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Saturday, February 24, 2007


I know that we're only a few days into Lent, but it seems especially meaningful to me this year. I think it's because this is the first year that I have actually taken it seriously. My spirituality and understanding of the purpose of the Christian life has drastically changed and grown in recent times, and the increased focus on the primary purpose of our life in Christ - our striving towards sanctification and deification - is something of which I realise all the more now just how much I fall short.

We had the Ash Wednesday Rite here at the house, followed by the Divine Liturgy of the day. It was very intimate and at the same time quite aweful. For the first time, the imposition of ashes actually meant something quite significant to me, as I intended to immerse myself in the opporunities that Lent provides. How much I shall have successfully done so come the end is something that I do not yet know, but the physical reminder of my mortality and the need for a focus on the life to come was very haunting indeed.

I have begun to make my way through Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey through Lent, which is quite light but at the same time has led me to look a little further at myself and some of my traits that I had previously not noticed, or about which I hadn't much bothered. I'm glad because some of these things, while seemingly innocent, are actually not as harmless as they at first appear.

So yes, I have finally succumbed to pressure and jumped on the Lent book bandwagon. Has anybody else found some publication useful during the past for Lenten reflection, or perhaps this year for the first time? I'd certainly be interested to read more, and may well take recommendations for future years. Please do share.

May you all have a blessed and holy Lent.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lenten Epistle

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

Reverend Fathers, Dear in the Lord Brothers, Sisters and Children:

I send my heartfelt greetings to all of you on the arrival of the salvific period of Great Lent, the time designated for our inner self-examination. The Holy Church summons us towards this, that we purify ourselves with augmented prayers and fasting, that we illumine ourselves with the reading of spiritually-beneficial books and approach our God and Creator, our Heavenly Father and Closest Friend, Who invites us into his Kingdom, the Kingdom of Love, Peace, Mercy and Light.

Our Lord Jesus Christ says:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15

And also:

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Matthew 5:23-24

So, dear in the Lord fathers, brothers, sisters and children, in order that our prayers, labours of fasting and repentance be pleasing to God and that they gain for us the absolution of sins and the renewal of our inner strength, we must be at peace with our neighbour.

In fact, how could our prayers, fasting and repentance be a pure sacrifice before God if they emerge from hearts that are filled with hatred against others? We must read the Lord's Prayer often: 'Our Father… forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.' By keeping enmity within our hearts, how dare we utter these words of the Lord's Prayer? Would not our prayer then remain a hollow sound? Would we not be lying brazenly before God? We often hear the exclamation during divine services: 'In peace let us pray to the Lord; Peace be unto to all.' These words demand of us that we approach prayer having first made peace with everyone, so that we stand before God without anger or malice. Or, when the Holy Church prepares us for the worthy participation in the Divine Liturgy, she also reminds us of reconciliation and love as necessities for our fruitful communion with God and each other in the Mystery of Communion. 'Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.' In the ancient Church, in witness to this mutual love, Christians who prayed during Divine Liturgy kissed one another; now this is performed only by the priests within the altar, while all others, as they hear this exclamation, must establish love and peace for all within their souls. How dare we, fathers, brothers and sisters, perform or pray during Divine Liturgy with hostility in our hearts, and approach Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ our Saviour, Who, as He was crucified, prayed for His enemies? We will truly enter into communion with God only when we expel from our hearts wrath and wickedness.

St Anastasius of Sinai recounted the story of one monk who led his life in sloth and disregard for monastic rules, who during his final moments felt special spiritual joy. The other monks were amazed at this and asked him what brings him such joy. The dying monk responded thus: 'I watched as the holy angels shredded the lists of my sins, for though I lived carelessly and slothfully, I never condemned anyone, never remembered the evils of others.'

And so, reverend fathers, brothers, sisters and children, as we remember the testament of our Saviour, the call of the Holy Church, and as we immerse ourselves in the spiritually-beneficent Lenten time by taking the example of the Holy Fathers, let us strive especially to prevent enmity, hatred and anger amongst ourselves, and instead let peace, love, trust and other Christian virtues eternally abide among us. Let us try in our earthly lives fulfill in deed fulfill the instructions of Apostle Paul to the Christians:

Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.
Ephesians 4:26

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
Romans 12:18

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:21

And may the Lord help us in these holy days.

