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Below is a loosely translated transcript of a homily by Metropolitan Athanasius of Limmasol. While I have tried my best to be faithful to the Modern Greek, because the source is audio in some places I’ve only captured the essence of what the Bishop is saying. It’s not a word-for-word translation but it gets the point across, I think.

I find these two stories perfectly illustrate the state of our hardened hearts toward those we believe are “lesser” human beings simply because we refuse to see our own sins and passions as equal or worse than the sins of others.   

agia skepi

Agia Skepi Therapeutic Community

The Bishop begins, “I want to share two stories with you.”

The first story:

Christmas was on a Sunday that year. It was the Friday before Christmas and the monastic brotherhood had just finished their meal. Leaving the Trapeza (dining hall) the Bishop’s eyes fell on three young men sitting outside in the courtyard. He recognized one of them who had come to speak with him some months prior; some young people had brought him. Seeing the youths, the Bishop asked if perhaps they were hungry and he brought them into the Trapeza to eat. In fact, they were so hungry they nearly ate the table, he said.

After they had eaten the Bishop asked the young man how he was. At their previous meeting the young man had confessed and informed the Bishop that he had a serious drug addiction and was ready to go to detox.

So the Bishop asked him, ‘Did you go to detox?’

And the young man responded, ‘I did but unfortunately all they did was put me on meds and place me in a psych ward with a bunch of psychiatric patients. I didn’t find any support. Unfortunately, I left and returned to what I was doing, and in fact it’s worse than it was.’

‘And the young men with you are they your friends and do the same things?’ the Bishop asked

‘Yes,’ he responded.

One was 20, one 21, and one is 18. They were like outcasts. They were in a difficult situation because they were all living in a room together and the woman who rented the room to them was going to kick them out because they owed her a lot of money. Likely they had never paid rent.

The young man continued, ‘And there is a place we would go to eat, where they would give us sandwiches, but they won’t give us anymore food because we haven’t paid them anything.’

So the Bishop told him, ‘Tell your landlady the monastery will pay the rent you owe and the bill for the food you ate.’

The Bishop continued his homily, saying:

“But a bad thought entered my mind to make sure they weren’t lying to me and looking for me to give them money. So we drove them down to the apartment so I could see where they were living. There was nothing in the room, not even a bed. There was an old rug and two blankets on the rug. There was no toilet or sink in the room.

“That night we had vigil, as we do in the monastery, for the feast of the Nativity of Christ. And we sang those wonderful hymns that speak about Christ, that Christ was born in a stable in the presence of animals. And the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, the person who created the Sea and the Earth and all the things in the Earth. And I thought of those young men; I thought of where we, the monastic brotherhood, lived and where some others find themselves.

“And the next day I saw again the young man sitting outside the monastery and he was crying. He said the woman kicked them out on Saturday and they had nowhere to go. So he spent the night in an abandoned building and he laid on a board and put one over him for warmth and spent the night like that. He hadn’t eaten since Friday when they ate at the monastery.

“And I told him not to be sad, to think of Christ, who also had no place to lay His head…

“That night we called a taxi to come get him but the taxi wouldn’t come because it was Christmas. So we left to take him down to the city. And we searched for a place to get food for him. We took him to a room we have at a Metochian so he could sleep there. I searched and found a phone number for the number, you know the one they say, ‘If you have a drug addiction call this number…’

“And they asked the young man some questions, ‘Do you want to stop doing drugs?, etc.’ Such questions, that to us, we understand… Does ‘I want to’ mean ‘I am able?’ No. But from their perspective they believe ‘I want to’ means ‘I am able.’ Don’t we all want to cut our passions? But does that mean we stop having passions.

***

“When people heard we were helping young people on drugs, they said, ‘Oh no, Father, stay far away from such people!’

There was a woman I knew who told me, ‘If you every know anyone who needs any help, please tell me and I’ll help.’ So I called her and told her ‘I know some kids, they’re the best in all of Cyprus, only they have some problems with drugs.’ And she responded, ‘Ah, Father! That’s dangerous! Stay far away from them.’

“Okay, now I will tell you the second story:

“[The next week,] on Friday morning a dog appeared at our monastery. All night it was outside barking. What could we do? We called animal control. We told them about this dangerous dog that had come to the monastery. We told them, ‘We have a rabid dog here, it will eat us. But it doesn’t matter if it eats us, it’s dangerous for the children that come to the monastery.’  They responded, ‘Just show it love. Put some milk out for it; give it some food.’ They instructed us how to make a special pasta for the dog, told us to give it warm milk… all these things,” the Bishop says laughing. “Two hours later the manager called us, ‘I hear you have a dog there at the monastery. Have you fed it?’

