COVID 19 Risk Assessment 

Churches and cathedrals have been legally permitted to open for Public worship, with measures in place for social distancing from 4th July 2020. Other activities, except for a few still prohibited by law, may also take place in churches, subject to the government guidance in place for the relevant sector.

The government guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic requires a COVID-19 risk assessment to be carried out for every building and site open to the public. This document provides risk assessment, with links to the relevant advice notes. It relates to opening the church to clergy and members of the public entering for the purpose of public worship.

This Risk Assessment has been created with reference to:

COVID-19 guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic
COVID-19 guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic - Checklist
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No.2) (England) Regulations 2020
Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Version 1 – 03/08/2020

Points of note

From the government COVID 19 guidance and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No.2) (England) Regulations 2020


Where food or drink (‘consumables’) are essential to the act of worship, they can be used, however the sharing of food should be avoided, as should the use of communal vessels.
The person distributing the consumable should release it, into the hand only, in such a way to avoid any contact between them and those receiving it, or wear gloves. If accidental contact does occur, both people should cleanse their hands immediately.

Other actions taken to reduce the risk of transmission should also be considered, for example, foodstuffs should be pre-wrapped, and a system should be in place to prevent individuals from coming into contact with consumables and any dishes and/ or cutlery other than their own.


Indoors - where essential to an act of worship, one individual only should be permitted to sing or chant, and the use of plexi-glass screens should be considered to protect worshippers from them, as this will further prevent transmission and the screen can be easily cleaned.

Except for the limited circumstances outlined above, people should avoid singing, shouting, raising voices and/or playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult or that may encourage shouting. This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission from aerosol and droplets. Therefore, spoken responses during worship should also not be in a raised voice.

Other Important information

From 8 August, face coverings will be required by law to be worn in a greater number of public indoor settings including museums, galleries, cinemas, places of worship, and public libraries.

Certain groups of people may be at increased risk of severe disease from COVID-19, including people who are aged 70 or older, regardless of medical conditions.

Individuals who fall within this group are advised to;

stay at home as much as possible and, if they do go out, to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside of their household.

The gathering organiser has taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, taking into account the risk assessment The person responsible for organising the gathering (“the gathering organiser”) has carried out a risk assessment 

The Church of the Holy Transfiguration, Great Walsingham

Assessor’s name:
Stephen Elliott

Date completed:

Review date:

What are the Hazards? 

Control measures/mitigation

Additional information

Action by whom?

Completed – date and name 

Spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Management and supervision of arrivals and departures

Traffic light system in place whereby the Venue Manager (VM) allows and momentarily halts access to the premises and directs persons to their designated area. (Large double doors at the rear of the church will be opened to assist with this)

At the same time, the VM briefly reminds attendees of the Church’s new protocol.

At the end of the service the VM will invite specific people to leave the church either one at a time or in their family bubble. (Max 2)

Venue Manager 

(Venue manager in practice will be either Ian or Patrick)

Hand Sanitisers placed at the entrance to the building

Attendees to sanitise their hands before entering and leaving the site: Venue Manager to organise, supervise and enforce

Masks to be worn

Attendees to bring their own masks to the service. Venue manager to supervise and enforce

Cleaning of the Church before and after the Service

Cleaner(s) to wear disposable gloves and mask. If the church building has been closed for 72 hours prior, then there is no need for extra cleaning to remove the potential virus from surfaces. However, it is advised that a wipe down of surfaces take place on the morning of the service and at the end Volunteer Cleaner(s). Venue Manager to organise, supervise and enforce

Doors and windows to remain open to aid with ventilation Venue Manager to do this

Removal of prayer books, leaflets and other ancillary items not required from Church. Should attendees need such items they should bring along their own. (Candles, Prayer books etc)

(Potentially store these items in the Parish Room until further notice)

Seating or standing should only be done in clearly designated areas marked by floor tape. Venue Manager to organise, supervise and enforce

Attendees will have liaised with Father Christopher prior to attending and he will nominate who can attend and nominate a location for them to remain for that day’s service 

Ensure correct signage is displayed.

Put up notices to remind visitors about important safe practices. Venue Manager to organise, supervise and enforce

Toilet to be equipped with sufficient soap, paper towels, waste bin and hand sanitiser.Venue Manager to organise, supervise and enforce

(Window to be left open to aid with ventilation)   Venue Manager to organise, supervise and enforce

Paper Towels to be disposed of in bin provided.  Venue Manager to organise, supervise and enforce

Antibacterial wipes to be used on surfaces that have been touched after use.

Hand Sanitiser to be used upon leaving and returning to the Church. Venue Manager to organise, supervise and enforce with clergy (probably Fr Patrick and attendees) 

Spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Recording of names and contact details of attendees upon arrival at Church to assist with NHS Track and Trace.  This information will be passed to the Church Secretary (Ian) who will retain this information for 21 days.  Venue Manager/Ian to organise, supervise and enforce

Policy of no visitors to attend until further notice

Spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Only one individual to sing from the worshippers. This individual will be positioned away from any other attendees (see diagram) Plexi-glass screen option being considered and sought

No other attendees to sing, shout or raise their voice. 


Restrict movement and conversation during the Service

Venue Manager to organise, supervise and enforce

No collection plate to be offered

A standing order form has been created

No communion to be offered or taken except for the Clergy

The Priest taking the service is only permitted to consume the Eucharist 

Maximum number of attendees limited to 8 persons (Not including clergy)

OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.21 (9th August 2020)

Dear Friends,

For our gathering today to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, please come down the road opposite the church towards the ford and, after the row of cottages on the left, come into the second entrance (there is a slightly overgrown sign to the right of it saying “Ford Cottage.”) You’ll find us there, ready to begin the Typika service at noon. The picnic will start about half an hour later. (You can park either where you usually do near the church or else beyond the entrance to our house, on the roadside verge.) Please bring members of your family if they’d like to come and either a picnic blanket or a folding chair to sit on. Also, bring everything you need for the picnic since, because of the coronavirus legislation, we won’t be sharing anything. It will be very important to maintain social distancing, but nevertheless we very much look forward to seeing those of you who are able to come.

As you all know, we have been working towards trying to open the church for regular worship from 16th August (a week today) and Steve Riley-Elliott has put a lot of hard work into producing the risk assessment and guidelines that are required before that will be possible. (See above)  However, once his document could be assessed by the Trustees and the Parish Advisory Council, both bodies were fairly evenly split about whether or not to re-open in a week’s time. Because of this division of opinion, I have used my casting vote in the Trustees and the fact that the Parish Advisory Council is only “advisory” to make a decision, which

is as follows:

1) We shall have two Liturgies (16th and 30th August) and two Typika services (23rd August and 6th September.) After these four services we shall review the situation in the light of our experience of those services. (If a local lockdown is established at any time over that period, we will cease offering services immediately.)

2) At the Liturgies, only the celebrant (Fr. Patrick) will receive communion. (The majority of both the Trustees and the Parish Advisory Council agreed that there exists no safe means of others receiving communion that is consistent with our archbishop’s decision that we cannot give communion other than by using a shared spoon, which is something that we “should not” do according to the government’s guidelines.)

3) At all of these services, masks must be brought by those attending and be worn throughout the service (except by the priest and the Reader when they are speaking or chanting.)

4) In accordance with the risk assessment rules, there will be only very limited places for worshippers in order that social distancing can be maintained. Those wishing to attend any service must inform me (by email at fatherxopher@gmail.com) of their wish to come, and places will be allocated on a “first come first served” basis.

I would stress that we have not yet reached the stage of the pandemic at which there is no risk of infection in attending any of these services. We have attempted, through the restrictions we’ve put in place, to lower this risk, but we cannot make the risk negligible. The archdiocesan guidelines indicate that people of 70 and over, and people with health conditions that give concern, should not attend, and although we will not refuse admission to people in either of these groups, my own advice is that they should take this archdiocesan advice very seriously. 

Even those who are not in either of these groups are, in my judgment, perfectly justified if they choose not to come for the time being. It is for each of us to make an assessment of the situation and to make a decision about whether or not to attend. Those who choose not to are, in my judgment, in no way blameworthy. (I myself, because of an underlying health condition, will not be present, and neither will Cathie, my wife, because of her sense of the need to shield me from possible infection. Her absence means that there will probably be no choir unless another choir member is present who is willing to sing the choir sections of the service as a solo.) 

One final thing: those who feel in very particular need of the sacrament over this period can contact me to arrange a “sick communion” service in their home. I look forward to seeing you at today’s Typika and picnic!

