Thursday, 29 June 2017


This is the continuation of my essay series on St. Phanourios.  You can read part 1 here 1 and part 2 here 2.

Last time, I wrote about how St. Phanourios helped me through a series of personal crises that, as they often do, all spilled out at once. I was jobless, looking for work, had run out of money, and my health was crumbling, with a 50/50 chance of having cancer.  St. Phanourios’ prayers were of great effect. Within time, I was assured I did not have cancer, I got a contract job and was financially afloat again. At that point, I talked to my spiritual father about what to do. I really wanted to stay in Ottawa but did not have full time work. He advised a daily routine of prayer and trusting God to provide for me as the days went on, understanding His provision might not be through a steady full-time job but by contracts here and there.

As I began living this way, I went to a beloved church friend’s baby shower; her first baby, a boy, long awaited3! I had a friend at this party who had met her husband when she was 34. I was 34, and told some friends at the shower that I really wanted to get married—I felt like it was really time. My church friends immediately said they would pray for me about this. That very night, I got an email unlike any I had gotten before. The email told me of a man who I had a lot of similarities to, I was astounded! I did 4 things, (other than emailing the person back) in quick succession: I emailed my priest and spiritual father, I called my Mother, my sister-friend and my Ottawa Ukrainian Mother! (“I got this email about this man!!!). Within two months, my father confessor gave me his blessing to know this man, if I was willing to leave Ottawa, and only if I was. I agreed, and emails commenced a few weeks later between myself and “this man.”

I never dreamed of having such a chance to even meet such a man; yet the dream was there; it all started a few years before, when I was at Holy Dormition Monastery for their feast day in August.4,5 I had a ride from a (very much younger) man who, given that we were both coming from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) first began6, was just like me—a CRC convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. I remember thinking, in passing, that it would be nice to meet someone closer to my age that would have grown up CRC but converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Meanwhile, little did I know that in New Jersey there was a CRC convert to the Orthodox Church who was praying every night, asking the prayers of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco for a wife….

That August, my sister-friend and I went to a Greek Monastery together. Being on the Julian calendar7, I had not realized that it was St. Phanourios’ day. My sister-friend listened to me talk all about “this man that I was emailing” and she lovingly, with good humour, asked if I liked him….and yes, I really did. I’d never dated in my life, and my list for what I wanted in a man was only getting longer. This list included: Orthodox Christian, went to Sunday liturgy and Saturday vespers, on the conservative side of things, smart, trustworthy. My dream list would have included: loved kids, monasteries, was a Dutch-American Christian Reformed Church convert to Eastern Orthodoxy like myself, from a stable family, with a professional job, bookish, quiet and kind. Well, the Lord sure could engineer things: this man I was emailing was all of these. Just like my Dutch-American family, half his family had immigrated from Holland to Canada. So many connections!

Back to the glorious day in August: there I was, with my dear sister-friend on our way to the monastery in Quebec on a beautifully sunny day… she was expecting her third child, I was about to start a new job,we were happy to be going to the monastery together….and I was emailing “this man from New Jersey!” I was so excited when I realized that it was St. Phanourios’ day! They had the bread for him out in the courtyard. I went into the small beautiful chapel there, and saw a small icon of St. Phanourios propped up on the ledge by the icon of Christ on their iconostasis 8. While I had prayed formal prayers to St. Phanourios before, that day my prayer was much more spontaneous. It went like this: “please, please, please, I really like him, his name is ___, please, please, please, I really like him…He’s Orthodox! … please, please, please….”

My prayer was spontaneous, heart-felt; nothing profound, just a girl who was so taken by an Orthodox man writing her emails. It so happened that this “man I was emailing” knew a novice at this monastery, the then-Novice C. He had known her since she was a small blond curly-haired four-year-old, and he was like an uncle to her family. She had been a novice at this monastery for some time. Being the man he is, he asked me to pass on his greetings. So I asked the Abbess there to pass on his greetings, saying that this man I am emailing knew her. She looked at me, and simply said, “tell him to come here”.

