(Written by Fr. John Palmer)

Continuing my reading of Ælfric of Eynsham’s Sermones Catholici, perhaps the most prominent collection of vernacular homilies belonging to the Anglo-Saxon period, I have stumbled across an interesting, spiritually-beneficial observation in his interpretation of the Parable of the Good Shepherd (Homily XVII, On the Second Sunday after Easter, pp. 239-245).  Admittedly, I have not undertaken much source analysis of this text.  It is thus quite possible (even probable) that Ælfric has lifted the position in question directly from the works of someone like St Gergory the Dialogos or Blessed Augustine, since he makes frequent use of these.  He only cites his sources, however, when the work of a particular ecclesiastical writer or Father forms the base of the largest part of his sermon or homily.  A cursory scan of the Fontes Anglo-Saxonici database would seem to suggest its provenance in Blessed Augustine’s Tractates on the Gospel of John.

As he often does, Ælfric begins this particular homily by translating into Old English the gospel passage just previously read in Latin within the context of the Liturgy:

Dixit Iesus discipulis suis, Ego sum pastor bonus: et reliqua.  Þis godspel, þe nú geræd wæs, cwyð, þæt se Hælend cwæde be him sylfum, “Ic eom gód hyrde…” Dixit Jesus discipulis suis, Ego sum pastor bonus: et reliqua.  This gospel, which has now been read, says, that Jesus said of himself, “I am the good shepherd…”


The Good Shepherd, then, is Christ himself.  However, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul are also good shepherds, he says, only:


“…ac heora gódnys wæs of ðam heafde, þæt is Crist, ðe is heora heafod, and hí sind his lima.” “… their goodness was of the head, which is Christ, who is their head, and they are his limbs.


Consequently, the successors of the apostles, the bishops and priest of the Church, are called to be good shepherds of the spiritual flock in the same manner.  And in what way is their ‘goodness’ manifested?  Particularly in their shielding the flock from the attacks of wolves.  The first wolf is the devil and his machinations, which are fended off by two means:  sound doctrine and prayer.


“Mid lare he sceal him tæcan, þæt hi cunnon hwæt deofol tæchð mannum to forwyrde, and hwæt God bebýt to gehealdenne, for begeate þæs ecan lifes. He sceal him fore-gebiddan, þæt God gehealde þa strángan, and gehæle ða untruman. Se bið to strángum geteald, seþe wiðstent deofles lare; se bið untrum, seðe on leahtrum fylð.” “With doctrine he shall teach them, that they may know what the devil teaches for men’s perdition, and what God commands to be observed for the attainment of everlasting life. He shall pray for them, that God may preserve the strong and heal the weak. He is to be accounted strong who withstands the precepts of the devil; he is weak who falls into sins.”


The second wolf who stalks the spiritual life are unrighteous secular powers:


“Wulf bið eac se unrihtwisa rica, ðe bereafað þa cristenan, and ða eadmodan mid his riccetere ofsitt” “The unrighteous powerful man also is a wolf, who robs christians, and oppresses the humble with his power.”


Here the Abbot of Eynsham is most certainly speaking of early medieval lords who mistreat their subjects, unfairly punishing them and exacting crippling taxes.  His words also apply to our own times, though, where unrighteous authorities in many liberal democracies are enacting policies which aim at the persecution of simple, faithful Christians, and are using their position of power to ‘oppress the humble’ under the weight of a constant barrage of worldly, impious ideals.


Faced with these two wolves, the unworthy shepherd – the hireling – will flee, but,


” Ne flyhð he na mid lichaman, ac mid mode. He flyhð, forðan þe hé geseh unrihtwisnysse and suwade.” “He flees not with body, but with mind. He flees because he saw iniquity and held silence.”


And what particular characteristic corrupts a shepherd and leaves him a hireling who flees at the moment he is most needed?  Worldliness.  He flees, Ælfric says, “…because he considers worldly advantages.” It is worldliness which will cause the shepherd to see adultery, covetousness, pride, anger, division, and remain silent, being blind to the spiritual damage they cause.  Moreover, it is worldliness which will cause him to be concerned for his own station, to worry about how the powerful of this world view him, leading him to abandon his flock when worldly authorities mistreat or mislead them.


