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WOMEN IN THE CHURCH Conversations with Women Leaders From Social Justice to Social Media Our Mothers Among the Saints

ISSUE 9 / 10 | SPRING / SUMMER 2017


ISSUE 9 / 10 | SPRING / SUMMER 2017 5

To Our Readers



Camera Obscura: Women and Church Leadership Patricia Fann Bouteneff



“Coworkers in the Service of the Church” Interview with Elizabeth Prodromou

22 Music in the Service of Prayer Interview with Jessica Suchy-Pilalis POETRY DESK 30 Market Vasilina Orlova CONVERSATIONS


Social Media and the Unifying Truths of Our Tradition Interview with Sr. Vassa Larin

PROFILE 42 “I Am Spending Much of My Time Marching in Protests” Gayle E. Woloschak CONVERSATIONS


The Habit of Social Justice Interview at All Saints’ Monastery

PROFILE 50 Beauty Made By Hands: Galina Tregubov and Anna DuMoulin CONVERSATIONS 54 “The Job Is Compassion and Inspiration” Jennifer Nahas Talks with Jennifer Haddad Mosher POETRY DESK


In Need of Trees Vasilina Orlova

FIELD NOTES 64 Finding God in the Hospital Tatiana Bouteneff PROFILE 68 In the Lord’s Vineyard: A Tribute to Catherine Lingas Paul Lingas THE CHURCH ACROSS TIME


The Theological Voice of Kassiani Susan Arida



Juliana Ossorguine Schmemann, 1923–2017 Anya Schmemann


Juliana Ossorguine Schmemann, 1923–2017 Masha Schmemann Tkachuk


Olga Denysenko, 1946–2017 Nicholas Denysenko

READING ROOM 84 Ascetic Endeavor and Mutual Martyrdom: Review of Christian Family and Contemporary Society Carrie Frederick Frost LIFE IN CHRIST 86 Mother Gavrilia: All-Pervading Love for Everyone

Š 2017 The Wheel. All rights reserved. ISSN 2379 - 8262 (print) ISSN 2379 - 8270 (online) May be reproduced and distributed for noncommercial use.

Editorial Board Inga Leonova Timothy Scott Clark Joseph Clarke Katherine Kelaidis Gregory Tucker Managing Editor Samuel Bauer Graphic Designer Anastasia Semash Advisory Board Archpriest Robert M. Arida Sergei Chapnin Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun Pantelis Kalaitzidis Archpriest Andrew Louth Gayle E. Woloschak

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To Our Readers The idea of a special issue about women in the Church took shape organically from various conversations, writings, ponderings on current events, and other threads of the multicolored tapestry of church life. The immediate catalysts were an effort by a group of Orthodox Christians to encourage women’s representation at the Holy and Great Council of Crete, and an essay by Patricia Fann Bouteneff on the blog Aphaia Resources about women’s leadership in the Church. Subsequent discussions on the relative invisibility of women in the Church—despite their numerical prevalence and many daily contributions—inspired the editors of The Wheel to invite Bouteneff to serve as our first guest editor. The energy and expertise with which she approached this formidable project surpassed our most ambitious expectations. A former academic and corporate chief of staff, Bouteneff is now a strategic communications consultant as well as an independent scholar specializing in folklore and Pontic Greek studies. Her corporate, consulting, and academic work over the last thirty years has maintained a focus on discerning and amplifying women’s voices, whether in folk tale repertoires, corporate histories, or religious traditions. She has been active in church communities in Greece, England, Switzerland, and the U.S., and currently serves as parish council president at Holy Trinity Church in Yonkers, New York. Her essay on pilgrimage in Pontic tales was published in issue two of The Wheel (Summer 2015). The editorial board thanks Patricia Fann Bouteneff for serving as guest editor and for creating what we hope will be recognized as an important contribution to ongoing discourse.

The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



Camera Obscura: Women and Church Leadership Patricia Fann Bouteneff “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” – Richard Avedon Raise your hand if you knew that a priest in the Orthodox Church may not celebrate the Eucharist on his own. There must always be at least one other person present, in order to form a “congregation.” I learned this in my catechumenate thirty years ago, and it still strikes me as beautiful that our church insists that the Eucharist always be a shared event. In practical terms, given that most of our parishes are headed by a lone priest, this means that clergy and laity—as men and women—are equally important to celebrating communion. It can mean that, if the only other person in the church is female, then that woman has become indispensable to the Eucharist. It sometimes feels as if this ecclesiological point has faded out in lived experience in our parishes. I was recently at a Liturgy where the diocesan bishop was making his annual parish appearance. As is the custom there, he was met at the entry first by a four-year-old girl carrying a bouquet of deep blue gentians, and then—in a moment similar to the one in the photo on the next page—by the parish president, who greeted him with a formal speech and tray of salt and bread that she had baked herself. The parish priest helped celebrate the Liturgy, while a churchwoman as usual 6

directed the choir. After the dismissal, the priest called for a photograph with the bishop. Without thinking, he did what many Orthodox priests do, inviting only the deacons, the subdeacon, and the altar servers to join them. Half the congregation pulled out their phones to snap photos of a sea of ecclesiastical brocade, and thereby recorded what was—to me, at least—a truly inadequate portrait of that parish. So, who should have been in the frame? At the very least, it would have been appropriate to call to the front everyone who played a role in the ceremony, which would have included not only the choir director, but also the choir itself, the parish president, and the flower-bearer. It would have been preferable to have included the whole congregation, without whom communion would have been incomplete and each of whom has the potential for being the indispensable one. We don’t live up to our ecclesiology if we envision the Liturgy as celebrated only by the clergy (and those dressed like them). Given that our parishes are microcosms of the Church, what does this mean for how we view participation in the wider Church? Clergy can’t be the only people in the picture. There aren’t enough priests and hierarchs, and asking them to shoulder the entire burden would disrespect the larger

principle of the Liturgy as a communion of clergy and laity. The same principle pertains to other work in the Church. In any ordinary parish, there are any number of tonsurings and other rituals available to acknowledge men’s place: altar server, reader, sub-deacon, deacon, protodeacon, archdeacon, presbyter, protopresbyter—each signaled by various types of garment, headgear, or pectoral cross, and each instance a photo opportunity (for someone ordained in the Russian Church, every three years brings the potential for a new award). The rituals that we perform to recognize a person’s place can be as important as the actual things that he or she does. That there are virtually no blessings or rituals bestowed on women—not even on wives at the time of their husbands’ ordinations— has helped us fade out of the picture. The “visible absence” of women in many parish photos creates an entirely inaccurate impression of our beloved institution. After all, it isn’t as if women aren’t doing anything. We hold leadership positions with significant impact in most of our jurisdictions. These go well beyond the roles reserved exclusively for women, such as priests’ wives, Philoptochos members, and ladies’ guild participants. In fact, it is commonplace to find women participating at almost all levels in the Church, in non-liturgical roles that interlock with or overlap those of the clergy and lay men, and that are central to the Church’s existence and functioning. Based on what is already happening here and now, it is time to discard our outdated images of church life. This isn’t just a matter of some misleading photographs. The point here is to call attention to what women are The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

actually doing, and to adjust our mental picture of the life of the Church, because that picture is skewed. Most of what we hear about women in the Church—given that without a special and extremely rare blessing, we cannot serve in the altar—focuses on our “domestic” roles as mothers, decorators and cleaners of the physical worship space, and providers of coffee hour provender. These misconceptions run broad and deep, among men and women of all ages. When my teenage son and daughter were discussing with their friends the need for women to attend the Council in Crete, many of those friends insisted that a woman’s only role in the Church should be “sitting in the corner and praying.” Yet these teens did not realize that they belong to a jurisdiction with female church diplomats, heads of monasteries, and advisers who sit on its governing council. Most people are unaware of what women are already doing in the Church, and this blind spot makes it much harder than

Photo by Leanne Parrott.


it needs to be for a woman to realize her calling in the Church. The fact that so many women are participating in such large numbers in the Church is important. Since women make up a majority of the congregation in most parishes, it shouldn’t surprise us that, quantitatively, so many women are donating their labor to get so much of the work of the Church done, and have for many decades now. The simple fact of large-scale women’s participation and leadership in the Church is crucial to recognize if we are to steward the Church effectively in the coming decades of dramatic social and technological change. So, what is “normal” for women in the Church? Let’s answer that question based on actual examples. It is normal for women to be engaged in pastoral care. Female professionals in many jurisdictions are practicing chaplains, pastoral counselors, spiritual directors, and heads of college ministries or family ministries. It is normal for women to be church diplomats. Women fill these roles at the World Council of Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the National Council of Churches, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In these pages, Elizabeth Prodromou, a political scientist and professor of conflict resolution, recounts what it is like to work alongside primates such as the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of Albania to create and refine the documents at the center of last summer’s Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete. It is normal for women to be administrative heads and advisers in a wide variety of church organizations. Abbesses oversee the business and spiri8

tual “operations” of their monasteries. Many women also serve as founders, parish council presidents, wardens, and other officers, as well as trustees and directors of seminaries and other organizations. In this issue, Gerondissa Foteini and Sister Theonymphi, the nuns of All Saints’ Monastery, talk about the founding not only of their convent but also of one of the few Orthodox social justice programs in a U.S. monastery. Professional youth program evaluator Jennifer Nahas and educator Jennifer Haddad Mosher discuss the clash between ecclesial work grounded in professional expertise and work based on good intentions, as well as the effect that fear has in undermining religious education and how we can overcome it. It is normal for women with significant levels of professional expertise to act as advisers who sit on diocesan, archdiocesan, and even federal councils, commissions, and committees, on such topics as science and technology, canon law, family care, liturgy and church art, AIDS, social and moral issues, and foreign policy. Gayle E. Woloschak, profiled in this issue, is an example of someone deeply engaged in the secular world—in her professional life, she is a clinician and researcher in radiobiology and bionanotechnology—who combines that mastery with a second career in theology, and makes her expertise available to hierarchs across Orthodox jurisdictions. It is normal for women to hold important finance positions. Women are chief financial officers, treasurers, and auditors at seminaries, and at the archdiocesan, diocesan, and parish levels. It is normal for women to be church musicians, either teaching in seminary and university settings or directing lo-

cal parish choirs. In this volume, Jessica Suchy-Pilalis recounts her pioneering work in helping truly translate Greek hymns into English in a way that retains the meaning of the texts and the ability of chant to convey prayer. It is normal for women to be teachers and academics with a church-oriented specialty. Women holding doctorates and professorships at universities and Orthodox seminaries are theologians (liturgical, dogmatics, and patristics scholars), church historians, art historians, biblical and liturgical language scholars, religious education specialists, and church management and leadership professors. Practitioners with master’s degrees include seminary librarians and diocesan or archdiocesan archivists. In addition to their other work for the Church, Sister Vassa Larin, Jennifer Haddad Mosher, Elizabeth Prodromou, Jessica Suchy-Pilalis, and Gayle Woloschak hold these kinds of positions. It is normal to find female ecclesiastical artists and craftswomen, among them iconographers, graphic designers and illustrators, ecclesiastical tailors, and textile designers, producing the ecclesiastical objects that surround us and express our beliefs. A mother-daughter pair—the prize-winning embroiderer Galina Tregubov and iconographer Anna Dumoulin—are featured in this issue and are the most recent practitioners in a long family line. The work that they skillfully and painstakingly produce is some of the most valuable in monetary terms in any given church, as the end note on the work of Olga Mikhailovna Mojaisky attests. These visual artists include photographer Leanne Parrott of Leanne Parrott Photography, whose photo essay appears in these pages and whose work is helping to return women to the picture of the Church. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

It is normal for women to work as Orthodox authors, speakers, translators, bloggers, podcasters, and homilists who shape and convey our thinking. In this issue, Sister Vassa Larin tells us how she became one of just two Orthodox thus far to build an international ministry through social media. Like her, the recently departed Juliana Schmemann wrote and spoke with authority and joy to a wide variety of audiences about living as a devout Orthodox Christian in our modern world. Virtually everyone I speak to believes that the women leaders in their parishes are unique, breakers of new ground. But it is time to recognize that women filling all kinds of non-ordained roles throughout the Church is a usual practice: welcome to the not-so-new normal.1 Recognizing this reality can have huge implications. Women won’t have to fight to step into jobs for which they need church sponsorship, such as chaplaincies. The Church’s life can grow through increased diversity, a factor that has been shown to be vital to thriving institutions.


For specific roles in the Church, outlines of the requirements for filling them, and names of only some of the women who are currently performing them or have done so, see the detailed list in my blog article “Invisible Leaders in the Orthodox Church”: http://www. aphaiaresources. com/2016/09/05/ invisible-leadersin-the-orthodoxchurch/.

And we want the Church to thrive. In an environment where religious organizations are under pressure from many directions, it is essential to foster, direct, and rejoice in all of the talent available in the Church, male and female. To find solutions to thorny problems, we need a wide variety of ideas and world experience. There’s certainly no lack of work to be done. Once women realize that it is not only commonplace and acceptable but also desirable for them to step up, more may even seek and receive a seminary education. And their bishops may want to meet with them and take interest in their careers, as they do for their ordination-track semi9

narians. But all of this requires us to realize that women working in the Church is normal. Given the increased attention lately accorded to the ordination of deaconesses, some may wonder why I haven’t touched on that subject here. There are a couple of reasons. Although many women clearly feel called to this kind of ordination, and while the Church clearly needs far more diaconal service than our current complement of deacons can provide, I do not believe that it is wise for us to put all our eggs in the ordination basket. We don’t need to act as though ordained work is the only valid kind within the Church. If this essay has shown nothing else, it is that there are so many more baskets that need filling! The majority of us will not be called to holy orders, but we all will be called to do our part. Most of us will find our callings in resolving difficult issues in committees, conducting pastoral therapy sessions, creating church school curricula, or poring over parish spreadsheets.

© 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

These are my own observations of the ways in which women are serving the Church in significant capacities. I think of these roles as only the tip of the iceberg; there are so many possibilities for women’s leadership. Even within limitations, this survey shows clearly that women leaders in the Church are anything but rare. We are not tokens, and we are acting in the present moment.

Over the past year, these observations have inspired some of my own concrete actions. When I found out that the recent Pan-Orthodox Council, as originally structured, would include almost no women delegates, I drafted a petition that attracted more than 1,200 signatures from women and men, clergy and laity, around the world and across many jurisdictions. The response came, unexpectedly, not from the Secretariat organizing the Council to whom it had been addressed, but from the Ecumenical Patriarch himself. He wrote personally to say that, while in the remaining few weeks before the Council convened there would not be enough time to gather the agreement needed among the jurisdictions to create the delegation of women advisers that we were advocating, he nevertheless encouraged all of us to continue exploring ways for women to expand our roles within the Church. He emphasized his support by signing the document in his own hand. Let his backing hearten us all, as we pursue our own callings within the Church. Women have been fulfilling some of the roles enumerated here for centuries, some for decades, and others only for a short time. This essay is a step on the way towards making visible the present reality of Orthodox women, bringing that service into the light, and helping us frame a more accurate picture of the Church’s life. Let us keep moving into a future where, like the woman of Proverbs 31, we may set about our work vigorously.

Patricia Fann Bouteneff, a former academic and corporate chief of staff, is an independent scholar who specializes in folklore and Pontic Greek studies. You can find her translations and studies of folktales at Baptized at a metochion of Simonopetra in Thessaloniki, she has been active in church communities in Greece, England, Switzerland, and the U.S., and at present sits on the parish council of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Yonkers, New York.


Attending the Annual Festival (St Vladimir’s Seminary Education Day, 2012). Photo by Leanne Parrott. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017


Note: Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou is a political scientist specializing in the intersection of religion, democracy, and security. She has worked as an advisor for international and nongovernmental organizations on religious freedom. As one of four women who attended the 2016 Holy and Great Council in Crete as an expert consultant, she agreed to speak with Patricia Fann Bouteneff about her experience there.


“Coworkers in the Service of the Church” Interview with Elizabeth Prodromou How did you come to be at the Holy and Great Council? What was your official role there? I attended a meeting of scholars at the Phanar [the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch] in January 2016. Our group advocated passionately for the council to take place—because there was still some uncertainty about whether it would happen—and we implored His All-Holiness to do whatever pos-

sible to make the council an inclusive assembly, representing the fullness of the ecclesial body. Next thing I knew, I had been appointed as one of six expert consultants on the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. That made me one of four women in total who were at the council as official participants: two with the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, one with the Church of Albania, and one with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. As I understand it, I was appointed by virtue of my service to the Church and, most especially, because of my academic, government policy, grassroots, and ecumenical work, which aligns with several of the council’s specific agenda items. I was surprised, humbled, excited, and overwhelmed to be appointed. I felt it was an extraordinary responsibility that in some ways was too big for me to bear. There were going to be so few of us women at the assembly. Each day at the council, I thought, “I’m in this assembly. I’m an Orthodox Christian. And I am a woman. I am bringing every other woman—all Orthodox women—into this assembly with me.” So, it was not just I who was there: it was we. Did people at the council treat you that way? Oh, no, I don’t think so—at least, no one expressed it in those terms. But


people did ask me how it felt to be going to the council as an Orthodox woman. So the feeling of bringing all Orthodox women with me was in my heart the whole time. It seemed to me that His All-Holiness was listening at the Phanar meeting—and others were, too. The inclusion of women and laypersons alongside hierarchs and clergy as part of the fullness of the assembly was an expression of the love of the ekklesia. That was amazing, it was inspiring, it was hopeful.

made it clear that I was seen by some as stranger there. It was an environment of high ecclesiastical politics, of church “officialdom,” and it was overwhelmingly, hegemonically male. Even some people that I know well acted quite differently toward me, with a kind of formalism, with a kind of distance, with a kind of awkwardness and unnaturalness that was very confusing, saddening, and spiritually exhausting.

