Friday, May 29, 2009

Miraculous Healing in Our Parish

It was only in April of this year that a dear lady from our parish was diagnosed with brain cancer and given only a few months to live.  Such devastating news for not only the immediate family, but the entire church body who esteem her highly.  

I first learned about Mrs. H on our trip to Holy Cross Monastery, near the end of April when a moleben (muh LEH ben) was served to ask for the intercessory prayers of St. Panteleimon (the patron saint of Holy Cross)   for Mrs. H as well as other ill family members of our group.  

St. Panteleimon lived in the 4th century A.D. and was martyred under Emperor Maximian.  His name means all-merciful and is frequently invoked by those seeking his prayers to God for their health and healing.  St. Panteleimon had been trained and educated as a physician and spent his life with the suffering, the weak and those in prisons, praying for them and healing them in the name of Jesus Christ.  His gifts of healing became so well known in the Roman Empire that other physicians became jealous thus creating the catalyst for his martyrdom.

An akathist to Great Martyr-Healer Panteleimon begins:

“Chosen passion-bearer of Christ and gracious healer, who freely grantest healing to the sick, we praise thee in songs as our protector.  As thou hast boldness with the Lord, free us from all harm and sickness who cry with love to thee:

Rejoice, Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon!

Most Holy Saint and Martyr Panteleimon-the-Healer, intercede to the Most Merciful God for the healing of (names for the healing of his/her) in soul and body.

We know thee, glorious Panteleimon, as an earthly angel and a heavenly man.  For adorned with angelic purity and martyrdom thou hast passed from earth to Heaven, where with angels and all the saints standing before the throne of the Lord of Glory, thou prayest for all of us on earth who venerate thee with these invocations...”

Just as of yesterday, the 28th of May I learned of a miracle, through the intercessory prayers of St. Panteleimon to Christ our God, in the life of Mrs. H.  Upon visiting the Cleveland Clinic, her doctors were happy to report that there is no trace of cancer.  It is believed that she did suffer a mild stroke; a full recovery is expected.

Glory to God for all things.  Glory to Thee!

*Photo is a shrine to St. Panteleimon at Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, WV

PS.  Just in the short amount of time since I've posted this, Fr. Andrew, our assistant priest at St. George Cathedral,  has informed me of yet another miraculous cure of cancer in our parish!   Praise God!!  This is a quote from Fr. Andrew regarding this latest information:

"The smart medical people I've talked to tell me that the only way these could have been medical flukes or mistaken diagnoses would be for multiple doctors, labs, and high-tech medical machines to have been wrong multiple times in a row over the course of weeks and months."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Interview with Jean

I became acquainted with Jean through a mutual friend a few years ago.  Since that time, I've been blessed to know her better through church and am inspired by her faithfulness and humility.  May her story touch your life and renew the hope we have in Christ our Lord and Saviour, our Great Physician and Healer.  

In what faith or denomination were you raised?

 As a child I attended the Presbyterian Church with my parents and brother. While we were regularly attending and participating in the local church, I cannot say that we were living lives of faith in God. There was a disconnect between our local and domestic church experience. Apart from an occasional home meal prayer, I have no memory of any family or personal prayer time. Apart from being given a Bible when I was confirmed as a child, I don’t recall anyone in my family, including me reading one. Couple that with affluence and a seriously dysfunctional family situation, it was a recipe for personal disaster. I was grounded in little more than fear and pain. My teen and early college years were tumultuous.

      At a low point in my later college years, I developed a strong urge for something new to fill my voids and mend my heart. I was certain that I’d find it in the church. In the city where I was attending college, I began attending the Presbyterian Church to search for what I soon realized was God. During that time I met my future husband. He seemed to be a devout Roman Catholic Christian whose religious actions motivated me more in my search. I resisted his initial invitations to attend Mass, but as my affection for him grew, my resistance to attend lessened. I began attending Mass with him on a regular basis. When we decided to marry, it made sense to me to join the Catholic Church so as to be unified in our faith – especially when we considered raising children.

