Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy in Different Lands’ Category

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


The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory


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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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For the past 2.5+ years Fr. John has offered a supplicatory service every Wednesday evening so the people could come, pray, light a candle, receive a little comfort in the middle of the work week.

Until last year we held these services at our house chapel and the door was left open for anyone who wished to join us. Once we got a permanent worship space we were able to offer these services at the Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission. As these services started at the house chapel which is named for St. Nektarios of Pentapolis we have kept the same schedule: one Wednesday the supplicatory canon is offered to the Theotokos the next week it is offered to St. Nektarios. Occasionally, Fr. John will offer supplications to St. Paisios the Athonite.

20200325_194726Last night, as we have many times before, we offered supplications to the Theotokos at home. We lit candles and we prayed for our parishioners, for ourselves, the world, those affected by the virus, and most of all for the Church, Her hierarchs and all clergy.

May God hearken unto our prayers – though prayed on unworthy lips – bring us to repentance and bring an end to the spiritual and physical harms brought about by this pandemic!

Through the prayers of the Theotokos, Saviour save us!


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Having recently taken a trip down memory lane on how I passed the evenings during the year we lived in South Korea, I found some additional fun pictures I wanted to share with you. Above are pictures of my kindergarten class. They were the sweetest! These children will turn 18 years old this year… so hard for me to believe.

My brother Fr. Matthew and sister-in-law Pres. Catherine also taught English in South Korea (before Fr. Matthew’s ordination). We all worked at the same school together. Here are some photos of us going for a walk up a nearby mountain.

And here are some pictures of my kindergarten students dressed up for their year-end pageant. My students were too little to perform a play at the time (they were 4 and 5 years old) so I had them sing “Do-Re-Me” with simple – but adorable – choreography.

And here are some photos of Fr. John’s students. He wrote a play based on C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. His students had to memorize their lines, sing and act! The songs he included were “In the Jungle, The Mighty Jungle” and something else… I forget now.

We don’t have an abundance of photographs from our time in South Korea (although I’ll have to search again for photos of the Orthodox churches we attended) but we have awesome memories!

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