Was that your common experience throughout the council itself?

An instructive instance is when I was walking toward a group of individuals that I know, in the days before the formal beginning of the council. It was clear from a distance that we had all caught sight of one other. But as I approached, I realized from their glances and positioning that the circle in which they were talking was not going to open for me to join—literally, the circle was closed. So I passed by and we did not greet one another. This happened in an informal environment, outside the formal space of the assembly, but the message was clear. This experience of being a stranger in the Church left me heavy-hearted at times. Initially it threw me back on my heels.

Not always. My experience of the council was inspiring, complex, and at times exhausting. The exhaustion was mostly related to the confusion and sadness at experiencing a feeling unfamiliar to me in the Church: simply put, at least in the earliest days of the assembly, I frequently felt a palpable sense of strangeness. Not that I felt strange being there—my sense of thanks, humility, and conviction and belief in the teachings of our Church made me feel that I had been invited to the right place, the right time, the right gathering—but I most definitely felt that I was seen by many of the other participants as a stranger. I have tried to make sense of my impressionistic experiences in the first days after arriving. I can’t say that it was easy to decipher them, but I came to discern that I was encountered by many there as a stranger because I am a woman. I’m not unfamiliar with serving the Church in many different contexts. I’m not unfamiliar with engaging with priests and hierarchs for the good of the Church. So I hadn’t anticipated that the council would be an environment that would evoke an unfamiliar feeling. Yet both active and passive signaling and interactions The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

Can you give an example?

In an environment where, in fact, you should have been totally at home, as much as anybody could be. That’s right. It was very exhausting spiritually, because it was repeated throughout the week in differing contexts and through differing forms of communication. It felt to me like an experience of being seen with the eyes but not with the heart. This sense of “You’re with us, but not of us,” was something that I had not anticipated, especially given the openness and kindness and inclusiveness expressed by His All-Holiness. Weren’t we four women meant to be part of—not sepa13

rate from—everyone who was assembled for the council? I realized that this sense of being seen, but not seen, of being with, but not of, was not my imagination. In fact, I realized that others who witnessed the dynamic understood this, because they displayed a compassion that I appreciated as a form of welcome and inclusion. These were individuals who were seeing with their eyes and their hearts, and they showed this in gestures and conversations, directly and indirectly. Their efforts were heartening. They made me hopeful that we all can be Church, that we are Church. On the morning of the second day, a monk offered me a bottle of water. We had not met or even exchanged a word before. Quite discreetly and effortlessly, but visibly, he remained standing while most of the hierarchs, monks, and clergy around him sat down. He turned to me as we were all still taking our seats. I understood that he was making a deliberate gesture—he had to be—since we were just about to begin, so it wasn’t “water time.” The semiotics of the entire exchange were fascinating and effective: his was a gesture of kindness, connection, inclusion. I thanked him, we both smiled, and we sat for the assembly. And there was something symbolic in the offering of water, given how we understand the sanctity of water in our faith. Those seated around us—who, throughout the previous day, had ignored my existence (nary a hello, no response to my greetings, no eye contact—as though they didn’t even see me as a carbon-based being)—looked at him, looked at me, and then at the next break, they began to greet me, some with a word, some with a nod, and we began to converse throughout the remainder of the week. Through 14

this small gesture, which was in fact a huge gesture, I realized that, suddenly, I had “appeared.” My invisibility was replaced by being seen as a person—yes, as a woman, but as an Orthodox Christian member of the assembly. It was also an important lesson for me, because his gesture reminded me that I shouldn’t withdraw into myself, but should reach out even to those who might seem closed off. Above all, his gesture reminded me of the extraordinary impact of kindness as an offering in how we treat one another on a daily basis. It seems sad that someone had to break the ice publicly for everyone else to feel it was OK to acknowledge a person’s existence. I think we all need to realize that we are not just in the Church, but instead, we are of the Church. This distinction is what struck me about the “icebreaker” experience, as you put it. I didn’t go into the council thinking, “There are only going to be a few women there and it’s going to be a strange experience.” That’s not how I feel in service to the Church, though I realize that there are some people who view women as strangers. But the “shunning”—because I was not prepared for it and had not experienced it in such a fashion—made it all the more obvious, palpable, and striking. That’s not how I live in the Church, and it is not how the Church should be. Upon praying and thinking about this, I believe it is important to speak truthfully. We need to reject the use of gender to exclude, to wound, to fracture the Church as a place of loving fullness. Likewise, I think it’s absolutely essential to appreciate, speak about, and replicate the kindness and commitments of those who show that they understand these dynamics and that they reject women’s exclusion.

The council made me ponder certain paradoxes at work in the Church. First, for me, the Church is a place of freedom; the gospel reminds me of the elation of being free. And so, the reminders, restraints, and limitations that I experienced at the council because of gender stood at odds with my understanding of the gospel message. These limitations and exclusions and fractures are the antithesis of our theology. They are the products of cultural inheritances and patriarchal practices (in the anthropological and cultural sense of the word). We need to become more theologically literate, so that we live our theology and avoid the traps of cultural practice that weaken our theology. Another kind of paradox on which I reflected, throughout and since the council, was provoked by what I call the 500-yard stare—you know, when someone is looking at you but they’re not seeing you. I experienced this on a daily basis at the council. I came to understand that people would see me with their eyes (as a woman) and not with their hearts (as a fellow Orthodox Christian gathered with them to do the work of the Church). This 500-yard stare gives you the feeling of being viewed, but not being seen—of being viewed, but being invisible. This presence–absence paradox was striking. The paradox of the otherness of gender—of being a woman, the very visibility of being not-a-man—rendered me invisible for many who were there. It made me wonder about my own ideas, expectations, and behaviors in seeing-yet-being-unseen. I realized that, as a woman, I could be present and, paradoxically, perhaps more intensely present, by virtue of being a woman—because most everyone else was a man. Yet my presence, seen only from the perspective of gender, renThe Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

dered me absent, and became a mechanism of exclusion. I realized that it is just as easy to see with the heart as it is to see, mistakenly, only with the eyes; and when I experienced the contrast, I so much appreciated those interactions that came from the heart, which also reinforced my own commitment to seeing others with the eyes of my heart. In fact, one of my most precious takeaways from the council was these paradoxes. I am so thankful that the council offered me this opportunity to reflect on gender in ways that I could never have experienced otherwise. I thank God for that experience, however exhausting and complicated, and I praise the courage of those who supported the presence and inclusion of women at the council—His All-Holiness, of course, and Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, and Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem, among others, since theirs were the delegations that included women. Regarding women and the council, what I found most hopeful was that all of the paradoxes that I mentioned became less intense over time. The biggest lesson I would share is that how we understand gender difference and women and the Church is a form of limited understanding: to put it colloquially, our understanding is more in our heads than in our hearts. I saw this “heads–hearts” distinction in the evolution of the ethos and phronema of the council over the course of a week. At the outset, there was a kind of meta-formalism that arose because there hadn’t been a council since the eighth century. So there was a steep learning curve about what it meant to be council. As the awkwardness and unfamiliarity began to dissipate, the micro-experiences of otherness and strangeness (with gender being a crit15

ical part of that) also began to be ameliorated. So, the strangeness for everybody came from the fact that there were so many different Orthodox from so many different jurisdictions in such close proximity? From two things, I would say. Number one, yes, there were so many Orthodox from all over the world who for the first time were looking into each other’s faces. There was the image and likeness of Christ from Africa to Asia to the Americas to Europe: people seeing each other and realizing that we are a church. We are a global church. I don’t think most people had any inkling. Most of us live in our own space. We may travel, but the kind of encounter we had in Crete is very rare. You could see this dawning on people, that, in our time, we really are a global church. We’re no longer a church divided between the “Old World” and the “New World”’—instead, we’re a church of the world. The second factor was the reality that the Church hasn’t been holding councils. Even though we have local assemblies and synods, no one had any lived experience of this kind of grand, Pan-Orthodox Great Council. We suddenly found ourselves living something we’d only read about—and people didn’t really know how to live that; there were no experiential reference points. It was something that could only become familiar by happening. So, the unfamiliarity began to be replaced by familiarity, as the council actually unfolded, as it happened. The change in awareness, consciousness, mindset, phronema, could only happen by the activity of the council, by being council; and, yet, for the council to happen, there had to be a sense of the need for that mindset change. It was 16

faith—a belief in the hope and potential of the council, and our belief in the hope and salvation of Christ and in the Church—that enabled the council to happen. And it was the event and experience of the council that gives hope for a continuing mindset change. The Holy and Great Council is no longer an abstraction, and the reality of the council will allow for future Holy and Great Councils. Does that make sense? It does. I guess that was partly the purpose of the council: people coming and confronting the sheer richness and diversity of Orthodoxy. Yes, the council was an experience of our unity in diversity. Over the course of the deliberations of the assembly, there was an unmistakable transformation that expressed the realization that we are unified and enriched by our diversity as Church. This reality was breathtakingly clear in the deliberation that I had thought might be the least interesting and exciting—the agenda item on fasting—but turned out to be one of the most extraordinarily rich and thought-provoking discussions. It demanded that we open our hearts. What makes you say that? Because it started out with hackneyed questions such as, “Should we change fasting rules?” and “Can the canons even be changed, and how would we do it?” These were addressed with well-hewn answers along no-change versus change and inflexible versus flexible lines. But all of that changed when people began talking about the reality that many Orthodox Christians confront daily shortages or absence of food. In my discipline, we call that “food insecurity.” Having an intense discussion about whether you need to keep the strict fast or the more flexible

fast when people are starving, when they are living under constant conditions of food deprivation, was a reminder that rigid fasting rules can become either arrogant or tragi-comical. People who are starving may have no meat, no dairy, no oil—so these fasting rules make no sense under certain circumstances which, unfortunately, are widespread enough in our world. We were reminded that many Orthodox Christians labor under conditions of food insecurity. It was really interesting to hear from hierarchs, particularly from Africa, that discussions about whether or not we can eat meat make no sense for most of their communicants. It’s not just that there’s no meat; there’s no food. It was fascinating to see other hierarchs realize, “I live in a completely different reality than you do, but we’re both Orthodox Christians; my struggles with fasting rules mean something completely different than your reality.” There was a humility that emerged in those discussions. They were a compelling example of how we Orthodox don’t know what our fellow Orthodox Christians experience because, number one, we’ve never met them, so number two, we haven’t learned to put ourselves in their place. And the council helped with that. I watched the delegations come in. They initially spoke almost exclusively among themselves, with the exception of bilateral conversations between hierarchs across delegations, who might know one another. Then, little by little, delegations began speaking to each other, across delegations, so instead of these concentric circles of delegations, touching each other but not overlapping, we began to change, and the circles broke down, becoming one huge circle—a huge circle that was sometimes messy and contentious, but a circle nonetheless. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

At what points were you supposed to speak up, at what points were you able to speak up, and what happened when you did? The consultants were not given formal speaking roles in the assembly, but could contribute to the work of the assembly. We could submit comments, questions, suggestions, or revisions to the texts. We could do that in writing, or by speaking to the secretariat directly. We could also propose changes for consideration by the assembly, based on deliberations and meetings of our consultant groups. If something came up that you wanted to present as a consultant, you could either give it to a hierarch or you could go to the secretariat and ask that it be addressed in the assembly. I offered suggested amendments to the human rights and religious freedom segments of the text by sending a written message during the assembly, which was delivered to the front, to the Ecumenical Patriarch. This was standard practice in the assembly. The consultants could write things down and hand them to runners, who would take them to the front. Sometimes they were acknowledged and maybe other times they weren’t. These were the mechanics of the daily work of the council. The photograph here [at the beginning of this interview] involves this kind of “bricks and mortar” work of the council. I submitted some suggested revisions for consideration, regarding language on religious freedom, and this became part of the assembly’s discussion of the relevant texts. At one of the breaks, I went to the front of the assembly auditorium to discuss with His All-Holiness. Archbishop Anastasios was at his seat, finishing some notes. I had already written some suggested revisions for consideration by the assembly, and I shared them with His 17


All-Holiness (I had already sent the notes to him, requesting that they be introduced into the ongoing textual reviews). He took my notes and we went over to Archbishop Anastasios. We had a focused, thorough, free-flowing discussion about the proposed adjustments to the text. I was pointing things out: “Here we need this, here we need that.” And they were saying, “OK, explain that.” I talked about international legal formulations on religious freedom, explaining what documents the language would be drawn from. We wordsmithed the proposed textual amendments, which were then submitted to the assembly after the break, as part of the regular process of proposed revision, review, discussion, and conclusion. When we first began talking, Archbishop Anastasios said, “We are very pleased that you are here, that you are all here.” And I said, “It’s such an honor to be here at the council, and I am humbled, as a woman, to be part of the work of the assembly.” And he said, “We wanted you all to be here.” It was so welcoming and so kind and so pastoral—just what you would want from a hierarch. His All-Holiness was, as always, welcoming, pastoral, kind, and focused on the work at hand. The way in which they engaged me—asking for clarification, precision, and doing the work of the Church with pastoral focus—was inspiring to me. There was not the least inkling of being a stranger: just all of us there, at that moment, doing the work of the council.

the natural reality of “doing the work of the Church” regardless of gender. People in the background were puzzled about what was going on. That was one of those moments where all of the insider–outsider, stranger–familiar differences dissolved, because we were just doing the work of the assembly.

That moment was very funny because of the reactions of passers-by. Most were trying to get outside for the break, because it was hot and the morning’s work had been intense, but you could see that sometimes they did a double-take: the gendering in the reactions to that collaborative moment was a bit funny, but also encouraging, because people were witnessing

Yes, he was working on the Greek version of the English revisions that we were making. He was showing that to us.

Was the puzzlement because it was unusual to have a consultant talking to the primates? No, there were other conversations between hierarchs and consultants. I think it was because I was a female, obviously engaged in a collaborative conversation on the texts of the assembly with the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of Albania. I think these few minutes, maybe 15 minutes in total, indicated to everyone who saw us that we are all capable of participating in the work of the Church. In that moment, I was very visible, as a woman, working for the assembly and with the assembly, working with His All-Holiness and Archbishop Anastasios. That was a moment of revelation: “We are all here, male and female, and we are all doing the work of the assembly, we’re serving God.” It’s a picture that speaks volumes. The fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch is holding his staff of office and the text in the same hand, and looking on so intently, while Archbishop Anastasios seems to be taking notes.

That photo is very meaningful to me. It shows a moment of what we could be as a Church—or perhaps what we actually are, without always understanding what we are. But also the potential

for what we should and could be as a Church. For me, it is extremely positive and enlivening and hopeful. And it contrasts with the photo I took from my seat at the back of the assembly hall [above], which, in some ways, is an image far more familiar to people than the other one, which shows coworkers in the service of the Church. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you would like to bring up? One thing I would say is how profoundly thankful I was to the hierarchs who supported the presence of women at the council. The smallness of our numbers was a striking reminder to everyone of the lack of gendered presence. If there had been no women there, no one would have thought of us. But the fact that there was this little thimbleful in an ocean made our visibility even greater—but also made the absence of all the rest of us greater.

Paradoxically, the issue of our absence was reinforced through the contrasting presence of just a few of us women. I hope that’s a good thing. It appears that one has to be courageous on the issue of including women in the life of the Church, and I thank God for the courage of those hierarchs who are committed to the fullness of the ecclesial body. In general, I think it’s difficult for us to imagine the weight of the crosses that they carry. If bringing four women to the assembly is part of that weight, then I’m thankful that they are willing to bear that weight. And, I pray that, whenever I am called to serve the Church—as a woman, in academia, in diplomacy, in public policy, in parish life, and in the global Church—I carry with me in my heart all women, so that we are all present, and so that discussions about “women in the Church” will take on different meaning, because we will all be Church.

© 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou is visiting associate professor of conflict resolution at the Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Previously she served a diplomatic appointment as vice chair and commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and was a member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group.

The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017


Š 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.


Populating the Liturgical Space with Icons (the Annunciation by Masha Struve). Photo by Leanne Parrott.

