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
What are the Hazards?
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 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)
I’ve been aware of the need for advance planning for Holy Week and Pascha, especially as Fr. Patrick will be away taking services in the Exeter parish over that period, so that attending services in person will not be possible for parishioners (other than my own family) because of my “clinically extremely vulnerable” status..
I have had in mind, as I’ve thought about this, both my own need to continue to isolate as far as possible, and also the needs of all parishioners to receive communion in the Paschal season.
What I have decided is that I shall take - and have available on Zoom - at least some of the services normally held in the latter part of Holy Week, which I encourage you to watch on your computer since Pascha should always come as the culmination of the services of the days before. (Details of these services will be announced nearer the time.) I will also take, and have available on Zoom, the full service on Saturday evening, the eve of Pascha, which culminates in the Paschal Liturgy. This will, as usual, start at 10 p.m.and finish around 1 a.m.
If you watch the whole of this Saturday evening service on Zoom, you can be treated as if you had been present in person, so that - following the procedure set out below - you can receive communion the next morning in the church, where I shall be available with the sacrament consecrated a few hours earlier. (Although it is appropriate for you to break the Lenten fast after the Zoom service, do remember -after you have gone to sleep for the rest of the night - to abstain from food in the usual way the next morning before receiving communion.)
To maintain the distancing regulations etc.,and to allow sterilisation of the communion spoon between each family group, I need you (or your family group) to "book a slot” between 10 a,.m. and 11.50 a.m. that Sunday morning (the slots for each household being 10 minutes apart.) Please let me know, therefore, roughly what time you would like to come on that morning.
If by any chance you are unable to get Zoom because of your lack of up-to-date equipment, we can perhaps make arrangements for you to receive the communion of the sick over the following week. However, I do encourage you to use the Zoom option if at all possible.
I do look forward to seeing you on that very special occasion, and wish you a blessed time both then and in the remaining weeks of the fast. .
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.55 (11 th April 2021)
This fourth Sunday of Lent is the Sunday on which we always remember St. John of the Ladder (Climacus), who around the year 600 wrote an influential text called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. This was written for monks, but its insights are applicable to all of us. There is a well known icon in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Sinai, where St. John was the abbot. It was produced in the 12th century and illustrates the teaching set out in his text. It shows monks ascending towards heaven where one of them is being received by Christ. Other monks are shown on various lower rungs of the ladder, which are thirty in number to correspond to thirty stages of the spiritual striving that St. John describes in his work. Some monks – among them ones who are near the top – are shown as being hauled off the ladder by demons because they have given way to various temptations and not kept their eyes firmly on the destination of their journey. This is a warning to us that we can never be complacent about the stage of our spiritual journey that we have reached. Just because we have faith, and manage to practise at least some of the virtues, this is no guarantee that our upward journey will continue straightforwardly. We need always to be alert, and one of the reasons for our Lenten disciplines is to train us to resist whatever it may be that is likely to cause us to fall.
Some may ask whether we all need to work assiduously through the thirty stages described by St. John, and have suggested that his scheme reflects monastic discipline rather than to what we are all called. Indeed, Metropolitan Anthonie Plamadiala of Transylvania once made the interesting comment that “one can climb – at once – to the thirtieth rung by practising humility and love, because love and humility surpass any virtue.” It would, however, surely be foolish for any of us to think that we have attained the degree of love and humility necessary to have reached the top of the ladder, and that we are among those for whom spiritual striving is no longer necessary. The reality of our lives is that we do not progress in a consistent way towards what God promises us, but we keep falling.
One of the problems with the icon, perhaps, is that it gives little indication of the reality of God’s forgiveness, which is such that, whenever we have fallen, we can get up again through repentance. I’ve always liked the Japanese proverb, “fall down seven times, get up eight,” because it seems to me that this somehow points to an important aspect of the Christian life. No matter how often we fall, there is always the opportunity to allow God to pick us up and to start again. The ladder is not one that we can begin to climb only once - though, if we fall badly, we may have to start again at the bottom rung.
The journey that St. John describes is a lifelong one. Our Lenten journey towards Pascha is a very short one, and we are now more than half way through it. By the time we have arrived at this fourth Sunday of Lent, however, we – like the monks in the icon who have given way to various temptations - may have taken our eyes off our destination. Even if we have begun the Lenten journey well, it is very common at this stage of Lent for us to think “Oh, why bother?” and to lapse from the pattern of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we set ourselves at the beginning. The reason that St. John Climacus is remembered on this fourth Sunday of our Lenten journey is that his teaching is a warning that this may be the case, and a reminder that persevering to the end is worthwhile. As Metropolitan Kallistos has put it, St. John is remembered on this day “because, by virtue of his writings and of his own life, he forms the pattern of the true Christian ascetic.”
In relation to our short Lenten journey, it is a common experience, I think, that the Paschal celebration reaches the deepest part of our being if we have observed this journey well, and that this is particularly the case if we have lived through the closing days of Our Lord’s earthly life by praying with the church in its services for those days. This is precisely why we shall have some of the the services for the last days of Holy Week and for Pascha itself available on Zoom, and I do encourage you to watch these prayerfully. (Details will be sent to you in due course.)
With love in Christ,
SERMON ON Mark 9:17-31
As we approach the final weeks of the Lenten period, the joy that should accompany our expectation of the Lord’s Resurrection is often coupled with a sense of disappointment. The zeal with which we approached fasting, heightened prayer, spiritual reading, and charity in the first week of Lent has for many been replaced by a feeling of despondency. Perhaps we have failed to keep the fast, been slothful in prayer, or neglected the poor. Or, perhaps, despite keeping all the “rules” to the letter, we find that we have not really changed, grown closer to God, or become better people as a result. Perhaps they even became an occasion for pride and aggrandisement, rather than the humility and love of God and others they are meant to produce. St. John of Sinai, whose memory we keep today, sums this up beautifully in his book The Ladder of Divine Ascent, undoubtedly one of the most important works on Christian spirituality ever written:
“I am vainglorious when I fast; and when I relax the fast in order to be unnoticed, I am again vainglorious over my prudence. When well-dressed I am quite overcome by vainglory, and when I put on poor clothes I am vainglorious again. When I talk I am defeated, and when I am silent I am again defeated by it. However I throw this prickly-pear, a spike stands upright.” (Step 22, Section 5)
Aware of our struggle, the Church gives us hope and encouragement through the words of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the midst of seeming hopelessness and failure, yesterday’s reading promises us that “God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake”, while today’s reading continues with the example of Abraham who, “having patiently endured, obtained the promise...We have this as a sure hope and steadfast anchor of the soul.” The father in today’s Gospel reading was also aware of his shortcomings and failures, which is why he did not just say “I believe”, but added, “help my unbelief.” Yet this modest plea for help was enough to free his son from the tyranny of demons! Recognising our weaknesses and failings should not be a reason to despair or give up. Quite the contrary, even if it is all we achieve this Lent, such a realisation is the first step towards genuine humility and trust in God, without which we cannot begin to climb the ladder of divine ascent. As the same St. John says elsewhere, “Let your prayers be simple, for both the Publican and the Prodigal Son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.” Let us therefore draw strength from this short petition – Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! – as we renew our efforts during these final weeks of the fast, remembering the words of our Saviour: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” “Our relentless enemy, the teacher of fornication, whispers that God is lenient and particularly merciful to this passion, since it is so very natural. Yet if we watch the wiles of the demons we will observe that after we have actually sinned they will affirm that God is a just and inexorable judge. They say one thing to lead us into sin, another thing to overwhelm us in despair. And if we are sorrowful or inclined to despair, we are slower to sin again, but when the sorrow and the despair have been quenched, the tyrannical demon begins to speak to us again of God’s mercy.” (St. John of the Ladder)
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.54 (4th April 2021)
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 53 (28th March 2020)
Usually, when we speak of the “Fathers” of the church we think of those who lived in the first few centuries of the church’s life and contributed to the development of classical Christian doctrine. However, St. Gregory Palamas - whom we commemorate on this second Sunday of Lent – is often thought of as one of the Fathers even though he lived as late as the fourteenth century, first as a monk on Mount Athos and later as Archbishop of Thessalonica. Like the earlier Fathers, he too defended the Christian faith. This came about because he was asked by the monks of Mount Athos to champion their practice of “hesychasm” - which literally means stillness or rest, but was applied to the practice and understanding of the spiritual life that had grown up within Orthodox monasticism over many centuries. This hesychasm was being attacked in a rationalist kind of way, and Gregory was exactly the man to come to its defence, since he was not only a monk by background but also a trained philosopher and a subtle theologian.
One of the monastic practices that was being questioned was the use of the “Jesus prayer,” in which there were many repetitions of the simple petition “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, Have mercy on me” (sometimes adding at the end, “a sinner.”) Repetition is, of course, something that has a good psychological effect, and many Eastern religions use what they call “mantras” in a way that is, superficially, quite like the use of the Jesus prayer. Our use of repetition in the Jesus prayer goes to a much deeper level of our being, however, since the words are a kind of summary of our whole faith. The Orthodox experience over the centuries has been that regular use of the prayer can have the effect of what the hesychasts called “drawing the mind into the heart.” While Western understandings usually use the term “heart” to refer to the seat of the emotions – and thus assume it has nothing to do with the mind – this is not the case in Orthodoxy. The heart is, in the hesychastic tradition, seen as the spiritual centre of our being. “Drawing the mind into the heart” is seen by us as a process that is central to the development of spiritual maturity and psychic wholeness. It takes us beyond thoughts and emotions to something deeper.
In the monastic life, there are ways in which this goal is pursued that are simply not open to those of us who have to live busy lives in the world. The great thing about the Jesus prayer, however, is that it can be used by us whenever we are doing something that doesn’t require concentration – when we’re driving to work, for example, or doing the washing up. Because of this, it is a prayer that is suitable for anyone, and not just for the person in the monastic life.
If you want to think about what the prayer can mean for us, you might like to look at a talk by Metropolitan Kallistos that is available on YouTube:
One of the things that he mentions in the talk is that the use of the Jesus prayer is probably more widespread now than in the past, and not only among Orthodox. In my Anglican days, my bishop for a few years was the late Simon Barrington-Ward, who learned the use of the prayer directly from Saint Sophrony of Essex. In his talks and writings, Bishop Simon has encouraged many in his own church to use the prayer, and you might, after you’ve watched Metropolitan Kallistos, like to look at another talk about the Jesus prayer by him:
With love in Christ,
SERMON ΟΝ MARK 2:1-12
The Church remembers the healing of two Paralytics in her Sunday Gospel readings. There is the Paralytic by the pool of Siloam who has no one to help him get down into the water when it is troubled, that is read after Pascha, and the Paralytic that we hear about today, who has four friends absolutely determined to get him in front of Jesus Christ to be healed. It is frequently pointed out that it is the faith of his friends that seems to be truly significant, but as some of the Fathers have stressed the man allowed his friends to take him to Jesus. Nevertheless our own personal faith may, when we pray for others, also bring about their healing and Salvation.