So… I did. I emailed the man and said, “Mother T. said for you to come to her monastery.”  Well, that did it. The man I was emailing wrote back to me “maybe I can meet you there”. MEET ME? You want to meet me? And so it began: I soon got the email: He likes me. And I find myself in love. So we began dating, writing a prodigious amount of emails along the way. Soon after, it was labour day weekend, early September. Newly dating (not yet having met in person), I told my spiritual father that we were dating. I asked him, so do you think a year and then have the wedding? My priest thought that sounded about right! A month later, to my hairdresser, I think I may get married in about a year, can you do my hair for the wedding? (The man I was emailing, and was now dating, had no idea of either conversation till much later!). Well, time went on, this man was passing with flying colours, we met each other’s family, he came to Ottawa, I went to New Jersey, we met in Michigan…and before we knew it, we were planning our wedding. The date we chose was Sunday September 9, 2012. One day I got curious. What Saints day were we getting married on? Who but St. Phanourios whom I had prayed to months before, please, please, please, I really like him, He’s Orthodox, please, please, please…

That summer I went back to Holy Dormition Monastery and met a woman, older than myself, there. She had married a man older than herself (just as I was about to) and loved St. Phanourios. She told me how Saint Phanourios had helped her many times her life. She was a new widow; I remember how she prayed for many who had departed this life, often praying for those who had no one to pray for them. I was really impressed with that. She asked for my address and for our wedding, sent us a beautiful icon of St. Phanourios, done by the iconographer who also did the Trapeza icons at Holy Dormition Monastery. This icon is now in our bedroom and is a reminder of how Saint Phanourios has helped many people throughout the years and is another sign of the blessing of St. Phanourios on our marriage and for our life together.

And so St. Phanourios became the patron saint of our marriage, of our family. My life changed dramatically as I married and moved to New Jersey. I left my spiritual home of 7 years, my spiritual father, my city and country to become my Husband’s wife; we had already become each other’s best friend. In my final essay on St. Phanourios I hope to share more about how his prayers and presence personally impacted our lives as we live out our married lives here in Northern New Jersey. It is wonderful to see how St. Phanourios’ prayers not only helped me find my way but find my husband! God is glorious in His Saints!

(1) Elizabeth Roosje. “Revealer of Light: St. Phanourios”. Conciliar Post. WordPress. November 3, 2016.
(2) Elizabeth Roosje. “Saint Phanourios: a Friend in Suffering and One Who Finds What is Lost”.Conciliar Post. WordPress. November 17, 2016.
(3) Elizabeth Roosje “Summer Strawberry Lemon Cake.” Roosje: Little Rose. Blogger. Saturday, May 28, 2011.
(4) The feast day being the Dormition of the Mother of God, August 15th on the ‘new’ calendar (modified Gregorian to be exact).
(5) Elizabeth Roosje. “Thankful”. Roosje: Little Rose, Blogger, Sunday, August 15, 2010.
(6) Wikipedia, s.v. “Christian Reformed Church in North America,” last modified April 17, 2017,
(7) The Julian calendar being 13 days behind the Gregorian and civil calendar.
(8) Iconostasis is the word for ‘icon screen’, the wall-like screen with three doors in it, that is before the altar in an Orthodox Church.

First published on Conciliar Post on June 29, 2017 at

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Saint Phanourios: a Friend in Suffering and One Who Finds What is Lost

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:
(2) Elizabeth Roosje. “Revealer of Light: St. Phanourios”.  Conciliar Post.  Wordpress. November 3, 2016.
(3) For a brief outline of his life, go here:
(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:
(6) I write about this and where to get this service here, in part 1 of this series:

This post is also published on Conciliar Post here: 

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Revealer of light: St. Phanourios


Years ago, in late September, I was at my sister-friend’s parish in Ottawa for a weekday liturgy. Afterwards, an older Greek lady gave out small pieces of bread called “Phanouropita” for St. Phanourios.  I have never had such good tasting bread. It was the perfect balance of sweetness and spices; surely it was made with prayer! Nothing tastes so good as when it is made with love and prayer. I remember the priest, after the liturgy, doing a small prayer to St. Phanourios before the lady handed out the bread. I think this priest told us a bit about the Saint as well. I remember being interested, but had no idea, then, how much this Saint would mean to me as time went on. The lady gave me more than one piece of the bread. I remember giving one peice to my spiritual father in Ottawa; later he also commented on how good it was. At the time, I wrote how light this bread was, how filled with joy I felt at receiving it1.

