FATHER DAVID’S LETTER:
Now, in this Paschal-tide we are surrounded by thoughts of Resurrection. Because of our baptism we stand with Christ in His Resurrection. It should be a time of great joy: after the hardships of Great Lent we now stand in something new. With Him we have died, with Him we are made alive.
St Gregory of Nazianzus, in his reflections (Third Theological Oration 20), describes Christ, the Bridegroom. He was baptized as a man, tempted as a man, and hungered and thirsted as a man, but He conquered as God, he overcame the world, he fed thousands, promised fountains of living water should flow from those who believe. Though wearied, He gives rest to those who are weary and heavy laden. St Gregory goes on:
‘He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; now He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the price was His own blood. As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a lamb He is silent, yet He is the Word, and is proclaimed by the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but He heals every disease and every infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the tree, but by the tree of life, He restores us; indeed He saves even the robber crucified with Him... He lays down His life, but He has the power to take it up again... He dies but He gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried but He rises again…’
We think of those in the tombs, those living in the graves, the dead. But it is we also who are the dead; it is we also to whom the new life is given. The hymns of the last part of Great Lent are clear:
‘I lie in the tomb of slothfulness, and the hardness of my heart weighs upon me like a stone. I have no understanding of your ever-living Word and no feeling of reverence for you.’ (Orthros, Friday 5th week, Ode 9).
‘Slain by my many sins, I am imprisoned in the tomb of negligence and upon me lies the stone of despair.’ (Orthros, Monday 6th week, Ode 9).
‘Rolling away the stone of hardness and sloth from my heart, raise me from the tomb of insensitivity, despondency, laziness, passions…’ (various canons of Orthros).
Jesus prefigures His resurrection by raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. His words have a ring of pleading and command: ‘Lazarus, come forth!’— be no longer as a dead man but stand up and enter the fullness of life which I am giving you. Sometime later, Jesus himself was lying in the tomb as a man but He could not bear it, He could not accept it. He burst out with the fullness of life on the third day. With the fullness of a new life never before seen on earth. As God and perfect man, death could not hold Him, He was soon alive again, risen from the dead, freed from the bonds of death and death, the final enemy was overthrown.
Now our joy can be complete. Jesus invites us to be with him in the Life of the Resurrection. Still we continue our human life but with greater fullness. Life is as before but richer. We will still suffer hunger, thirst, weariness, but now we are with the Shepherd of the Whole World, the One who is the Word of Life, the One who can heal all infirmity. We are with the One who is the Giver of New Life, even life abundant, ‘good measure, well pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing.’ (Luke 6:38)
‘Christ is Risen, we are risen; Shed upon us heavenly grace... That we, Lord, with hearts in heaven, here on earth may fruitful be.’ (English Hymnal, 103).
We, as Christians, are no more to be in the tomb of despair, but alive and risen with our loving Lord.
CHRIST IS RISEN!
HRISTOS A INVIAT!
During these last three months, to increase our contact with the wider Christian Church and to resume our outreach to all interested in the truths and treasures of Orthodoxy, we have begun to serve the Holy Liturgy in the Church of St Leodegarius, Basford.
We have found a warm welcome there and many of the regular congregation of St Leo’s have greeted us and joined in our worship.
The next visit will be on 31st May. After that, as far as is possible, the Liturgy will take place there on the fourth Sunday of each month. St Leodegarius is a beautiful Church of ancient foundation, built in the time of the undivided Church. It lends itself well to our Orthodox tradition.
The Study Group continues to meet, usually on the second Wednesday of each month, in the Parish Rooms at the church in Carlton, 7.30- 9.00 p.m.
In the last two sessions (February and March) we have been discussing the topic of Death, using Jessica Rose’s article, ‘Death in the midst of life’, The Messenger 8 (November 2008), 19-29 and Fr Alexander Schmemann’s little book, O Death Where Is Thy Sting? (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), as starting-points. The discussions have been fruitful and thought-provoking. At the next study group (20th May) we will discuss ‘Resurrection’.
