FR DAVID’S LETTER
The Season of Great Lent, 2011.
The old maxim, no salvation outside the Church (extra ecclesiam nulla salus) sounds a hard saying to many. But it is true, it follows God's plan of redemption. It is hard for many to accept this, especially in this age of the individual, often in social isolation, where promotion of the self is a first priority. But for the Christian, there is no such thing as 'My Way' but only 'Our Path', as we follow Christ who is 'the Way'. Our life can only exist and grow within the family of the Church.
At no time of the year is this more clearly demonstrated as true, than in our entry into Great Lent. Here we achieve (at least partially) what seems quite impossible. We undertake to fast for forty days, abstaining from many of our usual foods and reducing the quantity we eat. To our surprise, we find that this is possible because it is an undertaking of the whole Church. We tangibly feel that we are firmly part of a great world-wide community, even the Body of Christ. We become aware of the strong support that we have of others and a spiritual drive, which enables us in our own individual commitment. This is the first blessing of Great Lent.
Then there is the benefit of fasting. We find that the whole body seems lighter and the soul begins to soar God-wards. The body no longer has the same dominance, the same priority. We become more spiritually aware and we are then better able to pray, Prayer is communion with God and to experience this at a deeper level is the central purpose of it all. We find that the fasting we undertake enables a deepening of our relationship with God, Fasting links with the very essence of prayer.
Most of us are glad and relieved when the fasting time is over so that we can return to and enjoy the greater fullness of life on earth but perhaps we also fear that if Great Lent were to continue indefinitely we might become so transformed into spiritual life that we would no longer able carry on as before. (This might be a good thing for some as long as it did not echo another maxim: so Godly minded, no earthly good! But perhaps in this there is a lesson for us all of us to consider.
For a third realization of the purpose of Great Lent, we might meditate on St Matthew's Gospel, chapter 5: 13 – 16:
"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its savour, how shall it be seasoned?"
Our Lord, in this reading , also says: " You are the light of the world."
The other aim of Great Lent is to be better equipped for life as a committed Christian. When Our Lord said to those gathered around him: "You are the salt of the earth", this would be a very potent metaphor to the people who first heard this. Salt had such importance in the life of those days (as indeed it has today despite many health warnings around it in our contemporary health press). For the Romans of the day, salt had three great qualities. It was considered to be the purest substance in existence. It is white and looks pure. Its source, from the sea and dried by the sun, two sources of purity add to this. It also had known healing properties when applied to a wound or taken by mouth to restore weakness as in sun-stroke in hot climates. Then, it was used to preserve food, so enabling fish, meat, vegetables, the fruit of seasons of plenty to be stored without decay, for more difficult times. It was such a valuable commodity that soldiers were often paid in salt. Finally, salt has the wonderful quality of enhancing flavour. Many a dish can be revived or made by the addition of salt.
Our Lord, of course, goes on to say: "but if the salt has lost its flavour,... it is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men". I am not sure how salt loses it flavour but clearly this would make it useless!
So here is the message. Our Christian life it to be pure, and our time of Great Lent to be cleansing and healing., for ourselves and for others The quality of our lives should preserve around us what is good and keep traditions and virtues which are life enhancing and wholesome. As we draw closer to God, our communion with Him should give savour so that life is full and flavoursome and enriched. And we are not to stand alone but be part of the Christian family where we can give and receive encouragement, support, perseverance and joy. We are to be the salt of the earth and the Light in the Church and in the World. God forbid that we should lose our savour. There are too many who would gladly trample the Church underfoot!
May God bless you during this Holy Season.
A message to Fr David and the parish from Olga Velosova. mother of child Sebastian, who moved to London last year.
She writes: " I'd like to say thank you to you and all who work on the Newsletter. It is very interesting and informative. I enclose a subscription hoping to receive it next year. Wishing you good health. peace. happiness and joy. Previously she had sent a thank you card saying: Dear Father David, I was very lucky to find your church and to meet you four years ago. Whenever I came to your services I felt Christian love, peace and calm. Now, leaving for London, I want to say thank you to you and your parish for your kindness and warmth. Thank you for your attention to people and, of course, for baptizing my son Sebastian. I shall always remember you. God bless your parish!
New Calendar / Old Calendar
This year, after the Feast of Theophany, we transferred to the New Calendar, generally used across the Western Orthodox Church. As a prelude to this we had a well attended celebration of Christmas on the 24th December evening. Then, again, we celebrated the Feast of the Nativity on the 7th January.
This year, St Leo's did not have a Christmas tree and so we provided one and placed it near the front of the nave within the worship area which we use. Together with the two dozen candelabra which St Leo's brings out at Christmas, there is a very inspiring and moving atmosphere for evening and night services.
