Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category

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

You should be able to view it at this link:

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by Fr. John Palmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My car’s “icon corner” with very faded rose petals from the Epitaphion

I have seriously neglected this, my little spot on the internet. It’s not that I don’t want to write; it’s that life seems to get in the way of me having the chance to reflect on life. When I was a student in Thessaloniki, and even in the early years of us living in Newfoundland, I seemed to have so much more time. Now, I’m so busy during my workday that I’m too drained to take the time to craft a blog post in the evenings. And all too often the things I’m experiencing and observing in my social work practice aren’t things I can readily share with the public. Weekends are jammed with cleaning, Sunday school prep, church services and the few minutes I get to pursue my hobbies (painting icons, reading, writing, making prayer ropes, talking to my family on the phone, etc.).

But there has been one thing standing out in my mind lately that I thought I should share: how tempting it is to let the buzz of life infiltrate our senses to the point that we begin to lose a bit of the intensity we ought to exhibit for the spiritual life. I think when you have an intense job it makes things worse. I work predominately with women who identify as victims of violence. Usually when I disclose that detail about my work people’s faces scrunch up and they suck in air. I assure you it’s not as bad as it sounds. My primary role is to assist them when they are seeking safe accommodations, ie. to provide a solution to their need for housing. Easy. Sort of. But it can be really intense, especially when there is a need for intervention due to violence or the possibility of violence in vulnerable people’s lives. So, I get swept up in it. I get overly invested. I dream about them. I wake in the night and pray for them. I think of them when I chant the Psalms at church. I ache for them. All good, Christian emotions, right? Well, yeah, maybe.

20180102_084859[1]But, these strong emotions can also create a barrier for me to focus on my own spiritual health. Am I thinking too much about my clients when I should have a clear and focused mind for prayer? Am I allowing my emotional state to become imbalanced when I am suppose to be the calm in the storm for my clients? Am I considering myself a “good” Christian because I am invested in their lives, rather than grateful to God for putting people in my life through whom I can see Christ?

There can be too much of a good thing and I think it’s really important for those of us really invested in our careers (whatever they may be) to make sure we don’t allow them to replace our “first-love” (Rev 2:4). It’s not that we shouldn’t pour ourselves into the work we do; by all means, we should labour as best we can for the glory of God. But we shouldn’t give our whole heart away to our work. We need to keep it for Christ. We need to filter our strong ties to our work through our primary love for God.

I don’t know how to do this exactly, but I’ll tell you a few tips I try to employ. Though truthfully, some days are better than others and many days instead of employing these tips I turn the radio up really loud in my car, roll down the windows, and exhale many times in an effort to calm down :).

Back to the tips: Have prayer ropes strategically placed everywhere you can: in your car, on your wrist, in your office. I recently made about a dozen (what I like to call) “finger-skinis” which are small ring-size, 12 knot prayer ropes (komboskinis) that fit on your finger. I try to always have one on my person because they are great for being discrete when in meetings or with clients.


Sunday school “finger-skinis” the kids use before we begin our lesson.

Play recordings of prayers. My go-to? This. It’s in Slavonic so even when I play it in my office at work no one knows it’s actually just a repetition of the Jesus Prayer. #spiritualhacks

Keep icons in discrete places in your office (again, if you can). Write prayers or inspirational quotes on sticky notes. Say a prayer before you start your work day. Call upon the saint of the day. We can employ so many things to bring our mind and heart back into focus, to constantly remember, “If we live we will live for Christ and if we die we will die for Christ and inherit eternal life”. (I can’t remember which saint said this but it’s written on a sticky note in my office).

I’ve quoted this secular song before, but I feel it’s such a valid question we need to be asking ourselves. So I’ll pose it again: “Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

Where our treasure is there will our hearts be also. Our work lives can contribute to making sure our treasure, and therefore our hearts, are in the right place so long as we don’t allow our treasure to be our work/ school/ fill-in-the-blank. They are means to an end: the end is love for Christ expressed in our love for others, not the other way around.

