The feast of the Glorification of St. Herman of Alaska. 

“How can I tell about this? How can I express in human words the light and joy experienced —as a gift, unmerited, truly by the grace of God—by the hundreds of people who travelled to far-off Alaska for the glorification of the righteous Elder Herman?” 

Protobresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Our blessed Saint Herman never started his journey over two hundred years ago, with the hope that one day hundreds of clergy and faithful would be glorifying his accomplishments, or that one day thousands of people would be venerating his relics, or even naming Churches after him. No. He started his journey with Christ as his only hope, and that he could truly bear witness to this eternal “light and joy”. That same divine “light and joy” that Fr. Alexander (and hundreds of thousands of people around the world) did, and now experience in our faith in Jesus Christ, and prayers to Fr. Herman.

Although it would have be truly beautiful to have been there for that momentous, or to even make a pilgrimage to Spruce Island in Alaska (may the Lord bless that we can do this one day); yet this “light and joy” in the presence of St. Herman, ‘s relics and throughout those services, as described by  Fr. Alexander is something that is eternally revealed to us. This “light and joy” that he experienced at St. Herman’s Glorification was not a singular event or epiphany, rather it was a realization of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, manifested by those men and women (the Saints) who throughout all the ages, shone with forth the divine light of Tabor, in the witness of their faith. Even in the wilds of Alaska, with our Holy Father Herman, and here at our little Church in Manitoba in front of His Icon. 
It is with the eyes of faith that we behold this “light and joy” that Fr. Alexander and those with him beheld, The light of Christ that illumes the darkness of our hearts, and the boundless joy of  “peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” in the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). By the prayers of our beloved intercessor and friend, St. Herman of Alaska, may our eyes of faith, behold such a splendor and wonder of the Lord’s mercy and grace that radiates throughout our continent, country, province, city, and parish. 
Blessed Father Herman pray to God for us! 

It isn’t enough to talk about divine light. We have to become it. – The feast of the Transfiguration.

The feast of the Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-9, Mk 9:2-12 Lk. 9:28-36,) has always been a proclamation that assures humanity that Jesus Christ is not some wise sage or teacher, but is truly God: “light of light, true God of true God”, (as we say in the Creed).  What was experienced on that mountain by Peter, James and John, was not some perceptible phenomenon akin to a sound and light extravaganza, nor was it a “spiritual” demonstration for the mind alone; rather it was a revelation of Jesus’ perfect divinity and humanity. 

The same uncreated light which overwhelmed those disciples, was the same uncreated light that both Moses (Ex. 33:19-23) and Elijah (1 Kings/ 3 Kingdoms LXX 19: 11-12) bore witness to. The difference is that the vision of the Lord, and the blinding light of His glory, that had inspired and enlivened (and most likely terrified) Moses and Elijah was granted only as a promise to them. For us, this vision and light is more than a promise. It is the realization of that promise manifested in our baptism where we are granted a “robe of light”.

Through, with, and in Christ, we are given the  ability to participate in that divine light, and become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) and granted the possibility of bearing that divine light to a world in darkness. St. Seraphim of Sarov who in his conversation with  Nicholas Motovilov, asked him “:Why don’t you look at me?” Motovilov replied “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.” Father (Saint) Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.” 

In our life as Christians, it isn’t enough to accept and talk about this divine life and light; we have to become it. If we are willing to live out our baptism in every moment, we like St. Seraphim and all the Saints, can manifest a total transfiguration of our own darkness and mortal nature, and become through grace all that He is by nature. 

May the Lord grant us the strength and purity of heart to not only see this light, but to become it. 

Camp Metamorphosis, Manitoba.

As the weather has become more akin to summer than not, and pandemic restrictions ease, and permit those activities in summer that we have missed over the past few years, many parents are considering sending their children to summer camp. It is my hope that in the years to come we can one day have a summer camp at St. Nicholas, but until that time, we are blessed with many options, including Orthodox ones.

The Greek Orthodox Church runs a wonderful summer camp at Camp Wasagaming  in the beautiful Riding Mountain provincial park (Clear Lake, Manitoba).

