Thursday, 29 June 2017
Thursday, 17 November 2016
Original icon of St. Phanourios from Rhodes1
This is the continuation of my essay series on St. Phanourios. You can read part 1 here.2
As it is for many, we often spiritually grow through suffering. Elder Sophrony3, when writing to his sister Maria, writes about what suffering can give us:
Do you really think that my in my years of monastic life I have escaped periods when the vision of my ruin was so petrifying that it is not permitted to speak of it? But, strangely, when these visions were transformed into an opening up of NEW horizons, into manifestation of the INFINITE LIGHT of another world, could not find words to express my gratitude to God for my experience of hellish torments, because these spiritual events occurred in a sequence such that precisely these intense sufferings were an indispensable condition for the development of the very capacity to receive eternity4.
I would never claim to have the level of suffering and consolation that God granted to Elder Sophrony. But I did go through a period of suffering in my thirties that was incredibly pivotal in my life. I began to see how St. Phanourios’ prayers and presence were part of what God used to save me.5 I was in between jobs, running out of money, received a tax bill the size of my savings, my unbalanced neighbour tried to get me evicted and I fell ill – all at once. The illness was that I got a huge rash on my face, it was really bad and super sudden. I was at the dermatologist office and was told that there was a 50/50 chance that I had cancer. (The rash often being a sign of cancer’s presence). Blood work was done, I would meet with a hematologist to be told if I had cancer later that month. Nothing like a shot of fear to urge one to pray even more! I had the service to St. Phanourios with me in the doctor’s office and I vividly remember praying parts of it, begging for his prayers. I was so afraid and felt very alone. But St. Phanourios prayers were with me. Within a month, I found out that the sickness was idiopathic, not caused by cancer; I met with a hematologist who gave me the good news, a happy meeting, thank God!
Slowly, I got better physically; by the mercy of God and the prayers of the Saints, my family, church family and friends prayers, I found work again a few months later. But that was not the end of my experiences of St. Phanourios’ prayers for help in times of need – in my life and in the life of others. I can see how I was carried through this very difficult time; how I received, more than once, unexpected monies, always enough for rent and food. Around St. Nicholas’ day, I found a plane ticket home that my parents could afford to purchase for me; that Christmas was so special. I felt surrounded with love, as I recovered from my illness, struggling with insomnia and the effects of the strong medicine I was on. I found new work and, within months, I discovered a new direction that would totally upend my life as I knew it. St. Phanourios’ prayers never left me. St. Phanourios helped me when I was lost in a sea of questions, fear, exhaustion and uncertain future. I know his prayers helped me find my way out of this struggle.
St. Phanourios is known, as I previously wrote, for helping people find both deep things (life direction, spiritual fathers, a spouse) but also things that are lost. I want to share three such stories. First story: Once my sister-friend, when they did not have much extra money to spare, lost a car key, one that was made special for the car and would cost a few hundred dollars to replace. They looked everywhere, for days. They asked St. Phanourios for help, reading the service I had given them6. Days went by and then, suddenly, their then four year old son walked into the kitchen holding the car key. When asked, he said he found it on the couch, the same couch they had searched more than once by stripping all the cushions off it more than once.
Second story: a family from my church in Ottawa were enjoying a nice family holiday at the beach. The Mom had a special ring that she had for years and she lost it there, at the beach. They felt no hope of finding it but their young son thought of St. Phanourios and asked this Saint’s prayers. A day or so later, the Mother was busy washing dishes, and all of a sudden, she realized that the ring she had lost was back on her finger. Wow! When we heard of this miracle, we all had chills! God is wonderful in His Saints!
Third story, but not the last . . . a family I know was gathered for Christmas. The Mother’s wedding band was getting a bit loose on her finger but she had not had time to get it resized at the Jewelers. She realized, after coming home from a store, that her wedding ring of so many decades was gone! The Mother called the store, feeling sure she lost it where she was recycling pop cans and asked them to leave all the bags there until she could return. They did. One of her family members, while the Mom went back, hurried to St. Phanourios to ask his prayers. The ring was found! In a large bag with tons of pop cans. One of many such bags…. God is truly wonderful in His Saints! I think we often forget that we can pray about everything, that God’s care for us is manifold.