With love in Christ.

Fr. Christopher

SERMON ON 1 Cor 3:9-17

In today’s Epistle reading, St Paul reminds us of the tremendous gift and privilege that has been given to us as baptised members of Christ’s Holy Church. The Spirit of God now dwells within us, and Christ has become the foundation on which we build our lives, a foundation that cannot be shaken or taken away. However, while we should rejoice in that fact, we must not become complacent. Although the foundation is there, and we have been given all we need to build upon it, what we choose to build remains up to us. The foundation might be unshakable, but what good is that to us if we build upon it a house of cards that will come tumbling down

at the slightest gust of wind? And it is not just a question of effort, but of whether that effort is well spent (building a house of cards is difficult and time consuming precisely because of how unstable it is!). As the Psalmist says, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psal. 127:1). In order for the house to stand, we have to be God’s co-labourers (Theou synergoi), and the story told in today’s Gospel reading is a perfect illustration of precisely this notion of synergy with God.

Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh, is seen walking on the water. St Peter calls out to him and says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”. Peter steps out of the boat onto the sea, and begins to walk. At that moment, his foundation was not the water under his feet, which could not have supported him, but rather his faith in Christ. When we are joined to Christ we become, as the same Apostle says in his second epistle, “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and this is what allowed Peter at that moment to do what the Lord had done and walk on the water. We saw this also last Thursday when we celebrated the Transfiguration of the Lord, and Peter and the other two Apostles saw Jesus on Mount Tabor shining with the uncreated light. The Fathers tell us that it was not Christ who was transfigured at that moment, but rather the eyes of the Apostles which were opened to see Jesus as he truly is; they were granted some form of participation in his divine energies.

However, although this possibility of participation is a gift freely given, it requires this same cooperation, the synergy that Paul mentions. The Lord did not withdraw from Peter, he did not take back the gift given to him. Rather it was Peter who took his eyes off the Lord, saw the storm, became afraid and lost faith. He stepped off the Rock, which is Christ, and back into the sea and thus immediately began to sink.

The foundation has been laid, the tools are at our disposal, but as for what we build and whether we make use of those tools, the choice is ours. As we work to build our lives, do we keep our gaze fixed on Christ and with him build things that will last into eternity, or do we turn aside to focus on the storm and build something that will only last as long as the temporary concerns and troubles of this life? More importantly, when we do go wrong, do we cry “Lord, help me”, as did Peter, or do we choose to drown in our self-reliance?


OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.20 (2nd August 2020)

Dear Friends,

This newsletter will be focused on practical matters, mostly related to our beginning to come together again for worship. As I told you a couple of weeks ago (in Newsletter 18), we are now in the process of producing and discussing the risk assessment that government regulations insist on before any church building opens.(Steve Riley-Elliot has put a lot of work into this and I am grateful to him both for this and for agreeing to act as a kind of overseer of the rules when we reassemble in the church for the first time.) It now seems very likely that we will be able to have fortnightly Liturgies from 16th August onwards, with a Typika service on the Sundays in between. (The precise restrictions that will need to be enforced by Steve are still to be determined by the Trustees and the Parish Advisory Council, and I’ll tell you about these in our next newsletter.)

You will perhaps remember that a week today, on 9th August – which is a week before our use of the church building begins again ––you are invited (if rain is not forecast on that day) to bring a picnic to our garden at Ford Cottage. That day would normally be our parish feast day, since it is the Sunday after the Feast of the Transfiguration.We can’t, of course, share food between households because of coronavirus regulations, so please bring everything you need in the way of food and drink for yourselves, as well as seating if you can’t just sit on the grass. This will not be a “gathering” in the strict sense of the term, since each household will be having its picnic independently of any other household, and will be socially distanced from any other household in the way that government regulations require. It will, however, be easy for households to chat to each other from a distance of a few feet, so it will in practice be the kind of meeting of parishioners for which we’ve longed during all these months of lockdown. We’ll begin the picnic at 12.30 p.m.

Half an hour before the picnic begins - at noon - you are also invited to stand – in a socially distanced way – just outside the back door of our house - Ford Cottage - for a Typika service, which will be sung by me and by members of my own family. This will be held just inside that door, in our icon corner, so that by standing outside, not too far away from the open door, you should be able to hear it perfectly. I very much look forward to seeing all of you again then.

The other practical thing that I want to discuss today is the money needed to keep our church going, which is now being looked after on our behalf by Steve Riley-Elliot (since he has now taken over from Rose Hannis as the Trustees’ Treasurer.) Since we have had no Sunday collections for a long time, our income for this year is much less than it would normally have been. Thanks to Anna Heaton’s bequest, this is not a disaster for us – at least not yet – but it would be very helpful to us if you could do what some people are already doing: that is, give regularly in future through a standing order to your bank. With this newsletter I shall therefore be sending a form to enable this, together with a gift aid declaration (which makes your donation even more valuable to us if you are a taxpayer.) These forms should be sent to Steve, whose address is on the form. (Indeed, even if you already give by standing order, Steve would find it helpful if you could cancel your existing order and send this new one to him. The reason he asks this is that these existing standing orders are in practice paid into three different accounts, and this complicates things unnecessarily.) If you have any questions about all this, Steve will be happy to discuss them with you by phone (07949-700214).

I am so much looking forward to seeing you all next Sunday, though if the long-term forecast proves inaccurate, and it looks like rain nearer the time, I may have to cancel the event at short notice. 

With love in Christ, 

Fr. Christopher

Standing Order Form

To the Manager (Please write the name and address of your bank below)

I/we hereby authorise you to debit my/our Account below

Account Number

Sort Code

Amount.  £



Beginning Date.                       End Date or Ongoing

Account to be credited:

Holy Transfiguration Walsingham, Orthodox Christian Property Trust 

NatWest Bank, 

Bridge Street, 



NR21 9BA

Account Number. 44575130   

Sort Code            52-41-29

Your Name




Please return this form to the Church Treasurer:

Stephen Riley-Elliott,

5 Fieldfare Way, 



PE37 8JG


Holy Transfiguration, Great Walsingham, Orthodox Christian Property Trust (Registered Charity Number 1165848) In order to Gift Aid your donation you must tick the box below: 

I want to gift aid my donation of £              and any donations I make in the future to the Holy Transfiguration, Great Walsingham, Orthodox Christian Property Trust. 

I am a UK taxpayer and understand that if I pay less Income Tax and/or Capital Gains Tax than the amount of Gift Aid claimed on all my donations in that tax year it is my responsibility to pay any difference.

My Details:

Title: ______      First Name or Initial:_______________________________________

Surname: ____________________________________________________________





Signature:_____________________________________ Date: _________________


Please notify the Treasurer or the Clergy if 

  • You wish to cancel this declaration

  • Change your Name or Home Address

  • No longer pay sufficient tax on your income and/or capital gains.

Gift Aid is linked to basic tax rate, currently 20%, which allows charities to reclaim 25p for every £1 donated.  If you pay income tax at the higher or additional rate and want to receive the additional tax relief due to you, you must include all of your Gift Aid donations on your Self-Assessment tax return or ask HM Revenue and Customs to adjust your tax code

Please return this form to the Church Treasurer:

Stephen Riley-Elliott, 

5 Fieldfare Way, 



PE37 8JG

SERMON ON Matthew 14:14-22

What a tragedy when we are proud of our Orthodox Christian Faith, but do not actually live it. What a tragedy when our conduct actually undermines the life-transforming message of the Cross, so desperately needed now, as ever, by our aching and confused world. What a tragedy when individual egos obscure our sight of the One Who is the Truth, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Such was the case here in Corinth. The Christian community had fallen into this trap in various ways. Other bad things were going on, but, in today’s Epistle reading, what is highlighted is their getting fixated on who had baptised them, setting up a league table of the apostolic leaders, promoting personalities, dividing into factions, and in so doing damaging the life and witness of the church. How easily we get drawn into focusing on things in the life of the church which matter little, and thereby end up undermining the things which matter a lot. The Holy Apostle pleads with them to be united, ‘perfectly joined together’, in their speaking, their mind, and their judgement. This is how the church should be. This is what happens when we are deeply rooted in the life of Christ. This is what happens when we are kneeling together in humility at the foot of the Cross. This is the blessed experience of authentic Christian community life (cf. Psal. 132).

