Dear Friends,

As I told you in the last newsletter, the archdiocese has had the good sense to provide a short document for each Sunday, containing the epistle and gospel readings of the day, together with a short sermon about the biblical readings. The first of these was sent with the last newsletter, and the one for this Sunday will be sent with this newsletter. As I said last week, I very much hope you will use it in your Sunday morning prayers. If we are all able to do some kind of prayer at the time we usually begin our Liturgy – 10.30 a.m. – then we can have a sense of being spiritually together even when we are physically separated.

In the first of these newsletters I spoke about the way in which our everyday parish life - as it is in more normal times - has been possible for us only because of the sacrificial giving, whether in time or money, of those who, more than thirty years ago, bought and converted our lovely church building. It has been made possible in more recent years also because of a substantial legacy left to us by Anna Heaton, whose anniversary occurs on Monday. (I shall be singing the Panikhida for her that day, so please remember her also in your own prayers.) Anna was in some ways a rather eccentric lady; her habit of moving house regularly (always taking her beloved Aga with her) was legendary in the parish, and for a time she even lived in what is now our parish room (which was then less than half the size that it is now.) She had spent time, when younger, working for one of the Anglican missionary societies in Africa, and on her return found that only Orthodoxy seemed to have something of the joy that she had experienced among Christians in Africa.

 Joy is something that is at the heart of our faith. Indeed, it has been said thatChristianity is essentially an “explosion of joy” brought about by the disciples’ experience of the risen Christ. As we near the end of Lent, and in particular when, in a week’s time, we enter into our commemoration of the last few days of Our Lord’s life, we always have a sense - as we journey through those last few days and the mood darkens as we approach the day of his crucifixion - that we have the joy of his resurrection to look forward to. There are a number of occasions during the Orthodox Christian year when we focus on the cross - not least the third Sunday of Lent and the Veneration of the Cross on14th September- but it is, of course, on Good Friday itself that we focus most clearly onChrist’s suffering. Even then, however, there is a sense that the crucifixion is never to be separated in our minds from the resurrection on the third day. As we sing when we venerate the cross: “We venerate thy cross, O Master, and we glorify thy holy resurrection.”

We may seem to be living through dark days at the moment in a different way. To the best of my knowledge, none of us has yet succumbed to the coronavirus, but it is now sufficiently widespread for most of us to  know someone who has. Some of us may wonder where God is in all this, and certainly what is sometimes known as the “problem of natural evil” is one that has challenged the faith of many over the centuries. When the Fathers of theChurch thought about this issue, the conclusion that they came to was that God does not directly will natural evil but nevertheless permits it because it is only in this particular kind of world that we can be led towards the end for which we were made, which is eternal life as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).The world as we experience it, they often said, is not the world as God originally intended it and ultimately wills it to be, but in some sense it reflects our own disordered and self-centred state (hence the story of the expulsion fromParadise in the Book of Genesis.) Nevertheless, as one modern scholar has putit, following the teachings of St. Irenaeus, our present world, with all its sufferings, should be seen as a “vale of soul making.” Or as another modern scholar has put it - following the teachings of St. Maximos the Confessor - what can seem to be a kind of punishment is actually a “second blessing” from God, since our present state is one that is the best one possible for self-centred humanity to be able to “realise its original goal in Christ.” There is, of course, a mystery in all this that we are unlikely to be able to comprehend in this life except as a matter of faith. Nevertheless, our way of linking the cross and the resurrection of Christ points towards how we can reinforce that faith. The disciples, immediately after the crucifixion, must have been in utter despair. And yet, on the third day, their despair was turned to joy. We, in our own lives, may well have already experienced this kind of transformation in all sorts of small ways, and we must have faith that whatever assails us in these difficult times, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart imagined, what God has in store for those who love Him.”(1 Corinthians 2:9)With love in Christ,

 Fr. Christopher

Sermon Hebrews 9:11-14 

We are now well past the halfway point of Lent, and one week away from the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem. In only a few short days the cries of the crowd will turn from exaltation and jubilation to derision and humiliation. Yet it is within this climate of anticipation that we are asked to revisit a key concept of our Christian lives, that is the concept of repentance. At the start of our preparation for Lent we listened to the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee; now we are presented with the life of the great ascetic St. Mary of Egypt as a model of a real-life conversion experience.

In St. Mary, we «discern true repentance which raises the sinner from the depths of corruption to angelic heights.» Crucially, we are presented with a very real and deeply profound truth: firstly, that the Saint came to realise that the life that she had been living up to that point was a far cry from the life that God had called her to live, and secondly, that she was the only one who could take the decision to turn back to God. Here we can recall the words of the Prodigal Son: "Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." We listened to this in the beginning of our journey into Lent. Now we are called to ask ourselves how much of this has truly been made ours? How far have we come along the path of repentance?

