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Christ is risen!

The following excerpt is from the second book of a two-book series on the person and spiritual children of Father Arseny. The book is called Father Arseny: Cloud of Witnesses, p. 148. In this passage Fr. Arseny speaks of his friend and fellow prisoner Fr. Seraphim, a holy hiermonk.

I saw Father Seraphim as a restorer of souls who had been covered with dirt. Yes, he was a true restorer. Carefully, just like those who restore icons by removing layers of dried oil and dirt with a scalpel, taking care not to harm the original, Father Seraphim would carefully, gently approach a man and remove layers of sin from his soul, revealing first a small window of purity and then making this window bigger and bigger, and then finally clean up his whole soul. How careful you must be, how spiritually attentive to the injured soul not to harm it in trying to direct the man to the path of light. You must not hurt his pride, you must not show him how sinful he is–you could end up pushing him away so that he might think, ‘I am such a sinner that I cannot be saved!’

I believe this image is pertinent not only for priests but for all Christians. Each of us in our own way ought to strive not only to cleanse our own souls from the dirt and mire of sin and the passions, but hopefully (through the grace of God!) serve as restorers of the purity of souls of those around us, to help direct others to the path of light.

Through the prayers of the holy God-pleasing sufferers, Fathers Arseny and Seraphim may we also treat other human beings with the spiritual care and attention an icon restorer treats holy objects!

 

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5On Holy and Great Wednesday the divine Fathers ordained a commemoration to be kept of the woman who was a harlot and who anointed the Lord with myrrh before His Passion. In honour of this great and beautiful display of repentance I am posting a wonderful article my sister-in-law wrote for a Lenten e-mail group a few years ago.

May we be granted such bold repentance as that of the sinful woman!

Repentance. I must admit, when I hear this word there’s something in me that almost shudders – or even better – freezes.  There’s a ‘heaviness’ to it that is almost unbearable. I guess you could say, ‘repentance is heavy; it’s serious and there’s nothing light about it.’  That would be true, but I would have to explain myself a bit more for you to see where my error lies, since – as far as I can see – this ‘heaviness’ that I feel has nothing to do with real repentance at all; even worse, it’s just an imposter, a false repentance – mixing me up.  I’ll explain a bit, and hopefully you’ll see through my ridiculousness.For example, hearing that ten-letter-word my mind rushes to images of the harsh ascetic labours that such Repentant Ones did, and still do: the deprivations, the sighs, the exile and loneliness, the severe fasting, never ending prostrations, the flight from this world, and finally the terrible tortures, and horrific deaths – all due to their great repentance.  Unable to identify in the least bit with such actions, such feats, I feel a crushing weight set into my bones. That’s when I’d sigh. And that’s when my mind despairs of my weakness – of my lack of love. And then the distance sets in – the utter separation.  I am not good enough.  With Christ having such good friends, I have no chance.

My thinking this way, it seems to me, is utter poison. I am wrong to identify these deeds – these actions – with the state of repentance.  In themselves they are nothing, since even these can be done out of pride.  Didn’t I learn from the Publican and the Pharisee? Let us flee from the pride of the Pharisee! And learn humility from the Publican’s tears!  Certainly these great acts done by Christ’s Saints truly spring from repentant hearts, but even these God-pleasing, pure, deeds are not the repentance – an expression of it, yes, but not the repentance itself.  It’s not the knees pounding into the floor that pleases Christ, but the repentant heart inspiring such a bodily response. I don’t measure up – this is undeniable – but why should I let this bring hopeless despair or utter coldness of heart?  Why do I think I should earn Christ’s love? Don’t I realize that this is impossible? In this moment of realizing how very far away I am from Christ – right before the despair (in myself) and cool feelings of helplessness – lies the possibility for repentance, but only if I take it.

Through their recorded lives, we see that all these saints known especially for their repentance had these moments – and usually in extreme degrees.  Feeling the utter weight of the truth (that they were very far from God) they acknowledged this fact and fell down beneath the weight of it. But at the very same moment, God permeates them (and us if we want it) with Himself, and overcomes this impossible divide.  The harlot, so far away just moments before, accepts this reality and because of it leaps towards Christ: “ A harlot knowing you, the Son of the Virgin, to be God, imploring you with weeping, for she had done things worthy of tears, said, ‘Loose my debt, as I unloose my hair; love one who loves, though justly hated, and along with tax-collectors I shall proclaim you, O Benefactor, who loves mankind’”(Holy Wednesday). To feel the weight of our nothingness before God, but then to cry out to Him – with hope and belief – because that’s what He’s told us to do!  That’s what we see his Holy Ones do!  And from this the distance is overcome, and we are raised high, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (Luke 14, 10).

