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In a carefully detailed narrative the Gospel relates how Christ, six days before His own death, and with particular mindfulness of the people “standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me” (John I I :42), went to His dead friend Lazarus at Bethany outside of Jerusalem. He was aware of the approaching death of Lazarus but deliberately delayed His coming, saying to His disciples at the news of His friend’s death: “For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14).

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus was already dead four days. This fact is repeatedly emphasized by the Gospel narrative and the liturgical hymns of the feast. The four-day burial underscores the horrible reality of death. Man, created by God in His own image and likeness, is a spiritual-material being, a unity of soul and body. Death is destruction; it is the separation of soul and body. The soul without the body is a ghost, as one Orthodox theologian puts it, and the body without the soul is a decaying corpse. “I weep and I wail, when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb dishonored, disfigured, bereft of form.” This is a hymn of St John of Damascus sung at the Church’s burial services. This “mystery” of death is the inevitable fate of man fallen from God and blinded by his own prideful pursuits.

With epic simplicity the Gospel records that, on coming to the scene of the horrible end of His friend, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). At this moment Lazarus, the friend of Christ, stands for all men, and Bethany is the mystical center of the world. Jesus wept as He saw the “very good” creation and its king, man, “made through Him” (John 1:3) to be filled with joy, life and light, now a burial ground in which man is sealed up in a tomb outside the city, removed from the fullness of life for which he was created, and decomposing in darkness, despair and death. Again as the Gospel says, the people were hesitant to open the tomb, for “by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).

When the stone was removed from the tomb, Jesus prayed to His Father and then cried with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out.” The icon of the feast shows the particular moment when Lazarus appears at the entrance to the tomb. He is still wrapped in his grave clothes and his friends, who are holding their noses because of the stench of his decaying body, must unwrap him. In everything stress is laid on the audible, the visible and the tangible. Christ presents the world with this observable fact: on the eve of His own suffering and death He raises a man dead four days! The people were astonished. Many immediately believed on Jesus and a great crowd began to assemble around Him as the news of the raising of Lazarus spread. The regal entry into Jerusalem followed.

Lazarus Saturday is a unique day: on a Saturday a Matins and Divine Liturgy bearing the basic marks of festal, resurrectional services, normally proper to Sundays, are celebrated. Even the baptismal hymn is sung at the Liturgy instead of Holy God: “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.”

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“Lazarakia” for the Feast of St. Lazarus

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Orthodox Women’s Talk: Hymns of Holy Week. This is a recording of a talk I hosted over Skype with a group of Canadian Orthodox Christian women spread out across several Canadian provinces during Great Lent of 2015.

*CORRECTION: You will notice that I continually refer to St. Joseph the All-Comely (the son of Patriarch Jacob) as St. Joseph the Betrothed (who was espoused to the Theotokos). Please forgive my mistake; I didn’t realize this until I heard the recording.

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Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saint Perpetua and Her Companions

by Constantina R. Palmer

Description:

In the African provinces of the Roman Empire conversion to the Christian faith is punishable by death. This does not stop Perpetua and her companions, however, from seeking entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven even if living for Christ means having to die for Him.

Out of the African Lands is a historical fiction novelette and chronicles the arrest, imprisonment and death of Perpetua and her five companions Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus. Receiving freedom from their sins through baptism while imprisoned, the martyrs shine with the light of Christ, instructing us in word and deed how a person not only lives as a Christian by dies as one.

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About the  Cover:

The cover features a portion of a painting by artist Xenia Kathryn and beautifully captures the grace and bravery of St. Perpetua, author of one of the earliest and most notable Christian texts known today by the title The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas.

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The Light Guardian - Beginnings coverThe Light Guardian: Beginnings

By Fr. Matthew Penney

Description:

Moisi, a troubled man with a troubled past, seeks desolate places for self-imposed punishment … and revenge. What he discovers in his rocky exile is not only the enemy he is pursuing , but a deeper darkness that seeks to consume him. The only question is … will he choose to fight?

