Backpacks for Hope. (A call for school supplies for Ukrainian refugee children)

The plight of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine has justifiably been the focus of our prayers and supplications to the Lord.  This is indeed praiseworthy, and  I ask our faithful to continue praying for peace and resolution, and to also consider offering something tangible to those who have had their lives turned upside down by an unwanted war, and especially those who are children. 

St. Nicholas has partnered with the  Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education non-profit organization to help provide school supplies and all for Ukrainian refugee children, called “Backpacks for Hope” which provides Ukrainian refugee children with school supplies and toys, so that every Ukrainian refugee child that arrives in Manitoba receives those basic necessities for school. Our blessed Patron, St. Nicholas is in many respects a patron of those who are in need; As the Akathist to St. Nicholas says  “You are truly a helper to all, O God-bearing Nicholas, and you have gathered together all that flee unto you, for you are a deliverer, a nourisher, and a quick healer to all on earth, moving all to cry out in praise to you…”  and a request like this call for school supplies, presents an opportunity for our community to bear witness the love and intercession that he  has provided for our families over and over again,  for the last 111 years.

Let us offer our thanksgiving to God for his intercessions, by following his example of providing the needed items for these children; and by it manifest the saving love of God for the whole world. May the Lord bless your generosity. 

Items that can be donated are the following. 

  • New or near new backpacks
  • Glue (glue sticks or school glue)
  • Children’s scissors
  • Crayons, pencils/pens/markers
  • Notebooks/scribblers
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Rulers/pencils/erasers
  • New small toys (eg: cars, UNO cards, Pretty Ponies, craft kits, playdoh, colouring books, stickers etc.)
  • New hygiene items (eg: Children’s shampoo/Children’s body wash or soap/ deodorant for teens, chapstick/lip gloss, pocket Kleenex, hair accessories, toothbrush, and toothpaste)

Items can be dropped off at St. Nicholas, and for more information please contact

“The path to a mature Christianity…to a full faith – is that of the cross”. Daryl Schantz.

Our epistle reading for today can feel somewhat cryptic and a surface read can leave us scratching our heads wondering exactly what it was that St Paul was trying to tell us and the Corinthians. This reading is part of a larger discussion that he is having with the Corinthians though and it helps to remember some of the rest of that discussion.

Two weeks ago, we read from this same letter how the Corinthians were dividing themselves into groups based on which apostle they followed (or maybe were baptized by). They were dividing themselves into groups and this was something St. Paul came down quite hard on. Remember how he asks them rhetorically, “was Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Of course, the answer to this all is a resounding no.

It seems like the Corinthians were approaching the faith as if it were about getting the right doctrine. They were findings small differences between the apostles and using those differences to be thing that made them better Christians. St Paul’s message to them is that there is no Christian faith other than the one based in Christ Jesus. It is a worthwhile thing for us to consider, because we can all look for and easily find differences today, in a church that suffers from ethnic divisions, when internet teachers set themselves up as sources for a more pure faith than whatever watered down version that they consider everyone else to have. We certainly live in an age where differences abound and are continually used as wedges which divide us.

In today’s reading St Paul is continuing on this same theme. He drives home the point that the apostles are united in their efforts and message and he shows the Corinthians that the path to a mature Christianity – might I say, to a full faith – is that of the cross. Immediately before where our text picks up today St Paul is chiding them because they are reigning as kings. His implication is that, while they someday will reign as kings, this reigning could take place only after they had experienced the cross, only after they had given their very lives for Christ.

St Paul than continues, “ For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” Here it’s worth noting that he sees the apostles as having a common calling and that it was a calling to the cross. He goes on using sarcasm to point out that the Corinthians were living in a way that was quite the opposite, “ We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!”

He points out that they have many instructors. Some translators use the word “teacher” or even “babysitter” here and he contrasts them with his position as their father. The idea here is that he cares about them in a way that their teachers did not. A teacher (or babysitter) cares for a child, but their concern usually ends when their involvement with the child ends. A father knows that in some way, the world is seeing them (the father) when it looks at the child.

As fathers we pain to see our children divided. We know we can manipulate them to be on one side or another or to make a particular decision, but we also know that our children need to learn to stand on their own, and we do not want to see them divided against each other.

And our passage today ends with those words that are a bit jarring, “imitate me”. In another passage later in this same letter to the Corinthians St. Paul says, “imitate me as I imitate Christ”. And in other passages, he simply says, be imitators of God. Why does he feel that he can use all of these ideas, seemingly interchangeably? I think the clue in this passage is that the context that he is calling for us to imitate him in is not his greatness, but in his pursuit of the cross. And in the same manner, to the extent that each of us learn to give up our lives for Christ, give up greatness and power, we also can say, “imitate me”.

In some way, I see a parallel with today’s Gospel reading. Here we encounter the disciples’ failure to cast out a demon which Christ then casts out. When the disciples ask him why they could not cast it out, he points to their unbelief; their lack of faith. The story then takes an unexpected turn as Christ predicts his passion and this vignette ends with the line, “And they were exceedingly sorrowful”. Why do these two stories tie together in this way? How does St. Luke see a connection between the disciples’ lack of faith and the cross? Or maybe I should read more carefully, the cross and the resurrection, because Christ clearly points to his resurrection in this passage.

I think it might have something to do with the fact that the disciples’ faith was going to grow through the cross and the resurrection. And not only because they got to witness Christ’s death and resurrection. But their faith grew as they learned to experience the cross and the resurrection for themselves. Of course, we ultimately only get to experience resurrection when we cross from this age to the age to come. However, St. Paul pointed out for us many opportunities to experience death and resurrection in our everyday lives. “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.”

Our readings show us that somewhere between the story of the disciples’ unbelief and St Paul’s letter the Corinthians, the apostles got hold of this. They lived in the shadow of the cross, looking both behind them, “on the night he was betrayed”, and ahead, “to your second and most glorious coming”, to Christ’s resurrection.

May we be strengthened to give our lives for Christ by the prayers of the Holy Apostles and by the prayers of the martyrs who also took hold of this truth.

The Dormition of the Theotokos (Fr. Bob’s wisdom)

“…The Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is the celebration of the fact that all human beings
are “highly exalted” in the blessedness of the victorious Christ, and that this high exaltation has already
been accomplished in Mary the Theotokos. The feast of the Dormition is the sign, the guarantee, and the
celebration that Mary’s destiny is the same as all those of “low estate” (Lk. 1:48) whose souls magnify the Lord, whose spirits rejoice in God the Saviour, whose lives are totally dedicated to hearing and keeping the Word of God which was given to us in Mary’s Child, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world…”

Archpriest Robert Stephen Kennaugh. August 15, 2005

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