If you’re interested in learning more about Holy Lady Vladimir OCA Mission here on Newfoundland you can visit our website here. There is also a link to the website at the bottom right hand side of this blog just under the blogroll: If you click on the icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir it will take you directly there.
Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category
Wednesday, April 2:
Location: Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Saco, Maine
Theme: “If You Wish, You Can Become All Flame”: Learning from the Holy Mothers and Fathers of the Church
Friday, April 4:
Location: Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Saco, Maine
Theme: Experiences of Orthodoxy in South Korea, Greece and Newfoundland
Saturday, April 5:
Location: Saint Xenia Orthodox Church (ROCOR), Methuen, Massachusetts
Theme:“If You Wish, You Can Become All Flame”: Learning from the Holy Mothers and Fathers of the Church
A Pilgrim’s Way is an Orthodox documentary about a young Romanian-Canadian man who travels to his homeland in search of truth and faith. I enjoyed all eight parts of the documentary, but particularly those parts wherein we hear the voices of contemporary holy elders living out the Gospel in Orthodox Romania. Here are my two favourtie parts (Part 4/8 and Part 8/8):
In this part I particularly found the young novice’s words important for us to keep in mind: In a year and half of living in the monastery and praying as much as his could, he felt – for only four to five minutes during prayer – that God was with him, that he could die at that moment and be with God. The rest of the time he struggled to pray (Minute 6).
We are often mislead to think that we are spiritual people and have had spiritual experiences, but the reality is prayer, spirituality, experiences of grace are won after long and hard battles.
This last part is by far the best segment of the whole documentary because it is the young man’s interviews with great elders. When he asks a monk about the Jesus Prayer the monk responds, “I have done architecture but I am not certified in it… The prayer of the heart you can fight a lifetime for it and you still don’t get it… Do little and well” (Minute 4-5). Very solid advice! The effort we put into prayer should be consistent and be done with our full attention, however short or long we pray.
We’ve been here just under three months, but so much has happened: a constant stream of services, a trip to Ontario, a season-change, and completing my first semester of my SW program. All of this make it feel like we’ve been here a lot longer than we have. We haven’t had the chance to see much of the city because we don’t have a car so our sight-seeing is limited to what we see on foot, walking to the chapel and walking to the grocery store. But what we see along the way is nice!
Although it has become winter with plenty of snow – the lack of sidewalk-plowing is noted by anyone attempting to walk anywhere – we are rejoicing in the cold. Everyone keeps asking us how we’re making out, having lived away from these cold Canadian winters for quite a number of years, but everyday we have to bundle up we thank God it isn’t hot outside. Yup, you read correctly, we thank God it isn’t hot out. Although, the five or more storms we’ve had in the last three weeks do bring their own annoyances (shoveling again!?). We had such a difficult time during those hot, humid Thessaloniki summers that we’re looking on the bright side of bundling up. (But ask me after three more months of winter if I still feel that way).
Since we’ve arrived in Newfoundland we have, through the help of God, offered services at the chapel four days a week. Tuesday mornings we’ve had Matins at 6AM and Divine Liturgy at 7AM so parishoners can attend before work in the morning. These early morning services have been beautiful, but I am not a morning person… at all. So waking up at 5AM and walking half an hour to get to the chapel, chanting Matins and then struggling to stay awake while our devoted choir director sings Divine Liturgy has been an interesting trial for me. Thankfully, 5AM feels more like the middle of the night rather than early morning so waking up isn’t difficult, staying awake is. Father serves Vespers on Thursday evenings and Great Vespers on Saturday evenings. Sunday mornings I again blunder my way through Matins and the choir sings Liturgy for us.
Now that the weather has turned on us, snowing every single day and what not, we’ve tweaked our schedule for these upcoming winter months. We’ll keep the weekend schedule and replace the two weekday services with a vigil (Vespers, Matins, and Divine Liturgy) twice a month or on principle feasts like St. Anthony the Great in January. (This excludes the three days or so of services for Theophany this month). Come Spring we’ll revise our schedule once again.
We are thankful to be here; we’re taking one day at a time and struggling to keep on the “strait and narrow path”. It has been amazing to think we are the only Orthodox community on the whole island. When Fr. John serves the Divine Liturgy he always prays “And for this island… and the faithful who dwell therein, let us pray to the Lord”. I love it. Even if the voice of the Orthodox faithful here is small, the prayers still reach Heaven and the whole island and all its inhabitants benefit from the Bloodless sacrifice offered here in St. John’s town – named in honour of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord and Saviour.
