Cephalonia-Ithaka Pilgrimage

On my way  to this summer’s last pilgrimage: Cephalonia-Ithaca for the Dormition Feast

 

 

Cephalonia-Ithaka Summer Dormition Feast

Cephalonia-Ithaka Summer Dormition Feast

Apologies for being offline through August 31st.

Cephalonia-Ithaka Summer Dormition Feast

Cephalonia-Ithaka Summer Dormition Feast

May our Lady bless us and may the Lord keep us in the palm of His Hand until we meet again!

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“Sister Begona Miguel of the Huelgas Monastery says:

“San Juan de La Cruz teaches us that silence has its own music; it is silence that enables us to see ourselves and the things around us.

‘I would like to add that there are words that can only be said in silence, odd as that may seem. To compose their symphonies, the great geniuses needed silence – and they managed to transform this silence into divine sounds. Philosophers and scientists need silence.

‘In the monastery, at night, we practice what we call The Great Silence.

‘In the absence of speech we can understand what lies beyond.” (Paulo Coehlo blog, In the Huelgas Monastery)

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Therefore, it is time for the little city hermit to embark on yet another quest for stillness and silence. This blog takes a vacation, returning by the end of August, where I will start making preparations for my return trip to the UK.

You are always welcome to browse the ARCHIVES on the right.

Enjoy the rest of your summer.

With lots of love and poor prayers

The little city hermit

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Father’s Love Letter

Father’s Love Letter

My Child,

You may not know me,
but I know everything about you. 

Psalm 139:1

I know when you sit down and when you rise up. 
Psalm 139:2

I am familiar with all your ways. 
Psalm 139:3

Even the very hairs on your head are numbered. 
Matthew 10:29-31

For you were made in my image. 
Genesis 1:27

In me you live and move and have your being.
Acts 17:28

For you are my offspring. 
Acts 17:28

I knew you even before you were conceived. 
Jeremiah 1:4-5

I chose you when I planned creation. 
Ephesians 1:11-12

You were not a mistake,
for all your days are written in my book. 

Psalm 139:15-16

I determined the exact time of your birth
and where you would live. 

Acts 17:26

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. 
Psalm 139:14

I knit you together in your mother’s womb. 
Psalm 139:13

And brought you forth on the day you were born. 
Psalm 71:6

I have been misrepresented
by those who don’t know me.

John 8:41-44

I am not distant and angry,
but am the complete expression of love. 

1 John 4:16

And it is my desire to lavish my love on you. 
1 John 3:1

Simply because you are my child
and I am your Father. 

1 John 3:1

I offer you more than your earthly father ever could. 
Matthew 7:11

For I am the perfect father. 
Matthew 5:48

Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand. 
James 1:17

For I am your provider and I meet all your needs. 
Matthew 6:31-33

My plan for your future has always been filled with hope. 
Jeremiah 29:11

Because I love you with an everlasting love. 
Jeremiah 31:3

My thoughts toward you are countless
as the sand on the seashore.

Psalms 139:17-18

And I rejoice over you with singing. 
Zephaniah 3:17

I will never stop doing good to you. 
Jeremiah 32:40

For you are my treasured possession. 
Exodus 19:5

I desire to establish you
with all my heart and all my soul. 

Jeremiah 32:41

And I want to show you great and marvelous things. 
Jeremiah 33:3

If you seek me with all your heart,
you will find me. 

Deuteronomy 4:29

Delight in me and I will give you
the desires of your heart. 

Psalm 37:4

For it is I who gave you those desires. 
Philippians 2:13

I am able to do more for you
than you could possibly imagine. 

Ephesians 3:20

For I am your greatest encourager. 
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

I am also the Father who comforts you
in all your troubles. 

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When you are brokenhearted,
I am close to you. 

Psalm 34:18

As a shepherd carries a lamb,
I have carried you close to my heart. 

Isaiah 40:11

One day I will wipe away
every tear from your eyes. 

Revelation 21:3-4

And I’ll take away all the pain
you have suffered on this earth.

Revelation 21:3-4

I am your Father, and I love you
even as I love my son, Jesus.

John 17:23

For in Jesus, my love for you is revealed. 
John 17:26

He is the exact representation of my being. 
Hebrews 1:3

He came to demonstrate that I am for you,
not against you. 

Romans 8:31

And to tell you that I am not counting your sins.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled. 
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

His death was the ultimate expression
of my love for you. 

1 John 4:10

I gave up everything I loved
that I might gain your love. 

Romans 8:31-32

If you receive the gift of my son Jesus,
you receive me. 

