FATHER DAVID’S LETTER:
The Perpetual Pentecost
‘When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.’ (Acts 2: 1-11).
This important event was unique, but the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in this manner is not unique. We are surrounded in nature by the apparent desolation of winter followed, without fail, by the breaking through of Spring. It is like ‘a rushing mighty wind,’ accompanied by ‘a sound from heaven,’ filling ‘the whole house,’ bathed in ‘tongues, as of fire’ from the emerging sun (most dramatically seen in the far north where the sun has been absent for almost three months). This is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit of God, ‘in Him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17: 28 ).
The drama of Pentecost is experienced by scientists and mathematicians as they learn of and harness the forces of nature which are often powerful, even violent, and from which they derive benefit for the whole of mankind. The formation of a child, its birth and growth and development into a fully mature human being displays also a sound from heaven, the rushing of a mighty wind, the filling of the whole house, the tongues of fire. This repeating manifestation is captured and boldly proclaimed by musicians and poets. Our whole life and the creation in which we live is a perpetual Pentecost.
Yet, in the heart of it, in the whirlwind and the storm, in the depth of the sea whilst the waves above are full of turbulence, there is always a still centre and in that centre ‘a still small voice.’ God is manifested in these two ways but it is the stillness which is the important access to His heart and the beginning of everything. We should not seek to have the outward experiences of ecstasy and speaking with tongues, but the stillness of the heart where we will truly hear the still small voice of God to lead us through.
‘Christ is the Forerunner of the Holy Spirit,’ said St Athanasius. Christ fully manifested as the Son of God in His earthly life now becomes invisible and the Holy Spirit, who was until now unseen, is now manifested. The tongues of fire are the uncreated energies of God. The fullness of the Holy Trinity, as far as we are able to see and hear and understand it, is made manifest.
Philip Sherrard writes in his book, Greek East and Latin West, as follows:
‘The energies of God are as the rays of the sun; each one has the same property; each ray is identical, but each will penetrate the object it strikes according to the degrees of opacity and the receptivity of the object itself. Rays which penetrate green or red objects will appear green or red. The differences seem stunning, but depend not upon the rays but on the medium receiving them.’
In like manner, the energies of the Holy Spirit will effect in each one of us according to how we are; our preparedness, our receptivity, our capacity to receive. This manifestation has both negative and positive aspects: it is negative in so far as we are unprepared, blocked by sin, and full of failings; but positive in so far as it enhances who we are and enables us to become what we are meant to be. If we are unprepared, inattentive, and blocked off, the manifestation of the Spirit within us may seem insipid and confirm our feelings of apathy. We may ask what the point of all this is, then turn elsewhere for some other spiritual experience, even by searching in another religion. But, if we are open, expectant, attentive, then the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit will burst out within us. Each newly chrismated person becomes unique, blessed and radiant according to his or her personality, which is enlightened by the Holy Spirit and gushes forth with the river of new life that is within him or her. Each one of us, in the energising Spirit of Pentecost, is in that position.
Pentecost, in the Jewish calendar, came fifty days after Passover. Passover recalled Israel leaving Egypt and being given freedom from slavery. Pentecost celebrated the giving of the new life in The Law. For Christians, the Passover of the Lord frees us from the slavery of sin and gives us a place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Pentecost gives new life not by The Law but by life in the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is, therefore, our standing already in the age to come. Fifty is a perfect number: seven times seven plus one— perfection and more!
The sound from heaven, the rushing mighty wind, the tongues of fire, are all around us in nature and in man’s ingenuity and discovery. In the centre there is stillness and silence, and the still small voice of God. In that stillness is the new life of the New Age in Christ.
THE VICARIATE ANNUAL CONFERENCE
‘Life In Christ’
22-25 May 2009
The annual conference was held at All Saints Pastoral Centre near St Albans, which once more proved to be an excellent venue. Archbishop Gabriel was able to be with us throughout, and his presence was much appreciated by the hundred and twenty or so participants, some of whom came as day visitors. The conference committee had taken into account all the feedback from last year, and produced a timetable which was as stimulating as ever, but allowed for space in the day, and many people commented on the relaxed atmosphere that this achieved. Special thanks are due to them, and to Karin Greenhead, chair of the committee, as well as to Anne-Marie de Visser who not only conducted the choir for all the services, but also ran a workshop on Church singing.
Workshops reports and transcripts of talks can be found on the Vicariate website here.
Meanwhile a collection of photos taken by Deacon Peter Scorer is available here.
Parish Discussion Group
The parish discussion group has continued to meet on the second Wednesday evening of each month, at 7.30 p.m. in the parish rooms in Carlton.
After discussing the topic of ‘death’, we moved on in the Paschal season to studying the theme of ‘resurrection’. On the Wednesday in May, Mary Cunningham prepared a handout with various New Testament, Patristic, and modern theological meditations on this subject.
The discussion was very fruitful and we realized that, as St Paul teaches (1 Corinthians 15: 42-50), each human being is unique and precious to God, with regard to both the physical and spiritual being. The two aspects of human existence are inextricably linked in each person, according to Orthodox Christian tradition. Although they are separated after death, they will be reunited on the final Day of Resurrection.
