Bookstore

St. Mary’s Bookstore is a resource for people of all ages and stages in life to help them know, grow, and be inspired in the Christian Orthodox Church. With an extensive selection of books and a large selection of icons, the bookstore has much to offer. Newly remodeled, the bookstore is well organized to help you readily find a book you are interested in or to allow you to have a leisurely browse at your own pace. For those who want to make a brief visit, there is a “New and Noteworthy” display. The children’s section is organized to be browser friendly for children—and adults.

A few of the many categories of books are:

The Orthodox Church, Orthodoxy Living, Orthodoxy Bibles, Prayer Books, Liturgy, The Liturgical Year, Monasticism, Patristics, Elders, Saints, Marriage, Parenting, Children, Family Life, Iconography,  and Cookbooks.

Father Anthony Coniaris of blessed memory, so beloved and appreciated by the people of St. Mary’s for his many years—72!—of ministry here, was a prolific writer (estimates are that he wrote about 80 books). The bookstore carries all Father Anthony’s books that are currently in print and available.

The bookstore has a good selection of prayer ropes from Mount Athos and many made by Jon Klein, the youth director at St. Mary’s; cards for all occasions (some created by talented parishioners); incense burners made by Doria Saros, the ministry support person St. Mary’s; jewelry with icons made by a parishioner; bookmarks; icon magnets; and more. The St. Mary’s Philoptochos cookbook titled Come Sit at Our Table: A Celebration of Food and a CD of St. Mary’s choir titled Lead Me on a Level Path: A Liturgical Celebration are available in the bookstore.

Whether you are looking for information or inspiration for your faith journey, please come visit St. Mary’s bookstore. Open each Sunday after the Liturgy, we are here for you. We welcome inquiries and special orders. Please email [email protected].

Credits cards accepted. Gift certificates are available.

Please check back each month for a new “In the Bookstore” article featuring a book or other item(s) in the bookstore.

Click below to open book reviews!
September 2022 - The Spiritual Roots of the Ecological Crisis

 

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]

The Spiritual Roots of the Ecological Crisis by Jean-Claude Larchet focuses on the vital importance of the environment and the crisis of climate change.

Rooting concerns for creation in the historical understanding of the relationship of humans and the natural world, Larchet write in his introduction:

The Orthodox Church can bring to the present crisis the principles which should guide the thought and action of all those who seek to save nature. They are drawn from a long tradition of thought, theological, cosmological, and anthropological on the value of creation and how mankind should relate to it, reinforced by her liturgical and spiritual practice. (3)

There are four sections in this brief 102 page text: “How It Was in the Beginning: Man’s Original Relationship with Nature,” “The Sin of Mankind and Its Ecological Consequences,” “How Did We Reach the Present Situation?,” and “Restoring the Relationship of Man with Nature.” Even with the brevity of the book, Larchet includes spacious quotes from the Church Fathers and contemporary Saints. Succinct and directional, he begins with creation in the first chapter of Genesis with creation being “an expression of the love, greatness, wisdom, and beauty of the Creator.” (12)

Larchet points out: “The ideal relationship between man and God is eucharistic: man should return to God with thanksgiving what God has given him.” (33)

The world is not given to man as a mine of resources to be exploited, but rather as a house of which he is the tenant, and which he should maintain…“like a good head of his household. The rent to be paid to God is thanksgiving for all he has received.

…Man should not be seen so much as a master, but as the servant of the Master…a steward of the Master’s goods. (17)

Tracing how mankind’s thinking has evolved as a result of the popularity of certain philosophies leading more and more away from God and more and more toward focusing on the individual (me-ism might be an apt term for this), Larchet shows how this has resulted in the ever growing abuse of nature for personal benefit and convenience at the expense of others and the world. Egotism, greed, and covetousness have led mankind into the ecological crisis we are in. Demonstrating how social, political, and economic remedies in favor of ecology will help because the current crisis is very much bound up in our political and economic systems, he then notes:

Whatever the value of these social initiatives and ecological gestures, they can only provide partial and provisional solutions. It is clear that the ecological crisis has deep roots and can only be completely solved by equally deep spiritual remedies which address its root causes. (77)

Essential to a deep spiritual remedy is awareness of the restoration of man by Christ, together with man’s collaboration with Christ, prayer, and repentance. “What is needed is that everyone should become an ascetic in the strict meaning of the term, which implies effort, renunciation, and privation based on temperance and sacrifice.” (85)

Patriarch Bartholomew is quoted:

When we sacrifice our life and share our riches, we gain life in abundance and enrich the whole world. This is the experience of humanity throughout the ages: kenosis means plerosis: a voluntary emptying leads to fulfilment. We should apply this in our actions to save the environment. There can be no salvation for the world or hope of a better future without the dimension of sacrifice which we lack. Without a costly and determined sacrifice we can never act as the priests of creation to reverse the spiral of environmental destruction. (86-87)

Larchet concludes:

The love of God is the true foundation for love of nature, but it is also true that a pure and innocent love of creatures can lead us to love God….In the end we must change our attitude to nature, no longer to see it as an object of prey, exploitation, or selfish pleasure, but as a Eucharist. (94-95)

The Cross is the key. Christian life should be eucharistic.