      When I joined the Roman Catholic Church, in 1988, I was certain that I’d discovered the one and true faith. I gravitated toward the legalistic indoctrination and religious practices. I soon found myself in groups of similarly minded people. I was determined to live my life as a devout Catholic. Unfortunately, I had developed a view of God from the same psychological perspective that I had with an abusive adult in my life. I was in a position for spiritual demise.

      Twelve years of a harmful marriage relationship, lack of a proper family support system, poor spiritual guidance from the church, an unhealthy view of God, ignorance of prayer and scripture and the stresses of being determined to love and raise my children in a Godly manner in my brokenness, were all taking its toll on me. I had managed a lifetime of masking my pain as I was dying on the inside. Exhausted with my life, I literally cried out to God in desperation. I knew that He existed and hoped that He would help me. My simple prayer became the point in time when a merciful, loving and compassionate God reached down from Heaven to pull me out of the pit that I was in.

      Instead of changing my difficult circumstances and the harmful people around me, God used the stress of my situations to keep me close to Him. The process of changing me from within had finally begun. For the past eight years I have made a daily conscious effort to yield myself to His will and grow in His grace. As a result of my commitment to Christ, many glorious and tragic things have occurred.

 The Lord has taken me on an unusual faith journey. There have been people from various Christian backgrounds that the Lord has used to teach and develop me as a Christian. I have learned to respect all of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I struggled to remain in the Catholic Church until September 2007, when it became unbearable for me to stay.

 How, or by whom, were you introduced to the Orthodox Church?

 My invitation to the Orthodox Church came numerous times during the year of 2007 from a dear friend and sister in the Lord. She and I met in 2001, when we both attended the Roman Catholic Church. She has been instrumental in my personal and spiritual development. She had recently been chrismated in the Orthodox Church and was urging me to attend Divine Liturgy with her, knowing well my frustrations with the Catholic Church. In September of 2007, I finally agreed to attend a Divine Liturgy service.

 What were your first impressions? What kept you coming to church?

What totally surprised me was the glorious realm of worship that I was able to enter into upon attending my first Divine Liturgy! After a few more Divine Liturgies, I was hooked. I was spiritually mature enough to know that if I was being fed the properly divided Word of God, could receive Holy Communion and was in an environment conducive to prayer and worshipping God, then that’s where I needed to be.

 What events led to your Chrismation? i.e., books you read, spiritual mentors, prayer, etc.

 Not long after I began attending the Orthodox Church, I made an appointment to speak with the pastor. I wanted to introduce myself to him, tell him a bit of my spiritual journey and let him know that I was prayerfully considering the Orthodox faith. Father told me that he would soon begin his classes to introduce people to the Orthodox faith, so I attended them.  Nearing the conclusion of those classes Father asked me if I would like to be Chrismated on December 21, 2007. My response was one of great joy –absolutely! I was longing to receive Holy Communion and knew I’d found my proper Christian home.       

      Given that reading the Bible is the most important reading that we as Christians can do, the best Orthodox book that I’ve ever purchased is the 2008 Orthodox Study Bible. It is a wonderful blend of scripture with some interpretation, as well as some Orthodox writings, teachings and icons throughout.

 Did you encounter any theological obstacles when you were a catechumen? If so, would you share how you overcame this hurdle?

 My introductions to the history and teachings of Orthodox Christianity (as well as the various Orthodox faith educational opportunities that have followed) have not created any obstacles for me. They have instead, removed some barriers created primarily by some misguided Roman Catholic teachings. As the Holy Spirit enlightens me, I gain greater liberty in Christ Jesus as a result.

 What new insights have you gained about yourself and your beliefs since coming home to the Ancient Faith?

 It seems as though during my brief Orthodox faith journey I have experienced greater spiritual clarity. I have been blessed by God with some Holy, mystical experiences during my past eight years in particular, that have not only heightened my awareness of the reality of a sovereign God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit along with His Holy Saints and Angels, but have also served to strengthen my resolve to love Him with all of my heart, mind and soul and to love my neighbor as myself.