Sadly, it seems that the Corinthian Christians had lost sight of the transforming power of the Cross. Although the community, comprising both Jews and Greeks (Acts18.1-11), had come into being through its life giving message, they still lived in a world of beguiling philosophies, adept speakers, and rhetorical devices. Such were now apparently grabbing their attention again. But St Paul reminds them very specifically that the Gospel of Christ cannot be preached ‘with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect’ (v.17).

Think about it. This was how the Gospel conquered the Ancient World, all by the innate power of the Cross. Uneducated men had outshone the whole world. St John Chrysostom in his third Homily on First Corinthians, likens it to twelve non-military men beating a professional army. Nakedness against men at arms. What about the modern world? There is still the temptation to be dazzled by the wisdom of words. There is still the temptation to latch onto personalities and get into contentions. There is still the temptation to lose sight of the power of the Cross. There is only one thing to do. Let the power of the Cross have its full effect in our lives, and astound those around us by our way of life, rather than by our words.

This is what St John Chrysosotom calls, ‘the unanswerable argument, the argument from conduct’. He is also very clear that when our lives do not demonstrate what we say we believe as Christians, ‘this is what stays the unbelievers from becoming Christians’. The

Corinthian Christians, wrapped up in their own agendas, were clearly not thinking about the effect of their behaviour on the non-Christian people around them. If we have fallen into this same trap, may God forgive us, and enable us again to know the life-transforming power of the Cross in our own hearts and lives.


OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.19 (26th July 2020)                                                           

Dear Friends,

A few newsletters ago (number 13), I put at the top a photograph of a mosaic depicting the creation of the heavenly bodies, which appears also at the top of this newsletter. I’ve put it there on this occasion because today’s readings are about faith, and my background in the sciences inevitably makes me wonder what it means to have faith in God - the creator and redeemer of the world - if you are, like me, a trained scientist who believes in the broad accuracy of the modern scientific account of how the cosmos came to be as it is. 

Here it is important to recognise that faith – pistis in Greek – is not quite the same as belief that some set of statements is “true.” Ultimately, faith in God is trust in God. I once heard our archbishop say something that I thought very wise: he said that “the Church proclaims Truth but it doesn’t define it.” What I took him to mean was that what the Church proclaims is nothing less than Christ himself – “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6) – and it does so both in its worship and in its words (doctrinal formulae, scriptural texts, and so on.) These words often have many layers of meaning. The Genesis accounts of the creation, for example, convey to us a fundamental truth: that the cosmos in which we live has its origin in the will of God. What those accounts do not do, however, is give us what we would nowadays call a “scientific” account of how the cosmos came to be as it is. Rather, as Saints Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus learned from the early Christian philosopher, Origen, scripture has layers of meaning, and the literal meaning may sometimes be ignored if there is good reason to do so, since it is of less importance than its moral and mystical meanings. Indeed, these two saints, writing in the fourth century of the Christian era, made an anthology of Origen’s writings and began it with Origen’s statement that certain passages of scripture, “by means of seeming history, though the incidents never occurred, figuratively reveal certain mysteries.” Whether, in choosing this passage to open their anthology, they actually had in mind the Genesis creation accounts is not clear. However, when we look at St. Basil’s commentary on those accounts, we certainly find that he applied this insight to them. Indeed, he almost seems to have anticipated modern evolutionary theory. As one modern scholar has put it, “Basil expresses his conviction that although the Creator's word is spoken in an instant, the Creation's obedient response is extended in time.” Indeed, he goes on, at times Basil speaks “in language that seems almost to anticipate modern scientific concepts.”

It is for this reason that modern arguments about “the Bible versus science” simply make no sense to an Orthodox Christian. We are not biblical fundamentalists but the inheritors of a profound and subtle tradition of biblical interpretation. Those who want to set up a battle between science and religious faith are therefore mistaking fundamentalist religion for the real thing. Indeed, they are often making other mistakes as well.  The biologist Richard Dawkins, for example, famous for his authorship of The God Delusion, makes so many philosophical mistakes in his arguments for atheism that the philosopher Michael Ruse – himself an atheist – has declared publicly that Dawkins is the kind of atheist who makes him “ashamed to be an atheist.”

We do, however, need to interpret the well-established theories of modern science in a way that challenges some of the ways in which they are often interpreted. When we speak of “laws of nature,” for example, we need to go beyond the way in which they are often understood, in which there is no sense of their relationship to God. Having a sense of that relationship does not mean that we need to use these laws scientifically in a way that is different to that of the atheist scientist. For us, however, the laws that any created thing obeys are a manifestation of the presence of God in that thing. (In technical theological and philosophical language, they are an aspect of the logos of each thing, about which St. Maximus the Confessor spoke, or of the divine energies spoken of by St. Gregory Palamas. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has put it, Maximos’s thinking focuses on the way in which “Christ the creator Logos has implanted in every thing a characteristic logos, a ‘thought’ or ‘word’ which is God’s intention for that thing, its inner essence which makes it distinctively itself and at the same time draws it towards the divine realm,” while for Palamas’s complementary thinking, God, in “his essence … is infinitely transcendent, utterly beyond all created being, beyond all participation from the human side. But in his energies – which are nothing less than God himself in action – God is inexhaustibly immanent, maintaining all things in being, animating them, making each of them a sacrament of his dynamic presence.”)

The fact that we now interpret these two traditional and complementary ways of thinking at least partly in relation to the laws of nature is an example of how our Orthodox Tradition can be expressed differently at different times. As Metropolitan Kallistos has put it, “Loyalty to Tradition, properly understood, is not something mechanical, a passive and automatic process of transmitting the accepted wisdom of an era in the distant past.” Tradition is, he says, “not static but dynamic, not a dead acceptance of the past but a living discovery of the Holy Spirit in the present. Tradition, while inwardly changeless (for God does not change) is constantly assuming new forms, which supplement the old without superseding them.” 

It is not, of course, everyone’s vocation to try to work out what these new forms should be. (Indeed, few are qualified for that task.) What each of us can do, however, is to use our faith, our trust in God, to assure ourselves that this task is now - as it has been throughout the Church’s history - one which can be successfully undertaken as “a living discovery of the Holy Spirit in the present.”  And if anyone tells us that “science has disproved the validity of faith,” we can treat that statement with the scorn it deserves. 

With love in Christ,    

Fr. Christopher      


In today’s Gospel reading, St Matthew reminds us that through faith in Christ our lives can be transformed, and we can be made whole, while also warning us that hard- heartedness leads us away from Christ, no matter how religious we might externally appear. The Evangelist immediately places before us two blind men. Blindness, along with other physical ailments, was a cause to be considered an outcast at the time of Christ, and also illness had a close link with sin. The two men initially express a confused belief in Christ shouting, “Have mercy on us, Son of David”. Here they recognise Christ as the Messiah, as Son of David, and perhaps as St Theophylact of Ochrid points out, through asking for mercy, have begun to understand Christ’s divine nature to some extent. Christ does not react instantaneously, instead, he asks them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”. In doing so, he is asking them to confess their faith, and is respecting their freedom as humans, made in the image of God. The blind men’s response is a simple and heartfelt “Yes, Lord”, to which Christ replies “According to your faith let it be done to you”. 

The two men make a direct confession of their belief. Christ, however, while healing them also calls them to cooperation with God in accepting the miracle, as the miracle is done, “according to your faith”. Having regained their sight, Christ asks them out of humility and to avoid people discovering who he truly is to, “See that no one knows of this”. The two blind men promptly spread the news of their healing, not out of disobedience to Christ’s instruction, but rather out of thanksgiving and joy for their being made whole again. 

Following this, another healing takes place, “a demoniac who was mute was brought to him... the one who had been mute spoke”. In this case the man is so overcome by evil and his health, and unable both physically and spiritual to express his belief, that Christ simply heals the man without initially requiring his faith and cooperation. The people of the area were amazed, and set Christ, through his authority to heal by a word alone, above the Prophets and Patriarchs of Israel, “never has anything like this been seen in Israel”. The Pharisees, placed in opposition to Christ, are unable to accept, unlike the blind men, that what Christ is doing is from God, and instead suggest that, “by the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons”. As we know (from Matthew 12:25) this is simply not possible, “every city or house divided against itself will not stand”. Christ’s work can only come from God as he is preaching the Kingdom, healing illness, and forgiving sins. The work of the demons is diametrically opposed to such a ministry. 