August 2022 - For Mind and Heart: St. Nektarios as Teacher

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]

Saint Nektarios (1846-1920) put great value in education—both sacred and secular. For Mind and Heart: St. Nektarios as Teacher is a collection of texts chosen and translated by Rev. Dr. John Palmer. In his Preface, Palmer writes:

Of the texts included in the present collection, half are sermons or orations, while the remaining texts…are penned in such a way as to both instruct and spiritually move the reader. Consequently, this corpus affords us an opportunity to observe St. Nektarios as a pedagogue in action. (XXII)

The texts are presented in an order that builds and develops. In “On the Feast of the Three Hierarchs,” St. Nektarios emphasizes that St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom each had sacred and secular educations. Their mothers Emmelia, Nonna, and Anthusa (respectively) gave their sons a strong upbringing in the faith, so much so that they were confident their sons would not lose their faith when they sent them off for secular education. With this, St. Nektarios stresses the importance of mothers in raising children. In the next text, titled “Motherhood and the Raising of Children,” he writes:

Nature has appointed parents, especially mothers, to be the teachers of this age [infancy and childhood]…to suitably educate and carefully form children: it is they who serve as images and patterns, of which their children become copies in continuation. A child imitates either the virtues or the shortcoming of his mother, her voice and manner, her ethos and behavior….It is the mother who most properly plants the first idea of God in the child’s heart. (16,17)

In “The Calling of Youth in Society” and “On Exercise,” St. Nektarios turns his attention to young men and the vital importance of a well rounded upbringing for them with both a sacred and secular education working together with physical exercise to build strength of character. Explaining the importance of wisdom, piety, justice, truth, and knowledge, he stresses, “It is…an obligation above every other that we should know ourselves in order to become virtuous, while, conversely, our ignorance of this results in a myriad of sins.” (38)

St. Nektarios quotes Greek philosophers in many of his texts in this book and elsewhere. In “Concerning Greek Philosophy As a Guide Leading to Christianity,” he, steeped in the writing of St. Clement of Alexandria on philosophy, explains, “Greek Philosophy taught about God’s providential care for humanity and became humanity’s pedagogue, leading it to Christ through its sound ideas.” (54) St. Nektarios also carefully points out its deficiency and insufficiency “when it comes to the great work of mankind’s illumination and reformation.” (68)

Man sought divine revelation so as that he might learn the truth, be certain, be convinced; it stood in need of a divine reformer. Philosophy was wanting in both these regards. Man found these in Christianity, however, which Greek Philosophy led it to. This is my humble opinion concerning these matters. (68)

The concluding text in this book is “The Necessary Attributes of a Spiritual Shepherd,” which is a section of St. Nektarios’ Pastoral Handbook. Written in a question and answer format, he highlights the importance of spiritual shepherds (priests and bishops) having a broad and extensive education and formation.

For Mind and Heart: St. Nektarios As Teacher offers guidance and encouragement to parents and all who teach, whether formally or informally. Keeping in mind we all teach, whether intentionally or not, by our words and our actions—and our very being, this book roots the reader in awareness of this calling and responsibility. David Brooks wrote in his book The Second Mountain, “The educated life is a journey toward higher and high love.” (201) This aptly applies to St. Nektarios and all who read him with sincere openness and the desire to learn.

June 2022 - Prayers by the Lake

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]

For Saint Nikolai of Ohrid, a.k.a. Saint Nikolai Velimirovic (1880-1956), Lake Ohrid was a beautiful place. While at Lake Ohrid in 1921-1922, he wrote prayers that were soon published as Prayers by the Lake. A modern spiritual classic, this book has been hard to find for several years until it was recently republished.

In 1919, Saint Nikolai was consecrated Bishop of Zica in the Church of Serbia, and in 1920 he was posted to the Ohrid archbishopric in Macedonia. Reading the prayers in this book it is evident that time at Lake Ohrid was clarifying, focusing, and life giving for him. One could say that Lake Ohrid was a thin place for Saint Nikolai, meaning that the veil between heaven and earth was transparent for him when he was at this lake. The prayers he wrote clearly reflect this. He saw elements of nature to be teachers pointing to divine realities. In his introduction for the first edition of this book in 1922, Saint Justin Popovic wrote about Saint Nicolai:

He thinks through prayer, he philosophizes through prayer. One senses that the luminous souls of the great Orthodox ascetics…are speaking through him. Through prayer he senses God, and through prayer he senses all creation. He is in a prayerful relationship with everything. (11)

