OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 5 (19th April 2020)

Dear Friends,

Christ is risen! On this feast of Pascha, I send you all my greetings. As I was doing the Vespers of Good Friday with Cathie and Rupert in our icon corner, I was very aware that you were not there, since for some reason I always find that particular service, not only moving in itself, but also one in which I feel a greater togetherness among those present than at any other service of the year. I do miss you all.

Usually, in these occasional newsletters during the coronavirus outbreak (this is number 5,

though I also mistakenly labelled last week’s as 5) I give you a few thoughts as a kind of mini-sermon. One of the lovely things about Pascha, however, is that in our church, as in every other church of our Orthodox tradition, we always have the same sermon in the Paschal matins of Saturday evening: a sermon traditionally attributed to St. John Chrysostom. It comes from the early centuries of our faith, and whether or not it actually came from the saint’s own mouth, it is evidently from the mouth of a very gifted preacher. (Chrysostom means golden-mouthed, so it is hardly surprising that people thought it could only have come from him, and perhaps it did.) So instead of giving you my own thoughts, here are his as we hear them every year (in a slightly different translation to the usual one):

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?

Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?

Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?

Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,

let them receive their due reward;

If any have come after the third hour,

let him with gratitude join in the Feast!

And he that arrived after the sixth hour,

let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.

And if any delayed until the ninth hour,

let him not hesitate; but let him come too.

And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,

let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.

He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,

as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.

He accepts the works as He greets the endeavour.

The deed He honours and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;

rich and poor, rejoice together!

Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,

rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.

Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.

Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,

for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;

for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.

He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.

He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,

"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.

It was in an uproar because it is mocked.

It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.

It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.

It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.

It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?

O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!

Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!

Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;

for Christ having risen from the dead,

is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

With love in Christ, 

Fr. Christopher



Prot. No. 270


* * *

Dearest brother Hierarchs and beloved children in the Lord,

Having arrived at Holy Pascha and becoming partakers of the joy of the Resurrection, we praise the Lord of glory, who trampled down death by death and resurrected with Him the entire race of Adam, opening for us all the gates of paradise. The splendid Resurrection of Christ is the confirmation that what prevails in the life of the world is not death, but the Saviour who abolished the dominion of death.

Formerly known to us as the Word without flesh and subsequently as the Word who assumed flesh for us on account of love for humankind, who died as man and was risen with might as God, He is the Saviour who will come again in glory to fulfil the Divine Economy. The mystery and experience of the Resurrection constitutes the core of the ecclesiastical life. The radiant worship, the sacred mysteries, the life of prayer, fasting

and ascesis, pastoral ministry and good witness in the world – all of these emanate the fragrance of Paschal joy. The life of the faithful in the Church is a daily Pascha, “a joy from above,” “the joy of salvation,” as well as the “salvation as joy.” 

This is why the services of Holy and Great Week are not gloomy but filled with the victorious power of the Resurrection. There, we discover that the Cross does not have the last word in the plan for the salvation of humankind and the world. This is foreshadowed already on the Saturday of Lazarus. The raising from the dead of Christ’s intimate friend is a prefigurement of the “common resurrection.” The hymn “Today is hung upon the wood [of the Cross]” comes to a climax in the invocation “Show us, too, your glorious Resurrection.” Before the Epitaphios, we chant “I magnify your Passion, I praise your burial, together with your Resurrection.” And during the Paschal service, we resoundingly declare the true meaning of the Cross: “For behold, through the Cross, joy has come into the whole world.” The “chosen and holy day” of Pascha is the dawn of the “eighth day,” the first- fruit of the “new creation.” The experience of our own resurrection, the great “miracle of my salvation.” 

2 It is the lived affirmation that the Lord suffered and was led to death for our sake and that He rose from the dead for us “foreshadowing for us the resurrection 1 The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973-1983 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000), 137.2 Gregory the Theologian, On the Holy Pascha, PG 36.664. for boundless ages.” 

3 Throughout the Paschal period, we hymn with unparalleled poetry the anthropological meaning of the resplendent Resurrection of Christ, the Passover of humankind from slavery to genuine freedom, “the progression and ascension from below to the above and to the promised land.” 