They had to go through exceptional difficulties to get him in front of the Lord: not only did they have to get the paralytic onto the roof, but also had to break through the roof and make a large enough hole to let their friend down. Just imagine the clouds of dust descending on the Lord’s audience! Imagine the face of the householder when he saw his roof being broken!
Yet, St Mark is making a more important point, when telling us of this miracle in his Gospel. The point has to do with sin and the forgiveness of sins. Evidently the man’s sins were in some way responsible for his illness. We are not told what, and when he appears before the Lord says that his sins are forgiven. When Jesus taught, it appears to frequently have scribes or Pharisees coming to see what was going on and what would be said. Often they would complain about what Jesus is doing, especially if he heals on the Sabbath.
Here they say nothing, but it is what they are thinking that the Lord perceives – and this in itself is an indication of the Lord’s divinity: for we find these words in the book of Chronicles,“For thou, thou only, knowest the hearts of the children of men” (Chron. 6:30). So, what they are thinking is that only God can forgive sins. And thus the miracle demonstrates exactly their inner thoughts, because not only does the Lord forgive the man’s sins, but through and with this forgiveness he heals the man of his paralysis.
From time to time in Britain we find ourselves in conversation with Protestants who argue that the forgiveness of sins is entirely dependent on Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross – his crucifixion. In fact there is forgiveness of sins through the Cross, but it was not necessary for Christ to die, for him to be able to forgive sins. He forgives sins frequently in the Gospels and this passage is an excellent example of him doing just that. The point of the crucifixion is partly to overcome sin but, much more important, to overcome death and it is this that we are now preparing ourselves for as we advance towards the Anastasis, the Resurrection, that we look forward to at Pascha. Amen.
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 52 (21st March 2020)
In the centre of the church on this first Sunday of Lent we remember the “Sunday of Orthodoxy.” It represents the decision of the seventh ecumenical council, held in 787, to restore icons to their place in the church’s worship after more than a hundred and fifty years of controversy. The opponents of icons thought that there was a tendency to give to icons the worship due to God alone, and at first those who wanted to retain the use of icons didn’t have an adequate answer to this charge. Eventually, however, they made a distinction between the worship (latreia in Greek) that is due to God alone and the veneration (proskynesis) that is proper in relation to things other than God, such as the saints. This veneration, they insisted, can be carried out through the way in which we treat the images of these saints since, as they put it, “the veneration offered to the image is carried over to the prototype.”
At the heart of this controversy was an issue that had been around since the earliest years of the church: that of whether use of “material” things is somehow opposed to the “spiritual” life. In ancient Greek philosophy, the spiritual and material were often seen as being locked in battle, and the earliest Christian heresy was in fact linked to this mistaken notion. It involved denial that Christ was really human on the grounds that to be human was to be made of matter and therefore to be subject to suffering. Christ was, these early heretics claimed, only pretending to be human. Later, other heretics put it the other way round. If Christ was fully human, they said, then he couldn’t really be God incarnate, since God was by definition immaterial. If it really was the case that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), they reasoned, then this Word was somehow less divine that the Father was. The Fathers of the Church were, however, adamant in their opposition to both of these tendencies. Christ, they insisted, was both fully God and fully human in a “union without confusion.” The incarnation, they insisted, had truly meant that the material world had been taken up into the life of God (and this had been God’s intention from the very beginning; the incarnation was not, in their view, simply a response to human sin.) Our eternal life did not, they insisted, involve escaping the material world; it involved being caught up in its glorification.
The person who was most emphatic in working this all out in the period of controversy about icons was St. John of Damascus, who died in 749, and I shall end with a quotation (quite a long one) from his arguments at the time:
Our opponents say, “God commanded Moses the law-giver, ‘You will worship the Lord your God, and only him, and not make an image for yourself of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below.’” [Ex. 20:3-4] But they are wrong, and do not know the Scriptures. The letter kills while the spirit gives life, [2 Cor. 3:6] and they fail to find the spiritual meaning hidden in the letter. I say to these people, the Lord who taught you this would teach you more. Listen to the law-giver’s interpretation of this law in Deuteronomy: “This is to stop you looking up to the heavens and, seeing the sun, moon and stars, being deceived by error and worshipping and serving them.” [Deut. 4.19] The whole point of this is that we should not adore a created thing more than the Creator, nor give true worship to anything but him. But worship of false gods is not the same as venerating holy images […]
When you think of God, who is a pure spirit, becoming man for your sake, then you can clothe him in a human form. When the invisible becomes visible to the eye, you may then draw his form. When he who is a pure spirit […] takes on the form of a servant and a body of flesh, then you may draw his likeness, and show it to anyone who is willing to contemplate it. Depict his coming down, his virgin birth, his baptism in the Jordan, his transfiguration on Mount Tabor, his all-powerful sufferings, his death and miracles, the proofs of his deity, the deeds he performed in the flesh through divine power, his saving Cross, his grave, his resurrection and his ascent into heaven […]
Have no fear or anxiety; not all veneration is the same […] Worship is one thing, veneration another […] You must understand that there are different degrees of worship. First of all is the full worship which we show to God, who alone is by nature worthy of worship. But, for the sake of God who is worshipful by nature, we honour and venerate his saints and servants […]
In the old days, the incorporeal and infinite God was never depicted. Now, however, when God has been seen clothed in flesh, and talking with mortals, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. […]
I honour all matter, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was the three-times happy and blessed wood of the Cross not matter? Was the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary not matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Tomb, the source of our resurrection — was it not matter? Is the holy book of the Gospels not matter? Is the blessed table which gives us the Bread of Life not matter? Are the gold and silver, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made not matter? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either stop venerating all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the venerating of images, honouring God and his friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing that God has made is. Only that which does not come from God is despicable — our own invention, the spontaneous decision to disregard the law of human nature, i.e., sin.
With love in Christ,
SERMON on John 1:44-52
Today’s gospel relates to us how Christ met Philip and Nathanael, who were among his earliest disciples. The story in itself may seem insignificant. At first, Nathanael doubts the significance of an insignificant man from Nazareth: ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ However, as simple as it may look, Saint John the Evangelist reveals within the simplicity of his account the most profound principles of man’s encounter with God.
Our human intellect is unable to comprehend the fulness of the Divine life that Christ brings unto us. But only through ‘personal’ experience of Christ — ‘come and see’— can we begin to comprehend the mystery of the salvation that Christ has brought to mankind, which ‘passeth all understanding’. In this respect, the Gospel is not only a revelation about God, but about man, as he was conceived in the original thought of God the Trinity. At the same time, it also testifies to the fulness of the Divine love for mankind: ‘Man is indeed the ‘target’ of Divine love, the crown, the meaning, the ultimate goal of creation’.
Some scholars suggest that the theme of the deification of man is the prime message of this Gospel narrative. The expression ‘angels ascending and descending upon the son of man’ is interpreted as not necessarily referring to Christ Himself but to any human being — any ‘son of man’. Thus, we can see that the theme of the deification of man runs in parallel with theme of God becoming man: these are two sides of one and the same coin. The whole composition of the Gospel of John highlights this perspective: starting with universal setting of the prologue: ‘In the beginning was the Word’ (Jon. 1:1) which describes the story of creation, it moves towards the ultimate end — a personal dialo
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 51 (14th March 2020)
Newsletter number 51! These weekly Newsletters - intended only for the Covid period - have now come out for a year! Let’s hope that it won’t be too long before they become unnecessary.
Next week Father Patrick will be taking the service and at least a few people can be present as long as we keep to the social distancing rules (which in the case of our small church means a maximum of four households).
This Sunday the formal act of forgiveness that occurs every year will happen on this “Forgiveness Sunday” just before Lent. Properly speaking, it should occur after Vespers in the afternoon, but in our local custom it occurs straight after the Liturgy. In this act, we ask forgiveness of each other and embrace as a sign of that forgiveness, remembering both the Lord’s prayer - in which we ask that we should be forgiven “as we forgive those who trespass against us” - and also the words spoken by Jesus in the gospel reading for today: that “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.”
As these words indicate, the notion of forgiveness of others is at the heart of the Christian message. But, of course, forgiveness is not always easy. If someone has really hurt us, or has hurt someone we love, then forgiving them is a process, not something that we can just do. The beginning of this process will be an act of will: to treat the person we want to be able to forgive as if he or she is already forgiven. To really feel forgiveness, deep inside, may not come immediately (that is something that requires the grace of God,) but that act of will is the start of the journey. It is, so to speak, part of the training we need.
The Fathers of the Church speak about the need for dispassion: the putting aside or transfiguring of the various passions that enslave us. Anger is one of those passions, and just as the act of will I’ve talked about is part of the training we require in relation to anger, so the disciplines associated with the Lenten period are a kind of general training in dispassion. One of the passions we most obviously feel, for example, relates to food, which (as is obvious in certain kinds of eating disorder) can be used neurotically as nothing more than a sort of comfort. To fast in the Lenten season is a training in not being enslaved by this false comfort. Of course, we do need food to stay alive, and ultimately the enjoyment of food - when it is properly seen as a means of communion with God - is a central part of our lives. We are not taught by the Church to be puritans, who are suspicious of the joy that good things can bring, but are encouraged to be people who see the point in asceticism, which is nothing other than training ourselves: doing what is necessary to free ourselves, by God’s grace, from slavery to the passions, so as to be able use all good things properly.
Fasting on its own can do nothing, however. The Church has always seen three things as properly going together in the Lenten season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, each of which reinforces the good effects of the other two. Do, therefore, think about how your life of prayer can be enhanced in this period. Do think about giving more financial support than usual to those who need it.
Do take seriously the pattern of fasting that the Church recommends: not treating it as a set of difficult “rules” to obey, but as a pattern to be modified as appropriate to your particular situation. (The old or ill, for example, should certainly not try to keep the “rules” in all their rigour, and some would say that in a society that has a very different diet to that of the Mediterranean area, where the “rules” were originally developed, we need modifications of those “rules” even for the young and healthy). It is better to have a simple set of practices that we can stick to than to attempt something we shall find impossible.
