Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Why the Nativity fast was established


The Orthodox Church prepares Her children that they might worthily greet the Nativity of Christ by means of the forty-day Nativity Fast, which lasts from 15th November until 24th December (on the Church calendar). In addition to the reasons which are generally known, the Nativity Fast is observed by Orthodox Christians so that they might honour the sufferings and afflictions which, immediately before the all-holy event of the Nativity, the Most Holy Theotokos was made to endure from the scribes and Pharisees.

Sacred Tradition tells that some little time before the Righteous Joseph and the All-holy Virgin set off for Bethlehem, the following testing befell them. A certain scribe, Ananias, visited their house and saw that the Virgin was pregnant. He was scandalized by this, and he went to the high priest and the whole council of the Jews and said, "Joseph the Carpenter, who is considered righteous, has behaved unlawfully. Secretly he has corrupted and defiled the Virgin, who was entrusted to him from the Temple for safe-keeping. And now she is pregnant." Then servants of the high priest were sent to Joseph's house and finding the Virgin indeed pregnant, they took her and Joseph and brought them before the high priest, who began to accuse and shame the the holy Maiden.

However, in her deep affliction, the Virgin responded weeping:"As the Lord lives, my God, He is my Witness that I am pure and have not known a man." The high priest then accused the righteous Joseph, but with an oath he affirmed that he was not guilty of this sin. The high priest did not believe them, and subjected them to the testing that was used at that time (see Numbers 5:19-31). However, this testing only served to demonstrate the innocence of Most Holy Virgin and of Joseph. All those in the council wondered at this, for they were unable to understand how the Virgin could be pregnant and at the same time innocent.Nonetheless the high priest let the holy couple go in peace. The Righteous Joseph, taking the Virgin Mary, returned to his home rejoicing and praising God (see "The service for the Feast of the Nativity with appendices" published in Russian by HolyTrinity Monastery, 1984).

But this was not the end of the things which the Most Holy Theotokos had to endure. With Joseph she shared the difficulty of the three day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. In Bethlehem no place could be found for the Immaculate Virgin either in the inn or in any of the houses, and the day was declining into evening. She and the Righteous Joseph had to find shelter in a cave which was used as a stable for domestic cattle. In this wretched shelter, the most blessed Virgin continued in prayer and in Godly thoughts. Here it was that she gave birth, without pain, to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.

From what has been told above, we can see that the days immediately before the Nativity, were for the Most Holy Theotokos not days of peace and comfort. During these days she had to endure various afflictions and temptations, but through all this she remained steadfast in prayer and in thoughts upon God.

The Holy Church suggests to her children that they participate, even though it be to the smallest degree, in the All-holy Theotokos' struggle, that they constrain their flesh during the Nativity Fast, and that they nourish their souls with prayer. However, the Church also gives us advance notice that a merely outward fast is not sufficient. We must also keep an inner fast, which consists in restraining and estranging ourselves from evil, from falsehood, anger, vanity and the other vices. It is essential during the fast, as it is always, to manifest love for our neighbours, to do acts of mercy, increasing our help for those in need and in affliction. Then our fast will be a real one, and not hypocritical; it will be truly pleasing unto God and we shall approach the radiant festival of Christ's Nativity with joy.

Translated from "Pravoslavnaya Rus" 1/14th November 1999

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Saints celebrated in the month of October


OCTOBER brings something of a lull in the Church Year, because in this month we have no Great Feasts nor any special fasts. This is a distinction which it shares only with July. Among the saints that we commemorate in October, we have:

The Righteous Galla of Rome (5th/18th) is mentioned by Saint Gregory the Great in his Dialogues. The noted patrician, Q. Aurelius Symmachus had two daughters, one of whom, Rusticiana, was married to the renowned Boethius. The other was St Galla. She was given in marriage when she was young, but was widowed within a year. She declined to take a second husband, and instead devoted herself to the monastic life in a community near the Basilica of St Peter. After a while she was afflicted with cancer of the breast, and as the disease progressed she was often in agonies of pain. Such was her distress that she could not bear to rest in complete darkness, and asked the sisters whether two candles might always burn in her cell. One night, when she was in torments, the Holy Apostle Peter appeared to her, standing between the two candles. She besought him whether her sins were forgiven her, and he assured her that her earthly life had almost run its course, and her sufferings would soon be over. There was another sister in the Convent, Benedicta, whom Galla particularly loved, and she pleaded with the Apostle: "I pray thee, suffer Benedicta to come with me." St Peter assured her that Sister Benedicta would follow her into the other life within thirty days. When the Apostle had departed, Galla called sisters and told them of her vision. Three days later she gave up her soul in peace, and, as promised within another thirty days, Benedicta followed her.

The Holy Apostle James, son of Alphaeus (9th/22nd). There are three Apostles by the name of James, and two of them have feast days in October. The one that does not is St James, the son of Zebedee and brother of St John the Theologian, and his feast day falls on 30th April. He is often known as James the Greater. The third one, is Saint James the Brother of God, who was not numbered among the Twelve but was one of the seventy disciples. He was the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and we still use the Liturgy he composed on his feastday (23rd October). The son of Alphaeus, sometimes known as "the Less," was the brother of the Evangelist St Matthew, and like his brother he was numbered among the Twelve. Their father, Alphaeus, like St Matthew, was a tax-collector and lived in Capernaum. After the Day of Pentecost, St James travelled with St Andrew to Edessa. Later he was sent to preach in the city of Eleutheropolis and in Gaza, and then continued his missionary endeavours in the land of Egypt. Through the power of healing, working miracles and casting out demons, granted him by the Saviour, and through his preaching he brought many pagans to Christ. Resenting the success of his mission, some pagans apprehended him in a town called Ostracina, which was on the sea coast near the Palestinian border, and there he suffered martyrdom by crucifixion.

Saint Acca, Bishop of Hexham (20th October/2nd November) was educated at York, in the school of St Bosa the bishop of that city. Afterwards he became a disciple of St Wilfrid and his constant attendant. He journeyed with St Wilfrid to the continent, to Rome and to the Low Countries. St Wilfrid fell mortally ill at Meaux, and confided to St Acca that he had been granted a vision in which it was revealed to him that he would recover and would be restored to his see, but that four years thereafter he would pass to his eternal reward. When this prophecy had been fulfilled, Acca, now bereaved of his Elder, was consecrated as Bishop of Hexham as Wilfrid's successor. He was responsible for adorning the church and for building oratories dedicated to the saints whose precious relics reposed there. For a reason which has been lost in the mists of history, St Acca was deprived of his cathedra and banished, and it seems certain the he was never restored, but on his death in A.D. 740, his body was honourably laid to rest in the church. Three centuries later, it was revealed to a pious priest that his relics should be taken up, and they were found to be incorrupt.

The Holy Martyrs Marcian and Martyrius (25th October/7th November) were clergymen in Constantinople and secretaries to the Patriarch, St Paul the Confessor, a hieromartyr whose feast day we celebrate on 6th November. St Marcian was a reader, and St Martyrius a subdeacon. When the Emperor St Constantine the Great died, his son Constantius took over the reins of government in the East, and he was favourable to the Arian heresy. Under the influence of two even more ardent Arians, the noblemen Eusebius and Philip, the new Emperor contrived to have the holy Patriarch deposed and sent into exile, where later he was slain, being strangled with his own omophorion. A new Patriarch, Macedonius, was installed and it seemed that the Arians had gained the upper hand. The two disciples of St Paul, however, remained steadfast in their adherence to Orthodoxy, even when they were offered bribes to change their allegiance. Eventually when the heretical party saw that they were unable to shake the faith of these righteous ones, they had them condemned to death, and they were beheaded with the sword in the year 355.

