[ditty_news_ticker id="27897"] An Ancient Faith Family Christmas Letter - Orthodox Christian Laity

An Ancient Faith Family Christmas Letter


Source: Ancient Faith Ministries

Melinda Johnson

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels with shepherds glorify Him! The wise men journey with a star! Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

Each of us at Ancient Faith wishes you great joy and blessings on this holy day!

This year, we asked our content contributors to send us news of what they’ve been working on. We compiled their notes into a “family Christmas letter” post, which you can read below.

Blessed Nativity! In the spirit of those family Christmas letters your relatives send, recounting adventures they’ve had since last Christmas, we’re delighted to bring you this round up of news from our content contributors. We have been blessed and delighted by what our people have accomplished. Not only are they overcoming difficult circumstances in their own lives, but they are actively working to encourage and edify others through their work. Glory to God!

This list includes notes from members of all our content groups – book authors, podcasters, and bloggers. There’s not room to include every good thing they’ve accomplished this year, but here are some highlights, in their own words, listed in the order in which we received them.

Timm Wenger
Usually I’m behind the scenes part-time at Ancient Faith, editing podcasts, producing audiobooks, managing ebooks, and creating some graphics. This year, my wife Kristina (from Tending the Garden of Our Hearts, Rooted in Prayer, and Let Us Attend, and the voice of 11 AFP audiobooks), and I started a coffee roasting company, Wanderlust Coffees. Inspired by Elder Dobri (Google him if you don’t know him yet), we partner with non-profits to raise funds for them during these difficult times. We are honored to have worked with the staff to create the Ancient Faith Blend, an organically grown and fairly traded specialty coffee air roasted in small batches. Proceeds benefit the ministry of Ancient Faith, and we thank God for his provision.

Elissa Bjeletich
In 2020, Elissa anticipated many in-person speaking engagements and a Holy Land tour — but when the pandemic hit, plans changed! In the Spring, she and Kristina Wenger expanded Tending the Garden of our Hearts into a video series for Virtual Sunday School, and created Rooted in Prayer, a Virtual Vacation Church Camp video series. She’s been doing Zoom talks, and interviewing a fascinating new person every Sunday night on Everyday Orthodox.

Natalie Wilson
At the beginning of 2020, I chose my word of the year – BIG. I ended up establishing Natalie Wilson Composing,(@nataliewilsoncomposing) and from there, have worked with many amazing people and enjoyed growing in my skills as a composer, pianist, sound editor, and content creator through the projects I’ve accomplished this year. Starting with composing, practicing, and recording all the music for In a Certain Kingdom Seasons 1 and 2, sound editing Season 1, composing and producing music for various other podcasts on AFR, including All These Things, I finished out the year becoming a published composer (thank you, SVS Press and Ancient Faith!) thanks to Melinda Johnson asking me to compose a song to accompany her new board book, Saint Ia Rides a Leaf! Last, but not least, I finished composing and recording a new original feature piece called Long Live the King, coming 2021.

Bev. Cooke
I’ve only had one publication this year (although with my record, that’s a lot!), Darkness Is as Light, from Park End Books, a Goth (as in Gothic architecture and time period) devotional about going through hard times and facing hard things, but feeling God’s presence and mercy through them.

But this year also brought discussions about the publication of three other things I’ve written, one of which is a brand new Akathist – to St. Emmelia for our Lost Lambs, for the parents of children who have left the faith. God willing and the creek don’t rise, it, along with my other two, will be coming out in about a year, again from Park End Books. My article, “Rejoice, Salvation of my Soul,” on Akathists, was published in the Basilian Journal this spring or summer. And I’ve been asked to give the lay keynote speech at the online Doxacon West conference at the end of January. While the speech itself isn’t until then, I have been working on it through this year.

Summer Kinard
At the beginning of the year, I gave workshops on accessible Christian education based on my book, Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability. Then I had an eight-month hiatus recovering from long-haul Covid-19. This fall I launched a traditional small press, Park End Books, that aims to bring Orthodox and Catholic voices to the mainstream book market. Our first book is a women’s devotional in testimonies of experiencing God’s presence in hardships. The week after that, the book I was privileged to co-author with friends came out, Seven Holy Women: Conversations with Saints and Friends. I loved getting to present on my section of the book at the Ancient Faith Women’s Virtual Retreat in November. These days I’m writing a guidebook for autistic thriving called Our Autistic Home that shares wisdom from our all-autistic household, and I’m editing a beautiful teen girl Lenten devotional called Letters for Pilgrimage (February 2021, Park End Books) by two Orthodox women who find adventure in the challenges of the Lenten journey.