Our services for today focus not only on forgiveness but also on the biblical story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. We may have doubts about whether Paradise ever existed as a historical state, but then so did St. Maximos the Confessor (who saw creation and “Fall” as simultaneous.). The story remains an important one, however, because it points towards the way in which “this world” is not our true home, and that we properly have a kind of nostalgia for Paradise. “This world” is one in which the conditions are right for our journey towards what our funeral service calls the “homeland for which we long.” May this coming Lenten period be for all of us a significant and useful part of that journey!
With love in Christ,
SERMON FOR CHEESEFARE SUNDAY
Today we stand at the starting line of the great season of spiritual renewal known as “Great Lent”. It is indeed a starting line, like that of a great race: a challenge, a chance for us to take a better look at ourselves, stripped of our usual self-delusions and pretensions. This Great Lent provides us with the perfect environment through which this may be achieved. Fr Alexander Schmemann, in his book on Great Lent, describes Lent as “the liberation of our enslavement to sin, from the prison of this world”.
Sin is seen by the Fathers of the Church more as a sickness, an affliction common to all of humanity, rather than as a stain on our honour, or a criminal conviction on our soul. In this way we can see that the act of repentance – metanoia in the Greek – is an examination of ourselves undertaken in a sober manner, devoid of self-pity, blame or the oh so modern fad of victimhood. Today’s Gospel reading therefore provides us with the tools that will be needed for us to make any progress in this endeavour:
1) Forgiveness: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”. We begin by forgiving our fellowmen with all of our heart and praying for them. We forgive them and abstain from doing harm to them, even if they do harm to us. In this we follow the example of our Lord’s life. Jesus gave us only one commandment, that we should “love one another”, in other words that we should forgive just as He Himself forgave. This allows us to create a space in our heart for our fellow humans, to fill the space normally taken up by our ego with love for others, and in doing so we allow God’s grace to work within us.
2) Fasting: Fasting is not a dry set of rules telling us what we can or cannot eat or do. Rather, it is “the refusal to accept the desires and urges of our fallen nature as normal, the effort to free ourselves from the dictatorship of flesh and matter over the spirit”. More precisely, it is the bringing of the body and the soul back into its correct equilibrium. We do not do this in the manner of the “Scribes and Pharisees,” criticising with our heart and tongue whilst we make a great boast of swapping animal products for a “plant based lifestyle”. We take a break from social media; we refrain from idle gossip and the tendency towards division, opposition and hatred, and return to unity, solidarity and love.
3) Charity: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. Charity is the truest of all Christian virtues because it has at its core an act of kenosis, self-emptying love. Charity is not about dropping a few coins into a collection tray, but of visiting others in hospital and prison (current pandemic measures permitting), volunteering for soup kitchens, donating to food banks, looking after those who are genuinely destitute or unable to leave their homes such as the old or infirm. A phone call can be just as important as a shopping run for these members of our communities.
With these in mind, let us allow the spirit of this season to enlighten us. As one of the hymns from tonight’s Vespers proclaims “Behold, now is the accepted time: behold, now is the season of repentance. Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, that having sailed across the great sea of the Fast, we may reach the third-day Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls”. Amen!
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 50 (7th March 2021)
Although next week’s Sunday Liturgy will be available to watch on Zoom, this Sunday’s Liturgy cannot be. This is a pity because it is the Sunday of the Last Judgment, and this judgment is a topic on which we all need to reflect.
There is one side of the Voronetz monastery in Romania, which is covered with a huge icon depicting this judgment. There have been times when images of this kind (common also in medieval churches in the West) have been used to instil fear as a way of controlling people. When this has been done, there has been a tendency to see God’s love and justice as two such different things that they can hardly be reconciled. Orthodoxy has, however, often stressed that what we shall all ultimately experience is not God’s wrath but the fire of his love. Those who have not acquired this love within themselves will experience it in a very different way than those who have.
An image that is often used to illustrate this idea is that of a wooden stick and an iron bar pushed into a fire. The stick is destroyed. The iron bar, by contrast, glows and gives off heat itself. It is not destroyed, but it comes to have the same kind of heat as the fire itself does. It is this picture, I think, that we need to have in mind. As believers, we have – as the second letter of Peter (1:4) puts it - “become partakers of the divine nature,” so that when we come face to face with God we will find that the fire of his love is already within us so that we will be able to experience it as bliss.
All the same, we must not be complacent, and the notion of judgment is a warning to us. In our prayers immediately before communion, each of us acknowledges that Christ “came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.” This sense of being the “first” among sinners may seem a bit over the top when we consider some of the things that go on in the world. However, even if our particular sins seem very mild compared to some of those committed by others, what we must never forget is the fact that, as believers, we don’t have the excuse of ignorance that these others usually have. We may truly be the “first” among sinners because, despite acknowledging the infinite love of God, in practice we respond to that love as though it did not exist.
On the other hand, unlike those in ignorance we do have hope. St. Silouan the Athonite used to say “Keep your mind in hell and do not despair.” On this Sunday of the Last Judgment, that is surely a saying to ponder on. So also is another saying of that saint: “Understand two thoughts and fear them. One says ‘You are a saint,’ and the others says ‘You won’t be saved.’ Both of these thoughts are from the enemy. But think this way: I am a great sinner, but the Lord is merciful. He loves people very much, and he will forgive my sins.”
As I’ve stressed in the last two newsletters, these Sundays before the beginning of Lent are a time in which to prepare, through repentance, for the fast itself. (This coming week is of course a week of preliminary fasting, in which we give up meat, which is only one of the things that we shall give up after next Sunday – “Cheesefare Sunday” - the day after which the full fast begins. In the West – because of a slightly different way of calculating the length of the fast – the day before the fast begins occurs on a Tuesday. It is the day called Shrove Tuesday or “pancake day.” Most people now forget that the pancakes were originally cooked on that day because - just as in traditional Orthodox practice on “Cheesefare Sunday” - the last of the dairy and other animal products were used up before the fast. What people also forget, however, is that “Shrove” Tuesday relates to being “shriven”- absolved of one’s sins. The Western church then – just as the Orthodox Church still does – saw this season as one in which the sacrament of confession is particularly appropriate. If we take seriously the need for repentance, then the usefulness of this sacrament must not be underestimated, and Lent is an excellent time to receive it. (Both Fr. Patrick and myself are happy to make ourselves available for this purpose.)
With love in Christ,
THE FINAL JUDGEMENT - TIME AND OUTCOME
The Final Judgement, being the final stage of mankind before paradise, bears the most significant formative and normative role in the ethics of the life of every Christian and every society in this world. It is final and irreversible, involving, entangled together, all the human vices and virtues. Come the judgment, only the results of the free will remain, and nothing can be done to reverse, amend or rectify the actions and the preferences of man in his lifetime.
It is this moment of the Final Judgement, and how things will happen, that our Lord Jesus Christ narrates in the Gospel of Matthew, and no parallel of this revelation exists in any other of the four gospels. There are two features in the final judgment reading that draw most of the attention of Christians. Both have been a source of controversy and heresy over the centuries. The first feature is the time of the Final Judgment, and the second is the outcome of the judgment.
The first, the exact time, as it is stated with the word “when” at the introduction of the pericope, has caused many misinterpretations, speculations, and fear. The egotistic perception of God by man has turned into an interpretation standpoint, and a tool for terrifying people and leading them to heresies (Jehovah’s witnesses), misconceptions about faith and God and it has even led to mass suicide and murder (Jamestown, Guyana, 18th November 1978, MRTCG, Uganda, 2000), as Jesus Himself warned (Matt. 24:11).
There is only one way to know the time for that Final Judgment: to love God and trust our lives in His hands. A given time and date is something that no man can ever know or calculate, as this is something that only God Father knows and not even God Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as He clearly states: “But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36). Therefore, whoever tries to calculate the time of the Second Coming drives himself to illusion and the people who shall believe him will be led to repudiation of God. However, it seems that human curiosity and fear cannot be soothed by that statement alone, so Jesus says that man will know that the time has come: “Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see all these things: know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matt. 24:32-33).
For the faithful then, the time of the Second Coming and the Final Judgment is every minute in time, which renders the quest for determining an approximate or specific time for it irrelevant. The faithful experiences the final judgment every single minute of his life, as this is indissolubly tied to the love of God. Every single moment that man has his heart full of love and trust to God, he pre-experiences the Final Judgment and rejoices at its outcome.
This outcome, as a notion, is the most
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 41 (27th December 2020)
This will not be a long newsletter. It is simply to wish you a very happy Christmas and a fruitful New Year. The spiritual fruitfulness of the coming year will, of course, be compromised by our inability – at least in the early months – to meet properly for worship, since for the time being we’ll be continuing our present pattern of having some kind of service each Sunday but with only a very limited number of people present because of the danger of spreading the coronavirus. (There will be Liturgies on 3rd, 10th and 24th January and a Typika today and on 17th January.) This problem of being unable to come together can, however, be at least partially overcome by each of us following, in our private prayers, the readings for each day. With this in mind, please think about buying the lectionary for the year, which is available from Ian Randall for £5. (It is useful in telling you, not only the readings for each day, but also the saints commemorated and the fasting rules that are applicable on that day. If you would like one, please contact him on email@example.com and he will send one; we can collect the money from you later.)
With love in Christ, Fr. Christopher
SERMON ON MATT 2:13-23
Today’s Gospel reading appears far from festal. We hear how the coming of the Saviour was accompanied by a horrific slaughter of children in Bethlehem. Yet we incorporate even this reading in our Christmas joyous celebration. This is in itself is a strong message. With the coming of Christ and with the dawn of eternity and everlasting life, the world was transformed dramatically. Evil, even in its ugliest and strongest form, can no longer prevail over good, and this is the eternal victory that Christ has brought with His coming. Death, however horrific it may be, is no longer an end, but the beginning: it is from this perspective that we are able to rejoice for the innocents slaughtered by Herod. Their story prefigures Christ’s victory that is not temporal, but eternal.
