St. Patrick and the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

I have very deep Irish roots (among every other nationality that I am descendant of), that have there place in this continent when my great, great, great, grandparents landed on the shores of Grosse Île in Quebec during the late 1800’s with the countless thousands that settled in Canada for a new and better life.

That heritage never really had a spiritual context for me especially as an Orthodox Christian, where the bulk of our saints came from the Mediterranean or Slavic world. Of course I knew about St. Patrick an other Celtic and Irish saints, but I never considered that as being more significant than the memory of St. Alexis the man of God (who shares the same feast day with St. Patrick).

This changed for me one day when I had a conversation with my father about his great grandparents and about their generosity and love. I remarked at one point that we, as Orthodox Christians (a priest and deacon to boot)  had totally broken from the cultural and spiritual world that was theirs. He looked at me with a quiet smile (always the indication I was about to be schooled) and said, “not at all!”

I think he noticed my perplexed look, and went on to talk about their culture and more profoundly their faith in Christ, was in fact our heritage as Orthodox Christians, as they were the spiritual children and heirs of St. Patrick and those Celtic saints who manifested the Kingdom  in Ireland.

Our ancestors great faith in Christ had come through the experiences and relationships of family and friends throughout the ages, and even more from the saints. Those known like St. Patrick, and those known only to God prayed (and pray) for their, and our salvation, and our safe shelter in the Orthodox Church; down to this very day. My father went on to quote the Epistle read on this Sunday of Orthodoxy “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”, (Heb.12:1).

The task he noted was that as Orthodox Christians, and of having Irish decent, we now had to carry on what St. Patrick and those thousands of men and women did. What my great, great, great, grandparents did; “run with endurance the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”.

This is something to consider as we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy, and the establishment of Icons as being proper to our salvation.

The Incarnation made real the Kingdom in the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, and the lives of the saints who bore witness to that Kingdom, even in poverty, rejection, and death. “God with us” and has been with us throughout the ages as depicted in paint and stone. The seeds of faith planted in Ireland some 1600 years ago by St. Patrick, proclaimed this Triumph of Orthodoxy down to my great, great, great, grandparents, down to my father.

The Kingdom of Heaven, God with us, revealed in  Downpatrick Ireland where St. Patrick reposed; the Kingdom of Heaven, God with us, revealed in County Clare Ireland by my forefathers and mothers, the Kingdom of Heaven, revealed in this new country.

With prayer, fasting and charity, as witnessed by St. Patrick, may the Kingdom of Heaven, God with us, be revealed at St. Nicholas in Narol, and past down throughout the world and in every generation.


Holy Bishop  Patrick, pray to God For us!

Clean Week and St. Andrew of Crete.

     In many Orthodox Churches and communities, the first week of Great Lent is commonly known as “clean week”, where an extra emphasis is placed on the cleaning of ones conscience, through prayer, service, fasting and humility. It starts on the Sunday when we go around to each other asking forgiveness, and likewise forgiving those who ask us; and it continues on the Monday when we hear or read the first of the many Old Testament lessons appointed for Great Lent.
     Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool (6th hour of Clean Monday Isaiah 1:16-18)
     Although this movement continues through to Palm Sunday (one could say it continues through our whole lives), the character of Great Lent is formed in these first few days; Clean week. To help us form this character we are given the opportunity to “seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow”;  and by it encounter the Lord who has come to save us, through the witness of scripture (both old and new Testament) in the hymns and prayers of the Canon of  St. Andrew of Crete.
     The service  is a dialog between St. Andrew and his soul (and by extension each of us and our soul) where the theme is an urgent exhortation to change one’s life. St Andrew always mentions his own sinfulness in striking contrast to God’s abundant mercy, through the use of  literally hundreds of references to good and bad examples from scripture, to “convince himself” to repent (and by extension each of us and our soul).
     St. Andrew’s service, offers us a chance to “Imitate the God-loving deeds of the righteous and shun the sins of the wicked” (Tuesday: Ode 8), and greet the proclamation of “Christ is Risen” on the Lord’s saving Pascha, with truly a clean conscience.
May the Lord bless.

Let the bells ring! (A meditation on the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War)

Growing up, I never really could appreciate how close history was to me, especially if those events and circumstances that made that history happen almost a century ago; like the First World War.

Separated by two generations from that dreadful conflict, and born some 50 years after the end of the “war to end all wars”, I generally presumed that the only place I could ever encounter the people, stories, victories and defeats was in books or over drinks with others whose departed families shared their experiences.