1 John 2:23

And nothing will ever separate you
from my love again.

Romans 8:38-39

Come home and I’ll throw the biggest Feast
Heaven has ever seen.

Luke 15:7

I have always been Father,
and will always be Father.

Ephesians 3:14-15

My question is…
Will you be my child? 

John 1:12-13

I am waiting for you. 
Luke 15:11-32


Love, Your Father
Almighty God

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Father’s Love Letter

God's Love Letter

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Are You Afraid?

Are you Afraid? soaring or drowning

 

 

Are you Afraid? Yesterday I took a long walk by the promenade. It was dusk, and the tired sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea. The sea was basking in an orange sunset. Watching the seagulls’ gliding and soaring was mesmerising. I just stopped and let it sink deep into my heart . It brought such peace, freedom and joy to me! No video can do justice to the Beauty of their flight!

 

I was reminded of Jonathan Livingston Seagull‘s daring before challenges. His Yes to Life:

 

“You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way”.”

Are You Afraid?

How diametrically different to J. Alfred Prufrock‘s neurotic cowardice, futile death-in-life and paralysing procrastination:

“…To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
And indeed …
There will be time … for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions … which a minute will reverse.
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
 … Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
… And in short, I was afraid.
Surely “the mermaids” will not sing to him. “… Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” “Let the dead bury their dead” (Luke 9:60)

Are You Afraid?

“But the cowardly … –they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (1. Revelation 21:8)

Are you Afraid? soaring or drowning

 “And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. (Numbers 13:13)
Are you Afraid? soaring or drowning
“How do you say Yes to everything?”
[Interview with Mother Gabrielia (1897-1992), a 20th century saintly Greek Orthodox]

Three things we need in life: first, Faith; second, Faith; third, Faith. 

“I say yes because I believe that if it is not for my good God will make it so that the No will come from the very one who invited me.

Today I am ninety years old–may you live so long! I read again and again and again in the Gospels, and I see something strange. Jesus Christ comes and says to the Apostles, “Leave now what you have and follow Me.”

Now, if they said, “And who are you? Why should we lose what we have? Why should we lose our profit? Where will you take us? What will you do with us?”—if they had said that, what would have happened? They would have remained in darkness.

They said Yes to the Unknown who came and said, “Throw all that away!” Why? Because they believed in God, and they waited for the One who would say to them, “Come!” And that was the beginning.

Because if we say No, what will happen? . . . One or the other: If you believe, you will walk on the water like St. Peter. If you are scared–Bloop! Nothing else.

… He said to us, “Why do you worry? … Even the hairs of your head are numbered!” Why worry? Faith is lacking. May we have faith.

 

Are You Afraid?

Are you Afraid? peter the apostle drowning Christ saves Peter Soaring or Drowning?

 

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In Love, For Love, and By Love: Missionary Series IV

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

 

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

RTE: How has it been having your family in the mission field?

FR. LUKE: When my wife and I first went to Albania, many people thought that it was going to be very dangerous and that our children would suffer: “You are going to deprive your children of all the benefits of life in America.” Contrary to that expectation, we feel that our three children who were raised in the mission field were immensely blessed by the experience of learning another culture and language. They always appreciated what they had in America when they went back, but they also appreciated their mission home in Albania, which they thought of as their “real” home.

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They’ve grown up with a very different world-view. They appreciate things that they would never think twice about if they had grown up in America. During our first years in Albania, we didn’t have running water every day. So, the kids learned to appreciate it. When we had water, we’d say, “Thank God for water. It’s great to have it.” During different periods, for months at a time, the electricity is off about five hours a day; in winter, maybe seven or eight hours. So they got excited when the electricity came on. Or, if we did have electricity, the tension was often so low that we couldn’t do something as simple as watch a video. I remember on one of our visits to the U.S., they wanted to watch a video, and came to my wife saying, “Mommy, if there’s enough tension can we watch television?” They still flip the switch to see if the electricity is working.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

Next to our house in Albania we had a very tiny shop, nine by fifteen feet, with all different types of food – this was where we did most of our shopping. Once, when we were about to go back to America, my son Paul asked his mother, “In America, will they have shops as big as Uncle Soorie’s?” We laughed. It was beautiful to see how they were exposed to a different way of life. We lived in Tirana, the capital of Albania, and we were constantly exposed to beggars, poor people who came to our house every day asking for help. It was wonderful for our children to see this, day in and day out. They got used to getting things for the beggars, answering the door and coming and saying, “Oh, so-and-so is here.” We got to know these people by name, we visited their homes. When you live in suburban America you aren’t even exposed to them unless you go downtown. Many of these beggars truly became friends, and our kids loved them. They loved playing with them and saw them as human beings, not as beggars.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

Another blessing of raising children in the mission field is community, both the indigenous Albanian community, the wonderful local people that were part of our life, and our co-missionaries who themselves had numerous children. At one time we had fifteen missionary children in the field, and they created such bonds of love and friendship. They weren’t exposed to the busyness, to the constant activities that American children are involved in. Their lives were very simple, and very fulfilled.

