Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

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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st. joseph

I’ve had a small copy of this icon for many years. It’s my favourite. You can purchase one HERE

Saint Joseph the Hesychast (1897 -1959)

Glorified by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on October 20, 2019

(Source) Francis Kottis (Saint Joseph’s name before his monastic tonsure) was born in Paros1 on February 12, 1897, the fourth of seven children to the simple but pious couple George and Maria Kottis. Because of their extreme poverty, Francis left home at the age of seventeen to work in Piraeus2 as a merchant to support his large family. When he was twenty-three years old he was engaged to a pious girl and lived in exemplary chastity, never touching his fiancee for fear of coming to the point of kissing her.

One day he beheld a wondrous vision of two angels in the form of palace guards, leading him to serve the heavenly king. After this vision, he became pensive and lost all interest in worldly things; he spent his time reading the lives of saints, especially those of the great ascetic Fathers, which ignited in his heart the desire to become a monk. He then called off his engagement, and in preparation for his life on the Holy Mountain,3 he started conditioning himself to ascetic struggles by fasting and praying in the countryside of Athens.


The Chapel of St. John the Forerunner at Small St. Anne’s Skete

In 1921, after two years of living ascetically in the world, he finally made his way to the Holy Mountain, his heart longing for a God-bearing spiritual guide to teach him the art of noetic prayer, and he began traversing the crags and caves in search of one. After searching for sometime without success, he decided to join the brotherhood of Saint Daniel of Katounakia.4 Renowned for his discernment and exalted spiritual life, Saint Daniel chose a moderate ascetical program for his brotherhood. Francis, however, was inclined to a more austere spiritual life and total dedication to unceasing prayer of the heart, which requires great silence and humility, and thus he stood out from the rest of the brotherhood. Saint Daniel knew he could not stay with his brotherhood, but he also knew that Francis needed a companion, a fellow ascetic, in order to avoid delusion. So he told him that until a co-struggler could be found for him, he should cultivate the Jesus Prayer alone in some remote cave, coming to him occasionally for spiritual guidance.

One day, after suffering many temptations, he was granted a vision of the uncreated light, and he received the gift of ceaseless prayer. From that point on until his death, the prayer was said in his heart unceasingly, granting him exalted spiritual states and divine visions.

Eventually, a suitable co-struggler, Father Arsenios, was sent to him by Saint Daniel. These two spiritual warriors would be inseparable companions for the rest of their lives, leading an austere ascetical life together. In the beginning Father Arsenios regarded Francis as his geronda,5 even though Father Arsenios had already been tonsured a monk and Francis was still a layman. However, on the Holy Mountain, to be a geronda, you have to be obedient to a geronda until his death. Therefore, following Saint Daniel’s advice they became disciples of two humble old gerondas in Katounakia named Joseph and Ephraim. It was not long before one of them, Saint Joseph, reposed in the Lord. Geronda Ephraim, now their sole geronda, was soon convinced by the exceptional lifestyle of young Francis that this spiritual warrior should be officially enrolled in the angelic monastic order. Thus, the day of his monastic tonsure was set for Sunday, August 31, 1925, the commemoration day of the deposition of the precious sash of the Theotokos. His tonsure took place in the cave of Saint Athanasios the Athonite,6 and he received the name Joseph, after his reposed geronda.


Saint Joseph with his small brotherhood 

After some years, Geronda Ephraim also fell asleep in the Lord, and the young Father Joseph became a proper geronda. Soon he began attracting monastic aspirants, but few of them were able to endure his severe ascetic program. Eventually, the nucleus of his brotherhood would consist of five disciples: his co-ascetic Father Arsenios; Father Athanasios, his brother in the flesh; Father Joseph the Cypriot, who would later become the geronda of the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi;7 Father Ephraim, later abbot of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou8 and future geronda of thirty-three monasteries in Greece, the US, and Canada, including Saint Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona; and Father Haralambos, later abbot of the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou.9 Also, it is noteworthy to mention Saint Ephraim of Katounakia;10 although he belonged to a different brotherhood, he was guided spiritually by Saint Joseph, and thus is also considered one of his disciples.

In 1938, seeking greater solitude, Saint Joseph and his community moved from Saint Basil’s Skete to a cave at Little Saint Anne’s,11 but after 15 years of living in the harsh conditions of Little Saint Anne’s, the fathers’ health started to deteriorate, and so in 1953, Saint Joseph decided to move the community farther down the mountain, near the sea, to New Skete,12 where he would spend the last six years of his life. A few months before his death, he was visited by the Virgin Mary, whom he held in special reverence, and was promised by her, that she would take him on her feast day. Thus the saint fell asleep in the Lord, on August 15, 1959, the day the Orthodox Church celebrates the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God.