The Holy Hieromartyr Cyriacus and his Mother Anna (28th October/1Oth November) also lived in the first half of the fourth century. They were Jews living in Jerusalem, and at first Cyriacus was named Judas. He was able, through knowledge of a local tradition, to inform the Empress St Helena, where the True Cross of the Saviour was to be found. When the Cross was recovered, seeing the many miracles which were wrought by it, Judas and his mother converted and were baptised. Later he was ordained and consecrated as the Bishop of Jerusalem. During the reign of Julian the Apostate, in the persecution that he raised against the Christians, Sts Cyriacus and Anna received crowns of martyrdom. He was tortured for a long period and then placed in a large pan which was heated until he gave up his soul, and she was burned at the stake.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

St. Edward's Day


THIS YEAR, the anniversary of the Enshrinement of the Sacred relics at Brookwood fell on a Sunday (3rd / 16th September) and His Grace, Bishop Ambrose of Methoni came to England to be with us.  On the Saturday, the Bishop celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Convent of the Annunciation, and there we were joined by Archimandrite Ieronymos from Jordan, a clergyman of the the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who prayed within the altar during the service.  Fr Ieronymos, as Bishop Ambrose told the faithful at the end of the Liturgy, had know His Grace from childhood.  The Bishop remarked in his sermon that the previous day had been the Church New Year, and that the Gospel appointed for the Saturday was about an ending, the Saviour’s prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem.  He pointed out that for us everyday should be an ending and a beginning: an ending to our sinful ways and a new beginning in repentance and in Godliness.  After the Liturgy, Mother Vikentia and her sisters kindly treated all to a breakfast in their main trapeza.  Bishop Ambrose invited Fr Ieronymos to come with us to Brookwood to see the Brotherhood, though he had to be back in London that evening.  En route we called by the Russian Church of the Dormition on Harvard Road, where we found Archpriest Vladimir Vilgerts talking with some parishioners in the church and so we were able to show our guest from Jordan the church and venerate the holy things there, and on reaching Brookwood we showed Fr Ieronymos our church and the workrooms, etc, here, and offered him some refreshments before taking him to the station to enable him to return to London for his appointment there.

In the evening our congregation at the Vigil was joined by a group of pilgrims from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral at Ennismore Gardens, London.  His Grace led the prayers at the liti, and at the polyeleos.  At the end of the service, he gave a short address about the significance of St Edward.  On Sunday morning, His Grace, Bishop Sofronie of Suceava arrived from Romania, and the two hierarchs concelebrated with the Brotherhood clergy.  Again we were joined by pilgrims from Ennismore Gardens and other Orthodox churches, and by some Anglcans from Corfe in Dorset, where St Edward had been slain.  After the vesting of the Bishop, and the reading of the Hours, Bishop Ambrose tonsured Borislav Popov from Chatham a reader and made him a subdeacon.  During the Divine Liturgy, after the Gospel, His Grace preached about the close connection between the love of God and love of one’s neighbour, illustrating his point with an incident from the life of St Basil the Great.  He then continued, speaking again about St Edward, his life, his championing the monastics, and the importance of the monastic life.  For this service the church was packed, and apparently many people could not get in. It has been described by one person as a feast for sardines and slim ones at that!  At the end of the Divine Liturgy we had the Lesser Blessing of Waters, and all those who attended were sprinkled with the holy water and give the antidoron.  Through the kindness of our parishioners, a buffet meal was then provided in the Old Mortuary, but the Bishops quickly returned to church where they celebrated the Baptism of Antonie Costin of Colindale, the infant son of Nicolae and Daniela Costin.  His godfather was Vasile Costin.  After the Baptism and churching, Antonie was imparted the holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of our Saviour.  Bishop Sofronie then left us, but Bishop Ambrose stayed some time to meet our parishioners and talk with them individually.  Throughout the afternoon individuals and couples, who had attended Divine services in their own parishes in London, came to pray in the church on the Saint’s day, including two families from nearby who had just found us on the internet.  Doubtless the grace of the Saint drew them on that day.  I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that never since the sacred relics of St Edward were given to our church twenty-eight years ago, have we had such a feast for his day or so many people attend. The archpastoral love that our hierarchs showed us in leading the celebrations undoubtedly contributed to this, and for this we are truly grateful.  Glory be to our God!  And Many Years to the Newly-Illumined Antonie, his sponsor Vasile, and to our new Subdeacon Borislav, his wife, Marina, and their family!  Please keep them all in your prayers.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Feasts in the month of September

For Orthodox Christians, September is the first month of the year. This new beginning takes us back to the first beginning, the creation of the world. Then God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath, giving us our cycle of seven-day weeks. In the Christian understanding, the eighth day is the beginning of a new week and a new life, and therefore it has always been understood as emblematic of the life of the age to come. For this reason, and because it was on the eighth day, the day after the Sabbath, that Christ rose from the dead, it is kept as the day of Resurrection, the Lord’s Day.

A parallel thought places the first Great Feast of the Church Year on the 8th September, the eighth day of the New Year. That feast is the Nativity of the the All-holy Virgin, who was to become the Mother of God, and thus inaugurate the new life, granted through the incarnation of the Word of God. Through her father, Joachim, Mary was of the ancient royal line of David, and through her mother, Anna, she was descended from the priestly tribe of Israel. Thus in her, her Son’s Kingship and High-Priestly office are prefigured. The Church teaches us that Joachim and Anna had been childless until deep old age, and that Mary was granted them in answer to their prayers. Her birth to such an elderly couple was thus miraculous, but Orthodoxy does not accept the modern Roman Catholic doctrine of an Immaculate Conception, which in fact would undermine the truth of the Incarnation. To the contrary, rather than thus being a hindrance to the meeting of heaven and earth, which was effected by the Incarnation of the Son of God, she is seen as the fulfilment of the mystical symbol of Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28:12) which was set upon on the earth, but the top of which reached to heaven. The Vespers readings for the feast also reveal her ministry, first as Ever-Virgin (as proclaimed in the Scriptures by the prophecy of Ezekiel [44:2] concerning the East Gate which was shut), and secondly as the Mother of God, the one who contained God (as declared by the Book of Proverbs, [9:1]). Mary is the house that Wisdom had builded. For Joachim and Anna, although they were not granted to live long enough to witness the birth of Mary’s Divine Son, her birth was an end to their grief and the reproach that they had suffered because of their childlessness. And for all mankind her birth was the signal of the ending of the grief which was a consequence of Adam’s fall. In starting our Church Year then, we strike a note of joy and of hopeful anticipation. Mary’s birth anticipates that of our Saviour Himself, it looks forward to Redemption wrought, Resurrection bestowed, one of our kind ascended from earth to Heaven and seated on the right hand of the Father, to that new life for which our hearts ached as a consequence of the fall, and for which they even now ache, though we often do not comprehend it, as a consequence of our own sinfulness.

The Nativity of the Virgin has a one day forefeast, and is kept for five days, with the second day observed as a feast in honour of the parents of the Theotokos. It is thus a relatively short feast - many of the feasts are kept for eight days or more, - but this is not because it is unimportant, but because it it is followed quickly by the feast of the Cross.

The Universal Exaltation of the Honourable and Life-Creating Cross is now kept on 14th /27th September and has been since 335 A.D. It celebrates a number of events connected with the Saviour’s Cross. First, in importance among these is the Finding of the True Cross by the Empress St Helena in the year 326. This happened in the Spring, and originally was commemorated on the second day of Pascha. However, in 335 A.D., on 13th September, the Church of the Resurrection (the Holy Sepulchre) was consecrated. The feast of the Finding of the Cross was then transferred to fall on the day after that, rather than on the day after the Resurrection itself, it being difficult to keep a feast of the Cross in Bright Week. To this day we celebrate these two events in the way established in the early fourth century: the Consecration of the Church of the Resurrection on 13th, and the Holy Cross on the 14th September.