For example, mountains and the foam on the lake—

The walls that stand between you and truth and loom up before you like colossal mountains, which you have been trying to cross by running to the point of exhaustion, are your own creation and are more fragile than the white foam on the lake. If only you could open your eyes wide enough not to see them. Truly, the existence of these walls depends upon your seeing them. If you did not wish to see them, they would not exist. (124-125)

Sebastian Press has published a beautiful new edition of Prayers by the Lake, edited and with illustrations by Bishop Maxim Vasiljevic. Todor Mika and Stevan Scott translated the text with great respect for Saint Nikolai’s poetic thinking and writing. The book design and printing were done in Serbia—a fitting tribute to a beloved Serbian Archbishop and Saint—with remarkable attention to detail, including a sewn binding for long use, a subtle wave pattern in the background on each page, and three photos of Lake Ohrid—two of which feature Saint Nikolai on the lake.

Whether you are walking around Bde Maka Ska or spending time at a cabin on a lake—wherever your beautiful place is—Prayers by the Lake is a companion to elevate your journey and provide a lens through which to see in the natural world around you signs of God in His grace.

July 2022 - The Sunflower: Conforming the Will of Man to the Will of God

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]

The Sunflower: Conforming the Will of Man to the Will of God could be described as a practical manual for living life in Christ. It could also be described as a commentary on Romans 8:28–“…God makes everything work together for good….” This book was written by Saint John Maximovitch (1651-1715), Metropolitan of Tobolsk and all Siberia, who is known more commonly as the namesake and ancestor of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco.

Using the metaphor of the sunflower, Saint John writes:

The sunflower is a flower that constantly turns to the sun—morning, noon, and evening—not only during sunny days but also even during cloudy ones. The will of man should emulate the nature of this flower and turn to God and His divine will every hour, not only in the bright days of life but also during the dark, difficult days. The holiness of a person’s life, according to a certain wise theologian, is the constant striving toward perfection for the duration of life, the gathering of all possible virtues together with God’s will. Whatever is pleasing to God, let it be pleasing to you, O Christian. (146)

Divided into five parts with many chapters in each part, The Sunflower is a clarifying companion for seeking, knowing, and accepting the will of God. For example, in Part One the chapters are “Discerning the Will of God and Conforming to It,” “Why does God Allow Evil?,” “How to Recognize God’s Will in His Inscrutable Judgments,” “How to Determine God’s Will in All Events and Actions,” and “How God’s Will Is Revealed in Jesus Christ, and How We Can Conform Ourselves to It.” Saint John repeatedly emphasizes the inscrutability of God’s will and the importance of accepting God’s will no matter whether we understand it or not. One reminder the reader will find repeated in many iterations throughout the book is that God’s perspective is not necessarily ours, and it is human pride that would think otherwise.
Saint John explains and encourages:

The only true means to acquire happiness in this life and the next is to constantly direct our attention within—to our conscience, thoughts, words, and deeds—and to weigh these things without partiality. This will reveal to us the depths of our delusion in life and will show us the only path to salvation. This path is the complete commitment of our being, together with all the circumstances of our individual life, to the will of God. Let the sunflower be our preferred symbol of this turning toward God. Let us keep the image of the sunflower always in our mind. (62)

In this season of summer when we see sunflowers blooming and in all seasons let us remember the example of the sunflower and pray: “As it pleases God, let it also please me.” (63)
It is thanks to Mother Macrina that copies of The Sunflower: Conforming the Will of Man to the Will of God are available in the bookstore. She has recommended this book to many people because of its vital importance. Anyone who reads it will understand why.

 

 

May 2022 - The Ladder of the Beatitudes

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]
Following in the footsteps of Saint John Climacus and his book The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Jim Forest (1941-2022–memory eternal!) wrote The Ladder of the Beatitudes. To help understand, appreciate, and live the Beatitudes, Forest uses the metaphor of a ladder to describe the connection between each beatitude—much like St. John’s metaphor of a ladder for the virtues that is climbed step by step:

There are eight beatitudes, if we recognize the last two verses as one, as both describe the suffering often imposed upon those who live the gospel: eight facets of discipleship. Yet in another sense, there is only one beatitude, because all are aspects of life in communion with God. Each of the eight describes aspects of being in the Kingdom of God.
They are like rungs on a ladder, which Christ has arranged in an exact order. There is a pattern to his arrangement. Each step builds on the foundation of the previous step, each leads to the next, and each is indispensable. We can’t divide them up, retaining those we find appealing and leaving those we don’t care for to others, as if one could specialize: “I’ll take peacemaking, you can have purity of heart.” (1-2)

