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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Have Chalice, Will Travel

Fr Jovan Plamenac of the Serbian Orthodox Church felt that the need to travel all day to get to and from Patriarch Pavle's funeral should not disrupt the regular cycle of worship of his people, who had become accustomed to attending the Divine Liturgy and receiving Communion daily.

Therefore, he sought his bishop's blessing and served the Liturgy on the train. More photographs here.

Kamilavka tip to Fr Milovan of the Again and Again blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Western Rite in Britain

His Grace Archbishop Mark of Great Britain has given his blessing for the establishment of Orthodox communities on the territory of his diocese using the Western Rite forms of service blessed for use in ROCOR. The decision of the ROCOR Synod of Bishops is that all Western Rite communities are to have stavropegial status, which is to say that they fall under the omophor of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of New York, the First-Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. However, in compliance with canonical norms, the local bishop must give his blessing for their establishment, which, in his benevolence, Vladyka Mark has granted.

This means that the missionary study society of St Eanswythe, based in Bournemouth, which has so far existed to aid the study of Orthodoxy primarily by non-Orthodox people under the guidance of an Orthodox monastery, will become the missionary Parish of St Eanswythe. While based in Bournemouth, the parish will run a satellite mission in London, with the Divine Liturgy/Mass being served occasionally in the chapel of the Holy Royal Martyrs, which is the lower church at the cathedral in Chiswick.

The primary form of service will be the English Liturgy. This has been adapted from forms of service with which western Christians will be more familiar but doctrinally and liturgically corrected with the blessing of the Holy Synod of Russia. Occasionally the Divine Liturgy of St Gregory (Roman Rite) may also be served in its Sarum variation, being an ancient Orthodox Liturgy used in Britain.

Patriarch Pavle: Memory Eternal

His Holiness Patriarch Pavle +2nd November, 2009

His Holiness Patriarch Pavle of Serbia reposed in the Lord yesterday, the 15th of November, being the 2nd of November in the Church calendar.

The Serbian Church has long been a friend of the Russian Church Abroad. Indeed, it was the Holy Synod of the Serbian Church which, in 1922, gave its blessing for the establishment in Serbia of a synod of bishops for exiled children of the Russian Orthodox Church in light of the persecution of the Church in Russia. In light of this and the decree of Patriarch St Tikhon calling upon exiled Russian Orthodox faithful to organise themselves as best they were able in the circumstances, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was born.

After puppet patriarch Sergius rescinded the decree of St Tikhon under Soviet duress - an action never accepted by ROCOR as being of the Church - many of the other local Orthodox churches gave their allegiance to Sergius and turned their backs on ROCOR. While the Church in Russia is now free and those other churches are once again in full communion with us, we must never forget that the Serbian Church was one of a handful of churches which were not tempted by the political ease of pacifying the Soviet state, and throughout all of those difficult years remained faithful to the path of spiritual freedom sought by the exiled Russian people, and later by the many people of western lands who came to the Faith through the unwavering confession and witness of ROCOR.

His Holiness Patriarch Pavle continued this loving tradition of the Serbian Church throughout his life and himself concelebrated with clergy of the Russian Church Abroad, sharing a common chalice with our people - a sign of true oneness of heart and mind, brotherly love, and piety among those who share the life in Christ. For this, our Church Abroad shall ever be grateful. We mourn the loss on earth of a true brother and friend, and pray for his repose in the loving arms of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Metropolitan Hilarion has sent his heartfelt message of condolence.

In a blessed falling asleep, grant rest, O Lord, to the soul of thy servant, the Patriarch Pavle, and make his memory to be eternal!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

St John on Abbreviating Divine Services

The Church typicon is a guidebook for training and schooling in prayer and the more it is adhered to the more benefit is derived from it. In the case of the inability to fulfill all that is laid out in the typicon, we must fulfill all that is in our power, preserving its general structure and main content. It is necessary, on the one hand, to fulfill the principal characteristics for a given service unchanged in its composition and that which maintains its identity separate from others. On the other hand, we must try as much as we can to fill in those parts of the service, which, changing according to the day, express the meaning and reason of the commemoration of the day's event.

Divine Services combine in themselves prayer, which is lifted up to God by the faithful, the receiving of God's grace in communion with Him, and the instruction of the faithful. The latter consists of teaching through reading in the divine services and hymns, catechism, and instruction in the Christian life. The divine services in their composition contain all the fullness of the dogmatic teaching of the Church and set forth the path to salvation. They present invaluable spiritual wealth. The more fully and precisely they are fulfilled, the more benefit the participants receive from them.

Those who perform them carelessly and who shorten them by their laziness rob their flock, depriving them of their very daily bread, stealing from them a most valuable treasure. The shortening of the services which comes about through lack of strength must be done wisely and performed circumspectly in order not to touch that which should not be tampered with.

- St John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco

Anecdotal evidence on the internet seems to suggest that there is currently a shift in the English-speaking Orthodox world towards a greater faithfulness to the liturgical tradition, with a large number of parishes seeking to perform the services of the Church more fully. Insofar as this is reflective of reality on the ground, I welcome this.

