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page_1Christos a inviat! (We only get to say Christ is risen for a few more days).

I am pleased to inform you that just yesterday I received an email from the Romanian translator of The Scent of Holiness stating she is about to start translating The Sweetness of Grace. It will be published by Editura Sophia (Sophia Press) just as the first one was. I will be sure to let you all know when the Romanian version is ready for purchase.

For those who haven’t had a chance to see the book trailer, check it out. The photos are all from our travels in South Korea, Greece and North America.

 

The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing, is available both in paperback and e-book format. You can purchase copies from Ancient Faith Publishing or through Amazon.

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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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51k5othnmsl-_sy346_Below is a very gracious review of The Sweetness of Grace by Matushka Anna Crawford. I thank her for taking the time to write down her thoughts on my new book.

Original post can be found here.

“More than the sum of its parts,” was a phrase that came to mind when I finished The Sweetness of Grace: stories of Christian trial and victory by Matushka Constantina Palmer. However, that phrase doesn’t quite convey what I want it to. You see, it isn’t the sum of the parts that makes this book what it is, because each story carries within it  the whole: the grace of Orthodoxy as lived by faithful Orthodox Christians.

Mat. Constantina admits in the introduction that it is her skills as a storyteller, not her masters degree in theology, which bring these stories to life, but I must disagree slightly. Matushka is an exceptional storyteller, but she also has the intimate knowledge of the Holy Fathers and their writings which provides the lens through which the light of the stories shine. Much like my spiritual father who has a (to me) phenomenal and encyclopedic ability to pull out exactly the right anecdote from an elder’s life, a quotation from a saint, verse from holy scripture, or story from the Prologue, Matushka roots every story solidly in the Church’s Tradition. This in turn brings a deeper understanding of the scripture or precept.

All of this might make the book sound too exalted to read! Do not be deceived on this front; just like Matushka Constantina’s first book, The Scent of Holiness, this one is extremely approachable, easy to read, and enjoyable. I read the first third in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. After all, it is a collection of stories. The Lord himself taught us in parables, or stories, as the best way to capture our attention and instruct us. There is nothing insignificant about the humble story.

I recommend this book very highly. You will likely read it as I did, in huge gulps, but then you will return again and again to savor individual stories. Both The Sweetness of Grace and The Scent of Holiness [review here] should be in every Orthodox Christian’s library. Thank you, Matushka, for your labors in collecting and sharing these stories with us.

The Sweetness of Grace: stories of Christian trial and victory is available from Ancient Faith Publishing. I received a free copy in return for my unbiased review.

 

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Bobby Maddox, host of Ancient Faith Radio’s Ex Libris, graciously took the time to interview me on my new book, The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory.

You can listen to it here.

In the interview Bobby references the interview I did for The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery back in 2012. You can listen to that interview here.

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Originally posted on Ancient Faith BlogsBehind the Scenes

By Constantina Palmer

Sweetness of Grace Stories of Christian Trial and VictorySTORY FOR BODY AND SOUL

Storytelling is a characteristic feature of our Orthodox Tradition. It is an ancient and effective means of sharing high ideals, universal truths, with the common man through images and examples relative to his experience in daily life. Not only is our history replete with books full of stories about holy desert dwellers, repentant sinners, sayings and anecdotes of anchorites and hermits, but the Gospel itself, Christ’s own teachings, are dispensed in the form of story, in parables.

The parables Christ describes in the Gospels contain profound depths of spiritual insight and wisdom, only discernible to those who wish to seek the truth. Parables are straightforward enough that the carnal man (i.e., the non-spiritual person) would believe he understands Christ’s teaching because, on the surface, he does. However, in reality the mystery of their depth remains hidden from him.

And the disciples came, and said unto him, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” He answered and said unto them, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (Matt. 13:10-11)

Every aspect of the spiritual life requires effort. And so, it should not surprise us that even grasping the deeper meaning of parables obliges humble-mindedness and spiritual insight. To him who makes the effort to dig deeper, Christ reveals hidden, divine truths: “He that has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15).

In a similar fashion, stories of Orthodox life, mindset, and spiritual realities provide two layers of insight. The first is the basic level of understanding: “That’s a nice story,” is perhaps (at best) the impression a non-spiritual person has. The second layer, however, is capable of penetrating the heart. The content of the story first enters the intellectual mind and then, for those well-disposed, proceeds to have an effect (whether or not the person is cognizant of it) on the inner man.

Like all spiritual things, there is the exterior and the interior. Like Christ’s parables, stories of spiritual depth offer both.

When asked which was more important for salvation, bodily asceticism or interior vigilance, Saint Agathon said, “Man is like a tree. Bodily asceticism is the foliage, but interior vigilance is the fruit. Holy Scripture says that ‘every tree which does not bring forth good fruit shall be cut down and thrown into the fire’ (Mt.3:10). Therefore, we should focus our attention on the fruit. But a tree also needs the protection of its foliage, which is bodily asceticism.”

Obviously, Abba Agathon is speaking here of external good works and internal spiritual works, but the idea is the same. Man is of two natures: bodily and spiritual. Stories and parables that provide two layers speak to man as consisting of both body and soul.