In the festival as we now keep it, we also commemorate the vision of the Cross by the Emperor St Constantine on 1st September, 312 A.D, before his battle against Maxentius. Constantine’s victory then led to him becoming sole Emperor of the West, and the aid that was miraculously afforded him by the Cross led to his issuing the Edict of Milan which made Christianity a permitted religion, and eventually to his and the Empire’s conversion to the Faith. We also celebrate the Return of the Cross from Persia in 628 A.D. Fourteen years early, the Holy Land had been overrun by the Persians and the Cross taken as a trophy. By an accord with the Emperor Heracleus, it was received back at Jerusalem on 14th September, 628 A.D. It is recorded that the Emperor himself desired to bear the Cross back into the Church of the Resurrection, and went to meet it attired in the Imperial purple and diadem, but some force prevented him from carrying the Cross back into the church. Inspired from above, the Patriarch explained to Heracleus that when our Saviour had borne that same Cross He had divested Himself of all His majesty and was as a criminal going to execution. Then the Emperor humbly stripped off all his royal attire, and found that he was able to bear the Cross back into the Church.

In the last century too a miracle of the Cross happened on this feast, and many of those who witnessed it have lived to our own times. In 1924, the state Church in Greece adopted the New Calendar and those who in conscience could not accept this innovation, dubbed “Old Calendarists,” were harassed and even persecuted by the authorities. In 1925, for this feast many of the faithful gathered at the Church of St John the Theologian on Mount Hymettus near Athens, hoping there to be able to celebrate the festival on the Church Calendar undisturbed. However, the police and militia arrived to disrupt their services. Then it was that a miraculous Cross of light appeared in the night sky, confounding the innovators and heartening those who had remained faithful to the Church traditions.

To honour the redeeming Passion of our Saviour, the festival of the Cross is kept as a fast day, even though it is numbered among the Twelve Great Feasts.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Homily on the Transfiguration by St. Gregory Palamas

About the power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom the Kingdom of God is to be revealed, the Lord predicted: “There are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:28). Everywhere and in every way the King will be present, and everywhere will be His Kingdom, since the advent of His Kingdom does not signify the passing over from one place to another, but rather the revelation of its power of the Divine Spirit. That is why it is said: “come in power.” And this power is not manifest to simply ordinary people, but to those standing with the Lord, that is to say, those who have affirmed their faith in Him like Peter, James and John, and especially those who are free of our natural abasement. Therefore, and precisely because of this, God manifests Himself upon the Mount, on the one hand coming down from His heights, and on the other, raising us up from the depths of abasement, since the Transcendent One takes on mortal nature. Certainly, such a manifest appearance by far transcends the utmost limits of the mind’s grasp, as effectualized by the power of the Divine Spirit. 

Thus, the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is not something that comes to be and then vanishes, nor is it subject to the sensory faculties, although it was contemplated by corporeal eyes for a short while upon an inconsequential mountaintop. But the initiates of the Mystery, (the disciples) of the Lord at this time passed beyond mere flesh into spirit through a transformation of their senses, effectualized within them by the Spirit, and in such a way that they beheld what, and to what extent, the Divine Spirit had wrought blessedness in them to behold the Ineffable Light. 

Those not grasping this point have conjectured that the chosen from among the Apostles beheld the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord by a sensual and creaturely faculty, and through this they attempt to reduce to a creaturely level (i.e., as something “created”) not only this Light, the Kingdom and the Glory of God, but also the Power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom it is meet for Divine Mysteries to be revealed. In all likelihood, such persons have not heeded the words of the Apostle Paul: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him. But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Cor 2:9-10). 

So, with the onset of the Eighth Day, the Lord, taking Peter, James and John, went up on the Mount to pray. He always prayed alone, withdrawing from everyone, even from the Apostles themselves, as for example when with five loaves and two fish He fed the five thousand men, besides women and children (Mt 14:19-23). Or, taking with Him those who excelled others, as at the approach of His Saving Passion, when He said to the other disciples: “Sit here while I go over there and pray” (Mt 26:36). Then He took with Him Peter, James and John. But in our instance right here and now, having taken only these same three, the Lord led them up onto a high mountain by themselves and was transfigured before them, that is to say, before their very eyes. 

“What does it mean to say: He was transfigured?” asks the Golden-Mouthed Theologian (Chrysostom). He answers this by saying: “It revealed something of His Divinity to them, as much and insofar as they were able to apprehend it, and it showed the indwelling of God within Him.” The Evangelist Luke says: “And as He prayed, His countenance was altered” (Lk 9:29); and from the Evangelist Matthew we read: “And His face shone as the sun” (Mt 17:2). But the Evangelist said this, not in the context that this Light be thought of as subsistent for the senses (let us put aside the blindness of mind of those who can conceive of nothing higher than what is known through the senses). Rather, it is to show that Christ God, for those living and contemplating by the Spirit, is the same as the sun is for those living in the flesh and contemplating by the senses. Therefore, some other Light for the knowing the Divinity is not necessary for those who are enriched by Divine gifts. 

That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when (the Lord) was praying. This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occured and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God. True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind. To gaze upon its luminance assumes a sort of participation in it, as though some bright ray etches itself upon the face. 

Even the face of Moses was illumined by his association with God. Do you not know that Moses was transfigured when he went up the mountain, and there beheld the Glory of God? But he (Moses) did not effect this, but rather he underwent a transfiguration. However, our Lord Jesus Christ possessed that Light Himself. In this regard, actually, He did not need prayer for His flesh to radiate with the Divine Light; it was but to show from whence that Light descends upon the saints of God, and how to contemplate it. For it is written that even the saints “will shine forth like the sun” (Mt 13:43), which is to say, entirely permeated by Divine Light as they gaze upon Christ, divinely and inexpressibly shining forth His Radiance, issuing from His Divine Nature. On Mount Tabor it was manifest also in His Flesh, by reason of the Hypostatic Union (i.e., the union of the two perfect natures, divine and human, within the divine Person [Hypostasis] of Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity). The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon defined this Hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, as “without mingling, without change, without division, without separation.” 

We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine. So also, in the teachings of the Fathers, Jesus Christ was transfigured on the Mount, not taking upon Himself something new nor being changed into something new, nor something which formerly He did not possess. Rather, it was to show His disciples that which He already was, opening their eyes and bringing them from blindness to sight. For do you not see that eyes that can perceive natural things would be blind to this Light? 

Thus, this Light is not a light of the senses, and those contemplating it do not simply see with sensual eyes, but rather they are changed by the power of the Divine Spirit. They were transformed, and only in this way did they see the transformation taking place amidst the very assumption of our perishability, with the deification through union with the Word of God in place of this. 

So also she who miraculously conceived and gave birth recognized that the One born of her is God Incarnate. So it was also for Simeon, who only received this Infant into his arms, and the aged Anna, coming out [from the Jerusalem Temple] for the Meeting, since the Divine Power illumined, as through a glass windowpane, giving light for those having pure eyes of heart. 

And why did the Lord, before the beginning of the Transfiguration, choose the foremost of the Apostles and lead them up onto the Mount with Him? Certainly, it was to show them something great and mysterious. What is particularly great or mysterious in showing a sensory light, which not only the foremost, but all the other Apostles already abundantly possessed? Why would they need a transforming of their eyes by the power of the Holy Spirit for a contemplation of this Light, if it were merely sensory and created? How could the Glory and the Kingdom of the Father and the Holy Spirit project forth in some sort of sensory light? Indeed, in what sort of Glory and Kingdom would Christ the Lord come at the end of the ages, when there would not be necessary anything in the air, nor in expanse, nor anything similar, but when, in the words of the Apostle, “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15: 28)? That is to say, will He alter everything for all? If so, then it follows that light is included. 

Hence it is clear that the Light of Tabor was a Divine Light. And the Evangelist John, inspired by Divine Revelation, says clearly that the future eternal and enduring city “has no need of the sun or moon to shine upon it. For the Glory of God lights it up, and the Lamb will be its lamp” (Rev 21:23). Is it not clear, that he points out here that this [Lamb] is Jesus, Who is divinely transfigured now upon Tabor, and the flesh of Whom shines, is the lamp manifesting the Glory of divinity for those ascending the mountain with Him? 

