FR DAVID’S LETTER
A quandary for some, an affirmation of faith for others.
Professor Stephen Hawkins has recently discovered that he does not need God to explain creation and evolution. He goes on to imply that God, therefore, does not exist. Sadly, because of his influence and reputation as a leading mathematician, his view will be welcomed and adopted and many will be seriously misled or led astray.
It may well be possible to understand from a scientific perspective, how the universe came into being, but this does not then permit one to imagine that God was not involved in the process. God may well have set up the conditions for it (the Big Bang ) to happen and then set up and underpinned the laws of physics to allow all this to work. Scientists know that it is hardly ever possible to come up with a definitive answer. A humble man will always accept this and know that academic integrity demands that a scholar keeps within the boundaries of his specialist field.
Stephen Hawkins may well say, that in his opinion, God does not exist but he would then have to point to others who can give answers. He should have the integrity to admit that there are matters which are beyond his ken. Outwith the field of mathematics, he would have to advise his students to turn to the theologian, mystic and men and women of prayer for greater answers about God. Greater answers there are. Mathematics has its own way of understanding the nature of reality, but other disciplines of science; biology, psychology, anthropology, &c, have different ways which extend beyond the narrow view of one particular field of study.
Furthermore, God is no longer considered as " God of the Gaps", where God was only evoked to explain the inexplicable. Rather God is the one who helps us to answer non-scientific questions; why the universe and its amazing life exists , why it came into being, how life is given meaning. The advances of modern science are wonderful, they reveal more and more of the incredible beauty, diversity and wonder of the universe AND of the One who brought it all into being.
Here is what Fr Gregory Hallam, himself a teacher of science and a priest in the Antiochean Deanery says:
"All that Stephen Hawking is saying is that this ( the need of a God to start the whole thing off ) is unnecessary .... and I agree with him .... because, although I am an Orthodox Christian and a priest, I am not a Deist. ( It was the Deists who believed in a god who kick-started the Universe but then left it to its own devices having given laws to regulate itself. This is completely incompatible with most of the world religions and reveals Stephen Hawkins profound ignorance of the world of theology). A spontaneous creation merely describes and explains HOW the Universe came into being. The favourite explanation today is that a quantum irregularity in the substrate vacuum super-inflated and the resultant energy field eventually condensed into the baryonic matter that each one of us is made of. ow, only a Deist god would be needed to nudge that quantum irregularity UNLESS super-inflation was built into the irregularity itself. So the "nothing" of which Hawking speaks is not the "nothing" of which (primarily) monotheists speak. Strictly speaking (and here words are inadequate) we believe in "being" from "non-being," ... and whatever that seething quantum vacuum is, it is not "non-being."
So, sorry Stephen, get to grips with the theology please. At least I make an effort with the science."
Well, that's one way of putting it.
Again, we have the militant and zealot atheist, Richard Dawkins. The problem for him is that he is confined within the limits of his reason. Yet there is much more to life and to human experience and understanding than can be expressed by the rational part of the mind, Indeed Maximos the Confessor reminds us that we as Christians, "approach with supreme ignorance the supremely unknowable."
We are not bound by the narrow views of anyone of the Richard Dawkins ilk. We have an experience of a real and living person, that of Christ, the Word of God. It may be beyond reason but non the less it is real, indeed more real than much else.
When a man like Professor Richard Dawkins is able to demonstrate that his best friend does not exist and that there has been no reality in that relationship for the whole of his life, then and only then, might he be permitted to enter into my reality and attempt to prove that my best friend does not exist and my experience of My Lord has been a fantasy. Until that happens we are in different realities, with different experiences of life. I know in which I prefer to be.
Now, we can only stand with sadness as we see such a learned man with such attainment but also with such limitation. We pray that one day he too will learn that God may be understood by love alone, by reason never.
