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Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category

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.

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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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(Written by Fr. John Palmer)

Continuing my reading of Ælfric of Eynsham’s Sermones Catholici, perhaps the most prominent collection of vernacular homilies belonging to the Anglo-Saxon period, I have stumbled across an interesting, spiritually-beneficial observation in his interpretation of the Parable of the Good Shepherd (Homily XVII, On the Second Sunday after Easter, pp. 239-245).  Admittedly, I have not undertaken much source analysis of this text.  It is thus quite possible (even probable) that Ælfric has lifted the position in question directly from the works of someone like St Gergory the Dialogos or Blessed Augustine, since he makes frequent use of these.  He only cites his sources, however, when the work of a particular ecclesiastical writer or Father forms the base of the largest part of his sermon or homily.  A cursory scan of the Fontes Anglo-Saxonici database would seem to suggest its provenance in Blessed Augustine’s Tractates on the Gospel of John.

As he often does, Ælfric begins this particular homily by translating into Old English the gospel passage just previously read in Latin within the context of the Liturgy:

Dixit Iesus discipulis suis, Ego sum pastor bonus: et reliqua.  Þis godspel, þe nú geræd wæs, cwyð, þæt se Hælend cwæde be him sylfum, “Ic eom gód hyrde…” Dixit Jesus discipulis suis, Ego sum pastor bonus: et reliqua.  This gospel, which has now been read, says, that Jesus said of himself, “I am the good shepherd…”

 

The Good Shepherd, then, is Christ himself.  However, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul are also good shepherds, he says, only:

 

“…ac heora gódnys wæs of ðam heafde, þæt is Crist, ðe is heora heafod, and hí sind his lima.” “… their goodness was of the head, which is Christ, who is their head, and they are his limbs.

 

Consequently, the successors of the apostles, the bishops and priest of the Church, are called to be good shepherds of the spiritual flock in the same manner.  And in what way is their ‘goodness’ manifested?  Particularly in their shielding the flock from the attacks of wolves.  The first wolf is the devil and his machinations, which are fended off by two means:  sound doctrine and prayer.

 

“Mid lare he sceal him tæcan, þæt hi cunnon hwæt deofol tæchð mannum to forwyrde, and hwæt God bebýt to gehealdenne, for begeate þæs ecan lifes. He sceal him fore-gebiddan, þæt God gehealde þa strángan, and gehæle ða untruman. Se bið to strángum geteald, seþe wiðstent deofles lare; se bið untrum, seðe on leahtrum fylð.” “With doctrine he shall teach them, that they may know what the devil teaches for men’s perdition, and what God commands to be observed for the attainment of everlasting life. He shall pray for them, that God may preserve the strong and heal the weak. He is to be accounted strong who withstands the precepts of the devil; he is weak who falls into sins.”

 

The second wolf who stalks the spiritual life are unrighteous secular powers:

 

“Wulf bið eac se unrihtwisa rica, ðe bereafað þa cristenan, and ða eadmodan mid his riccetere ofsitt” “The unrighteous powerful man also is a wolf, who robs christians, and oppresses the humble with his power.”

 

Here the Abbot of Eynsham is most certainly speaking of early medieval lords who mistreat their subjects, unfairly punishing them and exacting crippling taxes.  His words also apply to our own times, though, where unrighteous authorities in many liberal democracies are enacting policies which aim at the persecution of simple, faithful Christians, and are using their position of power to ‘oppress the humble’ under the weight of a constant barrage of worldly, impious ideals.

 

Faced with these two wolves, the unworthy shepherd – the hireling – will flee, but,

 

” Ne flyhð he na mid lichaman, ac mid mode. He flyhð, forðan þe hé geseh unrihtwisnysse and suwade.” “He flees not with body, but with mind. He flees because he saw iniquity and held silence.”

 

And what particular characteristic corrupts a shepherd and leaves him a hireling who flees at the moment he is most needed?  Worldliness.  He flees, Ælfric says, “…because he considers worldly advantages.” It is worldliness which will cause the shepherd to see adultery, covetousness, pride, anger, division, and remain silent, being blind to the spiritual damage they cause.  Moreover, it is worldliness which will cause him to be concerned for his own station, to worry about how the powerful of this world view him, leading him to abandon his flock when worldly authorities mistreat or mislead them.