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Neither my wife nor I have any sense of their being deprived, and one of our greatest regrets in leaving Albania after ten and a half years is that we have left at a time when our children are still young, and we are not sure how much they will remember. We often talk about going back into missions when they are a little older so that they not only remember, but can participate more fully. Even though they were young, we tried to get the idea across that they themselves were missionaries, that they needed to be witnesses. To whatever degree they could participate in our different activities, they did.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

RTE: Growing up with cultural diversity must not only teach what is universal in human nature, but how to deal with differences early on.

FR. LUKE: Right. We Americans, unfortunately, are quite isolated from the rest of the world. The universal business language is English, so we think we can get anywhere speaking English. Having only Canada to the north and Mexico in the south, we aren’t exposed to many different cultures and languages and this is a great loss for us. It’s so enriching to be around the diversity found in a mission field, and to learn to see beauty in such diversity. One thing I tried to get across to the Kenyans, and later to the Albanians, was, “Sure, in America we have things that are nicer than in Kenya or Albania, but you have many aspects of your culture and life that we Americans can envy. Family connectedness, the support you have for one another, hospitality – how beautiful these things are! Don’t ever lose these aspects of your culture and think, ‘We want to become western, or American, because America is better in everything.’ There are certain things you can adopt from America that are beautiful, but don’t lose the beauty and richness that you have in your own tradition.”

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Hospitality was something that always left the greatest imprint on me. I could travel to the poorest village in Africa and they would put on a feast. It was their responsibility to show love and hospitality to guests. It is the same in Albania. I don’t know who is more hospitable, the Albanians or the Kenyans, but they would put anyone in the West to total shame. Having almost nothing, they share whatever they have with whoever comes.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

RTE: An American seminarian at Holy Cross Seminary told me about a depressed acquaintance who called one night, feeling suicidal. The seminarian invited him to come to the seminary for a few days for a change of scene and to be in a calm atmosphere. He agreed and the seminarian made the arrangements and cleaned an empty dorm room so that he could have his own space. The day his friend moved in, one of the Greek-born seminarians found out what was happening and insisted that the man take his own room, which contained his books and belongings, icons that were prayed in front of, and was a real home. The Greek seminarian slept in the hall on a couch outside the door so he could check on him through the night. The American seminarian said, “You know, I was so pleased that I’d found him his own space where he could have some privacy, where he could put his own things up – but actually what he needed was to be taken into someone else’s home and taken care of. I didn’t get it until I saw it.”

FR. LUKE: Yes, this virtue of hospitality is something missing in our American way of life. As missionaries, my wife and I saw hospitality as one of the greatest ways to express God’s love to the people. We wanted our home to always be open to people. We married right at the beginning of our time in Albania and it is interesting to think that my wife and I slept in our house alone perhaps three months out of the first five years of our marriage. We always had people coming, numerous people staying for months at a time. Our open home was a hallmark of our ministry. Even after the children started coming and we didn’t have as many overnight guests, we always had an open-door policy. There were people at our house every day. One of the difficult counter-cultural adjustments in coming back to America on sabbatical was that although we lived on campus at a seminary, no one came to visit. We lived there for four months and maybe a handful of people came to our house. And even when people came, they’d say, “I’m just here for a minute, I’ve got to run…” They’d stay briefly and then go on with their day.

Single Missionaries

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

RTE: We’ve been speaking here of missionary families. What opportunities are there for unmarried men and women? And in view of cultural differences, are single women limited as missionaries? What part do they play on a mission team?

FR. LUKE: The mission in Albania offers a good response to this question.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

During the years I served there, of the 20-25 missionaries we had at any one time, we had a nice mix – usually about eight monastics, eight married missionaries, and six or seven single missionaries. Of the two dozen missionaries, about half were men and half were women. Also, about eight were clergy, and the rest laity. The unmarried missionaries played an important role in the overall outreach of the Church. In Albania, we had single missionaries who headed up our medical clinic, our elementary school, our post-secondary professional institute, as well as our development and emergency relief office. We also had single missionaries who taught at our seminary, who taught English in a variety of contexts, taught catechism, worked in administration, and who participated in our university ministry, among other things.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

The Body of Christ has a need for everyone – men or women, married or unmarried. It is the same for the mission field. In fact, when a missionary team has a variety of members, it makes the overall witness that much more effective. Some people will relate well to a monastic. Others feel more comfortable with a married priest. Some prefer to approach a mother, or a married woman. Still others will listen to a single man or woman. All are part of one body, offering a unified witness. So there are surely opportunities for the monastics, the married, and the unmarried! In some countries, it isn’t appropriate for men to approach women and talk with them in public. Such societies need women missionaries, and this means both married and single women.