It is one of Ælfric’s concluding thoughts which I found particularly insightful and equally important to both clergy and laity:


Ge sceolon beon geornfulle to eower agenre ðearfe, þeah hit swa getimige þæt se láreow gimeleas beo, and doð swa swa Crist tæhte, “Gif se láreow wel tǽce and yfele bysnige, doð swa swa he tæcð, and na be ðam þe hé bysnað.” Se Hælend cwæð be him, “Ic eom gód hyrde, and ic oncnawe mine scép, and hí oncnawað me.” Þæt is, ic lufige hí, and hí lufiað me. Ye should be zealous for your own need, though it so happen that the teacher be heedless, and do as Christ taught, “If the teacher teach well, and give evil example, do as he teacheth, and not according to his example.” Jesus says of himself, “I am a good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and they know me.” That is, I love them, and they love me.


“I know my sheep,” the Good Shepherd says, “and they know me.”  Ælfric interprets this line as highlighting the direct relationship between the individual Christian and ‘the Good Shepherd’, Christ himself.  It is the goal of the individual Christian to know, to be united to Christ, and it is the central task of the clergy to facilitate the establishment of this relationship.  Should a bishop or priest prove a hireling, however, this no excuse for the individual to turn away from Christ.  He is bound directly to Christ by ties of love and thus duty-bound to persevere and labour in faith within the Church: “Ye should be zealous for your own need, though it so happen that the teacher be heedless.”


Moreover, this passage also serves as a reminder for those clergy struggling to fulfill their vocation conscientiously that the faithful bear final responsibility for pursuing a relationship with Christ.  “I know my sheep,” the Good Shepherd says, “and they know me.”  The bishop or priest can teach the flock about temptation, sin, confession, fasting, the prayer rule, but he cannot live the spiritual life for those committed to his charge.  Such a realization should help him to fend off despondency and resist the temptation to ‘micromanage’ lives, attempting without discretion to force a relationship with the Eternal Bridegroom.


Today is the feast of Sts. Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions.

Their story is one close to my heart. St. Perpetua wrote the account of her and her companions’ baptism and subsequent imprisonment. She was one of  the earliest female writers whose writings have survived until today.

Below is a historical fiction novella I wrote, using Perpetua’s own account as the foundation. In modern language it opens the door to St. Perpetua’s experiences; it invites the reader to feel the saint’s anxiety, her anticipation, her zeal and her commitment to die for Christ rather than live by denying Him.

by Constantina R. Palmer

Print$6.95 + sh&h (USD) / $7.95 + sh&h (CAD)
E-book$2.99 (USD)

Target Audience: Ages 12+


      In the African provinces of the Roman Empire conversion to the Christian faith is punishable by death. But this does not stop Perpetua and her companions from seeking entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven–even if living for Christ means having to die for Him.

      Out of the African Lands is a historical fiction novelette and chronicles the arrest, imprisonment, and death of Perpetua and her five companions Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus, and Secundulus. Receiving freedom from their sins through baptism while imprisoned, the martyrs shine with the light of Christ, instructing us in word and deed how a person not only lives as a Christian but dies as one.
Purchase your copy HERE. Read an excerpt HERE.

