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This is a recording of a discussion I hosted over Skype with a group of Canadian Orthodox Christian women spread out across several Canadian provinces during Great Lent of 2015.

I encourage you to have a listen not because of what I, the donkey, say, rather because I read so much from the hymns themselves. It’s a really nice refresher of all the wonderful themes we’re about to participate in in the Holy Week services.

*CORRECTION: You will notice that I continually refer to St. Joseph the All-Comely (the son of Patriarch Jacob) as St. Joseph the Betrothed (who was espoused to the Theotokos). Please forgive my mistake; I didn’t realize this until I heard the recording.

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St. Niketas, Martyr of Serres

St. Paisios the Athonite responds to the following question:

‘Geronta, for how many years should one read the daily Synaxaria [the 12 volumes of the lives of the Saints, one for each month]?  “Throughout his life.  No matter how much is written in the Synaxaria, it is not enough.  What we are to derive from the Synaxaria is not the physical account of the lives of the saints, but the overflow, the meaning, of their lives.  The saints would be foolish if they revealed everything they experienced in secret.  Even the few things we do know about their lives provide us with sufficient help, as long as this knowledge pierces our heart, in order to put it into practice.”
From today’s Synaxarion, April 4

The holy New Martyr Nicetas was a Slav from Albania, but we know nothing of his family or his early life. He lived on Mt. Athos in the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon, then lived in the Skete of Saint Anne. Burning with a desire for martyrdom, he decided to travel to Serres. He arrived on March 30, 1808 (Great and Holy Monday) and stopped at a local monastery. In speaking to the igumen, he revealed that he was a hieromonk from Mt. Athos. At midnight, the igumen was making his customary rounds of the monastery when he saw someone standing in the moonlight praying on the church porch.

As he came closer, he could see that it was Father Nicetas, who revealed his intention to shed his blood for Christ. After speaking with the saint for a while, the igumen continued his rounds and left Father Nicetas to pray.

In the morning, Father Nicetas received Communion from the Presanctified Gifts, then went to a mosque outside the city. There he debated religion with a Moslem teacher and his disciples. Saint Nicetas approached one of them, noticing that he was lame.

The saint asked the man why he did not seek healing from his infirmity. The man said that it was impossible for him to be cured, since he had been born this way.

The monk replied that the man could be cured easily, if he would agree to obey him. The afflicted man looked at him with amazement and asked, “How must I obey you?”

“Believe in Jesus Christ as the one true God. If you are baptized, I promise you that you will be healthy and no trace of your lameness will remain.”

The man said nothing, but went to his teacher to report what the monk had said to him. The teacher questioned Saint Nicetas about where he had come from, and what he had said to his disciple.

Fearlessly, the warrior of Christ told him he was from Albania and had come to preach Christianity. Feeling pity for the lame man, he had advised him to believe in Christ so that he might receive his bodily health and the Kingdom of Heaven after death.

The teacher sent word to the mayor that a monk had come to their city and was speaking against their religion. Saint Nicetas was locked up in prison for the night, and the next day he was interrogated by Moslem religious leaders. Since they could not defeat him with reason, they tortured him and hanged him in the evening of Great and Holy Saturday in 1808. He was left hanging until Bright Tuesday, when Christians were given permission to take his body and bury it.

Two separate services have been composed in honor of Saint Nicetas, one in Slavonic and the other in Greek. A comparison of the two services reveals a difference of opinion about the saint’s national origin.

“May it be blessed” is the standard monastic response when a nun is asked to complete a task. It signifies her obedience. Having heard it over and over again while visiting with the sisters or working alongside them, I too would integrate this helpful statement into my own speech. However, it is one thing to grow accustomed to uttering a phrase here or there and quite another to genuinely mean what we say. We say things like “thank you” or “you’re welcome” all the time but these customary phrases are often uttered out of habit, without any true intention behind them on our part. This is not what “may it be blessed” should be.

It should be an external sign of our inward willingness to the do the will of another. It should, ideally, signify the peace we feel when we are asked to do something even when it contradicts our own will. But again, “should feel” is different than how we often actually feel when we are required to go against our will.

The point of this practice, of verbally uttering this phrase, is to cultivate our inner man, our willingness to lay aside our will and acquire peace. Just like the sign of the cross, or bows and prostrations, our person is made up of body and soul. So, first we utter the phrase (with conscientious attention) and then we learn to freely lay aside our will.