‘Fed it? No. It will eat us, we can’t go near it,’ I said.

“And the man tells me we need to make a warm place for the dog to go because it was Christmas weekend and no one could get the dog until Monday. So he tells us, ‘Take care of the dog. Don’t treat it poorly so it won’t suffer any psychological harm.’ And every two hours they called us to check on the dog.”

“Don’t think I’m kidding,” the Bishop continues. “This is what transpired at the monastery these past days. And then something happened to the dog. I don’t know. It disappeared.

“Everyone was concerned about the dog. But no one cared about the drug addicts.

“In the Gospel it says a young man asked Christ,

“What should I do to inherit eternal life?” And Christ answered, “What is written in the law?’

And he answering said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And he said unto him, “You have answered right: this do, and you shall live.”

And the Bishop tells the story of the Good Samaritan and how the Priest and the Levite all passed by the man who fell among robbers.

“These young men are like the man who fell among robbers,” the Bishop says.

The Bishop goes on to speak about the following passage in the Gospel:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

“Who are the least of these?” the Bishop asks. “Aren’t they these young men?”

***

The Bishop goes on to tell the people his monastery decided to do something “crazy”. They planned to donate land for a treatment facility to be built for drug addicts: a place where young people can learn life-skills, have a safe place to live (in community) and have the opportunity to work, with animals, in the gardens, etc. That night he was asking for the people’s financial support. By the grace of God the treatment facility was built. It’s called Agia Skepi (Holy Protection)

Let’s be like the Bishop, and show love and compassion for human persons suffering in the depths of despair. Let’s allow our hearts to be softened by such individuals and let’s leave criticism and judgment of them to God, who alone knows the heart of man.  

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“I remembered the days of old; I mediated on all Thy works” (Ps. 142:5)

For the last few months I have been making audio recordings of my book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery as Ancient Faith Publishing will be releasing an audio version of the book in the near future.

I haven’t read The Scent of Holiness for years. It was published in 2012 and although I was very happy to have shared my experiences, it was also strange to see them displayed in typeset, in a bound book that wasn’t filled with my own cursive writing. Having written in a personal journal for over twenty years it’s a surreal experience to have those thoughts and feelings usually reserved for myself distributed for all to see. So, I was a little embarrassed when I would read The Scent of Holiness. Now, re-reading those words, reading them aloud, and being confronted with vivid memories of it all I’m so, so, so thankful I took the time to write it all down in detail.

 

I have always prided myself on having a good memory. However, between working as a social worker and helping my husband serve the Mission my mind and memory have little room left for “the days of old” it seems. Reading The Scent of Holiness again I’m re-immersed in a world that usually feels very far away, almost like a vivid dream you suddenly remember out of nowhere.

I used to think of the spiritual life as an ascent, where we go from darkness and slowly move into the light. But even my own experience contradicts this. I once lived in a land full of light, interacted with living saints and living monuments of our historical Church. Then I moved to Newfoundland and it was like coming to a land of perpetual twilight. I moved from Thessaloniki to an island that first encountered Orthodoxy over one thousand years ago but remained un-Christianized for centuries.

 

And so, when I read about my experiences with the nuns I have a hard time seeing the continuity between then and now. But, the more I read the more I gain clarity about a few things: 1.) The positive experiences we have are never just for our own benefit. We simply need to figure out our own unique way of sharing them in a variety of contexts, and;  2.) The spiritual struggle is real, man. It’s as simple as that. We have periods of grace where we can (and should) do a lot more, and periods of dry spells where we need to cling to “the days of old” so we don’t give up altogether.

The sisters gave me a lifetime worth of blessings. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. Even after five years of living away from them, their love and lessons, the memory of their laughter and simplicity still fill my heart to the brink with gratitude. And I am left with the words of St. Paul, challenging me to become more like them: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are worthy of respect, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, be considering these things. And what ye learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things be practicing; and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

P.S. As soon as The Scent of Holiness is available as an audio book I’ll be sure to let you know!

 

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It’s a few days past the 36th anniversary of Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose’s repose (September 2, 1982). But, as I’ve been thinking about him since his “feast day”, and listening to these interviews about him while I paint icons, I thought it better late than never to honour his memory.  May we have his blessing!

Seraphim_rose(Source) A talk given on the twentieth anniversary of the repose of Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, September 2, 2002, at the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, California.