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Fr Dennis Moffat, Priest in Doncaster died suddenly on Sept 25th The funeral was held on Oct 8th at the Orthodox church in Edlington. Fr. Deacon Ian and Frances Thompson attended representing our parish. Fr Denis will be remembered as a delightful and gentle man much loved by all who came in contact with him. Not surprisingly the church was packed to the doors.
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Our bishop, Archbishop Gabriel of Comana spent the last weekend of August in our parish. He travelled from Oxford with Fr David on Friday, 27th August and was greeted by Margaret Handley who had prepared a wholesome welcome meal. On Saturday, the Archbishop visited the home of Arkady and Ilse Ivas for mid morning refreshments before being taken to Southwell After a visit to the Minster, he joined the gathered parishioners in the Hearty Good Fellow for lunch.
Vigil of the Dormition of our most Blessed Lady, The Mother of God was served in St Leodegarius at 5. 00 p.m. Archbishop Gabriel enjoyed singing with the choir. Then, afterwards, he and others were invited to the home of Barry John and Katharine Dryden. We were given a splendid supper and afterwards Katharine accompanied by Jenny Ivas sang various songs. Archbishop Gabriel particularly enjoyed the Schubert lieder and asked for an encore.
There was a full attendance the next day for Divine Liturgy. This was the Feast of the Dormition; the Church was splendidly bedecked in blue with lots of flowers and with an especial arrangement around the plastinitsa of Our Lady, given by and arranged by Anna Galina ( Slava) Solonina.
The Anglican congregation of St Leo's had very graciously withdrawn to their sister church so that we could begin the Liturgy at 11.00 a.m. We were honoured by the presence of several guests; six monks from Mount St Bernard Abbey, two sisters from the Community of the Holy Cross, Rempstone and several others. The Archbishop appreciated this and spoke of the importance of ecumenical relations across the Churches. Several members of the St Leo's Congregation were there and Archbishop Gabriel was pleased to be welcomed by their Reader Lou Skinner.
The usual buffet reception followed. In the evening Archbishop and Fr David were entertained by Steve and Candy Charters and Archbishop Gabriel returned to Paris on Monday morning. He later said to the Dean that he had very much enjoyed his weekend with us. Sadly, when he returned to Paris he was rather ill for some days because of a chest infection he had been cooking whilst he was with us.
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Our grateful thanks to Katharine and Barry John Dryden for the gift of expensive brocade to make the white altar frontal and falls. These were made up by Frances. They were used for the first time for the feast of the Transfiguration.
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VISIT TO SOUTHWELL
We were pleased to be invited to visit Southwell Minster. We chose to be there for the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God on Tuesday, 21st September. A good turn out, a splendid feast and an enjoyable get together afterwards. Thank you Monica for arranging it.
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Recital of Songs
Sat 27th Nov. at 7.30 pm at St Leodegarius’ church.
Tickets: £5 (with light refreshment) Concessions £3, children free.
Songs sung by Katharine Dryden, accompanied by Jenny Ivas
We are very pleased to have been invited to join the St Leodegarius parish at their Christmas dinner to be held on Fri. Dec 17th at The Willow Tree Inn.
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We shall change to use the New Calendar after the Feast of Theophany, 19th January, 2011.
The Feast of the Nativity will be celebrated on the 7th January as usual and in future years. We shall also keep New Calendar Christmas at 5.00 p.m. on Friday, 24th December.
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Annual Deanery Conference at St Alban's, 2011.
At our recently held parish meeting, we decided that all children from the Parish who attend the conference will be paid for from parish funds. We hope that with this help, our children and their parents will be able to attend this splendid event. The deanery has appealed for funds for the children's programme. If anyone would like to make a contribution to this or assist by being involved with the programme, such help will be most welcome. Please speak to Fr David.
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MONASTIC LIFE IN THE DEANERY
Archbishop Gabriel came to Oxford to meet all the monks and nuns at the annual meeting of the monastics of the Deanery. On this occasion, our Fr. David was tonsured in the Little Habit. Having been a rasophore monk of six years, Fr. David is now a stavrophore monk, the second of the three levels of commitment.
