GE DIGITAL CAMERA(Source) It is believed that after the day of Pentecost, the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew preached the Gospel first in Palestine, and then in Syria, Media, Persia, Parthia and finally, Ethiopia. Tradition holds that the Lord appeared to Saint Matthew, giving him a wooden rod and instructing him to plant it in a particular place in Ethiopia. Upon his arrival at the place in Ethiopia described by the Lord, he met a Bishop named Platon. The rod was planted, as the Lord had instructed, and almost immediately it sprouted leaves and grew into a beautiful tree, the fruit of which was delicious. A spring also welled up nearby, the water of which could heal the sick. Many Ethiopians were won over to Christ, although the local sovereign Prince, Fulvianus, a dedicated pagan, was violently opposed to this and, by his order, Saint Matthew was arrested and burned at the stake. In time, however, Fulvianus came to doubt his action and agonized over his horrific act. His conscience beckoned him towards Christ. Ultimately, he embraced the Christian faith and was baptized, taking the name “Matthew.” When the elderly Bishop Platon reposed, Saint Fulvianus-Matthew was consecrated to the episcopacy and succeeded him. He spent his remaining years preaching the Gospel and winning his people to the Church.


  Elder Hilarion of Optina

(April 8, 1805 – September 18, 1873)

commemorated on September 18

248320-pOn April 8, 1805, Pascha night, Rodion Nikitich Ponamarov, the name given to the future Elder Hilarion, was born. Rodion was clumsy in his youth, earning the ridicule of friends. He was treated rudely by his siblings for being introspective. While growing up, he wanted to be a monk and also desired to learn his father’s trade – tailoring – thinking it would be beneficial for a monastery. He was engaged to be married twice. His first wife-to-be died, and he lost interest with the second.

In 1837, fulfilling his desire to become a monk, he went on a pilgrimage to the most significant monasteries in the area and finally settled at Optina. When Elder Anthony was transferred to St. Nicholas Monastery in Maloyaroslavets, Elder Macarius then became the Skete Superior, and Rodion became his cell attendant and became obedient to him in the fullest sense. Rodion, now Fr. Hilarion, confessed to Elder Macarius but also went daily to Elder Leonid. For his first twelve years as Elder Macarius’ cell attendant, he was also the vegetable and flower gardener, the baker, the kvass brewer, the care-taker of the bees amongst many other responsibilities. This external activity was seen by all but his inner life was hidden in God. Elder Macarius recognized Fr. Hilarion’s maturity and progress and soon began to give him some of his spiritual children as well as responsibilities at other convents. In this way, Elder Macarius was preparing Fr. Hilarion to be his successor. When Elder Macarius was on his deathbed, he blessed Fr. Hilarion with the mantle and paraman which he had inherited and which had once belonged to St. Paisius Velichkovsky. Being the closest to Elder Macarius, at his repose, after twenty years of being his cell attendant, Elder Hilarion became the Skete Superior and the confessor of the monastery.

Elder Hilarion confessed all the brothers in the monastery and also those who lived on the farms in the areas, both men and women. He would confess all day long, and even during Lent when he would also have to be at the lengthy church services and also having to complete other labors. Despite the number of people who came to him, he refused no one. When giving advice, the Elder did not speak from himself but gave counsel from the Scriptures, from the Holy Fathers or from what he had heard his Elder say. He was always approachable and received all his visitors with the same attention and courtesy whatever their rank in society. He would require anyone coming to the monastery who would want confession, to take three days to examine their conscience before coming to confess.

Two years before his death, Elder Hilarion suffered from a serious illness. During this time he never asked to be relieved of it, but only to be given patience during such a trial. The Elder did receive doctors but only due to the insistence and zeal of his spiritual children. For the last four weeks, he suffered day and night with no sleep and found it impossible to move around on his couch due to fluid rising in his lungs. For the last thirty-three days of his life, he received the Holy Mysteries daily. Until his final moments, he always completed the full cell rule assigned to the skete.

