Book Review for A Daily Calendar of Saints

As with many working Orthodox folks, I try to use the 15 minutes in the morning while I eat toast to read an uplifting section of literature. Now, at 6:00 am, this sinks down into my subconscious mind like crumbs from the toast into the bottom of my tea cup. If you ask me at noon what I had read, 50/50 chance I wouldn’t readily remember. I keep at it with the hopes some of the benefit will ‘stick’ better than jam on my fingers.

My usual reading choice is the Prologue from Ohrid, by St. Nikolai Velimirovich, a profound exposition on the daily Scripture readings and saints. I treasure many of St. Nikolai’s homilies and reflections, as is evidenced with all the flags sticking up from the top of the two volumes. At times, though, I find it a bit too much to digest first thing in the morning. What else could I read that is a smaller tidbit than the Prologue?

Enter A Daily Calendar of Saints by Fr. Lawrence R. Farley, recently released through Ancient Faith Publishing, which generously supplied me with a copy to review. The paperback book is rather simple and straight-forward. Each day there is one or two saints with one or two biographical paragraphs each. That’s it. No homilies or Scripture meditation. The language used to write the biographies is at an accessible level (middle school range) and lends itself well to reading aloud. I thought Fr. Lawrence chose a good range of saints, from well-known to the less familiar. He also had a balance between men and women (though there is always more room for women saints, hint hint.)

I used the book for a solid month before writing this review to see how it would flow with my daily routine. My benchmark was, “Who was the saint for today?” asked at lunchtime. If I could answer it with confidence – then I knew that 5 minutes spent looking at their biography was just enough information for my early morning spiritual multivitamin.  I recommend you try it, with a librarian stamp of approval. Rating – 5 Cups of Tea.

Gratitude is the Foundation

St. Paisios of Mount Athos

“He is not coming back, Anna. You have to begin a new life.”

Those hard words came over the phone from a trusted priest. I sat shivering in my car on a chilly November night after a Nutcracker dance rehearsal. The life I had known for a decade was over and shattered like the thin ice forming outside. After delivering the final verdict, Fr. S. gave me the best life advice one can receive in such a situation and this practice has become the bedrock of my spiritual life.

“Every day, even if you cannot see anything good and all seems completely dark, thank God for everything.”

For the following chaotic weeks and months, I struggled to pray.  At the very least, I held the small wooden cross from my prayer corner morning or night and cried. The wretched, lonely days soon filled with more good people and circumstances and things I could offer back in gratitude. I am wealthy in friendship now in more ways than I have ever experienced in my life.

When I find myself discontented or grumpy with my circumstances, I know I’ve strayed from my ‘square one’ of gratitude. As St. Paisios describes,

When a person is grateful, they are pleased with everything. They think about what God has given them every single day and find joy in all things. However, when they are ungrateful,  nothing pleases them and they grumble and complain about everything . If he doesn’t appreciate the sunshine and complains, the cold north-west wind comes and freezes him. He doesn’t want the sunshine; he wants to shiver because of the cold wind…Christ wanted the lepers to be grateful not for His sake, but for their sake, because gratitude would have been to their benefit.

How can you thank God for the terrible things someone else has done to you? Or for physical pain? Or for financial struggle? Gratitude for the ‘ugly’ things raises our hearts towards the the Kingdom of God, where there is love and redemption. I can testify that what you lose does come back, maybe not in the same form, but often in a much richer, unexpectedly wonderful way. Love comes to you when you are most broken and you let others see it.  I can start giving back now, as long as I am not afraid to show my scars. The redemption of suffering is being able to turn around to others who are going through the same pain and say, “You are not alone.”