Saint Joseph’s legacy has been carried on by his disciples, who have reestablished the practice of noetic prayer and watchfulness on the Holy Mountain, brought Athonite monasticism to the United States and Canada, and encouraged many Orthodox faithful through the publishing of his life and letters. Today the spiritual grandchildren of Saint Joseph, who endearingly refer to him as “Pappou Iosif” (Grandfather Joseph in Greek), call upon him to help them in their spiritual life, and he in turn stands before the throne of God and intercedes for his spiritual children and grandchildren, and all those who call upon him.


  1. Paros is a Greek island in the central Aegean Sea.
  2. Piraeus is a port city in the region of Attica, within Athens Greece.
  3. Located on peninsula in northeastern Greece, The Holy Mountain, also know as Mount Athos, is an important center of Eastern Orthodox Monasticism. It is governed as an autonomous polity within the Greek Republic. Mount Athos is home to 20 monasteries under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
  4. Katounakia is a group of cells in the desert region on the southeastern side of the peninsula.
  5. A geronda is an Orthodox Christian spiritual leader.
  6. St. Athanasios the Athonite (c. 920 – c. 1003) founded the Great Lavra, the biggest and most famous monastery on Mount Athos.
  7. The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi on Mount Athos, was founded in the second half of the 10th century by disciples of St. Athanasios the Athonite. The monastery was expanded several times during its history, particularly during the Byzantine period and in the 18th and 19th centuries. More than 120 monks live in the monastery today.
  8. The Holy Monastery of Philotheou is located on the northeastern side of the peninsula. It was founded at the end of the 10th century.
  9. The Holy Monastery of Dionysiou is located in the southwestern part of the peninsula. It was founded in the 14th century.
  10. Glorified by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on October 20, 2019.
  11. Little St. Anne’s is a small skete on the southeastern side of the peninsula. It belongs to the Great Lavra.
  12. New Skete is one of two sketes attached to St. Paul’s Monastery. It is located between St. Paul’s Monastery and St.Anne’s Skete. 

“You will fatigue greatly until you realize that prayer without attention and watchfulness is a waste of time, work without pay. Without attention, both the nous [the eye of the soul] and the powers of the soul are diffused in vain and ordinary things, like useless water running down the streets.”

– Saint Joseph

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Written by one who intimately knows the bitter taste of death, Presvytera Katherine Baker’s reflection on death and (so-called) living during the global pandemic is a must-read. It is entitled A Pandemic Observed and can be found here.

Fr. John and I are both very grateful to her thoughts. I am deeply impressed by her insight, her candor, and her call for all to live well, as faithful Christians, despite the surety of our death, whether today from Covid or tomorrow from something else.

Friends, if you have allowed fear or fear of illness or death to cripple you during these dark days of constant media attention on the potential risks of contracting or spreading Covid, take a minute, read this reflection from a priest’s wife whose husband died suddenly and tragically in a car accident in 2015. Take a minute to ask yourself if closing churches, refraining from venerating icons or taking the priest’s blessing, or shying away from corporeal worship honours the Christian Way, the Incarnation of the God-Man Christ, or in any way exemplifies the life of the Gospel we are called to live. When you come to the conclusion these things are foreign to our life in Christ then arise quickly and go to the Father and even while you are “still afar off” (Luke 15:20) He will see you and  meet you before you have even arrived to offer your prayer of repentance!

Be emboldened to live again as Christians. Christians were always known for their bravery in the face of death, for their refusal to cease good deeds even when threatened with torture, and for cherishing faith in Christ as their most prized possession. Call on the names of such saints and they will encourage you to do likewise!

An excerpt from Presvytera Katherine’s article follows, but please read the whole article HERE.

May her words inspire us to make a new beginning in our spiritual life!

I fully expect, if we are living as Church, there could be large outbreaks of COVID-19 in Christian communities, just like in any other human encounter, should God will it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” And if we are blamed by the authorities for being “super-spreaders,” it would not be the first time in history.

No one blames a person for going to the store for groceries and spreading or picking up germs there, but it seems worship is being approached more like a concert than like “daily bread.” But gathering for Sunday liturgy and fellowship should be a help to facing the possibility of death, which is exactly what we need right now. A priest’s job is not to keep me alive; it’s to help me live and die well.

Christians should never judge someone who chooses safety from suffering and death as did the early Donatist heretics who cast out of the church those who fled persecution. However, Christians should neither judge nor exclude those who choose honorable risk either. A principal of non-judgment is our example. Force and manipulation should be rejected whether that force or manipulation be in favor of risk or against it.

My husband wrote in a sermon shortly before his death: “God created man in the year 33, on a hill called Golgotha.” Christ, declared his great work “accomplished” from the agony of the cross. It is in union with Christ that we become who we ought to be, and so how can we escape death when even Christ did not? In one of his last sermons, my husband suggested to his flock, “….may we make our own these words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, written to his fellow Christians on his way towards martyrdom for refusing the idolatry of pagan Rome: ‘It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth… The pains of birth are upon me. Allow me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to be stillborn… Allow me to imitate the passion of my God …when I shall have arrived there, I shall become a human being.’” (Epist. ad Rom., 6).