It was disappointing that on the 6th January, there was no choir and a small attendance. Fr David and Margaret Handley sang some of the service and it was still a very prayerful and moving experience. For the Festal Liturgy on the 7th January, there was again a good attendance clearly indicating that we should keep this date as well as that of the 24h/25th December in future years. This we shall do, so that all of our congregation will be provided for fully, at this important time of the year.
On Sunday, 16th January, we held the Feast of Theophany. Again, it was well attended and again the River Lean was blessed , despite the rain. There was no sighting of the Kingfisher this year but a dove was spotted sitting on a telegraph pole looking on with interest. On this occasion Fr David could not be present because of a slight and temporary bout of ill health. Fr Edwin of Chesterfield stood in for him at very short notice. We are always grateful for Fr Edwin's help and support throughout the year. Many thanks. Fr David would like to take this opportunity to thank Fr Edwin of Chesterfield, Fr George of Lincoln and Fr George of Doncaster who have stood in for him from time to time. He is ever appreciative of Fr Dn. Ian and Diaconissa Frances for their stalwart support. Even in the most adverse weather of recent times they have mostly managed the journey from Scunthorpe , a round trip of 120 miles. Their dedication to the Parish is immense and greatly appreciated. And Frances's cooking is always delicious!
Fourth Sunday of the Month
Fr Alexander Willis, from the Holborn Parish visited again in January. He was invited to serve the Liturgy in Fr. David's house chapel. This will happen from time to time on the fourth Sunday of the month. It is not an advertised service but all are welcome to attend. Fr David will announce this on the preceding Sunday.
The Twelve Gospel Readings .
This important and moving service, matins of Great and Holy Friday will be held this year in Fr David's house Chapel. We are not able to have this in St Leo's before 9.00 p.m. Last year, whilst we were in Church at this time, three of our people's cars had windows smashed. We will not take the risk this year.
For Pascha, at the Saturday evening services, we will post a security team as we did last year.
Our Archbishop, Gabriel developed a severe chest infection during and after his visit to us at the end of August, 2010. Subsequently it was discovered that he had an underlying problem requiring treatment. Recently he has undergone surgery to remedy this. He is making good progress. Please continue to pray for him.
NOTES AND NEWS
We are delighted to offer our congratulations to Vera and Tsvetan Petkov on the birth of their son Jordan on Feb 16th. He is of course the little brother of Zoya and Nadezhda. Zoya tells me that mum and baby are doing perfectly fine and the weight of the baby is 3.78kg (8lbs5oz) He has dark brown hair, his ears are very tucked in and he has big feet for a little baby
We are viewing the DVDs of the talks associated with The Way, a presentation over 12 sessions of the Orthodox Faith. These will take place on Tuesdays starting on March 8th at 7.30 pm at various locations. The first one is at the home of Margaret Handley
Emmanuel House Appeal
This important service to the community, providing a Day Centre and support for the mentally ill, and others with many different needs, faces financial difficulty because of recent funding cuts. The parish collected over £50 following the Liturgy on 6th March. Many thanks, Fr David
Our Deanery Conference will be held at St Albans, from Friday, 27th to Monday 30th May, 2011.
It is hoped that many from our parish will be able to be present. It is quite expensive especially for a family. Please do try to enrol for the conference and speak to Fr David if you want some financial help. The conference is open to non parish members. Conference details : www.exarchate.org.uk
Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist
Summer Conference 2011: Orthodox Witness Today
High Leigh Conference Centre Hertfordshire, 22nd - 24th July 2011
Programme and all details available on the website: www.ofsjb.org
Pilgrimage to Iona
Fr David is arranging a visit to the Holy Island of Iona in Western Scotland in September, 2011. Please express your interest to him NOW. He was prepared to arrange a visit this year but no one expressed an interest until it was too late to arrange!
Pilgrimage to Holy Island, Lindesfarne.
Lindesfarne is the Holy Island of Northumberland. Margaret Handley has booked Marygate House from Monday, 17 to Friday 21 October, 2011. Please express your interest to Margaret.
A TALE ABOUT ST NICHOLAS AND ST JOHN CASSIAN
The two of them had returned to earth one day to see how things were going. They came upon a peasant whose cart had slipped into a muddy ditch. The peasant asked for help. Cassian regretfully refused: he would soon be on his way back to the heavenly realm and his robes had to be spotlessly white. Nicholas said nothing. He was already up to his knees in the mud, exerting all his strength to help the peasant in his need. When God learned the reason for the spotless robes of the one and the filthy condition of the other, he ordered the church calendar to be rearranged. Hence to this day St Nicholas is commemorated twice a year (May 9 and Dec 6) but Cassian’s feast was relegated to Feb 29 so recurs only once in four years.