This changed when I was hired as an art teacher at the Perley Rideau Veterans Health Centre in Ottawa in 2009.

I would lead painting, and collage classes for the residents of the centre (along with some of the most amazing and caring staff) and get to know these veterans and seniors. That history became something that I could engage first hand.

In my blessed time there I heard stories from veterans that broke my heart, and brought me to tears, stories that made me offer thanksgiving to God, and stories that made history — even if it was a century old — something I felt that I could almost be there at the time.

Although there were no veterans from the first world war, there were a few men that were old enough to remember when the war ended on that fateful day of November 11th. One such resident was a veteran named Ernest (or as he liked to be called Ernie).

Ernie was the son of a French/German family that stetted in Sydney Mines Nova Scotia (in Cape Breton) in the late 1800s from the Lorraine region of France/Germany. One day when I was making my rounds asking people if they wanted to join me on a painting project, we started talking about his family in Sydney Mines; how his father and uncle were carpenters for the mines, and his loving mother was a laundry maid. Some how the conversation turned to talking about the Great War. Although his family has been restricted from service (no doubt due to the importance of working for the mines, and maybe because of his semi-German heritage) he noted how he remembered the Armistice. I was sort of amazed in that I had never heard a first hand account of that day. Ernie was at that time a hundred and four, and would have been 14 years old when the war ended. He then went on to describe with absolute clarity the events of that blessed day.

It was an ordinary Monday despite Sydney Mines having been hammered with a late fall snowstorm. Ernie was at school doing “normal school stuff” when church bells started ringing, no one really took notice of it, but more and more bells started ringing thoughout the town. Despite the insistence of his teacher to keep on task, the class stopped as his class-mates wondered what was happening that every bell in the city was ringing and ringing. At some point someone came excitedly into the school-house and proclaimed that the war was over, and an Armistice had been signed.

The class was never formally dismissed, but the children started going home to their families and friends to celebrate. His mother came to pick him up in a horse-drawn sleigh, and took him home. He went on to say “My mother gave me fifty cents,” stretching out his weathered hand as if to receive the money, “and told me to go to the general store and buy as many Union Jacks as I could… and I thought she was crazy giving me all the money in the world!”. With this statement we both broke out laughing.

As he told me all this, Ernie’s countenance changed from a centenarian veteran to a young boy full of the kind of excitement one expects from a child on Christmas morning.

As I was leaving to get back to my painting class, Ernie noted that it “wasn’t the peace and victory everyone thought it would be” as he would go on to serve for Canada in the Second World War. He paused for a moment in thought, and then smiled saying “but the ring of bells still sounds like victory and peace.”

One could say that the sound of church bells ringing, the sound that brought joy to Ernie — even after the better part of a century — proclaimed a blessed of a hard-fought-for peace, also rings out the proclamation every Sunday of Christ’s Resurrection.

A victory, not over this nation or the other, this system or religion over the other, but profoundly the victory of life over death, love over enmity, of unity over division. One could say that the ringing of those church bells a hundred years ago proclaiming victory and peace, were but faint echoes of Christ’s eternal victory every Sunday, as crystal clear and distinct as if you were the one ringing the bells themselves,

A victory shared by the Grace of the Holy Spirit with all humanity, where the clanging of metal upon metal, becomes a soothing and melodious new song “For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Thankfully we have a bell at St. Nicholas (that might have been rung a hundred years ago on this day). Although it is impractical to stop our Liturgy at the traditional time a minute of silence would follow (11:11 am), we will ring our bell once for every year since the end of that dreadful conflict: in thanksgiving for victory of the Allied forces, and those who sacrificed so much, thanksgiving for peace, and profoundly in thanksgiving for the Lord’s saving victory over sin and death.

By this may our hearts be warmed and made as youthful as Ernie’s in the assurance of that final Victory and that Peace which knows no end.


Father Bob’s wisdom. The feast of the Annunciation.


Sometimes the news is so grim these days that one doesn’t know whether to watch the suppertime news and not be able to eat, or watch the late night news and not be able to sleep.

There was a man who developed insomnia and an ulcer because he had fallen into the habit of watching the late evening television news just before retiring. He improved rapidly after a doctor, who had encountered the same symptoms in other patients, prescribed an hour of quiet reading as a substitute for TV news at bedtime.

How does one deal with bad news?What do we do with it? How do we handle it? For Christians, there is an answer.

On March 25, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. On this day the angel announced to Mary that she had been chosen by God to bring the Saviour into the world. We call it Annunciation because it is the announcing of the greatest good news humankind has ever heard: the coming of God into the world, and more especially, into our lives, to overcome sin and death for us, to make us sons and daughters of God, heirs of His everlasting Kingdom.