John the Theologian also says about the inhabitants of this city: “they will not need light from lamps, nor the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shed light upon them, and night shall be no more” (Rev 22:5). But how, we might ask, is there this other light, in which “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (Jas 1:17)? What light is there that is constant and unsetting, unless it be the Light of God? Moreover, could Moses and Elias (and particularly the former, who clearly was present only in spirit, and not in flesh [Elias having ascended bodily to Heaven on the fiery chariot]) be shining with any sort of sensory light, and be seen and known? Especially since it was written of them: “they appeared in glory, and spoke of his death, which he was about to fulfill at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:30-31). And how otherwise could the Apostles recognize those whom they had never seen before, unless through the mysterious power of the Divine Light, opening their mental eyes? 

But let us not tire our attention with the furthermost interpretations of the words of the Gospel. We shall believe thus, as those same ones have taught us, who themselves were enlightened by the Lord Himself, insofar as they alone know this well: the Mysteries of God, in the words of a prophet, are known to God alone and His perpetual proximity. Let us, considering the Mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord in accord with their teaching, strive to be illumined by this Light ourselves and encourage in ourselves love and striving towards the Unfading Glory and Beauty, purifying our spiritual eyes of worldly thoughts and refraining from perishable and quickly passing delights and beauty which darken the garb of the soul and lead to the fire of Gehenna and everlasting darkness. Let us be freed from these by the illumination and knowledge of the incorporeal and ever-existing Light of our Savior transfigured on Tabor, in His Glory, and of His Father from all eternity, and His Life-Creating Spirit, Whom are One Radiance, One Godhead, and Glory, and Kingdom, and Power now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Sermon on the day of the Holy Prophet Elias

20th July / 2nd August
Gospel Reading: St Luke 4:22-30

NOW we are making a prayerful commemoration in honour of one of the greatest prophets of ancient time, Elias the Thesbite (i.e. from the town of Thesbe). We generally think that people are called prophets who can foretell the future. But this is far from true. The prophets, these were pious people chosen by God, who instructed the people in the Faith, who dared to convict the dishonourable, threatening them with punishments from God. Pious people, however, they comforted with the hope of the coming into the world of the promised Saviour, and, to confirm that they had been sent by God, the Lord gave them the power to work miracles and to foretell the future.

In doing this, they sincerely and often boldly besought the Heavenly King with regard to those sinners who were dallying in lawlessness. And it is exactly such a man that the glorious Elias was, who is called an angel in the flesh by the Church because of his rigorous manner of life, full of every kind of deprivation, and the constant striving of his heart and mind towards God. He appeared in the days of the impious Israelite King Ahab and the latter’s evil wife, Jezebel, when almost all the people, forgetting the true God, had sunk into lawlessness. As stern instruction did not work, some other, stronger remedy was necessary. And so Elias appeared before Ahab and remonstrated with him: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, in these years there shall be neither dew nor rain except at my word.”

The heavens were shut up, the earth dried up, and a great famine fell upon that land. Seeing such affliction, the people came to the understanding that this was a punishment from God, and little by little they began to repent. Ahab and his Jezebel alone would not humble themselves at all, and they sought Elias everywhere, because they considered that he was responsible for what had come to pass. How like our situation this is! When our behaviour is shown us as bad in some way, we never think of correcting this, but before anything else we dig ourselves in lest anyone might see this. Grant us here and now such a man that he might make us aware!

In the end Elias appeared before Ahab, his wife Jezebel and a multitude of pagan priests, all of whom still worhipped idols, and he proposed that he would demonstrate the power of the true God before all the people. For this purpose, two altars with sacrifices were made ready, one in honour of Baal and the other for the God Whom Elias worshipped. And it was agreed among all the people that the One who sent down fire from heaven on His sacrifice would be accepted as the true God.

The pagan priests of Baal prayed long and until they grew weak, and, of course, as soon as Elias prayed immediately a heavenly fire fell upon the sacrifice though it was soaked in the water, which had been poured around abundantly. And then all the people, struck by such a wonder, cried out: “The Lord, Whom Elias worhippeth, is the true God!” On that very day, at Elias’ word, rain fell, though there had been none for three years and six months.

Even before this the Lord had several times been attentive to the supplication of His servant. It is known that through the prayers of Elias a handful of flour and a small quantity of oil, belonging to a certain pious widow of Sarepta in Sidon, were sufficient, to feed several persons in the days of that dreadful famine. When the son of this widow died, then Elias prayed and he rose again. Such is the power of prayer!

But someone will say, he was a great prophet. Yes, that is true. That is why the Church calls us to emulate him, which is fully possible for Elias was a man like unto us (James 5:17). Know that it was not to the prophets and Apostles only that Christ said, “Ask and it shall be given you,” but it was said in general to all His true followers. Listen: “it shall be given you” provided only that we pray with perseverance, with deep faith, and that the object of our petition is not contrary to the wisdom and goodness of God or the good of the person who prays. Unfortunately, we confine ourselves only to exterior prayers. In actual fact, two or three prayers we have learned, the sign of the Cross with a prostration - and that is all! We skate, as one might say, on the surface, and we think that we have already prayed. No, this is only a preparation for real prayer. 

Imagine a cold, unheated room. Then you put wood in the stove; it flares up but still the room is not warmed. The desired temperature will be reached later, when the wood is burning through and the stove closed down. It is something like this with prayer. The holy words that you have learned are like the logs, warming up your soul and bringing it to the boil. Then, and only then, the reading of the appointed prayers may be curtailed, the soul speaks herself, and from the eyes tears of joy will flow.

Oh, what a blessed condition!… It does not last for long, and of course, it rarely happens, but should we experience it only once we will unremittingly yearn for it to be repeated. Here, indeed, is the prayer which is capable of bowing Heaven down and the mercy of God to work great signs and even miracles….

Holy Prophet of God, glorious Elias, such was thy power in prayer that the heavens were shut up, and again fire and water were called down from heaven, help us sinners that our hearts may be set alight with the flame of prayer and that tears of repentance might flow, that the Lord might also deem us worthy to be with thee….

Holy, glorious Elias, pray unto God for us! Amen.

From the “Collection of Teachings” of Archpriest Leonid Kolchev, published in Copenhagen in 1938

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Transformer Explosion at Brookwood

On the afternoon of 24th July the pole-mounted transformer located in the grounds of the Brotherhood exploded spectacularly, emitting clouds of smoke and sparks, with a power that shook the house. Fortunately nobody was injured and engineers from UK Power Networks were on site within 30 minutes to investigate the damage to the high voltage cables.

Today the work was completed with new cables being laid underground and new connections at the top of the pole to replace the ones burnt out by the power surge. The cause of the explosion is unknown, but it is thought the Surrey Squirrel might have been responsible.

Thankfully, the damage to the electrical equipment in the Brotherhood wasn't as severe as could have been expected. The electrically operated guillotine in the bindery was damaged, but the computers and other printing equipment were unharmed.

A big thank you to the engineers from UK Power Networks who acted so promptly to make sure the area was safe and to return our supply with only a few hours outage.



Monday, 16 July 2012

An instructive reply about monastics

THE LETTER, reproduced here, was written by a monastic spiritual father, who, when he asked for prayers for one of the sick members of his synodia, had been asked by a correspondent why it was monastics, being dedicated to God, should suffer in the same way as lay people do.

First, monastics live, get sick, and die.  They are like any human being.  Monastics are brilliant, of normal intelligence, and slow; they are sometimes uneducated and sometimes superbly educated; they are handsome, plain, and ugly; they are tall, normal, and short; they are thin, of medium weight, and fat; they are weak and strong; they are virgins and widows and widowers; they are healthy and unhealthy; they are gentle and they are stern; they have natural spiritual abilities and they struggle for spiritual gifts -- monastics, monks and nuns alike, are as diverse as any group of people.