STORY AS MOSAIC

Another element of spiritual stories is the communal nature inherent in them. A story is something to be shared. What good is a storyteller if she has no one to whom she can relay the story? Like love, the greatest Christian virtue, it is worthless unless we share it with others. Spiritual stories are a means by which a person supports and edifies his neighbour and is himself supported and edified in his own spiritual journey.

My own stories – stories of Christian trial and victory, of lessons learned and spiritual conversations with holy ones – do not merely involve a storyteller and her listener. They are themselves communal. They are not merely my own; they are also the story of others. They describe the spiritual warfare and spiritual riches of others. They are an exchange, a mosaic; they are both my story and their story. Like St. Nikolai Velimirovich, I too,

…am searching for those who have listened, my Lord, and I share my joy with them. I tell them about Your ways and Your wisdom, and they confirm what I relate. And we multiply our joy and share it. I listen to the tale of those who have listened, how You removed the stumbling blocks before their feet, and I add my own story, and our room is filled with heaven.

The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory is a mosaic of all the things I learned, saw, and heard as an Orthodox Christian striving to live the faith in South Korea, Greece, and here on the Atlantic-encircled island of Newfoundland. It contains examples of the sweet and difficult aspects of Christian life. These stories, my own and those of others, 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. They are a sharing of stories, intended for the whole person – body and soul – intended to inspire good works in the reader.

STORY AS MOTIVATION FOR ACTION

Spiritual stories, Christ’s parables, the sayings of the desert fathers (please God, even my own simple stories) differ from secular stories in that they are intended to motivate the listener to flee from vice and acquire virtue. When we hear a spiritual story the proper response is to learn and express this learning through our actions.

“I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw” (Proverbs 24:32).

Spiritual stories are like a feast, the storyteller a gracious host. A host decorates his banquet hall, offers the finest foods and wine, and invites all he knows to eat and drink so that they may be filled. Having a story fall on deaf ears is like a person who is invited to the beautiful feast, arrives, sees the sights, smells the aroma, but does not ingest the food. What good is there in a feast if it is not eaten? The same is true of spiritual stories. They must be digested. We must grind them in the mill of our hearts, extract a lesson and apply it with zeal. In this way we are ever vigilant, ever learning, ever applying the commandments of Christ. This is what it means in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers when it states the visitor “went away greatly edified” (Sayings, p. 52).

When we hear or read a spiritual story, when we receive “the words of life”, the fruit of these words ought to be born in our hearts. This fruit becomes wisdom, understanding, forgiveness, self-reflection, courage, patience, endurance, fortitude. The benefits of spiritual stories are unfathomable if only we are not passive when we hear them. We must greet them with an open and eager heart and display our gratitude through action.

This is true both of he who hears (or reads) spiritual stories, and he who relays them. As a storyteller, I myself must strive not to be a “teacher who teaches but doesn’t practice what she preaches” (as the ever-memorable Gerontissa Makrina of Portia was wont to say). I, like all listeners, must “produce fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Repentance is, in the truest sense, an action. It entails turning away from sin and toward God; this occurs first in one’s mindset and afterward is reflected in one’s deeds.

Often, when St. John Chrysostom would preach, his divinely-inspired words would evoke rapturous applause from the listening crowds, and his response would often be (in essence), “Don’t clap; rather, put my words into action.” The same can be said of every parable, every spiritual story, we hear or read. Let’s not merely clap our hands in enthusiasm, let’s show forth good works, let’s go away “greatly edified.”

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Some of my favorite spiritual stories are contained in the following books:
Practical Teachings on the Christian Life by Abba Dorotheos
Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters by St. Paisios the Athonite
An Athonite Gerontikion by Priestmonk Ionnikios Kotsonis
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicta Ward
The Dialogues by St. Gregory Dialogos
Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon
The Prologue of Orhid by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

About Constantina Palmer

Constantina R. Palmer is from New Brunswick, a quaint province on Canada’s Atlantic coast. She lived in Thessaloniki, Greece for almost six years, during which time she received a Master’s degree in theology from Aristotle University, studied Cretan style iconography, as well as Byzantine chant. Not one to simply learn from books she also spent significant time at a number of women’s monasteries throughout northern Greece. Currently, she lives with her husband, an Orthodox priest, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, serving the only Orthodox parish on the island of Newfoundland. She is also a social worker. Constantina is the author of two books: The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery and The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory.

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BUY NOW

Click on this link to buy your copy: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-sweetness-of-grace/

You can also read a sample chapter at the above link!

 

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Book Release!

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I’m happy to announce the release of my second book, The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing.

Product Description

Item No. 9781944967048

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.

Author: Constantina R. Palmer

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Ancient Faith Publishing

Retail Price: $20.95

You can order your copy here.

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From the dedication at the beginning of the book:

 Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my Little Office. I fast a little. I pray. I meditate. I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”

Then Abba Joseph stood up, stretched his hands towards heaven and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you wish, you can become all flame.”

I would like to dedicate this book to all the struggling and holy monastics, priests, and laypeople who, like Abba Joseph, showed me by means of their own bright and brilliant example that if only I wish, I too can become all flame.

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Watch the book trailer below which features many of the places and a few of the people I wrote about:

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