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An incredible documentary by director Dinu Cristian: utterly inspiring and spiritually encouraging! You can watch the whole thing below.

Hat tip to the article that brought it – and the Orthodox Christian Film Festival, Byzanfest – to my attention!

You can read the whole article here: Byzanfest: The World’s First Online Orthodox Christian Short Film Festival on pravmir.com


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Fr. John and I were recently visiting our families in New Brunswick for a few weeks so I haven’t blogged lately. Here is a picture of my immediate family (my mum, sister-in-law, brother, father, husband, myself and my sister) at church in NB and a quotation I really love. St. Ignatius’ words help me feel less home-sick and more at peace with God’s will.


‘Whether I desire it or not, death will come. Other situations may arise that separate me from those whom I consider my own, and they will no longer be mine. They were never mine in actual fact. There was some sort of relation between us, and I, being fooled by this relation, called and considered them my own. But if they were truly mine, they would forever remain in my possession. The creature belongs only to the Creator. He is their God and Lord. My Lord, to you I give Your own. 

-St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

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Christ is risen!

Here in Canada we have a federal holiday in honour of Queen Victoria, aptly called Victoria Day. As a result most people had the day off on Monday, May 20th.

Our weather has been so miserable lately (as is status quo for “Spring” in Newfoundland). When the sun suddenly came out on Monday Fr. John sent a quick email to the parish: “Matushka and I are going for a hike in Middle Cove. You’re welcome to join us. We’ll meet on the beach.” And it was a delight to see how many were able to make it on such short notice. But, to be fair, when the sun comes out in Newfoundland it seems everyone rushes outdoors because you don’t know when you’ll see it again.


You can see from the photos I took it was sunny, but chilly. In fact, it full-on snowed two days later. So we’re especially grateful for our Monday-holiday impromptu hike and for our adventurous parishioners.

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Christ is risen!

We put this gold cross in the window so people would be able to easily identify which townhouse is Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission. But in the night the cross wasn’t visible so the children and I devised a plan: to put painter’s tape on the external light where the unit number is lit up. We giggled saying those unfamiliar with the Byzantine cross motif might mistake our cross for a crack in the light that we tried to tape up :).

The little note pictured above was one of two notes we attached to wine bottles and left on the doorstep of our neighbours in hopes they would appreciate a little gift and forgive our late night festivities: “Hey neighbour! Here’s a bottle of wine. Please don’t call the police when, in the middle of the night, you hear a house full of people respond to our priest with a resounding ‘Truly He is risen’!” is not what was written but certainly was the intended message :). And Glory to God! no one complained and we had an absolutely beautiful Paschal vigil.



This was the first time in six years when the faithful were able to hold candles throughout the entirety of the vigil. The choir sounded wonderful and the atmosphere was heavenly. I’m not a talented photographer and I only got to snap a few hurried photos because I had to get back to the “choir loft”. But at least these are nice keepsakes.

Afterward Fr. John blessed some Paschal baskets:



And of course the next day we had a lovely Agape’s Vespers. Although we weren’t a huge group the Gospel was read in 10 languages! Our traditional shared meal followed. And it was delicious! This is always one of my favourite times: everyone is at peace and filled with great joy at the Lord’s Resurrection.



We all enjoy spending time eating and chatting together. To make more room we placed a table at the back of the chapel so the children could eat upstairs with everyone (they usually have the habit of taking their food down to the Sunday school room).



May God make us worthy to safeguard the joy, peace and gratitude instilled in our hearts by the celebration of Christ’s holy Resurrection! It’s easy to let these bright days slip away if we don’t make a conscientious effort everyday to remind ourselves, “Jesus having risen from the grave as He foretold hath given us eternal life and great mercy!”

And I was pleased to get a more pleasant photo of Fr. John and me than the hurried one on the sixth anniversary of his priesthood :).



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