As I repeatedly tell lay people, one of the worst habits in the Church is to speak of clergy and lay people or Black (monastic) and White (married) clergy as somehow distinct and thus to divide the faithful.  We are, clergy and non-clergy and unmarried and married clergy, ALL the people of God.  Thus, we all set an example for one another.  We are all called to the same virtues and prone to the same foibles.  In this common Christian witness to one another, monastics simply set (ideally, at least) a more austere standard.

If laymen are called to fast, monastics fast with them, but forgo meat at all times.  If married Orthodox couples fast from the flesh during lenten days and periods (as do observant Jews, incidentally -- a fact which so many modernist Orthodox forget when decrying this ancient tradition), monastics do so all of the time.  If Christians in general are called to live modestly, the wealthier giving alms to the poor, monastics are called to own nothing.  If families give comfort in their love, monastics show that we can make anyone a family member through love.  If life on earth can give us innocent pleasure, monastics show us that living in the spiritual world brings us more enduring pleasure.  The list goes on.

If, then, monastics simply set a more rigorous example of Christian life, it stands to reason that they should give witness in resisting temptation, in enduring misfortune, and in learning to cope with physical disease and all of the ailments that, in a fallen world, befall innocent people as well as evil people, children as well as adults, and the religious as well as the irreligious.

Thus, God often inflicts the strongest and best monastics with tremendous trials, so that they can serve as an example to the weaker in spirit and body of the powers that we have at hand in spiritual life, if we simply call on them and trust in God.  We can endure much more than we think.  If happiness can tell us what life should be, were we not fallen creatures, adversity also serves a purpose: that of showing us what strength still survives in us, even in an imperfect world.  Thus the ascetic life of monasticism aims at adversity of an instructive kind.

Second, an anthropomorphic god who punishes people with illness and rewards them with health is not the True God as we Orthodox understand Him.  God is, in His essence, unknowable, beyond understanding, and beyond our very concepts of being itself.  But He manifests Himself in love: in the only force in which we can grasp what is beyond our cognitive understanding.  Thus, God chastises us in love, often allowing illness to befall us, in order that we might understand that life exists beyond life as we know it and to remind us that the earthly life is transitory and impermanent.  Illness and the prospect of death serve this purpose well.  They are not punishments; they are lessons.

At the same time, God, in His ineffable mercy, allows the spiritually strong (and especially accomplished monastics) to suffer illness, deformity, and even severe pain, so that they can increase in their communion with the spiritual world and, once again, set a good example for others.  If, in our everyday lives, we can find no pattern to the chaos of suffering and disease, in the persons of gifted monastics we can see a glimpse of the order and meaning that lie within the apparent chaos, since graceful affliction contains order.

In suffering monastics (that is, in those who are worthy of this gift and spiritually strong enough to endure it), we find evidence that life is not chaotic, that order underlies the fallen chaos, and that one can grow and prosper in illness and in the worst possible circumstances.  We have a glimpse, in such instances, of the superficiality of our world view and of our notions of happiness and of pleasure.  We are given examples in actual men and women of the Divine power that comes from God, as well as a taste of the ultimate joy that comes from union with Him.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Dogma of the Church of Christ

By the Ever-memorable Archbishop Vitaly 1873-1960

The fundamental truths of the Faith of Christ are known as dogmas. They were laid down by the OEcumenical Councils in the “Symbol of Faith" [the Creed]. One who breaks even one of the dogmas of Faith falls away from the Orthodox Church into heresy.
 
In every period of church life, God's Providence brings to church consciousness a further dogma of Faith for its clearer understanding. Thus in their times, the dogmas concerning God the Creator and Providence, concerning the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, Salvation, the Holy Spirit, the veneration of the icons and others, were each assimilated by the consciousness of the Church. At the present time, God's Providence has set before us the dogma concerning the Church of Christ, and we do not have the right to remain silent about this question in view of the situation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USSR and the pretensions to loyalty which those who presently lead her make to us.
 
In the "Symbol of Faith," the teaching is laid down in these words: "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." What is this Church? According to God's word, the Church is the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:22-33; Col. 2:19).
 
The Church is that heavenly-earthly organism established by the Saviour; in the Heavens, it is the Church triumphant comprising those righteous ones who have been saved; on earth, it is the Church militant, comprising sinners, those repenting, and those perfecting themselves "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
 
What is the purpose, aim and object of the Church? The Lord Jesus Christ founded the Church through His precious Blood so that through Her fallen people might be raised up, and from sinners there might be erected a "new creation," foreordained to good deeds (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10). Observe how the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians describes the Church of Christ: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the Saints and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in Whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:19-21). And again: “He (Christ) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ... ..."that we "speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, Which is the Head, even Christ, from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:11 -16).
 
The edifice of the Church and the means of her attainment of her aims is apparent from these quotations from the Holy Scriptures: the hierarchy's God appointed succession from the Apostles, preaching, prayer, the Mysteries and the Christianization throughout of her flock. The tighter the bond between the earthly Church and the heavenly, the closer the Church is to the aims that Her Lord appointed for her. All this refers to the Church in general, to the One, Universal (Catholic) Church. Of her, the Lord said: "l will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against her" (Matt. 16:18).
 
But even in the time of the Apostles, the One, Universal Church was distributed among local churches according to cities, countries, states and peoples. So it was that the Apostle Paul sent epistles to the Roman, Corinthian, Galatian churches and so on. And now we have the Greek, Russian, Serbian and other churches. These originate, grow, flourish, and either sicken or even die, relative to how faithful they are to the purpose which Christ the Foundation-layer set for the Church: to raise up people unto life eternal.
 
An example of this is seen in the Gospel parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Matt. 21:33-44). Although the Old Testament Church and hierarchy had been established by God, and although Moses, Aaron, Samuel and the other Old Testament high priests were great in God's eyes, yet at the time of the advent of Christ, the hierarchy contemporary with Him and the leaders of the people changed the aims and purposes of the Old Testament Church and then the proverb spoken by the Lord applied to them: "The evil shall perish by evil." And of the Old Testament Chosen People, He said: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43). 

In a similar way, in the Apocalypse it is said to the New Testament local churches: Your leaders "say they are Apostles... but they are liars... I will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev.2:2-5).
 
The history of Christ's Church bears witness that local churches often fall ill and were often close to heresy. More often than not this happened because of failure in the hierarchy's leadership. Let us note several examples from the history of the Russian Church. Thus, the head of the Russian Church, Isidore the Metropolitan of Moscow accepted the Unia at the Council of Florence (1439) and on his return to Moscow he began to commemorate the Pope of Rome, to administer Communion under one kind without the Chalice, and in the Symbol of Faith he added "proceedeth from the Father and the Son." But the Tsar and the people would not accept such a novelty, and Isidore fled to Rome. Thus also in Western Russia, the "Roman Unia" was promoted by Bishops Cyril Terletsky and Ignatius Potsei, but the "body of the Church" did not accept it and opposed them.
 
In recent times, the state authorities, observing that the Church would have considerably more power than they to influence the people, attempted to subjugate her hierarchy and thus to implement their political plans. This happened in Poland before the War. When several Russian hierarchs had no desire to enslave themselves to the Polish authorities, the Polish government expelled them from Poland (Archbishops Vladimir, Sergei and Metropolitan Eleutherius); and they subjugated those who sold out (Metropolitans Dionysius, George, Alexander and others) and through them a start was made to the Polonization of the Orthodox Russian peoples, and it was only the War that brought an end to this process.
 
Now an even more bitter malady has befallen the Russian Orthodox Church. The atheistic Communist powers have raised up a great persecution of the Church; those hierarchs strong in the Faith they have killed or sent them to penal servitude, and they have subjugated a new hierarchy which has betrayed itself in fulfilling the purposes of the atheistic powers. The present Patriarchate is under the control of the atheists and demands that we should be as well. How are the faithful to react to this? They say: the Patriarchate has changed nothing of the dogmas, nor in the services, nor in the rite.

No, we reply, the Patriarchate has dislodged the essence of the dogma concerning the Church of Christ, it has abjured Her natural purpose, to serve for the rebirth of people, and it has changed this for the atheistic purposes of Communism which are inimical to the Church. This deviation is more serious than all previous ones, than Arianism, Nestorianism, Iconoclasm and the others. And neither is this simply the personal sin of one or other of the hierarchs, but it is the root sin of the Moscow Patriarchate, confirmed, proclaimed, bound with an oath before all the world, - as one might say, a dogmatized apostasy.
 
We are within the bosom of the local [a technical term, perhaps better expressed as national - ed.] Russian Orthodox Church, and we do not have the right to abandon the Mother Church in her terrible pain. But to hearken to her present official representatives is also impossible for us. We find ourselves in the same situation as did the Apostles when before the high priests of Jerusalem, and to the demands of the Moscow Patriarchate we cannot answer in any other way than did the Apostles Peter and John: “Judge ye, whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God" (Acts 4:19).
 
We have no need of the calling of a new OEcumenical Council to resolve our suit with the present hierarchy of our Mother Church. Judgment has already been passed and the Universal church has already made a resolution. This resolution is recorded in the letter of Saint Athanasius the Great to Rufianian, which [letter] was accepted by the OEcumenical Councils. This letter was written on the occasion of the curtailing of the Arian persecution of the Orthodox, which had been supported by the secular authorities. At that time, with the help of the secular powers, the Arianizing hierarchy constrained and coerced the Orthodox Bishops, just as now the Moscow Patriarchate, supported by the Bolsheviks, constrains us. Here is the transcription of that rule:-
 
"Learn, my most esteemed Sir, that after the violence (from the Arians) had subsided in the beginnings Council was held with Bishops assembled from lands beyond our borders, but also with fellow ministers in Greece, as well as those from Italy and Gaul. It decreed that as touching those who had fallen and had taken over the leadership in the (Arian) impiety, they are to be pardoned if they repent, but they shall not be given a place among the clergy. As for those, on the other hand, who have not voluntarily been instigators of impiety, by have been compelled by necessity and coercion, they are to be granted pardon and to have their place in the clergy especially when they have made a worthy correction of the faith, and accordingly it has seemed right that in this case some concession should be made, for they have given assurances that they will not revert to impiety, for it was in order to prevent any who have become most impious from corrupting the Church, they went along with the violence and carry the burden, rather than let the lay peoples go to destruction. In saying this, they are, it seems to me, speaking plausibly, offering as their excuse that which Aaron, the brother of Moses, made, for in the wilderness he went along with the transgression perpetrated by the laity, making as his defence for this that he feared lest the people return to Egypt and persist in idolatry. And this is credible, for while they remained in the wilderness, he was able to deflect them from impiety; but had they returned to Egypt impiety would have strengthened and grown among them. For this cause, it was decided that such should be allowed to remain among the clergy just as those who had been enslaved and subjected to coercion should be granted pardon"
(3rd Canon of Saint Athanasius the Great).

Friday, 15 June 2012

Exposing myths about Christianity

This excellent new book is now available on the bookstall at Saint Edward Brotherhood priced £12.50


Renowned historian, Jeffrey Burton Russell, famous for his studies of medieval history, turns to the serious questions that confront Christianity in contemporary culture. Russell examines a wide array of common misperceptions, characterizations, stereotypes, caricatures and outright myths about Christianity that circulate heavily within today's society, and are even believed by many Christians. In a succinct and engaging manner, Russell discusses these errors and provides thoughtful, even-handed, carefully researched and sharp-witted responses. The author sets the record straight against the New Atheists and other cultural critics who charge Christianity with being outdated, destructive, superstitious, unenlightened, racist, colonialist, based on fabrication, and other significant false accusations.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Visit of Archbishop Kallinikos


On 31st May/13th of June Archbishop Kallinikos of Athens visited the Brotherhood accompanied by Bishop Photios of Marathon. After venerating the the sacred relics of Saint Edward, His Beatitude was shown the new monastic house and workshops and given hospitality in the trapeza.  His Grace Bishop Photios acted as translator and the bishops were also accompanied by Fr. Gabriel Lawani and his Presbytera Helena. 


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Sermon on Pentecost

Come, O ye peoples, let us worship the Godhead in Three Persons
                  By Saint John of Shanghai the Wonderworker

GOD is a Holy Trinity. A Trinity consubstantial and indivisible. Consubstantial, i.e., of one essence, one nature. A Trinity indivisible: the Son has never been divided from the Father, nor the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, and never will be divided.

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three gods, but one God, since They have one nature, but not merely because of this. People also have one nature, one essence. But with people one cannot say that two or three people are one person, no matter how close to one another and harmonious they may be. People not only have separate bodies, but each also has his own will, his own tastes, his own moods. No matter how similar people may be in body and character, it still never happens that everything is in common or that everything is the same. 

With the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity everything is in union. The boundless love of the Father for the Son, of the Son for the Father, and the same love between Them and the Holy Spirit make Their will and all of Their actions to be common. They have one will, and They do everything together. Whatever pleases the Father also pleases the Son and the Holy Spirit. Whatever displeases the Holy Spirit also displeases the Father. Whatever the Son loves, the Father and the Holy Spirit love also. 

Everything is accomplished jointly by the Holy Trinity. At the creation of the world, it says in the Bible: And God said, let there be light: and there was light' (Gen. 1:3). What does "said" mean? It means that God the Father created by His Word, by that Word of Which the Gospel says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1), and Which is the Only-begotten Son of God.

God the Father created everything by His Word; in other words, He accomplished everything through His Son. The Father does not create anything without the Son, just as the Son does not create anything without the Father, and the Father and the Son always assist the Holy Spirit. It is said in the Bible about the creation of the world: And the Spirit of God moved over the waters (Gen. 1:2). It "moved" over creation, but did not merely move over it - not having exactly the corresponding expression in Slavonic [St John is addressing his flock in Russian and therefore quoting the Scriptures in Church Slavonic, but in fact the same applies to the English translations of the Scriptures - ed.], the word in the Hebrew original signifies "to cover", "to warm," similar to a hen sitting on her eggs, giving life to them by her warmth, so that a living creature might come forth.

By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of His mouth (Ps. 32:6). All that exists was created by God the Father through the Son and was brought to life by the Holy Spirit. In other words, everything which the Father wanted or wants, was or is immediately fulfilled by the Son and is animated by the Holy Spirit. Thus was the world created, thus was all accomplished by the providence of God concerning the world and mankind.

In order to save man, who through sin had fallen away from God and become mortal, the Son of God, in accordance with the pre-eternal counsel of the Holy Trinity, obeying the will of the Father, came down to earth, was born of the Ever-Virgin Mary through the action of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed to the people the True God the Father and His divine will, taught the true worship of God, suffered for our sins, descended in soul into hades, and having freed the souls of the dead, rose from the dead.

Even before His suffering, Christ promised His apostles, chosen by Him from among His disciples, to give them power to loose and to bind - to remit people's sins or to leave them in them. After His resurrection, the Lord did not bestow this grace-filled gift separately on each one of the apostles, but on all of them together: He established His Church, the repository of that grace, uniting in Her all those who believe in Him and love Him.

Having promised His apostles to invest them with power from on high, having sent down the Holy Spirit, having accomplished all for which He had come to earth, the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, receiving in His humanity that glory and honour which He had since before the creation of the world as the Son of God. Having descended upon the disciples of Christ according to the promise, the Holy Spirit strengthened them in the faith of Christ and through His grace poured upon them the gifts of God. He strengthened them for the preaching and fulfilment in life of the teachings of Christ, for the building up of the Church founded by Christ and brought about through the action of the Holy Spirit.

The Church standing on her foundation on earth and headed by the Son of God seated at the right hand of the Father, is mysteriously guided by the Holy Spirit. She internally links all Her children and unites them with God. Through the Church God's gifts of grace are poured out on those who strive to follow the way of Christ, sanctify and fortify all good in them, cleanse them from sin and all impurity, making them able to become receptacles of the radiance of the glory and power of God.

Through the Church man is made a partaker of the divine nature, he enters into the closest relationship with the Holy Trinity. Not only the soul, but also the body of man is sanctified and communes with God by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, through which he is united with the entire Holy Trinity. Through divine grace, with the participation of his own will and powers, man becomes a new creature, a participant in the eternal kingdom of God.

Nature is being prepared for that coming Kingdom of God, for the imminent cleansing by fire of the consequences of the sin of mankind and the curse which lies on it. She receives the first fruits of sanctification through the descent on her of the Holy Spirit at Theophany in the blessing of the waters and in many other Church services, so that she may later become a new earth and a new heaven.

This will be accomplished at the time appointed by God the Father, and the Son of God will come in glory to pronounce judgment on the world. Then those who have loved God and have been united with Him will shine with the rays of divine light and will eternally delight in the uncreated light of the Triune Godhead of the Consubstantial, Lifegiving and Indivisible Trinity. To God, our Creator and Saviour, be glory, honour and worship unto endless ages.

From The Orthodox Messenger, August 1960

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Soul Sabbath

On the day before Pentecost we commemorate all those Orthodox Christians who have reposed in faith and in the hope of the resurrection of eternal life. The service for the Saturday of Souls or 'Soul Sabbath' is quite different from the usual Saturday matins and liturgy. The 17th kathisma is read in two stases and between the stases there is a litany for the departed during which the names of the Orthodox Christians who have fallen asleep are read. A special Evlogitaria is also sung which has the same refrain, 'Blessed art Thou O Lord, teach me Thy righteousness', as the Evlogitaria of the Resurrection but different troparia. 

It is customary for the relatives of reposed Orthodox Christians to make kolyva and bring it to be blessed at the end of the service.  There are many different recipes for kolyva depending on family and national traditions. A basic recipe is given below:

How to make kolyva

1) Ask the priest if he can perform a memorial service and arrange a date and time.

2) Find some whole wheat grain (not buckwheat or cracked wheat). Buying the wheat is the most difficult step in the whole process. Ethnic shops (Cypriot or Arab) normally have some in stock.

3) On the day before, boil the wheat (500g of wheat grain is enough for about 30 people) until it is soft. Don’t make tons of kolyva- there are no prizes for size. Drain the wheat and dry it between kitchen towels overnight.

4) On the next day, before going to Church, mix the wheat with  dried fruits, sugared peel, chopped nuts, glacé cherries, pomegranate seeds etc.

5) Put the wheat and fruits in a nice glass bowl. Sprinkle a little crushed biscuit on top of the wheat — this helps to absorb any moisture.

6) Sieve some icing sugar on top of the wheat to make a layer about 1cm thick.  Press down the icing sugar gently and then decorate the top of the kolyva with nuts or glacé cherries in the form of a cross.

7) When you get to Church, push a candle into the centre of the kolyva.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Pastoral Address by Metropolitan Anastasy

Today a memorial service was chanted after matins for the ever-memorable Metropolitan Anastasy who reposed on 9th/22nd May 1965. The following sermon by him was published in Orthodox Life, 1959, No. 6.

THE OPENING OF THE SOBOR OF BISHOPS OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OUTSIDE OF RUSSIA held during October 5th-18th, 1959.

Today we have heard the sacred words: “Today the grace of The Holy Spirit has brought us together". They are said not only with our lips, but with our hearts. Every good deed is the gift of God’s grace, and especially so is the Church Council - the Sobor. The Lord already has manifested to us a whole series of graces. Before we were able to meet together, it was necessary to make careful preparations. It was not an easy task to bring together the bishops from all parts of the world. 

The Lord God helped us to overcome all the difficulties, and we were able to gather here even in greater number than in former years. It was pleasing to the Lord that we should assemble not in some other place, but in a city which is the center and source of many political influences, where often the fate of the whole world is decided upon. It was favorable to the Lord that by this time we would be able to meet in this wonderful building, which corresponds to the significance of our task. 

We have come together at an appropriate time, when the Church is in need of showing a right path that is to be followed in these frightful times. Never before has our Church been exposed to such great danger as in the present time. It is with most intense fury that evil has struck at our homeland, Holy Russia. There in the sacred Kremlin, where the relics of the Moscow saints commemorated today repose, Satan has entrenched his throne, and spreads evil from there throughout the world.

If previously this evil was held separate by the iron curtain, now this iron curtain has fallen and the doors are wide open for its dissemination throughout the world. The Bolsheviks are especially endeavoring to spread their influence in this country, as in a main center, from where the struggle is being waged with them. We see how the flame of sacred faith is gradually dying throughout the world, and the number of believers is diminishing and everywhere corruption and evil grows increasingly. Everywhere the number of saintly persons is diminishing; pure, innocent living has become rare, and even children are committing heinous crimes. In vain is our culture called Christian. 

At the present time it is leading mankind into a condition of folly, where science has arrived at the revelation of such destructive means, that today the world is standing at the edge of a bottomless abyss, and nobody knows what is capable of taking place on the morrow. And so in these frightful days, the Lord has scattered us throughout the world in order that we could be witnesses of His Gospel and spread it everywhere. But the world does not want to forgive us because we are not of the world. For this reason the world hates us and in every way tries to arm itself against us. We have many enemies, on the right and on the left, because we carry on the spreading of this Sacred Word. We are weak, but the Lord has granted grace to us to keep His True faith in its purity, and we carry this sacred treasure everywhere for the salvation of mankind. There stands before us the very important problem of missionary activity, - and we must show ourselves to be worthy and be zealous in its promotion, asking the Lord to give us wisdom with his grace. 

Now the decisive days are approaching, for the world is coming close to the end of its existence. “His coming is close at hand...” and we must not only teach others, but ourselves also fulfill, following the examples of the Moscow saints, whom we have commemorated today. They stand before us as Orthodox Zealots, and we must follow their example, turning aside completely from the dishonesty of those who have now occupied their throne. Oh if they could but arise; they not only would not recognise any of their successions, but rather would have turned against them with severe condemnation.
 
With what zeal St Phillip would be set aflame against the weak-faith representatives of the Church, who indifferently look and see how the innocent blood of their flock flows, and yet do not condemn the enemies of the Church, but endeavour in every manner to flatter the atheists in authority. How the great adamantine Patriarch Germogen would have arisen in righteous indignation, seeng the hierarchy remain deceitfully silent at a time when atheistic propaganda is being circulated widely, forgetting that by their silence they are betraying God. Let us in every way turn aside from them, but at the same time let us arm ourselves with apostolic zeal. We must avoid as a pestilence every kind of contact with them. You know that these people with thoroughly burned consciences will never cease from waging war on us, although they constantly change their methods of warfare.

At times they openly attack and at times they utilise a circumventing maneuver in order to conceal their true purpose. Often they appear as angels of light, in order to delude even the chosen ones if possible. Unfortunately, many are not aware of this and fall victims into their nets. We have enemies everywhere, not only among them, but far beyond the boundaries of our church fortress. Catholics and Protestants arise against us. Protestants do no want to forgive us because we stand firmly on the rock of Orthodox Tradition. And for Catholics there exists one aim, our enslavement and subjugation, and for this reason all means are permissible. They do not desire to forgive us for our firm stand, and wish by every means to weaken our authority. 

And so we must today, more than ever, shield ourselves with the armour of faith, and ask God for wisdom, remembering the saying of the Apostle: “take care how ye walk in danger, not as fools, but as wise men”. We shall cherish these words, and we shall have but one purpose, to save the sheep entrusted to us by Christ. Let us look upon the ikons of the saints of Moscow and emulate them, let us gird ourselves in the armour of truth, and then the grace of God will not be taken away from us. We saw today a multitude of people who gathered for the Moleben prayer. What had caused them to be brought together? Again it was the grace of God. May it continue to manifest itself in action, and dwell within our Church Council (Sobor), which I declare opened.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Orthodox Ecclesiastical Mind-Set

By Bishop Klemes (Clement) of Gardikion
Secretary of the Holy Synod

Your Grace, Reverend Fathers and Mothers, 
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Χριστὸς Ἀνέστη! Christ is Risen!

When we speak of the Orthodox ecclesiastical mind or mind-set (φρόνημα), we do not simply mean thereby the acquisition and grasp, by each one of us, of the principles of the Faith and Life of the Orthodox Church theoretically, cognitively, and ideologically. Rather, we mean something deeper: a consistent attitude and perspective towards life that is imbued with the ethos of the Church. And the bearer of this ethos expresses and manifests it in every detail of his life.

Since, by Divine Grace, we are Orthodox and belong to the Holy Orthodox Church, we constitute the “members” of the Body of Christ and “branches” of the Life-Giving Divine Vine. We have been given new birth in very same Baptismal Font, have received the same Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and commune of the very same Holy and Spotless Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ. The same Holy Gospel nourishes our hearing and vivifies our souls; the same sacred virtues permeate us, the same lofty ideals beckon us, and we tread upward on the same path towards Heaven. 

Our way is a common one, though each one of us must walk upon it and experience it in a personal way, in accordance with one’s particular gifts and calling, whether in the parish or in a monastic community, under the guidance of his or her spiritual Father. Indeed, all of this occurs within the confines of the Mysteriological and Ecclesiastical structure of our Holy Metropolis in the Holy Synod in Resistance, which stands firm against the heresy of ecumenism. This structure is made secure and functions unimpeded by virtue of the vigilant solicitude and attentive care of its Archpastors. For this reason, as St. Ignatios the God-Bearer so concisely says, a group without Bishops and Priests “cannot be called a Church.”

It goes without saying that we, by God’s mercy the Shepherds of the Church, are called first to uphold the Orthodox Faith and the Orthodox ethos, both in word and in deed, so as to constitute healthy and shining examples.

Within the Holy Church, we all hold forth as a “holy Family,” as we have noted, the family of the children of God, who rest in the Divine Embrace of the Father. And what should be achieved in each of us—Clergyman, Monk, and Lay Person—is that we be harmonious in our experience of the life of redemption in Christ with the ecclesiastical reality of our communion with one another in the Holy Spirit, that we might truly be distinguished by our true ecclesiastical mind-set. This is what we pursue in life, and it is accomplished with toil and struggle, for the effort to acquire and to make firm an ecclesiastical mind-set is a constant struggle for love, obedience, and unity.

Within the holy Family of the Church, our first and foremost trait should be love. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  And we will have love when we are of the same mind in faith and virtue, according to our Lord: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” And we shall ensure love and oneness of mind, and hence unity among us, when we have “the mind of Christ” and have faith in and obey our Godly shepherds, to the end that we might overcome our egotism, cleanse our passions, and be churchified. And what does “churchification” mean? The life of Grace, blessedness, and sanctification; life freed from the delusions of one’s own self and characterized by a transformation of the individual “I” into the ecclesiastical “we”!

St. Basil the Great beautifully summarizes these things when he pithily writes: “For one to cut himself off from interdependence with the brethren is not the mark of one who is walking by love, nor of one who is fulfilling the commandment of Christ.”

For, unfortunately, even within the holy aura of the Church, we may embrace “earthly things,”9 allow “the mind of the flesh” to prevail within us, and remain prisoners of our ego, thus being unable to undergo the virtuous transformation of the ecclesiastical life of Grace and fated to provoke problems, divisions, scandals, and turmoil.

Precisely what is happening within us and around us in our surroundings may be ascertained easily: Does love for God and for our neighbor predominate? Do we have sincere reverence for, and do sincere obedience to, our spiritual Father? Are we ready to sacrifice our own interests for the common good and the greater benefit of the Church? Do we show martyric perseverance, with love and hope, in the face of woes and unanticipated difficulties?

If our reply in all, or even one, of these instances is negative, then let us not deceive ourselves by saying that we are walking in a God-pleasing manner and that we have an Orthodox ecclesiastical mind-set. If, indeed, we are ready in all circumstances to put forward our own will—considering it better and more perfect—and to quarrel with our brothers, or even with our Shepherds, then let us be aware of the fact that we are dreadfully ill, working in an anti-ecclesiastical and catastrophic manner, and are in urgent need of great and profound repentance.

It is certainly not required or expected of us to agree on every single action or matter of a practical nature in daily life or even in ecclesiastical matters; but this does not mean that one should assail the sacred bond of faith and love between us. Again, in this circumstance, let us call to mind the elegantly simple observation of St. Basil the Great: “Nothing, thus, is so distinctly Christian as to be a peacemaker.”

It is for this reason, moreover, that the virtuous and splendid fruits of a spiritual mind-set are “life and peace.” He who is inspired by the Holy Spirit continually turns to God, beseeches His mercy, observes the Divine Commandments, undertakes good works, repents sincerely, respects and honors his spiritual Father and his Bishop, is eager to retreat from his own desire when he sees—or when others assure him—that the general good of the Church requires that he do so.

Dear Fathers and Brothers and Sisters;

It is time to cultivate and intensify in ourselves the true ecclesiastical spirit, which so many have forgotten. If we truly wish to see a regeneration in our spiritual life, a renewal—indeed, of the necessities of life—in the place in which we dwell and fulfill our duties and our ministry, and an intensification of our Godly witness, it is imperative that we wage war against any divergence from the true ecclesiastical spirit! Let us see several of the things that we can do:

• Put a stop to independent, egomaniacal activity, even where it is found detached from the domain of the Church, since it introduces a morbid ecclesiastical mind-set.

• At all costs, avoid factionalism, as well as the acceptance of alien influences by a secular way of thinking; the creation of rivalries, tension, and hostility and enmity; condemnation, accusations against the clergy; and constant complaints, and whispering and murmuring about others, for all these are part of a spurious ecclesiastical mind-set.

• Let there be maturity and discretion with regard to both essential and non-essential matters of ecclesiastical practice and life, and not uncritical adherence to formulas and rules supposedly passed down from the Fathers that have no substance or meaning, but are simply and solely a matter of stubborn insistence on something fixed and erroneous, eroding the progress of the Body of the Church, since this entails a degraded ecclesiastical mind-set.

• Bring to a halt the obvious deficits, in some believers, of a spirit of spiritual discipleship and obedience, such as inactivity and excuse-making in the name of secular duties; the secularization of Church life, and especially, indeed, the Divine Mysteries, with a corresponding fall to errors and arbitrariness, since all of these things clearly constitute the lack of a genuine and authentic ecclesiastical mind-set.

Matters are serious. These points, wholly indicative of this fact, are not theoretical or of little significance. They are enumerated with pain in one’s soul, yet with a sense of responsibility to recognize and to correct whatever improprieties occur, whether systematically or occasionally.

The Sacred Legacy of us Old Calendarists in resistance, which we inherited from our enlightened and perspicacious Shepherd, is a legacy of balanced moderation and God-pleasing discretion: steadfast commitment to the whole Truth of the Faith and to the Catholicity of the Church, but also to the whole of the Orthodox ethos: that handed down by Christ, that handed down by the Apostles, and that handed down to us by the Fathers.

Let us preserve all of these things in humility, and let us cultivate them with respect for, and obedience to, our Godly Shepherds and with harmonious accord and love for our brothers. Only then shall we have the sure hope of imparting such to those coming after us, that our ministry might gain a favorable judgment and defense before God.

To read this homily with accompanying footnotes click here