When the Jews reproach Jesus for healing the paralytic on the Sabbath, Jesus answers: “My Father is working still and I am working” (Jn 5:17). God is master of the Sabbath. His rest after creation does not mean that He turns away from His work, nor that He leaves creation without direction. Quite the contrary, God’s powerful hand sustains the created world and ceaselessly supports it above the void. When He heals the sick man on the Sabbath, Jesus declares Himself to be the Son of God, sent by the Father to save humanity which is on the road to perdition, which is adrift without the permanent support of the Master and Creator.
According to the Church, the meaning of the feast of Mid-Pentecost is the link between the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. On this Wednesday of the fourth week of Pascha (exactly in the middle between Pascha and Pentecost), we celebrate Christ the Mediator. He is sent by the Father, and He promises us the Holy Spirit.
"Today is the celebration of Mid-Pentecost.
On one side, Pascha illuminate with its divine splendour,
on the other side is the radiant grace of the Paraklete."*
(The Canon, Tone 4, Ode 6)
The gospel read at Mid-Pentecost (Jn 7:14-30) begins with the following words: “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.” The feast is the Feast of Booths, celebrated by the Jews in Sukkoth (September-October). It consists of the blessing of the fall harvest and thanksgiving to God for protecting the people during the stay in the desert. On the eighth day of the festival, special prayers are made asking for rain. It is on this day, the last day of the feast, that Jesus stood and raised his voice: “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me!” For, as John specifies, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:37-38). Living water is the sign of Pentecost. This Wednesday feast falls just a few days before the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. Now we live in the expectation of the Holy Spirit Our thirst for God quickens our senses and gives us the impulse to accept God’s gift:
“As a hart longs for flowing streams,
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God!”
The Icon of Mid-Pentecost
The iconography adopted by the Church to illustrate Mid-Pentecost shows us Jesus teaching in the Temple, just as in the gospel. Jesus is sitting at the centre of the Jewish scholars and wise men. These express their amazement at his knowledge: “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” (Jn 7:15). In answer to this question, Jesus speaks of his connection to the Father, of His divine origin.
Most often, the icons of Mid-Pentecost represent Jesus’ first encounter in the Temple with the doctors of the Law – this is the episode described by Luke, when Jesus was twelve years old (Lk 2:41-50). “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” - He says to his worried parents, thus openly declaring that He is the Son of God and the He must carry out His mission. On that day, Jesus declares His independence from Joseph and Mary; He disobeys them and escapes their tutelage. He tells them about His unique link with God the Father. He accepts filial obedience to the end, and obedience which will lead Him all the way to the cross. “Not My will, but Yours, be done!” (Lk 22:42). Divine Wisdom is revealed to the doctors of the Law who admire the wisdom of the child, revealing Jesus as the Child-Emmanuel announced by the prophets (Is 7:14). The authority of His teaching is already confirmed during His infancy, for “He is before all things,” He precedes creation (Col 1:17 and Prov 8:22-30), “He is begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father” (the Creed). He is “the Wisdom, the Word, and the Power of God” (Matins at Pascha).
The Temple, Site of the Teaching
From His infancy to His passion, Jesus teaches in the Temple, the place of divine presence. In this we can recognise the unity of His teaching and the fulfilment of the Old Covenant in His Person. For He is the “Temple not made with human hands” (Mk 14:58). The hour is coming when all the faithful will be assembled in the Body of Christ.
The Master and Saviour never speaks of Himself. He always refers to the heavenly Father, in this way avoiding the egocentrism which haunts so many so-called masters who hold away the weak-minded. These seek only their own glory, and not the revelation of God to the world. The revelation of the Name of the Father appears in all of Christ’s teaching.
