Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Fellow Concelebrants,
Now we can relax into the joy of Paschal-tide, our efforts in Great Lent and Passion Week have brought us to this joy. The season past has been very different for us this year but, hopefully, we are now better equipped and with a deeper understanding of withdrawal, isolation and prayer ( Hesychia).
Although we now relax the Fast, we must not relax the life of prayer. Prayer is well defined by St Gregory of Nyssa, The Theologian:
Prayer is intimacy with God and contemplation of the invisible. It satisfies our yearnings and makes us equal with the angels.
Angels live rejoicing in the presence of God and we are called to be in-tune with them. Prayer gives us the same intimacy with God and especially now that Christ is Risen. He shared our life by becoming human and when He retuned to his Father’s throne, he did so in the form of a man. This is the message of The Ascension. When we stand in prayer with Him, we stand at the throne of God with intimacy and with greater understanding of the invisible. It is this continual standing in the invisible presence which is at the heart of prayer and ensures that we are standing firmly on good solid rock.
We are still within the orbit of Coronavirus, Covid19 and we stand (and clap) in
thankfulness for the dedicated staff of the NHS, sadly, for many, only partially protected. We hear of the shortage of masks and gowns and other protective clothing but of equal, and perhaps greater importance, is the need of spiritual and psychological protection. Standing in intimacy with God is the only full protection which a human being needs. Psychological health soon follows. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have made efforts to highlight this. After speaking with many NHS workers, they find that these dedicated staff are returning home burdened by the trauma they have lived through, carrying into their private lives, the stress of the work they have undertaken. We hear of the need of protective clothing, but is there also need for good psychological support. The Cambridges emphasize the importance of catharsis and stress relief, to which we add the importance of spiritual wellbeing. It is full spiritual, psychological and physical protection which is required.
We, also, have to take care of ourselves in like manner. Yes, care which is spiritual.
psychological and physical. In Paschal-tide, a time of relaxation from fasting, we must not relax from prayer, prayer which is ‘intimacy with God and contemplation of the invisible’. From this flows all our wellbeing. It is the key to life as we go forward.
We continue our physical isolation for the time being but soon ‘We’ll meet again!’.
for ‘Christ is Risen!’
Parish of S Aidan and St Chad, Nottingham
Deanery in Archdiocese of Thyateira
Now we have completed the Lenten Fast (Friday evening) and we have before us two days of joy, as a prelude to the days of grief which follow; Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday.
Our Lord delayed his arrival in Bethany as a prophetic intervention before He entered the week leading to His Passion. People saw his humanity in His compassion with weeping for his friend Lazarus and they noted,” How He loved him!”. But to Martha, when she said, "I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection at the last day”, Jesus replied, “I am the Resurrection!”; "I AM, as God, the Resurrection and the life.” He demonstrated that he was both human and divine for all to see, and, in this prophecy in action, He demonstrated that He had the power over death, foretelling what he would reveal, in himself, eight days later. In this prophecy, when He shouted, “ Lazarus, Come out!”, he was speaking to us also, demanding that we too come out of whatever tomb in which we are trapped, to move into the Truth, "that those who are dying in Adam might be made alive in thy Christ himself” ( as the Liturgy of St Basil clearly encourages us to pray in the prayer of consecration ). “ So I pray to Thee, O Thou lover of Mankind to raise me to life, I, who through my passions are dead….."
Now, we can indeed rejoice with Our Lord and all with Him as he makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, waving the ( olive ) palms of Triumphant Victory which have born the olives, which give the oil of Anointing and Healing. Christ is no longer, merely the acclaimed teacher, but the King of Glory, and we welcome Him as such. We shout, Hosannah, meaning “Save now, we pray!" This King, riding humbly on an ass is not like the earthly king expected by the Jews, He is King of our hearts. We come to Him on this day, before we enter with Him into Passion Week and He comes to us. Now, He is more than the Master who teaches, but the King who wishes to take possession of our soul and be enthroned in our heart. "Alleluia, Praise to Thee, Jahweh! Hosannah, Save us now, we pray!” Only when we have celebrated Jesus triumphal entry into the Holy City are we ready for what is to follow. The crowds who had witnessed the rising of Lazarus and were now greeting their new found King share in joy and an understanding which was denied to others. The Chief Priests did not realise that they were “dying in Adam" and not able or willing, "to be made alive in Christ". They saw Him as a threat, one who might disturb their comfortable existence and upset the Roman overlords. They are the ones who were able to persuade other folks in Jerusalem, to shout, not, “Hosannah", but, “Crucify!". For us there is also this challenge. Are we able and willing to throw our garments of self-satisfaction and contentment with our life in Adam, before the advancing King? Does our fear of what might happen to us if we take the challenge of this week too seriously, hold us back? Might we slip into the crowd, later in the week, shouting for His death?