Please check with Father David or Mary Cunningham to make sure of the date and venue in future months.
Report on The Lincoln Orthodox Choir Music Day at Doncaster
28 February 2009.
‘Singing the Liturgy’
(with Jessica Rose)
The Antiochian Parish of St Columba and of St Kentigern kindly offered us the use of their church as a most convenient place to gather people from Orthodox Church Choirs in the North, everywhere from Keswick to Nottingham, including Sheffield, Chesterfield, Scunthorpe, Northumberland, Lincoln, and Louth. In all, there were twenty of us.
We quickly got under way with Jessica directing and it was most encouraging to hear beautiful sounds arising within a very short time. We learnt to listen to each other’s voices, and sing different parts in order to get a true feel for the melodies and the harmonies surrounding them. We learnt to sing in a way that focused on the Liturgy as something which ‘moves forward’ to heaven, that is, without the stops and starts which break up this movement. We also learnt to sing in ‘waves’, that is, with an increase or decrease in volume and tempo within a particular item of music and also to strengthen our voices for proclamations while softening them when it comes to solemn verses. The biggest challenge to individuals is perhaps to realise that the choir leader has him/herself to be essentially in worship and prayer in everything that goes on!
At the end of the day we sang with heartfelt confidence one of the three settings for the Cherubic Hymn. This seemed a worthy culmination of our learning and it produced an astonishingly beautiful sound!
(Father George Hackney)
An Icon of St Alban and St Sergius of Radonezh by Sister Joanna (Reitlinger)
By Tatiana Yudina-Butler
The theological content of icons of saints is the representation of people who have been chosen, and gained a special grace of God, who in their lifetimes purified their bodies and souls from sin, and were transfigured thereby.
In precisely the same way as the foundation and meaning of their earthly life was their unshakeable faith in the Saviour, so are their icons an original hymn to faith. ‘And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.’ (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)
However, the bond between saints and their former earthly life is also ‘signified’ in their icons, most often by details of the background and attributes.
The originality of Sister Joanna’s icon lies in the depiction of the saints against a background of cathedrals from two different countries: ancient Rus’ and medieval England. The figures are painted standing and full height: Saint Sergius of Radonezh on the left, on a background of delicate pink walls and vaults, crowned by spring-green onion-shaped cupolas; the steps of the dark blue semicircular domes are reminiscent of the Trinity Lavra. And on one of the bell-towers — unexpectedly – there is a bright crimson spire! Beyond the cathedral walls are scattered wooden country houses, brown with time.
Saint Alban, on the right, is against a background of austere grey arrow-spires and right-angled walls and towers. The British fortress-cathedral grows on the summit of a wooded autumn-brown-orange hill, towards the foot of which runs a line of little villagers’ homes. But at the boundary of these almost folkloric, fairy-tale ‘kingdom-states’ is the thing that is common to the nature of both countries: the white paraffin of candle-birches.
Behind the cathedrals and above them is golden-orange-yellow — a gentle outflowing of ‘unending light’. The icon’s background is conditionally divided into several spatial zones. While the representation of the church architecture, nature and the saints’ clothing serve to mark out the spatial-temporal differences and cultural conditions of their earthly lives, the same saints, in their eternal life, are already not fenced off from each other by any barriers: in the lower part of the icon there is dark green ‘ground’, occupying ¼ of it – their heavenly lot, ‘another earth, another heaven’, where there is no longer anything divided.
Although the image is not large in dimensions (about 50 x 40 cm) the saints’ figures appear huge and substantial. Their representations fill almost all the space of the icon in height as well as width, and their contours are outlined with laconic, distinct lines, making use of few details, so that everything else, painted in the background, seems to be a long way off and beneath them. The impression is reinforced by a comparison of the scales: the saints’ heads, surrounded by the golden glow of their haloes, are raised above the towers and cupolas of the churches of their native lands.