In two weeks, God willing, I will write again here of how St. Phanourios helped me find what I was long wishing for: the husband I had been waiting for nearly 20 year. As a friend said later on, I was in trouble for a while and then, unexpectedly, my future husband suddenly appeared and I was saved. I agreed, saying, it was as if all the hidden sunlight, during my time of darkness, burst out at once. It was a miracle.
(1) This picture was found here: https://orthodoxwiki.org/Phanourios
(2) Elizabeth Roosje. “Revealer of Light: St. Phanourios”. Conciliar Post. Wordpress. November 3, 2016. http://www.conciliarpost.com/journeys-of-faith/revealer-of-light-st-phanourios/
(3) For a brief outline of his life, go here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophrony_(Sakharov)
(4) Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov). Letters to His Family. Essex, England: Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 2015, pp. 183-184.
(5) I have written about this before, in this post: http://www.conciliarpost.com/journeys-of-faith/perspective-choices-and-what-a-picture-from-1904-taught-me/
(6) I write about this and where to get this service here, in part 1 of this series: http://www.conciliarpost.com/journeys-of-faith/revealer-of-light-st-phanourios
Thursday, 20 October 2016
Thursday, 8 September 2016
Thursday, 25 August 2016
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. - Frederick Buechner1
When I lived in Ottawa, I went through a time when I was unemployed, spent my carefully tended savings to survive and then ran out of money completely. For a few months I did not know how I was going to pay rent or buy food. Scary. Twice in my life I went through testing to see if I had cancer; each time, no cancer. Everyday now it seems that apocalyptic fearful things happen; the news tells us only of some. Anxiety has weighed me down deep in it’s ocean, submerging me under in its waves. It was there I learned you need to fight and deal with fear and anxiety while you are in the midst of it.
When overwhelmed, I pray small quick prayers: when I am afraid, I trust in Thee2; I repeat this prayer many times. I can breathe again. I do small prayers, cross myself, say the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me)3, these all help. I am learning to tune out a lot of news and worry. That you can choose to have a peaceful day or an anxious day. It's all where and what you focus on and put your energy towards . . .With Christ one can develop a well of interior peace, an inward fortress. I am not there yet. But Mother Gavrilia4 shows that the way towards this peace is to accept everything in my life, to live in my ‘today’ with God and trust that God’s will is unfolding, even if my life and well being are in peril5.
I started learning this in Ottawa when I was unemployed; at the time, I had to move to a smaller, less expensive apartment. Most apartments are not listed more than two months in advance. My lease required me to give two months notice, which meant I had two months to find and move into a new apartment, in the middle of winter. At the same time two things were going on. First, my spiritual father6 was praying for me (as were many). Second, a miracle working icon came from Ukraine: the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God.7 At the time, a prayerful Orthodox Nun was living nearby and she told me “Ask the Mother of God for what you need, go up to her and ask many times.” So I did.
And so, I found an apartment that I could afford, relief! But, two weeks before I had to move, the owners of the apartment refused me, reneging the lease. I was in such a panic, even with the experience of the Holy Icon of the Mother of God. I told my spiritual father what happened and could not understand why he was not upset. (I was thinking along the lines of: I have been lied to! Cheated! I have no where to live! Two weeks and I am on the streets with all my stuff and my cat! What in the word is God doing?! I am scared, my life is spiraling out of control!). Why was my spiritual father so peaceful when he heard about my situation? It really struck me.
In the midst of this great panic, I saw that the apartment I really wanted resurfaced on Craigslist (someone refused that lease). I saw the place ASAP, a friend came with, we measured, realized my furniture would fit and I took it. This small apartment was painted a beautiful blue; blue is the liturgical colour for the Mother of God8. God provided while I was exhausted by worrying that He was not going to provide. A few months later a friend from church, V., came up to me and asked ‘was the apartment that reneged on you at the last minute at “this and this” address?' I said “yes, why?” He answered: “It burnt down in the middle of the night, saw it on the news yesterday.” I did not realize how well I was being taken care of. My spiritual father, he already knew.
Being taken care of by God does not preclude suffering or even death. It does mean having a relationship with God that can create the interior fortress of peace that all of us desire but most do not believe is possible. This is where a picture that a dear friend gave us leads the way; it taught me so much! It is the picture you see above this essay, a picture that I see everyday in our library/chapel. It is of Tsar Nicholas, his family and Elizabeth, the Granddaughter of Queen Victoria and her husband9. This picture is from Pascha (Easter) night, 1904. It's so beautiful. In year 1904, they were all celebrating Pascha in their most beautiful and stately clothes. They did not know the future, that soon a war (with Japan) would be going on, or that they would be martyred in less than 20 years.