After providing introductory information on the Beatitudes, including a chapter on the history and meaning of the word “blessed,” Forest proceeds with two chapters for each beatitude, one for the first half beginning “Blessed are…” and the second for the part of the beatitude beginning “for…”. For each beatitude he gives the history and definition of key words, followed by an in-depth explanation and invitation into the beatitude.
For anyone who has wanted to spend more time exploring the connections between the Beatitudes in an accessible, applicable manner, this book is a clear companion. Forest makes a point to show examples of how the beatitude can be lived and expressed in daily life:

Poverty of spirit is inseparable from mourning. Without poverty of spirit, I am always on guard to keep what I have for myself, and to keep me for myself. An immediate consequence of poverty of spirit is becoming sensitive to the pain and losses of people around me, not only those I happen to know and care for, but also people I don’t know and don’t want to know. To the extent that I open my heart to others, I will do whatever I can to help—pray, share what I have, even share myself. (38)

Step by step, beatitude by beatitude, Forest guides the reader, walking with them as a companion pointing the way into the love of God and living in His grace. He explains:

Each of the beatitudes has to do with dying to self….

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness requires dying to self in the daily struggle to overcome in oneself and in society all those things that keep us apart from God and from each other, everything that destroys communion and community.
Being merciful is a surrender to God, another dying to self. It is not my own personal mercy I have to offer, only God’s mercy passing through my life—if only I will get out of the way.
A pure heart is unobtainable except through death to self. The only thing that makes a heart pure is God’s presence in the heart.
Peacemaking is also a death to self. There is no peace without risk to the self in trying to safeguard the legitimate needs of others, whether friends or enemies….
Accepting persecution as a blessing is the final act of death to self—a poverty of spirit that allows us to cope with condemnation and rejection without bitterness and hatred.
It is all these surrenderings of self to God, most often in very tiny actions invisible to others, that make up the ladder of the beatitudes. (146, 148)

In closing, Forest’s final words of encouragement in The Ladder of the Beatitudes sum up the great blessing of a closer study of the Beatitudes:

Those who climb the ladder of the beatitudes are in the best of company: the prophets, the martyrs, and the saints—the great cloud of witnesses. (158)

April 2022 - The Face of Light: St. Sophrony’s Icons of Christ

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]
Many Saints have written the word—Word—of God as revealed to them. Other Saints have written icons so we can see the Word of God. Saint Sophrony is one of the few Saints who did both. In The Face of Light: St. Sophrony’s Icons of Christ by Sister Gabriela, we see this Saint’s journey into and in the light of Christ through his writing and his icons. Sister Gabriela is uniquely qualified to write this book. On Saint Sophrony’s recommendation, she studied iconography before joining the monastery he founded—the Stravropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, England. Sister Gabriela has written several books about what she has learned from her experiences assisting Saint Sophrony with many of the artistic projects he did in his later life. She writes as a disciple with tremendous respect and appreciation for Saint Sophrony, his writings, his iconography, and his journey in Christ.

In her introduction Sister Gabriela writes:

The purpose of this book is to present the icons St. Sophrony created in his search to depict the face of Christ. It was my hope to allow the icons and murals to speak for themselves. However, since our modern minds are accustomed to fast and ever-changing visual imagery, I have added quotes from St. Sophrony’s writings in order to encourage the reader to pause and have a fuller experience viewing the Presence of the images. (7)

She then includes an essay titled “The Face of Light: St. Sophrony’s Icons of Christ” in which she explains:

Christ was the center of St Sophrony’s life. He experienced the Uncreated Light as a child, and yet in adolescence fell away from the true faith turning toward the darkness of non-being. But Christ sought him out, penetrating the darkness with a thin ray of light in which St. Sophrony recognized his Creator. From then on, for the rest of his life, with ardent prayer of repentance, St. Sophrony sought to come ever nearer to Christ Who hearkened to his prayer and, once again, gave him the grace of beholding the uncreated Light as well as the rare gift of prayer when Christ Himself would pray within him….

Towards the end of St. Sophrony’s long life, he wrote his spiritual biography as well as other books describing his inner journey in order to share his experiences for the benefit of others. And yet, there is a threshold where words are not adequate, and this is where painting can take over. An icon can express more than a million words. St. Sophrony painted several icons of Christ. He spent many hours in diligent search to find the right glance, the right expression of light and humility and softness, but also the right expression of Divine strength, of the otherworldly eternal in human form. However, he was never fully satisfied with the result. He observed that at most it is only possible to capture a small fraction of Christ and His icons are like springboards: we see that the icon represents Him and our mind shoots up much higher, beyond the icon, towards our Creator. (9-10)

Sister Gabriela has formatted this book so that we see Saint Sophrony’s drawings and icons of Christ together with selected quotes, allowing the reader to enter into the Word revealed. She also includes “Some reflections on Christ, by St. Sophrony.” At the back of the book she has “Quote references and comments on the illustrations.” This section helps the reader understand and appreciate Saint Sophrony’s process. The Face of Light: St. Sophrony’s Icons of Christ is a beautiful, grace-filled guide, companion, and enduring inspiration—especially so as we journey to Pascha in the Light of Christ.