From a point of view of eternal life these innocents were privileged to suffer for Christ’s sake: they are the youngest martyrs ever known to the history of Christianity. They prefigure the martyrdom of Christ and set the tone of the whole journey for us Christians: “ Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Just as with those children, from the very first days of His life Christ suffered unending persecution, His life was under a constant threat that continued until the very end of His ministry when He was finally nailed to the Cross. Yet the end of this journey is the beginning of eternal glory and universal authority: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth”. (Mat. 28:16). Through earthly humiliations – to heavenly glory, through weakness in the face of human authorities – to almighty divine power, through universal rejection – to God’s Kingdom of love: ‘This is the lot of those of our kin (i.e. Christians), – St Theophan writes. Those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus have their paradise not here, on earth, but there in heaven. The Earth gives them nothing but deprivations, afflictions and persecutions. It is because Christians are led by principles that are different to those who rule the earth and live for the Earth and want to have their paradise here on Earth. These two kinds of people cannot live in harmony: the earthly people, as masters of this world, persecute those ‘strangers’ who look for the heavenly Kingdom. But the goodness of God turns all these afflictions into everlasting good, so that we can call with confidence and courage: “Glory to God for everything” (see: St Theophan the Recluse’s commentary on 2 Tim 3:16).
Christ and His Gospel have transformed our vision of reality, of human history, of human values. This new has started with the story of children. In a remarkable way it prefigures Christ’s resurrection and with Him the resurrection of all of us. The slaughter of the children allows us to look at the tragedy of death from a new perspective. Yes, this story is a part of our Christmas celebration as we sense profoundly that with the coming of Christ “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).
This story at the outset of the Gospel points to the end of the Gospel, which the faithful celebrate with the words: “Christ is risen from the dead, by death He has overcome death and to them in the graves has He given life”.
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 40 (20th December 2020)
The icons that Leon Liddament and Fr. David Meyrick produced for our church over the years have made our building a very special one, and as Christmas approaches we inevitably think, not only of the living friends whom - under normal circumstances - we would meet at this time of year, but also the departed ones, like them, whose presence we would so much have liked still to be possible. Because our Liturgy is always seen by us as the coming together of the heavenly kingdom and earthly life, however, there is a sense in which all who have turned to God, in and through Christ, are - whether living or departed - joined together in union with Christ whenever we celebrate the Holy Liturgy, since this Liturgy is, for our Orthodox understanding, a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom.
In this period of pandemic, it has been a great sorrow that we have not been able to come together, Sunday by Sunday and feast by feast, to celebrate the Liturgy. Through the work of Patrick and Ian we have, when the regulations have allowed it, usually managed to have a Liturgy once a fortnight and a Typika service on the Sundays in between. For those services, however, the regulations have meant that the numbers of those allowed to attend has been severely limited, and even in this period of preparing for and then celebrating the feast of the Nativity, this limitation will continue. This weekend’s Typika still has a few places to spare (please let me know, if you want to come and have not already told me) but the Liturgy on Christmas Eve is, sadly, already “fully booked.” For this reason, and knowing that some of you will welcome this, we have decided to use Zoom to stream a Liturgy on Christmas day at 10.30 a.m., taken by myself (with my family doing the singing and readings, but with no one else present because I am shielding.) This will mean that those unable to attend the service the day before can – at least on a computer screen – experience our normal Nativity worship. The link will be:
Let us all hope that the vaccines that are now becoming available will make this a one-off, and that well before the next time we celebrate the Nativity (and even perhaps before we reach Pascha) we’ll be able to meet together as usual. In the meantime, I can only wish you all a very happy Christmas and hope that you will follow our Christmas day service online.
With love in Christ,
SERMON ON MATT 1:1-25 (The seed of God in Christ’s Ancestors and Descendants)
This wonderful passage from the Gospel we heard today describes the genealogy of our Lord, enumerating His ancestors from Abraham until David and further till Joseph, the betrothed of the Mother of God. It is marvellous to see the history of the Lord’s ancestors according to His flesh. Abraham is the one who excelled in faith and David the man of a contrite and humble spirit, but all the Lord’s ancestors excelled in these virtues.
From the very beginning, when Adam fell from the face of God, the Lord said to Eve that her seed will crush the head of the serpent and the serpent will bruise the heel of her Son. Already from the beginning of sacred history there is a Gospel foretelling the coming of a supernatural and paradoxical Holy Seed, ‘the Seed of the woman’, that is, of the virginal birth of the Saviour. That Holy Seed will crush satan, and the latter will bruise His heel. This bruising of the Lord is His passion and three days’ burial by which He destroyed the death that had stricken mankind.
When Prophet Isaiah despaired over Israel, God consoled him by a vision in which He said that Israel will not perish, for Israel is like the terebinth tree which, when cut down, innumerable shoots spring forth from it again. This is because Israel bears within its righteous people a Holy Seed that constitutes its stability. All the ancestors of the Lord that excelled in virtue, bearing within themselves that seed of God and the promises that the Messiah would come forth from them at the fullness of time, received a circumcision in the flesh to seal their belonging to their heavenly Master. After the Lord’s coming, His descendants again please Him through faith and a contrite heart, nourishing within them the incorruptible seed of His word, conforming their life and repenting in the light of His commandments. They too received a circumcision - not of the flesh, but of the heart. It is the wound of His love, the power of regeneration to become children of God, to be born anew, as Saint Peter says. The incorruptible seed of His word gradually builds up a tabernacle within their heart, a dwelling place for the Most High to dwell therein.
However, the righteous of the Old Testament did not yet receive the fullness of future glory. They received only ‘the earnest’, as they await us, so that, as members of the one glorious body of which Christ is the Head, we may altogether partake in the Great Supper which the Lord prepared in His Kingdom for those that loved His appearing. This is the glorious body of our Lord mentioned by Saint Paul as the prowess of faith of all those who pleased God through faith, ‘the cloud of witnesses’ both in the Old Testament and in the New. Let us keep alive within us the incorruptible seed of His word and bear a contrite spirit which the Lord does not despise but He bends over it with His incorruptible consolation so that we too may receive that same glory in His Kingdom.
Christ is the sign of God for all generations as Scripture says: ‘this shall be a sign unto you, the humble birth of our Lord in a manger’. The sign of our God is humility as only the spirit of humility can bear the fullness of divine love. Christ humbled Himself to the end to manifest His perfect love for the world which saves it. So we also, if we accept and bear the sign of the Son of man, the spirit of humility and discipleship, then surely, we will become worthy to love Him with all our heart, will all our soul and with our entire being, which is our blessed destiny unto all ages. Amen.
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 39 (13th December 2020)
Today – the second Sunday before the Feast of the Nativity – the Church commemorates those it speaks of as the “holy forefathers.” These forefathers are all those men and women who are remembered as either the ancestors of Jesus in the flesh or those who, in their prophetic teaching, looked forward to his coming. The stress of the liturgical texts for the day is on the faith of these forefathers in what God had intended from the beginning: the coming into the world of his Son. (How much they foresaw this in detail is, of course, an interesting historical question, but the point is that what they “knew” was – like all real spiritual knowledge – too deep for words. As the mystics throughout the centuries have testified, the knowledge that God gives is not knowledge “about God” but an intuitive knowledge in which His reality and character are evident.)
Today is also the day on which we commemorate St. Herman of Alaska, who died in 1836, when Alaska was still controlled by Russia. (The Russian government later sold it to the Americans for a paltry sum, partly because they were in desperate need of money at that time and partly to keep the British away from Russian territory by putting a barrier between that territory and Canada.) As the Wikipedia article on St. Herman puts it, his “gentle approach and ascetic life earned him the love and respect of both the native Alaskans and the Russian colonists.”
By chance, in the middle of writing this newsletter, I came across Sir Steven Runciman’s comments on Alaska in his lovely book of reminiscences: “A Traveller’s Alphabet: Partial Memoirs.” (Runciman was one of the twentieth century’s great historians of the Byzantine world, but here he was writing only about his travel experiences.) In the section of this book devoted to Kodiak Island, which is part of Alaska, he has an interesting section on the way in which, in the late eighteenth century, Russian settlers "had brought their priests with them and they set about the conversion of the natives. They acted with sympathy and tact. While I was in Alaska I had the opportunity of seeing copies of the instructions sent out by the Orthodox Metropolitan of Moscow, suggesting how they should proceed. The missionaries were told not to attempt brusquely to abolish established native customs, but merely to modify them if they seemed to be anti-Christian or if possible somehow to incorporate them into Christian practice.
As I read this, I was struck by how much this advice echoed that which had been given more than a thousand years earlier to Saint Augustine of Canterbury by the then Pope of Rome (Saint Gregory of the Dialogues - or Gregory the Great as he is usually known in the West.) In a letter (quoted directly by St. Bede in his History of the English Church and People) the Pope, writing to Saint Mellitus - who was about to join Augustine in England and who was to become the first historically certain Bishop of London and the third Archbishop of Canterbury - asked him to pass on to Augustine his advice about the pagan English whom Augustine had been sent to convert. The custom of sacrificing animals to idols should not be completely abolished, said Gregory, but should be be transferred to Saints’ days. Similarly, the pagan temples of the English should not be destroyed but instead: let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let water be consecrated and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed there. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more freely resort to the places to which they have been accustomed … For there is no doubt that it is impossible to cut off everything at once from their rude natures; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps.
That phrase “rude natures” is an interesting one. Should we see ourselves (whether English or not) as people with “rude natures” who need to ascend “by d
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 33 (1st November 2020)
It was lovely to see some of you at our Zoom “tea party” last Sunday afternoon, & since it was a success we’ll repeat it some time. (I’ll let you know when it will be, a little nearer the time.)
Each Sunday, in the Preparation Service in which the priest prepares the bread & wine for the main Liturgy, a number of groups of saints are commemorated, each group having some characteristic in common (being martyrs, for example, or hierarchs.) One of these is the group of “holy unmercenary physicians,” who are remembered for giving medical treatment without charge. Eight of these are normally named individually in that service: Cosmas and Damien, Cyrus & John, Panteleimon & Hermolaos, Mocius & Anecitas. Each of these saints is also, of course, commemorated on a particular day of the year, & today is the day on which we commemorate the first two of these: Cosmas & Damien, whose icon is shown here.
As is so often the case with very early saints, the stories told about Cosmas and Damien are somewhat confused, & as a result three groups of different unmercenary physicians with these names are commemorated by us on different days: those “of Arabia” on 17th October, those “of Rome” on 1st July, & those “of Mesopotamia” - together with their mother, Saint Theodoti – on 1st November, today. Whether these three separate commemorations really refer to three different pairs of physicians, who happened to have the same names, or whether the genuine memories of one pair were elaborated in three different sets of legendary “memories,” is a question that we can leave for the historians to ponder. The important thing for us is that as early as the fourth century - when churches had already been dedicated to them in Egypt and Mesopotamia - these two names were clearly remembered as ones of people of undoubted sanctity, who in their medical work had impressed their contemporaries by taking seriously Christ’s saying: “freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
To be “unmercenary” – to do things for the love of God rather than for money – is a vocation for all of us. Few of us, of course, are in a position to work without pay. Nor are many of us able to follow the advice I heard as a young man, that “the secret of life is to find something you’d do for nothing if you could afford to, and then get some fool to pay you for doing it.” Most of us, in fact, because we need to keep ourselves & our families sheltered clothed & fed, have to spend a good deal of our lives doing things we wouldn’t do for free. Even if this is the case, however, we all still have time to spare in which we can do things for our neighbours in an unmercenary way, & this is very much a part of how we can, as we are commanded, love our neighbours as ourselves.