St Matthew calls us to place ourselves in the shoes of the blind men. While we have faith in Christ and follow him, there will be times when we find ourselves spiritually blind, and cut off from God through our sins. In some ways, this is an even deeper blindness than the physical one the men experienced. Christ asks us to turn back to him, through repentance and confession, and is waiting expectantly for us to make that return. It is not enough for us for Christ to ask us to make that return, we actually have to cooperate with him, through our confession of faith, through returning to the Church, through engaging with the ascetic life, and through seeking reconciliation through confession. We are made in the image of God and have free will, as such Christ is not a spiritual “fanatic” who will force us to do things; we have to proclaim that “yes”, and accept our being made whole, and having received it, aim to maintain this synergy with God as much as possible, in case we sink back into spiritual darkness. 

If we allow Christ to transform us in this way, we can begin to enter into theosis and accept Christ’s transformational healing more and more in our lives, and draw ever closer to him. However, in saying this, as in the case of the demoniac, we are not limiting Christ, if we become too separated from God, then he entirely capable of making that first move, and re-orientating us towards him, and initiating that discussion of return and cooperation. Like the blind men and the crowds let us be thankful for Christ’s healing in our lives and that of others, and flee the hard-heartedness, ingratitude and thanklessness the Pharisees displayed! May the light of Christ illumine all of our blindness! 



OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.18 (19th July 2020)

Dear Friends,

The icon on the email version – of the meeting of Saints Peter and Paul – is put there, not because today is their feast (which was three weeks ago) but because I think we’re edging closer to having regular services again, so that we can look forward to our being together again before too long. Our Trustees and Parish Advisory Council had a joint online meeting on Friday, and we’re going ahead with the risk assessment that government regulations insist on before any church building opens. My feeling is – though I can’t be certain about this – that we may be able to have fortnightly Liturgies from 16th August onwards, with a Typika service on the Sundays in between.

If this does prove to be possible, however, this will not mean that things will immediately get “back to normal.” We may not have lavatory facilities, for instance, and we may need to ask you to “book in” in advance so as not to exceed a relatively safe number of worshippers. (Social distancing – except for members of the same household – will remain in force.) We’ll also ask you to wear face masks in the church building, and there will be no gathering afterwards for refreshments in the parish room. In addition, it seems likely that lay people may not be able to receive communion, since government regulations only allow the sacrament to be given into people’s hands, while our archbishop has made it clear that only the traditional shared spoon is acceptable to him.(The local Antiochian archdiocese has made this “no communion” rule quite clear, while in our own archdiocese it is only implicit.)

Over and above these restrictions, the archdiocesan guidelines actually go beyond what the government regulations require by saying that people of 70 or over “should not” attend. Since these guidelines do not say “must not attend” it will, I think, be for our more elderly parishioners – and those younger ones with health problems - to make their own decisions about whether or not to be present. We must remember, however, that the risk of severe complications is high for those who get the virus and are either in this age group or else suffer certain health problems, so those who decide not to attend for the time being are, in my opinion, justified in being cautious in this way. You should not feel obliged to attend.

Those whose underlying health conditions mean that they are “shielding”must not, of course attend, and sadly I am one of these. (My wife Cathie, in order to shield me, would also be unable to attend.) I can, however, look forward to seeing you all if you accept an invitation. This invitation is forSunday 9th August, when we would, under normal circumstances, have our patronal feast Liturgy followed by lunch in our garden here in Great Walsingham. What I invite you to do – if the weather is fine on that day – is to bring a picnic to our garden, to begin eating around 12.30 p.m. (We can’t, of course, share food between households because of coronavirus regulations, so bring everything you need in the way of food and drink, as well as seating if you can’t just sit on the grass.) This will not be a “gathering” in the strict sense of the term, since each household will be having its picnic independently of any other household, and will be socially distanced from any other household in the way that government regulations require. It will, however, be easy for households to chat to each other from a distance of a few feet, so it will in practice be the kind of meeting of parishioners for which we’ve longed all these months. Half an hour before the picnic begins - at noon - you are also invited to stand – in a socially distanced way – just outside the back door of our house fora Typika service, which will be sung by me and by members of my own family.This will be held just inside that door, in our icon corner, so that by standing outside, not too far away from the open door, you should be able to hear it perfectly. Much will, of course, depend on the weather, and if the forecast a day or two before suggests that rain is likely, we’ll have to cancel both the service and the picnic.

I look forward to seeing all of you again soon – though, as I’ve indicated, this depends (for 9th August) on the weather. On subsequent Sundays, the opportunity to meet other parishioners will depend on our being able to develop procedures for services that are appropriate in the light of our risk assessment. Ido hope that this will be possible, though - as I’ve said - it can’t be taken for granted. 

With love in Christ, 

Fr. Christopher

SERMON ON THE GOSPEL READING  “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)

On the Sunday that falls between the 13th to the 19th of July, we remember the six hundred and thirty holy and God-bearing Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in the year 451 A.D. They made clear that Christ is fully God and fully human: one person with two natures. They rejected the views of the Monophysites who claimed the Lord has only one nature: that is, Christ after His incarnation bears only the divine nature, which is what the presbyter Eutyches of Constantinople taught. If that was the case, we could not participate in His divine life – for we are simply humans – and it would be hard to see how Christ’s death

and resurrection had a transformative impact on us. Today’s commemoration is not simply a reminder about Church history; it is a proclamation of the Gospel, for Jesus Christ must be both fully God and fully human in order to bring us into eternal light and true life in Christ.

The Saviour wants us to shine with holiness, like the Church Fathers, such that we become “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14), illuminating it with goodness so that all will give glory to God (Matt. 5:16). So, it is not enough to refrain from the physical acts of sin but to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Therefore, our calling is much higher than being merely nice. Jesus did not “come to abolish the law and the prophets” of the Old Testament, “but to fulfil them” (Matt. 5:17). Those who “shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven” are those who obey the commandments and teach others to do so. And, likewise, those who relax God’s requirements and teach others to follow their example “shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven” (see Matt. 5:19). As Orthodox Christians we must show other people what the faith contains. It contains an ethic, which calls us to act correctly, just as we believe correctly: think straight, believe straight, act straight: that is the Orthodox rule of life. St Paul was conveying this is the epistle today.

The Church Fathers shed light on the Holy Scriptures regarding the person of Christ in the Ecumenical Councils. The Councils are infallible as the highest authority in the Orthodox Church and are guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit, when finally accepted by the Church. Eutyches and Dioscorus the Patriarch of Alexandria were excommunicated for preaching a false theology on Christ. Those who accepted the Monophysites’ teachings are called non-Chalcedonian or Oriental Orthodox, such as the Assyrian, Armenian, Ethiopian, Indian (St Thomas Malabar in South India), Syro-Jacobite and Copts in Egypt. All of them unfortunately broke away from the Catholic and Apostolic Church after the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553 A.D. Thankfully, today these groups have good relations with the Orthodox Church and are in dialogue to resolve their differences. The person of Christ was further discussed up to the Sixth Ecumenical Council. This shows how much the Church Fathers tried to resolve these issues through theological dialogue.

Chalcedon laid down that Christ was revealed in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation. Chalcedon also established that the difference. between the divine nature and the human nature of Christ is not abolished by their union. The two natures unite to form one person–hypostasis (prosopon). Anything else claimed about Christ just isn’t true. That is why Chalcedon still matters. For the Creed of Chalcedon is the whole truth: the Catholic and Apostolic Faith which makes the Church Holy.

In decisive moments of Church History, the Holy Ecumenical Councils promulgated their dogmatic definitions, as trustworthy delimitations in the spiritual battle for the purity of Orthodoxy, which will last until such time, as «all shall come into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God» (Eph. 4:13). In the struggle with new heresies (false beliefs), the Church does not abandon its former dogmatic concepts nor replace them with some sort of new formulations. The dogmatic formulae of the Holy Ecumenical Councils need never be superseded; they remain always contemporary to the Living Tradition of the Church (see Canon I of the Council of Trullo). Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council enlighten us Orthodox Christians and others to know the True Christ as experienced, revealed and proclaimed by the holy Apostles and the Church Fathers who received it from them. Amen.


OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.17 (12th July 2020)

Dear Friends,

Before I say anything else, I need this week to say something about a problem that has arisen close to home. Father David, our assistant priest, was taken into hospital this week with a heart problem, and although he is now back home, he is still far from well and I hope that he and Joanna will be very much in your prayers at this time. One of the lovely things about our parish community is, I think, that there is a great deal of mutual support among us, sometimes of an obviously practical nature, and sometimes simply in our prayer for one another – which, if we believe in prayer as we should do, in also a practical means of support. There are also others in our little community, or associated with it, who are in need of our prayers at the moment, so please do remember all of us in your prayers.

