OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No.13 (14th June 2020)

Dear Friends,

When I was much younger, I had a series of summer holidays in Greece, on each of which I tried to get to at least one of the major Greek sites with Byzantine mosaics. Sometimes the sites were difficult to get to, and once you were there it was not always easy to get in. The most difficult of all, in both respects, was a monastery on the island of Chios, where (in typical Greek fashion) they had decided to shut the monastery for several hours each day, the period of closure beginning fifteen minutes before the earliest bus from the nearest town was due to arrive. After a long and bumpy journey on that bus I arrived, in the hope that I could get in somehow. I did so by turning my watch back and claiming that their clocks must be wrong!

Some of the best Byzantine mosaics are, however, not in Greece at all. They are on the island of Sicily, now part of Italy, where the Normans – not the same ones as invaded England in 1066 but some distant cousins of theirs – managed to take over the island and encouraged an extraordinary civilisation which managed to combine Western European, Byzantine, and Moslem influences in a fascinating way. Although they were Western Christians, they employed craftsmen from the Byzantine world, with the result that some of the best Byzantine mosaics to be found anywhere are to be found there. The one shown at the top of this letter depicts the heavenly bodies being created, and is one of a series depicting the days of creation as described in Genesis. (I am trying to persuade the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press to use this particular mosaic for the cover of my new book, which is coming out later this year, and is called Science and the Orthodox Christian: A Guide for the Perplexed.)

What may strike us about these mosaics is that Christ is depicted as the creator, and we may feel that this is odd because we tend to think of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as being – respectively - creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. Did the Byzantine craftsmen get it wrong, then, by depicting the involvement of Christ in the act of creation, or were they perhaps depicting the Father in terms of the image of Christ because Christ is the image of the Father?

The answer, I think, is more complex than either of those ideas suggest, and it has to do with the way in which all God’s action is Trinitarian action. St.Irenaeus – one of my favourite early Christian writers – once described the Son and the Holy Spirit as “the two hands of the Father,” and we can see this “two hands” notion in the biblical passages that speak of the creation. In Genesis we read, not just of the Father, but of how “the Spirit of God moved [or hovered] over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). In a much less well-known passage (Proverbs 8:22-31) we read of how God created the cosmos with Wisdom at his side. In the King James version, this passage (in which Wisdom speaks) is as follows:

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.  Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:  While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.  When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:  When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:  When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:  Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;  Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.

While this notion of “Wisdom” is sometimes identified with the Holy Spirit, it is also sometimes identified with Christ himself, who is often described as “the Wisdom, the Word, and the Power of God.” Indeed, the beginning of the fourth gospel speaks of the Word of God - “through which everything was created” -as precisely that which was “made flesh” in Christ (John 1:1-14). Many scholars have, in fact, seen this notion of God’s Word as a bringing together the idea of Wisdom found in Proverbs and a Greek philosophical notion, in which Word means logical principle. (The Greek term is, in fact, Logos, from which we get the English word logic.) Thus, long before the great work of some of the Fathers of the church, in which the doctrine of the Trinity was worked out in precise philosophical language, the scriptures already pointed towards an understanding of the act of creation that involved not just the Father, but the Son and the Holy Spirit too. In our Orthodox tradition, the feast of Pentecost – which we celebrated last week – is often called Trinity Sunday, because it was the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that led to the recognition that God should be seen as theTrinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, Western Christians keep theSunday after Pentecost, a week later, as Trinity Sunday, while we - having already had our Trinity Sunday - keep it as All Saints day. (The Western All Saints Day is 1st November.) These differences of date are, however, simply differences of custom. Both sides proclaim God as the Holy Trinity; both sides give thanks that it is through that Trinity that we are created, redeemed, and sanctified; and both sides proclaim the communion of saints.

With love in Christ,

Fr. Christopher

SERMON ON Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38,  19:27-30

Today’s Gospel may sound very radical for modern man, even utopic. It may give an impression that Christ demands something very sombre and drastic: “He who loves father or mother, son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Or “he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me”. Can God, who is love (1 Jn. 4:8), really be teaching not-love? This is unlikely, because all the commandments of Christ are not designed to destroy, but to build, they do not teach hatred, they teach true love: “He did not come as a thief to steal and to kill and to destroy. He has come so that we might have life and have it more abundantly” (cf. Jn. 10:10). How then are we invited today to “leave houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake” (Mt 19:30).

St Sophrony the Athonite writes: “Christ belongs to the level that is much higher than our love for our father and mother according to the flesh. We do not reject our father and mothers: it would have been against the commandment ‘honour thy father and mother’. But we ascend to a different height from which these commandments come”. Indeed, if we remain on the level of just human love and attachments in our fallen state it will always will be tainted, to small or large degree, with egoism and selfishness, unless we reach the level of Divine love — love “that does not seek her own” (1 Cor. 13:5). Without this selfless divine love, revealed to us by Christ alone through His commandments, families and family relations will remain fragile and likely to break apart. As St John Chrysostom writes: “Such (selfish) love will destroy both the

one who loves and the one who is loved”. It is this mentality that we are invited to leave behind for the sake of a new beginning, regenerated, transformed by Christ’s message.

God the Trinity is the ultimate example and prototype of the human family, and of all human relationships of love. Neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit has any shadow of egoism. They live entirely for the Others, never for Themselves. It is this Divine image that all our fatherly, motherly, filial and other family loving relations are designed to reflect. And without Christ and His commandments we will never know what it means to be truly a father, or a mother, or a son or daughter as God has designed them to be — as the image and likeness of God. Christ Himself pointed this out once in front of His Mother, saying: “Who is My mother, or My brothers? Whoever does the will of God, the same is My brother and My sister and My mother” (Mk. 3:33-35). And indeed, the Mother of God BECAME His Mother by doing the will of God, and taking up Her Cross of selfless love. It is remarkable that the Mother of God seems to

almost disappear from the scene of Christ’s ministry, overcoming Her own concerns and interests. She perfectly fulfilled all the commandments of Christ. As well as Her Son She “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give Her life” (cf. Mk.10:45). Following Her example let us all take our Cross of true love and follow Christ in our daily relationship with all the people around us growing in Christ-like selflessness, humility and service to them.


