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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Protester at Westminster Abbey

I wasn't quite sure how to feel earlier this afternoon. I was watching the service at Westminster Abbey to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, and being thoroughly moved by the whole thing (well, most of it anyway, sans a particularly strange piece of music that I described elsewhere as sounding a little like something from Porgy and Bess but without the style).

At the confession, one of the invited guests began to protest about the whole affair, about the presence of black descendants of Africn slaves at the service being "a disgrace to our ancestors", and so forth, and making a general nuisance of himself, while at the same time ruining what was for many people a time of great healing and progression.

Now I never quite know how to feel about these things. I am of mixed race, with both white European and black West Indian ancestry. While I was singing one day the fabulous Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, a friend heard me and said to me that he felt ashamed of what his ancestors had done to my ancestors. I pointed out that I was ashamed of what my ancestors had done to my ancestors, and that I was in no position to feel bitterness about this.

I lived in the Caribbean from the age of 8 years until I was 15. We were taught in great detail about the slave trade in our history lessons at school. Every day on our way to school, we saw the plantations where the slaves would have worked. We played on the remains of the buildings that they would have been whipped into building. We heard the tales of elderly people who remembered in their young days hearing the tales of elderly people who had experienced the atrocities of slavery themselves, and who were left to fend for themselves when the slave trade came to an end and they no longer had a master who felt any obligation to provide for them. Some of the more benevolent masters didn't see their former slaves go hungry, but in time they all went home to England. What purpose was there to stay now that their businesses had ceased to exist?

While I was living there, I was "white", and had abuse hurled at me because of that. When I moved back to the UK, suddenly I was "black", and the only racist abuse I have had was on one occasion where a lady at my bus stop told me to go back to Iraq, which managed to successfully elicit laughter more than any sense of intimidation.

My only real experience of racism, therefore, has been from black people towards people of lighter complexion (whether white or not), and so perhaps I'm being a little judgmental about our friend who felt the need to express himself the way he did at the Abbey today. I don't know. I do feel that the time has now come, though, where we need to let go of this bitterness and focus on our unity and our salvation. We are only hurting ourselves by harbouring these ill feelings which are contrary to the Christian Way and stunt our theosis.

Slavery is still happening. Would working towards putting an end to this not be a better focus of our efforts than protesting in church services?

I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for the virgers and others at the cathedral. In deliberately and persistently disrupting a church service this man was committing a criminal act and should properly have been escorted out of the Abbey with force if necessary, especially because of the Presence of Her Majesty. However, that would have perhaps caused more damage than anything else given the sensitivity of the occasion and the nature of his protest. "White virger throws black man out of Abbey at Abolition service" is perhaps not the sort of headline that the Abbey was looking for. They were seen to be trying to calm him down and reason with him, and he was seen to be rejecting their efforts and heard to be threatening violence. Only then was he escorted outside. I think that they handled it extremely well, given the circumstances, and the service went on.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Holy Week & Pascha again

I am very much looking forward to this Pascha and the run-up to it. I missed it last year because of the unpleasantness that was going on with me at the time, and the year before that I wasn't even Orthodox, and was only taking my first tentative steps into an Orthodox church. Now I am an altar server and am awaiting that week with eager anticipation, hoping to immerse myself completely into the Mystery.

One thing that I cannot wait to experience again is the service of Holy Unction. I have experienced it only once and it was one of the most moving things that I have ever been through. You see, there was part of the service where we knelt and my parish priest said prayers. The significance of this isn't immediately apparent unless you understand that we Orthodox generally do not do that. We stand and sing our prayers with full voice. The contrast is unbelievable and the words moved me to tears.

I am also excited about processing outside in the dead of night, singing at the tops of our voices, 'Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!'

As for Holy Thursday and Friday, I have never experienced them and so will probably be overwhelmed yet again. Does anybody have any expeirences to share and any pointers about what to expect?

Holy Week & Pascha

Here are the services at my church for Holy Week and Pascha. If anybody reads this and decides to join us, please let me know and I shall be happy to play host to you.