The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



Music in the Service of Prayer Interview with Jessica Suchy-Pilalis

Note: Jessica Suchy-Pilalis is a Greek-American music theorist and harpist. In addition to being a professor at the State University of New York at Potsdam, she is also a hieropsaltria in the Church and a tonsured reader. She is one of the few experts in the modal analysis of Byzantine chant and has played a seminal role in melding Byzantine music with English translations of liturgical texts. Patricia Fann Bouteneff caught up with her recently in her office at SUNY Potsdam.


You once told me that you fell in love with Byzantine chant as a child. You then studied harp, music theory, and chant, and we’ll get to that in a little bit. But to start, what was the situation of chant in the GOA [Greek Orthodox Archidiocese] in the 1980s—when you were finishing your master’s degrees at the Eastman School of Music and working on your doctorate at Indiana University?

by both the Church and the State of Greece as a chanter. I had been chanting as part of a Byzantine choir at a large church in Thessaloniki that also gave public concerts, and I had been studying with well-respected teachers, including Dimitrios Sourlantzis and Eleftherios Georgiadis, so I had a very strong set of credentials that most men in the U.S. did not have at the time.

First of all, I was born into a very musical family, where I was surrounded by Greek folk music, lots of classical music (my mother is a professor of music and an avant-garde composer), and all sorts of other music. But there was something that touched me so deeply about going to church and hearing the chant. At that time, my Greek wasn’t good enough for me to understand the words—and of course there was no English used in any service when I was little.

And you’re saying “men” because chanters, by and large, were men at the time. They were men. Were there ever women at the chanters’ stand?

In many Greek parishes it was typical to hire somebody who could both teach Greek school and chant services. Most of the time, they could not read Byzantine music since they had learned “by ear.”

It seems odd now, but I remember a time when, if women were at the psalterion, it was because there was nobody else to chant. Women chanted in parishes by oikonomia [special dispensation] only, not because it was a standard, accepted practice. So when I became the protopsaltis in Indianapolis, to my knowledge, no other woman had ever been officially titled and salaried.

So in the 1980s, when you came back from your studies in Greece, how did your qualifications differ from theirs?

What was the reaction of the parish? Did they realize that something unusual had just happened?

By that time, I was absolutely fluent in Byzantine music. I was certified

When I was made a rassophoros in the early 1980s, it came as a com-

plete surprise to me. Bishop Timothy of Detroit brought me out from the psalterion in front of the priests, the deacon, and all the people. The rasso was put on me, the prayer and blessing were bestowed, he raised me up and shouted, “Axia!” and the church responded “Axia!” with great enthusiasm. It just went to the depth of me, because I’d never heard the feminine of “axios” shouted before. I don’t think many people in the Church have heard “Axia!” before. It was something else! I think he wanted to make sure that everyone recognized that I was legitimate as a protopsaltis, that I would be able to enter the sanctuary as is necessary to a chanter’s function—because there are certain hymns which, by tradition, are chanted from there—which showed a great amount of insight on his part. Some of your qualifications are related to studying theory and applying it to Byzantine chant in ways that people hadn’t really done before. Yes. I had a one-year grant to study chant in Thessaloniki, and so in that year I earned both a four-year diploma and a five-year diploma in Byzantine music from two different conservatories. I also studied privately. I was able to achieve this by applying my understanding of Western music theory and my aural skills to Byzantine music, to fill gaps in my knowledge quickly. And when I started working more with English, the fact that I’m a music theorist had everything to do with my analytical ability to use the modes to compose melodies for the English translations. You’ve been credited with helping shift the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese from Western-style music to ByzanThe Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

tine chant. That would seem like an almost impossible task, not only because of how hard it is generally to change an organization’s culture, but also because so many people in the GOA had grown up with Westernstyle music as their tradition. Was that your goal from the beginning— to effect such a transition? Did I set out to help shift the GOA from more Western-style music back to Byzantine chant? No, I simply wanted to restore, promote, and nourish Byzantine chant in this country. For this to happen, the chant also had to support and convey our hymns in English. I felt that people— especially young people who had no knowledge of Greek—needed it to worship, to pray, and to deepen their theology—to be truly Orthodox. Even with this goal, I don’t think I went so far as to think, “I’ll be the standard-bearer,” but I somehow sensed that I had a calling, and I knew that I had been given the tools. I think it was just stubbornness, out of passion for the hymns. I remember being invited to a National Forum meeting, where I was a panelist on the use of English, and explaining that this could be done, and people saying, “No, it can’t.” And I’d be saying, “Yes, it can, and here’s how.” The “how” was to take my research and apply it. So you’re talking about a move back to Byzantine chant—that can be done. In many parishes, chant was viewed as old-fashioned and passé, and was often restricted to the services that the choir couldn’t do or that were sparsely attended. I remember giving a talk, probably in the mid-1980s. I said, we had come to the point where the chanters were like a warm-up band for the choir. We would often 23

chant Matins to an almost empty church, and then the choir (and the congregation) would come in for Liturgy. That was something that I felt very strongly about, because chant is deeply beautiful and yet most of the congregation heard so little of it. However, I believe it would be most accurate to say that I was—and still am—advocating for chant, not against choral settings; for the inclusion of English, not against the use of Greek. I have seen a great resurgence and renewed respect for Byzantine chant in this country in the last few decades. There are Byzantine choirs, schools, workshops, websites, recordings . . . this is a wonderful thing. A lot of the readers of The Wheel come from jurisdictions, such as the OCA, in which Western-style music is the norm. Why did you think it was important to advocate for chant? What does Byzantine chant convey in the liturgical setting that other music might not? Chant has the ability to serve text, not just accompany it, and these texts are our prayers. These hymns and their chant melodies convey our theology in a way that no other type of music can, and chant does that because the text—the prayer—generates the actual melody. Because of that intimacy between music and text, it is absolutely powerful for prayer. A lot of music can stir my emotions, but it cannot reach me the way that chant can. It’s a very complicated process, if I remember correctly, to generate the music from the text. Yes, and that is where I started. In the 1970s, I began working on the analysis of the modes, examining how the 24

melodies were constructed, cataloging the numerous melodic formulas that define each mode. I started from needing to understand the modes, not only intuitively, but by proving that one formula functions in a certain way, that another formula does something else . . . figuring all that out. The purpose was so that someday I could chant fluently in English. This research allowed me to reverse-engineer hymns using English as the melodic generator instead of Greek. So, when I first went to the National Forum and said, “We can write hymns in English,” it was because I could take my analysis and apply it. Hymnography is a discipline very much like iconography: one subjects oneself to fasting and prayer in order to be a melodist, to create those melodies. And just as an iconographer doesn’t decide, “Today I’m going to paint the Virgin’s robe in polka-dots,” we don’t innovate melodically. We subject ourselves to the tradition. There is an iconographic style that has evolved to illuminate our theology, and there is chant that has done the same. We hear iconography referred to as “theology in color.” Chant is the same—our hymns are “theology in sound.” So, you gave people the idea that this could be done and you knew how to do it. What was the next step after that? Let me back up. Some people were already trying to put hymns into English. The reason others were saying it couldn’t be done was because the approach was backward. People were taking melodies crafted for Greek verbatim—note-for-note— and trying to fit English text to the music. Because of the way Greek translates into English, in order to

make the text align, sometimes extraneous words were added, word order was reversed, and unstylistic melismas (many notes to one syllable of text) were used. Often an accented syllable would end up on a rhythmically weak note. The results were clumsy and didn’t sing well. Those who knew the Byzantine chant tradition would feel uncomfortable with the English settings but wouldn’t know why, and they’d conclude that English was an inappropriate language for chanting. It was because the text-music relationship had been broken and distorted. People felt they had to treat the melody as sacred and therefore tried to fit the text in a Procrustean fashion, not realizing that the modes themselves were designed to adapt to what is truly sacred—the text! I wanted to chant a prayer; I didn’t want to chant something incomprehensible just because it matched a pre-existing melody! It was necessary to revolutionize the entire approach. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

Once you did the reverse-engineering, how did you make it known? This is one of my faults: I had always wanted to keep working until I had the full system put together and then distribute it. The full system still isn’t quite complete, although it’s extremely extensive—but people need it. I shared some of the research, and even the approach to the research, so other people have gone ahead and done a lot of hymnography in English which has been published and is easy to get. That’s good for the sake of prayer. But I still haven’t published my own research, though I’ve continued refining the system. I use the research constantly in my role as a melodist, and each time I do, it’s a micro-step towards refining it for eventual use by others. Often, I’ll receive a request via e-mail to set a particular hymn text, and it is a joy to fulfill this. These requests have come from just about every jurisdiction. By now, quite a few of my settings are 25

1 Dr. Suchy-Pilalis’ apolytikion to St. Olympia is available at http://saintolympiaorthodoxchurch. org/images/Music/ St.Olympiaapoly_ trop.pdf.

out there, some published. Musica Russica published the entire Nativity Canon of St. Kosmas, and the Paschal Canon should be coming out soon. I have a commission for the complete service for the Lesser Blessing of Water. Some are on CDs, some posted on websites, but most of them are still with me.

different situation from when I started chanting, and it’s healthy. Now there are all sorts of choirs chanting, giving concerts, and making recordings. I think the resurgence in Greece helped to fuel things in this country as well. Here I feel we have regained a sense of its worth, not as an archaic artifact but as a living tradition.

But I want to say, I couldn’t do this if it hadn’t been for everything in my life: upbringing, education, scholarships, grants, research, teaching, blessings of the Church . . . I can’t help but think of all the miraculous twists and turns, the unexpected opportunities afforded to me and the many kindnesses shown me. For those, I thank God and I pray that my contributions as a melodist and hymnographer may be to his glory.

Where do you see chant headed in the U.S.?

As for my influence, I suspect that it also came from going around giving workshops. I would give the participants the Orthros [Matins] of the day, which I had just created for the English texts, and we would chant it together. It sounds as though people took what they learned in your workshops and ran with it. Yes, I think the workshops made it more acceptable for people—not only in the GOA, but also in other jurisdictions—to start chanting in English in a way that would work, rather than stuffing a translation into a pre-existing melody. How do you see the state of chant currently in the States? In Greece, there was and still is a wonderful resurgence of Byzantine chant. And that has brought many educated chanters to this country. It’s a whole 26

I foresee that there will be increasingly diverse parishes, such as the one I now serve in this small college town. It has a mix of just about every ethnic group possible, recent immigrants and converts, so it is essential to have a blend of all sorts of Orthodox musical traditions. And while there may be enough people in a small congregation to support harmony some of the time, chant is much more userfriendly if there are only a few choir members—it only takes one chanter to lead the congregation—so there are practical considerations, as well. Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you would like to talk about? Yes, the story of writing the apolytikion [troparion] for St. Olympia, the patron saint of our mission parish in Potsdam. It happened on the very night our young mission church was named, when it was officially given its patron saint. Our bishop, Vladyka Michael (Dahulich), had brought Professor David Ford with him. David was in the process of translating some of the letters that St. John Chrysostom had written to St. Olympia. For quite some time, I had been thinking about crafting an apolytikion for St. Olympia, as she is one of the saints who get a generic hymn, but I hadn’t found the inspiration yet. As David was read-

You created it from scratch, as it were. Yes, there was no Greek for this. This hymn was written in English; it is not a translation. I purposely picked the same mode used for Chrysostom’s apolytikion. I wanted them to be a pair. So the apolytikion was born on that night, the night the church was named. That’s something that I will always remember because it wasn’t me, it was through me, just the way an icon is through the hand of someone. This is how a hymnographer or melodist must work. And this is the hymn this parish chants every Sunday.1

ing those letters to the congregation, I heard the apolytikion in my head. After everyone left the chapel that night, I sat down with my laptop and wrote it all out. The text is, for the most part, taken from Chrysostom’s own words. Then the chant melody was crafted to fit the text. I had read some of those letters before, but when I heard David read them aloud, everything came together in one of those holy moments that I cannot explain.

So maybe the future of Byzantine music in our country is something along these lines, as more American Orthodox saints are revealed. I’ve also set the apolytikia for St. Raphael Hawaweeny, when he was being canonized, and for the Saints of America— which of course are also not in Greek. So, if we talk about the future, it’s generating chant for saints in this country and for worshippers here whose patron saints may not have a Greek (or Russian, or whatever) hymn already written. These hymn melodies will be indigenous to the text; they will be generated from English and they will be Byzantine chant.

© 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Music theorist and harpist Jessica Suchy-Pilalis is a professor at the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam. As a specialist in Byzantine music, she currently chants at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Camp Hill, Penn. In 2006, The National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians bestowed on her the St. Romanos the Melodist Medallion, its highest honor.

The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



Spreading the Light (Pascha, 2015) . Photo by Leanne Parrott. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



Market Vasilina Orlova

Market Selling peas and nuts in lilac pyalas. A lily-looking face of a woman: the black crescents of eyebrows rising Crescendo You don’t want to twist in your fingers fuchsia and bright-blue fabrics, Rolled a wave upon the wave down the staircase? Kameezes, Colorful carpets, Shawls, Shalwars A bearded seller is smiling and smoking a dragon It bites its tale in the glass triangular can Released through his thin nostrils, Which In intricacy of their forms Resemble his shoes with curved tips, Shoes sewn with beads The dragon leaves his lungs.


I’d like to buy something But what is something Here I know very well that I will be dead I will lie awake one night Just like that And one night There will be no one in charge to be me To be awake for me Like that I wish I were expecting death like the awakening But it will be someone else Something Lying awake at night I am really not very tempted (I assure you, susurrus) that much by treasures they have here Something Maybe a wooden box with the Sikh horseman: He holds his blinking sharp saber in one hand, And a pale, miraculous rose in another. [2014]

Š 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Vasilina Orlova is a poet, writer, and anthropologist. She was born in the Russian Far East in the village of Dunay. She holds a Candidate of Philosophical Sciences degree and is currently working on her PhD in anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of several books of prose and poetry in Russian, and of two collections of poetry in English, Contemporary Bestiary and Holy Robots.

The Wheel 9 | Spring 2017



Creating Liturgical Garments (detail from a priest’s vestment by tailor, blogger, and author Krista West) . Photo by Leanne Parrott. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



Social Media and the Unifying Truths of Our Tradition Interview with Sister Vassa Larin Note: Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin is a tonsured Russian Orthodox nun and an academic. She specializes in Orthodox liturgics and has published a variety of scholarly articles as well as a monograph on the subject. To the wider Orthodox world, she is probably best known as host of the highly popular podcast, Coffee with Sister Vassa. Patricia Fann Bouteneff caught up with her between recordings of the show.

To begin with, if you would, please walk us through how you found your callings as a monastic, as an academic, and as a social media practitioner. All three of these callings are a long story, really. I’ll note in general terms that all three sort of became inevitable at different points in my life, because of circumstances both internal and external. The monastic thing was something to which I was drawn already as a child, growing up in the very black-andwhite world of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia during the 1970s and 80s. In that world, monasticism was the “real deal,” while all other paths were sort of crooked or half-baked ways to God. I was very maximalist back then—like my dad— and wanted a “straight path” to God. That’s the way I saw it. My academic calling crept up on me almost from the beginning of my monastic life, despite my vision of monasticism. I had dropped out of college to enter a monastery at age 17. My parents were beside themselves, because I walked away from a full scholarship to Bryn Mawr after two years there. But when I found myself in a monastery with plenty of church services and physical work, I also found myself swallowing up any reading materials I could get my hands on, in the little


spare time we had. I studied everything from the history of the typikon and of the Church to volumes of the Church Fathers to various languages. This continued in Germany and in Jerusalem (how I ended up in various monastic communities is a separate story). My spiritual father, Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, said to me at some point: “I don’t know what to do with you. You just can’t get enough of all this studying.” But he did eventually send me to study Orthodox theology at the Orthodox Institute of Munich University, which is where I got my master’s degree and, eventually, my doctorate. It was after Fr. Robert Taft, SJ, offered to direct my doctoral work that my bishop agreed to let me go to Rome and study with Fr. Taft. His mentorship opened for me a whole new world of academic scholarship in a prayerful, ecclesiastical context. He taught me that it is, in fact, compatible for a monastic to be dedicated to study. I think this is not exactly true for the somewhat dualistic Palamite spirituality that I had embraced, which is very either/or about “this world” and “the world to come.” But for Jesuit spirituality, any kind of ministry “in this world” is compatible with prayer and is indeed a useful service to one’s Church, and I am grateful for benefiting from Jesuit wisdom in the area of my academic vocation.

Photos courtesy of Coffee with Sister Vassa.