About that time, Sister M. mentioned Saint Phanourios as a Saint who helps you find deep things, like spiritual fathers. I already had a spiritual father, but I had a lot of other things I needed to find: a job, a spouse, direction for my life. I was not abandoned in this search—within 2 years time, St. Phanourios was involved in my finding and marrying my Husband. More on that later! Sylvia, of the Orthodox Mom blog, told her readers about the tradition of baking bread for St. Phanourios and had information on where to get the service to Saint Phanourios in English2. I remember calling this church, that Sylvia mentioned, and asking about the price of the service and how to get them. I seem to remember them being $5.00 or so, back then, but the person on the phone said not to worry about the cost. She sent two of them to me and I gave the other copy to my dear friend, the one I call ‘my sister-friend’, who two years later became my koumbara (wedding sponsor); I am her third son’s godmother. Getting two copies of the life and service of St. Phanourios felt like winning the lottery! The prayers could not be found online back then3 and I had very little money to spare at the time.  

St. Phanourios was an early martyr, who was re-discovered later on, when the Hagarenes (Turks of that day) ruled Rhodes and an icon of him was found:
When the Hagarenes rules the renowned island of Rhodes, having conquered it because of our sins, he that became ruler of the island wished to rebuild the ramparts of the city that past sieges had ravaged. On the outskirts of the fortress were several ruined dwellings that had been abandoned by reason of their association with the old fortress, which was located a furlong to the south. From these ruins the Hagarenes were wont to gather stones for their construction.
    It so happened that, while excavating and reinforcing that place, they discovered a most beautiful church, which was partly buried in ruins. Excavating as far as the floor of the temple, they found many holy icons, all decayed and crumbling, yet the icon of the holy Phanourios was whole and entire; indeed, it seemed as though it had been painted but that very day. And when this all-venerable temple was uncovered, together with its sacred icons, the hierarch of that place, Nilus by name, a man of great sanctity and learning, came and read the inscription of the icon, which said, “The Holy Phanourios.4
Sylvia writes: “[h]is name is from the Greek word fanerono which means I reveal” and of how she grew up with the tradition of asking his prayers whenever something was lost5.  The Orthodox Wiki tells us that:
St. Phanourios has become famous for assisting the faithful in revealing lost or hidden spiritual matters of the heart, objects, directing or revealing actions that should be taken, restoring health and similar situations.6
I have found this to be true—and that St. Phanourios’ prayers have great effect. In two weeks I hope to tell you of some stories I know first-hand, of such answers to the prayers of St. Phanourios, of blessings and small miracles.  

(1)  Elizabeth Roosje. “Links, my Cat and Various Points of Hope”. Roosje: Little Rose, Blogger, September, 30 2010. 
(2) Sylvia Leontaritis. “St. Fanourios the Martyr and Miracle Worker” Orthodox Mom, Blogger, August 27, 2010.
(3) An Akathist to St Phanourios can now be found online, published in English in 2015:
(4) Translated by [Father] George Lardas from the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church
(in Greek), 4th Ed. (Athens, 1974), Vol. VIII, pp. 470-474. Orthodox Life, Vol. 32, No. 4 (July-August 1982). Accessed here: on October 29, 2016.
(5)  Sylvia Leontaritis. “St. Fanourios the Martyr and Miracle Worker” Orthodox Mom, Blogger, August 27, 2010.
(6) Orthodox Wiki, “Phanourios”, (accessed October 29, 2016)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

St Xenia and What Prayer Can Look Like

I went on a walk with a friend recently, we saw trees fully green and trees with delicate yellow leaves, falling in the wind, on green grass. Autumn in Northern New Jersey! While sitting on a bench, we talked about books, ideas and our dreams for life. I reminisced a bit. I told her how when I was in school, years back, outside Vancouver and new to the Orthodox Church. I saw 2 icons for sale, I told her, one of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, looking healthy, with full round faces. And that there was this other icon, with a woman in drab clothes and a thin face, who looked, by comparison, unhealthy to me. The suffering I saw in her I instinctively veered away from. I did not understand what I was seeing. I did not want such an icon.

After seeing this icon, I went away for Christmas holiday and my Aunt H. gave me ten dollars for my birthday. I was a typical poor student and ten extra dollars meant that I could buy my first icon. While I was on holiday, the icon with the thin gaunt faced woman kept coming back to my mind, again and again. I did not understand why, but this icon, the woman pictured there, was calling to me. When I went back to Church, I asked who she was, and learned her name was Saint Xenia1 (to me this sounded like Zenya but Russians actually say Kzenya, like ‘Kuhzenya’ said quickly). I learned that she lived a rich epicurean life before her husband, who struggled with alcohol, died; that she was so worried for her husband’s soul, so shaken by his death, that she started going to church, acted crazy, wore her husband’s clothes, lived outdoors and prayed in intense ways. 