Christianity is not a polyanna type religion. It does not always begin with good news; it begins by acknowledging the bad news that exists in our world and in our lives: sin, death, suffering, despair, loneliness, hopelessness. Good news cannot be good news unless we first have a sense of the bad news of our situation.

It was into a world full of bad news that Christ came to be good news. “And the angel said to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’. Note the words: good news of a great joy.” When Jesus began preaching in Nazareth, He opened to the book of Isaiah and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then Jesus said to those listening, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Christ is the fulfillment of God’s good news! No wonder Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” We read in the prophet Isaiah, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace … who brings salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’.” These prophetic words were fulfilled in Christ.

The whole life and ministry of Christ in the world is best described by the word evangelion or gospel, good news. St. Mark begins his gospel: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Gospel = good news! How hungry the human race is today for such good news!

GOOD NEWS! Christianity is not a search for God. If it is anything, it is good news from God. It is not a human discovery; it is a revelation from God. It is not mankind groping and stumbling alone in the darkness, trying to find the ladder to heaven. It is God Himself coming down the ladder in His own dear Son so that He might lift us out of our blindness and helplessness into His light and power.

Not good advice, but good news. This is the Gospel of Christ. It is primarily an announcement of what God does, and has done in the Person of Jesus. When the early apostles preached, they merely made a proclamation, an announcement of what God had done in Jesus. They called upon the people to listen to the good news: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”, we read in the 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians. But that was not all. Jesus had risen from the grave. By His death He overcame death for the committed members of His body, the Church. Then, having ascended into heaven, He sent the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church, bringing them new life and power, changing their lives completely, filling them with life that was real life indeed. That was the message! That was, and is, the Gospel! The entire emphasis is upon what God has done in Christ to overcome the human race’s bad news of sin and death.

This — and none other — is the message of the Gospel of Christ, “Rejoice, we have a victory!” This is why every Christian cannot help but be an evangelist, spreading everywhere the good news of the faith. This is why the early Christians proclaimed the resurrection of Christ with such rejoicing and unrestrained enthusiasm. Christ is risen and our sins are forgiven! Christ is risen and death is overcome! Christ is risen to fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit! Christ is risen and with Him we too rise to a life that is life indeed! “In the world you have tribulation, but rejoice, I have overcome the world,” said Jesus. Through faith, prayer, and the sacraments we share in His overcoming.

The greatest good news about God is that He does not hate us. He loves us. He does not wish to punish us for our sins. He seeks to forgive. He is the Father of the prodigal who ran to welcome his returning son. Some people have a tendency to suspect that God is hostile to them. Jesus completely erased this suspicion. “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” The greatest good news about God is that He “so loved the world (each one of us) that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life.”

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “That one man should be punished for another’s account seems to most people unreasonable. That all should be justified because one man had done right would be more reasonable, and more suited to God.” That is the good news of God’s forgiveness in Christ. In the Epistle to the Romans we hear: “Where there is much sin, there’s even more grace.” For those who have sinned and know the pain of guilt, there is no sweeter good news than God’s forgiving love in Christ.

We live with the bad news of death — man’s last and greatest enemy; death which comes to rip apart the ties of friendship, marriage, and love; death which will one day come to put an end to my earthly life and yours. But in the darkness of death there shines a light — the resplendently glorious light of the Resurrected Christ, who came back from the grave and said, not “I think there is another life,” not “I hope there is,” not, “There ought to be,” not “There may be,” but, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” That is the gospel — the good news of Christ for my death, the good news of the overthrow of death in the death of Christ who has trampled down death by His death. Apart from Christ, there would be absolutely no good news concerning death. When we die, we are buried in the bosom of the Son of God.

This is the good news we celebrate on the great Feast day of the Annunciation! Good news about God’s love! Good news about God’s forgiveness! Good news about God’s power for our weakness! Good news about the death of my death in Christ’s resurrection! Good news about our Great Liberator, the Lord Jesus, to Whom be all glory, worship, and thanksgiving now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Defending the holy. Defending creation. (A reflection on the feast of Theophany)

Somewhere along the way, Western culture quietly divorced the spiritual and sacred from the material and profane. Those elements and systems that historically connected humanity to the environment (or more accurately creation) faded away, leaving an ambiguous if not adversarial relationship with the natural world.

Whereas many cultures throughout the ages had found a divine meaning and context through their relationship with creation, this divorce of sorts reduced the relationship with the created world to simple respect and admiration of  something untouched and beautiful, and exploitation as resources to be profited from.