4 This salvific renewal in Christ is realised in the Church as a dynamic extension of the Eucharistic ethos in the world, as “speaking the truth in love,” as synergy with God for the transfiguration of the world, so that the world may be rendered an image of the fullness of the final revelation of the divine love in the Kingdom of the last times. Living in the risen Lord means proclaiming the Gospel “to the ends of the earth,” in the manner of the Apostles; it is the witness in practice of the grace that has appeared and the expectation of the “new creation,” where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more.” (Rev.21.4) Faith in the Resurrection of Christ and in our own co-resurrection does not deny the painful presence of death, pain and the cross in the life of the world. We do not suppress the harsh reality or secure for ourselves, through faith, a psychological assurance before death. However, we know that the present life is not life in its entirety, that here we are “sojourners,” that we belong to Christ and that we are journeying to His eternal Kingdom. The presence of pain and death, no matter how tangible these may be, does not constitute the ultimate reality. That lies in the definitive abolition of death. In the Kingdom of God there is neither pain nor death, but never-ending life. “Before your precious Cross,” we chant, “death is terrifying for human beings; but after your glorious Passion, humankind is terrifying for death.” 

5 Faith in Christ grants us power, perseverance and patience to endure trials. Christ is the one who “heals us from every illness and delivers us from death.” He is the one who has suffered for us and has revealed to us that God is “always for us” and that God’s love for us belongs intrinsically to God’s truth. This hopeful voice of divine love is echoed in Christ’s words to the paralytic “take courage, my child” (Matt. 9.2) and to the woman with the issue of blood “take courage, daughter” (Matt. 9.22), in His words “take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16.33) before the Passion, and to the imprisoned Apostle of the Gentiles, threatened by death, “take courage, Paul” (Acts 23.11). The present pandemic of the novel coronavirus has demonstrated how fragile we are as human beings, how easily we are dominated by fear and despondency, how frail our knowledge and self-confidence appear, how antiquated the notion is that death comprises an event at the end of life and that forgetting or suppressing death is the proper way of dealing with it. Limit situations prove that we are incapable of handling our existence resolutely, when we believe that death is an invincible reality and insurmountable boundary. It is difficult to remain human without the hope of eternity. This hope lives in the hearts of all doctors, nurses, volunteers, donors and all those generously supporting their suffering brothers and sisters in a spirit of sacrifice, offering and love. In this indescribable crisis, they radiate resurrection and hope. They are the “Good Samaritans” that, at the risk of their own lives, pour oil and wine on wounds; they are the modern-day “Cyrenaeans” on the Golgotha of those lying in illness. 3 Gregory Palamas, On the Holy Ascension, PG 151.277. 4 Gregory the Theologian, op. cit., 636. 5 Doxastikon of the Vespers of September 27.3

With these thoughts, most honourable Hierarchs and dearest children in the Lord, we glorify the name of the Risen Lord which is above all names, the source of life from His own light, who illumines the universe with the light of the Resurrection. And we pray to Him, the physician of our souls and bodies, who grants life and resurrection, that in His ineffable loving-kindness He may condescend to the human race, in order to grant us the precious gift of health and direct our steps on the straight ways, to vouchsafe the divine gift of our freedom in the world, foreshadowing its perfection in the heavenly Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Christ is Risen!

At the Phanar, Holy Pascha 2020

† Bartholomew of Constantinople

Your fervent supplicant to the Risen Lord


Jesus is risen from the dead! He is God, he is glorified! His light and his warmth give life to the whole universe, and not only mortal life, because he shares his imperishable life with his entire creation. Saint John’s Gospel calls Jesus the word. Today’s Gospel starts with the phrase we all know, In the beginning was the word. When we were small children, we heard the words our parents spoke, and their words became our words. We began to think, to speak and to relate to people, thanks to the words we inherited from others. In an even more powerful way, Jesus is the word in our lives. Deep inside the heart of each person Jesus is the source of our ability to think and speak to others. Jesus makes persons of all of us.

