The Cross and our children (what we can learn from Sts. Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love)

There is something providential that on the Sunday after the feast of the Elevation of the Cross, when we heard the words of the Lord: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk. 8:35), we also remembered one of the most beloved families in the Orthodox Church, the martyrs Sophia, and her children Faith, Hope, and Love.

As a faithful and pious family they were summoned to the Emperor Hadrian (yes the same Emperor who built an ineffective garden wall to defend Roman England ) after being denounced as Christians. Despite the fear of what awaited them, they presented themselves as if they were at a feast, full of joy and courage. Starting with the children, the Emperor tried to compel and bribe them to offer sacrifices to an idol of the goddess Artemis. But each in turn rebuked him with the proclamation that they worshipped the one God, and His beloved Son Jesus Christ. The Emperor, dismayed at the courage of a twelve year old (Faith), a ten year old (Hope) and a nine year old (Love), at first promised them riches and security, but each time they proclaimed their faith in the one God in heaven. He then threatened and tortured them, and yet they did not yield.

Encouraged by their mother who was forced to witness the unspeakable tortures inflicted on them, each child remained steadfast to the love of the Lord, each in turn proclaiming and exalting the Lord in thanksgiving, until they were finally beheaded, leaving a grieving mother to take her broken children and bury them, herself falling asleep in the Lord some three days later at their graves.

The courage of Sophia in this trial is something that seems impossible for any parent to understand, but what also seems impossible to understand is the courage and faith of these three children, which leaves us as awestruck as the Emperor and those with him.

The courage of Faith, Hope and Love was not some characteristic that they were miraculously born with, neither was it a special kind of grace that made them separate from us (to suffer). Rather their faith was something they witnessed in their mother and had learnt from her.. Sophia (in translation, Wisdom) indeed imparted to her children a wisdom that this world could not comprehend (1 Cor. 1:18-25). This was the work of a loving mother who took up her Cross daily in, manifesting the saving work of Christ in her household in those little things that showed what true faith, hope and love were. All that these children offered was all that they had received.

We thankfully don’t live in a time or  place where confessing our faith is a matter of life and death for ourselves or our children (although this is a fact of life in many parts of the world). Yet the pressures and temptations of our culture that seek to break apart our families and hearts are overwhelming. The promises of cheap love, and counterfeit relationships, and a life that has more to do with what possessions or lifestyles one has (or never will have) beat on us like the blows of a torturer.

The question which will be asked of us as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, is what example are we giving our children? How are we preparing our children to deal with this broken world?

Do we offer a moral and pious example that has more to do with being good people? Or do we offer a way of life that preserves one’s cultural or family traditions (“we go to Church on Sundays because that is what we have always done”), or our personal opinions or customs (“I am a Christian because it feels right”) ? Or do we do the “one thing needful” (Lk. 10:42), and heed the words of the Lord which challenge us to “take up our cross and follow Christ”.

Do we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross and make prayer a constant element in our lives, not as a response to simple emotions, or only in times of need when we “want something”? Or do we set prayer as a foundation where we dedicate and consecrate some time to stand before the Lord in thanksgiving and supplication.

Do we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross and fast from certain food, and habits, not as a way to deny ourselves of the good things in life, or to go on a religious diet, but to humble our passions and desires by putting Christ and our neighbour ahead of our egos and appetites, applying the necessary element of spiritual and physical discipline to deepen our communion with the God of Heaven and earth?

Do we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross and partake of regular confession not simply because the priest nags us, but because taking responsibility for one’s sins, wounds, and shortcomings is a fundamental element of what being as human is about, and demonstrating  the joys of being forgiven completely by the Lord?

Do we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross and mark the cycles and times of the year by attending services outside of Sunday mornings? Not Do we choose not to regard those programs and tasks such as  swimming lessons, bridge clubs, and laundry days as being more important than the festal life of the Church? Instead, do we make the life of the Church an anchor? Is Christ’s love is the center of whatever programs and tasks we might do?

If we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers are not willing to take up our Cross, and make Christ the cornerstone of our lives, how can we ever expect our children and those entrusted to us to do it.