March 2022 - Sin and Salvation: An Orthodox Understanding of Redemption

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]

Sin and Salvation: An Orthodox Understanding of Redemption is the most recent book by Dr. Harry Boosalis, published late last year by Saint Tikhon’s Monastery Press. Dr. Boosalis wrote this book using materials he originally prepared for an introductory class for seminarians he taught at St. Tikhon’s Monastery. With three overarching chapters titled “An Orthodox View of Sin,” “Redemption and Reconciliation,” and “Divine Grace and Human Freedom,” he offers readers the opportunity to grow in understanding and appreciation of many core beliefs and perspectives of and in the Orthodox Church. For example, in writing about salvation he explains:

The Orthodox experience of salvation is unique. It sets the Orthodox Church apart from every Christian denomination in the world….In the Orthodox Church, salvation ultimately leads to personal experience of Christ’s all-inclusive love and heartfelt prayer for the salvation of all mankind. Characteristic of salvation in Christ is the desire for the salvation of each and every human person. (1-2)
Salvation is spiritual therapy. Salvation is the healing and purification of our human nature in Christ and through Christ. This therapeutic renewal comes about through our personal participation in the ascetical, liturgical and sacramental life of Christ’s Holy Body—His holy Church.
Salvation is a process, a “passover” from death to life, a passage from darkness to light; salvation is Pascha. Salvation is a new attitude—a new worldview. Salvation is acquiring the mind of Christ: “But we have the mind (νους) of Christ,” teaches the Apostle Paul. Salvation is repentance (μετανοια), which means literally: decisively and resolutely changing or altering (μετα) your mind (νους)—that is to say, changing the way you think.
We must always bear in mind, there is no theological definition that fully describes the depth of our experience of salvation in Christ. (4)

Dr. Boosalis then explores and explains “some basic concepts and terms that are fundamental to further discussion.” (5) This he does using Scripture, patristic writings, and writings from contemporary Saints and elders and other authors. In addition, he clarifies how and why the Orthodox view of sin and salvation and predestination differ from the views other traditions have on these subjects. For example:

In Orthodox theology, the concept of sin is not focused on the breaking of a rule or regulation. Rather sin is seen as a spiritual sickness, which separates us from God’s grace and glory—that is, from His kingdom. Sin is a sickness that requires spiritual therapy.
Sin separates us from God and from each other. It not only ruptures our relationship with other people; sin also separates us from our own true selves. We sin when we make wrong choices that lead to our separation from God’s likeness….
From an Orthodox view, our own personal sins have cosmic significance. Our own personal sin—our own individual self-inflicted separation from God—affects all mankind. Indeed we all make our own personal contribution to the universal sin, suffering, and general disfunction that engulfs our world today. Our own individual sins and misguided choices have cosmic ramifications. (13-14)

Whether you are looking to personally understand more about sin and salvation and other key concepts in the Orthodox tradition or to be more informed in order to dialog with people of other traditions, Sin and Salvation: An Orthodox Understanding of Redemption is a great resource concisely written in 69 pages.

To hear more from Dr. Boosalis exploring the Orthodox spiritual life in conversation with Paul Karos, please listen to their podcast Person to Person.

February 2022 - "When You Fast"

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]

L. Joseph Letendre has written a brief, succinct, edifying, and sometimes humorous book titled When You Fast: The Why and How of Christian Self-Discipline. In the introduction, aptly titled “Coming to Terms with Fasting,” Letendre defines the term, locates it in the biblical context, addresses the “rules,” and concludes:

Fasting is eminently practical—in the literal sense: it is something you put into practice, something you do. Putting this Christian discipline into practice in twenty-first–century North America presents its own set of difficulties. This book will attempt to face some of these difficulties while showing the continuing relevance and importance of practicing both fasting and other forms of Christian self-discipline. (11)

The author divides the book into two parts, first addressing why we fast followed by how we fast. We fast because of Christ and the Church.

Fasting, together with other forms of self-denial we will consider…, is a crucial component in the work of taking up our cross. But the question remains, Why? There are (at least) three reasons: We fast to prepare. We fast to be free. We fast to be fruitful. (17)

The reader is invited to fast with the Church and choose one’s weapons, by which he means:

There’s more to fasting than fasting. The word “fasting” is shorthand for the entire range of disciplines Christians have undertaken for centuries. For the Church, these are the tools, or more accurately, the weapons we use in our largely unseen warfare against the kingdom of Satan, the kingdoms of this world, and the kingdom of self….Along with fasting, the disciplines of abstinence include solitude and silence, self-restraint through frugality and chastity, and sacrifice—all performed in secrecy. These disciplines are the equipment we have been issued by the Church for our spiritual struggle. They are provided to help us build a life that is of service to our neighbors and pleasing to God. These disciplines are our weapons in our resistance campaign against the three enemies of grace—the age in which we live (the world), our own fallen human nature (the flesh), and the one who wields these against us (the devil). The Church calls the proper and effective use of these weapons asceticism….The word “asceticism” is rooted in the Greek word ascesis, which means “exercise, training.” (39, 41-42)