      Apart from God’s mercy and grace, and some faithful friends, I would not be able to bear my personal tragedies that have landed me squarely in demonic battles. That may sound odd to some, but read Ephesians 6:12 - “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” This is a reality of our earthly lives – some of us more than others. Christ assures us that we will suffer persecutions as a result of following Him, but He also assures us that He will never leave nor forsake us in the process. I can attest to His faithfulness in every challenge that I have faced.

 I read your letter with great interest in the last church newsletter. Would you share your testimony of healing with us?

 In the midst of my most difficult circumstances is precisely where the Lord has chosen to do many works of healing, deliverance and salvation in my life. One such healing that I had believed God for manifested during the course of Lent with its completion at some point during Holy Week of 2008. (Lent and Holy Week are basically seven weeks of heightened spiritual preparation for Pascha/Easter.)

      As Lent began, I asked an Orthodox Church friend to pray that God would heal me of a specific illness. She was going to the church for the daily Holy Hour. She reported having prayed for me and also sought the intersession of Saint Raphael of Brooklyn as well. Following that, I felt strongly led of the Holy Spirit to attend each remaining Lenten Holy Hour (in addition to the other church services that I was attending) to pray before the Lord in church and that  in doing so I would be healed.

      Like the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5: 25-34) I had enough faith to believe that if I could just “touch the hem of His garment” I would be made well. My small act of obedience led to being totally healed of a lifelong, genetic illness that had required a daily medication. I keep the last prescription bottle as a reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

 What is a common misconception about the Orthodox Church that you would like to address?

 Something I found of interest during my initial classes of the Orthodox faith, was to learn that in the history of the Orthodox Christian Church, it wasn’t until the eleventh century when the Bishop of Rome (Western Church) separated himself from the other Bishops of the world (Eastern Church) to form what we now refer to as the Roman Catholic Church. The Church of the East is the Orthodox Church. Then, in the sixteenth century the fragmentation of the Roman Catholic/Western Church began with the Protestant Reformation. Only the Orthodox Church remains as the one, united church for the past two thousand years.

      Also, I think  a common misconception is that Orthodox Christians worship the Mother of God or other Saints of God. In my very basic way of  understanding, we are to live in communion with God and His Saints (“cloud of witnesses” – Hebrews 12:1). We venerate (not worship) the Saints. We seek to imitate their Holy lives and ask for their intercessory prayers. Most people would not hesitate to ask a friend to pray for them. How much more efficacious the prayers from the Holy Mother of God or another one of God’s beloved Saints who remain eternally in His presence? 

 What do you love most about the Church? Divine Liturgy in particular?

My practice of the Orthodox faith embodies all of what God has fashioned me to be as a Christian. The Church provides a healthy balance of community, through daily worship and service to others, as well as personal time with God in order that your soul (mind, will and emotions) and spirit might be fed. I am encouraged to live life fully in Christ Jesus without compromising the tenants of the faith. I find myself being continuously challenged to grow in my faith – encouraged to push myself beyond my place of comfort and move closer to God.

The Divine Liturgy is the highlight of the weekly services. It is where I can lay my cares and concerns on the strong shoulders of Christ Jesus. It is where I place my life and the life of my loved ones in the Father’s loving hands. It is a place where I repent of my sins and implore His mercy. It is a place of worship in the Holy Spirit where I am fed the Word of God in two ways – as scripture and as the precious body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. It is a place where time and time again, I consecrate my entire life unto Him

How do you share the treasures of the Ancient Faith with those you meet in day-to-day life?

My challenge is not just in loving God when I am alone with Him in prayer, reading His Word or in some other way in fellowship with Him. My greatest challenge is living every part of my life in such a manner that will bring God glory, honor and praise. It is in being faithful to God. It is in demonstrating my faith by serving others wherever God has positioned me. It is in giving to others whatever God has given to me. It is ultimately in seeking to lead others to Christ.