This separated understanding has not impacted deeply affected the lives of most Western Christians (especially in the wake of the age of enlightenment and the Reformation). In a different way, it has dramatically affected Eastern Christians and many indigenous cultures around the world whose very existence and identity is deeply rooted in the land.

This was demonstrated this past fall when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that indigenous Ktunaxa peoples of British Columbia had no right to block the development of a ski resort on their traditional lands because they are the sacred dewling of the Grizzly Bear Spirit.

In the court’s unanimous  judgement, the Ktunaxa’s people’s right to believe in the Grizzly Bear’s Spirit was upheld; but paradoxically  the value of their traditional lands, that manifested their beliefs, was pronounced as having no significance beyond being an attraction to behold and a resource to be developed. It was as if the court had ruled that people (like the Ktunaxa) have  a right to love, but they can’t have something tangible (like their traditional lands) that manifests that love.

This ruling  that defined a religious belief as being divorced from the material creation, defies not only the relationship that many indigenous cultures (like the Ktunaxa peoples) have with the material and created world, but also the understanding and relationship that Orthodox Christians (and many traditionally- minded Christians) have with creation. Although Orthodox Christians might not share the same beliefs in the Grizzly Bear Spirit, or any other indigenous belief, nonetheless we have a great deal in common in our respect for creation. Some people can get lost and even worship the created instead of the Creator, However, the essential correct understanding for everyone is that God reveals Himself in and through creation, and we can approach Him in His creation

We see this in the feast of Theophany (Jesus Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River), and the tradition of blessing water, lakes and rivers that happens around the world at this time of year, not to mention the many prayers for the sanctification of lands, building and objects.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

The beginning of the Gospel according to St. John, is a proclamation that the whole of the cosmos (from the tiniest atoms to the greatest galaxies) was created by the Lord, and that it being His creation, it bears witness to His life and love, For “All things were created through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16) .

From a traditional Christian point of view, creation isn’t some kind of random accident, or phenomenon, rather it is the work of God, in the same way human beings are in a particular way. By definition, creation has a value greater than being merely an extraneous element in the economy of salvation. Which is to say, creation, has a part to play in revealing “that light…that the darkness can not comprehend” ,   

This sacred character of creation is fully brought to a fullness in the incarnation of our Lord (when He takes on a human body), and is revealed at His  Theophany on the banks of the Jordan River. Jesus Christ, “true God of true God”, willingly submits to be submerged in the waters of the  Jordan by the hand of John the Baptist, The Father confirms His love, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him.

It is important to see that this revelation of the Triune God doesn’t happen in some abstracted manner, or in the spiritual mind of those present. It happens in a river, or to the point, in creation.

By the work of the Holy Trinity at Jesus’ baptism, the elemental and natural (in this case water) reveal the supernatural.  Some 2000 years later, this miracle is repeated around the world as Orthodox bishops and priests plunge the Cross of our Lord in water, lakes and rivers. Even in the Red River.   

For us as Orthodox Christians “God’s eternal power and deiy have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rm. 1:20) His invisible attributes, His benevolent beauty, mercy and love for us are clearly seen.  Creation offers us an encounter with the Creator. We should see creation not as means to holiness and the divine, but rather as His holy and divine work.

We bless our water, lakes and rivers, those elements of creation that for too long have been used and abused for the pursuit of pleasure and profit, and reclaim their holiness in the Lord. If “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 23/24:1), how can what we believe in be separated from what He has sanctified?

As Ktunaxa people of British Columbia, are defending the sacredness of creation, so we should be prepared to defend the truth which we have received n Christ, and the intimate care that God has for every atom of His creation; rejoicing  with the mountains and the hills as they shall break forth into singing before the Lord, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12-13) .


One day, two North American Saints (the feast day of St. Herman of Alaska, and the repose of Fr. Alexander Schmemann).

The witness of Orthodoxy did not begin in North America with elaborate missionary plans, and programs, but with a handful of monks including our blessed St. Herman,  from the Valaam monastery who arrived in Alaska in 1794. The spiritual home of Orthodoxy in North America  is not in some palatial and beautiful cathedral in the largest city, but a hand-dug cave that served as his monastic cell and then grave, on an isolated island (Spruce Island). Maybe it is because of the humble beginning of Orthodoxy in North America that the Lord saw fit to take what was foolish in the eyes of the world, and glorify it (1 Cor. 1:18-25), blessing our continent with the saving grace of God’s mercy.