The tonsuring ceremony is profound in meaning. The candidate, wearing only a white tunic, stands in the narthex of the Church, like the prodigal son returning to his loving father. The bishop's cloak is placed around his shoulders and he is led into the body of the Church, his fellow monks and nuns escorting him with lighted candles. He is required to make three prostrations and on the third, he remains, arms outstretched on the ground, covered by the bishop's cloak, as if dead. He remains so until he is raised by the bishop. This is like a second baptism, the baptism experienced by all Christians, going down into the waters where the old man dies, he is then raised into Christ, the beginning of the next phase of life.
The Bishop then gives an exhortation of the meaning of the monastic life and after this, the candidate hands the bishop a pair of scissors, which the bishop returns to him three times before making the tonsure in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The handing of the scissors three times is done to demonstrate that the candidate is seeking this commitment of his own free will.
Now, he is clothed in the eight pieces of the monastic habit. On top of the white tunic is placed the girded rason ( black tunic or cassock) which he normally wears. This is the garment of joy and righteousness. Then is placed the leathern girdle signifying the mortification of carnal desires. Then the monastic cloak (mantia) in which he will eventually be buried, and sandals which enable him to walk with preparedness in the way of the Gospel. Finally is placed his hat and veil, the helmet of salvation, the overshadowing with divine grace.
This is the same grace that is given to all at baptism. It is the grace which gives new life. We are all asked to put off the old man and become a new person in the image of Christ. The new face, the new name, the baptismal garment, the light of Christ and the gift of the cross are all visible (symbols) signs of this. The monk is also given a lighted candle, the light of Christ and a hand cross to guide him.
Archbishop Gabriel wants there be a monastic house in the heart of the Deanery. Indeed at the last Deanery Assembly, his challenge was to say: " Make it happen!'. This was addressed to everyone, not just monks and nuns. The Archbishop would like to see the establishment of a monastery, a house of prayer, a power house of spiritual grace, an encouragement to all seeking to be more committed to Christ and an enabler to all those who are seeking to live the monastic life.
We pray that in due course these noble and laudable desires of the Archbishop may be realized. We pray that this part of the life of the deanery will develop to the enrichment of our common life together.
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THE VISIT OF POPE BENEDICT
I retain two intensely vivid recollections of the Pope’s visit.
First, of the man himself. A candle set on a hill. Shyness, gentleness, a certain diffidence even. But also an inner strength, born of faith, wisdom, compassion, understanding. An icon of peace, even in the way he walked.
Also the sharp contrasts. Yes, there was a huge outpouring of joy in the crowds that greeted the Pope wherever he went. But not everyone was pleased. Especially outside Westminster Abbey the cheers were mixed with angry hecklings, shouts of hatred from people determined to demonize. Happily these died away as the Pope entered the Abbey and the great doors were shut. And here was another contrast. Peace, warmth, love: an amazing scene of reconciliation. And as the Pope was invited to pray at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier I thought how incredibly appropriate it was that this reconciliation should involve a German Pope – the first German Pope since Victor II, who died in 1057.
What are we to make of these contrasts? I suppose one could say that the Gospel goes on repeating itself in every age. It was as if we were witnessing the enthusiasm of the Galilean crowds, the peace of the Beatitudes and of Christ alone with his disciples, but also the shouts of the mob. ‘Stone him! Crucify!’ And in the Abbey, as in the Tomb, a sense of things unbelievably restored. ‘Behold, I make all things new’.
One truth seems to me to stand out above the rest. We grow together by coming together, by sharing and being together. This was not the end of a process but, as Churchill once said, it was, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Can we dare to think ahead to what might come next? Perhaps, if we have faith, we can now begin to visualize things which, even a year ago, would have seemed impossible.