I became a social media practitioner several years after getting my doctorate, and after teaching at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the Univesity of Vienna for about four years. I was frustrated. After all, I had seen my studies as a “ministry” or service to my Church, but here I was writing and teaching mostly for students outside my Church, or for a narrow circle of liturgical scholars. This seemed inevitable, because there were no academic positions available in my Church for a woman teaching liturgy—not in my neck of the woods, anyway! So, I had this idea, inspired by examples of online courses and videos made by professors at major universities, that I could perhaps do something like that. I also wanted the videos to be fun and a bit entertaining, inspired by late-night comedy such as The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I thought: now there is an example of people with a message, reaching millions of people effectively, through comedy. I was, of course, also well aware of the bitterness in some of our church politics, and I thought Orthodoxy could use a smile every now and then. Eventually, after my contract ended with Vienna The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

University, I was able to make the online ministry a financially self-supporting, full-time job, with the help of several assistants. I’m happy to say more about that later. Your show, Coffee with Sister Vassa, has a large following in several social media genres: Facebook, video podcasts, and now an online comic strip. How would you describe the mission of Coffee with Sister Vassa? The mission of Coffee with Sister Vassa is to bring people together around the unifying truths of our tradition. This means, among other things, bridging the divide between monasticism and “the world.” I present myself as I am at this point in my life, living in an apartment in the center of a European city, and contemplating various persons and events of our church calendar in the midst of it. I also consciously insert my “crew”—a bunch of misfits from the street, with dubious backgrounds—to underline that neither Orthodox monasticism, nor Orthodoxy in general, exists in a bubble, non-conversant with “this world.” So that is our mission: we want to bring all of us—not just an elite, special circle—together. 35

One of the few other video podcasters in the Orthodox sphere is Stephen Christoforou, who runs Be the Bee, a youth ministry for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. What would you say are the points of contrast and similarity between Coffee with Sister Vassa and Be the Bee? I have great respect and even love, I must say, for Stephen Christoforou. We have made several videos together. As far as there is a contrast with what he does, I would say that, first of all, he targets a younger audience. Also, he is a bit more serious, and not infected with the sort of irreverence one can observe on my show! That is a question of style and character. At the same time, his videos are more upbeat and modern, with a faster pace. And practically speaking, he has the financial support of his church, with a salary, two paid secretaries, an office, and filming equipment. Hats off to the Archdiocese for providing Stephen with all that! In my case things are different, because my church does not support us. We have had to become financially selfsupporting in order to keep our online ministry going. When I made my first video—on Saint Mammas, a teenage saint—I had ob-

tained the blessing of my own bishop in Germany. But from the outset there was opposition to the video from the central administration of my church, the ROCOR [Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia]. That first video I made was initially posted on the ROCOR’s official website, but then taken down. Metropolitan Hilarion, the First Hierarch of the ROCOR, ordered that the video be taken down after he was urged to do so by several of the ROCOR clergymen who called the video, among other things, “Roman Catholic singing-nun nonsense” (I was made privy to the email correspondence on the issue). So, ever since, there has been no mention of our videos on the ROCOR website, nor any support from my church. However, I would say that situation ended up being helpful, because we learned how to become self-supporting, creating an online gift shop (selling coffee mugs and other things) and monetizing our audio podcasts and video courses. This is how I pay my rent and three part-time assistants. I also think it’s healthy for me to take personal responsibility for whatever I say, without anybody worrying about me speaking for “the Church.” Although there are many Orthodox who create audio podcasts, why do you think so few make sustained video series as you have done? I can’t speak for anyone else, but my best guess would be that it is much harder to make a well-edited video than to record an audio podcast. Our videos often involve many hours of editing, to insert pictures, texts, and music. But here’s another thing. You must also “perform” in a visual manner, which can be quite daunting. It is particularly daunting, I think, for an Orthodox woman—in the ROCOR, anyway,


where certain concepts of “humility” make the prospect of a woman performing distasteful. In any event, however, both for women and men, it takes courage to be one’s self, particularly visually (warts and all), in front of the potentially large Internet audience. Maybe this is too hard for some of us? It’s hard for me too at times, but most of the time I feel I have “given up” sufficiently as far as image goes, because I don’t have anything to lose, if you will. I don’t have a miter or any hierarchical rank to chase, as a woman. So—perhaps ironically—my female position liberates me from concerns about my image and its consequences. What comes across uniquely to an audience in this medium? What can you do through this medium that you can’t do in writing? You yourself come across uniquely in this medium, as I mentioned above. And that is a good thing. Because we must—we absolutely must!—be ourselves when relating the Word of God today. The postmodern psyche has a very sharp radar for the inauthentic. And in general, I believe we are called in every generation to contextualize the received Word in our own lives, first internalizing it in our own context, and then “giving birth” to it in our world. This is why the Mother of God is traditionally perceived as an image of the Church—because she gives birth to the Word. And that’s what all of us are called to do, as Church: to give birth to the Word in our here and now. We can only do that as ourselves, and that is what we can do in a video, created by us. It is an art form, and it takes courage to find one’s own voice, as an artist. You also create effective Facebook posts that accompany your video series. What other social media are you The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

using, and why? Which of them has been most effective for your purposes? We use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and the Russian social media platform vKontakte. We send out a daily newsletter via email to 2,300 subscribers. We also post online twiceweekly audio podcasts and video courses on and udemy. com for paid subscribers. And then we have our website, with a weekly comic strip and daily reflection on Scripture. Our posts on the various social media are usually my daily reflections on brief passages from Scripture or the Byzantine Liturgy. The Russian posts are translations of the English ones by my Russian assistant, Anna. These posts are effective, as far as I can see, on two levels. First of all, they help us contribute our two cents to the whole business of bringing people together around the truths of our tradition, and closer to living that tradition on a daily basis—not just on Sundays. I would say that Facebook and the daily email newsletter are the most effective in this regard—although I shouldn’t exaggerate. We only get around 80 to 100 “likes” on the daily posts on Facebook, and I’m not sure how many people actually read the email. In practical terms, by keeping in daily contact with our followers via social media and email, we can invite them consistently to our monetized content, which enables us to stay afloat financially. So we offer the daily post or email for free, but we include, underneath the post or email, an invitation to the content that is for paid subscribers only. This strategy has helped us accumulate over 500 paid subscribers to our audio podcasts, and has secured a steady flow of purchases from our online gift shop, which, taken together, pay my monthly expenses. 37

How do you manage your online and offline interaction with your “zillions”? How do you see the relationship between your output and their input? My assistants manage the inbox of our “contact” email address. They forward any questions addressed to me personally and I answer those. I also reply personally to questions on our two Facebook pages (my personal one and our Coffee with Sister Vassa page). The personal questions can be excruciating, I must say, because people are willing to open up in very intimate ways to a nun across the ocean. I recently received an email from a Russian Orthodox woman in Siberia who is very much in love with a Muslim man and has received a marriage proposal from him, but isn’t sure this is the way to go. Non -drinking Russian Orthodox men are in short supply in her area. I have no idea, for now, what or how to reply. My offline interaction with the zillions is limited, however, to my public talks during my travels. I don’t meet with anybody in Vienna, because we have too much work to do when I am here.

© 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Concerning their input, I sometimes make an audio podcast on a topic raised by a listener or viewer in an email or comment to me online somewhere. But, as a rule, I create content on the basis of what interests me at the moment. I don’t spend much time anticipating what will be popular or

interesting to the zillions. I trust that what is interesting or relevant to me will be so for them as well, since I am a human being, living in the “today,” just as they are. I have to stay that way, being myself, which is always interesting and relevant, just as anyone else’s humanity is. Finally, what advice do you have for other Orthodox who might want to try their hand at building a social media following, even if only in a small way, for their parishes or dioceses? I hope that what I have said already will be sufficiently helpful to anyone endeavoring to spread the Word online. One thing I could add, perhaps, is: if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. The so-called “Orthodox Internet” can be brutal. But it’s not about us, if we want to spread the Word. So just be yourself and share of yourself, staying close to Christ and his word, letting him get bigger, and yourself smaller, and you’ll be OK!

Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin is a ryassofor nun and a scholar of Orthodox liturgics. She taught for seven years at the University of Vienna in Austria. She is an outspoken public intellectual on issues facing the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and sits on a number of church commissions. Since 2013, she has produced the series Coffee with Sister Vassa. Her website can be accessed at:


Decorating the Liturgical Space. Photo by Leanne Parrott. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



© 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Introducing Icons. Photo by Leanne Parrott. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017


© 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.


“I Am Spending Much of My Time Marching in Protests” Profile of Gayle E. Woloschak

Note: Dr. Woloschak is an expert in science, bioethics, and religion. She has authored over 200 scientific papers on molecular biology, radiation biology, and nano-biotechnology. Her science-religion interests include biological evolution, stem cell research, and ecology. She participated in the work of the Press Office at the Pan-Orthodox Council on Crete last summer. Dr. Woloschak sits on the advisory board of The Wheel.

Reading: Right now I’m reading a collection of stories by Terry Pratchett written before his death, The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories. Pratchett’s Discworld series was among my favorites, and I am still mourning his loss. I’m also reading Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome; that is truly an easy read for a book covering one thousand years of history. Last week I finished The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, a historical novel set in the late 1800s that discusses the plight of women in that age (and perhaps in ours as well, in some ways). Watching: I enjoy theater immensely. Most recently I saw a fabulous play at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, The Christians by Lucas Hnath. This remarkable play deals with the

difficulties that a Pentecostal community encounters when one of the pastors announces that hell does not exist. The prejudices of the parish come into play when some members can’t believe that their “sinful” family members and colleagues will not be punished eternally. I also saw Les Troyens last month at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, the first time I’ve seen this incredible Berlioz masterpiece. Listening: My current “faves” playlist is a mix of all kinds of music: Japanese pop (Utada’s new “Simple & Clean” remixes), sacred music (several hymns by Serbia’s Divna Ljubojević), opera (especially Les Troyens’s “Chanson D’Hylas” with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal), Ukrainian folk-pop (Ruslana’s “Artek-Bukovel i ya”), and others. I also have a “sleep on the plane” playlist which is totally Monteverdi. What I Am Doing in My Spare Time: My life is busy, I need to create spare time . . . but I have a dream to visit every national park in the U.S. So far I have only managed to see half of them. I love theater, opera, music, movies (especially the International Film Festival, when I try to see fifty movies in two weeks). These days though, I am spending much of my time marching in protests—the Women’s March, marches for immigrants, and the March for Science.



The Habit of Social Justice: Interview at All Saints’ Monastery

Thank you, Gerondissa and Sister, for allowing me to interview you here at your beautiful monastery. To begin, how did you come to be here, both as a community and individually? ST: I’ll give you the Readers’ Digest version. Our monastery was founded by Sister Ypomoni, who was born in 1917 in Cyprus, and wanted to be a nun from her early twenties. But as the oldest child, she had obligations to her family. She worked as a seamstress to pay her sisters’ dowries. Eventually her family left Cyprus and settled in New York. She took care of her nieces and nephews, who were orphaned in early adulthood. So there were many hardships. It wasn’t until the age of 80 that she found herself free, having kept this dream of being a nun. But every priest that she approached to help her found a monastery said she was crazy! Then Fr. Vasileios, now our chaplain, agreed to help. They formed a small committee and Sister donated her life savings to purchase the land that we now live on. Then they began building. Soon after, Sister Ypomoni went to visit Cyprus, where she suffered a stroke which left her unable to walk. But she returned to America and construction continued. She watched her dream come true but was unable to participate. In 2007, the construction was finished, and the committee asked the Archdiocese for some nuns. Because—you know—they have a The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

special closet, where they keep the spare nuns! (Laughter) Gerondissa and I already knew each other from the [Hellenic College-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox] School of Theology. We went our separate ways after graduating, but both ended up in Brooklyn. Our spiritual father told the Archdiocese that he had some spiritual daughters interested in monastic life. We arrived in August 2009 and found out enough about Sister Ypomoni to ask her to join us here in Calverton and be part of our life. After a few big obstacles, such as a broken leg at the age of 91, she came in January 2010. We were tonsured together in April 2010. That’s when Sister Ypomoni received her monastic name, which means “patience”. She died here a few months later.

Note: In February, Gregory Tucker travelled from New York City to All Saints’ Monastery, Calverton, N.Y. at the eastern end of Long Island. There he spoke with Gerondissa Foteini and Sister Theonymphi about the foundation of their community and their inspiring work with survivors of human trafficking.

What an amazing foundation story! And what have you been doing since then? What ministries is the monastery developing? ST: You want me to keep going? GF: Sure, keep going. ST: I love talking. (Laughter) Obviously we have our life of prayer. We say prayers throughout the day. Normally, we get up at 4:15 AM, and say the Midnight Office, Orthros, and the First Hour. Then we have the Hours throughout the day, the Ninth Hour 43

and Vespers at 4:00 PM, dinner, and Compline. And then we do it all again! When it comes to our projects, we always felt called to contribute to our local community. We didn’t know how that would look and didn’t have— GF: —a specific plan. ST: But we were open to whatever. When we first came, we learned about this organization called Birthright. They try to be supportive to women who are having a “crisis pregnancy.” GF: They provide free clothing, services and supplies. They help with rent. Whatever they can. Whatever the women need.

Left to right: Gerontissa Foteini, Sister Theonymphi, and Sister Ypomoni.

ST: We collaborated in a very small way, doing things like running a diaper drive. Then several times they approached us for help housing unmarried mothers. There’s not much extra room here for additional people on the premises so we had to say no. But they kept asking and said that they would help us with money to set something up if we wanted to run it.

We asked a presbytera who lives near us in Southampton, who’s also a social worker, what she thought. She said, “What about a home for women who are the victims of sex trafficking?” Our first reaction was, “What? What are you talking about?” All we knew was that sex trafficking happens, you know, elsewhere. Same for Presbytera Anastasia, until Professor Aristotle Papanikolaou from Fordham University—whose father is Presbytera’s godfather—talked to her about social issues and kept asking why the church wasn’t doing anything about it. The three of us started having meetings to figure out what this would look like: What would we call it? Would we need a board? How were we going to fund it? That’s where the HOPE Project came from. HOPE stands for housing, occupation, potential, and empowerment. The idea is to provide rent-free housing for a small group of women for two years, where they can live and get all the wraparound services they need, including mental healthcare, physical treatment, and education. We also provide them with employment through our business, Whitefield Farm. A lot of people think that Whitefield Farm funds the HOPE Project, but that’s not the case. The farm provides occupation for the HOPE Project women, so that they can get paid something. They gain specific job skills but also general skills, such as working well with other people, coming in on time, and being responsible for something. These are hugely important for these women, who have been controlled and exploited from when they were small kids. These are women who are trafficked to the United States?


ST: No, but that’s what we thought, too, in the beginning.

ST: Even for something that we’d need to fix up.

GF: Initially, we figured, we’re going to have to find volunteers who speak Spanish, Chinese. But we discovered that Long Island is one of the worst places for human trafficking in America—and there’s not one single social service specifically for human trafficking survivors. The statistic, I think, is that over 90% of these women are American-born citizens. Many were runaways or were in the foster system, and became commercially exploited for sex between the ages of 11 and 14. Their family may have been their original exploiters. They really have absolutely no skills or resources.

GF: But we may be able to rent to begin with.