I have a heart that’s overflowing. The last time I was here at the monastery was seventeen years ago, in the spring of 1985. My remarks today are not formal because I didn’t want to make a scholarly, academic presentation. Rather, I think that what you want to hear from me is something really very personal.

I first met Fr. Seraphim in the spring of 1966. He was then a lay Reader, Eugene Rose. Vladika John (St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco) was still alive, and Eugene and Gleb (later Fr. Herman) had their bookstore a couple of doors down from the Cathedral in San Francisco. Having been born and raised Roman Catholic, I was at the very beginning of my journey into Orthodoxy, but at the time I didn’t know it. A friend of mine had discovered the bookstore and told me they had beautiful icons and incense for sale. So I went by, and Fr. Seraphim was there.

All the stories you hear about him are really true. He was very tall; he had the largest eyes of anyone I had ever known—penetrating eyes, which were at the same time very warm and calming. He didn’t have his famous beard yet—so I’m one of the few people here that knew him when he was beardless. I remember him standing behind the counter as I came in—I was being very silly and frivolous, I’m sure—and engaged him in conversation. As you know, he wasn’t much for small talk, but there I was in his shop, talking, when suddenly, as soon as he realized I was a Roman Catholic, he said, “You know, you Roman Catholics don’t understand the Mother of God.” I was very taken aback by this because I didn’t know what the Orthodox teaching was about the Mother of God. He then proceeded, on the spot, to instruct me in the errors of the Roman Catholic Church with regard to the Mother of God, as well as many other things. That was my first exposure to him! You see, he was in fact teaching me, feeding me spiritually, from the first minute of the first encounter.

My first visit here to the monastery was in 1970. I had been Orthodox about four or five months. We were living in Etna, three hours north of here, and had been there for several years. We lived far from any Orthodox church. At that time the nearest parish of any jurisdiction was in Sacramento or San Francisco. Because the fathers here were not ordained yet, there were no sacraments available for us here except when a priest or bishop would visit the monastery. On those occasions Fr. Seraphim would send a note letting us know that there was going to be a Divine Liturgy.

Otherwise we made a seven-hour trip each way when we went to the city, which we tried to do once a month. But I corresponded with Fr. Seraphim even before coming into the Orthodox Church. He invited me to come for a visit in the fall of 1970. I remember it very well because although it was a little bit later than this time of the year, it was very hot and my car somehow got stuck down the road.

(You know, the road you have now is nothing like it was then. Anyone who doesn’t know the old days has no idea how easy it is to get up here now. In those days the road seemed like a rutted, muddy mess all the time. It was easy to get stuck. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times over the years we got mired down in mud or snow or both, and had to walk. It gave one a real sense of going on a pilgrimage, however: you had to suffer.)

My first visit here, then, was thirty-two years ago. I was thinking about that when I arrived here yesterday. I was thinking that many of the people I am meeting here this weekend, especially the young people, weren’t even alive when I came the first time in 1970, and I thought how delightful it is to see other generations now coming and receiving something of what was given to us, and believe me when I tell you that we were given so much.

I told someone yesterday that this monastery was the “mother- lode” for us. This was “Camelot.” We received all of our spiritual formation here, because we were too far from a parish. Everything we learned came from Fr. Herman and Fr. Seraphim. It wasn’t until after Fr. Seraphim’s repose that I realized this wasn’t what everyone was given everywhere else. I had thought it was, and so this was a huge shock to me. I also realized that we were given something very special and precious, and that we had to preserve and live up to it. Probably we didn’t do a very good job, but we did know that we were being given a treasure.

Prior to Fr. Seraphim’s repose, of course, I had been here many times. I was here for Fr. Seraphim’s funeral and I was also at the hospital earlier on. In fact, I had the privilege of bringing him Holy Communion in the hospital on the Feast of the Dormition. As you know, he reposed a few days later. At that time, when we were all here for his funeral, it all seemed very unreal. It was not possible that he was gone.

Fr. Seraphim died on Thursday morning and was buried on Saturday morning. I came up Thursday afternoon. When I arrived at Mrs. Harvey’s house in Redding, Fr. Vladimir Anderson’s son Basil was building the coffin. From there we came right up to the monastery. I stayed with Fr. Seraphim in the church that whole night, as he lay in his coffin. Others were coming and going. There was, of course, no electricity. just candlelight. Periodically I would rouse myself and serve another Pannikhida. I remember looking at him and thinking, “He’s not gone. This is impossible!” And I remember especially looking at his right hand, and thinking that this hand would never be raised to bless me again. So I lifted his hand and blessed myself with it one last time.