Once again I greet you all with the Great Lent and prayerfully wish every one of you reconciliation with God in His image, which is reflected in our neighbours. Let the purified heart of each one of us become the Life-Bearing Tabernacle from which the Resurrected Lord will shine forth. Let everyone see in our eyes and in our lives this Triumph of Christ over evil, over sin and over everything horrible in this world. Greeting the Pascha of Christ in this way will be the finest way to preach the truth of Orthodoxy. In this bright state, I hope, we shall approach the canonical actions which will serve to the reestablishment this year of peace and unity within the Local Russian Orthodox Church.

May this be within the souls of each one of us. Amen.

With love in the Lord, I beseech your prayers,

+ Metropolitan Laurus,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Monday, February 19, 2007

First Anniversary

Almighty God, in his infinite wisdom, has seen fit to allow me a whole year growing and being nourished within the Holy Orthodox Church. Today marks one year since I was baptised and chrismated, rather aptly on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in the Byzantine run-up to Lent (the Triodion).

The past year has certainly been one of great personal spiritual growth for me. It has been rather lovely to worship in a liturgical tradition with which I haven't been completely familiar. It has meant that I have been able to take a step back from criticism of the manner in which the Liturgy is celebrated and actually been able to worship. I missed this in my previous home, mainly because I had allowed myself to get caught up in rubricism.

I have also settled into a wonderful and loving parish community, for which I am extremely garteful. I have a gentle, loving, and very sensible parish priest who has been a great help and friend to me, and I really have little cause for complaint.

I look forward to seeing what directions God wants to steer me in and finding out what happens.

Thank you, all, for being with me along the way.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My Icons

I noticed today that my icon bar at the left disappeared, and I couldn't figure out why. It turns out that the site that had hosted the picture had deleted it for some reason. As it is something that I painstakingly created by resizing a number of icons using a primitive program(me), it is something that I didn't want to lose so easily. I had created this on my laptop before it got stolen in 2005, and so was just panicking when I realised that some months ago, I had the good sense to save a copy of it to my parish webspace, and so here we go again. That was my minor emergency for the night.

I thank God that I am able to panic about such trivial things. It means that I am blessed.

Archiepiscopal Visitation

Behold a mighty prelate, who in his lifetime pleased God,
and was found righteous.

There was none like unto him,
who kept the law of the Most High all the days of his life.

The Lord, therefore, assured by an oath
that He would bless the nations in his seed.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, my parish had a visitation from one of the emmbers of our Synod of Bishops in the person of His Eminence Archbishop KYRILL, of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America.

It was a joy to have him. As many of you will remember, there have been some difficult times recently within our diocese, and even within our parish as some people have left more locally. The archbishop spent time with us on Monday evening, and was unbelievably warm and open about the current situation and his own personal experiences. I believe that this will prove to be a very major part of the healing process.

On Tuesday, we went along to venerate the shrine of St Werburgh in Chester. The Dean and his staff at the Anglican cathedral there were extremely hospitable to us. They really went out of their way to make us feel welcome. It was such an awe-inspiring experience to be able to take part in the veneration of the restored shrine of so great a Saint with one of our bishops. I'll never forget that, or the pleasant afternoon that we spant together as a small group, eating and talking in Christian love.

I took my camera along and we got some photographs, which now appear on the parish website. Until this week just gone, I had successfully managed not to appear in any of the photographs on the website, which is an arrangement with which I was quite happy. More seriously, it was good to get more people involved in taking photographs and things, as it means that the site is really turning into a parish effort, even if it does mean that the world has to be subjected to my image all over the show.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

More from St Benedict

"Every one hath his proper gift from God, one thus, another thus."