Jesus is the Word of God because he is the full revelation of God to us. He is also the Giver of our ability to think and speak and relate to one another. This is the image of God in us. Jesus also enables us to see every human being as the image of God. Left to our own devices, we see the limitations of people. Our faith in Jesus makes us hope fervently that one day every human being will be joyfully transfigured by the glory of God. Jesus takes the scales off our eyes if we make the effort to obey him. Learning about God through doing his will started long before Jesus was born. When God was giving his commandments to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, in the days of Moses, the people exclaimed, ‘we will do the commandments so that we may hear them’ (Exod. 24: 7). We can only understand God’s commandments by doing his will. The Apostle James, the Brother of the Lord teaches this clearly, ‘be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves’ (Jam. 1: 22). The Saviour himself tells us, ‘Why do you not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house’ (Luke. 6: 46-49)

Let me give two examples from the Gospel. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus pointed out to us that we are not to label people. God sees how each person lives, he alone can judge a person. Someone’s religious label might not be a safe understanding of who they really are. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord commands us not to pray or help others so as to be seen and admired, but do it secretly, and always forgive others, because it is the condition for our being forgiven. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus is telling us that wealth and power mean nothing, and that someone who is deprived of all good things in life may well be on his way to the greatest glory in God’s Kingdom. God has huge surprises in store for everyone. Being a Christian is never achieved by conforming to fashionable ideas. Only the truth of Christ is eternal.

The Kingdom of God is always a contrast, a joyful shock, when compared with the latest popular enthusiasm. God will surprise and astound us when we arrive in heaven. He will go on surprising us and astounding us every day throughout eternity. Amen.



             OCCASIONAL NEWSLETTER No. 5 (12th April 2020)



Dear Friends,

On this Palm Sunday – when we celebrate Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem – I usually urge you to attend at least some of the Holy Week services as part of your spiritual reparation for the great feast of Pascha that is to occur in only a week’s time. Sadly, in this period of coronavirus lockdown, it will not be possible for us to gather together in the usual way.  (I shall be doing some of the services at home but our local internet quality is too poor to “stream” these online.) There are, however, ways in which we can be together in a different way, not only with our fellow parishioners but with the whole Church. One way of doing this is to use some of the Holy Week prayers of the Church in our own private prayers, and you can get the text of these prayers online by clicking on the following link:


Perhaps easier, however, is simply to listen to the week’s services online, and Fr. Stephen Platt, of the Sourozh diocese church in Oxford (where the internet quality is good) is doing various services with his family, which can be heard online on your computer by clicking onto either:

 www.stnicholas-oxford.org         OR


They anticipate being able to do the following services (mostly or wholly in English) during the coming week:

Sun 12th April:    Holy Liturgy (10.30); Mattins of the Bridegroom (18.00)

Mon 13th April and Tues 14th April:   Liturgy of Presanctified (9.00); Mattins of the Bridegroom (18.00)

Wed 15th April:     Liturgy of Presanctified (9.00)

Thurs 16th April:    Vespers and Liturgy of St. Basil (9.00); 

                             Mattins of the Passion (12 Gospels) (18.00)

Fri 17th April:        Vespers and Procession of the Holy Shroud (14.00);

                            Mattins and Burial of the Lord (18.00)

Sat 18th April:       Vespers and Liturgy of St. Basil (9.00);

                            Midnight Office and Paschal Mattins (23.00)

Sun 19th April (PASCHA):     Divine Liturgy (10.30); Paschal Vespers (18.00) 

I do recommend that you listen to some of these services online and use them as an opportunity for prayer during this, the most important week of the Christian year. 

As you live through these final few days of Our Lord’s life, do – as well as reflecting on the events of these days - pray for those who are sick, not only with the coronavirus, but also with other ailments. (Several of our own parishioners and their families fall into this latter category, and Sylvia, Fr. David’s daughter, Lydia, and Rose’s daughter, Anne, have all been in hospital during this difficult period.) Let us also give thanks to God for all those working in hospitals and GP surgeries, who are taking grave risks in order to care for others.  A particular feature of our Orthodox veneration of the saints is our remembrance of the “holy unmercenary physicians” who didn’t charge the poor for their services. Among these, eight are always commemorated in the preparation service before each liturgy: Cosmas, Damien, Cyrus, John, Panteleimon, Hermolaos, Mocius, and Anecitas. The tradition began, however, with three women: Zenaida, Philonella and Hermione. In this difficult time, it is particularly appropriate that should pray that, through the prayers of all the holy unmercenary physicians, God will have mercy on the sick.