And something else: the most eastern point of all of North America is Cape Spear (pictured above), just outside of St. John’s. This means that on Tuesday mornings when the sun rises on this great Continent of ours the very first city the sun’s rays land on is a city in which the Divine Liturgy is being served. During these darker days the first sun rays come into our chapel’s windows around 7:30AM, about halfway through the Liturgy, just before the consecration. Think about what a blessing that is, not just for St. John’s or even Newfoundland, but for all of North America! The sun’s rays are greeted by the Divine Liturgy, or perhaps more correctly, the sun’s rays greet the Divine Liturgy.
So, you can see that our life here is one filled with subtle blessings. Of course it is was particularly hard in the beginning (not that it’s not still the beginning). I was simultaneously homesick for Greece and New Brunswick. I also had a lot of counter-culture shock still from having returned to Canada from Greece. I have never been good with change, but once I settle I feel at home. And the people here are so good-natured and helpful, although Fr. John does get stared at wildly at times (to be expected). In fact he received his first insult here from a car full of young men being boys, God bless them. He thinks he may have received a few insults in Greece that he just didn’t understand, but we rejoiced in this minor insult for Christ’s sake nonetheless.
Take comfort. Amid all the coldness that transforms people’s hearts into snowballs, there are still sparks – burning coals and hearths of spiritual life in the modern world. Wherever a child stammers a quick prayer through innocent lips;… wherever a faithful mother prayers for her children’s salvation; wherever a young man or woman in the flower of youth offers himself or herself to the Lord’s service;… wherever a missionary goes through the virgin jungles to spread the light of the Gospel to spiritually unenlightened lands; wherever there is a mighty battle against the dark powers; wherever sinners repent sincerely for their miserable past… and seek forgiveness in Confession; wherever there are holy pulsations; wherever hearts are warmed in reading the Scriptures – there are the sparks, the blazing coals, the spiritual hearth, the living Church. There is where Christ lives and reigns to the ages of ages.
Faithful souls, whenever earthquakes topple our world and whenever you see the ruins left behind by the faithlessness and corruption of our times, do not be disturbed. You have a rock upon which you can stand and an anchor upon which you can depend… You have the sun that rose out of the tomb – Jesus, crucified and resurrected from the dead. Why are you afraid? What is there to fear? Come, let us worship and bow down to Him, Christ, the Victor over Death, the King of the Ages. -Metropolitan Augoustinos of Florina, Follow Me, p. 269.
Below are two chapters of a sixteen-chapter short story I wrote a few years ago about the great Czech king and martyr Weneceslaus (or St. Vaclav as he is also called in the Orthodox Church). His title was actually Duke of Bohemia but he was named “King” posthumously as an honour. The short story is based on true events and people in his life. (Podevin, for example, was believed to be the name of the saint’s faithful page). The famous Christmas carol Good King Weneceslaus tells of a miracle the saint worked on the “feast of Stephen” which we in the Orthodox Church celebrate on December 27. St. Vaclav’s feast day is September 27, and his holy grandmother St. Ludmilla’s feast day is September 16. Enjoy!
“He who gives to the poor will lack nothing” (Proverbs 28:27)
The night was dark, the sky rich with the light of many stars. The white snow lay sparkling as it reflected the glow of the half moon. Every now and again a gusty wind swept the snow up into a spiral, dancing.
“Even the earth rejoices in Your birth, O Lord!” the Duke of Bohemia whispered as he gazed out from a large window of Prague castle.
“Sire, could I offer you a cup of hot wine?” the page asked, interrupting Duke Václav’s thoughts, having entered the room without notice.
“No, thank you, my good page,” the Duke responded, leaning forward and straining to see a moving figure, hindered by the high snow.
“Podevin, that old man there, gathering wood, do you know him?”
“Why yes, Sire. That’s Old Hermit Jiří. He lives not far from here,” the young page responded, now standing by his master’s side at the window.
“Where exactly does he live?”
“Oh I would say a mile or so hence, just at the foot of Blaník mountain, quite close to St. Agnes’s spring, in fact.”
“Well then, why don’t we go pay him a visit, and wish him a happy Christmas?”
“But Sire, it’s awfully cold out tonight. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have one of your men in arms go in your stead?”