* the Comforter
(The Incarnate God - The Feasts and the Life of Jesus Christ and Mary, Vol. II,
SVS Press, 1995)
Fr David’s Sermon for Palm Sunday, 2019
Today we are challenged at the point when we move from Great Lent, now completed and into Passion Week about to begin. The challenge is this: Will we have become changed on Bright Monday, the day after Pascha compared with how we were on Clean Monday at the beginning of the Fast. Yes, we have been encouraged to abstain from various foods, to spend more time in prayer and church attendance and almsgiving, but these are only aids to something much more fundamental. The aim of Great Lent is to be changed into the likeness of Christ. The aim of the Christian life is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.
In the Liturgy of St Basil we are reminded that Christ emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming man in order to condemn sin in his flesh, that those who are dying in Adam might be made alive in Christ. Then there is another challenge. Yesterday we remembered the miraculous raising from the dead of Lazarus. He had been lying in the tomb dead for four days. Jesus went to the tomb and commanded that the stone at the entrance be removed and then he shouted:
“Lazarus, come forth, Lazarus come out!” Lazarus may well have thought, in response: “But it is comfortable here, I am enjoying a good sleep after my hard life!” But our Lord insisted: “Come out, I have more for you in this life!”
This call also applies to us - we are to come out to be made alive in Christ, we have to come out of our comfort zone. This challenge was also there for the crowd which had gathered in Bethany to meet this extraordinary Teacher who had brought about this miracle. When they saw Him mounted on an ass, a donkey, they joined in shouting: “Hosanna to the son of David, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” At last, they thought, here is one who can liberate us, let us support this new life in Christ. The leaders of the nation, however, had other thoughts. They saw the challenge of Jesus as a threat. Who was this usurper, troublemaker who might upset the comfortable relationship they had with the Roman Authorities. Better to be dying in Adam rather than be influenced by this man. And so Jesus was condemned to death to be out of the way. The crowd who had hoped for revolution and change a few days earlier was now unsure and perhaps persuaded to be quiet. The one they had hailed as Son of David was now at the mercy of their leaders, perhaps they had information that the crowd did not have, the leaders could not have demanded such a cruel execution without reason, especially one that was reserved for slaves, non citizens, criminals. Now the tune was changed, better be with the Leaders and cry, at their instigation: “Crucify!” Better to be content to be dying in Adam rather than be made alive in Christ, this criminal.
Even the Apostles and disciples must have felt uncertainty and despair, though some would have recalled that Jesus had said that he would rise again. But how could this be, the body tortured, wracked and distorted by Crucifixion was very different from the body of Lazarus who had experienced a normal death. For three days they were in despair until all uncertainty was swept away as they found themselves indeed being made alive in Christ, following His Resurrection.
Well, all of us will have some thoughts that we have not kept Great Lent as we should, but St John Chrysostom in his Paschal homily reassures us that the table is laid, the feast is ready and we are all invited, those of us who have kept the Fast from the beginning and those of us who are coming at the “eleventh hour”. In Passion Week, for all of us, the Church provides us a great opportunity, even in the eleventh hour! - on Wednesday there is the Healing Service; on Thursday - the Liturgy of the Last Supper in the morning; and in the evening we are invited to stand with our Lord in His Passion as we read the Twelve Passion Gospels. Then, on Holy and Great Friday, we are present at the laying of Christ in the Tomb during Vespers. Saturday morning reminds us that Christ’s first act was to reveal His Resurrection to those in Hades, the resting place of souls and in that joy which Adam and Eve experiences, all our own departed relatives will rejoice as well and we can stand with them as the first Gospel of the Resurrection is proclaimed. All this before Saturday evening, the full and joyful celebration of Christ’s Glorious Resurrection.
The whole reason for Great Lent has been to realise the whole purpose of life: to be changed into the likeness of Christ and to be able to enter with joy into His Glorious Resurrection, no longer dying in Adam, but being made alive in Christ!
Ecumenical Patriarchate Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe
Communiqué from the Archbishop's Office:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
we inform you that our Archdiocese-Exarchate under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is in full communion with the whole Orthodox Church. Indeed, the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not break communion with the Patriarchate of Moscow and continues to commemorate it according to the order of the diptychs.