Letendre starts this ascetical exercise with fasting from food, learning and growing in the concept of denying oneself. He writes:

Asceticism is goal-oriented. Fasting, and all the other Christian disciplines, are tools…for specific purposes….Asceticism is intended to increase our capacity to love God and our neighbor….The whole point of Christian asceticism is to increase our capacity to obey Christ. (49, 62)

From fasting from food the author moves on to fasting from talking and the vital importance of cultivating silence —interior, exterior, and in one’s environment. After providing clear evidence for the importance of silence and guidance for clearing one’s mind of toxic thoughts and thinking, Letendre concludes with an appendix titled “A Field Guide to Toxic Thoughts” which is a clarion call to any reader who has been really listening while reading When You Fast: The Why and How of Christian Self-Discipline.

“We fast because we are loved, and we fast to be better able to love.” (89)

January 2022 - "At the Doors of Holy Lent" is a great guide and companion...

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]
At the Doors of Holy Lent is a great guide and companion for entering into the liturgical season of Great Lent. Written by Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou of the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England, this book focuses on the five Sundays preparing for the Triodion and the four Sundays of the  Triodion. In addition there is a section titled “Constant Principles for Our Spiritual Warfare.” The Introductory Note explains:

“During the period before the Triodion and the Sundays which mark its beginning, the Church sets forth before our eyes various lessons through the Gospel readings: the grateful Leper, the Blind Man of Jericho, Zacchaeus, the good and faithful Servant of the ‘talents’, the Canaanite woman, the Publican, the Prodigal Son and the Righteous on Judgment Day. Through some word, or deed, or attitude, these people all attracted God’s gaze upon them. They became the target of his visitation and traversed centuries in an instant. These suffering souls, who had withered away either because of sin or because of not knowing the true God, came into the presence of the Lord and ‘a spiritual sun, the name of which is persona, began to rise in them.

…In this way, the Church guides us, knowing the struggle which we are encouraged to undertake in order to find our deep heart, so that we may also become persons in the sight of our Creator and Judge, the targets of His visitation.

…The path is trodden. The constant principles are laid out with clarity, and we must keep them in our  conscience as our polar star, as pearls of great price. We must embrace them so that they may render our labour fruitful not only during Great Lent, but also throughout our lives. (11-12)”

Reading what Father Zacharias writes about the Gospel readings for each Sunday, we are sitting at the feet of a wise spiritual guide and elder inviting us to hear, know, and grow in this word of God. Father Zacharias writes:

“In every passage of the Gospel we find a perfect teaching that portrays the whole Christ. He is hidden in every verse of Scripture, but according to the Fathers, in order to discover Him, we need to ‘use the virtues of our hands to knock on the door of Scripture’.” (52)

Reading At the Doors of Holy Lent we are knocking at the door of Scripture and Father Zacharias leads us through the doors with God-given wisdom and grace.

Note: The Sunday of the Ten Lepers, the first Sunday written about in this book, is on January 16, 2022.

December 2021 - Bookstore Treasures

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]
The bookstore at St. Mary’s is a great source for truly meaningful gifts in all seasons, but especially for  Christmas. Now is a good time to visit the newly remodeled and conveniently organized bookstore to select gifts that nourish the spirit. For people stopping in for a quick browse, there are featured item displays  including a “New and Noteworthy” section. You will find a large selection of icons and books and other gift  ideas from which to choose. Gift certificates are also available.

During this season of grace, there are many icons of the Nativity and books available to enrich the Advent journey. Christmas ornaments and micro icons (1”-1  ½” in size) are popular gifts for friends and family.

With an abundance of books to choose from, two to highlight are
101 Orthodox Saints by Presvytera Sarah Wright and Alexandra Schmalzbach, with illustrations by Nicholas Malara. This is a great book for people of all ages, even though the book is featured for children.
Timeless Wisdom: Frescoes from the Community of St. John the Baptist (Essex, England). This beautiful book is filled with icons of Saints and meaningful passages for prayerful meditation. In the introduction explaining this book, the community writes: “Saints were selected based on their ascetic writings, and each carries a scroll presenting their words on the general theme of “brotherly love.” In the case of women monastics whose writings have not come down to us, their scrolls contain some representative aspect of their lives.” (6)

If you are looking for a gift to be enjoyed around the house or in a dorm room, the bookstore has branched out and brought in some new items with designs by Orthodox Christian artist Aaron Gray, including mugs and framed canvas prints. The mugs feature Saints with their powerful words of inspiration. They are  microwaveable, dishwasher safe, and available in 11 oz. and 15 oz. sizes. The canvas prints feature words of faith and encouragement. They measure 8”x 8” x 1 ½” so they can be featured on a table or desk top—or be hung on a wall. Aaron explains that all his creations are “made with the prayer that [they] will bring the spirit, beauty and joy of the Orthodox Church out into the world and into the everyday lives of Orthodox Christians.”

