A Delightful Surprise Part II

(Read Part I  of "A Delightful Surprise" here) 

Prayer in Family Life:

Definition of a few terms used in this reflection:

*Symantron-- a large wooden plank held in the player's left hand and rhythmically struck with a wooden mallet, calling the monastic family to worship

*Koumboskini-- a prayer rope made up of woven knots, with each knot corresponding to one Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, sinner.”)


In the first of this short series of reflections on the connection of the monastic family and the family living in the world, I focused on the primary function of the family, that is, to recognize and honor Christ, who is always in our midst, in every nook and cranny.  In order to do this, we must have eyes to see Him; and the path to seeing Him is prayer, both personal and communal.  

In the monastery, I was constantly reminded of prayer, beginning with the symantron, which woke me up every morning, reminding me that it was time for worship, usually Matins followed by the First Hour and Divine Liturgy.  Then, several times more each day, the family would be called to worship at the designated hours. Throughout the day, both indoors and out, I had constant reminders of the presence of Christ in icons, mosaics, and crosses, all of which encouraged me to pray.  Furthermore, the sisters carried a koumboskini (some visible, some not), a constant reminder of prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer.  Finally, and most significant for me, even when the sisters were working or in conversation with one another or visitors, an “infectious” spirit of prayer was ever present.  The family lived and believed the words of St. Paul in Philippians 4.6:  “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” 

I was particularly moved the third time I visited the monastery, when one of the sisters asked me by name about every one of the people I had previously asked her to pray for.   She even remembered the needs I had indicated to her for about 15 different people or families! I later learned that she carried a prayer list in the pocket of her robe and prayed for everyone on that list daily. 

So, publicly, the entire monastic family was a constant witness of the practice of prayer.  However, following the teaching of our Lord, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you,”(Mt. 6:6), another side of prayer was always present behind the scenes. As I came to learn, each of the sisters has a personal rule of prayer she is to follow in her “cell,” that is, the room where she prays and sleeps. 

So, what can we learn about family prayer from a monastic family?  

The importance of visible reminders of the presence of Christ, which prompt us to pray.  A prayer corner -- with icons, a candle, censor, cross, and other items--is essential in an Orthodox Christian home. Additionally, reminders in every room of the house are also essential.  So, a cross, icon, “gratitude jar,” collection jar for the needy, candles, and other things that prompt us to pray and embody prayer in the way we live are important in every room of our homes.  

Specific times of personal and family prayer each day and regular attendance at worship.  The “face” of these practices will vary from family to family. Some possible practices include:  

  • prayer at meals, 
  • reading Scripture and/or the life of a saint of the day at the breakfast or dinner table, 
  • a family morning and/or evening rule of prayer (age appropriate), 
  • a shortened Vespers, Compline or Paraclesis service weekly or monthly
  • Censing/blessing each room of the house while chanting a hymn – daily, weekly, monthly
  • personal practice of silence before the icon of Christ or the Theotokos (even young children can do this for 1-5 minutes).  In our home with our grandchildren, we call it “sitting with Jesus.”
  • Prayer before travelling, an event in the life of someone in the family (exam, interview, performance, athletic event, etc.)
  • A gratitude/thanksgiving jar, where each member of the family contributes daily or weekly with a written note of something he/she is thankful to God for and the family gathers to read from time to time
  • Personal “rule” of prayer for each member of the family (age appropriate).  May be as simple as praying the Lord’s prayer alone each day before the day begins or at the end of the day or praying the Jesus prayer with a short prayer rope once a day
  • Intercessory prayer for those in need—the family can even keep a running list as a reminder

The key is, we learn to pray by praying, and the earlier we begin a regular and consistent practice of prayer in our lives, the more likely we will become people of prayer.

Family Challenge:  Have a family meeting where you discuss the practice of prayer in your home—personal and family prayer and worship—what you presently do and how you can adjust what you are doing to grow your prayer life.  After a few weeks have passed, have another family meeting to discuss the progress each person and the family have made, ending with a prayer of Thanksgiving. You can find three kid-friendly Thanksgiving prayers at:  http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2012/11/22/thanksgiving-prayers/.

By Presvytera Kerry Pappas

A House Divided: A Family’s Fight for Vincent Lambert’s Life, and Death

You may be following the story in the news of late of the French man, Vincent Lambert, whose injuries in a 2008 car crash left him brain damaged and a quadriplegic. His parents have been seeking international legal recourse to prevent “his assassination” (as deemed by his father Pierre) by a French court ruling that his life support be ceased. The life support being made available to Vincent comes in the form of a feeding tube that supplies his intake of food and drink. He is breathing independently and shows signs of consciousness and acknowledgement of his surroundings.