From  August 22-27, youth between the ages of  9- 17 participate in those normal summer camp activities (that one would expect) all within the context of their Orthodox faith. Discussions on how to live out one’s faith in everyday life, as something that is their own, and not just something they share with their parents, punctuated the summer fun camp life. Please note, this camp is almost entirely in English. Led by our dear friend Fr. Nikolaos, there is no better way for our children to meet other Orthodox Christians, and deepen their beautiful fatih, all in the context of the beautiful Manitoba summer. For more information please visit St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church’s Camp Met website, or watch a video about the camp.

Registration (Until August 5th) Fee: $450 per camper. Late Registration (After August 10th) Fee: $475 per camper (Last Day to Register is August 15th)

Being an Orthodox Christian over the summer holidays. 

This summer, many of us will be venturing out for the first time in a couple of years for our summer holidays. Indeed this is a wonderful thing to do with one’s family, whether one is going to a cottage, or on a camping trip, or to visit friends and family. This ultimately affects the ability to attend Church. In some (if not most) instances, there is probably not an Orthodox Church close by – or even around for miles, let alone the delightful possibility of sleeping in on a Sunday morning. 

Yet as much as we might desire to put the hectic pace on pause, we have to remember that  our life as Christians can not (and should not be) paused. It is not as if I expect people to make the 2hr. drive to get to Church on Sunday morning (I can think of nothing more disrupting a family vacation) or expect that the highlight of a visit to a different city is going to Church. Rather I expect that one’s offering of time to the Lord be modified rather than be dispensed. This might be as simple as saying morning prayers or evening prayers (in not everyday, at least on Sunday), and reading the Gospel and Epistle of the day with your family before an outing, or at the end of a day; or making an effort to pray before a meal (this might be tricky with family that is not Orthodox, but not impossible). In reality, we should be doing these things all the time; but making the time to pray together while on holiday is an important witness for our families that can confirm our hearts in thanksgiving to God for the ability to pause one’s hectic life while on holiday. Maybe this can influence how we pray at home throughout the year. 

If one is going to be in a place where one can go to Church, and there is a willingness to attend, a heads up should be given to the parish priest of that Church; whether it be an email, or a phone call. In some Churches there is a prerequisite to have confession before receiving communion (especially if they don’t know you) and this is fine and a normal part of our life. Best to ask the parish priest about this when you contact him.  This is an excellent way to see other Orthodox Churches, and behold the unity of our faith, regardless of how or what language it is served in.  It is always a good practice to make a financial contribution as well when you attend, as an offering to the Lord in thanksgiving for being able to attend a service. 

In it all, we should offer our thanksgiving to the Lord that after almost three years, we can travel with our families without the need for isolation and restrictions. Truly we are blessed by the summer, and however one takes advantage of them, remember the saving love of God who blesses us beyond understanding with these riches and long sunny days.  

St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox Church, Fort Qu’Appelle SK

Not “either or”, but rather “both”. All Saints of North America.

Trying to separate Orthodox Christianity from the cultures that had been formed by the faith for centuries, in a pluralistic Western culture, is like trying to separate water from wine; simply impossible.

In the same way we can not invent our own history, nor can we pretend that we are isolated from those who have given us a foundation to build upon; we can not discount the faith of those Orthodox Christians who came to North America, nor the cultures they came from. Indeed our faith exists on this continent and in this country, because we have received an inheritance from those who brought it with themselves when they traveled across the world to settle in these “new lands”.  

We also can not pretend that our own history precludes the possibility for new stories, encounters and interpretations. Indeed our faith compels us to build upon the foundation of faith we have received  (1 Cor. 3:10), as it is the Lord who calls us to  “go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt. 28:19). For Orthodox Christians in a non Orthodox culture, maintaining the relevancy of culture and faith – history and the future – heritage and variation, is a difficult balance to achieve. Yet regardless of whether we be converts, or cradle Orthodox Christians, it is an important one that we are called to consider on this  feast of All Saints of North America. 

