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Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category

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Christ is risen! (I love that we get to say this for 40 days)

Above you see a collection of my journals ranging from 2004 to 2016. I have been writing in a journal since about Grade 8 (as we Canadians say), so that would be since I was…  counting on my fingers… thirteen years old. That means that for twenty years – 2/3 of my life – I have been recording my thoughts, feelings and experiences in notebooks.

This is all that remains of my journals. While moving out of our apartment to get ready to move to South Korea I rashly threw out all my journals from before 2004. There weren’t that many of them, and looking back I don’t feel that bad about it. They were mostly filled with the morose, self-centered thoughts of a moody teenager. Who really wants to revisit those times?

Anyway, you’re probably thinking: That’s nice, Matushka, by what’s the point of this show-and-tell about your collection of journals?

Let me explain.

First of all, as you can see from all the tabs sticking out of my journals from my time living in South Korea and Greece, recording my experiences became the foundation for writing  both The Scent of Holiness and The Sweetness of Grace. (Though in actuality the tabs you see were for The Sweetness of Grace; I wrote The Scent of Holiness so quickly in comparison I didn’t really need to dig through journals to refresh my memory).

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I started writing The Sweetness of Grace in 2014, eight years after first moving to South Korea. I had an one month break from my social work degree that summer and I drove up to a park overlooking a lake and wrote on my laptop while sitting in my car. The weather had turned rainy that August so I would write for a while and, when the showers let up, would go for walks in the woods. It took me two years to write The Sweetness of Grace. Having written down my experiences in my journal when they first occurred allowed me to feel confident the stories were as accurate as I could describe. Of course, everything is told through the lens of personal perspective and experience, but even a historian can’t help insert themselves into the story in some form I suppose.

Moving on… the real reason I’m sharing all this with you is to commend you to your own journal-writing. When I look though my old journals, though I don’t do it very often, it really helps give me a truer picture of my life, my self, my sins and my passions. The difficult times in my life, the most intimately dark and difficult experiences, suddenly become the most influential. Where once I could only taste the bitterness of gall, now they are revealed as having been mixed with sweet honey. In the new light cast by the passage of time they no longer appear simply difficult but rather as opportunities for character-building. They are the reason I can read this passage from the Pslater and fully ascent to it:

In all our days, let us be glad for the days wherein Thou didst humble us, for the years wherein we saw evils Ps. 90:16.

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Writing in journals gets out all the bile and selfishness that boils in our heart all too often, going unsaid and forgotten but never repented of or properly purged.When I prepare for confession I often go back to my journal. I keep a different book where I try and record my daily thoughts and sins (though I’m very negligent in this regard). Going back to the place where I write the narratives of my life can reveal things I didn’t realize were there. It’s only helpful to write down our inner thoughts and feelings if we actually use them as ammunition in our confessions to properly accuse ourselves.

Lastly, writing in journals – especially over time – helps us see how quickly life is passing us by. Not only from a time perspective, but from a personal one. Am I the same person I was in 2004? If the answer is yes, then there’s a problem. It’s not that we will be, or even should be, aware of our progression from spiritually immature to spiritually mature. However, I hope to God that I won’t react today the way I did years before if faced with a similar trial or temptation. We need to be ever striving, ever searching to draw closer to God and further away from our “old man” and the secular, if enticing, ways of the world. Conversely, it can work the other way. When I read my journal from 2009-2011 I read some of the best experiences of my life. (This was in the middle of our life in Greece). We were living in Thessaloniki, going to monasteries and studying theology. When I read it now I ask myself, “Have I digressed?” But again, this question holds more weight when one can read the inner workings of one’s heart from better years.

As for man his days are as the grass, as a flower of the field so shall he blossom forth Ps. 103: 15

Our life is passing us by without our noticing it. Like the way the ocean tide goes out so quickly and yet almost imperceptibly. The water seems so close to shore until all of a sudden you realize it’s far away.