But if we do take up our Cross in those little things, at home, at work, at school, and in Church, we make the wisdom of Christ manifest to those around us, and especially our children. It is then that our children, and their children’s children will be able to bear witness to the Faith “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3); to Hope “because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rm. 5:5): and to Love, “for God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

If we as pastors, parents, family, mentors and teachers are unwilling to take up the Cross of Christ for ourselves, we should at least do it for our children and their blessed salvation.

By the prayers of the holy martyrs Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love and all the holy men and women who have served the Lord, may we as Christian pastors, parents, family, mentors, and teachers, take up our Cross, that our children might also be able to.

 

 

Growing and blooming where you are planted, and the feast of all Saints of North America

We have often heard the sage words of wisdom that encourage us to  “grow and bloom where we are planted”. There’s something universal in this axiom,  that suggests that people have the qualities to achieve some kind of happiness, and realize their potential no matter what  situation they find themselves in. It stands to reason that something like this would  resonate within the pages of scripture: regardless of whether we have been given one or three talents (Mt. 25:14-29), or whether we are Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female (Gal. 3:28) or whether we are married or not (1 Cor 7:7-24), the saving work of Christ is offered to all. More to the point, the Kingdom is not dependent on our being in the perfect place, with the perfect possessions, and having the perfect social status.

These examples (and many other illustrations throughout scripture) articulate the basic message to “grow and bloom where you are planted”, as a means of realizing the goal of happiness (or more appropriately, holiness). For the Christian, it drives home the point that he/she grows and blooms by cooperating with our perfect God who helps us through the Holy Spirit.

History has shown us those men women and children who throughout the ages put on Christ, making His life theirs, growing and blooming into His divine likeness by forsaking the fallen world of sin and corruption. Regardless of whether they were Greek or Ukrainian, in monasteries, or churches, cities or farms, whether they were emperors, or beggars, in palaces or concentration camps, they have revealed the riches of God’s love and mercy that stretches into eternity. We have come to know them as holy, as saints.

This is something to consider as we commemorate the Saints of North America.

The history of Orthodoxy in North America (some 200 years old) is but a drop in the ocean when compared to the nations in which Orthodoxy was established. Those who in faith came to this new world seeking a better life, faced incredible odds and challenges that at times made life here intolerable. But this is not to say that in our short history, and despite the overwhelming challenges, there were not those who blossomed as witnesses of Christ’s saving victory.

Some are well-known like St. Herman, and St. Tikhon, and some are less known, like Matushka Olga of Alaska, or Metropolitan Leonty (who are among those who have yet to be formally recognized as saints, but nonetheless are recognized as those who built the Church). But in every case, we see them doing what Christians have been doing throughout the ages, from the day of Pentecost until now. They have proclaimed ”the Good News” of Christ’s victory and our liberation from sin and death, making real His saving work and the free gift of life in the Holy Spirit.

It might be strange to consider that this has been done in places like Brooklyn, NY through St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) and San Francisco, CA through St. John (Maximovitch), or in Dallas TX where they discovered that the body of Archbishop Dmitri (Royster)was incorrupt and even in Winnipeg  through our locally venerated saint Archbishop Arseny (Chahovtsov). Yet if we really have faith that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28  [3:1 LXX]), and the Gospel has been preached to the ends of the universe (Ps. 19:4 [Ps. 18:4 LXX]), then the presence of the saints isn’t something that is simply reserved for distant lands and traditional Christian cultures. Rather, it is a profound proclamation that the fullness of a life lived in the Holy Spirit is possible even here in North America. This is demonstrated by all  those who grew and bloomed in Christ, and like a carpet of flowers, have covered our continent.

The challenge for us is to see (even seek out) those saints who have shone forth in North America.  They took what would have been to them a strange world and culture, making  it as fertile as the richest soil.

In like manner, we are called to live as they did: loving everyone, speaking peace, being patience and kind, offering good works, remaining faithful, gentle, and selfless (see Gal. 5:22-23). We are called to grow and bloom here in Manitoba, Canada, North America, and bear the fruits of eternal life.

By the prayers of all those saints known and unknown who blossomed in North America, may we be strengthened in this.

Looking to the saints. Becoming saints.

 

There are those moments that confront us now and again, that call into question why we do what we do as Orthodox Christians. How do we know that our prayers mean something, or that our sacrifice of praise at Church on Sunday is not some pantomime to make us feel important and special? How do we know that the faith handed down from generation to generation is divine and full of grace, made manifest by the Holy Spirit? In short, how do we know we are the Church?

