Please see the attached pdf file for the encyclical in English.
In September we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Cross. There are many ways we can think to the Cross and Our Saviour’s sacrifice upon it. One aspect which we do no often reflect upon is that Our Lord was martyred. He was the Protomartyr. For what is martyrdom; it is avoiding anything, any false teaching, any person, and any event which separates us from God; and it the upholding of this Truth without any deviation from it.
The Jews looked for a Messiah. They wanted a Messiah who would be a great leader in human terms; one who would raise an army and overthrow the occupation of the Roman Empire. They wanted a Messiah who would affirm that they held the correct understanding and interpretation of the Law; they wanted him to affirm that they were right. And so, they had no time for the Gospel preached by Our Lord; Love your enemies, be born again, become like little children, understand the Law differently; cursing a brother is murder, looking upon a woman with desire is adultery &c. Indeed, the whole of His teaching they wanted to set aside; to continue to be Pharisees rather than publicans. They did not want to follow the wisdom of the common man. Which leaders ever do? But Our Lord could not deviate from the Truth, He could not become the one they wanted. He was the Messiah but nor one acceptable to the Jewish leaders and, hence, he was put to death, martyred!
In this year we celebrate our 25 years as a parish and, in this, we have been potential ‘martyrs’. We have held the truth of the Holy Orthodox Church. In our personal lives and in our life together we have upheld this truth, ensuring that, as far as possible, we have not deviated from it, nor have we allowed ourselves to be swayed from it this way or that. We have tried to ensure that nothing, no teaching, no-one, no event has pulled us away from the truth of Christ's Gospel as understood in the Church. Of course, we have oft-times failed but our heart has been rightly directed. If we have suffered, been persecuted, been mocked or despised, for our belief, then we have suffered ‘martyrdom’ not of blood but of fidelity. (Perhaps giving up the church in Carlton and refusing to be involved in a legal wrangle was part of this martyrdom; when asked for our coat we gave our cloak as well, as Our Lord instructs in Matthew 5:40).
So, we can be justly grateful for this time of great blessing.
We have been well provided for. At this time, I celebrate 25 years since my ordination to the priesthood of the Holy Orthodox Church. I served my first Liturgy on the Feast of St Thomas 6/19 October. We became a Parish at Pentecost in 1995 but then we had a resident priest from October that year. Later Fr Peter was ordained and more recently Fr Julian. For many years we have had the devoted service of Fr Dn Ian. Yes, we have been greatly blessed. We were welcomed in our first year by the use of St Mary’s in the Lace Market, one of the oldest churches in Nottingham. Later were able to purchase our own church in Carlton. Then we moved to St Leodegarius, an even older church foundation than St Mary's and then we moved to St Aidan’s, perhaps arriving at last at a most suitable home; a Church dedicated to St Aidan, where we have been given such a good and firm welcome. We should also add that there are now two parishes in Nottingham welcoming British people into the Orthodox Tradition, whereas before 1995 there was not one so designated.
So, we celebrate with grateful thanks these 25 years, this Jubilee, and look forward to the next 25 years ahead. I hope that I have been a sufficiently good priest in these first 25 years and I ask your forgiveness where I have failed. Now we have Fr Julian to be priest for the next 25 years, I, God willing, shall not be with you for the whole of the next 25 years but perhaps for some years to come.
Rejoice with me, be thankful with me, may all our failings and shortcomings be forgiven, but may we go forward with the blessings of Christ Our Lord, remembering His words in Psalm 77; “ Hear my Law, O my people: incline your ears unto the words of my mouth. Let all put their trust in God and keep His commandments.”
Let us go forward in Joy and Peace.
Fr David, celebrating his Jubilee Year.
As strange as It seems to many, I do not drive. My father did begin to teach me, but I had no real enthusiasm. When I was very young, I did rather think I would like a “Bubble Car”.
Bubble cars are a kind of Microcar mostly produced in Germany during the 1950-60. The term ‘Microcar’ is used for the smallest size of car with three or four wheels and often an engine smaller than 700 cc Microcars are classified by governments separately to normal cars, sometimes using the same regulations as motorcycles or mopeds. Therefore, compared with normal cars, microcars often have relaxed requirements for registration and licensing, and can be subject to lower taxes and insurance costs.