How do you first encounter these women? GF: If a girl is caught prostituting when she’s 16—and this is so weird to me, that she would be prosecuted at 16—she is put into the Department of Social Services. She then has shelter and a somewhat stable environment until the age of 21. But if she is over 18 when she is caught, it doesn’t matter whether she’s been criminally exploited from the age of 11. She is going to be charged with the crime of prostitution. She’s going to go to jail and it’s going to go on her permanent record and when she leaves the jail, she will have absolutely nothing. That’s the group we work with. Our plan is to buy a home nearby to house the women. This is a part of our struggle. . . . ST: First of all, to buy a home out here on Long Island, even if it’s a junker home in some town that people think is super ghetto, is expensive. GF: We’re talking about half a million dollars. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

ST: In the meantime, we’re pressing ahead with Whitefield Farm, so we can begin to hire women from that group. GF: To start, we’ll work with other organizations, like domestic violence shelters. These organizations don’t specialize in dealing with victims of human trafficking, but they do encounter the odd case here and there. Those shelters only receive government funding for each woman for 90 days maximum, so they need longer-term opportunities, which we can help with. ST: We will be launching the occupation part of the HOPE Project soon. Hopefully we will begin hiring in March. But many of these women are scattered around. They lose their funding, so they go back to the streets and we can’t find them again. What needs to happen to make your vision reality? ST: We need a huge donation— GF: —or we need a lot of small donations. If 500 people each give $13 per month, that will cover the mortgage on a house, or the rent if we can’t find an appropriate property. We’ve spoken to some potential donors and seen some properties, but it hasn’t fallen into place yet. Once you have the property, how will it operate? Will someone live there with the women? GF: We’ve looked at various models. The best one seems to be that there 45

would be no “house mother,” because authority figures are a trigger for many of these women—many of them have been abused by authority figures their whole life. We plan to let the women work out their own boundaries and rules. This model has been successful in other contexts. Do you have any sense of why this issue is so invisible in America? People seem to know that sex trafficking happens in, say, Thailand, but not in Long Island. It doesn’t seem to be on the social agenda at all. Is it to do with cultural anxieties around discussing sex? ST: It could be. Also, many people think these women choose this lifestyle, so they ask why we should give them any options. GF: The attitude we encounter from a lot of people we talk to is, “Well, if the prostitutes don’t want to do it, they can stop.” There’s no awareness of the structures of power involved. GF: Right. We met a woman in Tennessee who is now running a housing program similar to what we want the HOPE Project to become. She had been in 13 foster homes as a child and was abused in every one. But I think you’re right about the broader society maybe keeping it under the radar. ST: A social worker also pointed out to us how the normalization of pimp culture contributes to the problem. That kind of behavior is accepted as something people choose. A rapper can go on stage with women in chains and that’s thought to be OK. There’s also a connection to pornography. GF: We attended a presentation at the United Nations by an Interpol officer 46

who works on internet pornography crimes across national borders. She said that online, 40% of pornography is child pornography. Sometimes the children are portrayed as adults, so you wouldn’t even know that you’re watching child pornography. It’s not as though everyone is looking for that. Even more disturbing, 10% online is infant pornography. This problem continues to grow. She said her job is like playing whack-a-mole: you hit one target and instantly another one pops up. It’s impossible to keep up with it. It’s hard to know what to say. This is obviously really important work. It seems to me that yours is a fairly unusual ministry in the Orthodox world, though. You’ve mentioned secular organizations that you’ve worked with, but I don’t know of any monasteries doing work quite like this. Is that just my ignorance? GF: We found other communities . . . but they existed four hundred years ago. (Laughter) ST: There’s a saint, Filothei of Athens— GF: —Her feast day is tomorrow [February 19], actually— ST: —She lived during the Ottoman era [1522–1589]. She was born to wealthy parents and was forced to marry—basically—this huge jerk. (Laughter) He became more abusive, but died soon thereafter, when she was only 17, leaving her a widow with a huge fortune. She founded a monastery in Athens dedicated to St. Andrew, where she became a nun and educated young women. She taught them how to do what was considered women’s work, like cleaning, cooking, and embroidery. There were also a lot of harems in Athens then. Women

would escape and go to her, or she would buy them out of slavery, and then she would teach them skills to enable them to support themselves. That’s really cool! In the end, she was murdered by the owner of a harem. They came and beat her during a vigil, and she died from the wounds a few months later. I mean, that’s big. She was a woman doing something very unusual at that time, under the Ottoman yoke. But . . . nothing today? GF: There are communities in Greece that do outreach to women. But Orthodoxy in America is young. We don’t have such variety in monastic life yet. How do you negotiate issues around your Orthodox identity when doing this work? When I was looking at the websites of your two ministries—the HOPE Project and Whitefield Farm— it’s not completely obvious, especially to non-Orthodox, that your work is run by monastics. Is that a conscious choice? GF: With Whitefield Farm, definitely. We have lots of accounts with secular stores. For example, we supply a bookstore in Brookline, MA, which is in a heavily Jewish neighborhood, and I’m not sure they want to advertise that these products are handmade by Orthodox Christian nuns! With the HOPE Project, it’s similar. This really confuses the Greek Orthodox community. They keep saying things like, “How are you going to find these Greek girls?” (Laughter) Obviously, we will take whoever is in need. There is no religious test. But, of course, our Orthodox faith has formed our perspective on treating the whole person. We don’t just want to give someone housing. We also want to give her the tools to build a functional life and to contribute to The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

society. It’s important for us to use the models given by our Church and the examples we’ve found in the past. Tell me more about Whitefield Farm. What is your vision there? How do you want to see this grow? GF: With the farm, there is a business model! We don’t just say, “Well, this is all in God’s hands!” (Laughter) ST: There’s marketing to do, right?! Until now, we’ve done what I call the Summer Schlepping of Soap, across Long Island. There are 14 Greek churches and they all have festivals, great opportunities to sell soap. But it’s really tiring, and there is no way for us not to be off schedule when the hours of the festival are 11 to 1—not AM to PM, but AM to AM! I guess with a small community, you come home and still have all the chores. Nobody has cooked dinner for you. ST: Right. So now we’re trying to go for more wholesale accounts. We’ve tried a trade show. It will take time for the responses to come in. We’ve also reached out to stores we found through social media that we think would be interested in our products. GF: We’re really aiming at the boutique market. Our customers are asking about the sources of the ingredients, whether they’re tested on animals, whether the packaging is recyclable. So, changing direction a bit, presumably you already have or will have personal relationships with the women who enter the HOPE Project community. Have you figured out yet the extent to which your faith and monastic life will be foregrounded in those relationships? It seems to me that some women who have 47

been abused and prostituted probably imagine that the Church will be judgmental. As monastics—even as women monastics—you represent the institution, that “scary thing.” What is your experience? GF: When we first became nuns—oh, I don’t know if I should say this . . . ST: I’ll say it! As soon as we put on our habits and went out in public, we noticed that minorities were the nicest to us. GT: That’s interesting. Particular minorities? ST: There are a lot of Latinos here because there are a lot of rich people. The Latinos are the “help.” There are a lot of black people, too. I’m telling you: I would rather be in their community than over in a white neighborhood in the Hamptons, where people assume that I’m a Muslim. I don’t know why people treat Muslims as a problem. But the minorities around here are so kind to us. They go out of their way to say “hi” to us. They see us as a fellow minority. GF: We talked to a trafficking survivor about whether she thought our habits would be an impediment to forming relationships. She said not for her and she didn’t really think that it would be for other women. They don’t see it as threatening.

© 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.


ST: We were walking with a trafficking survivor who was going to address the UN. She said, “You guys are just so cool!” And I said, “Well, yeah. I mean, we spend a lot of time working on it!” (Laughter) I really think that if you’re just genuine, people relate to that, no matter what. We’re just going to of-

fer love. That’s all. Whatever sticks, sticks. Part of why we have a team is that we know that some survivors will connect better with Presbytera Anastasia, because she’s a mom. Having a variety is important. Different priests connect with different kinds of people. It’s similar. This is really intriguing because people tend to say that the church must blend in if it wants to be successful in its mission. But it seems that you’ve found that the distinctiveness can help reach these different minorities. It’s really beautiful and inspiring that the most downtrodden people in this area are able to connect to you. GF: We were surprised ourselves. ST: Some Catholics we encounter are, like, “Sister, I haven’t seen a whole habit in 50 years . . . It looks good.” It’s nice! People thank us for just living this life, offering ourselves to the Church—not that we feel that we’re doing anything special. These are non -Orthodox people over at Home Depot! (Laughter) It’s nine minutes until Vespers is meant to begin. Is there anything you’d like to add—apart from asking someone to give you half a million dollars for the house?! GF: I would just issue this challenge: Maybe you have a calling to use your talents and strengths in a way new to the Orthodox Church to help your neighbor. Just because the Church wasn’t trying to help victims of human trafficking four years ago didn’t mean that we couldn’t find ways to do that. Just because the Church isn’t doing something now doesn’t mean that you yourself can’t be doing it.

Processing DuringLeanne the Paschal Parrot. Service. Attending Photothe byAnnual LeanneFestival Parrott. (St Vladimir’s Seminary Education Day, 2012) The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017 49


Beauty Made by Hands Galina Tregubov and Anna DuMoulin The ecclesiastical embroiderer Galina Tregubov was born into a family of craftswomen in Moscow in 1950. She learned a vast repertoire of embroidery techniques from her grandmother, who often created her own designs. In 1975, Tregubov came to New Hampshire with her husband, Fr. Andrew, and three years later she created her first holy shroud. Local recognition followed, and in 1999 her work was included in the Smithsonian Museum Folklife Festival  in Washington, D.C. She has completed more than 50 works for churches and private homes throughout the U.S.

Galina Tregubov, Shroud (1995)


Anna DuMoulin, Our Lady of the Sign (2006)

Anna DuMoulin grew up, as she says, “steeped in art and Orthodoxy,” as the daughter of embroiderer Galina and iconographer Fr. Andrew Tregubov. She holds a BFA from the New Hampshire Institute of Art. At her studio, Bright Icons (, she paints icon panels such as these in egg tempera with a bright, transparent palette.

The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017


Galina Tregubov, “Do Not Lament Me, O Mother” (1998)


Anna DuMoulin, The Raising of Lazarus (2012).

The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

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“The Job Is Compassion and Inspiration” Jennifer Nahas Talks with Jennifer Haddad Mosher Note: Jennifer Nahas is a professional educational evaluator. She has led local and national evaluation studies, facilitated strategic vision setting, and worked with a variety of stakeholders to implement best practices in schools. Nahas was director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) from 2010–2014. She met Jennifer Haddad Mosher in New York City a few weeks ago to talk about Orthodox youth ministry.

Let’s start with a little about your background. You were involved in the wider world of non-profit youth work; what made you cross over into youth ministry? My vocation as an Orthodox Christian was formed early, thanks to my priest and parish, St. Mary’s in Brooklyn. As a leading parish in the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Teen SOYO (Society of Orthodox Youth Organizations), we served in many community agencies, like the Salvation Army, and learned how blessed we were to have abundance, love, and security. Several years as a counselor at the Antiochian Village gave me the opportunity to work intensely with our Orthodox campers to build fellowship, which strengthens self-worth and manifests God’s presence. But it was in my work with the Children’s Relief Fund (CRF) that I really started to see needs for compassion and service. Not only did we raised a lot of money for Lebanese children of war to provide the basics— housing, food, medical supplies—but later in my life, I chose to adopt two beautiful children from Lebanon. At that time, I was at Brandeis—I have a master’s in Public Policy—where my vocation became my career. My first job out of college showed me how easy it was to bring my Orthodox values to the workplace. I served as a community planner in the Mayor’s


Office in Boston, ensuring underrepresented groups received the support and training they needed to move up the ladder. It was perfect: making sure neighborhoods in Roxbury and Dorchester get equal funding to those on Beacon Hill? That was so Orthodox, to me! After other jobs in higher education, I formed my own evaluation and research firm. And after 12 years in the field, working on service learning, college retention, and skill building evaluations, I was asked to conduct focus groups at OCF’s College Conference. I was so excited. After all these years, I was bringing my professional expertise to the cornerstone of my being: my faith. But as on any project, I would have the daunting task of taking stakeholders’ uncensored reactions and presenting them to the Church. As I was digging through the results, my non-Orthodox business partner (it’s very important to have a “think partner” who can push back and hone your analysis) said, “Jen, everything you told me just seems so watered down!” I said, “This is the Orthodox Church. They aren’t used to evaluations. It’s going to be, at best, overwhelming to them and, at worst, threatening.” My goal was to ensure the most important elements were heard and addressed so we, as a Church, could provide the best for our college students. You are describing a common challenge for those who bring expertise

from secular employment. We do jobs that may not exist formally in the church, and when we are invited to share our skills in that setting, it can be a shock seeing the difference in expectations and standards. I’ve felt similar tensions in education, in something as simple as curriculum development. I will look at materials and—thinking critically, having been professionally involved in curriculum publishing—I will think: “Wow, where do we start?” Yet I know that the people involved, the people who worked to produce the material, had excellent intentions. I don’t want to come across as saying, “What are you doing?!” Yet there needs to be a way to have difficult conversations to help improve how ministry is done. You are absolutely right. I try to walk the fine line of providing honest feedback and inspiring clients because they are on the front lines, doing God’s work, and their intentions are good. Sometimes it is difficult to say things so people are able to hear. There can be an unwillingness to consider

other perspectives, because they do not come from sources people would consider traditionally authoritative. It’s not always a gender divide, or a clergy–laity divide. I once had an older woman come up to me after a talk and ask, “Why should we listen to you?” Never mind that I had the blessing of my bishop, was educated at a well-respected Orthodox seminary, and had over 10 years of experience in Christian education. That helped push me to pursue the doctorate. I had been encouraged to do so by all my advisers at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, but thought, “Why yet another degree? It’s expensive. It’s a burden on my family. Why can’t I just get down to business and serve the Church?” But I kept encountering these incredible blind spots. It’s hard to experience it, but I find it even harder to watch. While working in the ministry, I saw women who are articulate, smart, 100% committed, but the powers-that-be couldn’t take them seriously. It was awful to watch. That happened to me as well. As the director, I was charged with building Framing a house with a team at Project Mexico.

The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017


Hosting OCF students at Harvard and MIT for a homecooked meal and discussion.


the ministry, so my team conducted need assessments, examined other campus faith ministries, and worked with Orthodox experts to put meat on the OCF skeleton. We crafted an intentional, comprehensive model with rigorous training components, vetting criteria for chaplains, and a transparent process for conflict resolution. Thanks to Ancient Faith Radio, we even developed a three-part podcast to educate folks about what real ministry would look like. It turned out to be a complete and utter waste of time because nobody was interested in building even the ground floor of Orthodox campus ministry. I remember saying to our board, “You cannot call this ‘ministry’; OCF is an organization that provides a few opportunities for our strong Orthodox high school students (those coming from camps and the CrossRoad summer institute) going to college.”

ground checks on its chaplains, although we know not all jurisdictions do them either. I brought this up to the board and the hierarchs countless times. They could not or would not hear me. It was only when I involved a gentleman from the insurance world that I started to break through. It would take one bad person in a woman’s dorm room—but I still don’t really think they understand they are sitting on a timebomb.

Another area that would have received much more attention in the secular world had to do with vetting and holding accountable those doing OCF work in the field. OCF did no back-

Yes. Maybe it’s because we’ve had so much work in the outside world, we know: when you enter into something, you look at all the risks. You need to know how to meet all the demands of

It’s incredibly difficult when you are doing any kind of direct service provision in so many different locations. The paperwork and the legal issues are so complicated. We struggle with the same challenges in FOCUS [Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve]. People are so eager to work, but these need to be addressed first; the foundation must be laid very intentionally.

financial accountability, and how to ensure safety of the organization and of those you serve, way before you can even start looking at how your services are, or aren’t, having an impact. I am struck by the fact that service and volunteerism were such an important part of your formation. These days I am thinking harder about how religious education can better support service and volunteerism, because in many parishes we deal with them in such a token way. Rarely do we see sustained engagement with our needy neighbors, which is what is needed for these encounters to be truly transformative. Too often efforts are a one-off: “We’ll distribute Thanksgiving baskets!” Yes, the Thanksgiving baskets are nice, but it’s a feel-good box we check. I was part of the evaluation team on Americorps and I spent three years out in the field looking at service learning projects that happened over time and had sustained, transformative results. I thought, this is easy, how are we, as a Church, not doing this? I commend the FOCUS for taking the big leap into real service. At OCF, I created rubrics that defined what it is to be an Orthodox leader on campus and what it means to serve as an Orthodox Christian. Take the Real Break program, for example. Wherever students travel, it’s their job to spend the entire week seeing the light in the person they are with. That’s it. Real Break, of course, puts students in places where they can make a difference: build a garden, read to children, deliver meals. But what it’s really about is to witness, in the moment, and be present to the light. To see Christ in the person before them. That is where we meet Christ. My foundational experience in Christian education was working in inner-city The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

New Haven with children who lived in housing projects. While completing my first master’s degree, I interned with a woman, Gretchen Wolff Pritchard, who ran a children’s ministry out of a local Episcopal parish. We ran a summer camp and, during the school year, had a weekly evening program for including a worship service, art projects, and dinner. Later we added an after-school program. This woman had designed all her own educational materials, because nothing on the market met the needs of those children. She was brilliant and creative, and the materials were beautiful and effective. These kids were from desperately poor families, were often raised in single-parent homes or by grandparents, and were dealing with failing schools and parents or older siblings on drugs or in prison. Yet we did incredible things with them and had wonderful outcomes. She would give workshops about it and people would remark on her materials: “Those are incredible! Where did you get them?” She would come home and tell me about these exchanges, and finally, I said, “Gretchen, you should find a way to produce and sell what you make; clearly there is a market.” She said, “I have no idea how I would do that.” So I taught myself how to write grant proposals and raised capital for her to start replicating her materials. Over the next decade I managed the production of everything she designed. We don’t have that level of skill, in the Orthodox church. You should be doing that for us, in a paid position, because you have done it successfully out in the community. Or we should satisfy ourselves with being comfortable with adapting and using excellent materials that already exist. But having experienced work57

A hike in the woods at a college OCF conference.

ing with kids in that deeply impoverished context, here I am, a matushka in an Orthodox community, running a church school much more conventionally than I would do if it were completely up to me. I’ve realized that kids in upper socioeconomic brackets may be well-dressed and fed and may attend better schools, but they too have deep unmet needs. Many experience a similar disconnect with their parents and with the Church. They’re also trying to figure out how what they encounter in the world and in the Church fit together. Yet no one seems willing to put in the amount of energy that Gretchen did to get inside of kids’ needs and meet them. In our parishes, we may talk about it as ministry, but really we approach from a sense of anxiety: “we just have to have a children’s program”—or in your case, “we just have to have a youth or college ministry.” Then we can check that box. Yes, there’s that. But anxiety is fear. I think people


are afraid of dealing with the kinds of secular issues that we deal with constantly in New Haven or Detroit. What we see out in the larger world is playing out with our Orthodox teens and college students as well. They are not different. Having worked with hundreds of Orthodox college students, I see three types. There are the “cave dwellers”: students afraid to leave their rooms. They have been sheltered and lack the skills to negotiate the complex college scene, so they don’t integrate. At the other end of the spectrum are the “lock boxers”: they lock their identities in a box, to be taken out after their college party years. But we all know these kids lose the key to the box. They wave goodbye to their parents. The pants get tighter, the shorts get shorter for young women. For the young man, bravado is rewarded. These students make unhealthy and sometimes life-altering choices that can lead to depression, dropping out, or a complete loss of self. Then there’s the group in the middle, the students who have developed skills to balance both tendencies. If we’ve done our job, we’ve created Orthodox college students with a deep sense of purpose, unbridled joy and openness, and a strong moral center. They become the designated drivers, whom others depend on in crisis, who get help for a depressed friend or organize a visit to a hospitalized friend. It’s the young woman who doesn’t plan on having sex, but who is prepared for the realities of sex in college. It’s the young man who might drink at a party but doesn’t overdo it. These are the Orthodox students who will intervene and protect. I can tell you from being on many college campuses, these students are noticed and appreciated. They are the new crop of servant leaders that embody Christ’s message and action. They know their worth.