Some of the answers to these kinds of questions are found the scriptures: the witness of a God who acts to save humanity from sin and ultimately death. That, along with holy tradition (the context in which we understand scripture and participate in the mysteries of God’s saving work), help humanity understand who God is, who Jesus Christ is and what is the Gospel; and by extension help us understand why we are Christians.

But as scripture can come across as “dead words” or a cultural artifact of a bygone era (as I have been told many times), and holy tradition can be misunderstood as simply the “laws of man”, and can come across as abstract concepts of data to process, and customs to follow, it is the men, women and children who have immersed themselves in scripture, and confessed Christ, who stand out as lights that bear witness to a living faith.

It is one thing to read about God. It is a completely other thing to encounter those who have been transformed and transfigured by God, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These are the saints.

From the greatest saint to the least, from those universally known (like St. Nicholas) to those known only to God, the saints are men, women and children who have striven to conquer the challenges of everyday life, fear, injustice, strife and violence, poverty and even death by marking every element of their lives with the love of God who Himself conquered all this by His passion and life-giving death on the cross.

This is something to consider as we bask in the warmth of Pentecost celebrated a week ago. For the saints are those who received the Holy Spirit, God Himself, as if mystically in the upper room on that holy Pentecost after the Lord’s Resurrection, and by the Holy Spirit demonstrated the power of scripture by living it, and manifesting the victory won by Christ by participating with Him, and bearing witness to the love of God poured out on all humanity. By the Spirit, they were (and are) those who confessed that love is stronger than hate, peace stronger than violence, long-suffering stronger than striking, kindness stronger than ambivalence, goodness stronger than wickedness, faithfulness stronger than fear, and self-control stronger than selfishness (Gal 5:22-23).

If their was any question about why we do what we do, the saints make real our purpose by showing us that it is “the Fathers good pleasure to give (us) the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32)

Maybe the questions should be: Do I pray and offer good works like a saint who in his or her love for humanity, makes real the love of God? Do I offer my sacrifice of praise like a saint, who even in death can offer thanksgiving to a God who defeats death by death and shares His victory of eternal life with us? Will I hand down to my family and friends a living faith and inheritance that bears witness to God’s saving work throughout the ages? In short, will I make real the Pentecostal miracle like a saint, and confess that Jesus is the Christ, who abides in us, that we might abide in Him (see 1 Jn. 4:15), and that no “height or depth nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8:39)?

This grief of hope.

Igumen John (Scratch)

Igumen John (Scratch)

This past week has always been a challenge for me and for my family as we remember the passing of both my parents. My mother (Matushka Suzanne Scratch) passed away some 19 years ago on the 10th of January, and my father (Igumen John Scratch) 11 years ago on the 15th . By the Lord’s mercy there is a visible sign of their unity in the timing which they were called. Despite the loss of my parents before their golden years, before they could ever enjoy the blessing of all their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, my grief changed over the years.

In one respect their loss has become easier, less of a burden for me. Time passes; life goes on. Families, work, and the world bring many challenges and blessings that fill the void of such a profound and untimely loss.

It is not as though I do not grieve that mom and dad are not here to see how my children are growing into beautiful and caring people. (My goodness where has the time gone!) I do. But I am comforted by the fact that my children are turning out as they are because of their grandparents’ prayers and intercessions.

It is not as though I do not grieve that mom and dad are not here to give me guidance and advice as I raise a family and serve a community. I do. But I am comforted by the fact that they also struggled to take up their crosses daily (Lk.9:23) in raising a family and serving a community. We are now bearing the fruits of their labours.

It is not as though I do not miss the unconditional love they offered me and many others. I do; and I am comforted that their love for me, for my family and all those whom they encountered, is perfected in the presence of and in response to a loving God who first loved (them) and us (1 Jn. 4:19).

The grief that now fills my heart is a Godly grief that produces hope (2 Cor. 7:10): one of having received a gift that reveals its treasures and blessings in every moment of my life (whether I am paying attention or not); one of having received a gift which builds up and strengthens, brings light and hope; one of having received a full life from my parents, made whole and complete in the saving victory of Jesus Christ. All the while, I know that I am not worthy of such an inheritance of their love, and that I could never offer anything in repayment except my thanksgiving to God.