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In the Protestant world of missions, single women really weren’t encouraged, or even allowed, in the mission field until the 1800’s. By the 1900’s, women outnumbered men as missionaries. Today, women far outnumber men, and this includes many single women. Women had to overcome many obstacles and prejudices before being allowed to serve in a variety of capacities, and this may be the same for the modern Orthodox missionary movement.

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RTE: Do you have any specific counsel for unmarried missionaries?

FR. LUKE: My advice for single men or women is that they must be ready for some additional challenges. The loneliness of a new culture, the challenges of entering a new country, the frustrations of learning a language, and the normal difficulties and disappointments of the mission field can be overwhelming. As a married missionary, you have your spouse to support and comfort you; the monastics may be living in community and have another type of support; but the single missionary can feel the loneliness and frustration in a magnified manner. A single person has to be ready for these added challenges. He or she needs to be a strong person, and also be able to find support in time of need. Their co-missionaries need to be sensitive to this extra burden, and try to reach out to them.

Families on Mission Vs. Single Missionaries

One way to help overcome these additional struggles would be for single missionaries to live in community, either with other missionaries of the same sex, one of the missionary families, or even with an indigenous family. Living with a family of the country can be one of the fastest ways to learn the language, culture, and ways of the host country. Of course, other challenges may arise as cultures clash and one’s privacy may be lost.

 

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The Importance of Being in a Place

The Importance of Being in a Place balance body mind heart

 

In an early comedy sketch show on the radio, much loved by Metropolitan Kallistos, one of the characters Seagoon finding another character Eccles in a coal cellar asks: “What are you doing here?” Eccles replies “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere!” Eccles portrayed as a rather silly youth, has a special talent for taking things he hears literally, but in so doing often shows a profound insight.

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From a slightly later vintage, some may remember Robin’s song from the T.V. Muppet Show. In innocent reflection he sings:”
Halfway down the stairs is a stair where I sit.
There isn’t any other stair quite like it.
I’m not at the bottom, I’m not at the top.
So this is the stair where I always stop.

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The original version of “King Lear” (1605), William Shakespeare contains the line: “Jesters do oft prove prophets”; from where we gain the expression ”many a true word is spoken in jest.” The fool, whilst seen to be a jester, has his place in the plot, pointing to a truth which the “wise in their own eyes” fail to see. (Isaiah 5:21)

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A hermit was once asked by a visitor “What do you do?” The hermit answered ”I live here!” The old English words “dwell” and “abide” for “live “conveys the sense of remaining fully in a state of stability. An embryo dwells in the mother’s womb, growing and being nourished in the darkness until the time of birth.
On meeting someone for the first time we often ask” What do you do?” as if someone is defined by their job or status! Our Lord did not judge people by what they did but he had empathy with who they were and had insight into the potential of what they could become. We are not “Human doings “we are “Human Beings.”

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In order to “be,” to be fully in the present moment, to be fully alive, fully aware, we need to have stability of place. Constant movement is not good for the spirit. With too much movement we become like children who spin round and round and when they stop they are dizzy and fall over. Much could be said about the work/ life balance in today’s society but sufficient to say that we need to be aware of the limits and integrity of our mind, body, spirit and the heart.

 

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Place is the dimension of revelation. God appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai, Christ revealed His Divinity on Mount Tabor, St John received the Revelation of the Apocalypsis in the Cave on Patmos. From the beginning God has given us a place to be: Genesis 2:15 ” Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. “The place where we live is both the place of our daily routine and our spiritual life. Our daily duties are not separate from our spiritual life. Prayer is not separate from work. Our Icon Corner is the Church in the home and becomes the centre of our being in that place.

 

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The saints were made holy in their cells, in caves, on islands, in trees, on platforms in the sky, in their places where God broke into their lives. One senses the holiness of places that are infused with prayer and built by ascesis. Go to the cave of St John in Prislop Monastery in Romania, visit the underground cell of St Gerasimos on Kefalonia, row across Derwentwater to St Herbert’s Island- you will find the grace of God.