So that was the end, in this world, of my relationship with him. But I always pray to him. I pray for him, commemorate him, but in my private prayers I always pray to him, because I believe that he is in the Kingdom of Heaven, and I believe that spiritual fathers in the other world still affect their spiritual sons in this world.

I’ve dreamt about Fr. Seraphim many, many times. The last time was several years ago. In my dream I was back here, and it was the summer before he died, during the Pilgrimage and the summer courses of the New Valaam Theological Academy. (He died just a few weeks after that.) In my dream I saw him here at the monastery and I thought, “Oh, he hasn’t reposed yet, and now I can talk to him about all those things that I really need to talk to him about.” But then I realized that he had in fact died. I woke up weeping because I knew he was gone. And yet, somehow he was in the room with me, too. I knew he was there; in some unimaginable way he had reached out from the other world just as a point of momentary comfort and consolation.

Usually I give, as I said, a very formal talk, but I’m speaking today from my heart, informally, because I hoped Fr. Seraphim would inspire me to say what he would want you to hear. I decided that the most important things for me to tell you about are the principles of how to live an Orthodox life, which I learned not from his books so much as from what he told me in different conversations here over the years.

The first of these principles is: “We are pilgrims on this earth and there is nothing permanent for us here.” We must constantly remind ourselves of that. We are just sojourners. This life is but the beginning of a continuum that will never end. We tend to treat it as though it’s permanent and awfully important in terms of careers and education and getting ahead and all those things. But all of that will die with us when the body dies; none of it will go with us into the next world.

Fr. Seraphim wanted to teach us principles that would stand us in good stead throughout life and sustain us in new and different situations, circumstances, and problems. Therefore, if you went to him with a question about a particular matter, he might or might not address that specific problem, but he would give a principle by which one could evaluate the problem oneself and come to a reasonably sober and reliable conclusion. This is what was behind his reminding us that we’re pilgrims on this earth. This is a principle, a premise. Let us consider all the problems that we’ve encountered in the last week or month, all the things in our private lives that seem very important and get us riled up, upset, worried, or threatened; and then let us think about how, if we had reminded ourselves that we’re just pilgrims here and that most of our “issues” are very unimportant, what a difference that would have made in the quality of our day, our week, our life.

A second principle Fr. Seraphim taught me was that our Orthodox Faith is not an academic “thing.” This might seem odd to say because we have scores of volumes of the Holy Fathers and the Divine services of the Church, and also of the Lives of the Saints—there’s so much. Of course, there is an academic level to all of this—but that’s not the point. Fr. Seraphim wrote to me once: “Don’t let anyone ever take your books away from you. But don’t mistake the reading of books for the real thing, which is the living of Orthodoxy.”

Of course, Fr. Seraphim discovered this “real thing” most especially in Viadika John—St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. I remember that one time I asked him how he came to Orthodoxy from Chinese studies: from Taoism, Chinese philosophy, etc. He said to me, “I found in Chinese philosophy the noblest view of man, until I encountered Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Lives of Saints. Then, shortly after I was received into the Orthodox Church, I met Archbishop John, who was the noblest man I had ever met.”

With that in mind, it was easy to understand what he meant when he said, “Orthodoxy is not so much a matter of the head. It’s something living, and it’s of the heart.”

Once, when we were walking somewhere on the monastery grounds, I asked him, “Fr. Seraphim, what’s your favorite icon of the Mother of God?” (That’s the kind of question converts like to ask, you know.) He stopped and said, “I don’t have one.” “That’s impossible!” I said. “Everyone has a favorite icon of the Mother of God. Which one is yours?” He paused again and looked at me, actually with astonishment, and he said, “Don’t you understand? It’s the whole thing.” That was a very profound answer: you can’t just pick out one thing and say this is the best thing, or this is my favorite. It truly is everything!

On occasions like this, Fr. Seraphim was able to remind me over and over again that Orthodoxy is to be lived, not just read, studied, or written about.

In this connection, Fr. Seraphim told me that I should not be ashamed of my ethnic background. When he discovered that I was going to make a trip to Britain in 1976, he became very excited and gave me the names and addresses of many subscribers of The Orthodox Word in Britain whom he wanted me to contact, and in fact I was able to contact some. But more than that, he said, “You must go and see what’s still there of the ancient pre-schism Orthodox holy places.” Until that moment I had never particularly thought about this. I’m of Scottish descent, so I have Celtic blood. I suppose it had occurred to me that if one went back far enough, my ancestors were Orthodox, but I hadn’t thought about it very much until then. Fr. Seraphim told me, Go to this place, go to that place. He gave me a list of places, and also a list of saints, so that I could find out more about them and perhaps even discover some books about them.

