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Archive for the ‘Pilgrimage’ Category

CHRIST IS RISEN!

This video is from our first Pascha in Greece (2008) at the  Church of St. Anthony the Great in Thessaloniki. Fr. Theodore Zisis is the priest.

This post is set to publish at midnight Newfoundland Time (at least it’s supposed to). Our little Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission, currently occupying a townhouse as a chapel :), is the first to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the North American continent.

In the Maritimes – where our families live – Christ’s resurrection will be celebrated one half hour later. This year my brother, Fr. Matthew Penney, is the serving priest at my family’s parish (St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church) in Saint John, New Brunswick (not to be confused with St. John’s, Newfoundland). So, that means my mum, my dad, my sister, my sister-in-law and my brother will all celebrate Pascha together for the very first time (since my father didn’t become Orthodox until 2015 and this is my brother and sister-in-laws first Pascha back in New Brunswick in years). Such a blessing! I’m with them in spirit, as Gerontissa Philareti told me, “There is no distance in the spiritual life.”

These high and holy days are filled with so much reflection for me. This is our 14th Pascha as Orthodox Christians: our first Pascha we were at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona, our second was at St. Nicholas Korean Orthodox Church in Seoul, South Korea, the subsequent five were in Greece and the last seven! have been in Newfoundland. So many blessings, so many beautiful people, so many incredible hymns!

May God make us worthy to live the spiritual celebration of His holy resurrection for all eternity, together in His Kingdom!

Christ is risen and Hades is despoiled!

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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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geronda2befraim2b23I feel only one thing rivals seeing and receiving the blessing of a living saint: being able to watch a crowd of people receive the same.

By the grace of God I was able to make a pilgrimage to St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. While there I had the great blessing of seeing Elder Ephraim three times. He does not currently see people one-on-one like he used to, but he comes out almost every morning to greet the pilgrims. The fathers bring him in a car so that the elder (who is close to 90 years of age) can sit while greeting the people. Although the elder has become physically weakened in his old age the strength of his spirit, which is full of life and love for the people, in no way has diminished.

On the last day of our pilgrimage a significant crowd had gathered to wait for the elder as more pilgrims and nuns had arrived the day before. Just as on other days, the car pulled up so the people could receive the elder’s blessing. Each lined up to receive a cookie and an icon as they kissed the elder’s right hand.

3I have great love and reverence for Elder Ephraim, a person who works tirelessly for the Lord, a person who (I believe) will be able, at the end of his life, to say with Christ, “I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). So, you can understand that receiving his blessing means a great deal to me. But seeing others receive his blessing gives me even more joy.

You can tell a person is holy by the effect he or she has on other people. When you see the effect Elder Ephraim has on the people it’s impossible not to be reminded of St. Seraphim of Sarov’s famous quote: “Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand around you will be saved”. This does not necessarily mean everyone will become a Christian, but it illustrates the depth of influence a person who has become holy has on his or her surrounding environment.

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One just needs to look at the monastery gardens to be convinced that the natural beauty found there cannot simply be attributed to the monks’ commitment to water and weed. Driving through the Sonoran Desert – mostly bleak and barren – the lushness of the monastery’s gardens seems even more incredible. How is such a contrast possible? Because holiness has produced such gardens. The acquisition of the Holy Spirit (Who is the ‘spirit of peace’) not only affects the spiritual but the physical atmosphere. And so, the colourful and lush grounds and gardens of the monastery are a physical manifestation of the spiritual reality that has taken place: that because of one man’s commitment to the will and love of God he too has “made the barren desert fertile” as the apolytikion for the monastery’s patron, St. Anthony, reads.

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I want to be like that man, to be like Elder Ephraim, who left the world he knew (the Holy Mountain) in order to labour in a foreign land (America) to share the sweetness of grace with his fellow man. Through his prayers I want to share the blessings I was given in Greece and elsewhere. But more than this I want to struggle to make the barren desert of my own heart fertile ground for the Holy Spirit so that myself and those around me may be saved.

 

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Once Saint Christopher [6th century] went to Jerusalem to worship at the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord and at the Life-Creating Cross. At the gateway of the church he beheld a monk not moving from the spot. Two ravens flew before his face. Saint Christopher discerned that these were demons, which held the monk back from entering the church.

He asked the brother: “Why do you stand at the gate and not enter?” The brother answered: “Pardon me, Father, but within me struggle two thoughts. One says: go and venerate the Venerable Cross. The other says: don’t go in, make some excuse, and come to venerate the Cross another time.” Then Saint Christopher took the brother by the hand and led him into the church. The ravens immediately disappeared, and the brother venerated the Cross and the Holy Sepulchre. Saint Christopher told this story to someone who was distracted by his duties and neglected his prayers.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the first time in over a year Fr. John and I left the island and took a vacation. Vacation for us consists in two things: spending time with loved ones and visiting churches and monasteries (and for me, personally, it also means drinking as many Tim Horton’s coffees as I want:).

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Saint Gregory of Nyssa OCA Church

We went to Kingston, Ontario to stay with my brother and sister-in-law. We had a wonderful time chatting and going for walks. We got to attend services at both of the Orthodox churches there: Vespers at St. Gregory of Nyssa OCA Church and Matins and Divine Liturgy at The Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church.