Dear Friends,

We used to talk about “Whit Monday” to signify the bank holiday that occurred on the day after “Whit Sunday” or “Whitsun” – the feast now more commonly called Pentecost. Some think the term “Whit” came from the wearing of white vestments by the Western clergy on that Sunday (although today those churches use red), or else from the Western custom of women attending church on that day wearing white (which itself was perhaps related to the earlier use of white garments for baptism, this being one of the traditional times for baptism.) Others, however, think the term relates not to a colour but to“wit” – not in the sense of humorous speech but in the older sense of wisdom.This is certainly appropriate for this feast, on which we celebrate the event described in the Troparion for today in terms of the way in which fishermen (the disciples and apostles) were made “wise” through the descent of the Holy Spirit,

The traditional Orthodox icon of this event, shown above, is an interesting one, which indicates something of the way in which icons communicate a number of truths to us in a subtle way that may not at first be obvious. It is not simply a picture of an “event,” although it clearly relates to the historical event recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-4), and picks up certain elements of that story - the “tongues of fire” for instance, represented by the rays descending upon the gathered apostles (which, in some versions of the icon, have these tongues of fire attached to them.) It conveys to us also an eternal reality.

One example of this pointing beyond a historical event is the way in which the apostles, in their semicircle, include St. Paul, who was not yet an apostle when the Holy Spirit was first given. Another is that the evangelists – Matthew Mark,Luke, and John – are shown holding the books that they had not yet written.(The others hold scrolls indicating their teaching authority.) Luke and Mark were, like Paul, not actually present on the day that we commemorate, but like him they are - through their inspiration by the Holy Spirit - central to the church’s witness. As so often is the case with icons, it is an eternal reality, not just an event, that is being communicated. What is indicated symbolically in this particular icon is the way in which it is the church – not just on one particular day but in all the period since that day - that receives the Holy Spirit.At the focal point of the semicircle of apostles – between St. Peter and St. Paul– is another symbol: an empty place, signifying the invisible presence in the church of Christ, its head. (In some old icons this is indicated by having, in that spot, an altar, the throne of his glory. In others, the Mother of God is shown in this place, not only because she was among those present historically, but as a symbol of her role as one who resembles Christ himself in devotion to the will of God, and thus as one whose life is a pattern for all Christians to follow.)

People often ask who the apparently royal figure at the bottom is. This is a symbol of the whole cosmos, crowned with earthly (rather than heavenly) glory, and shown against a black background to indicate a world enveloped by sin – in“darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). This figure is present to indicate that, through the descent of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were enabled to bring light to all the peoples of the world. The figure holds a towel on which sit twelve scrolls, which indicate the teaching of the twelve apostles. Through this preaching, the whole universe will be brought into the “new creation.”

If we were able to meet for the Liturgy on this day, we would bring (or be handed) a small bunch of flowers to hold. In some Orthodox churches, not only are flowers used but the floor is strewn with grass and the building is decorated with branches of trees; in Ukraine this leads to the feast being known as “GreenSunday”. Green symbolises new life, of course, and this is precisely what this feast is all about. (Sometimes there is an emphasis on the flowers used being wild ones, and this reflects the ancient Irish use of the wild goose as a symbol of the Holy Spirit – wild because the Spirit is like the wind that “blows where it wills” (John3:8) and is not to be tamed by our inadequate expectations.

Another popular tradition existing in both West and East is that of decorating the church with roses at Pentecost. This use of roses led to a popular designation of Pentecost as Festa Rosalia "Rose Feast" in the West, and as rousália in Greek. This led to Rusalii becoming the Romanian term for the feast. (In modern times, however, the term in Greek refers to the eve of Pentecost, not Pentecost itself; or, in the case of one part of Greece, to the Monday and Tuesday after Pascha.)However, customs – colourful and even occasionally important as they maybe – are not what Pentecost is really about. St. John Chrysostom was aware of this when he warned his flock not to allow the custom of using flowers for adornment of the church building to replace spiritually adorning themselves with virtue, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit, St. Paul tells us, are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). It is only when we have all these adornments as constant aspects of our lives that we can even begin to dare to believe that we have truly achieved what St. Seraphim of Sarov called “the true aim of our Christian life … the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.”

With love in Christ, 

Father Christopher

SERMON ON JOHN 7: 37-52 - 8:12

Today, we celebrate the descending of the Holy Spirit on us and dwelling with us. The Holy Church was established through this event, when, on the day of Pentecost fifty days after the Resurrection of the Lord, the Spirit came upon the Apostles on Mount Sion with ‘a sound like the rush of a violent wind.’ In this way, was the Church, the body of Christ, brought into being, and the Church began to live its life in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit began to live within the Church. And through the apostolic succession the Holy Spirit continues to live in the Church until this day. Hopefully, today, you are reading this sermon in the church, where you regularly worship. At the time this text is being prepared, churches have had to close their doors, as so many people are dying daily of the current pandemic. It may be consoling to think, during such difficult times, that the Holy Spirit, truly, is ‘everywhere present’, and that He is ‘the Heavenly King’ and ‘the Comforter’, who can find us wherever we might be. After all, we ask Him to ‘come and dwell in us.’

We, of course, live the action of the Holy Spirit within the Church, within the body of Christ, and we do not look for it elsewhere, for there are also false spirits, which try to trick us on to deceptive paths. Instead, bearing within us the gifts given to us in and by the Church, e.g. in baptism, Holy Communion, and confession, we can with these gifts survive through such difficult times, in so far as we remain faithful in our hearts to Christ and to His Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit lives in our Church, in the sacraments, in the Scriptures, in the souls of the faithful. The holiness of the Church and of the saints springs from the Holy Spirit. Priesthood is established by the Holy Spirit. Our souls are nourished by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and when we feel far from it, in times of spiritual struggle, we may say with groaning, as did St Silouan the Athonite: ‘My soul yearns after You, O Lord, and I seek You in tears. Look upon my affliction, and lighten my darkness, that my soul may rejoice again.’ 

The question we need to ask ourselves is, whether or not we make it possible for the Holy Spirit to continue dwelling in us and in our Church. As Orthodox Christians, we need both the correct faith but also a life corresponding to this faith to enable the active presence of the Holy Spirit in our communities and our personal lives. That our Church is called ‘Holy’ demands from us, too, an attitude of continuous repentance and the desire to become more and more similar to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

It is very serious, for example, that whilst thousands of people have died owing to the present pandemic, the figure of those who were not allowed even to be born into this world is far higher. Other reprehensible activity that our world is full of, such as, gambling, sorcery, occult, indecent media on the internet, drugs, adultery, immoral relationships, etc., all this is  extremely serious from a spiritual and moral point of view for the whole of humanity, and for the Church. 

Those living a conscientious Christian life, who have not been involved with any of the above-mentioned evils, should nonetheless not think that they are perfectly all right. We all have sinned and we all fall short of the holiness of Christ and His Holy Spirit. St Silouan teaches that we can lose the love of Christ through ‘pride and conceit, hostility, fault-finding and envy,’ but also ‘because of an incontinent thought or attachment to earthly things.’

Let us all, therefore, join our hearts and minds to these words of the Kneeling Prayers of Pentecost which are said in the Vespers this afternoon and, putting our full trust in our meek and humble Lord, say: ‘Lord, Measure our wickedness according to the measure of Your bounties. Set over against the multitude of our transgressions Your boundless compassion. Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, Lord, and bless Your people, who await Your rich mercy.’ 



