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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!

This video illustrates the beauty of Orthodoxy; no matter what Orthodox country, it’s the same faith of the Apostles, the same beauty expressed in local traditions.

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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DOUBT

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Pascha:

Antipascha / St. Thomas Sunday

April 15 / 2, 2018

 IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

Introduction

St. Isaac describes doubt as being caused by demons and therefore no amount of knowledge and swiftness of mind is enough to withstand these enemies of God and man who wish to drag each one of us into Hell, little by little.[1]

The Apostle Thomas and Christ

Today we are instructed about doubt through Thomas’ example in the Gospel passage that was just read. Thomas is one of the twelve Apostles who had heard, was taught, struggled, and endured all things with the other Apostles. With the other Apostles, he also had the power to heal sicknesses and cast out devils (Mk. 3:15). When Jesus left for Judea after being informed that his friend Lazarus was dead, it was Thomas who said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16ff) for the people of Judea had previously attempted to stone Christ.

When Christ says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” it is in response to Thomas’ question, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

In this intimate environment of Christ’s Apostles is where Thomas lived and although they all had seen the dead raised, the leper’s cleansed, and the blind given sight, still he doubted the words of his friends when they told him that Christ had risen from the dead.

The Gospel tells us that Thomas was not with the other disciples on the day when Christ rose from the dead and appeared to them. Therefore, when the disciples saw Thomas, they announced to him that they had seen the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Thomas replies, saying, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

Now it is eight days after Christ’s resurrection, the disciples are gathered together in a room, and Christ appears to them all and then speaks directly to Thomas.

It is to Thomas that he says, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said unto him, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus saith unto him, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29).

Thomas’s Doubt

What Christ addresses is Thomas’s doubt, which is quite apparent to us all, but how He does this is what is of concern for us today.

Why did Thomas not believe? Instead of light, the announcement by the Apostles only brought darkness to Thomas. He who was willing to go and die with Christ, expected that Christ would come and find him if He had risen, St. Romanos remarks, and yet Christ didn’t.[2]

Worthy of note, though, is that nowhere do we observe Christ rebuking or chastising Thomas because of his doubts. Instead, as it is said of our Saviour: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench” (Matt. 12:20). Christ comes to Thomas to alleviate him of this poison of doubt, this spiritual obstacle, this stifling of the fullness of joy which Pascha should impart to each one of us. Narrating this moment between Thomas and Christ, St. Romanos writes: “Have compassion on me, Master, as I boldly handle [You], and accept me, Lover of mankind…”[3]

If Christ has come to save sinners, would He not comfort the doubters?

If He did not come to call the righteous, would He not alleviate those beset by this darkness?

If He came to the lost sheep of Israel, would He not seek out those bewildered by disbelief?

If He came to set the prisoners free, would he not unfetter us from the shackles that enslave us with suspicion and distrust?

If He came to heal the brokenhearted, would he not mend the skepticism which rends the heart?

If He came to give sight to the blind, will He not apply a healing salve to give clarity to the vision of our nous?

If He came to give liberty, will He not free those imprisoned by mistrust?

If Christ left the ninety and nine to seek out the one who was lost, will He not come find you who is lost and wandering in the darkness of doubtfulness?

Behold, the condescension of God, the Lover of mankind. You, Thomas, made of clay and of the fallen race of men. You reach your finger here and touch my hands,  the hands of Him who made man. Reach your hand here and touch my side. Touch him who is clothed with majesty[4], who covers Himself with light as with a garment (Ps. 104.2).

It is because of Thomas’s doubt that we commemorate him today. For us who may be full of doubts, despite God’s providence which has lead us here, despite the work of His saints intervening in our lives and even healing some of us, despite the spiritual rest we might experience at times in this holy habitation. Like Thomas abiding with the Apostles of Christ, we still doubt. Eight days ago we celebrated the Bright Resurrection of Christ with the festal Bright Week services up until now when we consider the topic of doubt.

Today, Christ comes to Thomas and comes to us baring his wounds to heal our unbelieving hearts. Blessed are you when doubts assail you and all is looking dark even though you have not seen Christ, but yet you believed (Cf. John 20:29). “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). As St. Leo the Great writes:

[Christ] offers to the doubters’ eyes the marks of the cross that remained in His hands and feet and invites them to handle him with careful scrutiny. He does this because the traces of the nails and spear had been retained to heal the wounds of unbelieving hearts, so that not with wavering faith but with the most certain conviction they might comprehend that the nature that had been lain in the sepulcher was to sit on God the Father’s throne.[5]

“Thomas’ unbelief,” says St. Gregory the Great, “was of more advantage to our faith than the faith of believing disciples, because when he was led back to faith by touching Jesus, our minds were relieved of all doubt and made firm in faith.”[6]

Questions

1.) Why did Christ wait eight days? From our own experience, do we not understand this? We are not quickly relieved of most burdens with such speed and instead are waiting for an indefinite period of time, waiting on the Lord to help us in His good time. It was the same for the Apostle Thomas who continued to dwell with the other disciples, hear stories of the risen Christ and thereby prepare himself to finally see Christ as we should also amidst these unsettling times. Therein is patience nurtured in us and therein we learn how God works in our own lives seeing how He responds to us. We are taught that this Christian path is that narrow path, that we will have a cross to bear, we should not be surprised by this despite being surprised by how difficult it is. And yet, as the Apostle Paul tells us,

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18)

As Christ came to Thomas while he was amidst the other Apostles keeping fellowship with them, so Christ will seek us out.