On both sides of the haloes are their ‘titles’: in Russian, ‘prepodobniy Sergii’ (venerable Sergius), and, in English, Saint Alban. Sister Joanna represents Saint Sergius traditionally, dressed in monastic attire: a brown-black cloak, over a pale bronze coloured cassock, with a dark blue stole over his shoulders and chest. The fingers of his right hand are arranged in the ‘finger arrangement’ for a blessing, and in his left hand is an unrolled scroll with the words: ‘do not quarrel with your brother, but be reconciled to him…’ (from the Prelate’s last words to his flock).
As if listening, with head bowed and gaze turned mournfully downward, to the words of the wise grey-haired abbot, stands a young man in the armour of a Roman warrior— The martyr Alban: muscular, tall and slender, close-cropped chestnut hair, the hard-chiselled face of a soldier. With his left hand he is almost leaning on a sword – a symbol of his military dignity and in the saint’s right hand is a cross – the symbol of his sacrificial act. As a martyr, following after Christ, repeating his redemptive sacrifice, he has become a co-worker with the Saviour.
Besides the cross as a symbol of Alban’s suffering for the faith, the purple colour of his cloak represents his blood poured out for the Word of God. He wears his cloak over his shining-blue steel armour and a short, less than knee-length, pinkish tunic; sandals on his feet complete the image of a Roman of ancient times.
Faith in Christ the Saviour united them, so different in appearance, yet undivided in their confession of the ‘one, holy and apostolic Church’; as it has already united them, so must it yet unite multitudes of the living and those already departed into Eternity. ‘Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.’ (Hebrews 11:1-3).
Colour remains a visible metaphor of Unity in Sister Joanna’s icon (as in many of her other images); she uses it, in traditional terms, with deepest symbolism, and yet, characteristically for her, as an inventive embellishment, and, at the same time, harmoniously.
The Spiritual Life
By Deacon Ian Thompson
When the word ‘spirituality’ is mentioned we tend to think of inwardness, silence, long hours of concentrated prayer. I once saw a young Indian—he could only have been thirteen or fourteen years old—standing in a temple courtyard, rapt in prayer. Time passed and he never stirred. His sister, or perhaps his girlfriend, sat quietly on the low wall of the temple enclosure, busy with her own thoughts or smoothing out creases in her dress.
I was amazed at the power of concentration in one so young (but then, why do we in the West assume that children are incapable of such feats?) How long he remained there I do not know, because after about fifteen minutes I left. I did not have his timeless absorption.
Or perhaps we think of Mary of Bethany, sitting at Jesus’s feet, equally concentrated. We may recall those beautiful lines of Tennyson:
‘Her eyes are homes of silent prayer,
Nor other thought her mind admits
But, he was dead, and there he sits,
And he who brought him back is there.’
These, of course, are examples of contemplative prayer, which is just one aspect of spirituality. For the Orthodox, however, all prayer has a contemplative element—a becoming aware that heaven is not entirely elsewhere. Indeed, the uplifting of the soul to heaven is one of the main aims of Orthodox worship, as the envoys of Prince Vladimir so memorably discovered.
This brings me to another point and a very important one. If we ask why it is that only Orthodox worship has withstood the onslaught of secularism, the answer is surely that Orthodox spirituality is profoundly rooted in the Incarnation. Western Christianity accepted the fact but not the inner mystery of the Incarnation. Officially at least it failed to acknowledge that by becoming man God not only took flesh but also embraced and filled the whole Creation with Himself. Because of the Incarnation all things have the power to become sacraments; all things are potentially holy.
According to Fr Alexander Schmemann, the distinguishing feature of secularism is not a denial of God’s existence—a modern secularist quite often accepts the idea of God—it is the denial of man as a worshipping being. In a secular climate worship ceases to be real worhsip and becomes something ersatz. Attention shifts from the beyond to this world and to the promotion of a purely human community. Should we be surprised that liturgies have been drastically rewritten or that the language of worship has become simplistic, one-dimensional, anodyne?