In this mature Young Adult fantasy novelette, the world of the spiritual warfare–normally invisible to us–is brought vividly to life. In Moisi’s world the struggle against the passions and the presence of the dark forces of evil can be all too real. But there is the opportunity to discover, along with Moisi, where the path to victory truly lies.

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Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saint Perpetua and Her Companions & The Light Guardian: Beginnings are published by Lumination Press and set to be released on Pascha, 2016!

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Lumination Press: Infusing light into the fiction genre

Lumination Press publishes works of fiction which reflect the mystery and miracle of a world filled with the light of Orthodoxy: a world in which passions rage, miracles abound, blood is shed and kingdoms are won. Such a world comes alive in Lumination Press stories not to distract us from the cruel reality of this world but rather to reveal the spiritual reality that is all around us, if only we have the eyes to see it.

Acknowledging the notable scarcity of Orthodox fiction, Lumination Press hopes to fill that need with quality works. With a focus on youth and the youthful at heart, Lumination Press will offer a variety of stories of spiritual struggle and victory for the whole family.

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blessed makrinaAbout a month ago I received an email stating I would be sent a copy of The Blessed Makrina Project: Echoes from the Heart, a short documentary film about Abbess Makrina of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Odigitria (Directress) in Portaria, Greece. As it was sent from Washington state I knew it would be a while before it arrived in Newfoundland. Three days of very high winds on this island meant that the two ferries that cross the Atlantic to get here, and a number of airplanes, couldn’t reach us, and thus mail was delayed. I was so excited when I finally got the little envelope with the DVD inside two days ago. I couldn’t wait to watch it.

It was worth the wait. The documentary begins with a recording of Gerontissa Makrina offering spiritual counsel. Having never heard her voice before this alone was enough to move me. “We must be attentive to how we live,” you hear her say as a photograph of her with a gentle smile and downcast eyes comes into view, “…To how we behave towards our brother… Do you see your brother? You see the Lord. This is why the Holy Fathers had so much love and compassion.”

This 27 minute documentary, while short in comparison to Gerontissa’s spiritual greatness, offers a number of inspiring testimonies concerning the holy abbess. Through a modern medium the documentary communicates the eternal Christian virtue acquired by a contemporary Mother of the Church. It accomplishes this by offering an intimate look into the lives of those impacted by the fruits of her ascetic struggle. The beautiful cinematography compliments the God-inspired words spoken about Gerontissa and you come away with an overall feeling of inspiration and zeal to imitate the Christ-centered life of the abbess.

My favourite parts are when Gerontissa Makrina’s monastic disciples describe her in their own words. “Everything I have I owe to her. Everything I have, everything I am, and the fact that we are here, is because of her,” Abbess Thekla of Quebec says. You witness this devotion to the holy abbess throughout the documentary; you see that she truly is a saint of the Church, a pillar of light guiding those in darkness.

The bonus feature of extended interviews is much appreciated since I found myself wanting to hear so much more, not because the documentary was in any way insufficient, but because Gerontissa Makrina is the kind of person you are indescribably attracted to and you feel as though you can’t hear enough about her.

I wish I could give every person in the world this documentary, I wish I could say, ‘Come and hear about a second St. Irene Chrysovalantou, a  mother like St. Mary of Egypt, who changed the world and those around her by acquiring the grace of God!’

Copies of this praise-worthy documentary are sold through St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery in Goldendale, WA.

While waiting for your copy to arrive you can hear about more about Gerontissa Makrina here.

 

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iakovosA Glimpse of His Holy Life:

From a young age little Iakovos (which was his name even at baptism) loved the Lord and His Bride, the Church. Born in Livisi, in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), he and his family were forced to immigrate to Greece during the exchange of populations. Eventually settling on the island of Evia, he lived with his family in a storehouse with other refugees, blankets separated the individual living quarters. Little Iakovos would lift these blankets in order to “cense” his neighbours with the toy censor he made out of a roof tile. His holiness was noticed very early, though he wasn’t fully understood and suffered a great deal of derision; children would call him “geronda” and “father”. He would arise in the night for vigil, chant throughout the day, and was even entrusted with the keys to the village church since a priest came only twice a month to serve the divine services.