Unfortunately, in the world it is difficult to engage in these external, Orthodox gestures because our society is not accustomed to such things. This makes it more difficult for us to practice the virtue of obedience, but not impossible.

Just as a nun is obligated to obey those who are older than her both in age and in spiritual order (ie. a nun who has come to the monastery before her is her “superior” regardless of age), so we can look for opportunities to obey our managers, our bosses, and supervisors. This does not happen without a concerted effort (especially for those of us who are strong-willed). But, it is possible.

papouliWe should strive to obey our bosses, our managers, our co-workers with a happy heart. It’s not always easy, however, being obedient is made easier if we look at our boss as a microcosm of Christ, our manager as a microcosm of Christ, regardless of how he or she lives. It doesn’t matter how they live. For this relationship that we have with them is an opportunity for us to serve Christ through serving them, to submit or “cut off” our will (as Blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast often taught).

I will be the first to say I really struggle with obedience. I am very strong-willed and opinionated. But, in order for me to get better I try and think of the sisters’ example and write down how I can imitate their virtue. I thought you might find their example helpful also.

Navigating the un-spiritual world in a spiritual manner can be additionally difficult since the onus is on us to take on these spiritual exercises moreso than in a monastery. While it’s easy to allow ourselves to react negatively to circumstances in our workplace, just making a small effort, consciously obeying our managers and co-workers, brings with it a world of peace.

I tried it once and it worked.

 

Here is a very informative lecture on the council held in Crete in 2016 and its influence on the new emerging ecclesiology that is foreign to Orthodox Tradition and to previous conciliatory Councils.  A written version is available here.

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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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Ladies, this post is for you. Men, you may also be Marthas, but mostly it’s us women running around the kitchen while the Saviour sits in the living room with the men and the Marys.

I think it’s common that when we think and speak of “being a Martha” what we mean is, “I do things; I don’t have the time or luxury of just standing in the icon corner praying. I have responsibilities that necessitate being a Martha.” I think most of us feel far too much like Martha than we’d like.

If you visit an Orthodox monastery you’ll quickly realize how busy the monastics are, how much they work, and how seemingly little time remains for private prayers after so much work. So how can they be said to “choose what is better”, how can they be said to focus on “the one thing needed”? Similarly, for us living in the world, with our work schedules, various activities, volunteer obligations, and endless to do lists, how can we possibly find the time to focus on the one thing needed?

Let’s take a moment and really consider what it means to be a Martha and what it means to be a Mary.

Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

When the Lord rebuked Martha for complaining about her sister’s choice to sit on the floor rather than help her, he wasn’t condemning her work. He wasn’t saying what she was doing was unnecessary, unimportant or even superfluous. He spoke instead of Martha’s internal state, not her external works. What He was highlighting and disapproving of was not what she was doing but how she was feeling. He expressed His disapproval of her worry, her anxiety, her upset state of being. When he said Mary chose what is better, it was not to necessarily approve of her not working, but rather to highlight that her heart and mind were focused on Him, the one thing needed.

This is how we too can be Marys when we need to be Marthas, by calling our attention back to Christ in all we do. Are we rushing to our next appointment feeling anxious we won’t be on time? We need to say the Jesus Prayer. Are we doing the third load of laundry only to realize we shrunk a favourite sweater? We need to implore the Mother of God to keep us from becoming upset. Are we washing the dishes while also cooking supper and starting to feel flustered? We need to verbally glorify God.

This is what monastics are doing too. They’re being Marys while running around like Marthas. It’s not that they don’t set aside appropriate time for prayer, they do. But they also work like busy bees all the while struggling to be watchful, to guard their nous and heart from harmful thoughts, and to keep their focus on Christ through prayer.

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“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me,” “Most Holy Theotokos save me,” “Glory to God for all things,” these, and many more, are simple prayers that make being a Martha much more like being a Mary.

Christ reminds us,

“Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”

Externally we can be Marthas but internally we must be Marys. We must be praying and glorifying God and constantly reminding ourselves that all our running around is in fact spiritually detrimental if we allow our minds to be so distracted that we “forget our first love”.  Conversely, we can find our lives very busy and still choose the one thing needed if only we push ourselves to cry out to Christ to sanctify our every activity, so long as in our heart we have the peace of soul to “sit” at the Saviours’ feet. Only we know the balance between being busy and being anxious/ upset about many things; each of us must find a way to become a Mary even when life necessitates we be Marthas.

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