On July 2, 2019, Viviane Lambert sought the aid of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva in an attempt to save her son from being starved to death.

“Today I am sending you a cry for help. Without your intervention, my son, Vincent Lambert, will be euthanized by a doctor because of his cerebral disability. He is in a state of minimal consciousness: he is not a vegetable! He sleeps at night, wakes up during the day, and looks at me when I talk to him. He only needs to receive his food through a tube. And it is that tube that his doctor wants to deprive him of, in order to make him die, even though a team of legal experts has stated that he is not being subjected to any kind of therapeutic aggressiveness.”[1]

This is the second time the Lamberts have taken drastic steps in order to save their son. In May, a different set of doctors also tried to remove the means by which Vincent is fed, but a French court overruled that attempt.

It seems Vincent’s wife and some of his siblings take a different position and do not want to keep him alive via the feeding tube, so that he can die “with dignity”. One can understand how hard it must be for these family members to witness him in a state quite unlike what they’d known in his life prior to his life-altering car accident. Before he sustained his injuries, Vincent was a caregiver by profession - a psychiatric nurse.

No one wants to see someone they love suffer. Having to constantly witness a person lay motionless and at the mercy of others for his continual sustenance would be devastating: feelings of hopelessness and meaninglessness could surely arise if not abound.

All the details of this case are not clearly known - save to God Himself. Only God could know to what extent Vincent is engaged in life and how deeply he experiences the world at this point in his journey when he is left without a voice. Still, Vincent speaks.

His mother shared this experience she had with her son when he was scheduled to be removed from feeding tube nutrition the first time: “On May 19, on the day before his scheduled death, (Vincent) cried when he saw us. We are still deeply shaken.” [2]

Discernment is difficult - even heart wrenching - for loving family members who are attempting to make decisions that are in the “best interest” of their sick or injured loved one. Some questions it seems are begging to be asked: “What makes a life worth living?” “Who is to determine which lives are worth living?”, and “What criteria are being considered in determining whether a person is alive?” among them.

The Orthodox Christian teachings on the sanctity of life hold that every human being created is a unique, loving expression of the image of his or her Creator. Is Vincent Lambert any less an image of His Creator because he needs an extra dose of help to stay alive? Do not most of us require some (if not much) assistance to stay alive?

Consider that when a child is in his formative years, he is extremely dependent upon caregivers to survive. He cannot feed himself, and even when he learns this skill, he is not able to prepare the food. Any sane parent would not think of withholding nourishment based on the premise that his life is not viable since he cannot provide for his own needs. The child’s parent is the means by which he is nourished – the living feeding tube if you will. Even for the time that our children are living under our roofs, it is by our work and toil that they receive their daily bread, and by the Grace of God that resources are available in the way of jobs, food, clothing, and shelter.

My son was in the NICU of a children’s hospital for months of his newborn life. After a few weeks of intensive care where he was struggling to take in enough calories orally to sustain his growth, the head NICU nurse said matter-of-factly to me “Our boy needs a g-tube. It’s time.” I was very upset about this. How unnatural it seemed to me to surgically insert a port into his stomach. I was hoping his body could manage without taking that extra measure. We decided to heed her advice, believing that it would help free up energy for his small and struggling body to use more efficiently.

This g-tube has not only saved my son once, but also allowed him to grow stronger and to be spared multiple hospitalizations due to dehydration when the inevitable common cold would make him resist any fluid intake by mouth. A kind woman who helped encourage our family during our NICU experience once saw my dismay over the many tubes used to monitor our child’s body functions and to help him take in or discharge whatever his body needed help doing. She said something that always stays with me “Think of them (the tubes) as helping hands”. Today’s advancements in medical technology, when used to support and enhance life, are precisely that – helping hands.

These helping hands have given us a lifetime of possibilities. My son has a full life. He enjoys simple pleasures, he laughs, he cries, he loves and he is deeply loved. His life is not always easy and he has had his share of suffering, but that suffering is a common thread of the human experience. In fact, one could argue that such suffering makes him more intimately fashioned in the likeness of the God-Man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Son of God came to us as a “suffering servant”, not in pomp or worldly perfection: He (was) despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (Isaiah 53:3)

The Son of God was deprived of drink in his dying moments. “I thirst!” (John 19:28) were among His final words as He was being put to death on the Cross, vinegar offered to Him instead of water. The son of Pierre and Viviane Lambert cries out through his parents, “I thirst!” and in the same way as His Savior experienced 2000 years ago, he is being denied physical relief as he suffers his own death sentence. Alas, their attempts to save his life were not successful this time, and Vincent is in the midst of his last hours on this earth.