THE DOCTRINE OF SUBSTITUTED LOVE
Ten minutes walk from the centre of Oxford, on the left hand side of St Giles as you go north, is a pub called The Eagle and Child. It is an ancient, rambling, delightfully atmospheric hostelry, noted for its bar meals and wide selection of fine ales. But its chief claim to fame (as it proudly announces on a tablet screwed to a wall in one of its snug little rooms) is that it was for many years a meeting place for the Inklings.
Who on earth, you may ask, were the Inklings, and why are they famous? In fact they are better known individually.
The Inklings were a group of writers who met to discuss matters of common interest and to read their work to each other. Draft versions of some very famous passages in twentieth-century literature were first heard within the walls of The Eagle and Child. The best known members of the group were J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings), C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, and it is with Charles Williams that I am here concerned. His tombstone describes him as a poet, but he was also a theologian and literary critic, and is now best remembered for his splendid supernatural novels War in Heaven (1930), Many Dimensions (1931), Descent into Hell (1937) and All Hallows' Eve (1945). Metropolitan Anthony admired these novels greatly and often referred to them in his talks and sermons. Williams was a lifelong member of the Church of England.
The term 'The Doctrine of Substituted Love' was coined by Williams to describe something which is so fundamental to the Christian faith that no previous writer had ever thought to give it a name. I suppose it was a case of being so big that people didn't notice it. The phrase occurs in his novel Descent into Hell, the story of a woman who is haunted by a doppelganger. Briefly stated, the Doctrine of Substituted Love is the idea that any believer can offer to take the place of another, or ask on behalf of another, in order to do for them what they are unable to do for themselves. Thus in the Gospels, the Roman centurion at Capernaum asks Jesus to heal his servant, and it is the faith of the centurion that Jesus accepts as a condition for the healing, not the faith of the servant himself (who perhaps had none). It is the same with the Caananite woman, who asks on behalf of her mentally afflicted child. An even more striking example is that of the paralytic, who is lowered by his friends through the roof of the house in which Jesus is teaching. 'Seeing their faith (ie. the faith of the friends), Jesus says to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee'!
The Doctrine of Substituted Love reminds us that no-one is sufficient unto himself, for in all kinds of ways we depend, in our daily lives, on the skills and expertise of other members of society: on teachers, doctors, dentists, craftsmen, engineers, and so on. Even in the world we are members of one body. We are enjoined, moreover, to bear one another's burdens. In the Panikhida the Reader and Choir become, for a time, the voice of the departed person, for in this world that person no longer has a voice. Similarly, when we pray privately for someone, or ask others to do so, it is not the faith of the person; it is our faith and the faith of the Church which gives effect to our offering. And if we wish to have this further confirmed (as two lines meet in a crossword puzzle), we have only to remember that our offering is joined to the sacrificial offering of Christ, who, by taking away the sin of the world and giving life to the departed, did for us what, emphatically, we could not do for ourselves. And here we come to the crux of the matter. For in taking flesh and dying on the Cross, Jesus became, in his own person, the greatest of all examples of the Doctrine of Substituted Love.
PROTECTION OR OVER-PROTECTION?
You don’t know what you’ve got until it is gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. So say the words from one of the Joni Mitchell lyrics of the seventies and they still apply today.
On our local news it was announced that children under 16 yrs of age would no longer be included in certain stage productions - not because of ‘adult humour’ problems but because the paperwork concerning child protection and health and safety had become so burdensome that the organisers felt to be drowning in form filling, collecting up copies of birth certificates, medical certificates, parental signatures etc. The organisers decided that they would use over 16s and make them look younger – problem solved. So….. the child protection rules have stopped many children from taking part in something that would have been an enriching experience.
School trips are another area where risk assessment has stultified adventure. Even a paddle at the seaside is considered too risky and goodness knows what might be picked up from a ride on a donkey. Children used to go on visits to local farms but close contact with animals and even close examination of animal food stuff such as apple flavoured pig nuts is now frowned on. Hand feeding the carp at a local shallow lake used to be a great attraction but is now considered a danger area even when the worst that could happen is that a child falls in and gets very wet.
Christingle services used to be very popular and in some churches maybe still are. I know of two churches where the children are no longer allowed to hold the orange with the lighted candle. The oranges are all placed together on a table (at a safe distance) and are given out unlit at the end of the service. Unsurprisingly attendance at these services has dropped drastically and what could have been a positive introduction for fringe members of the church has turned into a turn off.
But what are we doing to our children? All the time they are being taken away from direct experience. My critics would say that if one child is saved from danger all the form filling is well worth while. Of course children should be protected from danger and corruption. Good practice should be followed at all times and there is no place for foolhardiness and stupid risks.