When his death was impending, Elder Macarius appeared to him several times in his dreams. The more he suffered and the closer he came to death the more the Elder appeared. On September 18, 1873, he received communion at 1:00 a.m. At 6:00 a.m. he straightened himself out on the couch, took a few slow breaths, and looking neither right nor left, committed his soul to God, his prayer rope tightly in his hand.

– Subdeacon Matthew Long

Sayings of Elder Hilarion of Optina

On Prayer

God does not demand undistracted prayer from beginners. It is acquired with much time and labor, as the writings of the holy fathers say: “God grants prayer to those who pray…”


If you feel that you cannot control your anger, remain silent, and for the time being say nothing, until, through continuous prayer and self-reproach, your heart has become calm.


In case of a fall of some kind in deed, word, or thought, you should immediately repent and, acknowledging your infirmity, humble yourself and force yourself to see your sins, but not your corrections. From examining his sins, a person comes to humility and acquires a heart that is broken and humble, which God does not despise.

Matins Verse at Ode VII

O Father Hilarion, having fled the world, and abandoned all things in it and having counted them but dung, thou didst cleave to the elders, Leonid and Macarius, and thou didst receive of Christ power to drive away demons.


Author Unknown, “The Life of Hieroschemamonk Hilarion of Optina” in Orthodox Life (January-February, 1990): 2-8.

Kavelin, Fr. Leonid, Elder Macarius of Optina (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995).

Makarios, Hieromonk of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. Christopher Hookway, vol. 1 (Chalkidike: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia, 1998).

Optina’s Elders: “Instructor of Monks and Conversers with Angels” at http://www.roca.org/OA/97/97k.htm accessed on Dec. 17, 2013.

Schaefer, Archimandrite George (trans.) Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, 2009).

“SERVICE To the Holy Fathers, the Elders Who Laboured Ascetically In Optina Hermitage” in Orthodox Life (May-June, 1990): 27-48.





St. Nektarios icon painted for our domestic chapel

(Source) Saint Nectarius, the great wonderworker of modern times, was born Anastasius Kephalas in Selebria, Thrace on October 1, 1846.

Since his family was poor, Anastasius went to Constantinople when he was fourteen in order to find work. Although he had no money, he asked the captain of a boat to take him. The captain told him to take a walk and then come back. Anastasius understood, and sadly walked away.

The captain gave the order to start the engines, but nothing happened. After several unsuccessful attempts, he looked up into the eyes of Anastasius who stood on the dock. Taking pity on the boy, the captain told him to come aboard. Immediately, the engines started and the boat began to move.

Anastasius found a job with a tobacco merchant in Constantinople, who did not pay him very much. In his desire to share useful information with others, Anastasius wrote down short maxims from spiritual books on the paper bags and packages of the tobacco shop. The customers would read them out of curiosity, and might perhaps derive some benefit from them.

The boy went about barefoot and in ragged clothing, but he trusted in God. Seeing that the merchant received many letters, Anastasius also wanted to write a letter. To whom could he write? Not to his parents, because there were no mail deliveries to his village. Not to his friends, because he had none. Therefore, he decided to write to Christ to tell Him of his needs.

“My little Christ,” he wrote. “I do not have an apron or shoes. You send them to me. You know how much I love you.”

Anastasius sealed the letter and wrote on the outside: “To the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven.” On his way to mail the letter, he ran into the man who owned a shop opposite the one in which he worked. The man asked him where he was going, and Anastasius whispered something in reply. Seeing the letter in his hands, the man offered to mail it for him, since he was on his way to the post office.

The merchant put the letter in his pocket and assured Anastasius that he would mail it with his own letters. The boy returned to the tobacco shop, filled with happiness. When he took the letter from his pocket to mail it, the merchant happened to notice the address. Astonished and curious, the man could not resist opening the letter to read it. Touched by the boy’s simple faith, the merchant placed some money in an envelope and sent it to him anonymously. Anastasius was filled with joy, and he gave thanks to God.