It has taken me years to see this context in something that hurts so personally. For thanksgiving is the realization that one has been given something one did not have, nor could get independently. This grief of hope looks forward in gratitude, reflecting on what it has received; It declares generosity while confessing one’s poverty. This grief of hope heals our broken hearts through the bitterness of our tears. It is the natural reaction to being loved, even the love of those who have passed away. Maybe that is what makes it so difficult.

Sadly I have forgotten the sound of my parents’ voices, and detailed experiences with them have become impressions and moments. Yet even as the sands of time have eroded details of those memories, the love my parents gave me, my siblings, and family (and not just biological ones) has not been diminished or even swallowed up in death.

The love offered by my parents has been sanctified by the Lord in His love for humanity, reclaiming us by His voluntary assent and death on the Cross, a love made tangible in our descent into the waters of baptism.

The love offered by our departed grandparents, great-grandparents, brothers and sisters, children and friends, is made holy by the Lord’s love that redeems our broken and mortal nature in His Resurrection. This love made tangible profoundly for us, when we are raised up from the baptismal font.

Profoundly, the love offered by people by throughout all the ages is seen to be participating in His pure love, participating in and united with the Source of all love. The Grace of the Holy Spirit fulfills and renews the power of this love in Christians on the feast of Pentecost.

The love offered by my mother and father and all those departed souls around us, has taught us about the Lord’s love, and it is the Lord’s love that has changed the bitter tears of grief over their deaths to warm tears of thanksgiving for His mercy, and my mother and father’s love.

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep” (1Thess 4:13).

MAY THEIR MEMORY BE ETERNAL.

Matushka Suzanne Scratch and her little Scratchlings.

Matushka Suzanne Scratch and her little Scratchlings.

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (What Mary of Egypt can teach us about sin and repentance)

Icon of Mary of Egypt, by the hand of Hiromonk Vladimir  http://iconsbyfathervladimir.com/

Icon of Mary of Egypt, by the hand of Hiromonk Vladimir
http://iconsbyfathervladimir.com/

Of the issues and challenges facing all Christians, especially the ancient Orthodox Church, none is greater than understanding the nature of sin.

Because issues like physician-assisted suicide, same sex marriage, gender equality, abortion, nationalism, present seemingly insurmountable challenges to how Christians bear witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ, we are left as mute as fish when asked the hard questions about what it is to be human in a world ravaged by violence, poverty, injustice, war, pornography and exploitation. It is our inability to deal with the issue of sin (the underlying element in the above-mentioned concerns) and to repent properly, that paralyze us.

Sin. This is the one issue that pastors, priests, and faithful alike either talk about all the time, or never mention. This was highlighted to me recently when a young man related to me that he has been bouncing around between Churches, only ever hearing about either the burning judgement of sinners, or that everything is happy and sin doesn’t matter at all.

Although one might not find such extremes in the Orthodox Church, to one degree or another, we as Christians vacillate between both. Regardless if it is burning hellfire, or fluffy clouds, our reaction to sin tends to be more about an external choice, than the inclination of the heart.

The problem is that both perspectives are different sides of the same coin, where sin is seen more as an exclusive legal definition or status, the result of breaking divine canons, and choosing the laws of man over the laws of God. Although there is some merit to this point of view, it is only an aspect of understanding the nature of sin. This approach was not a factor shaping the Orthodox teaching of salvation and the work of God in humanity. In short, it is incompatible with the whole Christian experience.

The verb for sin comes from the Greek word “hamartia” which simply means straying off the path, or missing the mark. And whether it is intentional or unintentional, it has more to do with the disposition and inclination of one’s heart to God, and neighbour, and ourselves. Instead of following the path of righteousness towards our Creator, and serving our brothers and sisters,  in  the excellent way of humility which the Lord showed us,, we follow our own path, skewing the aim of glory and everlasting life by our own targets, desires and passions.

To be fair, some sin carries with it greater consequences and legal ramifications, but no matter how great that sin might be, such as those of the prostitute who came to Christ at Simon the Pharisee’s house (Lk. 7) or how innocent it might be (such as a white lie), it is the perversion of our will, that seeks its own end (no matter how futile it might be) at the expense of God, neighbour, and especially our health and wellbeing.