Fr. Anthony Perkins
Merry Christmas and a blessed 2021! This is our first full year living in rural (Hartwell) Georgia. To help us get into the swing of things, we added five chickens to our household. Academically, I’ve managed to fake my way through two more semester of PhD studies at the University of Georgia (this was no mean feat as there was a lot of math/statistics involved!). In addition to 24 episodes of Good Guys Wear Black and 85 of my personal podcast, OrthoAnalytika, I am up to 80 episodes on the YouTube channel I started as a response to the COVID lockdown. I presented one conference paper this year, “Pluralism, Polarization, and Discernment; the Challenge and Promise of Diversity” at the Institute for Studies in Eastern Theology (Union Theological Seminary in New Work, 11/12/2020). I continue to serve two parishes, Holy Resurrection (UOC-USA) in Waynesville, NC and Christ the Savior (Antiochian) in Anderson, SC.

Laura Jansson
By God’s grace, Laura was able to help keep her family fed, clothed, schooled, and sane this year. The rest is icing on the cake: Her chapter on St. Morwenna appeared in her second published book, Seven Holy Women: Conversations with Saints and Friends (Ancient Faith, 2020). Alongside the friends with whom she wrote the book, she was delighted to present at the Ancient Faith Online Women’s Retreat in November. Her talk was “STONE: Finding strength and softness in a world of hard edges.” A behind-the-scenes look at her research for this project was published as “Unveiling Morwenna: How a Twenty-First-Century Researcher Fell in Love with a Fifth-Century Saint.” Laura’s first book, Fertile Ground: A Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy, now a year old, has taken on something of a life of its own. In 2020 it was released as an audiobook, narrated by Laura. Laura continues to be floored by the generosity of the reviews Fertile Ground has received, not least in an extended book review from Touchstone Magazine. Most precious to her, though, is the feedback from readers who say the book is bringing them comfort, meaning, inspiration, and peace in their pregnancies. Laura continues to serve growing families in her local community as a doula (or professional birth companion), and to write reflecting on her experiences accompanying these remarkable people through one of their most formative life experiences. Her guest post entitled The Work of a Witness appeared on the Being in Community site. Look out in 2021 for exciting new projects from Laura, starting with a new podcast called “Little Entrances, Great Entrances: Finding Holiness in Pregnancy and Childbirth”, as well as a blog – both on the Ancient Faith platform.

Melissa Naasko
My only real goal was to intentionally seek connections. Seven Holy Women was released with its companion retreat and perfectly fit into this. We managed to connect women, both living and glorified, in this time of social distancing. I also impulse-bought another dairy cow. Clearly, a good thing of its own.

Dr. Jeannie Constantinou
2020 was very challenging for everyone as we all had to adjust to the isolation of our households. I had to assume even more responsibilities at home, and because I could not receive any outside assistance with my father, who is 97 years old. Likewise, my time and patience were stretched  to the limit by being required to switch all of my Spring courses to “distance learning” mid-semester. But in every situation, the Lord gives us opportunities for spiritual growth, for reflection and for gratitude. Toward the end of the year, my book, Thinking Orthodox was released by Ancient Faith Publishing, and I am grateful for the strong response it has received and for the people who say they have been helped by it.  May the Lord grant us all a blessed and healthy new year, physically and spiritually.

Gabriel Wilson
I was blessed with health in 2020. I had the opportunity to spend more time with my family and on household projects. I was able to successfully build an office space and a bedroom in our fixer-upper house, which is excellent for the occasional sanctuary from our 3 energetic daughters. My time working at home has helped me finish and publish my second graphic novel with Ancient Faith this year, of which I am grateful. The amount of rest I’ve received this year as an introvert, I feel, is a great boost to help me in future projects to come!

Steve Christoforou
We not only started a new season of Be the Bee but are producing daily content (videos, podcasts, and curricula) during this extremely online year. And at least three or four times a month, I get to lead a virtual retreat or some other online talk for communities around the world. It’s been a stressful year, but one that’s been nonetheless fruitful by God’s grace.