A few days later, seeing Anastasius dressed somewhat better than usual, his employer thought he had stolen money from him and began to beat him. Anastasius cried out, “I have never stolen anything. My little Christ sent me the money.”

Hearing the commotion, the other merchant came and took the tobacco seller aside and explained the situation to him.

When he was still a young man, Anastasius made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the voyage, the ship was in danger of sinking in a storm. Anastasius looked at the raging sea, and then at the captain. He went and stood beside the captain and took the helm, praying for God to save them. Then he took off the cross his grandmother had given him (containing a piece of the Cross of Christ) and tied it to his belt. Leaning over the side, he dipped the cross into the water three times and commanded the sea, “Silence! Be still.” At once, the wind died down and the sea became calm.

Anastasius was saddened, however, because his cross had fallen into the sea and was lost. As the boat sailed on, sounds of knocking seemed to come from the hull below the water line. When the ship docked, the young man got off and started to walk away.

Suddenly, the captain began shouting, “Kephalas, Kephalas, come back here.” The captain had ordered some men into a small boat to examine the hull in order to discover the source of the knocking, and they discovered the cross stuck to the hull. Anastasius was elated to receive his “Treasure,” and always wore it from that time forward. There is a photograph taken many years later, showing the saint in his monastic skufia. The cross is clearly visible in the photo.

On November 7, 1875, Anastasius received monastic tonsure at the Nea Moni Monastery on Chios, and the new name Lazarus. Two years later, he was ordained a deacon. On that occasion, his name was changed to Nectarius.

Later, when he was a priest, Father Nectarius left Chios and went to Egypt. There he was elected Metropolitan of Pentapolis. Some of his colleagues became jealous of him because of his great virtues, because of his inspiring sermons, and because of everything else which distinguished Saint Nectarius from them.

Other Metropolitans and bishops of the Patriarchate of Alexandria became filled with malice toward the saint, so they told Patriarch Sophronius that Nectarius was plotting to become patriarch himself. They told the patriarch that the Metropolitan of Pentapolis merely made an outward show of piety in order to win favor with the people. So the patriarch and his synod removed Saint Nectarius from his See. Patriarch Sophronius wrote an ambiguous letter of suspension which provoked scandal and speculation about the true reasons for the saint’s removal from his position.

Saint Nectarius was not deposed from his rank, however. He was still allowed to function as a bishop. If anyone invited him to perform a wedding or a baptism he could do so, as long as he obtained permission from the local bishop.

Saint Nectarius bore his trials with great patience, but those who loved him began to demand to know why he had been removed. Seeing that this was causing a disturbance in the Church of Alexandria, he decided to go to Greece. He arrived in Athens to find that false rumors about him had already reached that city. His letter of suspension said only that he had been removed “for reasons known to the Patriarchate,” and so all the slanders about him were believed.

Since the state and ecclesiastical authorities would not give him a position, the former Metropolitan was left with no means of support, and no place to live. Every day he went to the Minister of Religion asking for assistance. They soon tired of him and began to mistreat him.

One day, as he was leaving the Minister’s office, Saint Nectarius met a friend whom he had known in Egypt. Surprised to find the beloved bishop in such a condition, the man spoke to the Minister of Religion and Education and asked that something be found for him. So, Saint Nectarius was appointed to be a humble preacher in the diocese of Vitineia and Euboea. The saint did not regard this as humiliating for him, even though a simple monk could have filled that position. He went to Euboea to preach in the churches, eagerly embracing his duties.

Yet even here, the rumors of scandal followed him. Sometimes, while he was preaching, people began to laugh and whisper. Therefore, the blameless one resigned his position and returned to Athens. By then some people had begun to realize that the rumors were untrue, because they saw nothing in his life or conversation to suggest that he was guilty of anything. With their help and influence, Saint Nectarius was appointed Director of the Rizarios Seminary in Athens on March 8, 1894. He was to remain in that position until December of 1908.