Also, here is n excerpt from their Akathist hymn:

When the Lord deemed it fitting He called His saints out of the African lands: holy Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus, to witness to their faith through suffering death. Thus, we have as an inheritance the flourishing tree of Orthodoxy, for they shed their blood, watering the seedling. Wherefore we cry aloud:

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity, and your companions

As a catechumen, O holy Perpetua, thou wast taken captive and while in prison thy father besought thee to denounce Christ. But boldly thou didst proclaim that thou couldst be called by no other name but Christian. Wherefore we marvel at thy conviction and cry out to thee thus:

Rejoice, thou who art a shining example for all catechumens

Rejoice, thou who chose the heavenly over thine earthly father

Rejoice, thou who refused to be called anything other than a Christian

Rejoice, being freed from the bondage of sin through baptism while yet in prison

Rejoice, for being informed by the Spirit thou prayed only for endurance of the flesh

Rejoice, Married Matron mother of a son

Rejoice, thou who wast tempted by womanly anxiety for thy suckling child

Rejoice, thou who wast ministered to by the holy deacons Tertius and Pomponius

Rejoice, thou who didst commend thy son to the care of thy mother

Rejoice, thou who didst comfort thy brother, a catechumen in the faith

Rejoice, thou who didst look upon the dungeon as a palace

Rejoice, Bold One asking the Lord whether thou wouldst die a martyr’s death

Rejoice, Holy Martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and your companions

Beholding a heavenly vision, holy Perpetua wast informed of her martyrdom. She was found worthy to see with spiritual eyes the contest of salvation. And looking upon the bronze ladder she didst see holy Saturus going up ahead of her, calling after her to follow. Wherefore we call to her:



146898-pOn my own I am not the Church, but together with you. All together we are the Church. All are incorporated in the Church. We are all one and Christ is the head. …The important thing is for us to enter into the Church – to unite ourselves with our fellow men, with the joys and sorrows of each and everyone, to feel that they are our own, to pray for everyone, to have care for their salvation, to forget about ourselves, to do everything for them just as Christ did for us. In the Church we become one with each unfortunate, suffering and sinful soul. No one should wish to be saved alone without all others being saved. (St. Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 89)


Once, while he was praying, Saint Macarius heard a voice: “Macarius, you have not yet attained such perfection in virtue as two women who live in the city.” The humble ascetic went to the city, found the house where the women lived, and knocked. The women received him with joy, and he said, “I have come from the desert seeking you in order to learn of your good deeds. Tell me about them, and conceal nothing.”

The women answered with surprise, “We live with our husbands, and we have not such virtues.” But the saint continued to insist, and the women then told him, “We married two brothers. After living together in one house for fifteen years, we have not uttered a single malicious nor shameful word, and we never quarrel among ourselves. We asked our husbands to allow us to enter a women’s monastery, but they would not agree. We vowed not to utter a single worldly word until our death.”

Saint Macarius glorified God and said, “In truth, the Lord seeks neither virgins nor married women, and neither monks nor laymen, but values a person’s free intent, accepting it as the deed itself. He grants to everyone’s free will the grace of the Holy Spirit, which operates in an individual and directs the life of all who yearn to be saved.”


Below is an amateur translation I did. It’s an excerpt from Λόγια Καρδίας (pp. 246-250), a collection of homilies by Abbess Makrina of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Odigitria in Volos, Greece. It is a beautiful story that tells of the great rewards God has prepared for those who practice patience when confronted with great trials and temptations, and the spiritual exhalation the soul experiences when we abstain from passing judgement, even on those who openly hate and harm us. 

Let’s be watchful concerning the matter of passing judgment. Let’s be very watchful concerning passing judgement! It is indescribable how fearful this matter is! “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Do we safeguard this saying? Even if we don’t have virtues, Christ will save us, He will take us into Paradise if we abstain from judging.

I will tell you something else, again from experience. Once a sister[1] in the world wanted to say something about me that didn’t happen to me; it was slander. For the glory of Christ I tell you this. Was it a temptation that put her up to it? Was it from hatred? Was it from jealousy that she did it? In any case, I said many, many prayers for her, I mean many prayers. I cried neither for my father, nor for my mother as much as I cried for this sister. With much pain I cried and I said: “My God, save me, help me, give me strength.” The prophet David said: “Deliver me from the slander of men and I will keep thy commandments” (Ps. 119: 134). I felt a great deal of pain inside.