May the Victory that Christ won over Death be Vincent’s and his parents’ comfort and hope in this fallen world that so readily discards human life and turns a blind eye to the sacred image that each human being bears. Vincent may be deprived of his bodily voice, but his precious life speaks. If only we would “have ears to hear”. (Matt 11:15)


By Presvytera Melanie DiStefano


[1] Smits, J. (2019, July 2) Dehydration and Starvation of France’s Vincent Lambert Begins. Retrieved from www.lifesitenews.com.

[2] Smits, J. (2019, July 2) Dehydration and Starvation of France’s Vincent Lambert Begins. Retrieved from www.lifesitenews.com.




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The Example of Saint Sampson: Encouragement for the Caregiver’s Soul

By Presvytera Melanie DiStefano

“Being a physician, he came to Constantinople, where he so distinguished himself for his…love for the sick and the poor…”

St. Sampson’s love for the sick and the poor is a defining characteristic of his holiness. How contrary to our modern worldview this is! At the first sign of sickness or physical “weakness” our world is ready to ignore, discard, abuse, or destroy those who are afflicted.

Be encouraged, you who have been given the role of Caregiver for a loved one. Be strengthened, knowing that He who imparts grace to the Saints is in fact growing holiness in your very souls! At times we don’t feel like sacrificing our energy, comfort, time and pleasure for our children or aging parents. At times we don’t feel we have the strength to do it even if we want to. Do it anyway. 

Do it with the knowledge that God will increase the love needed, the energy and resources that are lacking. Care for the person who needs it with every ounce of compassion you can muster, praying always to see Jesus in the one who is being cranky or combative, or seemingly unappreciative. Do it, knowing you are in good company, and that the prayers of the Holy Unmercenaries who took NO PAYMENT for their service, will sanctify your offering of love in action. 

Through the prayers of Saint Sampson the Unmercenary, Lord Jesus Christ our God strengthen Your children who have been called to the task of being Caregivers for those who cannot care for themselves. Help them to see your Beauty in their loved ones as they seek to bring dignity to the lives of those who are precious to You, though despised by the world. Amen.

Saint Sampson was from Rome and flourished during the reign of Saint Justinian the Great. Being a physician, he came to Constantinople, where he so distinguished himself for his virtue and his love for the sick and the poor that Patriarch Menas ordained him priest. The Emperor Justinian was healed by him, and out of gratitude built him a large hospital, which was afterwards known as "The Hospice of Sampson." Saint Sampson is one of the Holy Unmercenaries. His memory on celebrated on June 27th.[i]

[i] "Saints and Feasts." Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 27 June 2019, https://www.goarch.org/chapel/saints?contentid=101


Presvytera Melanie has joined the Center for Family Care as Resource Developer. She graduated from Youngstown State University (BChemE), and from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (MDiv). Married to Father Joseph DiStefano for 16 years, they have one son, Michael Seraphim. Michael has special needs that greatly impact his health and his level of independence. One of her goals is to reach out to other families who are facing similar parenting challenges in order to provide faith-based perspectives, resources, and overall encouragement in their unique walk with Christ. The foremost passion she brings to her ministry is her desire to help people of all ages to come to know the love of Jesus Christ and experience His healing grace in the sacramental life of the Church.

Prune Your Soul

I am an amateur gardener at best. We have a few flower bushes among which are my favorite – roses! How I love my rose bushes! There is little else like a newly blooming rose that can inspire awe in my heart and a love for the beauty of God’s creation. I recently, FINALLY, heeded popular gardening advice to give a thorough pruning to my bushes. The noticeable results got me thinking about the spiritual truths that can be reaped through the experience of caring for plants.

I used to be fearful of pruning my rose bushes, wanting them to have full freedom to grow any which way they would. I didn’t want to be like a highly caffeinated hairdresser lopping off more than enough inches, leading to something that looked like a shearing rather than a trim. ‘Don’t be afraid to prune’ gardening experts say, “pruning leads to new growth and continued blooming”.

A few days ago, after my favorite bush bore its first blooms and their glory began to fade and wilt, I gave it a thorough pruning. Dead branches, diseased leaves, old blooms and skewed branches were removed “opening up the center of the plant to light and air circulation.” My eyes were amazed at what I found the next morning! New reddish green branches already over an inch long were stretching up and outward, and the older branches and leaves looked greener and sturdier. How interesting that my bush needed me to “injure” it for it to get healthier and stronger.

