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Archive for the ‘The Scent of Holiness’ Category

page_1(As posted on Byzatine Texas)  Matushka Constantine R. Palmer has written another book – this one entitled “The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory.” I earlier interviewed her about her book “The Scent of Holiness” a few years back; a title that continues to be quite a popular read. She has again agreed to answer a few questions for the blog about her latest book in the following interview. Enjoy!


So what prompted this second book? I know your first publication was well received and it seems to be a staple in many church bookstores that I’ve visited.

A large impetus for this book was all the “untold stories” that I had mentally compiled even while writing The Scent of Holiness. I felt that I couldn’t tell all the stories I would have liked to because they wouldn’t necessarily fit in the confines of a book predominantly about women’s monasteries. I believe I snuck one story about my theology professor in the first book, and maybe one about my parish priest from Thessaloniki. But even then I was aware that those stories fell a little outside the perimeters I had constructed for the book.

It wasn’t until one of the sisters started asking me about writing a second book that I even thought seriously about trying to present various stories of my experiences and conversations not only in Greece but in South Korea and North America.

But to be frank, the honest truth behind why I wrote this book is that I don’t like to keep things to myself. I’m excitable and I like to share stories that inspire me because I get excited and inspired all over again when I see that my stories resonate with others. I also felt like after the first book my readers would know me well enough that I could perhaps share some of the more weighty experiences without scaring them off. I hope and believe these stories compliment the light-hearted elements of The Scent of Holiness and bring out another layer of Christian spiritual struggle.

You took a very circuitous path to end up in a mission church in Newfoundland. Can you speak a little about the journeys through Greece, South Korea, to your new home in Canada? How did that all work out and do you feel like a Newfie yet?
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In 2006 I finished an amazing undergraduate degree in a Great Books program in New Brunswick (where we’re originally from). Around the same time my husband, John (now Fr. John), was finishing his Masters degree in Patristics at Durham University in England. While we have never regretted our choice of studies, they didn’t exactly provide us with a means of living right off the bat.Friends of ours had previously lived in South Korea teaching English and this inspired my brother and sister-in-law to take the leap and move there. For anyone who has ever heard my brother speak you will know his power of persuasion was enough to convince us to do likewise. So we moved to South Korea mostly to pay off student loan debt but also to buy some time while we tried to figure out our next steps in life.

While living in Seoul we heard about the School of Modern Greek Language in Thessaloniki where foreign students would learn Greek and then proceed to study at Aristotle University. At the time my husband wanted to continue his studies so we were looking for a university anyway. While we spoke of different European schools I really wanted us to go to an Orthodox country to further immerse ourselves in Orthodoxy. Our spiritual father agreed that Greece would be a good next step and we headed in that direction just a few months after we finished teaching English in Seoul for one year.

In Greece, as most may know of me, I studied theology as well. My Master’s thesis was on the iconographer and the theology of icons more generally. During the nearly six years we lived there we spent significant amounts of time at women’s monasteries and I also learned to paint icons and I (somewhat) learned Byzantine chant.

Midway through our Greek adventure we came back to Canada one summer to visit our families and while visiting with an abbess she suggested we meet Bishop Irenee of Quebec City, the OCA bishop responsible for Eastern Canada. (He is now Archbishop Irenee of Ottawa and all of Canada). We began getting to know the bishop and about a year later Fr. John was ordained to the deaconate. However, he continued to serve in Greece until his PhD studies were finished.

It was very important for us to be able to return to the East Coast as Canada is so large you really connect with where you live regionally. Vladyka spoke to us about trying out a few places: St. John’s, Newfoundland was one of those places. My father is from Corner Brook (the second largest town on Newfoundland – population 20,000). So I wasn’t unfamiliar with Newfoundland and Newfoundland culture or dialect (despite living on the mainland for over 35 years my father still has an accent).

We visited the community here in St. John’s after Fr. John’s ordination to the priesthood in 2013. We arrived late on Lazarus Saturday and stayed until after St. Thomas Sunday. Fr. John served every single day; very quickly we both felt that this was where we should be.