I saw her coming to me in a vision. Her face had two indentations on account of her tears. It was so real! In the indentations she had clots of perspiration. Her whole face was covered in perspiration and black from suffering and fatigue. She had a sack on her back, too heavy to be lifted. And as soon as I saw her, I wanted to go and help her, to lift the weight from below, but it was like a stone wall and the weight lay there immovable. I said to her: “You are tired!”

“Yes, I am tired of lifting this weight!” she said. It was a stone like the porters used to carry on their backs a long time ago.

She said to me, “This evening is the Queen’s reception and she wants you to go.”

“The Queen wants me?” I asked.

And suddenly a vehicle arrived, not like any carriage or car, it was very different, and Gerontissa Theophano was sitting inside. She looked like a young child, like a young lady of fifteen years. She said: “Come, the Queen will have us at the reception this evening.”

I made the sign of the cross and I got into the vehicle. We proceeded to a beautiful turnpike. I saw a church in front of us – it was like looking at the church of Panagia in Tinos – such a nice church, it was bright, resplendent! I made the sign of the cross as I passed by. Across the way, toward the east, was what seemed to be a palace. The door to the palace was huge, just as doors are in large buildings. There in the middle of the doorway was the Queen, who, from her neck up I couldn’t see on account of the light of her face, because she was shining so brightly. I saw her resplendent sandals; she wore a feloni[2] and vest, each had two inches of piping embroidered around them.

Two lines were configured in front of her: one line with children who were wearing lace and ribbon in their hair, dressed just as the angels are, while the other line seemed to be composed of widows[3], as though they were nuns, wearing monastic clothing, just like we wear.

I started toward the nuns and they told me it wasn’t my turn yet, I would go when it was my turn. Suddenly I heard chanting, “This is the day of the Resurrection, let us be radiant…” And the Queen began to say, “Come martyrs to the platform, come great-martyrs!” They were taking her blessing and going to the platform. From within the palace was heard, “This is the day of the Resurrection…”

When I approached, I took the hand of the Queen: her slender hand, those nails, that gentle hand has been imprinted on my soul. Padding me on the back she said, “Patience, patience, patience.” Then she addressed one of her maids of honour: “Escort Maria[4] to the royal garden.”

I paused for a moment to see where they were chanting “This is the day of the Resurrection”. And I saw that inside the palace a banquet was laid out with very beautiful white tablecloths. What could you desire that the banquet didn’t have!

I lingered to listen and the maid took me by the hand and said, “That is for the martyrs, those who endured great temptations” and she gave me to understand that patience is needed. Afterward she took me to the royal garden, and I saw a vast place which had something like lilies, the brown lily had a cross. Just as the wind blew, so the lilies swayed. A vast place: green, beautiful, enchanted! Within this beautiful exhalation which I found myself, the sorrow in my soul fled, and pleasantness and joy came!

In the morning I went and found this sister who had slandered me, and hugged and kissed her. I didn’t know what to do for her; I didn’t know how to thank her for the false words she had said, I really didn’t know.

This experience stayed in my soul and from that time I have kept the commandment of God: judge not, so as not to be judged – even if I see the act committed in front of me, whatever I happen to see in front of me.

That which I saw in the vision stirred me and left me such comfort. I forgot everything. A purity entered into my nous, a passionlessness, a peacefulness, a heavenly thing entered my soul and I didn’t know how to thank that sister who was the cause of such good.

And I say what a good thing it is for someone to be patient! For this reason the Queen said, “Come martyrs of Christ, come great-martyrs of Christ, enter into the platform…” How can I have the boldness to touch such a banquet? It was the banquet for the martyrs who had struggled, who had endured martyrdom and for whom God had prepared greatness!

[1]Although Gerontissa calls this woman “sister” it seems that she was a laywoman.

[2]A feloni (φελόνι) is a chasuble, which in its origin was a traveling garment in the late Roman Empire. It is like a poncho, a circular garment with a hole in the middle for the head.

[3]It is a tradition in Greece for widows to wear black head-scarfs and dress.

[4]Gerontissa Macrina’s name before monastic tonsure was Maria.