I myself am feeling slightly under the weather today, so this newsletter will not be a long one, but will consist simply of two quotations from well-known saints – not ancient ones but ones who lived recently enough to have been photographed. Both quotations are on the subject of intercession, and stress the link between our prayer for others and our love for them.

The first is from St. John of Cronstadt, (St. John of Cronstadt, 1829-1909) who said this: “Do not let pass any opportunity to pray for anyone, either at his request or at the request of his relatives, friends, of those who esteem him, or of his acquaintances. The Lord looks favourably upon the prayer of our love, and upon our boldness before Him. Besides this, prayer for others is very beneficial to the one himself who prays for others; it purifies the heart, strengthens faith and hope in God, and enkindles our love for God and our neighbour.”

T he second teacher I want to quote is St. Porphyrios, (St. Porphyrios, 1906-1991) who said something very similar: “Prayer for others which is made gently and with deep love is selfless and has great spiritual benefit.  It brings grace to the person who prays and also to the person for whom he is praying.  When you have great love and this love moves you to prayer, then the waves of love are transmitted and affect the person for whom you are praying and you create around him a shield of protection and you influence him, you lead him towards what is good.  When He sees your efforts, God bestows His grace abundantly on both you and on the person you are praying for.” He then adds, “But we must die to ourselves. Do you understand?”

With love in Christ,

Fr. Christopher

SERMON ON Matthew 8:28-34, 9:1

Not only the opening verse of today’s first reading, from the Holy Apostle’s Letter to the Romans (10:1-10), contains the word heart but four other verses too. his short reading speaks briefly about the Law, that of the Old Covenant and its relevance for those who have found its true meaning and fulfilment in Christ who proclaimed his coming not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfil them (Matt. 5:17).

When the question of law is raised it will almost certainly at some time or another involve the issue of letter and spirit. Conflicts between the spirit, that is the essential purpose and meaning of the law, and the letter, its formal and rigid implementation, are not always easily resolved and it may be necessary for oikonomia (dispensation) and philanthropia (loving kindness) to be shown. Might we think of the spirit as those things belonging to the heart and those of the letter to the head and so sometimes the heart should be allowed to rule the head? In truth it would be best when both are in full accord.

Frequently in the Holy Gospels we read of such conflicts and whilst upholding the law, the resolution of a problem involved seemingly disobeying the law, an example is when Christ’s actions including healing on the Jewish Sabbath incurred severe criticism from the chief upholders of the Law. After being questioned for allowing his disciples to pick grains of wheat when passing through a field on the Sabbath Jesus responded by saying “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” and he reminded the Pharisees of notable examples from the Old Testament times (Mar. 2:23-28) after which declaring: “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

There will be times when we do not achieve our personal heart’s desire and begin to look here and there to discover why, find alternatives and perhaps to blame others or even God for this disappointment until by both heart and mind we recognise the path to which we are truly called even if it turns out to be something quite different from that we first imagined. “Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.” (Matt. 6:21). Jesus said those words to make it clear that earthly treasures must not be our ultimate goal in life for they do not last and are subject to decay but the things of heaven – the treasure to which our hearts belong - is worthy of our desire and is eternal.

In his sermon - The Divine Liturgy: the Window of Heaven - Archimandrite Aimilianos, formerly abbot of the monastery of Great Meteoron and the Monastery of Simonopetra in Mount Athos, wrote the following: “We find ourselves in church. As we’ve said, it is the most suitable place from which to look at heaven. But where is the window? How do we open it? The answer is simple. The window is the Divine Liturgy which we are celebrating. We aim to turn our eyes toward spiritual things. Let us therefore turn our soul to the Holy Spirit, and let us ask him to shine his light on the darkness of our thoughts. When he does, we will be able to feel, to believe, to understand, and make our own, everything which is said and done during the Divine Liturgy.” 

In this we lift up our hearts and can have no greater hearts desire, especially when we have for a while been deprived of so great a blessing, gathering in penitence and thanksgiving. Glory to God!



Dear Friends,

I am, as you might imagine, perturbed that this is the sixteenth of the weekly newsletters I’ve sent out since the COVID-19 virus prevented us from meeting face to face. It seems such a long time since we were able to be together, and I do hope that it will not be too long before we are able to do so.

With the recently announced relaxation of government regulations relating to the pandemic, the clergy, the Parish Advisory Council, and the Trustees have all been thinking about when and how we can re-open for worship. However, our very small building, coupled with other issues, means that we have not yet got to the stage at which this will be possible. The government has announced that places of worship can now open for communal prayer, but what they haven’t told the general public is that there are strict conditions to be met before that decision can be applied in any particular church. These regulations can be found – if you want to look at them (which I don’t recommend as they are so long and complicated) - on https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-from-4-july

The archdiocesan authorities have looked at these government regulations, which were issued on 29 th June, and on 3 rd July they sent out some general clarifications in relation to Orthodox worship. However, not all of these apply straightforwardly to our own church building, where even stricter rules must been forced. This is partly due to its size, which makes social distancing difficult for more than half a dozen people, and partly due to its poor ventilation – a factor mentioned in the government guidelines about how to assess the situation in any particular building.

The diocesan instructions are as follows:  

1)    Up to 30 persons may be present for Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals. Social distancing must be maintained.

2)    Baptisms (by total immersion) are not allowed at the present time.  

3)    8-day and 40-day blessings for infants are allowed.  We recommend the clergyman and parents wear masks.

4)    Choirs are not allowed.  Only one person is allowed to offer the responses and there is not to be any congregational singing.  In our case, this also means that there may not be two or more people at the Chanter's stand (analogion). 

5)    Any musical instrument that requires breathing and blowing into it may not be used. 

6)    The collecting of some information (name and telephone number) of those attending the service is strongly suggested so that contact tracing may be made available, if necessary. 

7)    While 30 persons may be present at Sacraments, more may be present in the Church for the Divine Services, provided that proper distance is maintained.  

8)    Congregations are strongly encouraged to follow the guidelines, as not doing so may imperil the insurance of the parish.   

9)    HSC has the right and authority to monitor the situations and if the parish is implementing the guidelines. 

10)  Clergy and faithful 70 years of age (or older) should not attend services. Parishes are encouraged to continue streaming services online.

11)  The clergy may consider wearing a mask while offering Holy Communion.

12)  Those responsible for handling monetary collections/contributions should wear gloves.

Given these rules, it might seem possible for us to do services for a few people at a time. However, the tenth of the rules – about people of 70 and over –is the one that really creates difficulties for us. Neither Ian, our subdeacon, nor any of the clergy, other than myself, are under 70, and I (who still have a year and a half to go before my seventieth birthday) suffer from an underlying health condition and so must follow the government’s “shielding” rules – which means that I am more locked down than they are. Under these circumstances, it is very difficult to see how services could take place, though we’re still thinking about this.

Are we in spiritual danger if we are unable to receive the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ? The answer to this is no, since the Fathers of the church were always clear that the grace that is normally received through one of the sacraments is not “tied” to that sacrament. If someone fully intends to be baptised, for example, but dies before actually receiving baptism, that person is not then regarded as unbaptised, but is deemed to have received the grace that is normally received through baptism. In the same way, people stranded on a desert island, who cannot receive communion, are not deprived of what they would have received through communion if they truly desire that sacrament.

The sacraments (or “mysteries” as we Orthodox usually call them) are, of course, the normal means by which the grace of God is received for a particular purpose, and indeed it is the celebration of the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood that is often seen as central to what it is to be the Church. As the examples I’ve given indicate, however, if we are in a situation in which our desire to receive those sacraments cannot in practice be satisfied, we can still receive the grace that is offered through them. We are now – through force of circumstance - like some of the desert fathers of the early church, who lived alone in their cells for much of the year and attended the Liturgy only very occasionally. Perhaps in some ways this is an opportunity to begin to live our Christian lives as they did.

One of the ways in which we can open ourselves to God’s grace in this period of abnormal difficulties is to intensify our private prayer and to watch and listen to the various services that are available “live” on the internet, so that we can get at least a sense of normal communal worship. In a previous newsletter I mentioned two churches that do streaming of this kind, and I’d now particularly like to recommend a third: our Deanery’s parish in Exeter. If you click onto https://www.facebook.com/OrthodoxParishOfTheHolyProphetElias/ you will be asked for your Facebook password etc. but if you are not a subscriber you can get around this requirement by waiting for a few seconds to allow the instruction to log in to enlarge and cover the whole screen, and then click on the “not now” box. The Exeter parish normally streams the HolyLiturgy at 9.30 a.m. on Sundays and also Vespers on Saturdays at 6 p.m. and onWednesdays at 6.30 p.m. The broadcast comes from their lovely little church building, which is not unlike our own. It was in fact the place where – almost forty years ago - I first experienced the Orthodox Paschal services. (It took mean other twenty-one years, however, to get around to doing what it was obvious to me I should do immediately after those services – i.e. to become a member of the Orthodox Church.)