The question isn’t will I die? Or will the people I love die? The answer to that has always been, yes. A better question might be will I let the anticipation of death make me and my world, better or worse?

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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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Today is the feast of St. Macrina the Abbess (also called “the Younger”) was the sister of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nyssa. St. Gregory recorded the events of her last days and last words in a beautiful letter that has been preserved by the grace of God so that even modern man can benefit from the works and words of this holy abbess.

The following is a story St. Gregory shares at the end of his epistle. I love it not only because it gives us a wonderful insight into the character of St. Macrina but reveals exactly what it feels like to be a pilgrim at a holy monastery, a “school of virtue” as the solider calls it.


(Source) “My wife and I once had an earnest desire to pay a visit to the school of virtue. For so I think the place ought to be called, in which that blessed soul had her abode. Now there lived with us also our little daughter, who had been left with an affliction of the eye after an infectious illness. And her appearance was hideous and pitiable, the membrane round the eye being enlarged and whitish from the complaint. But when we came inside that divine abode, my wife and I separated in our visit to those seekers after philosophy according to our sex. I went to the men’s department, presided over by Peter, your brother; while my wife went to the women’s side and conversed with the saint. And when a suitable interval had elapsed, we considered it time to depart from the Retreat, and already our preparations were being made for this, but kind protests were raised from both sides equally. Your brother was urging me to stay  and partake of the philosophers’ table; and the blessed lady would not let my wife go, but holding our little girl in her bosom, said she would not give her up before she had prepared a meal for them and had entertained them with the riches of philosophy. And kissing the child, as was natural, and putting her lips to her eyes, she saw the complaint of the pupil and said—-

“‘If you grant me this favour and share our meal, I will give you in return a reward not unworthy of such an honour.’

“‘What is that? ‘ said the child’s mother.

“‘I have a drug,’ said the great lady, ‘which is powerful to cure eye complaints.’

“And then news was brought me from the women’s apartments, telling me of this promise, and we gladly remained, thinking little of the pressing necessity of starting on our journey.

“But when the feast came to an end and we had said the prayer, great Peter waiting on us with his own hands and cheering us, and when holy Macrina had dismissed my wife with all courtesy, then at last we went home together with glad and cheerful hearts, telling one another as we journeyed what had befallen us. I described to her what had happened in the men’s room, both what I had heard and seen. She told every detail as in a history, and thought nothing ought to be left out, even the smallest points. She told everything in order, keeping the sequence of the narrative. When she came to the point at which the promise was made to cure the child’s eyes, she broke off her tale.

“‘Oh, what have we done?’ she cried.

‘How could we have neglected the promise, that salve-cure that the lady said she would give?’

“I was vexed at the carelessness, and bade some one run back quickly to fetch it. Just as this was being done, the child, who was in her nurse’s arms, looked at her mother, and the mother looked at the child’s eyes.

“‘Stop,’ she said, ‘being vexed at the carelessness,’—-she cried aloud with joy and fright. ‘For, see! Nothing of what was promised us is lacking! She has indeed given her the true drug which cures disease; it is the healing that comes from prayer. She has both given it and it has already proved efficacious, and nothing is left of the affliction of the eye. It is all purged away by that divine drug.’

“And as she said this, she took up the child and laid her in my arms. And I understood the marvels of the Gospel that hitherto had been incredible to me and said—-

“‘What is there surprising in the blind recovering their sight by the hand of God, when now His handmaiden, accomplishing those cures by faith in Him, has worked a thing not much inferior to those miracles?'”

Such was his story; it was interrupted by sobs, and tears choked his utterance, So much for the soldier and his tale.

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(Source) On July 12 in the Holy Orthodox Church, we commemorate the holy, glorious and right-victorious Martyrs Proclus and Hilary of Ancyra.

Proclus endured naked a thick rain of arrows,
Whereas Hilary’s head with a sword was severed.
On the twelfth, arrow slew Proclus and sword, Hilary.

These martyrs were born in Kallippi in Asia, Proclus being Hilary’s uncle. They suffered in the time of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

The judge asked Proclus: ‘Of what race are you?’

Proclus replied: ‘I am of the race of Christ, and my hope is in my God.’

When the judge threatened him with torture, he said: ‘When you are afraid to transgress the Emperor’s commands and risk falling into temporal punishment, how much more do we Christians fear to transgress against God’s commands and fall into eternal torment!’  While Proclus was being tortured, Hilary came up to the judge and said: ‘I too am a Christian!’ After many tortures, the two men were condemned to death. They both entered into the joy of their Lord.

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