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The Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church

Then we took a trip down to New York to visit the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery and Seminary. Although Fr. Matthew was ordained there, both as a deacon and a priest, I was the only member of our family that wasn’t able to go.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThus, it was my first time visiting the beautiful, grace-filled monastery. We toured the monastery and seminary, venerated the icons and relics, and spent time with our good friend who is a monk there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our return to Canada we headed for the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Panagia Parigoritissa. Getting to visit the monastery and see all the nuns feels like a family reunion. During our stay we helped sweep the courtyard, fold pamphlets and got to work in the vineyard – which was an especial blessing.

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Sweeping the courtyard

The summer Fr. John was ordained a deacon we spent significant time there. We cherish our memories of all the years we’ve been visiting the monastery; we would often stop by the monastery when flying home from Greece as there is a direct flight from Montreal to Athens.

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In the vineyard

There’s nothing like the physical and spiritual respite that comes from making holy pilgrimages; the ideal vacation in my opinion. Thank God for such oases! You come back home more peaceful, more centered, and ready to re-enter the daily battle of acquiring grace in the midst of work and worldly obligations.

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Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY

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Today is a wonderful feast day of the above beautiful icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos that was brought from Greece to Ukraine by architects appointed by the Mother of God herself to build a church at the Kiev Caves.

Now, I must say, if the Mother of God entrusts 3 years worth of gold to you, and asks you to build a church for the Orthodox faithful in Newfoundland, you will be most welcome here! 🙂

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(Source)

The Kiev Caves Icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is one of the most ancient icons in the Russian Orthodox Church. The Mother of God entrusted it to four Byzantine architects, who in 1073 brought the icon to Sts Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves. The architects arrived at the monks’ cave and asked, “Where do you want to build the church?” The saints answered, “Go, the Lord will point out the place.”

“How is it that you, who are about to die, have still not designated the place?” the architects wondered. “And they gave us much gold.”

Then the monks summoned all the brethren and they began to question the Greeks, saying, “Tell us the truth. Who sent you, and how did you end up here?”

The architects answered, “One day, when each of us was asleep in his own home, handsome youths came to us at sunrise, and said, ‘The Queen summons you to Blachernae.’ We all arrived at the same time and, questioning one another we learned that each of us had heard this command of the Queen, and that the youths had come to each of us. Finally, we beheld the Queen of Heaven with a multitude of warriors. We bowed down to Her, and She said, ‘I want to build Myself a Church in Rus, at Kiev, and so I ask you to do this. Take enough gold for three years.’”

“We bowed down and asked, ‘Lady Queen! You are sending us to a foreign land. To whom are we sent?’ She answered, ‘I send you to the monks Anthony and Theodosius.’”

“We wondered, ‘Why then, Lady, do You give us gold for three years? Tell us that which concerns us, what we shall eat and what we shall drink, and tell us also what You know about it.’”

“The Queen replied, ‘Anthony will merely give the blessing, then depart from this world to eternal repose. The other one, Theodosius, will follow him after two years. Therefore, take enough gold. Moreover, no one can do what I shall do to honor you. I shall give you what eye has not seen, what ear has not heard, and what has not entered into the heart of man (1 Cor.2:9). I, Myself, shall come to look upon the church and I shall dwell within it.’”

“She also gave us relics of the holy martyrs Menignus, Polyeuctus, Leontius, Acacius, Arethas, James, and Theodore, saying, ‘Place these within the foundation.’ We took more than enough gold, and She said, ‘Come out and see the resplendant church.’ We went out and saw a church in the air. Coming inside again, we bowed down and said, ‘Lady Queen, what will be the name of the church?’”

“She answered, ‘I wish to call it by My own name.’ We did not dare to ask what Her name was, but She said again, ‘It will be the church of the Mother of God.’ After giving us this icon, She said, ‘This will be placed within.’ We bowed down to Her and went to our own homes, taking with us the icon we received from the hands of the Queen.”

Having heard this account, everyone glorified God, and St Anthony said, “My children, we never left this place. Those handsome youths summoning you were holy angels, and the Queen in Blachernae was the Most Holy Theotokos. As for those who appeared to be us, and the gold they gave you, the Lord only knows how He deigned to do this with His servants. Blessed be your arrival! You are in good company: the venerable icon of the Lady.” For three days St Anthony prayed that the Lord would show him the place for the church.

After the first night there was a dew throughout all the land, but it was dry on the holy spot. On the second morning throughout all the land it was dry, but on the holy spot it was wet with dew. On the third morning, they prayed and blessed the place, and measured the width and length of the church with a golden sash. (This sash had been brought long ago by the Varangian Shimon, who had a vision about the building of a church.) A bolt of lightning, falling from heaven by the prayer of St Anthony, indicated that this spot was pleasing to God. So the foundation of the church was laid.

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Come receive the light from the unwaning Light;

and glorify Christ Who is risen from the dead!

The video is of the Holy Fire at Christ’s tomb, April 11, 2015. Who is as great as our God?

(To learn more about the Holy Fire – the world’s best kept secret – see here.)

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