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Archive for the ‘The Sweetness of Grace’ Category

This is a talk I delivered for young adults this past March at St. George’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Montreal.

It’s odd to hear myself answer questions on the spot. I am often critical of my answers and wish I had more time to consider the questions, but that’s the nature of an on-the-spot Q & A. But, hopefully I didn’t say anything incorrect or harmful.

I found the questions really poignant; they demonstrated how seriously this crowd take their faith and that was inspiring. In fact the Q & A went on so long I didn’t include it all in this recording because it took me so long to edit the recording so that you could somewhat hear the questions being posed.

In addition to this talk I did two talks earlier that day for a retreat organized by the Orthodox Christian Women of Montreal, and on Sunday, after Divine Liturgy, I spoke with the teens in their Sunday school class. It was so nice to be surrounded by plenty of Orthodox Christians! I’d like to extend my gratitude to Fr. Justin and Matushka Catherine for inviting me, as well as the Orthodox Christian Women of Montreal, and of course to the parish of St. George’s for hosting me.

 

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fake it 'til you make it

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An excerpt from The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, Chapter  Two: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (for they shall be comforted), pp. 57-58. 

parable-publican-pharisee-iconThe Subway-station Publican

We stepped off the subway and onto the multicolored tile floor of the station. As we were swept along with the surging crowd my eyes fell on a beggar. To see a beggar in a subway station was not strange in Seoul, South Korea, but to see a beggar lying prostrate, his face to the ground, was.

I don’t definitively remember us giving him change; I only remember his hands, cupped and poking out in front of his head. He didn’t even raise his eyes to those passing by. He simply and humbly begged.

A sight such as that would most likely have stayed with me, but on that day all the more because of what day it was.

We had just come from the Korean Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas, having celebrated the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. And so, when we saw the man lying prostrate on the ground our minds were immediately drawn toward the icon of the publican: prostrate, humble, not daring even to raise his eyes as he supplicated for mercy. Here in front of us was such a one. What an example of humility right before our very eyes.

We walked up the staircase leading to a different subway line, discussing among ourselves the sheer coincidence that we would see such a beggar on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.

Some eighty days later, yet again we encountered our subway-station publican. It was Pentecost Sunday and we were again transferring to the next line. This time I distinctly remember giving him change. First my brother, than my sister-in-law put money into his cupped hands. I reached into my pocket and saw that I only had 300 won (about 30 cents). I cringed that that is all I had, but still I reached down and put the nearly useless amount of money into the beggar’s hand. To my shock he grabbed my hand and pulled it close to his lowered head and kissed it. A kiss from a lowly beggar: perhaps not something most would consider a great gift – or so it might seem to one not on the receiving end of such a gift. I pulled my hand back in surprise. He raised his eyes and I saw he was crying. Tears began to well up in my own eyes.

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Some man who misunderstood the situation, thinking I was distressed by this beggar, began to come toward us. I made some gesture to show him everything was alright and I turned to go.

The feeling that energized in me the moment the dear publican kissed my hand is something very difficult to express. It is very humbling to have one’s hand kissed, even more so when all I gave to the poor beggar was a mere 30 cents. But that is life in Christ: all we have to offer God is a few cents and He gives us back one hundred fold.

I never saw our friend again, but I have never forgotten him. Every Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee he is brought to mind and I reflect on how much his humble gesture, his humble kiss, made me feel like I had received the blessing of a great saint. Truly, angels are disguised in many forms, and encounters with seemingly insignificant people can be as special as those with angels.

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The following story is from the chapter “Blessed are the Merciful”, pp. 158-159, in The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing.

The Quickest Way to Lose Grace

“One of the quickest ways to lose grace is to judge your fellow human being,” the hieromonk told a small group of us after a baptismal service.

“Elder Ephraim of Katounakia saw a monk’s soul fall from grace for a simple judgmental thought. There was a brother who would walk around his chapel before services and bang a talanton [the long wooden plank used in monasteries to call people to prayer by hammering a rhythm on it]. However, he lived in an isolated area, alone. A monk judged him for this. He had the thought, ‘What is he doing? There is no one around to call to prayer.’ And immediately Elder Ephraim saw grace depart from the monk who passed judgment.

talaton

“Justify others. Condemn yourself. Say, ‘I’m acting like this, feeling this way because of my passions. If I didn’t have passions I wouldn’t act like this, react like this.’