What is missing from contemporary Western worship is the sense of the numinous: that intuitive understanding that everything in this world has its real meaning elsewhere, and yet exists here as a manifestation and epiphany of that elsewhere, speaking beyond itself and witnessing to the essential mystery of Creation and all being. It is this supernatural dimension which, thanks to the Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation, remains firmly embedded in her worship and continues to resist any fundamental erosion. And for this we should be very thankful.
At this point we may find ourselves rememering a book that has enjoyed something of a vogue among Orthodox readers: The Way of Martha and the Way of Mary, by the British journalist Stephen Graham, who travelled widely in pre-revolutionary Russia. According to Graham, Western Christianity has tended to embody the spirit of Martha, the kindly, practical sister who was ‘careful and exercised about many things’. By contrast, Orthodoxy, he suggests, is like the contemplative sister Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and chose ‘the better part’.
Another way of putting it might be to say that, as Christians, we Orthodox are good at creating the basic conditions for the spirtual life. We pray, we have a strong sense of the unseen mystery and, like the Pharisee in the parable, we fast twice in the week. Yet the comparison with Mary can lull us into a false sense of security. Ultimately our spirituality is tested in more surprising and dramatic ways.
I shall never forget how one day I encountered a former friend in the street. We had tended to drift apart, and as we passed one another we merely nodded and exchanged a word. Having done so, my friend hesitated for a fraction of a second as if he wanted to say something, decided against it, and went his way. I should have stopped and called after him, but I didn’t. My mind was full of our last vexatious encounter. Alas, one hour later he committed suicide. Useless to plead that I had no idea of his state of mind, for if I had been receptive and sympathetic, who knows whether a tragedy might have been averted?
Life, the Gospels remind us, is full of sudden challenges, and how we respond to them is perhaps largely predetermined. Our reactions are determined by our basic disposition, by our fixed assumptions, by our wretched tendency to arrange people and situations into neat categories. ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee?’
The answer of course is that we didn’t. How could we suppose that that dirty old tramp was Christ? How could we imagine that Christ was a Turk, or a Croat, or a Muslim from Kosovo; or even that Protestant lad with a Russian step-mother, who was dangerously ill in hospital and whom we refused to pray for? Surely Lord, You couldn’t have been that uncanonical priest who stood at the back of our church last week?
Alas, if we had only known…!
By Edwin Muir
So from the ground we felt that virtue branch
Through all our veins till we were whole, our wrists
As fresh and pure as water from a well,
Our hands made new to handle holy things,
The source of all our seeing rinsed and cleansed
Till earth and light and water entering there
Gave back to us the clear unfallen world.
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere? Was the change in us alone,
And the enormous earth still left forlorn,
An exile or a prisoner? Yet the world
We saw that day made this unreal, for all
Was in its place. The painted animals
Assembled there in gentle congregations,
Or sought apart their leafy oratories,
Or walked in peace, the wild and tame together,
As if, also for them, the day had come.
The shepherds’ hovels shone, for underneath
The soot we saw the stone clean at the heart
As on the starting-day. The refuse heaps
Were grained with that fine dust that made the world;
For he had said, ‘To the pure all things are pure.’
And when we went into the town, he with us,
The lurkers under doorways, murderers,
With rags tied round their feet for silence, came
Out of themselves to us and were with us,
And those who hide within the labyrinth
Of their own loneliness and greatness came,
And those entangled in their own devices,
The silent and garrulous liars, all
Stepped out of their dungeons and were free.
Reality or vision, this we have seen.
If it had lasted but another moment
It might have held for ever! But the world
Rolled back into its place, and we are here,
And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn,
As if it had never stirred; no human voice
Is heard among its meadows, but it speaks
To itself alone, alone it flowers and shines
And blossoms for itself while time runs on.