Don’t let life slip away like the sea slips away from the shore. Writing in a journal not only helps improve your writing skills but really helps focus you and helps you realize where your priorities lie and where your treasure is (Luke 12:34). This is important because we don’t want our heart to be where our treasure is if our treasure isn’t Christ.

Give it a try it!

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I dated my journals when compiling material for my second book. I found it easier to find passages I was looking for.

(As a side note, I grew up in a place that has the highest tides in the whole world. In just six hours low tide goes to high tide and that’s the difference of 50 feet! So, ocean similes come naturally to me.)

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(Soure) Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,

We greet you all in the joy of Christ’s glorious resurrection, in His victory over the tyranny of death. During the celebration of this Feast of feasts, we hear the words of consolation which consistently arouse in us the joyful spirit, a surge of spiritual strength and a bright hope in a better future which awaits us.

Despite the times in which we live, with its difficulties and fears, we find comfort in our holy Faith because, in it we find hope which brings peace to our hearts. Through Christ’s glorious resurrection the death to which He was condemned because of falsehood is vanquished. This is why our Paschal hymns are so joyous and festive and this brightness accompanies us during the whole paschal season.

Saint Justin Popovich tells us: “Man sentenced God to death; by His resurrection, He sentenced man to immortality. In return for a beating, He gave an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality. Man never showed so much hate for God as when they crucified Him; and God never showed more love for man than when He arose. Man even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by His resurrection made man immortal. The crucified God is Risen and has killed death. Death is no more. Immortality has surrounded man and all the world.”

Let us now continue to live this Feast of the Resurrection all the days of our lives. Together with the Holy Apostles and the Myrrh-bearing Women who were blessed to witness the great mystery of the salvation of the world, we too, must also be witnesses and participants in it to share in the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and proclaim for all to hear CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!

Archbishop IRÉNÉE

Archdiocese of Canada (OCA)

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On the feast of St. Maximos the Confessor, I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of my second book The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing.

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Following the success of my first book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, I have been asked to speak not only about my experiences visiting and working alongside nuns, but also about years spent living the Orthodox faith in South Korea, Greece and North America. In reflecting on many of my untold stories, I began to write them down. Thus, The Sweetness of Grace is, in a sense, a sequel to The Scent of Holiness, yet it is also much more. Although it can be read independently, a number of the themes and a few people I wrote about in The Scent of Holiness make appearances in this book. It is not, however, limited to the confines of women’s monasteries, but rather offers stories about monastics, priests and pious laity located throughout the world – insights into the Orthodox Church in Seoul, experiences of parish life in Thessaloniki, and pilgrimages to monasteries not only in Greece but in North America.

In honour of the recipe for holiness Christ gives us in the Beatitudes, this book has eight sections, each named after one of the eight Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

        For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

        For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

        For they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

        For they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

        For they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

        For they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

        For they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

                For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:1-10)

The stories are arranged according to these themes, each story representing an aspect of the Beatitude, either the virtue, the reward, or both. Since the Beatitudes are a perfect summary of the spiritual life, I wanted to convey elements of the spiritual life by means of various stories. Thus, The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory contains dozens of stories about inspirational, holy people, true strugglers seeking the means and method of staying on the straight and narrow path that leads to life. The stories are examples of the sweet and difficult aspects of Christian life; they are a petition to take life in Christ seriously; they are a challenge to put into practice the Gospel precepts exactly in the life circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Whether one is a priest, monastic, or layperson, the sweetness of grace is offered to us all: through the trials, through the victories, we struggle to acquire and hold onto it, and when we taste it, we want to share that sweetness with others. By sharing these stories I hope to share the sweetness I was blessed to taste.

Check back  to find out when you can order your copy from Ancient Faith Publishing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please keep us in your holy prayers!

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

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

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Summertime in Newfoundland

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

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

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

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

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

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

My friends, will you join me in the fight?

____________________________

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

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