All the Orthodox faithful can therefore participate fully in the liturgical and sacramental life of our parishes.
We invite all the priests, deacons, monks, nuns and faithful of our Archdiocese- Exarchate to pray for the unity of the Church, and we ask the priests and deacons to include and pronounce audibly at the end of the litany of fervent supplication during the liturgy, the following prayers inspired by Archimandrite Sophrony.
Prayer for the unity of the Church:
Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, give us the strength to love as Thou has commanded us.
As Thou has said to thy disciples, "Love one another, as I have loved you,” give us the grace and wisdom to fulfil this commandment every day.
Through Thy Holy Spirit, give us the courage to humble ourselves in front of others, understanding that the one who loves more also humbles himself more.
Teach us to pray for each other and to bear each other's burdens patiently; by the bond of an unwavering love unite us around our patriarchs and bishops like the docile sheep of a single flock gather around their shepherds whom they love.
Grant us to see in each of our brothers and in each of our sisters the image of Thine ineffable glory, and never forget that our brothers and sisters are part of our own life.
Place us under the protection of Thy Most Holy Mother, Thy Forerunner John the Baptist and all our venerable Doctors, Fathers, Mothers and Confessors of the Faith. Amen.
Sunday of Paralysed Man (John 5:1b-15) 2018
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, … Amen
As some of you will know, I was, for a number of years, a Samaritan volunteer. As a Samaritan you soon learn the importance of exploring ‘Feelings’. And, as a man, you soon learn that ‘Feelings’ are not the sort of thing we males like to talk about! Our feelings reflect the way we view and experience the situations in which we find ourselves.
Now consider how the paralysed man in today’s gospel reading might have felt. We do not know the biological origin of his paralysis; only that he had suffered infirmity for 38 years. We know also that he had been lain a short distance from healing. All that was needed was for him to enter the pool at the moment that the waters were stirred. But, alas he did not have the strength to get himself into the pool.
And no-one, not one single person in all the time he had been there, had shown him compassion. No-one had offered to help him. Others had rushed into the pool when the waters were stirred. Some under there own steam, others helped by friends, family and those who loved them. But this man had no-one. No-one cast a glance at him, no-one cared, no-one showed him compassion. Consider how he might have felt! Consider the feelings of loneliness, the feelings of total isolation that he might have experienced. How many times might he have asked, why me? What have I done to deserve this? Is God punishing me?
How might you have felt if this was your life!
Not all paralysis is as obvious as this man's! We are surrounded by people who are paralysed. Sometimes physical, but more often emotional or spiritual paralysis.
Anxiety can be paralyzing. Often, living with anxiety is like living without the ability to live for yourself.
We all have moments of procrastination, but for some people procrastination is crippling, paralysing! The muscles work, the mind works, but you are completely unable to take any type of constructive action. Like a zombie, you walk around in your house, get distracted, spend endless hours on Facebook, it can take you hours to finally get yourself to take a shower or go for a walk; you can respond to other people’s demands on you but, when it comes to following your own directives or desires, your body no longer responds.
Spiritual Paralysis; We may have been spared physical paralysis, we may have been spared emotional paralysis, but none of us can escape spiritual paralysis. At its root, Spiritual paralysis is caused by sin which causes damage to the nous (soul), the mind, the heart and even the body.
How do we know if we have spiritual paralysis? What are the symptoms?
Well, Spiritual paralysis can manifest itself in many ways but perhaps the most common is wanting to do the right thing, for example, go to church, pray, help others etc. but then not having or taking the time, making excuses, or
becoming distracted with interruptions and other priorities. Trying to do the right thing; but then messing it up
for example, despite best efforts one consistently arrives late for church Praying selfishly for the wrong things, hurting instead of helping others. Or, worse yet, no longer having the desire to do the right thing. It may be that we are having difficulty controlling our thoughts or feelings. Almost as though someone else has taken control. These are all symptoms of spiritual paralysis.