Is not our spiritual life the same? Is not holy scripture full of references to planting and reaping, pruning, uprooting, grafting and weeding? Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)

Let the Vinedresser Prune Your Soul: Go to Confession!

Our heavenly Father is the One who can prune our souls perfectly. He is the Vinedresser that knows what is dead inside us, what is diseased and what is threatening to cause stunted growth in our lives. The act of praying before the sacrament of confession for knowledge of what to confess, the humility to confess thoroughly without excuses, and for our confessor to see in us that which needs to be exposed, all lead to a thorough and mysterious, spiritual cleansing – “opening up our center to light”. When we are pruned it can be uncomfortable and even painful. Cutting out diseased areas is just as difficult spiritually as it is physically, but also just as necessary for healing. It is only when we have consistent and good pruning that the true “center” of our personhood has unimpeded room to grow. Symmetrically and intentionally and beautifully, He shapes us into the person He means for us to become.

Let the Vinedresser Prune Your Soul: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone!

I am reluctant to embrace change boldly. “Keep it the same” is the motto I would be inclined to live by if left to my own unchecked devices. This is so deeply a part of my personality that it comes out in the most minute ways. For example, I’m not able to envision how a room would look if furniture is rearranged, so I keep it the same. I get anxious at the thoughts of an uncomfortable silence if I call someone I have been thinking about, so I don’t call. And to a greater and more realistic degree, I fear having new experiences as a family. This is realistic because our son has physical challenges including sensory processing issues: in the past, small excursions have felt like hellish tragedies. This tends to stifle my already cautious decision-making.

The recent simple act of pruning my rose bushes got me thinking about taking some chances this summer in our family life. It’s time. We are not getting enough air circulation and light. New experiences may be uncomfortable at least, and painful at best but without them our family will not grow healthier. We have a church outing to a local amusement park scheduled for our youth group. The time and effort it will take to prepare for even a half day at the park will itself be a drain of energy, but I plan to take the hit. My goal is for us to get through a half day excursion, trying out a few rides that might be enjoyable to Michael. He loves to spin, and he loves water play– surely there are a few attractions that have the potential for enjoyment for him. However, even if the whole outing proves to be a disaster, it will have been a success for trying. We need to get out of our comfort zone, I can feel the stifled air of stagnancy choking me and I’m ready for our family to breathe in a fresh experience. Even if I cannot see the fruits or “blossoms” I have a feeling new growth will follow.

Prune Your Soul - Even a Bad Pruning Does Good

“It is generally agreed that most mistakes will grow out very quickly and it is better to make a good effort at pruning roses, even if you make a few mistakes, than to let them grow rampant.”This gardening wisdom can truly be applied to our efforts toward spiritual growth. Looking back, even my most unprepared and least sincere confessions have led to some healing or clearer thinking. The most difficult family outings have become learning experiences, and sometimes even funny memories we reminisce about!

What about you and your family? Is it time for some soul-pruning? Schedule confession! Time to break the monotony in your family’s schedule? Do something new together! It can be as simple as taking a walk in the park for some families, or as big as embarking on a mission trip for others. Whatever you set out to do prayerfully, remember “it is better to make a good effort…even if you make a few mistakes”. In time, the sting felt when our Vinedresser cuts off unhealthy “branches” in us and our family life will lead to new growth and beautiful blossoming that glorifies and inspires awe and trust in Him.



Presvytera Melanie DiStefano - Presvytera Melanie has recently joined the Center for Family Care as Resource Developer. She graduated from Youngstown State University (BChemE), and from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (MDiv). Married to Father Joseph DiStefano for 16 years, they have one son, Michael Seraphim. Michael has special needs that greatly impact his health and his level of independence. One of her goals is to reach out to other families who are facing similar parenting challenges in order to provide faith-based perspectives, resources, and overall encouragement in their unique walk with Christ.

1Ianotti, Marie. “How and When to Prune Roses.”The Spruce, 10 June 2019, https://www.thespruce.com/roses-how-and-when-to-prune-1403040.

2Ianotti, Marie. “How and When to Prune Roses.”The Spruce, 10 June 2019, https://www.thespruce.com/roses-how-and-when-to-prune-1403040.

3Ianotti, Marie. “How and When to Prune Roses.”The Spruce, 10 June 2019, https://www.thespruce.com/roses-how-and-when-to-prune-1403040.

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