The Oikos for the Feast of the Theophany:

Upon Galilee of the Gentiles, upon the land of Zebulon and the land of Nepthali, as the prophet said, a great light hath shone, even Christ. To Those that sat in darkness a bright dawn hath appeared as lighting from Bethlehem. The Lord born from Mary, Sun of Righteousness, sheds His rays upon the whole inhabited earth. Come then, unclothed children of Abraham, and let us clothe ourselves our Him, that we may warm ourselves. Thou Who art a protection and veil to the unclothed, a light to those in darkness, Thou has come, Thou art made manifest, O Thou Light unapproachable.



Great Vespers and Paraclesis to the Theotokos in the Domestic Chapel, December 27

Merry Christmas!

It seems every time the end of the year rolls around I post an update about our life and mission here on the island of Newfoundland. I’m posting once again as I wanted to keep this tradition alive – after all, we are Orthodox Christians who love and honour Tradition :).

20171228_145033We have now lived in St. John’s for four years. In fact, we’ve celebrated five Christmases here. We celebrated six in Greece; I can’t believe that we’ve lived here almost as long as we lived in Greece.

[For those interested, updates from previous years can be read herehere, and here.]

If you were to ask me how life is as a missionary I would answer honestly: “Man, it’s hard.” While I firmly believe attempting to spread Orthodoxy anywhere in this day and age would be met with innumerable challenges, being 1,500 kilometers from the nearest Orthodox church makes the natural isolation of mission work feel a tad bit more acute. After all, there is a 10-12 hour boat ride from where we live just to get to the Canadian mainland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But, to be honest, it’s not the isolation that is the hardest element of mission work in Newfoundland. It’s our times. Few are interested in a faith built on a model of a self-sacrificial God. Our times are fraught with ego-centricism and the selfish, materialistic mindset of our times poisons the human heart and makes it difficult for people to be attracted to a way of life which values and cultivates self-discipline and humility. And yet, while few, there are still individuals being drawn to the truth of our faith. We had one adult baptism last September and another this past August.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn addition to daily services of Matins and Vespers, Fr. John began to offer the Service of Supplications (Paraclesis) after Vespers every Wednesday evening in the domestic chapel. A senior priest had suggested this to him as he found people would attend Supplication services for their various needs. We rotate between the Paraclesis to the Theotokos and the Paraclesis to St. Nektarios Wonderworker of Pentapolis (the patron of the domestic chapel). The uptake has been inspiring. Attending a service specifically designed for us to lay our pain, passions, and yearnings before God and His saints and seek healing, consolation and spiritual encouragement obviously resonates with the human soul. We have also taken this opportunity to pray for a solution to our need for a permanent worship space.

P1010308.JPGWe are going through a difficult transitional period right now with our temporary chapel situation. And as it looks now like things are only going to get more “tangly” (as they say here in Newfoundland) in the near future. But we’re trying to place our trust in Christ.


Fr. John and I with Pres. Catherine

Despite the ups I find I focus far too much on the downs. This is a struggle for me. Once when I was lamenting the hardships of mission work in Newfoundland my spiritual father told me to think of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea. There were only seventeen Christians in the city of Neocaesarea when St. Gregory was first appointed bishop over the flock there. Through his holy life, his God-inspired preaching and his grace-filled miracles by the time St. Gregory reposed only seventeen pagans remained in the city. His life is a reminder that by working on one’s own spiritual life we can affect change and spread the Gospel even when it feels impossible.

As we close out 2017 we keep struggling to “set a safe course”:

Those who put out to sea at first sail with a favorable wind; then the sails spread, but later the wind becomes adverse. Then the ship is tossed by the waves and is no longer controlled by the rudder. But when in a little while there is calm, and the tempest dies down, then the ship sails on again. So it is with us, when we are driven by the spirits who are against us; we hold to the cross as our sail and so we can set a safe course.

–St. Syncklektiki


We had my brother, Fr. Matthew, and sister-in-law, Pres. Catherine, visit us over Christmas