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It seems to me that the true weight of this word ‘repentance’ comes not from anything crushing, or overwhelming.  St. Mary of Egypt tells us: “Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before — as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me — I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was I saw the life-giving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance.  Thus, repentance for her (and for us) was a key – an entrance into something otherwise closed.  The true weight of this word ‘repentance’ lies in its incomprehensible power – and from this the demons tremble.  By it, we are able to call down the divine; we empty ourselves but only to be filled.  And in this – we are told – lies incredible sweetness.  Have we surmounted our sins, fixed our problems, before this moment? Absolutely not!  It seems to me, there’s no more powerful, dynamic, way of approaching God than this.  It is not about being “good” or “bad” – of course we must strive to acquire the virtues – but it’s about the state of the heart.  Let us become good! But let us first have repentance! And let us keep this repentance! “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15, 7).

When we hear the cry of the Baptist and Forerunner: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” let us not be overwhelmed – let us not freeze!  Repentance is not heavy, but light! It is freedom – perhaps disguised to those of us lacking this sweet experience – but it is there for the taking.  There are no prerequisites. No divine ladder which must first be climbed.

Let us be like the thief on the cross and repent, so that Christ can also say to us: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23, 43).

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St. Niketas, Martyr of Serres

St. Paisios the Athonite responds to the following question:

‘Geronta, for how many years should one read the daily Synaxaria [the 12 volumes of the lives of the Saints, one for each month]?  “Throughout his life.  No matter how much is written in the Synaxaria, it is not enough.  What we are to derive from the Synaxaria is not the physical account of the lives of the saints, but the overflow, the meaning, of their lives.  The saints would be foolish if they revealed everything they experienced in secret.  Even the few things we do know about their lives provide us with sufficient help, as long as this knowledge pierces our heart, in order to put it into practice.”
From today’s Synaxarion, April 4

The holy New Martyr Nicetas was a Slav from Albania, but we know nothing of his family or his early life. He lived on Mt. Athos in the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon, then lived in the Skete of Saint Anne. Burning with a desire for martyrdom, he decided to travel to Serres. He arrived on March 30, 1808 (Great and Holy Monday) and stopped at a local monastery. In speaking to the igumen, he revealed that he was a hieromonk from Mt. Athos. At midnight, the igumen was making his customary rounds of the monastery when he saw someone standing in the moonlight praying on the church porch.

As he came closer, he could see that it was Father Nicetas, who revealed his intention to shed his blood for Christ. After speaking with the saint for a while, the igumen continued his rounds and left Father Nicetas to pray.

In the morning, Father Nicetas received Communion from the Presanctified Gifts, then went to a mosque outside the city. There he debated religion with a Moslem teacher and his disciples. Saint Nicetas approached one of them, noticing that he was lame.

The saint asked the man why he did not seek healing from his infirmity. The man said that it was impossible for him to be cured, since he had been born this way.

The monk replied that the man could be cured easily, if he would agree to obey him. The afflicted man looked at him with amazement and asked, “How must I obey you?”

“Believe in Jesus Christ as the one true God. If you are baptized, I promise you that you will be healthy and no trace of your lameness will remain.”

The man said nothing, but went to his teacher to report what the monk had said to him. The teacher questioned Saint Nicetas about where he had come from, and what he had said to his disciple.

Fearlessly, the warrior of Christ told him he was from Albania and had come to preach Christianity. Feeling pity for the lame man, he had advised him to believe in Christ so that he might receive his bodily health and the Kingdom of Heaven after death.

The teacher sent word to the mayor that a monk had come to their city and was speaking against their religion. Saint Nicetas was locked up in prison for the night, and the next day he was interrogated by Moslem religious leaders. Since they could not defeat him with reason, they tortured him and hanged him in the evening of Great and Holy Saturday in 1808. He was left hanging until Bright Tuesday, when Christians were given permission to take his body and bury it.

Two separate services have been composed in honor of Saint Nicetas, one in Slavonic and the other in Greek. A comparison of the two services reveals a difference of opinion about the saint’s national origin.

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Mother of Five and a Saint

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(From OCA Feasts & Saints) Saint Gorgonia, the sister of Saint Gregory the Theologian, she was distinguished for her great virtue, piety, meekness, sagacity, and toil. Her house was a haven for the poor. The mother of five children, she died around the year 372 at the age of thirty-nine. Her last words were, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep” (Psalm 4:8).

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UPDATE: Ileana (who entered via email) is the winner of the draw! Congrats, Ileana!

Thank you all for entering and spreading the word about St. Perpetua’s story, Out of the African Lands!

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On the feast of St. Perpetua and her companions I want to host a giveaway of the novellette I wrote, Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saint Perpetua and her Companions published by Lumination Press.

In the African provinces of the Roman Empire conversion to the Christian faith is punishable by death. But this does not stop Perpetua and her companions 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 but dies as one.