Dates given are those in the Church calendar. The dates in brackets show the corresponding dates in the civil (Gregorian) calendar for ease of reference. It is the bracketed dates that you need to enter in your diary.

Palm Sunday - the Lord's Entry into Jerusalem
Sunday, 19th March (1st April)
9.30 a.m. Hours and Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom

Great and Holy Wednesday
Wednesday, 22nd March (4th April)
7.00 p.m. Service of Holy Unction

Great and Holy Thursday
Thursday, 23rd March (5th April)
7.00 p.m. Hours and Typica

Great and Holy Friday
Friday, 24th March (6th April)
3.00 p.m. Vespers and Burial Service of the Lord

Great and Holy Saturday
The Annunciation of the Lord to the Theotokos

Saturday, 25th March (7th April)
2.00 p.m. Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St Basil followed by Holy Baptism

then, on that night,

The Celebration of Holy Pascha
9.00 p.m. The Acts of the Apostles
11.00 p.m. Paschal Matins, including outdoor procession, followed immediately by the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the first Liturgy of the Resurrection.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


A Service of Light to be used before Vespers

The service begins in darkness, with only enough light for the Officiant to see the text of the antiphon. If celebrated in the oratory, the altar candles alone are lighted. A large, unlit candle is placed in the midst of the sanctuary or some convenient place.

The Officiant intones:
V/. Blessed be God, + Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
R/. And blessed be His Kingdom, now and for evermore. Amen.

The Officiant chants the antiphon:
Now that the darkness gathers, let the Dawn of Righteousness arise in our hearts, O Lord: that on us, who give Thee humble thanks at the ending of the day, Thou mayest look with favour as we pay our evening worship unto Thee.

Here the great candle is lighted. The other lights beginning with those before the icons are lighted from the great candle, while the Officiant continues:

The day is Thine and the night is Thine: grant that the Sun of Righteousness may ever abide in our hearts, to drive away the darkness of evil thoughts.

If this service is said in the Oratory, the deacon sets, and the priest blesses, incense. The priest then censes the Cross, Altar, great candle, Icons and congregation. Otherwise, incense may be offered in a stationary burner. In the meanwhile, the "Phos Hilarion" is sung:
O Gracious Light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed! Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing Thy praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Worthy art Thou at all times to be praised by felicitous voices, O Son of God, O Giver of Life, and to be glorified through all the ages!

The Lord be with you.
And with thy spirit.

or, if led by a layman:
(O Lord, hear my prayer.
And let my cry come unto Thee.)

Let us pray.

We give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, Who hast preserved us throughout this day, and unto Thee do we pay our vows for protection through the coming night. Bring us in safety to the morning hours, we beseech Thee; that so Thou mayest at all times receive our praise. Through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, Who with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, God, world without end. Amen.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the world, Word of the everlasting Father, by Whom all things were made and are preserved; we beseech Thee that Thou wouldest take us under the shadow of Thy mercy this night, neither suffer us to be troubled by the phantasies of Satan; but grant that we may behold the light in darkness, O Thou Who art the Light eternal, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost, livest and reignest, God, world without end. Amen.

May the infinite and ineffable Trinity, the + Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, direct our life in good works, and after our passing through this world, vouchsafe unto us everlasting rest with the righteous: grant this we pray. O eternal and almighty God. Amen.

The Officiant immediately intones the opening versicles of Vespers. If this service is celebrated apart from vespers, it is concluded thus:
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the purity of the most blessed and ever-Virgin Mary, the sign of the Holy + Cross, the might of the Lord's Passion, the guardianship of the holy Angels, and the intercession of the Saints, stand between us and all our foes, both visible and invisible, and keep us from all sin, and from every peril to soul and body, now and in the hour of our death. Amen.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Attende, Domine, et miserere!

Hear us, O Lord, have mercy upon us!
for we have sinned against Thee.