2.) What are we supposed to do amidst these times of doubt?

i) Confess these thoughts to our spiritual father. Why leave this snake in our bosom which will only harm us? There is no way that this can turn out for the best when we keep this to ourselves.

ii) Pray – because where else are we to go to be consoled and to find shelter amidst this storm?

iii) Love – for when we learn to love God, we shall not grieve at the present troubles but, as St. John Chrysostom said, we will not even appear to see them because of the strength of such a thing as this love. He further describes this saying,

Those, for instance, who are not at present with us, but being absent we imagine every day, are loved. For mighty is the sovereignty of love (αγάπης), it alienates the soul from all things, and chains to the desired object. If thus we love Christ, all things here will seem to be a shadow, an image, a dream. We too shall say, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress?” (Rom. 8:35)[7]

iv) And lastly, humility. Returning to the first mention of St. Isaac, we recall that he designates doubt as being the tool of the demons. In describing doubt in the hour in which it is the most paralyzing and darkest, St. Isaac writes: “All your knowledge will be in turmoil like that of a child. And your mind which was firmly established in God, the accuracy of your knowledge, and your sound thinking will be immersed in an ocean of doubts.”[8] The only thing to vanquish these doubts is humility, which, he says, as soon as you take hold of it, all the power of the demons vanish.[9]

Conclusion

We can never avoid doubts whether their cause is intellectual, physical, relational or through some other means. And yet, Christ has not abandoned us and even seeks us out to assuage our doubt and the sorrow it causes. May we bear this burden with humility like our Saviour who is meek and lowly of heart, (Matt. 11:29) for those who are humble are given grace by God and shall be exalted and lifted up and will find rest for their souls. [10]

If we are humble, Christ will seek us out, will come to us, and alleviate us of our doubts as he did for the Apostle Thomas, in that very particular way in which the Apostle needed and in the way that each of us need.

THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF THE APOSTLE THOMAS,

LORD JESUS CHRIST OUR GOD, HAVE MERCY ON US. AMEN.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

[1] “Homily Fifty-Seven” in The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1984), 284.

[2] “On the Apostle Thomas” in On the Life of Christ: Chanted Sermons by the Great Sixth-Century Poet and Singer. trans. Archim. Ephrem Lash. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995), 186.

[3] Ibid., 183.

[4] Saturday evening, Prokeimenon for Great Vespers, 6th Tone.

[5] Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2007) IVb, 358ff.

[6] Forty Gospel Homilies trans. Dom David Hurst. (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990), 207.

[7] “Homilies on St. John” in NPNF, 1st Series, ed. Philip Schaff. (Hendrickson: Peabody 1999, 14:329ff-330f.

[8] “Homily Fifty-Seven,” 284.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cf. Matt. 23:12; James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:5

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“Today I arise with Thy arising”

Christ is risen!

We bought a house in Paradise. No, not the ‘spiritual homeland’ kind of Paradise. I mean we purchased a home in the actual town of Paradise in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. But we’re also hoping to put a down-payment on a “house not made by hands eternal in the heavens” (Akathist of St. John Maximovitch), the true Paradise.

house

After what felt like a very long and arduous search, we finally found a little home perfect for us. We’ve only been here just over three weeks but we love it. It’s like the Goldilock’s version of houses, “not too big, not too small, but juuuust right”. It’s bright with a private backyard on a green belt (where I can have a garden!); there’s room for guests and most important of all we have space for the house chapel of St. Nektarios (pictured below).

20180322_164434This Pascha marks five years since we first visited Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission in St. John’s and accepted the offer to move here and try our hand at the plow of missionary endeavours. To be brutally honest, if I knew the trials which awaited us I don’t know if I would have had the courage to move here. But, thankfully, we didn’t know what stumbling blocks we would encounter, how steep the climb would be, nor how dark the path. It’s for the best. Rather, as the Scriptures tell us (and as we read during Holy Thursday’s Vesperal Liturgy), “Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God” (Isiah 50:10).

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I am so grateful for our house, our parish community, my wonderful job, and the temporary space at the University we are able to use for weekend services. But those are all the good parts, the parts you talk openly about, the parts you take pictures of so to speak.  There are other parts, however, that you can’t always talk about. The life of priest and his family is one filled with joys and sorrows. But sometimes the dark parts can feel oppressive, isolating, disorienting. That’s when, especially, we must trust in the Lord to guide us. Sometimes even retreating to one’s house in Paradise isn’t enough to feel we’ve found a safe haven. That is because for as long as we live upon the earth there are storms, trials, and temptations to endure. And endure we must. Enduring is the best we can hope for in such circumstances, to just hold on, to not give up, to keep going. Spiritual endurance. It’s the one thing that will keep us from going crazy when burdens get too heavy. Just endure. And when even that feels a bit daunting take a deep breath and mentally plan the garden you wish to plant in your backyard, then return to enduring.

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When speaking about the hymns sung just before the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead during the Paschal vigil, St. Philaret of Moscow points out that pious sorrow is evoked so that it might “prepare us for a more proper and clear understanding and genuine feeling of the Divine joy which would follow”.

“If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” (2 Timothy 2:11-12). To live we must die; to reign we must endure. To find joy we must first experience sorrow.

Yesterday, O Christ, I was buried with Thee, and today I arise with thy arising. Yesterday I was crucified with Thee. Glorify me, O Savior, with Thee in Thy Kingdom. (Ode 3, Paschal Canon)

Truly the Lord is risen!

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Agape’s Vespers, 2016 – when candles were still permitted at the College 😉

The Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom:

(Source) If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.

And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.