“Don’t even pass judgment in your mind,” he continued. “Fight thoughts: push them out, don’t let them stay in your head, don’t argue with them. If they are strong, confess them right away. When judgmental thoughts come, if you immediately condemn yourself, ‘I’m like this because of my passions,’ then immediately grace will come to your aid, if you fight back with humility and self-condemnation.

“It helps to remember King David’s words: ‘I was brought low’—humbled, in other words—‘and the Lord saved me.’ Be compassionate and loving toward others, just as the Lord was and is compassionate and loving toward you.”

And with those words we left with the weighty knowledge that one of the easiest sins to slip into results in one of the quickest departures of grace.

*  *  *

And here’s a cool video of an Orthodox monk calling all to prayer through the hammering on the symandron. A symandron is basically a stationary talaton. The difference is the talaton is portable, carried in one hand with a hammer in the other.

Fun fact: Tradition says that it was by hammering on a wooden plank that Noah called the animals into the ark. And it is by hammering on a wooden plank that monastics call the “rational sheep” into the Ark of Salvation (the Church).

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Last night, June 22, the Feast of St. Alban the Proto-martyr of Britain, I gave a talk via google videos for a group in Toronto, organized by the Apostle Paul brotherhood.  It was on my second book, The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing.

While sitting in our domestic chapel here in Newfoundland (the iconostasis and altar are to my right in this video), I gave an overview of the book and read a sample story from each of the eight “Beatitudes” (chapters). Although the video drops a handful of times just after the halfway point it continues uninterrupted.

Here is the list of stories I read in the video:

ONE: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven, Visitations of Grace (an excerpt), p. 17

TWO:  Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted, Hope in Eternal Life, p. 43

THREE:  Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth, He Condescended, p. 103

FOUR:  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled, Not to Send Them Away Hungry, p. 117

FIVE:  Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy, The Quickest Way to Lose Grace, p. 158

SIX:  Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God, Holy Icons as Vehicles of Grace, p. 194

SEVEN:  Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons, Set a Watch Before My Mouth, p. 236

EIGHT:  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Theirs is the Kingdom, p. 275

At the end of the talk I mention the Romanian translator of both books, Luminita Irina Niculescu, who reposed in the Lord just two weeks ago. May her memory be eternal!

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5aeb1412ceeb20.18392692.300x450-normalIt’s with great joy that I am writing to say the Romanian translation of The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing, is now available for purchase.

The Romanian publisher Editura Sophia is offering readers the opportunity to read my simple but love-filled stories in the Romanian language.

Here is what they have offered as the book’s description on their website:

Înzestrată cu darul de a-și împărtăși trăirile du­hov­nicești cu smerenie, naturalețe și dragoste față de tainele relației sufletului cu Dumnezeu, Constantina Palmer a învățat multe lucruri de o deosebită valoare duhovnicească din vizitele la numeroase mănăstiri din nordul Greciei, unde a locuit în perioada studiilor de masterat.

Autoarea îmbină nobila, dar dificila îndeletnicire a scriitorului cu o profundă înțelegere a învățăturilor Bisericii Ortodoxe, prin povestiri captivante care ilustrează Fericirile cuprinse în minunata Predică de pe Munte a Mântuitorului (Matei 5, 1-12). Prin dezvăluirea acestor comori, pe care Sfântul Ioan Gură de Aur le considera „adevăruri atât de noi, atât de uimitoare și tot atât de puternice pe cât era de mare măreția Celui ce le vestea”, Hristos Domnul le făgăduia împărăția cerurilor nu numai apostolilor Săi, ci și nouă, tuturor.

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Ultimul capitol al cărții, intitulat „A lor este împărăția cerurilor”, ne surprinde și ne emoționează în mod deosebit, deoarece este dedicat martirilor desprinși din mulțimea de pătimitori creștini care au suferit în temnițele României schilodite de urgia comunismului. În cuvintele autoarei, „Sfinții martiri români întruchipează cea de-a opta fericire. Fericiți sunt – cu adevărat nespus de fericiți – «cei prigoniți pentru dreptate», cei care au câștigat împărăția cerurilor nu numai pentru că au acceptat suferințele nedrepte la care au fost supuși, ci și pentru că au căutat dreptatea și, în același timp, virtuțile creștine, bunătatea și sfințenia, ori de câte ori s‑au aflat în ghearele suferinței. Fie ca ei să ne fie izvoare de inspirație, pentru a trăi și noi în Hristos cu aceeași evlavie, fermitate și dârzenie – cu același zel și aceeași iubire de poruncile Lui, asemenea Lor!”.

The Sweetness of Grace (entitled Tot mai aproape de Dumnezeu. Povestiri despre încercări, povestiri despre biruințe in Romanian) is available for purchase here.