To Thee, Redeemer, on Thy throne of glory:
lift we our weeping eyes in holy pleadings:
listen, O Jesu, to our supplications.

O Thou chief Cornerstone, Right Hand of the Father:
Way of Salvation, Gate of Life Celestial:
cleanse Thou our sinful souls from all defilement.

God, we implore Thee, in Thy glory seated:
bow down and hearken to Thy weeping children:
pity and pardon all our grievous trespasses.

Sins oft committed now we lay before Thee:
with true contrition now no more we veil them:
grant us, Redeemer, loving absolution.

Innocent, captive, taken unresisting:
falsely accused and for us sinners sentenced,
save us, we pray Thee, Jesu, our Redeemer.

I love The Lent Prose. We sang it on Ash Wednesday every year at all but the last of my former Anglican parishes, and it really set the tone for Lent. Many of you will remember that I went through a very difficult time this time last year and was hardly getting out of the house. This meant that I seldom got to church, and missed all of the Paschal celebrations. Well, I did venture out once, and was a little naughty in going to the main Sunday Mass at the Catholic church of the Holy Name of Jesus, where the entrance antiphon was, yes, The Lent Prose, sung beautifully in Latin, with the verses being done by the choir and the congregation joining in full for the refrain. (As an aside, the congregation was made up mostly of elderly locals and students who live nearby. They were not people who came from afar because of their interest in that musical style. Which just goes to show that the idea that plainsong is difficult is simply a lie. Give the people the music and a strong lead, and they'll join in with full voice, as this congregation did for most of the plainsong of the Mass).

It may be something small, but I have figured out what does it for me. It's the feeling of genuine pleading on the mercy of God that comes with the line "have mercy upon us" in the refrain. Anybody who is familiar with this hymn will understand what I mean. There really is the sense that we are upon our knees, striking our breasts and imploring God to show us his favour despite our unworthiness.

I miss this.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Christ the Saviour Monastery in Rhode Island, perhaps more commonly referred to as Christminster, is a Benedictine Monastery under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Its Abbot, Dom James (Deschene) was the Prior of the community of Our Lady of Mount Royal, under the pioneer of the Western Rite, Abbot Augustine (Whitfield), under whose observance the Mount Royal tradition continues as much as possible.

Christminster is a small community, in keeping with the reality of much of Orthodox monasticism in the West. However, strength of spirituality and success of monastic purpose do not reside in numbers. They enrich the spirituality of many by being one of only a handful of Orthodox monasteries to support Oblates which, by its nature, is not an activity that is very high profile, but which is the source of great spiritual benefit to many on their journeys of salvation.

The community also has plans to found a humble means for assisting in the training of Orthodox clergy to serve in our Western Rite communities, which is one area where, sadly, our existing seminaries fail us, despite their exceptionally good work in other areas.

I am pleased to learn that some parishes under the Patriarchate of Antioch have begun to run Oblate programmes but I must admit that it seems a little out of place detached from any sort of monastic foundation. Time will tell how this will develop.

Please remember Christminster in your prayers.

St Benedict on Lent

The mode of a monk's life ought at all times to favour that of Lenten observance. Since few, however, are capable of this we exhort every one in these days of Lent to guard his life in all purity, and during this holy season to wash away every negligence of other times. This we shall worthily accomplish if we restrain ourselves from every vice, and give ourselves to tearful prayer, to reading, to heartfelt sorrow and abstinence.

In these days of Lent, therefore, let us of our own accord add something to our usual yoke of service, such as private prayer, abstinence from food and drink. Let every one of his own will with joy of the Holy Ghost offer to God something above the allotted measure, that is, let him deny his body in food, drink, sleep, talking, or laughter, and with spiritual joy await the holy feast of Easter. On this condition, however, that each one inform his abbot what it is that he is offering, for what is done without leave of the spiritual father will be reckoned presumption and vain-glory, and merit no reward. All things, therefore, must be done with the approval of the abbot.
The Rule of St Benedict, chapter 49