Fr. Philip LeMasters
In February, I gave some lectures on Christian ethics at New Georgian University in Poti, The Republic of Georgia.  In addition to visiting a number of churches there and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of my hosts, I spent a couple of days seeing Hagia Sophia and other churches and historical sites in Istanbul.

Dr. Al Rossi
In 2020, God blessed me with much creative juice, mostly facilitating small groups.  Currently I facilitate six groups, for TIM, Thriving in Ministry, an Orthodox initiative sponsored by a Lilly grant.  Participants are vulnerable and transparent.  Much fun. [Editor’s note: Dr. Rossi also has a new book out this year – All Is Well.]

Gaelan Anthony and Megan Elizabeth Gilbert
This year, we were happy to see the launch of my husband’s book Laurel and the Wind, as well as my own, A Mother’s Prayer. We also Moved to New York, for seminary at St. Vladimirs!

Hannah Vasquez
This year was full of growth for All These Things. The host, Hannah Vazquez, had a baby in February, started a website and blog in May, and the podcast had its first anniversary in September!

Jane G. Meyer
Jane’s 2020! Sleep, edit, garden, pray, stare at the ocean, bake, edit, pet the dog. Watch Avatar the Last Airbender. Edit, pray, sit at the beach, pull weeds. Bake, pet the dog, bump into my husband and son–say hello. Read, call my mom. Eat walnuts. Pray. Write, prune the plants. Take a walk. Ponder the universe. That’s about it. Despite the strangeness of this year–there is always Christ!

Fr. Barnabas Powell
Faith Encouraged Ministries was affected by the pandemic like everyone else, but our online outreach continued to grow. This is especially true of our YouTube channel, Faith Encouraged TV. We added over 1000 new subscribers and saw our Sunday homilies watches by over 104,000 viewers in 2020. Glory be to God.

Fr. Nick and Dr. Roxanne Louh
The Louhs had a very busy year. They published in October their very first book, Renewing You: A Priest, A Psychologist and A Plan. In addition to their book, they also launched a brand new on WABC Radio in New York City called “Live with the Louhs” that airs every Sunday at 6:30 a.m. Finally, the Louhs opened up their long anticipated brand new Church on December 19th, hoping to continue the share the Good News of Christ and the Orthodox Church.

Fr. Stephen Freeman
In January, I was named “Pastor Emeritus” of St. Anne, where I had served for 22 years. I am now retired but continue to write, and to carry on my ministry as a “retired” priest.

Bill Marianes
This year, I enjoyed airing 12 Stewardship Calling AFR 1st Wednesday programs, four 5th Sunday programs, and the special programs on Hagia Sophia and St. Nicholas Shrine.

In addition, this past crazy year, I was blessed to complete strategic plans for the OCA Diocese of New England, an Antiochian parish in Michigan, a GOA parish in Ann Arbor, and a Coptic Orthodox parish in Michigan; start strategic plans for the OCA Diocese of Midwest, the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of the East, and 5 GOA, OCA and Carpatho-Russian parishes. I also provided Stewardship Online Training for all parishes for the GOA Metropolis of San Francisco, all parishes for the GOA Direct Archdiocese District, and all parishes for the GOA Metropolis of New Jersey. I was also blessed to teach stewardship training programs for seminarians at both Holy Cross and St. Tikhon’s seminaries, perform Financial Stewardship Analysis for over a dozen Orthodox parishes, start a small and mission parish initiative, and serve on Assembly of Bishops Secretariat, GOA Archdiocese Council, Metropolis of Atlanta Council.

Fr. John Strickland
Twenty-twenty began normally enough, celebrating Theophany and then entering the Great Fast. The pestilence disrupted life at my parish church (and the schooling of my children), but happily not my research and writing. Upon the completion of the second volume of my history of Christendom, The Age of DivisionI was able to launch into the first chapters of its sequel, The Age of Utopia, and begin planning a return to my podcast on Ancient Faith, Paradise and Utopia.

Laura E. Wolfe
It was a year of birth– a new book, The Lion and the Saint, and a new baby!  These labors and the year itself sent me deeper into the recesses of my heart and grounded me more firmly on the Rock of Truth.

Rita Madden
In February, I had a wonderful time in Dallas conducting some Food, Faith, and Fasting workshops organized by the North Texas Orthodox Missions. Starting in January 2021 these workshops will be available to all in the virtual format.