This week sees the very first feast day of a local and newly-recognised saint, one that many of us hoped would be officially called St. Sophrony of Essex but who, in the end, was officially called St. Sophrony the Athonite. Father Patrick Hodson, the Dean of our deanery and a member of our parish, was acquainted with St. Sophrony and he writes this: 

'The first celebration of the Feast Day of Saint Sophrony the Athonite is due to be celebrated on 10th /11th July. What was to have been a large festal occasion, headed by the Patriarch, their Archbishop, will now be a ‘family occasion’ of the monastic community. Visitors are still not allowed. Even Metropolitan John of Pergamum, a long-time friend and for many years Patriarchal representative to the Monastery, for the first time cannot be there.

Born in Russia, exiled in Paris, and for many years a disciple of Saint Silouanon Mount Athos, Father Sophrony returned to Paris for health reasons and later, surrounded by a small community of aspiring monastics, moved to England. Archimandrite Sophrony founded the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, and was known to a number of us ‘oldies’ and was still Hegoumen in the 1960s and 1970s. In his latter years he was succeeded by Archimandrite Kyrill, but remained ‘Father in God’ to the community. Archimandrite Peter succeeded Father Kyrill in 2019, when he retired as Hegoumen. Archdeacon Prokopy, one of the founder members of the community, still resides there.

Father Sophrony fell asleep (died) on 11th July 1993, and his tomb is in a crypt underneath a chapel in the grounds of the monastery. On either side rest a number of departed members of the community, including Archimandrite Staretz Symeon. Holy Father Sophrony, pray to God for us!

Sermon on Matt. 8:5-13

Faith and veneration prove to be the source of spiritual and physical health and salvation.

Following the Sermon on the Mount (Mt chapters 5-7), Jesus proceeded to Capernaum where a Centurion approached Him to ask that his servant who was very ill might be healed and not die. Before looking at the whole incident we need to see what a centurion meant at that time and what role centurions played in the New Testament.

A Centurion was an army officer, usually in charge of one hundred foot-soldiers and although he was an officer, he was often an ordinary soldier who was promoted to this rank. His duties included field command and the supervision of capital punishments. In the New Testament we see a Centurion three more times: once in the crucifixion of Christ (Mk 15:39), once in the book of Acts (Acts 27:1) when he conducts Paul safely to Rome and once when the Centurion Cornelius is converted to the faith and Luke devotes a whole chapter to him (Acts ch. 10). The Centurion who, in the world was the most recognisable symbol of the capital punishment - a law enforced murder - became a symbol of devotion and supplication of the Gentiles when he came to meet Christ. He is the proof that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom 5:20).

Such a man approaches Jesus and asks that the Lord, as he calls Him, heal the Centurion’s servant. Jesus’s question on whether he should go to the officer’s house is met with humbleness and self-consciousness. The Centurion knows that he is a sinful man and not worth of the honour of accepting Jesus in his house. This echoes John the Baptist who initially tried to abscond baptising Jesus because He was not worthy even to “stoop down and untie” His laces. (cf. Mt 3:14; Mk 1:7). The Centurion acknowledges the authority and the power of Jesus over life and death giving an analogy to his own authority an officer. He commands his soldiers and they obey. In the same way the Centurion believes that Jesus can command life and death without being present as distance is not an obstacle of authority.

Indeed, the servant was healed at that very moment because of the Centurion’s faith in Jesus, the Son of God. Once more the key to the healing of any man is love and faith. The Centurion loved his servant so much that any kind of pride, any idea of attitude which could nurture a sense of authority, or pomposity and selfishness vanished. There is no sense of superiority and pride in a sensible man before anguish and the fear of death. Only trust in God (i.e. faith) and prayer can be the steadfast allies of a prudent and rational man in the quest for health both physical and spiritual.

We hear from Jesus Himself that it is not the fact that someone thinks or says that he is a member of a religion or a “church” that can bring salvation to man. The Jews, who had the sign of the religion of the One God on their body rather than their soul, by being circumcised, had not had the indelible stamp of faith in their hearts, where it should have been engraved. What awaits such people is alienation from God, as they have chosen. The periscope we have just heard says: “They will be thrown into the extreme darkness and there will be weeping and grinding of the teeth” (Mt 8:12). This is not a punishment from God, but the result of their own choice, the fruit of their own free will, because they saw and used religion and faith as a vehicle for saliency.

However, for those who do not see faith under this light, but they see it as the only hope of love in the world, a means of communication with the Triune God and the source of spiritual and physical health, it offers the greatest and most satisfactory blessing in life. This is the blessing and sanctification of their very existence. Faith offers man a healthy physical and spiritual life and turns this world to a foretaste of the heavenly peace and absolute rightfulness of God with whom we are meant to live in eternity. Amen


OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.15 (28th June 2020)

Dear Friends,

In the church to the left on the wall is an icon that would normally be in the centre of the church building today, when we commemorate All Saints of Britain. It is one of my favourite icons, and the version we have in our church is only a photographic reproduction because the original is in the Russian cathedral in London. It was produced in Walsingham, however, by Fr. David Meyrick, so that it is special for us in more ways than one. 

Father David’s geography, we might note, was not quite as good as his icon technique, since the icon has written on it “All Saints of the British Isles and Ireland.” This is wrong because, just as England is simply a part of Britain, Ireland is simply part of the “British Isles”, the latter being no more than a geographical term for the group of islands of which Ireland and Britain are parts. Was Fr. David perhaps anticipating the time in which we now live, with its sensitivity - or perhaps over-sensitivity - about anything that might be associated with colonialism? In this context, the term “British Isles” may seem to some to be a negation of Irish nationhood and therefore, in their view, in need of replacement. Indeed, we in the local Orthodox Church seem already to have anticipated this need by referring, in today’s troparion - for all the saints of Britain and Ireland - not to the “British Isles” but to “these northern isles.” The troparion goes like this:

O enlighteners and teachers of these northern isles,

Ye who have shed the light of the truth of God abroad in the land,

Pray for us unto Him we beseech you,

That He will have mercy on us and teach us in singleness of heart to glorify Him.

I see, however, that in in the lectionary we’re supposed today to commemorate “All Saints of Britain” – with no mention of Ireland. When did Ireland get dropped, I wonder? I’m not sure about that, but what I am sure of is that dropping Ireland makes no historical sense. British and Irish Christianity were inextricably intertwined in the period in which most of those shown on the icon lived.

How did Christianity arrive in our “northern isles”? The legend that St. Joseph of Arimathea brought it to Glastonbury seems to be a late invention, but the story of it being brought by St. Aristoboulos - one of the “seventy” mentioned in the New Testament – may not be without foundation. Certainly, southern Britain – like the rest of the Roman Empire, of which it was then a part – received the gospel at an early date, even if good evidence of an organised church (rather than isolated Christian households) is not really to be found before the early fourth century. In Ireland, which was not part of the Roman Empire, it seems likely that Christianity arrived later than it did in Britain, probably through trading links with Spain, and even then it seems to have existed only in the south. In the north, a Christian presence had to wait for the later mission of St. Patrick – who was what we would now call a Welshman, though not from Wales, as it is now, but from the coastal parts of what is now north-west England.

In the fifth century, the abandonment of southern Britain by the Roman Empire, and the subsequent arrival of the English - the pagan Angles and Saxons from the northern European mainland - reversed this steady expansion of Christianity throughout the Northern Isles. By the middle of the sixth century, much of what we now call England (Angle-land) was once more pagan, though we can speculate that Christian belief may have survived in at least some households of the enslaved British/Welsh underclass, and it certainly survived in Wales, where bishops still functioned. This English paganism was overthrown by two missions: one Irish and one Roman. The Irish one came through the setting up, in 563 by St. Columba, of the Irish monastery of Iona, in what is now Western Scotland. (The term “Scot” originally meant Irish.) Much of what we now call Scotland was eventually Christianised from this monastery, and one of its daughter houses, on the island of Lindisfarne in Northumbria, was responsible – through St. Aidan (who arrived there in 635) - for the re-evangelisation of much of northern England. In 597 another mission, from Rome, was led by St. Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent to the Kingdom of Kent by St. Gregory of the Dialogues (or St.Gregory the Great as he is usually known in the West.) It is said that Pope Gregory decided on this mission after seeing some beautiful young, pale-skinned slaves for sale in the Roman market and asked where they came from. He was told that they were Angles and, on hearing this, is said to have remarked “not Angles but angels if they were Christians.” 