There has been a OCA mission in St. John’s since 2003; the first two years of which there was a priest. In the following eight years the mission had two other priests come, but each only stayed briefly. While the mission now has a permanent priest it still does not have a permanent location for our chapel. We use a chapel at the Anglican seminary here which means we have to set-up and take-down the chapel every weekend. Glory to God, since 2015 we also have a house-chapel that we use for daily services (Matins and Vespers) as well as for vigils when feasts fall during weekdays. [If any reader would like to be the benefactor of a small, but beautiful, Orthodox church on the island of Newfoundland please contact us! :)]

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My kindergartners, Seoul 2007

When you come to a place where there is only one Orthodox mission on a huge island with no priest it makes it very difficult to turn away and head elsewhere. Through the grace of God we have managed to stay here despite the strong winds (both literally and figuratively). We collected a lot of blessings both in South Korea (with its two Orthodox churches in Seoul) and in Greece and owe a great debt to God. Perhaps I could say just as we moved to South Korea to pay off student loans, we’ve moved to Newfoundland to pay off spiritual ones.

The book has what I might characterize as a distinctly feminine voice to it. I don’t mean that this book would only appeal to women – far from it – but in the same way some religious works come off as inescapably paternal. This text reverberates with a lot of the topics that worked so well in your first book. Has anyone else said something similar?

Like you, I in no way believe this book, nor The Scent of Holiness, should only appeal to women, though I know some think that way. Although my books are written from a woman’s perspective I still think there is something for everyone.

I’m not one for thinking we need to categorize everything into male and female. For instance, the Orthodox Church is often seen as a cut-and-dry, male-ruled institution, but I do not see this. I mean, yes, our hierarchs are men, our priests and deacons are men. However, do you walk into a fully adorned Orthodox temple and think, “Wow, this place is rather starkly paternal”? No. You think, “My goodness this is beautiful!” because Orthodoxy speaks to the human person. It is so distinctly human and spiritual at the same time. This is what testifies to it being the Truth. It appeals to the whole person. I’ve never heard that in the Heavenly Kingdom there will be a women’s section and men’s section. I’ve just heard saints will experience grace in proportion to the good works they did in life and their love for God and His Church.

The Sweetness of Grace, as you’ve noted, contains similar topics as in my first book. I think this is reflective of the experiences and conversations that have meaning for me, whether they involve nuns, monks, priests or laypeople. With my books I am trying to appeal to the whole person. My personal lens is a feminine one, but I don’t think it distracts from the message, which is – at its core – an Orthodox Christian message. I came to Orthodoxy as an adult. I learned at the feet of nuns. I try to take in everything my spiritual father has taught me by his words and deeds. I live on an island with a small Orthodox community composed of various Orthodox ethnicities. This is my lived-experience of Orthodoxy. This all has contributed to my desire to live and express Orthodoxy not as a religion but as a faith, a way of life. I try to do this in my personal life just as I do in my books. When people ask me about my “religion” I tell them it is not a religion; it is, as described in the Scriptures, the Way. It is the way of living, the way of thinking, the way of loving and the way of dying.

The things that I value are the things I have noted in my travels. Some of these things stand out to me because I’m a woman, some because of my personality, still others because of my upbringing. But I’m hoping that through prayer and reflection I am able to frame those experiences in a manner consistent with our Orthodox tradition, both written and oral, which is composed of both male and female voices.

This book in no way shrinks from the “mystical” aspects of a life lived inside the Church. While not all the stories touch on that facet of the spiritual life, there are a number of stories about how God and His saints are active in our lives. Thinking about my own pastoral experiences, I think at least anecdotally I can say that such experiences are not common “parish talk” in many of our churches. What accounts for this do you think?

I am hesitant to offer an opinion on this because I genuinely don’t know the answer. There are likely a variety of reasons for this. All I can say is the stories about the mystical aspects of Orthodox life were collected over ten years, having lived on three different continents and having recorded such stories when I heard them. These are not all my experiences; they are a collection of experiences.

newf3Having said that I truly believe God and the saints are a lot more active in all our lives than we perhaps perceive. It is God who makes the sun to shine, the grass to grow, the flowers to blossom and the wind to blow. This is our everyday reality. But who reflects thus? Few.

I find our minds are so occupied with our to-do lists, with the cares and concerns of everyday life that we can easily overlook the mystical aspects of life. And that’s okay. That happens. I know it happens to me anyway. But life is so much more full, more meaningful, more bearable when we consciously take the time to seek God and the intercession of the saints, to make them apart of our everyday life. Effort is required for us to truly feel the presence of God and the saints in our lives. It’s like a friendship; it is two-sided. They will not invite themselves over for coffee unless we make room for that friendship.

We shouldn’t place too much value on the miraculous either though. We should look at the dry spells as blessings also. We should see God’s presence in our lives even in the most dark, most difficult situations. He is always there, the saints are always there. We just need to call on them more often: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

What was your process for in selecting stories and did you have any help in organizing the material?

