St. Xenia and the true purpose of marriage.

This past weekend we  commemorated one of the most beloved and revered Saints of Russia, whose veneration has spread now throughout the Orthodox world; the blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg. What is remarkable about her, is that she was one of those Holy fools for Christ, whose life and actions if experienced now in our own communities, would be considered totally insane, not anything to be associated with the ordered and richly adorned Church, let alone society. But if we dig a little into what makes a fool “Holy” we see that those like St. Xenia, profoundly reveals the richness of God’s love. 

St. Xeina’s journey to sanctity has its start -so to speak- with her marriage to a rising star in the Russian Army, Andrew Petrov, and a life of privilege and status in their future. Yet as their marriage began to bloom it was shaken by the tragedy of Andrew’s sudden death with friends during an evening of drinking and games, without good-bye’s and without preparation of repentance. 

Our blessed Xenias’ life was turned upside down in the grief of losing her beloved, and losing him in such a manner. She started to sell her estate, giving proceeds to the poor of St. Petersburg despite the protests of her family. She clothed herself in her husband’s uniform, and would only answer to his name. She would walk the streets of St. Petersburg, sleeping outside, labouring with others or in secret for others, rejecting the hospitality of those wanting to help her, or giving any charity received to others in greater need. She prophesied, and interceded for those who came to her seeking guidance and help; she prayed, and performed miracles, all on behalf of her departed husband.  All she would ask is that they would turn to God, and say a Panikhida (memorial) for her departed beloved. 

Strangely this devotion to her departed husband is something that is generally overshadowed by the many wonders she performed, and her proclamation of the Lord’s saving love. Certainly she is the patron of those in need, especially for those seeking homes and employment. But I would add to this  that she is in many respects a patron of marriage. 

In every marriage the love between husband and wife is generally manifested by the mutual offering of emotional and material support of the other. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the daily challenges of life (work, kids, chores, ect.)  can strain a relationship and especially its love. In it all we tend to forget that husband and wife have been brought together in Christ. For each other’s salvation in a  mystery and divine vocation, it  reconciles in Christ, the amenity between men and women brought on by the sin of humanity’s fall. It is a union that  reveals the Lord of Glory in one’s home; it reveals true love. 

St. John the Theologian speaks catecorgily that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8), and that the love shared between husband and wife expresses this love in the mystery of marriage, as a reflection of Christ’s love for the Church (Eph. 5:21-33). The tragedy St. Xenia losing her husband indeed purified her love (Ps. 66:10) revealing the source of the love, the Lord.

This is the point; that all that our blessed Xenia did, was out of love for the salvation of her husband. Her wearing his uniform, answering only to his name, doing good works for his salvation, and asking for prayers for him, speak volumes to her love of Andrew Petrov. Perfected with the mercy of God.

The question is, whether husbands and wives can be like St. Xenia; prioritizing the sole purpose of marriage. The salvation of each other, in life and even in death. Are we poor for our spouse’s salvation, do we fast for our spouse’s salvation, do we pray for our spouse’s salvation, do we offer charity for our spouse’s salvation, and profoundly, are we humble for our spouse’s salvation?

Indeed, it is well and good that husbands and wives  offer emotional and material support to the other, out of love. But those things which are seen, and valued by the world as being “sane” are ultimately transitory, limited by sin and eventually by death. The offering of a spouse to the other  for their salvation in contrast, participates in the eternal and uncreated love of the Trinity, that not even death can tarnish or end. St. Xenia’s devotion of love for her husband’s salvation was in the eyes of the world very  “insane”. Yet she has shown us the only thing that matters in marriage; the love of God. This might be the only thing that keeps a marriage “sane” in a very insane and broken world. 

By the prayers of our beloved Mother Xenia, may our marriages be strengthened by the love of God, poured into our hearts by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and that our love for each other might be perfected and transformed from that of simple biology and sociology, to that which is of God, unending and eternal love revealed here and now, and in the Kingdom of Heaven.  


By God’s mercy and grace, we are at a point where we can publicly gather together in person, and offer our thanksgiving to the Lord for His victory over death! A joy beyond all joys! 