 

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Even when their bodies are separated from the souls, the grace remains in both. Their soul is apprehended invisibly. St John of Damascus says that “the holy relics of the saints, their icons, their graves, are full of grace which their souls and bodies had whilst on earth.” Since men and women are composed of soul and body, both need theosis, both need a place to be. Even when their bones have disappeared the place where they lived has become holy-sanctified- a place of refreshment for our spirit.

 

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Like Eccles we have to be somewhere- but not anywhere! If we are in the wrong place then we will have no peace until we find the right place. God has given each of us a place to be.
Fr. Jonathan

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How Often Should We Receive Holy Communion?

How Often Should We Receive Holy Communion

 

 

How Often Should We Receive Holy Communion? A Story

Probably the one thing that I found most puzzling during my Romanian monasteries pilgrimage is their attitude towards Holy Communion. All the days of the Suzana monastery retreat, during the Holy Liturgy nobody in the church received Holy Communion, other than the priest, not even any of the nuns, nobody! This is probably the only thing I did not like about ‘Romanian’ Orthodoxy , and I am not really sure if this attitude of theirs is an appropriate interpretation of the Fathers’ teachings.

 

In Greece, at the US, at the UK, everywhere I have been and I can remember having participated in Holy Liturgy, when the priest takes up the holy Cup, he proceeds to the Royal Doors, raises the holy Cup, and ‘issues an ‘order’: “Approach with the fear of God, faith, and love.” It feels so strange to listen to this in a Romanian church and immediately proceed to “Save, O God, Your people and bless Your inheritance”, with the priest lifting the holy Cup and saying: (Blessed is our God.) “Always, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Alleluia”, while NOBODY in church has received Holy Communion! I repeat NOBODY! Who is the priest blessing then?

 

What is the point of all Pre-Communion and communion hymns, recited and chanted, nonetheless? So, during an ordinary day, this part of the Holy Liturgy, “The servant of God (Name) receives the Body and Blood of Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life” is blatantly omitted! Are they then re-writing the text of St Chrysostom’s Holy Liturgy? And what about: “We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us.” Why bother chant this, when NO ONE, I repeat NO ONE receives Holy Communion!

 

What is then the point of chanting “Let our mouths be filled with Your praise, Lord, that we may sing of Your glory. You have made us worthy to partake of Your holy mysteries. Keep us in Your holiness, that all the day long we may meditate upon Your righteousness. Alleluia. Alleluia. “, if NO ONE partakes of the Sacrament? And is this canonical for the meaning and existence of the Church as Christ’s mystical Body that only the priest partakes of the Sacraments? I am certainly open to suggestions and other pinions, but isn’t this ‘exclusive’ treatment of the priest distinctively non-Orthodox, possibly reminiscent of a Roman Catholic influence?

 

I found even more puzzling the fact that instead of the Body and Blood of Christ, the faithful are ceremoniously offered at the end of the Eucharist Holy Water and Antidoron instead ! [ie. antidoron (Greek: Ἀντίδωρον, Antídōron) is ordinary leavened bread which is blessed but not consecrated and distributed in Eastern Orthodox Churches]. In all Greek monasteries I have been, Holy Water and Antidoron are offered daily at the end of Matins [ie. Morning Prayers Service] to everybody, certainly not at the end of Holy Liturgy. Lest I be misunderstood let me add here that this custom is strictly observed on days when no Eucharist follows. For surely why on earth would there be Antidoron and Holy Water at the end of Orthros if one is going to partake of the Holy Communion, or even if they wouldn’t? Antidoron (instead of the gifts) is given out after communion, and after the liturgy is completed as a blessing from the celebrant priest. To offer it after Matins would break the fast for the Liturgy. But when no Holy Liturgy follows, then they offer it as a gift and a blessing for the day. But what a confusion with what is going on in a Romanian Holy Liturgy! It really feels as if the Romanians have kept the text of the Holy Liturgy, but re-invented some of its ‘events’, the ‘happenings’, its ‘conclusion’ indeed!

 

Sadly (as far as I am concerned) such an attitude is observed everywhere, not just in a ‘strict’ monastery environment, but in all Romanian parishes. This would never happen in Greece, indeed COULD NOT, and maybe in all other orthodox countries I have visited. I am told by the abbess that even nuns, whose lives are dedicated to prayer, normally receive Holy Communion only once a month (!) and only during major feasts (!), unless they ask for a ‘special’ blessing to receive Holy Communion as an exception (!), because they feel a very deep urge and need. Lay people need to make their confession immediately preceding each Holy Communion, 1 or 2 days before at the latest, to the extent that a priest will not offer Holy Communion  to them at all, even if they want to; he may even refuse them Holy Communion, because he suspects the faithful has not offered properly his Confession before. Interestingly enough, no priests were available, even though we were in the church, to listen to anybody’s confession, should someone decided to ‘go by the rules’, and confess in order to receive Holy Communion.