I first wrote out all the stories I wanted to include but felt I needed a unique way of presenting them to compliment the 33 Knots of the first book. I have always loved the Beatitudes and while writing the book I often found myself singing them so I started playing with the idea of grouping stories into thematic sections within the framework of the Beatitudes. In order to do this I needed to better understand them so I read a few different Patristic interpretations of them. This filled out their deeper meaning for me. So, for example, “blessed are the poor of spirit” not only refers to those who are humble but also obedient, etc.

Once I felt better equipped to see the variety of Christian virtues contained within the Beatitudes I started looking at the content of the stories and figuring out where best they fit. I was happy with the result, though I found it does make that last chapter a bit more weighty as the stories are reflective of “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. At the same time, this Christian attribute is the highest form of sacrifice, the pinnacle of expressing our complete love for Christ so it’s also fitting to end with that in mind.

Returning a bit to your current home. What does the future of Orthodoxy in Newfoundland look like? Are there any aspects of life up there that make evangelism unique for you both?

I can honestly say I don’t know what the future of Orthodoxy in Newfoundland looks like. All we can do is plant the seed. Sometimes it feels like it will never bear fruit and other times I can see the tree budding and find myself holding my breath waiting for it to bloom. I have to constantly remind myself that God measures progress differently than I do. Progress isn’t necessarily in church attendance numbers or in owning a beautiful church building. True progress is the amount of confessions that take place, the amount of prayer ropes that not only get given out but used. Before moving here I went to visit a well-known elder and he told me, “If you can save just one soul it will be worth all your effort”. I try to remember that.

The thing we’ve found that makes evangelism a little more challenging here on the Rock is that Newfoundlanders (at least those in St. John’s) are hesitant to approach anyone who appears different, so they are not as open to Orthodoxy as people may be who live in a place very open to different cultures and religions. But we keep toiling and praying. It’s really important to my husband to offer daily services and it means a lot to both of us that the island of Newfoundland is commemorated in the services: “for this island… and the faithful that dwell therein…”. So people are benefited by the prayers of our mission whether or not they even know we exist.

newf2There is one Newfoundland story I’d like to share that occurred last summer. Fr. John and I went hiking near a frequently-visited ocean beach. On our way back we encountered a Russian family. The man, seeing Fr. John’s cassock and cross, asked if he were a priest in Newfoundland. It turned out this man had lived in St. John’s for over 20 years and had never heard of our mission. We spoke a bit and he asked where we held services. We went on our way, not really expecting to ever see him again as we had met many ethnic Orthodox who always asked where the church was but rarely showed up. To our surprise this man came to church the very next Sunday and has come every single Sunday since. We later found out he had been praying for God to lead him to an Orthodox church as all the years he lived in Newfoundland he had kept his faith, read copious amounts of Orthodox books and would attend Divine Liturgy whenever he visited Russia or places that had churches.

This is one example of many that keeps our hearts at peace with our decision to live and serve Christ in Newfoundland. All of these blessings encourage us to keep planting so God may reap.

Thanks so much for the benefit of your time in this interview. It has been a joy to discuss your latest book and evangelical efforts. May God bless your mission work and all your future writing endeavors!

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Christ is risen! (I love that we get to say this for 40 days)

Above you see a collection of my journals ranging from 2004 to 2016. I have been writing in a journal since about Grade 8 (as we Canadians say), so that would be since I was…  counting on my fingers… thirteen years old. That means that for twenty years – 2/3 of my life – I have been recording my thoughts, feelings and experiences in notebooks.

This is all that remains of my journals. While moving out of our apartment to get ready to move to South Korea I rashly threw out all my journals from before 2004. There weren’t that many of them, and looking back I don’t feel that bad about it. They were mostly filled with the morose, self-centered thoughts of a moody teenager. Who really wants to revisit those times?

Anyway, you’re probably thinking: That’s nice, Matushka, by what’s the point of this show-and-tell about your collection of journals?

Let me explain.

First of all, as you can see from all the tabs sticking out of my journals from my time living in South Korea and Greece, recording my experiences became the foundation for writing  both The Scent of Holiness and The Sweetness of Grace. (Though in actuality the tabs you see were for The Sweetness of Grace; I wrote The Scent of Holiness so quickly in comparison I didn’t really need to dig through journals to refresh my memory).