Fr. Joshua Makoul
During 2020, by the grace of God and the talents of Ancient Faith, I was able to publish my book entitled Healing Your Wounded Soul: Growing from Pain to Peace. I also began a blog on Ancient Faith entitled, A Healing Driven Life. I am grateful to all of the staff of Ancient Faith. May God bless them tenfold for the fruits of their ministry.

Carol Sheehan
Finished a draft of Don Sheehan’s “Transfiguring Violence.” Working now on transcribing his recorded classes on Dostoevsky, which he taught by creating great discussions. [Editor’s note: Carol published Don’s book The Shield of Psalmic Prayer this year also.]

Fr. Spyridon Bailey
In March, I was blessed to visit Moscow for the first time and encounter some of the extraordinary individuals and communities there. I describe the pilgrimage in a book called In Search Of Holy Russia.

Cynthia Damaskos and Molly Sabourin
What a great year for us! God blessed us greatly with the ability to open our course Six Weeks to Sanity three times and make an impact on many people’s lives. We were also able to launch our new show Filled With Less, and couldn’t be more excited. We have so much to be thankful for, and pray that you all have a blessed Nativity!

Fr. Alexander Goussetis
Although I missed being out on the road leading retreats and workshops around the country due to Covid, I used the free time to write and edit a new book (maybe a second book?) due for release in 2021 through Ancient Faith. Although disruptive to everyone’s life, Covid allowed me countless opportunities this year for reflection, renewal, and reorientation for the remaining days that God will allow me. Praise be to God in all circumstances!

Abbot Tryphon
I’ve been making lots of YouTube videos, as well as doing online counseling countless individuals across the land who have been suffering through this pandemic lockdown. So many are suffering extreme loneliness, and in need of spiritual and emotional support. We monks have enjoyed those who have visited the monastery, and pray the Lord will soon restore our world to normalcy. Wishing all a joyous Nativity, and a blessed New Year.

Fr. Stephen Siniari
At home, and at the parish, 2020 has been a good year for slowing down, stopping to reflect, a time perfect for discovering we are free in time to beg God for prayer: “…Look upon those who have served Thee in truth… those who have kept Thy covenant amidst affliction…” 2 Esdras 8:26…A good year to have a Prophora rising, a good year to turn the eyes of our heart to the Kingdom within… [Editor’s note: Fr. Stephen’s first book released this year, Big in Heaven: A Collection of Short Stories.]

Katherine Bolger Hyde
In 2020 I was privileged to join with seven lovely friends to create the book and virtual retreat, Seven Holy Women. I also wrote the fifth volume in my mystery seriesFatality with Forster, which will be out next summer. And my upcoming picture book, A Taste of Paradise, went into production with AFP this fall for a spring 2021 release.

Christine Rogers
Christine Rogers’ year was busy, with the publication of her second book The Lost Saint and the launch of her doula business (which suffered due to covid, but we persevere). She baked a lot of pies, and kept her husband and four kids alive, fed, and educated, all while successfully avoiding camping for the 8th year in a row. You can follow her indoorsy adventures on Instagram (@christinerogerswrites).

Lynnette Horner
Our youngest child graduated from college without cap and gown or a walk across the stage; I contracted Covid-19 in May and am grateful for a mild case; we dug two new vegetable garden beds in the spring; and in the fall I began working on a podcast version of Walking an Ancient Path, with plans to begin airing in January. Throughout this pandemic year, I’m learning anew the value of unhurried quiet and to treasure God’s presence in the silence.

Amy Hogg
This year, I joined forces with two colleagues and founded the Trisagion School of Byzantine Music with the goal of offering high quality, online chant instruction at all levels. In the fall, I taught new and improved versions of my Byzantine Beginnings 101 and 102 courses.

Melinda Johnson
This was a year of living and learning. Publishing Seven Holy Women: Conversations with Saints and Friends and hosting the accompanying retreat were definitely two of my favorite parts of 2020. I was also happy to see Painting Angels, Book 3 in the Sam and Saucer trilogy, go out into the world.

About Melinda Johnson

Melinda Johnson is an Orthodox Christian, wife, mama, writer, and the author of Letters to Saint Lydia (AFP 2010) and the Sam and Saucer books (AFP), among others. Melinda has a Master’s in English Literature because she loved taking literature classes so much she couldn’t stop doing it. When she is not seeing “heaven in a wildflower,” Melinda enjoys writing for children, walking and talking, and baking bread.


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