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20190520_133922

Christ is risen!

Here in Canada we have a federal holiday in honour of Queen Victoria, aptly called Victoria Day. As a result most people had the day off on Monday, May 20th.

Our weather has been so miserable lately (as is status quo for “Spring” in Newfoundland). When the sun suddenly came out on Monday Fr. John sent a quick email to the parish: “Matushka and I are going for a hike in Middle Cove. You’re welcome to join us. We’ll meet on the beach.” And it was a delight to see how many were able to make it on such short notice. But, to be fair, when the sun comes out in Newfoundland it seems everyone rushes outdoors because you don’t know when you’ll see it again.

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You can see from the photos I took it was sunny, but chilly. In fact, it full-on snowed two days later. So we’re especially grateful for our Monday-holiday impromptu hike and for our adventurous parishioners.

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constantin-fresca-protaton-s-14-manuil-panselinos-inChrist is risen!

Today is the feast of St. Constantine the Great. St. Constantine is the kind of saint whose name all too often provokes people to say critical things about him and the history surrounding some of the events that transpired in his lifetime.

In the past I have been asked what “response” I would give to his detractors. I’ve just said I would say something about the example of the Prophet and King David who both fell and repented. But truth be told, St. Constantine needs no defense. There may or may not be all sorts of explanations we could give to explain away this or that detail, event, decision, etc., in his life or person. However, I stand by the fact that, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself judged by no one” (1 Corn. 2:15).

There are two things I think are important for us to keep in mind: St. Constantine did not receive baptism until eight days before his blessed repose, and, it does not benefit our soul to try and appeal to modern man’s sensibility (or lack thereof) in order to offer a defense for the Christian Emperor. Our time, energy, and conviction are better spent trying to emulate all the ways in which he was a noble ruler and a firm Christian believer.

St. Constantine holds the title “Equal to the Apostles” as well as “the Great” but he could have just as easily been given the title “Peacemaker”. His whole reign was focused on unifying both the Empire and the Church. He is an incredible inspiration. He lived a life committed to  Christ even though he was unbaptized; he worked diligently to establish the Christian faith throughout the Empire. His writings are very illuminating, his words very persuasive, and his attention to detail as a conscientious Christian emperor is very impressive. As an example I will offer the following: the historian Eusebius says “Constantine witnessing the excesses of battle and bloodlust, was unwilling to have any of his enemies slain unnecessarily. In order to insure their safety, Constantine put a bounty of gold upon the head of every enemy solider spared.” (Great Synaxarion, May 21, p. 1032). This is simply one of countless examples of how he diligently sought out every opportunity to fulfill the spiritual law. As a result we have his awesome example as an inheritance.

So, I wrote this post to say St. Constantine needs no defense but I sort of tried to give him one and have failed miserably. He is so much greater than I can express with my fumbling words. At the end of the day if by bearing his name I bring even one ounce of the honour he brought to the name ‘Christian’ I will consider myself blessed.

Through the prayers of St. Constantine the Great, Equal to the Apostles, the first Christian Emperor, the “Peacemaker”, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me!

Christ is risen! I’m delighted to be posting the first of Fr. John’s Sunday homilies on the spiritual teachings of Gerontissa Makrina. The book he references as the basis for the homilies is the recently translated Words of the Heart.

From the video description: Fr. John Palmer (of Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission, St. John’s, NL) delivers an introductory homily on the person of Gerontissa Makrina of Portaria, the first in a series of homilies on her life and spiritual teachings.

May we have her blessing!

 

 

Christ is risen!

We put this gold cross in the window so people would be able to easily identify which townhouse is Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission. But in the night the cross wasn’t visible so the children and I devised a plan: to put painter’s tape on the external light where the unit number is lit up. We giggled saying those unfamiliar with the Byzantine cross motif might mistake our cross for a crack in the light that we tried to tape up :).

The little note pictured above was one of two notes we attached to wine bottles and left on the doorstep of our neighbours in hopes they would appreciate a little gift and forgive our late night festivities: “Hey neighbour! Here’s a bottle of wine. Please don’t call the police when, in the middle of the night, you hear a house full of people respond to our priest with a resounding ‘Truly He is risen’!” is not what was written but certainly was the intended message :). And Glory to God! no one complained and we had an absolutely beautiful Paschal vigil.