Now You may be thinking that the link to our Gospel reading is ‘Tax’. Jesus sees Levi, sitting at the tax office and invites him to ‘follow’. Levi then entertains Jesus with a great feast, at which there is a great number of tax collectors. Bubble cars, as stated above, are subject to lower tax and relaxed requirements.
So, there is a link, but it’s not the one. (Bear with me!)
I once heard that a well-known celebrity owned a Bubble Car and used it to drive to an audition. Seeing a parking space at the studio he drove straight into it and stopped in front of a wall just ahead of the time of his audition. Now, what he had forgotten was that most Bubble Cars do not have a reverse gear, and as you can see from the picture above, a bubble car has one door and that is at the front of the vehicle! So, unable to open the door because he had pulled up to a wall and not having a reverse gear, and in the days before mobile phones, the celebrity missed his audition and remained stuck in his car until his yells were heard by a kindly passer-by.
For many people, driving without a reverse gear would be unthinkable.; how would you ever get out of the garage? There are times when one needs to go backwards to go forwards. (here comes the link!).
A reverse gear may only be needed a few times a day, but it is essential when you need to back your car up!
In v32 of our gospel reading Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance”. Repentance is like having a reverse gear; You don’t just do it once. You do it daily and maybe 4 or 5 times a day!
In fact, there can be no forward motion in ‘Christlikeness’ without repentance. You cannot journey with our Lord without reversing–and reversing often. Becoming and being a disciple of Jesus requires repentance all the time. Every time we repent it is an opportunity to move forward. There is no other way to get out of the garage!
It is, of course essential, that we fully understand what is meant by ‘Repentance’
Repentance is the feeling and act in which one recognizes and tries to right a wrong or gain forgiveness from someone whom he/she has wronged. For those of us who profess the Christian faith, repentance usually refers to repenting for a sin against God. It always includes an admission of guilt, and also includes at least one of the following:
In the New Testament, the word translated as 'repentance' is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia). Metanoia is primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, "change of mind and heart", or, "change of consciousness".
Repentance is often viewed as a negative. Indeed, there is a negative aspect to repentance in that it has to do with the past and presupposes the recognition of an abnormal state of affairs, a wrong direction, a state of sin. When one begins to repent one is recognising that he/she is on the wrong road and needs to change direction.
There is however a positive aspect to repentance too! This has to do with the future and opens up a new way for the repentant sinner, a new way of life, a radical reorientation, a new road to travel.
Thus repentance is on the one hand an acknowledgment and cessation of sin, and on the other hand a resolve to accept the challenge of a new life, a new road to journey upon.
According to general scholarship, the first recorded words of Jesus are recorded in Mark 1:15 (as it was considered the first Gospel that was written):
"This time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel."
There was nothing new in this call to repentance; Elijah told the people to repent, Isaiah told the people to repent, Joel told the people to repent, Jonah told the people to repent, Jeremiah, Micha, Amos and Malachi all had a message of repentance.
And that message hasn’t changed!
It’s interesting isn’t it, what we remember from our childhood? I have found memories of playing traditional games like ‘Snakes & Ladders’, Ludo and ‘Happy Families’.
Do you remember ‘Happy Families’? This is a card game where the object is to collect sets of fictional families of four, most often based on occupation types (see above). These games were always great fun (so long as my Dad won!).
One of the things I remember from my early school days was sitting, cross-legged, on the floor for morning assembly. I have a very clear recollection of hearing the story of the ‘Lame’ man being lowered through the roof of a house.
I am sure that the events recorded, in the Gospel reading for today, are well known to many of you; Jesus was teaching the people and they gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left inside the house where he was teaching, not even outside the door. Some men came carrying a paralysed man but could not get inside, so they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and then lowered the man down. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Some of the teachers of the law interpreted this as blasphemy, since God alone can forgive sins. Jesus said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins …" He says to the man "...get up, take your mat and go home."
If I am honest, I have to say that it was the lowering of the man through the roof, that at that time, seemed to be the most interesting aspect of this story. As I read through the Apostle Luke’s account today it is the attitudes of the people listening and watching Jesus that strikes me. Firstly, we have two basic groups of Jewish people. The first group was made of those who enjoyed listening to Jesus. They saw him as a wise teacher and prophet.