Truly, repentance is difficult for us in our modern lives! We try to make a small effort and are then put off by the slightest mishap. We must remember though that the saints, even when they sinned, had the strength to get up again with simplicity and well-being. If they sinned, they repented from the depths of their heart, even unto death; however, they were not melancholic. By contrast, if we sin we start asking ‘but why? Why did I do it? Why did I think that?’ As if it were the strangest thing for us to sin... And who do we think we are? Are we so special, so infallible that there would never be a chance for us to sin?

Brothers and sisters, the road is long, and more often than not we will struggle and we will fall. Yet we must get back up, try again and not become despondent. We remember that God is always there, with and for us. It is folly to say «God will never give you more than you can handle.» Rather, it is only by the grace of God that we are able to overcome the struggles that we face, ultimately to transform us, just as he transformed St. Mary. After all, God cannot love us any less than he already does, even when we may feel that our own love for Him is lacking.

In the wondrous life of St. Mary we see the passion of lust transfigured into the godly passion of love. Let us renew our own repentance and let this thought guide the rest of our Lenten journey, so that we may offer up a worthy repentance before the dread judgement seat of Christ.



Dear Friends,The archdiocese has had the good sense to provide a short document for each Sunday, containing the epistle and gospel readings of the day, together with a short sermon about the gospel reading. This will be sent to you each week during the period in which we are unable to gather in our parish church, and I very much hope you will use it in your Sunday morning prayers. If we are all able to do some kind of prayer at the time we usually begin our Liturgy – 10.30 a.m. – then we can have a sense of being spiritually together even when we are physically separated.I have managed to speak with most of you on the telephone over the last day or two, and you all seem to be coping well with the conditions in which we find ourselves. We all still seem to be in good health and to have found ways to keep our store cupboards filled. We are fortunate that the telephone, email, and modern social media enable us to keep in touch with our loved ones, and some of you have told me how much you have appreciated this kind of contact with other members of our parish.My own reflections on our situation over the past few days have been focused on Our Lord’s instruction to “take no thought for the morrow” (Matthew 6:34). What can this mean for us, I have wondered, in a situation in which we would have been better prepared for what has happened if we had planned for a major epidemic in the way that many health scientists have been urging for some considerable time. My conclusion has been that we need to make a proper distinction between prudence – especially when it is prudence that is not self-centred, but is focused on our neighbours’ needs – and anxiety of the self-centred kind. It is surely this self-centred anxiety that Jesus is speaking of when he reminds us that no anxiety can add a cubit to our stature. Of course, he says, we do have genuine needs, and these needs are known by our heavenly Father. What is important, he says, is that we should “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added.” Prudence that is not self-centred is, then, something different to the anxiety of which Jesus speaks. This kind of prudence is a way in which we can – as we are commanded - love our neighbours as ourselves, since it involves foreseeing how our neighbour may be harmed in certain circumstances and then acting to avoid that harm.
An example of this need for prudence is something that has been happening for some time,and the consequences of which will very probably make our present coronavirus scare seem almost trivial by comparison. This is the phenomenon of global warming, which is almost certainly at least partially the result of human activity. For some years, we have had a good idea of what this warming will mean for us (or at least for our grandchildren), but as a society we have treated the whole issue as requiring a far less urgent response than the one we have felt forced to take in response to the coronavirus. Perhaps our present experience can help us to change this irresponsible lack of urgency? It is sometimes said that the Old Testament prophets should not be seen primarily as people who “foretold” events that would happen inthe future, but rather as people who “forth-told” – that is, they expressed what was wrong in the present and warned of where present tendencies were leading. Can the coronavirus helpus to be prophetic in this latter sense, so that, in the face of global warming we can behave responsibly as stewards of God’s creation, avoiding both denial of what is happening and the attitude that, even without our active stewardship, “something is bound to turn up”?In the last newsletter, I quoted a poem from Fr. Patrick Radley, and some of you expressed appreciation for his poem. At the same time as Fr. Patrick was our parish priest, we also had another poet in the parish, Andrew Cowling, whom I visited many times in Spalding after he became, in old age, unable to join us for the Liturgy in Walsingham. Andrew was one of those who could see beyond all doom-mongering of the purely negative kind, and point towards the hope that is at the heart of our faith. An example of this is the following poem,which he wrote for a couple whose newborn child had caused an acquaintance to complain about over-population. It is, I think, very pertinent to all that I have said, since it points towards the reality of what it is to be human in a world that is ultimately God’s world, andyet remains a world for which we must care, co-operating with God’s grace for the good of all. Andrew writes it as a reflection by the two parents on their newborn child, and it is addressed to that child.