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When I was very young the Orthodox Church made no impact on me whatsoever. I hardly knew of its existence and I guess that for many people the situation today is still largely unchanged. Many people think that being Orthodox is the same as being Jewish. I have been asked more than once ‘Do you acknowledge Jesus?’ Of course people now travel more widely and see Orthodoxy in action in places such as Greece and Bulgaria. They will see priests walking around wearing clerical attire and a favourite photograph in Greek holiday brochures is that of a priest complete with his tall hat walking along a picturesque cobbled street. Summer visitors might even get caught up in a wedding or christening party but even if they are not so lucky they cannot fail to see that Orthodoxy is a very important part of general life. Some people have learnt something about Orthodoxy through epic events on television. The funeral of an important Russian politician has high news value and is an impressive event. People comment not only on the dramatic spectacle of the occasion with almost an army of priests and bishops but also comment more volubly on the open coffin which they think is somehow not quite British.
But…. as it has been said …. ‘If you are unable to face death, then you are unable to face life.’
Where are our roots? Christianity arrived in Britain in the first or second century but made little impact on the Anglo-Saxons until after Pope Gregory the Great’s Mission in 597. The goal was to convert them from paganism to Christianity and this missionary endeavour was headed by St Augustine plus forty helpers and interpreters. They were well received by King Æthelbert , who was converted by Augustine, thus making him the first Christian king in Anglo-Saxon England. Æthelbert gave the monks land at Canterbury, and a church was built on the site close to the present cathedral. The religion at that time could be described as Roman Orthodox.
Eventually as always seems to happen, differences arose. These culminated in the Great Schism (1054) and Britain became a Catholic country. It stayed that way until Henry VIII broke away from the Pope and made himself head of the Church of England.
In many English towns and villages, the church has been Roman Catholic for just as long as it has been C of E. and it probably stands on the site of an earlier Orthodox church. The chancel at St Leo’s dates from 1180 so Catholic masses were celebrated in this church until the time of Henry VIII. During his reign most people drifted into accepting the monarch as supreme ruler of the church. The remainder stayed loyal to the Catholic faith and often met in secret places.
I often wonder how present day Catholics feel as they walk past our ancient churches and the cathedrals which were once theirs? One Catholic friend’s reply to this question was ‘we accepted the situation centuries ago and turned over a new page in life.’
In recent years in the UK, Orthodoxy has become more widespread. Communities have mushroomed all over the place but there are very few buildings which belong to the Orthodox Church. Most Orthodox communities worship, or have worshipped in borrowed buildings – generally belonging to the Anglicans and to them we are most grateful.
Anglicanism Even in these often secular times, the Church of England has made an impact of some sort on the lives of everybody in this country, even if only by seeing that the architecture of a church is very different from that of other buildings - maybe including an impressive tower or spire or possibly by hearing the uniquely British sound of church bells. The very stones of an ancient village church have soaked up echoes of the past, our traditions and heritage. Today the church is still the place for rites of passage - baptisms weddings and funerals. Evensong at a cathedral is uplifting to everyone who has an ounce of awareness.
The church hall is also a bonus – a place for bringing communities together. There can be only a few people who have not benefited from some sort of activity in a church hall such as amateur dramatics, badminton, Brownies, Guides, Cubs or Scouts or other youth organisations. During the day the church hall is now the venue for play groups, yoga, keep-fit etc with maybe car boot/table top sales at the weekend. Many of the Orthodox community have their roots in the C of E and regard this as a very valuable part of their spiritual journey. Carrying the torch forwards but not forgetting the past and taking part in wider Christian worship, work and witness can be an enriching experience.
One of the wonderful things about the Pope’s visit was feeling the common bond of Christianity that unites us all. The presence of non-Orthodox Christians in our midst is a bonus as they have much to offer. They can be compared with a breath of fresh air as they prevent us from becoming too insular or encapsulated from the rest of the world. They can give a different perspective on life or maybe add another dimension to an idea. We are all travelling along the same road but we are using different vehicles. There are many people from different denominations who carry the torch of Christianity.
