The Scent of Holiness {book review}


I realize I am way late in posting my thoughts on this book considering it came out some months ago. But I had a really hard time organizing my thoughts on it.

Now, just in case this becomes a very long post, I want to make myself clear so there are no misunderstandings on why I couldn’t quite put into words my thoughts about it. I absolutely loved loved loved this book. I always post honest reviews of products and books and so I want you to know that I’m being 100% honest when I say this: This was by far one of the best books I have ever read. Like ever. And I read A LOT

Matushka Constantina Palmer compiled such a treasury of Orthodox wisdom and knowledge in this book and I highly encourage everyone to make The Scent of Holiness a part of their home library.

It is often said, that only the Orthodox Church contains the scent of holiness. We are the only faith to have the ‘fragrance of Christ’ present in the many, many miracles that happen through myrrh streaming icons, weeping icons, and the fragrant relics of our saints and martyrs. That being said, this book is appropriately titled because the stories contained within it’s pages are also uniquely Orthodox.


The first thing I got really excited about it was that it was geared towards women.  There really aren’t very many Orthodox books written from a woman’s perspective, even though there is such a need for it.


It also made its way into my heart through personal experiences. Most of you know, that I live nearby two monasteries. We have observed monastic life for over a decade, it’s beauty and peace eventually drawing my husband and I to move from our families to be nearer to the monasteries and their grace.

Over the years, we’ve been blessed to have grown quite close to our fathers and sisters, as they are commonly called, and have heard many stories and witnessed many miraculous things. I cannot adequately express our love for them. They have become our family.

I’ve often regretted not writing all of those stories and experiences down to pass on to future generations, but Constantina’s book was the answer to that regret. Her experiences were so similar to mine that I felt like I was re-experiencing all of those moments. DH and I often discuss how our spiritual lives and battles have changed since moving closer to the monasteries.

When I read the following in the Introduction to The Scent of Holiness, I knew from my own, albeit limited, personal experiences that I was holding a gem because even the introduction was clothed in hidden truths.

“Where there are struggling Christians, there is also the evil one keeping vigil. This, however, should not become a stumbling block to visiting monasteries. Monasteries are a spiritual battle grounds; when we step into them, we may also be dragged into the fight.”

an excerpt from the Introduction...
an excerpt from the Introduction…

She explains it so incredibly well. We must expect our temptations to increase as our efforts to become better Christians increase. I love that she introduces the world, us Americans especially, to the beauty and joy and love and strength that is found at monasteries and in monastic life.

There is a popular saying in Greek, “Christ is the Light of Angels; Angels are a Light for Monks; The Monastic Life is a Light for all men.”

Monasticism is a Light for all Men
“Christ is the Light of Angels; Angels are a Light for Monks; The Monastic Life is a Light for all Men.”

I have recommended this book to everyone I know and every person who has purchased and read it has left feeling renewed. As soon as I finished it, I started it again. Then, I lent it out and wanted to read it again and couldn’t wait to get it back, so I bought the ebook. Since then, I’ve given three as gifts. Now that Great Lent has begun, I’ve started reading it again. It’s that good!

My copy of the book is dog-eared, and there are notes in practically every margin. It is now, uniquely mine and I will pass it on to my children one day because it has become that personal.


I especially love how the book is divided into 33 knots (symbolic of the 33-knot prayer rope) instead of regular chapters. And the stories are all short enough to read in small intervals; 15 minutes in car line, 20 minutes in the doctor’s office.

If you are looking for a book to get you motivated for Lent, this is it. I promise, you will not regret it. It has been such a blessing for my family. Many times after dinner, when everyone is sitting around in the living room, I read a “knot” or two out loud. And even the children enjoy it and benefit from it.For those of you who have never visited a monastery, this will make them feel like home before you’ve even stepped foot at one. It will give you an appreciation for monasticism and it’s vital role in the Orthodox Faith.

Elder Amphilochios of Patmos said, “Wherever Orthodox monasticism is absent, the Church cannot exist, just as there cannot be a government without an army or a well-governed state without gendarmes. The monastics guard the boundaries of our Church and protect Her from Her enemies who, in our contemporary, materialistic age, rush to mangle Her like wolves.”

And Constantina ended the book perfectly by quoting St. John of the Ladder…

“I am full aware, my good friends, that the struggles I described shall seem to some incredible, [while] to others hard to believe…But to the courageous soul, they shall go away carrying zeal in their hearts.”

Those who read this book will certainly go away with zeal in their heart. This is hands down, one of the best Orthodox resources available.

Order your copy today from Conciliar Press. Can’t wait? Download the ebook now! Also, be sure to stop by Constantina’s blog, Lessons from a Monastery.



4 thoughts on “The Scent of Holiness {book review}

  1. I agree. I absolutely LOVED this book. It was such an easy read, yet full of so many lessons that really made you think about our spiritual lives as Orthodox Christians. I am reading it to my two older children now, and they too are enjoying it immensely.

  2. I share your enthusiasm for this book. I read it a couple of months ago and have been able to visit the monastery that’s about two hours from us once since then. Unlike my other visits, when I felt nervous and out of place, I had such a joyful, refreshing visit. I spoke with several of the sisters for more than a brief “hello,” and came away with a desire to return more often. I am reading one “knot” out loud to my children every weeknight (after church, before bed) during Lent. Two nights in and I can already sense a peace in them when I read. Thank you for your review.

  3. My mother passes away 03/21/13. She was raised as an Ukrainian Orthodox Christian. However for many reasons my sister and I were raised Presbyterian. After my mother’s funeral I was searching for something quiet to read that would provide solace to me as I wove my way through missing Mom and reconciling God’s Will Be Done. I came upon this book and read for hours. It was the spiritual balm I was searching for at that time. I was able to find comfort, and release the tension of grief while reading this book. Because this book was written from a woman’s perspective it started me on my journey to Orthodoxy and I have since converted to Orthodoxy with a joyful heart. Thank you for providing this opportunity to share.

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