Then we have the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They came to listen too, but not to learn. St Luke reports that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting whilst Jesus was teaching (v17). In Jewish culture of the time, teachers sat and taught while students stood. Probably Jesus was sitting as well, but the Pharisees wanted to be seen as equals to Jesus, as ones who did not need to learn anything from Him, but as those who would listen to what He taught in order to find fault and judge the validity of the teaching. Later, in response to Jesus telling the paralysed man that his sins are forgiven, these Pharisees and teachers see Jesus as a Blasphemer (v21). They came to find fault with Jesus’ teachings and that is just what they did!
We also have those who came, not so much for themselves, but for their paralysed friend, hoping that he would be healed by Jesus. It is clear however, that they saw Jesus as more than simply a healer. In v20 we read that Jesus “saw their faith”. These men placed their faith, and their friend, in the hands of Jesus. They believed the words Jesus taught and that the Kingdom of God was at hand.
And of course, we have the paralysed man himself who was prepared, not only to allow his friends to help and intercede for him but was also willing to obey our Lord’s instructions. Did he see Jesus as more than a ‘Healer’ too? Yes, I think so. When Jesus tells him to “arise, take up your bed, and go to your house”,(v24) that is precisely what he does – with unquestioning faith! And of course, the healing received was, in all probability, so much greater than expected. Not only a physical transformation, with atrophied muscle strengthened and rebuilt but spiritual too, with his sins being forgiven (v21).
They all saw Jesus, they all heard Jesus, they all witnessed his ministry. Jesus the teacher, Jesus the healer, Jesus the prophet, even Jesus the blasphemer! It’s a little like ‘Happy families’ identifying and collecting occupations!
How we see Jesus is no game! Amongst other things Jesus has been thought of as a healer, a moral teacher, a reformer, an apocalyptic preacher, a radical, a revolutionary, a Jew, a prophet, a social revolutionary, and, ultimately and most importantly, the Messiah. St Peter wrote, “whom having not seen you love” (1 Pet 1:8). And it’s true, we haven’t seen Jesus with our physical eyes. But all who belong to Him do see Him (Heb 2:9), for we see with spiritual “eyes” (the eyes of understanding, Eph 1:18).
Whatever our thoughts are occupied with, that reflects the kind of life we lead. If our thoughts are quiet and peaceful, kind and loving, there’s peace for us; and if they are negative, there’s disquiet and restlessness. Whatever our thoughts about Jesus, how we see him, will reflect in the relationship we have with him. If we see him as a judge, we will look to be judged. If we see him as a father, we will struggle to have a safe and loving relationship with him if we have suffered abuse at the hands of our father.
There are many who can help us to ‘open to eyes of our understanding who can help us to see and understand our Lord. Few better than Julian of Norwich;
“And after this our Lord shewed Himself more glorified, as to my sight, than I saw Him before [in the Shewing] wherein I was learned that our soul shall never have rest till it cometh to Him, knowing that He is fulness of joy, homely and courteous, blissful and very life.
Our Lord Jesus oftentimes said: I it am, I it am: I it am that is highest, I it am that thou lovest, I it am that thou enjoyest, I it am that thou servest, I it am that thou longest for, I it am that thou desirest, I it am that thou meanest, I it am that is all. I it am that Holy Church preacheth and teacheth thee, I it am that shewed me here to thee. The number of the words passeth my wit and all my understanding and all my powers. And they are the highest, as to my sight: for therein is comprehended—I cannot tell, — but the joy that I saw in the Shewing of them passeth all that heart may wish for and soul may desire. Therefore, the words be not declared here; but every man after the grace that God giveth him in understanding and loving, receive them in our Lord's meaning”
And from the time that it came to me, I often desired to know what our Lord’s meaning was. After fifteen years or more, I received an answer, saying to me: ‘What, would you like to know the Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning’.
“The Cross is the protector of the whole world; the Cross is the splendour of the Church; the Cross is the glory of kings; the Cross is the support of the faithful; the Cross is the glory of angels and the terror of demons!”