There is so much beauty and meaning to the services that is lost when they are abbreviated, and for those of us who live the services and who, in some weeks, find that the Sunday services are our only sustencance for the week, the excessive abbreviations that are employed in some places really are detrimental to our spiritual wellbeing. Sometimes, the antiphons are almost obliterated and some of the litanies are entirely omitted, or the petitions are garbled while the people make continuous responses so that they do not even hear the words. I once saw an online discussion where a priest advocated the omission of the Beatitudes because he claimed they were devoid of meaning particular to the feast or Saint being celebrated, when the only reason he thought this was because it was his custom to perform them in their abbreviated form. Had he done them in full, with all of the appointed troparia interspersed between the verses of the Beatitudes on each day, he could not have failed to appreciate that this portion of the Liturgy is replete with the meaning of the celebration of each day of the calendar, and serves to focus the minds and hearts of the faithful. What is happening when our clergy are establishing abbreviations and then citing the negative effects of these abbreviations to justify omission?

I am delighted to learn that St John wrote on this subject. The entire piece may be read here.

My own parish, until earlier this year, worshipped in a private home. As such, we adopted a couple of abbreviations in order to reduce the pressures that we exerted on the family which generously hosted us each week. Now that we have our own church, we are serving a fuller cycle of services and we hope to offer those services in their fuller forms. We now do the Ninth Hour followed by Vespers every Saturday, and the Synaxarion is read immediately before Vespers, introducing the celebration of the new day. At the Sunday Liturgy, we have never abbreviated the first and second antiphons as many churches do, and we plan to restore the troparia on the Beatitudes by the end of this year. The other main abbreviation is that we omit Psalm 33 after Communion. We have spoken about restoring it and it has been included in our new choir and altar books to make it an easy transition if ever we do. Perhaps in time we can restore this as well, as it is a beautiful hymn of praise to elevate people's hearts after Communion, and gives the clergy sufficient time to consume the remainder of the Holy Things.

If this restoring trend is indeed widespread, I hope and pray that it may continue, that in all things, God may be glorified.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Priest Attacked and Chased by Racist Thug

My mother was black. My father was white. While he was born in England, his mother and father were Irish and French, respectively. The result of the European influence on my appearance means that, while most people can see that I am obviously not predominantly black, they also do not easily identify me as mixed white/Afro-Caribbean but intead mistake me for Asian. As I am also bearded and often wear a cassock, people make the additional assumption that I am Muslim.

This often elicits various reactions from people, from warm but misguided acceptance, through wonder and perhaps a little discomfort, to outright hostility. This isn't usually too bad in Manchester, which is very cosmopolitan and where one would not expect to walk through the city centre without passing people of various ethnic backgrounds and in various forms of cultural dress, (although one lady at a bus stop did once tell me to go back to Iraq). I used to take this for granted until I had cause to regularly be in other parts of the country which are much less ethnically and culturally diverse, and even some of Manchester's suburbs can be fairly scary.

I worked in Chester for a year and was approached by a lady handing out leaflets for the mystery plays. She said, very slowly and deliberately, 'Stories from the Bible. It will help your English'. My friend (who was very embarrassed) and I thought this was rather amusing but waited until the lady had gone before we started laughing. Yet, on another occasion, as I was crossing the bridge at the railway station in the same city, I was passed by a young man travelling in the opposite direction. He was speaking on his mobile phone and I overheard him tell his interlocutor that a terrorist had just walked past, clearly referring to me! I have been on the receiving end of a fair amount of anti-Muslim abuse. It seems that so convincing is my Asian appearance that Asian men often approach me in public and greet me, assuming that I am Muslim. When I politely explain that I am Christian, most give an embarrassed smile and switch to English, apologising or wishing me well, as happened yesterday. However, on more than one occasion, they have become angry and abusive, presumably assuming that I am a convert from Islam to Christianity.

This can be very intimidating at times, and I sometimes fear for my safety and occasionally resent being made to feel this way. It is for this reason that I was filled with anger when I began to read this story. It is an actual realisation of precisely what I fear happening to me from day to day. Here is a Christian priest, dressed as a Christian priest, beaten with a tyre iron, chased for three blocks, and pinned to the ground. His offence? He got lost and asked for directions. It turns out that his sat-nav had given him wrong directions, and that the person he asked for help, after attacking and chasing him, telephoned the emergency services claiming to have captured a terrorist who was trying to rob him. He later changed his story to say that the "terrorist" had sexually assaulted him. However, the sat-nav corroborated the priest's story of having been lost.

The one saving grace of the entire story is that the priest refused to press charges, showing the forgiveness that Christ taught. Part of me was put to shame when I read this, as his response was so different from my own feelings. Yet I still am not at the point where I can so easily lay aside the way I feel about this. The priest is truly a holy man, and perhaps this just shows how much further I have to go. I just feel sick about the whole affair.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Historic Western Rite Photographs

In light of recent developments (to follow within a few days), I thought it would be rather timely to share these photos for interest's sake.

