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Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category

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On the great and saving day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, as Christ had promised (John 16:7-15). The unlearned fishermen were made wise by divine grace, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and teaching with authority. Most of them (except for Saint John the Theologian) sealed their labors with their own blood. This was the beginning of the Church’s mission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18), which continues even to the present day.

In 1685, the Russian Orthodox Church established an Orthodox mission in Peking (now Beijing). For more than two hundred years, some of the Chinese converted to Christianity, and married Russian spouses.

Because of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, against the foreign powers occupying China, these Chinese Christians were given the choice of renouncing Christianity, or being tortured and killed.

Two hundred and twenty-two members of the Peking Mission, led by their priest, Father Metrophanes Chang (Chang Tzi-tzung) refused to deny Christ, and received incorruptible crowns of glory.

Among these Holy New Martyrs are Saint Metrophanes, his wife Tatiana, his sons John and Isaiah, Isaiah’s fiancée Maria; the church school teachers Paul Wang and Ia Wen; and many others.

May we imitate their Christian bravery – preferring Christ and death (and eternal life) to temporal life in denial of Him!

And may we have their prayers and blessings!

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Holy Friday Procession at our church St. Anthony’s

As we approach the coming holy days it’s so special to be able to fondly look back on the holiest of holy weeks we have ever lived through. I hope and pray the Lord makes us worthy to share with our own parishioners here in Newfoundland even a slight taste of the majesty of the Holy Weeks and Paschas we lived through during our five+ years in Greece!

May God make us all worthy to truly experience Holy Week this year and be made radiant by Christ’s Glorious Resurrection!

Great Lent is over. Holy Week begins. Good strength and Good Resurrection, friends!

(Originally written and posted in 2012) I’m a nostalgic person, and I’ve become really attached to our life in Greece, and even more attached to Orthodoxy in Greece. This is especially highlighted during Holy Week and Pascha. First of all, schools and universities are closed for all of Holy Week and Bright Week. So, we have lots of time to attend services; and there is no shortage of opportunity to worship in the many churches of Thessaloniki. When it finally comes time to bid farewell to Greece these are the memories I think I’ll hold the most dear from these “high and holy days”:

1. The pleasant surprise of being able to venerate the holy relics of St. Lazarus on Lazarus Saturday.

2. Going to the monastery to help the sisters dye 3,500 red eggs.

3. The darkness of the church at the beginning of the Bridegroom services, and the deep voices of the chanters, chanting holy words to the beat of holy melodies.

4. That everyone brings liturgical books to read along – we bought ours at the grocery store the first year we lived here. (Yes, they sell liturgical books at the grocery store, along with charcoal for your censer, and wicks for your candili).

5. How the church is suddenly packed with people just before the chanter intones the “Kyrie” of the hymn of St. Cassaine on Holy Tuesday evening.

6. How many people show up on Holy Thursday evening, bearing bouquets and wreaths of red and white flowers to adorn the crucified Lord.

7. Hearing wishes for a “Good Resurrection” all around me.

8. The somber but other-worldly feeling the whole city seems to be filled with as we approach the Lord’s saving passion.

9. Hearing the 12 Gospels read in the original Greek they were written in on Holy Thursday.

10. The sound of bells from every church in the city ringing the death toll from morning until night on Holy Friday.

11. How the chandeliers are gently spun and the stasidia are banged (mimicking the sound of the earth quake) during the chanting of “Arise O God” on Holy Saturday morning.

12. Hearing the sound of different church bells in the immediate vicinity also proclaiming the Resurrection at midnight during the Matins service.

13. Saying “Christ is Risen” to friend and stranger when greeting each other.

14. All the different priests who come to read the Gospel in various languages for Agape’s vespers.

15. How dead quiet the city is for the first few days after Pascha because everything is closed and most of the people are in their villages.

Father John served in Greece as a deacon for two years

I hope you all have as many or more wonderful memories from wherever in the world you experience Holy Week and the Lord’s Resurrection!