By this point, many of you have received various emails from the parish council, and myself explaining our Protocols and Procedures (of which there are a few) , as well as the request to notify us of what services you would like to attend. So, as not to sound like a broken record, I won’t repeat them beyond offering my thanksgiving for everyone’s patience, flexibility, and willingness to do whatever it takes to participate in the divine banquet that is offered to us. 

The last three months have been a profound trial for us as Christians. Some of the elements that defined us, (Sunday services and the Eucharist) were no longer elements we could use to help identify us. Besides living as Christians in our daily life with joy for Christ, we are also called to worship in our Church.  We have been truly strangers in a strange world with only memories of Church life to bring comfort. Thankfully we were able to stream services on the internet (and still will be), but even this was somehow a faint image of what we had grown up around; family and friends and those who would become family and friends in Christ.  Truly a  community. 

Yet during this time of separation, we all continued on, never wavering from faith in Christ. Donations were still made, on Sunday mornings we were in our Sunday best, and gathered around computers or phones for an internet church service. You kept in contact with your other brothers and sisters in Christ, seeking to reach out and connect with church friends, and most of all prayed, and prayed for this day when the memory of what we used to do as a parish (offer the  Eucharistic- literally thanksgiving)  would be realized in the Eucharist!

We would not be here today if you had retreated to your homes and waited for something to happen like the release of a new TV episode or sequel in a book series.  We are here today, because all of our congregation never lost sight that we are the Church and never forgot your baptism into Christ. In the same way that Israel never forgot it was “a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Det. 7:6), when they were in exile, or scattered throughout the Roman Empire:  you have not forgotten that you are also “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Pet 2:9). 

For this, I will always joyfully offer my thanksgiving to the Lord of Glory with all my heart, soul and mind. 

As we begin this new era, let us look past the isolation and separation from friends and family, services and sacraments, but rather remember the Lord’s providential love that purified us like “silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6)… that made us better Christians. Glory to God!

Thanksgiving and beyond.

I can not express enough how moved I was this past Sunday evening when our parish came together to celebrate my tenth anniversary of ordination and assignment to St. Nicholas. 

Indeed there is so much to be thankful for. Whether it be for the amazing dinner,  the kind words and  gifts, let alone for the care and generosity for myself and family, I find myself being the most thankful for the fact that there are too many people to thank. This celebration and the last ten years, truly bear witness to the blessed love and generosity of this community as a whole and not anyone person or another. 

In the same way that a head or a hand is useless without a body, and needs each other member to properly function, the priesthood can only be properly understood (and fulfilled) within a  community; as each is dependent on the other.  My ten years at St. Nicholas bears witness to this. I have brought very few people into our Church, compared to our faithful who have echoed the words of the Apostles “Come and see” (Jn. 1:46) with their friends and families, let alone spent as much time talking with those coming to our parish as our faithful. I have done very little work at “keeping the lights on”, or cleaning and maintaining our Church; let alone, conducting and singing with the splendour and beauty that is a mark of our services, in comparison to the faithful of our parish, who have laboured and laboured in their love of God. Indeed the last ten years bear witness to the life of our Church; a witness of our community as a family.

Although I had talked with the council leading up to my assignment, and had met many people in the community, when Matushka Taesia and myself came to visit and look for a place to live in Winnipeg, the first real first experience of this parish being a family,  was when we showed up at our new home after driving for three days from Ottawa. I don’t know what I was expecting, but was surprised to find our new home clean and prepared for us (as best as it could because the landlord still had furniture and personal items all over the house). Yet this surprise turned into an outpouring of tears, when  I opened the fridge and saw that it was fully stocked with food. This might have just been my exhaustion, or just feeling overwhelmed by a move across the country, but I think it was mainly because I was moved beyond words, by the acceptance and love of this parish  for a “stranger”; demonstrated in even the little things of a clean house, and full fridge. Truly it was a “cup of cold water” offered in love (Mt. 10:42). This acceptance and love offered ten years ago has truly been the standard of this parish for the world around us;  offered time and time again, to those who cross our threshold regardless of who they are, where they are from, or what they do. 

Of course throughout these past 10 years, that generosity has far exceeded a clean house and full fridge, and that acceptance of me as a stranger, has grown into something more personal and touching;  but that first impression of generosity has been always something I have held onto as being more precious than gold, if only because it was a witness of what this parish was and still is;  a family, and even more. The Church and the Body of Christ. 