We as a Church don’t want to look at the cave dwellers or the lock boxers. We must overcome our collective fear. It’s okay that we don’t know exactly what do about it, but we have to acknowledge the reality of their lives, expect mistakes, and be ready to serve these students. Let’s return to the theme of rubrics, intentional planning, and evaluation. If you ask your average parent, “What’s your desired outcome, either for your individual kid or our youth program?”—if the parent were really honest, the desired outcome would be something like “We want more people in the next generation to pay the bills. We want our church to survive.” Which, of course, is a much paler version of what should concern us: our children’s spiritual well-being. We need a collective conversation on what the outcome should be. When I asked parents what they hoped their children would get from OCF, you aren’t going to believe what I heard: “I want my kid to marry not just an Orthodox Christian, but a Greek or a Russian Orthodox Christian.” I was stunned. We have a lot of work to do if this is our starting point. The corollary I encounter in education is that we spend so much time in discussions about what to teach: how much Scripture, how much history, how much tradition. “Let’s make a chart about who needs to know what when.” Yet the most important thing is to teach discernment. Discernment and thinking are critical to the Christian life, yet we virtually never talk about them. I used to tell some of the priests I worked with in OCF: “Think of college students as emerging. Or evolving. They will make mistakes; our The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

job is to be there without judgment but with compassion and inspiration. Don’t shut them down. Don’t shame them. We’ll lose them forever.” Young people do make mistakes; we should expect it and bear it graciously. Perhaps this reflects how immature we are as a church in America. We treat the faith as if it were fragile. Orthodoxy is stronger and more flexible than that.

Conducting a workshop for seminarians on the realities, risks, and opportunities of attending college today. Photo by John P. Nieuwsma.

Even though we’re the ancient faith! Orthodoxy is a soul. It’s not just knowledge; it’s character, it’s who you are. What we are talking about is a lot messier, it’s not really easily programmable. It’s modeling, facilitating, rather than directive teaching. It’s experiential. In my field, we would say, “Every child needs a caring and committed adult,” which is code for, “Every child needs an adult, not necessarily a parent but perhaps a teacher, who really is committed and is going to open possibilities.” That’s what allows a young person to be successful. The Orthodox Church can do that. One study I cited at OCF showed that students from urban Baptist communities 59

had retention and graduation rates higher than the national averages. The study found that this resulted from their connections to their churches, which have a strong and distinct culture, similar to those in immigrant communities. These cultures were different from mainstream religion. These urban churches were the centers of family life, with strong youth groups, lengthy church services, different food and music. Sound familiar? Students from a tightknit church community, such as a second-generation Orthodox church, can do really well in college. How great is that? The Orthodox Church could knock this one out of the park with some intention and resources. © 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

What does it mean to do really well? To fall—because we all fall—and to get back up.

When I arrived at OCF, I was told a story that became my goal for the ministry. A kid from New England goes to college in New Orleans. The first weekend, his mother drags him to church and introduces him to the priest. The priest gives him his card, saying, “Call me if you need me.” The young man, not interested in going to church, immerses himself fully in the social end of college by joining a frat. Weeks later, there he is, drunk out of his mind; his friends have ditched him, he is in an unfamiliar area and scared. The priest’s card happens to be in his pocket. He calls the priest at 2 AM and says, “I don’t know where I am.” What does the priest do? Gets in his car and picks him up. Puts him to bed without a lecture. Gets him up in the morning, makes him a nice big breakfast, and says: “I am so glad you called.”

Jennifer Nahas is a veteran education practitioner. She focuses on offering evaluation research and data-oriented strategic planning assistance to educational organizations that promote success for young people in high school, college, and beyond. As Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Fellowship from 2010–2014, she worked as an advocate for Orthodox students on college campuses.

Jennifer Haddad Mosher holds a MAR from Yale Divinity School and a ThM from Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and is a PhD candidate at Union Theological Seminary. Her research focuses on the theology of childhood and the development of Orthodox pedagogy. She has represented the OCA at ecumenical gatherings and now serves as a member of the WCC Reference Group on Human Sexuality. She teaches in workshops and retreats and has worked as a grant writer and an editor. She lives in the northeastern United States with her husband and three children.



In Need of Trees Vasilina Orlova

A lonely marble lion Lies in front of the mansion, With no lion that usually comes with the first, Alone that is to say, In the abysmal absence of the second lion, A representative of the two of them, Stretching lazily Next to the marble pedestal, Near the marble paw on the marble ball, There should be a tree Better Several trees, in which several birds sit and tweet, Or maybe no birds, no tweets, and no trees (And no lions) That’s all the picture really needs. [2014]

The Wheel 9 | Spring 2017

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Singing Lamentations. Photo by Leanne Parrott. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



Finding God in the Hospital Tatiana Bouteneff

Last week I had a visit with a patient who had been in the hospital about ten days, I think, and hadn’t been visited by a chaplain. I just wanted to check in. He was lying on his side, facing away from the door. I see God’s hand in chaplaincy work so often, because so often the patient that I just happen to visit is the patient who, it turns out, really needs it. So I came in and we started talking. It became evident that he really wanted a visit, or needed a visit, that he was really feeling alone and abandoned. He said, “You know, I don’t even know why I’m here. I only drank two little shots—two little shots!—and they brought me in here and I’ve been here for ten days! That’s crazy!” A chaplain’s role is absolutely never to judge. That can be hard work for the likes of me, but I have learned so much about letting go of judgment. So I’m listening to him, entering into his world, in order to hear how this feels to him, how he wants to share it. Another thing I’ve learned as a chaplain is how important it can be to refrain from talking. Sometimes the best response I can give is just to leave a silence, in which the patient can say something more if he or she wants to. It’s a balance, because you don’t want the silence to become uncomfortable. But sometimes silence can bring things to the next level. 64

So with this patient I left space for that silence and, when he started talking again, he went a little deeper. He touched on the fact that he used to drink a lot. I was curious whether he wanted to explore these issues further. In some situations, I feel I have established enough trust that I might ask a question directly; in other situations it’s a matter of just opening the door, and letting it come out if it’s going to come out and not if it’s not. So I said, “I’m wondering whether you ever attended A.A.,” to which he responded, “Oh, I was in N.A. for decades!”— referring to Narcotics Anonymous. “And it did help,” he said. Before long he is telling me, from the heart and with some emotion, “I was a junkie for 20 years. You can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up every morning and the first thing and the only thing on your mind is how you’re going to get some dope.” This is a man who doesn’t fit preconceived notions—my preconceived notion, anyway—of what a junkie should look like. But now he’s shared it. He has been generous and trusting enough simply to tell me. He’s not very articulate, but he’s saying all this so vividly, and I can tell that it’s important for him to be sharing. As we talk more, he starts really sinking into what a nightmare his life has been for decades: that he was on heroin for so long and quit, he’d been on methadone and quit, he’d

had binges of drinking. He alludes to family issues too. As he spoke, it seemed as though for him this was his entire reality. I began to feel that it might be helpful for him to dip into another aspect of his life, if that’s where he can go or wants to go. So I asked him, “What if you think back, way back, before the drugs, before the alcohol, do you have memories that it gives you pleasure to look back on?” He paused, and then he said, “Well, I was raised on a farm, and what I liked most of all was the outdoors. You know, the sounds of the outdoors, the water running in the river, the leaves on the trees.” Right in front of me, he became a poet! And then he said, “My grandpa lived with us, and what I loved most of all was going fishing with my grandpa.” I had a sense, from the way his face, body language, and tone of voice shifted as he spoke, that he was glad to be remembering this. He seemed to soften to it. The nightmare continued for him now, you know. But he had dipped in at least temporarily to a part of his life that, chances are good, he maybe hadn’t remembered in ages— this life he had before the nightmare began. You’ll notice we never really got into God. We never got into faith, because

what he needed at that moment was the emotional support. And yet, in my opinion, it was a spiritual visit. It had been a pretty long visit so I began to shift to bring it to a close. As I was leaving he thanked me a couple of times, and said, “That was very insightful.” The next time I’m in the hospital I’m going to stop in and see how he’s doing. That’s an example of a recent visit. Each visit is utterly unique. If I sum up what happens in my patient visits as a chaplain, it’s a pretty sacred thing. God is the presence that makes the difference. I come as a person who truly cares about this patient, who listens deeply—with that as a starting point. And it might sound corny, but I can truly say that I love each patient as the visit continues. Fr. Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest very interested in contemplative spirituality, said on a podcast I heard the other day, “Anybody who comes in contact with a truly vulnerable person cannot help but be affected or changed.” That put into words one of the things I feel so, so grateful for, in what I do as a chaplain. I am blessed to be very affected, to really love each person, because that person is giving me the huge gift of sharing his or her vulnerability. It can’t help but affect me, change me. It allows me to see God in that person.

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After some 35 years as a teacher and school administrator, Tatiana Bouteneff graduated from this career to a calling. She trained as a hospital chaplain, completing her clinical pastoral education at two different hospitals, and was commissioned by the Orthodox Church in America in June 2015.

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Venerating the Shroud. Photo by Leanne Parrott. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



In the Lord’s Vineyard: A Tribute to Catherine Lingas Paul Lingas Note: Catherine Lingas has been an exemplar of creativity and commitment to enhancing the missions and ministries of the Greek Orthodox Church, especially in the western United States. She retired a few years ago.

Born into and raised in the United Church of Canada, Catherine Lingas has led a remarkable life as a convert to the Orthodox Christian faith. She has raised four children, taught many years of Sunday school, and also worked tirelessly for a number of different mission and philanthropic organizations both within and in concert with the Orthodox Church. Not long after being chrismated into the Orthodox faith at what was then Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (now Cathedral) in Portland, Oregon, Catherine began volunteering in the church library, a library that, with her help, soon became Ethos

bookstore. As she tells it, “Less than half of the customers were our parishioners; some were people from other Orthodox backgrounds, and the rest were seekers drawn by the icons displayed in the window. Ethos provided a place to ask questions and to get information. During the 18 years that Ethos was open, the number of Orthodox churches in Portland went from three to thirteen.” Catherine was the primary catalyst behind the expansion of the bookstore, setting up shop in a storefront across the street from the church. Catherine did the ordering, kept the books, made sure to promote the store, and was very often the one staffing what became a long-lasting, unique outlet of Orthodoxy for parishioners who needed to stock up on candles, icons, wicks, and prayer books, and for those interested in the Orthodox faith. In 1980 the Diocese (now Metropolis) of San Francisco became involved in missions through the Philoptochos Board. In February of that year, Catherine became a member of the board, on which she served for twelve years before His Grace Metropolitan Anthony (of blessed memory) appointed her president of the newly established San Francisco Metropolis Commission for Orthodox Mission and Evangelism (COME). Its mission was to educate and engage the faithful, to foster parish growth, and to further


the work of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). During her time with COME, Catherine helped to start, monitor, and encourage over fourteen missions and small parishes in the seven western states. In 1981, Catherine came up with the idea of having coin-collecting jars in each home, an idea she called “Pennies and Prayers.” The program’s goal was to increase mission consciousness among the faithful and to raise funds to aid overseas missions. While it came before her participation in—and indeed before the creation of—COME, the Pennies and Prayers program eventually became a joint program with the Mission Commission. During this time, Catherine also served on the board of the OCMC from 1985 to 2004. She went on to serve as chair of the Archdiocesan Council Committee for Outreach and Evangelism of the Greek Archdiocese. Catherine was involved with mission work for over twenty years, helping to plant and nurture Orthodox churches primarily in the seven western states, while also watching the growth of the Church overseas by serving on the board of the OCMC. While her exact duties varied by city, parish, and year, Catherine was often an on-the-ground liaison to those who wanted to form a mission parish. She traveled up and down the Pacific coast, meeting with clergy and laity and helping them to understand just what being a mission parish or a mission priest entailed. Her faith and hard work, as well as her loving and positive attitude, were integral to helping many of these communities understand what was necessary, both practically and in terms of faith and love in Christ, to create a mission church and have it grow into a full-fledged Orthodox parish. As The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

Catherine herself said, “In 2010, with the shortage of priests, we are unable to plant new parishes but are focusing on the growth of smaller parishes. We focus on helping the current parishioners to grow spiritually, become more committed, educated, and fully practicing Orthodox Christians. Ardent Orthodox Christians will attract others to the Orthodox faith.” Catherine also served on the board of the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) and was a member of Church Women United and the National Council of Churches. As a member of EMO, she traveled with a group to the Holy Land, met with members of Congress, and helped to foster communication between parishes and organizations representing a variety of faiths. Catherine was most recently involved in the Philoxenia (love of strangers) ministry at Holy Trinity. Begun in 2007, it involved a more concerted effort to have designated greeters in church every week to welcome people into the church. As Catherine wrote, “We never know what person, on what day, whether a frequent attendee or a stranger, will come into our midst and experience the presence and the power of God. That is why the mission of the Philoxenia ministry is not only to be a welcoming presence in the narthex and a helpful facilitator connecting people to Holy Trinity’s ministries. It is to be an example to every parishioner and ministry in our Church. All of us must be open and accepting of every person who comes through our doors, recognizing that all are made in the image of God, and all are called to be disciples.” In truth, these words perfectly sum up Catherine’s love and contributions to the Greek Orthodox Church and to the world as a whole.

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Singing in the Parish Choir. Photo by Leanne Parrott. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



The Theological Voice of Kassiani Susan Arida

1 Christos Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), 45. 2

Other women hymnographers include Theodosia, Thekla, and Palaiologina.

3 The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, ed. Alexander P. Kazhdan and Alice-Mary Talbot (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 1109. 4

Anna Silvas, “Kassia the Nun c. 810–865: An Appreciation,” in Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience, 800–1200, ed. Lynda Garland (London: Ashgate, 2006), 17.


It has been suggested that, “while recognized as a first rate hymnographer, Kassiani has been denied canonization” until recently. Antonia Tripolitis, Kassia: The Legend, the Woman and Her Work (New York: Garland Publishing, 1992), xi.


In his book The Freedom of Morality, Christos Yannaras cites the Hymn of the Nun Kassiani in his discussion of the “unsearchable immensity” in the sin of the human person and the immeasurable mercy of a personal God for the truly repentant human person.1 Sung in the Orthodox Church at the Bridegroom Matins and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts for Great and Holy Wednesday, the Hymn of the Nun Kassiani is a profound theological statement that conveys the kenotic love of Christ for his creation in spite of its “multitude of sins.” It is rare in Orthodox theological discussions for a woman to be quoted as an authority, so it is surprising, yet gratifying, to find Yannaras drawing on Kassiani. Though it is likely that many of her writings have been lost, extant material shows that Kassiani made significant contributions to the intellectual and spiritual ethos that form the Orthodox tradition. To become better acquainted with Kassiani, we will look at the details of her life, including two significant incidents that provide historical and theological context for her work, and at texts that convey her unique perspective through several recurring themes. Of the four known women hymnographers of the Byzantine period, Kassiani (also known as Cassia, Kasia, and Ikasia) is the most famous.2 She was

a child confessor, a defender of icons during the final wave of iconoclasm, and a prolific composer of hymnography and non-liturgical poetry.3 While the key dates of her biography are somewhat difficult to pin down, Anna Silvas has determined she was likely born around 810 and died around 865.4 On the liturgical calendar, she is commemorated on September 7.5 Coming from an aristocratic family, Kassiani enjoyed the advantage of an educational curriculum that featured Greek language, theology, and sacred music, as well as classical philosophy and literature. Much of what else we know about the young Kassiani can be traced to three extant letters written to her by her monastic mentor Theodore (759–826), abbot of the famous Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople. These letters, which have been translated by Silvas, are estimated to have been written in the 820s. They respond to several issues, including Kassiani’s desire for a monastic vocation and, as in this excerpt, her involvement with the iconoclastic persecutions: “Indeed, I hear of your noble deeds from Dorotheos, our spiritual child, who is imprisoned very near you. Do you know what it is you do? You participate with him in the struggle. . . .” In a subsequent letter, Theodore recognizes her willingness to endure persecution for her faith: “Indeed, you have

already chosen to suffer for Christ in this present persecution—as though it were not enough that you were beaten in the past—and again, you chafe because you are unable to endure your burning longing for the good confession. . . .” Beyond Kassiani’s suffering for her faith, Theodore commends her ability to articulate her faith. In another letter he states: Once more, your Decorum has expressed to us things so wise and understanding, that it is right for me to be astonished and give thanks to the Lord when I see such knowledge in a maiden lately sprung. While you have not surpassed those of old, of whose wisdom and education we in this generation, both men and women, fall far short—and immeasurably so— you have so with regard to those of the present, since the fair form of your discourse has far more beauty than a mere specious prettiness. In writing “once more,” Theodore implies that her thought is consistently well formulated and marked by an exceptional articulation of faith. In these quotations, we see that a monk not known for flattery or ostentatious comments recognizes in Kassiani a person of devout faith and an incipient theologian. The respect that Theodore apparently had for this young woman may have been the basis for Kassiani’s future partnership with the Stoudios monastics, which led them to include her hymns in the new service books they were compiling. In the eighth and ninth centuries, aristocratic Byzantine girls such as Kassiani were pushed to prime themselves at an early age for marriage at court by excelling in their education and by The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

maintaining their virtue. As a young woman, Kassiani appeared at a socalled “bride show.”6 Bride shows, organized by the dowager empresses, were staged to give appropriate candidates the opportunity to compete for marriage to the emperor. Kassiani was among several “finalists” who appeared before the iconoclastic emperor, Theophilos. Byzantine historians record the emperor approaching Kassiani and saying, “What a flood of terrible things came through a woman.” This provocative statement, seen as an allusion to the sin of Eve, seems to be a direct challenge to Kassiani, perhaps in view of her opposition to iconoclasm. Kassiani’s bold response, “But also through woman better things spring”—referring to the incarnation through the Virgin Mary—demonstrates her mind and character. By pointing to the dynamic between Eve and the Virgin, Kassiani’s reply prefigures a recurring theme of her hymnography. It is likely that Theophilos was not impressed with Kassiani’s “theology,” however. He married Theodora instead.

