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Blessed Pascha to you all, dear readers!

lessons from a monastery

Originally posted in the Tips from a Monastery series in 2016.

I hope you are all having a peaceful, grace-filled Holy Week.  May God make us worthy to worship His Cross and see His glorious Resurrection!

I haven’t posted a ‘Tips from the Monastery’ in quite some time.  The other day I remembered the practice of reading the Acts of the Apostles on Holy Saturday and I was happy to share it in a ‘Tips’ post.

Spending time at Orthodox monasteries I learned of a revered custom that still takes place in some monasteries today.  On Holy and Great Saturday, after the Vesperal Liturgy is celebrated in the morning, the Acts of the Apostles is read in its entirety.  In the Catholicon of the monastery the Evangelist Luke’s account of the early years of the Church is read until the Paschal Vigil begins.  For obvious reasons the whole brotherhood or sisterhood would…

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Revisiting the Exhibition Fair (a childhood favourite!) in 2018

I just wanted to make sure our baby sister, Kate, doesn’t feel left out so I’m dedicating a blog post to her today ;).

Like our older brother, Kate has accomplished much in her life and we are very grateful to God for her successes! May God grant you MANY YEARS, Kate!

Here’s a picture of Kate helping our sister-in-law Pres. Catherine chant at St. Gregory Palamas ROCOR Church in Fredericton, NB (Fr. Matthew’s church):

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My big brother:


Whoop, whoop! I used to just call him Father-brother; now I’ll have to call him DOCTOR Father-brother!

From our hike in Flatrock, NL in 2018:20180723_115415


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Talk on the Hymns of Holy Week

“We have arrived, O faithful, at the saving passion of Christ our God.”

lessons from a monastery

Oops! I mistakenly refer to Righteous Joseph the Patriarch as “Joseph the Betrothed” the entire talk which I only realized after I listened to this.

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I feel these words, written five years ago, are more pertinent now than ever before.

Good strength, friends! Don’t be discouraged. We have one week of Great Lent and one Holy Week still to come. There is still time to win the race and experience the joy of the Resurrection (whether we’re holding our paschal candles in our parish church or in our own homes)!

lessons from a monastery


Today is Clean Monday, the beginning of our Lenten journey to the Feast of the Holy Resurrection. I am usually quite excited about Great Lent. I get excited about the Sundays in Great Lent and the special customs that go with them, excited about simplifying our lives and abstaining from certain foods and activities that draw our attention away from God.

This year I’m excited but also a little apprehensive. I’ve been feeling a little dismayed lately by all the wars and rumours of wars (Mark 13:7) and a question keeps forming in the back of my mind: What if this was the last Great Lent you ever got to participate in? That small but probing question seems to cause many thoughts follow after it and I begin an internal inquisition: What if this was your last chance to really make an effort, to keep the Fast with zeal and…

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by Fr. John Palmer

Every second Thursday evening, with an open invitation to the public, members of our community meet in a public venue – a coffee shop – where we read aloud and then discuss a section of St Augustine’s beautiful work, the Confessions.  This initiative, which I have aptly dubbed ‘Coffee House Theology’, has been one of the greatest joys and consolations in my work as a mission priest.

On the one hand, joy springs from the fact that our sessions have been relatively well attended and met with enthusiasm.  Indeed, every priest rejoices to see the flame of holy learning kindled in the faithful committed to his charge.  Moreover, I rejoice that in an age where Christ has been pushed into the background – both in broader society and in the lives of individual Christians – this remnant, this two or three gathered in his name, offers a small confession, setting our Lord before men without any regard for strange, disapproving looks.

On the other hand, joy has come from my re-discovery of the absolutely Orthodox heart of St Augustine.  Yes, it is true, in places Augustine was tempted by his truly staggering intellect and fell; yes, on occasion he exchanged the revelation of God acquired by a pure heart for his own speculations, choosing a lowly, created light over the uncreated; yes, he seriously errs on occasions. Consequently, he needs to be read with a degree of discernment, plucking the rose from among the thorns, just as we see him approached by his strongest advocates within the Patristic Tradition.  However, despite all this, when it comes to the vigilant attention to God’s Providence; when it comes to the struggle with the passions; when it comes to repentance; when it comes to Christian living, I continually stand in awe of him.