 

 

This was the first time in six years when the faithful were able to hold candles throughout the entirety of the vigil. The choir sounded wonderful and the atmosphere was heavenly. I’m not a talented photographer and I only got to snap a few hurried photos because I had to get back to the “choir loft”. But at least these are nice keepsakes.

Afterward Fr. John blessed some Paschal baskets:

 

 

And of course the next day we had a lovely Agape’s Vespers. Although we weren’t a huge group the Gospel was read in 10 languages! Our traditional shared meal followed. And it was delicious! This is always one of my favourite times: everyone is at peace and filled with great joy at the Lord’s Resurrection.

 

 

We all enjoy spending time eating and chatting together. To make more room we placed a table at the back of the chapel so the children could eat upstairs with everyone (they usually have the habit of taking their food down to the Sunday school room).

 

 

May God make us worthy to safeguard the joy, peace and gratitude instilled in our hearts by the celebration of Christ’s holy Resurrection! It’s easy to let these bright days slip away if we don’t make a conscientious effort everyday to remind ourselves, “Jesus having risen from the grave as He foretold hath given us eternal life and great mercy!”

And I was pleased to get a more pleasant photo of Fr. John and me than the hurried one on the sixth anniversary of his priesthood :).

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Christ is risen!

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Papa Ephraim of St. Nilus’ Skete in Alaska (previously of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona) wrote extensive journal entries during his two trips to India (in the Fall of 2018 and winter of 2019). His journal entries are posted in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. I really enjoyed reading them – not least because Papa Ephraim’s sweet and simple personality comes out so well in the posts that I found myself laughing out loud at some of his observations.

The experiences he describes of trying to spread Orthodox Christianity in India provoked me to reflect on mission work in general and imparting an Orthodox mindset to individuals living in an un-Orthodox culture in particular.

He writes:

In 1991 Fr. Ignatius, an Athonite hieromonk, went [to Calcutta] and had tremendous success in establishing Orthodoxy there. He managed to build several churches with the financial support he had from Greece, and he managed for several native people to be ordained to the priesthood. But after about five years of work there his visa expired, and he had to leave India. He ended up in Africa and became the bishop of Madagascar. After he left, much of his work started to disintegrate. One very sad phenomenon was that many of the converts from Hinduism to Orthodoxy went back to being Hindu after he left. Apparently, they were attracted to the Orthodox Church primarily because of the financial advantages they had in being Orthodox with Fr. Ignatius around. Now, of the thousands of people who had become Orthodox there, there are only about 70 people left who have remained faithful to the Church. But those people do not have any spiritual support, so those communities are in great spiritual need.

I think this passage illustrates an unfortunate reality that does not always get captured in stories about Orthodoxy spreading to hundreds of individuals at once: sometimes great numbers dwindle to small numbers. And while we glorify God for every individual baptized into Christ through Orthodoxy we must remind ourselves, as Bishop Augoustinos of Florina would say, we are seeking quality not quantity.

It’s an unfortunate reality (as well as a historical reality) that people fall away from Christ and His Church. This is something that should rightly be mourned but should not provoke us to despair. Every time someone falls away we should remember two things: first, that someone’s fall into mortal sin and/or apostasy does not necessarily mean the door to Christ is closed forever. People can and have returned to Christ from all sorts of states of spiritual decay. Second, that we mustn’t take our life in Christ for granted. We should struggle to become and remain humble so we will be protected from losing our faith. Only we have control over this.

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The following passage stood out to me because I know from our own experience doing mission work here in Newfoundland for six years how many talents are required in such instances and how few we seem to possess.

I am seeing more and more that being a missionary requires a unique set of talents. It is not enough to be just a devoted Christian with a good understanding of Orthodoxy, but one must also have the gift of speaking and the discernment to know what your listeners need to hear. It also requires a tremendous amount of patience and dedication, to spend years and years of sowing. And it helps if a missionary is an extrovert, who knows how to deal with all different kinds of people.

Really every possible talent can be put to good use in a mission setting because it takes one set of talents to attract new members and grow the Mission and another set to maintain the quality of a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). In each circumstance it’s important for us to give all we have to the service of the Lord through serving His flock.