 

It is one of Ælfric’s concluding thoughts which I found particularly insightful and equally important to both clergy and laity:

 

Ge sceolon beon geornfulle to eower agenre ðearfe, þeah hit swa getimige þæt se láreow gimeleas beo, and doð swa swa Crist tæhte, “Gif se láreow wel tǽce and yfele bysnige, doð swa swa he tæcð, and na be ðam þe hé bysnað.” Se Hælend cwæð be him, “Ic eom gód hyrde, and ic oncnawe mine scép, and hí oncnawað me.” Þæt is, ic lufige hí, and hí lufiað me. Ye should be zealous for your own need, though it so happen that the teacher be heedless, and do as Christ taught, “If the teacher teach well, and give evil example, do as he teacheth, and not according to his example.” Jesus says of himself, “I am a good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and they know me.” That is, I love them, and they love me.

 

“I know my sheep,” the Good Shepherd says, “and they know me.”  Ælfric interprets this line as highlighting the direct relationship between the individual Christian and ‘the Good Shepherd’, Christ himself.  It is the goal of the individual Christian to know, to be united to Christ, and it is the central task of the clergy to facilitate the establishment of this relationship.  Should a bishop or priest prove a hireling, however, this no excuse for the individual to turn away from Christ.  He is bound directly to Christ by ties of love and thus duty-bound to persevere and labour in faith within the Church: “Ye should be zealous for your own need, though it so happen that the teacher be heedless.”

 

Moreover, this passage also serves as a reminder for those clergy struggling to fulfill their vocation conscientiously that the faithful bear final responsibility for pursuing a relationship with Christ.  “I know my sheep,” the Good Shepherd says, “and they know me.”  The bishop or priest can teach the flock about temptation, sin, confession, fasting, the prayer rule, but he cannot live the spiritual life for those committed to his charge.  Such a realization should help him to fend off despondency and resist the temptation to ‘micromanage’ lives, attempting without discretion to force a relationship with the Eternal Bridegroom.

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Today is the feast of Sts. Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions.

Their story is one close to my heart. St. Perpetua wrote the account of her and her companions’ baptism and subsequent imprisonment. She was one of  the earliest female writers whose writings have survived until today.

Below is a historical fiction novella I wrote, using Perpetua’s own account as the foundation. In modern language it opens the door to St. Perpetua’s experiences; it invites the reader to feel the saint’s anxiety, her anticipation, her zeal and her commitment to die for Christ rather than live by denying Him.

by Constantina R. Palmer

Print$6.95 + sh&h (USD) / $7.95 + sh&h (CAD)
E-book$2.99 (USD)

Target Audience: Ages 12+

Description:

      In the African provinces of the Roman Empire conversion to the Christian faith is punishable by death. But this does not stop Perpetua and her companions from seeking entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven–even if living for Christ means having to die for Him.

      Out of the African Lands is a historical fiction novelette and chronicles the arrest, imprisonment, and death of Perpetua and her five companions Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus, and Secundulus. Receiving freedom from their sins through baptism while imprisoned, the martyrs shine with the light of Christ, instructing us in word and deed how a person not only lives as a Christian but dies as one.
Purchase your copy HERE. Read an excerpt HERE.
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Also, here is n excerpt from their Akathist hymn:

When the Lord deemed it fitting He called His saints out of the African lands: holy Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus, to witness to their faith through suffering death. Thus, we have as an inheritance the flourishing tree of Orthodoxy, for they shed their blood, watering the seedling. Wherefore we cry aloud:

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity, and your companions

As a catechumen, O holy Perpetua, thou wast taken captive and while in prison thy father besought thee to denounce Christ. But boldly thou didst proclaim that thou couldst be called by no other name but Christian. Wherefore we marvel at thy conviction and cry out to thee thus:

Rejoice, thou who art a shining example for all catechumens

Rejoice, thou who chose the heavenly over thine earthly father

Rejoice, thou who refused to be called anything other than a Christian

Rejoice, being freed from the bondage of sin through baptism while yet in prison

Rejoice, for being informed by the Spirit thou prayed only for endurance of the flesh