See Kurt Sherry, Kassia the Nun in Context (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2013), 120–131.


Some time after the bride show, Kassiani entered a monastery, fulfilling an earlier desire to pursue a monastic vocation. In 843, following the end of iconoclasm, Kassiani became the abbess of a convent on Xerolophos, a hill near the Stoudios community, which had established itself as a nexus of creativity for the liturgical arts in the ninth century. Not much is known about Kassiani’s monastery, but it is likely that the hymnography she composed there between 843 and 865 was originally chanted by choirs of nuns. She probably wrote a much larger body of work than the 49 hymns and 261 non-liturgical verses that are extant. Most surprising, however, is that at least 23 of her hymns were accepted by the Stoudios scriptorium and were 73

According to Tripolitis, the twelfthcentury poet and dramatist Theodoros Prodromos wrote that the Tetraodion was composed by Kassiani, but church authorities “did not want to credit a woman for composing a hymn sung on one of the most important feasts.” Tripolitis, Kassia, xii.


See my forthcoming article “More than One Story: Another Look at the Woman Who Anoints Jesus and the Hymn of Kassiani,” in Encountering Women of Faith: St. Catherine’s Vision, vol. 3, ed. Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press).


incorporated into what became the Triodion and the Menaion.

Passover with Miriam and the other women who crossed the Red Sea.

Hymnography composed by Kassiani may be familiar because it is still sung during the liturgical year in Orthodox parishes. For example, attributed to Kassiani in the Festal Menaion is the doxastikon for “Lord, I Call” sung at Vespers for the Nativity of our Lord, “When Augustus Ruled the Earth.” In the Lenten Triodion, the doxastikon for the Matins Aposticha sung on Great and Holy Tuesday, “The Woman who had Fallen into Many Sins,” and the irmoi for the first four canticles of the canon sung on Great and Holy Saturday, were also composed by Kassiani.

Though this canon was known to have been written by Kassiani, it became associated with Kosmas (685–750), Bishop of Maiouma in Phoenicia. In the tenth century, Bishop Marcus of Hydrous in Italy composed five additional odes, to complete the nine-ode canon sung today. Tripolitis states that, though texts of Kassiani’s tetraodion can be found in manuscript form on Mount Athos, the church’s hierarchy did not acknowledge Kassiani’s work after the ninth century, since it was considered improper for hymns composed by a woman to be included in liturgical books.7 The Triodion currently in use, however, attributes the canon to both Kassiani and Bishop Marcus.

“When Augustus Ruled the Earth” is a stately hymn focused on the theology of the incarnation. “When you were made man of a pure virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed.” Kassiani’s text stresses that the incarnation is the basis for the veneration of icons, by distinguishing between worship of matter and of the “God who was made man” from matter. Additional hymns for the Vespers of the Nativity, which have been translated by Antonia Tripolitis, are extant but are not found in the Festal Menaion. Of great beauty is Kassiani’s canon for Great and Holy Saturday. The irmos of the first canticle reads: “Of old you buried the pursuing tyrant beneath the waves of the sea. Now the children of those who were saved bury you beneath the earth, but like the maidens, let us sing to the Lord, for gloriously has he been glorified.” In this hymn, she not only proclaims the joy of the new Passover, the theme of Holy Saturday, but draws her community into the hymn, celebrating the new


While some believe that the Hymn of the Sinful Woman is autobiographical, it is fairly clear from what we know of Kassiani’s life that this is not accurate. Nevertheless, the voice of the composer can be heard clearly in the text.8 Kassiani places the sinful woman among the myrrhbearers, connecting the recurring themes of kenotic love and penitential tears. Beginning the text with “The woman who had fallen into many sins, O Lord,” she tenderly transforms the image of a fallen woman into a woman who falls down in repentance, weeping at the Savior’s feet. No longer hiding from God like Eve, this tearful woman perceives that God is before her and, in knowing that, cannot remain standing. Kassiani uses tears to show the woman’s self-emptying of sin. The hymn begs the Lord to “accept a fountain of tears,” giving us an image of renewal like the earth after rain—but a renewal that originates in God, who “gathered the waters of the sea into the clouds.”

Reflecting on the kenotic love of God, Kassiani describes his creation of heaven and earth and his ineffable entrance into his creation. In Genesis, God walked in paradise; Kassiani contrasts Eve, who hid in fear from God, to a woman who weeps at the feet of the God-Man. In the plea, “do not despise your servant in your immeasurable mercy,” Kassiani connects Eve to this tearful woman, suggesting that the woman’s tender embrace and her anointing of Jesus is the culmination of a repentance that will free Eve, through the death and resurrection of the one who is anointed. Speaking in the first person, Kassiani does not separate herself from the sinful woman or from Eve, but gives voice to their words, so that they also speak for her, for all women, and in fact for all humanity, revealing this act to have a cosmic and eschatological character. In this moment, a woman, in asking her Savior to hear her wordless lament, captures for all of humanity the reality of an intimate relationship with the God who does not abandon those who yearn for him. She cries “Woe is me!” expressing the sorrow that fills the hearts of those who discover that in their nearness to God, they remain far away. Having emptied herself of the fear that trapped Eve, the tearful woman in Kassiani’s hymn sheds tears of love, which bring her to the transformative presence of the Savior. In spite of her many sins, she receives his “immeasurable mercy.” Manuscripts from three different sources name Kassiani as the hymnographer for other, lesser known works in the Menaion, such as the doxastika for the Matins Praises honoring the Great Martyr Thekla (September 24), for the Vespers “Lord, I Call” honoring the Pious Pelagia (October 8), and for the Vespers “Lord, I Call,” honoring the Martyr Eudokia (March 1), The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

and a verse for the Praises honoring Great Martyr Barbara (December 4). In addition, Kassiani composed the doxastikon for the Vespers Aposticha which appears in the Triodion and is sung for Mary of Egypt. In these hymns, Kassiani reprises her signature themes of kenosis, Mary as the new Eve, and the renewal of creation through the watering of a penitent’s tears.9

Tripolitis, Kassia, xi-xiii.


These themes also appear in the hymn for Saint Barbara. Bringing to mind her dialogue about women with the iconoclastic emperor Theophilos, Kassiani honors the victory of Barbara over the Evil One. She bookends salvation history with Eve, who in the beginning was an instrument of sin, and Mary, 75

the new Eve, who provides flesh for the incarnate Word of the Father. Here is the hymn for St. Barbara as it appears in the December Menaion:


Ibid., 13.

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The evil one has been dishonored, defeated by a woman, because he held the First-Mother as an instrument of sin; for the Logos of the Father, simple and immutable, as only he is known, was made flesh of a Virgin and removed the curse of Eve and Adam, Christ deservedly crowned Barbara the Martyr, and through her gives to the world a means of atonement and great mercy.10 For Kassiani, Barbara’s victory over the adversary of God liberates Eve and Adam, and all of creation, from sin and death. She engages in this fight because the “Logos of the Father” became incarnate, born of the woman Mary. Once again, for Kassiani, the act of one person, in this case Barbara, has a cosmic and eschatological affect, in which Christ grants the “whole world forgiveness and salvation.” It is important to note that for Kassiani, this victory is not Barbara’s personal triumph over sin and death, but a martyrdom that brings “mercy and forgiveness to

the entire creation.” Kassiani’s hymn conveys to us that this is why Barbara is crowned! The nun Kassiani was a woman of the Church, who went beyond traditional expectations to contribute to the development of Orthodox liturgy. Growing up during the final phase of the struggle against iconoclasm, nurtured by the spiritual wisdom of Theodore the Studite, and later herself tonsured a monastic, Kassiani was immersed in theology for her entire life. We can be grateful that her hymns, which convey a unique theological perspective, were not discarded. Focused primarily on incarnational theology, Kassiani’s poetic texts touch the heart. Her emphasis on the kenotic love of Christ conveys a cosmic and eschatological vision which, according to Yannaras, expresses a personal experience that is the “encounter between freedom and love,” and where, in spite of our “immeasurable sins,” we find life as communion with God. Wider discussion of Kassiani’s work could encourage twenty-first-century Orthodox women to develop theological voices and to engage, as did Kassiani, in the relevant and ongoing work of the Church in our time.

Susan K. Arida is a founding member of Saint Catherine’s Vision and director of Boston’s YMCA International Learning Center. She is a member of Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Boston, and attended Saint Vladimir’s Seminary.



Juliana Ossorguine Schmemann, 1923–2017 Anya Schmemann My grandmother, Juliana Schmemann, was both larger than life and full of life. It is hard to imagine her gone, since she was such a force of nature, a true matriarch of our large extended family, and a lifelong educator who touched so many with her wisdom and love. Together with my grandfather, Father Alexander Schmemann, who died in 1983, Juliana devoted her life to the formation of the Orthodox Church in America, an endeavor that embodied not only their faith but also their abiding love for America, the land to which they came as a young couple with three children. Juliana was a firm pillar of our faith community and a mentor and inspiration to many at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and beyond. Juliana was born to a noble Russian family whose life, in Russia and in emigration, revolved around the Church. Her grandfather was the priest in their chapel in Clamart, France, her father the choir director, and her extended family the choir and parishioners. Her deep faith was central to the way she lived her life, full of joy, gratitude, and verve. “Joy” was her mantra and a recurring theme in her two books and in the many talks she gave to church groups. As an accomplished career woman, she was intensely interested in the challenge of living as a devout Orthodox Christian in the modern The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

world, something she acknowledged was both a challenge and a blessing. In an era when many women struggled to find balance between work and home, she truly “had it all,” as a loving mother and grandmother, a devoted wife and member of the Church, and a successful educator and headmistress who inspired generations of students. It is remarkable to think how she arrived in America as a young woman with small children and hardly a word of English, proceeded to work at some of the most prestigious schools in New York, and earned accolades and awards as her career progressed.

Note: Juliana Schmemann was a Russian émigrée born and educated in France. After moving to the U.S., she had a long and influential career as an educator, speaker, writer, and spiritual guide.

I was fortunate to live with my grandmother for four years while attending high school in New York City. Our life was very cozy and full of little rituals. At home, after a long day at school, she would watch her favorite TV shows and catch up on correspondence. People were often surprised to learn that she loved to watch any and all sports, especially football, and also devoured romance and mystery novels. I believe that the combination of her European intellectualism and her embrace of American culture was part of what made her so approachable to so many. Our daily commute from Westchester to Manhattan afforded us the chance to discuss literature, philosophy, and life. A lifelong teacher, she was fiercely intellectual and inquisitive, and loved 77

whiners! A serial optimist herself, she believed in disposing of life’s lemons and making the best of any situation. “Find joy!” she would exclaim, and it was hard to disobey when she so clearly found joy all around her.

nothing more than a good debate. She had strong opinions, but was neither rigid nor dogmatic. Rather, she was a keen listener, asking probing questions, offering her own insights, and challenging others to articulate and defend their views. At the top private girls’ schools in Manhattan, where she taught for over forty years, she was popular and beloved. Her students remember her as “the great Madame.” “Strong and vibrant,” one remembered; “kind, insightful, strong, and funny,” said another; “a unique combination of rigorous and warm!” gushed yet another. To this day, I am often approached by elegant women at social functions who ask, shyly, could I possibly be related to Madame? There is always such pleasure when I respond that yes, I am. While Juliana had degrees in classics and taught language and literature, she was in her heart a student of human nature. She was fascinated by the foibles of human beings, and her home was a virtual therapist’s couch. Many sought her spiritual guidance and wise counsel. How often I remember her on the telephone with various callers, doling out warm but stern advice. She certainly did not abide complainers and 78

My grandmother often reflected on the example set forth by her namesake and ancestor, Saint Juliana of Lazerevo, who married at a young age and raised a large family, but found time to minister to the poor and sick as well as pray and fast. Saint Juliana was known for her piety, selflessness, and kindness— and for living a spiritual life while also tending to her everyday domestic concerns. Like Saint Juliana, my grandmother was a real person living in the real world and doing her best to live the gospel on her own terms. Her flaws, such as they were, were part of her inimitable persona. She was a busybody, a drama queen, a bossy-pants! She filled every room she was in with her enormous and indomitable personality. We all slightly feared her even as we adored her. At our cherished summer retreat in Labelle, Quebec, she would reign over her little living room as if it was a royal salon. Friends and relatives, for many of whom she was “Babu” or “Tyotya Liana,” would file in to pay their respects, share the latest news, and seek her guidance. After one particularly busy day of visitors I remember asking if she was tired. “Not at all!” she exclaimed, her eyes shining, “I love it!” And this is how we remember her – brimming with vitality, vim, and vigor, and with a great love of life. Up to the very end, even when her body was failing, her mind remained sharp and her joie de vivre intact. On our last visit with her, not long before she passed

away, she animatedly debated politics with us and grilled our teenage boys on their interests and ambitions. Her joy and pride in us was palpable and made us want to be our best selves. May her memory be eternal!

“Joy is an effort, a daily exercise of seeing the beauty of one’s life, through thick and thin; of singing ‘Alleluia!’ on a happy day as well as on one’s dying day … Joy then becomes a habit, an attitude, a state of being.” —Juliana Schmemann1

Juliana Schmemann in Masha Tkachuk, “Joy, Gratitude, Freedom: An Interview with Juliana Schmemann,” St. Nina Quarterly 2:4 (Fall 1998).


Juliana Ossorguine Schmemann, 1923–2017 Masha Schmemann Tkachuk My mother was blessed with a long, productive and fruitful life. However, her last years on earth were difficult because she had a serious illness which weakened her progressively. For an energetic, vibrant personality, this weakness was a challenge. Nevertheless, Juliana was not one to give in easily. She fought every step of the way and refused to curtail her activities. She wrote two books when already quite ill.1 She continued to be interested in all aspects of life: politics, the Church, her large family, and her circle of friends, who sought her out and enjoyed many cups of tea in her cozy Montreal apartment. I was blessed to spend ten years next door to my mother. She came to Montreal when it became clear that she should live close to someone in her family. And when I look back on those years, it was truly a blessing. When she first came, I was working full time as a teacher. I would come over for tea after school and tell her about my day. She was always interested and enjoyed listening to my stories. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

She loved being part of our parish, The Sign of the Theotokos. She participated fully in parish life, attending most services, taking part in community events, and speaking at assemblies and conferences. She was a great support to my husband, Father John, encouraging him in his service, especially when faced with difficulties.

Juliana Schmemann, My Journey with Father Alexander (Montreal: Alexander Press, 2006); Juliana Schmemann, The Joy to Serve (Montreal: Alexander Press, 2009).


In time her illness weakened her, and she had to accept that she needed more help on a daily basis. So the time came for her to live in an assisted living home in New York, close to family, and finally in a nursing home where she ended her days cared for by a wonderful team of caregivers. So far I have discussed my mother’s twilight years. Now I would like to move back in time, when a young woman had the courage to follow her husband to North America, leaving most of her family behind. She had to learn a new language, find a job as quickly as possible, and place her three children in schools. She accomplished these tasks with remarkable

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and found much joy in giving advice or simply being a listener and a friend.

speed, and her children were enrolled in New York’s finest educational institutions. She taught French in three different schools, and was still teaching full-time after my father’s death, when she was way past retirement age. She loved teaching and her students and colleagues loved her. It did not come as a surprise when she was asked to become head of the Spence School, a private all-girls school in New York City. My father loved this period in their lives since he was able to spend some time in the city which he loved!