A tendency in all periods of history – & especially in our own time, when the “greed is good” motto has become common – has been to ignore the Christian requirement for money to be seen as something other than the prime focus of our efforts. As Christians, however, we are aware that we need to fight this tendency. We know that God knows that we have material needs, & also - as Jesus said – that we must “seek first the Kingdom of God & his righteousness, and all these things will be added” (Matthew 6:33).
To do something purely for profit – to seek for what the King James version of the Bible calls “filthy lucre” – is, of course, always a temptation. Not all money is “filthy lucre” of course. This term is, in fact, used in that translation to point to the need for ordained people to preach the gospel for the right reasons, and not for profit (1 Timothy 3, 3 and 8; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:2.) This doesn’t, however, mean that the term “filthy lucre” has no application to laypeople, because behind these warnings lies something that applies to all of us: our Lord’s clear statement that we “cannot serve God and Mammon” - sometimes translated as “cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). It is not that we should despise what money can buy. Rather, what is necessary is for us to realise that an undue emphasis on money-making can distort our lives in a drastic way. As we read in the epistles, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10); “keep your life free of love of money” (Hebrews 13:5).
Does this mean, then, that the material things that money can buy should be of no interest to us? Of course not! Central to our Christian life is our giving of thanks for all the things that we receive. Our Church does, it is true, call us to a life of asceticism, but this is essentially a kind of spiritual training. Our asceticism must never be allowed to become the sort of sour puritanism in which the good things of life are despised. When we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays and in the fasting seasons, for example, this is not because good food, in itself, is somehow bad for us. Our fasting is, rather, designed at least partly to encourage us to keep the very goodness of food fully in view, so that we don’t lose a sense of the way it should be a means of communion with God. As Metropolitan Kallistos once said, we fast from certain foods at certain times “not because we regard the act of eating as shameful, but in order to make all our eating spiritual, sacramental and Eucharistic – no longer a concession to greed but a means of communion with God the giver … A slice of plain cheese or a hard-boiled egg never taste so good as on Easter morning, after seven weeks of fasting.”
Something else comes out of the same basic sense of the goodness of created things, and this is our concern for the poor. We don’t say to the poor “don’t be materialistic; it’s only spiritual things that matter.” We recognise that being deprived of the basic things of life – food, shelter, warm clothing and so on – is to be deprived of a means of communion with God. We recognise, too, that providing the poor with these things must be central to our Christian life. “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17).
This concern for the poor must be manifested not only in relation to our personal giving – important as that is – but also through the way in which we urge our communities to be organised politically. This is evident from those parts of the Old Testament that give instructions for how the poor are to be treated. Take, for example, the instruction in Leviticus about the harvest: “do not reap to the very edges of your land or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up your fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner” (Leviticus 19: 9-10). This is not simply an instruction to be generous; it sets out an aspect of the political rights of the poor. Even more telling, perhaps, are the “Jubilee” rules set out in the 25 th and 26 th chapters of Leviticus, which insist that every fifty years all commercial debts should be cancelled. Whether this ever actually happened is open to question, but in fact it was not uncommon in the ancient Near East for some kind of periodic debt cancellation to occur. Moreover, until the late Middle Ages the Church had a strong sense that political and commercial life should reflect religious norms. The charging of excess interest on debts, for example, was strictly forbidden as the sin of “usury,” and charging any kind of interest to the poor was frowned on as contravening the Old Testament instruction that “if you lend any money to any … who is poor … you shall not exact any interest from him” (Exodus 22:25). Not until the seventeenth century did our current norms for commercial life become widely accepted, and even then there were strong rearguard reactions in the Christian world. The Roman Catholic papal encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891, for example, strongly affirmed the importance of private property, and therefore renounced the kind of socialism that would do away with that property. Nevertheless, it quoted with full approval a medieval statement that “Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need,” and it stated unequivocally that it was necessary “to save unfortunate working people from the cruelty of men of greed, who use human beings as mere instruments for money-making.”
This can, of course, all sound terribly “anti-capitalist” in the modern sense of that term. However, the Christian attitude to commercial and political issues has always been more complex than that. When Conrad Noel, the early twentieth century “red vicar” of Thaxted was a student, he used to plaster his walls with posters containing apparently revolutionary statements, but he would cover up the bottom part of the poster, which revealed the author of the statement. If anyone commented on the inappropriately political nature of any of these statements - assuming that they had been made by Marx, Engels, or Lenin - he would uncover the part revealing the author. It was always one of the Church Fathers – often Saint John Chrysostom.
The point of all this is that the Church can only take a party political line if certain fundamental Christian values are being ignored by one of the parties, and in normal political life this is only rarely the case. A party’s policies always reflect a mixture of values and technical judgments about how those values can best be promoted in a particular situation. The Church, while it can (and should) comment about values, is in no position to make comments on the technical judgments involved in putting those values into practice. This leaves Christians free to support any political party whose values do not completely clash with Christian ones. We need, nevertheless, to be clear about those values. As the witness of the holy unmercenary physicians indicates, any policy which simply puts money-making above all other values, or which clearly ignores the needs of the poor, is never one that we can support.
With the new lockdown it seems that after today there will be no more services in church for a while. Also I will not, after Thursday, be allowed to bring communion to you at home. In a real emergency I would, of course, be willing to bend these rules, but it would have to be a real emergency. If you would like me to bring you communion in the first part of this coming week - when it is still allowed - please phone me (01328-820108) to arrange this. Don't email because my own computer is still away for repair and I can only get at my email account occasionally on Cathie's computer. (She is not at home every day and sometimes stays the night in Cambridge because of her work, so there will very often be a long delay in replying to any message I receive).
With love in Christ,
SERMON ON LUKE 16:19-31
In Israel of the first century, in the time of Our Lord, and when this Gospel was recorded by St Luke, there was no middle class with which we identify, just rich and poor. Within the frame of that background we must understand the story Our Lord tells of the Rich Man and of Lazarus, the indigent. He was not just poor like most workmen and labourers; he was homeless, and unemployed (lying at the gate of the rich man) & he was repulsively unhealthy (the dogs licked his sores). He longed to be given what they didn’t even want, but nobody let him have that. So he died in misery, and was then carried to Abraham’s bosom; the place where the righteous dwell with God. Later the rich man died, and went to hell and torment.
As St Paul writes to the Corinthians in the passage which was read at Liturgy today, charity never fails, even though faith and teaching and knowledge will pass away. The once rich man is concerned for the inevitable fate of his brothers, who live as he did, and asks that they be warned by Lazarus (for they all saw him at the gate, and ignored him on their way to and from feasting). We see that his love for them endures, even in hell, yet it is powerless, since it bore no fruit on earth. The rich man sees now, that his brothers must repent of the way of life he shared with them, to avoid his fate.
But Abraham denies this request saying that they have Moses, who was the greatest teacher of the people of God until John the Baptist, and the other Prophets. If they will not listen to them, neither will they give heed to one who is risen from the dead. This year, we were not permitted to celebrate Pascha, because our authorities have long despised Him Who is Risen from the dead. All our faith is in Christ, whose followers are called Christians. The authorities and teachers of this world, boast this a post-Christian, even “post-truth,” age. Many believe marxist theories of class war, conflict, and the need for an overturning (revolution) of the Christian civilisation developed over two thousand years. Love is completely absent from their materialist worldview. And this has been the everyday teaching and diet of our schools and universities for at least fifty years.
We and our children are promised by these authorities: housing, food and healthcare for our bodies, in a socialist order of government control. But our souls and those of our children, are left starved of nourishment, and diseased by foul and perverse ideas, with not even crumbs of liberty being permitted them. Abraham reminds us that God is just. Christians cannot fear death. But we must live as Christ teaches in the Gospel; repent our passion for physical safety; feed our souls by active repentance; receive worthily the Holy Gifts of Christ - The Truth and Life, now and for eternity, Amen.
Reading the Synaxarion of Saint Demetrios one is amazed by his courage and dedication. How could a young man with such an illustrious career before him, admired by all, could sacrifice everything, his life itself, for the sake of his faith? St Paul the Apostle, in today’s Epistle Reading, himself in prison and awaiting execution explains to Timothy how this is possible. He tells him that as a Christian he is a soldier of Christ whose constant care should be how to please Him. As such he should not be distracted by worldly cares that cool down one’s zeal and drain his energy. Rather he should focus on how to struggle for Christ as a Christian athlete who wants to be crowned by Him. He will be crowned if he struggles lawfully, that is, not as one wants but according to the will of God.
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.28 (27th September 2020)
This newsletter is shorter than usual and is coming a little early this week because – after a summer of shielding from the COVID-19 virus – I’m about to take a week’s holiday before the second wave of the virus and the colder weather arrive. If you have any pressing pastoral needs while I’m away please contact Fr. Patrick (who can be contacted by phone on 01362-687031.)
The Americans talk about “vacations” of course, but here in England we still speak about holidays even though the term has lost its original meaning of “holy days.” In the medieval period, people didn’t “go on vacation” in the way we do now but they still, in fact, had plenty of leisure time, since Sundays and other holy days – when only essential work was allowed –actually took up more of the year than our present weekends and holiday periods do. When we sing about the “twelve days of Christmas” we’re singing about one of the longest periods of this kind, but there were plenty of others.
We speak about our time away from work in terms of “recreation” and this has, as one of its meanings, “re-creation”: being created again. We all know how a short period away can sometimes make us feel like “new people” and this is certainly a psychological reality. On holy days, however, we can feel re-created in an even deeper way than when “on vacation”because, if the church’s calendar is part of our lives, we can experience our relationship toGod in a way which makes clear that our “ordinary time” is linked to eternity. “This is eternal life” said Jesus in a prayer to the Father, “that they know you, the only true God, and JesusChrist whom you have sent” (John 17:3). If we truly know the Father and the Son whom he has sent, then that link between ordinary time and eternity is something that we can know aspart of our experience.