The saint celebrated the services in the seminary church, taught the students, and wrote several edifying and useful books. Since he was a quiet man, Saint Nectarius did not care for the noise and bustle of Athens. He wanted to retire somewhere where he could pray. On the island of Aegina he found an abandoned monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity, which he began to repair with his own hands.

He gathered a community of nuns, appointing the blind nun Xenia as abbess, while he himself served as Father Confessor. Since he had a gift for spiritual direction, many people came to Aegina to confess to him. Eventually, the community grew to thirty nuns. He used to tell them, “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God shall put a light in it that will shine forth to the world. Many will see this light and come to Aegina.” They did not understand what he was telling them, that he himself would be that beacon, and that people would come there to venerate his holy relics.

On September 20, 1920 the nun Euphemia brought an old man in black robes, who was obviously in pain, to the Aretaieion Hospital in Athens. This was a state hospital for the poor. The intern asked the nun for information about the patient.

“Is he a monk?” he asked.

“No, he is a bishop.”

The intern laughed and said, “Stop joking and tell me his name, Mother, so that I can enter it in the register.”

“He is indeed a bishop, my child. He is the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Pentapolis.”

The intern muttered, “For the first time in my life I see a bishop without a panagia or cross, and more significantly, without money.”

Then the nun showed the saint’s credentials to the astonished intern who then admitted him. For two months Saint Nectarius suffered from a disease of the bladder. At ten thirty on the evening of November 8, 1920, he surrendered his holy soul to God. He died in peace at the age of seventy-four.

In the bed next to Saint Nectarius was a man who was paralyzed. As soon as the saint had breathed his last, the nurse and the nun who sat with him began to dress him in clean clothing to prepare him for burial at Aegina. They removed his sweater and placed it on the paralyzed man’s bed. Immediately, the paralytic got up from his bed, glorifying God.

Saint Nectarius was buried at the Holy Trinity Monastery on Aegina. Several years later, his grave was opened to remove his bones (as is the custom in Greece). His body was found whole and incorrupt, as if he had been buried that very day.

Word was sent to the Archbishop of Athens, who came to see the relics for himself. Archbishop Chrysostomos told the nuns to leave them out in the sun for a few days, then to rebury them so that they would decay. A month or two after this, they opened the grave again and found the saint incorrupt. Then the relics were placed in a marble sarcophagus.

Several years later, the holy relics dissolved, leaving only the bones. The saint’s head was placed in a bishop’s mitre, and the top was opened to allow people to kiss his head.

Saint Nectarius was glorified by God, since his whole life was a continuous doxology to the Lord. Both during his life and after his death, Saint Nectarius has performed thousands of miracles, especially for those suffering from cancer. There are more churches dedicated to Saint Nectarius than to any other modern Orthodox saint.

While preparing for a series of talks I will be delivering in Saskatchewan (God willing) I was searching for the passage in the Evergentinos about the monk committed to being patient in all things (see below) and came upon this blog post. It is a book review of The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory.

It is always interesting as an authour to learn what people think of your books, but it’s even more special to have them highlight specific passages or quotations that stood out to them. In this post the writer (whose blog I was unfamiliar with until today) offers excerpts from each Beatitude (chapter). I really enjoyed seeing what things resonated with her and hope you enjoy them too.

Orthodox Christian Parenting

I was so delighted when I found out that this book was being published! I had already read Presvytera Constantina’s book “The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery,” more than once. I was so spiritually encouraged and challenged by the content of that book that as soon as I found out she had written a second book, I could not wait to read it. And, as expected, “The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory” did not disappoint.

I took this new book along on a trip and despite its 280+ pages, I finished reading it before I was even halfway through my second day of travel. “The Sweetness of Grace” is an easy read. The application of the content, however, is far from easy. Presvytera Constantina’s learnings, which she so readily shares in each of her books left me laughing, crying, covered in goose bumps…

View original post 2,956 more words

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 the elder as more pilgrims and nuns had arrived the day before. Just as on other days, the car pulled up so the people could receive the elder’s blessing. Each lined up to receive a cookie and an icon as they kissed the elder’s right hand.