“No, no, my boy, after all, the Lord King our God became incarnate Himself, He didn’t send someone else in His stead, so neither shall I,” the Duke said, patting the page’s back.
“Say, go fetch some wine and bread. It’s best if we bear some gifts with us for the old hermit,” the Duke told the page.
“Oh, and grab a bundle of kindling as well, would you?” he added.
“May it be blessed, Sire,” Podevin said, bowing to his master and exiting the room.
Václav, finding himself alone, walked over to the illumined corner of his bedchamber and stood before a wooden board in front of which burned a small, red glass oil lamp. On the board was painted an image of the Incarnate Lord, gently held in the arms of His mother.
He who holds all creation in His hand, today is born of a virgin. He whose essence none can touch, today is bound in swaddling clothes as a child. He who in the beginning established the heavens, today is laid in a manger.
“I worship Your birth, O Christ, my King!” the Duke finally said aloud. Crossing himself, he bent low, resting his knees on the ground as he lowered his head.
Hearing footsteps echoing through the corridor he quickly stood up, not wanting anyone to see his moment of reverence.
“Here we are Sire, ready for our visit,” the page said, gesturing toward the basket he held, clearly weighed down by generosity.
“Well done, my boy. Let us be off then.”
They walked down the long passageway together, stopping before exiting the large castle in order to dress appropriately for the cold night.
“We should be plenty warm, don’t you think Podevin?” Duke Václav asked cheerfully.
“I should hope so, Sire,” Podevin responded, betraying a look of doubt.
“Well then, may an angel of peace accompany us, directing our way before the Lord,” the Duke proclaimed, and taking the glass lantern from off the wall he set out.
“Amen, so be it,” the young page contributed, a response he had grown accustomed to sharing.
“He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12)
Bundled up, bearing light and gifts, the two set off into the night. Vácslav walking confidently ahead while the page, about ten years the Duke’s junior, trudged along behind him as quickly as he could.
The walk to St. Agnes’s spring was nothing short of a stroll in fine weather. Why, the page had often gone there with his father as a child. But the snow made the walk much longer, and the cold much less pleasant.
As time passed the page, only a teenager, fell further and further behind. For each step he took in the snow, it seemed he slipped two feet back.
“Come now, Podevin, give over the basket. You shouldn’t have been carrying it to begin with!”
“No, Sire, please, it’s disgraceful and inappropriate for you to carry it,” the page protested.
“Now, now, don’t think that way. Why, how is it that you expect me, a ruler, to treat the ruled as less important than myself? And especially on this the very day we celebrate the divine condescension of the King of all!
“He who is worshiped by angels, saw fit to be born in a cave alongside dumb beasts. No, I don’t think myself worthier than any other. I’m just His lowly servant, ruling on earth, but desiring only to be ruled by Him,” the Duke finished, taking the basket from his page.
“I’m sorry, Sire, it’s only that the wind blows hard against us and I find the snow too high to walk through at such a brisk pace.”
“Of course, I understand. Why don’t you step in my imprints instead, I think you’ll find it easier to continue that way,” Václav suggested.
To Podevin’s surprise, not only was walking made easier by stepping in the Duke’s footprints, but indescribable warmth emitted from each one.
How can this be? the page thought. How can the snow, imprinted by the Duke’s stride, give off warmth?
But knowing his master well he abstained from asking such burning questions. He knew from experience it always made the Duke uncomfortable when someone pointed out the benefits and comforts that came of his words, his ways, his very gaze.
“Where to?” Václav asked, gesturing toward the wall of forest they had come upon. “Can you remember where the old father’s hut is from here?”
“Yes, Master, it’s there, through the trees and to our right. We’re not at all far now.”
They continued trekking along through the snow, now significantly more high – though noticeably contributing to the Duke’s joy.
“How I love this blessed white!” he exclaimed.
“There, Sire, draw your light over here. I believe that is Old Hermit Jiří’s hut.”
“So it must be,” the Duke said.
And drawing closer the two were both surprised to see the door to the hut open before they were even a stone’s throw away from it.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” the old man called out, opening wide the door of his small hut. His thick grey beard and scruffy hair were illuminated by the light coming from behind him.
“Greetings, my good man,” the Duke said in his deep and cheerful voice. “Christ is born!” he called out, still in the thick of the forest.
“Glorify Him!” the old man responded, smiling and bowing low to greet the ruler of his homeland.