Dear Friends,

I’ve never taken part in a pub quiz, not because I dislike pubs (I’m actually rather fond of the old-fashioned country kind) but because my knowledge of contemporary culture is almost non-existent, and my team would suffer as a result. I feel that if I did take part, I’d be regarded a bit like the judge who, after hearing a witness refer to the Beatles (this was when Beatle mania was at its height) is reported to have looked puzzled and to have asked “And who, pray, are the Beatles?”

In more abstruse quizzes, however, I sometimes do quite well. When asked the kind of question that stumps a lot of people – such as “Which is the only country in the world ever to have legally banned the celebration of Christmas” – I can often give the correct answer straight away.

The answer to that particular question is, oddly enough, England. The Puritan parliament of 1647 – with its Calvinist suspicion of anything not explicitly to be found in scripture - not only banned Christmas, but declared 25th December to be a day of fasting, and inspectors were appointed to go round checking that no-one was cooking a special Christmas dinner. Not until the restoration of CharlesII in 1660 was the ban removed, though in Scotland after 1688, when the Calvinists there once again got the upper hand, Christmas - while not actually banned - was effectively ignored by the bulk of the population. (This continued until almost within living memory. Christmas was regarded there as an ordinary working day, and those minority churches that celebrated Christmas put on services before dawn so that those of their people who would have to go to work later would be able to join one another for worship before doing so.)

It was, in fact, part of the genius of the ancient, undivided church to have an annual calendar that included feasts and fasts that were not explicitly to be found in scripture. That church had, in fact, a good sense of the realities of human psychology, and recognised the way in which an annual calendar of feasts and fasts fits in with the way in which human psychology – with its evolutionary roots in the seasons of the year – actually works. Of course, some of what the church Fathers decided was appropriate had roots in the OldTestament. The old weekly keeping of the Sabbath - on Saturday, though Scottish “sabbatarians” who call Sunday the sabbath don’t seem to realise this - was replaced by the Sunday keeping of the Lord’s day, the day of resurrection.The Fathers also naturally associated Christ’s death and resurrection with the old annual Passover feast, which had been understood largely in terms of the exodus from Egypt into the promised land, though it was originally a Spring agricultural festival. The resulting date for the Christian paschal feast was therefore tied to the old way of calculating the date of Passover. (This was linked to the first full moon after the Spring equinox, and this linkage remains for our calculation of the date of Pascha. This is why the date varies, though theWestern Christian calculation – based on better astronomical calculations – in fact reflects the intentions of the Fathers better than our own calculation does.)

The important thing, though, is that what has been called the calendar’s“sanctification of time” is an important aid to our spiritual life. This is especially the case at this time of year, since the period from the beginning ofHoly Week up to the feast of Pentecost (in a week’s time) actually allows us to live through the period from Christ’s entry to Jerusalem to the coming of theHoly Spirit in a way that reflects what Jesus’ disciples actually experienced from day to day over that period. Today - the Sunday after the Feast of theAscension - we are, at one level, living through exactly what they lived through after the ascension: waiting for the gift that was promised and rememberingChrist’s assurance that “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you” (John 16:7). At another level of our being, however, we are not “waiting” for that gift but are rejoicing in it as a permanent feature of our lives. That is the beauty of the sanctification of time that our calendar reflects. We live at two levels at once: in time and in eternity.In our eucharistic prayer we “remember” both the past (the life, death and resurrection of Christ) and the future (the fulfilment of all God’s purposes through his coming again.) In a similar way, by living through the sequence of all that God has done by following our calendar, the whole of what is commemorated on the different days and seasons of that calendar is made present to us simultaneously.

With love in Christ, 

Father Christopher

SERMON ON "When he had spoken thus, he knelt down and prayed with them all" (Acts 20:36)

Saint Paul spoke to the leaders of the church in Ephesus about the problems that would arise from false teaching coming both from outside the church and from within to lead people away from the truth revealed in Christ. When he had finished he prayed with those leaders. Praying together was as important as speaking to them. Prayer, opening ourselves to God, should provide the context and framework for all that we do.

The First Ecumenical Council, which we commemorate today, had a model in the meeting of Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas with the Apostles and leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15. This meeting was to resolve a dispute about practical matters, but was rooted in prayer. The conclusion uses the phrase: «it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us». From this we see that the meeting was conducted in prayer in order to find the will of God, rather than being conducted simply to find a majority or a consensus on a purely human basis.

Commenting on Acts 20:36, Saint John Chrysostom describes Saint Paul’s prayer in this context as being «with much feeling» (Homily 45 on the Acts of the Apostles). Our prayer should show the same feeling. We should pray with others and for others, rather than for ourselves. Through our prayer we show our love for one another and enable them to know God’s love for them. Praying for our leaders and with our leaders is an essential part of this to enable them to lead us in the way of God. 

Our prayer should leave room for us to listen to God, rather than just talking at him. We need to find God’s will for us, to enable us to follow in the way of truth and to hear "the word of his grace" so that we may receive "the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). The philosopher Kierkegaard reminds us that "the function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays", (Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, 1847). We pray that we may conform ourselves to God and be open to his guidance.

Saint Paul tells us to "pray without ceasing" (I Thes. 5:17). How we follow that instruction will vary, but we should all be moving along the path of making our whole life based in prayer. An anonymous author, writing of Saint Gregory Palamas, states: "Let no one think, my brother Christians, that it is the duty only of priests and monks to pray without ceasing, and not of laymen. No, no; it is the duty of all of us Christians to remain always in prayer". Making prayer the basis of our lives requires work and practice. If we persevere in it then we have a living experience of the presence of God with us and be able to resist those who seek to separate us from the truth. "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). Praying daily and continually with and for our leaders, as Saint Paul prayed with the leaders of the church in Ephesus, will help us to grow in faith, and enable us to receive the true teaching about God as proclaimed in Scripture and clarified in the works of the Fathers of the Church and in the decisions of the First and later Ecumenical Council.



Dear Friends,

Since we shall commemorate the Ascension of Christ this coming Thursday, I have put an icon of that event at the top of this newsletter. The passage in which the event is described – in the Acts of the Apostles (1:6-11) –is of course one with which we are all familiar.

I first became particularly aware of Ascension Day as a seven year old schoolboy, when I moved to the second of the four primary schools that I attended. (No, I wasn’t expelled from three of them, but my father’s job meant that we had to move quite frequently.) This second school was a Church of England one, and on Ascension Day we had to arrive at school at the usual time but then were taken, not to lessons, but straight to the local parish church for a service in honour of the day. We then got the rest of the day off, which of course made Ascension Day a rather special one in the year. Quite how I understood the ascension at the age of seven I can’t really remember. I had certainly outgrown the notion that I’d had at the age of four: that God lived in Devon, where we could have a holiday so as to visit him. (After all, my bedtime prayers always included “Our Father, who art in …) I had probably not yet, however, outgrown the notion of heaven being – as the children’s hymn of that period put it - “above the bright blue sky,” so I imagine that I took the account in the Acts of the Apostles as a straightforward eye-witness account.