However, looking back to my own childhood, where creature comforts would have been regarded as sparse in comparison with those of today, I feel very fortunate that as children we were able to play unsupervised in the surrounding woods and fields. One brave soul came to no harm after deciding to eat a spider to test out the flavour. She said that it tasted of grass but nobody wished to verify this statement. Today’s children are denied all these excitements and they are the losers.
This exhilarating sense of adventure is now an endangered experience. Should that feeling of freedom with the wind blowing through the hair belong to a by-gone age?
Has the balance now swung so far that the spirit is stultified, deadened or smothered by the effect of a thick state enforced cuddly blanket?
Celtic Morning Prayer – Iona Community
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I awake this morning in the presence of the holy angels of God; may heaven open wide before me, above and around me. May I see the Christ of my love and enjoy His sunlit company in all things of earth this day.
Advice on fasting offered by Saints and Fathers of the Church
St. John Chrysostom
I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too.
The Publican fasted not; and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted, in order that thou mayest learn that fasting is unprofitable, except all other duties follow with it.
If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him!
If thou seest an enemy, be reconciled to him!
If thou seest a friend gaining honor, envy him not!
If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by!
For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.
Let the hands fast, by being pure from covetousness and avarice.
Let the feet fast, but ceasing from running to unlawful spectacles.
For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting.
For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes.
Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. "Thou shalt not receive a false report," it says.
From "The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church," Volume 9 .
St Basil the Great
There is both a physical and a spiritual fast. In the physical fast the body abstains from food and drink. In the spiritual fast, the faster abstains from evil intentions, words and deeds. One who truly fasts abstains from anger, rage, malice, and vengeance. One who truly fasts abstains from idle and foul talk, empty rhetoric, slander, condemnation, flattery, lying and all manner of spiteful talk. In a word, a real faster is one who withdraws from all evil.
As much as you subtract from the body, so much will you add to the strength of the soul.
St Ephraim the Syrian
If thou, O man, dost not forgive everyone who has sinned against thee, then do not trouble thyself with fasting. If thou dost not forgive the debt of thy brother, with whom thou art angry for some reason, then thou dost fast in vain God will not accept thee. Fasting will not help thee, until thou become accomplished in love and in the hope of faith. Whoever fasts and becomes angry, and harbours enmity in his heart, such a one hates God, and salvation is far from him.
St Tikhon of Zadonsk
An excellent faster is he who restrains himself from every impurity, who imposes abstinence on his tongue and restrains it from idle talk, foul language, slander, condemnation, flattery and all manner of evilspeaking, who abstains from anger, rage, malice and vengeance and withdraws from every evil.
Saint Nikolai of Zicha
Gluttony makes a man gloomy and fearful, but fasting makes him joyful and courageous. And, as gluttony calls forth greater and greater gluttony, so fasting stimulates greater and greater endurance. When a man realizes the grace that comes through fasting, he desires to fast more and more. And the graces that come through fasting are countless....
Apart from St Nikolai the implication in all these extracts is that food fasting is less important than other forms of self-control. That does not mean that we abandon food fasting but it should be put in perspective.
St John Chrysostom (345-407) taught many times that fasting is not only the abstention from certain foods but also an abstention from evil doings. During the first week of Great Lent we sing ‘While fasting from food, let us also fast from our passions.’ In Lenten Vespers we sing ‘Let us fast with a fast pleasing to the Lord’. Hypocritical fasting is abstaining from certain foods but allowing ourselves all the worldly vices.
Finally, as Bishop Kallistos observes (The Lenten Triodionp.37) “the rules of fasting, while they need to be taken seriously are not to be interpreted with dour and pedantic legalism; ‘for the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom.14;17).”
The fasting ‘rules’ are an ideal and are out of reach for many of us because ‘the world is too much with us.’ We can only do our best.
St Guthlac (AD714).
The son of a Mercian nobleman, Guthlac was trained as a soldier and quickly became the leader of a band of mercenaries, apparently offering his services to whichever king or underking had need of troops. At the age of twenty-four however, he renounced the military life and entered the double monastery of Repton where he was clothed as a monk and trained in the monastic life. After two years he left to become a hermit in the Lincolnshire Fens, which at that time was a desolate, reputedly haunted region of islets and lagoons, accessible only by boat. Here he lived for the next fifteen years, clothed only in skins. He experienced diabolic visitations, had visions, and was gifted with the power of prophecy. When he died, at the early age of 41, he was already becoming a legend. According to his biographer Felix, ‘Many people of various ranks crowded to see him…. abbots, brethren, noblemen, the afflicted and the poor, not only from the neighbouring land of Mercia but also from the remote parts of Britain.’ Twelve months after his death his body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt. Crowland Abbey developed on the site of his cell, and the vast size of the later medieval church can be judged from the height and width of the surviving north aisle which is still intact and in use. Guthlac’s tomb became a pilgrimage shrine and many miracles are said to have taken place there.