Also, God longs for the salvation of all human beings, including those who have sinned. Although our tradition does not speculate about what will happen after death and on the Final Day, regarding this as a mystery known only to God, we can imagine that this will period will initiate a blessed state in which, if we only turn towards him, God will envelop us in his limitless love. As St Gregory of Nyssa writes:
‘While we carry on our present life in many different ways, there are many things in which we participate, such as time, air, place, food and drink, clothing, sun lamplight, and many other necessities of life, of which none is God. The blessedness which we await, however, does not need any of these, but the divine Nature will become everything for us and will replace everything, distributing itself appropriately for every need of that life…’ (On the Soul and Resurrection, chap. 7).
The discussion group will adjourn for a summer recess, but will resume in September when more topics which—we hope—involve both our spiritual development but also our daily lives in the world will be chosen.
We also continue to hold discussions after the Divine Liturgy, following the shared lunch (agape meal) on the first Sunday of each month. These discussions are always friendly and fruitful. Please do join us if you can!
Mr Justice Blackburne has now provided his written opinion on the law-case that has been pending. He has skilfully summed up the matters surrounding the dispute which has arisen concerning the assets of the former Diocese of Sourozh and the former London Parish. The Trustees of both groups had invoked Clause 4 of the Trust Deeds of both institutions in order to determine who should be the beneficiaries of the trusts. Mr Justice Blackburne has stated that, in his opinion, the circumstances which would have justified the invocation of the provisions of Clause 4 were not met, because the Diocese of Sourozh and the London Parish worshipping in the Cathedral at Ennismore Gardens had demonstrated continuity of activity. Hence, he has ruled that the Russian Diocese of Sourozh and the Russian London Parish should be the beneficiaries of the Trusts. This, of course, is an alternative interpretation of this clause as understood by members of the Vicariate and their legal advisors. Notwithstanding, the Vicariate Council has agreed that it is best to accept Mr Justice Blackburne's ruling and to regard these legal proceedings as final.
Temporary Orthodox Retreat House Island of Iona
For three weeks in September: see www.iona-orthodox-retreats.org.uk.
The weeks in question are: 12 -19 Sept / 19-26 Sept / 26 Sept - 3 Oct. Guests are invited to come for one (or more!) of the weeks, and to make a donation to cover the running costs, meals, etc.
The event will be organised by Reader Ignatios Bacon (Highland Orthodox Community in Scotland), who can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Temple Studies Group:
‘The Holy Anointing Oil’
Saturday 31 October 2009, 10 a.m.-
4 p.m. at the Temple Church, London.
Details and bookings on the website: www.templestudiesgroup.com
A Christian East/West Exploration: New Visions of Monasticism
for Lay and Monastics
Turvey Abbey, Bedfordshire
Saturday 14 November, 10.30 a.m. -4.30 p.m. Details and application forms may be found at the web-site of Turvey Abbey: www.turveyabbey.org.uk.
The Life of a Modern Saint: St Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945)
Feast-day: 20 July
It is timely to reflect on the life of a modern Orthodox saint, who was canonized on January 16 2004, along with her companions, Priest Dmitri Klepinin, her son George (Yuri), and elie Fondaminsky, by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.
Mother Maria was born and baptized into a Russian family, as Elizaveta Yuriseva Pilenko in 1891, in Riga, Latvia. Following a good education, she grew up as an intellectual and, having joined the anti-Bolshevist Socialist Revolutionary Party, was eventually forced to leave Russia, ending up in Paris by way of Georgia, Yugoslavia and Turkey. She lived in Paris in a state of great poverty, selling trinkets for a living. She was introduced there to the Russian Student Christian Movement and became friends with such distinguished émigrés as Serge Bulgakov and Nikolai Berdayev.
In 1932, after separating from her second husband, she was tonsured a nun and took the name Maria. She became friends with Father Lev Gillet and worked with him in running a community house in which they ran a soup kitchen serving refugees, alchoholics, and others. Her decision to live a monastic life in the world was a conscious one; apparently she said, ‘I want to create a new form of nun life… a life in the world.’
During the German occupation of Paris, Mother Maria continued to work to help those around her. Although fully aware of the danger of helping the Jews, she offered them food and refuge, in many cases helping them to evade Nazi round-ups. She was eventually arrested and taken to the Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp north of Berlin.
She managed to survive there almost until the end of the war, helping her fellow prisoners as much as she could. Finally, on Good Friday, March 31, 1945, with the gunfire of approaching Russian troops audible in the distance, Mother Maria took the place of a Jewish prisoner about to be sent to the gas chamber and died in her place.
In conclusion, I would like to ask the somewhat controversial question, whether, as we look for example at saints such as Mother Maria Skobtsova, we, as Orthodox Christians, need to be more open about the sometimes unlikely places or persons where sanctity may reveal itself. Mother Maria has been called ‘a fool for Christ’ by some, because of her unconventional approach to the Christian life, her passionate nature, and her lack of regard for authority. Do we risk, in defining too strictly the qualifications for sanctity according to hagiographical or iconic models, sometimes risk missing the image of God that may be visible in some of the least expected people?