We are given the life of St. Mary of Egypt on this last Sunday of Great Lent in order, to consider not only what sin is and how it affects our lives, but to consider the abounding forgiveness that Christ to offers all humanity. We, like St. Mary and the prostitute in the Gospel of St. Luke (read in honour of St. Mary), are to one degree or another are broken and storm-tossed by urges, desires, passions and anxieties. We struggle to do what is right, to rise above our mistakes, shortcomings, and sin. And like St. Mary we find ourselves stuck on the threshold of something great and profound, spiritually barred from entering and encountering the life-saving wood of the Cross (her conversion happened at the feast of the Exaltaion of the Cross, Sept. 14th); barred from encountering a God who offers Himself for the life of the world in His passion, death and Resurrection.

And like her, we, no matter how hard we might try, find ourselves spiritually blocked, and exhausted. We find ourselves looking to do what is right, but unwilling to accept the reasons for why it is right; wanting to be loved, without being willing to surrender to that love, and offer our love back.  It is in the reflecting upon her life that we see her comprehension of what sin is, its causes and effects, but more importantly we see the love needed in order  to effect profound change in her repenting heart.

St. Mary’s conversion was not simply a status, from bad to good, or an acceptance of a legal formula and principle, motivated by the fear of eternal punishment, nor was it a realization that her sins didn’t really matter. It was the profound change of her heart, a true repentance inspired by her love of Christ who loved her first (1Jn 4:19).  For like the prostitute at Simon’s house she loved much, and much was forgiven.

We can explain away sin as antiquated or unjust legal principles; we can make sin a legal principle, defining and condemning those whom we consider “bad”. But only love can change our heart, showing sin to be what it is: missing of the mark of a life in Christ Jesus.

Only the love of God and neighbour can kindle the fire that burns up the thorns of those transgressions that choke our hearts. Only love can heal and bring resolution, breaking down the wall of enmity that separates humanity from God.  Only love can strengthen us to walk with Christ to His life-giving passion, and only love can help us look beyond the despair of the pierced and broken body of our Lord laid in a new tomb.  And only love can reveal the miracle of the empty tomb on the third day.

Only love can enable us to receive the free gift of life and the forgiveness of sins. Those who come to the Lord in confession, receive forgiveness that at the hands of the priest who offering the prayer of absolution says:

“May God who forgave David through Nathan the prophet when he confessed his sins and Peter weeping bitterly for His denial, the sinful women weeping at His feet, the tax collector and the prodigal; may that same God forgive you all things through me a sinner both in this age and the in the age to come, and set you uncondemned before His dread judgment seat. And now having no further cares for the sins which you have confessed, go in peace.”

Understanding the nature of sin and explaining it in this broken world, might be the biggest challenge facing Christianity. But it is the change of our heart, our repentance cultivated by love that leaves sin empty, and death its most terrible expression, mute, as the proclamation that “Christ is Risen” is shouted from the roof tops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are nothing without the Cross.

cross

The whole of our life, is to actualize the image of God, and achieving the divine likeness that humanity was created in. Every day should be a movement towards this; yet we find that the cares of our daily lives, and the concerns for this and that, slowly mask and cover who we are in the eyes of God.

The Church gives us the tools of increased fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and good works during this season of Great Lent, to help peel away those masks of security and comfort from our lives, revealing our blessed nature. Yet these elements are not automatic guarantees of this happening. We don’t engage in these struggles to gain favor by checking off one task or the other; we engage in these struggles to identify with a God who identifies with our broken humanity.

He is a God who empties Himself “and being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross”. (Phil 2:7-9). And this is the point: that by the Cross, the Lord breaks down the division between humanity and God, not as some act of payment or punishment on our behalf, but out of love. The Lord perfects our nature, and shares it with us in His Resurrection.

As we enter into the middle of the fast, the Church presents for consideration this Cross of Christ, to remind us of the centrality of the Cross in our life. This must be the beginning of our journey and the destination of our journey-to be truly alive. This Cross of our Lord reminds us that our fasting is not simply a labour independent of God, but a labour that shows the love of Jesus Christ who out of love surrender even His will to the Father, for our sake.

We can go through our whole life fasting, serving, reading, working for the good of others. But unless we, like our gracious Lord, surrender our will, our passions, our security, our life on the Cross out of love for God and neighbour, nothing we could ever do (however good it might be) would help us see that it is God upon the Cross, and not some mortal victim. And sadly we would not see the love poured out for us, and live the life offered to us.