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St. Haralambos the Hieromartyr

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador we have been very fortunate. We have avoided much of the chaos Covid-19 has wrought on the rest of the nation, nay, the whole world. This past Sunday’s media release announcing 11 new cases of Covid-19 in the province is the highest number of single-day cases we have seen since April. Think about that for a minute. Where elsewhere there are reports of hundreds, sometimes thousands of new cases a day, we got word that we had 11 in a single day. Of course, since Sunday this number as more than quadrupled, and yet compared to other places our numbers are still quite low. The sheer panic on the faces and in the voices of those around us would lead one to believe things are far more dire – and they may be yet – but they are not there yet.

I popped out to the grocery store on my lunch break today simply because I wanted to pick up some frozen veggies. As I stood in the longest line at the grocery store I have literally ever seen in my entire life (keep in mind lines at Christmas, lines before snowstorms, lines after the one-week lockdown due to last year’s epic Snowmageddon), I thought to myself: “Con [yes, I use my nickname to address myself in my internal dialogues :)], you have to be calm because everyone else around you is stressed. When everyone else is giving off a panicked vibe, you need to give off an err of peace!” I reminded myself of the need to pray: for those standing in the lines, for the sick, for those fearful of becoming sick, etc.

We, brothers and sisters, must be Christians. When everyone else fears illness and death we must remind ourselves God is in control. “The Lord gives and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

When everyone else feared the sword, torture, exile, banishment, ridicule, St. Haralambos (who we celebrate today) looked upon those tools of destruction with indifference. He feared separation from God more than fiery torments inflicted on his body. He feared being shut out of the Heavenly Kingdom more than he feared being scraped with iron hooks.

Similarly, nothing should panic us more, fill us with dread more, cause us to feel weak in the knees more than the thought that we will not be saved. This alone, brothers and sisters, should make our heart race and palms sweat. Separation from God is a harm that can only come upon us by our own free violation. Everything else that does or can happen to us happens with God’s permission, to help save us. He Himself tells us not to fear those (or that which) can “kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28).

Be that still small voice, dear friends! The world needs this more than ever before. We may not be hunted down and tortured at the request of a Roman Emperor like saints such as St. Haralambos, but we are still called to confess our Christian faith. This is our opportunity to confess our Faith, to display patience, love, understanding, and mercy when the world is replete with anxiety, fear, paranoia and accusation.

As Christians we have a duty, grounded in love, to be for those around us the still small voice. That “still small voice” is where God is, and what His presence bestows on those who love Him: the ability to stand in the middle of a storm and yet withstand the strong winds, the earthquakes, the fire.

11 Then He said [to Elijah], “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19)

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Last night while chanting Great Vespers with Fr. John, hearing the hymns about St. Xenia, I suddenly remembered attending this vigil almost 10 years ago now.

I can’t believe so many years have passed since those blessed days in Thessaloniki. Nearly any day of the week I could hop on a bus or walk to a nearby church for an all-night vigil. This seems so different from our current reality where we serve a tiny mission (the only parish in the Province) on a huge but sparsely populated island.

You never know where life will lead. Cherish every blessing you have today so the memory of it can warm you for years to come.

lessons from a monastery

Today is the feast day of St. Xenia (Xeni, in Greek) of Rome, and St. Xenia the fool-for-Christ of St. Petersburg. I went to Osia Xeni of Rome’s church here in Thessaloniki last night because there was a vigil. (In Greek St. Xenia of Rome is called Osia – which literally means holy – because that is the most common title given to ascetics, and Xeni because it is the female form of the Greek word foreigner). The vigil began at 8:00PM, and was to end at 1:30AM. Vigil in the Greek typicon consists of Vespers, (in this case also the service for Artoclasia), Hours, Matins, and Divine Liturgy.