Dear child, you recapitulate 

In this your newly infant state

All ages past: star dust whirling

Into worlds; a young sun shining

Water into life’s spiral chain,

Single cell to complex brain:

Adam’s new self-consciousness,

Messiah’s loyal faithfulness,

Athens, Rome, Jerusalem,

The mysteries of Byzantium,

The probing spirit’s teeming mind,

All the long history of mankind:

All this – our past and present too 

Is concentrated now in you.

Child, what do you anticipate

In your potential infant state?

What earthly beauty shall we see

Coiled in your crinkled symmetry?

What intricacy shall we find

Hidden in your nascent mind?
Will your strong heart incline to good,

Embrace the poor and gaze on God?

Will your bright eyes be blinded by

The darkness of iniquity,

Or see in every crucifixion

Hidden seeds of resurrection?

Will your small hands grow to caress

Lover and earth with gentleness?

What endless possibility

Lies dormant in your infancy?

Dear child, what is it you indicate

By your ambiguous infant state?

That you are one, unique, alone,

Whom we may cherish, never own:

Love, but in the end let be,

Respecting your integrity.

Yet you are ours, yes, ours alone,

Blood of our blood, bone of our bone,

Our fact of faith, our hope to prove,

Our own dear sacrament of love.

With love in Christ,

Fr. Christopher

Sermon on Mark 9 17-31

St John of the Ladder, whose memory the Church honours today, tells us that ‘faith is the wing of prayer’, without which prayer falls back to earth and cannot fly out beyond us to God. And today’s Gospel extract is read at this time of Lent because of its reference to the need for prayer and fasting as a means of allowing the power of God to heal us. We are therefore challenged to ask ourselves where we stand in the matter of faith as the basis of prayer and fasting. Is our faith much stronger than that of the poor father of the sick boy who struggled between belief and unbelief? Do we pray with half our mind or with our whole heart? Do we believe with half of our heart and doubt with most of our mind? We see how the faith even of the apostles of Christ sometimes fell short, and Christ’s exclamation ‘O faithless generation!’ can apply to us all. True faith is not a vague theoretical belief inferior to scientific proof, but a much more certain, spiritual knowledge which is deeper and higher than any reasoning, since rational understanding is limited to things perceptible to the senses or conceivable to the mind, whereas God is beyond all human understanding. Scientific knowledge, confined to the sphere of thinking, will always examine whether something is materially possible, and so it contains doubt. But real faith in God, rooted in the humbled spiritual heart, is enabled by the grace of the Holy Spirit to soar above earthly limitations and search into hidden mysteries beyond; through strong faith, God comes to meet us and we understand things beyond understanding because we come to know that God, who created us and the universe from nothing, understands us more than we could ever understand ourselves. Thus, through simple faith and prayer, we are enabled to go beyond ourselves in the complete surrender of trusting, fervent love of God, and to open ourselves to spiritual enlightenment which is not of this world. Modern secular society on the other hand, with its mind scattered and distracted in ever-increasing masses of worldly ‘data’ and ‘information’, departs from God and, from trying to create its own ‘truths’ begins to doubt the nature of truth itself, and in its fear of the unpredictable, enslaves itself to the impersonal mechanical ‘solutions’ of technology; but these do not heal the underlying misery and despair which come from sin and the fear of death. Good and simple Christian faith sets us free by the assurance that the way, the truth and the life are Christ God Himself, against whom no destructive power can prevail. Our power of reasoning comes from God, but when we use it with pride and unbelief, it is corrupted and becomes demonic; as St Paisios of the Holy Mountain said, ‘logic full of egoism is logic that harbours demons’. And so the predicament of the demonised child and the unbelieving father in today’s Gospel speaks to our age, where secular rationalism seeks to replace belief in God, rejects divine Providence and denies the possibility of miracles. Faith, on the other hand, does not reject science or rational knowledge; rather it completes what is lacking, and through prayer and fasting, it transforms it into spiritual knowledge. Strong faith does not come simply by an effort of the human mind, but is ultimately the gift and visitation of God Himself, and so we need to pray for increase of faith; when we thus humble ourselves, God can come, sanctifying what is merely human, purifying and healing what is corrupted by the demons of pride, greed and selfishness, and raising it out of its own limitations into the life of God Himself, with whom everything is indeed possible for those who believe.

Fr Mark Mitchell



OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.1 (22nd March 2020)

Dear Friends,

During this difficult period - in which, because of the coronavirus, we are unable to come together for worship or for anything else - it seems appropriate to send out a kind of weekly newsletter, which will allow us to keep in touch with one another and to reflect on the faith that we share. This newsletter idea was something that I was already thinking about when Jeremy recently contacted me to suggest something of the sort, and I was very amused by his version of what the first one might look like. (Those of you who know Jeremy well can perhaps imagine that his version was not the same as this one, being both extremely funny and unprintable.)