St. Herman was the cornerstone of the tiny Alaskan Orthodox mission. He dedicated his life to God through repentance, prayer, and he served the local Aleut tribes with devotion and selflessness.  The example of Orthodoxy’s start in North America should be something of a light for those who are desperately looking for some genuine witness of love, selflessness and humility (especially when it comes to the positive and affirming interaction of Christianity with Indigenous peoples).

It is for those wanting to see a  concrete demonstration of God’s mercy in the craziness of 21st century, the life of  St. Herman is so important. For as the Lord blessed his labours and love even in isolation and seeming insignificance, He can bless our labours and love. Our Church in North America is a witness of this, our Archdiocese is a witness of this, our little parish is a profound witness of this.

Let us not be disheartened by our lack of resources, our lack of time, our lack of power, but follow the example of offering sacrifice of praise to Christ, seeking His mercy and life itself (Jn. 14:6), and bearing that life to the world.

Great Vespers will be served on Tuesday  evening (Dec. 12th) at 6:00 pm and Divine Liturgy on Wednesday  morning (Dec. 13th) at 10:00 am

+ Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann (1983)

It is very providential that Fr. Alexander Schmemann reposed in the Lord on the feast day of St. Herman. Although separated by centuries, and cultures, Fr. Alexander’s zeal for the fullness of the faith, complemented the work done by St. Herman in proclaiming a living and dynamic Christianity to a whole new world. Fr. Alexander’s work and countless writings made something seemingly foreign, exotic and esoteric, into something that is accessible and normative for those wanting a deeper and more intimate relationship with our loving God.

It is not an exaggeration that without the freshness and accessibility of Fr. Alexander’s writings (at the time there were very very few books about Orthodoxy theology written by Orthodox Christians available in English), my parents might never have become Orthodox, and by extension I might never have become Orthodox, yet alone a priest!

Our Church today in North America has in many ways been shaped by his love of God, and his tireless proclamation of the Lord’s salvation and victory as manifested in the sacramental life of the Church (especially through the Eucharist). Like St. Herman, the work of Fr. Alexander has been a witness of the Lord’s love as lived out by the Church in North America, our Archdiocese, and especially our little parish.

May his memory be eternal.

We will serve a Panikhida for Fr. Alexander after Vespers on Tuesday (Dec. 12th)

What the Church need is more St. Nicholas.

The wonder working Icon of St. Nicholas, from the Cathedral in Ottawa.

My father once told me that if you want a strong Church, and a engaged and loving community, we must all be like Christ and not like  those great leaders and rulers, theologians and philosophers, gurus or mystics, however influential, pious, and powerful they might be. Yet despite the logic and simplicity of his observation, the weight of  ensuring a strong community that grows and prospers is an issue that I and many other pastors and those in church life wrestle with.

We dream up new programs and ways to proclaim the Gospel and engage the hearts and souls of the world around us, but this is ultimately as fruitless as trying to reinvent the wheel.  

One such thought was presented in an article I read a while ago, that asserted that what Christianity needed to enable growth and relevance, was more entrepreneurs and not shepherds (pastors).

Although I thought this was an off-the-cuff opinion of a mega church pastor whose aim was to challenge pastors to be more apostolic (or entrepreneurial) and to encourage business men and women to apply their talents in service to the church, it nonetheless is an expression that seems to have permeated church life regardless of the size of the congregation or denomination. (Someone recently once told me that if this kind of model worked for microbreweries and designer coffee bars, why shouldn’t it work for the Church.)

Beyond the desire for more active pastors (which we can all agree upon), the expectation of results and growth from Church leadership (in our case bishops, priests and parish councils)  has more people looking at the qualities and successes of business and commerce with directors, supervisors and managers as an improved way in which to grow and be relevant.

Although there is some common ground between churches and commerce that could benefit, grow and enrich a community, the application of this as a model for leadership in the Church is ultimately the fruit of a tradition  where “God is up there, and we are down here”: and the sacramental presence of Christ, and the sacrificial responsibility of the faithful (the royal priesthood) are simply symbolic.

The danger is that this approach runs the risk of making the whole economy of salvation a business plan, and not the manifestation of the Kingdom. It risks making the faithful into consumers, and not participants.

As Orthodox Christians, we are immersed by our services and prayers into the active work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; and it is the saints, those men and women throughout the ages who proclaimed Jesus Christ, who works all things for our salvation by the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, (See Rom. 5:5) to the Glory of God the Father “whose good will it is to give us the Kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). We need to look no further than at the witness of our beloved patron St. Nicholas to see this.