(Exapostilarion for Wednesdays and Fridays)
What an amazing joy it must have been when the Holy Cross on which Our Saviour had been crucified was discovered in 327AD. The Emperor Constantine asked his mother Helena to visit the Holy sites in Jerusalem and to her joy the Holy Cross was discovered. Following this, soon afterwards, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built. Over the centuries, the Cross has become the most important sign of our Salvation, indeed we venerate it with great honour for the Cross was not only the instrument of Our Lord’s shameful, yet life-giving death but it was also THE TREE OF LIFE. The Tree of Life noted in the Garden of Eden was guarded by angels once Adam and Eve had fallen from grace and disappeared from view. Now it was brought into view again in the form of the Holy Cross. Thus, we have in our midst the Tree of Life, the enduring sign of our Salvation and the new life brought to us by Our Lord who sacrificed himself upon it.
“When the Cross was planted on earth, the arrogance of the demon fell and disappeared, for Adam returned to Paradise from which he had once been expelled. Paradise was opened for all; glory to You, O Holy God, who have willed so to do!” (Canon, Tone 2)
In the Gospel for the Sunday after the Feast (Mark 8: 34 ff), we have these challenging words from Our Lord:
“ Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”
What does this mean? It means that we are to embrace fully our life in Christ and ensure that this is at the forefront of all our earthly thoughts and endeavours. Taking up the Cross is not negative and a punitive burden but the very fullness of our life. John Henry Newman, now declared a Saint by the Roman Church, says this:
“Fear not that life may come to an end but rather fear that it may never have had a beginning.”
This is why St Paul in his letter to the Romans gives this understanding:
“None of us lives to himself. and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die. we are the
Lord’s” (Rom 14: 6-9).
We are to do all for the Lord, and in our life together, for only in this, is life in fullness. The Holy Cross reminds us of this, everyday, as we gaze upon it. We receive the challenge again and again: THIS DAY TO TAKE UP THE CROSS that your life may be transformed; that you may enter into the fullness of life.
St Paul also says;
“ The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God”.
It seems that the Leaders of the Established Church of this land have been silent at a national level, throughout the whole of this coronavirus episode . At a national level there has been no comforting and no encouragement and no enlightening guidance on offer. Above all there has been no voice of prophecy giving a clear message of what the Church is about and what the Gospel of Christ has to offer. No proclamation that the message of the Cross is the power of God to those who seek to be saved and live life to the full. Just quoting St Paul and St John Henry Newman as above could have been a focus of such prophecy. It has to be proclaimed loud and clear, that the way forward for the nation, is not only to overcome the Coronavirus, and to restore the economy, though this is necessary. Rather, it is for all to realise that without God, our Creator and the one who has given us new life, there is no real life and there is no safe future. This land and its people must return to Christian roots for sustenance and life and a new way forward. As Saint John Henry said; all should “fear not that life may come to an end but rather fear that it
may never have had a beginning”. Only life in God gives fullness of life. Without God at the helm, all is lost.
On this day we hold high the Cross, the Life Saving Cross, the Tree of Life and challenge ourselves and all in this land to live for Christ, to take up the Cross of love, the Cross of salvation. The Cross can lead us forward to renewal and fulfilment of life. For “The Tree of Life, the true spiritual vine, is hung upon the tree of the Cross, as a fountain of sweet healing wine for all mankind” (Sunday, tone 4, matins ode 3). We are now lifted up, by the Cross, from the Fall; and saved from the destructive wood of the forbidden tree.
As one looks at the drawing above; we see a hand drawing another hand, but which is drawing the first hand, but which hand is drawing which? Our mind is challenged, it doesn’t make sense!
This is so often true also of the faith we profess. We are often called to flip things upside down, to view things from a different perspective, to accept that, which to many, makes no sense or is illogical. It is all so paradoxical.
Interestingly, Orthodox and Paradox are two words having much in common. The "dox" that ends both terms have roots in the Greek word doxa, which means "belief" or "opinion."(In later Christian usage, doxa came to mean "glory," but only as an extension of its much older philosophical meaning, which is "belief"). “Ortho” has a Greek root meaning to straight, correct, or upright.And so, if a doxa is an opinion or a belief, then ortho-doxa is a "correct or right belief."Similarly, the prefix “para” has a Greek root meaning "beyond" or "outside of"; and so, something that is "para doxa,", is beyond belief, contradicting what we might commonly believe to be true.