Throughout his life he lived in great poverty and fasting. As a young man he would chant in the church barefoot because he could not afford shoes. People ridiculed him but he often had visions of saints and angels which would comfort and strengthen him in his resolve to live for Christ. After serving in the Greek army and working to save enough money for his sister’s dowry, he was free to become a monk. Wanting to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps (seven generations of priest-monks, a bishop and a saint), he initially wanted to become a monk in the Holy Land. Before setting out he visited St. David’s Monastery for what he thought would be the last time and was instead spiritually persuaded to stay there by St. David himself. Through many hardships the elder increased in holiness and grace during his time at St. David’s, eventually becoming the abbot and receiving countless souls whom he guided and comforted. St. David was like his own spiritual father, appearing to him on many occasions and hearkening to his many prayers and supplications. The elder reposed on November 21, 1991, the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple. May we have his blessing!

Wise Counsel from the Elder: (from Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit)

“We are not sanctified by the place in which we live, but by the way we live.”

“The faithful shouldn’t tell others of things they have confessed, of details of their life or their spiritual endeavour.”

“Chase away the bad thoughts and fantasies that the devil presents. Don’t even notice them.”

“Don’t hesitate [to come to confession]. Don’t be ashamed. Whatever you may have done, even the greatest of sins, the spiritual father has power from the Lord Christ Himself and from the Apostles to forgive you with his stole.”

“I asked God in prayer for the gift of discerning men’s hearts by looking at their faces, so that I might be able to help them; and God granted it.”

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Could there be another incorrupt hierarch in America? Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas appears to be incorrupt. Read the news here.

You can read about other incorrupt holy hierarchs in America here, here, and of course about St. John Maximovitch (possibly the most well known), here.

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Below is an excerpt from Knot Twenty-Eight of the book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, published by Ancient Faith Publishing and available for purchase both as a paperback and an e-book.

Mavroudis the Martyr

Kalliopi lived in the village nearest the monastery. I met her for the first time when we both visited the monastery to help the sisters with the olives from their orchard. As we sorted olives together, we began a conversation about new martyrs. I asked her if there were any martyrs among the local saints. Kalliopi mentioned Mavroudis, a martyr who had lived in her father’s town. Mavroudis’s martyrdom is recounted in a folk song written by the locals, which she sang for us.

Similar to Byzantine chant, some older Greek folk songs have a haunting feel to them. I found some to be quite melancholic. They never reminded me of our Atlantic Canadian folk songs—some of which are sailors’ songs, making light of hardships. Many Greek folk songs cause suffering and longing experienced long ago to come back and settle in your chest.

The song Kalliopi sang to us explains how Mavroudis was killed by Muslim Turks for refusing to denounce his Christian faith and embrace Islam. He had an argument with some Turks and insulted their faith. So the Turks threatened to throw him into the fire if he didn’t agree to become a “Turk”—in other words, a Muslim. He asked them to give him some time to make up his mind, and they granted him permission.

On seeing his mother approach, he asked her, “Mama, what shall I do? They want me to become a Turk or they will throw me into the fire.”

“Better to be a Turk and live, than dead in the fire!” she advised him.

He was very sorrowful when he heard her answer in this way, and crying and pulling his hair he said to her, “No, I will wait for my love to come and tell me what she thinks.”

He waited, and when his wife arrived he asked her, “Tell me, my love, should I become a Turk or be thrown into the fire?”

“It’s better for you to enter the fire than to become a Muslim,” she answered. On hearing this, the Turks threw them both into the fire, granting them a martyr’s death.

The song ends, “Like candles they burned; like incense they smelt. Doves they became; to the heavens they flew.”

There were, of course, a few wet cheeks by the time Kalliopi finished singing.

 

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