“You were expecting us?” the page asked, surprised by the way the hermit conducted himself, as if he had invited them and was anticipating their arrival for some time now.
“All who arrive are invited, and not even one passes by who is not,” the old hermit answered, his eyes sparkling the reflection of light from Václav’s lantern.
“Come in, come in! May my humble abode be as comforting to you as your majestic castle,” the hermit said, guiding them further into the one room that appeared to make up the entire hut.
(Repost from here) Every year children come around singing ‘kalanda,’ carols here in Greece. They do this on two days: Christmas Eve day and New Year’s Eve day for St. Basil’s feast day (January 1). What would I say is the biggest difference between our average Christmas carols and Greek Byzantine carols? Theology!
The theology in some of their carols is simply breathtaking! You would think great theologians wrote these carols. Come to think of it, back in the 13th century we still had plenty of faithful who lived Christ-centered lives enough write hymns like these.
Below is my favourite Byzantine Christmas carol. I have never heard carollers sing this one at my door, though. I first learned of it when my husband, brother, sister-in-law, and I visited friends in Athens a few years ago at Christmas time. Together with their three daughters we all sung Greek carols. I was especially impressed by this one, and I think you will be too. Here are a portion of the lyrics, below is a video in which you can hear the carol.
The God who is without beginning has descended and dwelt in the Virgin
Eroorem-eroorem-eroorerooh-eroorem, Rejoice O Sovereign Lady.
Thou art the King of all and the Lord, Thou came to refashion Adam
Eroorem-eroorem-eroorerooh-eroorem, Rejoice O spotless one.
Ye mortals rejoice and be glad, ye angelic hosts jubilate
Eroorem-eroorem-eroorerooh-eroorem, Rejoice O Sovereign Lady.
Come hither to see in the cave, laying in the manger, the Lord
Eroorem-eroorem-erooreroorem, Rejoice O spotless one.
Magi from the East are coming, bearing noble gifts
Eroorem-eroorem-erooreroorem, Rejoice O Sovereign Lady.
Herod heard the news and trembled with fury, the godless one
Teriririrem-teriririrem-tem and ananes, Rejoice O spotless one.
Following an unexpected course, the Magi from Persia came
Teriririrem-teriririrem-tem and ananes, Rejoice O Sovereign Lady.
Out of wickedness, the tyrant ordered the slaughter of all Rachel’s children
Teriririrem-teriririrem-tem and ananes, Rejoice O spotless one.
May God help and strength them!
Pray, pray, pray brothers and sisters!
Damascus (AsiaNews) – Islamist rebels have kidnapped a group of nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of St Thecla (Mar Taqla) in Maaloula (north of Damascus). Mgr Mario Zenari, the Vatican nuncio in Damascus, confirmed the information after speaking with the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate. Through the Vatican diplomat, the latter “calls on all Catholics to pray for the women religious.”
“Armed men burst in the monastery of St Thecla in Maaloula this afternoon. From there, they forcibly took 12 women religious,” Mgr Zenari said, citing a statement from Patriarchate. The group of Islamist rebels has apparently taken them to Yabrud, some 80 km north of the capital. Neither the nuncio nor the church Greek Orthodox Church know reason behind the kidnapping.
Islamist Rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had invaded the small town on 5 September after driving out regime troops with the support of al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Brigades. After taking control of the city, they went on a rampage against Christian buildings, killing three young Catholic men.
More than 3,000 people, the town’s entire Christian population, fled their homes seeking refuge in Bab Touma, the Christian quarter of Damascus. Some found shelter with relatives in Lebanon or in local Greek-Catholic convents.
Only Muslims were left in town, plus 40 nuns at the St Thecla Monastery who stayed to help care for dozens of orphaned children.
As of yesterday, Maaloula became again the scene of heavy fighting between the army and Syrian rebels, including many members of the extremist Jabat-al-Nusra militia.
Clashes are concentrated mostly in the upper, oldest part of the town, where the St Thecla Greek-Orthodox and the Sts Sergius and Bacchus Greek-Catholic monasteries are located.
From there, the rebels have launched repeated attacks against army positions in the lower part of town.
Fighting is intensifying, sources told AsiaNews. “The army is trying to regain control over the villages north of Damascus. For this purpose, it has launched a major offensive against the rebels, who are trying to hold government forces back through a scorched earth policy in the areas under their control.”