The Roman and Irish forms of Christianity eventually met, and minor differences between them caused a certain amount of friction, though both seem to have been entirely Orthodox in faith. Differences included the ways in which monks were tonsured and the way in which the date of Easter was calculated, so that sometimes one lot were celebrating Easter on the same day as the other lot were still on Palm Sunday. (This kind of calendar problem is, of course, one that is still with us in a different form.) A synod was held in Whitby in 664 to try to establish common usage, and it was decided that Roman customs should be followed rather than Irish ones. This decision was generally accepted, although there were some in the Irish party who did not accept it for many years afterwards.

Missions from the Northern Isles in this period were of great importance in spreading and reinforcing Christianity in the Western European mainland. The Irishman, St. Columbanus -who died in 615 - was an important figure in spreading Christianity in many parts of Europe.St. Boniface, an Englishman from Crediton, who died in 754, was the main apostle of parts of Germany and became Archbishop of Mainz. In the 780s and 790s, Alcuin of York was the main intellectual force in the court of Charlemagne in Aachen.

What we sometimes forget is that by the time Greece was fully Christianised (only in the 9th century in the Mani area) and Russia was converted (998), these northern Isles had already been Christian for centuries. Admittedly, the pagan Scandinavian invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries meant that parts of Britain had to be evangelised all over again but, even when we take this into account, we must recognise that in this country we are in ancient Christian territory. Moreover, before the split between the Eastern and Western parts of the Christian world, in 1054, these Christians of the Northern Isles were Orthodox Christians. They were part of a world in which Christians of East and West were in full communion with one another. (Indeed, even after 1054, it was not clear for many years that a real split had occurred. When, in the late eleventh century, many Anglo-Saxons fled from the Norman invaders after the Battle of Hastings, and went to Constantinople to join the Varangian guard that protected the Byzantine emperor, they were permitted to set up English parishes, both there and in the “English” villages by the Black Sea where they were settled after completing their military service. One of their churches in Constantinople is known to have been dedicated to St. Augustine of Canterbury.)

On our icon screen in Great Walsingham is a lovely icon of two of our very local saints: Withburga and Fursey (see below.) These two exemplify all that I have said. St. Fursey (who died around 650) was an Irishman, brought up in the Connacht area of Ireland, who was the first recorded Irish missionary to East Anglia. (Later he continued his missionary work in what is now France.) St. Withburga (who died in 743) was an English princess, who was brought up in the court of her father, King Anna of East Anglia, who had endowed Fursey’s monastery in Norfolk. She lived as a solitary at Holkham and then as an abbess at Dereham. Perhaps we should celebrate today by adding to our usual prayers these two petitions: All Saints of Britain and Ireland, pray for us; St. Withburga and St. Fursey, pray for us.

With love in Christ, 

Fr. Christopher

Sermon on Matthew 6:22-33

As Christians living in a world that seeks to make God irrelevant, Christ’s word to us today is a calling to vigilance. Christians have no part in conventional secular society that ranks pleasure, power and possessions above all things. And yet the temptation to fit in, seek after a comfortable life, and negligently to fall into worshipping false gods instead of seeking first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, is murderously close to our hearts.

The broken reality of life is that a person often stubbornly and unrepentantly tries to serve more than one master. Their loyalties are tragically divided as they convince themselves they can at the same time cherish all kinds of thoughts and desires that are impure, behave in ways contrary to the Christian life, take the gifts that come to them ‘from above’ as their own belongings, and still be reckoned Christians because they fulfil some external Christian duties which tick a box but do not change their idolatrous hearts.

But how tragic to allow life to go by in the darkness of a divided existence in the cold embrace of the world while professing a faith that rather than saving, is wavering. Let not a double minded man, says St James, think he shall receive any thing of the Lord’ (Jam. 1, 7). No, we Christians should be looking up, steadfastly lifting up our eyes to heaven for our bodies to be ‘full of light’ because ‘help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth’ (Ps. 121, 2). As sunflowers turn to the light of the sun to open into their fullness, so faith turns us to the light of God which shines in our hearts ‘to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4, 6) . The Hebrew word for repentance, teshuvah, means to turn our life towards God, and to know God is the true glory of the human being. 

The truth is we cannot be looking in two directions, at once above and below, just as darkness is incompatible with light. As Christians we have to make a stand and choose where to pitch our tent: unspotted from the world beside quiet waters in the land of hope, or where doubt and fear reign and where moth and rust corrupt. 

We can live as Christians because Christ has taken away fear and doubt from our life. The fear of death is the source of all our anxiety to secure our material existence so that this purpose becomes the idol we serve. The fear of death extinguishes love between people as the other becomes a threat to our existence. But we have been delivered from the fear of death by Christ’s death and resurrection, the devil has been destroyed, and we no longer need to live “all [our] lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2, 15). We have no enemies who can threaten us because “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5, 8) Instead of destroying us in our sins ‘we are reconciled with God through the death of His Son’ (Rom. 5, 10). His inexhaustible life is our inheritance.

Even when tribulations and temptations come, our thought and our peace should be undisturbed for ‘whom the Lord loves he chastens’ (Heb. 12, 6). Moreover, such is Christ’s victory over sin and death that we are to ‘glory in tribulations’ says St Paul in today’s epistle, which ultimately produce hope in us. And our hope will not fail ‘because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us’ (5, 5). Christ says to us in the storms of our life as he did to the disciples in the storm on the lake ‘be of good cheer; it

is I; do not be afraid’. (Matt. 14, 27) and ‘my peace I give to you... let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid’ (Joh. 14, 27).

May we live, therefore, not as our fallen thoughts and worries, but as our faith dictates. Let us use our worries and fears as a springboard to lift up our hearts in prayer for the grace to turn back to God and put Christ and his kingdom at the centre of our life. His light will flood into our hearts and peace and joy will overcome the darkness and disorder within us if, St Theophan the Recluse says, we struggle to think, act and desire that alone which is pleasing to God, coupled with the action of God’s grace within us from our participation in the divine mysteries. Our only concern is for union with Christ. But as the Divine Liturgy teaches us we can only receive the King of all, if we lay aside every earthly care.


OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.14 (21st June 2020)

Dear Friends,

In our last newsletter, I spoke about some of the Byzantine mosaics that I had seen in Greece and Sicily. Today, I want to focus on an icon in another part of the Orthodox world, which I saw for the first time only ten years ago. It is not a mosaic but a very large fresco, which is painted onto the outside wall of the church of the Voronet monastery in Romania. (I was lucky enough to revisit this church when I was once again in Romania a couple of years ago, for a conference that I had helped to organise.) It is a somewhat complex icon of the Last Judgment. I want to talk about it today because of a book I have been reading this week about the concept of an everlasting Hell.

Before speaking about that book, however, some personal history might be helpful. I’ll start with the fact that by the time I was eight or nine years old, I’d decided that Hell couldn’t possibly exist. My reasoning was that if it lasted ten years, it would have to be pretty bad to be a due punishment for one’s sins. However, I reasoned, if it lasted twenty years then it would have to be only half as bad as that; and if it lasted two hundred years it would have to be only a tenth as bad as if it lasted twenty years. But, I thought, Hell is supposed to last forever. If this is so, I reasoned, then following this line of argument leads inevitably to the conclusion that Hell can only involve a degree of discomfort so small as to be negligible; and a Hell that is bad only at that very low level could hardly be thought of as Hell at all. (It was a bad argument, perhaps, but not a bad attempt for an eight year old would-be theologian!)

As I grew older, I began to look at this topic in a different way, not least because of the Orthodox perspectives which (from the age of eighteen or so) were beginning to become important to me. I read in Metropolitan Kallistos’s book, The Orthodox Church, (written while he was still Timothy Ware) that those who thought of Hell as incompatible with a just and loving God were displaying “a sad and perilous confusion of thought.” While it is true, the Metropolitan went on, “that God loves us with an infinite love, it is also true that He has given us free will, and since we have free will, it is possible for us to reject God. Since free will exists, Hell exists; for Hell is nothing else than the rejection of God. … Hell is not so much a place where God imprisons man, as a place where man, by misusing his free will, chooses to imprison himself.” Even in Hell, the Metropolitan went on, “the wicked are not deprived of the love of God, but by their own choice they experience as suffering what the saints experience as joy. The love of God will be an intolerable torment for those who have not acquired it within themselves.