For parents and grandparents looking for a child’s gift that can last for generations, we are delighted to offer hand-carved Orthodox Churches made of building blocks. We are grateful to Presvytera Alexandra for introducing us to Alex Goncharov, who lives in Canada and carves the churches from Canadian Red Western Cedar and Olive Wood harvested in Bethlehem. His labor of love began as a way to teach his daughter about Orthodoxy and all the parts of the Church. He makes two churches a week, at night, after his day work. If you are interested in one of these sets, please come to the bookstore or email: [email protected]

This is simply a sampling of the gift ideas in the bookstore. Come and see!

November 2021 - "On Fasting and Feasts" by Saint Basil the Great

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]
On Fasting and Feasts by Saint Basil the Great is a fitting book for the liturgical season of the Nativity Fast  when the focus for Orthodox Christians leading to the Nativity of Christ is on fasting while for many—Christians in other traditions and others in the world—this is a season of feasting. Susan R. Holman and Mark  elCogliano (a professor at the University of St. Thomas) have translated nine sermons by Saint Basil, all  relevant to fasting and feasting and the liturgical year—including “On the Holy Birth of Christ,” “On Baptism,”  “On Giving Thanks,” “Against Drunkards,” two sermons on fasting, and three sermons on martyrs. Dr.  Holman’s helpful introduction provides the reader with background and context to enrich understanding and appreciation of the sermons, each of which has a distinctive character.

The purpose and message Saint Basil  had in mind and heart are clearly tailored to his audience. At the same time, there is a universal relevance to his  messages that transcends the specific context in which each sermon was originally given to address the  human condition in general.

Saint Basil’s sermons were sometimes catechism classes given in the form of a sermon. On occasion, they rose to liturgical praise, as in his sermon “On the Holy Birth of Christ,” when he says:
“Let us…welcome this great joy into our hearts. The angels bring good news of this joy to the shepherds. Let us adore with the magi. Let us glorify with the shepherds. Let us sing with the choirs of angels: For to you is born today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has shone upon us….It is the feast in which all creation shares.” (38-39)

Saint Basil was—and is—a perceptive guide and astute teacher. He was also direct in his assessments and  admonitions. For example, in his sermon “On Baptism,” urging his listeners to be baptized, he says:
“Look inward, to the secret depths of your own soul. Take inventory of your conscience. Do not despair if you find you have many sins, for where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, if, that is, you receive grace. Much is forgiven the one who owes much—so he might love more.” (46)

He warns of the evil one who tries to trick one into thinking and saying, “Today for me; tomorrow for God.” (50) Then he urges his listeners, “Take instruction; learn the Gospel rules….Be dead to sin. Be crucified with Christ, your whole heart in love with the  Lord.” (51)

Fasting is a priority for Saint Basil and often woven into his sermons, as the practice is foundational  for truly living in Christ. In his “Second Homily on Fasting,” he explains: “Fasting is likeness to the angels, companionship with the righteous, moderation in life….Fasting is the beginning of repentance….We must fast with an acceptable fasting that is pleasing to God. True fasting is being a stranger to vice, controlling the  tongue, abstaining from anger, distancing oneself from lust, evil speech, lying, perjury. The absence of these  vices makes fasting true, and so shunning these vices makes fasting good.” (78, 80)

On Fasting and Feasts is a good resource of guidance and direction for Orthodox Christians, especially now as we journey to the Nativity of Christ in faith, hope, and love.

October 2021 - "Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes"

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]
Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes contains little known sermons by St. John of Kronstadt (1828-1909), one of the best known modern Russian saints. St. John’s personal chronicle My Life in Christ has been broadly known since it was first translated into English at the beginning of the twentieth century, but it is only recently that his Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes has been translated into English.

Professor Nadieszda Kizenko-Frugier, the translator of these homilies, wrote an informative introduction that includes a brief history of St. John of Kronstadt, the religious and political environment he lived in, his social consciousness, how the Homilies came to be, and the priorities St. John addressed in and through them.