However, by the time I was nine or so, I had begun to think of heaven as I still do, not as a place but as a state of being that has nothing to do with the way in which our material universe is set up. By that age I had already begun to take a great interest in astronomy and the possibility of space exploration, so that I can still remember vividly being that age and hearing on the television news about Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. I didn’t, however, think of my faith as conflicting with my knowledge of the solar system, so that although I don’t remember hearing at that time anything about Gagarin’s reported saying that he hadn’t seen God up there, even if I had it wouldn’t have worried me.

It was only quite a lot later that I started to ponder the story of the ascension in the Acts of the Apostles, and wondered why - if heaven wasn’t a place “up there” – the narrative spoke of the disciples “looking intently into the sky as he was going” (Acts 1:10). Surely, I thought, this couldn’t be based on an eyewitness account when the “place” of heaven was so evidently a culturally-influenced mistake. (Certainly, those of Jesus’ time thought of heaven as “up there” but we couldn’t think like that now, could we?) I was tempted to go along with those modernist biblical commentators who saw this passage, not as being based on eyewitness testimony, but as a kind of theological commentary. 

Much later still, however, I changed my mind about this. The reason was thatI came to see more deeply into how God communicates truth to us, and how he uses our imagination and expectations to reveal this truth. I knew that the idea of ascension was actually an important one in Jewish thinking at the time ofJesus, and began to realise that the ceasing of Christ being with the disciples in the way that he had since the day of resurrection – a cessation which was necessary for the coming of the Holy Spirit very shortly afterwards - could only be conveyed to those disciples by a visionary experience of him “ascending”into heaven. For that reason, I now believe that they truly did experience – in a visionary rather than a literal way - what is reported in the Acts of the Apostles.

It is sometimes said that we can think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in terms of God being “for us”, “with us” and “in us.” Like all short formulae it can be used badly, but nevertheless it does point to something important, which is reflected in Jesus saying, according to the fourth gospel, that “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you” (John 16:7). Only once God had ceased to be“with us” in the way that he had been - in Jesus’ life before the crucifixion and for a short period after his resurrection - could God be truly “in us” through theHoly Spirit. And as St. Seraphim of Sarov once said, “the true aim of ourChristian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.” This means that the ascension is to be seen as the essential bridge between the stages of history in which we experience “God with us” and “God in us.” Without it, the true aim of the Christian life would not have been possible.

With love in Christ, 

Father Christopher


Man was created by the Word of God in His image and likeness, to share in the life of God. He was initially given dominion over all plants and animals of the earth, “everything that has the breath of life,” (Gen. 1:30) and the paradise, in which God walked and talked with Adam. This plan was thwarted by the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and the image and likeness to God in them was marred by sin. 

The Word of God being conceived and born of the Theotokos, becoming a real man in our historical time; the Son of Man Who shows the image and likeness of God in Himself. And it is this reality which the three gospel readings of the last two Sundays, and today’s Gospel reading, put before us. Note that it is before His Passion and Resurrection, that the Lord heals the Paralytic and speaks to the Samaritan woman. The first had been sick 38 years but had “no man to help him.’ After he was cured and met Jesus again, the Lord admonished him “do not sin again, lest something worse happen to you.” And to the Jews who objected about His healing on the Sabbath He answered: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

When the Samaritan woman affirmed “that the Messiah is coming who will teach us all things,” Jesus simply replied “I Who speak to you, am He.” 

And today, this poor man who was blind from birth, was healed by the hands of the Lord forming clay from the dust of the earth and His spittle. This repeated the action of creation of Adam (Gen. 2:7) It was the obedience of the blind man, manifesting his faith in this Man he could not see - Who ordered him to the pool of Siloam to wash his eyes - which gave him his sight. 

Most of us possess all the normal physical faculties, as did most of the Jews in Jesus’ day. The Gospel is read to us in church; our Christian way of life and thinking is explained further in the Letters of St Paul and other Apostles, also read in church, along with prophecies and lessons from the Old Testament. If we deliberately come late to the Liturgy, and always miss the readings and sermon, what do we know of Christ? Are we obedient to the Church He founded to bring us to life? Do we know more of the Christ than the Jews who interrogated the Blind

Man and his parents after he was given sight by Jesus? 

Which of us would not try to appease and evade the real malice of those in authority who had fixed Christ and His followers as the target to be punished, to be shunned by all, like publicans or lepers? The parents answer truthfully, but prudently avoid embroilment in the trouble that threatens. We have every indication, from cumulative signals small and great, that being a Christian today in many parts of the world invites persecution, even to death. So we keep a low profile to avoid trouble. But when it comes, what defence can we give of our faith,

or reason for our hope in Christ? 

This man, who knows nothing at all having been blind from birth, sticks firmly to the truth of his story, and resists attempts to make him abjure His Saviour from blindness. He sees the Truth clearly and confesses it. Let us no longer neglect the Christian practice of regular daily prayer, study, and attending church services, so that we too, seeing the Light of the World like the man born blind, may fall down before Him, in grateful worship rather than fearful despair, when we meet the Him at the end of our life.



Dear Friends,

Since the archdiocese has been kind enough to give us a document each week that contains not only the Sunday readings but also a short sermon related to them, I have felt free in these newsletters to avoid a sermon of this kind and instead to share with you some of my musings over the week since the last newsletter. This week, like many of us in this lockdown period, I have been doing quite a lot of gardening, and my musings have had a gardening theme.

One of the things that has struck me over the past few days is just how fast weeds can grow, and seem suddenly to appear only a very short time after we think we have carefully weeded the area in which they’re now to be found.Perhaps I’m too inclined to think in theological terms, but I’m struck by how this reflects the way in which we find old, habitual sins reappearing when we think we have got rid of them. Some have wondered whether the Church puts too much emphasis on formal, sacramental confession, and it’s true that theRussian tradition – perhaps under those Western influences that affected it a few centuries ago – tends to put more emphasis on it than do other parts of ourOrthodox Church. Nevertheless, it always strikes me that the practice of regular confession has the same effect as regular hoe-ing or hand-weeding has in the garden: it stops the new growth of unwanted things becoming too rampant, and allows the plants we want – the Christian virtues in this analogy – to grow unimpeded.