From the moment those blessed Orthodox Missionaries set foot in Alaska in 1794, to the work of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco (+1966) or Matushka Olga of Alaska (+1979),  this balance of culture and faith – history and the future – heritage and variation, was a struggle they sought to (and did) balance.  It wasn’t as if they went to work perfectly recreating life in Greece, Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, or Romania when they set foot in this “new world”, or that they forsake everything to be proper Canadians, or Americans. 

For these Saints, the questions about culture and faith – history and the future – heritage and variation  was not an “either or” paradigm; rather it was “both”. They found ways to convey our faith that pointed towards the future of the Kingdom, and could include variations so as to be understood by those whom they encountered; without excluding the culture taught them to live the faith; a witness to the heritage of holy history. When St. Tikhon arrived in New York in 1898, he lamented leaving behind his homeland, friends and family; yet he reassured his new flock, however, with words from the prophet Hosea, “I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people…” (Hosea 2:23).  He told them essentially that, just as he was one with the people of Russia, and loved them; so he now was one with the people of this “new world”, and would love them equally. 

This balance is no easy task, as it always will present challenges that are akin to any Cross -and all the Saints we commemorate this day bear those blessed wounds of love. It is also a challenge today for our priests and communities to apply.  Truly I have been blessed by priests and communities throughout North America (and especially here in Winnipeg) that have resisted the “either or” paradigm, in their struggle to preach  “both”. A witness to the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit”.

Although only a few of our Churches will be celebrating the feast of All Saints of North America (the parishes part of the Orthodox Church in America), the witness of those blessed Saints that have been revealed to us (and those who are known only unto God) is nonetheless a confirmation of what can happen when we strive for this balance. Strong and healthy communities with Christians who love the Lord God with all their  heart’s, all their soul’s, and with all their mind’s (Mt. 22:37)  that balance culture and faith – history and the future – heritage and variation, through everything they offer, whether it be in the food they prepare (loukoumades, or Nanaimo bars), the clothing they wear (vyshyvanka, or a three piece suit), and the prayers they sing (Boh predvichnyi, or Silent Night).

It is also a call to us to give glory to God for the richness of those Orthodox cultures that have produced such beautiful saints, customs and services; without excluding the Gospel revelation that “there is neither Jew nor Greek (and we could add, Ukrainian, Serb, Romanian, English or French), there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). There was never an “either or” paradigm for St. Paul, in the same way there was never an “either or” paradigm for the Saints who shone brightly on this continent. There was only “both”; perfected in Jesus Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit, poured into our hearts at the Pentecost that is our baptism.

May the Lord bless us all in giving glory to God for “both”, in the continued work of the Saints who laboured here (even in Manitoba) in our villages, towns and cities, as they did in the villages, towns and cities they came from.

The feast of St. Alban

“We are Eastern Orthodox Christians. The countries that compose the Eastern Orthodox world have been (up until recently) the countries of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire and as we know, there has been a schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western churches for roughly a thousand years. However, this means that the church was, more or less, one for the first thousand years and many, if not most, of the saints of the first millennium are common to both churches.

The Christian East rather forgot many of the western saints of the first thousand years, and the church only began to remember them as Orthodox Christians began to move to the Western Europe, especially as Russian Orthodox Christians fled the communists. St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, when he was bishop in Western Europe, strongly encouraged the veneration of the pre-schism Western saints. He wrote

“Never, never, never let anyone tell you that in order to be Orthodox you must also be Eastern. The West was Orthodox for a thousand years and her venerable liturgy is far older than any of her heresies.”

In light of that, on June 22nd we commemorate Saint Alban, Protomartyr of Britain.

Although legend tells of St. Joseph of Arimathea bringing Christianity to Britain after Christ’s resurrection and building Britain’s first church in Glastonbury, or that Saint Aristobulus was the first bishop in England, these stories are beyond historical verification.