As a result of Fr. Seraphim’s urging us to pay attention to our own ethnic past, I began to discover more and more of the riches of pre-schism Orthodoxy in the West. Because of my own descent from Scotland, I narrowed down my search to the British Isles. Fr. Seraphim enthused over this, believing it to be very important. “This is your legacy,” he told me. “Of course, we love being in the Russian Church. We love her saints and were formed by that. But it’s also wonderful to know that there’s another legacy, too.”

father-seraphim-rose

When Fr. Seraphim began writing about Orthodoxy in the pre-schism West, and as Vita Patrum was first being published in serial form, we began to learn about the similarities between the East and the West in the first thousand years of Christianity. We learned that the feeling and tone—and in some cases even the appearance—of the Church in the West was almost identical to that of the Church in the East.

So, because of Fr. Seraphim, I learned that Orthodoxy is not an academic thing, it’s a living thing. And I learned that part of making it a living thing was to discover my own origins, and that of my pre-schism Orthodox ancestors.

A third principle was probably the most important of all. Fr. Seraphim told me, “If you do not find Christ in this life, you will not find Him in the next.” For a Westerner, this is an astonishing statement. What does this mean, practically? He wasn’t talking about mystical experiences or having visions or something of that nature. Anyone who knows Fr. Seraphim realizes he would have stayed far away from that kind of talk.

‘What he meant by “finding Christ in this life” is this: that one must first keep one’s focus on Christ all the time, day in and day out. This is not just to have a routine of prayer, not just to tip one’s hat to the icons as one goes out the door. Rather, it’s to bring to mind Christ all day long in every circumstance, in every opportunity—to raise one’s heart and mind to Him.

Fr. Seraphim used to say to me, quoting from the New Testament: God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him…. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:16, 18). You see, I was a fearful person, so he would say things like that. And then he would explain, “Well, we can’t have perfect love for God or anyone else because we’re imperfect. God’s love is perfect. But if we dwell in love and God is love, then God is dwelling in us. And that is one of the ways by which we become closer and closer to Christ in this world.” And this is how we become less fearful of life and other people, of challenges and difficulties.

Other verses he liked to quote were Little children, it is the last time (1 John 2:18), and Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom (Luke 12:32). In subsequent years I remembered Fr. Seraphim repeating such verses to me; and they came back to me in times of fear and distress. These verses were a particular comfort and consolation to me at the time of my Matushka’s sudden repose, which occurred several years after Fr. Seraphim left this world. But, of course, the greatest comfort of all at the time of her death was that I knew she was now with him.

In conclusion, I would like to say, with utmost conviction, that Fr. Seraphim did find Christ in this life. You can’t give what you don’t have, and he had so much to give. By this we can know that Christ truly dwelled within him.

And how did he find Christ in his life? I believe, first of all, that he kept his eyes fixed on Christ simply by doing his duty at every moment of every day, and never shirking it. A year or so before his repose, I drove Fr. Seraphim someplace where he was going to give a talk. We got out of the car and, as he was walking in front of me, he turned and said, “You know, this is really not for me.” Now this is interesting because many think that he was really coming into his own, so to speak, in the last years of his life. And surely, in a sense, that’s true. But there was also a part of him that never really loved it at all, because he wanted to just be in the monastery. He did the work of missionary outreach because he knew God was calling him to it. It was his duty.

Also, he kept his eyes fixed on Christ by not paying much attention to himself. Fr. Damascene spoke about this very well in his remarks when he said that Fr. Seraphim had essentially ceased to have a private life, that he didn’t belong to himself. That was really true.

Fr. Damascene also spoke about Fr. Seraphim’s attitude toward food. I hadn’t heard the mashed potato story[1] before—that was wonderful. But I remember once asking Fr. Seraphim what was his favorite food, and he didn’t answer me. He didn’t even say, “I don’t have any”; he just changed the subject! Once, when he was coming to visit our home, someone had found out from Fr. Herman that there was, after all, something Fr. Seraphim liked. I don’t now recall what it was, but my wife fixed this for him—and I thought, “This will really please him.” So a place was put in front of him with what we believed was his favorite food, and he never paid any attention to it. He didn’t even seem to notice that the plate was in front of him. That was it.

So Fr. Seraphim did his duty in every single moment, and he kept his eyes fixed on Christ and on others, not on himself. And I believe that now, as a result of a life lived so unselfishly in that way, he does indeed now rest serenely and eternally in the arms of Christ, ‘Whom he spiritually beheld day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, here on this mountain. Because of his example, we not only have a model, but we have an inspiration, and we have the encouragement to do just a little bit more than we’re doing now.