Yet, as much as our parish bears witness to the love and work of our faithful, I truly think that the context for all of this stems from the work of our beloved Fr. Bob and Matushka Dianne. The words of the Lord express this beautifully “ Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not laboured; others have laboured, and you have entered into their labours.”(Jn. 4:35-38) 

The manifestation of our parish as a  family, (something that we now “reap”) has everything to do with the work of  Fr. Bob, and Matushka Dianne, who diligently labourd (“sowed”)  with boundless love and generosity in their witness of the Lord’s saving love. Not only did they guide me pastorally as I learned how to serve as a priest, but they guided (and continue to guide) our community in attending to the “one thing needful” (Lk. 10:42) as a family and not anything else; that is sitting at the feet of our Lord in humility and thanksgiving. None of what we have today, would ever have been possible had it not been for their love and dedication to God and neighbour alike. I pray that neither I, nor our parish, ever forget their offering of love that opened the hearts of a community that  accepted me and many others.

As we now look to the future and continue to be  faithful to the witness offered by Fr. Bob and Matushka Dianne, and each other as Christians, we are promised something much more by the Lord.  That glorious celebration we just had, will be something more glorious, as it will be a celebration  that will stretch on for centuries to come; even  into the Kingdom of Heaven! May the Lord bless that I can continue to be a part of this journey, with this my family in Christ! 

This photo was taken about Just after I came to St. Nicholas. Although they are many people in this photo who have moved on, or reposed in the Lord, not to mention that it doesn’t include many of those who have come to call St. Nicholas their home, it nonetheless speaks to the character of this community as a family bound by the Love of the Lord, for which I am eternally thankful to God for!

Nativity of the Theotokos (Fr. Bob’s wisdom)

“…The fact that there is no Biblical verification of the facts of Mary’s birth is incidental to the
meaning of the feast. Even if the actual background of the event as celebrated in the Church is
questionable from an historical point of view, the divine meaning of it “for us men and for our salvation”
is obvious. There had to be one born of human flesh and blood who would be spiritually capable of being
the Mother of Christ, and she herself had to be born into the world of persons who were spiritually
capable of being her parents.

The Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, therefore, is a glorification of Mary’s birth, of Mary
herself and of her righteous parents. It is a celebration as well of the very first preparation of the salvation
of the world. For the “Vessel of Light,” the “Book of the Word of Life,” the “Door to the Orient,” the
“Throne of Wisdom” is being prepared on earth by God himself in the birth of the holy girl-child Mary.
The verses of the feast are filled with titles for Mary such as those in the quotations above. They
are inspired by the message of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. The specific Biblical readings
of the feast give indications of this.

At the Vespers the three Old Testament Readings are “mariological” in their New Testament
interpretation. Thus, Jacob’s Ladder which unites heaven and earth and the place which is named “the
house of God”
and the “gate of Heaven” (Genesis 28:10-17) are taken, to indicate the union of God with
men which is realised most fully and perfectly – both spiritually and physically – in Mary the Theotokos,
Bearer of God. So also the vision of the temple with the “door ‘to the East” perpetually closed and filled
with the “glory of the Lord” symbolises Mary, called in the hymns of the feast “the living temple of God
filled with the divine Glory.”
(Ezekiel 43:27-44:4) Mary is also identified with the “house” which the
Divine Wisdom has built for himself according to the reading from Proverbs 9:1-11.

The Gospel reading of Matins is the one read at all feasts of the Theotokos, the famous Magnificat
from St. Luke in which Mary says: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me
(Lk. 1:47).

The Epistle reading of the Divine Liturgy is the famous passage about the coming of the Son of
God in “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man” (Phil. 2:5-11) and the Gospel reading
is that which is always read for feasts of the Theotokos – the woman in the crowd glorifies the Mother
of Jesus, and the Lord himself responds that the same blessedness which his mother receives is for all
“who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:27-28).

Thus, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as on all liturgical celebrations of Christ’s
Mother, we proclaim and celebrate that through God’s graciousness to mankind every Christian receives
what the Theotokos receives, the “great mercy” which is given to human persons because of Christ’s
birth from the Virgin.”

Archpriest Robert Stephen Kennaugh

Monday, September 8, 2008
Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God

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.