We are on firmer ground with St. Alban. He was a Roman-Britain who lived towards the end of the third century. He was not a Christian, but when the Roman government began to persecute Christians in Britain, a priest took shelter in St. Alban’s home. St. Alban was so impressed by the courage and faith of the priest, he asked to be baptized. The priest changed clothes with Saint Alban and fled. When the Romans went to St. Alban’s house they saw that he was dressed as a priest, so they arrested him. When the judge found out about the switch he got angry and threatened St. Alban with death unless he renounced Christianity. St. Alban refused and was tortured and executed.

St. Alban was venerated soon as a martyr and his relics were placed in what later became St. Alban’s Abbey. His relics disappeared during the English Reformation.

He is a saint of the Western and Eastern Churches and reminds us that Orthodoxy is not a religion for only certain nations or regions, but is meant for all humanity.”

Divine Liturgy for the Feast of St. Alban at St. Nicholas of Narol. Wed. July 22nd 10:00 am

Source. Our Lady of Kazan Sea Cliff NY.

St. Alban Protomartyr of the British Isles.

Being strangers to the world. (All Saints)

Dearest all.

Something to consider as we celebrate the witness of all the Saints who were strangers to this world; and the call to follow their example of virtue.

“The first virtue, yea the whole of virtue, is to be a stranger to this world, and a sojourner, and to have nothing in common with things here, but to hang loose from them, as from things strange to us; As those blessed disciples (and we can add, all the Saints- ed) did, of whom he says, “They wandered about in sheepskins, and in goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented: of whom the world was not worthy.”

They called themselves therefore “strangers”; but Paul said somewhat much beyond this: for not merely did he call himself a stranger, but said that he was dead to the world, and that the world was dead to him. “For the world” (he says) “has been crucified to me and I to the world.” ( Gal. vi. 14.) But we… quite alive, busy ourselves about everything here as citizens. And what righteous men were to the world, “strangers” and “dead,” that we are to Heaven. And what they were to Heaven, alive and acting as citizens, that we are to the world. Wherefore we are dead, because we have refused that which is truly life, and have chosen this which is but for a time…Let us also, my beloved, become “strangers”; that God may “not be ashamed of us”; that He may not be ashamed, and deliver us up to Hell…

What shall we do then that we may be saved? Let us begin the practice of virtue, as we have opportunity: let us portion out the virtues to ourselves, as laborers do their work; in this month let us master evil-speaking, injuriousness, unjust anger; and let us lay down a law for ourselves, and say, Today let us set this right. Again, in this month let us school ourselves in forbearance, and in another, in some other virtue: And when we have got into the habit of this virtue let us go to another, just as in the things we learn at school, guarding what is already gained, and acquiring others…”

St. John Chrysotom Homily XXIV. Hebrews xi. 13–16

Archbishop Irénée Visit to Yorkton, Canora, SK and Lennard, MB

This past week Archbishop Irénée made an Archpastoral visit to the parish of St Mark’s in Yorkton Saskatchewan for the feast of the Ascension. Vespers and Liturgy were served with the Archpriest Rodion Luciuk (Rector of St Mark’s), Igumen Vladimir, Deacon Denis and Archpriest Gregory Scratch (Dean of Manitoba and Saskatchewan).

Later that day, Vladyka Irénée, Fr Rodion, Fr Gregory and Dn Denis visited the Mission of St Andrew the First Called/Saints Peter and Paul in Canora (about a 20 min drive north of Yorkton). This community is unique in that this church was built by Romanian settlers in 1903 and consecrated by Archbishop Polycarp (Moruşca), yet shares the building with the mission of St Andrew the First Called (since 2004). A moleben of thanksgiving was served, and their new iconostas and icons were blessed  by His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, with the Archpriest Andrew Piasta. Following the service a Trisagion for the departed founders was served and their graves were blessed. His Grace Bishop Andrei of Cleveland led the singing for this service.

The following day all three hierarchs and clergy made a trip to the historic parish of St Elias Romanian Orthodox Church in Leonard, MB to serve Liturgy to commemorate their 120th anniversary. It is truly wonderful that some 120 years after these Orthodox pioneers established this community, their work was honoured by three bishops. Truly a witness to the Lord’s abiding presence, manifested even in these new lands. Following the Liturgy, a Trisagion was served for the founders of the community, and the many graves (and original church) were blessed with the proclamation of Christ is Risen! Hristos a înviat! Христос воскрес! 