For many, that which is ‘Orthodox’ often appears to be a ‘Paradox’. For instance, we are monotheists, we believe in one God. But we call that God a Trinity, one God in three persons; but how can God be both 1 and 3? – A paradox? Again, The Orthodox Church believes that Our Lord, Jesus, while on earth, was fully Immortal God and, at the same time, fully Mortal Man. How can He be both? And then of course we have the Mother of our Lord; A virgin mother?
"O Mother that hath known no man, thou didst conceive, not experiencing corruption,
lending a body to the Word,
the Creator of all, becoming a receptacle to thine insupportable Creator,
a dwelling-place to thine incomprehensible Maker."
On Monday it is the feast of The Elevation of the Holy Cross, also referred to as the Exaltation of the Cross, one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church. This feast commemorates two events: Firstly, The finding of the Cross by the Empress Helen (the mother of St. Constantine the Great) on Golgotha in 326 AD, the place where Christ was crucified. Then recovery of the Cross from the Persians who had taken the Cross as a prize after sacking Jerusalem in 614 AD. It was recovered by the forces of the Byzantine Empire in 627 AD. The Cross was taken into the temple of the Resurrection, where it was joyously held up for veneration by the faithful.
Now, when it comes to a paradox, is there anything more paradoxical than the Cross of Our Lord? As the Apostle Paul writes 1 Corinthians I: 23,
“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;”
The Apostle tells us that the Jews seek signs because that is what the prophets gave them, although even then they did not believe. Their expectation of the Messiah was of one who would triumph over Israel’s enemies and establish Jerusalem as the centre of the world. Death by crucifixion was shameful and unthinkable. Their Messiah was to be exalted, not humiliated.
Greek speculative philosophy generally regarded the realm of the spirit and ideas as good and vastly superior to the inferior world of matter. With such a world view the whole idea of a God who became man and assumed the limitations of mortality by assuming a material body subject to suffering and death, was unthinkable. For Greeks salvation was through the mystical reception of knowledge, which would free them from the bondage of the physical world and enable them to share in the spiritual realm. The whole cycle of creation and redemption was unthinkable to them.
At the heart of the Orthodox Christian mysteries there is usually a paradox: The Creator who becomes a creature; the virgin who gives birth but remains a virgin; of the way to life being through death; of the poor being rich; of the weak being strong. To the unbeliever it is simply contradiction and disingenuous, proving the foolishness of the Gospel, and the credulity of Christians. To the believer, however, the wisdom of God is not the same as the wisdom of this world. Origen states that it is the world’s wisdom that is foolish “even though the simplicity of God’s wisdom makes those who have it appear foolish in the eyes of the world. Believers have received this divine wisdom and thus in this world appear to be fools.” It is not surprising therefore that the Orthodox Church has a whole category of saints known as “Fools for Christ.”
From an object of destruction and shame, the cross has become the emblem of pride and respect. We raise it high over our churches; we decorate our most sacred objects with it whether they are buildings, or fabrics; we suspend it around our necks; we sign ourselves with the cross when we begin our prayers; we use it to bless our food. The Cross is a ubiquitous and potent symbol. In itself it is a means of grace. Saint Antony the Great speaks of defending himself by faith and the sign of the cross.
Drawing by Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972), Drawn in 1948, Pencil on paper
Troparion of the Exaltation of the Cross
O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance.
Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries;
and by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.
The 13th Sunday After Pentecost
(Matthew 21: 33-42 – A trap for Jesus)
I remember once being told that, on becoming a Christian, the last thing to be converted is your wallet! For many people money and finances are considered to be very personal and of course we often hear the misquoted 1 Timothy 6:10, “the love of money is the root of all of evil”.
But what do we really know about money?
For instance, did you know that Pound sterling is the world's oldest currency still in use. That most banknotes contain traces of cocaine. With so much anxiety about hygiene and cleanliness, did you realise that the average European banknote is home to 26,000 colonies of bacteria. Perhaps you think that the penny in your pocket isn't worth very much? Uzbekistan's tiyin is worth around 3,000 times less than a British penny.