                                                   With love in Christ,

                                                      Fr. Christopher

Sermon John 12: 1-18

How strange it seems to be celebrating a joyful feast before this evening when the church will be plunged into gloom as we bring out the icon of the Bridegroom with the divine head surrounded by thorns! We chanted at Friday Vespers: We have completed the forty days which profit our souls. Now let us beg the Lover of the human race, “Enable us to see the holy week of your passion so that we may glorify your mighty work.” The Great Forty Days have passed; we celebrate the raising of Lazaros as a foretaste of the Resurrection and wave our palms in spirit with the children as we proclaim, “Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is the one who come in the name of the Lord.”

We do well to muse on the apolytíkion, “O Christ God, you confirmed the universal resurrection by raising Lazarus from the dead before your passion. O Vanquisher of Death, we cry out to you like the children with their palms of victory, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Even in the midst of sorrow for our sins and the contemplation of the Divine Passion there is joy in the ultimate victory of Christ over the powers of darkness. 

We may have worried about our besetting sins over the last forty days. We may have despaired about the state of the world. We may have been overwhelmed by a family problem. The words of the Apostle Paul in today’s apóstolos give us a way of coping. “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything let your requests be made known to God through prayer and pleas with thanksgiving.” We pour out our hearts before an icon at home, we tearfully light our candles in church and we make our penitential requests to God. But we make them with thanksgiving, realising with the Apostle Paul, “No trial has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tried beyond your strength, but with the trial will also provide the way of escape so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10) Let us with the children greet the Saviour, “Hosanna in the Highest!”


Holy Week Statement from British and Irish Church Leaders 

God’s world is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. In the nations that make up Britain and Ireland the Covid-19 virus continues to affect people at an alarming rate, health services along with many of our institutions and organisations, both local and national, are under extreme pressure and people are getting used to living in a very different way, many in extreme isolation. As with all such crises, there is a danger that the most vulnerable in society will be most badly affected.

Christians the world over are entering an important time in the church year as we look to the events of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. At the centre of our common faith are both the depths of despair and the heights of joy. In the Bible and in the songs and liturgies of the Church, we see Jesus entering fully into human suffering. In His rising again, that suffering is redeemed and transformed into hope and joy. After Jesus’ death his disciples were afraid and all seemed lost and hopeless, but the risen Christ met them in their despair and restored hope through his victory over death. We pray that the world today might know this hope in place of despair.

In the Book of Daniel we read about God’s people being taken into exile in Babylon. Daniel could not pray in the Temple in Jerusalem, but he continued to pray in exile – opening his window to face Jerusalem. Though he was on his own he joined with the prayers of the people wherever they were. Now we too are separated from each other physically, but when we pray in our homes we join in with this ancient tradition of our home as a place of prayer. Wherever we are, whenever we pray, when we speak and think of Christ, there he is in the midst of us. We join our prayers with all those who pray in our own churches and communities and around the world.

As church leaders from across the many and varied churches of these Islands we urge all people to join us in prayer this Holy Week and Easter; to pray for those who suffer, those who face untimely death and all those who care for them; to celebrate our common faith at a difficult time; to help and support our neighbours in need; and to observe all the safeguards in place to slow the spread of disease.

Our Prayer Loving God, in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for our salvation, cast out the darkness of our anxiety, fear and mourning, enfold us in your love and give us joy and hope this Easter. Amen.


His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain

His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos Coptic Archbishop of London 

Archbishop Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury

Very Rev Dr William Henry Moderator General Assembly Presbyterian Church of Ireland

Archbishop Eamon Martin Archbishop of Armagh

Revd Nigel Uden Moderator of General Assembly United Reformed Church

Bishop Hugh Gilbert Bishop of Aberdeen

Bishop Mark Strange Primus, Scottish Episcopal Church  

Mr Rheinallt Thomas President Free Church Council Wales 

Revd Brian Anderson President Irish Council of Churches

Gavin Calver CEO Evangelical Alliance

Cardinal Vincent Nichols Archbishop of Westminster

Rt. Revd Colin Sinclair Moderator General Assembly Church of Scotland 

Commissioner Anthony Cotterill The Salvation Army

Archbishop-elect John McDowell Archbishop of Armagh

Revd Dr Barbara Glasson President Methodist Church of Great Britain

Revd Lynn Green General Secretary Baptist Union of Great Britain 

Archbishop John Davies Archbishop of Wales 

Pastor Agu Irukwu Redeemed Christian Church of God

Revd Hugh Osgood Moderator Free Church Federal Council

Revd Sam McGuffin President Methodist Church in Ireland

Paul Parker Religious Society of Friends




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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