I didn’t stay for the full five and a half hour vigil, but I really enjoyed the service for the time I was there. They had a piece of St. Xenia’s holy relics which I was blessed to venerate. And…

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Today is the feast of St. Anthony the Great, the “Professor of the Desert”. Previously I have written how, like St. Anthony the Great, Geronda Ephraim of Arizona also “made the barren desert fertile”. Chanting Matins this morning I was once again reminded of the similarities between the great Abba of the Egyptian desert and the recently reposed holy elder of America.

Arriving at the Synaxarion, I read aloud the following description by St. Athanasius the Great of Our Righteous and God-bearing Father Anthony the Great: “his countenance had a great and wonderful grace. This gift also he had from the Saviour. For if he were present in a great company of monks, and any one who did not know him previously wished to see him, immediately coming forward he passed by the rest, and hurried to Anthony, as though attracted by his appearance. Yet neither in height nor breadth was he conspicuous above others, but in the serenity of his manner and the purity of his soul.”

I read that and thought, Just like Geronda Ephraim! He was small of stature and yet towered as a giant. His voice was sweet and soft but communicated spiritual power and assurance. You didn’t need anyone to point Geronda Ephraim out to you, his “serenity of manner and purity of soul” made it abundantly apparent who he was.

Also like St. Anthony, Geronda Ephraim sought to make a dwelling in the desert but ended up building a city. The Synaxarion says, “the report of [Abba Anthony’s] deeds of virtue drew such a multitude to follow him, that the desert was transformed into a city”. St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, and the expanding community surrounding it, has populated an area of the Sonoran desert that less than 30 years ago was completely barren. But the “city” Geronda Ephraim built is far more expansive than what you merely see Arizona. His was a spiritual city for citizens all over the world for he too has become “an example of virtue and a rule for monastics”, a second St. Anthony the Great.

Geronda Ephraim departed this life one year and 40 days ago, and although we are deprived of looking upon his bright countenance, deprived of hearing his sweet voice, in faith we must cast our eyes upward to see that he is still a beacon of grace for those desiring to draw closer to Christ. Like our Father among the saints Anthony the Great, we need only call upon him, supplicating him to “support the world by his prayers” (Apolytikon of St. Anthony).

May we have both their blessings!

*All passages of the Synaxarion of St. Anthony the Great are from The Great Horologian published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1997.

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The sisters of Panagia Parigoritissa Greek Orthodox Monastery in Quebec bringing a little mirth and brightness for the feast of the Nativity to those of us only able to “virtually” visit the monastery in these days of lockdown and quarantine.

Please consider donating.

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The end of June finally brought with it fantastic, warm, sunny weather here on the island! It has been wonderful after the wild winter we had. A record-breaking snowfall in January caused the city of St. John’s to declare a state of emergency, close businesses and prohibit anyone from leaving their homes. (Sound familiar? It’s like it was a foreshadowing of what was to come just a few months later).

If you don’t remember the winter we had here on the Avalon Peninsula, this post and this post will jog your memory :). I know it was a winter we’ll never forget

But this post is not about snow. It’s about the vibrant colours of summer I have thoroughly enjoyed – the trees, the grass, the flowers, the sky and the sea.

A lot of working-from-home and reading took place in our beautiful backyard:

We enjoyed a bit of site-seeing at windy Cape Spear in June:

Our backyard rhubarb patch and the spoils:

Hiking on my favourite trail in Middle Cove:

Some fond memories being hung in the house:

Parishioners sharing tastes of the Atlantic – one caught his quota of Cod fish in 30 minutes and the other (our catechumen from Labrador) gifted us with Smoked Artic Char when he visited. The Artic Char was ‘good-to-go’ but the Cod needed to be filleted:

We had plans to move away from Newfoundland this summer and serve elsewhere in God’s vineyard but those plans did not come to fruition. We’re content to continue labouring for the Lord on this sometimes-snowy/ sometimes-warm island in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Lastly, here are the wild lupins on the walking trail behind our house:

 

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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

https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-scent-of-holiness-lessons-from-a-womens-monastery/

The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory

https://www.amazon.com/Sweetness-Grace-Stories-Christian-Victory/dp/1944967044/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497096468&sr=1-1&keywords=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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