Lastly, Papa Ephraim writes:

Acquiring an Orthodox mindset is something that takes years. It takes even longer when a catechumen has no access to an Orthodox spiritual father, Orthodox literature, an Orthodox parish, and living role models demonstrating what it means to be a serious Orthodox Christian. Also a catechumen needs to show some stability. This is why a person typically remains a catechumen for a year or longer before being baptized.

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Instilling an Orthodox mindset in the newly-converted is certainly a daunting task.  Throughout history the Gospel has been shared largely with illiterate peoples and so the fact that the newly-illumined in India do not have access to Orthodox literature is not unique to a newly-converted people.

I’m only focusing on one of the obstacles Papa mentions, but in my opinion, Orthodox divine services, more than Orthodox books on theology or even morality, need to be translated into the language of the newly converted.

The best way to firmly instill an Orthodox mindset in new converts as well as veteran Orthodox Christians is through participation in the divine services – and not just the Divine Liturgy. I mean if the faithful were to attend Vespers and Matins services, where the majority of our didactic hymnology is chanted, if the faithful were to listen attentively while attending said services, they would begin to grasp the important Orthodox concepts of repentance, of compunction, of mercy, of reliance on Christ to save us not only once but multiple times when we fall astray.

And here is where the conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox cultures is particularly highlighted. How can you explain these concepts to people who not only don’t speak your literal language but are unable to understand the spiritual language of Orthodox Christianity – of struggle and repentance? There is a spiritual language barrier between Orthodox and non-Orthodox (whether Christian or otherwise); our faith is so estranged from the world.

And so the best way to firmly establish someone in the Orthodox faith is for them to participate in Orthodox services. Not only does this provide them a tangible connection to the Tradition of Orthodox worship it narrates to them the Scriptures in an Orthodox chronology: you fall, you harken unto God, He hears you, you arise, you fall again, etc. In order to fully understand repentance one must live it and one step toward living it is to hear about it again and again through Orthodox services. This is why it is so important for the divine services to be in the language of the local people. Even in the absence of a parish, if such texts were translated the faithful could at very least learn to hold reader’s services.

But again, I’m not speaking of the Divine Liturgy which is predominately made up of standard prayers; I’m speaking of all the other services that are often barely attended but which have the power and ability to teach you the Old Testament types of Christ, the daily lives of the saints,  and the deep theology of our Church.

We should all attend as many Vespers and Matins services as possible. If our parish doesn’t hold them we should seek out liturgical books to read these services as a part of our private prayers. (I know it’s not easy to put services together but just reading the canons from the Menaion everyday would be a great start).

These are just some thoughts on missionary work that came to me on reflecting on Papa Ephraim’s experiences.

I hope and pray the efforts to catechize, baptize and build up the newly-illumined Orthodox faithful in India will continue to bear much spiritual fruit.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

This video is from our first Pascha in Greece (2008) at the  Church of St. Anthony the Great in Thessaloniki. Fr. Theodore Zisis is the priest.

This post is set to publish at midnight Newfoundland Time (at least it’s supposed to). Our little Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission, currently occupying a townhouse as a chapel :), is the first to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the North American continent.

In the Maritimes – where our families live – Christ’s resurrection will be celebrated one half hour later. This year my brother, Fr. Matthew Penney, is the serving priest at my family’s parish (St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church) in Saint John, New Brunswick (not to be confused with St. John’s, Newfoundland). So, that means my mum, my dad, my sister, my sister-in-law and my brother will all celebrate Pascha together for the very first time (since my father didn’t become Orthodox until 2015 and this is my brother and sister-in-laws first Pascha back in New Brunswick in years). Such a blessing! I’m with them in spirit, as Gerontissa Philareti told me, “There is no distance in the spiritual life.”

These high and holy days are filled with so much reflection for me. This is our 14th Pascha as Orthodox Christians: our first Pascha we were at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona, our second was at St. Nicholas Korean Orthodox Church in Seoul, South Korea, the subsequent five were in Greece and the last seven! have been in Newfoundland. So many blessings, so many beautiful people, so many incredible hymns!

May God make us worthy to live the spiritual celebration of His holy resurrection for all eternity, together in His Kingdom!

Christ is risen and Hades is despoiled!