”This understanding was the one which, until this week, I thought beyond debate in our Orthodox community. Admittedly, I did wonder how the notion of people in an eternal Hell could be squared with a number of biblical statements. (Think, for example, of Romans 5:18-19: “Just as through one transgression came condemnation for all human beings, so also through one act of righteousness came rectification of life for all human beings”; or of 1 Corinthians 15:22: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”; or of Titus2:11: “For the grace of God has appeared, giving salvation to all human beings”; or of 2 Corinthians 5:19: God was in Christ reconciling the cosmos to himself, not accounting their trespasses to them.”) Nevertheless, despite these and numerous similar New Testament passages, I somehow saw the notion of an eternal Hell as central to Jesus’ teachings about judgment - the separation of the sheep from the goats and so on. We must, I thought, believe that an eternal Hell exists as a potential destination beyond the Last Judgment. At best, I thought, we could hope (though we could have no certainty) that this Hell would have no inhabitants, since between their deaths and the Last Judgment there might be, for everyone, a kind of “middle state” in which repentance was still possible. (This “middle state” would be experienced by the Saints as “Paradise” and by others as suffering, since they would have to come to terms with what their lives had been. They would experience this suffering, however, not as “punishment,” as assumed in the Roman Catholic understanding of “Purgatory.”Rather, they would experience the purification necessary before entering into that Bliss which even the Saints would find more perfect than the Paradise that they had experienced up to this point.)

What the book I have read this week has led me to do is to look at this issue more carefully than I had previously done. It was published last year by the Yale University Press, and it is by one of the most interesting theological scholars who are members of our church: DavidBentley Hart. It is called That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation. I should warn you - in case you’re thinking of reading it - that it is not an easy read, since it assumes a knowledge of the history of theological thought that few are likely to possess. It stresses a number of points, however, which when digested are relatively straightforward.The four most important of these points are, in my judgment:

(i) that biblical statements of the kind noted above are far clearer in their meaning than those that apparently speak differently, and that the biblical terms that we translate as “Hell” and “eternal” are far too complex in meaning to lead directly to the notion of an “eternal Hell” – in fact, according to Hart, they most often refer to a temporary state;

(ii) that in the early centuries of the church it was in fact common to take the stance that St. Gregory of Nyssa did – that ultimately all would be saved. (Indeed, as Metropolitan Kallistos notes, Gregory went as far as to say that Christians should pray even for the redemption of the Devil);

(iii) that the arguments based on “free will,” which are often used in conventional defences of the existence of eternal punishment, are not really coherent;

(iv) that the kind of argument I worked out at the age of eight is in fact a good one in certain respects, because punishment should be proportionate to guilt.

There are, it must be said, aspects of Hart’s book that may be questionable, so it can’t be taken as an irrefutable argument on this topic. For me, though, it provides a way of thinking that enlarges the kind of “standard” Orthodox view set out by Metropolitan Kallistos. Hart encourages us, in fact, to adopt the kind of approach we find in the work of some of the Fathers, in which - as he puts it - the biblical statements about judgment and reconciliation point to two different “horizons,” comparable to those we experience when we walk over the brow of a hill and find a different view beyond it. Some biblical images, he argues, speak in terms of judgment and point to the division “between those who have surrendered to God’s love and those who have not.” Others, he insists, “refers to that final horizon of all horizons, ‘beyond all ages,’ where even those who have travelled as far from God as it is possible to go, through every possible self-imposed hell, will at the last find themselves in the home to which they are called from everlasting, their hearts purged of every last residue of hatred and pride.” And as Hart notes, this fits extremely well with what the Apostle Paul speaks of in his first letter to the Corinthians (15: 23-24), when he explains how each event of the “end times” will be in its “proper order; Christ as the first fruits, thereafter those who are in Christ at his arrival, then the full completion, when he delivers the Kingdom to him who is God theFather.”

In practice, Hart’s view is a contested one among Christians, and we may wish to treat it with caution and simply to fall back on Metropolitan Kallistos’s view of the Orthodox understanding. We should note, however, that the Metropolitan admits that “several of theFathers … believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God.” This fact – especially int he light of Hart’s arguments – suggests that we may legitimately question the Metropolitan’s statement that it is “heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will.”Whatever our view on this, however, we can surely affirm his further assertion that “it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved. Until the Last Day comes, we must not despair of anyone’s salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception.”

One criticism of Hart’s book that has already emerged in the Orthodox world is that its message, if widely propagated, would be counter-productive because, as St. John Chrysostom once put it, “we are so wretchedly disposed that, if there were no fear of hell, we would not choose readily to do any good thing” (Homily 5 on Romans). This criticism is, however, surely questionable on two grounds. One is the observation that punishment can be an adequate deterrent even when it is limited in length; it need not be of everlasting duration.(Hart, we must remember, is not claiming that a hell of suffering will not exist for the wicked, nor is he claiming that it is not to be feared. Rather, he is pointing to the way in which, both in the scriptures and in the works of some of the Fathers, there are indications that this suffering may not be everlasting.) The second reason for questioning this criticism is that it is surely too pessimistic about the motivations of believers. Some of us may in the past have gone through a period in which fear of hell has been a major motivation for us. If we are still in that state, however, then we have a long way to go on our spiritual path. If we are mature disciples of the Lord, then our continuing discipleship is not due to fear of hell, but to our sense that to be a disciple is a privilege and is our true calling. In today’s gospel reading, we hear about the calling, first of Simon Peter and Andrew, and then of James, the son of Zebedee, and of his brother John. Jesus didn’t frighten them with threats of hell; he simply said “Follow me.” He says the same to us. We respond, not because of fear but because of love.

With love in Christ, 

Fr. Christopher

SERMON ON Matthew 4:18-23

Dear brethren, I would like to share a few thoughts with you about one of the most frequently used and most important words in our vocabulary. I am speaking about the word love. It is a word we all use. It is something we all desire to be the object of. Love is a word the Church uses continuously. But it is the same word that is used by the world, in songs, in poems and in other expressions of the human spirit. The question is, whilst we may be using the same word, do we use it with the same meaning? The Fathers of our Church were not primarily concerned with words but with their content. When the Fathers would engage in dogmatical dispute, it was never solely over words, but over their meaning.

My impression is that though the world and the Church both speak about love their meaning not only differs, but is diametrically opposed. The one is sheer selfishness, whilst the other is utterly selfless. When the world says I love this or that person, this or that group, type of food etc., it is simply expressing what it likes, what ‘I’ like and what makes ‘me’ feel happy. It is, therefore, basically selfish and egotistic. But when the Church invites us to love, it is not telling us to do what we like, but what the other likes, or rather what the other needs. Worldly love is selfish, whilst Gospel love is selfless. The world tells us to think of ‘number one’. That is not completely true. Yes, think of number one; that is correct. But who is number one? The deceitful world will say you are, while the Church will say, no, God and your brother is.

There are three categories of person that we can love: ourselves, our neighbour (other people) and God. Just as in the parable of the talents, where a man called his servants and distributed his goods, so does God distribute to us a certain capital, a certain amount of love. We, just as those servants were, are entirely free to barter with this capital of love as we see fit.

The world invites us selfishly to keep all this capital for ourselves, to love ourselves and no one else, unless they serve our self-interest. Contrariwise, the Church invites us to put ourselves to the side and to invest all our love in God and in our neighbour. That is how we make the capital of love grow and bear fruit, by giving it to the other. He who selfishly keeps this love for himself can be likened to a battery which instead of externalising its energy, greedily keeps it for itself and ends up self-eroding and self-destructing. This is how one contemporary saint described depression. When you keep all your love for yourself, you end up destroying yourself.

Therefore, brethren, let us thank God for the capital of love He has freely and generously bestowed upon us. Let us barter wisely, for example, the Gospel tells us to repay evil with good. Let us be shrewd merchants. Let us not be another Scrooge with our love, thinking just of ourselves. But let us put God first in our lives - and out of love for God - let us love our neighbour as He commands us and as Christ has shown us. And when the day of judgement comes, may we hear, to our humble astonishment, the Lord welcoming us into His Kingdom.

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