St. Seraphim and Theophany.

St. Seraphim and the bear.

On the Saturday before Theophany (Jan. 2nd) the Church remembers the repose of one of the greatest Russian saints of the 19th century, St. Seraphim of Sarov.

There are so many remarkable stories about the life of St. Seraphim that reveal not only the mercy of God, but more profoundly humanity`s  vocation of being created in the image of God, according to His likeness (Gen. 1:26). St. Seraphim’s encounter with the bear is one that resonates at this time of year when we consider the wonder of the Theophany of our Lord in the waters of the Jordan River.

When humanity turned its back on God by refusing to trust their Creator, and chose the perishable and temporary over the everlasting and eternal , all creation was dragged  from the free gift of life, down  into a life lived in necessity. Whereas before the fall of humanity everything was offered in love, the fall stained creation with the necessity of survival, and of only the fittest. As a result, humanity was pitted against creation, and creation against humanity, in a endless cycle of fight or flight.

But our Lord and Creator, not willing to let humanity and all creation suffer eternally from this endless cycle, acted to save us. Taking the form of a servant, becoming a man like us, He entered the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John. This was not out of necessity, because He had to, but out of love, because He desired to.

With the Lord’s descent into the waters of the Jordan, the relationship between humanity and  all creation was changed, sanctified, given the potential of being holy, and bearing witness of the harmony, peace and joy that our communion with God can provide, through Christ and by the Holy Spirit.

St. Seraphim’s life is a witness to this. His life of prayer, humility, and constant supplication manifested the fruit of peace, joy and mercy. As St. Seraphim’s life was totally identified with Christ, the Lords sanctification of creation came to be identified with St. Seraphim.

The encounter of St. Seraphim and the bear whom he fed, and kept company with, illustrates this so beautifuly. Although we see this kind of relationship as unnatural, in the eyes of God, it was what the relationship between humanity and creation was suppose to be. St. Seraphim sat down unafraid of the bear, and maybe more importantly, the bear unafraid of St. Seraphim.

Like St. Paul who proclaimed “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20), St. Seraphim’s life of repentance, love and prayer, also manifested the saving work of a God who reconciled all things in Himself, including the natural world, including a bear.

It isn’t that St. Seraphim, or any other saint, is somewhat different than you or me, or that he had a special relationship or connection with that bear, or the natural world. Rather he shows us humanity’s vocation as it was meant to be: a foretaste of a new creation, of the Kingdom.

As we prepare ourselves for the blessed Theophany of our Lord, let us meet the feast with the desire and thirst for a life beyond necessity and need, beyond fear of the passions and sin,  even beyond the fear of a bear; a life that shows forth a life in Christ where all creation sings a new song.

St. Seraphim of Sarov. (Fr. Krug)

 

Mama Baba.

MotherDorofeaMirochnitchenkoIt is so fitting that the day after we remembered all the Saints that shone in North America, we remembered the life of the Nun Dorofea (Mirochnitchenko) who fell asleep in the Lord ten years ago (23/06/04).

Growing up with Mama Baba (what we all called her) in my life, I often caught glimpses of her storm-tossed past, as an orphan from war torn Europe, a displaced person fleeing Communism, a  refugee, and struggling mother and wife in a new world, but never could reconcile how ‘that person’ could turn out to be such a peaceful and loving influence in my life, and the lives of so many others. But ‘That person’ who saw more grief, violence, poverty, and uncertainty then I could ever imagine, was the same person who strove to love the Lord  with all her heart, soul, strength, and with all her mind; and she loved neighbours as herself. (Lk 10:27). That made all the difference.

For Mama Baba every day was an opportunity to offer the world something beautiful and kind, no matter what it was, or what challenges she faced. She never did anything monumental like write books, set up hospitals or even lead great movements for the betterment of humanity, rather she cooked, cleaned, knit, and knit some more. She prayed constantly, without fan fare or attention (Mt. 6:6) and repented always with the assurance that the Lord forgave and healed.

Although her gifts of food, and knitting, of prayer and conversation seem like nothing at the time, they turned out to be like those the bricks of faith that built a house founded upon the rock of Christ, that could withstand the hurricane that was her life (Mt. 7:24) . Always with thanksgiving, and always with joy, even if both were mixed with tears.