(The “mainland” is what Newfoundlanders call the rest of Canada.)
I spent a wonderful week up in Ontario with some old friends and many new ones! It was a busy but very blessed week filled with speaking engagements, church services and loads of good conversations in between.
Unfortunately, I was a little too busy to take any photos so I don’t have a lot of images to share (the ones in this post are borrowed from online). But I do have one video from a talk I did in London for a fundraiser for Holy Trinity Monastery in Michigan (thanks to the technical skills of my fellow Newfie). The theme was Gerontissa Macrina: A Contemporary Mother of the Church. It was the talk I looked most forward to because it was a topic so close to my heart, so inspiring; it was just stories and information from Gerontissa’s book Logia Kardias. It’s linked below if you’re interested. (The first 50 seconds or so are in Greek but the rest is in English).
The three-part talks I gave in Hamilton for All Saints of North America OCA parish will be sold as a DVD set in the parish bookstore (Desert Wisdom) at a later date.
And I’d just like to thank everyone who showed me so much love and hospitality while I was in Ontario: Truly, Christians love one another and are known by their love.
To those of you who said you will one day visit us in Newfoundland: we await you. And to those who expressed a desire to correspond with me through e-mail I would gladly answer any questions you have or at least point you in the direction of someone more qualified if need be.
To those on the New Calendar I wish you good strength for the Nativity fast and ask your prayers in return!
Saint Martin the Merciful, Bishop of Tours, was born at Sabaria in Pannonia (modern Hungary) in 316. Since his father was a Roman officer, he also was obliged to serve in the army. Martin did so unwillingly, for he considered himself a soldier of Christ, though he was still a catechumen.
At the gates of Amiens, he saw a beggar shivering in the severe winter cold, so he cut his cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. That night, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to the saint wearing Martin’s cloak. He heard the Savior say to the angels surrounding Him, “Martin is only a catechumen, but he has clothed Me with this garment.” The saint was baptized soon after this, and reluctantly remained in the army.
During the years my husband was a deacon in Greece, we spent every Sunday of the summer months at a monastery where he assisted the priest for the celebration of Divine Liturgy. We would also go for some feasts that fall in the summer months, such as the feast of the Transfiguration, among others.
Our last summer living in Greece we joined the sisters once again to celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. That particular year an icon of Panagia Paramythia had been lent to the monastery as a blessing for the feast of the Mother of God on August 15.
The prototype of this icon is located at Vatopedi Monastery on Holy Mount Athos and has an incredible history behind it. Tradition has it that the figure’s hands and faces were in different positions originally. Until January 21, 807 when the abbot, praying alone, heard the voice of the Mother of God warning him not to open the gate to the monastery that day and to drive away the pirates, who had already landed on the shores of the Holy Mountain with the intention of pillaging the monastery.
Hearing this, the abbot turned toward the icon and saw the small hand of the Christ child reaching up to cover His Mother’s mouth. He heard Christ tell His Mother not to watch over that sinful flock but to let them fall to the pirates. At this the Theotokos held the child’s hand back and turned her head away to repeat the same warning to the abbot.
The abbot heeded her advice. The lives of the monks were spared that day and the depiction of the Mother of God and Christ has remained in that position even until today. Thus, the icon adopted the new name of Panagia Paramythia, paramythia meaning “restrain” or “calm down”.
The particular copy of this icon which was lent to the monastery we were visiting came from Jerusalem and was painted by a nun who was almost completely blind. The likeness of the Theotokos and Christ were so precise that it was hard to believe a hand could replicate such an exact copy, let alone a hand belonging to someone with very poor eyesight.
Being an iconographer, I examined the icon with interest. The original is covered in rizo (a decorative silver encasing) but this one was full of brilliant colour. I had the blessing of venerating it before and after the service and was told it would be returned to Jerusalem in a week or so.
A week later monks from the Holy Land came to pick up the icon. As they were processing with it to the parking lot, just as they exited the gates of the monastery, I was told hundreds of birds swooped down all at once and bowed to the icon. Those witnessing this miracle were so astounded that they decided they should contact the iconographer to tell her about this divine occurrence. Once she heard of the news she said, “It seems that the Mother of God would like to stay there.” And that is how the brilliantly-coloured icon of Panagia Paramythia, painted by an almost completely blind nun in the Holy Land came to permanently reside in a monastery in Greece that my husband had the blessing of serving in on numerous occasions.