 

I remember having a particular conversation with a Romanian priest, very close to me, like a spiritual father or godfather, asking him if I am allowed to receive Holy Communion here at the monastery, reassuring him that I had confessed to my spiritual father 9-10 days before the trip. I received the following very sobering answer: “Mmm, I am not sure. So many days have lapsed. I will have to ask him to see what he thinks right.” (Sigh) Oh dear, but surely we are NEVER worthy of Holy Communion, even if just an hour has lapsed from our last Confession!

 

In the end, I did receive Holy Communion, right before I left Romania, holding a lit candle, following the Romanian style. Again I was the only one to receive Holy Communion in a packed church, full of faithful reverently praying, bowing, making prostrations, kneeling. The ‘exception’ was made for me because the priest who knew me explained my ‘situation’ to the Romanian priest and allowed me to receive Holy Communion because I was traveling that day, as a special blessing and protection.

 

 

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In Love, For Love, By Love: Missionary Series III

How can I become a long-term missionary?

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

Long and Short-Term Missions

RTE: Can you tell us what it takes to be a long-term missionary? You’ve spoken of the beginning stages, how about later?

FR. LUKE: Archbishop Anastasios has good advice for people thinking of going into the mission field: “It’s always better to say you are going for one year and stay for ten, than to say, ‘I am going for ten years,’ and after the initial enthusiasm fades away, you realize you can’t handle it.” There is wisdom in this: go step-by-stepand God will give you grace and strength.

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

The goal of missions is to establish an authentic Eucharistic worshipping community in the people’s own language and culture

In my early 20’s, when I attended Pennsylvania State University, I contemplated entering the Peace Corps. When I learned more about it though, I was afraid, because I wasn’t sure I could handle the two-year commitment to leave my country and live in an impoverished third-world village. I turned down the opportunity, but God in His own way took me step-by step. He didn’t reveal to me, “In the future you will spend ten years in Albania.” No. First, I went on a short-term mission team for one month to Kenya. The following year I returned for a six-month commitment, and these six months turned into a year of service. After returning to Africa three times over the next four years, I began looking at Albania as a place where I could serve as a long-term missionary. I suggested to my wife, “Let’s make a three year commitment, and then see.” God took us through those three years and gave us the strength we needed. Those three years turned into five years, seven years, a decade. We might have been frightened, had we known at the beginning that we would serve in Albania for ten years, but God took us by the hand and led us.

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

Don’t frighten yourself by thinking, “How can I become a missionary and live in another culture for so many years?” Just go, make the sign of the cross, and start working. Be open and willing to stay for longer, but tell yourself, “I am going for one year or for two years, and see how it works.” But keep praying, “Lord, if You give me the grace, I will stay as long as You want me here.”

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania Orthodoxy missionary work

RTE: You mentioned the short-term mission teams of two or three weeks. I imagine that it’s helpful for people in a foreign country to feel that others appreciate them enough to come, but what are the real benefits of this short-term experience?

FR. LUKE: One has to be very clear about the purpose of missions. The goal of missions is to establish an authentic Eucharistic worshipping community in the people’s own language and culture. If one is going to serve in a place that isn’t yet Christian, this will take many years and involve great effort, sacrifice, and struggle. To achieve anything, the missionary must commit himself to living among the people long-term and learning the language and culture.

With the ease of travel and technology, a new phenomenon has arisen in the past thirty years in the mission field – “short-term mission teams” – which send people for a week or two, or a month, to a certain area. They often have a specific project: to build a church, run a catechetical program, etc.

Orhtodoxy missionary work

There is value in these short-term projects, and the first and greatest value is for those who are going. It exposes them to a different culture, a different people. For westerners it is often the first time they’ve seen a third-world country up close, with of all its poverty and hardship. It’s an eye-opening experience. For many, this initial experience is an exciting adventure, and although these short-termers go with the intention of offering something, they receive much more than they can offer, and usually return to their home country full of enthusiasm. They often become ambassadors for the missionary movement; they speak in churches and their enthusiasm is contagious. It’s great for them and for the church that sent them.