            On my desk, I keep “A Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi” card that many people are probably familiar with. I keep it as a reminder of how I should strive to live my life. I think it summarizes what I am trying to say. It goes as follows: 

 "O Lord, Make me an instrument of your peace;  Where there is hatred, let me sow love;  When there is injury, pardon;  Where there is doubt, faith;  where there is despair, hope;  Where there is darkness, light;  And where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;  To be understood, as to understand, To be loved as to love;  For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

*Picture above is an icon of the Theotokos, a Greek term for the Virgin Mary meaning "God-Bearer".  Jean wished to honor the Theotokos, who is a close mother and intercessor for her.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Peaceful Retreat at Holy Cross

At the end of April, I visited Holy Cross Monastery with over 30 of my fellow parishioners from St. George Orthodox Cathedral.  The trip was organized by our Young Adult Fellowship and led by Fr. Andrew Damick. 

We spent the better part of a sunny Saturday touring the monastery grounds, listening to Fr. Seraphim speak on spiritual topics, participating in a moleben where our suffering loved ones were brought before the Lord in prayer, and visiting the Monastery Gift Shop.   

We also enjoyed a delicious lunch with the monks, in silence, as is their custom, while another monk read a spiritual book aloud.   Fr. Segius, who graciously led the tour, showed us the bell tower, the chapel where we learned about their patron saint, St. Panteleimon, the room where incense is rolled by hand in the traditional Athonite style, and he pointed out the small cells that dotted the landscape where the monastics live.   

As we made our way over to the beautiful outdoor chapel, Fr. Sergius spoke to us about the monastic life, their daily routine and answered various questions from our group.   The weather could not have been more agreeable, with plenty of sunshine and gentle breezes to animate the flowering dogwoods. 

Fr. Seraphim, the Abbot of Holy Cross, is such a warm and welcoming host.  His face radiates with kindness and wisdom is in his eyes.  He spoke to us about nourishing our spiritual life and used the verse from Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock.   If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me."  to illustrate the fact that God is always present seeking us. 

It was heartwarming to listen to Fr. Seraphim recount the early days of the monastery’s move to rural West Virginia from Missouri in 2000.  He shared some humorous anecdotes from this mostly Baptist community curious about their new Russian Orthodox neighbors.  He also talked about the kind deeds of these same neighbors who, after becoming acquainted with and embracing the hermitage,  have helped wayward pilgrims to find the route to the monastery.   

At the end of our visit, Fr. Seraphim spoke with us again regarding our prayer life.  He shared with us a quote that I will paraphrase from one of the Church Fathers;  ‘If you pray and doubt God hears you or that He will answer your prayers, you aren’t really a Christian.’   Those are strong words which gave me pause to consider my own thoughts on the power of prayer.  He encouraged us to make a daily habit of prayer, even if it is just saying the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  before we begin our day.  

 I was thankful to have the time to linger at the close of our retreat.  I walked the grounds, visiting the goat herd, taking photos and soaking up the serenity.  I very much look forward to my next visit.  

Saturday, May 2, 2009

God Grew Tired of Us

I’m loving Netflix. I signed up a few weeks ago and really enjoy the opportunity to watch films that are not readily available at BlockBuster or the public library. Last week we watched God Grew Tired Of Us, a documentary that won both the Grand Jury Prize Award and also the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

The story documents the atrocities of the bloody civil war in Sudan and the subsequent escape of over 20,000 boys (most under the age of 15), dubbed “The Lost Boys” to a refugee camp in Africa. Their barefoot journey across desert land into Kenya is nothing short of miraculous and to witness the camaraderie among survivors, inspirational.  

The story follows a few of the Lost Boys who are welcomed into America to re-settle; some seek a college education and others work various jobs to send money back to the camps to help their struggling friends. Observing America from ones who are new to electricity, running water and supermarkets, let alone airplanes, cell phones, t.v. and all the glitz of the USA, was endearing ..and, at times, insightful into our own cultural failings.

I watched this with my husband and our son and we all gained something from it. With the spotlight on what has happened in Sudan, and the themes of perseverance, love and resiliency, this is a documentary to watch more than once. It’s rated PG for thematic elements and some disturbing images although I would recommend it
especially for young people who, if anything like our own children, would benefit greatly by learning of realities outside their comfortable lives. 

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