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After our father’s death, she started traveling all over the country, sought by parishes and women’s groups for retreats and lectures. Her book The Joy to Serve reflects the experience of listening to people all over the country and learning about the challenges of being an Orthodox Christian in our modern world. She maintained contact with many people who wrote to her and called her. She always responded,

If we go back even further in time, we will see a young woman growing up in France, brought up in a church community, never missing services, and accepting the gift of her faith. She met her husband, Father Alexander Schmemann, when they were both very young. Their courtship took place during World War II, and my mother often told me that the enforced simplicity of life because of the hardships of wartime was actually a gift. All activities were special, and social life, though very simple, was a time for wonderful friendship and fun. Our parents had very little in their early married life on the outskirts of Paris, but they met the challenges of keeping warm, feeding three young children, and continuing their education with light hearts that acknowledged no hardships. Surrounded and supported by a loving family on both sides, they managed not only to get by, but more than that, to lead a life filled with joy. So now, dear Mama, you have gone on to spend eternity with all those in your life whom you loved. Pray for us, your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-greatgrandchildren! You have done so much for your family, your friends and those who passed through your life. You have touched so many lives with a generous spirit. And now you can rest in peace where there is neither sickness nor sorrow nor suffering, but only life everlasting.


Olga Denysenko, 1946–2017 Nicholas Denysenko

My mom, Olga, belonged to a generation of immigrants from Ukraine. In our time, we’re learning a lot about immigrants. We express concern for the fundamental right to life and human dignity of immigrants. We also pay attention to the children of immigrants: how will they be fed and educated? Thinking about my mother as a person and trying to understand her makes me feel that we need much, much more reflection on children of immigrants. For me, this is the only way to come to know Olga truly, because my mom came to the U.S. as a child. When the Metulynsky family arrived in the United States in 1953, they did not simply bring themselves here. Their customs, traditions, core values, and Orthodox faith migrated with them. The Metulynskys sustained those values and traditions in their new country. Like most immigrants, they celebrated a sense of American arrival. They became citizens, they tried to learn the language, they contributed to daily life, they educated their children. And there is something else I learned from my mom: they were incredibly poor. I was able to spend a lot of time with Olga this summer, and she told me the story of how they lived in a place where they shared a bath with several other families, and bathed in the same bath water after other children. The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

Mom loved to reminisce about her upbringing: she thought she had a wonderful childhood. By our standards, she had nothing; the Metulynskys were quite poor. By their standards, they had everything: housing, food, education. One of my favorite stories from her childhood was when, as a teenager, she asked her father, Fr. Mykola, for ten cents to have a cup of coffee with her friends. He responded, why pay ten cents for a cup of coffee when you can make coffee right here? To me, this represents how immigrants understood their new life in America. Living here was a privilege, and to stand the test of time, they would need to be able to save money, to show that their arrival was permanent. My mom was a part of this generation of children who learned these core values from her parents. These values shaped her philosophy of life.

Note: Olga Denysenko was born in Germany in 1946, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants. In 1953, the family settled in Chicago. Olga spent much of her adult life as a caregiver to aging parents. She was devoted to her family and her church, and loved cooking and music. She sang alto and soprano for many years at St. Katherine Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Olga is survived by sons Greg and Nicholas, daughters-in-law Heidi and Tresja, and grandchildren Margaret, Elena, and Sophia.

As a child, Mom had to navigate the hybrid waters of dual identity. I imagine that this could be difficult for her, bearing the responsibility of remaining faithful to her core émigré community while also living as a “normal” American. I say “normal,” because the mindset of immigrants is to show that they have arrived and are here to stay. Mom married our dad Gene in 1967, and they committed to continuing a way of life they had learned from their community. As they sustained this commitment, change was hap81

pening all around them, and I know that this change was often challenging for Olga. Mom and Dad moved to Nebraska in 1970 and Minnesota in 1974. I want to emphasize that Mom was deeply, deeply committed to her parents, Fr. Mykola and Matushka Margarita. She adored them, so it was not surprising that Mom and Dad—and my brother Greg and, eventually, me—lived in the same city as our grandparents. One thing to know about Olga is that her love and adoration for her parents was based on everything they had given her. Everything they passed on was life-giving and good from Olga’s perspective. Mom raised Greg and me in this world of hybrid identity, firmly American and Midwestern while also retaining all of the core values, traditions, and Orthodox faith of the Ukrainians. We 82

lived this life under mom’s guidance through the 1980s and into the 1990s, when she faced a new adversity, one that does not discriminate in any way: illness. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989 and endured a lumpectomy and chemotherapy. As she slowly recovered, she immersed herself in church life and devoted herself to another hard task: caregiving to her aging parents. To give you a sense of her values, let me share a thought about my experience of life in the 80s and 90s at Mom’s house. It was truly festive. We loved holidays because of her. The food was amazing, there was always music. At times there could be heated debate and disagreement, but it was never boring! There was so much good food that we came to expect at least two kinds of meat for a solemn dinner. The tradition was so powerful that I find myself making sure there are at least two meats for all of our holidays. Adversity came again in 2001: cervical cancer. Mom had a hysterectomy. The 2000s were unkind as well. After both sons were married (2001 and 2002), our family endured a series of deaths and illnesses: Gene died in 2005, Fr. Mykola in 2011, and Matushka Margarita in 2015. Mom never recovered from the sting of Dad’s death. Then, even more adversity arrived. Mom had a stroke in 2014. After rehab, it looked for a while like she would have a full recovery. I think it is because she was energized by the great need to care for her mother. Alas, it was not to be. On March 18 of this year, she suffered her third stroke. Since 2001, over the last 16 years, it has been one episode of suffering after another for Mom. Olga was a woman who appreciated the fundamental gift of life and op-

portunity. I have finally come to terms with the fact that we cannot easily understand her through the lens of contemporary culture. Her perspective was firmly shaped by her experience as an immigrant who arrived in America as a child. In this sense, she was unique: different from both her parents and her children. Maybe one reason Olga and Gene were so compatible is that they both enjoyed the simple things in life. Olga did not travel much at all. She was content to sip coffee on a cool summer day on her patio, enjoy a family barbecue, or sit with us to listen to a new recording of liturgical music and evaluate its quality. I learned a great deal about simplicity from her. I remember complaining to her as a teenager that I was bored, and she said, “Well, get used to it. Most of life is boring.” And in a sense, it was through her that I came to appreciate what it means to love family, to be a true steward of the garden of your family. Every nation erects statues and memorials to honor its heroes. Books are written, documentaries are produced, and stories are told about political leaders, inventors, and other heroes. Where are the stories about the people who toiled over stoves to feed families, who care for aging parents, who sing competently and beautifully for

The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017

many years in church choirs? These stories are more powerful than any piece of stone inscribed with words honoring a hero. The memory kept of a faithful and beloved mother and wife is inscribed forever on the hearts of the people who love her. The Orthodox Church uses a beautiful prayer for the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil. We pray it during Lent and on other solemn holidays. The prayer ends with one of the most beautiful, poetic, and moving appeals to God to remember all people. We ask God to remember the old, the young, the sick, captives, widows, orphans, and “all those whom we have not remembered through ignorance, forgetfulness, or because of their multitude, since you know the name and age of each, even from his mother’s womb.” We commend to God’s memory not just because we remember, but because we love. God’s remembrance of Olga is a testimony to his love for Olga and for all of those who commend her to his eternal household. For Olga, death is not the end, but a beginning, because Christ has trampled down death through his death, and bestows life upon those in the tombs! As we sing her into God’s kingdom, let us joyfully remember her life with that same spirit of thanksgiving for all of the lifegiving good she has imparted to us.

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Ascetic Endeavor and Mutual Martyrdom: Review of Christian Family and Contemporary Society Carrie Frederick Frost

Christian Family and Contemporary Society, ed. Nicu Dumitraşcu. Ecclesiological Investigations, vol. 21. London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, 2015.

Nicu Dumitraşcu, Professor of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology at the University of Oradea, Romania, has assembled a fine collection of essays from Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant scholars in Christian Family and Contemporary Society. This volume deals deftly with the many contradictions at hand when addressing family in the Christian context. As Dumitraşcu rightly notes, “Nothing is more important and precious in human life than the family… The Christian family provides balance, stability and emotional fulfillment in this world, but also hope, and confidence in acquiring the fullness of happiness in the other, eternal, world.” But, as the author of the introduction, John McGuckin of Union Theological Seminary in New York, also rightly notes, the Church has not always acknowledged this to be so: “The development of a theology of married life has been heavily overshadowed by the extraordinary extension of a spirituality of asceticism.” The result of the essays collected in Christian Family and Contemporary Society is a welcome contribution to scholarly efforts at developing Christian theologies of family and marriage, to better appreciate this “important and precious” aspect of human life. The contributors are impressive in erudition and credentials, but also in geographical span. Whereas many


English-language scholarly collections that boast of international collaboration are largely composed of North Americans with one or two Europeans, Christian Family includes just one North American voice. The rest are from throughout Europe and the Middle East, including representation from Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Austria, Romania, Spain, Poland, France, Germany, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Slovakia. Another unusual and welcome quality of this volume is that many of the authors speak from an Orthodox Christian perspective. The first of four themed sections is centered on early church sources on family. Elena Giannakopoulou, a Greek scholar of canon law, methodically offers side-by-side comparisons of the Church’s ancient canons and modern Greek law on topics such as divorce, abortion, and remarriage. She concludes that the Church has an incredible opportunity to articulate its ancient concerns for the integrity of the family to contemporary Greek society. Another section examines ecumenical and denominational perspectives on Christian family, including a contribution by the volume editor, Nicu Dumitraşcu, who writes eloquently of sorrow and ascesis as fundamental and necessary features of marriage.

A more sociological perspective drives part three. Its fascinating portrait of the postmodern Finnish family by Gunnar af Hällström, Professor at Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, includes this gem of an observation about male-female relationships: “Traveling together during vacations is considered a highlight in a relationship—or a terrible risk for the relationship.” A fourth section on contemporary situations of family rounds out the volume, including an essay by Dana Hanesová, a Professor at University of Matej Bel in Slovakia and a religious education teacher, on the religious education of children in Slovakia. It contains eye-opening observations on the ways that different generations confront the question of evil in the world. It is in this section that I most felt the absence of any treatment of homosexuality or of atypical families, such as single-parent families. Even while upholding a traditional Christian ideal of a nuclear family, homosexuality and atypical family configurations are realities of modern family life and, as such, deserve the careful and respectful treatment given to so many other topics in this volume. All these essays underscore the urgency with which the Church ought to articulate her vision of family life. Destructive trends around the family are multitudinous today—in Finland and in the U.S., in Lebanon and in France. This is evinced not just by any given litany of statistics of divorce rates or

the like, but also in the more subtle narratives offered to us outside of the Church. For example, a group of highly educated and capable women at midlife who are “nones”—not religiously affiliated at all—recently told me that they bought into the Hollywood mythology of marriage as defined by romantic, effortless, soul mate love, and that they entered their marriages with concordant—and highly unrealistic— expectations. Imagine their shock to hear that crowns were placed on mine and my husband’s heads during our marriage ceremony, to remind us that we were to be martyred to each other; that by entering into the great mystery of marriage and family—the mega mysterion—we were choosing to die for each other. These two conceptions of marriage—Hollywood soul mate and Orthodox mutual martyrdom— could hardly be more different. Christianity has so much to offer the world in its beautiful vision of marriage as unitive, salvific love, of the family as the little Church, and so forth. But its great treasure—which is becoming more scarce as it fades from cultural memory while Christendom grows ever more distant—is the understanding of family as an ascetical endeavor. Christian Family and Contemporary Society is a testament to this uniquely Christian understanding of family, and thus has much to offer current theological, sociological, and philosophical discussions of marriage and family today.

© 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

Carrie Frederick Frost, PhD, is a scholar of Orthodox theology, Professor of Theology at Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary, and Board Member of Saint Phoebe Center for the Deaconess, a U.S.-based non-profit advocating for the rejuvenation of the female diaconate.

The Wheel 9 / 10 | Spring / Summer 2017



Mother Gavrilia: All-Pervading Love for Everyone

Note: For a biography of Mother Gavrilia, see Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love (Katerini: Tertios, 1999), written by her disciple, Nun Gavrilia. Mother Gavrilia’s sayings can also be found online, for example at theorthodoxchurch. info/blog/ articles/2010/03/thelife-and-sayings-ofmother-gavrilia/

Mother Gavrilia (1897– 1992) was a woman of action and prayer, of words and silent contemplation. She survived some of the most tumultuous events of the 20th century: the expulsion of Orthodox Christians during the 1923 Greek-Turkish Population Exchange, the Battle of Britain, and the Greek Civil War. She was proficient in Ancient Greek, French, and English, the second woman ever to enroll in the University of Thessaloniki, and a physiotherapist trained in the United Kington. She spent her early retirement working with the poorest in India and was subsequently tonsured a nun in Palestine. She took part in missions in India, France, Greece, East Africa, Europe, the United States, and Sinai. At age 80, she withdrew to full-time contemplation in Athens, then in Aegina, and finally on the island of Leros. She lived in abject poverty, accepting no money for her services, meeting everyone with love, and trusting God to provide. She claimed fluency in five languages: “The first is the smile; the second is tears. The third is touch. The fourth is prayer, and the fifth is love. With these five languages I go all around the world.”

© 2017 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.


Mother Gavrilia’s more than a hundred collected aphorisms advise us on how to live in God in the world. They are currently enjoying something of a “moment” on social media, where an aphorism often appears in a meme superimposed on one of her rare photographs.

It is a joy and nourishment for the soul when they pop up and we engage them. Let’s look here at just one, for what it says about us and about her: “God loves your enemies as much as he loves you.” Logically, if we’ve been paying attention to our Bible and our Liturgy, this seems obvious: God is love; God loves everyone. Yet these ten words force us into a new perspective on our life as it relates to other people. What do they say about Mother Gavrilia? She knew God. Not about God (she spoke often of the limitations of learned knowledge about him). She knew him through experiencing him in prayer and through life in the world. Which leads us to the next point: She knew people as they really are. She knew that our broken lives are complicated, that relationships can be marred by hurt, bitterness, and hatred, and that life in Christ entails overcoming these. She learned this through her astute and loving encounters with others around the globe, including her many spiritual children. Which leads to the next point: She loved pastorally. God may be the subject of this saying, but it is essentially an affectionate-but-searing rebuke. Through her life and her words, she showed the conviction that love, not fear, is the most effective motivator to redirect our lives. This isn’t a “soft” message: love by God or a true spiritual director can sting painfully. But as she practiced it—all-pervading and for all—it welcomes our smallest step toward the one who is love.

Leanne Parrott is a priest’s wife and professional photographer. She served as staff photographer at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary from 2012–2015 and currently freelances under the name Leanne Parrott Photography, specializing in nature, families, weddings, and religious settings. Her work has been featured in SVS Press publications and marketing materials.

The Wheel 9 | Spring 2017


Submissions The Wheel publishes essays, reviews, poetry, fiction, and images. Writers should familiarize themselves with the journal before contacting the editors. A query for an article submission should include a basic thesis statement, an explanation of why it is important to argue in this journal, and a short biography. The editors will also consider unsolicited manuscripts; these should include a cover letter giving the same information as for a query. The Wheel rarely publishes articles over 3,000 words. Manuscripts should be sent in Microsoft Word format. Manuscripts and queries should be submitted to If you have not received a response within four weeks, please send a follow-up query. Letters in response to articles published in The Wheel are welcome, and will appear in the following issue if they are deemed to contribute to the discussion. Letters should be submitted promptly in order to meet editorial deadlines. Submissions under four hundred words are preferred, and may be edited for length and clarity. Please send them to



Detail from the embroidered plashchanitsa created in the 1960s by Olga Mikhailovna Mojaisky (nÊe Weriguine) (born 1903 in Woin, Mtsensk, Russia; died 1998 in Bussy-en-Othe, France) for her son-in-law, Fr. John Meyendorff, to use in the chapel at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. She learned to embroider icons at the Hopovo monastery on the Fruska Gora mountain of Serbia, using what is known as a Byzantine-style stitch. It is the second that she made. The plashchanitsa represents about two years of patient work, and is one of four she made in her life. The first one was embroidered in 1928, and stayed at St. Sergius in Paris, but was purloined. The third is at the cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky at rue Daru in Paris, while the fourth is used during Holy Week at the monastery at Bussy-en-Othe; both date from the 1960s and 1970s. She also embroidered hundreds of icons, three shrouds of the Theotokos, liturgical vestments, and a host of other, non-liturgical items. This plashchanitsa is used at the seminary during Holy Week. Photograph courtesy of Leanne Parrott.


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The WHEEL Issue 9/10  

The WHEEL Issue 9/10  


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