This is one of the reasons that - even if we don’t use sacramental confession as regularly as we perhaps ought to – informal confession, as part of our regular private prayer, is certainly something that is necessary. No matter how short the time we feel able to put aside for private prayer each day, we need to reflect regularly on how we have recently fallen short and offer these shortcomings toGod for healing. Once that is done, the adoration, thanksgiving and intercession that should form the other parts of our prayer can go forward, free of the weeds that can impede them. If we confess and repent, then Christ says to us, as he says to the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel: “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Another of the thoughts that has arisen from my gardening relates to the eternal life for which we hope. Like most gardeners, I look forward to each part of the year because it has its special joys. The daffodils of early April give way to the flowering cherries later that month, which in turn give way to the lilac that is such a delight in early May. That lilac is itself now fading, but the wild guelder rose – which I like even more than the “snowball” kind, of which I have one or two – is just coming into flower in my hedges as I write, and the old-fashioned roses that give me so much pleasure are in bud and will be in their full glory in only a few weeks’ time. Just occasionally, however, I do wish that I could have all these delights at once. However, if I could have everything at once then much of the joy would be lost, since anticipation is an important part of our existence in a world of time. What about the “world to come” though?

We tend to think of eternal life as time going on forever, but another way of looking at it is to see it as reflecting God’s existence outside of time, in whichHe sees all events throughout time “at a glance” (as a medieval writer put it.) If it is the case that nothing that has been good in our earthly life will be lost to us in our eternal life, then perhaps we too will, in eternity, be able to see all those good things “at a glance.” And if there have been things in our life that have not been good, either through our own fault, or the fault of others, or through simple happenstance, then perhaps in eternity we shall see those things too - through God’s forgiveness and through the way in which even evil can be turned to good through His providence - as things in which we can rejoice. When, in theLiturgy, we have the part of the prayer of consecration called the anamnesis –the “remembering” – what we “remember” is not only the past - the life, death and resurrection of Christ - but also the future: his second coming. We“remember” both the past and the future in the sense that both are “made present” to us. Perhaps our eternal life too will involve remembrance in this sense – not a recalling of something that lies in the past but a making present -“at a glance” - of all that we can rejoice in. So perhaps my daffodils, flowering cherries, lilac, wild guelder rose, and old-fashioned roses will, in heaven, flower for me “all at the same time.” And perhaps for all of us, everything that has been good in our lives will be present to us in the same way.

With love in Christ, 

Father Christopher

SERMON ON John 4:5-42

The Gospel for today is the well known and loved passage concerning the Samaritan woman, who Tradition remembers as St Photini. St John’s Gospel is very carefully crafted with often several layers of meaning and this passage is an excellent example of this. 

In the first place we are told that the action takes place at Jacob’s well. Jacob is of immense importance to Jews as he was their universal ancestor, and his name was changed by God to “Israel” after which the whole Nation became known as Israelites. However in this passage we are to think also of two encounters that Jacob had with God. The first was when he dreamed of the ladder going up to heaven with the angels coming and going (Gen. 28:11-15) , and then the time when he wrestled with God after which his name was changed. (Gen. 32:24-29). Therefore by the very name of the place, St John is preparing us for an encounter with God. 

At first the woman, a Samaritan, is entirely concerned about material things. Initially with water and then how Christ is to get water out of the well. The Lord however, uses these material ideas to teach about spiritual realities: the water becomes the water of eternal life, so we think immediately of Baptism and then how we are to be sustained eternally by the Holy Spirit. The woman however is not as materially bound as at first appears. When the conversation starts she calls Christ “Lord” which could be merely good manners, but also suggests that she, even at this stage, realises that there is much more to the person she is speaking to, than at first appears.

Following the revelation that Christ knows how many husbands she has, she concludes that Christ must be a prophet. This is an opportunity not to be missed! So she starts to ask all the questions that she would like the answer to, and starts with the issue that divided the Jews and the Samaritans: which temple was the true temple? Where is it that God actually dwells? – In the temple on Mt Zion in Jerusalem or the Samaritan temple on Mt Gerizim in Samaria? Once again the Lord’s answer takes the woman to a new level, a new kind of worship when God will be worshipped everywhere “In Spirit and in Truth”. And here the very word “Truth” reminds us that Christ is Himself the Truth: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. A concept that is finally revealed at the Lord’s trial, when Pontius Pilate standing face to face with the answer, asks the question “What is Truth?” 

Finally St John uses the passage to tell us quite explicitly who the Lord is. The woman says “I know that the Messiah is coming.... He will announce to us all things.” Jesus said to her “I am (ego eimi) the One, that now speaks to you.” (This reflects the question that Moses asked God out of the Burning Bush and Rwas told “ego eimi own” – “I am the One who is”). However she is not yet quite convinced for when she goes into the city, she tells the people to go and see Jesus and asks them the question “This one is not the Christ is he?” The Greek uses the word Μητι which implies uncertainty. But after they have met the Lord, they say to her “We no longer believe because of what you said: for we ourselves have heard, and we know that this one is truly the Saviour of the World, the Christ”. 

Thus the Fathers giving us this reading today demonstrate the Truth of our Faith. Jesus is Christ God, the one who saves. Christ is Risen!



Dear Friends,

The fact that this is the eighth of our weekly “coronavirus newsletters” is a reminder of the way in which the pandemic has already affected our lives over a long period, and is likely to affect it for some considerable time to come. Might this long period of deprivation have good effects as well as bad, I wonder? In an article on Friday’s commemoration ofV.E. day, Joan Bakewell - once described by Frank Muir, you may remember, as “the thinking man’s crumpet” – reminded us that the war led to what was effectively a new and more compassionate kind of society, deliberately organised to put that compassion into action. Might it be, she wondered, that our present situation might lead to real change in our organisation of society?

It would be wonderful if this turned out to be the case. I suspect, however, that this hope may be over-optimistic, since what happened in the war allowed people to see their neighbours more clearly, as people like themselves. Our present isolation from one another has not had that effect to anything like the same degree, however, and our inherent self-centredness – what in theological terms we Orthodox refer to as our “ancestral sin,” and Western Christians call“original sin” – is likely, sadly, to reassert itself all too quickly once normality has returned. Nevertheless, this question is something worth thinking about.One of the important inputs to the post-war consensus was a book by WilliamTemple, published in the year in which he became Archbishop of Canterbury,1942. This book – Christianity and the Social Order - had a significant effect on the setting up of the welfare state in the decades immediately after the war, and while it was later seen by some as far too left-wing, my own copy – a later paperback edition - has a forward by a conservative prime minister. It is still worth reading.

My own thoughts this week have, however, been largely on something rather different. This is related to something that I talked about in the first of these newsletters: the way in which, in “normal” times, we often fail to appreciate things fully because we simply take them for granted. When we pray, I said in that newsletter, 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, I went on, one of the terms we use of our Liturgy – the word Eucharist– is simply an Anglicised version of the Greek term for thanksgiving, and the central prayer of that service is quite explicitly a thanksgiving to God theFather, 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.”