3I have great love and reverence for Elder Ephraim, a person who works tirelessly for the Lord, a person who (I believe) will be able, at the end of his life, to say with Christ, “I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). So, you can understand that receiving his blessing means a great deal to me. But seeing others receive his blessing gives me even more joy.

You can tell a person is holy by the effect he or she has on other people. When you see the effect Elder Ephraim has on the people it’s impossible not to be reminded of St. Seraphim of Sarov’s famous quote: “Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand around you will be saved”. This does not necessarily mean everyone will become a Christian, but it illustrates the depth of influence a person who has become holy has on his or her surrounding environment.


One just needs to look at the monastery gardens to be convinced that the natural beauty found there cannot simply be attributed to the monks’ commitment to water and weed. Driving through the Sonoran Desert – mostly bleak and barren – the lushness of the monastery’s gardens seems even more incredible. How is such a contrast possible? Because holiness has produced such gardens. The acquisition of the Holy Spirit (Who is the ‘spirit of peace’) not only affects the spiritual but the physical atmosphere. And so, the colourful and lush grounds and gardens of the monastery are a physical manifestation of the spiritual reality that has taken place: that because of one man’s commitment to the will and love of God he too has “made the barren desert fertile” as the apolytikion for the monastery’s patron, St. Anthony, reads.


I want to be like that man, to be like Elder Ephraim, who left the world he knew (the Holy Mountain) in order to labour in a foreign land (America) to share the sweetness of grace with his fellow man. Through his prayers I want to share the blessings I was given in Greece and elsewhere. But more than this I want to struggle to make the barren desert of my own heart fertile ground for the Holy Spirit so that myself and those around me may be saved.


“On the Personalities of Contemporary Charismatic Elders”

Met. Athanasios of Limassol (Cyprus)

Below is a transcription a friend did of a video of the Metropolitan speaking about the characters of holy elders. 

Because everyone who meets another person, especially an Elder, a Saint, has a personal view and personal experience which might be different from that of the next person or a colleague. I think what characterizes holy fathers is… their great virtues, their love for God, their humility and so on, but first of all that each one retained his personality. Elder Paisios was a different kind of character from Elder Ephraim of Katounakia. So were Elder Porfyrios, Elder Sophrony, and Elder Iakovos. They weren’t the same, but each one was who he was. Cleansed from the passions and sin, but still who he was, with his own age, knowledge, background, era and all that. And then these people, in my experience, were characterized by great balance, they were very well-adjusted people, not unbalanced. They were well-adjusted and charitable. They never presented you with a dilemma; they got you out of one. Nor did they present you with a God who’d be a problem, but one who’d be the answer to all problems. That’s why people flocked to them, but they found relief. People didn’t go to them to leave troubled and weary; they left relaxed and light-hearted. They were people who knew how to have their own views, but also how to exploit the potential of each person and to know how to arrange things for each soul, what each person was capable of, what they could do from where they were. And they’d each decide in accordance with their own situation. They didn’t say: “Look, I’m a hermit and to become the way I want you you’ll have to become like me.” They came to where you were; you didn’t go to where they were.

In general, I think that as time went on, I saw that everything they did brought them to perfection in Christ, which is in no way extreme but is a mean, an endless balance, and peace. There was no sharpness about them; it was something absolutely clear, something like a calm sea that you sail over with great joy. They weren’t at all sharp, those people.