On a more mundane note, this coming Sunday’s liturgy is already fully-booked in terms of the space we have available because of our COVID-19 restrictions. If you want to book yourself in to the Liturgy a fortnight after that, or into the Typika service on the Sunday in between, please let me know by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). In general, the Typika services we arrange are less booked up than the Liturgies, so do consider coming to one of those.
With love in Christ,
SERMON ON THE Luke 5:1-11
This morning’s Gospel reading finds us at the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry in Galilee and the call of his first disciples. This is because from the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross that we celebrated ten days ago until the beginning of Lent the Church reads the Gospel according to St Luke. St Matthew and St Mark also describe the call of four disciples by the lakeside, but St Luke’s account is subtly different from theirs, and it is important when reading the Gospel to pay attention to the particular emphases of each of the Evangelists as they give us the one Gospel.
Firstly, in the other accounts this is the first thing Jesus does after the arrest of St John the Baptist and his own return to Galilee. In St Luke, after he has preached in the synagogue in Nazareth and been rejected, he goes to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee and begins preaching and working miracles, including healing Simon’s mother-in-law. Simon then already knows him and he is the central character in the story, so much so that Andrew, his brother and colleague, is not even mentioned. Simon has a special place in St Luke’s Gospel. In particular, on Easter morning it is only Simon who goes to visit the tomb after the women have brought the news of the resurrection, as those who were at Orthros heard this morning. It is Simon to whom Jesus appears before he appears to the other disciples, as they tell the two disciples on their return from Emmaus, ‘The Lord has truly risen and has appeared to Simon’.
Secondly, neither Matthew nor Mark says anything about a miraculous catch of fish. The call of Simon reminds us of the call of the Prophet Isaias. Isaias was granted a vision of God in all his glory in the temple in Jerusalem and his immediate reaction was to be acutely aware of his own sinfulness. In the same way, Simon, confronted with the miracle of the catch of fish, is conscious of his own sinfulness in the presence of a manifestation of divine power. Before, he had called Jesus ‘Master’ (Ἐπιστάτα, a word only used by St Luke in the New Testament). Now, he calls him ‘Lord’ (Κύριε). At this point St Luke calls him not just ‘Simon’, but ‘Simon Peter’, adding the name that Jesus himself will give him. Like Isaias, Peter is given a missionary task that of catching not fish but human beings. And there are a great many of them to catch. The net is beginning to break. He will not be able to manage on his own. He will need helpers.
Commenting on this passage, St Cyril of Alexandria says that Jesus first catches the Apostles in his net so that they may do the same the whole world over. As the Apolytikion for Pentecost puts it, ‘Blessed are you, Christ our God, who revealed the fishermen to be most wise by sending, down to them the Holy Spirit, and so through them catching the whole world in a net’. ‘Let us, says St Cyril, ‘admire the skilfulness of the method employed in making a catch of those who were to make a catch of the whole earth, that is the holy Apostles, who, though themselves well skilled in fishing, yet fell into Christ’s net, so that they too, by letting down the net of the Apostolic preaching, might gather to him the inhabitants of the whole world.’ That same task is ours also. We have been baptised, we have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit and we too, aware like Simon of our sinfulness, must put out our hands to the net to help in the apostolic work of gathering all our fellow humans into the net which is the Church of the Kingdom of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.27 (20th September 2020)
As the second wave of COVID-19 now appears to be about to hit us in this country, the precautions that our various parishes have taken appear to have been justified. If churches – along with lots of other institutions – had not taken these precautions, the present situation might have been even worse than it is.
Our own parish’s risk assessment – together with our reading of the government’s rules and guidelines – has meant that the maximum number of worshippers in our small church building at any one time is very limited, and even when we have a Liturgy – only once a fortnight at the moment instead of the usual practice of every Sunday - we cannot give communion to laypeople.As I’ve said previously in these newsletters, being unable to receive the sacrament is not to be deprived of the grace that is usually received through that sacrament. What is important is that we desire the sacrament and the grace usually received through it, and that we live lives of repentance that make us worthy to receive these gifts. This worthiness does not arise from any virtue of our own since - as our funeral and panikhida services insist - “there is no one who lives who is without sin.” We are worthy only in in the sense that we accept that we are accepted by God just as we are, and are sincerely able to say, as we do in the prayer immediately before communion, that we believe and confess “that thou art in truth the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.” As some of you know, I am not very fond of Western Christian hymns, but one which has words (if not a tune) that I approve of is a pre-communion hymn that goes Just as I am, without one plea / But that thy blood was shed for me,And that thou bids’t me come to thee, / O Lamb of God, I come.This, I think, gets the required attitude just right.
Being “the first” of sinners does not, of course, mean that there are no other people whose thoughts or actions are worse than ours in some abstract sense. It means, rather, that we do not have the excuse of unbelief that these others may have, so that we can have no plea of ignorance. It means also, as our Lord so often insisted, that we are not in a position to judge others and rank them as worse or lesser sinners than ourselves.
The word sin is, in fact, often misunderstood by us, because the Greek word of which it is a translation – hamartia – has as its prime meaning missing the mark (as in an archer’s missing of the target at which an arrow is aimed.) It can sometimes be helpful in our self-examination to think about the “sins” we have committed, but ultimately our sin is not just the conglomeration of all the things we have done that we know to be wrong. When we “commit a sin,” the mark we have missed is not obedience to some ethical rule, but the goal of loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. It is not a failure to uphold some legal rule, but a failure of relationship. It is that failure of relationship that is healed by Christ.
Because of this understanding of sin, repentance is not ultimately about the development of a sense of guilt at what we have done or failed to do, but about a sober assessment of our shortcomings and a reversal of the attitude that has caused us so often to miss the mark. The Greek word for repentance – metanoia– does not have quite the same sense that the term repentance sometimes has inEnglish, which can lead people either to think that it involves a kind of wallowing in self-loathing or else to see it as a sort of “virtue” that can outweigh the sins against which it is balanced (as in the cartoon below.) Rather, it has the meaning of “turning around”: of “change of mind and heart.”May that change of heart and mind be something that each of us experiences more and more!
With love in Christ,
SERMON ON Mark 8:34 - 9:1
What does it mean to take up the Cross daily? It is not just a question of being prepared to die for Christ, but it is more a question of being prepared to live for Christ. As St. Paul tells us we are called to «offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship» (Rom. 12: 1-3), and likewise St. Peter tells us "you also like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2: 4-6). Christ gave his life for us, and asks us to give our lives to Him. The offering of our lives is to be daily, and is hardest on the difficult days, the days when we are made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome for being Christians. The difficult days would be difficult no matter where we are or who we are. They would be no easier in a monastery, nor would we find them easier if we were saints.
Saints only become saints by following Christ on the difficult days, the days when they don’t really feel like doing it. However the difficult days do become easier with time and practice. We can prepare for them through the daily practice of prayer and love for Αρχιμ. Χρυσόστομος Μιχαηλίδης our fellow men. We can set about righting the wrongs we’ve done on the bad days when we failed, through the practice of virtue and learning from our mistakes.
A bad day is much easier to face if we have some idea as to what we could do better next time. Turning a bad day into a good day is one of the deep joys of the Christian life. It is the process that saints have become accomplished in doing. It is the process that Christ himself went through by changing the sad day of His death into the glorious day of His Resurrection. It was the days on which he restored Sts. Peter and Thomas to love and fellowship with Himself and their fellow Disciples. It was the day on which the prodigal son decided to return to his father’s house.
Most days though are actually the opposite where we have to ensure that a good day doesn’t turn bad. This is where true sanctity becomes developed. Despite how we might feel when we wake up, every day starts out good: "This is the day that the Lord has made" (Psal. 118). Let us take courage and ask Christ and his Saints to strengthen us on all days.
ON THE HOLY CROSS attributed to St. John Chrysostom
Let us consider of what great blessings for us Christ’s Cross has become the cause. For though the Lord’s Cross sounds sad and bitter, it is in reality full of joy and radiance. For the Cross is the salvation of the Church; the Cross is the boast of those who hope in it; the Cross is reconciliation of enemies to God and conversion of sinners to Christ. For through the Cross we have been delivered from enmity, and through the Cross we have been joined in friendship to God. Through the Cross we have been freed from the tyranny of the devil, and through the Cross we have been delivered from death and destruction. ‘When the Cross was not proclaimed, we were held fast by death; now the, Cross is proclaimed, and we have. Come to despise death, as though it did not exist, while we have come to long for everlasting life. ‘When the Cross was not proclaimed, we were strangers to paradise; but when the Cross appeared, at once a thief was found worthy of paradise. From such darkness the human race has crossed over to infinite light; from death it has been called to everlasting life, from corruption it has been renewed for incorruption. For the eyes of the heart are no longer covered by the darkness that comes through ignorance, but through the Cross they are flooded with the light of knowledge. The ears of the deaf are no longer shut by unbelief, for the deaf have heard the word of the Lord, and the blind have recovered their sight to see the glory of God. These are the gifts we are given through the Cross. What blessing has not been achieved for us through the Cross?
The Cross is proclaimed, and faith in God is confessed and truth prevails in the whole inhabited world. The Cross is proclaimed, and martyrs are revealed and confession of Christ prevails. The Cross is proclaimed, and the resurrection is revealed, life is made manifest, the kingdom of heaven is assured. The Cross has become the cause of all these things, and through the Cross we have been taught to sing. What then is more precious than the Cross? What more profitable for our souls? So let us not be ashamed to name the Cross, but let us confess it with total confidence.
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.26 (13th September 2020)
Monday is Holy Cross day, and in our Sunday liturgy we shall anticipate this feast by a day. Traditionally, Orthodox churches on this day have a cross, laid in a bed of basil, in the middle of the church (as shown in the photograph) – though in our own church we usually substitute rosemary for basil because the latter is not always easy to come by at this time of year.
This feast is one of the occasions of the year on which we focus on the cross, but not in quite the same way as we do on Good Friday, when we are caught up in the events of the day of our Lord’s death. Even on that day, nevertheless, we venerate the cross with a sense of anticipation of the resurrection, singing at Mattins:
Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross. He whois King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We venerate Thy Passion,O Christ. Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection.
On feasts like the one we celebrate now, however, the link with the resurrection is even more strongly stressed, and what we tend to focus on is Christ’s victory over the powers of evil and death. This is a very ancient Christian emphasis, and the fact that it was not peculiar to Eastern Christianity is shown by the famousAnglo-Saxon poem, The Dream of the Rood. (Rood simply means “cross.”)This poem was written in about the eighth century, only shortly before the carving of the Anglo-Saxon cross in Ruthwell, Dumfrieshire (now in Scotland but then part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria.) This cross - which has part of the poem carved on it in runes – is now in the parish church of Ruthwell and is shown in the photograph.