As I said earlier, we are surrounded by those suffering paralyses. In fact, this world can appear paralytic – Spiritually and morally paralysed, not knowing how to overcome the problems that it has invented for itself!
In our gospel reading Jesus shows us the intimate connection between the soul and the body. Jesus heals the man, not only physically but he also heals him spiritually by forgiving his sins. He, who overcame death in his own body, has power over all human flesh. Our Lord can heal the paralysed man because he himself can rise from the dead.
However, something is needed for healing to take place ...
v6: He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
Before healing can take place, there needs to be a desire to be healed. Our Lord does not heal those who do not want to be healed. Do those countries that wish to engage in conflict and want to slaughter other peoples, really want healing? Do they really want to be healed of their passion for bloodletting, hatred and terrorism? Do corrupt politicians really want to be healed of their greed and need for power? Do those criminals who persistently steal want to be healed of their desire for material riches?
And what about us! Do we want to be healed of our sinfulness and passions? Do we really want to be less indifferent to God and is Church? Do we really want to be healed of our lack of faith?
I once heard a story of a missionary in India who was appalled to see chickens, for sale at a market, that had been tied to wooden stakes. The chickens could only walk as far as their tethers would allow. And so, as they waited to be sold, the chickens walked around and around the stakes creating furrows in the ground.
The missionary felt that he needed to do something to ease the suffering of the chickens and so, he bought them all.
Then having paid, He instructed the vendor to cut all the strings and free the chickens. And so, the strings were cut, and the chickens were, for the first time in their lives, free!
And guess what they did!
They continued to walk around the stakes, walking in the same furrows. The chickens continued to do what they had always done!
Like those chickens, we too have been set free. Christ gives us freedom. But we need to take advantage of that freedom. The freedom Christ offers brings healing and so we can be healed and freed from our paralysis. But, only if that is what we want. We need to “take up our bed and walk”. Or, like the chickens, we can continue to do what we have always done; The choice is ours!
Through the prayers of all our Holy Fathers …
Sunday of Myrrh-Bearing Women 2018
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and Of the Holy Spirit - Amen
“ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage”.
This is a typical definition of bravery. These past few days, I have asked a few people who they considered to be brave and I have been surprised how difficult people found it to answer that question! If I were to ask you who you consider to be brave I wonder what you would say? I did a quick check online to see which individuals are considered to be the bravest in History. I wonder if you would agree with this list?
Galileo Galilei Dietrich Bonhoeffer Witold Pilecki Helen Keller Moses Jesus Christ Giuseppe Garibaldi Martin Luther King Nelson Mandela Winston Churchill Rosa Parks Socrates Muhammad Ali Maximilian Kolbe Mahatma Gandhi Desmond Tutu Dalai Lama Amelia Earhart Harriet Tubman
There’s church in Ruddington that has two graves containing the remains of two soldiers who fought at the battle of Rorkes Drift. It was January 1829, at Rorkes Drift that just over 150 British and colonial troops successfully defended the garrison against an intense assault by 3,000 to 4,000 Zulu warriors. Now although I have no interest at all in military history, since a child I have been fascinated by the movie ‘ZULU’ and have always considered the soldiers at Rorkes Drift to have shown tremendous courage.
Today - the second Sunday after Pascha – we remember and celebrate the Holy Myrrh-Bearing Women. But not only them! We also remember Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Why? Who are these people? The Gospels hardly seem to mention them! What did they do that was so special?
Well they all have something in common – They all exemplify perfect love, bravery and faithfulness.
Let us consider their actions! At great personal risk to themselves, and at a time when all seemed lost, when most all had abandoned Christ, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for our Lord’s body and took him down from the cross.
Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees, had visited Jesus, under cover of darkness, spent a huge sum of money on myrrh and aloes, was then cast out of the synagogue, and suffered for disclosing the Jewish plot to hide and deny the truth of Jesus Crucifixion and Resurrection. It was Nicodemus who helped Joseph of Arimathea to bury our Lord.