It’s not the Gospel’s fault; it’s ours for the way we live out our misery and express it to others. As a continuation of what I was saying about these holy people, they showed us exactly the image of the person who is perfect in Christ. All those people were in harmony, balanced, not at all facetious. They didn’t make you feel: “But he’s a simpleton, he’s ingenious, he’s somebody who walks on the clouds, he’s not properly grounded,” because that’s no good either. It’s not a good thing to be fatuous, nor to be ingenious, or facile or obtuse. Just as it’s not good to be pessimistic and all miserable. At the same time as they mourned human pain, the saints were joyful, very sweet people who embraced everyone. They wouldn’t put up with darkness in people’s souls. You might say that it is easy for everybody. No, it isn’t! We’ve got a long way to go to get there; it’s not easy, nor can it be feigned. You can’t say: “What was Elder Aimilianos like? I’ll imitate him.” It can’t be done. You have to tread the path that Aimilianos trod and you have to be Aimilianos to do so. Because if you are not, you’ll be a caricature, you’ll be a poor imitation.You have to find yourself. You’re not Aimilianos. You’re Adrianos, you’re Athanasios, you’re Ignatios. You’ll become who you are given the qualities you have. Let the grace of God work in your soul without preconditions.

I don’t believe that the Gospel is there to batter the human personality or tread it under foot. The Gospel saves the human person, it doesn’t trample it down. It removes the toxins and the passions and the sin, but saves the person. This is why these saints accepted others so easily. Even people who are acknowledged to be spiteful and sinful are justified by them to such an extent that you end up thinking they are saints. Elder Paisios, for example, didn’t even want to be rude about the devil himself. He didn’t call him “the devil.” Ever. He called him “the poor thing” or “the unruly one.” You’d think he was some poor little bear you could be playing with that was so unfortunate and so charming. Poor little imp. To hear others, the thrice-cursed Evil One goes to Hell to boil and to heap coals. For the Elder, he was an unfortunate little thing. Once Elder Paisios was praying and the devil stuck his tongue out at him. The Elder simply felt sorry for him. Or when we went and told him about different things that were happening on the Holy Mountain or about monks who were less than careful in their lives, he’d find ways to justify things and you’d say: “Lord have mercy, the man’s a saint.” He’d find an excuse for them and put good thoughts into your head and say good things about them. He’d say: “Look, don’t concentrate on that. The man’s got good points,so that’s the least thing compared to the many good things he’s done.” Because he himself was such a man. The way God sees people, not the way we do. And he even called tears joyful. Yes. With my limited resources, I imagine he did so because mourning and tears cleanse people and he himself was purified. He was cleansed.

I don’t know, when I went with Elder Iosif to see Elder Sophrony, I really did say to myself that he was an image of the perfect person. He seemed perfect to me. That was my own personal feeling about this man. The saints aren’t facile, nor insensitive to the pain of others. They experience the pain and they experience the whole of our apostasy from God, but because they’re now in full health, they deal with things as God does. Does God not experience our pain? Does He just look on unfeelingly? Why doesn’t He get depressed and take pills? Because He’s God! He sees things in a different way, because He has a different perspective, He functions in a different realm, where reality isn’t denied but is seen as part of the direction of divine providence. These saints say: “Look, things may be like this, but God is greater than they are. God’s not going to abandon the world and it’s not me who’s going to save it. God will save the world.” And they aren’t concerned, nor are they seized with anxiety. They have trust in God with regard to all things.

Postscript:  Met. Kallistos Ware in The Orthodox Church: “The saints, so far from displaying a drab monotony, have developed the most vivid and distinctive personalities. It is not holiness but evil which is dull” (247).


Fr. John and I love to go hiking here.

This blog has been open for five years. In the beginning I would post something every other day. It has been put on the back-burner these last few months especially.  It seems like my job and the parish and other commitments have pushed the blog to the sidelines and while I don’t want to close it I do need to admit that I don’t have a lot of time for it anymore.

So this isn’t a goodbye post it’s just a quick explanation for why I haven’t been posting as often as I used to. These days I’m just trying to make sure I have my prayers said and my Scriptures read before my head hits the pillow; anything else I get to do is a bonus.

I’ll still post as often as I can, just not as often as I did.