Her life of thanksgiving and service remains a profound witness of what can happen when even the most menial tasks are offered on to the Lord, and on behalf of the Lord. That no work is so unimportant that it cannot reveal the quiet voice of the Lord telling us that we are loved beyond anything we could ever know, bestowing the gifts of healing and peace. May we be inspired to follow her example of faithfulness, and love.

Memory eternal!

The Igumen John (Scratch) serving the funeral for the Nun Dorofea.

All Saints of North America and pray to God for us!

All saints of North AmericaHaving celebrated the Sunday of All Saints, many Orthodox Churches now turn to remember the Saints that have shone forth from their region. In Ukraine (and parts of Canada) they will remember all the Saints that shone there, the same in Russia and Belarus etc.

But for us in North America we have a chance to offer thanksgiving for the Saints who ministered in the Old world, as well as  in our midst.

The men and women who settled this continent, country, and province, who literally build our church a hundred years ago, sought to  guarantee a future of peace and mercy, by making real the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Some have been revealed by the Lord as Saints and intercessors (like St. Herman of Alaska, Alexis Toth, and Patriarch Tikhon) , some have yet to be formally glorified (like Metropolitan Leonty, Archbishop Arseny, and Matushka Olga) and some are unknown. But all of them, (from the greatest to the least, the famous to the unidentified) have given us something profound. Regardless if we are third generation Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian etc. Orthodox Canadians, or we are converts to Orthodoxy, we share the same faith, the same witness, and love of the Lord, and as “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”, (Heb. 13:8)  so is our faith in his saving grace revealed in our own homes.

Rejoice, O mountains of Pennsylvania; leap for joy, O waters of the Great Lakes; rise up, O fertile plains of Canada; for the elect of Christ who dwelt in you are glorified, men and women who left their homes for a new land! 

With faith, hope and patience as their armor, they courageously fought the good fight. Comforted by the beauty of the Orthodox Faith, they labored in mines and mills, they tilled the land, they braved the challenges of the great cities, enduring many hardships and sufferings. 

Never failing to worship God in spirit and truth and unyielding in devotion to His most pure Mother, they erected many temples to His glory. Come, O assembly of the Orthodox, and with love let us praise the holy women, men and children, those known to us and those known only to God, and let us cry out to them: “Rejoice, All Saints of North America and pray to God for us!”   (Great Vespers for All Saints of North America)

St. Herman of Alaska, and the Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field;  it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Icon by Fr. Vladimir

Icon by Fr. Vladimir

Our blessed St. Herman, whom we remember today, stands as a witness to the truth of this parable.

We don’t know for sure when he was born, or even what his baptismal name was. He wasn’t a bishop, priest or deacon, and he didn’t establish great programs, or build big Churches like many others. Indeed by the world’s standards he was as tiny and seemingly insignificant as a mustard seed.

But we do know that as a missionary in Alaska in the late 1700’s, he prayed, he loved and cared for anyone and everyone. Always blessing, and extolling the mercy of God for man and beast, from his tiny dug out cell on Spruce Island. And it is in these actions, that his life grew like the mustard seed to shelter not only the first peoples of Alaska from this age which is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31), not only the faithful Orthodox Christians of America, but the whole of our continent.

photobyroshakIt is providential that on this day the Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann pass away thirty years ago.

It is not an overstatement to say that Fr. Alexander (along with few others) was a profound Christian witness here in North America. Bringing the rich world of Orthodoxy theology, liturgy and life, to the Western man and woman longing for substance and not just “religion” in their faith. When he started his work in North America (St. Vladimir’s Seminary) the thought that Orthodoxy could be anything more then a “cultural characteristic” for new Canadians and Americans from Eastern Europe was unheard of. Yet with determination, he  cultivated a perspective that saw Orthodoxy becoming as organic and natural in North America as  baseball/hockey and apple pie, and poutine. In the thrity years since his repose, so much has changed, in our Church, our diocese, even our little St. Nicholas. And much of that change bears his marks.

Both St. Herman, Fr. Alexander offered to God the seemingly impossible, their lives. That beyond their own culture, context and generations, they could  make visible the saving love of the Lord for all . For this we thank the Lord with our whole heart.

 
Pray to God for us Holy Father Herman.