Then, after the body of our Lord had been sealed in the tomb, and whilst others hid in fear, the brave Myrrh-Bearing women, risked everything, out of love for Christ, to anoint him with myrrh and sweet spices.
For all of them this was a moment of great personal crisis. But they did not think of themselves. Instead they ministered to the body of Christ with selfless love! None of them had gotten what they wanted, not Joseph of Arimathea, not Nicodemus, not the Myrrh-Bearing women. All were grieving, and I am sure they were all experiencing intense feelings of fear and disappointment. Nothing had turned out as expected. Yet despite thisthey resisted the temptation to think only of themselves! And because they were able to keep their focus on serving Jesus they reacted very differently to the other disciples.
In their own way, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and the Myrrh-Bearing women, all showed immense courage, showed selfless sacrifice, showed their love and respect for Jesus and his body! Now this should be of considerable concern to each of us, because we, each and every one of us, is called to be a Myrrh-Bearer!
Like Joseph of Arimathea, like Nicodemus, like the Myrrh-bearing women, we too Know the truth of the Crucifixion.
We too know the truth of the resurrection and so, to become myrrh-bearers we need only to care for the Body of Christ.
Now the Apostle Paul teaches us that the church is the body of Christ (1 Cor12 v27 “Now you are the body of Christ”)
But of course, that is not as easy as it sounds! Like the Myrrh-Bearing women we too need to overcome our fears.
We need to show love and compassion, we need to give of ourselves and all we have, we need to make sacrifices.
To do anything for the Church, the Body of Christ, is not easy in todays’ world. The world tries to condemn the Church because our values are contrary to those of the world. The world tries to create scandal and controversy around the Church to dishearten us and to turn people away from the church. To do anything for the Church requires FAITH! And those with little faith will find they have little time or patience for the Church.
Today we remember Joseph of Arimathea, we remember Nicodemus, we remember Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, Martha of Bethany, Sister of Lazarus, Mary of Bethany, Sister of Lazarus, Joanna, the wife of Chuza the steward of Herod Antipas, Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Susanna. – The Myrrh-Bearing women. And as we remember them let us also remember and celebrate the Myrrh-Bearers amongst us!
Those Myrrh-bearers who sing in the choir,
Those Myrrh-bearers who bake the prosphora
Those Myrrh-bearers who clean, set up and dismantle the church
Those Myrrh-bearers who sew vestments, falls and alter covers
Those Myrrh-bearers who, make the tea, donate food, or washup
Those Myrrh-bearers who donate icons, make offerings of money
And Those Myrrh-bearers who simply and faithfully come along each week to worship and pray!
We are all called to be Myrrh-Bearers, we are all called to care for the body of Christ, The Church!
From last week’s canon …
“let us bring our hymns of praise to the Master instead of ointments, and we shall see Christ the Sun of Righteousness causing life to dawn for all.”
Through the prayers of all our Holy Fathers, O’ Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Amen
Homily: St John Climacus – The Ladder (Mark 9:17-31)
In the Name of the Father, …
As a child, Sunday was one of the few times that my parents, my brother and I all spent ‘quality time’ together. We didn’t watch as much TV in those days instead we would play board games. We always had great fun – just so long as my Dad won!!!
One of the first games I remember was this… (VISUAL AID) SNAKES & LADDERS. I’m sure most, if not all of us, have played Snakes & Ladders and I’m sure you remember how it goes; You roll the dice and move your counter along the board. Land on a square containing the foot of a Ladder and up you travel moving closer to the last square. But, land on the head of a snake and down you go! Descending back down closer to where you started.
It was a quiet a few years later when I began to think that life, was a little like Snakes and Ladders. Life has its ups and downs, it’s snakes and its ladders and I’m sure that we have all encountered those we considered to be ‘Snakes in the grass’ , those we felt to be treacherous and have knocked us back. And those who, like ladders, have raised us up!
