gains or big loses.

St. Paisios defined reverence as “the fear of God and spiritual sensitivity”. He said that reverent people “behave carefully and modestly, because they intensely feel the presence of God.” In my opinion, just one minute into this homily Athanasios Rakovalis illustrates what it means to douse your words and thoughts with reverence.

May we be made worthy, through the prayers of St. Paisios, to do the same in our own lives!




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In my office… remember when we used to work outside of the home? I miss it!

Cynthia Damaskos from Holistic Christian Life interviewed me for her series My Beautiful Advent. She has now posted it on her podcast series. Listen here.

About The Podcast

Want to worship God with every fiber of your being? The Holistic Christian Life podcast will show you how to be intentional in every area of your life. Cynthia Damaskos, a Certified Holistic Health Coach will guide you with interviews that will educate and inspire. Sometimes focused on the body, sometimes on the mind or emotions, but always linked to our soul. Holistically. As God created!

Episode Info

This week Cynthia is airing one of her favorite interviews with Matushka Constantina Palmer, the author of The Scent of Holiness and The Sweetness of Grace. They talk about how to stay focused on Christ amidst the constant noise that surrounds us. It’s an interview that gets better and better, and even includes some support for the wives of priests.  Don’t miss Mat. Constantina’s 3 main tips to draw you back to God during your day.

Constantina R. Palmer is from New Brunswick, a quaint province on Canada’s Atlantic coast. She lived in Thessaloniki, Greece, for almost six years, during which time she received a Master’s degree in theology from Aristotle University and studied Cretan-style iconography as well as Byzantine chant. She also spent significant time at a number of women’s monasteries throughout northern Greece. Currently, she lives with her husband, an Orthodox priest, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, serving the only Orthodox parish on the island of Newfoundland. She is also a social worker.

The Scent of Holiness:  Lessons from a Woman’s Monastery


The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory


Is it time to make some changes in your life? Do you want to stop the madness and get on track with your health? Maybe coaching is right for you. I’ve helped many people gain their health back over the years, and would love to talk with you. Just reach out with the link below to get on my schedule. From time to time I have openings for new clients and accept them on a first come first serve basis.

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While I’m happy the massive snow banks we’ve had all winter have finally melted I wasn’t thrilled to see 15cm of snow today, on Pascha.

But Christ is risen and no one is left in the tomb!

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For the past 2.5+ years Fr. John has offered a supplicatory service every Wednesday evening so the people could come, pray, light a candle, receive a little comfort in the middle of the work week.

Until last year we held these services at our house chapel and the door was left open for anyone who wished to join us. Once we got a permanent worship space we were able to offer these services at the Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission. As these services started at the house chapel which is named for St. Nektarios of Pentapolis we have kept the same schedule: one Wednesday the supplicatory canon is offered to the Theotokos the next week it is offered to St. Nektarios. Occasionally, Fr. John will offer supplications to St. Paisios the Athonite.

20200325_194726Last night, as we have many times before, we offered supplications to the Theotokos at home. We lit candles and we prayed for our parishioners, for ourselves, the world, those affected by the virus, and most of all for the Church, Her hierarchs and all clergy.

May God hearken unto our prayers – though prayed on unworthy lips – bring us to repentance and bring an end to the spiritual and physical harms brought about by this pandemic!

Through the prayers of the Theotokos, Saviour save us!


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Having recently taken a trip down memory lane on how I passed the evenings during the year we lived in South Korea, I found some additional fun pictures I wanted to share with you. Above are pictures of my kindergarten class. They were the sweetest! These children will turn 18 years old this year… so hard for me to believe.

My brother Fr. Matthew and sister-in-law Pres. Catherine also taught English in South Korea (before Fr. Matthew’s ordination). We all worked at the same school together. Here are some photos of us going for a walk up a nearby mountain.

And here are some pictures of my kindergarten students dressed up for their year-end pageant. My students were too little to perform a play at the time (they were 4 and 5 years old) so I had them sing “Do-Re-Me” with simple – but adorable – choreography.

And here are some photos of Fr. John’s students. He wrote a play based on C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. His students had to memorize their lines, sing and act! The songs he included were “In the Jungle, The Mighty Jungle” and something else… I forget now.

We don’t have an abundance of photographs from our time in South Korea (although I’ll have to search again for photos of the Orthodox churches we attended) but we have awesome memories!

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Day Four

The City of St. John’s remained in a State of Emergency (SOE) until yesterday, January 25. That was one whole week with the city shut down. The amount of snow completely warranted this decision but it seriously impacted our Province.