As well as having a panel showing Christ trampling on the beasts (a symbol of evil) the cross has another panel showing another scene sometimes picked up in the early Christian monuments of Britain, which indicates ancient British links with, and interest in, the monasticism of the Christian east. This panel shows St.Paul the first hermit and St. Anthony sharing bread in the desert of Egypt.
Most of us find that the Dream of the Rood, in its original Anglo-Saxon or oldEnglish, is impossible for us to read now, simply because the English language changed so much after the Norman conquest of 1066, so that old English and Norman French became thoroughly mixed together. In its original version, the poem begins as follows:
Hwæt, iċ swefna cyst secgan wylle,
hwæt mē ġemǣtte tō midre nihte
syðþan reordberend reste wunedon.
Þūhte mē þæt iċ ġesāwe syllicre trēow
5on lyft lǣdan, lēohte bewunden,
Translated into modern English, this becomes
Listen! The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
which came as a dream in middle-night,
after voice-bearers lay at rest.
It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
born aloft, wound round by light,
brightest of beams.
This “wondrous tree” was the cross, and the poem goes on to give the cross’s own account of what had occurred when Christ was nailed to it. This account focuses on the victory of a kind of warrior. This imagery appealed to the Anglo-Saxon mind, which was still to some extent a pagan one, and the poem can be seen (and has been seen) as an essentially pagan version of the Christian understanding. To see it in this way is, however, surely wrong, since this kind of victory imagery was common in early Christianity. If, for example, we look at an early Christian writer like Venantius Fortunatus – a bishop of Poitiers who wrote in the late sixth century - we find a very similar sentiment. In one of his hymns, Pange Lingua (in the translation made by J. M. Neale) two of the verses are as follows:
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
Sing the ending of the fray;
Now above the Cross, the trophy,
Sound the loud triumphant lay:
Tell how Christ, the world's Redeemer,
As a Victim won the day.
Faithful cross, true sign of triumph,
Be for all the noblest tree;
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thine equal be;
Symbol of the world's redemption,
For the weight that hung on thee!
This hymn became a standard part of the Western services for Good Friday, and it has precisely the same kind of stress on victory as does The Dream of the Rood.
Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia has said that “Orthodox feel thoroughly at home in the language of [this] great Latin hymn” and says the same of another of Venantius’s hymns (again in the J. M. Neale translation):
Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old:
Among the nations, God, said he,
Hath reigned and triumphed from the tree.
Modern western Christians, says Metropolitan Kallistos, tend “to think of the crucifixion in isolation, separating it too sharply from the Resurrection. As a result, the vision of Christ as a suffering God is in practice replaced by a vision of his suffering humanity; the western worshipper, when he meditates upon the cross, is encouraged all too often to feel a morbid sympathy with the Man of Sorrows, rather than adore the victorious and triumphant king.”
At this feast of the cross we can, if we follow the Orthodox and ancientChristian understanding, truly adore the victorious and triumphant king. May we continue to do so throughout our lives!
With love in Christ,
SERMON ON THE GOSPEL John 3:13-17
Today’s reading from St Paul’s epistle to the Galatians encourages us to focus the attention of our hearts on the Cross of Christ. It means noticing that God far from being selfish, sacrifices himself for his creatures. When Jesus was thirty, he, the sinless God-Man, took upon himself all the sins of the world and washed them away by his baptism in the Jordan. He was not washed by the water of Jordan: the water of Jordan was washed by his presence. That is why often in
church we bless water by plunging the Cross of Christ into it.
Let us think a little more about what Jesus did. Instead of proclaiming, I am God, I am in charge of everything, I control everything, he took into himself everything that is wrong and painful, to the point of allowing the important people, the politicians and religious leaders, to humiliate him, make him suffer, and murder him by nailing him to a Cross. God always fills our suffering world with his love. God always takes the humblest place. God never says, look at me, I am so important!
At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went into the desert by the Dead Sea for forty days. The devil tried to convince him that he should try and rule the whole world, but Christ rebuked the devil, saying that seeking power in this world would involve him in making a deal with Satan. God alone must be worshipped, not power or money. After that, Jesus spent three years healing the sick, comforting those rejected by others, teaching his disciples to be gentle
and loving and to reject self-importance. He taught us never to divide people into two categories, them and us, but instead to love even our enemies. This is the challenge our Saviour has left us, calling us to see that his Cross forbids us to seek power try to control others.
Now let us look at today’s Gospel (Joh. 3: 13-17). It reminds us that the light has come into the world (3: 19), that is, the revelation of God. We know God when we are aware that the Cross shows God’s nature: The Son of Man must be lifted up on the Cross (3: 14), because God’s glory and joy is to take upon himself everything that is dark in the world and transform it into eternal life. God so loved the world... that he did not send his Son to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (3: 16-17). Our salvation is through faith in Christ, which means loving light and not darkness (3: 19). Light and love are the same thing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Cor. 13: 4-8).
The Christian Gospel makes demands on us: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luk. 6: 27). In baptism, we are plunged into the death of Christ. A baptised Christian’s ego is dead, and says like Saint Paul, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2: 20). Receiving Communion, we become one with the Crucified Lord. Communion gives us eternal life, but the price is high! In his first Epistle to the Corinthians Saint Paul reminds us that, all who eat and drink [Communion] without discerning the body [without realising that Communion implies dying with Christ] eat and drink judgement against themselves (1 Cor. 11: 29). Let us have gratitude for the gift of eternal life. Let us be humble and generous. Amen.
OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.25 (6th September 2020)
The mosaic shown here was created by Byzantine craftsmen working in Sicily. It is part of a series depicting the creation of the world through the divine Word, or Logos, who is Christ himself. This Logos, the fourth gospel tells us, was “in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1: 2-3).
For Orthodox spirituality, the beauty of God’s creation has always been important, and at the time of the church’s new year, at the beginning ofSeptember, it has become customary to sing an Akathist to God’s creation that was written only quite recently. (In our own community we usually replaceVespers with this Akathist on the first Saturday in September.) There seems to be some doubt about its origin. Sometimes it is attributed to Metropolitan Tryphon Turkestanov, who died in 1934, and sometimes to Archpriest Gregory Petrov, who died in 1940 as a prisoner in a Siberian labour camp, a martyr for the faith. This latter attribution is not surprising, since the Akathist echoes a theme found in a poem written by the martyr shortly before his death:
What is my praise before thee? I have not heard the cherubim singing, that is the lot of souls sublime, but I know how nature praises thee. In winter I have thought about the whole earthPraying quietly to thee in the silence of the moon,Wrapped around in a mantle of white, sparkling with diamonds of snow.I have seen how the rising sun rejoiced in thee, The choirs of birds sang forth glory.I have heard how secretly the forest noises thee abroad,How the winds sing, the waters gurgle, and the choirs of stars preach of theeIn serried motion through unending space.
The important thing about the Akathist is not, however, who composed it but the fact that it reflects something that is central to our Orthodox ethos. It is not only about the creation, but it is worth noting how often the beauty of creation comes into its reflections. Since this is the time of year when we usually sing this Akathist, it seems appropriate to me that, instead of giving you the usual personal reflections that I give you in these newsletters, I should simply give you its full text, either to incorporate in your own prayers or perhaps to read slowly and reflectively before you begin those prayers. This text (in a “you”version rather than the “thou” translation that we usually use) is as follows:
Incorruptible Lord, your right hand controls the whole course of human life, according to the decrees of your Providence for our salvation. We give you thanks for all your blessings, known and unknown: for our earthly life and for the heavenly joys of your kingdom which is to come. Henceforth extend your mercies towards us as we sing: Glory to you, O God, from age to age!I
I was born a weak, defenceless child, but your angel, spreading his radiant wings, guarded my cradle. From my birth, your love has illumined my paths, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity. From my first day until now, the generous gifts of your providence have been wonderfully showered upon me. I give you thanks, and with all those who have come to know you, I exclaim:
Glory to you for calling me into being,
Glory to you for spreading out before me the beauty of the universe,
Glory to you for revealing to me through heaven and earth the eternal book of wisdom,
Glory to your eternity within this fleeting world,
Glory to you for your mercies, seen and unseen,
Glory to you for every sigh of my sorrow,
Glory to you for every step in my life's journey, for every moment of joy,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
O Lord, how lovely it is to be your guest:Breeze full of scent; mountains reaching to the skies; Waters like a boundless mirror,Reflecting the sun's golden rays and the scudding clouds.All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing depths of tenderness, Birds and beasts bear the imprint of your love,Blessed are you, mother earth, in your fleeting loveliness, Which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever In the land where, amid beauty that grows not old,Rings out the cry: Alleluia!
You brought me into this life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky, like a deep blue cup ringing with birds in the azure heights. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the sweet-sounding music of the waters. We have tasted fragrant fruit of fine flavour and sweet-scented honey. How pleasant is our stay with you on earth: it is a joy to be your guest.
Glory to you for the feast-day of life,
Glory to you for the perfume of lilies and roses,
Glory to you for each different taste of berry and fruit,
Glory to you for the sparkling silver of early morning dew,
Glory to you for each smiling, peaceful awakening,
Glory to you for eternal life in us, a messenger of heaven,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
In the strength of the Holy Spirit each flower gives out its scent - sweet perfume, delicate colour, beauty of the whole universe revealed in the tiniest thing. Glory and honour to God the Giver of life, who covers the fields with their carpet of flowers, crowns the plains with harvest of gold and the blue of corn-flowers, and our souls with the joy of contemplating him. O be joyful and sing to him: Alleluia!
How glorious you are in the triumph of spring, when every creature awakes to new life and joyfully sings your praises with a thousand tongues: you are the source of life, the conqueror of death. By the light of the moon nightingales sing: the plains and the woods put on their wedding garment, white as snow. All the earth is your promised bride awaiting her bridegroom who does not know decay. If the grass of the field is clothed like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the coming age of the resurrection: how radiant our bodies, how resplendent our souls!
Glory to you, bringing from the darkness of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents,
Glory to you for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature,
Glory to you for surrounding us with thousands of your works,
Glory to you for the depth of your wisdom: the whole world is a living sign of it,
Glory to you: on my knees, I kiss the traces of your unseen hand,
Glory to you for setting before us the dazzling light of eternal life,
Glory to you for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on you: how life-giving your holy Word; to speak with you is more soothing than anointing with oil, sweeter than the honeycomb. Praying to you refreshes us and gives us wings: our hearts overflow with warmth; a majesty filled with wisdom permeates nature and all of life!Where you are not, there is only emptiness. Where you are, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!