The thing that has come to me with particular force this week is the way in which this is related to something that may at first seem rather morbid: the remembrance of death. This remembrance is something that is often recommended to us by the great teachers of our church, usually with a stress on how it allows our present circumstances and desires to be seen more clearly in terms of God’s ultimate will for us, so that our tendency to fall short of what He requires of us will be modified in a good way. What I’ve been struck by, however, is something slightly different. This is that while the coronavirus pandemic can make us more than usually aware that our chances of being herein a few months’ time are less than they would otherwise be, this can have the good effect of making us more than usually aware of what one famous RomanCatholic writer has called “the sacrament of the present moment.” Instead of living in the past or the future as we so often do in our thoughts, we can, through this particular kind of “remembrance of death,” become more vividly aware of the present, and part of this awareness is a sense of how much there is to give thanks for. The beauties of the Springtime, for example, are all the more vivid when we’re not quite so sure as we usually are that we’ll experience a repeat performance next year. If this can lead to genuine thanksgiving to God, then it can surely be seen as an important opportunity for us.

With love in Christ, Father Christopher

SERMON ON John 5:1-15

All too often as Christians, we are accustomed to think of healing (and of raising the dead) as belonging to the words and actions of Christ Himself as we read in today’s Gospel. It is easy to gloss over the idea that others can also perform these miracles, yet in the Epistle appointed for this day we encounter Peter, with his profound faith in Christ, calling upon the same Lord to restore the paralytic Ǽneas to health and then to raise up the much loved Tabitha from death. But are such miracles confined to the pages of the Bible? Is there something wrong with the faith of the Christian that these things no longer happen? Surely not! For we have many examples to be found in the pages of history. Let us take just two examples from our own times Saint Luke of Simferopol and Crimea and Saint Iakovos of Evia.

In both cases their faith was profound yet utterly different; the one highly educated, a surgeon and latterly a bishop; the other a simple priest-monk. Both trusted that God would hear their petition and complete the miracle. Saint Luke expected God to guide his hands in surgery and his patients were restored to health when other surgeons would have admitted failure. On the other hand, Saint Iakovos with his simple faith knew what was needed, called upon his much-loved saints, John the Russian and David of Evia, to go and work with whichever surgeon or doctor was performing the healing and guide their hands to a successful outcome. In both cases it was their utter faith in Christ that brought happy conclusions to otherwise impossible situations. We are reminded that if we have faith even as small as a grain of mustard (about 1mm diameter) we too can move the sycamore tree to the sea (Luk. 17:6). Such power is to be found in this tiny thing! So too, our faith: if it is genuine, if it be Apostolic in nature, no matter how tiny it may be, it will grow and become stronger so that the bearer will be capable of performing the most extraordinary miracles. It is there in all of us – if only we would reach out to Christ and let Him into our hearts as did the Apostles and as do the Saints.

Where is our faith? Do we keep it tucked up in a corner of our brains to be brought out on special occasions – or do we let it live and grow in our hearts so that our whole life revolves around Christ Himself. Perhaps we need to take that mustard seed off the shelf of our mind and plant it in our hearts where, watered with blood, sweat, tears; and above all love, it will grow and blossom. Then, when we have cast out the last vestiges of pride and acquired a measure of humility our faith grows to the extent that miracles are possible – even for us!

Then, just maybe, when the time is right, our prayer is most fervent and our need is greatest, the miraculous may occur for us also. It may not be earth-shattering, indeed, quite the opposite, it may be something that only we will ever know about, but miracle it will be, none-the-less, for Christ has heard our prayer and seen into the depth of our heart and what He sees is good. Thus the ‘saint’ which lies dormant within us, comes to life and we become one with the Apostles and Saints and all the company of Heaven.



Dear Friends,

A few years ago, I was involved in a discussion at the Institute for Orthodox ChristianStudies in Cambridge about who should be the Institute’s patron saint. It seemed a good idea to those involved in the discussion to have a woman saint, and someone made the suggestion that we should choose the myrrh-bearing women. “That’s no good” said someone, “no one outside the Orthodox world will have any idea who we mean.” We all agreed and that this might be the case, and St.Catherine was chosen instead.Even if this phrase – “the myrrh-bearing women” – is one that might not be recognised by many of our fellow-Christians, they do of course know who is meant when it is explained to them. The term refers to the women coming to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, who were the first witnesses of the resurrection. The different gospels give slightly different accounts of who was involved, but in our tradition eight women are named: Mary Magdalen, Mary the Mother of God, Joanna, Salome, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Susanna, Mary of Bethany, and Martha of Bethany. This Sunday it is these myrrh-bearing women who are commemorated by the Church, together with those who obtainedJesus’ body for burial: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea - the latter being the “Noble Joseph” of the wonderful Good Friday troparion, who is also commemorated in the same words at the end of each Liturgy’s Great Entrance. If you want to remember what the Good Friday singing of this is like in a small, English-speaking church -– see the YouTube video:


(This recording comes from a church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, which sounds unlikely but it does really exist. I rather like it because neither the singing nor the liturgical action is quite perfect –in this sense it reminds me of the Holy Transfiguration, where I always feel a wonderful “homely”quality in what we do in our worship. This is not to say, of course, that we should not try – as we do –to make that worship as technically perfect as possible. All the same, I feel that our way of doing things gives a strong sense – as all Orthodox worship should – that we are children in our Father’s house rather than troops on the parade ground.). YouTube is, in fact quite good for listening to Orthodox music, and can be a happy reminder of the riches of the Orthodox musical tradition in all its forms when we’re unable to get to church to listen to it (and pray with it) “live.” For some reason I’m particularly struck at the moment by a Greek chant to the Mother of God – actually not a liturgical hymn but something composed by Saint Nektarios ofAegina in the late nineteenth century – which can be found on