Today we call her a ‘holy fool’ and know many stories about her. One is that she saved a woman from great peril, as her fiance was an undisclosed murderer and this was uncovered before she married him; this young woman was saved from a disastrous marriage! St. Xenia protected the vulnerable, really understood the struggles of others and cared about the poor, the struggling. She became a prayerful vagrant wanderer…

I told my friend that I did not know what to do with her icon, once I bought it. I would sit in one of the old IKEA chairs; chairs my professor had lent me for my studio apartment, and just stare at this icon of St. Xenia. I put this icon on the mantle of the small black gas fireplace in my small studio apartment. Once, I remember, I was holding this icon and looking deeply at it when I suddenly felt like I was falling into the icon; that somehow the layers of the icon opened and there I was, falling. I did not know it then, but that was prayer.

Prayer can happen just by looking at an icon; just staring at it, as if to memorize the face of one you love. Looking back, I see how the author of Courage to Pray2 , was encouraging me that, as young as I was, I too was praying. It is best explained this way, by way of an old friend’s blog:
“There is a story told by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (of blessed memory) in his book, Living Prayer3, about an old Orthodox man who would sit in church for hours in front of the icon of Jesus without saying a word. When asked about this, the old man replied, “I look at Him, and He looks at me, and we are happy together.4

(1) More can be found about St. Xenia of Petersburg, including the following sources:,,,
(2) Anthony Bloom and Georges Lefebvre. Courage to Pray. Crestwood NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.
(3) Anthony Bloom. Living Prayer. Springfield IL: Templegate Publishing, 1974.
(4) Kimberly Francis. “Good old fashioned Quiet.” “January the Twentieth” Blogger, Friday, March 10, 2006. Accessed October 17, 2016.

This essay is posted today at Conciliar Post and is found here

Thursday, 8 September 2016

“Do not be afraid” ~ {While Experiencing the Abandonment of God}

(Image Credit is my own; the icon is St. Seraphim of Sarov praying for 1000 days and nights on
a rock in front of an icon of the Mother of God.)

I1 am nearing the end of a really beautiful book, called Dimitri’s Cross.Right now I am reading the letters he wrote his wife, Tamara, from his first place of imprisonment.  I already know, from reading this book, that he is later sent to Dora, a camp called the “Man-Eater” where Fr. Dimitri is forced to work in horrid, extreme conditions, ages quickly, becomes very ill and at the end, speaks of feeling the abandonment of God. The day after Fr. Dimitri speaks of feeling abandoned by God, he dies, with a man kind enough to move Fr. Dimitri’s hand to cross himself, right before taking his last breath. Fr Dimitri is now a Saint of the Orthodox Church, as he was in these camps because of his work to save Jews and others during the Nazi regime in Paris. He worked carefully with the monastic Mother Maria of Paris, who was arrested at the same time as Fr. Dimitri. Mother Maria is also a newly canonized Saint, dying in the gas chambers of the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, having taken another a woman’s place3.

Mother Teresa, after having very close, real, felt intimacy with God, suffered – for a long time – from God’s absence, experiencing a profound abandonment of God. Yet she radiated such joy and peace to others; it’s as if she was submerged in God so much that others received God’s light by being near to her, while she felt herself in darkness.

Elizabeth Goudge’s books also speak of this experience of God’s absence and even His abandonment. Goudge’s book The Dean’s Watch4is one. In this book, the root cause of the feeling of desolation, the experience of being forsaken by God, came in part from great grief and personal loss. This grief was coupled with the physical depletion of, Miss Montague, leading to extreme fatigue, what would be called “classic burnout” in today’s self-care/self-help milieu. I have found that this experience of feeling forsaken by God is often in relation to both deep personal loss and illness, as Elizabeth Goudge writes.

Elizabeth Goudge also speaks of what faith, in such moments, can look like. She describes, in The Middle Window, a man fighting in the highlands of Scotland, who nearly died before a kindly couple took him in, nursing him back to consciousness and health. He, having thought his life over, now had to come back to life, and realizes what troubled him most is his loss of faith. It is then that he realizes, “[f]lames may die down but nothing could rob one of the ashes” and that, perhaps, “he was, for the first time in his life, actually experiencing faith. This fighting with no certainty that there was anything to fight for, this going out into the night with no belief that dawn would ever come, was…the real thing…”(Goudge, 200-201)5.