But what did they really offer for the week, or month, or two months they were in the mission field? They offered something. Perhaps they built a building – but I’m sure the indigenous people could have built the building themselves if they’d had the money. Perhaps they created some nice friendships, and that’s important to encourage people, but they have to realize that what they offered was very limited.

It is not going to transform, convert, and change people’s lives. At best it is going to complement the work that’s already being done by the long-term missionaries and the local Christians who live there. Some churches are now sending many short-term teams; you can get the people, they’re enthusiastic, it motivates people back home. But people are still afraid to go into long-term mission and this “short-term” trend can create a great danger for the future.

Short-term teams are not the goal of missions, but they can support the overall effort, and short-termers need to be challenged as to where they are going to take this experience when they return home. In any group of twenty short-term missionaries who go somewhere for a month, my goal would be that at least one or two of them seriously consider long-term mission work.

Orthodoxy missionary work

For others, hopefully, this incredible experience will help to transform them into more serious Christians. Lord willing, they will use this experience as a stepping stone in their own spiritual journey. Perhaps they won’t become long-term missionaries, but they will be more dedicated Christians in whatever they do. Hopefully, the majority of people who go will at least understand missions in a new way, and even if they never become long-term missionaries, they will become supporters and partners of those in long-term missions.

There are two results we don’t want from short-term missions. First, we don’t want these participants to think that they are missionaries who have fulfilled their responsibility in missions. They are not missionaries, but members of a missions team. They now have a responsibility to use the experience they’ve received for the glory of God and to spread the spirit of missions in the Church.

The second danger is that we don’t want short-term participants to return home and, after an initial month of excitement, put the experience away as a great adventure and go on with their life as they lived it before. We would consider both of these results as a failure in our short-term strategy.

Orthodoxy missionary work

I have participated on five short-term mission teams, four times as a leader. I have also received five short-term teams while being a long-term missionary. So I’ve been exposed to this concept of missions from a variety of angles. These short-term experiences radically changed the direction of my life, so I’m very grateful for the experience. They exposed me to the reality of missions work and led me to longer stays in Africa. Such trips filled me with enthusiasm and zeal for missions, and led me to eventually study theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as to study missiology at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions.

orthodoxy missionary work

When I was a long-term missionary receiving missions teams, I did all the prep work for the teams, and it took a month out of my schedule each time to accommodate them. In certain cases it was worth it. Some teams did great and really complemented the ministries we were already doing. But to be honest, other teams were very demanding and in the end, the benefit that they offered was minimal. In those instances, it became a very time-consuming project that didn’t have a lot of value for our overall mission. Short-termers need to be aware of this, and when they go, to be humble about it.

RTE: I imagine they are more like pilgrims than missionaries, guests of Orthodox missions who may be able to help out in a small way.

FR. LUKE: Yes, I always tell the short-termers that they shouldn’t call themselves missionaries. They aren’t missionaries. They should think of themselves as visitors to a mission field. Some don’t like to hear this. They would like to think, “I’m following the path of the great missionaries; I’m a missionary now.” That’s quite naive.

Orthodoxy missionary work

To Be Continued …

Go here for Part I

Go here for Part II

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Work Pray Be Saved

transfiguration orthodox church Work Prayer Salvation

 

Work Pray Be Saved! Back to Mikrokastro monastery, my spiritual basis in Greece! For the Transfiguration Feast. “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” I feel so safe, protected and loved here! It is always like this: the Mother of God always comforts me; the peace, stillness and hesychia of the monastery invades me; the fellowship of the nuns warms me; the motherly affection of its Abbess, Mother Theologia’s love nurtures me; the nuns’ combination of discipline, structure, work and prayer ‘stabilises’ me; their wise ‘equation’: Work and Prayer= Salvation!‘ centers’ me, ‘grounds’ me on peace and the Holy Spirit.

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

 

Just today, I felt so happy harvesting, curing and storing potatoes after the Matins service and Holy Liturgy in the monastery chapel! It felt so exhilaratingly Van Goghean!

Work Pray Be Saved

van gogh Work Pray Be Saved

 

Certainly one eats his meal afterwards, roast potatoes😃, with gratitude and thanksgiving.

orthodox monks Work Pray Be Saved

van gogh Work Pray Be Saved

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Fr Jonathan Hemmings has written a whole chapter on this ‘equation’: Work and Prayer= Salvation! in his book, Fountains in the Desert, which I have found most useful and often turn to for life balance ‘tips’.

 

When the holy Abba Antony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie (ἀκηδία) and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down again and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Antony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.