How about this one! Did you know that one can arrange the newer 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p coins to reveal an esoteric shield design that mimics the coat of arms on the £1 coin? This clever feature was created by designer Matthew Dent in 2008.
It would be easy to think that our Gospel reading was about money and whether the Jews should pay taxes to the Roman authorities. The Pharisees and the Herodians anticipated that Jesus would oppose the tax, their purpose being to hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. The questioners flattered Jesus by praising his integrity, impartiality, and devotion to truth. Then they asked him whether or not it is right for Jews to pay the taxes demanded by Caesar. Jesus first called them hypocrites and then asked one of them to produce a Roman coin that would be suitable for paying Caesar's tax. One of them showed him a Roman Coin (a denarius, and he asked them whose head and inscription were on it. They answered, "Caesar's," and he responded: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's". The questioners “marvelled"; unable to trap him any further, and being satisfied with the answer, they went away.
Because the denarius bears the image of Caesar it is right and proper to give it to Caesar.
What if we extend this same principle to ourselves, we each bear the image of God; we therefore belong to God. So, what does that require us to render to God?
The answer of cause is EVERYTHING! God is Lord over all!
Interestingly; the value of 6,000 denarii was equal to one talent. A talent being a unit of weight of approximately 80 pounds (36 kg), and when used as a unit of money, was valued for that weight of silver.
Now, we may not possess denarii but we each have a few ‘talents’, natural aptitude or skills; talents that we can offer for the service of our Lord. But, perhaps more importantly, we each have many gifts. As the Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian, Henri J.M. Nouwen reminds us these gifts are how we express our humanity, they are a part of who we are; friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, hope, trust and many, many more. These are true gift; gifts that have the power to bring healing to the deepest hurts.
However, A gift only becomes a gift when it is received and accepted by another and we can be sure that anything that we offer to our Lord with love and faith will be received “ …and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” [Luke 6:38]
With prayer and love in XC
Caesar's Coin, by Peter Paul Rubens (1612-1614)
In my homily for St Seraphim’s Feast on the third Sunday of July, I referred to his understanding of our Orthodox faith. He reminded us of the importance of our baptism, restoring us as we should be and, by associated chrismation, giving us ‘the seal and gift of the Holy Spirit - the most precious gift we can ever receive’. He added, ‘The grace of baptism is so great and so indispensable to mankind, so life-giving that it is never taken away’. even if we fall into error, the grace remains with us.
St Seraphim continues, ‘If, after our baptism, we never sinned, then we would be eternally holy, blessed, God-bearing, pure and free from all impurity of body and spirit, pleasing to God. However, the trouble is that gaining in age, we do not gain in grace, or in godly wisdom, as Our Lord Jesus Christ did. Instead, we gradually become corrupted, denying ourselves the grace of the All Holy Spirit of God, and becoming, in varying degrees, sinners, yes, most sinful people’, We fall away from what we should be.
Here is our aspiration and our failing; good intentions but difficulty achieving them. Yet there is one who held fully to these aspirations and did not fail, and she is our exemplar and one for whom we should give thanks, praise and follow.
Yes, on this day, when we celebrate the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, we remember the Most Holy Birth-giver of God, even Our Blessed Lady and Ever Virgin Mary. She was the one who did not fall into corruption (sinfulness). Born of ageing parents, through the special grace of God, she remained innocent and pure as all children born to mankind. In her, this purity and innocence continued. She became prayerful, attentive to God, ready to be the first Christian Saint when called to be so.
Although the devil deceived Eve and she together with Adam fell from God, in due time He found a woman, so pure, prayerful (totally in tune with Him) and lovely, that He was able to give us the Saviour born of her seed. She filled with the Holy Spirit, and with her eternal motherly care, not only gave birth to and supported her son but in doing so, crushed within herself the serpent’s head. She was not immaculate by conception, but by prayer and faithful attentiveness to God. Hence, the Church is able to sing out:
O blessed Lady, the creator of All dwelt bodily in your womb in order to refashion mankind which was fallen and wandering because of the serpent. For our sake, you ineffably gave birth to our God in the flesh, thus, delivering from death and renewing the human race. Wherefore, we sing and glorify the grace given you by God, O pure Virgin, unwedded Bride, and entreat you to be delivered from all suffering.........He ineffably emptied Himself within your womb; and rising from you like a Sun, He shed the light of His Divinity upon the whole world, delivering it from the darkness of idolatry. (Aposticha, Saturday vespers, Tone 4).