In my later 20’s, while still studying at Trinity Western University, I lead a discipleship group (basically a Bible study organized by the student life leadership). It was a year after the death of a woman who was my first spiritual mother. When she died I felt like I had lost my Mother; the sun shining on campus was merely a violation of my suddenly shattered world. A year later, I felt that God had fallen silent, as if He had left me; His Word, which fed me daily, was empty as a bowl of dust. Yet, in God’s mercy, He gave me words about His silence via CS Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle… teaching me that all Christians can, will, or have gone through this. Thankfully the other leaders I served with were supportive and kind, helping me to lead while experiencing the unexpected silence of God. In time this silence passed, after creating within me room for new spiritual growth and directions.

Whether by God’s will, by physical illness and exhaustion, or by a challenging season in life, many do not sense God’s presence. They, who were once sustained by His Presence in difficult afflictions, can later be cut off from the same sense of His Presence, often when the situation gets even more difficult.

It is here that we must remember that God is everywhere present, filling all things6; and yet, at the same moment, is in relationship to us as a Person. And that God, in relationship to us, may choose to be silent7. We may need to learn something. Or we may need to have great courage and faith.  

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom8 writes of a woman who wrote him (she had cancer, was dying) that she was sustained by His Presence, but later only found God’s absence. She wrote to Metropolitan Anthony that her only prayer was to avoid fabricating a sense of God’s Presence when He choose to only give His absence. She had great courage and faith.

Did not Christ Himself cry out to God the Father in His experience of being forsaken while on the Cross? Courage comes when we remember that Christ’s cry of deep pain and abandonment is right before He dies. After He dies, Christ filled Hades with His light9, His Divinity, and on the third day, rose from the dead, resurrected, with a new body and hope for the entire world.  

All of this tells me to be persistent in prayer, to keep going even if I feel God’s absence or even the abandonment of God. It tells me not to give up hope, but to trust that God is still near; to remember God, to have courage and faith even when the battle appears lost. Lastly, it tells me: do not be afraid

(1) [Original material first published as]: Elizabeth Roosje. “Do Not Be Afraid”. Roosje: Little Rose, Blogger, August 08, 2016
(2) Klepinin-Arjakovsky, Helene. Dimitri’s Cross: The Life & Letters of St. Dimitri Klepinin, Martyred during the Holocaust. Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press Ministries, 2008.
(3) Mother Maria’s life is detailed in Dimitri’s Cross: The Life & Letters of St. Dimitri KlepininMartyred during the Holocaust. But there is, in English, an entire book on her life by Sergei Hackel: Pearl of Great Price: The Life of Mother Maria Skobtsova 1891-1945. Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982.
(4) Goudge, Elizabeth. The Dean’s Watch. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960.
(5) Goudge, Elizabeth. The Middle Window. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1935, 1971.
(6) This is part of the prayer to the Holy Spirit, found in the trisagion prayers, that can be seen here: 
(7) Metropolitan Anthony Bloom writes of this in his book, Courage to Pray and in other books he wrote on prayer. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s book on prayer, Prayer: Encounter with the Living God, also speaks of God as an encounter and that we are in relationship with God as a Person. Fr. Alexander Men’s Book, Inner Step Towards God, also speaks of prayer to God as an encounter.
(8) Bloom, Metropolitan Anthony, Lefebvre, George. Courage to Pray. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.
(9) For more on this, see Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s essay “Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent of Christ into Hades in Eastern and Western Theological Traditions” found here: and “Christ, The Medicine of Life: The Syriac Fathers on the Lord’s Descent Into Hell” by Irina Kukota, published in Road to Emmaus: A Journal of Orthdoox Faith and Culture. Vol. VI, No. 1 (#20), also found here:

This essay is also published on Conciliar Post today, September 8, 2016.  

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Perspective, Choices and What a Picture From 1904 Taught Me

2016-08-22 10.47.33
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.  
(2) This being taken from Psalm 56:3
(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: and here: 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: and
(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 Revised August 18, 2016.  Also published, in this form, at Conciliar Post:

Introduction to Jottings, Essays and Reflections ~ The View From Here

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.