We don't know what our future is. But we can choose to have Pascha today. We can choose to live in the present, whatever that is. We can be with God in our today, no matter what today is or what it brings. We can learn not be crushed by tomorrow’s worry. We can do everything today with God. This is the way out from the anxiety that crushes us. Again and again, a pious older Catholic woman (she was one of my biggest mentors in Ottawa), told me: be with God today, look at how God saw you through that hard time, and that was a miracle of God, that ‘this and this’ happened. This mentor was at my wedding, 3 years later...
I have lived in New Jersey with my husband for almost 4 years now. If I focus on what I lost by leaving Ottawa or what I find yet incomplete in my new life, I can lose my inner peace and daily happiness. If I focus on how God’s will is unfolding for my life, I can have peace. Peace comes when I appreciate the day I have. That Cleo my cat is next to me as a type, that I have more provisions than my daily bread, that I can pray to God for help for myself and the world. I can choose what this day will be. I can have self-pity, discontentment and anxiety or I can practice thankfulness, prayer and seeking God’s will. I can be with God today. With time and God’s mercy, I can learn to be present to Christ’s Eternal Pascha, the hope given to all the world10.
(1) Frederick Buechner. New York, New York: HarperOne, 1993. http://www.frederickbuechner.com/hope-through-grace/
(2) This being taken from Psalm 56:3 http://biblehub.com/psalms/56-3.htm
(3) If you have not heard of the Jesus Prayer, these books are great: The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green and Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality by Norris Chumley.
(4) Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love. Athens, Greece: Eptalofos SA, 3rd edition 2006.
(5) This does not mean to avoid seeking ways to help oneself but that in the day itself, we can be with God today and thus still have peace as we work out our lives and salvation.
(6) Having a spiritual father is common in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Often a parish priest or monastic is chosen by the spiritual daughter or spiritual son.
(7) I wrote this visit here: https://eroosje.blogspot.com/2009/10/icon-of-holy-mother-of-god-of-pochaiv.html and here: https://eroosje.blogspot.com/2009/10/grace-filled-two-days.html. It was a very special experience, I stayed in Church, near this icon for the days it was with us. It was such a mercy of God. More about this icon is found here: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2012/09/08/102543-icon-of-the-mother-of-god-of-pochaev and https://oca.org/news/archived/the-pochaev-icon-of-the-mother-of-god-historical-notes
(8) Three years later, my husband proposed to me in that blue apartment; this is all a miracle of God’s mercy.
(9) Elizabeth is a Saint, canonized by the Orthodox Christians, she is called “St. Elizabeth the New Martyr”; in this picture she is with her husband, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, who is later assassinated; Tsar Nicholas and his family are also Saints of the Orthodox Church and are referred to as Royal Martyrs.(10) Originally published on Monday, July 13, 2015 at https://eroosje.blogspot.com/2015/07/perspective-choices-and-what-picture.html. Revised August 18, 2016. Also published, in this form, at Conciliar Post: http://www.conciliarpost.com/
When I was 19, I went on an Interim class (a January class at Calvin College) where my dream of writing for publication began.
Between then and now, several dreams have come to fruition: In 2003, I graduated with a BA in English (Honours) and became a Canadian citizen. I became an Orthodox Christian in 2004 and gained a wonderful godmother and extended church family, going to my first monastery a week after I was chrismated. In 2005 I moved to Ottawa, Canada. In 2006 I graduated with a Masters in Library and Information Science. I lived in Ottawa as a professional librarian with various jobs that I loved deeply. In 2011 I baptised my first godson. In 2012 I married my best friend, a kind and smart computer scientist and then Reader in the Orthodox Church. In 2012 I also moved near to NYC to begin my married life with my Husband. Also, in 2012, my marriage meant that I became an Aunt to many Nieces and Nephews. In 2013 I learned to knit. In 2014 my Husband and I welcomed and baptised our first goddaughter. In 2015 I learned the fundamentals of sewing and quilting. In 2016, we will baptise our second (shared) godchild, a godson who is still an infant.
And now, 20 years later, I am continuing my dream of writing by writing for Conciliar Post and within this by this blog. My first essay is titled Perspective, Choices and What a Picture From 1904 Taught Me, found here on Conciliar Post and here, on this new very blog.