Archbishop Alexis (van der Mansbrugghe) serving the Western Rite Liturgy with Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh - most likely the Roman Rite Liturgy of St Gregory

St John of Shanghai and San Francisco serving the Divine Liturgy of St Germanus of Paris - Gallican Rite

St John serving the Divine Liturgy

St John at the Cathedral of St Irenée in Paris

St John at the consecration of Bishop Jean-Nectaire (Kovalevsky) of Paris - the first known Western Orthodox bishop since the schism of the 11th century

The vesting of Bishop Jean-Nectaire by St John, at his consecration

Bishop Jean-Nectaire serving the Divine Liturgy of St Germanus of Paris

Bishop Jean-Nectaire

Bishop Jean-Nectaire

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Can Anyone Identify This?

Above is a photograph of what appears to be a portion of a statue. It has clearly been cropped from a larger picture, and depicts a subdeacon carrying a fan. I nicked it from one of the Facebook groups for subdeacons but the member who supplied the photograoh no longer has, and no longer remembers where he got the original.

If anybody knows what it is from or can supply a photograph of the full thing, I'd be very grateful.

Thank you.

Ecumenical Conference at Nashotah House

Photo courtesy of Smilodon Photo, LLC

This comes from the set of photographs of the recent event that has been reported in the Anglican and Orthodox blogospheres. I wonder what was being said at the moment captured in this one.

Questionable Gifts

The dome of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow

We have all been given presents that we wouldn't usually have bought for ourselves. Sometimes these are things that we love but the existence of which would never have occurred to us. At other times, they are things that perhaps don't find favour with our own personal tastes. In the latter case, there are usually ways of avoiding embarrassment and hurt feelings. It is usually no hardship to put an item on display among others when the benefactor visits, only for it to be quietly put away later, or to read at least part of a book and later comment on it.

What do you do, though, if the gift is an item that is actually offensive to all that you hold to be decent or true? What if it is a wall-plaque that expresses political ideas that you find reprehensible? Or perhaps an icon that expresses heresy? Could you, in good consience, display somethig like that in your home or place it in your icon corner among holy things?

The interior of the dome of Christ the Saviour is a notorious example of iconography that is doctrinally questionable, (to be restrained). Although this type of iconography expresses a clear contradiction of scriptural and patristic teaching, and has been condemned by a local council of the Russian Church (for it was in Russia that it began to spread, and was not a universal problem), and although recent years have seen such icons being corrected, when Christ the Saviour Cathedral was rebuilt in 2000, what is supposed to be God the Father was represented in the icon in its dome, just as it had been in the original cathedral. It is no secret that Russia went through some very difficult times, to say the least, during the last century. It seems that the rebuilding of Christ the Saviour was more than just the building of a church. It was a powerful symbol of the triumph of the Russian Christian identity over the godless authority that had tried to subdue it, and so was intended as an encouragement to the Russian people. Therefore, it was built as an exact replica of the cathedral that had previously stood on that site, and questions of the Orthodoxy of the decor seem to have taken second place.

Worthy a cause though this was, I must admit that this approach doesn't sit well with me, and I wonder what others think of the transference of this to the decor of private homes, the contents of icon corners, and so forth. Is there a distinction to be drawn between temporarily tolerating such things at home in order to avoid hurting a person's feelings and displaying them as permanent fixtures in public places of worship? My inclination is to say that, yes, there is a difference, and that, depending on what it is, I may be willing to lay my own concerns aside in order to spare the feelings of a well-intentioned giver. Having said that, if given a copy of the icon in that dome, or another similar to it, I'm not sure that I could bring myself to give the appearance of venerating it.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Calendar and Conscience

I do not intend for this to be a polemical post. My views on the use of the Meletian calendar by Orthodox Christians have been made known many times and in a number of places. Let it be sufficient for me to say here that, as things stand, I do not believe that it is in keeping with the life of the Orthodox Church.

I have been struggling with this matter for some months, especially since having been ordained as a reader. On the one hand, I wish to remain faithful to the canonical discipline of the Church while at the same time I do not wish to cause offence to my brothers and sisters - some of whom are good friends - who ask me to participate in services on the Meletian calendar.

I politely declined a kind invitation over the summer and simply attended, only vesting for Communion. Then, more recently, I was invited to be the reader at another Liturgy and initially declined politely. Then, realising that the Saturday reading would be the same regardless of the calendar used, I decided to be accommodating and read. On the kliros, however, it soon became apparent that the Saints being commemorated were not those of the day, and that I was expected to sing what were essentially the wrong troparia and kontakia.

In the end, and after some discussion with my parish priest, I have concluded that it is perhaps best for me not to participate in services on the Meletian calendar beyond my presence in the congregation. All of the other reasons aside, as its core, I feel that the unilateral adoption of this calendar by a substantial minority of Orthodox Christians has been the source of immeasurable and completely unnecessary division and pain within the Body of Christ, and I'm afraid that I could not maintain a clear conscience were I to take part in its use. This is no judgement on those who have been able to harmonise these concerns or who, out of necessity, are faced with a choice between the Meletian calendar or nothing.

Therefore, in keeping with the received custom of the Orthodox Church, and in obedience to my bishop, who has publicly expressed his thoughts about the Meletian calendar, I will only serve on the Orthodox Church calendar.