But it was many years later that I began to see that the spiritual life is also like ‘Snakes and Ladders’ - although the spiritual life is NO GAME!
We can journey through the spiritual life making steady progress. Then suddenly, there are those rare and precious moments when seem to surge upwards – much like moving up a ladder in the game!
However, more often we find ourselves being brought down to earth! Usually through our own doing; because we have been flirting with snakes! And it is when we are at the tip of the snake’s tail that we become aware of our sinful nature.
Of course, it’s all there in the Holy Scriptures; The enemy is portrayed as a serpent, the tower of Babel, a Ladder to reach Heaven; Then there is the ladder in Jacob’s dream, with angels ascending and descending. It seems that there has always been a desire for a ladder. A way up and out; A link from earth to heaven.
Today, the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, we remember St John Climacus. St John was born 579 AD, and died 649 AD. Whilst living the hermitic life in the Sinai Desert St John provided us with a Ladder; ‘The Ladder of Divine Ascent`
This is a book, which is traditionally read during Lent and has become one of the most influential and important works used by the church to guide the faithful to a God centred life. The aim of St Johns ‘Ladder’ is to guide us to a life completely and wholly devoted to God.
Please take some time, to take a good look, at the icon on the central analoy today.
We see St John beautifully presented writing his treatise and being guided and instructed by angelic beings. And we see a Ladder on which the faithful are ascending to our Lord. Look carefully to the right of the Ladder, Again, we see angelic beings helping the faithful to climb the ladder.
However, look to the left of the ladder and we see the forces of the enemy trying, and in some cases, succeeding to pull the faithful off the ladder. And look what happens to those who fall from the ladder; We can see them being devoured by a serpent, a snake, the enemy himself.
Notice where the greatest concentration of angelic and demonic beings is to be found!
At the bottom of the ladder. Think for a moment why that might be
Now, what about our Gospel reading today? Does this have anything to do with Snakes and Ladders? Well, I think it does.
In Mark 9:17-31 we read how the father of an ill son, who had a dumb spirit, came and beseeched Jesus to help him. Jesus, who has just joined His disciples, responds to the father’s plea and heals the demon possessed boy.
“Come out of him and enter no more into him” Jesus commands and the spirit cries out, convulses the boy and leaves him”. An exorcism – We are dealing here with snakes!
But if we look at the verses preceding our reading we see that Jesus has joined his disciples having descended a mountain. Not just a mountain, but the mountain of the Holy Transfiguration. Where the eternal and the temporal meet – The top of the Ladder!
The whole purpose of our life is to find union with God. On Monday evenings, at our ‘Enrichment of faith’ meetings we have been looking at our ‘10 Principles for Orthodox living’; 10 rungs, of yet another ladder, that will help us to move closer to God. As Christians we have made the decision to put ourselves on a spiritual ladder. Once on the ladder we have a further decision to make;
Which direction do we want to travel? Do we want to climb and ascend the ladder; and in doing so move closer to God? Or, do we want to descend the ladder; and move away from God? It is a choice that we must make, we cannot stand still on the ladder! If we try to stand still we will block the way for others and become easy targets for the enemy!
So, as we journey together toward Pascha let us support and help one-another; and ascend together toward our union with God!
Holy Father John, prayer to God for us. Amen
Journeying Together To Pascha
Sunday January 28th
Theme: Publican & Pharisee
Epistle: 2 Timothy 3: 10-15
Gospel: Luke 18: 10-14
How to Participate?
Trust in God, not yourself!
Ask for his help before beginning any Task.
Fr David’s sermon for The Sunday of the Ancestors of Christ, 17th December, 2017
Today’s Gospel surely reveals insensitivity, or perhaps insensibility, when three men make excuses to avoid an important and life changing invitation to the rich man’s feast. And there were more than three, because so many places were unfilled. Of the three, one had bought a piece of of land, another a yoke of oxen and the third, perhaps with a more reasonable excuse than the others, had married a wife. All three and others missed out because of their lack of sensibility ( lack of capacity to feel, understand and be sensitive to the situation).