She writes: At first, Father John’s reputation was local. Then, in 1883, Russia’s largest newspaper, New Time, ran an open letter from grateful recipients testifying to their healing at his hands. This brought him national fame and established Kronstadt as one of the leading pilgrimage sites in Russia. People came by the shipload; those who could not inundated the post office with their pleas. He became the first modern Russian religious celebrity, with his image on souvenir scarves, mugs, placards, and postcards. His sermons were printed in virtually every newspaper and journal. In effect, all of Russia was his parish. (6)…People from every social class and religion in the Russian Empire, including Muslims, Buddhists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Jews, wrote and flocked to him, and the emperor Alexander III himself acknowledged that St. John was “the most popular person in Russia.” (10)… In 1894, when he was asked to minister to the dying emperor Alexander III, his fame became international, attracting correspondents from Europe and the United States. (6)

St. John’s social consciousness was great and focused through the lens of the Beatitudes. In these homilies, which date “from St. John’s early period, when he was known primarily in Kronstadt and its environs…(we see him) as a local parish priest, intimately concerned with the life and behavior of his immediate flock.” (7)

Professor Kizenko-Frugier emphasizes that “above all, the Homilies are an invitation to the Liturgy….By concentrating on a simple and basic text (the Beatitudes) which he notes are “read or chanted” every day, (St. John) illuminates the entire Divine service” (12) and the direct words of Christ.

In these homilies St. John lays the groundwork and framework from—and in—which he speaks of the Beatitudes, defining and delineating each Beatitude and revealing the vitality in each. In a very real way, Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes is a catechism given by a loving shepherd to his flock—those listening in his parish when he gave the homilies and listening readers of all times and in all places. St. John reveals how living the Beatitudes is truly life giving.

September 2021 - "Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality"

by Rebecca Myerly – [email protected]
September first, the first day of the ecclesiastical new year, is a day of prayer for all Orthodox Christians “to offer prayers for the protection and preservation of the natural creation of God.” (188)

Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality was written by Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis. Eminently and uniquely qualified to write about the environment from his many years as Archdeacon to Patriarch Bartholomew (aka the green patriarch), Fr. Chryssavgis has written an invitation and clarion call to see God’s creation as the gift it is and to live with respect and compassion for all creation. He begins by explaining that caring for creation is fundamental and foundational in the Orthodox faith, and is rooted in the history and beliefs of the Church.

On creation as sacrament, Fr. Chryssavgis writes: “The divine mystery revealed in Christ is the foundation and substance of all sacraments, which unveil something greater and deeper than whatever we see in the world….The word [sacrament] (is) equivalent to the Greek term “mystery” (mysterion) that denotes a reality hidden while at the same time revealed through initiation….In this sense, since everything is a reflection of the divine, the actual number of Christian sacraments—or mysteries, as they are known in the Orthodox Church—can never be limited to the seven conventional rites of baptism, chrismation, the Eucharist, marriage, confession, unction, and ordination…

In all its transcendence, a sacrament always remains an historical event, demanding material expression in which God becomes manifest in time and space. For instance, the Eucharist is God’s manifestation in bread and wine, where the world becomes the historical and material sacrament of God’s presence, transcending the ontological gap between created and uncreated. The world articulates and relates in very tangible terms this co-inherence and cooperation between divine and human in history, denoting the presence of God “incarnate among us” (John 1:14). In this way, the sacramental principle becomes the way that we perceive the world around us as sacred, a tangible mystery revealing and reflecting the invisible divine: the spiritual in matter and the eternal in time. (87)

A sanctioned—or sacramental—way of appreciating and approaching the world lies in the distinct symbols and values of the Orthodox Church, which include: icons (the way we view and perceive creation), liturgy (the way we celebrate and respond to creation), and ascesis (the way we respect and treat creation). Orthodox icons, liturgy, and spirituality offer a fresh way of seeing and imagining the world asintended by God from “the beginning.” (113)”

With this awareness, one realizes that “every act of exploitation, pollution, or destruction of the natural environment is an offense against God.” (165) Patriarch Bartholomew, “whose focus is on creation as the body of Christ…considers both the planet and all people as the incarnate body of the Creator, an inseparable and interconnected part of the living God.” (180)

He states: “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation…for humans to degrade the integrity of Earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping it of its forests, or by destroying its wetlands… for humans to injure other humans with disease and contaminate Earth’s waters, land and air with poisonous substances…these are sins. (163-164)”

Fr. Chryssavgis writes that we are called to “a cosmic liturgy” which is a worldview in which “everything bears a sacramental seal and everything enjoys a sacred significance.” (175)

We should ruminate and meditate on the way we are living, on what we are doing. If we are going to effect a shift in our attitude and change our lifestyle in order to regulate or reverse the environmental crisis, we must first of all perceive our world and ourselves; we must change our worldview, our image or “icon” of the world. This calls for a change of mindset, a conversion of heart that is the essence of repentance and its Greek concomitant metanoia.” (176)

Key to this struggle is the “ascetic imperative” that implies more than simply living or living simply. It issues into compassionate concern for all people, to the least of our brothers and sisters, as well as to all creation, to the last speck of dust. Compassion is what Christians are called to be and supposed to be about—a compassion extended to every living being and every natural landscape. …Christian compassion should be expanded to the reverence for and sustenance of every living creature. (180)

Creation as Sacrament is informative and edifying, with clear guidance on creation care.

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