Metropolitan Anthony in one of his sermons at this time reminds us that when God created man He offered him eternal life, a share in His own fullness of life. But man answered God’s gift with betrayal due to self-focus, thus condemning God to death. This became even death on The Cross. For God said, in these last days, "What more can I do for you to encourage you into life with me, the fullness of Life to which I am inviting you? I will send to you my only Son, surely you will listen to Him.”
The Father delivers into our human hands His only begotten Son.
It is to this amazing love, this outpouring of love beyond our understanding that we, today, walk humbly with Our Lord into Jerusalem to stand with Him in His Passion and, in acceptance of the life He is giving us, to know truly and with certainty, " those who are dying in Adam are made alive in God’s Christ. ”
May God bless you in this most important week in the life of the Church.
When you look at this painting what do you see?
Social distancing, isolation?
‘The Silence’, by Carel Weight addresses the theme of human isolation. The artist wished it to convey his belief that although people join to perform identical rituals, they are essentially solitary individuals. To emphasise this, the three figures never met and were painted separately.
The painting shows three people (almost three generations), motionless, silent, enclosed in their walled space, protected against the outside world and one another. Not one of them appears to be at peace. They sit or stand stiffly, coldly, worryingly remote from any family closeness.
As social distancing and self-isolating become essential to our daily living; there appears to be a increasing interest in ‘Solitaries’ Those who chose an eremitic or hermitic life, living in seclusion from society. I have recently read a book that explores the social history of silence. A significant portion of this book is devoted to penal incarceration; specifically, the introduction of solitary confinement and Benjamin Rush’s misguided belief that, by isolating convicts in this way, they would gain an awareness of the presence of God and hear his voice.
This Sunday, 5th Sunday of Great Lent, we remember that wonderful Saint, Mary of Egypt. Our venerable mother Mary was a desert ascetic who repented, having lived a life given “unrestrainedly and insatiably … to sensuality”. She lived during the 6th century and passed away in a remarkable manner in 522.
[You can read the full story of the life of Mary of Egypt using the link - The Life of Mary of Egypt]
Mother Mary, like the Anchorite Julian of Norwich and the many other Religious Solitaries, chose a life of silence, unlike those subject to penal punishment. They chose a life of three-fold silence; silence from words, silence from desires and silence from thoughts. A choice made to allow them to respond to the belief that we all belong to God and are loved by him from eternity to eternity. That this brief life is just an opportunity for us to say, “I love you, too!
It is this desire to love and be loved by our Lord, that motivated these saints. It was this love for our Lord that led them to understand that any peace that rests upon externals is inevitably fragile. It was from a love and faith in Christ that they could, with St Anatoly of Optina, declare that “The best fast is to patiently endure everything that God sends”. These saints understood that with a full larder, no financial trouble, happy relationships, an interesting career: then the world is beautiful to us, and we are at peace. But they understood too the true value of such peace. At any moment accident or natural change may disrupt or destroy it. This peace is an uncertain peace! They also understood that to simply isolate oneself is not to be at peace. There is no lasting peace that does not rest upon a sense of life having meaning. For Mary of Egypt, Julian of Norwich and for all our venerable fathers and Mothers that meaning was loving and following our Lord;’ knowing that one can only be a full person in Christ.
Our Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Great Lent (Mark 10: 32-45) begins with the disciples journeying with Jesus to Jerusalem and His Passion. Let us together, make that same journey together! We may not be able to go to church but that must not stop us being the Church!
Holy mother Mary, pray to God for us.