Rejoice, Married Matron mother of a son

Rejoice, thou who wast tempted by womanly anxiety for thy suckling child

Rejoice, thou who wast ministered to by the holy deacons Tertius and Pomponius

Rejoice, thou who didst commend thy son to the care of thy mother

Rejoice, thou who didst comfort thy brother, a catechumen in the faith

Rejoice, thou who didst look upon the dungeon as a palace

Rejoice, Bold One asking the Lord whether thou wouldst die a martyr’s death

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Beholding a heavenly vision, holy Perpetua wast informed of her martyrdom. She was found worthy to see with spiritual eyes the contest of salvation. And looking upon the bronze ladder she didst see holy Saturus going up ahead of her, calling after her to follow. Wherefore we call to her:

Alleluia

TO READ THE REST OF THE AKATHIST GO HERE.

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Great Vespers and Paraclesis to the Theotokos in the Domestic Chapel, December 27

Merry Christmas!

It seems every time the end of the year rolls around I post an update about our life and mission here on the island of Newfoundland. I’m posting once again as I wanted to keep this tradition alive – after all, we are Orthodox Christians who love and honour Tradition :).

20171228_145033We have now lived in St. John’s for four years. In fact, we’ve celebrated five Christmases here. We celebrated six in Greece; I can’t believe that we’ve lived here almost as long as we lived in Greece.

[For those interested, updates from previous years can be read herehere, and here.]

If you were to ask me how life is as a missionary I would answer honestly: “Man, it’s hard.” While I firmly believe attempting to spread Orthodoxy anywhere in this day and age would be met with innumerable challenges, being 1,500 kilometers from the nearest Orthodox church makes the natural isolation of mission work feel a tad bit more acute. After all, there is a 10-12 hour boat ride from where we live just to get to the Canadian mainland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But, to be honest, it’s not the isolation that is the hardest element of mission work in Newfoundland. It’s our times. Few are interested in a faith built on a model of a self-sacrificial God. Our times are fraught with ego-centricism and the selfish, materialistic mindset of our times poisons the human heart and makes it difficult for people to be attracted to a way of life which values and cultivates self-discipline and humility. And yet, while few, there are still individuals being drawn to the truth of our faith. We had one adult baptism last September and another this past August.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn addition to daily services of Matins and Vespers, Fr. John began to offer the Service of Supplications (Paraclesis) after Vespers every Wednesday evening in the domestic chapel. A senior priest had suggested this to him as he found people would attend Supplication services for their various needs. We rotate between the Paraclesis to the Theotokos and the Paraclesis to St. Nektarios Wonderworker of Pentapolis (the patron of the domestic chapel). The uptake has been inspiring. Attending a service specifically designed for us to lay our pain, passions, and yearnings before God and His saints and seek healing, consolation and spiritual encouragement obviously resonates with the human soul. We have also taken this opportunity to pray for a solution to our need for a permanent worship space.

P1010308.JPGWe are going through a difficult transitional period right now with our temporary chapel situation. And as it looks now like things are only going to get more “tangly” (as they say here in Newfoundland) in the near future. But we’re trying to place our trust in Christ.

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Fr. John and I with Pres. Catherine

Despite the ups I find I focus far too much on the downs. This is a struggle for me. Once when I was lamenting the hardships of mission work in Newfoundland my spiritual father told me to think of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea. There were only seventeen Christians in the city of Neocaesarea when St. Gregory was first appointed bishop over the flock there. Through his holy life, his God-inspired preaching and his grace-filled miracles by the time St. Gregory reposed only seventeen pagans remained in the city. His life is a reminder that by working on one’s own spiritual life we can affect change and spread the Gospel even when it feels impossible.

As we close out 2017 we keep struggling to “set a safe course”:

Those who put out to sea at first sail with a favorable wind; then the sails spread, but later the wind becomes adverse. Then the ship is tossed by the waves and is no longer controlled by the rudder. But when in a little while there is calm, and the tempest dies down, then the ship sails on again. So it is with us, when we are driven by the spirits who are against us; we hold to the cross as our sail and so we can set a safe course.

–St. Syncklektiki

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We had my brother, Fr. Matthew, and sister-in-law, Pres. Catherine, visit us over Christmas

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