The life of St. Nicholas, his kindness and generosity, his zeal for the faith and  his selflessness, has transcended cultures, centuries, and even a Christian context, becoming the foundation of our beloved Santa Claus. It is a testimony to his work that he is one of the most beloved and cherished saints throughout the ages.

I suppose that we could call St. Nicholas an “entrepreneur” rather than a “shepherd” perse;  but if we are consistent with the traditional witness of the Church throughout the centuries, it would be more accurate to say that St. Nicholas in his vocation as a bishop heeded the word of the Good  Shepherd, Jesus Christ to “feed my sheep”. This was not  because it was a proven method to grow the Church, but rather because it was the life of Christ he wanted to share, and the responsibility given to him in baptism and revealed in his ordination and consecration as a priest and then bishop.

From his constant prayers and intercessions, to his boldness at the Council of Nicaea (325), St. Nicholas, time and time again, showed Christ’s saving love and work (as he does now even in our little parish) . He multiplied the fruit of the Holy Spirit for those seeking meaning and life beyond the mundane and corruptible.

We remember with love this blessed Archshepherd because his corruptible and limited life (after all, he was just a human like you and me), was made incorruptible and boundless in bearing Christ’s saving love to the world, and throughout the ages.

The challenge he presents to bishops and priests (who bear the burden of responsibility) and all the faithful, is to grow the Church, that it be enrich with mercy and grace, that it might prosper and multiply. He does not ask us to reinvent with new programs and systems the deposit of faith given to us in the waters of baptism, and in Chrismation, but rather to manifest the faith through “taking up our cross daily” and following Christ (Lk. 9:23). We are inspired to be like Christ, to be like St. Nicholas whose very life manifests the work of the Holy Spirit, the saving gift of life in Jesus Christ.

It is in this way, that we all will build a strong Church, and an engaged and loving community that will stand until the end of time.

By the prayers of St. Nicholas, may we be strengthened in this.


Holy Hiromartyr Seraphim pray to God for us.

St. Seraphim of Uglich
This Saturday (Nov. 4th) marks the 80th anniversary of martyrdom of St. Seraphim (Samoilovich) of Uglich.
St. Seraphim served with St. Tikhon first in Russia, and then under him as a missionary priest and teacher in Alaska.  Bishop Tikhon deeply appreciated this zealous missionary’s personal piety and his sensitive and appropriate treatment of the newly enlightened flock. Due to the harsh Alaskan climate he returned to Russia in 1908. In the darkness that was Bolshevik revolution, St. Seraphim was elevated to Episcopacy despite being in an out of prison. He even at one point governed the Church as the substitute for the Patriarchal Locum Tenens (who happened to be in prison)

While Archbishop Seraphim governed, he did not appoint any deputies in case of his arrest. Therefore when the Soviet agents interrogated him asking “Who will be the head of the Church if we do not free you?” He replied “The Lord Jesus Christ Himself,”. The Soviets looked at him in amazement and said: “All of you bishops have left behind deputies, as did Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Peter.” The Archbishop’s response was  “Well, I have left the Church in the hands of the Lord God.”

This kind of faith and proclamation eventually landed Archbishop Seraphim at the notorious Solovki labour camp in Northern Russia, where in 1937 he was executed.

There is a beautiful connection between the formative years of service of this Archbishop and Martyr, cultivated in the mission fields of Alaska; where the need of clarity and truth as witnessed in the Gospel was an imperative for  bringing people to Christ: and same clarity and truth as witnessed in the Gospel  that would not let him bow himself, or the Church to any idol or ideology.  A connection made manifest in the love of Jesus Christ for humanity by the precious and life giving Cross.
Holy Hiromartyr Seraphim, who served in North America, and those who suffered with him, pray to God for us.

Standing with St. Demetrios and #MeToo.

Although on the surface, comparing the 4th century Greco-Roman world with our  21st century Winnipeg (and the Western world, for that matter) might seem like comparing apples to rocks, especially considering the many centuries that have past, and the changes that have taken place. Yet the world that St. Demetrios lived in some 1700 years ago, bears some striking similarities to our age today.  

The 4th century world of St. Demetrios was a cosmopolitan culture (especially in large trade centers like Thessaloniki) with many different nations and ethnic groups from one end of the known world to the other, all living under the political, social and economic law and order of the Roman Empire.It was a society that had access (the ancient world equivalent of global trade) to tin from the British Islands, silk and spices from the orient, grain from Africa, and furs from the north. There also existed a plurality of diverse religions and beliefs that ensured the security and stability of the Emperor and Empire, regardless if  Baal, Zeus, Perun or fire was worshipped. Like most empires (both old and new), the exploitation of people was a cornerstone of its power. It was slaves, and those who had no rights or status that served households, worked the fields, built those magnificent structures and buildings, and provided entertainment in the colosemes. Life was cheap, even meaningless unless you were powerful, wealthy, and prosperous.