I’m aware, however, that for many of us, who are more used to the Russian musical tradition, this might seem a bit “Eastern.” (Personally, I love the Greek musical tradition but some Greek churches in this country now use Russian chant because it is easier on Western ears.)One of the things that I ponder on as we commemorate the myrrh-bearing women is the fact that the original witnesses to the resurrection were women and not men. Does this tell us something, I wonder? We live in an age in which it is fashionable to pretend that the differences between men and women are insignificant, but the apostles – all men – were actually unable to believe what the women reported, at least initially. Was there perhaps some kind of spiritual receptiveness that the women possessed but the men didn’t? And is this difference in receptiveness something that is actually built into what it is to be male or female? I don’t claim any great insight into this, but it does seem to me possible that while only men are called by the Church to the ordained ministry, there may be specific vocations to which only women are called – less public ones but no less important – precisely because of this spiritual receptiveness.Whether or not this distinction is a valid one, we are aware, at any rate, that no distinction based on biology or societal position makes one person superior to another in the eyes of God. As St. Paul puts it: “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:28). This doesn’t, of course, mean that these distinctions have no meaning whatsoever, but it tells us that such distinctions make no difference to our ultimate value in the eyes of God. When some see one of these distinctions as making one person superior to another, they are simply manifesting prejudice and failing to see that each of us, because we are made in the image of God, is of infinite value. If there are hierarchies – as there are in the Church – this is not a matter of superiority but of good order. We each have particular gifts. Some of these are public ones, necessary for building up the Church, but some are known to God alone. The public ones are evident in the way in which Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). The less evident gifts are the ones that few, if any, know about, which are worked out in various “hidden” vocations, such as those of being a mother or a hermit, which are no less important in the eyes of God.Among the hermits of the Egyptian desert of the fourth century, for example, there are many of whom we know little or nothing. Some of these were women, and these “ammas” (or mothers) were comparable to the “abbas” (or fathers), of whom much more was written. The ancient Sayings of theDesert Fathers included twenty-seven sayings of Amma Syncletica of Alexandria, together with twenty more from women such as Amma Theodora of Alexandria and Amma Sarah of the Desert.Amma Theodora, in particular, was sought out by many of the Desert Fathers – and reportedly also byBishop Theophilus of Alexandria - for advice, and one can perhaps think of women of the present day who have similar vocations of giving counsel. In our own deanery, for example, we had - until her recent death - Wendy Robinson, who often carried out this sort of “hidden” ministry. (At the level of formal philosophical thinking, too, women have not been without importance. For example, two of the three great “Cappadocian Fathers” – the brothers, St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa – are among the greatest theologians of our church, but reading between the lines one can sometimes get the impression that the real theological powerhouse in the family was their sister, St. Macrina.)One of the things that our commemoration of the myrrh-bearers should perhaps do for each of us islead us – whether we are men or women - to think about what our gifts and our vocations may be. Justas it is important to recognise that our most grievous sins may not be ones of commission but ones of omission, it may also be we are called to pursue vocations – whether public or hidden – that we have hitherto ignored but should not fail to recognise.

With love in Christ, Father Christopher

SERMON Mark 15: 43-42 - 16:1-8

Today we keep the commemoration of the Myrrh-bearing women: those women who went to the tomb of Christ very early in the morning and found it empty. The Gospel set for today is from St Mark, but in fact all four Gospels record the event. The basic story is as follows. Several women disciples of Christ believed that he had been buried in a hurry and that more needed to be done for the burial to conform to the Jewish tradition for burials. So they decided to go to the tomb very early in the morning. Yet, when they arrived at the tomb they found that the stone that would have been rolled in front of the tomb had been rolled back and that the tomb was empty. The accounts differ slightly in the gospel from this point onwards. In St Mark the women find a young man dressed in white who tell them that the Lord is Risen. In St Matthew they find an “angel in garments as white as snow”. In St Luke there are two men in dazzling clothes: while in St John’s Gospel they do not find anybody in the tomb but St Mary Magdalene who stays behind finds the Saviour himself in the Garden and recognises him. 

These differences should not worry us but should in fact encourage us because whenever several people are witnesses to an event they will all tell the story in a slightly different way. And here the basic story is the same even if the details are not quite the same. Then we are told that the women run away “because they were afraid”. There are a number of other details that we should note. First of all the stone rolled in front of the tomb is evidently a problem. All the Gospels mention it in the light of astonishment that the stone was not in its place but had been rolled back. Secondly, some of the gospels emphasise that the tomb was empty as the women are told to look at the place where He laid Jesus.

St John’s Gospel goes further and mentions the grave clothes and tells us that it was St Peter himself who noted that the grave clothes were separated, the “sheets” (othonia οθόνια) lying in one place and the “napkin” (soudarion σουδάριον) in a different place by itself. This latter detail is important because it gives rise to the question – What does someone want to take a naked corpse away for? Finally there is the issue of the guard set to ensure that nothing happened to the body of Jesus. In fact this is only mentioned by St Matthew. So, what conclusion can we draw from these stories? Quite a simple one really! Each evangelist was recording details of a story told to them or remembered by them. That the details are slightly different is proof that the essence of the story is true and that the fundamental point was that Christ was no longer in the tomb but had risen from the dead. Subsequent stories tell us that Christ appeared in a number of different ways to his disciples. So the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers is given to us by the Church so that we may reflect on the truth of the Gospel and its main point: Christ is Risen! And all the rest of our Faith derives from that point. Christ is Risen!


OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 6 (26th April 2020)

Dear Friends,

In normal times, this time of year is one to which I particularly look forward. One highlight usually occurs this coming Tuesday, nine days after Pascha. This is Radonitsa, which is sometimes called the “joyful visitation of the graves” or “day of rejoicing.” This is when the clergy (and any who wish to join them) visit each of the known graves of local Orthodox believers and sing, at each of them, a very shortened version of the panikhida service, in which we pray for the departed. There are a few such graves in the Fakenham municipal cemetery, one in North Barsham churchyard, and several in the churchyard of St. Peter’s in Great Walsingham. This year, because of the coronavirus I cannot go out, but I shall be serving a Panikhida at home instead, remembering all our former parishioners who are now “asleep in the Lord.” It may seem odd to speak about a “joyful” visitation to the graves of those whom we have loved and still miss, because of course there is always a sense in which our mourning and sorrow at their loss will never end in this life. All the same, what makes Radonitsa different to any other visitation of their graves is that it takes place in the Paschal season, when we are more than usually aware that “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.” (This is, of course, something that is sung throughout the Paschal season, and it is added to the usual Panikhida at Radonitsa.)

This Radonitsa practice had its origins in pre-Christian times, when in Russia it was customary for people to visit the graves of loved ones in Spring to feast with them. In its Christianised form, it is a custom which – like some others – represents what has been called a “baptising” of pagan practice, recognising that what existed in that practice can often be seen as a kind of instinctive recognition of spiritual reality and therefore – provided it is shorn of anything objectionable – something that can be used and given its full value in the light of the Christian revelation. (We are particularly aware of this in England because St. Augustine of Canterbury, when he arrived here in A.D. 597, wrote to the Pope in Rome in part to ask advice about this issue of pagan customs. The Pope of that time – known in the West as St. Gregory the Great but among us as St. Gregory of the Dialogues – wrote back explicitly advising this kind of baptism of such customs. (The exact wording of the letters between them are still known because they were copied out by St. Bede in his “History of the English Church and People.”) In its Christianised version, the feasting that in pagan Russia took place at the graveside now takes place after the visitation, when we partake (if possible) of foods that have been blessed at Pascha itself. One rather nice Radonitsa custom related to this is that some Orthodox give gifts to their “in laws”, referring to those who receive these gifts in more kindly way than is often the case when we make “mother in law” jokes. We speak of them in the Orthodox world as “God-given” members of our family, and that is surely the right way to see them. 