Monday morning (Day Four of SOE) we woke up to more snow – very wet snow. The plow had been by and left quite a lot of said wet snow at the end of our driveway. So, at 6AM we started shoveling because we feared it might freeze.

Even with all the shoveling (which I really didn’t mind because I workout regularly in my house anyway so this was an ‘outdoor workout’) I LOVED the six days off from work. I got loads of things done: sewing, reading, writing, laundry, cooking, baking, cleaning out cupboards and bookcases, etc.


Day Five

Fr. John spent his days preparing for another course he will be teaching at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary‘s  Certificate in Theological Studies program.


Day Six

We were permitted to drive into St. John’s yesterday for the first time since last Thursday. And so as soon as we finished breakfast we headed to the church. We thought we’d be able to dig out at least a path… turns out that was wishful thinking (as is obvious from the photos). We found the door was partially cleaned out and learned afterward two teens from the parish had walked to the church on Friday and tried digging out but that was as far as they got. (May Panagia bless them for their efforts!)

The whole top layer of snow was rock hard. However, a group of parishioners coordinated a snow-shoveling party Saturday afternoon. It took  4 men, multiple shovels, and 2 snowblowers but they managed to get it pretty much cleaned up. It was difficult to find room for all the snow so they put some of the snow into the garage so it could melt and go down the drain in the floor – pretty smart idea if you ask me.

Today we finally cut the Vassilopita (St. Basil’s cake). We usually do this the first Sunday after the New Year but between January 5 (a fast day) falling on a Sunday and the cancellation it was postponed until today. I love this tradition.


It was wonderful to get back to church and hold the divine services. Last Sunday (Day Three of SOE) we had Matins at the house but Fr. John was unable to serve Divine Liturgy because the antimension was at the church and we had no way to get it.

Listening to, chanting, and participating in the services today I was reminded of just how much nourishment they have to off. I’ve said this in a previous blog post so forgive me for repeating myself, but the best way to firmly establish someone in the Orthodox faith is for them to participate in Orthodox services. Not only does this provide us a tangible connection to the Tradition of Orthodox worship it narrates the Scriptures for us in an Orthodox chronology: you fall, you harken unto God, He hears you, and you rise again, etc. In order to fully comprehend spiritual concepts one must hear about them again and again and this is accomplished through the hymnology in Orthodox services.


This photo is from the recent memorial service we held for Elder Ephraim before Vespers

I’m not speaking simply 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 us the Old Testament types of Christ, the daily lives of the saints,  and the deep theology of our Church. I’m speaking of Vespers and Matins.

We should all attend as many of these services as possible. If our parish doesn’t hold them we should seek out liturgical books to read 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).

Sometimes things like missing a weekend of church is what we need to be reminded not to take for granted all that the services have to offer.

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plow-e1579364990485Blizzard update: Yesterday the Province called in the Canadian military to help with snow clearing. The state of emergency is still in effect (that means only emergency vehicles are permitted to use city streets and no businesses are permitted to open). Today they temporarily lifted the ban for pharmacies, gas stations and private snow contractors. Thank God we have plenty of food and have kept power the entire time.

The above picture was shown on the news, it is of snow plows on the highway. It’s the route we take to get from our house (in the town of Paradise) to our Mission church in east end St. John’s.

We managed to clear our driveway today. It was hard-going for almost two hours, but thank God our neighbour helped at the end where a snow plow had driven snow firmly into the hood of Fr. John’s car.


The total snow accumulation in St. John’s was 77cm. But, it was 93cm (that’s three feet!) in the town Mt. Pearl, closest to us. I haven’t heard the official amount that fell here in Paradise. But we already had 40+cm on the ground before the storm started.

The bad news? 10-25 cm is expected overnight. God have mercy!


Day One (January 17)


Day Two (January 18)

Our backyard as seen from upstairs:


There was so much snow piled up against the front door that we initially dug out with a bucket and dumped the snow in the bathtub:



The cul de sac across the street was so bad the neighbours in this next photo are actually standing where the road is (check out the street sign to the left for snowbank-height reference)!


Day Three (January 19)






After shoveling for over an hour we had managed to get this far:20200119_103737


We’re tuckered out but thank God it wasn’t worse!

However, God help us tomorrow morning as we try and dig out again. Man, I sure hope my work is canceled!

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Christmas Eve at Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission

While I sit in my living room seeing nothing but white outside, snow piling up against my windows, I thought I might as well share some recent photos of life in Newfoundland. We’re in the middle of a blizzard. In fact a state of emergency has been declared to keep people off the roads. They say we may get up to 75cm of snow in this single snowfall – that’s more than ever before. By God’s grace we still have power. Right now shoveling snow is tomorrow’s problem.