In the successive centuries that have gone by, many things have changed; but if one looks with a critical eye at our 21st century culture, those values that established one of the greatest empires the world has ever known, are ever present- especially the exploitation of people by those with wealth, prosperity, and power.

Granted, we don’t live in a global empire, nor do we see Justin Trudeau  as a  “god” (as great as he might seem to some). The dominance of Western culture and commerce has brought law and order through the rule of liberal democracies, and free market societies. We, can get pineapples from South America in January, and Canadian souvenirs made in China. We like those ancients  can still believe whatever we want, as long as we confess wealth, prosperity and power; those values that have replaced the pagan gods of old, and ensured that we can live in luxury and ease.

Sadly, we also rely on the exploitation of men, women and children, those who are weak and vulnerable, to serve, work, build, and entertain us in our demand and desire for those values.

It is not that the blessings of wealth, prosperity, and even power are as bad now as they might have been 1700 years ago. Rather, their priority and our  belief in them, as some kind of gods (or to use a more contemporary term “truths”), stand at odds with the Christian Gospel.

Jesus Christ “did not come to to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). He “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross” (Phil. 2:7-8)

Through this, “Jesus Christ the Son of God… True God, of True God” (as we say in our Creed) took what was foolish in the world to shame the wise…what is weak in the world to shame the strong….what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” (1 Cor 1:27-28). The Lord’s strength is revealed in weakness, and not in the might of the Roman Empire or any other empire.  (2 Cor. 12:19).  

It is in this context that we see the courage of St. Demetrios. Having being a loyal and dedicated soldier and governor, he with boldness proclaimed Christ to those in Thessaloniki, against the orders of the Emperor. When called to give an account of his faith to the Emperor, St. Demetrios confessed his loyalty to the one true King, and his belief in one true God, and not the many lies that had built an Empire.

Rejecting the Emperor’s platitudes, and promises of riches and power if he forsook Christ, and dismissing the threats of torture and death, St. Demetrios stood as one who rejected the glory of this world in order to be “crowned with the glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4). He would not be complicit to the Emperor’s vanity and desires, nor would he participate in that madness, choosing to be a victim as Christ was a victim on the Cross for our salvation, rather than victimize and abuse.

The question asked of us today is whether we stand with St. Demetrios in defiance to the worship of wealth, prosperity and power, and its exploitation of humanity?  Or do we remain complicit and willing partners in its presence?

There are many examples illustrating the justification of exploitation from around the world, from African blood diamonds, east Asian sweatshops, to human trafficking in prostitution. But those issues seem a world away and unrelated to many of us, whereas the revelations three weeks ago of extensive  sexual abuse and assaults by the Hollywood movie magnate Harvey Weinstein have raised the awareness of sexual abuse and harassment in our Western culture.

These reports revealed the dark side of the entertainment industry, and although this darkness is nothing we haven’t seen or heard of before, it  became a touchstone for those (namely women) who have faced sexual abuse and harassment of one form or another, from strangers, friends, employers and mentors.

With the use of social media, over 1.7 million women (from Hollywood starlets to suburban housewives) have used the  “#MeToo” tag, to reveal how tragically  pervasive this issue of sexual abuse, harassment and assault is.

These numbers and these stories  (which I believe are the tip of the iceberg) shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone with half a heart to see that we live in a culture that is increasingly exploitive and abusive, and that we live in an empire, of sorts, that worships at the altar of wealth, prosperity and power. This is at the expense of the young, weak and vulnerable: men and, in this case, women. Being Christians, we are compelled to act.

The behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, and many others who have used their wealth, prosperity and power to victimize millions of women is reprehensible. Yet if  we remain complicit with them and those who participate in this darkness,  and do not stand with the blessed martyr Demetrios in our confession of Jesus Christ, and His Cross that manifests God’s love of the world, how is it that we are not as reprehensible?

The choice is obvious, especially if we call ourselves Christians. Let us stand firm in our proclamation of Christ and His righteousness that knows no boundaries, no race, no gender, against this madness; and like Demetrios let us bear witness to a God who preaches the Gospel to the poor, brings healing to the brokenhearted, declares liberty to the captives, brings sight to the blind, and proclaims liberty to those who are oppressed” (Lk. 4:18).