Two days before Radonitsa is the Sunday we call Thomas Sunday because its readings and hymns focus on St. Thomas, who was not present when Christ first appeared to the rest of the apostles. On hearing that they had experienced the risen Christ, he could not believe. (We still today talk about people who doubt in this way as “doubting Thomases.”) Thomas is an interesting character, though, because, even before this, his enquiring mind had at least once caused a real clarification of belief among the apostles and, when he finally experienced the risen Christ, he was the first who was able to say, not only “my Lord” but “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). For those of us who have the kind of enquiring mind that can sometimes find difficulties in accepting what we’re told to believe, this role that Thomas seemed to play is not only a great comfort, but also an indication that our difficulties can sometimes be important for us in the sense that they can allow us to go deeper into the realities of our faith.

The proper reaction to any difficulties that occur to us is summed up well, I think, in some comments by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, who as a young man trained as a medical doctor and later used the experience of science obtained in that training to explain his perceptions about our fear that something we believed in the past is now becoming difficult for us to believe. When a scientific model is first developed, says Metropolitan Anthony, a good scientist’s reaction “will be to go round and round his model in all directions, examining and trying to find where the flaw is, what the problems are that are generated by the model he has built, by the theory he has proposed, by the hypothesis he has now offered for the consideration of others.  At the root of the scientist’s activity is the certainty that what he is doubting is the model he has invented – that is, by the way he has projected his intellectual structures on the world around him and on the facts, the way in which his intelligence has grouped things. But what he is absolutely certain of is that the the reality that is beyond his model is in no danger if his model collapses. The reality is stable; it is there, the model is an inadequate expression of it, but the reality doesn’t alter because the model shakes.” Because this distinction is fully understood in scientific work, says Metropolitan Anthony, the scientist’s doubt “is hopeful, it is joyful, it is destructive of what he has done himself because he believes in the reality that is beyond and not in the model he has constructed.” This, he goes on, is something “we must learn as believers for our spiritual life both in the highest forms of theology and in the small simple concrete experience of being a Christian.” He then goes on to say this: “Whenever we are confronted with a crossroads, whenever we are in doubt, whenever our mind sees two alternatives, instead of saying ‘Oh God make me blind, Oh God help me not to see, Oh God give me loyalty to what I now know to be untrue,’ we should say ‘God is casting a ray of light on something I have outgrown – the smallness of my original vision. I have come to the point where I can see more and deeper, thanks be to God.”

I want to finish this newsletter by quoting something that sums up much of what I have been saying. It is from the Mattins for this Sunday, and it was written during the early centuries of our faith. It goes like this:

Today is the springtime of souls, for Christ – shining forth from the grave like a three-day sun – has driven away the gloomy winter of our sin. Let us praise Him that he may be glorified. The queen of seasons, brightly attended by the light-bringing day, even the queen of days, gladdens the chosen people of the Church, who without ceasing praise the resurrection of Christ. Neither the gates of death nor the seals of the gravestone nor the bars upon the doors could withstand Thee O Christ; but having arisen Thou didst appear, granting to thy friends, O Master, that peace which surpasses all understanding.

With love in Christ, Fr. Christopher

SERMON ON John 20:19-21

Christ is risen! But Thomas does not believe it. Christ is risen! He has appeared to Maria and the women. Christ is risen! He has appeared to the friends going to Emmaus. Christ is risen! He has appeared to the ten disciples and has given them the Holy Spirit to forgive. Christ is risen, but Thomas does not believe. At last, the risen Christ demands of Thomas to look, to touch, to put his fingers into His wounds and his hand in His Heart, and to come out of his disbelief. Christ is risen! He also demands of me, a Christian, to be full of faith. Yes, the victorious risen Christ demands of me a life of faith. He gave me this power of faith on the day of my Baptism. By Chrismation, I was branded with the gift of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostles were. Through Holy Communion, I am nourished and energised, as the Apostles were. Through Holy Confession of my sins, I am restored and protected, as the Apostles were. By Holy Marriage, the self preservation of my temporal life is elevated to the harmony of the economy of the Trinity of God, as some of the Apostles were. The Power and Judgement of God is deposited in the hand of Man thanks to and through the Priesthood, because the Apostles received it from the risen Christ. By the Holy Unction, I am healed and revitalised for my last steps towards the Eternal Life, as the Apostles taught. All these Mysteries, or Sacraments, are the pledge for the promise that, at my temporal life’s death, I shall pass-over (Pascha) to the Eternal Life, the Kingdom of the One God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. What a great mercy, what an everlasting life is granted to us, for Christ is risen! Therefore the risen Christ demands of me, a Christian, a follower of Him and His disciple, like Thomas was, to be full of faith. This means that all my thoughts, all my words, all my actions be transformed by the force, the power, of faith in Christ. The Apostles did not stay sitting down at home but went out to transmit to the world what Christ had commanded: doing wonders, signs, healing the sick, those bed-redden, those afflicted with unclean spirits. They were all healed. How did the Apostles do these signs and wonders? They were among the people in the Temple, in the Portico of Solomon, where the principle activity was to pray, giving glory to God, the Creator of all. Another activity in the Temple was to teach the Law, the Torah of God given to Moses. That is, to learn how to organise the thoughts, words and actions of every day according to the Commandments of God. I, the Christian full of faith, come to the Church, among the people of Christ, to pray and to learn how to live the Commandments of God as taught by the Son of God, the risen Christ. How does the Church teach us? This is done at the Divine Liturgy, with the reading of two passages from the New Testament. These passages are selected for me to learn how to live the life of faith according to Christ. On Pascha Night we begin reading the Gospel of John, up to Pentecost; then we shall do so with the Gospel of Mathew, followed by Luke and so Mark. Similarly on Pascha Night we begin the book of the Acts of the Apostles; and so, from Pentecost it is put to us to read Romans, Corinthians, etc., and the rest of the letters of the Apostles. Therefore, at the arriving of next Pascha we have read, with the exception of the Apocalypse, all of the the New Testament. The passages of the Gospel and the Apostle readings are very much inter-twined, that each day we may learn a particular practical point. In this way we, imitating the Apostles’ presence in the Temple of Jerusalem, are present every day in the temple of the Holy Trinity, listening the Word of God. We do not need to be in Church every day, but we read the selected passages every day in our homes, in the loneliness of our hearts with God and our holy Guardian Angel. This is the life of faith, of prayer, receiving the Son of God, transforming us into Himself, for He has risen and gone to prepare a place for you and me in His Eternal Life.

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