Dear Beloved in Christ,
Yesterday would have been our parish’s annual Palm Sunday Luncheon, benefiting St. John the Forerunner Monastery. However we celebrated the feast day in a different way this year. Our beloved monastery, perhaps sensing that we didn’t celebrate in the usual way with a benefit luncheon, sent an email message of consolation and spiritual wisdom yesterday. In this email was a story from the life of St. Nicholas Planas.
“Papa Nicholas,” as he was known, lived an extremely simple life as a priest in the rural communities outside of Athens in the early 20th Century. If you don’t know about this wonderful saint yet, you can read his life here. A hallmark of St. Nicholas was his simplicity. (Metropolitan Hierotheos gave a wonderful homily on this spiritual trait.)
For our edification during this time of absence from church, I have copied below the story which Gerondissa Efpraxia and the nuns at St. John Monastery sent out.
THOSE PRESENT AND THOSE ABSENT IN THE LITURGY
From Papa-Nicholas Planas, Chapter 4
(Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston MA)
One day after the Liturgy we took a carriage and went somewhere together with Father. In the carriage he said to us, “Today Chrysoula also was in church.”
“No, my Father,” we said to him, “she wasn’t.”
“Why, what are you saying? I censed her.”
“No,” we repeated, “she wasn’t there.”
“Eh, well, well,” he said without concern, and then with conviction, “it was her spirit.”
We wondered at what he told us, because the same thing had occurred at a certain monastery, where the priest censed the stall of an absent deacon and would not cense a monk who was in his stall. The monk wondered about this and complained to the priest—how did he omit to cense him, even though he passed in front of him, and yet censed the empty stall? And thus the priest was given an opportunity to hear the confessions of both—that is, what thoughts they had during the Liturgy. The monk confessed that his mind ran towards thoughts which were sinful and far removed from his sacred calling. Whereas the poor deacon, even though he had undertaken a duty outside of the church, kept his mind present in church. For this reason we also asked the sister what she had been thinking of on the previous day, and she said with great simplicity (for she was illiterate) that her mind and soul had been present at the Diving Liturgy.