In the last section we read together this past Thursday, what particularly struck me was the witness he bears to the Orthodox tradition of Eldership in the Pre-Schism West.  In Book VIII, Augustine is faced with a question with no obvious correct answer, at least in the abstract.  He is torn between marriage and monasticism.  “The voice of truth had told me that there are some who have made themselves eunuchs for love of the Kingdom of Heaven.  But he also said, let only those take this in whose hearts are large enough for it.” (VIII.[1])  Unsure of what to do with respect to one of the fundamental question of life, he uneasily spun his tires, succumbing to listlessness.

Faced with this quandary, what does the Saint do?  Addressing God he writes, “By your inspiration it seemed to me a good plan to go and see Simplicianus…” (VIII.[1]),  the spiritual father of St Ambrose of Milan.  And listen to how he describes this man:  Simplicianus, “…I could see for myself,” he says, “was a good servant of yours [of Christ]”; “…the light of grace plainly shone in him…”; “…from boyhood he had always led a most devout life…”; and, “…in all the long years he had spent to such a good purpose in following your way he must have gained great experience and much knowledge”.  And so Augustine hoped that if he put his problem to him, “…he would draw upon his experience and his knowledge to show me how best a man in my state of mind might walk upon your way.” (VIII.[1])  Simplicianus was deeply experienced in the spiritual life, had served Christ well, and had obviously acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit which shone in him.  Is there any better definition of an Elder?

Augustine, in the midst of a dilemma which required the grace of discernment and insight and not just the reiteration of general principles, might have simply gone to the local parish priest, but he didn’t.  Clearly, in his inherited Orthodox consciousness he knew that ordination itself does not render one an infallible guide in such matters; only experience and grace will suffice.  And so he – often criticized as the ‘least orthodox’ of Holy Fathers – does something very Orthodox: he goes to an Elder.

And what is the result?  The Elder recounts a story for Augustine which itself is a monument to his discernment, and not surprisingly his discerning words hit their mark, stirring the Saint from his listlessness.  “When your servant told me the story of Victorinus, I began to glow with fervor to imitate him.  This, of course, is why Simplicianus had told it to me.”  (VIII.[5])  Words spoken in the spirit of discernment are the words of eternal life for an individual.

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This post was originally publised on my blog after a pilgrimage I took to St. Anthony’s Monastery in October, 2017.

May we have his eternal blessing!

lessons from a monastery

geronda2befraim2b23I feel only one thing rivals seeing and receiving the blessing of a living saint: being able to watch a crowd of people receive the same.

By the grace of God I was able to make a pilgrimage to St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. While there I had the great blessing of seeing Elder Ephraim three times. He does not currently see people one-on-one like he used to, but he comes out almost every morning to greet the pilgrims. The fathers bring him in a car so that the elder (who is close to 90 years of age) can sit while greeting the people. Although the elder has become physically weakened in his old age the strength of his spirit, which is full of life and love for the people, in no way has diminished.

On the last day of our pilgrimage a significant crowd had gathered to wait for…

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A re-post for the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas.

lessons from a monastery

Here is a wonderful, animated, talk by my favourite (if only) brother, Fr. Matthew Penney. – co-founder of Lumination Press. The video has his name as Fr. Matthew Perry, but it’s a typo.  This homily was delivered at the Russian Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour, in London, Ontario.


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It was a tradition in our home to go around the table at Thanksgiving and say one thing we’re thankful for.

I’m thankful for the sacrifice, example, and holy prayers of our monastics (but also my husband of 13 years – today).

“Thanks to monastics, prayer continues unceasing on earth, and the whole world profits, for through prayer the world continues to exist; but when prayer fails the world will perish.” -St. Silouan the Athonite (pp. 407-408 in his biography)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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On the Feast of St. Kosmas

St. Kosmas Greek Orthodox Monastery (https://www.stkam.org)

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