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I started writing The Sweetness of Grace in 2014, eight years after first moving to South Korea. I had an one month break from my social work degree that summer and I drove up to a park overlooking a lake and wrote on my laptop while sitting in my car. The weather had turned rainy that August so I would write for a while and, when the showers let up, would go for walks in the woods. It took me two years to write The Sweetness of Grace. Having written down my experiences in my journal when they first occurred allowed me to feel confident the stories were as accurate as I could describe. Of course, everything is told through the lens of personal perspective and experience, but even a historian can’t help insert themselves into the story in some form I suppose.

Moving on… the real reason I’m sharing all this with you is to commend you to your own journal-writing. When I look though my old journals, though I don’t do it very often, it really helps give me a truer picture of my life, my self, my sins and my passions. The difficult times in my life, the most intimately dark and difficult experiences, suddenly become the most influential. Where once I could only taste the bitterness of gall, now they are revealed as having been mixed with sweet honey. In the new light cast by the passage of time they no longer appear simply difficult but rather as opportunities for character-building. They are the reason I can read this passage from the Pslater and fully ascent to it:

In all our days, let us be glad for the days wherein Thou didst humble us, for the years wherein we saw evils Ps. 90:16.

lined up

Writing in journals gets out all the bile and selfishness that boils in our heart all too often, going unsaid and forgotten but never repented of or properly purged.When I prepare for confession I often go back to my journal. I keep a different book where I try and record my daily thoughts and sins (though I’m very negligent in this regard). Going back to the place where I write the narratives of my life can reveal things I didn’t realize were there. It’s only helpful to write down our inner thoughts and feelings if we actually use them as ammunition in our confessions to properly accuse ourselves.

Lastly, writing in journals – especially over time – helps us see how quickly life is passing us by. Not only from a time perspective, but from a personal one. Am I the same person I was in 2004? If the answer is yes, then there’s a problem. It’s not that we will be, or even should be, aware of our progression from spiritually immature to spiritually mature. However, I hope to God that I won’t react today the way I did years before if faced with a similar trial or temptation. We need to be ever striving, ever searching to draw closer to God and further away from our “old man” and the secular, if enticing, ways of the world. Conversely, it can work the other way. When I read my journal from 2009-2011 I read some of the best experiences of my life. (This was in the middle of our life in Greece). We were living in Thessaloniki, going to monasteries and studying theology. When I read it now I ask myself, “Have I digressed?” But again, this question holds more weight when one can read the inner workings of one’s heart from better years.

As for man his days are as the grass, as a flower of the field so shall he blossom forth Ps. 103: 15

Our life is passing us by without our noticing it. Like the way the ocean tide goes out so quickly and yet almost imperceptibly. The water seems so close to shore until all of a sudden you realize it’s far away.

Don’t let life slip away like the sea slips away from the shore. Writing in a journal not only helps improve your writing skills but really helps focus you and helps you realize where your priorities lie and where your treasure is (Luke 12:34). This is important because we don’t want our heart to be where our treasure is if our treasure isn’t Christ.

Give it a try it!

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I dated my journals when compiling material for my second book. I found it easier to find passages I was looking for.

(As a side note, I grew up in a place that has the highest tides in the whole world. In just six hours low tide goes to high tide and that’s the difference of 50 feet! So, ocean similes come naturally to me.)

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On the feast of St. Maximos the Confessor, I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of my second book The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing.

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Following the success of my first book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, I have been asked to speak not only about my experiences visiting and working alongside nuns, but also about years spent living the Orthodox faith in South Korea, Greece and North America. In reflecting on many of my untold stories, I began to write them down. Thus, The Sweetness of Grace is, in a sense, a sequel to The Scent of Holiness, yet it is also much more. Although it can be read independently, a number of the themes and a few people I wrote about in The Scent of Holiness make appearances in this book. It is not, however, limited to the confines of women’s monasteries, but rather offers stories about monastics, priests and pious laity located throughout the world – insights into the Orthodox Church in Seoul, experiences of parish life in Thessaloniki, and pilgrimages to monasteries not only in Greece but in North America.

In honour of the recipe for holiness Christ gives us in the Beatitudes, this book has eight sections, each named after one of the eight Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

        For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

        For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

        For they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

        For they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

        For they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

        For they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

        For they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

                For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:1-10)

The stories are arranged according to these themes, each story representing an aspect of the Beatitude, either the virtue, the reward, or both. Since the Beatitudes are a perfect summary of the spiritual life, I wanted to convey elements of the spiritual life by means of various stories. Thus, The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory contains dozens of stories about inspirational, holy people, true strugglers seeking the means and method of staying on the straight and narrow path that leads to life. The stories are examples of the sweet and difficult aspects of Christian life; they are a petition to take life in Christ seriously; they are a challenge to put into practice the Gospel precepts exactly in the life circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Whether one is a priest, monastic, or layperson, the sweetness of grace is offered to us all: through the trials, through the victories, we struggle to acquire and hold onto it, and when we taste it, we want to share that sweetness with others. By sharing these stories I hope to share the sweetness I was blessed to taste.