Once I was giving a talk about St. John of San Francisco, and someone said, “Well, this is all very wonderful, but, you know, I couldn’t go without sleeping in a bed for forty-two years!” And I said, “Okay, but could you start by just getting to church on time?” It’s the same thing with Fr. Seraphim. Fr. Seraphim was a great ascetic. Quite beyond most of us. But we could just start by keeping our eyes on Christ, as he did. We could pay a little more attention to what is supposed to be the center and focus of our very being all the time: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If we do that, if we are inspired to do just a little bit more each day than we did before, then Fr. Seraphim’s legacy truly continues to live on. And really, basically, that’s what Orthodoxy is all about.

Orthodoxy is so rich. It has such beautiful externals, which are not just entirely externals—they also partake of the essence of Orthodoxy, of course. But it’s very easy, Fr. Seraphim used to tell me, to get distracted by these externals. It’s very easy to think that, because we are following all the fasting rules and because we know the Typicon and so forth, we are actually living an Orthodox way of life, whereas we may not be at all. If Christ is not there behind all that, then it’s a waste of time: it’s a beautiful waste of time, but it’s a waste of time nonetheless. For Fr. Seraphim, however, Christ was always there, behind everything. And when Fr. Seraphim breathed his last, Christ was there to receive his soul. Amen.

Originally from The Orthodox Word, Vol. 38, No. 5 (226—Sept.-Oct. 2002), pp. 233-241. Copyright 2001 by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California. Used with permission.

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[1] Thomas Anderson, the son of Fr. Vladimir Anderson of Willits, California, stayed here at the monastery off and on between the years 1972 and 1975. One thing that stood out in his memory from those years was Fr. Seraphim’s lack of concern for food. “Fr. Seraphim didn’t enjoy food or care what it tasted like,” Thomas told me not long ago. “He just ate to get enough energy to keep going, like fueling up a car. He ate whatever was put in front of him, without putting anything else on it, not even salt and pepper. And when it was his turn to cook, he pre-’ pared the most simple and basic food possible. When he cooked spaghetti, for example, it was just tomato paste and pasta, with no spices in the tomato paste.” How different is this image of Fr. Seraphim from what we know of his early, pre-Orthodox days as a gourmandizer!

In his later years, Fr. Seraphim’s apparent obliviousness to the taste and quality of food became the subject of jokes here at the monastery. One incident was related to me by Fr. Paul Baba, who is now a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese living in Iowa [now transferred to Sacramento, CA—Webmaster]. (This incident was not included in the old version of Fr. Seraphim’s biography, but it will be in the new one.) During the last years of Fr. Seraphim’s life, Fr. Paul—who was then in his late teens—used to make frequent pilgrimages to the monastery along with his young Orthodox friends. This group of young pilgrims knew that the taste of food meant nothing to Fr. Seraphim, so they thought they would play a practical joke. One day they brought up to the monastery a treat of vanilla ice cream. After one of the meals in the refectory, they gave a scoop of the ice cream to all the brothers, but to Fr. Seraphim they gave a scoop of mashed potatoes. Everyone was relishing their ice cream, but Fr. Seraphim just sat there eating his mashed potatoes, not saying a word or giving the slightest indication that anything was amiss. Watching this, the pilgrims were amazed, and afterwards they felt sorry for what they had done. (same issue of The Orthodox Word, p. 229)

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Archbishop Irenee’s visit, January 2015.

As many of you well know, Fr. John and I live on a Canadian island called Newfoundland. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland is located in the north-east corner of North America. It is a vast, beautiful and rugged land (as is obvious from the slideshow I’ve included from a recent hike on a local trail with my brother who visited in July. FYI, the white caps you see in the ocean are surfacing whales – humpbacks I think).

 

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Fr. John and I moved here in 2013. While an Orthodox community of believers formed the Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission in 2003 under the Canadian Archdiocese of the OCA, they only had a resident priest for the first two years. For the following eight they held reader’s services and occasionally priests from the mainland would visit and serve the Divine Liturgy.  You can read a bit of the Mission’s history here.

When we returned to Canada from our sojourn in Greece in 2013, our bishop presented us with two potential parishes: the Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission in St. John’s, Newfoundland was one of them. Although Newfoundland was further away from our families in New Brunswick than the other option, how do you refuse to minister to a small flock without a shepherd in a land so isolating that not even the Vikings could settle there? We made the choice to move to Newfoundland, come what may, and struggle to minister to the Orthodox faithful.