Our Philip Gorski has written a paper entitled, ‘Comfortably Numb’, with the sub-title, The Demon of Insensibility, as understood by various important Fathers of the Church. Alongside this I suggest, complacency, which the Abba Dorotheus describes as the mother of all failings. With complacency, we take things for granted and may even become indifferent. The Fathers tell us that we should often remember death in our thoughts. This may sound morbid to the modern era but it is part of the reality of life; there comes a time when each one of us passes from earthly life to the life beyond. We must not be complacent, believing that the God of Love who has done so much to reveal Himself to us and help us should therefore be taken for granted. St Paul says, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling’. When we pass into the next life, it will be awesome and fearful. We shall come into the presence of God, how will we react? Will we be able to recognize and respond to the Glory of God, presented to us, or will it seem, as Metropolitan Kallstos points out, like a burning fire. Will we be sufficiently prepared to see Glory and enter into the promised life of Heaven, or will we only see a consuming fire. The Gospel story, inviting us to the banquet, is most apt at this time of year as we prepare of the Feast of the Nativity. So many around are indifferent as they revel in self indulgence, they are not sharing with us the Feast of the Nativity. Whether they know it or not, they are celebrating again the pagan festival of Saturnalia, the Roman midwinter feast of misrule. In Roman times this lasted for several days, now, for some, this misrule last the year round; self indulgence prevails, complacency abounds, God is not recognized and if He is not recognized in earthly life, how will He ever be recognized in the life beyond?
For us the path is clear, we honour the child in the manger in Bethlehem. We honour him not only as the Messiah foretold by the Ancestors of Christ, but we have the additional blessing of knowing that he is no other than God Himself, come to be with us, to restore us, to enable us to become what we were always designed to be. He is Our Savior. We cannot afford to be ‘Comfortably Numb’ in the face of such a great blessing. We cannot be complacent, and in any way fall into the life trap of the world around. Rather we kneel with devotion at the crib of the newborn King, even Christ our King and our God.
The Entry Into The Temple Of The Most Holy Mother Of God
At a remote monastery deep in the woods, the monks followed a rigid vow of silence. This vow could only be broken once a year at Christmas, by one monk, and the monk who spoke was permitted to speak just one sentence.
One Christmas, Brother John had his turn to speak and said, "I love the delightful mashed potatoes we have every year with the Christmas roast!" Then he sat down. Silence ensued for 365 days.
The next Christmas, Brother Michael got his turn, and said, "I think the mashed potatoes are lumpy and I truly despise them!" Once again, silence ensued for 365 days.
The following Christmas, Brother Paul rose and said, "I am fed up with this constant bickering!"
I hope the significance of this joke will become apparent shortly!
Last night we celebrated the vigil for “The Entry Into The Temple Of The Most Holy Mother Of God” here at St Aidan’s Church. We began with vespers and we listened to three Old Testament Readings. The first was a reading from Exodus Chapter 40; we Listened to God’s instructions to Moses for building and arranging of the Temple & tabernacle. The second reading was from the 1st Book of Kings. Here we were given a description of the dedication of the Temple. The third of our readings was from, the prophet Ezekiel speaking of the door of the sanctuary closed to all men and by which God alone enters.
Today, along with the Epistle, we have heard two Gospel Reading, one for Today (Luke 12: 16-21) [Our Lord’s warning against greed & anxiety]. The other for Tuesday, when we commemorate the Entry into the temple of the Most Holy Mother of God (Luke 10:38-42,11:27-2) [Mary & Martha]
There is no account for this event in the gospel of either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. If we want to read about the entry of the Mother of God in to the temple, we must look beyond the we Bible and turn to the Gospel of James, also known as the “Protoevangelium of James”, this is an apocryphal Gospel probably written about AD 145. The Gospel of James expands backward in time the infancy narratives contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It presents a narrative concerning the birth and upbringing of Mary herself. It is the oldest source, outside the New Testament, to assert the virginity of the Mother of God not only prior to, but during and after the birth of Jesus. Let us listen to what is written about the entry of the Mother of God into the temple.