Many Orthodox communities are much indebted to the Church of England. We are one of them and we are very grateful for the warmth and hospitality shown by our good friends here at the church of St Leodegarius.
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Ben Yehouda was a humble Jew: a teacher from a small village in the Ukraine. He was poor, and tubercular, and dying; but a great idea entered his mind and hinged itself there: to resurrect the dead language of the Old Testament – the Hebrew language – and make it the spoken language of all the Jews throughout the world. He began to preach this idea; but the villagers drove him away. He left for Poland, where millions of Jews lived. He had no money, so he walked. He walked and he walked; he stumbled and fell along the way, rose and walked again – for days and nights on end. By the time he reached the Polish border, he could stand on his feet no longer; he fell to the ground, dying. They found him there and rushed him to the hospital; the doctor who examined him shook his head. “You have only two days to live,” he said, “three, at the most. If you have any request, make out your will; you’re a teacher, you should know how to do it.”
The sick man laughed. “How can I die,” he said, “I, who have such an idea?”
“He’s insane,” the doctors said, and released him from the hospital. Once more he started on his journey. He decided to walk to Jerusalem; to cross all Europe into Constantinople, to pass through Asia Minor, to enter Syria, to reach Palestine – on foot. He went on; he begged from village to village; wherever he found Jews he would enter the synagogue and preach his idea; they would only jeer at him, and he would leave again.
Finally, months later, he reached Jerusalem. He knelt on the ground and worshipped; then he entered the Holy City. He found a place to sleep – a cellar – and, losing no time, he began to preach. “We must resurrect the sacred language of our fathers; we must speak to God in the tongue of Moses, so that our lips may be blessed as we bring to life the sacred words.” But those who heard him only became infuriated; they cursed him and denounced him; they called him traitor, rebel, sacrilegious fool, because he dared to suggest bringing the holy, sacred words of the Old Testament of God into common use, to be tainted by impure mouths. So they drove him away from the synagogues and anathematized anyone who approached him or listened to his words.
But Ben Yehouda, the stubborn, obstinate one, never lost his courage; he shouted, he shouted in the wilderness! He held on to life by the teeth; he would not release his soul before he had completed his task. So he founded a school, married one of his students – a young Jewish girl – so he could have children and teach them to speak their mother tongue, the ancient Hebrew. And then he had a son – but the child was born dumb! “Good for you,” they cried, “God is punishing you; this is God’s curse; Jehovah has tried you, found you guilty, and condemned you!” But Ben Yehouda would not relent.
“Faith can move mountains!” he cried. “I shall move them!” One day, when his son was five years old, a goat chased after the boy; the child was so frightened that his tongue became untied; he ran to his father shouting, “Father, father, a goat, a goat!” And the words were in the sacred language of the Old Testament.
News of the miracle spread far and wide; his followers increased; the idea entered their hearts and settled there; every so often in the streets one could hear the ancient words being resurrected. Years later, through perseverance and courage, the idea finally triumphed. And if you go to Israel today, you may hear the Jews speaking, haggling, arguing, romancing, lecturing, printing books and newspapers in that ancient resurrected tongue. Ben Yehouda lived forty years from the day the doctors decided he had two or three days to live. And only when he saw the great idea circulating in the streets, like a living man, only then did Ben Yehouda release his soul and allow it to leave his body.
- Nikos Kazantzakis
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St Mercurios 225AD
No doubt legend and fact have become intertwined but I am sure that this story embraces a hard core of truth. Mercurius’s relics are revered in many churches in Egypt and are usually in some sort of casket inside a maroon velvet covering and are well known for being very fragrant. Mercurios was brought up a Christian and joined the Roman army at 17. He gained a reputation as a good swordsman and tactician in battle. In the reign of the Roman emperor Decius, a decree was sent out that all people should offer sacrifices to the Roman gods. This was a matter of courtesy to the gods as the Romans felt to have been blessed in battle, to have had excellent harvests, an abundance of fruits (and the weather continued charming). Anyone who wished to disobey the decree was to be bound in chains and subjected to various tortures. If these did not work (but they usually did) then the dissident would suffer punishment by the sword, be thrown into the sea or given as food to the vultures or dogs.