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Nativity, 2014

Throughout our almost five years here I have recorded many updates. (You can read those updates here: 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018). We’ve encountered our share of blessings but many more storms than my naive and inexperienced person anticipated.

Until now we have been using a temporary space for worship in the chapel of a local Anglican theological College. In the beginning we were able to use it for multiple services during the week but as the College has changed and expanded the availability of the chapel for our use has become limited.

By the grace of God, in 2015 we managed to establish a domestic chapel in honour of St. Nektarios in the place we were renting at the time. This allowed for a daily cycle of services to be offered (Matins and Vespers) as well as a weekly service of Supplications. And when we bought our own house this year we made sure there was space for a domestic chapel where Fr. John can continue to offer services, confess and counsel the faithful, and where we are able to hold vigils for Great Feasts throughout the week.

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Our domestic chapel (July, 2018) with dear friends and visitors at the lectern for our weekly service of Supplications. (I have not yet finished painting the icons of the Hierarchs – that’s why they don’t have faces & haven’t yet been hung on the wall).

Our domestic chapel suits our needs for weekday services but is simply too small for permanent use (not to mention is against our town’s bylaws to have a proper church in one’s residence).

There is nothing we want more than to see Orthodoxy firmly established and flourishing in this incredible place. However, our flock is small and our needs are great. Renting a space is expensive here and buying land and building a place would be even more beyond our means. To be frank, our needs far outweigh our means. In prayer and supplication we seek God’s guidance and enlightenment and ask you, dear readers, for your holy prayers as well.

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Agape’s Vespers, 2017

If you would be able to offer monetary assistance for the continued existence of an Orthodox parish on the island of Newfoundland we would greatly appreciate it. Holy Lady of Vladimir is the only Eastern Orthodox parish on the island. Fr. John is the only priest on the island. And so by assisting our Mission you would be assisting the entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador in having divine services offered in and for this holy land.

You can donate through our parish’s website. I can’t link directly to the donate page but if you click on the word “Donate” on the left hand side of our homepage it will take you there.

Please consider sharing our request with friends and family and on social media.

May the Mother of God be with you!

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July, 2018. As the temporary chapel looks now with chairs for an iconostasis and battery operated tealights in the vigil lamps. The visiting deacon is our dear friend Rev Dn Sean Reid. At the lectern with me is my brother, Fr. Matthew Penney, as our choir director is away for the summer.

“The Lord loves those who love the splendor of His house and will not leave them without His great mercies and rich generosity.” 

-St. Tikhon of Moscow

 

 

 

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Christ is risen!

This video illustrates the beauty of Orthodoxy; no matter what Orthodox country, it’s the same faith of the Apostles, the same beauty expressed in local traditions.

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Christ is risen! (Update: I had some technical issues, so a version of this post published earlier but some paragraphs and photos were out of sync).

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In June of last year I received an email asking if I would be interested in speaking at a pan-Orthodox women’s retreat in Saskatoon in April, 2018.  I was happy to accept such a gracious invitation and set to work on four one-hour long talks for the retreat.

By God’s grace, last weekend I had my first experience of the Canadian prairies and delivered my talks while in the company of wonderful Orthodox sisters-in-Christ.  I enjoyed my time so much that I can only hope the women felt as inspired and encouraged by my talks as I did from my experience of Orthodox Saskatoon.

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This was during the last talk, Saturday night. The ladies placed a chair next to me since it was about 1AM Nfld time by this point.

I chose “Keeping Our Spark Alight For Christ” as the retreat theme. The four talks I delivered were designed to build on each other. I drew from a lot of the material in my books The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery  and The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and VictoryAs I said in the talks, I don’t have any other stories to draw from since I put them all in my books :).

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Saskatoon’s St. Vincent of Lerins Orthodox church

Session 1: Preparing our Lamp

This talk had four sub-sections, each on a fundamental element of our Orthodox spiritual life. They were: a.) Church attendance, b.) Fasting, c.) Confession, and d.) Humble-mindedness

Session 2: Lighting a Spark

The sub-sections in this talk were: a.) Reverence, b.) Prayer rule, c.) Reading the Holy Scriptures, and d.) Cultivating a relationship with the saints.

Session 3: Fanning the Flame

Once again, this talk also had four sub-sections: a.) Good works, b.) Lending our talent to the Master, c.) Praying without ceasing, and d.) Pilgrimage to Orthodox monasteries

Session 4: Safeguarding the Light

This last talk had three sub-sections: a.) The Jesus Prayer (this focused more on noetic prayer, or prayer of the heart, in other words the perfect form of the Jesus Prayer), b.) Taking a spiritual inventory, c.) Spiritual endurance.