I have also recently heard from Richard, who says in his email to me that it is “a really strange feeling not being able to go anywhere, although the garden is getting a good workout.” He also mentions in his message a group that has just started up via Whatsapp. Within minutes of joining the group, he tells me, he “had 8 different offers of help from various people in the village.” (If, as they sometimes say, there is a silver lining to every cloud, then maybe, in the case of our present situation, these offers of help indicate what that silver lining may be: a new kind of solidarity and willingness to support others.) Richard is working, he goes on, not only on his garden but also on a musical project for our church that he began some time ago, providing choir music for some of the changeable parts of the service. He has already finished the Menaion - a project he started just before he handed the choir over to Cathie some years ago - and is now hard at work on the Octeochos. (For those of you who don’t know what those terms mean, don’t worry – there are lots of technical terms that only the clergy and those leading choirs need to understand. The important thing is that this understanding is what enables our wonderful tradition of worship to be put into practice for the benefit of all.)If any of you have news of the kind that Richard has sent me, and which you’d like to share with others via this newsletter, simply contact me via email (fatherxopher@gmail.com).We’ve always been the sort of parish in which news of one another’s lives has been of general interest, and my reporting of what you tell me will be one way of allowing the building up our common life to continue during a period in which our normal lives have been disrupted.

My own thoughts this week have been on a different aspect of our normal lives being disrupted. This is the way in which, in “normal” times, we often fail to appreciate things fully because we simply take them for granted. When we pray, we are aware that there are things to confess and situations that require intercession with God, but the aspect of prayer that focuses on thanksgiving to Him is often forgotten by us, or at least put on the back burner.And yet one of the terms we use of our Liturgy – the word Eucharist – is simply an Anglicized version of the Greek term for thanksgiving, and the central prayer of that service is quite explicitly a thanksgiving to God the Father, not only for what we have all received through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also (as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom puts it) for all the blessings we have received, whether “known or unknown,manifest or hidden.”In practice, many of the blessings we have received are indeed hidden from us. Much that was important for our development in childhood, for example, is hidden from us because it happened in the first couple of years of our lives - a time of which we have no memories.  

Moreover, much that has worked for good in our later lives may seem to us simply to have“happened,” so that, even though it is part of our memory, we fail to see the hand of God init. (The psychologist, C. G. Jung, used to speak of “meaningful coincidence” or“synchronicity” as part of our experience of life, but all too often, when things “just happen”in the way we need them to happen, we simply shrug our shoulders and fail to see their true origin.) There are, in addition, other things to give thanks for but which we tend to take for granted– everyday things like the beauty of  the natural world, which is always with us. In times like these, however, some of these everyday things become more obvious to us precisely because they have been withdrawn from us for a while. One of these things is our life as a parish and our ability – in normal times - to meet for worship, Sunday by Sunday. This everyday parish life has been possible for us, however, only because of something we should certainly give thanks for: the sacrificial giving – whether in time or money – of those who, more than 30 years ago, bought and converted our lovely church building. This parish life has been possible also, we should remember, because of the work and effort of people who - whether as clergy, readers, churchwardens, trustees, treasurers, or choir leaders - have “kept the showrunning” over the years. One of these people was Fr. Patrick Radley, who died almost 12 years ago, and whose anniversary occurs this coming Saturday (28th of this month.) Cathie and I will be singing a Panikhida at his grave in St. Peter’s churchyard at 10 a.m. on that day and – since this is outdoors – any of you who remember him and wish to join us there can doso without danger of infection. Fr. Patrick, as well as being a much-loved parish priest, was a poet, and it is with one of his poems of thanksgiving – The World is a Wedding - that I now finish this newsletter: 

There are mornings When, from the hill, 

We look down on mists, white and still, 

Where, below, are 

People and sheep 

Hidden, perhaps 

Even asleep.

But we, as if

On a new earth, 

A world breathless

At its re-birth,

Are surrounded 

By a brightness 

Of the first day In its freshness.

All now is at The beginning,

Still wet with dew,


Untouched the stones,

The bracken and 

The streams untouched.

The new-born land

Waits quietly 

To be licked dry

By the sunlight’s Intensity.In us is drawn

Up such gladness 

Within our hearts,

Such joyfulness

 Of thanks for the

 Eternal dance

And our holy Inheritance,

That our love is 

Thus made one in 

The marriage of Earth and heaven.

Man and woman,With renewed eyes

We enter here

Our paradise.

With love in Christ,

Father Christopher

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