‘The Fire of the Divinity dwelt in you and nourished the Lord and Creator of all’.
To follow the Holy Mother, as St Seraphim inspires us, the aim of our life, like hers, is to acquire the Holy Spirit. ‘Fasting, vigils, prayer, chastity and all other good deeds done for the sake of Christ, however good they are, do not alone, constitute the aim of Christian life. The aim of our life is to understand what doing good deeds for Christ really means; it is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which these works bring us. It is by gaining and acquiring this grace (achieved through good deeds) that alone is the aim of Christian life’. Good deeds done for the sake of Christ bring forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit came into the world for the sake of Christ.
But, ‘If not done for the sake of Christ, (a good deed) does not bring the blessing of the Holy Spirit’.
All good deeds are pleasing to God. Everyone who loves God and does what is right is pleasing to Him. Here is the key; Love God and not just goodness alone. What is important is not virtuous deeds on their own but what is given through these deeds, namely the fruits of the Holy Spirit and increasing love of God.
The Holy Spirit prepares in our soul the throne of God dwelling with our spirit, in accordance with the Word of Our Lord. As scripture says, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk among them; I will be their God, and they will be my people (Leviticus 26:12, 2Corinthians 6:16). This is the Oil that keeps the lamps burning. Or, as Our Lord said to the Samaritan woman, ‘The water that I shall give shall be a well of water springing unto eternal life’.
On this Feast of the Birth-giver of God, we remember that she is the only one of the human race who lived her whole life filled with the Holy Spirit and continues so in her heavenly throne. We must always honour her and know her important role in God’s saving plan. She exactly shares the fullness of the humanity of the son born of her which why, at her Falling asleep, she realised the first fruits of her son’s Resurrection and was. thus, bodily lifted into heaven.
Most Holy Mother of God pray for us and hold us in the saving grace of your Son.
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration and to Orthodox Christians the Transfiguration is a very special event in the Christian year. There is a sense in which it sums up the whole mystery of the Incarnation, and beyond that, the mystery of Creation itself.
A first thing to note about the Transfiguration is that it was a very secret event. There were only three witnesses: Peter, James and John. Why only three of them? Why not the Twelve? The obvious answer is that this event was so mysterious and so holy that it was only vouchsafed to a small inner circle. It is as if they had entered an inner sanctuary where life’s deepest secrets are revealed. Of all the Israelites who came out of Egypt, only Moses saw the glory of God – and even he was not permitted to see God face to face. On Mount Tabor however, Christ manifested his glory to three persons – a sort of human trinity – and they were permitted to gaze on his glorious and transfigured Face. On one level it was the mystical proof that Christ was God; and it was given to them to see it, as the Kontakion of the Feast tells us, so that when they saw Christ crucified, they might know that his sacrifice was voluntary.
But there is another layer of meaning in the Transfiguration; or perhaps I should say another layer of manifestation. Orthodox Christians have always seen the great events of Christ’s life in cosmic terms: in their relation not just to ourselves and to the whole of the human race, but to the whole of creation. Thus when Christ was conceived in the womb of the Virgin, he took to himself the material substance of the Universe and sanctified it. At his Baptism in the River Jordan, he effectively baptized the waters of the earth; and at his Transfiguration he manifested God’s glory in the material world.