When over the earth the light of the setting sun fades away, when the peace of eternal sleep and the quiet of the declining day reign over all, I see your dwelling-place like tents filled with light, reflected in the shapes of the clouds at dusk: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of your heavenly court, and solemnly call: let us go to the Father!
Glory to you in the quiet hour of evening,
Glory to you, covering the world with deep peace,
Glory to you for the last ray of the setting sun,
Glory to you for the rest of blissful sleep,
Glory to you for your mercy in the midst of darkness, when the whole world has parted company with us,
Glory to you for the tender emotion of a soul moved to prayer,
Glory to you for the pledge of our awakening on the day which has no evening,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
The storms of life do not frighten those whose hearts are ablaze with the light of your flame. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm.But in their souls reign quiet and light. Christ is there, and the heart sings: Alleluia!
I see your heaven glowing with stars. How rich you are, how much light is yours!Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars: I am small, insignificant, but theLord is with me, his loving hand protects me wherever I go.
Glory to you for the trouble you take for me at all times,
Glory for the people your Providence gave me to meet,
Glory to you for the love of my dear ones, the faithfulness of friends,
Glory to you for the gentleness of the animals which serve me,
Glory to you for the light-filled moments of life,
Glory to you for the radiant joy in my heart,
Glory to you for the joy of living, moving and seeing,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
How great and how close you are in the powerful track of the storm; how mighty your right arm in the blinding flash of the lightning; how awesome is your greatness! The voice of the Lord is over the fields and amid the rustling forests, the voice of the Lord is in the birth of thunder and of rain, the voice of the Lord is over the many waters.Praise to you in the roar of mountains ablaze. You shake the earth like a garment.You pile up to the sky the waves of the sea. Praise to you, bringing low the pride of man, bringing from his heart the cry of repentance: Alleluia!
When the lightning flash has lit up the feasting-hall, how feeble seems the light of the lamps. Likewise, amidst the strongest joys of my existence, you suddenly flashed in my soul. After your blinding light, how drab, dull and unreal seemed all those joys!Passionately, my soul would run after you.
Glory to you, the Goal in whom mankind's highest dreams come true,
Glory to you, for our unquenchable thirst for communion with God,
Glory to you, making us dissatisfied with earthly things,
Glory to you, clothing us with the finest rays of your light,
Glory to you, destroying the power of the spirits of darkness, dooming all evil to destruction,
Glory to you for the joy of hearing your voice, for the happiness of your presence and of living in your love,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
In the wondrous blending of sounds it is your call we hear. In the harmony of many voices, stirred by the musical tones, dazzled by art's creativeness, we learn from you the splendour of melody and song, and receive a foretaste of the coming kingdom. All true beauty draws the soul towards you in powerful invocation, and makes it sing triumphantly: Alleluia!
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit enlightens the thoughts of artists, poets, and scientists. Their great minds receive from you prophetic insights into your laws, and reveal to us the depth of your creative wisdom. Unwittingly, their works speak of you; how great you are in all you have created, how great you are in man!
Glory to you, showing your unfathomable might in the laws of the universe!
Glory to you, for all nature is permeated by your laws,
Glory to you for what you have revealed to us in your goodness,
Glory to you for all that remains hidden from us in your wisdom,
Glory to you for the inventiveness of the human mind,
Glory to you for the invigorating effort of work,
Glory to you for the tongues of fire which bring inspiration,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
How near you are in the days of sickness; you yourself visit the sick; you bend over the sufferer's bed: his heart speaks to you. With your peace you enlighten the soul burdened with affliction and pain: you send unexpected help. You comfort, you are Love, bringing trial and salvation, and to you we sing the hymn: Alleluia!
When in childhood I called upon you consciously for the first time, you heard my prayer and sacred peace came down into my soul. Then I understood that you are good; blessed are those who turn to you. Unceasingly, I started to call upon you, and now I call upon your Name:
Glory to you, satisfying my desires with good things,
Glory to you, watching over me day and night,
Glory to you, calming tribulations and bereavement with the healing flow of time,
Glory to you, no loss is irreparable when you are there, to all you give eternal life,
Glory to you, making immortal all that is lofty and good, promising to welcome the dead,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
Why is it that on a feast day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why does a marvellous lightness then fill our hearts, to which nothing earthly can be compared?The very air in the altar and in God's house becomes luminous. It is the breath of grace, the reflection of the glory of Mount Tabor; heaven and earth then sing this praise: Alleluia!
When you inspire me to serve my neighbour, and make humility shine in my soul, one of your deep-piercing rays of light falls into my heart: it then becomes glowing, like iron in the furnace. I have seen your Face, mysterious and elusive.
Glory to you, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love,
Glory to you, making wonderfully sweet each one of your commandments,
Glory to you, clearly present in fragrant compassion,
Glory to you, sending us failures and afflictions to make us sensitive to other people's sufferings,
Glory to you, promising high rewards for precious good deeds,
Glory to you, welcoming the impulse of our heart's love,
Glory to you, for raising love above everything on earth or in heaven,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but you can heal men whose conscience has become twisted; you give the soul its former beauty, which long ago it had lost without a hope of change. With you, nothing is hopeless. You are Love.You are the creator and the redeemer of all things. We praise you with this song:Alleluia!
My God, you know the fall of proud Lucifer. Save me through the power of your grace; do not allow me to fall away from you, do not allow me to doubt you. Sharpen my ear, that at every minute of my life I may hear your mysterious voice; and I call upon you, who are everywhere present.
Glory to you for providential circumstances,
Glory to you for helpful forebodings,
Glory to you for the teaching of your secret voice,
Glory to you, for revelations you give us in dreams or awake,
Glory to you for scattering our vain imaginations,
Glory to you, freeing us from the fire of passions through suffering,
Glory to you, who for our salvation, brings down proudness of heart,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
Beyond the icy sequence of the ages, I feel the warmth of your divine Breath, I hear the throbbing of your blood. You are already near: part of time has already gone by. I see your Cross: it is there for my sake. My spirit is but dust before your Cross: here is the triumph of love and redemption, here throughout the ages unceasingly rises the praise: Alleluia!
Blessed is he who will share your mystical supper in your kingdom; but even here on earth you have granted me this blessedness. How many times, with your divine hand, you offered me your Body and your Blood; while I, a great sinner, received these sacred Gifts and felt your ineffable and supernatural love.
Glory to you for the inconceivable and life-giving power of grace,
Glory to you who established your Church as a haven of peace for a tormented world,
Glory to you for giving us new birth in the life-giving waters of baptism,
Glory to you, restoring to those who repent purity white as the unstained lily,
Glory to you, unfathomable abyss of forgiveness,
Glory to you for the cup of life, for the bread of eternal joy,
Glory to you who raise us to heaven,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
More than once have I seen the reflection of your glory in the faces of the dead. What beauty, what heavenly joy shone in them! How light their features, now made spiritual! This was the triumph of happiness and peace found once again; in their silence they were calling on you. At the hour of my death, illumine also my soul which calls to you: Alleluia!
How poor is my praise before you! I have not heard the song of the Cherubim, a joy reserved to the souls on high, but I know the praises nature sings to you. In winter, I see how in the moonlit silence the whole earth offers you prayer, wrapped in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I see the rising sun rejoice in you, and I hear the chorus of birds raise a hymn of glory. I hear the forest mysteriously rustling in your honour, the winds sing of your, the waters murmur and the processions of stars proclaim you as they move in harmony for ever in the depths of infinite space.What is my poor worship? All nature obeys you, I do not; yet while I live, I see your love. I long to thank you, pray to you and call upon your Name.
Glory to you, who has shown us the light,
Glory to you, who loved us with a deep unfathomable and divine love,
Glory to you, who blesses us with the light, with a host of angels and saints,
Glory to you, Father most holy, revealing us your kingdom in your commandments,
Glory to you, Holy Spirit, life-giving Sun of the world to come,
Glory to you for all things, divine and most merciful Trinity,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
Life-giving and most merciful Trinity, receive our thanksgiving for all your kindnesses; make us worthy of your blessings, so that, when we have brought a profit from the talents you have entrusted to us, we may enter into the eternal joy of our Lord, singing the triumphal hymn: Alleluia.
With love in Christ,
SERMON ON Matt 21:33-42
Today we have a feast dedicated to the Archangel Michael, although his main celebration is on the 8th of November along with Archangel Gabriel. This feast commemorates the great miracle that Archangel Michael performed, when he rescued a church building from destruction. It was the pagans, moved by envy, that wanted to destroy the building and its holy spring by turning the course of two rivers against them. Yet, the Archangel appeared and, by means of the Cross and a great earthquake, miraculously diverted the waters into an underground course and thus saved the building. After that the name of the place changed from Colossae to Chonae, which means "funnels" in Greek.
In the Synaxárion we read, “He appeared like a new Noah, for on the Sixth he caused a rock to appear as a shield against an advancing flood.” This recalls the words in the Second Epistle of Peter, ‘God preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly’ (2 Pet. 2, 5). It is worth mentioned that in his first Epistle Peter, the water of baptism is compared with Noah’s ark as well: ‘They did not obey in former times, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building
of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water’ (1 Pet. 3,20). Thus, the holy. Baptism which corresponds to the spiritual function of the water now saves us from any evil and corruption: ‘And this water symbolises the baptism that now saves you also, not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet. 3,21).
Indeed, we do not stand before Heaven with any confidence except through our incorporation into the death and resurrection of Christ by the water of baptism. And still we need to be on our guard about falling away from faith into the power of evil. In the Apóstolos (Epistle reading) for today we are commanded, ‘Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong’. In this we may address the Archangel with confidence, “Rescue us from dangers, for you are the commander of the powers above’.
Furthermore, as we read a verse from the Praises set for Orthros (Matins) today, we unite our voices with the heavenly powers: “Let those of us who are on earth celebrate God like the angels in heaven; he is seated on his throne of glory. Let us sing to him, ‘You are holy, O heavenly Father, co-eternal Word and all-holy Spirit’’. ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ is the solemn refrain that we hear many times in our worship. It recalls the call of the prophet Isaiah and the song of the angels in the Apocalypse. Our solemn Liturgy this morning unites those of who are on earth with the worship of the heavenly hosts. Among them let the Archangel Michael be our intercessor.