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Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

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On the great and saving day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, as Christ had promised (John 16:7-15). The unlearned fishermen were made wise by divine grace, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and teaching with authority. Most of them (except for Saint John the Theologian) sealed their labors with their own blood. This was the beginning of the Church’s mission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18), which continues even to the present day.

In 1685, the Russian Orthodox Church established an Orthodox mission in Peking (now Beijing). For more than two hundred years, some of the Chinese converted to Christianity, and married Russian spouses.

Because of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, against the foreign powers occupying China, these Chinese Christians were given the choice of renouncing Christianity, or being tortured and killed.

Two hundred and twenty-two members of the Peking Mission, led by their priest, Father Metrophanes Chang (Chang Tzi-tzung) refused to deny Christ, and received incorruptible crowns of glory.

Among these Holy New Martyrs are Saint Metrophanes, his wife Tatiana, his sons John and Isaiah, Isaiah’s fiancée Maria; the church school teachers Paul Wang and Ia Wen; and many others.

May we imitate their Christian bravery – preferring Christ and death (and eternal life) to temporal life in denial of Him!

And may we have their prayers and blessings!

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Christ is risen!

The stories in this video wonderfully capture what it is like to meet, sit with, and speak with a living saint. It’s a treasure to hear of people’s first-hand encounters with holy men and women; I wish there were more videos like this.

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CHRIST IS RISEN!

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Happy feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen, dear readers!

For the very first time I tried my hand at making Artoklasia, also known as Litya bread for the service of Great Vespers of Sts. Constantine and Helen last night at our new church rental in Portugal Cove, NL. (More to come on the new church space soon).

I used Matushka Anna‘s recipe HERE. I cut the recipe in half which was fine but next time I think I’ll make the larger batch.

I can’t say they are the prettiest things I’ve ever made but they tasted good and I loved offering them in honour of my saint.

In The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church we read, “Constantine secluded himself daily at a set hour in the innermost chambers of his palace in prayer. His living example was founded with all his heart on that edit that a true ruler leads the way, even as Christ opened the gates of Hades by His heavenly leadership and divine example. Such devotions were redoubled during Holy Week and Pasha. He changed the holy night vigil of that time into an event of wonder and splendor, by causing waxen tapers of great length to be lighted throughout the city, together with torches which diffused their light, so as to impart to this mystic vigil of the night a mystical splendor of brilliance and light. As soon as day returned, he further exemplified Christ’s own selfless example and commandment that ‘freely ye received, freely give,’ by lavishing abundant gifts to his subjects of every nation, province, and people.” (p. 1073).

I am honoured to bear the name of such a righteous, holy man!

Here is a lovely broadcast by a Greek parish of last night’s Vespers service for the saints.

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May we have his blessing!

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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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May we have his blessing!

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A pastoral word from Fr John to Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission on this the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

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*The photos in this post are from an impromptu parish hike last year. I really miss being all together with our people so it’s so nice to reminisce about those days.

Dear all,

Since we were not able to celebrate the Great Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple all together as usual, I thought I would send around a small passage from St Kosmas and offer a brief reflection on the basis of it to help make sure it does not slip by unmarked. 

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Concerning the feast, the Saint writes:  “WHEN THE LADY THEOTOKOS reached the age of three, Joachim and Anna remembered their debt, that is, that they had dedicated her to the temple. So they took the Lady Theotokos and went to church where the Prophet Zacharias was, the archpriest and father of the Holy Forerunner [John the Baptist]. Immediately the archpriest perceived that she was to give birth to the Son and Word of God, Jesus Christ, by the Holy spirit and without man. She would conceive as a virgin and after giving birth would remain a virgin. Zacharias received her and kissed her and placed her in the sanctuary because he knew that the Lady was to become the throne of our Lord. The Theotokos spent twelve years in the sanctuary where no one entered except the high priest who went to see her once a year. She was fed with heavenly bread and became superior to the angels. So, my brethren, the holy sanctuary reveals the throne of God, the nave [of the church] paradise, and the narthex reveals the door of paradise.”  – From Teaching Five

​Reflecting on this Great Feast of the Church year which we celebrate today, let us remember that like Joachim and Anna we too have a debt toward God.  They promised to dedicate their daughter to the temple in thanksgiving for her miraculous conception and birth, but what promises have we made to God?  We must, brothers and sisters, remember our baptism where either personally, or through our godparents we promised to have renounced Satan, and all his works, and all his worship, and all his angels, and all his pomp, and to have joined ourselves to Christ and to believe in him as King and Lord.  Today would be a great day to revisit the Baptismal Service, remind ourselves of the promises we made, and see if we have fulfilled our debt like the parents of the Theotokos!

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Also, reflect on the life of the Most Holy Theotokos in the temple during those years.  Perhaps it resonates with us, especially as we potentially face another period of strict lockdown.  The life of the Theotokos reminds us that ‘isolation’ doesn’t have to be loneliness, anxiety, and despair.  Living within the walls of the temple, dedicating her time to godly pursuits, to prayer, to the guarding of the senses, this life became for her a cause of great joy, grace, and angelic visitation!  Her life during that time has been described to us by the likes of St Gregory Palamas and St Maximos the Confessor.  We have heard homilies on this life often in the past.  Let us use what we have learned as a pattern to shape our own lives and thrive in our circumstances!  Glory to God for all things!

May the Lord bless and keep you, and grant you a share in today’s feast!
Fr John. 

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