This is one of the central truths of the Christian faith: that life does have a divine aspect, and that there is in this world a hidden glory which, however fleetingly and however selectively, is sometimes revealed to us. As the poet Wordsworth said of his own adolescent experiences:
There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light:
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
To put it simply, matter is spirit-bearing. Great music is more than just an arrangement of sounds; great buildings are more than just stones and mortar. To those who can see discerningly, trees are living Presences, the wings of a great bird are like those of an angel, fire is a mystical portent, and the human face is sometimes suffused with the glory of the divine. Evolution itself bears witness to the gradual spiritualization of things. At each stage in the development of the Earth, new spiritual principles are disclosed: the glorious flowering of the plant kingdom, the conquest of the air, feathers, bird-song, animal parenthood and recreation; the gradual emergence of beauty and love. Even the very processes of erosion work to disclose the glory of the Creator, distilling beauty our of flux, fragmentation and change. By contrast sin and evil make things look more purely physical, because the effect of evil is to kill the life in things. Bad people tend to have bad faces; hatred cannot don the mask of beauty – at any rate in its higher manifestations; and when people and societies cease to believe in spiritual things they begin to produce soulless buildings, soulless communities, soulless entertainment – and soulless lives. The world is a book of strange and wonderful symbols, waiting to be read. If we would see God’s glory we have only to cleanse the doors of perception and look about us.
There is one other thing. Of all the great Feasts in the Christian Year the Transfiguration is most obviously a touchstone of our worship. ‘Lord,’ said Peter in his terror, ‘it is good to be here!’ Yes, it was good, but it was also a soul-shaking experience. Glory, radiance, beauty beyond all human telling, so that the Apostles felt compelled to bow their faces to the earth and adore. Now in its original sense, Orthodoxy means ‘right worship’; and without in any way wishing to disparage non-Orthodox Christians, who sometimes lead more Christ-like lives than we do, it does seem to me that it is only Orthodox worship, in its ineffable and celestial beauty, in its sometimes overwhelming sense of the Divine Presence, that enables us to understand what worship is really all about. And there, it seems to me, is a message for our godless, utilitarian Age, and a truth that we do well to ponder.
Matthew 14: 14-22
Feeding of Five Thousand
Can you find a man's face hidden among the coffee beans?
Trust me, he's in there.
Knowing that there is a face hidden in the picture doesn’t necessarily make it easy to find. Not knowing it is there would render it virtually impossible to notice. The way we look at something will determine what we are likely to see. This is as true for our reading of the Holy scriptures as much as for anything else.
In the history of biblical interpretation, four major types of hermeneutics (the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts) have emerged: the literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical. I wonder how you interpret today's Gospel reading.
Matthew 14 tells us how Christ fed the multitudes – 5000 men plus the women and children. Have you ever noticed just how that is done? First, we have Christ giving thanks. We then have the bread being broken and distributed - Familiar?
Christ gives thanks - Just as we offer the Anaphora or the "Great Thanksgiving" The central prayer of the Eucharist.
Christ breaks the bread – Just as the priest breaks the bread representing our Lord’s body; the Eucharist.
Christ gives it to his disciples to distribute - representing the Priest distributing communion at the Liturgy,
Finally; the people are filled!
When we gather together for the Divine Liturgy we partake in the greatest of miracles! As the priest stands at the altar, he says, “The Lamb of God is broken and distributed, broken yet not divided, ever eaten, yet never consumed; but sanctifies those who partake.”
After all had eaten of the 5 loaves and 2 fish in today’s gospel account, there are taken up 12 baskets full, one for each of the 12 apostles; and these baskets have been passed down from the apostles into the hands of the bishops and priests in every generation and remain ever full – ever eaten yet never consumed!
Is there anything more important than to receive the “most precious and holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and saviour, Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and for eternal life”? – what the Fathers call the “Medicine of Immortality.”
The ‘feeding’ miracle(s) are offered to us by all four of the Gospel writers, and in John chapter 6 Christ explains the true significance (John 6:48,51- 56) “I am the bread of life… Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in You…. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day…”. The most serious penalty that can be imposed upon an Orthodox Christian is to be cut off from communion – to be ex-communicated. We need to be coming to the cup at every opportunity, this is life!
However, for many, this is just not possible or wise at this present time and our hearts and prayers go out to those of our community that are not able to be present with us at the Divine Liturgy. We pray that we might soon be able to come together and receive the Holy Mysteries; that we might soon gather again at our Lord’s table together with the entire Church visible and invisible. And that He, who gave himself up for the life of the world, may ever lead us into all that He has prepared for each of us, through partaking in His very Body and Blood.
Father Julian, 2/8/2020
This mainly contains homilies and messages from our priests, although there is some scope to share thoughts and interesting articles which we may want to share with others