Soon after this edict, war broke out between the barbarians and the Romans. Mercurios found himself on the front line. At the peak of the battle he had a vision of Archangel Michael holding a sword. The archangel said to him, “Do not be afraid. I have been sent in order to help you and to make you victorious. Take this sword and when you have triumphed, do not forget the Lord your God.”
Mercurios took the sword from the archangel, hence his other name Abu-Seifein - "the holder of two swords", a military sword and a divine sword.
The next day Mercurios charged into battle with an amazing ferocity and slew the barbarian king and his company. Other soldiers fled in terror.
The Emperor Decius heard about this success in battle and promoted Mercurios to the rank of army general. After battles Decius offered succulent sacrifices to the gods in gratitude for favours received. When he heard that Mercurios, as a Christian, refused to do this he was infuriated. Threats to make him comply were to no avail. Mercurios' faith remained unshaken. Decius stripped him of his rank and Mercurios threw the military cloak and golden belt at the emperor’s feet, shouting, “I am a Christian. Hear, all of you, that I am a Christian. Here are your titles and your dignities. Take them back, for they will perish with every vanity in the world.”
Mercurios was thrown into jail. After Decius tried many different tortures without success, he decided to have him beheaded. Mercurios lifted up his arms and prayed fervently, asking the Lord to accept him in paradise.
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Their Faith Moved Mountains
The story of the rescued miners in Chile provides a wonderful moving example of human resilience, ingenuity, solidarity and hope.
Each time the capsule started on its journey the whole world waited with bated breath hoping and praying that nothing would go wrong during the ascent. When each miner reappeared at the top the world gave a sigh of relief and joined in with the emotion at the reunion with the family. Each rescue went smoothly but the watching world could not relax until everybody had arrived safely at the surface.
The press talks about the rescue of thirty-three miners. The miners say that there were thirty-four down the mine as God never left them.
The hope for a successful outcome never wavered and the whole world still feels uplifted.
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Easy St. Phanourios Fasting Bread
A recipe recommended to me and used by Judy from the Antiochian parish in Grimsby. Not yet tried out by me but sounds exciting!!
Preheat oven to 350.F Gas reg. 4
1. 1 cup sugar
2. 1 cup oil
3. 2 cups orange juice
4. 3/4 cup raisins
5. 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
6. 1 tsp. baking soda
4 cups flour
Mix oil and sugar, and keep beating until it's a creamy yellow. Put the baking soda IN the orange juice, and stir until dissolved. [NB: this can be spectacularly dramatic if you use a two cup measuring cup with two cups of orange juice. in it. (Please don't ask how I found out.) It might be easier to hold a two cup measuring cup OVER the bowl full of oil and sugar and pour in *one* cup of orange juice, mix in 1/2 tsp. baking soda, watch the fireworks, pour it into the bowl, and again mix *one* cup of orange juice with 1/2 tsp. baking soda, stir and pour again. If you don't dissolve the baking soda completely, you get lumps of it in the cake. So, stir well.
Add the flour, then the raisins and nuts.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 9"x13" pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes (or until a clean toothpick dipped in the cake emerges clean.)
I use a bundt pan (a fluted ring cake tin) instead of one 9" x 13", and my children prefer this with chocolate chips in the place of the raisins and nuts. It doesn't really need a frosting, but if you wanted to drizzle a stiff glaze made out of, say, powdered sugar and lemon juice and a little water over it, that would be okay, too.
If you wanted to put spices in the batter, I'd go with a tiny amount (1/4 tsp. or less) of ground cloves.
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