Check back  to find out when you can order your copy from Ancient Faith Publishing!

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Christmas Present Idea

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Ancient Faith Store is selling The Scent of Holiness and an icon bracelet as a Christmas gift set.

Perhaps you’ll consider purchasing a few for the “hers” in your life  :).

Product Description

Icon Bracelet with Wood Beads

Small icons are mounted to eleven wood beads, and strung into an elasticized wrist band with a double row of round beads.

The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery

Every monastery exudes the scent of holiness, but women’s monasteries have their own special flavor. Join Constantina Palmer as she makes frequent pilgrimages to a women’s monastery in Greece and absorbs the nuns’ particular approach to their spiritual life. If you’re a woman who’s read of Mount Athos and longed to partake of its grace-filled atmosphere, this book is for you. Men who wish to understand how women’s spirituality differs from their own will find it a fascinating read as well.

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Ancient Faith Publishing‘s May Catalog:

The Sweetness of Grace by Constantina R. Palmer

From the author of The Scent of Holiness. The Sweetness of Grace is a collection of stories derived from conversations with Orthodox nuns, monks, and laypeople, along with experiences of Orthodox life in South Korea, Greece, and North America. Those who enjoyed Everyday Saints will enjoy these similar stories from other parts of the Orthodox world.

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While The Sweetness of Grace is not exactly a sequel, a number of the themes and a few people I wrote about in The Scent of Holiness make appearances in this new book.  It can be read independently, however, and does not have a women’s monastery as its primary setting. It is more board in scope. Written in a similar style to The Scent of Holiness, it is a collection of stories – composed of vignettes – about Christian trial and victory. It tells stories of monastics and laypeople alike, my experiences of Orthodoxy while teaching English in South Korea, living and studying theology in Greece, as well as a few stories from life here in North America.

There is no definitive publication date as of yet, but I will certainly keep you posted.  Share the word!

 

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A beautiful fountain in the courtyard of the Holy Monastery of St. Theodora in Thessaloniki, Greece.

 

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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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The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery is now available in Romanian translation, published by Sophia Press. You can order your copy here.

sophia-Mireasma-sfinteniei.-Povestiri-dintr-o-manastire-de-maici---Constantina-PalmerMireasma sfinteniei. Povestiri dintr-o manastire de maici

Povestirile Constantinei Palmer nu sunt nici teologice, nici catehetice. Ele sunt relatări personale, nemijlocite, ale propriilor sale experiențe duhovnicești trăite într‑o mănăstire ortodoxă, prin intermediul cărora autoarea împărtășește cititorilor nu numai trăirile ei de taină într‑un univers existențial plin de iubire și dăruire, ci și invitația de a explora în profunzime acest mod de viață. O astfel de invitație ne deschide paginile cărții de față, îndemnându‑ne să pătrundem într‑o lume mai puțin cunoscută, pentru a afla cât mai multe aspecte interesante, inedite, ziditoare de suflet culese din viața de zi cu zi într‑o mănăstire de maici.

S‑au scris multe cărți și biografii ale părinților stareți contemporani, diferite relatări ale unor experiențe du­hov­ni­cești dobândite în mănăstiri de călugări, dar caracterul unic al viețuirii monahale în mănăstirile de maici a rămas deseori ascuns, departe de ochii pelerinilor. Desigur, în Hristos Domnul nu mai este parte bărbătească și parte femeiască (Galateni 3, 28), însă călugăria femeilor are totuși o calitate distinctă. „Bărbații, după cum spunea o maică stareță, încearcă să taie sfoara cu toporul dintr‑o singură lovitură; femeile se nevoiesc să o desfacă încet. Altfel spus, bărbații încearcă să‑și reteze patimile năpustindu‑se cu forță asupra lor, în timp ce femeile se străduiesc fără încetare să se lupte cu patimile, dar duc această luptă treptat‑treptat, fără a atrage atenția asupra lor.”

COLECȚIE: RELIGIE / DIVERSE RELIGIE / POVATUIRI DUHOVNICESTI

EDITURA: SOPHIA
APARIȚIE: 2015
ISBN:978‑973‑136-459-9
PAGINI: 312
FORMAT: 13X20 CM
TRADUCERE: LUMINIȚA IRINA NICULESCU

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