I was trying to structure these talks so as to show a gradual ascent; I was hoping each session would represent a rung of a ladder leading us ever upward.  So, I started with the basics and increasingly moved up to the weightier spiritual topics.

While it was around 12AM Newfoundland time when I delivered the first and last talks (one was given on Friday night, one on Saturday night), I managed to get through them.  Although, I found I stumbled over my words a little more than I did while delivering the other two talks during the day.

20180429_005534I really enjoyed giving the talks.  Anyone who has heard me speak in person can attest that I get very excited to have the chance to talk about what I love. And there is nothing on this earth I love more than Orthodoxy.  (My actions may not reflect this, but I do love our Orthodox faith and love talking about our faith.)

As you can see from the above side-by-side images, prayers were held in a makeshift chapel for the weekend. I was a touch sad to be in a city with multiple Orthodox churches and to have services in a non-Orthodox temple, since we only have a temporary chapel here in Newfoundland. But, it made sense because the whole retreat was held at a retreat center, so at least we had a place to pray.

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St. Vincent of Lerins

Sunday evening I had the great joy of visiting Saskatoon’s Antiochian parish of St. Vincent of Lerins where, after evening prayers, we went downstairs for a bite to eat and an informal talk, mostly questions and answers. I especially enjoyed this because I find when people ask questions you get a better insight into what is important to them and I was very impressed to learn how seriously they take their faith.

20180429_205146“There is no distance in the spiritual life,” Gerontissa told me on my last trip to her monastery in Greece. Truly, there is neither distance nor strangeness. By this I mean within Orthodoxy you can meet a person for a brief moment and immediately feel one with the person, united, bound through Christ.  Glory to God!

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Saskatchewan river (I don’t remember if it is the North or South river)

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“Today I arise with Thy arising”

Christ is risen!

We bought a house in Paradise. No, not the ‘spiritual homeland’ kind of Paradise. I mean we purchased a home in the actual town of Paradise in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. But we’re also hoping to put a down-payment on a “house not made by hands eternal in the heavens” (Akathist of St. John Maximovitch), the true Paradise.

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After what felt like a very long and arduous search, we finally found a little home perfect for us. We’ve only been here just over three weeks but we love it. It’s like the Goldilock’s version of houses, “not too big, not too small, but juuuust right”. It’s bright with a private backyard on a green belt (where I can have a garden!); there’s room for guests and most important of all we have space for the house chapel of St. Nektarios (pictured below).

20180322_164434This Pascha marks five years since we first visited Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission in St. John’s and accepted the offer to move here and try our hand at the plow of missionary endeavours. To be brutally honest, if I knew the trials which awaited us I don’t know if I would have had the courage to move here. But, thankfully, we didn’t know what stumbling blocks we would encounter, how steep the climb would be, nor how dark the path. It’s for the best. Rather, as the Scriptures tell us (and as we read during Holy Thursday’s Vesperal Liturgy), “Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God” (Isiah 50:10).

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I am so grateful for our house, our parish community, my wonderful job, and the temporary space at the University we are able to use for weekend services. But those are all the good parts, the parts you talk openly about, the parts you take pictures of so to speak.  There are other parts, however, that you can’t always talk about. The life of priest and his family is one filled with joys and sorrows. But sometimes the dark parts can feel oppressive, isolating, disorienting. That’s when, especially, we must trust in the Lord to guide us. Sometimes even retreating to one’s house in Paradise isn’t enough to feel we’ve found a safe haven. That is because for as long as we live upon the earth there are storms, trials, and temptations to endure. And endure we must. Enduring is the best we can hope for in such circumstances, to just hold on, to not give up, to keep going. Spiritual endurance. It’s the one thing that will keep us from going crazy when burdens get too heavy. Just endure. And when even that feels a bit daunting take a deep breath and mentally plan the garden you wish to plant in your backyard, then return to enduring.

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When speaking about the hymns sung just before the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead during the Paschal vigil, St. Philaret of Moscow points out that pious sorrow is evoked so that it might “prepare us for a more proper and clear understanding and genuine feeling of the Divine joy which would follow”.

“If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” (2 Timothy 2:11-12). To live we must die; to reign we must endure. To find joy we must first experience sorrow.

Yesterday, O Christ, I was buried with Thee, and today I arise with thy arising. Yesterday I was crucified with Thee. Glorify me, O Savior, with Thee in Thy Kingdom. (Ode 3, Paschal Canon)

Truly the Lord is risen!

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