But he will come again, it’s said, though not
Unwanted and unsummoned; for all things
Beasts of the field, and woods, and rocks, and seas,
And all mankind from end to end of the earth
Will call him with one voice. In our own time,
Some say, or at a time when time is ripe.
Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His angony unmade, his cross dismantled—
Glad to be so—and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother’s knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done.
(From The Labyrinth [Faber and Faber Ltd., 1949]). The Editor wishes to acknowledge the Poetry Foundation [www.poetryfoundation.org] for access to this poem. Please note that this material is strictly under copyright, but has been reproduced in this instance for a limited and non-commercial audience.)
The following recipe (prepared by Frances Thompson) was much enjoyed by the parish during Lent! It is so good that it can also be eaten on non-fasting days or shared with vegan friends!
For the base:
8 oz self-raising flour
4 oz ground rice
8 oz soft margarine (half a tub)
4 oz sugar
For the glaze:
Put everything into a mixing bowl and beat until it sticks together. A little olive oil and/or water can be added if the mixture seems too stiff. (It should be of consistency that is slightly too soft to roll out).
Line a 12 x 8 inch Swiss roll tin with baking parchment and put the mixture in the tin and shape it by hand to fit.
Bake for about 30 minutes at 170C or gas mark 3.
Allow to cool slightly and cover with water icing as thick or thin as you want. To make this glaze add a little boiling water to icing sugar and stir. Take care as just a little too much water can make it go too runny and this happens suddenly. Using a knife spread the icing over the base. Shake flaked almonds over the icing and pat them into the icing with the palm of the hand (so they stay on). Cut into squares when cold.
The almond squares can be rather crumbly but experiments are in progress to address the problem. Any suggestions are welcome!
Future and Forthcoming Events:
Fellowship of St John the Baptist
‘Creation and Evolution: An Orthodox Approach’
10-12 July 2009
All Saints’ Pastoral Centre, London Colney, nr St Alban’s
For more information, go to http://www.ofsjb.org/
The Conference of the Association of Orthodox Christian Psychotherapists
‘The Ground of Our Being: A Study of Hidden Consciousness’
9-10 July 2009
All Saints’ Pastoral Centre, London Colney
5th Annual Orthodox Youth Festival
1-4 May 2009
‘Personhood: Living Orthodoxy
in the Modern World’
There will also be a visit in August to the Monastery of St John the Baptist (Essex)
For more details, please contact the following:
Many Orthodox Christian events are now posted on the following web-site, maintained by the Youth Organization of the Fellowship of St John the Baptist:
The Orthodox Theological Research Forum
[This organisation runs conferences which are intended for students, researchers, clergy, and teachers who are Orthodox Christians. The conferences are academic and exploratory, rather than didactic.]
‘Evil and Suffering: The Orthodox Christian Response’
3-5 August 2009
Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxford
For more information, please write to:
The Midlands Orthodox Study Centre
is currently recruiting new students for the academic session 2009-2010. This centre provides an excellent opportunity for lay and clerical Orthodox Christians to deepen their understanding of the faith, tradition, and history of the Church. Certificate and Diploma courses are accredited by the University of Wales at Lampeter and may eventually lead to the degree of B.A. The tutors include Dr Mary Cunningham, Mr Anthony (John) Davis, Dr Nikolai Lipatov, Father Stephen Maxfield and Father John Nankivell. Guest lecturers include Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia and Archimandrite Ephrem Lash.
In the session 2009-2010 (beginning in September) a Reader’s Training course is also planned.
The sessions take place on each second Saturday in ten months of the year, beginning in September. Six hours of lectures, seminars, and discussion are held between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Assessment is carried out by the submission of essays for each module in the course.
For more information, please write to:
The Midlands Orthodox Study Centre, Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God, Sun Street, Palfrey, Walsall, W. Midlands WS1 4AL or: