As of December, 2009, this blog is inactive at this location. All posts have been transferred to the new location here. You are very welcome to read and comment.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pokrov, Manchester

My latest Mystery Worshipper report has been published, for any who may be interested.


Hello friends,

A number of you have e-mailed me over the past couple of days to let me know that my blog seems to have been hacked into. Worry not.

It was simply the case that I moved my weblog to another URL temporarily while I considered whether to keep it going, only to find upon deciding to do so, that my original URL had since been taken over. I know that you'll not be able to read this until you have rediscovered the blog but this is just to assure you that I'm still about.

Many thanks for your concern and alerts, though.

With much love in Christ,

The Saint Colman Prayer Book

St Colman, pray for us!

With the arrival of my monastic visitor has come my long-awaited copy of The Saint Colman Prayer Book. It has not yet been published as a bound volume but I have a loose-leaf version which is held together in a leatherette, zip-up binder. It is exceptionally good. It has the full round of offices, the Divine Liturgies of St Gregory and Sarum, and the English Liturgy, various Sacramental and other rites, and the ceremonies of Ash Wednesday and Holy Week. I am very pleased that so much work and effort has gone into this, and still is ongoing. Once the customary is complete, we shall have a complete liturgical provision for the Western Rite - after over 100 years of waiting!

Blessed be God!

Monday, January 15, 2007


O God, Who didst vouchsafe to fill thy most blessed Confessor Benedict with the spirit of all the righteous: grant unto us thy servants that, being filled with the same spirit, we may faithfully accomplish that which Thou hast enabled. Through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, Who with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, God, now and ever, world without end. Amen.

The Instruments of Good Works

First of all, to love the Lord God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength.
2. Then, to love our neighbour as ourself.
3. Then, not to kill.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to be covetous.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To respect all men.
9. Not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to be fond of pleasures.
13. To love fasting.
14. To give refreshment to the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To come to the help of those in trouble.
19. To comfort those in sadness.
20. To become a stranger to the ways of the world.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
22. To not give way to wrath.
23. Not to harbour anger for any time.
24. Not to foster deceit in the heart.
25. Not to make a false peace.
26. Not to depart from charity.
27. Not to swear at all, lest one forswears.
28. To speak the truth with heart and lips.
29. Not to return evil for evil.
30. Not to do an injury, but patiently to suffer one when done.
31. To love one's enemies.
32. Not to speak ill of those who speak ill of one, but rather to speak well of them.

33. To suffer persecution for justice's sake.
34. Not to be proud.
35. Not to be a winebibber.
36. Not to be a great eater.
37. Not to be given to sleep.
38. Not to be slothful.
39. Not to be a murmerer.
40. Not to be a detractor.
41. To put one's trust in God.
42. When one sees any good in oneself to attribute it to God, not to oneself.
43. That a man recognise that it is he who does evil, and so let him attribute it to himself.
44. To fear the day of judgement.
45. To be afraid of hell.
46. To desire life everlasting with entire spiritual longing.
47. To have the vision of death before one's eyes daily.
48. To watch over the actions of one's life every hour of the day.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. To dash at once against Christ (as against a rock) evil thoughts which rise up in the mind.
51. And to reveal all such to one's spiritual father.
52. To guard one's lips from uttering evil or wicked words.
53. Not to be fond of much talking.
54. Not to speak idle words, or such as move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
56. Willingly to hear holy reading.
57. Often to devote oneself to prayer.
58. Daily with tears and sighs to confess to God in prayer one's past offences, and to avoid them for the future.
59. Not to give way to the desires of the flesh: and to hate one's own will.
60. In all things to obey the abbot's commands, even though he himself (which God forbid) should act otherwise, remembering Our Lord's precept, "What they say, do ye, but what they do, do ye not".
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is so; but to be holy first so as to be called such with truth.
62. Daily in one's acts to keep God's commandments.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to be jealous or envious.
66. Not to love wrangling.
67. To show no arrogant spirit.
68. To reverence the old.
69. To love the young.
70. To pray for one's enemies for the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the sun sets.
72. And, never to despair of God's mercy.

Behold these are the tools of our spiritual craft; when we shall have made use of them constantly day and night, and shall have proved them at the day of judgement, that reward shall be given us by Our Lord, which He has promised, "which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for those that love him".

Steadfastly abiding in the community, the workshop where all these instruments are made use of is the cloister of the monastery.

This is chapter four of the Holy Rule of St Benedict. I have taken lately to reading a chapter or two of the Rule before sleep each night and have found it just the thing to set me in the right frame of mind for bed, especially as most nights nowadays, I shamefully do not say Compline. I use this particular chapter as a preparation for confession, and it is truly splendid for just this purpose. I very much loved the conversations that I used to have with my godfather in his car on the way to church but now that I make the 36-mile journey on the coach, I have much more time to focus on the spiritual preparation that goes along with the fast before Communion, and I wholeheartedly recommend St Benedict's Rule to anybody seeking some form of self-examination. It is truly humbling.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


As webmaster, I had the painful task today of removing from my parish's website the links to, and details of, three communities which until recently were part of our diocese: The St Edward Brotherhood at the Brookwood monastery, the Annunciation Convent in Willesden, and the Mission Parish of St Boniface, on the Isle of Wight.

While my parish was celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord with much feasting after last Sunday's Liturgy, the regular worshippers at the aforementioned communities were being informed that their churches were to leave the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) to join the Holy Synod in Resistance in protest against the canonical restoration of full communion between ROCOR and the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), now scheduled for the 17th of May, 2007.

I have mixed feelings about this. I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the Greek Old Calendarists (which have different origins from the Russian old Calendarists), especially having read of the situation in which they came about and why they felt the need to separate from the New Calendarist Church of Greece. Reports of the Oecumenical Patriarchate's activity since the 1920s and up to the present day have really not served to further the idea that the Old Calendarists are purely reactionary. Many of them have been very ill treated indeed, and while I do not think that they're stance is ideal, I do sympathise with them. Unlike most of them which seem to use most of their webspace to condemn the New Calendarist churches, the Synod in Resistance seems to put a lot of effort into spreading Orthodoxy through its articles and various publications. I can respect this.

On the other hand, I know that many within ROCOR (and I include myself) are staunchly opposed to Branch Theory Ecumenism. Indeed, in 1983, our Sobor of Bishops condemned this as a heresy and drafted a formula to be added to the list of anathemas on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The concept that a church can adopt heresy as its belief and still remain part of the Church is not in keeping with the Church's self-understanding. The Holy Synod in Resistance takes a similar line - or so it seems at first glance. A closer look at their ecclesiology reveals that, for all of their condemnation of Ecumenism, they have an ecclesiology that allows for churches that are traditionally Orthodox but which they consider to have embraced certain heresies to be, not thereby severed from the Church, but rather, "ailing" parts of the Church - but parts of the Church nonetheless. How this is different from Branch Theory Ecumenism is entirely beyond me! Nor do I stand alone, for this group is rejected by the canonical churches (which it considers to be Ecumenist) for being in schism, and by the Old Calendarists for being Ecumenist. The result is that it stands largely alone, except for relations with small groups of Old Calendarists in Romania and Bulgaria. A greater irony is that their first-hierarch is Metropolitan Cyprian of Opropos and Fili, whose namesake, St Cyprian of Carthage, was adamantly opposed to precisely the sort of ecclesiology now being forwarded by this group.

I really wish that these communities had stuck it out and worked with us. Many people have been hurt by their actions and many more will, no doubt, be unchurched over the next few weeks. Please pray for them.

On the plus side, while our diocese has lost two priests, it has gained one, whom my parish is blessed to have serving with us. Who knows what shape our increasingly small diocese will take in the future?

O Master all-good, watch over Thy flock and all the children of the Russian Church Abroad, that we may bring about the structuring of our Church in a manner well-pleasing to Thee. Grant us the spirit of wisdom and understanding; instill in our hearts the spirit of the fear of God, the spirit of piety and zeal for the glory of Thy holy name. Guard us against all temptations, stumbling-blocks and divisions, that, bound together, one to another, by the bond of love for Thee, our Master, we may without hindrance perform the work of our ministry for the edification of the Holy Church as the one Body of Christ. We pray Thee, O greatly Merciful One: hearken and have mercy!

O good Shepherd, Who hast promised to gather Thy scattered sheep into a single flock, put down scandal and division within the Church; all who have strayed from Thy path do Thou lead to repentance and a knowledge of the Truth, and return them to Thy fold; and confirm us all in the Orthodox Faith and the doing of Thy commandments. We pray Thee: hearken and have mercy!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Nativity Epistle

Here is the Nativity Epistle from His Eminence Metropolitan LAURUS, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad:

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

"Today doth Bethlehem receive Him,
Who sitteth with the Father for ever."
(Sticheron, tone 6.)

On this winter night, our Lord Jesus Christ descended to the earth—to one of the smallest specks of His creation. He came to show us how to live, and in order to enter into and abide in those who follow His example.

In his very Birth, the God-child showed love for poverty, meekness and humility. The Master of the world was born of the Most-pure Virgin in one of the lowliest places on earth, in a cold cave where the shepherds of Bethlehem sheltered their flocks from bad weather. He was swaddled and laid in a manger for cattle, warmed by the breath of mute animals.

From His very childhood, Christ knew the sorrow of need, of human cruelty and persecution—together with Righteous Joseph and his Most-Pure Mother, He was forced to flee the sword of Herod beyond the boundaries of His homeland.

For three years, the Holy Family lived abroad, and as He grew, He laboured as a tradesman, earning his bread by the sweat of his brow, and during his three years of preaching, He did not have a place "to lay His head" (Matthew 8:20).

With the fullness of his earthly life, the Lord taught us to patiently endure need and suffering, to live simply, with restraint, applying the greatest efforts to the one thing needful.

The Lord said: 'The rich man shall hardly enter into the Kingdom of Heaven,' but He did not say that it was impossible, only difficult, for bound together with wealth are many cares and worldly goods; likewise it is hard for the famous of the world, for they bear the burden of their egos.

Thus the Lord is close to the simple, the poor and the wretched. In the words of the Apostle, "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world… and… the weak things of the world… and things which are not"
(I Corinthians 1:26-28).

Within the souls of the wealthy are the cares of this world, they are burdened with fuss and earthly bonds; for him, as was the case with the inns of Bethlehem, there is no vacancy, everyone is occupied with all sorts of earthly "values."

The Lord finds shelter in the hearts of those who love him, who are prepared at his call to leave their homeland and their occupations, as the wealthy and famous but also spiritually-meek Wise Men did, or as the simple fishermen-Apostles who did the same.

In his Sermon on the Mount, the Lord calls these people blessed: 'Blessed are the meek in spirit.' True human blessedness consists of despising all that separates us from God. Only by humbling oneself, by impoverishing one's spirit, only by placing the one thing needful at the forefront, can we achieve eternal blessedness.

The Lord says: 'I stand at the door (of your hearts) and knock.' But amidst the noise of today's world, burgeoning fuss, entertainment and useless information, it is hard to hear this knock. The Lord does not force us, does not impose himself upon us; He merely summons us.

And in order to hear His call, we must find time every day for quietude and prayer.

We are surrounded by eternal values, which we sense like the wind, but, burdened with our daily cares, we do not notice them, or try not to notice them, stifling the voice of conscience within us.

The Lord also blesses those who thirst and hunger for the truth, "for they shall be filled." Only Christ, the Sun of Truth, can satisfy our spiritual hunger, for He is the true nourishment and the true drink.

The Lord was born in Bethlehem, which means "House of Bread," He has become for us the living Bread from the heavens, and each who righteously partakes of this Bread, by His word, will live eternally, and each who drinks of His wellspring shall never thirst.

The great, incomparable Gift was granted to mankind from its Creator on the day of the Nativity of Christ. Let us not leave this Gift abandoned, let us bring the Lord the fruits of repentance, for only this sacrifice is acceptable to God.

Dear archpastors, pastors, monastics, brothers and sisters, I express my heartfelt greetings on the day of the Nativity of Christ!

+Metropolitan Laurus

The Nativity of Christ, 2006/2007

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Paradox that is the Incarnation

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

The Incarnation of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ - the teaching that the eternal God, existing "before" time, Maker of all things: visible and invisible, He Who is without beginning or end, the ineffable, unknowable God, could become flesh and be born as a tiny baby, is completely absurd. And it is precisely this absurdity that makes it all the more awe-inspiring when we realise that it is indeed true. It is truly a paradox, and there is so much of our hymnody and poetry that reflects this. Only today, I came across this from Blessed Augustine of Hippo:

Who is this infant? Infant, He is called, that is, "in-fans", one who cannot speak. So that He is both speechless infant and Word of God.
Sermon 190 On the Lord's Nativity.

The Troparion for the Feast of the Nativity in the Byzantine Rite encompasses something of this in the wise men coming from afar to pay homage to this baby:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge. For thereby, they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to Thee!

I think, though, that what illustrates this best for me is the Christmass carol, The Great God of Heaven is come down to Earth. The entire carol is simply a series of contrasts between the human and divine natures of Christ, and a rejoicing in the perfect hypostatic union of the two. Here are some excerpts:

The Great God of heaven is come down to earth,
his mother a virgin, and sinless his birth;
the Father eternal, his Father alone;
He sleeps in the manger, He reigns on the throne.

Then there's this wonderfully homely couplet in the second verse:

Before him their faces the Seraphim hide,
while Joseph stands waiting, unscared, by his side.

But finally, what always brings awe to my heart and a tear to my eye, is this verse:

O wonder of wonders! which none can unfold:
the Ancient of Days is an hour or two old,
the Maker of all things is made of the earth,
Man is worshipped by Angels, and God comes to birth!

I don't really think that there's anything more to be said, except perhaps Marana'tha: come, Lord Jesus!

The Great 'O's

O Sapientia - 16th December (29th December)
O Wisdom! which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai - 17th December (30th December)
O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the law in Sinai: come, and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

O Radix Jesse - 18th December (31st December)
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: come, and deliver us, and tarry not.

O Clavis David - 19th December (1st January)
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel; that openest and no man shutteth; and shuttest and no man openeth: come, and bring the prisoner out of the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness, and the shadow of death.

O Oriens - 20th December (2nd January)
O Dayspring! Brightness of Light everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: come, and enlighten him that sitteth in darkness, and the shadow of death.

O Rex Gentium - 21st December (3rd January)
O King of the nations, and their desire; the Corner-stone, who makest both one: come, and save mankind, whom thou formedst of clay.

O Emmanuel - 22nd December (4th January)
O Emmanuel, our King and Law-giver, the Desire of all nations, and their Salvation: come, and save us, O Lord, our God.

O Virgo Virginum - 23rd December (5th January)
O Virgin of Virgins! how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like unto thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

These are the antiphons sung on the Magnificat at Vespers during the last days of Advent. (There is no Advent antiphon for the 24th of December as, obviously, Vespers on this day is the first Vespers of Christmass).

These antiphons have never been at all times and in all places the same. What I have posted here follows the tradition of the British Isles. Even the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which did away with the use of antiphons on the canticles, still lists the 16th of December as O Sapientia in its kalendar. The Roman tradition was - and still is - to follow the same order but beginning one day later, omitting the final antiphon in honour of the Mother of God. There are other and varied orders and antiphons but the principle is the same, and one that I find very lovely indeed: that we call upon Our Lord and God to come among us, calling to mind his various energies and manifestations as He operates within the created order.

We start with God as divine Wisdom; the seed planted within the heart of man as we are made in his image, coming to fruition at the full realisation of the likeness of God within us, in which the Incarnation plays an essential part. We then call upon God as the fulfilment of the revelations of the Law and the prophecies of the Jewish dispensation under the Old Covenant, coming to free his people, with reference to Our Lady in the burning bush (containing the divine presence and Law/Word of God without being consumed). We then look more widely at how that Wisdom, shadows of which existed in many religious traditions, reaches complete fruition in Christ, when the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, enlightening them that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. We recognise him as our King and yet as Christmass draws nearer, call upon him as Emmanuel, our God-with-us, come to save us. Finally, we give thanks to the all-merciful God for the young girl without whom none of this would have been possible, who, as Ark of the New Covenant, contained the Word of God in humble obedience to God's will, and formed the bridge between the Old and New Covenants.

Marana'tha: come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Advent V

Here is yesterday's homily from St Petroc Monastery, for the fifth and final Sunday of Advent.


This is the last Sunday before the celebration of the Holy Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ of God, the last few days in which we might as a special effort of this season, prepare ourselves with fasting and prayer for the coming of the Lord. In a sense, we do this symbolically, and in another sense, we do it in all reality. We do not know the time or the hour of the Second Comin - any more than we know the time or the hour of our death. The preparation for both is exactly the same: We need to make ourselves painfully aware of our shortcomings from the ideal of us that exists in the mind of God.

That perfect “us”, which exists in His mind, is the perfection that we should strive for, however dimly we may perceive it. Attempting to reach that perfection is a lifelong preparation (however late in life we begin) for the real life which stretches before us throughout all eternity. A lifelong effort, a life spent in praparation. Not just our time at the Divine Liturgy, nor just our time spent in formal prayer to God, but the whole of our life is the praparation.

We humans however, are fitful and inconsistent in our efforts. We try a little, and then we are distracted and follow other thoughts. Again we try a little and all too soon, we are distracted again by the bright colours of life around us. We live in a society packed full of gaudy distractions, the possessions, the activities. All in themselves innocent enough, but for us, deadly in their effect of successfully distracting us from our proper concentration. Just as those innocent pastimes which distract a student from his studies are deadly to the object of passing exams, so too are our many innocent activities deadly to our hopes for the real future. Christians have always been accused of being kill-joys. After all, we have been put here in this beautiful God-made planet, ought we not to enjoy it - as God intended? Yes, if we are attaining to the state of innocence that God also intended. Yet we are obviously not so.

Just look around at the dreadful mess that we have made of large tracts of the once-innocent planet, and then look at the dreadful mess that we have made, generation after generation, of ourselves. We are not the innocent Children of God that we ought to be. Nor are we making the serious effort to achieve that state, that we ought to be making. That is why Christians down the ages have thought to set aside distinct periods each year to draw our attention back from the distractions of life, to the main chance, periods of fasting, reading the Scriptures and prayer - with an intensity greater than we normally manage in the course of our busy, distracted lives. The normal business of the Orthodox Believer: Family, children, earning a living, keeping an ordered, Godly household is his proper concern. If done in a context of frequent conversation with God, ascertaining His will and aligning with it, attending the Divine Liturgy and frequently receiving Holy Communion, and following the precepts that Christ taught, and with a good will, then the Orthodox Believer is following Christ’s Way, and is preparing himself for the life to come. Yet we know all this, the problem is keeping focussed upon it.