To enter simply leave a comment. To double your chances share this post on one of the many social media platforms people use. If, like me, you aren’t active on social media there’s an alternative: For a chance to enter three times read this excerpt from Fr. Matthew Penney’s The Light Guardian. Comment (or email me) to let me know you did either of the above options. (We’ll use the honour system.)

Contest closes next Wednesday, Febryary 8. A random name will be drawn on that day. An onion dome cross-stitch bookmark will be included with the book.

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While our Orthodox Mission, Holy Lady of Vladimir, still holds weekend services at Queen’s College, this post is about our domestic chapel of St. Nektarios.

I’m not a great photographer, but I wanted to show you how the domestic chapel of St. Nektarios looks now. I had written about our house chapel last year, but, to my great joy, we’ve made some additions.

My father is a very accomplished carpenter and I had been telling him how I wanted him to make us an iconostasis for our domestic chapel. Because we didn’t have proper church furniture the icons I painted of Christ, the Mother of God and St. Nektarios were relegated to the side of the chapel instead of in front of the altar. So, I was in a hurry to have something made.

The original plan was for my father to take measurements when he and his wife visited us in the Fall (of 2016). However, we ended up deciding on the spur of the moment, two days before dad was to leave, to build stands instead. Off we went to the hardware store to rent a table saw and buy supplies.

While dad started on making icon stands from scratch with no pattern, his wife Angela and I went to the fabric store. She’s a talented seamstress and equally as enthusiastic about fun projects as my dad and me and so she thought she may be able to sew some coverings on my sewing machine while dad built the stands.

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I regret that there is no photo evidence of the state of my backyard while dad and I assembled the stands together: he sawing and hammering, me sanding and crack filling. (Fr. John would have been there to help but he got called away on a pastoral matter). It was a ton of fun and I was more than ecstatic about the way the chapel would look once we were finished.

In short order the icon stands and the Proskimidi table were ready, the coverings were also ready. All Fr. John and I had to do was varnish/ stain the wood (which we’ll do in the summer – when we can do it outdoors), hang the coverings, and acquire gold crosses to be attached to the fabric. We were able to get the crosses during our trip to the mainland in October; we attached them with fabric glue, but we have yet to attach the large cross to the altar covering.

There is still more to be done. I would like to buy three oil lamps to hang from the ceiling above Christ, Panagia and St. Nektarios. But, I’m trying to not be rash in furnishing the chapel, one thing at a time. I also plan to cover the large wooden candle stand with painted canvas like I’ve marveled at in Orthodox monasteries. (You can sort of see an example of a canvas-covered candle here; it’s to the right, in the middle of the smaller candles).

This particular candle stand (shown below before the “Royal Doors” – or where Royal Doors would be) represents the fiery sword that prohibited entrance to Eden after the Fall. That is why it is placed here in front of the Royal Doors during the Divine Liturgy, after the consecration, while the priest communes.

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You can see all the snow outside the window. This photo was taken at Christmas

Words can’t express how grateful I am to have a chapel in my own home (something I always wanted). My gratitude is doubled by the fact that Fr. John has an Orthodox chapel in which to hold daily Morning and Evening Prayer, not to mention vigils.

I’m a vain sort, but I’ll be honest and say that ever since my father built the icon stands and the chapel took on more of “chapel” look I try and make sure I never miss a Vespers service (I’m unable to attend Matins because of work). It’s a comfort to stand in the oil-lamp lit space and pray in front of icons that we have collected during our travels, and moreso in front of icons that I had the honour to paint.

The icons I painted – pictured in the below collage – are as follows: (Top left corner) St. Gregory Palamas (he is to Christ’s right in the photo). Below that is an icon of St. Demetrios (this is a copy of an icon I painted – my godson has the original); Christ the High Priest and St. Nektarios (as well as the Mother of God depicted elsewhere); St. John Maximovitch (bottom left) – which I just finished last week; and St. John the Theologian (bottom right).

It comes as a great consolation to me to have the icons I painted – icons that took me countless hours to paint – in our chapel. I can’t speak for other iconographers, but for me, when I paint an icon I don’t feel ownership over it. I may be a bit more critical of my own work than I would be of others, but at some point the icons I paint stop being my work and become the countenances of the persons depicted. And yet, I know each inch of the icons in intimate detail, they are so personal and yet so distinctly their own. It’s hard to explain, perhaps I’m just babbling. So, I’ll suffice it to say I’m deeply humbled that images I painted with my own unworthy hand now adorn an Orthodox chapel. I thank God for my talent and hope He accepts my offering.

Lastly, I want to say while I love our domestic chapel, my joy would more than quadruple if our parish were able to establish a proper Orthodox church here on the island of Newfoundland. Amen, so be it.

Please keep us in your holy prayers!

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