Here are pictures of our Christmas. My mum visited from New Brunswick which made it extra special.

(In case you’re wondering what book Fr. John is holding with a smile on his face, it is Cicero’s “How to Win an Argument” – he picked it out himself. The inscription, however, was all me. It says, “Good luck! -Your wife”.)

Here are some other photos taken during Mum’s visit:

The following set of photos are from the storm we had on the feast of the Theophany, January 6. As you can see by the photos, we couldn’t get out to church that morning due to the snowfall and so we held the divine services at home. We no longer have a full chapel set up downstairs (all the liturgical furniture was taken to the Mission) so we made do with what we had. There are also a few pics of our recent walks after that snowfall included below.

Here’s hoping everyone on the Avalon Peninsula stays safe and can dig out of the snow when this blizzard finally moves along.

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St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, AZ is live streaming Great Vespers, blessing of the loaves, and Matins for the feast of St. Anthony the Great.

You should be able to view it at this link:

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by Fr. John Palmer

Every second Thursday evening, with an open invitation to the public, members of our community meet in a public venue – a coffee shop – where we read aloud and then discuss a section of St Augustine’s beautiful work, the Confessions.  This initiative, which I have aptly dubbed ‘Coffee House Theology’, has been one of the greatest joys and consolations in my work as a mission priest.

On the one hand, joy springs from the fact that our sessions have been relatively well attended and met with enthusiasm.  Indeed, every priest rejoices to see the flame of holy learning kindled in the faithful committed to his charge.  Moreover, I rejoice that in an age where Christ has been pushed into the background – both in broader society and in the lives of individual Christians – this remnant, this two or three gathered in his name, offers a small confession, setting our Lord before men without any regard for strange, disapproving looks.

On the other hand, joy has come from my re-discovery of the absolutely Orthodox heart of St Augustine.  Yes, it is true, in places Augustine was tempted by his truly staggering intellect and fell; yes, on occasion he exchanged the revelation of God acquired by a pure heart for his own speculations, choosing a lowly, created light over the uncreated; yes, he seriously errs on occasions. Consequently, he needs to be read with a degree of discernment, plucking the rose from among the thorns, just as we see him approached by his strongest advocates within the Patristic Tradition.  However, despite all this, when it comes to the vigilant attention to God’s Providence; when it comes to the struggle with the passions; when it comes to repentance; when it comes to Christian living, I continually stand in awe of him.

In the last section we read together this past Thursday, what particularly struck me was the witness he bears to the Orthodox tradition of Eldership in the Pre-Schism West.  In Book VIII, Augustine is faced with a question with no obvious correct answer, at least in the abstract.  He is torn between marriage and monasticism.  “The voice of truth had told me that there are some who have made themselves eunuchs for love of the Kingdom of Heaven.  But he also said, let only those take this in whose hearts are large enough for it.” (VIII.[1])  Unsure of what to do with respect to one of the fundamental question of life, he uneasily spun his tires, succumbing to listlessness.

Faced with this quandary, what does the Saint do?  Addressing God he writes, “By your inspiration it seemed to me a good plan to go and see Simplicianus…” (VIII.[1]),  the spiritual father of St Ambrose of Milan.  And listen to how he describes this man:  Simplicianus, “…I could see for myself,” he says, “was a good servant of yours [of Christ]”; “…the light of grace plainly shone in him…”; “…from boyhood he had always led a most devout life…”; and, “…in all the long years he had spent to such a good purpose in following your way he must have gained great experience and much knowledge”.  And so Augustine hoped that if he put his problem to him, “…he would draw upon his experience and his knowledge to show me how best a man in my state of mind might walk upon your way.” (VIII.[1])  Simplicianus was deeply experienced in the spiritual life, had served Christ well, and had obviously acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit which shone in him.  Is there any better definition of an Elder?

Augustine, in the midst of a dilemma which required the grace of discernment and insight and not just the reiteration of general principles, might have simply gone to the local parish priest, but he didn’t.  Clearly, in his inherited Orthodox consciousness he knew that ordination itself does not render one an infallible guide in such matters; only experience and grace will suffice.  And so he – often criticized as the ‘least orthodox’ of Holy Fathers – does something very Orthodox: he goes to an Elder.

And what is the result?  The Elder recounts a story for Augustine which itself is a monument to his discernment, and not surprisingly his discerning words hit their mark, stirring the Saint from his listlessness.  “When your servant told me the story of Victorinus, I began to glow with fervor to imitate him.  This, of course, is why Simplicianus had told it to me.”  (VIII.[5])  Words spoken in the spirit of discernment are the words of eternal life for an individual.

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