The visit by Vladyka Irénée to Saskatchewan, and the opportunity to serve with Archbishop Nathaniel, and Bishop Andrei, and their faithful, is truly a blessed sign that our church has lost very little throughout the past two difficult years; and has picked up where it left off, proclaiming the unity of our faith, and the saving love of the Lord for His people. Glory to God!

More photos from these services can be found on the Archdiocese of Canada Website.

Blessing of the graves at St. Nicholas

This weekend, we were thankfully able to bless our cemetery, after having to postpone it week after week after week due to rain or excessive water. Following the Divine Liturgy a Trisagion for the departed was served starting at the graves of John and Sophie Barchyn, two pillars of our community that connected the pioneer past of our parish with a future of endless possibilities in the witness of the Gospel proclamation.

This annual tradition is truly a wonder that should not be lost on us today. Who of those founders (some of which were born in the 1840’s) would have ever thought that some 111 years later, that their names would be remembered by men, women, and children with no connection to them or their cultural heritage? Yet for all these differences, the witness of their faith, has bound them and us together in the love of God. Truly we are all their spiritual children regardless who we are, or where we have come from; making this tradition as natural as remembering our own departed parents, siblings, and grandparents.

May their memories be eternal in the risen and glorified Lord, and may we bear witness to the saving grace of God as they did; so that those who have no connection to us, might in the next hundred years, also remember us by name, and proclaim those blessed words “Christ is Risen!” “Христос воскрес!”

Saying goodbye to a friend, and priest; but not his vision.

This past month, our dear friend Fr. Sinisa Milutinovic from St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, was informed that he would be transferred to Saint Michael Serbian Orthodox Church, in Burnaby, BC on June 1st. (ironically on the eve of the feast of Ascension, when I met him eight years ago).  I must say that this was a bit of a shock, if only because I have truly come to love him and his family (and  by extension his parish) over the years. I don’t think it  is an exaggeration to say that Fr. Sinisa’s  pastoral vision and work, was a witness to the unity of our faith, that contrasted the inert qualities (and isolation) of being in, or serving at different Orthodox Church (and from different Orthodox jurisdictions). 

From the first time I met and served with Fr. Sinisa, I was struck by his missionary heart and vision, that saw relevance (and even the necessity) in the work of the Church in North America (regardless of what language or calendar might be used, or what bishop one might under). From taking the children of St. Sava’s to other Orthodox Churches (including St. Nicholas), to concelebrating with myself and other priests when time allowed him, to inviting other Orthodox communities to  join St. Sava’s for concerts and feasts, to being an integral part of the Heavenly King Orthodox Academy school, Fr. Sinisa always understood and worked to show that Orthodox Christianity was something greater than what happened at  580 Talbot St. 

Every time we would meet or serve together, there was always a genuine and joyful hospitality that never left anyone lacking for food, drink or laughs. Even when confronted with difficult challenges, his straightforward and honest disposition bore witness to a profound pastoral love (even if it was being ignored or ridiculed).  I  would find myself being inspired to serve with more integrity, and want to bear witness to the unity of our faith with the same kind of joy and enthusiasm he offered; if only because his work was a witness to the unchangeable love of God, who serves us eternally in His priesthood.

Fr. Sinisa’s transfer is truly a bitter pill for me to swallow, as a friend and his family are moving away (I can’t imagine what it must be like for the faithful of St. Sava’s); yet his time as the rector at St. Sava has provided a foundation on which to build upon; that this is Christ’s “Church and that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18). I only pray that both myself and the faithful of this city can honour that witness he so lovingly offered. 

We offer thanksgiving to God for the rich and beautiful  blessings we have received from our friend; and we offer our prayers for his family (Popadija Sonia and their children, Pavel, Arseny, and Irinia) as they move to a new parish, city and province. May the Lord grant them many blessed years, health and salvation!  Слава Богу!