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My first book, The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, was translated and published by Editura Sophia in 2015. The Romanian title is Mireasma sfinteniei. Povestiri dintr-o manastire de maici. It is available for purchase here.

In addition to offering these books in Romania, Editura Sophia has provided a great opportunity for bookstores in North America to offer Orthodox literature to their Romanian readers. You may consider carrying the English and Romanian versions of my books in your parish bookstores.

I would like to thank Editura Sophia from the bottom of my heart, and most especially the translator Luminita, for this great gift. I am so grateful to them for allowing my stories to be shared throughout the world.

My Christ our True God bless them for this work and may all those who read my stories remember me, the unworthy one, in their holy prayers!

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As is evident, I am a very poor photographer, but it’s nice to see all my books together!            Glory to God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christ is risen! (Update: I had some technical issues, so a version of this post published earlier but some paragraphs and photos were out of sync).

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In June of last year I received an email asking if I would be interested in speaking at a pan-Orthodox women’s retreat in Saskatoon in April, 2018.  I was happy to accept such a gracious invitation and set to work on four one-hour long talks for the retreat.

By God’s grace, last weekend I had my first experience of the Canadian prairies and delivered my talks while in the company of wonderful Orthodox sisters-in-Christ.  I enjoyed my time so much that I can only hope the women felt as inspired and encouraged by my talks as I did from my experience of Orthodox Saskatoon.

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This was during the last talk, Saturday night. The ladies placed a chair next to me since it was about 1AM Nfld time by this point.

I chose “Keeping Our Spark Alight For Christ” as the retreat theme. The four talks I delivered were designed to build on each other. I drew from a lot of the material in my books The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery  and The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and VictoryAs I said in the talks, I don’t have any other stories to draw from since I put them all in my books :).

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Saskatoon’s St. Vincent of Lerins Orthodox church

Session 1: Preparing our Lamp

This talk had four sub-sections, each on a fundamental element of our Orthodox spiritual life. They were: a.) Church attendance, b.) Fasting, c.) Confession, and d.) Humble-mindedness

Session 2: Lighting a Spark

The sub-sections in this talk were: a.) Reverence, b.) Prayer rule, c.) Reading the Holy Scriptures, and d.) Cultivating a relationship with the saints.

Session 3: Fanning the Flame

Once again, this talk also had four sub-sections: a.) Good works, b.) Lending our talent to the Master, c.) Praying without ceasing, and d.) Pilgrimage to Orthodox monasteries

Session 4: Safeguarding the Light

This last talk had three sub-sections: a.) The Jesus Prayer (this focused more on noetic prayer, or prayer of the heart, in other words the perfect form of the Jesus Prayer), b.) Taking a spiritual inventory, c.) Spiritual endurance.

I was trying to structure these talks so as to show a gradual ascent; I was hoping each session would represent a rung of a ladder leading us ever upward.  So, I started with the basics and increasingly moved up to the weightier spiritual topics.

While it was around 12AM Newfoundland time when I delivered the first and last talks (one was given on Friday night, one on Saturday night), I managed to get through them.  Although, I found I stumbled over my words a little more than I did while delivering the other two talks during the day.

20180429_005534I really enjoyed giving the talks.  Anyone who has heard me speak in person can attest that I get very excited to have the chance to talk about what I love. And there is nothing on this earth I love more than Orthodoxy.  (My actions may not reflect this, but I do love our Orthodox faith and love talking about our faith.)

As you can see from the above side-by-side images, prayers were held in a makeshift chapel for the weekend. I was a touch sad to be in a city with multiple Orthodox churches and to have services in a non-Orthodox temple, since we only have a temporary chapel here in Newfoundland. But, it made sense because the whole retreat was held at a retreat center, so at least we had a place to pray.

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St. Vincent of Lerins

Sunday evening I had the great joy of visiting Saskatoon’s Antiochian parish of St. Vincent of Lerins where, after evening prayers, we went downstairs for a bite to eat and an informal talk, mostly questions and answers. I especially enjoyed this because I find when people ask questions you get a better insight into what is important to them and I was very impressed to learn how seriously they take their faith.

20180429_205146“There is no distance in the spiritual life,” Gerontissa told me on my last trip to her monastery in Greece. Truly, there is neither distance nor strangeness. By this I mean within Orthodoxy you can meet a person for a brief moment and immediately feel one with the person, united, bound through Christ.  Glory to God!

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Saskatchewan river (I don’t remember if it is the North or South river)

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