Let us take a stand against   to those who would abuse their wealth, prosperity and power, as Demetrios did those many centuries ago, and does even now as our heavenly patron and saint. Let us be being intercessors for the young and old, the weak and vulnerable;  our  mothers, sisters, wives; our  fathers, brothers and husbands.

Holy martyr Demetrios, pray to God for us that we might have the strength to do this.


Offering Thanksgiving in Hell. (A meditation on the Las Vegas shooting, and Edmonton terror attack)

“Keep your mind in Hell, and do not despair”.

It is a strange proposition to consider, especially as it come from one of the most renowned Saints in the last century, St. Silouan of Mount Athos. Yet with a closer look, its relevance and clarity rings out; especially in light of the insanity that has rocked the world in the last week or so.  

The context for this quote came about fifteen years after St. Silouan had a vision of Christ that changed his life. During all those years he had struggled in prayer against distracting thoughts. Tired and exhausted from his labours, he wanted one day to bow before an Icon of the Lord, yet a terrible demon stood in his way.  He heard a voice (although he was alone):  “The proud always suffer from demons” Therefore St. Silouan asked how he could defeat pride. The Lord’s response was: “Keep your mind in Hell, and do not despair”. This moment changed his life even more than that first miraculous vision of Christ.  

We have to keep in mind that Hell isn’t simply a place of punishment and torment for  “bad and evil” people; it is rather the consequence which come to  those who would rather have the universe (and people) serve them, those whose struggle for autonomy vomits a hated towards God and neighbour alike. It is consequence which come to those who choose darkness over  light,  lies over truth and ultimately death and decay over life.

This is something to consider as we recoil from the profound tragedies in Las Vegas, and Edmonton last week: that for all the security and prosperity  given to us through our Western culture, we are still vulnerable.For those who are rebelling against God, and focusing on themselves, no matter what we do, where we go, or who we have around us.

This should come as no surprise for us if we have a half a heart to see the darkness and real evil that rained down death upon concert-goers in Las Vegas, or the darkness and real evil that drove into crowded sidewalks in Edmonton; for “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). It truly can seem that humanity is in a kind of Hell.

It is in this context that St. Siloan’s vision can bring clarity and hope, especially as we celebrate Thanksgiving (Canadian style).

To despair is to reject the goodwill of God, and to hold onto the faults and circumstances of one’s life, bearing in solitude  its burdens of anxiety, fear, anger, and enmity, (however petty or profound they might be). It sees nothing more than what is in front of it; it has no relationship or community, and can not look back.

Its opposite is thanksgiving, the movement  to look  through those faults and circumstances that impede us,  to something better, and to grab hold of those bonds that unite us. It is to look back with the perspective of having been loved and having offered love; or to put it in a Christian context, to have been loved by God, and to offer our love to Him.

As Christians, we have to understand that the perfect expression of thanksgiving is embodied or accurately made divine in the life of Jesus Christ, through His life-giving passion and death (1 Cor. 11:26) .

We see this so beautifully put in the Divine Liturgy at  its offering (Anaphora): “in the night in which He was given up – or rather, gave Himself up for the life of the world – took bread in His holy, pure and blameless  hands; and when He had given thanks and blessed, and hallowed it, and broken it,  He gave it to his disciples and apostles saying: “take eat, this is My Body which is broken for you, for the remission of sins”;  and likewise after supper He took the cup saying: “drink of it all of you, this is My Blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins!”.

The very thanksgiving (literally Eucharist) the Lord offered was not merely some reflection on good things of life. What was offered by Christ at that blessed table was thanksgiving, despite the Cross that stood in front of Him: who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). What was offered by Christ, despite His being forsaken all was a thanksgiving to the Father who has glorified Him and will glorify Him (Jn. 12:28); “for God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it“. (Acts 2:24). What was offered by Christ, despite the fall of humanity, was thanksgiving for the whole of His creation:  “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever should believe in Him should have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

It is in this that countless generations have been able to be truly thankful, regardless if it were at home with one’s family or in a concentration camp in Siberia. Despite being in a Hell of one form or another, those prisoners (and those who picked up their Crosses and followed Christ) could see beyond the grief and challenges set before them, clearly seeing the love of God who endured the Cross for them. They knew that nothing (not even death) could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rm. 8:39), and that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights” (Jm. 1:17).

“Keep your mind in Hell, and do not despair” for Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and “wiping away every tear from (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4). This is truly something to be thankful for.