 

Our human condition requires dependency upon God and interdependency on others. Correct spiritual examination requires the help and direction of a spiritual father who helps us grow into the image of Christ. Self examination alone without such an external reference point can put us in jeopardy such that we choose the wrong direction, make false judgements, become disappointed, lack faith, and fall into the trap of hopelessness and despair. Here we find ourselves in that spiritual malaise of accidie whereby because of our sense of sinfulness before a Holy God, we become inactive, paralysed and reach a state of torpor.

We ponder on the contradiction “How can we be Christians and have such sinful thoughts?” St Antony addresses this dilemma in the desert where he meets the devil, himself and God

“Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone;”

We notice that St Antony wants to be saved, he is aware of his own condition. Like the Prodigal son and Zacchaeus we must first come to our right mind and possess a desire (a zeal) for change. St Antony’s request is simple and succinct:

“What shall I do in my affliction. How can I be saved?”

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

We must be direct in our prayer to God; vagueness in repentance or in our requests is a form of obfuscation.

These two questions of St Antony remind us of that question the Lawyer posed to Christ before the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25 “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Inactivity is not an option for Christians; Christians are verbs not nouns!

Antony sees a man sitting at his work then getting up to pray, returning to his work and again rising to pray. The angel was sent by God to correct and reassure St Antony. Consumed by ourselves we lose focus and the source of our strength-we lose the will to work or pray! Work and Prayer= Salvation! This is an equation for all and not just for monks. Full of self loathing we need not only correction but reassurance. When called upon, the compassion and conviction of the All Holy Spirit assists us by His comfort and strength.

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

Just as our Lord was ministered to by angels in the wilderness after the Temptations Matthew 4:11

“Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”

So with St Antony an angel ministers to him instructing him and restoring courage and joy. “ Do this and you will be saved.”

The Fathers teach us that we should not trust too readily in our own thoughts and opinions but take heed to God’s Word Who provides us with the pattern of salvation.

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

In our modern western culture, Life balance is a much discussed topic today. When mums have to juggle careers with caring and the ever increasing demand for dads to prioritize we need to drink from the fountains of the desert. Without work we become indolent and listless; too much work makes us tired and stressed. Without prayer we become detached from our source of strength and the deeper reality Who created us. Likewise prayer without action is fruitless, as St James says in his epistle:

James 2:17

“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Prayer will warm and revive us in the love of God; work will warm and energise us in the love for others thus fulfilling the Divine equation for salvation:

Luke 10:

27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’”

 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

Fountains in the Desert

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Missionary Musings

mission orthodoxy

All my previous days have been spent in quietness, stillness and intense studying. I have been reflecting on my Romanian monasteries’ pilgrimage and preparing for the next one to Cephalonia and Ithaca for the Dormition Feast. I have also been corresponding with my English brothers and sisters in Christ, preparing for my return to the UK by the end of the summer.

Central in all my thoughts, studies, activities and endeavours was the Holy SpiritOrthodoxy and Missionary work.

I started studying Archbishop Anastasios’ of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania life and works, and was inspired by his questioning of the establishment’s accepted apathy toward missions. Then, I turned to the Acts of the Apostles and marvelled at the workings of the Holy Spirit and the Apostles’ zeal and love for God and His Church! Next, I  examined various missionaries’ blogs and websites, and I also watched a number of very inspiring videos: Michael Harper‘s talk on the Holy Spirit, part of THE WAY, the outreach programme of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

Then

and

and

a two-part documentary, where renowned British actor David Suchet undertakes an epic journey spanning the Mediterranean. His inspiration is a charismatic individual whose own travels through this region, two thousand years ago, changed the world forever – Paul the Apostle:

Do you remember how all this got started? By a disturbing comment by a ‘cradle’ Orthodox that all ‘others’ are ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’. Now after a week I know that such an attitude cannot be farthest from the Truth. I understand I have so much more to learn yet but I am already convinced that

The love of God is manifested in mission“,

Indifference to mission is a denial of Orthodoxy“; 

“Inertia in the field of mission means, in the last analysis, a negation of Orthodoxy, a backslide into the practical heresy of localism”;

“Mission was not the duty of only the first generation of Christians. It is the duty of Christians of all ages … It is an essential expression of the Orthodox ethos.”;

“Church without mission is a contradiction in terms…. If the Church is indifferent to the apostolic work with which she has been entrusted, she denies herself, contradicts herself and her essence, and is a traitor in the warfare in which she is engaged.”

May the Holy Spirit empower us to be faithful in fulfilling the commandment of Christ to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all Nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all [things that He has] commanded”,  so that all people may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.   “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven”!

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May we witness to the truth, and by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to reveal Christ’s way of sanctification and eternal salvation to all.

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