So, why these readings? Are these reading connected? What are they telling us?
Remember, first we have God’s instructions to Moses for building and arranging of the Temple & tabernacle; a temple of stone. This is followed by the description the dedication of the temple - built of stone. This was then followed by a prophecy that speaks of the door of the sanctuary, of the temple built of stone, being closed to all men, A Door by which God alone enters. That all seems logical and simple enough doesn’t it?
The bible, like Holy icons, must always be understood on multiple levels. Although the OT readings all refer to a temple built with traditional materials, it would be wrong of us to simply see these three passages as referring to a stone built temple. These three passages should be seen as having their object, not only as the Jerusalem Temple, but also in the child Mary. The one who enters the stone temple as she prepares to become the living temple. The all pure child, she who will bear the God -Man in her womb, is led into the house of the Lord. Listen to the words for the Kontakion of the Feast;
“The all-pure Temple of the Saviour, the precious Bridal Chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of the Glory of God, is led today into the house of the Lord, and with her she brings the grace of the divine spirit. Of her God’s angels sing in praise: `She is indeed the heavenly Tabernacle’.
On the Central analoy today we have two icons. We have the icon of the Feast together with, what is known as, the “Icon of the sign”. This icon of the Mother of our Lord shows her standing in prayer. Her arms are raised, a posture known as “Orans”. Christ is shown enclosed in a circle in her womb. This name `Icon of the Sign’ is a reference to the words recorded in the prophecy of Isaiah;
Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,
And shall call His name Immanuel
The Living temple contains the living God-man.
We are now five weeks away from Christmas, the season of Advent in the Western Church. Advent is a time of waiting, a time of pregnancy; the seed of the kingdom of God has been sown. it will germinate at Christmas, sprout at Theophany, grow through Lent, blossom at Pascha, and fruit at Pentecost. And through everything the Living temple continues her life of service; Her vocation being fulfilled through holy stillness, an inner silence in the depth of the heart. It is a silence that allows her to wait and to respond to God with great love.
In the second of our Gospel readings today we heard how Mary, the sister of Lazarus, follows the example of the Ever-virgin Mary. She waits! She sits at the feet of her Lord waiting in faith and obedience; attentive to His words.
There is a common, but erroneous understanding, that Mary’s sister, Martha, is rebuked for her busyness. She is not! The rebuke she receives is not for her ‘serving’ but for her complaining and for being distracted, worried and troubled. Martha’s attitude is in direct contrast to the attitude of her sister; Complaining not silent, worried and troubled not attentive. There is no inner stillness.
As we begin to prepare for Christmas we need to choose how we will prepare and for what it will be that we are preparing for. The assault as already begun, switch on your TV or Radio and you will soon be told what it is you need to eat at Christmas, what to drink, what you will need to wear, what to watch and listen to, what gifts your friends and family would love you buy for them, etc, etc, etc.
As a child I would write a letter to Santa. For many that tradition has been replaced by the `Argos Catalogue’ and a highlighter pen!
We have a choice to make! We can, like Martha, allow ourselves to be troubled and worried, we can allow ourselves to be distracted.
Or, like the rich man in today’s Gospel reading we can work to accumulate goods and wealth; we can eat, drink and be merry!
Alternatively, we can choose to quiet the clamouring anxieties and desires of the season. Like Mary, we can choose the better part. We can choose to sit at our Lords feet and await. Like the Living temple we can prepare ourselves for our Lords coming. We can strive to attain an attitude of prayer and holy stillness, an inner silence in the depth of the heart which will allow us, like her, to respond to God with great love.
The choice is ours –
Which kingdom shall we choose?
The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of Goods?
Through the Prayers of all our Holy Fathers… Amen