For this reason the amount of other people's food cannot be determined without some misgiving. Still, having regard to the weak state of the sick, we think that a pint of wine a day is sufficient for any one. But let those to whom God gives the gift of abstinence know that they shall receive their proper reward. If either local circumstances, the amount of labour, or the heat of summer require more, it can be allowed at the will of the prior, care being taken in all things that gluttony and drunkenness creep not in.

Although we read that "wine is not the drink of monks at all," yet, since in our days they cannot be persuaded of this, let us at least agree not to drink to satiety, but sparingly, "because wine maketh even the wise to fall away."
The Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 40

I just thought I'd share this because it tickled me. Needless to say, I could quite happily submit myself to being restricted to a pint of wine per day.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

St Dyfan, Proto-Martyr of Britain

I had cause today to e-mail an American monastery which sells icons and icon prints. They have one of St Alban, Proto-Martyr of England, and that is how the good Saint is identified on the icon itself, but the monastery's website advertises this icon as being of St Alban, Proto-Martyr of Britain.

I e-mailed them, thanking them for offering icons of such good quality and alerting them of the error, and they have very politely replied to say that they will amend this as necessary, but it got me to thinking about just how many people realise that St Alban is not the First Martyr of Britain, and that it is misleading to refer to him as such. Indeed, there is an icon belonging to my housemate which bears this erroneous label, and which hangs in the oratory photographed in a recent post.

St Alban's death is usually dated about the year AD303, and this makes him the first Saint whose martyrdom in England is recorded. However, St Dyfan, whose Feast we celebrate on the 14th of May, was martyred in approximately AD190 in Wales, and the village still bears the name of Merthyr Dyfan. Therefore, his martyrdom is the earliest in Britain of which we know, and so it is he, and not St Alban, who is rightly and properly referred to as the Proto-Martyr of Britain.

This may seem like nothing more than a bit of pedantry on my part over the use of the word Britain, but where the honour due to a Saint is involved, I think it is rather important. The entire concept of Proto-Martyrdom shows that there were those who were being killed for the Faith before it became something for which one received honour. St Dyfan sought not glory, but rather the Truth of Christ, and received a Martyr's crown as his reward.

St Dyfan, Proto-Martyr of Britain, pray for us!

O Faith of England!

O Faith of England, taught of old
by faithful shepherds of the fold -
the hallowing of our nation;
thou wast through many a wealthy year,
through many a darkened day of fear,
the rock of our salvation.
Arise, arise, good Christian men,
your glorious Standard raise again:
the Cross of Christ Who calls you;
Who bids you live and bids you die
for his great cause, and stands on high
to witness what befalls you.

Our Fathers heard the trumpet call
through lowly cot and kingly hall
from over sea resounding;
they bowed their stubborn wills to learn
the truths that live, the thoughts that burn,
with new resolve abounding.
Arise, arise, good Christian men,
your glorious Standard raise again:
the Cross of Christ Who guides you;
whose arm is bared to join the fray,
Who marshals you in stern array,
fearless, whate'er betides you.

Our Fathers held the Faith received,
by Saints declared, by Saints believed,
by Saints in death defended;
through pain of doubt and bitterness,
through pain of treason and distress,
they for the right contended.
Arise, arise, good Christian men,
your glorious Standard raise again:
the Cross of Christ Who bought you;
Who leads you forth in this new age
with long enduring hearts to wage
the warfare He has taught you.

Though frequent be their loud alarms,
though still we march by ambushed arms
of death and hell surrounded,
with Christ for Chief we fear no foe,
nor craft nor force can overthrow
the Church that He has founded.
Arise, arise, good Christian men,
your glorious standard raise again:
the Cross wherewith He signed you;
the King himself shall lead you on,
shall watch you till the strife be done,
then near his throne shall find you.

T. A. Lacey

I absolutely adore this hymn, as it fits so well my own understanding of where Britain has been and again needs to be. It's has a wonderfully rousing tune, as well, in the form of Psalm 68, (presumably originally composed to accompany the psalm whose name it bears), which may be heard here. I can easily see this being sneaked into a Liturgy one day by yours truly. It's truly rousing. I especially like Our Fathers held the Faith received, by Saints declared, by Saints believed, by Saints in death defended. Glorious!